Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Remembering Who I Am

I love the sound of running water. The sound of the small table top fountain in my office provides a soothing background soundtrack to my day. Summer evenings in my backyard are often taken up next to the small pond complete with waterfall. The sound of water flowing is a powerful reminder of who God has shown me to be.

I’ve always enjoyed the sound of running water. One day, I will have a baptismal font in our Sanctuary that features running water. There is such a strong connection for me between water and baptism. In general, I will seek out whatever opportunities I can to touch water and remember my baptism. Like my United Methodist colleagues, I don’t believe that re-baptism is necessary, but frequently remembering our baptism (or that we have been baptized) is a vital part of growing in faith, spirituality and discipleship.

Lately though, there has been some movement for me at the core of this experience. For most of my life, I’ve been quite uncomfortable with the idea of crossing myself (ala the Roman Catholic tradition). I understand the act of crossing as a convenient way to remember the means of Christ’s sacrifice and the Holy Trinity, but it always seemed so perfunctory. However, in the last month, as I’ve touched the water in my office or the water at the entrance of the sanctuary at the monastery I often visit, I find my self drawn to crossing myself. As I engage in this act, I’m not specifically thinking about the Holy Trinity. Instead I’m remembering that in the waters of baptism and my subsequent call to ministry I’ve been claimed by and for the cross of Christ. It is this claim that must define who I am and how I view my ministry and the world.

What is earth shaking for me is not the simple realization of this truth. I’ve known this for a very long time. The shaking comes from deep within my spirit. I’m claiming this not as an intellectual truth or belief, as it is something that is simply attached to me. I’m experiencing this truth at the deepest level of whom I am and who I am with God. I realize more deeply than I ever have before that I come to the font, the table, the pulpit, the sick bed and to the manger not as a spectator but as a participant. I belong there not because of my choice but because of God’s choice of me.

What I’m finding is that this deep and deeply personal transformation that is happening in me is continuing to well up and spill over into every aspect of my life and ministry. Distractions and detours still come up from time to time, but the durations are shrinking and I’m more quickly finding my way back to the path. Remembering who I am at such a deeply spiritual level and the ability to touch this truth is keeping me and drawing me ever closer to Christ.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Difference Between Being Productive and Being Faithful

Here I sit, dutifully typing this posting an hour before my final appointment of the day. As I bask in the afterglow of a day in which I was able to cross off a lot of items on my task list, I’m reflecting on the changes in my spirit that have increased by motivation and discipline to have a day like this. I can hear the voice of God speaking to me about the difference between productivity and faithfulness.

Task planning for me has always been drudgery. I just don’t like it. As one who has raised flying by the seat of my pants to the level of spiritual giftedness, I would often wonder why I should bother. Yea, I know…not very mature. GUILTY! This is something about which the Lord has been working me over for a several months now. Until recently I’ve been working toward a change of attitude regarding task planning, with only marginal results. There has still been an obstacle. Without getting into the gory details of how, the Lord blasted the obstacle. Since I was a lot closer to the obstacle than I would have imagined, I got pretty singed in the process (but that is a different story).

From this experience, the Lord has given me the vision of a clear difference between being productive and being faithful. In many respects it is rather simple to be productive. Have a vision, establish goals, clarify a strategy of different tasks that will provide measurable results and follow through on the strategy. Go simply and quickly from A to B to C to D and you wind up at the end. Production made easy. However, if we’re talking about discipleship and more so professional ministry there is a significant wrinkle to the equation.

When our emphasis is on accomplishing a preconceived (and even well conceived) action plan it is easy to become very heavily invested in the outcome of the plan. The more heavily invested we become in a preconceived outcome, the easier it is for us to ignore a variety of other needs and possible outcomes that don’t fit within our expectations. Very soon, even ministry plans become wrapped around our personality and ego. As disciples called to follow Christ we are constantly being reminded that ministry isn’t about us.

When we seek to be faithful, we seek to empty our self before God. This doesn’t mean that we completely divest our self from the ministry we do. We do invest our passion for Christ. We do invest our passion for God’s reign. We do invest our deep desire to be an instrument of Christ’s peace. What we do not invest is our ego, our sense of self-worth or our feelings of self-importance. I’m being drawn to apply this truth into even the most “mundane” task. I can see how to empty myself in the face of such a task so that I don’t resent the task as a waste of my time. Instead, I’m learning how to see such things as pieces of the larger whole that is my call to servant ministry.

Learning to empty our self is wrapped up in prayer. As we learn to pray in silence, to engage in meditative or contemplative prayer, we learn to step out of the limitations of self and ego that would obscure our experience of God. Learning a rhythm of prayer that allows for the lifting of self, of our needs, the needs of those around us, our fears and anxieties and then trusts God enough to step outside of self enables to more clearly see the limitations of self that limit our ability to be faithful in ministry.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Working the Field

This is a bit of a departure from routine…

It began as the smallest of patches…the tiny parcel of my life where Christ was at work. At first Jesus only used others as the tools to break up the soil of my life, clean out the debris and fertilize my soul and prepare me for planting. The first harvest did bear fruit and yet Christ dreamed of more for me. Wider and more abundant harvests were what He had in mind. Jesus began to push out the boundaries of this little plot of land. In this expanded plot the process of clean-up, fertilizing and planting continued. In due season, the harvest came and all of Jesus’ work, and the work of so many others was rewarded with greater abundance and a pleasing sweetness.

In God’s time I awoke to what Jesus was doing in me. By His grace and teaching he sharpened me to turn the soil deeper, bring out the rocks and obstacles and bring up the richness that had been created in my life. With each new season of preparation Jesus pushed out the boundaries still further. As the parcel of my life grew, the seed He planted never ran out. The Master Planter always had enough. The harvests began to grow and after each harvest Jesus would share his plans for the next year’s planting. Now, we are partners in the work of tending my field. There is no fear left, occasionally some anxiety, but nothing that passes for fear.

My small patch has now become a vast plantation. It bears its fruit in due season according to the grace of God. How something is different! It is no longer enough for me to work my own field. It is time to go with Jesus and be a laborer with him in someone else’s field. It’s time for me to share with others what has been given to me.