Today was a day of extremes

Today was a day of extremes.

Today I sat on the porch of a cottage, the sea breeze finding my clothing no levee to its saline chill, and watched the generations above and below me, grand relations that they are, pass their time in the timeless activity of casting out and reeling in, the Good Lord himself joining in with his own ebbing out and flowing in. My father and my sons, backdropped by the unceasing and immeasurable grandeur of God’s creation, playing out before me Jesus’ promise of life abundant.

I drank it deeply in.

I drank also deeply of evil.

Today I sat on the porch of a cottage, the sea breeze no match to the wickedness which froze my bones, and watched as a car plowed through a crowd of people, shoes and bodies launched unwillingly from earth’s natural pull. I heard over the impassioned prayer of a worshiping congregation the sneers and jeers, equally impassioned, though antithetically energized, of a cresseted crowd in search of violence.

Today I sat on the porch of a cottage with the Word of Life on one side and the words of death on the other. In between were the words I had thought to bring, but now seemed so deeply inadequate.

“Dear children,” the apostle once wrote, “the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared.” (1Jn 2.18) And so they have. I have seen their faces. They looked like mine.

“There, but for the grace of God, go[ I],” John Bradford is credited as saying. And also, “when [seeing] any drunk or hear[ing] any swear, &c., [he] would railingly complain, ‘Lord I have a drunken head; Lord, I have a swearing heart.’”

Lord, I have a bigoted head. Lord, I have a violent heart.

Lord.

We keep using that word. I do not think it means what we think it means.

The one with control. The one with authority. The one who is present with us.

This one simply breathes and “galaxies form out of nothing, mountains appear with one word.”

This one, standing opposite his own mob of torch bearers, powerful enough to drive them to the ground with only his words, ‘I AM he,’ (Jn 18.5) was led like a lamb to the slaughter. A silently shorn sheep. (Isa 53.7, kinda) “[H]e never said a mumblin’ word”

Jesus is Lord.

This statement is a declaration of allegiance. Of belonging. A cry from the rooftops that, regardless of whatever sinful propensities I find within my own heart, I am of Jesus. No matter how many times I may “want to do what is right, but I can’t. I [may] want to do what is good, but I don’t. [or] I [may not] want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Rom 7.18–19) I can cry with the apostle, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Rom 7.24) And I can answer with him as well, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 7.25)

No longer is my allegiance to “blood and soil.” To a flag. To a country. To a man.

By Jesus’ blood we “who once were far away have been brought near.” (Eph 2.13) We are no longer “foreigners or strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,” (Eph 2.19)  By his death on the cross Jesus has made peace where there was division, peace where there was hostility, peace near, peace far. (Eph 2.14–16, ish)

My allegiance is to a King and a Kingdom. A kingdom where the Lord’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt 6.10) Where the poor are given the Kingdom and the mourners are comforted. Where the humble inherit the whole earth and those who hunger and thirst for justice are satisfied. Where the merciful receive mercy and the pure in heart see God. Where the peacemakers are God’s children and the persecuted are Kingdom dwellers. (Matt 5.3–10)

Anything short of this, any hope, any dream, any person, any job, any system, any ideology, any theology, any blessing, or any other created thing which gets in the way of this kind of living is to be thrown down and cast aside.

There, with the grace of God, go I.

“How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Rom 10.15)

Today was a day of extremes.

Today I sat on the porch of a cottage, the sea breeze filling my lungs as the Word filled my heart, and I believed anew this Good News. This Good News that “tells us how God makes us right in his sight.”  That “This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.” (Rom 1.17)

Today I sat on the porch of a cottage, looked evil square in the eye, and said, “Jesus is Lord.”

So I have this sign posted on my office door…

…I am an interim youth minister…
…and I am working on my exit strategy…

It went up this last week with little fanfare. And I don’t plan on removing it any time soon. In fact I hope that this sign, or some variant of it, stays posted to my office door for years.

‘Wait,’ you say, ‘how can you be an interim for years to come?’

It’s a reminder to me that this ministry is not mine. It’s a reminder that if I leave this ministry and it falls apart, or if the person who comes after me has to begin from the ground up, then I have failed.

‘Wait,’ you say, ‘how can you say you have failed? What if students’ lives have been dramatically changed through your ministry?’

The grounding and growth of a student as a follower of Jesus is central to the ministry.

I am not. And it’s difficult coming to that realization.

I say that it is difficult because no matter how many times I might say the words ‘it’s not about me,’ but build ministry structures which center on me, on my gifts and abilities, and which without me would collapse, then it effect it really is all about me. Like in so many other areas of my life I realize that I have been living functionally divergent from my confessed values and aims.

No matter how many years I may serve in ministry, at any church, in whatever capacity, I will always have a successor. The Church has been around for thousands of years and there is no reason to believe that it won’t be around for thousands more. Even if she were to exist for only another 100 years there will be someone who follows me. My love for another brother or sister who must come after me ought to drive me to cultivate a ministry which can exist apart from me. My love for the students ought to drive me to create a sustainable ministry which in my absence will continue on unabated.

Ten months into this thing and I feel like I am just scratching the surface as to what it means to be a minister. If it’s true that every believer is a priest to God, which it is (1 Pet 2:9), then those of us who are in ‘full time ministry’ are simply the ones freed by the rest of the priests in our churches to focus on the job of ministering to others. But if in return we horde the responsibilities of ministry, refusing either through lack of faith in their abilities (we’re the ones trained for this, right?) or desire for praise and recognition (aren’t ministers worthy of a double honor 1 Tim 5:17 ?) to enable and empower every member of the church to use his or her God-given gifts to serve others then we have failed in ministry.

In this regard the ‘staff’ of a church serve as ministry facilitators.

In this regard I have failed to empower those in my church to serve our youth.

And so I’m embarking on the process of creating my exit strategy. I am committing myself to establishing ministry structures and a church culture which will far outlast me. I know that whomever follows will take the ministry in directions I could never have imagined or designed, but I am committed to leaving a healthy and thriving ministry in my wake, one which the next youth minister does not have to build from the ground up. Do with it what they will, that is not my concern. What is my concern is making me dispensable.

That sounds like a stupid thing to say. Especially when in business we are taught to make ourselves indispensible, read: job security. But which comes first, job security or healthy ministry? To strive for the former ahead of the latter is to build a house without a foundation. Yes, I want job security. I have a family. I have bills. To be wanton with my job would be unfaithful to the rest of my responsibilities. To strive first for the latter will inherently bring with it the former. With a healthy ministry comes the job security desired.

It may sound crass to talk about such things, but it’s the truth. And yes, I understand that in certain situations being the prophetic voice that God may call you to be will result in job loss. In that respect healthy ministry negates job security. But here I am talking about ministry in a healthy church.

God help me to become the minister he desires me to be. God help me actualize what I conceptualize. God help me be a good interim for those who come after me.

permission for leisure

Here’s a devotional by Charles Swindoll that I found rather refreshing, if not in places convicting. Even now, as I sit here in my living room, the sunlight just newly breaking through the leaves to dance in revelry on my walls, I find myself strangely unable (or unwilling?) to allow myself the space for leisure. ‘There’s always something more to do,’ my mind tells me. In fact, to illustrate the point. I was asked yesterday afternoon over lunch what I do for fun. My knee-jerk response was, ‘what time for fun do I have?’ That is a tragic response to a beautiful question.

What do you do for fun? What do you love?

Give Yourself Permission

by Charles R. Swindoll

Ephesians 5:1

Since most humans suffer from a lack of balance in their lives, our best counsel on living a steady and stable life comes from God’s Word. In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus, he includes this most unusual command:

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children . . .” (Ephesians 5:1 NIV)

Maybe you never realized such a statement was in the Bible. It seems unusual: “imitators of God”! The Greek term translated “be imitators” is mimeomai, from which we get the English word mimic. One reliable scholar says this verb “is always used in exhortations, and always in the continuous tense, suggesting a constant habit or practice.”¹

In other words, this is neither a passing thought nor a once-in-a-blue-moon experience. The practice of our being people who “mimic God” is to become our daily habit. We are to do what He does. Respond to life as He responds. Emulate similar traits. Model His style.

But to do that, to be an imitator of God, requires that we come to terms with the value of quietness, slowing down, coming apart from the noise and speed of today’s pace and broadening our lives with a view of the eternal reach of time. It means saying no to more and more activities that increase the speed of our squirrel cage, knowing God requires that we “be still” (Psalm 46:10 NIV).

To be God-mimics, we must begin to realize that leisure is not a take-it-or-leave-it luxury.

Please understand that leisure is more than idle time not devoted to paid occupations. Some of the most valuable work done in the world has been done at leisure . . . and never paid for in cash. Leisure is free activity. Labor is compulsory activity. In leisure, we do what we like, but in labor, we do what we must. In our labor, we meet the objective needs and demands of others—our employer, the public, people who are affected by and through our work. But in leisure, we scratch the subjective itches within ourselves. In leisure, our minds are liberated from the immediate, the necessary. As we incorporate leisure into the mainstream of our world, we gain perspective. We lift ourselves above the grit and grind of mere existence.

Interestingly, “leisure” comes from the Latin word licere, which means “to be permitted.” If we are ever going to inculcate leisure into our otherwise utilitarian routine, we must give ourselves permission to do so.

1. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, vol. II (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940), 248.

a flash from the past

Perusing my Google Docs page I ran across this essay I wrote a couple of years ago. I found it to be thought-provoking enough to warrant reposting its link, it is far too long to post here.

A word of background. This essay was written for my family’s website. There was a discussion ongoing about immigration, politics, and the economy. If I remember correctly this was from the summer of 2007, thus some of the predictions about economic collapse may seem a tad prophetic. Parties from both sides of the debate have been/are being proved right about their assumptions. The persons referenced are two of my uncles, Jack and Tim, and my mom, Leah. Apart from that the essay stands on its own. Enjoy.

Essay on immigration, politics, and the economy.

the countdown begins…

A week from today Becky, Nolan, and myself fly up to Londonderry, NH for a face to face interview at Orchard Christian Fellowship. They want to interview me for their vacant youth pastor position… yeah, me a youth pastor.

Considering the fact that I’ve said things in the past similar to “I’ll leave youth pastor jobs to those who feel like they have a specific calling to youth ministry,” it seems rather ironic that I’m doing what I’m doing. Perhaps part of it is pragmatism, in that I need to find a job in order to support my family. But I think most of it stems from the fact that I’ll pretty much recant from earlier statments.

Youth are simply little adults. While the specific issues may be different and the consequences of adult actions tend to be more dramatic, I think the core questions, hopes, and fears of both groups are the same. And so I enter the fray…

I pray that, not only will the church like us, but we will like the church. This could be a life-changing trip.

We’ll see what God has in store…