Taking Out My Trash

Last week I discovered that my church’s rubbish vendor was taking us to the cleaners. In the last four years, their price for garbage removal increased from $65 a month to over $170. I found another company that provides the same service for $55 a month. The decision to switch waste removal providers was a no-brainer. Or so I thought.

Trash Bin Kid


I called the overpriced trash hauler to discuss cancelling their service. They told me that we had a three-year contract with them signed in August 2011. That contract had automatically renewed after three years so it was now in force until 2017. If we scrapped their service before then, they would charge us a fee of over $650 simply to stop their overpriced service!

On the other hand, they said if we signed another contract, they would reduce our monthly hauling fees back to what it was four years ago.

This kind of business philosophy is utter rubbish. It feels like they hold us hostage with threats of penalties instead of wooing us by good customer service. Their offer to reduce our rates rubbed salt in the wound: why the heck had they more than doubled our fees in less than four years if they could profitably serve us at the old rates? Their proposals littered my inbox.

I was in the mood to do some serious trash talking.

The Legacy Temptation

I’ve been sick for the last month. Sniffles turned into bronchitis; bronchitis became pneumonia; and the pneumonia was accompanied by a gut wrenching nausea. I was sick, in bed, too tired to think or pray. A walk to the kitchen for a sip of water left me gasping for air.

footprints left

And I felt drained emotionally. All my life to date felt inconsequential, like I’d played a good game of chess but was checkmated in the end. Game over.

I often think negative thoughts when I’m sick so I try not to take them too seriously; but I also feel more honest. My self-protection filters are lowered, I have less pretense. And in this illness I saw a longing in my heart that I usually hide away, a desire with too much control.

I want my life to bear fruit; to make a difference; to leave a legacy; to know that this earth was better for me having lived here. I want a name, a sense of significance, to know that my life mattered.

Is that so bad? I never thought so before, but now I question it. Today I feel better physically, but I also feel a smarter spiritually, and I think my desire for a legacy has been a misdirection.

What I most need is a deeper—more real—relationship with God.

The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

Within the span of seven short days, I met two people who formed two completely divergent opinions of me. I could do nothing to change their rock-solid first impressions. That week of mistaken judgments happened thirty-five years ago, but it feels like last week.

The pig and lamb

When I was twenty years old, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but as a college student I barely had enough money for Raman Noodles. I found work on a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern day WWOOFING). For a bit of manual labor, they provided me with food, a room, ten dollars a month, and a pack of cigarettes a day. (It was the cigarettes that sold me.)

The weekend before I boarded my plane, I heard my first talk ever on being a man (though I completely missed its message). On the way to Israel, I stopped in London to visit some friends who were doing mission work. With the talk on manliness ringing in my ear, I swaggered, spat, and tried (unsuccessfully) to play the man.

During a two hour dinner party in London, I was introduced to a young woman who promptly deemed me shallow, insincere, and stupid. (I skipped dessert so I could quit while I was ahead.)

A few years later she married a friend of mine, but her opinion of me was chiseled in stone. I once loaned her husband ten thousand dollars; she felt I was being manipulative. But if I forgot to send him a birthday card, she felt my true colors were revealed.

To her, I was a jerk, and everything I did or said, or failed to do or say, reinforced her judgment.

Playboys And Playmen

Last week I watched a nauseating, repulsive, and daft TV show. No, it wasn’t The Big Bang Theory or The Playboy Channel. (Or Barney.) I watched a reality TV show on house hunting.

The plot was simple. A couple was looking for a house, a real-estate agent showed them several options, and the couple chose one. Shakespeare it was not.

condos for sale

This particular episode featured a middle-aged man and his younger wife. (The details are fuzzy; I think I’ve suppressed them.) They were looking for a condo in the Caribbean, a place with a little excitement, some comfort, and a bit of luxury.

Each condo came pre-furnished, and each resort offered differing amenities. The man in question (and I do question the “man”) grew increasingly excited with each unveiled nicety. He was thrilled about a zip-line at the first condo, ecstatic about granite counters in the second, and rapturous at the sight of a Jacuzzi at the third.

When he saw lace doilies in the last condo, I swear I thought he would wet himself.

I wanted to scream at this doily man so ecstatic about granite counters. “Can your life grow any shallower? Will the measure of your fifty years be gauged by the depth of your Jacuzzi?

But I guess everyone is entitled to their fifteen minutes of shame. I mean fame.

The Curse of Conformity

Let me tell you how (and why) I landed my first job in the computer industry. I applied for an open position, sent in my resume, endured two or three interviews, and finally attended one last meeting.

Sonny r1

In that meeting, my soon-to-be boss said, “I wanted to tell you personally that I have chosen you for the position, but I also want to tell you why I did.” He explained,

  • I didn’t choose you because of your education” (I had studied 17th Century European Intellectual History, not exactly Computer Science);
  • And I didn’t choose you because your grades were better” (when I say I “studied history” I don’t mean to imply I studied real hard);
  • And I didn’t choose you because of your great business experience” (three years of overseas mission work didn’t qualify as a practical MBA).

(His care for my self-esteem was underwhelming; I began to wonder if the job was really mine.)

He continued, “I chose you because you answered my questions differently than I would have. I didn’t agree with your every answer, but your answers gave me an outlook I hadn’t considered. I don’t need more people who think like me—I already think like me—I need people who offer different perspectives.” He concluded,

“The curse of the computer industry is conformity; never lose your non-conformity.”

Let’s Become Disappearing Leaders

A couple years ago, I witnessed a well-known, incredible worship leader. His guitar strum stirred my heart, and his baritone voice felt like honey to the soul. I was awed—and a bit envious—as I watched him experience God. I understood his fame.

I praised his skills to my friends. When I wanted to write about leadership, that time of worship came to mind. I wanted to write about that. But then I remembered my first wonderment of a worship leader, someone you’ve never heard of.

When I was about twelve, I noticed that my church was singing louder and even 0166-St.-Marks-Episcopal-Cathedral-Organ-Minneapolis-MN-r1tapping their feet (okay, we were Presbyterians, so we just wiggled our toes). We sang with an unfamiliar, inner-confidence. We began new verses in unison instead of a raggedy, smattering of voices slowly joined by others. I asked my parents what was happening.

They said we had just hired a new organist, Donna Picken. While “only” an organist (this was before pyrotechnical guitars and lighting were allowed in churches), she helped us worship with a gusto few Presbyterians allow in themselves.

The thing was, we never noticed Donna. We just sang better. We didn’t hear fancy organ bass runs (they were probably there); we simply felt freer to sing.

Donna was a great leader because we didn’t see her; we just sensed her effect. Donna was a great worship leader because we didn’t see her, we saw through her … to God.

What’s Your Legacy?

Babysitting two grandsons Tuesday morning, I felt discouraged. Not with them; they were great. Not even with changing their diapers—although I’m a rank diaper amateur. I was discouraged because of a dissatisfaction with how my time was being spent.

I left the business world because God led me to something new. Now I sense a God-given, heart-gripping, compelling to write, to offer new perspectives on how our beliefs drive us.

So a few months ago I decided to spend more time writing. And how have I done? Rusty TypewriterThe short answer is, “Badly.” So is the long answer. Instead of writing more, I’ve written quite a bit less.

And I feel sort of useless. Hmmm, not useless; I feel wasted (no, not that kind of wasted), like I’m squandering my time, letting it be filled with activities while the mission that drives my heart lies abandoned.

Interruptions intervened, friends had urgent needs, I preached sermons and spoke at retreats, storms dumped snow, taxes were complicated, and diapers stunk. My writing was rusting.

So I re-visited my priorities to sort out how my life can make a difference. Then I read,

[Our] battle is not against sin, or circumstances, but against being so absorbed in our service to Jesus Christ that we are not ready to face Jesus Himself (Oswald Chambers).

I’ve been more interested in my ministry to God than in God himself.