Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Lesson in Ministry

Mile log: 565

Location: Mark 6

So Jesus sent the twelve disciples out on their first "mission trip," equipped with only the sandals on their feet... which sends a clear message: "Prepare for a lot of walking!" They were to stay in one house for each town they visited, possibly to learn that ministry is not solely about the events you do or the programs you set up, but the people you serve. They preached the good news of Jesus, cast out demons, anointed and healed. And they must have had a pretty powerful ministry, because word of it got back to King Herod, who could only conclude that it was the ghost of John the Baptist - maybe the only man he'd ever known with that kind of influence on the world. Little did he know that the power he witnessed came from a source much higher than mere man.

How long were the disciples on the road? By the time they regrouped to debrief with Jesus, they must have had a ton of stories to tell. I can hear them laughing and talking very animatedly, probably interrupting each other and chattering all at once because it was all too exciting and awesome to hold back. And I bet Jesus' smile was huge and his eyes sparkled... sure, he knew already what had happened, but hearing it all told and seeing the enthusiasm of his friends must have thrilled his heart.

But as most missionaries can affirm, the ministry did not stop when they came home. In fact, things were so busy, they didn't have time to eat. But I bet they were still running on so much of the adrenaline of their field experiences at this point that they didn't realize how much they needed some chill time with Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus knew. So he called them away - to physically move away from the craziness to a quiet and restful place with him... and keep in mind, their rest required his presence. They weren't just going to go sleep or sunbathe or "vege out" in front of the computer; they were going to be renewed by spending time just with Jesus.

I don't know how much "alone time" they got together... maybe it was just the boat ride. But sooner than they probably wanted, they were bombarded again. They got to the shore and people were already there waiting for them. That is one of the most wearying things to me: to go away and seek out solitude and quiet, and find more work waiting for me even there. But Jesus didn't moan and roll his eyes like I would... his compassion influenced his perspective and he rolled up his sleeves once more.

And then he taught them many things. I wonder what the disciples were doing... I hope and kind of suspect that they were sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to him speak. When you've been doing a lot of preaching, it is so refreshing to be able to hear someone else preach - to pour into you - for a little bit. But remember that they haven't eaten in a while... I bet as they sat still and just breathed, their adrenaline crashed and they became highly aware of the callouses on their feet, the tension in their necks, the scratchiness of their throats, and the loud rumbling of their stomachs. The magic and the fun is gone and they just want their personal time and space back... just send everyone home to eat so we can take a break, already.

But Jesus still had something very important to teach those disciples. "You feed them." I'm sure the disciples felt like that was too much... you've gotta be kidding! We don't have that kind of money! But Jesus is not easily discouraged by the obvious obstacles. "Who needs money? There are 5,000 people here! Go find out how much bread they have to share." The report of 5 loaves and 2 fish was probably given in a tone that mixed "I told you so," with "Better luck next time." This is the most hilarious part to me: Jesus didn't blink or scratch his head - he systematically organized the crowd, took the insignificant resources he had, thanked God for it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples to start passing out. Reminds me of the reckless generosity of so many of my refugee friends who have so little, yet never hesitate to pile high a plate of food for us.

I figured out the math: there were 5,000 accounted for, and 12 disciples. If the crowd was split up into 40 groups of 100 and 20 groups of 50, then each disciple would tend to 5 groups. Those of us in youth ministry cringe at the thought of one leader in charge of 5 kids, much less 400 people. I wonder when and how the bread and fish multiplied... but I'm sure the disciples thought they were going crazy as people ate their fill and left crumbs all over the green lawn. Clean up time, and each disciple had a basket to gather the leftovers, and each disciple came back together with a full basket. Probably way more bread and fish than they cared to see again. They might have thought, "If we had just sent everyone home, we would never have experienced this... never realized this sort of thing was even possible. We would have missed out on a miracle. We would have lost a chance to see the glory and power of God in our lives."

I wonder if Jesus ever said it out-right, or if his life just shouted it out all the time... but I think that evening, as the disciples stared in wonder at their full baskets, they probably got the message: "When you follow me, your life becomes a ministry. It doesn't matter if you have official business on the clock, if you are at home, or if you are on vacation. This is who you become when you stick with me. Be open, flexible, and ready. Sometimes things just happen, and if you are paying attention you can be a part of it. Allow your plans to be changed on a moment's notice, be willing to set aside your agenda for Mine. And see what marvelous things come of it."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Putting down roots

Mile log: 564

Ben is currently planting our trees.

Hannah and I went a little garden crazy about a month ago, and bought a ton of flowers and plants, and two trees - a peach tree and a dogwood tree (shout out to our beloved South!). The flowers and plants are now in the ground, but the trees have remained in their pots by the shed, waiting pretty patiently for us to give them natural space to grow. The dogwood has been less patient, and the leaves have gotten kind of wilted.

Today is a beautiful blue-sky-75-degree kind of day in Fort Wayne, so Ben asked if he could plant our trees for us. Who is Ben? Ben is, in the words of Jo March, "Here for a brief interlude of sensational experience before succumbing to a matrimonial fate." In other words, he is living in the guys' house behind us this summer, serving as a "temp" in our ministry team, until he gets married in July. He is a good guy, and we enjoy having another brother in our community. And apparently he knows a bit about trees and landscaping...

"We thought we could just put them in the front yard, here... and here..." I waved to general spaces in front the house. Ben grabbed a shovel and a tree, and dutifully headed off to the designated spots, while I went inside to make a smoothie. About a minute later, Ben came in the back door and awkwardly and gently and respectfully as possible, told me that people don't normally plant fruit trees in the front yard. Oh really? And why? "They're just... not really front yard type of trees."

I have no problem admitting that I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to trees. I'm a romantic. So in my imagination, I am brilliant with plants... I sing to them and they grow. I sit beneath them and the foliage thickens. I plant them and their branches reach to the heavens and their roots dig deep to the center of the earth. That is how it works in my mind, which is a magical and terrifying place to dwell in. So when someone tells me that my trees should go somewhere else, it surprises me, but really doesn't surprise me. And I think I'm generally, more often than not, wise and humble enough to take this sort of criticism/advice/redirection. And I was in this case. "Ben, I trust your suggestions. Plant them wherever the Lord leads you to."

It seems that lately I've heard a lot of my friends talking about "putting down roots" - when and where to do it, how and how much and why... Maybe it's this time of life, but so many of us are getting over our youthful, transient, spontaneous lifestyle and are desiring more and more to be in one place and invest deeply there, whether it means buying a house, getting married, having a career... The struggle comes in wanting to also be flexible and Spirit-led, not restricting ourselves to things that could impede our ministry.

The Bible talks a lot about roots - being planted and grounded. In fact, this morning I read in Hosea 14: "Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon." Besides making me want to buy an olive tree (for my backyard, of course), this verse made me want to become like a cedar tree - so powerful and beautiful and solid and useful. But cedars don't grow in pots. It means I've got to trust the Master Gardener to take me out of the safety of the pot and place me where he wants me to grow - and he knows the best place for that. Of course, I think being rooted in His love and grace is the very best place to be. But as far as physical, relational, occupational location... well I've decided to trust him to pick the best corner of his yard for me, where I can thrive and grow the most.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Miss Ruth

Mile log: 557

"If you cain't fly, you just may as well stay home." - Miss Ruth

Granted, the quote above was in the context of traveling the world, but if you knew Miss Ruth, you may question whether she meant "flying" in the Peter Pan sense, rather than the airline sense. There she was, rocking on her old wooden porch swing with its mint green paint and bright yellow flower cushions... she wore a bright pink shirt with a turquoise jacket and flower-print skirt, and had her colored-blonde hair bobby-pinned to the sides, away from her face... that face that was so animated and joyful, with bright pink lipstick and a few sunspots, probably evidence of her many years as a young woman growing up on the Carolina beaches. She casually fiddled with the wooden cane at her side, like it was more of a bother than a necessary help to her; she would pound it on the ground for emphasis and wave the end of it in all directions, as though she were conducting the telling of her own life stories.

I met Miss Ruth last month at the park, when I had taken my notebook and a pen to sit at the pond and be alone and think. She struck up a conversation with me, telling me that she belonged to Jesus, and asking me how I know that I do too, and inviting me to her house to go swimming in her pool. I found out she is 91 years old, born and raised in the South, and has lived in her current house in the neighborhood for the past 50 years. When I went to visit her house for the first time, I was amazed that she has a very nice 10-foot in-ground pool with a slide and a diving board, plus an acre of fenced-in land, a game room, and a huge patio for playing games, having cook-outs, and swinging on her bench swing. She loves to have people at her house, and has loved that for years and years, and is at her very best when she is hosting people. She loves the Lord, international people, disabled people, elderly people, and the community in general. She is a true kindred spirit, and an answer to prayers, and I am amazed.

Today was my second visit at Miss Ruth's house. When I called and asked if I could come over, she said, "Oh Connie! You wouldn't believe it, God has been so busy around here!" I took her roses and she gave me a cookie, and we sat in the shade and she told me story after story of her amazing life. She and her late husband traveled the world, and when I asked her what her favorite place was that she visited, and she said, "Oh honey, I would go back to Carolina over any of the rest!" Whenever "Carolina" comes up in our talks, her southern-belle accent gets stronger.

Before we left, she stood and stamped her cane and said, "I don't know why I am still here. Sometimes I ask God, 'God, what in the world are you doing?'" It amazed me, to look at this tiny, spunky old woman, who has this huge beautiful property that she is using for community ministry... and she doesn't know why she is still here?! God's working through her, and she just keeps following and obeying him - abiding in him - and he is producing much fruit through her.

Expect to hear more Miss Ruth stories as the summer progresses. :)