What an eventful morning at General Conference. From guaranteed appointments being eliminated via the consent calendar to then being asked to reconsider and that being voted down. What an up and down morning. What we do know is this: guaranteed … Continue reading
So I was at a gathering of the Minnesota senior high youth this past weekend which is called UMYS. I have been to this gathering as a youth, as an adult chaperone, as a youth director, as a pastor, and now as an associate pastor.
This weekend was filled with great conversation, a great speaker (our bishop), great music (Boiling Point), and a great group that went from our church. There are many things I could write about from the weekend, but one has been mulling through my head today as I sat at home with my oldest son Micah who was sick. The closing worship on Sunday morning involved a “testimony” from one of the members of the design team who is a senior in high school (well actually she just graduated early which is an amazing accomplishment).
I admired this girl who shared her story. It took guts because her story was filled with hurt, pain, and brokenness. She had experienced abandon from a father (something I can identify with), sexual abuse from a family friend, and a battle with drug abuse. It took guts for her to stand in front of a room composed of mainly strangers and share her story and she ended her story with a quote from scripture she plans on having tattooed on her wrist and a scripture that the Bishop had quoted earlier in one of her messages. The passage was from Romans 12:21:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NIV)
It is a powerful passage. This girl’s story was one that communicated how she was trying to overcome the evil she had experienced by trying to do good. This got me thinking. My life too has been marked by pain, loss, and brokenness. I have experienced abandonment by a father, emotional abuse by a step-father, my own battle with addiction, etc. Both this girl and my stories have been marked by the stain of sin. Some of the stains are of our own doing and some of the stains are there because of what others did but either way there are stains. In fact all of us have lives marked by stains.
Well the office administrator of our church sent me an email this morning of some pictures someone had taken of some of the stained glass in our church. I am not a huge fan of stained glass, but I cannot deny the beauty of the stained glass. Well the email got me thinking about how the “stains” in our lives, whether of our own doing or not, can be transformed and used by God in beautiful ways that make them brilliant just like stained glass windows. Our lives filled with stains can be transformed in such a way that people can look and see such amazing beauty through those stains. That is what I was able to see in this young woman’s story…I saw beauty of transformation. She was a living stained glass window. She is truly trying to overcome evil with good and in the process she is allowing God to transform her into an amazing beautiful story.
I think that is something we could all learn from. We can let the “stains” of our lives (those things of evil) overcome us and we can get stuck or we can allow God to transform those stains into something beautiful as we try to overcome evil with good. We all have a chance to become living “stained glass windows.”
Okay, so I don’t really buy into that whole “If you think positive, positive things will start happening to you….” stuff. Really, I don’t. However, I have realized in my short 3.5 years of ministry that communicating positive things is essential.
Now, that comes easy for some people. You know…those people who always have a “pep in their step” and even on a stormy, cloudy, and gloomy day can still list off what is great about the day. Those people who can frame any situation with positivity (sometimes it can get sickening). Well, yeah one of those people I am not. I think I have figured out why I am not that way and I trace it roots to my early childhood and the desire to be the best so my father would want to have something to do with me. (hey I was 7 years old….) I became a perfectionist (my mother would say that I was this way well before 7 and that I cried when I got a bad grade in preschool..yep we got letter grades at Green Pastures school). As a perfectionist I was never satisfied and I always looked at a situation and tried to figure out what I could do better. This continued on as I grew older and it would drive me crazy whenever there was that little dash behind the A on my report card.
Now if only that would have stayed within the framework of school, but it didn’t. I constantly evaluate myself and the situations I find myself in and try to think of how I could have done better or how “we” could do better. Any success is taken for granted because that is the way it should be. What this leads to is a lack of celebrating the accomplishments and seeing the good changes that our happening.
I witnessed this first hand in my first pastoral appointment. I came it with that mindset and was always looking at what we could do better. I failed to celebrate the things that we were doing well and I failed to witness to the ways that God was moving in great ways within peoples’ lives and the life of the church. Shockingly (okay it was a shock to me at the time) this didn’t work to motivate people. It depressed people and cultivated a sense of hopelessness and negativity. After I knew I was going to be moving to another appointment I discovered the important lesson of celebrating the victories and I quickly saw the attitude of the church change. It wasn’t like the situation changed, but attitudes began to change and hope began to spring. New ideas came forth and new people found their voices, etc. We began to tell a different story. (all a little too late…..lesson learned)
Well, here I sit a year and a half into my second appointment and again I see how my “perfectionist” ways color my perception of the context. I look around and quickly come to conclusions of what we can do better, but because I learned a bit I am also trying to celebrate the “victories.” This is hard work for me. It is hard for me to celebrate, because there is always a longing for more and a knowledge that we can be so much more. But if I don’t celebrate, the culture can’t change. So I have tried to share the stories of movements within the life of the church. Two young boys in elementary school who both took from their own money to help build wells in Liberia through our Advent Conspiracy participation. A family who funded an entire well by their single contribution. A homeless man getting his truck fixed through our benevolence fund which allowed him to get a job that requires reliable transportation. Individuals longing for deeper connection with one another and God who are starting to meet in a home weekly. I could go on with a few more.
The stories are there, but how often are we sharing them? Two weeks ago after a council meeting where we discussed the budget and all the joys that come with that (sarcasm intended), I wrote four questions on the board in my office. The third question I wrote has been continually running through my mind:
How do we create a culture of hope, possibilities, and encouragement instead of a culture of hopelessness, limitations, and discouragement?
Our story has been dominated by who we should be and who we are becoming as two congregations recently merged and moving towards re-birth. But I am afraid we are forgetting to share the great things that God is doing and has given us which point to the hope and possibility that comes through God. We see “financial drain” of buildings. We see a lack of younger adults. We see that we aren’t the church we once were. We see the reality that our finances just don’t match up.
I have to catch myself sometimes (and most of the times I fail) as I add to this culture. I am really trying to help be a catalyst for change and I think the biggest way this is going to happen is by sharing the amazing stories that have happened and are happening. Some positive thinking could really help us open our eyes and ears to see just how God is calling us in our re-birth efforts.
Maybe I need to find some old Stuart Smalley video clips to help me get positive and help change the culture. A little affirmation could go along way….