Savoring the Moment

Earlier today, I posted the following on Facebook:

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I wanted to give you a little more of the story.

Full Disclosure

While Dani and I were eating at Tony’s the girls running the raffle were walking around and stopped by our table. I wasn’t particularly interested in them – I was there to have an unhurried dinner with my wife, not win a t-shirt. So I took a number and they continued on.

As Dani and I were waiting for our waitress to get our change, I happened to look over and notice one of the girls walking with a limp. I opened my mouth, then closed it. My mental dialogue went something like:

“Huh, she’s walking with a limp. I wonder what happened? I wonder if I should pray for her? Does she know Jesus? Oops, she’s already walked past and I don’t really feel like tracking her down. Maybe if she comes around again…”

Dani must’ve noticed because she looked at me and said, “Why didn’t you pray for her? You’re the one who always says you want to do this stuff. Why didn’t you?” I didn’t really have any words worth saying just flimsy, flimsy excuses.

The truth is, I’ve been really shy about praying for people lately. A month or so ago I had a convicting realization that the inner voice I’d been listening to, that had been directing much of my effort as a Pastor and a Christian, wasn’t God at all. I had fallen into the lie that healing and salvation are attained through my efforts rather than God’s. It was humiliating and disheartening and I took a huge step back from prayer and evangelism and for the last couple months have felt rather aimless.

Fortunately, God’s call is irrevocable and He doesn’t change His mind. He’s been slowly moving me back to a place of trust in Him and His word. It was His idea to give us the ministry of healing, I’m just trying to be obedient. (I really suck at that most of the time.)

Also, this morning we had a great testimony from Mason (video coming soon) about stepping out in faith to pray for people and had stirred up those longings again. So, between Mason’s testimony and Dani reminding me of what is really true and important I was trapped. I had to do it. I excused myself to the bathroom to work up some courage.

When I came back, the girl was standing at my table! She had drawn my number in the raffle and wanted to get my size for the t-shirt. Holy setup Batman.

Obviously, I had to go for it. I did a short interview and found out that she had just had her third knee surgery (she was in her mid twenties) and was actually in a lot of pain. I asked her to sit, explained that I was a Pastor and that I wanted to pray for God to take away the pain in her knees. She gave me the “you’re crazy” look but let me pray for her.

After a short prayer I asked her to test it out. She felt better. Her pain had gone from a 10 to a 5. I asked her to sit again. After a second prayer she was down to a 1 and had increased her range of motion about 20 degrees. I didn’t notice any reduction in swelling, but I’ll take a 90% reduction in pain.

I asked her if she knew Jesus and she said she did, and that she and her fiancé were in-between churches. Since she lived in Waterloo I directed her to some friend’s churches and we left.

Some Take Aways

I’d like to reiterate that, on my own, I would not have prayed for this girl. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her pain. I was too busy and then too afraid. A healing would have gone undone and my intimacy with God wouldn’t have grown simply because I was too busy. Ugh.

BUT, the healing did happen because Mason’s testimony had stirred up my heart and my wife reminded me to be the man I am called to be. Testimony and community are powerful force multipliers in the Kingdom. They call us to higher standards. They remind us that it is God who is great, not us, but that we have the privilege to serve alongside him. It is a beautiful and humbling thing to be used by God to take away someone’s pain and share with them the Good News of the Resurrected King.

That girl wasn’t healed because I am special or gifted or anointed. She was healed because Jesus is awesome. Our Resurrected King shattered the powers of sin, death and the devil on Calvary and we are messengers of that fact. We have the privilege of enforcing His Kingdom wherever we go and the kingdom of this world must give way. It is a glorious existence my friends.

Savoring the Moment

Satan can steal from us in at least three ways. He can constrict the flow of life from God to us and slow down the answers to our prayers so that we give up. He can take something we have when we give him legal access through unrepentant sin. He can also make us forget. This last seems to be his favorite tactic and the one most devastating to the Church.

The enemy causes us to forget our victories, our histories with God. He convinces us that we have to fight old battles again or that the successes of previous generations do not belong to us. He gets us busy and tired and we forget the multitudes of times God has intervened in our lives. He sucks us dry, like a bug caught in a spider’s web until we forget God’s goodness and his work in our lives.

A forgotten work of God isn’t much different than one that never happened as far as its impact on our lives. If we don’t constantly savor the presence and power of God in our lives then we become ever more paralyzed and ever more religious. What was once a vibrant interaction with God becomes a formalized ritual – an appearance of godliness devoid of life changing power.

I think that one of the best things we can do for one another is to share stories. We need to share testimonies of God’s Goodness, we need to remind one another of the words spoken over us and the call of God on our lives. We need to call out what is best in one another and remind ourselves of what is eternally true. This is what I hope our home groups can be – a launching pad for Kingdom invasion as the saints are fed, equipped, encouraged, empowered and healed.

I hope my story gives you courage to take your own step of faith. You are made to carry the Spirit of the Living God into the world around you. There are miracles waiting to happen, stories as yet untold. Some of them, maybe many of them, will happen wether you decide to participate or not, but don’t you want you?

Getting UnBusy

BECOMING UNBUSY

I hate the word ‘busy’. I hate it with growing fervor. I hate that it is the sacred, unassailable and unquestioned excuse our culture uses to avoid events and people. I hate how it is used to flatter, to express sympathy and to keep relationships on a superficial level.

I also hate how everyone is ‘so busy’ yet little of consequence ever seems to get done. What is really getting accomplished in our frenetic hustle? Have we eliminated poverty or found a cure for cancer? Or have we simply succeeded in maintaining the economic engine of our society – mindless consumption?

I hate the cultural norms that excuse employees for checking Facebook or ESPN at work and then sympathizes with their “heavy workload” that keeps them from riding bikes or playing in the dirt with their kids. I hate that over half of the meals in America are eaten in cars or in front of a TV screen.

I am on a crusade against busyness. I realize that I run the risk of offending a lot of people because I am attacking one of our most cherished idols, the one we sacrifice our lives and families to, but I believe the risk is worth it. There is a better way of living that is more satisfying, more productive and more enjoyable.

MY STORY

Burned out Pastors

The first year I pastored was tumultuous. I had no previous experience pastoring or leading an organization and it was everything I could do to keep from drowning. A whole lot of things went undone that first year because I didn’t yet have the capacity to manage it all.  My days were hectic and scattered. I never felt that I accomplished anything or that I was on top of my workload. In the worst moments I fantasized about quitting and sympathized with the estimated 1,700 pastors who quit the ministry every month. (By the way, that statistic isn’t true – it is urban legend. However, that first year of pastoring made it all too believable.)

On top of it all, that same year, two Pastors whom I highly respect went through terrible health issues and burn out. Each Pastor was a veteran saint who had spent decades building his congregation. Each was lauded by their respective city and denomination as a model Pastor and church, the kind wet-behind-the-ears-whipper-snappers like me were supposed to emulate. However, I had a very privileged view into the lives of these men and their congregations and I saw what pushing for growth cost them personally and professionally.

No Thank You

Because I got to see the terrible effects of burn out first hand, I had absolutely no desire to pursue the kind of ministry they had mastered during my lifetime. If building a “successful” church meant that I had to be a driven, Type A workaholic who demanded much from myself and more from others and resulted in a mental/physical/spiritual/social breakdown then I didn’t want it. I’d rather be happy and healthy instead. Thus, the name of this blog, “The Happy Pastor” was born. My intent at the beginning of this blog was to scour the internet and accumulated wisdom of the ages to see if their was a better model of pastoring. My focus has shifted since then, but that was the genesis of this site.

Lifeline

In one of my darkest times, when my fantasy of quitting was about to become a reality, my friend Marty made me aware of a book by Eugene Peterson called The Contemplative Pastor. I was familiar with Peterson’s name from The Message, but I hadn’t read any of his work. Based on Marty’s recommendation I picked it up.

To say The Contemplative Pastor was life changing wouldn’t be much of an overstatement. It came at a critical time in my life and career and has formed me in more ways than I know. I have yet to put it into practice in all the ways I would like, but I return to it again and again as a model for the kind of Pastor I want to be.

Peterson’s manifesto includes three adjectives he uses to describe pastoring and he develops each in turn. The three adjectives Peterson applies to Pastors are: unbusy (hence the name of this post), subversive and apocalyptic. I’ll only deal with the first here, but the others are worth exploring at another time.

THE UNBUSY PASTOR

There are so many good quotes it is hard to choose, but perhaps the most salient is the following:

“THE ONE piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket basket is the letter addressed to the “busy pastor.”

Not that the phrase doesn’t describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me. I’m not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way it’s used to flatter and express sympathy.

“The poor man,” we say. “He’s so devoted to his flock; the work is endless, and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly” But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”

Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 149-154). Kindle Edition.

Peterson continues to rail against our “blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him,” but much of the above section can readily apply to all of us, not just pastors.

REASONS FOR BUSYNESS

Peterson also identifies several reasons for busyness. I have drilled down a little deeper and offer you my own take on why it is so easy, even rewarding, to be busy.

Pride

American culture idolizes busyness. Busyness is a status symbol, a way of showing our importance. A full calendar tells us, and all who will take notice, that we are important, vital, highly sought after. Our understanding of economics supports this. A commodity with little supply and huge demand is far more costly than one with a large supply and little demand – therefore, limited time because of endless demands means I am valuable.

We use busyness as a badge of honor, a way of reminding ourselves that we are essential lynchpins in the mechanism of society. I’ve known people who refuse to take vacations because they are so certain they are the only ones who can do their jobs and that the company would fall apart without them. Their job security rests on them being the only one capable of doing certain things. Then they get sick and (horror of horrors!) life goes on without them.

None of us are irreplaceable. That doesn’t mean we are just widgets or cogs in the wheel a la Henry Ford. Rather, it means that the world will adapt to our absence with little to no side effects. We aren’t nearly so important as we think. I find this intensely liberating because it means emails, text messages and voicemails can wait – people really can solve their own problems.

Impotence

I also find myself being busy when I can’t say no. Especially in Christian circles we confuse powerlessness with holiness. The inability to say no, the constant devaluing of our own needs for the sake of others, the lifestyle of being constantly on the go yet never getting anything done – this is not what God intended and it is not a sign of maturity.

One of the most liberating books I have read in the past year is Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk (seriously, go get it) because Silk does an outstanding job of explaining what it means to be a powerful person. It isn’t holy to live without boundaries, it isn’t healthy or God-honoring to never say ‘no’ or to give people unlimited access to your heart, home and time. This was a serious battle for me. I’m a bleeding heart and want to help, but without boundaries I will bleed out.

Jesus said to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like I need to love myself before I can love my neighbor. If I don’t love myself, care for myself, value myself, nourish myself, shepherd myself, or protect myself then I am simply unable to do that for others. But the Religious Spirit in America says “No! You must give and give. To say ‘no’ to others is selfish. You are a servant, you are supposed to give, you are supposed to be last.” I don’t even try to argue with this anymore, I just douse them with holy water and say “Be gone in Jesus’ Name!” Not really, but I want to. I’ve never found myself able to convince someone to value themselves when this is their mindset. They either have to burn out and learn it the hard way or Holy Spirit has to make it real to them – I can only step aside and pray after I’ve spoken to them.

Fear

Finally, some of us are busy because we are absolutely terrified of being alone. If we ever have a moment of unoccupied time it seems like all of the monsters start crawling out of the closet and from under the bed. In a desperate attempt to keep from thinking or processing at a deeper level, we pursue busyness with a vengeance, even taking our smart phones with us to the bathroom so we can read or play a game. Boredom is the enemy we are determined to conquer.

This has always been the case for humanity. In times past it was movies, newspapers, books or work. We have always been afraid to be with ourselves and run the risk of recognizing how shallow and insignificant our lives really are. Perhaps that is why Christians have so long recommended the Disciplines of Solitude and Silence and means to spiritual growth. Confronting our demons, our insignificance and our impotence is, surprisingly, the only way to actually influence the world and accomplish anything of worth. Solitude and Silence is hard work and strong medicine, but it has helped to make sinners into saints for centuries.

CLARIFICATIONS

Now, before I go on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I am not advocating that you quit your job, cancel all your appointments and activities and go be a monk. I’m also not saying that you can’t have fun, enroll your kids in enrichment activities or have a full schedule.

What I am saying is that busyness is a quality of the soul. Busyness is when our minds are distracted, our energy dispersed and we are unable to be present to the world around us. Busyness is when we cannot listen to another human being because our lunch hour is up or we’re preoccupied with the seven other things on our To Do List. Busyness is being self-consumed, totally cut off from communion with God and fellowship with others. What I am advocating for in my crusade against busyness is primarily a change in mindset that will overflow into a change in our schedules.

THE GOALS OF BECOMING UNBUSY

Being Present

I get having a full schedule, I have my day planned from 5am to 10pm every day of the week. But because I have a plan and have dedicated myself to the hard work of being a powerful person, I am not busy. I certainly have things to do, but I’m not busy. My schedule allows me to be fully present wherever I am and whatever I’m doing because I know everything has a time and a place. I find it difficult to describe how liberating it is to enjoy a nap guilt free because you know your work is going to get done.

Even more valuable, as I go about my day and work I find myself better able to talk with God because my mind isn’t cluttered with multitudes of projects and ideas. When I go shopping I carry a list which frees me from trying to remember things and also frees me to pay more attention to the people around me. I find myself praying more and asking God better questions. It is really quite fascinating to see how taking care of myself allows me to take better care of others.

Living on Mission

And that brings me to the main point of this post. Busyness distracts us from our proper work as citizens of God’s Kingdom. We are called to be salt, light and leaven to the world around us. We are called to give to others the unhindered flow life which flows in to us from God. We are called to make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the character and nature of God and teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded us. We can’t do that when we are busy.

Seeing people and having compassion on them requires a presence of soul that is rarely found in the world today. The ability to listen is in short supply and those able to speak words of life even more so. Getting unbusy is the first step in making ourselves available to God so that he can use us to advance his Kingdom.

Once again, I’m not saying you need to quit your job or the activities you love. Instead, I’m suggesting that if we are going to truly live into our calling to make disciples then we will need to learn how to be powerful people who take control of our schedules and who fight against the cultural norms imposed upon us. We need to reject the notion that our worth comes from our busyness and we need to learn to be alone with ourselves. In doing so, we open ourselves to the possibility of God speaking to us and moving through us.

So, by all means, take your daughter to dance class or football practice, but while you’re there, please stay off of your phone. Sit by yourself and pray or start asking God to speak to you about the other parents present. Strike up a conversation – invite them to your home group – who knows what will happen?

Missional Communities

The Goal

The goal of the Church is making disciples. Each individual congregation pursues that goal in a different way and there isn’t even much agreement on what “disciple” means. This has resulted in a scatter shot approach to “doing Church” – we’re not quite sure what we’re aiming for, but we think it is “that way, over there”, so we throw a handful of programs and projects in the general direction of our beliefs and hope something sticks. I’m not here to answer for the Church what “disciple” means. I’m hear to articulate what “disciple” means for my congregation and how we are going to go about making them.

Defining “Disciple”

For me, a “disiple” is someone who knows God like Jesus does. When we know God the way Jesus knows him, as Father, we begin to see things the way Jesus sees them and everything in our lives comes into alignment with Reality and our transformed lives are an overflow of our relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. That still feels rather nebulous, so please bear with my while I unpack it.

Let’s say I am making dinner plans with some friends and my wife isn’t present. I have a pretty good idea of how to put together an evening she would enjoy because I know her and I’ve spent a lot of time with her. I know what kind of food she likes and doesn’t like, I know what kind of activities she enjoys and what kind she will only tolerate. I know her love language and can craft an evening with friends where we can have undistracted quality time and talk about core life issues for several hours in a comfortable environment. So, even though I am making plans and Dani isn’t present physically, she is present in me and we can plan as though she was physically there to offer her opinions. It is the same way with God.

When you know God, his likes and dislikes, his taste, the activities he enjoys and the ones he doesn’t, the environments he feels comfortable in, his thoughts on the world (et cetera, et cetera) it becomes really easy to represent him to the world. Jesus is such a perfect representation of God because he knows him. When we begin to know God like Jesus does, we will begin to speak like Jesus speaks and do the things Jesus does. As we cultivate imtimate, mutually self-disclosing relationships with the Trinity, we will gain a good understanding of what they would say or do in a certain situation – then we do it. Discipleship = Intimacy + Action. We obey Jesus’s commands because we love him and trust him. That love and trust, the knowledge of his character, is what allows us to obey even when we don’t understand or initially disagree. It is in obedience to our Lord that we discover more of his wisdom, affection and desire for our wellbeing.

I could try to add a lot more to the definition above, but that simple definition sums up everything I believe a disciple should be. Knowing what God thinks and feels about things like poverty, racism, sexuality, government, business, education, the environment, abortion (and so on) gives us a clear map to follow. At least, what we believe to be a clear map.

The tension of Humility and Certainty

Knowing God begins with the Bible. Our God is a self-revealing God who desires to be known by his creation. God is so unfathomably Other that it would be impossible to understand his character, thoughts, desires and emotions on our own. Sure, we would have a general sense of his existence, but to know him as a person requires him taking the first step. He is the one that had to bridge the gap. He had to be the first to speak.

Both the Old and New Testaments document the thoughts, words and actions of Our Father. It was he who created. It was he who promised redemption after our rebellion. It was he who made covenant and brought it to fulfillment centuries later. It was he who showed us what life is like under his influence. The Bible is the recorded work of God in human history. It is God’s self-expression, how he wants to be known. We can never know God fully, but we can know him truly – that Truth is found in the Bible.

One problem with our understanding and relating to that Truth is that we are several thousand years removed from its initial revelation. We must rely on the integrity of countless human beings throughout the ages in their attempt to accurately convey the essence of these matters to us. While we primarily rely on God’s steady hand to direct the transmission of Truth and information, when we open up a Bible we are getting a product filtered through countless historians, theologians, translators and pastors. That does nothing to dimish the authority of the Bible, but it does remind us that we need to be in relationship with the Living Word as well as the written word. 

Even with God’s self-revelation in the Bible and God’s indwelling Presence through the Spirit, there is still tremendous disagreement within the Church about who God is and what he is like. It boggles my mind, really, and the zealot in me longs to charge into the fray and do battle, but Wisdom says no. Wisdom says to live transparently before my flock and to let them see the fruit of my life and beliefs as I live them out day after day, month after month and year after year. It is my hope that the abudant harvest of righteousness in my life, proven over decades, will convince them of the Truth – for it is all I can offer.

I am absolutely committed to knowing God, better and better each day if I can. That allows me to speak and act with a degree of certainty, yet I am also aware that I make mistakes. The accuracy of my beliefs can only be shown over time. Perhaps, if I am correct, the Lord will help me steward the Church in a greater way in the years to come.

The Strategy

Our goal is to make disciples – men and women who know God and are, therefore, able to share God’s heart with those around them and able to demonstrate his superiority over the world through their lives and actions. How best to do that?

If our relationship with God began because he first took the initiative to enter into our world and show interest in us, then that seems like a good place to start. God did not say, “First, show interest in me and then come to find out more about me.” But you would think he did from the way we “do church” in America. Through our structure and programming, the Church in America basically says, “If you’re interested in God, here we are. God only lives in our box and has nothing to do with the outside world. But he is pretty cool…” That worked for awhile, but I think there is a better way.

In Mark 3, we see Jesus select a group of 12 men from a larger crowd. He creates a community with them with this express purpose, “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority over demons,” (emphasis mine). Jesus’s ministry model was to form a community for the purpose of ministry, not community itself. We see this several times in the Gospel and Acts. First, it is the core community of the Twelve. Once they are up and running, Jesus expands to a group of Seventy-Two. Then it is 120 after the Resurrection and finally 3,000 at Pentecost. Each group had the same DNA – gather, grow, go, regroup.

The disciples gathered together for friendship, encouragement and refreshment over a meal. They grew as Jesus (and later the Apostles) taught them about the Kingdom of God through Bible study, personal revelation and practical application. Then the disciples went out to do what they had just been taught. Finally, they regrouped to share stories of victory, to troubleshoot problems and to pray for increased power and effectiveness. This sequence of events created impressive momentum within the community because it caught the disciples up in a virtuous cycle of intimacy, revelation, exertion and refreshment. These meetings were filled with joy, comradery, praise, thanksgiving, revelation, power and answered prayer. It was life-giving to the disciples and the larger community and it resulted in a rapid multiplication of those willing to surrender their lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The Vision

This is the kind of community I hope to create. This is the kind of community I would want to be a part of. It is also the kind of community that produces the kind of fruit I am after. I want to produce people who know and love God in an ever deepening way and that can only happen as we submit our lives and schedules to times of worship, prayer, praise, encouragement, exhortation, equipping, serving and rest personally and corporately. I’m looking for as many “on ramps” onto the highway of intimacy that I can find. I know God reveals himself to me personally, I know God reveals himself through his word, I know God reveals himself through others and I know God reveals himself in the world. Therefore, I need to intentionally look for him in those places – that is what being “on mission” is all about. Figure out what God is doing in a certain place, look for how he is revealing or wants to reveal himself, and then partner with it. That is how we extend God’s Kingdom to others.

My dream is 100% participation in Missional Community for every regular attender on Sunday morning. It would make my heart sing to see everyone getting together twice a month or more to eat, worship, talk, learn, be equipped and go out encouraged to do what God has called them to do. I’m committed to beating this drum for the next two years and then taking some time to evaluate. We’ll adjust, continue or scrap it once we get a good feel for how this works in our community. 

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to send them my way.

As always, thanks for reading.

Ben