Never ever overlook a moment when someone is taking the time to thank you for how you’ve helped them in their journey through life! When that happens you absolutely have to stop everything and see how miraculous it is that you’ve made an impact on anyone, let alone a positive enough impact that they took the time to say “thank you” from the bottom of their heart.
Jesus once told his disciples this parable about how God would divide out people. Jesus talked about how God would say to His sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25: 34-35 But watch how clueless the righteous sheep are about all of these quiet acts of love and service. They don’t remember ever actually doing any of it. They say to God, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25: 37-40
Honestly, that parable has always made me a little nervous because my life hasn’t really been marked by inviting every stranger into my home, going to lots of prisons or clothing naked people. But I think what Jesus is getting at is that when I’m serving Him, and out of the overflow of my love for Him I’m loving others, I just make an impact on others that pleases Him, and helps others, without me really even being aware I’m doing anything. That’s what I experienced the other day. A very kind individual said to me, “Andy I just want to thank you for the investment you’ve made in my life. I remember clearly when you said . . .” They shared with me something I don’t have any memory of saying, and yet God used what came out of my mouth to help them and encourage them. I treasure moments like that! I hope I can live out even more moments of service to God and love for others, where I’m so non-focused on me that I don’t even remember doing it until God brings it to my attention in eternity.
I sat at the head of our long dining table looking around at the great wealth God has granted to the church where I serve. I marveled at how “rich” we were with God’s provision. Aleta and I were hosting our annual staff Christmas party, bringing all of the staff leaders to our home and getting all of us around our table to enjoy laughter and a meal together. As people enjoyed their meal I looked at each person who is on staff, and I thought back to each person who had been on staff in the past, and I thought, “We are a *rich church.” Here’s what I mean. We are not the biggest attended church. We don’t have the biggest building. In fact we don’t have a building to call our own. We don’t have the biggest budget. But we’ve had leaders in the past, and we have leaders in the present, who really love Jesus Christ. They want to serve God’s purposes with their lives. They seek His face, and they seek to honor Him in their marriages, their homes, their jobs, and in their service to the mission of Faith Community Church. Truth be told. I’m more than fine not being the kind of “rich” church that hits the metrics of the most bodies, buildings, and bucks when I get to work alongside the more important riches of humble, humorous, real godly people pursuing Christ together. Thank you leaders for who you are and for all that you do to honor Christ!
The pace is getting hectic now. We’re all filling the calendar with office parties, church events, shopping, neighborhood gatherings and more. There is a lot of rushed movement around the holidays, but consider this thought today. It’s something I stumbled into as an insight in my own life a few years ago: God is never in a hurry and He’s always on time. Can you move as slow as God? As the pace quickens during the holidays, see if you can slow it down closer to God’s pace, and maybe in slowing it down you’re more fully able to celebrate Christmas.
It’s funny how easy it is for me to tell others what to do. I sound so wise when I sit with other pastors, or anyone in ministry, who is dealing with a difficult conflict they’d rather ignore and I tell them, “I know it’s hard, but you’ve got view conflict as a doorway to better things.” I’m not wrong when I say this. When you refuse the fight or flight response, and you actually try to engage people when there’s a conflict, most of the time that conflict becomes a doorway to greater understanding, and maybe even intimacy. Yeah, so true – until I end up in a conflict.
When I end up in a conflict I find myself wanting to disregard my own counsel. I want to read the other person’s mind, assume I know what they are thinking, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and maybe even demonize them a little bit (or a lot). I find myself in my own fight or flight reaction mode rather than settling down and working my way towards the person to talk it out and then work it out.
I’m sharing this because maybe you can relate. You know in your head that conflict has the potential to be so helpful in the end when it’s handled well. But you feel that twist in your gut that just wants to avoid the conflict by flight, or put away the conflict by a fight. I’ll end with this, as I look back on this past week of dealing with some conflicts, I continually find that conflict can be a doorway to better things.
I’m sitting here sipping my coffee on a rainy morning, looking at our fantastic Christmas tree, and listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas.” As I listen to Bing croon it’s funny how much my mind gets all nostalgic and thinks back to “simpler times” when it seemed like life was so much easier and everyone was friendlier, and the list just goes on in my head. It’s funny how easily I can either be so romanticized by the past, or so captivated the promise of the future that I check out in the reality of the present. In the book of Ecclesiastes 7:10 King Solomon wisely warned, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.”
Recently I was listening to a very thoughtful podcast produced by Christianity Today that was addressing the polarization of political dialogue and one of the commentators made this insightful observation that has stuck with me. They said something to the effect, “The conservative right tends to be in love with and long for nostalgia, while the liberal progressive left tends to be in love with and long for utopia. The problem is that neither the pursuit of nostalgia nor the pursuit of utopia gets us what we most need.” So I’m gonna enjoy my hot coffee, and I’m gonna keep listening to Bing, but I’m going to do it content in this present moment in which God has placed me embracing the fact that “today is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118)
Last Friday my family entered into our long-standing tradition of cutting down our Christmas tree at the summit in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Our tradition is that we go to Albright’s donuts in Santa Cruz, we pick up a dozen donuts, then we head out to find the perfect Christmas tree. We do all of this rain or shine. This year we did it in the rain! We trudged our way through the trees, as each tree shared all of the water they had on their limbs on our clothing, and we searched for the perfect tree. Of course we found the perfect tree – because we always tell ourselves that’s exactly we found each year. Of course I had to whine as I stooped in the mud, cut the tree, carried the tree, tied the tree to the car, and got the tree in the house – you’re not a real man unless you whine while you work. These are the things that make up being a family with traditions during the holidays.
Then as I went outside to dump some extra trimmings I saw my neighbor’s garage door open. He lost his wife to lung cancer one month ago and all of their family traditions were obliterated. I looked at his quiet house without any extra cars around and I thought of his pain. The holidays have a funny way of magnifying the human experience. They magnify our joy and they magnify our pain. So as I’m now in the thick of the holiday season I’m gonna try to be mindful of those enduring pain.
I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It was something that most people would see and think, “Yeah that’s what’s supposed to happen” but the fact is it was a miracle. Our church body was participating in communion, remembering the broken body and shed blood of Jesus offered for us so that we might have life abundant and eternal. The people made their way to the back with loved ones, and then one by one they took the bread and dipped it into the cup. When everyone’s doing something together like that, it doesn’t really look all that special when you see someone take communion.
But what I saw was special. I watched a husband and wife who had been completely transformed by Jesus, hold each other, pray together and take communion. She had once been living on the streets lost in the haze of addiction, but she’d found Jesus and Jesus had changed her life. He too been lost in the haze of addiction, to the point that he’d come this close to losing his life more than a few times. But he also had found Jesus, and Jesus had changed his life. So when I saw this married couple, with this back story, take communion together in their pursuit of Jesus I marveled. I marveled at the mystery of how Jesus really can transform lives. I marveled that God can actually use a church to help people find Jesus. I marveled that I, of all people, get to be a part of radical transformation stories like theirs.
I wish all of you who read this blog a Happy Thanksgiving. May you marvel at the many ways God has mysteriously blessed you, provided for you, and loved you in spite of yourself.