What Do We Do With All These Celebrities? A Sermon on Elijah

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Last week I posted the whole manuscript of my sermon and I received some good feedback.  I am equally passionate about this week’s topic so decided to do it again.  I deleted some of the more superfluous paragraphs this time around for quicker perusing.  I hope all you perusers enjoy a good peruse.

Introduction

For some time now I have wanted to talk to all of you about a deep, long lasting and widespread Christian heresy.  Although I have addressed this in a few other sermons, it has been hard to take just one Sunday to bring it up.

The reasons for refraining were numerous.  The first is that I am really passionate about this and sometimes overrides good sense.  And, at least me, passion is most often off putting than persuasive.

The second reason is that this is currently a very popular belief in Christian culture and one that is hard to preach about without offending anybody.

This leads me to my third reason, that I was just afraid.  In Luke chapter 4 Jesus preaches a sermon very similar to what I am about to preach and the end result was his hometown citizens tried to throw him off of a cliff.

So you need to know that I unlocked this side door over here and when you bring out the pitchforks and torches, good luck catching me!

But what Jesus said in Luke 4 was that Elijah’s most significant miracles was done for a widowed single mom who lived in another country.  And they were not big fans of that observation.

Because they and we have this belief that just because we voted for someone or we bought someone’s movies or listened to their music or watched their T.V. show that means God likes them more than God likes us.  We seem to think that God can use them more than God can use normal, everyday people.

And that is wrong.

Yet I keep hearing Christians say that very thing in so many ways.  So before I move we need to talk about human celebrity and human politics as they relate to what God is doing in the world.  It seems to me that God who would rather work with nobodies who live in deserts than with football players who score touchdowns and Kings who write laws.

And I think this is good news.  This is a huge part of the gospel, that our God is so big and powerful that God does not need human power or wealth.  At times God doesn’t even appear to want it.

And I am saying this, this morning, fully aware that the Super Bowl is this afternoon and obviously God has a favorite team that God wants to win and let’s just say it is not the New England cheaters.  .  .I mean, Patriots, but really can you call them Patriots if they cheat?

I am joking but Super Bowl Sunday is as good a Sunday as any to remind ourselves that we are just as valuable to God as any football player or politician or celebrity.

I say that and I still want to be careful and not belittle or demean what some celebrities are doing for our faith right now.  I give most of them the benefit of the doubt and would argue that they are doing what we are doing, namely trying to remain faithful to God in the context that God called them too.

A God Who Loves Nobodies

Yet in Scripture, God does not seem to need them or want their celebrity and power.

Here is why I think that is:  Using nobodies reveals or even perfects God’s power.  The apostle Paul teaches us, it is actually my life verse, that power is made perfect through weakness.  So by using barren people who live in barren deserts, God’s power is perfected.

That is maybe why but here is a thought on how that works.  It goes back to the made up religions and their little “g” gods.

If I was going to invent another religion and another god, my god would first have a name that evokes power.  My God would be named “Mountain god” or “lightning bolt god” or “Sun god.”  It would not be “molehill god” or “spark god.”

Then this fictional god with the made up power name would do three things all for my benefit.  First that god would make me wealthy.  Second that god would satisfy all my appetites and hormones.  Third that god would me powerful.

And several anthropologists and sociologists and historians have noted for us that all false religions and false forms of religion go back to those three things.  Any time anybody has made up a god that god has served the purpose of making people powerful, wealthy and satisfied.

In the Old Testament you see this in all the false gods and idols.  We invent a fertility goddess to help us have more children.  Now today children are a handful but back then you put your kids to work in your farm fields and household when they were three or four.

So if you had 12 children, you had twelve slaves and twelve slaves can generate a lot of income.  And if those 12 are all boys you are really rolling in the dough but it is okay if some are girls because you can sell them for money.  But if you could not have children you went broke.  So they invented a fertility goddess that they could sacrifice and pray to and ask for children.

Then they invented a god of war and power.  This god would help you win battles and make you a king.  If you sacrificed to this god that god would help you conquer your neighbor’s land and enslave him and his sons so that now you can farm 40 times the land you could when it was just you.

Then they had gods of pleasure who rewarded you with good food from exotic lands, all the food you could eat and all the women you could want.

The funny thing is that so far this all sounds like good news, right?  Who wouldn’t want an all powerful god to multiply my dollars, land, kids and pleasures?

But they did not stop there.  They reversed the formula and if you all ready were wealthy with a lot of kids and you were famous and had access to pleasure, they assumed the gods liked you.  You did something good to get them in your favor.  However, if you were poor, had no access to pleasure and no children and no kingdom then obviously the gods hate you and you are a sinner.   Therefore, we get to either enslave you or kill you depending on how useful you are.  So the wealthy are virtuous and loved and the poor are lousy sinners.

Today we look at them 3,000 years ago and say, “oh how unenlightened and silly they were,” yet I still hear people, even Christians, arguing much the same thing.

But here is why the Christian message is good news:  Israel’s story begins when Abraham, a poor guy, living in the desert with no access to exotic food or women, married to a barren wife (so no children) finds favor with God!  The true God, the not made up God, goes out to the desert and recruits a poor, barren couple to advance God’s purposes.

This plays out all throughout Scripture.  Any time God goes to do anything it starts with the least and lonely and broken and hurting and poor.  God seems to ignore kings and celebrities in favor of working out his purposes among the nobodies.

Moses is a sheep herder out in the Canaan and is recruited to go to Egypt to free the people.  Moses is worse than those without money and power and pleasure.  He used to have those things and now has none.  That must mean the gods really hate him, to take away all that stuff.

Yet Moses is the one recruited by God to free the people.  By the way, the name Moses is given for God is not a power name but instead is, “I AM,” which means “I am present God.  I am here for you God.”  I am not the God of lightning or mountains or wildflowers or the sun (though I created those things).  Instead call me that God that is here among you.

Samuel is an altar boy, whose mother was barren before she had him.  He is recruited to be the first great prophet, not because he is special or powerful but because his mother was barren.  God loves barren women.  The false gods hate them, or else they would have children but our God blesses them!

David is a sheep herder out in the nowhere Bethlehem and is recruited by Samuel to be King and before David becomes King he is a man after God’s own heart but after he becomes King he is all about himself, adultery, murder and raising armies to go conquer nations God does not want them to conquer.

What Angry Elijah Learned

1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings this play out. Samuel and Kings are a compilation of stories about the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judah and if you read it, it is a four volume anthology to how worthless kings are.  Even David, the one after God’s own heart, becomes King and immediately becomes worthless.  Even the good kings who followed God were powerless to keep people faithful.

So we read 1 and 2 Samuel and then the first several chapters of 1 Kings and we get disgusted at all these lousy and powerless kings who can’t do anything good for the Lord.

Then we get to Elijah’s story which starts in chapter 17.  By the time we get to Elijah, we the readers are meant to be furious with these worthless kings.  Then Elijah bursts on the scene and he is mad too.  His anger is very much written to harness our anger.

Elijah wasn’t a king.  Elijah was a prophet.  Right before he bursts on the scene we are told that King Ahab married a wicked woman named Jezebel.

You can read about that in 1 Kings 16.  Jezebel came from Sidon.  All the Sidonians worshiped the false god Baal.  Baal means “high up god” because if I am going to invent a god I would name my god something like, “my god is higher up than your god.”  It is kind of like, “My dad can beat your dad up god!”

Jezebel was sent by the prophets of Baal to convert Israel to Ball worship and where does she go, where can she go but to the throne room.  If my god is “High Up god” than I need the high up place of a throne room to advance his purposes.  Jezebel uses her feminine wiles to marry the King of Israel whose name was Ahab.  Once she married Ahab she convinced Ahab to kill the prophets of God and set up temples and worship spots to Baal.

Follow with me here, Jezebel is the prophet of Baal who is sent to Israel and she goes to the center of Israel’s power, the throne room, manages to get Ahab on her side and begins converting people to Baal.

So Elijah confronts the evil king Ahab and his worse wife Jezebel and Elijah declares a famine on the land until they get their act together.  It does not work.  Ahab doesn’t repent.  Instead he and Jezebel seem to say to each other, “Oh, we thought we killed all the prophets.  Nuts, we missed one.  Well kill him too!”

In chapter 17 verse 2 we are told, “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah”

Remember word of the Lord does not just mean God spoke.  Word means wisdom.  The wisdom of the Lord came to Elijah and what did the wisdom of God say,

“Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.”

Let me paraphrase.  The word of the Lord came to Elijah and said, “RUN YOU FOOL!  GET OUT OF TOWN!  They are trying to kill you, you moron!”

Elijah runs.  He spends a few days in the Kerith Ravine and then goes to Sidon.  Sidon is where Jezebel came from and where the false god Baal is worshipped.

Elijah doesn’t go the throne room of Sidon, though.  Instead he ends up at a poor widows house, a single mom.  Then and now single moms are the epitome of no power, no wealth and no pleasure.  That is exactly where God sends Elijah.  While Elijah is there Elijah multiplies food for her and raises her son from the dead.  No matter how powerful your king is, he can’t multiply food and raise anybody from the dead.  But Jesus can and did those things hundreds of years later.

Follow with me here, Jezebel the prophetess of Baal tries to take over Israel by going to the center of power.  Elijah, the Israelite messenger of the true God is sent to Sidon but not to any place of power but to a poor, powerless single mom in the desert.

After a time God calls Elijah back to Ahab, but not to convert Ahab but to end the drought.  Before the drought is ended there is this wonderful shoot out on a mountain where all Ahab’s prophets face down all one of Elijah and they see whose God can set the most stuff on fire.

I am not joking.  That was the competition.  Remember God had just raised someone from the dead two chapters ago.  Setting stuff on fire seems petty.  The average guy with a cigarette butt can set things on fire.  But God can set things on fire, praise God!  So Elijah wins and those who are there see the miracle of God and join Elijah’s side.  Elijah says, “Kill all the false prophets.”  So they do.

And it doesn’t work.  The next chapter, Jezebel the wicked wife is furious that her prophets are dead and she doubles her hit on Elijah.  And Elijah’s zealous followers are nowhere to be found.  Elijah runs out to another mountain and he throws a holy tantrum before God.

Elijah tells God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

I will be honest with you that when I hear Christians gripe against the world today I think they are a lot like Elijah throwing proud pity parties on mountains.

Maybe God’s words to us would be God’s words to Elijah:

15The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.”

God’s answer is I have more nobodies from more deserts.

17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.

Today if you hear me saying there won’t be justice for evil kings, read verse 17.  There will be justice.

18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”

We hear of 7,000 and think that isn’t a lot but back then it was.  It was a good sized group of people who still worshiped God.

Elijah, come home from your ego trip.  There are 7,000 just like you.  You are not special and no Ahab and no Jezebel and no false god Baal are going to beat me with silly human celebrity and silly human power.  I have 7,000 nobodies in deserts who are greater than any King or Queen or false god.

Conclusion

Just because the politicians and celebrities are not doing what I want them to do, does not mean I am losing.  Instead I have 7,000 nobodies living in deserts and that is all I need.

If Jesus were someone we made up 2,000 years ago we would need as many celebrities and politicians and football players to give him lip service on national and even worldwide television.  After all human power is the only way powerless idols stay in power.

So if we made Jesus up we would be desperate for someone popular and powerful to say his name.  Strangely, in Scripture I get the sense God doesn’t want us to say God’s name all that much but that is another sermon for another day.

Likewise if we made Jesus up we would be desperate for wealthy people to write us checks and more kings to approve our building permits so that we could build more temples on hilltops.

But if Jesus really was the son of God who became flesh and who died on the cross to free us from the powers of darkness then we don’t need them.

All we need to do is remain faithful ourselves to the God who is faithful in choosing us.

It might be cool when the celebrities decide to come along but ultimately God chooses the weak and powerless and foolish because that is just what a powerful God would do.  That is the wisdom of our faith and the wisdom of the cross.

The apostle Paul says it in 1st Corinthians.  Paul says that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

That is the wisdom of our God right there.  It is a wisdom that does not gets its underwear in a knot every time the President does something we disagree with.  It is the wisdom that says there are 7000 barren people living in barren deserts whom God loves and is working through.

It is the wisdom that says that as long as God has tiny churches in places like Elgin, Oregon who are willing to open their building for the teenagers of the community to practice archery and learn a bit about Jesus then Christianity will flourish.

As long as God has a group of people who meet regularly to pray and read Scripture and have a conversation about what faithfulness looks like in our current world, Christianity will flourish.

As long as God has families who are willing to open their homes to foster children and orphans and adopt them as children and siblings, Christianity will flourish.

As long as there are groups of people who get together to talk about what houses need painting, what elderly need their leaves raked and driveways plowed and how to accomplish that Christianity will flourish.

As long as desert widows and shepherd boys and altar kids and diseased elderly offer themselves to the Almighty God, Christianity will do just fine.

God doesn’t need or want human wealth.  God doesn’t need or want human power.  God doesn’t need or want human celebrities.  Instead our God chooses the outcast nobodies who are barren and live in deserts and that is how God wins.

As I said at the beginning, that is good news because the false gods hate nobodies but our God loves them and cherishes them.

Let’s pray.

Crazy, Stupid, Furious Longing Love: A Sermon on Song of Songs

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Usually I try to rerecord my sermons and post them on Youtube.  However, that is time consuming and I feel most people are adverse to hearing a sermon, preferring rather to skim manuscripts.

So, for the first time ever, I am posting the full manuscript of my sermon that I preached this morning.  I apologize for its length while hoping you still take the time to peruse my thoughts on the Song of Songs as it relates to our relationship with the Almighty.

As Brennan Manning reminded us, “We are God’s beloved and he furiously longs for us!”

Introduction

This past week I discovered a picture of my wife and I.  It was taken 8 years ago, when we were in college.  It got me reminiscing about college days.  Nothing good comes from that.  .  .except good sermon intros.

One of the most fun things about college was that you often had a front seat to people falling in love.  People fell into and out of love like you all change your shoes.  It was quite the chore to keep up with who was dating whom and who was breaking up with whom and why.  At times I daydreamed about creating a college newsletter dedicated only to chronicling the get-togethers and breakups.  Then Facebook was invented which negated the need for that.

Mostly what stuck out this week is a sentiment shared by our chaplain Gene Schandorff.  Quite often Gene had a committee, usually of girls, come into his office.  With tears in their eyes they sat down and explained to him that they were worried about another friend, we will call her Rebekah for coherency’s sake.

“Gene, we are so worried about Rebekah.  She started dating Tim three months ago.  They were really good friends and we loved both of them and thought they were good together.  Now they are dating and they do everything together and Rebekah doesn’t want to hang out with us anymore and we don’t think she is doing her homework or even *gasp* calling her parents!”

Gene would ask, “how do you know her grades are failing and her parents are not in touch.”  And they would not know how they knew.  They just knew!  Ultimately, they were frustrated because Rebekah (and probably Tim) had turned into a different person and the new Rebekah did not hang out with them as much as the old one did.  So their thinking went, “We are delightful and we don’t know why she would not want to hang out with us so it must be a moral failure on her part.”

Their list of complaints went on, “They spend every waking moment together and we think they cuddle too much.  You know what the Bible says about cuddling.  It can lead to dancing and Nazarenes don’t dance.  So we need you, Gene, to sit down and talk to Rebekah and Tim and tell them that they need to start doing their homework again and stop hanging out with each other and hang out with us and maybe call their parents.  You need to do this for their own sake and for God’s sake.”

I love how Gene handled these situations.  He explained to them what love is.  When you love someone oftentimes everything else becomes secondary.  When you love someone you want to be together with them at the expense of other areas.  When you love someone you change.  They change.  That change is half for the better and half for the worse but it happens.  When you love someone you search for them above all things.  Love changes everything but it is not to be badmouthed.  It is to be celebrated because Rebekah and Tim have found each other.

In Scripture we learn that the church is God’s bride.  We are God’s beloved.  We are the object of God’s affections.  God is not so unlike Rebekah and Tim.  To other religions and other people our God might seem crazy because God wants to spend all God’s time with us.  God seeks us out with a desperate longing.  God is willing to sacrifice God’s very self in order to be with us.  God is desperate for us to love God back.

The prophet Hosea talks about this a little bit.  The Apostle Paul talks about this in Ephesians and other places.  Jesus talks about this in some of the parables and stories he tells.  The Psalms bring it up quite a few times.  The prophets do here and there.

However nowhere is this loving God more present than in the most awkward book of the Scriptures, the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon.  I don’t know when the last time you read it was.  The book does not come up in polite Christian conversation all that often.  In fact quite a few theologians throughout history have dismissed it.  They have said things like, “it is in the Holy Book and therefore it is God inspired but that doesn’t mean we have to read it” and they have encouraged others to avoid it.

The main reason for that is because it doesn’t mention God at all.  More than that, it doesn’t refer to big theological words or concepts we come to expect from other parts of Scripture.  It doesn’t talk about faithfulness, the law, sin, holiness, judgment, wrath.  It doesn’t talk about good versus evil at all.  It doesn’t even tell a fun story about God saving people and doing miracles and killing giants.

Instead it is 8 chapters of mushy lovey-dovey stuff.  In fact the only high theology word that appears in the book is “love.”  Before it teaches us about God and holiness and sin and judgment and grace it illustrates love to us.

For that reason several popular Christian thinkers have rediscovered this amazing poem over the last 50 or so years.  Books have been written about it and sermons have been preached and Bible studies have tried to cover it.  Perhaps the reason for this is because we are aware that we are desperately in need of love.  At the same time we are a people who have profoundly misunderstood love.  We have sought to boil love down to things like emotions and physical displays of affection and even rational understanding.  But Song of Songs, in all its complexity, reveals to us a love that is so much greater than how you feel or act or think.

Summary of Song of Songs

The story itself is about two passionate teenagers who are in love with each other but for some reason they can’t find each other.  The story begins with both lovers taking turns singing about how in love they are.  The woman goes first and she begins by talking about how unworthy she is to be loved by the man.  She is a member of the working class and her tanned skin shows it and this makes her unworthy.  Yet she ends her first song by saying, “But tell me where you work and I will come work with and for you.”

The friends watch this whole romance from the sidelines and their first reply to her is, “Follow the path of his sheep.”  That means, “Go find him.”  If you desperately long for him, go seek him out.

Then, probably while she is looking for him, they sing out to each other and their words are ooey-gooey sound effect expressions.

In fact quite a few of the words in the poem are not really words that mean anything.  They are onomatopoeia’s which are sound effect words.  They sound like what they describe.  However, these are not the fun 1960’s Batman sound effects, “Boom, bang, pow, bing.”  They are more like the 1950s Cary Grant movie sound effects, “oooh, mwamwamwa, ohoh” and the like.

Finally, in chapter 2 verse 8 she says, “Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills!  My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag.  Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.  My lover spoke and said to me, arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.  Flowers appear on the earth;  the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.”

They are together again and it is so wonderful, just like Spring!

If you grew up watching 1990s romantic comedies you would expect the story to end right there.  They found each other.  They are in love.  It is happily ever after.  Those movies never showed you a month later when they fight about how to fold towels and do dishes and what movie to watch!  Instead the movie ends when they find each other.

Perhaps because we learned too much from those movies, in the Church of the Nazarene we have been guilty of trying to pause our relationship with God at the mountaintop.  We take our teens up to summer camp and give them emotional high after emotional high and then lead them to believe that if they are ever not giddy for Jesus they are a letdown to the faith.  If we ever stop singing, “Look Spring has come!” or if we dare to sing it with less emotion, than our faith is useless or so we have thought.

But Song of Songs does not end at chapter 2.  Suddenly in chapter 3 verse 1 the woman says,

“All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him.”

We are not told why he left or where he went but sadness overtakes the story for a few verses as she goes looking for him.  This time she finds him quite quickly and we have more ooey goey stuff as they both invite each other to “come into their gardens.”  The friends are still on the sidelines saying “oh, how cute.  They are in love.  Eat and drink and have your fill.”

Then suddenly in chapter 5 they are apart again and this time it is not easy to find each other.  In fact at one point the woman sings about the man showing up at her garden door.  She sees him through the window and she hears the door handle rattle.  Her heart goes all aflutter and she rushes to the door and throws it open to find he is not there.

She goes out looking for him but she does not find him.  Instead she finds the night watchmen, or rather they find her.  These watchmen are not nice men and in the absence of her beloved they take advantage of her.  They beat and bruise and de-robe her.

At this point the friends who have been supportive so far, begin taunting her.  In 5:8 she says to them, “If you find him tell him I am faint with love.”

They reply, “How is he better than others?  What does he have that you would charge us so?”

She defends him, “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.  His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven.

She goes on for awhile and manages to recruit them to the search.  It is not long until they find him.  He is in his garden.  She rushes into it and they are together again.  Again the friends coo from the sidelines and song ends with the lover saying, “Come away.”

The Church’s Search for God

This poem about these two star crossed lovers who search for each other, find each other, lose each other, search again, find again, lose again, search again, find again is our love story with God.

The Jewish people sing this to each other on the last day of Passover.  After a weeklong party, as they prepare to leave Jerusalem and go back to their regular lives, they sing this to remind themselves that God is always searching for them and to encourage each other to always search for God.

They know what we know.  It is easy to love God on the mountaintop while we have our festival.  But the mountaintop experiences of lovey dovey, eewy gooey sound effects are not the whole of our story.

There are also valleys.  They are times when we wake up and don’t “feel” God.  There are days we go through the humdrum of life without any spirituality or “God moments.”

There are also days when our love for God puts us in horrible danger.  I think of the Christians who are executed for claiming Christ and who are driven out of their homes and rejected by their neighbors.  Love is dangerous.

When Gene Shandorff sat down with the committee of friends who were worried about Tim and Rebekah, Gene knew what all married people know.  If Tim and Rebekah made it and were married, there would come a time when their love got dark, much darker than a missed homework assignment.  There would be a time when they would wake up next to each other and feel nothing.  There were would be a time when the disagreements were fierce and bitter.  They would storm out of the room thinking, “I don’t know why I married him” and “I don’t know how I will stay married to her.”

Of course there would also be times when they would be madly in love and other times when they would “need some space.”

So Gene’s opinion was let Tim and Rebekah have the eewy gooey, giddy time because, as everybody who is in love knows, the light of love requires the darkness of love.

Everybody who is married can say “amen.”  The giddiness and the happiness and the lovey dovey comes and goes and you can’t always predict its comings and goings.

When Allie and I were in our Rebekah and Tim stage we were desperately in love.  We went to register for wedding gifts at Macy’s.  We stood before this giant and long wall of China plates, over 100 patterns.  We both stared at it without saying anything.  I saw one I liked and thought, “I like that one but we will see what she says.”  Then she pointed to that exact pattern and said, “I like that one.”  That was a sign.  It meant our love was true.  We were meant to be together.  All heaven and earth and china plates had revolved into our love affair.  Eeverything was so perfect and so wonderful.  We just knew we were meant to be.

Well, we’ve been married 6 and a half years now and we have 2 kids so I guarantee you if we were looking at the same wall of China patterns we would pick the exact opposites just to spite each other.  That does not mean that we are not in love any more.  It just means that love consists of more than liking the same China pattern.  In turn our love for God is way more than eewy gooey lovey dovey worship songs at mountain retreat centers.

There are moments of light and moments of Spring and moments of giddy love.  There are mountaintops where we sing giddy praise songs and yell “amens” and cry at the altar of our joy.  But there are also times of darkness and clouds and there is the every day journey with God that requires no emotion, just a consistent and faithful search for the presence of the one who loves us.

Gregory of Nyssa in reflecting in his own walk with God came across a story about Moses in Exodus.  In the story the people have been saved from Egypt.  They have crossed the Red sea and arrived at God’s mountain.  Suddenly a pitch black cloud covers that mountain and Moses is called to climb up into it to meet with God.  Gregory of Nyssa concluded that “those who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God.”

It is when our story gets dark and our friends desert us and the watchmen on the walls find us and beat and bruise us, that God just might be right around the corner.

Our tradition has great problems with this type of thinking.  We like our faith giddy.  The more emotional you can be about Jesus, the more you love Jesus.  By emotional we mean energetic and we have typically had a low tolerance for low energy faith.  Actually we have really been mean to introverts, who express little energy.

Therefore pastor’s offices flood with people.  They come in and say, “Pastor I just don’t feel like I love God any more.  Is there any book I read, any song I can listen too, any prayer I can pray, bible study I can attend, Bible verse I can memorize that will bring the ooey-gooey spirituality back.

My answer to them is not a magical formula or verse or book to make them feel giddy.  Instead I remind them of what Song of Songs shows us about love.

When we are in love with God sometimes it is like Spring.  But sometimes love requires work.  It requires us to get out of our bed, open the door and venture out to search for God.

There are also are times to hunker down in darkness and claim the logic of love, a logic that says, “I committed to this person, or to this God and though I don’t feel anything or though I feel angry and bitter, I will remain committed because that is what love does!”

There are also times when love is dangerous, when our search for the loved one costs us our health and safety.

We should not expect to constantly feel a high energy devotion to God.  Instead we should remain committed to the search for God, knowing it might cost us dearly but also knowing that when we do come to that garden with God, the good giddy emotions will return and we will be able to do life again in the joy of our faith.

God’s Search for the Church

I should probably close now but it would be wrong because there is another way to read Song of Songs.  The interpretation I just gave put us in the position of the woman and God in the position of the ruddy and handsome man.  However, the song leaves it open and God could very well be the woman who is searching for us the man who can’t stay faithful or stay put.

In this reading, the friends would be the heavenly beings who would look at God and say, “Why are you still waiting for them?  Why do you still love?  They have slapped you in the face!  They have abandoned you!  They say they love you and then they pledge their allegiances to other nations and kings and TV shows and sports teams!  How are those humans, your beloved, better than others?  Why would you even search for those lousy sinners and horrible wanderers?  How dare you ask us to join you!”

God’s answer to them is in the New Testament.  It is the image we have of Jesus who is not unlike the woman in the song.  Jesus takes on flesh and ventures to where we work.  Jesus follows the tracks of our sheep and upon finding us, dwells with us.

However, this search made Jesus vulnerable.  While Jesus is searching for us, the watchmen find him.  They arrest him, beat him, insult him, bruise him and derobe him.

By taking up the cross Jesus reminds us, “My church is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.  Her head is purest gold, her hair is wavy and black as a raven.  Her eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels.”

God is looking for us, suffering for us and God longs for us with a desperate and dangerous longing.  God is paying the price to win us back to the garden because as unfaithful and wandering though we are, God thinks the church is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.

Will you also furiously long for God?

Let’s pray.

A Sermon Somewhere: Shopping on Black Friday

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There is an old preacher’s joke that goes, “I don’t know where but there is a sermon in there somewhere.”  This series builds off of that by trying to find the sermons hiding beneath our everyday experiences.  .  .and failing miserably.

I have never gone shopping on Black Friday.  In fact, I don’t recall ever leaving the house on Black Friday, except maybe to go for a run in the wilderness and not the wilderness of shopping carts, frantic grandmas, speeding suburbans, and angry house moms that is known as “the Costco parking lot.”  Instead for me, the “black” in Black Friday has always described the other side of my eyelids, which is what I spend most Black Fridays staring at.

But then it happened yesterday.  While watching one of three football games at my in-law’s place, Fred Meyer played an ad about 1,248 times that advertised a 40 inch television for $150.

The first 652 times I completely ignored the ad, but on that magical 653rd time, my father in law repeated, “$150 for a TV is not bad.”

Now my wife and I own one television.  It is 26 inches wide and has deplorable speakers.  We bought it for $450 right after we got married and it has served us nicely, except once or twice a year the remote randomly stops working.  The first time we went for months without using the remote before we randomly discovered that if you unplug the television, wait a few seconds and plug it back in, the remote works again.

Still, my wife and I have been dreaming about a new television, one where maybe the remote works ALL of the time and with better volume.

So, I looked up from my book and said, “What brand was it?”

They replied all at once:  “Surely you are not going try to get one tomorrow?  You would have to camp out in front of Fred Meyer now and even then you probably won’t get one.”

“Well it might be fun,” I mused, while I found the ad online, an ad that boasted, “Only 10 per store!  Sale starts at 5am!”

“Looks like a good deal and even if I didn’t get one the experience would give me great sermon material.”

After all, most congregants can’t relate to stories about sleeping all day on Black Friday and then waking up to do a 10 mile long run in the wilderness.  But standing in line waiting for a TV, throwing elbows, tackling toddlers and yelling, “Haha!  I got one!” when you laid fingers on the prize is a sermon worth preaching.

I mused over it for a few hours.  5AM is early but I have done it before for far less noble reasons than buying a television.  We did need a new one and did not have more than $200 to pay for it.  A new television for our family room would mean we could move the old one to our bedroom.  Having a television in your bedroom is one of those defining staples that you have finally arrived at the swanky middle class life.

But 5am was early.  And who would want to wake up at that time for a television?  But it wasn’t for the television.  It was for the story.  I could regale my wonderful friends with the epic tale.  They would all laugh and shake their heads at me.  I would tell it at weddings and funerals and special occasions like Easter.

“This sunrise service reminds me of another time I woke up before sunrise but to get a television.  .  .”

“Then as my hand landed on the prize of the television I realized all that work to get out of bed was worth it.  .  .just like our dear, deceased Mary is now laying hold of her prize in heaven.”

“Just like I woke up at 5am to get my wife a television, you should keep your marital vows pure by going the extra mile for each other.”

There is no limit to what this story could do.

But 5AM is so early, especially after a day full of eating high calorie foods and watching football littered with Fred Meyer commercials.

So I finally asked my wife, “Is it worth it?”

“We do need a new TV, but we just don’t have $150 to buy one right now,” she replied.

Good.  That was it.  It was settled.  I was not waking up at 5am, even if the story would be epic.

But then my mother-in-law said, “If you get one, I will pay for it.”

Well, now it wasn’t settled.

I mulled it over for a few more hours and well into the night, even after going to bed.  In the end, for no discernible reason, I did not set my alarm.  I woke up around 7:30 when my infant son woke up screaming and my toddler daughter pounced on the bed.  It was a good moment, a wonderful family gathering full of smiles and giggles and my angry wife muttering curses at the three of us as she tried to fall back to sleep.

So can I tell a story about that time I didn’t wake up at 5am to brave the cruel crowds and cold rain to buy a television?

I don’t know where, but there has to be a sermon in there somewhere.

A Sermon Somewhere: Treadmills, Super Heroes and Baby Monitors

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There is an old preacher’s joke that goes, “I don’t know where but there is a sermon in there somewhere.”  This series builds off of that by trying to find the sermons hiding beneath our everyday experiences.  .  .and failing miserably.

Last Spring my church had a yard sale.  Someone donated an old, narrow, beat up treadmill from the ’70s.  It shakes when you run on it.  It’s top speed is only 8 miles per hour.  The incline is controlled by a crank and the display is battery operated.  Surprisingly, nobody bought it.  So it is now in my garage.

The worst thing about running on a treadmills is that you can never forget that you are running on a treadmill.  For the 1 minute or 5 or 30 or 60 minutes, you are constantly aware that you are running on a treadmill.

So I hate treadmills, but I hate feeling out of shape more.  And with two toddlers, an inch of ice on the ground and a town without sidewalks, running outside is out of the question, even with our $300 jogging stroller.  So lately I have been reluctantly facing the wicked treadmill on the afternoons when I get my kids to nap at the same time.

It isn’t really so bad, as long as I commit to running only thirty minutes.  I take the baby monitor with me so I can hear if one of the kids wake up.  I didn’t replace the batteries in the treadmill display so there is no read out to taunt me with how long I haven’t been running.  I also don’t start a stopwatch.  Instead I set a timer for ten minutes and thirty seconds.  Then I hide the timer.

After it goes off the first time, I tell myself “awesome, it has been ten minutes all ready!”  The statement is incredibly untrue as the ten minutes have been neither “awesome” nor “all ready.”  Still I lie to myself in the hopes that saying it makes it true.  It hasn’t worked yet.

On the second beep I take a short break.  I drink some water, check on the kids and with great mental fortitude, start running again.  Meanwhile I watch CW’s “Arrow” on my tablet and try to get intrigued by the plot.

It is remarkable that 42 minutes of television is no time at all when I sit on the couch.  But when I run on a treadmill, every scene break feels like the show should be over all ready and, in turn, my run.  For the record, on “Arrow,” scene breaks happen every thirty seconds.

On Monday I was running on the treadmill and hating every second, every scene break and every timer beep.  I had decided before the run began that I was going to go 4 timer beeps that day, which would give me a time of 42 minutes, which is how long Arrow lasts.

My internet was running slow and after every thirty seconds of Arrow, the show buffered for an indeterminate amount of time.  I grew to appreciate the buffering because it broke up the time.  I picked up halfway through an episode I hadn’t finished yet.  So after 20 minutes, only 5-10 minutes had passed on the show.

I ran the third ten minute increment by watching the climax ten seconds at a time.  This climax was like all the other.  The Green Arrow was in a warehouse, getting his butt kicked by a villain.  In this episode, the villain was a super powered soldier.

The show would buffer, then the soldier would kick Arrow.  It would buffer again and return to the Arrow being thrown into a bunch of crates.  For the record, those crates and that warehouse appear in every Arrow fight scene, just like the nightclub from “Alias.”

The show would buffer again and when it came back, Arrow would be punched in the face.  It would buffer for two minutes and Arrow would dodge a left hook only to be hit by a right jab.  It would buffer.

My timer went off for the third time and I was done with the whole thing.  Thirty minutes was it for the day.  I was breathing heavy.  My hands were cold but my chest was warm.  Sweat was pouring off of me into my eyes.  And I was sick and tired of running on a treadmill while watching the black screen say, “Buffering” in that Netflix font.

I turned the treadmill off and stepped away.  I took some deep breaths and glared at my own super powered nemesis, the treadmill.  I felt guilty and wimpy for chickening out 10 and a half minutes early but there was no part of me that wanted to run again.

Arrow was still buffering.

I leaned down to touch my toes and as I did the show came back on.  Arrow was lying on the ground, giving up his battle with the soldier who was about to deal the finishing blow.  As the bad guy’s foot came down in slow motion, a hallucination beckoned Arrow to get up and try again.

Triumphant music filled my garage.  Arrow rolled out from under the villain’s foot.  The foot landed on the hard concrete and Arrow jumped to his feet.  His face tightened in fierce resolve.  The orchestra music played faster and louder.  The bad guy lunged and Arrow dodged.

Suddenly it occurred to me.  If Arrow, a completely fictional character following all the stereotypes of his genre, could fight off the doubt and pain to find the resolve to roll to his feet and conquer the super soldier, then certainly I, standing in the middle of my cold garage with a racing heart and an overtaxed mind, could step back on that treadmill, crank the speed lever to full and run 10 and a half more minutes.

My shoulders rose.  My face tightened to match the Arrow’s resolve.  I shook my fist at the treadmill.  I grabbed my timer and reset it to 10:30.  I stepped onto the treadmill and turned it on.  I started the timer and hid it.  As the treadmill picked up speed, my strides grew longer and my arms swung with confidence.

10 seconds later, as Arrow began pummeling the bad guy, the triumphant music stopped.  The screen went blank and was replaced with the “Buffering” sign.

I tried not to care and ran for 10 more seconds until the baby monitor filled the garage with the hungry screams of my recently woken son.

That was that.  I turned the treadmill off and went to get him before he woke his sister up.

And I don’t know where but there has to be a sermon in there somewhere.

Get It Over With Sunday

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I regularly remind my congregation that when you do 52 worship services a year, some are just going to stink.  There is no avoiding it nor is there any picking or planning which ones they are going to be.  Some mornings things are just not going to come together.

By all accounts this morning at around 8am, things looked to be going that way.  First of all I was still home at 8am despite my attempts to be at church by that time.  Between 8:00 and 8:10, I walked the mile between my home and the church building, trying to pray.  Instead I found my mind was a jumbled mess of stray thoughts all trying and failing to find a well-organized logic structure to call home.  On top of that, my body was a chaos of sore muscles and achy joints because the last two weeks I have been doing the workouts with my Cross Country team despite being in the worst shape of my life.  Add to that the fatigue and exhaustion of my spirit after a long and stressful week and the result was a Kevin who was not in any frame of mind to be “Pastor Kevin.”  Then it occurred to me that half my worship team was gone, which probably meant half the church was too because we no longer celebrate the “holy” on holy-day weekends but instead we go camping, unless we are unlucky enough to be the Pastor.

At 9:30 I watched the parking lot with eager anticipation, expecting three families to show up with their toddlers to a new preschool class we are launching.  These families all guaranteed me they would be there.  My wife had gotten out of bed early so that my daughter could join them.  The 3 families did not show.  I had woken my wife up an hour earlier than usual so she could play with my temper prone daughter in our nursery for an extra hour.  She did that spouse thing where she knows it isn’t my fault but wants to blame me anyway.  I was apologetic.

That all suddenly became irrelevant because I remembered that my youth leader was not going to be there either.  As if on cue, three teenagers showed up late.  I intercepted them and had a conversation about the “Problem of Evil” in my Sunday School office where I half connected with them and half bored them to death.  That was okay, though, because I fully bored myself to death.

Then people started trickling into church.  I got stuck in the sound booth because we had our usual audio and video problems with which to contend.  Of course, our regular AV person wasn’t there so we had to equip another saint to step in (one of the teens from Sunday School).  As I ironed out those problems, my treasurer had business that needed my input (the writing of my paycheck, which I was all too ready to give back if the Sunday didn’t start looking up) and several well meaning souls reminded me one by one by one by one that the “most important announcement ever” (also known as the community hymn sing) did not make the bulletin.

After fixing the AV and expressing my condolences one by one by one about the announcement not getting its due in our Sacred Bulletin, I met with my tiny worship team.  We prayed and entered the sanctuary and I found myself wondering, “is it noon yet?”

We sang a song, did the greeting time and I got up to give the announcements (giving the hymn sing its due) and to my surprise the sound was not broadcasting very loudly despite being turned up quite loud.

But suddenly I could hear the congregation sing, which was surprising considering we had 30 people.  When we have 60, I regularly do not hear the congregation.  But because of our sound issues I could hear almost everybody’s voice and, man, that was beautiful.

Then I got up to preach.  My sermon looked good on paper but I hated preaching it to half the congregation, particularly on a day when my own well was running dry.  To top it off the PowerPoint automatically advanced the slides every 10 seconds whether I wanted it to or not.

But somewhere between the songs and my sermon, the Sunday stopped being “Get It Over With Sunday” and started being something sacred.  I don’t know if it was hearing the congregation sing or if it was that once I started preaching, I found an untapped vein of Holy Water in my otherwise empty cistern.  Or it could have been that one wonderful congregant who hung on every word of my sermon.  She came down to pray at the altar during the closing songs and I invited the congregation to gather around her to pray for her.  

Needless to say we had a moment as the people of God that won’t soon be forgotten or undone.

Isn’t it amazing that when I am not fully present, God still is.

Preaching the Eucharist in a World At War

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I spent the week doing many things, not least of which was preparing a sermon on Communion in my sermon series on “Why We Worship.”

As many of you know evangelical churches seem to be falling back in love with the sacrament after about 70 years of forgetting about it.  I managed to get in early on this trend because I was lucky enough to attend a youth group in high school where my youth pastor celebrated the Eucharist every week.  In fact, I would have liked to preach 6-8 sermons just about Communion but my preaching calendar prevented me.

So I have to try to scratch the surface in one sermon.  But what do you say in one sermon that summarizes the 2,000 year tradition of eating bread and drinking wine together?  This has been my question and my problem.  I started with John 6 where Jesus says, “unless you eat my body and drink my blood you have no part in me and I have no part in you.”  This verse leads to the wonderful sentiment expressed by many lately that when we partake of the Eucharist we don’t just recall Jesus’ death but we are “re-membered” into Christ’s body, meaning we become members of Jesus’ body again.

One of the central acts of the Eucharist is the breaking of bread to remind us that the body we are membered into is a broken one.  I absolutely love how vague Paul is when he recounts the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11.  Paul says that Jesus took the bread, broke it and said, “do this in remembrance of me.”  Does “do this” mean “eat this.”  Or does it refer to “break” so that Paul meant, “Break in remembrance of me?”

If it is “break in remembrance,” then maybe when we eat the broken body we become a broken body.  The Eucharist does not stop there.  We go one step further and drink spilled blood.  The blood and water that poured out of Jesus’ side are contained for us in the Eucharist goblet of wine.  This reminds us that the solution to the world’s suffering might not be in taking the blood of others but by shedding our own.

And in a world saturated with conflict, especially over the last few months in places like Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and now Ferguson, MO, it might be important for the church to be re-membered into Christ’s broken body.  Many in our culture currently seek to label the good guys and the bad guys in any given conflict, then encourage us to exercise violence accordingly.  When we listen to them, we find ourselves looking for the good lions who will rush onto the scene and destroy all the bad guys in paw’s reach.  We cry out, “Who will break their bones and take their blood?”  In our prayers we ask God to send down those lions.  And we are not surprised when many hurt and broken people volunteer, excited they finally get to execute “swift justice.”  Then we are surprised when the media puts them under a fine microscope and shows us they are no conquering heroes, but very flawed individuals whose pursuit of “swift justice” destroyed what they were trying to protect.

In such a world, in such a time, the Eucharist reminds us that to save the world, God didn’t come as a lion but as a lambe.  God’s body was broken and the blood shed and that begins the process of making things right.

When I finger those small pieces of unleavened wafer in my hands on Sunday mornings, I find myself asking the question a popular worship songs asks, “Who could have thought a lamb could rescue the souls of men?”  Who would have thought that a broken body and shed blood saves the world?  Then when I eat and drink, I become re-membered into that body, a broken body that refuses to break other’s bodies (even the most vile) and all in the hope of resurrection to come.

How the Internet Taught Me to Like Teenagers

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Internet lists ruin my life.  For example I was recently looking at a list of the best video games of all time and Final Fantasy 6 wasn’t even in the top ten.  That annoyed me.  Another list said “Inception” wasn’t even in the top 50 movies of all time and that angered me.  Still another list said that the worst Star Trek movie was “Star Trek 5” and.  .  .I actually agree with that.

Still my lovely wife recently showed me another list of church sayings that supposedly get us young types (millenials they call us) all bent out of shape.  Being a Millenial pastor, I eagerly clicked on the link and revved up my righteous indignation drive, sure I was going to agree with the author on all accounts.  I quickly perused the article getting ready to yell a hearty amen and pump my fist in the air as the author called us out on all 5 dumb churchy sayings.

Holding my fist poised by the side of my head, I read the first paragraph which told me I should hate the words, “The Bible clearly says.  .  .” and, to my delight, I do hate that phrase, despite the fact that I use it quite often to prove my point about what the Bible clearly teaches.  Still, people who disagree with me about the Bible’s clear teaching shouldn’t say that, especially if they aren’t a Millenial.  So I belted out, “Aaaaaa-mmmeeeennn!” while pumping my fist multiple times.

With my fist hanging victoriously over my head, I read the second phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Here my fist dropped a little because while I seldom use this phrase, I do hear it a lot and it has never annoyed me.  But I got to thinking that maybe that phrase isn’t nearly as true as people claim and that maybe not everything in life does come from God, like cancer or tornadoes or dumb internet lists that don’t recognize Final Fantasy 6 for the greatness it is.  I was starting to feel reflective instead of indignant.

With my fist un-clenching, I read paragraph 3 where the internet told me I couldn’t “love on” anybody, especially youth groups and young adults (of which I am one).  This was perplexing because over the last two years I have been trying to start ministries for both teenagers and young adults at my church.  In exasperation I would call my former youth pastors, describe to them the teens and adults in my community, and ask the age old question, “What do I do?!?!”

And they would reply with one phrase, “love on ’em.”  At the time I knew exactly what they meant and so went about the business of loving on ’em, which in practice took the form of saying “hi” to them at the park and in the grocery store and asking them, “how are you?” and pretending to care when they answered.  Then I would go home and check off another “loved on person” in my notebook.

In fact I got so good at “loving on ’em” that they sometimes felt loved enough to ask me questions about God and the Bible.  Occasionally they felt so loved upon that they would ask me to fill out reference forms for college scholarships and summer jobs.  I was that good.  It was like I had a Masters in Loving On ‘Em instead of a Masters in Divinity.  In fact, I was so confident in my loving skills that when the lousy internet told me as a Millenial I should be offended by that phrase, I nearly broke down crying.

Because, here is the thing, the internet is right.  “Loving on” is degrading and insulting and a bit creepy.  It is a cheesy and ridiculous sentiment and people my age and younger can see right through fake sentiments to the arrogance which feeds them.  They want nothing to do with those types of adults.  And the reason “love on ’em” took off as a church phrase is that us evangelical Christians have a fair share of pride hiding behind our sentimentalism.  Those who grew up in the church really believe today’s youth (churched and unchurched) are worthless and the only way to make them worthwhile is to “love on ’em” which really means, “throw love down to them from our position of superiority.”

But the youth I work with aren’t worthless.  Surely, they have their unique set of difficulties like abusive homes and the drug scene.  I also wish most of them were not as sexually active as they are and they also struggle to connect with each other.  But behind their brave facades and smart phones, they are quite likable.  They have interesting hobbies, kind personalities, wonderful humor, and a hearty work ethic.  They care about their families and friends, even if they don’t always know how to show it.  They want to succeed and do well in a world where arrogant adults are stacking the chips against them.  In fact, the more I get to know the young adults and youth in our community, the more I find that God has been at work in their lives long before I met them.  In fact, that echoes the title of this website, “Go-Before Grace” which eludes to “Prevenient Grace” which goes before us.

It isn’t enough to love on them, as if they needed our proud pity.  Instead we should be kind and compassionate and bear with them in love (in fact, the Bible clearly says that.)  To me, this means coming alongside them, enjoying their presence, listening to their joys, cares and concern and choosing to walk through life with them no matter what.

I think this is relevant because the churches I have been a part of are saturated with the types that want to “save the youth” and not always in the theological sense.  These are the people who volunteer for youth group so that they can throw down the love that will “teach them respect” and show them how to “work hard” and convince them to “stop taking drugs.”  But the youth I work with are plenty respectful, work harder than most adults I know and not all of them do drugs.

I hurt for the churches who let those adults near their teenagers.  These proud teen sponsors are doing way more harm by “loving on ’em” than the world has all ready done.  And I would venture a guess that the particularly troubled youth and young adults among us never had anybody in their life who liked them for who they were.

So instead of “loving on ’em” I want to just like them.  This might look like laughing at their jokes and listening to their songs and hearing their opinions and sharing their pain.  All of that might be a good deal harder than just saying “hi, how ya doing?” at the park.  It might take a whole lot of time and effort and resources and I definitely will feel a fair amount of pain myself, but it just might pay off in the end.

So thank you internet lists for ruining my life again.  The world really is better for it.

Frustrations of a 30YR Old/Millenial Pastor/Coach Stay At Home/Work Dad

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This is part 2 of a post about being a bivocational pastor in a small rural town.  To catch part one click here.

Right at the end of the Track season a lady in our church had her leg amputated at a hospital 2 hours away.  It would have been a 6 hour round trip to get to her and the family was adamant I be there.  Every fiber in my being wanted to go.  However, I couldn’t find 6 hours of free time.  It killed me.  I felt horrible.  In the end some dear saints from our church made the drive to be with her and all was well.  But this story perfectly sums up the frustrations and challenges of my current life.

Most pastors struggle with feelings of inadequacy but us bi-vocational pastors feel super inadequate.  There are frustrations and limitations all around and jobs left half done.  But as I have sought to be as faithful as possible to my calling, I have found each frustration is also an opportunity.  That is the case in the following 5 areas.

Frustration 1: The absolute absence of an 8-5 workday.  Most pastors didn’t do 8-5 when the professional clergy model was popular but there were days when they could pull it off.  There are never days that I could do it.  Track practice starts at 3 everyday.  Fridays are reserved for Track Meets.  The church regularly schedules events on Saturdays and Sundays are, well, Sundays.  During the afternoons my kids need naps and I badly need them to take those naps so I have to be at home for 2 hours while they sleep.  Weeknights are filled with events at the school, in the community or meetings at the church.  I desperately want an 8-5 workday.  I would love it but it is impossible.

The Opportunity: The absence of a “workday” or “workweek” has forced me to rethink a clergy’s job description.  I think one of the weaknesses of the professional clergy model was that it segmented the vocation of the clergy into work time and off time.  I still guard my Sabbath days and I take vacations but they are not “off the clock” times.  The Sabbath days and vacations are every bit a part of my job description as is preaching on Sunday morning.  I am still every bit as much a pastor when I am home reading a book or while I am coaching Cross Country or attending a city council meeting.

Put more practically, the absence of a “workday” means I spend less time worrying about how many hours I “ministered” and focus more on making every moment count for my calling.  The upside of this is I don’t feel guilty (or I shouldn’t) when I don’t “work” 40 hours in one week.  The downside is that I have to think about how I spend even my free time and I definitely have to constantly be asking myself how I am fulfilling my calling at any given moment.

Frustration 2: Pastoral calling suffers.  I think pastoral calling is important but I can’t find time to do it. especially when I am coaching and definitely now that I have 2 kids.  Carting one kid around is difficult enough but taking 2 is near impossible.  My daughter goes to daycare at least once a week and I try to cram as many homes in as possible during that day but more often than not something else comes up and I have to put that person’s house on the list for next week.

The Opportunity:  I think as creatively as possible when it comes to connecting with people.  I send emails, write cards, make phone calls and attend evening community events that I know church people are going too.  I have had meetings in my living room while the kids were sleeping.  And I keep regular office hours every morning so my kids can play in the next room or on the floor of my office while I meet with people.  And usually when someone is the hospital I can find a way to get there if I work hard enough at it.

Frustration #3:  I have no real social life.  Let’s face it, there are not many social events in a small town for a young person.  Everything closes by 8pm and the nearest movie theater, Starbucks and upscale restaurants are a half hour away.  Also, having a master’s degree makes me different from most people my age in town.  In fact my closest friend is 60 miles away and the next ones after that are 170 miles away.

Opportunity:  I am not sure if there is an opportunity here other than taking advantage of clergy conferences, making the 60 mile drive to see my friend at least once a month (some months he comes here) and using Facebook, Twitter, email etc. to stay in touch with as many friends as possible.  I also invite friends to come visit me in my town but few take me up on that offer.

Frustration #4: Student loans.  You read it right yesterday, I pay $500/mo in student loans.  Yes that is overpaying by a few hundred dollars but that over-payment is so worth it, it is almost necessary.

Opportunity: Live by faith and hope.  The reality is I am lucky to be able to overpay them and though I hate sending that money off, I do it knowing that the debt was worthwhile because without it, I wouldn’t have the life I have.  My education was invaluable and it has helped me more than I ever could have known.  Still, I hate those dumb payments.

Frustration #5: Exhausted Sunday mornings.  I know every pastor deals with those Sundays out of the year where they have zero energy but I have more of them.  They increase during the sports’ seasons where many meets happen on Saturdays.  The next day it is everything I can do to get out of bed, go to church, smile at people and give an energized sermon.

Opportunity: God is never exhausted.  I am incredibly inadequate and very limited.  But the one who called me is not.  Even on the Sundays when I have no energy, God is still fully present.  Even on those Sundays when the congregation is half asleep and I have a pillow under the pulpit for when that last person nods off, God is still fully active in our lives and in the world.  My low energy Sundays remind me of that truth.

Therefore, I would actually count these frustrations as blessings because they remind me that the fate of the world (and the church) do not rest on my shoulders.  Instead, I am called to be as faithful as I can be with the details of my situation.  I seek to use every moment to plant tiny, little Kingdom seeds, resting in the hope that God will make them grow.  And certainly God has and does and will continue too.