Friday, June 23, 2006

Dropping Everything

A few years back I wrote the following words. I found them today, searching for something else. They are more true today in regards to my journey than they were when I penned them. I need to ask myself these questions all the time.

When Simon Peter saw [the huge catch of fish], he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” for he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Luke 5:8-11

Curious, this “left everything” phrase. Especially in light of what had just happened. If ever there was a time to stay on the boat, with your nets in the lake and your eyes on the water, this was it. Production was . . . up!

The partnership between Simon Peter and his friends Zebedee had a mission statement: We Catch Fish. This is what the business had been about. Let other people clean the fish, market the fish, sell the fish. What Zebedee-Petros Ltd. was about was fishing.

And they did it well. They had been able to hire on others to help them out, thus the “all his companions.” They knew the Sea of Galilee - could navigate the vast lake with their eyes closed. They had a reputation for going out in the worst of weather and bringing home the bass when everybody else had given up, wet and wiped. James and John had the nickname, “Sons of Thunder” because they didn’t mind fishing right through a kickin’ lightening barrage. Born to fish, these men would never do anything else.

Today had been a windfall day. Thanks to this mysterious stranger they had hauled in more product than all last month’s take combined. Which was a good thing for Simon, since they had given him a major ribbing for allowing the guy to use his boat as a bully pulpit earlier in the day.

Put yourself in their sandals. Let’s say you’re an insurance salesman. You’ve been doing OK for awhile, seen the clientele grow steadily. You have a good reputation in the business. One day, someone tells you to try selling your product door to door in a vast apartment complex. You balk at the idea – nobody sells door to door anymore and lives - but something tells you he knows what he’s saying, so you do it. After two hours, you’ve written 379 policies, earned salesman-of-the-year and commissions out the yazoo. Now, here’s the question: Would this be your last day in the business?

“They left everything and followed him.”

Such an impression was made that they dropped the nets, beached the boats, walked away from the vast, wriggling income on the shore and took to his heels. I can only imagine the conversation at the house that night as Simon Peter let his bride in on the mid-life career change:

Simon: ...So I’ve decided to go with him.
Ms. Simon: (Incredulous look in her eyes) You what?
Simon: I’m going to follow him. For the next couple years. I’m not going to fish anymore.
Ms. Simon: And what about the rent? What about the boats? What about the kids? Oy Veh! Simon! What’s the matter with you? Do you need to go buy a red convertible or something?

What is so big to me that I wouldn’t leave it for Him? What is so exciting to me that I wouldn’t consider His plans more exciting still? What would be so important as to hold me down when He says, “Get up and get moving; we’ve got plans!”

In his excellent book, Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli says:

The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, He changes them into “nice people.” If Christianity is simply about being nice, I’m not interested.

Look around. Hear a call? Maybe it’s time. You’ve been fishing in the same water too long, friend. Drop those nets. Pick up the pace. Follow Him.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Lilly Pad Faith

It has been God's way of working in our lives - his modus operandi - to point the way ahead of time. Linda and I have rarely been forced to scratch our heads about the future, about God's will, about our next adventure. He's shown us what's next sometimes before we were ready to accept it; sometimes before anyone else knew about it.

We parked one Christmas night at midnight in the parking lot across from a tiny country church in agrarian Southern California and prayed. But the prayer was unnecessary to determine what God was up to. We knew we were headed to Nuevo for a new thing. The prayer was more like, "God, are you sure? You want to rethink this? Nuevo? Don't you have some other options?" The church had been ravaged by internal strife, had struggled by with about thirty-five congregants, and had meager resources with which to pay a pastor, save for the offer of the parsonage next door to the church and painted the same color (always a disadvantage for the parson).

But we knew. We were going to live there. It was what God planned.

Seven years and lots of ministry later, God pointed his finger to the northeast. Linda and I were celebrating our anniversary on Mt. San Jacinto. After dinner we took a little hike, sat on a rock overlooking Palm Springs, and I said, "Larry told me he mentioned my name to a church in Michigan that needs a pastor." Linda didn't tell me at the time, but a few weeks later she let it out that when she heard those words on the mountain, her stomach turned and she became nauseated. It wasn't the celebratory dinner, it was the surety God had placed in her heart that Royal Oak, MI was to be our new home.

From that June day we talked about going to Michigan with an almost arrogant presumption. "When we live in Michigan it will snow at Christmas." "When we get to Michigan we'll have a big garden." Meanwhile, the folks in Royal Oak were just barely getting started with the search for a pastor, and they had a pretty good idea of who they wanted that pastor to be, and it wasn't me.

They didn't call me until February. They flew Linda and me out in April for an overnight interview. We were told later that the trip was just a formality; the search team had a candidate in mind but thought they should investigate another one so that they could say they'd done their job. But if Linda and I had any doubts before that visit, they were all gone by the flight home. We were becoming Michiganders.

When the congregation held a meeting to take a vote, and the meeting was going on three hours, I admit I began to think we'd misinterpreted God's signals. But we squeaked by on the vote and went back to CA to pack our bags for the Midwest.

These last four years, however, things haven't been so clear. We're flying by the seat of our pants. It's not that God has left us - abandoned and lost without a map. There have been times when our direction was sure: leaving the church, bringing my parents from CA to live with us, pursuing writing, speaking, and the interim position at Livonia. But the distinctiveness of God's former dealings have changed. Now he leads not by photographs, clear and bright with good contrast, but by impressionistic grace, a Monet with blurred blues and dappled golds which creates the atmosphere of his will, not necessarily the details. He provides a lilly pad at a time, and we carefully tread out on the water.

Here I stand, on this lilly pad, for this summer. I have a deadline of September 1 to finish a book project that began just a few weeks ago. The decision about which lilly pad in this broad pond is the next location for my feet will have to wait until September. Until then, here I stand.