Sunday, May 17, 2009

Running to the Fire... Becoming All that God Needs You To Be.

A year ago, my life was very different. I was still "recovering" from heart surgery, hosting the United Methodist Hour and preparing for a new role with the Mississippi Annual Conference.

Twelve months later, our family prepares for another transition... this time leading us from our home in Mississippi and back into the life of the local church.

In just two weeks, I will assume the role of Senior Pastor for Gulf Breeze UMC, outside of Pensacola, Florida. GBUMC is a wonderful congregation of nearly 5,000, whose history of innovative ministry in well known in the United Methodist Church. Over the past weeks, I have had the chance to meet knew friends and colleagues with whom I am very excited about what God is doing in these next phases of our lives.

But, with any transition, comes the process of saying goodbye and of leaving those people and places that have meant so much to me. During the last year, I have written a memoir, entitled "A Positive Life", that will be published later this year by Zondervan. So, in very real ways, I have delved deep into the past narrative of my life, including recounting those relationships and situations that have defined me. What I discovered is that there are countless people who have impacted my life and given me the courage and strength to face the journey. To these folks, I say "thank you"... thank you for your love, support, prayers... and for your unwavering confidence that God was doing something special, even when I couldn't see it.

And, yet, transition also means that we must look forward... that we lift our eyes to "what happens next" and trust that God has something beautiful over the horizon.

Some places we are called are wonderful, exciting and joyful (like we were are headed), but other places are difficult, challenging and filled with obstacles (we have been there, too.) Regardless, we go... we follow...

For years now, I have preached a sermon entitled, "Running to the Fire". It is from the story of Daniel 3 and the characters of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. As you know, these three faithful Jews were asked to choose between the comfort of their lives and the risk of the furnace in whether they would trust God or bow down and worship the golden idols. They chose the fire.

Choosing the fire does not make sense to the world. It is unknown, menacing and, oftentimes, illogical to a world that stresses personal comfort and self-fulfillment.

But, faith in God is not about our comfort... but about our witness, and whether or not, we truly believe that faith in that God means something. And, in running to the fire--- choosing faith over my own comfort--- provides the most amazing scenes of God's love, grace and power I can describe. I have learned little from the tranquil, peaceful places... but my life has been changed at the foot of the furnace.

Running to the Fire doesn't make sense to the world because it is not about you and me. The world wants to make it about us, and anything that downplays our own goals, desires or wishes seems ridiculous in a world consumed with narcissistic expressions.

But, in running to the fire, we see another side of life. We see what self-sacrifice can mean for us... for our witness... and for the world.

Not long after the events of 9/11, I saw a picture of two firemen from the stairwell of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. In the picture, a long line of people had formed to the right making their way down the stairs to safety. On the left of the stairway were these two firemen, loaded with their gear, trudging step by step in the opposite direction... up the stairs TO the fire. At the moment the picture was taken, the two men were looking directly into the camera and you could see in their eyes that they did not believe they were coming back. But... still... they went forward, marching to the fire when the rest of the world headed in the opposite direction.

I placed this picture in my office and stared at it for several days until, finally, I went to the local fire station to ask what would cause the two firemen to give their lives away so fearlessly, so knowable in this situation.

The men and women of the fire station answered "it is what they had trained to do... it is who they were." One added, "Going to the fire was in their DNA..."

And, as Christians, it is in ours, too. And, it makes all the difference.

Over the next posts, I want to share three obstacles I believe keep us from running to the fire... from becoming all that God needs us to be in this world. And, I believe that when we cast away these burdens and re-tool our direction, we find not only a new purpose, but the discovery that God has made the journey with us.

Look forward to the next weeks...

Be Salt and Light... You Matter.

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