Pura Vida- Lessons from Costa Rica

I got back from Costa Rica a week ago.  I attended a conference called Third Wave for young leaders in the church of the Nazarene from all over the globe.  (Not sure I fall in the “young leader” catagory so much anymore)  The trip was amazing…

First of all, it was in COSTA RICA!  It is one of the most beautiful places I have visited on the earth.  The land was teeming with life.  I saw more plant species than I thought possible.  We ate with monkeys at our hotel.  I got to hold a toucan and visit gorgeous waterfalls.  It was amazing.

The country of Costa Rica has a slogan- Pura Vida!  It means pure life.  People will walk up to you in a public place and greet you with “Pura Vida!”

And yet, in Costa Rica, people are looking for that “pure life” in lots of ways.  Some of them look a lot more like bondage and slavery than pure life.

One of the things that God did for me was to open my eyes to how narcissistic I have become.  And I don’t think I am alone.  We Americans are a narcissistic lot.  We walk into a foreign country expecting other people to know English, but we haven’t taken the time to brush up on their native language a bit.  We expect a certain level of comfort, or we get frustrated.  We literally seem to believe that the center of the universe is the good ole USA.

Some of my team members and I noticed that the Europeans at the conference tended to speak 2 or 3 languages. We felt lazy.  Many of the Spanish speakers spoke English as well.  I only know how to speak English and Texan…

My friend Blair was telling me that one of his professors used to have a saying for the teams he sent out to do mission work.  It was something along the lines of “You have no rights.”  We joked about that, but God began to stir my heart as I thought about that saying.

See, I’m not sure that saying should be isolated to “mission” work.  After all, aren’t we ALWAYS on mission?  Shouldn’t we always be “without rights?”

The the question began to swirl around in my head.  “Did Jesus REALLY MEAN IT when he said that the person who loses his life will find it?”

In this new year, I have been praying the prayer of Saint Francis every day at noon.  It ends like this:

“For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Do I believe this?  Do WE believe this?  To top it off, we prayed the Wesley Covenant Prayer at the Conference.  Take a moment to read this:

I am no longer my own, but yours.Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

This whole prayer is a prayer of death.  Dying to our wishes, and surrendering to Christ’s wishes.  We live in a country where people choose their church based on their personal preference.  We live in a country where we organize our calendars around our personal agendas.  We live in a country where we spend hours seeing how many likes we had on Instagram or Facebook.  And yet, we wonder why we aren’t experiencing “pura vida.”

Maybe “pure life” comes through a “pure death”…

Maybe Jesus meant it when he said that whoever loses his life will find it…

I’m trying to live into this, and it is hard.  I’m trying to die to my opinion of how bad the ref’s call was at my son’s basketball game.  I’m trying to be thankful for my daily bread, and die to my preference of restaurant choice.  I’m trying to die to my own ambitions as a pastor, and be thankful for the people God has called me to serve.  I’m trying to learn to die, but I have to tell you that dying is hard.  There is this thing inside me that is always quick to want MY way, and MY rights, and MY timing.

But I am finding that there is something about dying that brings new life in me.  And in the place of this life that I have constructed, a new life is emerging…

And it is not just any life, it is “Pura Vida!”

Just a thought,

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The Cumulative Effect…

Life is short…

They grow up way too fast…

Ever hear one of these phrases?  Yeah, me too.  It was always the “older folks” who used to say them to me when I was twenty.  You know the older folks right.  Those people over 40…

It seems that now I am one of those “older folks”, and I hear myself spouting off those same cliches to people in their 20’s.  Ahh, the circle of life.

I think if there is one thing that I am striving to learn in my life, it is the cumulative effect.  Things add up.  Over the span of our lifetime, little decisions can have drastic consequences.

I woke up this year at the heaviest weight I’ve ever been.  It was crazy.    Things accumulated, right around my waistline.  It was like one day I was running the Tough Mudder and in the best shape of my life and the next day I was buying the largest size waist band I have ever worn.  The truth is, it didn’t happen overnight.  Every decision to pop open a can of coca-cola, or open a bag of peanut butter M&M’s added up.

When I think about it, I ran the Tough Mudder 2 1/2 years ago.  Thats about 900 days.  Many of the days I said no to exercise and yes to all kinds of wonderful comfort foods.  It all added up to where I found myself two weeks ago.

Or take writing for example.  I enjoy writing, and I want to become a better writer.  I hope to live a nice, long life.  What would happen if I chose to write SOMETHING every day for the rest of my life.  So many days, I choose to watch someone else’s writing through a TV show or movie instead of writing something myself.  And a lot of that writing really stinks actually…

We can apply this cumulative effect to a great number of areas of our life.  For example, our spiritual disciplines can also be chosen or neglected.  We may look up a few years down the road and wonder how our heart grew hard towards the things of God.  It probably didn’t happen overnight.  We choose DAILY if we will allow ourselves to be shaped by God’s grace.

The beautiful thing is that the cumulative effect works both ways.  Our good decisions add up too.  Almost 2 weeks ago I started eating differently and I am already seeing results.  I know that if it took years to put those pounds on, it will take a long time to take them off, but every choice to drink water instead of soda adds up.  If I want to be a better writer, I can choose to write TODAY and see how my writing develops in the next 40 years of my life.  If I want to be in tune with God’s Spirit, I can choose to seek God TODAY.

Every little bit adds up.  A little each day changes us dramatically over time.

My boys are both in high school now.  Every person I have talked to has warned me HOW FAST high school goes by for your kids.  I’m sure that is true.  I pray that I will make small decisions each day as a dad so that when this season of my life is over, I see how the little things have accumulated and I have no regrets…

Just a thought,

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A Pastor’s Appreciation…

We are on the heels of a month of appreciation for we pastor-types.  It always feels good to be appreciated, and I am thankful to be serving a congregation that appreciates their pastor all throughout the year.  Sometimes when I peruse the internet, it seems like we pastors are a bit of a miserable lot.  Most of the posts about pastors talk about our depression, our struggles, and our inadequacies.  I’m not saying that this pastor is exempt from any of these.  I have my share of neuroses to be sure, but this post isn’t about any of that…

There are three other people who make this journey with me.  Unlike me, they didn’t choose this life for themselves.  My wife, Paula, married a chemist.  She had no idea what she was signing up for when we married.  The title of “pastor’s wife” never crossed her mind when she said “I do.”

And then there are these two young men that live in my house.  They had no choice in the matter at all.  They were born as YPK’s. (Youth Pastor’s Kids)  There has always been somewhat of an expectation on them to be “good boys.”  Almost five years ago, they became just PK’s.  Maybe there is more expectation tied to that, I’m not sure.  Everybody expects the youth pastor to be a little crazy, so maybe YPK’s get cut a little slack.  Either way, they are PK’s which comes with a whole list of expectations.

At the end of pastor appreciation month, I’d like to thank these three.  They are the ones who pick me up on the days when I am the epitome of those pastoral blog posts.  When I am hurt, frustrated, depressed, or just plain worn out from the duties of being a pastor, it is these three that keep me steady.  It is in these three that I find constant affirmation, acceptance, and love.  Their love is the closest thing to the love of God that I have experienced on this earth.  So I would be remiss if I didn’t share my appreciation for them…

To Paula: From the moment you said those three magical words, “What’s your name?”, I knew that there was something amazing about you.  You are much more than a pretty face, although you are that for sure.  You are the one I have laughed with and cried with for   20 years now.  I love that we still date.  I enjoy going to our kids ball games, or just sitting around the house hanging out with the boys.  You are my rock.  You prop me up when I question myself.  Your faith challenges me.  You make an amazing pastor’s wife even though you didn’t sign up for it.  You are the life of the party and bring joy to the people you are with.  You dive right in and work hard at the church right beside me, even though you aren’t paid like I am.  You always have.  You allow me to completely be myself.  I love you…

To Nathan: You came into the world in a dramatic fashion.  We weren’t sure if you were going to make it or not that first night.  I am so glad you did.  You were always my mini-me.  Nate Jr. is what we called you as baby.  You always were a practical joker and a bit sarcastic like your dad.  I’ll never forget the prank you played on me in kindergarten.  You really were a mini-me.  Not so much my mini-me anymore.  Now I look up to you.  I know that there are days that people put expectations on you because of my calling, but I couldn’t be prouder of you.  You ARE a good kid, not because your dad is a pastor, but because you have chosen to follow Christ yourself.  I love that you are really enjoying high school and that you have a great group of friends to share the experience with.  I am excited to watch you play basketball this year, but am more excited about being your dad.

To Tyler:  We’ve always had a bit of a special bond because you and I understand what it is like to be the youngest of two brothers.  Since you were a toddler, you have been able to make the entire family laugh.  You are always entertaining us.  You too ARE a good kid, not because you have to be, but because you have placed your life in Christ’s hands.  I’ve watched you bring your friends to church and watched them become part of our youth ministry.  I have had the privilege of baptizing some of them.  You jumped in and started playing the drums in 5th grade, much to the surprise of everyone on the stage and in the church.  I taught you everything I know about the guitar, which took like an hour, but still…  Someday you will be teaching me how to play things on guitar.  I am looking forward to watching you play ball in the next month or so.  I love being your dad.

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This weekend, as I watched my family set up for our “Monster Mash” trunk or treat, I realized how much I appreciate these three.  There is kind of this unspoken understanding that they will be there, but I love that they genuinely want to be there.  Tyler was over at the table sawing 2×4’s and building games, which he does much better than his old man.  Nathan was carrying sheets of plywood and reaching things that no one else could.  Paula was scurrying around completing 10 tasks to every one of mine as usual.  And I thought to myself, no matter where ministry may take me, no matter the ups and downs, I will have these three people.  Definitely three people this pastor appreciates…