The distance Between "Cannot" and "Will not"

   On Sunday I made reference to an excellent blog by Scott Linscott who argues that the lack of a deep spiritual life in our children has a lot to do with the choices that we made (and are making) as we raised them.  (see the original blog here  and my sermon here  I left a comment on Linscott’s blog and let him know that I had borrowed from him (and yes, I gave him credit).  Since then I have been following the conversation that he is having with other readers who are leaving their comments.  One focus has been the way in which busy professionals find balance between a demanding and time-consuming career and time spent in their church and with their families.  I completely understand.  I faced that same challenge both in a secular career and now in ministry.  What intrigues me is how often, as human beings, we are able to rationalize the difference between “Cannot” and “Will Not.”  “Cannot” means we have no choice, “Will not” implies that we have chosen. 
   Several busy people argued that their jobs demand 60 hour work weeks and since God has given them these careers then their dedication was a measure of their devotion.  An example given was the medical resident who is working 100 hours a week.  In order to pursue a career as a doctor they have given up time for a social life, dating, family, church and nearly everything else.  Others pointed out friends and church members that were medical professionals.  They noted how these folk made time to spend in church, to volunteer and to go on mission trips.  What I see is a difference between “Cannot” and “Will not.”  Residents and Interns don’t really get a choice.  Their schools, hospitals and others decide what is required in order to, eventually, gain the title of Doctor.  If they don’t do what is required they will not ever attain the goal that they are pursuing but the sacrifice is intended to be temporary.  Regardless of how much a career paid, I doubt that many would choose it if celibacy and 100 hour work weeks were expected for life.  
   At some point, how we spend our time becomes a choice.  It is at that point that we all must choose whether we want to choose long hours at work or to use those hours for recreation or family or church.  This is point at which everyone will eventually arrive.  When we arrive at this moment, whether we are aware of it or not, we must make a choice.  Some choose to spend more time at work and others choose to spend it elsewhere. For each choice there is a cost.  If we work more, we may advance more quickly, get more raises, perks and bonuses.  Working less may mean that we sacrifice these things.  Working less may also mean that we are able to spend more time with friends and family and have more time to volunteer, attend church and other spiritual activities.  Each choice comes at a price.
   As I have watched friends, colleagues and church members make these choices I have often seen the line between “Cannot” and “Will not” get pretty blurry.  I have had farmers tell me that they had to be in the fields on Sunday because of a recent stretch of bad weather.  I have heard other farmers, in the same community, insist that it wasn’t necessary.  There are two differences: priorities and trust.  While some saw a break in the weather as a gift from God, others saw it as a test of faith.  One group went into the fields to work and the others trusted that God was in control and would balance the scales at harvest time if they made God a priority.
However we want to rationalize it, for each of us there is a gap between “Cannot” and “Will not” but, however we choose, God wants us to make him our first priority.  In Matthew 22:37 Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment of the law is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  We find a very similar verse in Proverbs 3:5 with a very important twist.  
Trust in the LORD with all your heart…  
…and lean not on your own understanding.”  
   I know that doctors and funeral home directors (and many others) need to work when they are called.  My point is that each of us needs to be aware of when our priorities are shifting.  We need to be aware of when we begin to trust money, power or our own ability more than we trust God.  God asks that we put him first and not to ‘lean on our own understanding.’  
   Putting God first can be expensive and it can be painful but God asks that we trust him to span the distance between “Cannot” and “Will not.” 

You Can Change the World

As I noted in an earlier post, I recently attended a surprise retirement party for my high school band director, Mr. John Rodgers. During that event we were given the opportunity to make a few remarks or to share our remembrances from our days in the Kenmore High School marching band. I remember many things. I remember the insane shaving cream fights that we had at band camp (and I still remember how to modify a can of shaving cream to shoot 20 feet). I remember selling oranges to earn enough money to go to Disney World for their tenth anniversary (though I honestly recall very little of the trip itself). I remember many events but I also remember that the band room was like a home away from home for a lot of us. We showed up as soon as we could convince someone to unlock the place and were often there in the afternoons well after school was over as well as many hours of class in-between.

For me, John Rodgers and our choir director Georgia Thomas were trusted adults who modeled leadership, passion for music, respect, humility and many other things. At our party, I noted that though there were perhaps a hundred of us gathered that evening, our numbers are indeed far more than that, we are indeed legion. Each year that I was in band we had something close to one hundred musicians carrying instruments along with many more majorettes, rifle girls, and flags (and Bill Dobbs, fellow Baritone player, as our Cardinal mascot). Over the years that John Rodgers was at Kenmore he invested himself in the lives of many hundreds of students, perhaps thousands. As we gathered that evening it was apparent that time had not stood still, we are all older, many of us have married and have children and now many of our children are inheriting our love of music.

As I shared, I concluded that in his own humble way, John Rodgers accomplished what people in science and politics and every other discipline dream of doing, he changed the world. John Rodgers changed the world but so did Georgia Thomas and so do teachers around the world every single day. We all remember these people because they changed us, they modeled life for us, they inspired us and they ignited a passion within us whether it was for music, or literature, or history or whatever.

I cannot ever thank John Rodgers or Georgia Thomas or Bill Muse, or any of my teachers enough for the gifts that they gave me…

…but there is something that I can do.

In the lives of every human being we are given the opportunity to invest in the lives of others. We are all given the chance to invest in something that reaches beyond the boundaries of today or this week’s paycheck. If we are to honor the people that invested their lives in us then we must answer the call to invest in others.

For me, I was compelled, over time, to teach others about the unimaginable gift of Jesus Christ and to expend my energies helping others spiritually as well as in other ways. For you it may not be John Rodgers, but today I ask that you remember who it was that influenced and inspired you. Maybe it was a teacher, a pastor, a coach, a university professor or it could be a parent, a grandparent, a police officer or even a janitor. Whoever it was for you, I hope that you will use that memory to drive you to invest in another generation.

If you’re a teacher, you can allow that memory to reinvigorate you and to rekindle your passion, but even if you’re not in a career where this is easy there are still lots of options. Choose someone who can benefit from your accumulated knowledge and experience and offer to mentor them. Instead of criticizing their youth and inexperience, take the time to teach them a better way (and listen for what they have to offer you as well). Volunteer in your community. Every ball field needs volunteer coaches and referees. Every scout troop that I’ve ever seen can always use anyone with a spare hour or two. Churches and synagogues and schools and soup kitchens everywhere need compassionate volunteers with a heart to serve others. Whatever it is, find a way to give back (or pay forward) the amazing gifts that you’ve been given. You can make a difference. You can make the world a better place.

Get out there and change the world.