I know, I know. It has been almost an eternity (especially in “internet” years) since I have posted on the blog. To be honest, I had to take a sabbatical from some aspects of my life and the one of those things that was chosen was the amount of time I was spending on social networking, etc. and when I did that my “blogging” also went out the window.
However, I am excited to say that this weekend I will be blogging like no other as I reflect and post on Exploration 2011 which will be happening in St. Louis. I will have a mix of posts which will include my own thoughts/reflections but also I am hoping to interview some young adults about their exploration of their call and their expectations of ministry, etc. So check back regularly starting Friday!
But now on to topic of this post: ministry challenges. There are many challenges to ministry but one that might seem debilitating to some I find rewarding and a great challenge and that is the tired cliche: “Expect the Unexpected.” My placement in Winona has been an adventure in the unexpected. You see I was placed here under one set of expectations: to help the church connect with young adults and young families. To be honest that is what excited me about this placement, but as I have discovered in ministry what we often expect does not always align with God’s purpose.
You see within months the ministry setting began to change as two of the United Methodist churches here in Winona began to discuss what United Methodism in Winona should look like and began the process of merging. Within one year of my placement I found myself the associate pastor of a newly merged congregation moving towards rebirth.
Mergers and rebirth take energy and time and because of this the original expectations of my position had to switch and work to help the church accomplish what it needed (a process that isn’t over yet). As I have reflected on my ministry here I have seen how the “unexpected” has actually been a real blessing (a challenge but a blessing).
The “unexpected” can be accepted as a gift or blessing or it can be rejected and seen as a hindrance. I choose the former because I have seen how God has often worked in the lives of so many through the “unexpected.” Perhaps it has been my own experiences that have been most formative in my attitude towards the unexpected. In the fall of 2004 I began my first year of seminary at Duke expecting to dedicate my time and energy fully to my studies. It was going to be a time for my wife and I to grow in our marriage while she started her first teaching job and I prepared for my career in ministry. Then the “unexpected” happened and we found out we were expecting a child within the first month of school. Through the unexpected there was challenge in balancing parenting and school (especially since I did the full-time care for Micah) but there also was extreme blessing to see how God moved through the community of professors and classmates in our lives.
It was a lesson in how the “unexpected” can be a true blessing and I think that is a lesson that can apply to anyone heading into ministry: “expect the unexpected and accept it as a gift and blessing.”
So yesterday my wife and kids were outside playing in our driveway and my wife took some wonderful pictures. I looked over the pictures after uploading them last night and some of my youngest son Kai caught my eye. It wasn’t the inclusion of my son that caught my attention but rather the other subject of the picture: the beaten up and used trike.
You see that trike has an interesting story. It was almost six years ago that I was taking our trash out to the apartment complex dump when I noticed some cast-off “kids” stuff. We were new parents and didn’t exactly have tons of money living off a teacher’s salary and student loans, so I did what my mother would have done: I looked it over to see if we could use anything. I took two things back to our apartment: a toy guitar and a trike. The trike was missing its handlebar covers and was pretty worn but it rolled on the ground nice and we figured our son Micah would enjoy it. He did and so it made the trip back to MN with us when we moved home and has stayed with us. Now it is being used again by our youngest son and he is getting joy from rolling down the driveway through the power of his two legs.
As I sat and reflected on the pictures I couldn’t help but think about redemption and the life of faith. In a small way this trike is a reminder to me of my own life in God. God saw something in me when others couldn’t; namely my father. God took me in and said I had value when others didn’t; namely my father.
I think about how easily my life could be defined by the initial rejection of my father and how my story could have had its end there: cast-off and rejected like the trike sitting in the apartment dump. That easily could have been my story. A story of rejection. But just as that trike was redeemed from the dump by me because I saw value, so my story has also been redeemed by God.
Sometimes I wonder if we miss that good news: our rejections don’t define us. we are redeemed.
So I have been thinking about jealousy a bunch lately. With two young boys (Micah-5 years and Kai-18 months) you can’t help but see how jealousy plays into human interaction. For instance, watching how our children react when the other child is getting exclusive attention from one of us can be a moment of entertainment, but it is also clearly brings to life the reality of jealousy.
The other month while my wife was getting ready in the morning, Kai was fussing and so I was holding him. I could see the jealousy in Micah’s eyes as he looked at us and was not surprised when Micah then tried to nuzzle his way into my lap and get between Kai and I. This has happened numerous times and of course Kai has exhibited some of the same behaviors when he sees Stacy and Micah spending exclusive time together. He often will go over to where they are or start to cry because he isn’t getting the attention.
We often think of jealousy as a bad thing, but I wonder. Now don’t get me wrong, jealousy often brings out ugly things in us. However, is the root of jealousy really all that bad. As I have been reading through the Old Testament, God is often described as a “jealous” God and that is what has me wondering. At the core jealousy comes because of a deep sense of consuming love where we want the object of our love all to ourselves. We want all of that person or thing, we want 100% of its focus on us and I think this reflects how much God desires our attention and how consuming God’s love is for us.
Can we learn from our jealousy? Can we remember the words of the Old Testament and when we feel jealousy remember God’s jealousy for us and have our hearts turned back towards the one who created and loves us so deeply?
I am reminded of the lyrics of How He Loves by David Crowder Band:
He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me
So a friend of mine posted a statement on twitter today that really got me thinking. He wrote, “Disbelief leads to the wilderness.” At first glance it makes sense. It sounds right. The wilderness, that place of isolation, could only come as a consequence of disbelief. Right?
I started to recount the famous wilderness stories in Scripture by running them quickly through my mind. Two of those stories stuck out: Israel’s time in the wilderness and Jesus’ wilderness testing. Both stories don’t seem to jive with wilderness being the consequence of disbelief. Israel found itself traveling through the wilderness (with God) because of the nation’s belief in God. They went from Egypt to the wilderness (where God was providing them with what they needed) as they headed to the land God promised. Their initial venture into the wilderness came from their belief in Yahweh, but their stay in the wilderness was lengthened because of their rebellion and disbelief. The wilderness was a place of testing belief. That continues in the wilderness testing of Jesus, it didn’t come from disbelief but was a place of testing.
How often do we find ourselves in the wilderness and think it is because we didn’t believe right or we have doubts and disbelief? How often when things go wrong do we think it is because we didn’t believe right or it is because of disbelief?
The wilderness has become a place where the lost are instead of a place of the faithful. The wilderness becomes a curse rather than a gift. Instead of a place of testing, the wilderness has become a place of punishment.
To me the wilderness is that place where the faithful go to prepare for true glory. Israel was taken through the wilderness to see if they were ready for the glory of the promised land. Jesus was tested in the same way to show the way. The wilderness wasn’t a place of punishment, it was a place of testing. It was a place where beliefs were tested, not a place where one was taken to see the need for belief or to come to the realization of one’s own disbelief.
How often do followers of Christ start to doubt who they are in Christ because they find themselves in the wilderness as ask “What did I get wrong?” instead of “How will my beliefs help me in this time of isolation?” Can we see the wilderness as a gift? Is it a gift, or am I just wrong?