Monday, November 09, 2009

Nobody Wants To Die

I'm going to meander for a little bit here to begin with. But stick with me.

High School Reunions are kinda strange. Mine was a little extra strange. The weekend of my high school reunion, my old campus ministry group ALSO decided to have a reunion. So it was reunion weekend for me back in September. I ended up doing both, even though I missed out on a lot of the fun both groups had.

One of my good friends from college is named Missy. Missy is simply a great woman. A Proverbs 31 woman. One of the ladies that still gives me hope for the female gender. (g) Anyway, in the midst of planning the college part of my reunion weekend with Missy, I got to talking with her about my High School Reunion as well. Being a couple years older, she related her experience to me.

Missy told me, "Oh, mine was so strange. The first thing that happened is that a bunch of people made a beeline for the bar. I felt bad for them, because it seemed like the only way they could cope with stress was to get some alcohol in them. And the other big thing is that the people I knew had changed so much that I couldn't even hardly relate with them. We had nothing in common. But there were other people that I'd hardly known in high school that I got along with great! And I almost felt sad, wishing I'd known them better in HS so that we could've been better friends."

It's pretty incredible how accurately Missy scripted my High School Reunion experience. After hearing Missy tell me about it, it was amusing to watch people do just what Missy said they would do: sign in, get their name-tag, and then square their shoulders & head directly to the bar to get a drink.

There were even a handful of folks that I had known pretty well that I had a hard time connecting with that evening. One of them, in fact, I've known since we were toddlers. Our parents were friends, and there's a picture of us somewhere from when we were 5 years old on Halloween (him as Superman, me as He-Man). And no matter how cordial or amicable I tried to be, that guy in particular was pretty much a jerk to me. It didn't exactly hurt my feelings. I just found it kind of bizarre.

But then there were others, like Emily and Josh. I didn't know those two as well through high school, but I left the Reunion event that night wishing I had. Great folks. Encouraging to be around. And fun! Josh is a minister, and is working toward a theological degree so he can teach in Seminary one day. And Emily is a home-maker who likes to line dance to Shania Twain in her kitchen.

Wait... did I just say that out loud? Darn. Sorry Em. See, all that self-disclosure catches up with you.

Anyhow, those two & I have a lot in common. They work with a small congregation where Josh is the preaching minister. Kinda like me. I have lots of friends in ministry in different places, but not many of them in the lead position like us. It is different from being an associate minister. And slightly more pressure-packed in a number of ways.

Really, I'd say it's too big a bite for us to chew off sometimes. I was mentioning this to Emily the other day... consider this: we're in our 20's, and we're looked at to be the most mature people in the places where we work & worship. We're to be the most mature people among folks who can be 1-to-5 decades more experienced than us! That is insanely demanding.

It feels pretty wild sometimes. The challenging element, I think, is the constant responsibility. And it's interesting how folks -- even people 50 years your senior -- feel comfortable enough to be irresponsible at times trusting that you will be responsible enough to carry their slack. And over time, this is grating.

I can't imagine what it's like for Josh and Emily with kids. God bless you guys. Because I'm not sure it's the responsibility that gets on our nerves (it's not like we want to be IRRESPONSIBLE... not at all) as much as it is the constancy of it (and especially so for them). There never seem to be quite enough moments where you get to be the irresponsible one. Where you can be like the kid, and someone else can be the grown-up. Where you can let your flaws hang out, and other people have to be the understanding ones, and other people pick up your slack.

Generally, responsibility is burdensome. And ministry isn't the only phase of life where this principle proves true. It's burdensome to be the designated driver for a bunch of drunks. It's burdensome to be in a higher tax bracket & pay a painful percentage of what you earned to Uncle Sam. But it's not really going to "Uncle Sam," is it? At least it doesn't feel that way to people who see much of it go to entitlement programs for other people who don't have to pay any of those taxes. And that's why Republicans, generally, complain about taxes. It's not that they hate to write that check to the U.S. government because they're unpatriotic. Or that they're thinking of the sweet boat they could buy with that money that they're sending away. It's that they're thinking about how burdensome is the price of responsibility. A price that not everyone has to pay.

And it does kinda make you stop & re-evaluate what it's all for, right? Why be responsible in the first place? And then we remember: it's because we've been blessed in the first place. Luke 12:48 -- "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

God has not withheld anything from us. He's promised us everything: even, in fact, a reality we call Heaven. And yet, oftentimes (strangely enough), we're not too fired up about doing what it takes to reap what he has in store. A song that my Dad loves reminded me of this. I'll let Loretta Lynn sing it for you.

Now that's some good theology, huh? I pay for books $19.95 at a time that don't do a whole lot better than that.

Responsibility is burdensome. And you know what else? Constant responsibility is a cross.

I may have said this here before, but it bears repeating. The more I mature, the more impressed I am with the day-to-day life of Jesus (e.g. living in the flesh, dealing with all we have to deal with, PUTTING UP WITH PETER!) than I am with the event of the cross. The cross was impressive, no doubt. But his life took much more endurance, and perhaps more strength. And I would even insist that it was His life that prepared Him for the cross.

I think it's our lives that are working to prepare us for whatever it is God has planned for us in the next life. Carrying our crosses -- whatever they may be, however unglamorous they may appear at first glance. And I'm convinced that if we saw our burdens & responsibilities in this light, I think we'd see how glamorous and attractive they truly are. Because we all wanna go to Heaven.

And yet, nobody wants to die. (g) Not even preachers & preachers' wives, as you can see. But we are all called to carry our crosses & go to die. Here are Jesus' immortal words from Luke 9 -- "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."

There are no thorn-less roses. And there are no cross-less Heavens. If you want to reap a reward, then you have to face those constant responsibilities of life without becoming embittered by them. And along the way, take heart in the words of Jesus when he says things like this: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

So may you recognize that your responsibilities are actually working together for good to save you. And may you, with a great deal of courage and faith, daily make the decision to go and die.


Emily :) said...

This is so great! Very timely for me. Our Sunday School lesson this week was in James and we talked about seeing the everyday trials as God's opportunity to prepare us. I am determined this Monday morning to feel blessed that God has entrusted a very imperfect person such as myself with such great responsibility. And I am determined to know that it is a blessing when I face trials (big and just incredibly annoying) because they are slowly making me more like Him.

Maybe you should change your name to "Encouragement from Philip". :)

And oh yeah, I love how your friend Missy is a Proverbs 31 woman and I am the homemaker who line dances in her kitchen. I have REALLY got to start making myself appear a lot more spiritual. :)

III said...

Ha Ha! Thought you'd like that.

And you're certainly in the Proverbs 31 mold, too. Breaths of fresh air both of you ladies are.

Anonymous said...

One of David Crowder Band's albums begins with the intro to this song, and I love it.

I think a frequently missed point about our relationship with God is that we are workers. It's so easy for us to see this in the same mundane way we tend to see working for a paycheck, but I think God has in mind something for us that is fulfilling and purposeful.

thanks for the encouraging thoughts. Maybe it's time for us to stop trying to just survive life, and see how we can be a part of advancing His kingdom. No need to wait for permission from Him; He's already given it!

DP said...

My church has a young adult Bible study on Tuesday nights where we have been studying the book of Romans. Tonight we talked about Romans 8:17, which says that in order to share in Christ's kingdom, we have to share in his sufferings. Good post. Nice part about Republicans, too.