TWO BUILDINGS

One of the realities of being a pastor for rural churches is that I get to work in some really old buildings. One Sunday recently, both worship services occurred in old buildings. One dates back to 1835 and the other to 1833. In another pastorate, we were responsible for a building that was put up in 1810. By European standards, these are of course relatively new buildings—but by our standards, they are very old.

These buildings have all the drawbacks that you might expect from such an old building: limited facilities, inadequate electricity, inefficient heating systems, no cooling system, poor parking, uncomfortable and fixed seating. Most of them are wooden buildings, which always need serious work—the 1835 building needs sills replaced and the 1833 building has had major work done recently. The majority of them indicate their age with the tell tale scent of mold and decay. Basic maintenance jobs tend to be expensive and eat up lots of time, energy and money getting them taken care of.

There are some advantages to the buildings: we have a place for our church to gather, we can enjoy the old-time craftsmanship, we can complain about the hard seats. If we get enough money and support, we can and so make some modifications that make them better for our purposes.

But lots of people ask why we are so committed to these old, expensive, inefficient buildings. Generally, the only people not asking that question are the ones who have regularly worshipped in the buildings year after year. New comers, people from away, leaders of bigger congregations in other places, denominational dealership, even theology professors ask the question a lot, sometimes assuming that just because they ask the question, we inhabiting these old buildings will see the light and abandon the buildings.

But those of us who worship in such buildings aren’t asking the question. A person like me who has pastored congregations like this for years used to ask the question. These days, I don’t bother asking because I know the answer. Why do we in small churches keep meeting in old, antiquated, expensive to maintain and heat buildings? The answer is simple: because we can.

We don’t worship the building—well, maybe a few do. Mostly, we continue to inhabit our buildings because they are ours. We worship week after week and the building itself enhances our worship. Occasionally, the enhancement is a result of the building itself–the acoustics, the craftsmanship, the view—but more often, the enhancements occurs because of what the building houses.

It houses our memories. That seat at the back left—that is where I first went to Sunday School. The third pew from the front in the centre, that is where Deacon Zeke used to sit—he was a wise and wonderful example of the Christian faith. That pew right there—that is where I was sitting when I decided to follow Jesus. That Communion table—that was donated by my great-grandparents and my great-grandfather made it by hand from wood he cut himself.

The building houses other memories as well. We remember those we grieved and whose lives we celebrated at the funeral. We remember the weddings when new families came into being. We remember those who grew up in our midst and went on to serve God in the pulpit or the mission field. We are reminded each week of the faithful whose memories are collected and celebrated in our buildings.

We keep our buildings because they hold the memories. We keep our buildings because they allow us to celebrate the cloud of witnesses that are part of our story. We keep our buildings because they are a visible symbol of the endurance of our faith. We keep our buildings because they help our faith.

We don’t worship our buildings and we don’t need the building to have and express our faith. If the building is beyond repair or suffers a fire, we will grieve. We will mourn the loss—but we won’t lose our faith. We will still be believers, albeit believers struggling to find a place to locate our memories.

Our old, inefficient and expensive to maintain buildings could disappear and our faith would continue. But we have them—and because we have them, we can and do use them to enhance our faith.

May the peace of God be with you.

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SUMMER SLUMP

I have been a bit concerned these last few days about my mental state. Work has become harder and harder: after writing two sermons this week, I sat down to work on a short devotional for an upcoming nursing service and had nothing. I puttered for about an hour, writing out the order of service, finding a suitable text for the service, trying to develop an idea but nothing was coming. And to make matters worse, the solitaire game that normally helps me think picked this day to present me with essentially unwinnable games.

I coupled that with my general lethargy—I am not overly interested in doing much these days. The thought of moving from the chair is quickly banished by the realization that if I sit just a bit longer, I just might be able to fall asleep.

My thinking eventually caught up with my symptoms and I began to wonder if I had somehow slipped into a depression. Normally, I am pretty vigilant and have a pretty good idea when I am moving in that direction and as well, a pretty good idea why I am moving that way. But I don’t always catch myself and so on some levels, I was beginning to worry that I was slipping into a depression. Part of me was concerned but another part of me just wanted to click on another Youtube video that I might end up sleeping through.

The part of me that is a bit more mature did manage to keep working and I have decided that although depression is a possibility, it is more likely that I am suffering from a basic summer slump. It has been hot, humid and not overly busy these last couple of weeks. The heat and humidity keep me from doing a lot outside and the not overly busy allows me to realize that I have been pushing myself since the beginning of April. With some breathing space in my schedule, I am realizing how little breathing space I have had since then.

I also realized that part of the not wanting to do anything is a result of the fact that I have two weeks of vacation coming pretty quickly. We will attend a family reunion, have some time with two of our children and their families and I won’t have to write a sermon for two weeks. The anticipation is likely working away somewhere in my mind, suggesting that maybe since the break is coming, we might just as well start early.

So, the bottom line is that I am not depressed and am not likely getting close to a depression. I am tired, I need a vacation and the heat and humidity make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. I suspect that if I am not careful this naturally occurring summer slump could turn into a depression so I have to keep an eye on things. Managing a pre-vacation slump is much easier than managing a depression, though.

Because it is hot and humid, I am not much interested in doing a lot of physical stuff—but instead of mindlessly watching videos or TV, I have been reading some of the books I have bought with the gift cards I have accumulated. It is amazing what great stuff is available on Ebook sites at sale prices.

I make an effort to move, even when it is hot and humid. The lawn needs to be mowed, the planter with my lettuce and tomato plant need weeding and watering, the mail needs to be picked up, and the rotten board on the deck does need to be replaced. I also need to give some thought into how I am going to turn a couple of pieces of rescued birch firewood into candle holders for our Advent celebration this year, although it is a bit hard to think of Advent when it is so hot. And of course, the vacation is coming. I can deal with the stuff I need to do before that—it will get done, even the reluctant nursing home service.

Until then, I will do what I need to do, relax when I have the opportunity, enjoy the books, survive the heat and plan for the vacation. I am in an understandable slump, not a worrying depression. And now, I have to move because the lawn needs to be mowed before it gets too hot.

May the peace of God be with you.

BLEST BE THE TIE

I am probably the only pastor I know who still wears a suit and tie when I preach. That is simply a statement, rather than an introduction to a rant about people who don’t wear a suit and tie or the beginning of an introspective post on how I am about to change the habit of a lifetime so that I can become more relevant in my ministry. I wear my suit for my reasons—I am pretty comfortable taking off my jacket on warm days but unless the government passes an anti-suit and tie law, I will likely continue to do that until I retire—and if I preach anywhere after I retire, I will probably still wear my suit and tie.

This is all somewhat ironical, though, since I really don’t like ties and am much more comfortable wearing jeans and a t-shirt, which is my general attire when I am not working. I have been known to spend a lot of time telling people why ties are an anachronistic, pointless hangover from a long past cultural tradition that has as much validity as making women wear hats to worship. I have made significant progress towards modernization, though—I don’t wear a suit and tie for regular stuff like visitation and Bible Study and meetings and so on. But for all that, every Sunday I am leading worship and preaching, I put on my suit, pick out a tie and head out to lead worship.

And with that, we can get to the real point of this post—the tie I pick out. As befits someone who really doesn’t like ties, I don’t have many of them—and since I no longer own a brown suit, several of the ones I have don’t get worn any more. I am not a fashion expert but I have it on good advice that some of my ties simply don’t “work” with my navy suits. Ultimately, I have about seven ties I actually wear—but since one is specifically for Christmas and one works best around Easter, I have about five that get worn regularly.

And interestingly enough, each one has a lot of emotional content. Two were given to me by a former parishioner who has since passed away. She saw the ties in a thrift shop and they reminded her of me. One has a depiction of Mt. Kilimanjaro and a rhino painted on it and it makes me homesick for Kenya every time I wear it. The other has a bright sun and paintings of children from around the world, which always puts me in a good mood.

Another was given to me by my mother many years ago—and I still feel a strong connection with her when I wear it, along with a touch of sadness because I miss her. Another tie has the cast of the Peanuts cartoons—my wife gave it to me for a Valentine’s present a long time ago. Each character is paired with the character they were closest to, making it a great present—and since I learned most of my theology from the Peanuts characters, it is totally appropriate for me.

I have another that I wear occasionally. The only distinction it has is that it is my oldest tie—I think I have had it since shortly after I began in ministry. I really don’t know where it came from but its persistence keeps it in my closet and around my neck on a regular basis. It also represents my rebellion against the accepted practise when I began ministry—way back then, pastoral ties were supposed to be dark and unadorned but this one is a bright multi-coloured mosaic that signifies nothing.

I don’t much like ties—they really don’t serve much purpose beyond satisfying some ancient forgotten social need. But for a variety of reasons, I still wear them and will likely wear them, at least for formal church functions until I die—and will likely be buried in a suit and tie. And if I am going to keep wearing an anachronistic and seriously pointless strip of cloth, I am going to wear something that has meaning to me. The fact that congregation members find most of the ties I wear interesting is good but mostly, I wear them because they mean something to me.

May the peace of God be with you.

THE SERMON

A few weeks ago, I was preaching a series of sermons on the parables of Jesus. One of the first sermons in the series seems to have made a significant impression on the congregation. For a while after that sermon, people kept referring to the sermon and especially to a visual representation I used during the sermon. The Bible study group discussed the sermon. Individuals mentioned it at meetings and at other times. I even overheard people describing the sermon to members who hadn’t been there. Overall, it seems like this was a pretty successful sermon.

But that was several weeks ago. We have since moved on. We finished the series on the parables and moved into Easter. I haven’t heard anything about the parable sermon in weeks. I have heard a few comments about other sermons suggesting that people are still listening to what I have to say at least some of the time but the parable sermon seems to have disappeared into wherever sermons go in people’s minds after a period of time.

I very much doubt that old sermons go into a special mental file for most people. I doubt that people spend time thinking about the best sermons of the year or the decade. In fact, the painful truth that many preachers don’t want to deal with is that most sermons barely survive the handshake at the door on the way out of the sanctuary. A few, of course, manage to survive a little longer. A sermon with a good story or joke, a sermon that touches a special place for the worshipper or a really bad one—any of them can last into the next week and maybe even beyond.

But eventually, every sermon ends up as a part of a shapeless mass of forgotten prose, decomposed and decontextualized, sitting somewhere in the memory banks of church goers. No matter how hard I work at the sermon, no matter how deeply I research, no matter how powerful the illustrations are, the sermon ultimately loses shape and form and exists, if at all, as a blob among other blobs in people’s minds.

That could be depressing and discouraging, especially if I had some insecurities or felt that my words were so important that they had to be remembered exactly. And while there may have been times in the past when I struggled with such things, there days, I tend not to get too bent out of shape by the fact that no one really remembers my sermons for all that long. Honestly, I can’t remember them either—in order to be certain I know what I preached the Sunday before when we discuss the worship at Bible study, I keep a copy of the sermon on my phone so I can refer to it if necessary.

I don’t expect people to remember the sermon. It was flattering to have people remember and talk about the parable sermon for so long—but is doesn’t depress me that I haven’t heard anyone mention that sermon in weeks. I don’t actually preach to have people remember the sermon. I preach because I want to help people grow in faith—and any one individual sermon is about as valuable to spiritual growth as any one individual meal is valuable to physical growth.

If a person were to get just one meal in their life, they would have a very short life. No matter how great the meal was, just one meal can’t sustain life. Life is build and sustained by the accumulation of meals over the course of a lifetime—and the health and vitality of the lifetime depends on the nutritional balance of all those meals. Anyone meal is unimportant—but all of them together make the person.

Well, any one sermon by itself is pretty much worthless—even if people remember it and refer to it for days and even weeks, it still won’t be enough by itself to sustain and develop spiritual life. But when that one sermon gets folded in with all the other sermons, it can develop into a sort of spiritual compost that provides a base for solid and healthy spiritual growth.

While it was nice that people remembered an individual sermon for so long, even the best of my sermons isn’t all that memorable. But over time, my hope is that accumulation of sermons composting in the believer’s mind will make a difference, enabling them to grow strong in the faith.

May the peace of God be with you.

THE MYSTERY

 

I have always loved science. I can remember as a kid of perhaps 10-12 or so conducting an experiment. I put a bottle of water on the window ledge of my bedroom in the winter and recording each morning whether it was frozen or not—we lived in an uninsulated house with no central heating so the water actually froze some nights. An early Christmas gift was microscope, which I wore out looking at stuff.

I want to know about stuff and understand stuff and love the question “why”, along with its siblings and cousins like “How” and “what” and on and on. Discovering how something works makes my day—and it is even greater if I discover why something works wrong and can figure out how to make it work better. It seems that I have an essential curiosity that pushes me to understand and define and describe and explain.

I bring this drive with me to the church and my faith. As a pastor, I am always examining the church, seeking to understand it. All through my ministry, I have done experiments in the church to make it more effective and more church. Let me quickly assure you that always, the experiments have been done with the informed consent and enthusiastic participation of the church—we all know what we are doing and why. We just embarked on a series of experiments with our worship in one of the sets of churches I serve. We generally like our worship but we want to see if there are things that will make it even more worshipful.

In my personal faith, I have the same drive to understand and explain and even to experiment. I want to understand the fullness of my faith. I want to know what is true and what is fake and what is possible and what isn’t possible. I am sometimes in trouble with colleagues in ministry and people in the church because I can and do ask difficult questions that undercut or repudiate some of their cherished theories. I ask blunt questions about “miracles” people tell me about—the fact that someone’s cousin’s nephew’s girlfriend’s garbage man’s acquaintance knew someone who lived in the same city as someone who wrote about a miraculous healing he heard about isn’t sufficient validation for me to rejoice in the wonder of God’s works.

I approach everything with an analytical, critical, searching attitude. I want to know and understand and asking questions, analysing and studying are basic to me and my faith. But for all of that, I realized a long time ago that there are limits to what I can learn and understand. I can learn a lot about God and faith and the church. But there comes a point where I can’t learn anymore or understand any more. I realized early on in my faith life that I am human and God is God and there is a gap there that I cannot get beyond. I cannot squeeze the whole of God into my finite being.

I learn as much as I can. I study and meditate and experiment and develop theories—but at some point, I always come up against the reality that there is a point where my abilities fail. The fullness of God is beyond me. I can understand the love of God. I can observe and describe examples of the love of God. I can experiment with the love of God. (Does God still love me if I…). But I can’t figure out why God loves. Sure, I can get theological and say that God loves because that is his nature—but that is playing with words not real understanding.

God is God and even though I have devoted a good part of my life to understanding God, there is a reality there—as a finite human, I am not capable of understanding completely the infinite God. And I am okay with that reality. I want to know and understand and I will continue to study and observe and experiment. But I am also a person of faith. I may not be able to understand why God would choose to love all of humanity including me—but I can and do believe it. I don’t need to understand everything because I trust God.

May the peace of God be with you.

TOMORROW

When I got my first job after graduating with my Masters, I discovered that I was enrolled in a pension plan–well, actually two of them if you count the government pension plan that was also reducing the take home portion of my pay cheque.  I have to confess that in my early 20s, the idea of a pension plan was only mildly interesting.  The demands of student loan repayments, married life and the expenses of starting out after university meant that if I had been given an even choice, I just might have tossed the pension plan for a few extra dollars every week.

Fortunately, I didn’t have an option about making that choice–both the government and my employer required that I give them money every pay period.  Without any attention from me, the pension money disappeared from the pay cheque and showed up in a statement that came once a year.  Since I was young, busy and couldn’t do anything with or about the money, I tended to ignore it, at least until a few years ago when the state of my pension became important.  As I got closer and closer to retirement, I paid more attention to the annual statements and now that the fund is computerized, I occasionally peak at the accumulating amount.

For all my working life, that pension has been there, generally growing (except for years with economic downturns) and sitting there having an effect on my future without my paying much attention to it.  But when the time comes that I actually decide to retire, I am going to be very glad that decisions about my future was made a long time ago.

Now, in a lot of other areas of my life, I have been concerned about my future and have  taken a fairly active part in preparing for tomorrow.  I choose university courses and programs with an eye to the future.  I decided on advanced education because I was looking ahead.  A lot of my work in ministry involved and involves looking ahead and trying to structure the present to enable certain things to develop in the future.  I chose to begin  a serious exercise regime early in  life to prevent certain health issues in the future.  We began putting money away for our kids’ education shortly after each was born.

In short, I, like a great many people, was living partly in the future.  I was and still am willing to defer things now because of some future benefit.  Less money now meant more money in the future.  More exercise now meant better health tomorrow.  This meeting in the church today meant we could begin that ministry next year.

Well, actually, the best we can actually say is that if we do this stuff today, it might have an effect on tomorrow.  I can’t actually guarantee that I will live long enough to spend my pension money.  I can’t guarantee that this sermon series will produce a healthier church in five years.  I can’t guarantee that my kids will want to go to university.  I can’t even guarantee that  the lawn mower will start in an hour or so when I run out of excuses to avoid doing the lawn.

With no guarantees, why plan?  There are actually lots of people who live for today and who seem to be doing quite well.  Living in the now is something of a mantra for a lot of people today.  The idea of pensions, educational saving plans, exercise plans and ministry plans is something of an anathema to many people, some of whom are quite willing to quote Matthew 6.34 as support, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)

And, as with all Jesus’ words, there is a powerful truth here.  We can only live right now.  But right now does become tomorrow and because most of us will inhabit tomorrow or a certain number of tomorrows, we really can’t ignore tomorrow.  Statically, the likelihood of tomorrow coming is pretty good and the likelihood of our being around tomorrow is equally high so it makes sense to give it some thought.  We can’t live only for tomorrow–but we do need to keep an eye on tomorrow since we are likely going to get there.  It is likely better to have the pension and not get to use it than not have it and need it.

May the peace of God be with you.

YESTERDAY

Recently, I was at a large meeting where I ran into a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long time.  Some of them I likely hadn’t seen since I last attended this annual meeting a couple of  years ago.  I had a variety of responses to the people I connected with.

Some of them were people I was relatively close to but because of time, distance, work and whatever else, we don’t manage to connect much.  These encounters were long as we caught up, shared our lives and re-connected.  Sometimes, we talked in the corridors when we should be at a meeting; sometimes, we shared a meal or a coffee break; sometimes, we made arrangements to get together at another time–but each of these meetings was important and valuable and part of the reason why I drag my introverted self to such meetings.

Some of the people I met were acquaintances, people I knew from some context and am friends with but we have never had the time or opportunity to really develop beyond the “how are you” stage.  We greet each other, exchange a few words and carry on.  There is always the possibility that such a meeting might spark a deeper conversation but often, we greet and carry on.

And then there are the people I know and have had significant contact with–but the contact has tended to be negative and painful.  These people, well, I confess that knowing some of them will likely be at the meeting prompts me to keep my eyes open in a defensive scan at all times so that I can avoid awkward and uncomfortable encounters.  When I have no choice, I try to be polite but tend to be polite in the context of keeping moving as if the coming meeting is the most vital thing in my life instead another long, dreary and somewhat boring business meeting.

I realize that a great deal of who I an and what I do now is a result of the relationships I have developed in the past.  Like everyone else beyond 2 minutes old, my life has been shaped to a large degree by the people in my life.  Certainly there are other factors that help determine who I am–my introversion, colour-blindness and left-handedness have also had a part in shaping who and what I am and I arrived with those already hardwired in place.

But the basic hardware that I was born with is combined with the myriad of experiences and people I have encountered in my life.  My past deeply affects my present, to the point that I can and do plan my route through a meeting venue partly on the anticipation of who I might meet and how I can maximize the positive contacts and minimize the negative ones.  I might actually live in the present but the present is shaped and affected by the past.

I can’t ignore my past–nor would it be healthy to ignore it.  It is much healthier to acknowledge the past and seek to understand its affect on my life.  I can celebrate the positive influences and try to arrange the present so that I can enjoy and enhance those.  I can accept and seek to learn what I need to learn from the negative influences and seek to grow through them.  And I can understand and appreciate how the nature of the influence can change from negative to positive or positive to negative as time passes and my understanding grows.

For me, it is important to remember that my past is important.  It has been a significant factor in shaping who I am now.  I can’t ignore it and shouldn’t minimize it.  The events of the past, the people of the past, the interactions of people and events are realities in my life, realities that I need to remember and seek to understand so that I can make clear and better choices today.

When I walk down a corridor to a meeting, I think it is important to realize that I am taking to left hand corridor more because people I don’t want to encounter will likely be in the right hand corridor than any other reason.  If I understand why I make the choices I make and have dealt with the stuff I need to deal with, I can make better decisions here and now.

Yesterday may have come and gone but it has left its mark on me–and the more I understand and accept those marks, the better I deal with today.

May the peace of God be with you.

MY CALLING

             Early in my ministry career, I was speaking in a city in Western Canada and the pastor of the church I was speaking at arranged an interview with the local paper.  Rather than ask is I would like to be interviewed, he simply set up the interview and told me to expect the reporter at a certain time.  Since I was a bit less inclined to complain at that stage of my life, I let his rudeness go and was polite for the interview.

During the course of the interview, the reporter asked why I was doing what I was doing.  I used my professional shorthand and told her that it because of my calling from God.  Her lack of much in the way of faith background immediately became clear when she looked at me blankly and asked me to explain what a call was.  I really can’t remember what I said to explain the concept of God’s call but in the end, everything I have done professionally and a lot of what I have done personally is a result of my belief that God has called me to do it.

Now, I don’t get emails, snail mail or phone calls from God.  Nor is his call accompanied by a clear timeline and a specific set of plans and directions.  And at any given time in my life, I can be extremely confused about what God is calling me to; fighting against what I know God wants me to do or begging him to change the call or at least its specific application.

But overall, I believe that one of the consequences of my accepting Jesus as Saviour and Lord is willingness to let God make decisions about what I do and where I do it.  If I have really accepted Him as Lord, that involves my being willing to submit my life to him and allow him to direct me.  For me, that has played out primarily in terms of my work.  I believe that God has called me to make ministry my occupation.  Not everyone is called to that particular career path–but all of us are called by God to serve him and follow him in all areas of life.

For me, knowing and following God’s leading has been important.  It has also mean that I have not always been happy with where the call took me.  In fact, many times I have been more than a bit unhappy with where the call has taken me.  If I had been in charge of my life, I would have bulked up the teaching and researching and writing and basically eliminated the pastoral stuff.

But I am not in charge–or it is probably better to say that I work hard at not being in charge.  Because I have chosen to make God through Christ Lord of my life, in the end, I seek to do what he wants me to do, even if I am not always happy with his leading.  I am free to complain, I am free to pray (beg) for a change–I am even free to simply refuse to do what God asks of me.

But overall, I keep coming back to where God calls me, even when I am not happy.  That almost sounds like I have some serious emotional or mental issues but the truth is, I learned a long time ago that while I may not always be happy with where God is calling me, it is always better for me to be where God wants me to be.  Underneath the struggles and the bouts of unhappiness and even depression, there is a sense of joy and peace that comes from doing what I know God wants.

And in the end, I have also learned that giving up a certain amount of short-term happiness is well compensated for by the deep seated and long term joy and peace that comes from doing what I know God wants and being where I know God wants me to be.

So, that means that at a point in my life when I could easily be done with a career that hasn’t always been the happiest for me, I am still going.  I am still going because this is where God wants me to be and I am doing what he wants me to be doing.  I am sure that retirement is there somewhere down the road–but for now, I will follow the calling and enjoy the joy and peace that comes from that.

May the peace of God be with you.

 

WHY AM I STILL DOING THIS?

I am currently serving as part time pastor of two different collections of congregations.  On a good Sunday the smaller group will have a dozen or so in worship.  The larger one will have 25 or so.  On a bad Sunday, the numbers can drop seriously.  I have passed official retirement age recently but am still working and have no real plans for actually retiring.

I am not continuing because the work I do is so deeply satisfying to me that I can’t imagine life without it.  In fact, when I let myself fantasize a bit, I can see all sorts of things that I could be doing to occupy my time–there are lots of woodworking projects begging to be built, trips that look interesting, topics that just need to be researched, leisurely coffee times with friends that don’t have to be rushed or postponed because of a funeral.  Ministry in a variety of forms has occupied my working life–but I can think of lots of other things that I would rather be doing so I can’t say that I am still doing it because of an intrinsic love of ministry.

And while ministry, at least ministry in small congregations isn’t a path to wealth, it isn’t finances that keeps me involved in ministry.  Pastoral salaries might not make one rich, but our denomination as least has a well managed pension plan that will enable me to be financially comfortable in retirement.

I was talking to a friend recently who had retired.  He told me that part of his reason was that when he took the job he had, he saw certain things that needed to be accomplished.  With those accomplished, he was ready to retire.  I appreciated what he was saying–and having seen some of that he had done, I knew what he was talking about.

But I can’t really say I am postponing retirement until I accomplish the things I see that I need to accomplish.  Unlike many people who write about ministry these days, I don’t have a grand, over-arching vision of what the churches I pastor should be doing and accomplishing.  I believe in vision and direction and all that–but I think the real vision of a congregation needs to come from the congregation.  And while I see a major part of my ministry as helping people see and achieve their vision, I generally have no real sense of where things are going until we are almost there.  My vision for the congregations isn’t what keeps me going.  Mostly, I spend my time trying to keep up with the congregation and trying to put into words what we are doing and where we are going.

Nor is it the pastoral needs of the congregations.  As a pastor, I am intimately involved in the lives of the people I serve.  I am their pastor, which means I am committed to being there for them.  I am called to help them in times of difficulty, to visit when they are sick, the teach them about their faith, to encourage their ministry, to perform their weddings and funerals, to provide counselling, to do whatever I and they believe is within my mandate as their pastor.

But I do not think that I can’t retire because these people can’t survive without me.  Most of them did pretty well before I arrived–and the few who didn’t do well before I arrived, well, I am pretty sure that my presence or absence isn’t making all that much difference.  Certainly,  I believe that I am called to help and I do help and I know it makes a difference.  But I have been in ministry long enough to know that when I leave the congregation, God will provide them with another way to have their needs met.  I am their pastor but in the end, I am not indispensible–they would all survive if I retired.

So far, I have looked at a lot of reasons why other people don’t retire–but  none of them really work for me. But I am still working, still in ministry, and still committed for the foreseeable future.  Fortunately, I know the reason why I am doing what I am doing–it is the same reason I have been doing what I have been doing for my whole ministry.  That is the topic for the next post.

May the peace of God be with you.

BREAKING RULES AND LOVING GOD

My personal quest to develop rules for breaking rules finds a great deal of help from my faith.  As a Christian, I believe that God knows best.  I don’t always agree with how God is interpreted or portrayed by some people–and to be honest, there are times when I am disagreeing with God himself.  But in general, my faith is important and I try to use it as I deal with the various rules I encounter.

But even there, I am selective.  Part of our Friday night tradition is a movie with either nachos or pizza–both of which need bacon to be complete.  However, eating bacon in forbidden by the rules that God gave the people of Israel.  Sure, that is the Old Testament and I follow Jesus who is the New Testament but God still gave the rule and I still follow some of the rules in the Old Testament–the 10 Commandments, for example, are important to me.

So, how is it that I try to avoid lying but eat bacon (not to mention lobster and scallops, which are also forbidden in the Old Testament.  If the only reason I can give is my own self-interest, then I could be in trouble–maybe my desire for bacon on pizza and nachos is having a permanent affect on my relationship with God.  As good as bacon is by itself or on pizza, it really isn’t worth going to hell.

Jesus provides us with some help here.  In Matthew 22.40, he tells us that there are two rules that underlie all the law and prophets.  These two rules are both from the Old Testament and Jesus repeats them in Matthew 22.37-39:  ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “ (NIV)

The purpose of God’s rules was threefold.  We were to use them as the basis for loving God, loving others and loving ourselves.  And, just in case we want to quibble about what it means to love in this context, God has given us a great deal of commentary on these verses.  One very powerful and clear commentary on how to love this way is found in I Corinthians 13.1-13.  There, Paul offers powerful insights into this kind of love.

Essentially, he makes it clear that the kind of love God requires is based on our being willing to make choices that enhance relationships.  In I Corinthians 13.4, we are told that this love God wants is patient and kind.  Patience and kindness do not suddenly appear in our lives when we need them.  Being patient and kind–or impatient and unkind–are choices we make.  I can choose to be patient and kind when I get behind a slow driver or I can choose to be impatient and unkind.  The other driver may never know which I am choosing–but I still have to choose to love in this way.

The rules in faith don’t exist just to exist.  They exist to enhance relationships.  God has given a framework to show me how to have proper relationships with him, with others and with myself.  Jesus goes to the heart of the matter by exposing the foundational purpose of the rules and then God uses writers like Paul and John and others to help us see what the rules were meant to foster.

To be honest, I am not sure how avoiding bacon or scallops helped people love God, others and themselves.  But I do know that these prohibitions do have a specific application in one relationship I have.  My wife is allergic to shellfish so I only cook and eat scallops when she isn’t around–that is one of my expressions of love for her.

For me as a follower of Christ, rules have to be run through the filter of my faith.  I need God’s leading and direction before I challenge a rule–or at least that is the theory.  In practise, I still use self-interest too often and God’s leading too little.  Fortunately for me, God has a rule of his own–he will never stop loving me and that means he will never stop working with me, even when it comes to which rules I break and which I keep and when.

May the peace of God be with you.