Category Archives: life lessons

When you’re not the one

As a pastor I feel a strong responsibility to ‘be there’ for people. That’s not a bad instinct, but sometimes I can’t. It is easy to feel as though I should do whatever it takes for the people God has called me to serve. Strong theological themes like ‘sacrifice,’ ‘servanthood’ and ‘self-expenditure’ come to mind. But then there are other messages like self-care so I am there for the rest of the flock, not just the one that is lost. I also believe that the ministry I’m called to give myself away for is more than my role as pastor of a church. My larger ministry includes first of all my family. If I give everything to someone in my congregation who is hurting, who calls out to me, what about myself and my family? Dilemmas of limits and boundaries versus trusting God in all things challenge me.

Paul is oft quoted for saying he had become “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9.22) and maybe he did… few people gave as much as consistently as Paul, but are we all called to be Paul? And didn’t he lose his temper with some congregations and groups? Didn’t he refuse to stay and care for nascent congregations in order to fulfill his larger role in ministry as an apostle, leaving others to stay, care and nurture?

Jesus wasn’t the person for everyone either. He healed and ministered to many, but not everyone. He taught, he healed, he moved on. I suppose he didn’t give up on the Jewish authorities, but he sure didn’t lose any sleep over their inability to figure out who he was. I note that Jesus didn’t chase Nicodemus down, just messed with his mind (spirit) when Nicodemus kept coming back for more. Jesus even walked away from Nazareth concluding that a prophet just isn’t going to ‘be the one’ for  his hometown (Mt 13.54ff).

It’s complicated, but I don’t think I can or should be everything any one person needs at all costs.

I still struggle with the tension between giving of myself without measure and drawing the line  saying I can’t do it, but I am also growing in my appreciation that it is a mark of spiritual/personal maturity to discern the difference and act accordingly. It also drives me forward on intentionally crafting a community made in which people will, all in all, be there for each other. I don’t assume responsibility to be the one for everyone or anyone else, rather I  assume responsibility that the culture, systems and support are there so that we can be the sort of community where the right person will be there to be the one.

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Dreams come true!

You might think this is crazy, but I’ve fantasized about this for years and yesterday it happened! I’m in the office and the phone rings and there is a woman on the other end. [If you’re thinking this is a sexual fantasy… get your mind out of the gutter! 🙂 ] She tells me she lives close to our church and is only working part-time but can’t get enough hours. She is really short of money for rent, feeding her kids, paying bills, etc. some friend of hers told her Jacob’s Well was a church that could help her work out her finances.

Okay, so here’s the deal. We need help with our finances at Jacob’s Well! We are running a deficit every month in this recession are getting within a hair’s breadth of having to cut back on staff or something (don’t worry staff… you won’t find out about lay offs in my blog – I promise!).  So I tell her that and inform her right away that we don’t have money to hand out. However, we do take managing our money really seriously and do a lot of work with people in establishing budgets and dealing with debt. I was ready to hear the ‘click’ on the other end as she hung up. But no, she cuts me off and says she isn’t looking for money. She was calling in hopes of finding help so she could learn how to better live on the money she has. Wow… I just sat there. Finally I came to and told her I could have someone call her who could help and she was  thrilled.

Why is this so cool? One, somehow the word is out that we believe our money is a spiritual issue and that we really want to help people manage their money so it isn’t managing them and getting between them and God. And that person shared that message with another person. I’ve worked in churches a long time. I have dealt with more people who walked in the door or called on the phone  looking for financial help than I can count, but I have NEVER had this happen before.

Two, if that wasn’t enough… I was already on the phone and had to put that person on hold to take this woman’s call. The person I put on hold was the person who runs our budgeting and debt workshops. I talk to him maybe once every 2 months on the phone. Within 5 minutes I had them connected.

Okay God… maybe it is worth working this hard. I guess I can doubt myself once in a while, but maybe I don’t have to doubt you so often. You are making things happen. Thanks for the glimpse. I need it!

When you just couldn’t make it happen

I got an email from a friend who told me about a project that she had been working on. She was a little disappointed. She and others had high hopes, but it wasn’t panning out so great. To quote her,

“I’m doing my best, but it’s a big job … and I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. Not for lack of trying … or dedication. It’s just a lot.”

I know her. She’s great, talented, hardworking. I believe her. I don’t think she should be so disappointed, though. We tend to think about the things we do as isolated successes or failures while most of the time they are neither. They are parts of a journey of which we know neither the true beginning nor ending. We see a little way ahead and behind us and understand our world and lives from it. God looks and works a long, long, long way further before, beyond and within what we experience.

I suppose it is impossible for us to turn off our instinct to size up and evaluate, but in truth we ought to restrain ourselves so we can be open to the journey too vast and cosmic for us to measure. We need to trust that what we do, fail to do, mess up, excel at – all of it – is something God can and will use. This is where confidence comes from: not from our ability to ‘get it done,’ but from God’s determination to make the really important stuff happen anyway.

What is faith?

I wonder why I don’t have enough or strong enough faith sometimes. But really, that is just a roadblock I construct, not one that is actually there.

Faith is a gift. It isn’t miraculously or heroically pulled out of our insides, but dropped in our hands and heart when we open them widely enough. And it often hurts when it lands there. You do not get what you need from God by having enough faith, but you ask for faith so you can experience what it is that God has already given you.

The act of turning to God for more faith, is an act of faith already. To ask for it is evidence that the request has already been granted. Trust it.

Pastors can be their family’s worst pastor

I know many pastors and church developers read this site, so here is a series of thoughts that I’ve been discovering or been taught. Hopefully you’ll be able to implement what is of value before you have to learn them the hard way – like I did…

You’ve heard people say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” well, not always true. Some of the characteristics that make me a better pastor for my congregation, make me a worse pastor for my family. In particular it is being there for the congregation. Always being available is great, but if you are, your congregation and community will take advantage of you, and you will not be available for your family.

Message to your congregation/community: “You are important to me!”

Message to your family: “Other people are more important to me!”

Spouse and kids can be (and rightly so) hurt and resentful. And how can they argue?!? You are doing good and important stuff. The laundry list of the things I get dragged into each week stuns me, and the little my family hears about it often shocks them. Not only is it good and important, but it is supposed to be God’s work. How can your kids, or your husband or wife, compete with that? How can they say, “I want more of you. Don’t give so much to God.” They can’t. Well actually, they often do, but they do so through rebellion, giving up on the church, God or you.

Your kids just want a dad, or a mom. They don’t want you to be a pastor, or a superhero for St. Whatever’s.

Boundaries are part of the answer. Have inviolable time set aside for the family. Don’t just make sure you are at the important events in their lives, set aside enough space to be part of making the memorable, unimportant moments.

Don't be SuperStupid

Don't be SuperStupid

Better than boundaries is making sure the ministry of your congregation belongs to the congregation, not you. Don’t worry, you won’t become dispensable. The “S” on your chest may just be standing for “Stupid” instead of “Super.” [That’s a Rick Warren line…] There is more than enough work that you will not be able to pass off to someone else. But the truth is that God pulled the people who make your congregation together because they need each other, not just because they need you. Design the DNA to turn your people to each other. More gifts, more hands, better ministry.

And you… you can do what you are uniquely called and equipped to do. And… you can let your family know that nothing God gave you is more important than they are.

Learning to want to love, rather than be loved

Working on my message for Jacob’s Well I got to thinking about our relationship to God and what God wants with us. God doesn’t – as far as I can see – need us for anything. Rather we were created to need God. Or let me put it this way; we were created to be loved by God. That is where the need is – we need God. By being loved by God we learn to love God back.

That led me to think about my role as a parent. My relationship with my children is rather different from my role with my wife. Maybe I’m different from everyone else, but in ‘falling in love’ and getting married I have had a great inclination to be loved by the other person. Yes, I’ve read the books and poems about the person who can’t help but always want to selflessly love the other, but i’m not that perfect… I was always so enraptured with the ‘someone specials’ of my romantic life that I mostly was in love with the idea of being loved by them, and I let them do it. I wallow in being loved by my loved one.

With my kids it changed. They were not able to love me from the start. And, truth be told, they weren’t very good at it for a long time. Oh sure, they could be cute and endearing, even devoted and wholeheartedly trusting, but that was all because of something else – my love for them. They were created to be, first and foremost, loved by me and their mom. And from that love they learned to love us. It was natural for me to love that way with them. It was what i wanted to do. it was fulfilling on its own. Sure, I wanted them to love me back – it would be miserable if they didn’t – but my love didn’t depend on it. Love with them was first and foremost about Kris and I loving them.

I wonder if it is part of God’s grand design (and this isn’t supposed to be an argument against same-sex relationships, they too can take on and raise children as their own) that in marriage we have children to perfect our understanding of love. That with our children we learn how to live to love another, not be loved by another. And hopefully we take that hard earned lesson and apply it to our committed relationships, and begin to better understand the heart of God who created us to love us.

From the Wilderness

Insula Lake campsite

Insula Lake campsite

I’ve taken my half year sabbatical from this blog and it is time to resume it. I love writing in it and the side of myself and my ministry it feeds, but I had to hunker down for a while to get things in order. As small a part of my life these entries represented, they were one thing I could set aside. So I did. It is time to pick it up again.

Last night I returned from the wilderness. Literal more than figurative. My wife, Kris, my two teens still at home and I drove up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Monday and set our canoes in at Lake One east of Ely on Tuesday morning, heading for Insula Lake. It is late fall up there. All the leaves are down except for some golden birch. Temperatures were in the low 30’s at night and low 50’s daytime. It was not a luxurious experience, but it was the transition from fall to winter for one of the places on this planet I love the most – and it is good to be part of it. We all sensed that and it didn’t need to be spoken. We all knew that this wasn’t going to be a ‘fun’ trip, but expected it to be a ‘good’ trip. That means you are there for what the Boundary Waters really are, not what you want them to be. It was a good trip.

It was quiet in the northwoods. We usually saw no other people until the entry lakes as we exited on the weekend. Wildlife has mostly migrated too. Days were short, and when there was no wind, the silence could make your ears ring. It is a season of nature that must happen, but one we typically pass over preferring the more comfortable.

When we sat still, listened and watched we were rewarded. A Ruffed Grouse on a drumming log only meters from our campsite entertaining our ears with low frequencies we felt instead of heard. The bellowing of a herd of moose not far away. Granite formations hidden by summer’s high waters showing their faces and grabbing at the underside of our canoes. Lichens and rose hips and matchsticks of brilliant white birch alight with a golden flame of leaves. Bald Eagles soaring above the waters for a last few weeks before they freeze over. Campfires. Quiet.

I have to say I was proud of my teenagers who wanted to head to the Boundary Waters this time of year. Their maturity of spirit in relishing the bittersweet six days we had speaks well of them. They realized that there are not only things one must experience to have the things one prefers, but that if one has the stomach for it, one can be nourished by them. I spent time thinking about the seasons of our own lives. We avoid and try to pass over the painful and less comfortable times. I understand that and do the same. But while we travel those less climate experiences we can sit back, relax, look around, take in and be enriched by what is happening to us. It is all good.