Same Task, New ‘Tude

I know I wrote a recent post about motorcycling and the Christian life, but some themes bear repeating. Smile  I got to ride my bike today for the first time in over a month (it’s been WAY too hot in Phoenix), and man oh man is riding fun. I just love hitting the starter button and listening to the exhaust pipes burble (that’s a new word…I am going to patent it I think). I love feeling the throttle engage, banking into a turn and accelerating out of it. I love letting the bike whine in first gear for a little too long because the engine was built to rev.

 

For pure joy, no car ride can touch the same trek on a motorcycle. I’ve had fun driving cars, too, but a bike transforms a commute into a fun time. Usually the drive between school and church is taken as quickly as reasonably possible just to get from one to the other. Today it was a lot of fun, and I am really looking forward to my ride home!

 

Isn’t that a great reminder about the rest of life? It’s the same task, but when approached from a different perspective it can become so much more fun and engaging. I think that the Christian life can become much the same: boring when we get into a rut or keep at the same old thing, but fresh and new if we will change the pattern or find an engaging way to accomplish the same task. Maybe your Bible time is boring…how about reading a devotional instead, or getting the Bible on audio narrated by celebrities? If your service at church is getting stale, have you thought of approaching the task from a different angle or maybe changing ministry focus? If your prayer life is stuck, how about making time for God at a different time of day and with a different focus?

 

Tasks can get repetitive and boring, including spiritual disciplines. How do you keep it fresh and keep your perspective on the Christian life fun and engaging?

Where does the time go?

I know a lot of people who wonder what a pastor does. We have a running joke at my church that I only work for 30 minutes a week! (which is how long my sermons usually last…okay, more like 35-40) It’s true, I do know some pastors whose golf game is too polished for their own good, and some who spend too much time on Facebook. (pointing the finger at myself there!)

 

But if you wonder what your pastor does, chances are that’s because he’s not allowed to share with you what he is doing. Hear me out.

 

When you ask what he did today, how in the world can he answer that he sat and talked with a couple you know at church who is in the throes of infertility, whose hearts are broken but who can’t share that even with close friends? How does he he tell you that he had to spend time alone praying for a friend who confessed sexual infidelity, praying that he will listen to the Spirit and come clean to his wife? How can you tell them that you sat and agonized over how to confront someone in love about their sin that you know about? Or that you thought and prayed and talked all morning about how to help the congregation see that a person’s sin is always forgivable?

 

How can you tell them that you spent 5 hours pouring over an email communication to the church so that it balanced speaking truth with not being a gossip? How do you justify chasing a Hebrew verb through the whole Old Testament to verify a nuance in the text, only to see at the end that you were wrong and it is not so nuanced after all?

 

How do you share with them that you spent the afternoon talking with a friend on the phone who everyone loves to listen to teach in Sunday School but admits to you that they aren’t sure Christ is more than a myth?  How can you share that someone reached out to you to say that they are secretly gay, and that they need someone to talk to because “the Church” (capital C) has too many pat answers and not enough real concern and care?

 

How can you share that you had to spend the day in prayer for your family who is struggling, and that you think it might be a spiritual attack of some sort because you’re trying to serve Christ? How can you share that you spent the day finding out about the effects of huffing bath salts on a person’s brain and how to get them help because someone in your congregation is doing it? How do you say that you prayed with a family whose teenage son is abusing drugs and harming himself? That you visited a congregant with a mental disorder in a treatment facility?

 

Heck, for that matter how can you say that you spent a few hours evangelizing to people within your congregation, who say all the right things but in reality don’t know Christ? 

 

I share a bunch of these not because I have experienced them all (I haven’t), but because I have a lot of friends in ministry and this is not out of the realm of a typical pastoral month.  I am grateful that it’s not a typical week!

 

What he can tell you about is the victories, the good stuff, and where people are rejoicing and celebrating. Sometimes that comes off like the world is rainbows and lollipops, but in reality there is plenty of that in ministry as well and he can share that because it is allowable. When someone trusts Christ he can share that. When a person overcomes addiction he might not be able to though, because that person doesn’t want it publicly known that they had addiction to begin with.

 

Here’s the bottom line: if you wonder what your pastor does, that’s a lot of it. And most of that he can’t share with you, because it would break confidentiality and harm the people he is trying to help. It would break relationships and bring destruction upon his ministry and harm to the kingdom of God. 

 

What’s more, if he is called to be a shepherd it is what he is meant to do.  Crazy as it sounds, even in the hard times he is driven to help people see God and live for Him, to experience grace and mercy and righteousness.  It’s hard work, and much of it is confidential work, so pray for your pastor. Realize that he’s not just sitting at home all week watching I Love Lucy reruns, but that a lot of his life is off limits not because you’re not worthy of it but because he just can’t share. And be grateful for his ministry.

 

To be explicit, I am not writing this to my church family as a passive-aggressive way of asking them to have sympathy on me or to pat me on the back, but for the readers of ABF who don’t really know what a pastor does in their congregation.

 

So how about you? What do you think your pastor does in a typical month? Do you think it’s a hard job or a fun one?

Which Angle?

Have you ever wondered why two people can have the same experience but come away from it with two totally different impressions?  Have you ever marveled at how one person can lose their job and end up with a degree and a better career, while another person loses their job and just ends up out of work and bitter?

I got a lesson in the difference on Wednesday.  Laura and I had such a fantastic night that night!  We went to ACU’s President’s Banquet to hear a speech by President Bush, who was funny and engaging and honest.  We had a great time, and I think that the ACU community was honored by it. 

Even better than that was a big lesson that the President shared with us.  His speech was about taking his faith with him into the Oval Office, and in the middle of his speech he told a story about going to Rwanda. (oh man, did my ears perk up when he started talking about Rwanda!!)  He got to meet 15 or 16 children there who had lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. 

Now, put yourself in those children’s shoes.  They are in an incredibly poor country and have the additional burden of losing their parents to AIDS.  They have, quite literally, nothing.  They were orphans, destitute and many would say hopeless.

President Bush said that he wondered what to say as he walked by them, and for some reason decided to say to them, “God is good.”  Their response to him was to say in unison, “All the time!”  Think about that a moment…these children had more excuse than anyone to be upset at God and to have a terrible attitude, and yet their immediate response to the statement “God is good” is to reply, “All the time!”

Wow.  What makes the difference?  It’s all in the angle.  These kids didn’t see God through the lens of their problems.  Instead, they saw their problems through the lens of their God.  And that is a major difference between a life of frustration, anger, and loneliness and a life of resilience and success.

Sometimes, we look at God through the “lens” of our problems:

Problem

Our problem stands between us and Jesus, so our problem “frames” or provides the “lens” through which we see God.  This is what happens when life gets unfair and it makes us question God’s character based on our experience. (I did this some after my car wreck)  We say,

“How can God be good if this has happened to me?” 
“I feel lonely, which means that God must not be there.”
“This financial disaster must mean that God doesn’t care, because if He cared this wouldn’t happen.”

On the other hand, we can instead see our problem through the lens of God:

Jesus

In this scenario, we see our problem through the lens of our God and His character affects the way we view our problem.  This is what Paul is really talking about in the famous passage in Philippians 4:12-13:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. ” (Philippians 4:12–13, NAS)

He saw his problems through the lens of the God he served, not the other way around!  By looking at life through the lens of Jesus Christ, Paul found the stability to weather the storms of life.  Through looking at life through Jesus and His character, Paul put his problems in an eternal perspective.  This is exactly what the kids in Rwanda said to President Bush, and as I considered this today it seems to me that this was instrumental to me recovering emotionally from my wreck as well.

So how do you build a view of the world that looks at problems through the lens of God and not vice versa?

  1. Put God’s Word inside of you.  You won’t know God’s character if you don’t get your nose in the book!  Recognize His goodness, His love, His justice, and His mercy in there.  Soak in His character; breathe it in and accept who He says He is.
  2. Whatever circumstance you come to, ask God how to see it in light of who He is rather than letting it determine who you think He is.  I had to do this with my wreck a lot, because it seemed pretty cruddy to me.  I had to ask God many times to show me how His goodness was reflected in my wreck.
  3. Reflect on God’s character and, without getting all churchy and sloganeering, rest in God’s character when life gets tough.  Don’t ignore your problems, but put them in perspective in light of who God is.  When injustice happens to you, remember that God is just and will make all things just.  When someone hurts you, remember that God is love and their unloving actions do not make God unloving.
  4. Apply God’s character to the problem you’re facing.  If you can’t see how it applies, then ask God (repeatedly if necessary!) to show you where and how His character comes to bear on the situation.

This approach won’t make your problems go away automatically; it won’t pay bills, or stop the loneliness, or erase the abuse. However, it will keep those problems from becoming overwhelming and train you to see Him first and your problems second.

Has there been a time when this kind of approach has helped you?  How has seeing your problems through God’s character made the experience different for you?

A Fresh Perspective

Oh man was I frustrated today.  Like, grind my teeth and say dirty words frustrated.  For the past week I have been completely and totally looking forward to a buffalo “hunt” that I was going to get to do tomorrow.  Okay, it’s not really a hunt (they’re privately owned animals on a farm), but still I was going to get to harvest an organic, free range buffalo!  And I was going to eat it and turn its hide into an awesome rug, then wear it and walk around the house saying “Tatonka.”

And then it all fell apart this morning.

First and most importantly, the one guy I just HAD to have come with me backed out for various reasons.  He knows how to take and prepare a large animal, and I don’t have the experience to do it without him.  So when he backed out, I was in trouble.  Well maybe next Tuesday? Nope, busy already.  Thursday? Nope, booked helping the Bible department at ACU.  After that?  Well, they’ll be sold and gone by then.  It started to look hopeless.

I was upset, to say the least.

My catharsis right now is running.  I run to clear my head and to think.  This morning I skipped my run because Laura and I ran a ridiculously hard half-marathon on Saturday in the White Tanks with 1800+ feet of climbing in the 4 miles in the middle. (then descending the same…ugh)  I was so sore this morning that I slept in instead.  But I was so frustrated that I decided to go for a run at noon just to clear my mind.

I ran like the wind.  I felt slow, but my last mile was one of the fastest miles I have ran this year!  I just ran my body hard and ran the emotions dry, then asked God to show me His view of the situation.  I shut my mind off and focused on my breathing and on putting one foot in front of the other at a hard pace. 

Afterward, I had a new perspective.  I had asked God for some clarity, and while He hadn’t told me why it had fallen apart, He reminded me that He isn’t angry with me and that He knew what was best.  Who knows, maybe the whole thing would have been a disaster for me.  Maybe I would hurt myself, or we will need the money we would have spent to do something else.  Maybe I will get drawn for elk this year and will need the freezer space! (oh please, Lord, let this be it!)

At the very least, I wasn’t so angry anymore.  I was still not excited about it, but at least I was at peace instead of raging at the injustice of it all or upset at my friend who canceled.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ” (Romans 12:2, NAS)

 
I thought of this verse this afternoon as I considered the attitude shift.  I hadn’t had a spiritual mountaintop, just a hard run on sore legs.  I hadn’t sat and prayed my heart out, just asked God for some clarity as I hit the “start” button on my run tracking program on my phone.  I hadn’t meditated on Scripture much either.  And yet despite that, God took the request I made and used my run to change my heart toward the situation.  And for that, I am really grateful.
 
What does God use in your life to change your perspective?  Is it a nap, or music, or a loved one?  Is it counsel or video games or a good book?  Is it prayer or Scripture reading or exercise?  When you’re upset with the world, how do you let God work the emotions out of you and give you a new perspective on the situation?

A Big Decision…

The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps
. (Proverbs 16:9)

There are times in life when we are at a fork in the road, when the decisions we make determine the course of our life.  At many points our character determines which set of choices are available to us (many would call this compatibilism); at crucial times our choices determine what our character will be. (some call that concurrence; more in a post another time) 

Imagine it like this: a young man finds a wallet on the street filled with cash and with a person’s ID.  He has a major choice to make at this point, one that will set a lot of character traits within him.  He can find the owner of the wallet and return their money, which will set him on a path of caring for others and self-sacrifice in the name of what is right.  Alternately he can keep the cash and throw the wallet away, becoming more self-focused and caring less for the needs of others.  Who he becomes in the future is determined by how he handles the choice he has before him.

We are all confronted by these kinds of choices at points in our life.  At crucial moments they determine our path; at the same time we rest as Christians in the knowledge of Proverbs 16:9 that God directs our steps as we plan our way and that we do not make decisions all on our own.  If we will listen to His voice and will ask for His view, He will direct us where He wants us.

I had such a moment yesterday.  The head of the Bible department at the school I teach at told me yesterday that he is officially beginning the process of hiring a full-time faculty member.  He asked me for a résumé  and to consider the job, because he was sure I would do an excellent job and would be a good fit.  From the time I left the Navy to attend seminary I have walked the path of wanting to be in an academic setting.  I love teaching, love the classroom, and love helping eager students grasp the Word of God.  It’s been a desire of mine for the last decade, the majority of my adult life.

And yesterday I asked him to remove my name from consideration for the position.

Am I a fool?  Maybe I am, but my desire and my calling are maybe not the same.  God has made me to be a shepherd, not an academic.  I love the classroom but dislike the administrative side of professoring. (is that a word?)  I am not one for committee meetings or writing assessment reports or planning classroom assignments.  I love to help people see God in their life and apply His word to their unique situation, to have freedom from the past and intimacy with their Creator.  I don’t love grading, though I do it as a necessary “evil.” (it’s not evil, but it is not my favorite task either…)

More than that, I see God at work in our church in major ways, both big and small.  I could not take a full-time professorship and stay the pastor of our church simply for time constraints, if not for focus and responsibility.  If I resigned my pastorate I would have to leave the church out of respect for the new pastor, and my church is my family.  I guess that’s the shepherd in me, that I love my church.  I love preaching, love praying with people, and even love the messiness of life that comes from pastoring a small(er) congregation.  I love being there for the weddings, the birth of their children, the hospital stays and the new jobs and the tough times too.  We’ve been where we are for almost 4 years, and I feel like in God’s eyes we are just getting started there.  I can’t remotely fathom leaving our church, so I told my boss no thanks. (fear not, I am staying on as an adjunct!)

That’s been harder for me emotionally than I thought it would be.  Laying a career in academia on the altar has not been easy, though I know it is absolutely, 100% what God wants and where I will be blessed by Him and joyful.  Still, it was hard to turn away from the path I had thought I would walk in life; maybe it wasn’t as hard as declining my commission in the Navy, but hard nonetheless.  I am joyful, but maybe a bit melancholy at realizing the death of my dream of being an egghead professor.

God, in these moments, makes us who we will be and confirms in us who He calls us to be if we will listen.  He has confirmed to me that I am a shepherd and I will stay a pastor; I get joy in the classroom, but it’s because I get to help students understand and live for God there.  So in reality that is pastoring as well.  This decision has confirmed that within my heart.

How about you?  What have been the hard decisions in your life, and how have they molded you into the person you’ve become?  Were they difficult to make because you weren’t sure or for some other reason?