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Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Archives for 140 – Swinging Pendulums

I used to float along through life assuming I had eighty or so years to be the person I wanted to be, and do the things I wanted to do. When the awakening sliced me to the core, that there was NO guarantee of my ignorant and illusory timeline, I woke up. The truth, I learned, is that we only have this moment now; we aren’t even guaranteed an hour from now. I was a plan-maker, dreaming of what I’d do next year, next summer, when I was older. Big plans! But those plans are just that and nothing more. Those
plans were a vacuous vapor, leading me to more emptiness. What I’d conceived in my brain was virtually fruitless because this second really is all we have. When you lose someone close to you in a flash, you change.

The little things are really insignificant. Things I used to think about just don’t matter to me anymore. Stressing out about non-consequential things, things that don’t carry any weight in the grand scheme of life, is no longer applicable on the radar. The shift meant I had to become proactive about actively and consciously living in a state of giving. It was injected into my brain and heart that I had to make a difference in this world, and let go of junk that did not matter. Stuff was just that…stuff. Old attitudes about former fleeting priorities vanished. Life, all of a sudden, really mattered in a gigantic way. I hadn’t been an active, vital participant in showing and sharing my heart with others. And I knew I had to reroute my road and get a new path.

So I flipped my life script and enrolled in Divinity School to become a chaplain. In forty years, chaplaincy had never popped up as a life goal, or career idea. After an unfortunate encounter with a less-than-considerate chaplain, I acquired the notion I could quite possibly be kinder than he was…perhaps I could do that job, and do it well, and give my heart all day every day. In the most harrowing moment of pain and loss, my one experience with a chaplain was negative and hurtful. I felt dismissed, like my questions leaving my mouth in that hallway did not matter. I wanted answers for why my young husband and my son’s Daddy died. I wanted this chaplain-person, whoever he was, to be there in empathy and sympathy. I really wanted his help. Maybe I was asking too much of him. But I don’t think so, because I know now as a chaplain, I will sit and listen to anyone in pain. I will never be dismissive, and I will never view it as “just a job.” So, about two years later, I had this mental bird pecking at the back of my brain. It was telling me to be a chaplain.

I didn’t know squat about chaplains, or what they did, or that it was even an actual position, much less a paying one. We had them in our social clubs in college, and that’s all I’d heard of the term until the hospital encounter. Little did I know, they are in schools, corporations, the military, hospitals, politics….there are many places for chaplains. Someone I know worked at Tyson Chicken as a chaplain. Then I discovered Congress has a chaplain. Once I started researching, I began to see this thing had many legs. But my heart was always with the hospital setting because of what I experienced. That became my mission, a mission which still stands, and is only growing more fervent by the day. So, having just completed my first year of graduate school, I am beginning my summer internship just outside of Boston.

My only regret is that it took me four decades to understand that giving of myself to and for others was not a task, but an honor. Life has pulled me into a current I certainly never expected. All I know to do in the waters I’m in is to make the best of them…swim or drown. I’m not going to drown, because I’m’ way too persistent and dogged to quit. So I’m going to swim. I’m going to swim my way into these people’s lives, and give one hundred-percent care and compassion for who they are. This is not about
me. This is about who God had already made me to be. I just had to listen.

After a decade in full-time ministry I can say that I’m worn out. Some of you reading this chuckle and say, “Wait until forty years in, kid!”
 
Touché
 
After five years of Campus Ministry in Cincinnati, and five a Senior Minister, I’d like to think I know what I’m doing. Truth is, I have no clue. I most likely never will. I’ve come to terms with that.
 
I had a stellar education at Ohio Valley University. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a better Bible program in the world. I knew how to study and interpret Scripture. I knew how to exegete a passage. I knew Greek and Hebrew. I could write thirty pages on 1 Peter 3:21.
 
Then there’s the career readiness part: I knew how to type a resume. I had a ministry portfolio. I knew how to network. I had my heretic detector installed. I could smell a false prophet long before I ever saw them. I had audio recordings of my sermons.
 
I had knowledge.
 
Yet, I found something lacking when I left the ivory towers of academia for the local church. I found that I could use those skills I had acquired to teach and preach. I could explain the Word. I could recite the passages.
 
But, I couldn’t rest in God.
 
In ministry, we read blogs about burn-out. There are volumes of information on it. Blogs, books, and podcast reveal how to recognize it. They tout remedies on how to help someone going through it. You know, like, how smelling essential oils aids the Holy Spirit to work in you through you. How, you ask? They induce a nostalgia trip to the corner of Old Narthex and Potato Salad Potluck. It’s the scent of the color Church of Christ Brown. I digress.
 
The information is there. What isn’t there is the application.
 
The Apostle Paul writes,
 
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. – 1 Cor. 13:12, MSG)
 
We have moments of clarity – when the fog lifts -AFTER we’ve gone through something. So it is with us who labor for Christ. We get caught up in our knowledge and how much we can care for others. We pride ourselves in providing an open door every day of the year. We work every day.
 
We’re in the trenches. We’re fighting demons. We’re pulling people out of gutters. We’re traveling the globe to tell about the new Kingdom that Jesus purchased. We’re in the hospice rooms with the dying. We’re cramming our sermon and lesson prep in when we should be sleeping. We are the servants of the servants of God.
 
We are on empty. I am on empty. Our families are on empty.
 
While we preach and teach. While we serve and pour out our lives. While we miss first birthdays and family gatherings to be with the ones who are in the valley of death. While we get called back early from the vacation we’ve scrounged and saved for years.
 
We’re in Children’s Hospital pleading with God that a three-year old boy won’t die. And then, weeping in the parking garage for half an hour until we regain some semblance of composure. We’re burying people in baptism and then burying others in the cemetery.
 
We’re the first in line to get yelled at by parishioners. We watch as our families take bullets from bitter, hurting members. We get the anonymous letters full of vitriol on Monday mornings.
 
Our lives are a bi-polar, manic depression inducing roller coaster ride.
 
We. Are. Spent.
 
But let us not fall into Satan’s pity party. Let us not shy away from hard work and self-discipline. Let us not run because we’re tired, but tire because we had the audacity to run. If we trust Scripture, we know it tells us that God will renew our strength and we will not fall or grow tired.
 
We absorb some of the most vile things in this world. We see evil first-hand in the hearts of our brothers and sisters. We see sin and addiction ruin lives. We see unimaginable loss. We experience the emotions of those we help.
 
We are burden-bearers.
 
But what a beautiful thing it is. That’s why we don’t lose our heart. That’s why we don’t need self-help, but God help. We enter into the sacred spaces between eternity and mortality. We see the transformation of people who we’d discounted or judged out of the church. We see the Spirit changing the hardened hearts of the staunchest members. We experience Him chipping away at ours.
 
Let us not forget, then, that though we are in this beautiful mess, it is not a dark one. Let us not forget that we are not to rely on our power and strength, but on His. Let us not forget that God is our refuge, our strength, our shield. Let us not sit on His throne.
 
Let us not rest in our abilities or our skills. Our communication and our preparation. Our wisdom and our knowledge.
 
Let us go to our Burden-Bearer. Let us approach our Prince of Peace. Let us rest in Emmanuel.
 
Let us sit with our family as we thank God for the simple moments of love. Let us celebrate with our members when they trust God in areas that are tough. Let us mourn with those who are suffering. Let us feel what those who are mentally hurting feelings. Let us run the race. Let us have the wisdom to speak life, not death. Let us be able to say, “no” to some things.
 
But, Lord, let us not… Please God… Let us not think we the hero of the Story.
 
We are standing on the shoulders of those who went before us. We are planting and watering. Someone else will reap the harvest. Let us not think we are indispensable and irreplaceable. Father, let us know that you are… And let that be enough for our tired bones. Let us not give up, no matter what.
 
In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Ps. 4:8
 
I’m worn. But I’m not finished. Neither are you. Have some courage. And for the love of God, sleep and love your family.
 
You and I are a mist… But God adores and loves us. He has called you to this. He has given you everything you need to run the race. So run. The world is counting on you.
 
 
 

Growing up we heard Bible basics quite a bit. I don’t know about you but it has been a while since I have heard many of those teachings. Sometimes I wonder if we went over those things so many times that some of us got tired of hearing them while others got tired of teaching them.

Now, as someone who doesn’t just hear the teaching but is regularly teaching and preaching one of the things that I think pushes out teaching on the basics, except to new believers and seekers if we have a class designed for them, comes from the desire for something new. When we study we are often seeking new information. We are looking for things to consider that show us new ways of looking at things. In our desire to be relevant we don’t like to repeat ourselves much and we can make the fundamental mistake of thinking that relevant requires being recent so we are constantly looking for something new rather than for something old. In doing so, the basics of the Christian faith, have often been neglected save a few select words at the end of the sermon.

The result of this is a generation full of questions. They wonder why we do what we do. Well, we knew what we did and we knew the Bible verses that supported the things we do when I was growing up. That is slightly different than knowing “Why” we do what we do but it is related. Why we do what we do was often because we believed our practices were authorized because that is how we were brought up to read the Bible but that still isn’t entirely a good answer to why we do what we do but it is a start. People today, young people especially, haven’t heard many of the basics of the Christian faith and those of us who teach got so tired of going over those same topics that many of us haven’t taught them ourselves.

It never hurts to teach the basics of the Christian faith and that means more than just worship practice. People need to understand their faith. They need good answers to their questions. We need to not push so hard to be relevant that we fail to teach some of the most relevant biblical information we could possibly teach!

Time to get back to the basics! How have you incorporated these things into your teaching and preaching or how have you seen it done?

I have come to believe two passages of Scripture, actually three, from the Hebrew Bible sum up the entire biblical faith both in terms of what/who is the object of our faith and what we are to do. These texts state what

1) we believe, the God Creed

2) we do, the Jesus Creed

God Creed is the Center

The God Creed is Exodus 34.6-7, a text that shows up in various forms (often almost verbatim) many times, while the heart of the creed, God’s steadfast love (hesed) shows up over 200x in the Hebrew Bible.

The God Creed tells us who our God is. It also tells us what God does. It stresses the divine indicative. It tells us who God is and what he does.

Yahweh is merciful
Yahweh is gracious
Yahweh is slower than a turtle to get angry
Yahweh overflows in hesed (steadfast love)
Yahweh keeps hesed (steadfast love)
Yahweh forgives, wickedness, rebellion and sin

Yahweh will deal with evil

This is the God Creed. This is the heart of biblical faith. The Bible does not simply say there is a god. Every pagan in the world believes in all kinds of gods. The Scripture says we deny the existence of all gods except the God of Exodus 34 … Jesus is Exodus 34.6-7 in the flesh.

The God Creed expresses the focus and content of our faith, Yahweh, the Lord.

Jesus Creed is the Circumference

The Jesus Creed sums up our response to the God Creed. We read the Jesus Creed in Mark 12.28-31 (cf. Mt. 22.37-40). This Creed actually is the combination of two Hebrew Bible texts, Deuteronomy 6.4 and Leviticus 19.18.

The Jesus Creed is the the law of the kingdom of God. Yahweh is the center of the kingdom and the Jesus Creed is how we live faithfully in the kingdom. Since Yahweh is radical, pure, and infinite love, those who confess Yahweh as God will,

Love God with all of their heart
Love God with all of their soul
Love God with all of their mind
Love God with all of their strength

This is simply a Hebraic way of saying “love God down to the DNA level.”  There is not a cell that we withhold from sold out love for the God who radiates such infinite love.  Yahweh’s love is God’s personal “glory” (Ex. 33.22).

We respond to God in love. But the Jesus Creed states that we respond to God’s images, icons, “photographs,” like we do to Yahweh. We love God’s images. How we respond to our neighbors is in fact how we respond to the the Lord as if God was standing in front of us. So the Jesus Creed states we will,

Love our neighbors as ourselves.

Center and Circumference of Biblical Faith

The God Creed and the Jesus Creed sum up the content of our faith and dictates the nature of our obedience to God. The God Creed and the Jesus Creed show that biblical faith is not a matter, and never has been, a matter of legal correctness. The Creeds show that biblical faith is a matter of passionate love. The passionate love of God is returned to God by his creation and shared among God’s creatures. The God Creed and the Jesus Creed reveal that our walk with God is in fact a “covenant of love.” (Deut 7.7, 12; 1 Kgs 8.23; 2 Chr 6.14; Neh 1.5; Neh 9.32; Dan 9.5).

The center and circumference of our faith are summed up in God Creed proclaimed by Yahweh and the Jesus Creed lived by the Nazarene.

Bivocational, it’s a term that not everyone is familiar with. It means to work two jobs simultaneously or to serve in two vocations at once. When applied to pastoral work, it is to serve in a church and to support oneself financially with some supplemental income from a secular occupation.

Does this lifestyle have pros & cons? Certainly. Is it for everyone who pursues ministry? Probably not, or is it? There is some data suggesting future trends will include many more churches who will turn to staffing which will be mainly bivocational. Why? Between decreasing attendance and lower contributions in many churches across denominations, this leadership transition might become more of a necessity than a personal choice for ministers and congregations alike.

So what does it feel like to be bivocational? It’s an odd position, given our culture’s projection of what the successful preacher supposedly looks like. On the one hand, you feel like something is wrong with you, or you don’t measure up, thus the need for a secular job as well. After all, if you were doing your job well enough, your church would be able to support you financially. On the other hand, you feel connected with more people who might never darken the doorway of your local church.

At times, when you are bivocational, you can feel rather second-rate, B-team, subpar. Instead of people greeting you as “Brother” (that affectionate moniker for the minster) you think they see you as their “step-brother.” Sometimes you think people don’t take your ministry role as serious as they would if you were in full-time ministry, or they assume the bivocational phase is just a stepping stone.

Also, when you are living in two worlds at once like this, you feel at times rather ineffective. You are stretched rather thin between trying to be engaged in full time “work” and attempting to be fully dedicated to the ministry you feel called to. It’s confusing, at times, to say the least.

Is there a Biblical precedent for this style of ministry? The Apostle Paul is probably the most common case, he was considered a “tentmaker” and he often fully supported himself as well as his companions. Of course there are some differences in what we experience today in contemporary bivocational ministry and what we read about in Paul’s case. For example, Paul traveled more often than he ever settled down in a local community. And, he might have turned down financial support from local congregations to teach certain churches a meta-lesson, or he may have chosen to be a tentmaker to distinguish himself from false apostles who were out to bilk believers.

So why does this subject matter? For starters, it might become more familiar to a wider range of believers as time goes on, so it’s good to be up to speed on this topic sooner than later. Also, it is an important topic since so many people are already involved in a bivocational ministry, and they could use the encouragement of the masses.

This topic matters since there is probably a slight social stigma attached to being bivocational, and most people (more than likely) won’t all understand the circumstances. Bivocational doesn’t mean under-trained or incompetent, and it would be helpful for people to recognize the validity of this style of ministry.

If you thought ministry in general was tough on the preacher’s family, it’s even more demanding when you are bivocational. Churches who have a bivocational minister should be more sensitive to this strain on their ministers.

Yet, there is a sense of authenticity when you find yourself in a bivocational ministry, a rewarding feeling that you are following your true calling. There is certainly nothing wrong with a church providing you with your entire income while serving as their minister, yet, when you are out earning a living elsewhere you know you aren’t in ministry solely for the money and the folks you minister to know you know what they experience week-in-week-out. Being bivocational feels odd at times, but it also feels rather incarnational as well.

By the way, I never aspired to being bivocational when I attended Bible College and then Seminary, but after about 20 years of serving in full time ministry in mainline churches, God led our family into a bivocational ministry. We’ve been serving this way for over five years, it has its ups & downs, but the blessings outweigh the struggles.

Mankind has a penchant for pushing pendulums. It is hard to leave them along long enough for them to settle out in the middle. Middle ground is hard to hold. Some contrary person who can’t seem to leave well enough alone always seems to come along and give that pendulum a push in one direction or the other a bit further than is ideal.

Often the corrective is needed. The pendulum has been at one end for so long and pushed out so far to the end of its reach that it needed a nudge in the other direction…just not so far as to push things out of balance in the other direction resulting in needless over correction.

The pendulum is going to swing. It is inevitable. We just have to make sure that the way in which we swing it as well as the direction and the magnitude of the swing are influenced by scripture more so than tradition or culture. It seems these three things have a lot to do with swinging pendulums (scripture, tradition and culture) and often the last two take on an inordinate amount of influence, diminishing the value and voice of the scriptures. Often what we take to be a biblical corrective to a given direction or decision is actually more the influence of tradition or culture than anything else, particularly in areas scripture is silent on (we seem to spend an awful lot of time on those!).

Let me give an example of this – the American Restoration movement was a movement that began as a unity movement (which was an attempted pendulum swing at its inception). Things had been so divided that it would seem pleasing to the Lord and in accordance with the scripture to appeal to unity. Given enough time and enough cultural influence and the emergence of tradition has made finding unity nearly impossible. The result is a unity movement that had morphed into its own form of sectarianism, the very thing it was started to address…a pendulum rightfully swung went too far!

The pendulum keeps on swinging.

We see this in the swing from modernism to post-modernism…from surety to doubt. The strength of one generation and one culture is the dry powder used to blow the whole thing up and launch something new in the opposite direction.

The pendulum just keeps swinging…just as it is designed to do…just as it is in our nature to find the pendulums we believe are out of balance and give then a nudge. Some of us are just contrary like that!

So let’s spend some time talking about pendulums and balance…talking about action and reaction. Let’s examine why we do what we do along with where we have come from and where the pendulum seems to be swinging next.