We have returned from a family vacation, a tour of the Great Lakes - Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior. One fifth of the world's fresh water is contained in the five Great Lakes. Lake Superior is the largest, deepest, and coldest of the lakes. Time away on family vacation reminded me of two things:
1.) We work from our rest. We can't work effectively or faithfully without adequate rest. Exhaustion stifles creativity, skill, and the capacity to care. We may come back to a full e-mail inbox (I had 2,400), but we return with clearer perspective and renewed energy.
2.) Vacations create lasting memories. Do you remember a family vacation as a child? The long car ride? The flat tire? The laughter on a roller coaster ride? Our oldest child is 9, and we've had the realization that she's halfway through her time at home (if she leaves at 18). These days are precious and fleeting. Vacations do come at a cost. But the memories of the experience will be imprinted on us and our children for decades. We pass on to our children an appreciation for rest, an awe of created beauty, and a delight in each other's company (even after 24 total hours of driving).
Now back to work . . .
Many people don't like Mother's Day (or Father's Day). We all come from different life circumstances, and often celebrations cause us sadness, grief, or resentment. What if you recently lost your mother? What if your mother abused you? What if you are unable to have children? I shared the following piece with my congregation on Sunday, and it resonated with many. It was written by Dr. Jeff Gibbs of Concordia Seminary.
I've heard the stories of far too many damaged pastor's kids. "Dad was married to the church." "I just wanted him to listen to me." "I don't remember him paying much attention to us." They're talking about pastors. Not bankers, brokers, or corporate tycoons.
As a pastor's kid, I emerged from childhood rather unscathed. I'm grateful that my father set boundaries. But the longer I'm in ministry, the more I see that my experience is far from common. Pastor's families are laden with scars and festering wounds. Better men than I have had families broken to pieces. Scandals, infidelity, misconduct, and unhealthy coping mechanisms are all evidence of dysfunction. I recently came across ExPastors.com which addresses many of the issues facing pastoral ministry.
I am assuming a new pastoral role - senior pastor of a mid/large-sized congregation. As I do so, I'm astutely aware of the occupational hazards. There are sacrifices that a family makes for the sake of ministry. But there is a difference between making sacrifices and being sacrificed. My family makes sacrifices for ministry. Jesus is the only One who has been sacrificed. I'd like to keep it that way.
Vacations are good, and I hope you get to take one this summer. It doesn't have to be anything spectacular. In fact, it's better if it's not. I am recently off a vacation with my folks in Minnesota. What did I do?
Here's a great post on solitude.
WARNING: I may sound like a scrooge in this post. I was reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to my kids last night. Halfway through, I realized that we don't talk a lot about Santa Claus in our house. We aren't the anal Christians who banish Santa because we fear that he's a Trojan horse for rampant consumerism, or a piece of Christian traditionalism turned pagan mythology.
We do mention Santa occasionally, but we just don't make a big deal of him. We did get a picture taken with Santa, but we don't go to great lengths to include him in our Christmas celebration. People ask my kids, "What is Santa bringing you?" Or, "Have you been good for Santa?" I feel sort of bad that they respond with blank stares like, "What are you even talking about?"
There are some Christians who practically hate Santa. They omit him from every bit of their tradition. As I was reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas," I realized that our response was indifference. A mild shoulder shrug, as if to say, "I can take him or leave him." They say that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Call me a scrooge, but I guess I don't love Santa. I'm more interested the baby crying in an animal feed box in the barn.
As we celebrate the birth of a child 2,000 ago, consider the diminishing birthrate in the United States. "More babies, please," says Ross Douthat in the New York Times. A new study by the Pew Research Center found that the U.S. birthrate in 2011 was the lowest ever recorded, with only 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. In 1990 that number was 71.
An obvious reason for this is the economic downturn. There's something that agitates me about the question, "Can we afford to have a baby?" With three small children consuming my resources, I certainly understand the necessity to provide. (My 5-year-old finished my Honey Nut Cheerios this morning!). I would not advocate irresponsibility. But should finances be the driving force in my family? Should money be the determining factor in how many children we have? Will our family be "missing" someone because we couldn't afford it? Is my standard of living too high? Should we take fewer vacations and drive an older car so we can bring another child into the world?
There is a risk with bringing any child into the world. In 2012, one risk is the increasing demand on the family budget. Costly health care and college savings have become necessities. In the Great Depression, it was simply food and a roof. The basic question of provision plays an important role in growing a family.
So how many children should a family have? I won't even go there. Every couple must prayerfully consider their own context when discussing family size. I do know that my children have taught me selflessness. Their existence has required me to sacrifice, and I'm a better man because of it. There was a child born to a teenage mother in Bethlehem. She and her husband had meager resources. For a while, they lived in Africa as refugees because of a tyrant king. Yet God's provision was enough for this family. In fact, his provision in the manger has spilled over into abundance 2,000 years later.
“I, __________, in the presence of God and these witnesses, take you, __________, to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us, and I pledge you my faithfulness.”
Love requires law. This statement sounds backwards in our modern society. It sounds odd because we typically associate love with free and spontaneous passion. When you bring “laws” to love, then it would seem restrictive and stifling. Law, rules, and duty seem to be the antithesis of love’s passion.
The biblical nature of covenant gives us a picture of how “law” actually makes for deeper, more intimate love. In the Bible, God makes a binding promise to his people (Gen. 17:1-14; Psalm 105:8-11). In spite of their unfaithfulness and failings, he binds himself in a legal and contractual format called a covenant. Most contracts are quid pro quo, this for that. But God’s covenant with his people is different. While there are obligations for his people, God’s love for them is not predicated on their obedience. His love is the foundation. His covenant is proof of that love, and a call for them to respond in obedience.
Marriage gives permanence to love by linking love with law. In marriage, you aren’t just saying, “I love you.” You’ve probably done that already. In marriage, you are cementing that love, binding yourselves together by vows. The "law" of the vows is done first and foremost before God. Second, the vows are binding before those gathered to witness your public declaration. Third, they exist as legally binding before the state.
Tim Keller writes, “Real love desires permanence . . . So the ‘law’ of vows and promises fits our deepest passions at the present. But it is also something the love of our heart needs in order to have security about the future.” The law ensures safety and security. The binding law of wedding vows offer love a safe and secure place. Bound by this law, I can show my wife my deepest vulnerabilities, insecurities, and scars. And after she has seen the worst of me, I know she won’t leave. Her love has proven itself in vows.
The binding “law” of vows makes marriage far more significant than “dating” or “living together.” The “law” of marriage makes love tangible and concrete. Marriage is a binding promise that shows love at a deeper level. Together, love and law make something far more durable, binding, and unconditional.
_ The following is a guest post from a member of my congregation, Natalie McLaury. Natalie is a renowned food blogger (The Sweets Life). I asked her to consider food and relationships. Read and consider what food does for your family. For your congregation. For the mission of the church.
You can’t really tell your pastor “no” when he asks you to guest blog, can you? I didn’t think so. Thankfully, he asked me to write on a topic I can’t really get enough of: food. More specifically, how it is that food fosters relationships.
Whether I realized it or not, I have been witnessing relationships fostered by food my whole life. For the first twenty-two years of my life, this was something I partook in as a willing participant and spectator. Sitting down to Christmas dinner with my extended family, lovingly prepared by my grandma. Eating a warm meal around a campfire, prepared by guides, after twelve hours of climbing through the mountains of Colorado. Filling up a tray with the dish of the day in the Truman State University dining hall before sitting down to a leisurely dinner full of chatter with friends. Making a stop at the Dairy Queen drive through window with my dad after a winning soccer game.
Food inevitably connects people, because everyone needs food.
After twenty-two years of connecting with people over food prepared by others, everything changed. My increased interest in food sprung from a relationship—that with my new husband. With a mouth to feed other than my own, my entire outlook on food shifted and I tapped an undiscovered passion: connecting with others through food prepared by me.
That was over three years ago. In those three years, I’ve started a blog. I’ve posted over 800 recipes on that blog. I won a recipe contest that took me to San Francisco, where I met other food bloggers just as passionate about food and cooking as I am. I’ve hosted friends for countless meals, supplied post-church refreshments more times than I can count, and even thrown a party featuring twelve kinds of cheesecake!
What have I learned? I’ll say it again: food inevitably connects people, because everyone needs food.
My college-aged brother, who I don’t see or talk to as often as I’d like, knows I’m thinking about him when that fresh batch of cookies arrives at his dorm. Our common denominator is food.
A reader emails me a question and shares a story about how she relates with something I mentioned on the blog. I am suddenly making personal connections with someone I only know by name. Our common denominator is food.
A distant great-uncle shares his favorite recipes with me and reads every word of my email in which I recount a great meal I recently had. Our common denominator is food.
A friend becomes a best friend when we bond in the kitchen, making huge messes and creating delicious meals. Our common denominator is food.
I sit at a table with my husband’s family, sharing stories and creating memories while feasting on homemade pie and ice cream, prepared by me. Our common denominator is food.
My life has infinitely richened since I started proactively using food as a way to reach out to others—first my brand new husband and now, quite literally, thousands of people around the world.
Don’t get me wrong—cooking night after night, writing blog post after blog post is not a requirement to foster relationships through food. It’s the road I’ve been led on, but isn’t most likely yours. Find other ways to reach that common denominator of food with others. Invite a friend to grab sushi with you. Pick up a brownie mix and bring in a treat for your coworkers. Call your mom when you see a recipe for macaroni and cheese that reminds you of your favorite childhood meal.
Food inevitably connects people, because everyone needs food. How can you use food to connect?