Last week a group of friends of mine from college days spent a few days in Branson (#Branson18). It had been decades since I’d seen many of them, and thanks to the ongoing efforts of a core group, we were able to secure a time and place to pull off a reunion.
For a bunch of 50 year olds, we didn’t do too bad on the activity front. We spent the day at Silver Dollar City and rode the rides, ate the food, and took in a few shows. I have to say that I fared pretty well until getting on “The Time Traveler” which I’m glad I did, but I found myself unable to speak for about an hour afterwards. It was pretty intense. It was also pretty great to spend a day on Table Rock Lake riding around on a pontoon boat.
Those few days with some lifelong friends refreshed me. In a way it was like time travel back to the 1980s to see people I knew at a school (formerly) known as Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, LA. It was a time of flag football, spades, working at a dry cleaners, and forging what would be life long friendships.
I especially enjoyed being able to re-connect with two mentors who had a profound impact upon my life. Charlie was my BSU Director and Gene served on staff at a church known for its ministry to college students. Talking with Gene reminded me of that Sunday I came forward during the invitation portion of the worship service to publicly acknowledge the Lord was calling me into vocational ministry. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but that experience along with the others in the BSU were vital to providing a spiritual foundation for the kind of work I’m in now.
There’s an old adage that says, “Life is good, but it isn’t easy.” I’ve found this to be particularly true over the decades I’ve been involved in church life. It’s easy to be blown off course by the ongoing comments, criticisms, and critique that are directed at those who serve in leadership positions in congregational life. Getting a way for a few days helped reorient my thinking and reconfigure my spiritual compass.
Eric Black provided a great editorial entitled, “Remember Who You Are” from the Texas Baptist Standard. He writes, “When the news is chaotic, bad or frightening, knowing your primary identity will put all other things into perspective. Being pulled in different directions won’t move you if you are rooted and secure in your primary identity.” Black explores the various identities that are available to us, emphasizing that what is primary is a relationship to Jesus Christ. The others relate to political, social, and economic variables. What is noteworthy, is that no matter what happens in our country and world, if we are rooted in Jesus Christ, we won’t be unduly frightened by the changes that are going on around us.
I’ve tried to teach and model this important truth, but events in the church and world sometimes cause me to wonder if what I’m doing is really making a difference for Christ. There are times I think about the course my life has taken and need a reminder that “my labor for the Lord is not in vain.”
A few days in Branson with some college friends helped me gain some perspective on life. Regardless of what happens to me professionally, I know that those formative experiences we shared still serve as my spiritual roots and remind me that my future remains in Christ. It has been helpful to revisit where I’ve come from so that I know that I’m still on the right path.
It’s also good to know that others care for me for who I am rather than what I do, and as a pastor, that’s a very freeing realization. These dozen or so guys from NLU each have their own lives, but taking a few days to tell some old stories helped me take a breath and step back from the ongoing demands of pastoral ministry.
I’ll have to get back to work and life in the church soon, but I’m thankful for people who knew me before I became a pastor and remain concerned for my well-being. I’m also grateful to be pastor of a church who appreciates investing time, money, and other resources into the lives of 18-22 year olds attending college right across the street from our building.
I’m proof of what happens in your 20s doesn’t necessarily stay in your 20s. And, I hope that I can encourage students of the 21st century to take advantage of the time they have now to forge meaningful friendships and deepen in their relationship with Christ.
In a sense, we’re all “time travelers.” Like that roller coaster, there are many ups, downs, twists, and unexpected turns that can come at us in this life. It can be disorienting not knowing what or why things happen the way they do. Yet, the entire process can be exciting and provide all kinds of life lessons along the way if we’re able to hang on for the duration of the ride.
It was good traveling back in time for a few days to catch up with old friends, and good to return back to the time and place where the Lord has placed me for a while. I’ll do my best to remember who I am and be thankful that my primary identity remains in Christ and that “nothing will snatch me from the Father’s hand” (John 10.28-29).