27 August 2010

Pride-- In the Name of Love

I am one of those rare people who is impacted by time differently than just about everyone else.  As school came closer and closer to starting, just about every parent I know posted the same thing, more or less, on Facebook: "I can't believe my kid is going to be a ninth grader [insert your kid's class here].  Where has the time gone?"  Time just does not work on me that way.

So when Christy and I took James (3rd) and Miles (K) to Rucker on Monday I didn't think to myself: "It seems like only a week ago that these guys were born at Baylor Dallas."  I did worry if Miles would be able to navigate the halls of Rucker (if I ever get caught trapped by myself there I'll be in big trouble), but I knew he'd figure it out just like James did three years ago.  I had a few tears well up for each kid as I left their classroom, but not for their growing-- for pride in the boys they are.  I had the same feeling the day before when James was part of a dozen 3rd graders receiving their Bibles.  And a couple of nights later when he wanted to read from his new Bible the stories from his picture Bible he has read at night for years.  Or last night, when Miles read Go Dogs Go to me.  Pride, lots and lots of pride.  In fact, I am proud to be proud!

The same thing goes for our church.  I am very proud of PUMC.  We blessed nearly 70 backpacks last Sunday-- the kids were packed three rows deep at the Communion rail!  A dozen kids received Bibles (Hannah Pappas: I dropped yours off to be inscribed yesterday-- I'll let you know when I get it back).  We've already received as many new members in 2010 as we did in all of 2009.  25 people are enrolled in Disciple courses; 0 in 2008.  God is doing great things through PUMC-- lives are being changed in profound ways-- and each of us should be very proud.

I know what you are thinking: "Doesn't Proverbs say, 'Pride goes before destruction?'" (16:18).  "Isn't pride one of the seven deadly sins?"  "Isn't pride at the heart of the Tower of Babel story?" (Genesis 11).  YES!  But that's a different sort of pride.  Finish the proverb: "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."  That kind of pride draws attention to one's self: "Look at how smart my kids are!"  "Look at how much more beautiful my house is than yours!"  "Look at me and see what I have done!"  Sinful pride brings attention to ourselves while at the same time pushing others beneath us.

I am the first to admit that my pride in my boys is not because I am the most awesome Dad in the universe.  They've had excellent teachers at church and school, wonderful family ties, and great relationships.  I am the first to admit that my pride in PUMC is not because I am the most awesome pastor.  We have many dedicated folk who work to make the church better/stronger/healthier, often in ways that are unseen.  Many, many people contribute on a daily basis to make this pride possible.  And I acknowledge, recognize, and am grateful for each one of them.

So whatever achievements my boys earn, whatever recognitions PUMC earns (or not), I will be proud, because I know they/we are doing well out of a sense of commitment.  James' teachers asked all the parents to write a letter to their kid to be kept at the back of their notebook.  I used the phrase "proud of you" more than once.  I use it to describe my feelings about the church.  Pride can be dangerous when it's only about building ourselves up and tearing others down, but when it is other-focused, thankful, and mindful of God's work it can be a powerful thing.

So be proud of your kids.  Be proud of your church.  Be proud of your own achievements.  But always remember: we/the church/our kids belong to Christ, "...and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope" (Hebrews 3:6b).

20 August 2010

Lost?

Last night Christy and I engaged in an adventure.  Not the kind of adventure anyone would be excited about.  For several hours, we searched the house for a missing remote control for a toy.  We followed each other, looking in every room of the house, every closet, every cabinet.  We determined when the thing was last sen.  We interviewed witnesses (James, Miles, and Linus), none of whom were helpful.  Like Columbo or the cops on Law and Order, we had a mystery to solve.  When we were just about ready to file for divorce, Linus came to me, holding the thing in his hand.  Excited and joyful, I asked him to show me where he found the blasted thing.  He pointed to a spot right in the middle of Miles' bedroom floor.  Case closed. 

Each of us is on a journey of exploration.  We are all searching for something-- really, the same thing.  A few of us think we're fairly close to figuring out the mystery; others are too self conscious to take the first steps in working the case.  The great majority of us are out there, trying to figure out this whole mystery of life thing.  This Sunday we'll continue on that journey in a few special ways.  A dozen or so (I've lost count by now) 3rd graders will receive their Bibles from PUMC (please, if you have a 3rd grader and you haven't told me-- it's too late to get one by Sunday.  Trust me, I'm on Cokesbury's list as it is!  Let me know and we'll get you one later).  As I do every year, I'll show the kids my 3rd grade Bible I received from the Fellowship Class of First UMC Bay City, in 1979.  The inside cover says, "Look to this book for guidance."  In other words: Along your journey of life, stop here for some clues.

This Sunday we'll also bless the backpacks of our children before they start school Monday.  This is a symbolic way of assuring the kids as they go through those doors they do not do it alone.  Don't forget: all kids bring their backpacks!  For those who attend at 8:30, we'll bless them there too.  Thanks to Stacey Heischman for coordinating everything!  I know deep, deep down James loves school.  On the outside he's grumpy about going back, and waking him up Monday will be a nightmare!  Echoing his big brother's grief, Miles is also not excited; but please: if any kid was ready for Kindergarten-- it's him.  Which makes me think of his teacher-- is she ready for Miles?  Yes, we'll pray for our teachers Sunday too.  Have a great year, everyone!

Reading from my 3rd grade Bible: "Make me know thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths.  Lead me in thy truth, and teach me, for thou art the God of my salvation; for thee I wait all the day long" (Psalm 25:4-5).  Each of us is on a journey, and we seek God's direction for it.  Sometimes the path is much, much longer than we expected.  Sometimes the search is frustrating.  Sometimes we lose patience.  But as the women at the mini-retreat last weekend sang, "I once was lost, but now I am found."  The journey does lead somewhere.  Along the way, look to God's Word for guidance.  Listen for the encouragement and support of others.  Help someone else find their way.  Seek God in all things.  And out of nowhere, at a time and place least expected, it will happen-- remember to give thanks!  The toy remote will magically appear, sometimes in the hands of a fellow traveler.

Now: where did I leave the TV remote?

See you along the path!

13 August 2010

Go Deep!

Everyone knows I am a big movie fan.  This summer has been a pretty good year, with fun movies like Toy Story 3 and Iron Man 2.  But by far the best movie of the summer, and the year, is InceptionInception is one of those movies that force you to think and discuss afterward.  You can't forget it.  I have had many conversations over the last month with people who both loved and hated it-- that's the whole point.

If you allow yourself to go deep (one of themes of the movie), you will not be able to dismiss it easily.  I saw Inception the first time with Christy in a crowded, warm theatre in a lousy seat.  A fellow movie going friend emailed me to say he didn't like it but I would probably love it.  Honestly, leaving the cinema the first time I appreciated it but I wasn't in awe of it.  The second time I saw it was different.  Every moment of the film was a new discovery, a connecting of the dots, a new mystery.  I had a great seat, the auditorium was comfortable, everything was perfect.  For me.  Not for my Dad, who accompanied me on my recommendation.  After about 10 minutes he was done.  He would not allow himself to go deep, so Inception made no sense to him.  He was lost and frustrated.  He's not the only one with that reaction!  Everyone who sees this film has a reaction.

The idea of "go deep" applies well to this weekend at church, which is sort of PUMC youth weekend.  Tonight the youth will gather for their annual back-to-school lockin, and Sunday they will lead us in worship: music, prayers, children's time, announcements... just about everything.  They'll be sharing their experiences from a very busy summer, from Bridgeport to Mystery Trip to mission trips to all the things inbetween!  So how does "go deep" relate here?  Well, how often do we fail to appreciate the value of young people-- or the youth experience in general?  I mean, everyone says youth are important-- "They're the future" is a favorite cliche, to which I always respond: "No, they're the present just like you and I are."  Everyone loves 1 Corinthians 13, right?  "Love is patient, love is kind..." you've heard it at just about every wedding.  Part of that text is Paul's beautiful line about spiritual maturity: "When I was a child I thought like a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult I put an end to my childish ways" (verse 11).  What's missing?  Youth!  Didn't this guy ever go to MYF?  Do we need to host a John Hughes film fest in heaven for him to realize youth is an important stage in life too?  A double feature of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club would do it.

We've worked very hard over the years to name and maintain youth as a high priority at PUMC.  We're great with children and good with adults, but sometimes youth get squeezed out.  We have all the tools in place now to build a long-term, quality youth program.  Daniel has been with us nearly two years now, and he has done an outstanding job of providing leadership while at the same time allowing the youth to determine the direction of the program themselves-- great leaders get out of the way and release their people.  We've given the Basement a wonderful facelift.  And we have some outstanding youth in this church.  I am so proud when I see the young students we have been raised in the faith here.  From Confirmation through High School, our church is doing its part to lay the groundwork for disciples of Christ.  I know you share my pride in Daniel and our youth.  And an excellent opportunity to express that appreciation is offered Sunday morning: come to church.  Worship God.  Listen to faith stories.  Share in the lives God is shaping within our church.  Go deep.

Inception is all about mysteries and puzzles, and the ending of the movie is another one-- we're left to create the ending on our own.  So it is with our young people.  We don't know yet what college they'll go to, what career path they'll take.  All we can know for sure is who they are today.  And we can do our part to ensure that these very important years are not swept under the rug and forgotten.  Thank you for your regular support of the church's ministries.  Your giving is helping to change lives.

I teased Paul earlier about skipping the youth years, but he makes up for it in 1 Timothy.  Paul writes to Timothy, himself just beginning his journey as a disciple: "Let know one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).  Stop a youth or Daniel or an adult volunteer and thank them this Sunday.  Share your pride in them.  Think about these young people walking through the schools a week from Monday as ambassadors for Prosper United Methodist Church.  And be thankful.  Go deep!