February 19, 2017

To My Colleagues In The Clergy--Past & Present

First off, let me make it absolutely clear:  this message is to all of my fellow clergy members.  All of you, regardless of status, race, gender, nationality, age, and life status. (Yes, it goes to those who've left this world, as well.  Yes, I realize that they can't read this.  It's still being communicated to them.  Cut me some slack.  😃)
  • If you're currently in the pastorate, as a senior pastor, an associate pastor, a music pastor, a youth pastor, an executive pastor, or any other type of classification, full-time or part-time, this message is for you.

  • If you're a chaplain in the armed forces, the medical field, the various fields of public safety,  a grade school or college campus, a sports club, team, or organization, or any other field, this message is for you.

  • If you're an evangelist, music evangelist, or any other classification, full-time or part-time, this message is for you.
  • If you're a missionary of any classification, serving domestically or overseas, full-time or part-time, this message is for you.
  • If you're retired from any of the above fields, this message is for you.
  • If you're currently in the process of education for any classification of ministry, this message is for you.
  • Whether you've been a paid minister or you've never made a dime in your life from fulfilling the call, this message is for you.
  • If you're no longer in any of these fields due to various and sundry circumstances, this message is for you.

  • If you fall into a category that I've failed to mention, this message is for you (and I'd love for you to leave a comment here and let me know where you fit).
Regardless of any of the above qualifiers, of denomination, or of anything else, if you've ever been part of this siblinghood of God-called ministry, the following message is meant for you:

Thank you.

I've lived my entire life in the pastorate in the Church of the Nazarene, as the son of a pastor, and now as a pastor, myself.  If you ministers were in the Church of the Nazarene in Georgia, Wisconsin, or  at ONU, you watched me grow up there along with everyone else.  I was at the District functions, the camp meetings, the zone (er, mission area) rallies, the chapel services.  So many of you, to my young, impressionable mind, were larger than life itself.

Then, I answered the call myself, I went through the course of study, and I joined your ranks.  Men and women I looked up to are now my colleagues.  And, as I've walked this path alongside you for these nearly twenty-one years now, I've realized something important:  you haven't received nearly as many expressions of gratitude and praise as you deserve.

I understand that, being a minister myself, this could seem like a self-serving train of thought.  I don't know exactly how to express the fact that I mean it as anything but.  I serve the single greatest congregation in the world.  I'm loved by them beyond my imagination--more than I deserve, in fact.

There's a plaque in my church foyer with the names of every pastor that's served our congregation in its seventy-six years of existence.  Every time I see it, I can't help but look at it in awe.  No.  If anything, I see myself as the least among our siblings.  You all never cease to amaze me.  I consider it an undeserved privilege just to be counted among your ranks.

But, I understand now much better than I ever have before, that what you do, what you've done, has come at a price of some kind.
  • There have been family struggles, financial struggles, cultural struggles, personal struggles, or professional struggles, and those are just a few categories to consider.  Many of you have, by God's grace, overcome these struggles.  Some have been victimized by them.
  • There have been Sunday nights when you just know that someone has served up roast preacher for afternoon dinner, Monday mornings when you've thought about hanging it up, and Tuesday board meetings where the ones who were supposed to be your staunchest allies have either turned on you or condoned it with their silence.  Many of you have overcome these circumstances.  Some of you paid with a forced resignation, some with a forced retirement, some with a forced exit from the ministry.  Some of you were fully supported by leadership.  Some of you were partially supported, but soon forgotten.  Some of you were all but abandoned.
  • There have been frustrations that come with the territory of rightly dividing God's Word among our fellow finite, flawed humans with various opinions and worldviews.  Many of you have overcome these situations.  Some of you have been compelled to other pastorates or other fields of service and profession as a result of these things.  Some have even felt compelled to other faiths or worldviews.  I believe that God's Word is true, and I pray that you'll embrace this, as well.  But, regardless of where you are now, you've walked this road with us, just the same.  You understand both its roughness and its blessings, and I won't ignore your contributions or pretend that they didn't happen.  I can't.
  • There have been times when you may have stumbled badly.  Most of you, I hope, were met with grace when you humbled yourself before your people and sought restoration.  Some of you, I know, were met with condemnation.
  • There have been the instances particular to fields that some of you are in that I have little familiarity with.  But, you know what they are, you understand them, and you've lived them.
I've only scratched the surface of the scenarios that present themselves along this road.  You who are reading this know what you've faced personally, and what the outcomes have been.  You also know about the day-to-day struggles of ministry life that present themselves to all of us in one way or another.   This is just a rough piece, carved out in a few minutes of gratitude and inspiration.  It's not eloquently worded, but it's heartfelt and sincere.

Regardless of scenarios or outcomes, regardless of the forms that it's taken, you've paid a high price to fulfill God's calling on your life.  But, you've paid it willingly; and, the vast majority of you would say without hesitation that you'd pay it all over again.

I can't declare that people across the nation and around the world offer you the gratitude you so richly deserve.  But, I can say that whether you're active or retired, younger or older than me, have logged more or fewer years in the ministry than I have, I owe you a debt of gratitude.  I am what I am as a pastor, in great part, because you've walked this road, too--either before me or beside me.  Your contributions have helped to shape me.

So, if you haven't heard it for a while, hear it now:  I love you.  I appreciate you.  You've made a difference in my life.  I owe you more than I'll ever be able to fully express or fully comprehend.

From one of your own:  thank you. 

February 14, 2017

What Is Love?

"...baby, don't hurt me...don't hurt me...no more..."  --Dee Dee Halligan, performed by Haddaway

Sorry, but that's proper primary response to the question, "What is love," just like this is the proper primary response to the question, "What/Who are you?" (note:  headbutt optional).

You know, I'm all for the message that the highest, purest form of love is that which God has for us. In fact, I preached right along that line this past Sunday.

But, as we proclaim that message, both on Valentine's Day and throughout the year, we really need to be careful not to create false equivalences.

For example, the comparison is drawn in Scripture that marriage is a reflection of God's relationship with His people.  But, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge the fact that, often in modern Christian society—and, especially on this day of the year—we tend to co-opt that comparison to tell singles that the presence of God's love should fill and negate the need for relational and marital love. 

Oh, you've heard it before.  In fact, you may have seen it today on social media.

"Single on Valentine's Day?  Not overflowing with happiness over that?  Just let Jesus be your Valentine!  He's all you need, anyway!"

"Well, isn't it true that Jesus is all we need?" you ask.  Actually, no; at least, not the way it's intended in that phrase.

Now, don't label me a heretic just yet.  It's certainly true that:

  • the crucified, risen Christ is all that's necessary for our salvation.
  • the written Word reveals God's will to us concerning all things that are necessary for our salvation (that specification of "for our salvation" is a finer point at which the Church of the Nazarene parts company with many of our protestant sister denominations).
  • God, in His grace and goodness, as the Sovereign Creator & Sustainer Of The Universe and the Owner of the cattle on a thousand hills, provides certain of His blessings to all of humanity,
  • the Lord promises to provide all things to His followers.

But, that's just the point:  He will give us "all things," as in all of the things we need.  It's a plural direct object, meaning that there are multiple things we need, graciously provided by the hand of one God.

"Jesus is all we need" is no more the complete answer for humanity's longing for companionship than it is for humanity's need for food.  

In the perfect, sinless environment of Eden, Adam still had to eat, and he still needed human companionship.  Consider the fact that in Genesis 2:18, Adam's lack in this respect is the one thing in all of a pre-sin creation that God says is "not good."  Thus, God created Eve as an equal possessor of His image, an equal servant in His Kingdom, and an equal companion to Adam.

Jesus will provide all of our needs; and He, personally, is absolutely our deepest, greatest need.  It's only when we have Him that all of the other things we need can be everything they're meant to be.  But, that doesn't make Him our only need.  In fact, the fact that we need so many things, and that He is willing and able to provide them, highlights God's greatness all the more.

So, having established all that, let's be real: this cliché we've used for so long in Christian circles, “Let Jesus be your Valentine,” honestly skews and cheapens both forms of love; and, that's a crying shame.

If God's love is higher than all other forms of love, if it's broader in its scope and deeper in its impact,  if it's the greater reality which all other forms of love are meant to reflect, then where do we get off thinking that we can flippantly relegate it to the status of nothing more than essentially a palette swap for marital love in an attempt to "fix" the loneliness expressed by our fellow human being?

In fact, if we ought to just be happy and content and downplay or deny the longing for relationship because "Jesus is all we need," then it would seem that you married folks who repeat this cliché to your single friends and acquaintances have rejected the all-sufficiency of God's love by getting married.  Either that, or you just get to have your cake and eat it, too.  😉

I realize that those are overly-exaggerated points.  But, hyperbole can help to get a point across; and, my point is this:  we've got to be more careful with our words and phrases, especially when imparting them to others.

By the way, to be absolutely clear, this isn't some new problem brought on by the rise of social media and memes. The fact is that American society has long placed such a high value on personal comfort that we're willing say anything to make others feel good.  For most people, that's because seeing others not feel good makes them not feel good, and that's unacceptable.

But, then again, I'm just a middle-aged single guy.  What do I know about love?