Saturday, July 24, 2021

How to Become an MVP

 I suppose it is possible that you do not know that the Milwaukee Bucks are National Champions.  And I suppose it is possible you do not know that this was made possible in large part by the efforts of one player, Giannis Antetokounmpo (whose name, I am very happy to report, is so famous it even is corrected by the spell-check software). If that is you, please know that Mr. Antetokounmpo is a man gifted with a very unique combination of physical attributes and skills making him one of the very few human being on planet Earth who can play basketball at an elite level.  For this reason, he is a multiple winner of the Most Valuable Player award. He is an MVP of the highest order.

What makes him a person that we mere mortals should listen to is not his athletic prowess but his mental approach to the game and to life. I suggest it is his life perspective as much as his skills which make him an MVP.  The attitude he brings to his work is one that can make anyone an MVP in God’s eyes:

“Antetokounmpo’s news conferences were must-see events, and my favorite moment came midway through the Finals when Sam Amick, a national reporter for The Athletic, asked him a great question about his lack of ego. 

‘I figured out a mindset to have that when you focus on the past, that’s your ego,’ Antetokounmpo said. ‘I did this. We were able to beat this team 4-0. I did this in the past. I won that in the past. When I focus on the future, it’s my pride. Yeah, next game, Game 5, I do this and this and this. I’m going to dominate. That’s your pride talking. It doesn’t happen. You’re right here.

‘I kind of try to focus on the moment, in the present. That’s humility. That’s being humble. That’s not setting no expectation. That’s going out there, enjoying the game, competing at a high level. I think I’ve had people throughout my life that helped me with that. But that is a skill that I’ve tried to, like, kind of — how do you say, perfect it.’” (Jim Polzin | Wisconsin State Journal July 22, 2021)

“Humility. Humility. Humility.” (John Calvin) The stuff of which MVPs are made.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

"We Found You, My Child!"

“My child is missing!!” Can there be a more sinking feeling than when a parent realizes that harsh reality?

 During our trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Jill was waiting for our grandsons and I to return when she overheard a frantic mother trying to describe her two-year old daughter to a security guard.  The little girl was in her stroller while the parents were watching the fish swim and somehow, she managed to escape the stroller and was missing in a minute. Or was she abducted? The father was off looking for his precious child. Jill asked the mother for the daughter’s name and size and clothing description and offered to help in the search.

 As we started our drive through the rain on our way to Michigan, our grandsons safely seated behind us, a prayer went up for the missing girl.  Days later when we headed home Jill wondered out loud, “I just can’t stop thinking about that missing girl. How can we find out if they found her?”

 Then I read about Guo Gangtang. Mr. Guo had for 24 years, searched for his son who was abducted while playing outside their home as his mother was inside preparing a meal.  Mr. Guo wore out 10 motorcycles as he travelled throughout China in his search. This week the police were able to produce a DNA match for the lost child and the search was over. As the boy turned man met his parents in a three-way hug of a lifetime, Mom said, “My darling, my darling, my darling. We found you, my son, my son.” ( Parents Who Never Stopped Searching Reunite With Son Abducted 24 Years Ago By Vivian Wang and Joy Dong https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/14/world/asia/guo-gangtang-china)

 What is the work of the church and its community of believers? To listen for stories of lost children. To join in the desperate search for them, like a Shepherd who never stops looking for the one who wandered away; to be motivated by a love that outdoes even Mr. Guo’s relentless effort to find the Father’s lost children.

 God invites us to join in the search which we are assured ends with God wrapping every lost child in the best hug ever, while whispering (or shouting?) ‘We found you, my child!”

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Are Butterflies Surprised?

 She told me she saw a butterfly. She was a little sad, because her Mother had always told her butterflies were a sign of Fall’s return.  “No,” I assured her, “they are a sign of summer, going from flower bed to flower bed. They are a sign of new creation, new life.”

As I thought about that conversation this week, I was reminded of an old cartoon in which the characters consider butterflies like this:  "Do caterpillars know they're going to be butterflies, or does God surprise them?" (Family Circus, Bil Keane, Feb. 23, 2007)

 Last fall I watched the caterpillars crawling for safety.  It was a slow, long crawl to a destination I did not know. I don’t know if they did either. Sometimes you just keep crawling along until you stop.

 This summer I see the butterflies in our backyard enjoying the plants. It appears their long crawl was rewarded. I wonder what it was like that first day when they awoke to find themselves flying instead of crawling? Was this a long-winter’s night dream come true or a shocking revelation? Did they remember that they used to be able to only crawl? Or was the act of flying so wonderful that they just forgot all about the crawling life?

 I don’t know if we will wake up after our long sleep and be surprised. ‘I can fly? I can fly!’

 Maybe it won’t be literal flight we enjoy, but we will feel so unburdened that we feel as if we are ‘walking on sunshine.’

 Until then, while it might seem like a long slow crawl, you can know the lightness of being, enjoying the surprise of being a new creation on the inside. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 This summer, keep your eyes peeled for a butterfly. They come as a sign of second chances, of fresh starts, of healing, as their wings sing a song of new life sent to you.

Surprise!

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Sparkler or Candle?

 I was watching our teenage grandsons wave sparklers last night.  It was fun while it lasted, but that wasn’t long.  The longest a sparkler will burn is four minutes. Impressive. For a sparkler. What you get with a sparkler is a big flash of light, some popping sounds, and some sparkles of course.

 But what if you want a longer light show? Buy a candle.  Candles can burn for hours. Add some salt and you get an even longer burn.

 What you don’t get with a candle is a big flash or popping sounds or sparkles. I guess the type of fire you want to light depends on the effect you are after, the length of the burn you desire.

 How would you describe your faith in God? If you have taken the time to read this, well, I am guessing you are more candle than sparkler.

 Still, if your faith journey is being lit by a long-burning candle, remember that they don’t burn forever. Be sure to visit the candle store often, so you are always ready. If your faith journey is being lit by a sparkler presently, then find your way to the candle store, or soon you will find yourself walking in the dark.  You can choose to walk in the dark, but eventually you bump into things. Ouch.

 Or worse, you get lost.

 Sparkler faith is fun to see in people. You see the big flash of faith, and they make lots of popping sounds and sparks. For a while. But candle faith is what prevents the darkness from overcoming the light. (John 1:4-5) 

 Think about your faith journey. Is it a fast-burning sparkler or a long-burning candle? Do you have enough light to get you all the way home?

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Best Laid Retirement Plans

 When I first read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, I discovered, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” I use that line from a Robert Burns’ poem to explain why, no matter how carefully I have planned a project, something goes wrong. When things go wrong despite my best intentions and efforts, I comfort myself by reciting, ‘the best laid plans….’

 Through my life I have been a planner.  I wrote a letter to my mother-in-law while I was courting her daughter to explain how I planned to live the next twenty-five years of my life so that I would become President. The letter worked in gaining her approval of my plan for her daughter to become my bride.  As for the rest of the plan, well, ‘the best laid plans….’

 After a lifetime of planning, two years ago I planned my retirement with a team of colleagues at our church.  We planned for me to retire from full time ministry four days from now. This would have been my last Saturday Stirrings.  Then ‘the pandemic’ happened. You may have heard of it.  ‘The best laid plans….’

 Plan B: wait a year. In June 2021, begin a search process for my successor, so that I would retire one year hence.  As the calendar turned to June, that bride I mentioned above, my partner of 46 years, she and I came to the same conclusion.  I am not ready to retire. There is more work to be done with the people of Hope Church, and anyway, there is nothing she wants me to fix around the house since everything I touch breaks on contact. ‘The best laid plans….’

 The church leadership agrees. Not that I break things, but that there is more work for me to do.  The wonderful people of Hope agree, or at least the majority do.  For the first time in my adult life my plan is to have no plan.  Having no plan there is nothing to ‘gang aft a-gley’. What happens next is God’s plan.

 To God alone be the glory.

 “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Why I am Celebrating Juneteenth

 Happy Juneteenth!  Today, June 19, 2021, is the first time the United States officially celebrates in the form of a new national holiday the end of slavery in the United States.  It happened by means of a rare overwhelmingly bipartisan show of support in the United States Congress, and it was signed into law by President Biden, in what he describes as one of the greatest honors of his life, and Vice-president Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the United States Senate. The official name of the day is Juneteenth National Independence Day. 

Why should the people of God observe and celebrate Juneteenth? Allow me to suggest three reasons among the many reasons we should support this new holiday.

First, the story of the Bible is about the end of slavery for human beings.  The story of the humanity in its relationship to God is about the Exodus, where we leave our individual and collective ‘Egypt’ and march toward the freedom of the Promised Land.  The people of God oppose slavery in all its forms, especially the slavery caused by our sin. The people of God celebrate freedom in all its forms, and in the United States that means celebrating the end of one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history. 

Second, the unique story of Juneteenth, in which the celebration was delayed two and one-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, is representative of the story of salvation. Jesus Christ won the war over the slavery of sin at the Cross, but the battles over sin’s influence continue until Christ returns to proclaim final victory.  We are free, but not everyone yet knows that truth.

Third, it is a day we can use to reflect on our progress in achieving true independence and equality for all races.  The final scenes of God’s Word pictures a great gathering of a multitude ‘from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne’ of God.  When we pray ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’, what do you think that means? That we, the people of God, strive on earth to set all people free and to celebrate our liberty until that day when we all stand as equals, the redeemed of the Lamb, celebrating our final freedom in heaven.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Graduation Speech: Secret to Success, Pt. 2

 Verda Tetteh. Remember that name. Verda Tetteh is near the top of my ‘most likely to know success in her life’. She unlocked the secret as a high school senior.

 Ms. Tetteh is a child of an immigrant family, from Ghana. She worked her way through the pandemic year at a grocery store while achieving the highest of academic honors at her school. Oh, by the way, she also received admission to Harvard. Yet, admirable as are these achievements, the part of Ms. Tetteh’s character that impresses me most is what she did with the $40,000.00 award from her school for her excellent record.

 After listening to the graduation day speeches about ‘being selfless and being bold’, she made an unscheduled trip back to the graduation day microphone.  She proceeded to ask that the school change the game for someone else’s life by taking back her $40,000.00 award and granting it to someone in greater economic need.

 One news outlet reported her remarks and what followed: “’I am so very grateful for this, but I also know that I am not the one who needs this the most,’ she said. Out on the grass, her classmates rose from their folding chairs to cheer. It was her second standing ovation that day.”  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/06/08/verda-tetteh-scholarship-graduation/)

 I would have been one of those rising to cheer her too. Ms. Tetteh’s selfless and bold act, one could argue, was poor personal financial planning. But it is great life-planning, learning as a young adult that keeping what we need while being generous with that we do not need, or that someone else needs more.

 As Leslie Barnor, Verda’s stepfather explained, “’We are a Christian family….We believe we don’t need to have so much before you give to others.’” That’s the secret, friends.

 I don’t know what God has in mind for Ms. Tetteh’s path going forward, but I hope her story will be one that her generation will repeat often and widely.  The future of our society is much brighter because of visionary immigrants like Ms. Tetteh, people who truly understand that making someone else’s dream possible is the secret to success in life.