Month: October 2013

The Showerhead

It’s been another hard week. Another week that I’m living on the edge of crisis, expecting the congregation to come tumbling down any minute. More stuff happened, pushing us closer to the precipice.

And yesterday morning I crawled into the shower. The stupid shower with the terrible showerhead and the tiny bit of water pressure. And my first conscious thought was: Well, at least I’ll have water pressure wherever I go next.

And immediately I realized… how selfish I was.

How can I stand firm if what I want is good water pressure? How can I encourage God’s people to stand against the world when, apparently, all I want is a better shower? How can I say, in good conscience, that the congregation is falling apart… when apparently I’d rather be someplace else anyway?

Yeah. That brought a lot of shame. And it should have.

I’m guilty of looking for a way out. I’m guilty of giving up. I’m guilty and not good enough to be a shepherd when all I want is to get away from the hard stuff.

That’s me: the guy who wants an excuse to run away.

Really, I’ve done this before. I’ve quit from jobs that I didn’t need to quit – or, rather, I quit in a way I shouldn’t have and given excuses that are crap. And here I am, repeating my sin again.

How could I run away? How could I ever look at this congregation God has given me and say, “No, not good enough”?

Yes, this place is so broken. People are embracing sin. Congregation members that “should know better” are running headlong into disaster. Our finances are beyond a mess. I live in a broken, broken place and I’ve been called to serve selfish, twisted people.

But look what God has done. He has called his people from the world. They are not who they were; they are new creations. He has made the dead come alive, and I get to serve this spiritually resurrected people. He has gathered them from so many places to be here. He has given them amazing robes of righteousness. And I get to serve this people? I get to serve the broken saints?

And I want to exchange that… for better water pressure?!

Yeah. Shame is the right word. Shame and guilt. God wants to give me so much… and I want to exchange it for a better shower.

How stupid can one man get?

Don’t answer that.

I won’t say the week has gotten easier. These are still a broken people, and their sin still destroys so many things. Honestly, I still don’t know how God raises his Church out of such ruins… but he’s performed so many miracles before. What’s one more? And if he chooses not to, well, I can serve these people until God makes it clear it’s time to move on.

God has called me here. He doesn’t make mistakes. I need to be reminded of that. Apparently, I need to be reminded of that often. Especially if the promise of a good shower is enough to entice me away.

Father, forgive your stubborn, stupid child. Remind me of the gift of ministry you’ve given me. Renew in me a right spirit.

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Waking up with Leah: Learning to Love a Disappointing Church

A brother pastor sent me this post after the many things I’ve posted here… more food for thought for me.

In the tiny Texas town where I grew up, sleeping in on Sunday morning was as inconceivable as rooting for someone besides the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Going to church made the list with apple pie and Chevrolet. My dad was a deacon; my mom a Sunday School teacher; and I was the typical daydreaming boy fidgeting in the pew. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and I found myself in a job where sleeping in on Sunday was highly frowned upon since the pulpit would’ve been quite empty without me. There I was: seminary trained, armed to the teeth with confessions and creeds, zealous to convert a world—or, at least, our Oklahoma town—to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Looking back at myself as that twenty-something pastor, I have to admit that I was almost as steeped in naïveté then as I was as a twelve…

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The Refreshing Moment of Not Being Needed

God keeps his promises. Who knew?

So, a congregation member posted a sin – rather proudly – on Facebook. I knew I had to deal with this individual; after all, it was a public sin, and one that would give major offense. (In fact, later that day I encountered a congregation member in a public area that basically exploded at me: “How could [this person] do that?!”)

However, that person contacted… my wife. And was confused why so many people were upset. And could my wife just supply some Bible verses that spoke to the situation?

And that person accepted the Bible verses. And when I visited that person two days later, I found out that God’s Word had done the work. It had convicted the person of their sin. They had repented. They expressed sorrow over their sin and taken steps to get away from that sin. I’ve got a follow-up appointment later this week to see if those steps continued to be taken, but at least as of two days after the posting… things were better.

And it’s so ridiculous. I thought it was on me to deliver Law and pronounce the weight of the sin. Sure, I rely on God’s Word for that – I had verses at the ready! – but this person didn’t need me to deliver it.

God’s Word, all by itself, was enough.

Like I said: God keeps his promises. His Word is powerful and effective. When he sends it out, it doesn’t come back to him until it’s accomplished its purpose. He doesn’t say: “God’s Word doesn’t come back until it passes through Pastor’s mouth and then does what it’s supposed to do.”

Duh, pastor. You should know this.

One thing that hadn’t happened yet, though, and one thing that I was thrilled to do: This person, when I met, was repentant. They sorrowed over their sin.

They needed forgiveness.

Oh, how awesome that was: all geared up to have to deliver Law (by far my least favorite part of the call), and instead God delivers me a person who desperately needed the Gospel. So, yes, I forgave the person of their sins.

I needed the reminder: God’s Word does the work. Not “God’s Word through Pastor’s mouth.” Sure, I get used all the time to deliver God’s messages, but it’s not me.

God’s Word does it.

Father Tim of Mitford, Spider-man, and Me

The two clearly have a lot to do with each other.

The Mitford books by Jan Karon are a delight to read; they focus on Father Tim, a priest in a small town, as he goes about his daily business. Yeah, I know, sounds terribly boring, but Karon writes with such charm and wit that not only did I laugh through most of the series, but it has the first book I can remember literally bringing me to tears.

In one of the books (forgive me; I remember not which one) Father Tim suffers a time of “deflating.” He just has a hard time getting things done. And several times during that portion of the book, he feels better. Life moves on! And then he deflates again. I remember being very frustrated as I read that portion. I wanted him to get better. Something to happen to force him to wake up. Dude, snap out of it!

Really, it’s a lot like my Spider-Man comics from the 90’s. Something terrible would happen to Peter Parker, he’d get mopey, and by the end of the story arc he’d be better and ready to face the day again — until the next issue. Dude! Snap out of it!

In my last post, I said I was feeling better.

Well, today was Monday. Guess what? I guess I’m like Father Tim. Or like Spider-Man. I logged onto my congregation’s Facebook account to post, and saw there on my screen a post from a congregation member announcing involvement and joy in sin.

Great.

Now I have to deal with this.

I’d been looking forward to starting a new week fresh. Ready to study for the sermon, meet several congregation members in need, and bring God’s Word to his people. But this derailed that nice beginning. And my thoughts went there.

It went better than it would have a few weeks ago. I’m learning to set matters aside until it’s time to deal with them. I’m also learning what I’ve told people in the past: It’s my job to share God’s Word; it’s not my job to make sure it sticks. If this person refuses to listen to the Law, that’s on them, not on me.

But that doesn’t mean I’m exactly cheery. So, I’m now like my mopey protagonists: I thought it was good, but now it’s not.

Stupid sin. Just as soon as God comes in and fixes things, sinful nature comes in and knocks it down.

It’s not as bad as it was for me. But it’s also not as good, either.

So, back to learning. Back to the forge. And the forge is never comfortable for the blade… but in the end, the blade is stronger for it. Forge me, O Father. Forge me, and teach me to trust.

Stand firm.

You may have noticed if you’re reading here regularly: I’ve had… a hard time of it lately. To the point where last week at this time I was ready to call it quits on this congregation. I wasn’t convinced I shouldn’t be a pastor; I was simply convinced that this was not the place for me any longer. Everything was broken. I was done.

And in that dried-up, vacant state, I visited my pastor.

(As a side note – yes, I have a pastor. Our church body arranges for one local pastor to not only pastor his congregation, but also take care of spiritual needs of the other pastors under his care. This is not hierarchical at all, at least where I’m at. My pastor feels more like a wise big brother.)

My pastor listened to me as I outlined my problems. He probed with questions. He considered. And what he said helped a good deal.

He affirmed my feeling: What I am experiencing burdens the soul and makes cheerful service difficult. Current events weigh on the congregation heavier than many other congregations, simply because of our small size.

And then he told me what I needed to hear: Stand firm. (more…)

Laughter fails.

Sorrow is heavier than laughter.

I laughed a good amount today. We had a fun Bible study (yes, that’s not only possible, but fairly regular at my congregation). I got to spend an hour playing Wiiu for the first time with some of the teens. I cuddled my kids and hugged my Bride. And worship… to speak those words, those true words, “I forgive you all your sins!” To deliver Jesus’s own body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine, and with it forgiveness? Yes. So many good things today, both for ministry and with family.

But even in laughter, the heart may ache.

“I can’t support a pastor who chases members away.” And so my day began, as a man accused me of trying to murder the congregation. He refuses to understand that God’s Word is very plain regarding sinners who refuse to repent: warn patiently and gently, but should there be no change, harsher methods start – for the good of the soul of that person. And so it is my fault that we are losing some members, when one person refuses to let go of a sin. At least, that’s what I’m told by a few.

Two members arguing to the point of destroying furniture. And I know why Paul begs. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)

A man dear to my heart sits in the hospital, and he weeps. I sit with him and comfort, but his heart is so weighed down.

A woman dear to my heart sobs; she has been so hurt by another.

And there is so much pain. There is so much hurt. And no, I do not bear it – that is not my job. It is not my task to carry all of these hardships. I bring them before Jesus. And yet, I mourn with those who mourn.

It has been a hard month, and where I thought laughter would buoy me up again soon, sorrow continues to drag down. I don’t know what to do.

I talked to brothers in the ministry today. I don’t know if I’m being a whiny brat or if this is a Jeremiah ministry. I need someone to either tell me to shut up and be the shepherd of this flock, or if I am in that hard a ministry that my sorrow is justified. Tomorrow I’ll be meeting with another pastor who knows this congregation and knows it well; he’ll be able to either whack me upside the head or help me to carry on. Probably both.

I don’t know if what I have is “grass is greener syndrome” or sitcomitis (the belief that everything should be wrapped up in time for the next episode) or, as my Bride called it, “first-year-itis” – simply put, the honeymoon is over and now I’m starting to notice the warts. I don’t know. But I know that tonight, I’m tired and down. My sorrow is heavier than my laughter.