Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Measuring My Life

On September 23, 1999 communication with the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost as the spacecraft attempted to enter orbit around Mars.  Designed to study the climate and atmosphere of Mars, the mission came to an abrupt end because of navigational error.  The spacecraft attempted to enter orbit at an altitude that was too low, causing it to disintegrate.  The deviation from the intended course was traced back to confusion over metric and imperial units.  The software was written based on metric units while the ground crew was entering course corrections based on imperial units.  That little misunderstanding resulted in a $327 million cosmic torch.  An understated Dr. Edward Stone, director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, “Our inability to recognize and correct this error has had major implications."

If life is a journey, then destination is determined by the course I chose.  And the course I choose is determined by the measurements I use.  Metric units will not lead me to the same destination as imperial units.  Centimeters and inches are not interchangeable.  Slight changes in direction at the outset can have major implications on my course over time.  The measurements I use will make all the difference.

This weekend I went on a Band of Brothers Bootcamp, a trip designed to restore the hearts of men through a real encounter with God (  It was a rich time of learning and reflection.  But on the first night as we were sitting around the fire getting to know one another, I found that I was in the company of some very successful men (by common measurements);  business owners with many employees and high profitability.  One was sharing about a particularly difficult year when he almost lost his business and his income was slashed by 90%.  It was humbling to discover that what he was making at a 90% reduction in his income was nearly twice what I make now, the high water mark of my economic prosperity.  I felt small, insignificant, as if I was a failure.  Jealousy welled up.  I even considered pursuing the same route, as I had been invited by someone into the same business a number of months ago. 

The fog lifted when I remembered that I have never used money as a measurement for my life.  I have made decisions all along without thought to financial remuneration.  I spent eight years in school to get a masters degree that prepared me for the abundant prosperity of ministry.  Even in ministry I didn’t choose the path to (comparable) prosperity.  When I was considering moving to Syracuse to pastor a small church, there was a larger church in Maryland that was interested in me.  They were so convinced that I was the man that they put their search on hold until they found out what I decided with this opportunity in Syracuse.  I chose to come to Syracuse.  I sensed God’s call here. 

God has been faithful.  He was always met my financial needs, though that has demanded careful stewardship.  We have done without many things.  But it hasn’t felt like a life of deprivation (my kids might argue otherwise).   If I haven ‘t written the program of my life to respond to dollars and cents , then I ought not be surprised that by that standard I’m the satellite that comes in too low.  I may not incinerate, but I do sputter.  But my program was written for other measurements. 

Lately I’ve been contemplating the first couple chapters in the gospel of Mark.  These chapters have spoken to me in powerful ways.  They have opened my eyes to what it means to follow Jesus.  They remind me of the measurements I have designed my life for.  In the next few blog posts I intend to unpack some of those lessons.  But it starts here.  With a realization that the course of my life is determined by the measuring stick I use.   What I value will influence my decisions.  My decisions will determine my course.  My course will determine my destination…though I wouldn’t object if that course just happened to intersect with a load of money.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Plodding Pilgrimage

In the Old Testament we find a number of depictions of journeys that serve as pictures of the Christian life.  So the story of Abraham, with his journey from Ur to Canaan.  And the story of the Exodus, with the Israelites journey out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and (eventually) into the land of promise.  And the story of the Babylonian captivity and the return to the land 70 years later.  These travel narratives serve as fitting parallels to the Christian life.  So in the New Testament, Peter calls Christians “pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11).  Life is a pilgrimage, a journey with a specific purpose and destination.  This blog is a like a travelogue.  A journal of reflections in the course of the journey. 

But my pilgrimage has been a bit circuitous at times.  Years ago, Eugene Peterson wrote a book entitled A Long Obedience In the Same Direction.  And while I enjoyed the book, my own experience has not lived up to that billing.  Long – yes; obedience – sometimes; in the same direction – not by a long shot.  Even the more forgiving adage “two steps forward and one step back” is too tidy to depict my journey.  It still suggests a track that allows only for forward and reverse. 

For all my forward progress and backward regress there are many sidesteps. My pilgrimage is (unfortunately) not resolute. Seems I chase my tail sometimes. I distractedly sway to and fro, thinking I have a better route, a short cut, a new idea.  I lack initiative, hesitant to make decisions that I know should be made. I choose entertainment over enrichment, aimlessly surfing the net, browsing a magazine, flipping the channel. I procrastinate.  I make excuses.  I rebel.  I settle for the good rather than pursuing the best.  I wallow in self-pity and get bogged down by regret.

My pilgrimage is a convoluted mess; an entangled snare of twists and turns that I look back on and say, “How in the world did I end up here?”  I never would have projected that this is where I would be at the age of 39.   Never.  And the route I took to get here is still difficult to unravel.  Parts of it are just a jumbled snarl.

So a journey that could have taken a few weeks by the most direct route takes me forty years (well, 39 and change) as if I’m…well, as if I’m an Israelite wandering in the wilderness.  This is a plodding pilgrimage, a slow, heavy-footed progress.  But there is progress, as incremental as it may seem.  It is still a pilgrimage.  I am moving closer toward the goal to win the prize for which Christ has called me heavenward.  So today, in this plodding pilgrimage, I’ll walk resolute…barring distraction.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Welcome To My Blog

Today I launch my blog, another voice in the cacophony of the blogosphere.  I do so with realistic expectations.  My circle of readers will always be small – for some posts maybe even nil.  I do not aspire to build a following or start a movement. The explanation goes back to my birthday.  This summer my wife honored my 39 years of life with the book Blogging For Dummies.  She was trying to send me a message, which I hope was more weighted on the side of “You should be blogging” than “You are a dummy.” 

But actually the explanation goes back further than that.  Because for months Sue and I have been talking about what God wants for me. My job for the last six years has been as a retail manager.  I manage a large convenience store (think 24 pumps, 15 cooler doors, and a full service deli and brick oven pizza shop).  For the most part I enjoy the work, but it does not give me deep satisfaction.  There is the sense that God has something more for me. 

What I have realized is that what gives me the deepest satisfaction is preaching and teaching the Bible in a way that makes it come alive.  I love captivating people with the richness and relevance of Scripture.  Before working in retail I was a pastor for seven years.  And while that was closer to hitting the mark of being satisfying, there was enough about it that I didn’t enjoy that the thought of returning to the pastorate has not been compelling. 

Lately I have been contemplating the prospect of doing what I love without the baggage of all the stuff I didn’t.  To preach and teach without having to chair committees, plan services, lead worship, find Sunday School teachers, counsel parishioners, do hospital visitation, oversee the budget, follow up on absentees, and on and on.  None of those things are bad, but I found none of them enjoyable.
Maybe a distinction should be made between my occupation and my vocation.  My occupation is my job, Convenience Store Supervisor for Delta Sonic in North Syracuse, NY.  It pays the bills and provides for benefits.  It offers some security that each week there will be a steady flow of income.  All in all, it’s a good job.  But my vocation (in the truest sense of the word) is my calling.  And I think God has called me to preach and teach.  With occupation securely in place, I can pursue my calling, my vocation, with freedom.  I don’t have to worry about whether it is lucrative or sustainable.  I’m not bound by the shackles of having to support my family with it.  If God sees fit, this could some day grow to become my occupation, but until then, I can pursue it as a hobby – one that provides deep satisfaction in my life.     

So I am taking steps to make this a reality.  I’m starting to teach some and looking for opportunities to preach.  I’ve also started to write more.  For me, writing is just another avenue for teaching.  I write about the intersection of God’s Word and real life.  I realize that publication can be a means of gaining credibility and may open more doors for preaching and teaching, so I have begun sending out proposals to various magazines and journals.  Most recently, Weavings Journal accepted an article I wrote about fear and will publish it in the May/June/July 2012 issue.  All this is part of the process of pursuing my vocation while still gainfully employed by Delta Sonic. 

So the blog fits into this vision as a greenhouse of sorts – a place to put some seed thoughts down, ideas that could someday be the basis of a message or article. This is what God is teaching me, in the raw.  Just the process of writing things down is a discipline that helps crystallize an idea. This, even if no one ever reads the blog.  But this is also a place where I can put ideas out for some initial reaction. These are thoughts that will be in need of polishing.  I welcome any readers to rub a little and help bring out the shine.