Archive for the ‘Parables’ Category

It has been almost two weeks.

On Tuesday the 5th of July, I was sent on sabbatical. I say, “sent,” because I probably wouldn’t have chosen to do so if I wasn’t encouraged to do so by my elders and staff. In my mind, I always pictured the pastor who goes on sabbatical is a pastor who is spent, tired and worn out. He is the pastor who is at the edge of falling apart and can’t see straight because the burden of ministry is straining his spiritual life, his family life, and his personal life. He is a pastor who can’t stand seeing another “sheep” unless it has been prepared in the kitchen and served on a plate. He is the pastor who can’t come up with anything good to preach and only opens his Bible on Saturday night when he is cramming for “yet another sermon.”  He is the pastor who is romantically involved with his secretary and hasn’t been intimate with his wife for years. He is the pastor who is going bald from stress and doesn’t sleep a full night without pills or alcohol.

I am not that pastor.

In truth, I feel like I am in the middle of a most beautiful time in our church, Epic Life. My relationship with our church family is great, I still feel creative, I love preaching and encouraging and leading. I am not worn out or not getting enough sleep, or stressed and balding, and my wife and I are enjoying a very sweet season in our marriage, this 25th year. I enjoy a good beer but believe in the beauty of one at a time. The truth be told, I don’t think I “need” a sabbatical.

But…here I am. I am finishing my second week of a two and a half month sabbatical. I have mowed the lawn two times, made two yard games, made a apple cider press, repaired my windblown fence, made a compose barrel, made a swing, cleaned my garage, split some firewood, pruned the trees in the back yard, shared meals with friends, welcomed guests in our home for a couple nights sleep, hiked Mt Rainier, paid bills, helped the neighbor and played many games and took many walks with my boys and wife. Now what?

What am I suppose to be doing?… I am studying the book of Isaiah, reading a book on discipleship, a book on creativity, a book on church planting and a healthy dose of Calvin and Hobbes, and keeping a pretty cool list of creative ideas.

Tomorrow I will be mowing my lawn for the third time.

The third time.

My first job was mowing lawns around the small town of Grangeville, ID; a town nestled in the foothills of Mount Idaho. My dad gave me the truck when I turned 15 and taught me how to take care of the equipment so I would actually make some money. I really enjoyed mowing lawns. I think I enjoy mowing laws for the same reason I am a knoller, I like things to look symmetrical or creatively unsymmetrically symmetrical.  As I mowed eight yards a week it didn’t take long for a phenomenon known only to the mowing world to take place – the dull blade.

Phenomenon – because the blade is sharpened hardened steel and it is being dulled by grass. Grass. How is this possible? I don’t know the answer to this deeply philosophical and deeply spiritual question, but I certainly can draw a life lesson on sabbaticals from it.

A lawn mower blade starts out sharp and cuts grass like a hot knife cutting warm butter, but over time and many, many, many blades of grass dulls the sharp edge. It happens slowly and isn’t really noticeable for a long time, until you look closely, and realize the grass is being thrashed and whipped not cut. A little look under that mower brings a realization the blade is so dull it probably couldn’t even cut soft butter.

What does it need? Sharpened.

How does it get sharpened? It has to be removed from the mower set on the work bench and pressed into the grinder. The grinder literally takes some of the steel off the blade as it sharpens.

There are four things I want to focus on, although I could write a book on this analogy.

Realize – A dull blade isn’t a statement on the quality or function of the lawn mower, it is but a statement about the blade – it needs to be sharpened. Often the blade is not sharpened because it is out of sight and since it is not readily seen or accessible it is left as is, which means it will only get worse. The mower itself often works just fine, but if the blade is left to get more and more dull the nicely mowed lawn will look worse and worse and the entire mower will be to blame. It would be silly to throw the mower away and buy a new one just because the blade needs a bit of sharpening.

A sabbatical allows for a bit of sharpening to happen, even though things seem great and may even be great, sharpening is still such an important part of ministry life and is very hard to do while going full throttle.  Ministry is unlike mowing lawns in that when I was finished mowing a lawn I wouldn’t think about the lawn for at least a week. Can you imagine mowing a lawn for 24-7-365? The mower will die pretty fast. Ministry is like that. There isn’t a break from the work to be done, and even though I love it so much, I am pretty sure I won’t be able to keep the pace going forever. The mower will wear out.

Pastors and the churches they minister with need to Realize a sabbatical needs to happen when the blade needs to be sharpened, not when the mower needs to be replaced.  Sharpening a blade is pretty worthless if the mower has gone on to the great yard in the sky.

Separate – Pretty simple here. To sharpen a blade, it needs to be separated from the mower.

20160716_135802

“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.”

Jesus (Mark 6:31)

Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”  (Luke 5:16)

Separate means to keep apart and divided. Honestly, I have to force myself to do this. I love the church community I get to minister with. But I also am being reminded by scripture that being separated is overwhelmingly important. Jesus never once told people he was tired of them and needed to get away from them, but he did separate himself from the life of ministry.

I must withdraw to the wilderness. Which means, I will not be answering emails, texts, messages, phone calls or posts. I might not even answer the door. I am forcing myself to be separate. Unless you are dying, and even then tell Averi first and she will decide if I need to know.

Jesus went to the wilderness while the people he ministered to and his friends he loved continued to live, suffer, hurt, work, worship, celebrate and die.

Sharpen – The blade needs to be pressed into the grinding stone to remove the dullness bringing a newly sharpened edge.

20160716_140143  I need to be sharpened as well. I don’t know what this looks like yet, but part of it has been being home and working on projects I have put off for years. I will be sharpened by learning from mentors, books, the Word, etc.  This sharpening will be a blessing to the church community I love, just as the sharp blade will now “minister” to the lawn, creating a beautifully manicured lawn.

Return – The “sabbatical” of the blade is only good if it returns to the mower and the lawn. And, if the separation and sharpening have been effective, the return will cut a beautiful lawn.    I am forced to assume that Jesus’ Sabbatical exits were just what he needed to continue to do what he was called to. For if we are living a life of the called we are living a different life than one we would have chosen for ourselves; that life requires Sabbatical.

 

I am trying my best to faithfully steward Sabbatical by not continuing to cut the grass with a dull blade. In this sabbatical season, I will be forcing myself to be separate, not because I want to, but because I need to. If I don’t respond to requests and communications, it’s because I have been separated.  I will continue to post a few Instagram and Twitter thoughts, which get shared with FB, but I won’t be checking in to see who “Like” those posts. I will separate, be sharpened and then may I return fully sharpened and equipped to mow the lawn of life well.

I don’t know what to tell you
I don’t know what to say
All I can do
Is try to portray

Got my bags packed
Know where I’m Going
I planned it all night
So I’m gunna be flowing

I know who I am
I know what I’ve got,
Gunna walk to the top
Cause I’ve got a shot

I’m Going to the top
Cause I’ve got a shot

Not lookin’ back
Going all the way
Going to the place
Where its gunna pay

I’ve got it planned out
I’ve booked it on line
I’ve planned on the map
Its gunna be fine.

First I’ll go here
Then I’ll go there
I’ll jump in a plane
And pay my fare

All across the world
Gunna trade and Gunna borrow
I’ll make a bunch of cash
And then there’s tomorrow!

I’m the King of fortune
Gunna lay it all out
Nothin’ gunna stop me
Come on gimme a shout!

I know who I am
I know what I’ve got,
Gunna walk to the top
Cause I’ve got a shot

I’m going to the top
Cause I’ve got a shot

My plans are secure
I know what I need
Don’t need no intervention
Don’t need to take heed

I know what’s best
For my life down the road
I’ll do all this stuff
And then I’ll reload

I’m gunna fill my cup
With all that good life
If my girl doesn’t like me
I’ll get a new wife!

I’ll buy a big house
You know I deserve it
With no money down
The bank will preserve it.

Buy a bunch of new stuff
To fill up the space
Put it on the card
And run the credit race

Oh the smell of a new car
I can make payments
Gap and Abercrombie
Gots my new rayments

Poppin with my new ring
Hippin with my jacket
Bright shiny shoes
Oh I’m gunna crack it

My phone with a tone
My screen with a sheen
My car with a star
Cause it is up to par!
A bag with a swag
Wheels with appeal
A girl with swirl
Yeah I’ve got a game with fame
On my X-box 720
You know it’ll come
And I’ll be there with my money.

I’ve got bling I my swing,
Well not me personally,
But you know what I mean.

Yeah I’m bankin on tomorrow
But so… are we all
Later tonight
The Prez will make the call.

Gotta have it now
Tomorrow I’ll pay
Or maybe the next
That’s what I’ll say

What…I’ve got 50 yrs
To get my desires
Before I’m pushin daisies
And singing in the choirs

I’ll wait till the end
Then make my amends
This time until then
I’m gunna hang ten

Gunna do some bungie jumping
And a roller coaster ride
Gunna hit up the surf
And play in that tide

Gunna drive real fast
Down the open road
And find some chemicals
So my brain will overload

I’m gunna jump from a plane
And reach for the rip cord
But no shoot opens…
Oh… My… Lord!

I had 50 yrs
But my time is up
I traveled so far
Tryin to fill my cup

I thought I’d be successful
With my big big plan
I didn’t even realize
I’m only just a man.

I spent all this time
Planning my days
And didn’t even see
He was shinin through the haze.

What if I changed my life
And did a hard thing?
What if I turned my heart
And let the Master sing?

James 1:2-4, Romans 5:1-5, Psalm 139:14, Jeremiah 1:5

mushroomThere in the woods was a small plain mushroom of one brownish color who discovered that it was the smallest creature of all the woodland world. It found its place in the world at the base of a magnificent cedar tree of unbelievable size. The cedar stretched to the highest reaches of the forest towering high over the rest of the woodland trees.  All of the woodland creatures looked up to the mighty Cedar, its height was the envy of all the other trees. They constantly compared themselves to the glory of the mighty Cedar; it’s thick trunk was a symbol of unbelievable strength, it’s hundreds of huge limbs spread out wide, shading the forest floor from the severe elements of the mountain weather, it’s yearly production of seed cones helped thousands of new trees begin life in the forest floor miles around. This grand tree was the mightiest of the mighty, the strongest of the strong and the healthiest of the healthy and it was the envy of all the other forest vegetation.

The younger trees longed to be as big and strong as the mighty Cedar. The shrubs and bushes envied the Cedar’s height. The flowers of the forest floor admired the Cedar’s strong sturdy trunk. The deciduous trees longed to be green year around and strong enough to hold so much snow in their branches as the mighty Cedar could. The ferns wished they could produce as many little ferns as the Cedar produced new trees each year. Even the little mushroom, the smallest creature of the woods dreamed of some day being as big as the mighty Cedar, knowing that it would be impossible. She hoped that someone would only notice her growing quietly in the shadow of the Cedar, beside the massive trunk and under the huge limbs. There seemed to be no purpose for her. It made her sad that she did not have the amazing qualities of the mighty Cedar and soon she started to resent the Cedar and wished it would just go away.

One day a terrible wind storm blew through the mountains where the little mushroom lived. It blew very hard all night long. The wind, roaring through the trees that towered over the mushroom, made an awful rushing noise that made the mushroom very much afraid. In the early hours of the morning the mushroom held her head low trying to close the noise out when a loud cracking sound split through the rushing wind. It was so loud the mushroom almost jumped out of the ground from being startled. She was very much afraid for the rest of the night.

But like all storms this one came to an end as the sun peeked up over the far hills. The mushroom lifted her head to look around in the cool morning light that streamed through the surrounding branches of the many trees in her forest. She saw many broken branches laying on the forest floor and the whispering of the trees about the violence of the storm that night. The forest soon came back to life with the animals and trees and plants chatting and playing.

The little mushroom wondered what the loud “cracking” noise could have been during the storm, so she thought she would ask the one being who she thought would know the answer: the mighty Cedar.

She was nervous because the Cedar had never talked with her before and he was so big and intimidating, and he probably didn’t have time for such a small creature of the woods.

“Excuse me.” She said timidly.

“Excuse me.” She said a bit louder.

“Yes?” Came a booming voice right next to her. It was the Cedar, he was speaking to her. The little mushroom shivered out of nervousness and surprise that he had spoken to her.

“I was wondering if you knew what that loud Cracking sound was last night.” She replied, thinking he would just push her aside and get on with his greatness.

“I will tell you, Little Lady, but you must promise not to tell any of the other forest creatures.” The Cedar said to her.

Surprised, she answered quietly, “OK.”

The mighty Cedar leaned closer to the little mushroom and said, “Last night the wind was too strong for me to handle. It was a great North Wind of mighty proportions and it has cracked my trunk, I fear that I may not be able to stand much longer. My fear is that I may fall and hurt many of the woodland creatures in the path of the destruction.”

“But how? I mean, why? I mean, how is it possible that someone as great and mighty as you could break?” Asked the littlest creature in the forest.

“Little Lady, over the past 600 years I have grown tall and strong and have become the envy of the entire forest. I know that my trunk is of unmatched proportions and my limbs spread wider than any other tree and I produce more seed cones than any creature of the forest. I am a mighty cedar tree that has no enemy and no comparable peer. But, Little One, over the years I have allowed this greatness to become my idol and have not given my praise back to the One who has allowed me to become so mighty. This pride, I have secretly enjoyed, started to eat away at the core of my trunk almost 80 years ago, weakening my in most being. On the outside I still look strong, but my heart is weak and sick. Years ago I could stand up to such a strong wind; I would laugh at the North Wind. But now, because I have taken pride in the envy of the woodland creatures I have become unable to withstand the winds, which lead to my fragile shell of trunk to crack and I am afraid I will soon die.”

The little mushroom didn’t know what to say. It was hard to believe that such a mighty being could be at the edge of death.

“I do not understand. How could you die? You look so big and strong.” Asked the mushroom.

“This is a path that I have chosen for myself because I did not turn the praise of my fellow woodland creatures back towards the Creator. I have taken all the praise for myself and although I have repented of my wrong, my time is passed and I now must face the end.”

“But there is more young lady.”

“What is it?” asked the mushroom.

“You are a sign of good things to come. You are growing because of the rot that is in my heart and which has gone into my roots. You’re simple beauty has flourished because of the death within me. The Creator of all things has set a certain Truth in place, which says that beauty can emerge

out of pain.

You, little mushroom, have spent many days wanting to be like me while all along missing the amazement of who you are. You carry certain qualities that I will never have.”

“I do?” Questioned the small mushroom.

“Why yes! You are dainty, an attribute I could never attain. You have grown out of the ground in the shade and from a soil that most would call ‘rotten,’ but which you have used for good and growth. You alone, Little Lady, are in a shape that only you possess, and that shape is beautiful.  You are extremely interesting in your own right and that interest should never be taken lightly.”

“Please understand that while you are longing to be like me, you are desperately trying to flee from the beauty you were created to be, and instead of giving your praise back to the Creator you are telling him that what He has created is ugly and not good enough. You are in jeopardy of the same sickness I have found myself in, that of a sick heart. Please learn from my mistake and take glory in your unique beauty and give glory to the Creator for His amazing creation: You.”

The small woodland creature took the words of the might Cedar and thought about them for many days. She didn’t want to believe the words were true and that she was wonderful and amazing just like he was. She felt there was truth in the words but they were so hard to accept, especially looking up every day at the Mighty Cedar.

One night the North Wind swept back into the forest. It made the mushroom quite afraid as the branches of the mighty Cedar shook and swayed and creaked for hours. Then it happened, there was a splitting noise that echoed through the forest with a ferocious cry ending with a crash that exploded through the noise of the wind.

Soon the North Wind passed and as the sky turned light again the mushroom turned her head towards the sky only to see the Mighty Cedar had been broken down in a mighty fall, and she saw that what the tree had said about his heart was true, for there in his trunk was a rotten core with only a few inches of living tree around it.

The small mushroom cherished these things in her heart and began to praise the Creator for the beauty she was given and she learned to give praise for her amazement.

The following spring the little mushroom was joined by hundreds of other mushrooms all growing from the decaying roots of the Mighty Cedar and she was able to teach each of them of the unique beauty each individual mushroom has and the wonder of giving that glory back to the Creator.