On Turning 30

Today marks the end of an era.  The 20’s are officially over.  It was a good decade.  I got married (actually, that happened at 19, but we’ll throw it in there anyhow), graduated from college, got a Masters degree, had a few kids, took a job, moved around the country a few times, and took a chance on something I believed in (Bloom).  I’m very appreciative of all that God has done over the past 10 years.

When I was a kid, people who were 30 were officially and without dispute “grown-ups”, and grownups were people who had it all together.  At 30, I can’t at all say that I “have it all together”, or even that I feel all that “grown up”… I actually feel like I’m just getting started.  I hope that every time I hit a new decade-marker I feel that I’m just getting started.  That the future is bright and full of possibility, and my best days are still ahead.  God grant it.  Light and hope in all things.

Several years ago I found myself sitting at a table with a guy who was in his mid-30s.  As we started discussing age, I mentioned that the 30s seemed to me to be something of a wilderness that many people go through on their way to their better years – their 40s and 50s – where they finally “arrive” in some sense or another.  He quickly brushed that away: “No way bro.  The 30s are awesome.  My kids are growing older, I’m finally starting to hit my stride in my career, and people don’t automatically dismiss me anymore as a dumb kid.  I’m loving it.  You’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

Indeed.  My prayer this morning as I head into this new decade was for five very specific things which, if they happen, will have made the 30s “awesome”:

1) That the ballast of my life would be deeper and heavier.  More and better prayer, more and better reflection, more and better solitude and sabbath, more and better routines of work, family, and play, to keep my life anchored in God.  That I would see “ballast keeping” as the main work of my life which, if I take care of it, will set the stage for everything else.

2) That the gap would continue to close between my secret life with Jesus and my leadership, in all its forms.  So often, especially in church work, our prayer lives and our public leadership are seen as separate things.  I would like to think that they don’t need to be, and that the best kind of leadership is that which comes straight from the heart of a life lived well in the company of Jesus and hence does not bear the marks either of strain or duplicity.  Integrity is the old word for it… a fundamental unity between the inner and outer life.

3) That more than ever I would be absolutely clear on what I’m about (and what I’m not) and that as such I would be outrageously okay with being misunderstood.  That I would know my principles and act out them.  In retrospect, if could sit down with myself at 20 and give the 20 year-old Andrew any advice it would be, “Follow what you know in your gut is right, bro, and don’t live under any illusion that everyone is going to ‘get’ what you’re doing… just do it, and let the fruit speak for itself.”  Would to God that more than ever this decade would be characterized by THAT.

4) That I would banish excessive self-seriousness from my life, and instead live my life joyfully, wisely, spontaneously, and sensibly, remembering that “in his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines where he steps”, which means I think that much of what my life becomes is in the hands of Another anyway and so it is foolish to fret about it, and in reality the Andrew Arndt story is not nearly the most important story that’s happening on planet Earth anyway, which again means that it is foolish to fret about it.  It’s strangely liberating to realize that.  The pressure’s off.  There is space to live.

5) That as #s1-4 are realized, I would be fruitful.  But that it would be the right kind of fruitfulness.  A fruitfulness born out of rootedness, and not striving.  A fruitfulness born out of a sense of anchoredness in God.  Grant it Lord.

So that’s it.  Those are my pleas for my 30s.  Looking forward to all that is to come…

Oh, and thanks for all the birthday wishes everyone : )

Andrew

A Weekend Back in T-Town

Last night Mandi, the kids, and I drove back into Denver after spending a long weekend in Tulsa.  Despite the outrageously high temperatures and stifling humidity (it was near 110 degrees with the heat index most of the time we were there… blech!), it was a fantastic time.  We did our best to connect with all of our old friends, rest a bit, and then in the middle of it all, preach at our old church, Sanctuary.

That part of the weekend was just SO much fun it was ridiculous.  While at Sanctuary, I was the young-gun associate pastor who got to do everything under the sun at the church without being fully and finally responsible for the congregation as a whole.  Outreach, small groups, spiritual formation, worship + Christian calendar stuff, premarital counseling, weddings and funerals, college ministry, etc etc., plus I preached about once a month.  Being at Sanctuary during those years at times felt like being a kid on a playground during a family reunion… a world of fun at your fingertips, surrounded by love.  It was sad to leave that community two years ago…

…but oh-so-wonderful to return this past weekend.  What joy it was to share about all that God’s working in our midst out here in Denver.  Trying to kill two birds with one stone, I called my talk “The Last Two Years” and framed it around a handful of convictions that have crystallized in us since we’ve been away, narrated through the stories of God’s goodness among us here at Bloom.  In the main, my challenge to them was to believe (anew?) in the cosmic significance of the Church – the locally gathered body of believers who together act as a sign and foretaste of the kingdom of God; for it is through communities of folks gathered together under the reign of God in Christ that God has chosen to make himself known to the principalities and powers that enslave God’s world (Eph 3:10).  Is there a higher calling than that?

Anyone who knows me well knows that at bottom I burn for the Church to BE the Church, and being back in Tulsa rekindled an old and very deep sense of pathos for the Christians of that city.  Something about living in a city where Christianity (seems to be) so pervasive can work in you three things that are inimical to living the mission of God together as the people of God well:

  1. Cynicism.  Particularly among the folks of my generation (under 35), it is possible to become so cynical about the way things have been done or the way things are that one engages in endless criticism.  And criticism has its place.  But it is not creative, and as such, it cannot have the final word.  Sadly, some Christians (not just in Tulsa, but everywhere) think that “mission” is happening when all they are doing is sitting around with their friends, dissecting old theological ideas or ministry models, mocking what has been believed, taught, or done.  And God’s purposes for the world through us get stuck…
  2. Fatigue/jadedness.  Particularly among the folks of the older generation, it is possible to become like Solomon, jaded in his old age: “There is nothing new under the sun.”  We feel that we have seen it all, done it all, and no newness is possible.  And God’s purposes for the world through us get stuck…
  3. Self-congratulation.  Particularly among those who have inhabited a “Christianized” city for any length of time, it is easy to feel as though the city has been thoroughly “reached,” that there are no more new frontiers of mission to be had in that place.  And God’s purposes for the world through us get stuck…
The joy of preaching to the good folks of Sanctuary was to see that at least among one group of people, such is not the case.  Among them there is still energy.
And my heart burned for them following the talk.  I thought, “Would to God that they – all of them! – would see the outrageous resources at their disposal for making a HUGE DENT on the city of Tulsa…” the spiritual, relational, and financial resources.  Unbelievable.  There is no limit to what could be accomplished through the faithful of that city in every church, if only there were eyes to see it!  There are more poor to be served, more lost to be reached, more neighborhoods to incarnate his Presence within, more folks to be discipled and welcomed into the life of the kingdom… MORE, MORE, MORE!
So I come back to Denver with a full heart.  Sanctuary, thanks for being a family for us.  You keep getting after it in Tulsa, and we’ll keep getting after it in Denver… and God will be glorified in all of it.