The Utter Weariness of Being the Cat

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I naturally “lean forward” in a lot of what I do. I think a lot about how things will effect the future. Should we start this Bible study? What will that mean two years from now? How about in Lent or Advent? Is this something permanent or only for this one “unit”?

And right now… I am living two lives. Or, rather, I am planning two futures.

What Bible study should I be planning now to “synch up” with Easter? What’s our outreach strategy this year for Easter? How will we follow up on those prospects after Easter? Are we planning anything big for over the summer? What about the fall – what needs to start getting organized now? Who do I need to talk to so we can lay some groundwork? What seeds do I need to plant in the back of people’s minds so when it comes up in six months they’re prepared? All these questions revolve around my staying here. If I’m not here, the questions change considerably.

What needs to get done before I leave? What do I need to leave behind? What paperwork needs to be completed so the church can go for a while without a home pastor? What plans do I need to set up for a new congregation? What are my priorities when I touch down? Who do I need to talk to first? What worship planning do I have to do? How can I learn to do outreach there well?

And I’m living out two lives at once. I’m living out a future here and a future there.

I’m a cat.

And it is exhausting. I tried having a normal Sunday today. And a normal Sunday already calls for a lot of energy, as I see the bulk of my people today. It’s when I touch base with the most people in a very small amount of time. Most pastors are tired out after Sunday worship; for me, as an introvert, it’s even more wearying.

But today was worse. People asking me directly and indirectly what my plans are. Me advertising a new Bible study – that whether I go or stay will be able to wrap up before any possible leaving date (barring snowmaggedon). Me trying to move forward into… into two timelines, effectively.

I am here and I am not here.

I am looking forward to “collapsing the function” and having one future, not two, laid out before me. I am looking forward to having just one set of circumstances to look forward to.

Soon.

In the meantime… I shall continue being a cat.

Either way… God has laid out two good futures. It’s not a choice of life or death, but of good and good. I see green pastures to one side, and green pastures on the other. I stand on the edge. Which good future will I have?

In either place, Jesus is still Jesus. The one who loved a sinner like me enough to take my place on the gallows is still Lord there and he is still Lord here, and my decision cannot change that.

So while it is exhausting…

wherever this cat goes, it will still be good for him.

Your Heart Lies

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Today someone I love tried to kill herself.

She’s safe now. She’s been chaptered and is getting the help she needs. I sat with her at the hospital for hours, reminding her of what she had forgotten: No matter what her heart says, she is not alone, and she is so very, very loved.

You.

I don’t know who you are. But I know that the storm comes, and it rips away any warmth you’ve gathered to yourself. I know how it tears away any pictures you have of yourself as lovable or worthy of love. The winds claw at your skin and your eyes and it leaves you raw.

I know that storm, too. I know it so very, very well.

And I know what your heart calls out in the storm. I screams that you are alone. That you are abandoned. That you are worthless. That you should feel only shame, because that is all that is in you. I know how the razor beckons.

Dear one: Your heart lies.

Do not believe it. Fight. Oh, fight.

But you are so weak!

I know. Of course you are. You are like me. The storm is so much bigger than we are, and we cannot ignore our own hearts.

But I know someone greater than your heart. He’s greater than mine, too.

This is what you need to hear when the storm destroys you. This is what you need to hear when your heart lies.

It is true that you have done things that should bring shame. It is true that you are not as good as you like to show yourself to be. It is true that you aren’t as lovable as you like pretending.

But it is true that you are loved far, far more than you could ever imagine.

Here is Jesus, who knows you in your darkness. He knows you in your shame. He knows what you want to do to yourself.

And he loves you.

Oh, beloved, you are not alone. He stands beside you on the cliff. He wraps his arms around you. He holds you close. And then he is suddenly before you, taking the full brunt of that evil wind. He cries out for you. He loves you so much he suffers for you. He knows what it is to weep. He knows what it is to spend sleepless nights, knowing that tomorrow the sun would not rise for him. He knows!

And he is with you. He has not left your side.

Your heart says you are alone. It lies. Jesus is beside you.

Your heart says you are abandoned. It lies. Jesus has not forsaken you.

Your hearts says you are not loved. It lies. Jesus loves you so much he dies for you.

If you have come to that dark place where you might make the choices for life to end…. do not believe your heart. Do not do it. Your heart lies.

Your Jesus knew you. He left heaven for you, to become your brother. He lived for you, knowing pain and temptation. And he died for you.

But, beloved, he lives for you again. Death was not the end of his story. He lives, and he will never die again. He lives for you, standing before the Throne of his Father, speaking on your behalf. He’s going before his Father – for you! And because he lives – you also will live. Your story does not end in storm. Your story ends with the One who has loved you so much.

Your heart lies.

Hear the Truth: You are loved, even in your sin, even in your shame.

You are loved.

Blessings Beyond what may be Borne

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No one has loved us like you.” She was about to cry, this dear, dear woman. “Don’t leave us, pastor. Don’t leave.”

And how can I? I do love her. God has used me to call her back to his side, to bring her to Jesus’s feet, to lead her to rejoice in forgiveness and raise her face to the light of grace. And now she tells me that I cannot leave. How could I leave her?

Later today, I look over the evening service. I see people God has used me to reach. I see teens and young moms and old men and… and I know that this is a unique ministry that I have here. That not every pastor could handle ministering to this group of people. How could I leave them?

And I hear another call. And they tell me what they’re looking for. And what they’re looking for… it’s me. Or at least someone with the same talent set God has given to me. And I talk to others to make sure that what they say they want is really what they want and need. And the previous pastor tells me yes; what they need matches my gifts. How could I not go?

And I learn more about what life is like at this other call. And it sounds like it doesn’t have the problems I’ve faced here. It is not perfect; I am assured this by all the right people. But the heartaches I have had here would not follow. And I would love to start over. And these people match who I am in ways I have not seen here. And… how could I not go?

I’ve started talking to the members of this other congregation. They sound like people I can serve and serve well. They sound like people I could indeed love. And they call out for a shepherd to shepherd them. How could I tell them no?

And I see the teens I work with here. And they cried out this week when I told them about the call. And these teens need a shepherd to be with them, too. How could I tell them no?

I love this place where I am. I love these people. They have been thorns and hurt me again and again and yet God has allowed me to love them and serve them. How could I leave?

And I have already begun to love this place I have been called to, so far away. How could I stay?

I can’t.

I can’t do this. (more…)

Goodbye.

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I held his hand and prayed, “Lord, you have bought him with your own blood. Take him home.”

His sister held his other hand and cried.

He breathed his last.

Today has been a long, long day. Today my member rejoices in heaven, finally free of the health problems that plagued him, free of those effects of sin, free of sin itself, free to love and serve the Savior he now sees and basks in the splendor of. Today I held a grieving sister. Today I witnessed to nephews and nieces who have long since left the church and from what I can tell Jesus as well.

And I was there to serve.

I don’t know that I will be much longer.

I’ve received a call to serve another congregation. The way my church body works, is that a pastor will receive a call to serve at a new church, but he still holds a call from his current congregation. So right now, God has called me to serve him here and in another place. I have yet to figure out how to be in two places at once, so I must use what little wisdom I have to figure out where I think the gifts God has given me best fit.

And I realized as I prayed and as I shared the Gospel all throughout today… where I’m at now, we have a number of other pastors in the city. If I wasn’t here, any one of them would have been available to come and comfort this family. I’m not saying they’re not busy – they have their own congregations! – but that there’s someone else nearby.

The new congregation I’ve been called to doesn’t have that luxury. The nearest pastor to that congregation is a good distance away. They don’t have someone to hold the hands of the dying.

This doesn’t mean I’m moving. I don’t know yet. I need to find out a lot more about this new congregation. Will I be able to serve well there? Is my philosophy of ministry close to theirs, or would I end up battling something that doesn’t need to be battled because we just don’t “fit” together? Would my family thrive or wither in this new location? And how does all that compare to where I am now? Is where I am now a better fit, does my philosophy of ministry match this location, am I battling uphill battles that don’t need to be fought?

Yeah. A lot of questions, and this is all so new that I don’t have any answers yet. And that’s ok.

But today I found a notch in the “accept the new call” column. I hear sheep calling for a shepherd.

And then I announced the call to the teen group I help. And their reaction… they don’t want their shepherd to go.

No matter what I choose, sheep will be without a shepherd. No matter what I choose, I will hear the voices crying out.

No matter what I choose, God will receive glory. No matter I choose, a congregation will rejoice that their shepherd has been sent to them by their Savior. No matter what I choose, I will be blessed to hold the hands of the dying and comfort the weeping.

No matter what I choose, my Savior has died for me.

So, should you pray and think of me, say a prayer. I need wisdom. I need a lot of wisdom. I don’t know where I will go.

Father, give me wisdom. Open my heart to love the people you have given me – both those I have loved these past years, and those I have not met in this other congregation. Keep me from any frivolous or biased decision-making, but guide me to see where I can best serve you. I need you, Father. Hold me tight.

Amen.

More Than Their Ability

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Too much. You have given beyond your ability. Too much.

I know this family. I have served them for these years. I love them. Visiting them is a joy. I take out Communion and I ask, “Are you a sinner?”

Yes,” she answers, looking at me like an idiot. Pastor, of course I’m a sinner. What’s wrong with you? You know that as well as I do!

Yes,” he answers, his eyes downcast. His guilt weighs heavy on him. All the time. Every time.

I ask the next question: “Did Jesus die for your sins?”

Yes,” he answers, clinging to that hope. It’s the only way. Please, please, he died for my sins.

Yes,” she answers, confident after years of having being taught otherwise, that indeed, yes! Her Savior lives.

Having heard your confession of sins and your confession of faith, as a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I answer with joy.

She smiles. She loves seeing her pastor give the absolution. He smiles. He loves that lifting of weight, the guilt gone.

But no more.

She died. (more…)

No Tears

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The tears didn’t arrive when I expected them.

The family had come to me requesting food. Not surprising here; we get the requests at random times, but often enough. We’ve got a food shelf for that very purpose, and an annual food drive around Christmas. We take all the food from the drive,divide it in three or four, get a turkey for each pile, and deliver to families in need. I selected this one family, among others.

They were grateful when I delivered. I got a number of “thank you” texts. It was all good.

And then I got an email. A gofundme campaign for the family. They were getting evicted. (more…)

In Stillness Waits

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It is a desire that cannot be skin-deep. It is a longing that soaks through muscle and bone and vein.

This world is broken.

I can’t go into it. Some things have happened here in my call that are just… they hurt. My heart aches. I hurt for my people.

And yes. I hurt for me.

I kiss my kids goodnight. I hug them. I hold them longer than normal. They think I’m being silly.

I’m not.

I’m tired. I’m sick of the pain I see around me. I’m sick of my pain. I’m sick of the bitterness that wants to invade. I’m sick of the hollowness that promises to protect me. Neither bitterness nor hollowness will save me.

God, you promised! You said you’d come. I read the promises! A place where joy and gladness finally catch us, and sorrow flees! A place where we need no longer fear predators of any kind! A place where it’s safe for my children to play with vipers, because they won’t be harmed!

I’m waiting!

…I’m waiting. (more…)

For all the ones we leave and we believe

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Tonight I saw a junior high production. Now, it is true, that junior high plays are not known as the bastion of high art, but this particular musical has a soft spot in my heart, because I helped produce it manymany years ago. I happened to personally know one of the leads through the teen center my congregation helps operate, so all in all it was an enjoyable experience.

But as I walked away I felt… I don’t know. Nostalgia isn’t right; while I really do like the play, when I was in it, my life was pretty hellish. So it’s not like I want to go back to that. (Though, yes, I would love to have a crack at being on stage for it and not “just” stage manager.)

What was the feeling? (more…)

Done.

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The words battered at me.

“No. You need to focus on our own members, not on reaching out.”

“We won’t risk anything for outreach.”

“We need to keep the church open long enough to bury the little old ladies. Then we can close.”

“We’ve tried outreach. Nothing works.”

“That doesn’t count because they don’t give any money.”

For about a week straight, my church leadership effectively told me my job here was to babysit the members until we closed the church. I was to risk nothing – not even time – on outreach, unless it was a sure thing. And as long as it didn’t mean I wasn’t babysitting our members. I was told that our purpose here was to stay open until we buried a requisite number of people, and then close the doors.

And I seethed. I chewed on the comments. I gnawed on them. As I awoke, I dwelled on them and thought of what I should have said, what I could have said, how I wanted to blow up at them, how I wanted to remove them from leadership, how it was time to give up, how it was time to go to war.

To the point that Thursday I met with my pastor, a man who shepherds a nearby congregation. My plan was to request another congregation. If my leadership’s plan was to just stay open long enough to close, they don’t need me for that. If all they want is a babysitter, let’s get them a babysitter.

I said it to some of my friends: “I’m done.” (more…)

I didn’t see her.

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I was about to practice the sermon when one of my members interrupted me, “Pastor?” He knows better. I need this practice Sunday morning, before anyone else is here. I need this last review. What’s he doing –

Oh.

Pastor?” he repeats. Next to him stands a woman swaddled in blankets. She shaking. Her face is so tired I can’t tell her age.

She creaks out, “I need help.” (more…)