Restorative Love

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. – Saint Paul

Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors. – Eugene Peterson

I know of a church that parted ways with her pastor in ways that left both pastor and people wounded. The pastor remained in the small town and continued to raise his family there. The church members would see him or his wife in the only grocery store and the meeting was polite but awkward.

My favorite Church

Perhaps leadership mistakes were made by the pastor, but his doctrine and integrity were beyond reproach. Yet it seemed that the pastor and people were not a good fit.

Someone has said, “A lot of divorces could be avoided if the marriage had never happened in the first place.”

A group in the church decided it was time to make a change and through a series of meetings the die was cast. Before the young pastor was fired at a business meeting, he resigned. Technically, the church didn’t fire him, but the result was the same.

Five years past.

A few weeks ago, the Church invited the former pastor back for a meal to celebrate his ministry at the Church. At first, both people and the pastor were a little reluctant about the encounter. However, the evening was a beautiful expression of what it means when Paul said, If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

What do you do when you want to bring a group of people and a former pastor together? Everyone gathered in a huge circle in the fellowship hall and held hands. A gentle prayer requesting grace to be our balm was whispered. Each person was invited to come to the pastor and his family and tell them how much they loved them.

There were tears.

There were hugs.

There was laughter.

There was love.

During the quiet moments of that night, you could almost hear the soft sound of sandaled feet walking among the pastor and people.

Later the pastor’s wife said this:

Thank you for tonight! When I walked into the fellowship hall, I felt the grace you prayed about. I felt love. I felt peace. I felt at home.

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Breakfast with Jesus

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A.W. Tozer

What is the emotion that comes to God’s heart when he looks at you? Most people don’t think about that question very often and if they do usually the silent and internal answer is something like, “God is disappointed in me. God is angry with me. God has forgotten about me. God is frustrated with me. God doesn’t care about me.”

Now, I would imagine you are already ahead of me in realizing that those assertions are more about how they feel about themselves or how they perceive significant others may feel about them, rather than how the God of the universe feels about them.

One of the hardest tasks I have as a pastor and a soul care provider is to convince people that God accepts them just as they are. He is madly in love with them and there is nothing they can do about it.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:3

Jesus is attracted to hopeless cases. He loves the fragile. He loves to come close to people who are beaten and who are battered and who are bruised and maybe don’t show it on the outside, but inside, they’re dying. He knows what to do with them—even if it is a self-inflicted wound.

At the end of John’s gospel, one of Jesus’ good friends is despondent because he let Jesus down in ways that few of us can even fathom. When called upon to say a good word for Jesus in his darkest hour, this man spat out a curse and claimed that he was no friend of Jesus. Then the cock crowed, and he ran away and wept bitterly.

He doesn’t know what to do, so he goes back to his pre-Jesus profession and begins to fish. Wouldn’t you know it? He fails at what he has done his entire adult life. He is a failure as a follower of Jesus and now he is a failure as a professional.

Then a voice called from the shore just at the break of dawn. Eventually, he recognizes who it is, after some help from a friend, and he swam to shore. There he found Jesus, seated on the beach beside a fire. And Jesus did not roll his eyes at Peter. He did not scold Peter. He did not shame Peter. He did not tell Peter, “I told you so.” What did Jesus do for Peter?

He offered him breakfast he had cooked on a charcoal fire and mended his broken heart.

I’ll tell you about a time when Jesus came close to me when I had a deep soul-contusion.

Several years ago, I realized that the ministry I had devoted 8 years of my life to was coming to an end. Our church in the Northwest was merging with another church and there was a good chance that there would not be a position for me in this newly merged church.

Feeling like a failure, I was embarrassed and didn’t share this with anyone.

Deadman Lake

In order to care for my own soul, I came here to Colorado and went backpacking. I spentfour nights up at a remote lake by myself. I fished. I prayed. I wrote. I sang. It was one of the most soul-nourishing times I’ve ever had in the wilderness.

I had my little backpacking Bible with me. It is The Message version of the New Testament. I read one passage that took my breath away and caused me to fall to my knees. I read it over and over again through tear-filled eyes.

Here is what I read from Matthew 5,

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

I must have read those words out loud twenty-five times. I reached for another cup of coffee. I could hear the waves lapping against the shores of the alpine lake as the sun-splashed a pink glow on the peaks surrounding me. My stomach growled, and I began to eat my breakfast.

Breakfast with Jesus beside a lake.

My favorite comfort food.

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Healing in the Fellowship Hall

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

In 2007, my sister-in-law died of complications from cancer. Her memorial service was held at Applewood Baptist Church in the Denver area. By that time, it had been seven years since I had resigned my pastorate in Littleton begin to mend my marriage that I had nearly destroyed.

Suzanne was dearly loved by the folks at my former Church and her new church. The 800-seat auditorium was nearly full. As I looked out at the crowd, it seemed that half of them were former church members. I hadn’t seen them since I had left the church in 1999 in disgrace. In my mind, there would be many hard feelings in the hearts of those former church members. I didn’t want to talk to them. I was afraid of what some of them might say to me. I was ashamed of myself. It was not a good time. I didn’t want to be there, but I loved Suzanne and wanted to honor my sister-in-law.

We filed in with the family and sat towards the front of the church. I had written a tribute to her on my blog and my brother-in-law read it to the congregation. It was just one of the many tributes offered that day for this godly woman.

Like most funerals, there was a reception offered at the end of the service in the fellowship hall. I didn’t want to go. I knew there would be former church members there and I didn’t want to be in a position of re-opening a very painful wound in my heart and theirs. But Lynette was insistent that if I ever wanted to get a kiss from her again, that I would go to the reception.

So, I went. But I told her that she had to stay very close to me—joined at the hip. I believed that no one would say anything nasty to me if she were right beside me. Church folks always have loved my wife more than me. They imagine her a woman of great faith and grace to live with someone like me.

Still true.

We went to the fellowship hall and I tried to be as inconspicuous as someone 6’4” and NFL-lineman-weight could be, which is not very.

I saw Tom and Mary Jo Turner enter the room and they made a beeline for me. Then I saw Mike and Julie Moot, Mark and Cindy Maynard, Randy and DeAnna Gallop, Dale and Belinda Wiest, Virginia Hildebrand, and on and on and on they came up to me. A line began to form. One after another, I was scared out of my mind.

As they approached, I was on red alert. All my defenses were up. And then the strangest thing happened, they, everyone—every single one—came up to me and gave me a hug and told me that they loved me.

I wept. They wept. We all wept. We laughed and laughed with such deep affection.

The reception for my beloved sister-in-law became a sacred space of healing for a pastor who had hurt so many people.

I had wronged each of them and had not ever had an opportunity to ask for their forgiveness, and yet they had forgiven me long before they stood in line to give me and Lynette a hug in the basement of that church.

In my imagination, I envisioned Suzanne with a small committee of angels going up to Jesus and saying let’s turn the reception at my memorial service into a healing service for Joe, Lynette, and the folks at Lochwood Baptist Church.

Healing, restoration, and reconciliation began in the fellowship hall of a Church in Wheatridge, Colorado.

The reason that I have never given up on the Church is that the Church has never given up on me.

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The Freedom of Forgiveness

And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Luke 17:4-5

“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.” -Lewis Smedes

When Jesus abides underneath the wound in your heart, His love flows over that wound bringing healing and wholeness so that you can give that heart-healing forgiveness away to others. And when that happens you will the good of the wrongdoer.

It’s the Jesus way. When Jesus hung on the cross just before his death, do you remember what he said?

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

You’ll never be long-suffering until you see him going to the cross to suffer for you. You will never be able to forgive other people their little tiny debts toward you until you see him dying on the cross to pay your great debt. You’ll never stop being a judge, putting yourself in the judgment seat, till you see the real Judge of all the universe getting out of the judgment seat and coming down and going to court and being condemned and being tortured and killed for you.

Someone tells the story of Daniel. Daniel is big. He used to make his living by lifting weights and teaching others to do the same. A real-life “Incredible Hulk”.

Daniel worked in a weightlifting gym and dreamed of owning his own. The bank agreed to finance the purchase if he could find someone to cosign the note. His brother agreed.

They filled out all the paperwork and waited for approval. Everything went smoothly, and Daniel soon received a call from the bank telling him he could come and pick up the check. As soon as he got off work, he went to the bank.

When the loan officer saw Daniel, he looked surprised and asked Daniel why he had come.

“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.

“That’s funny. Your brother was in here earlier. He picked up the money and used it to retire the mortgage on his house.”

Daniel was incensed. He never dreamed his own brother would trick him like that. He stormed over to his brother’s house and pounded on the door. The brother answered the door with his daughter in his arms. He knew Daniel wouldn’t hit him if he was holding a child.

He was right. Daniel didn’t hit him. But he promised his brother that if he ever saw him again, he would break his neck.

Daniel went home, his heart bruised and ravaged by the trickery of his own brother. He had no other choice but to go back to the gym and work to pay off the debt.

A few months later, Daniel met a young girl who led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Soon Daniel was involved in a local church and learning all he could about his Lord.

But though Daniel had been forgiven so much, he still found it impossible to forgive his brother. The wound was deep. He didn’t see his brother for 2 years. Daniel couldn’t bring himself to look into the face of the one who had betrayed him. And his brother liked his own face too much to let Daniel see it.

But an encounter was inevitable. Both knew they would eventually run into each other. And neither knew what would happen then.

The encounter occurred one day on a busy street. Listen to how Daniel tells it:

I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him.

But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. As I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.

Daniel walked toward him. The brother stopped, turned, and started to run, but he was too slow. Daniel reached out and grabbed his shoulder. The brother winced, expecting the worst. But rather than have his throat squeezed by Daniel’s hands, he found himself hugged by Daniel’s big arms. And the two brothers stood in the middle of the river of people and wept.

Daniel’s words are worth repeating: “As I saw my Father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.”

Try that. The next time you see or think of the one who broke your heart, look twice. As you look at his face, look also for His face—the face of the One who forgave you. Look into the eyes of the King who wept when you pleaded for mercy. Look into the face of the Father who gave you grace when no one else gave you a chance. Find the face of God who forgives in the face of your enemy. And then, because God has forgiven you more than you’ll ever be called on to forgive in another, set your enemy—and yourself —free.

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Jesus Sees You

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:5

In this story, it says that Jesus is looking for Zacchaeus, and he notices him there, up in the tree. I don’t know about you, but I would never have noticed the guy up there in the tree. I’d have come into town looking for the mayor or someone important, “Who can I talk to that’s important?”

That’s why I’m not Jesus. Jesus notices him. We all have a need to be noticed and to be valued.

A few years ago, after a guest pastor preached at our church in the Pacific Northwest many of us went down to tour his ministry field on Aurora Avenue in Shoreline, Washington. We saw where they gather for worship, then we crossed a covered footbridge to the other side of Aurora Ave to see their community garden. I was walking with the pastor chatting and as we descended the steps on the far side there was a woman sitting on the steps eating what looked like some fruit and some yogurt.

The pastor leaned towards me and said just take a left up the street and I will catch up in a minute. So, we all kept walking, but he turned and knelt beside this woman eating her lunch on the steps and began to talk to her. Down where she was…at her level—eye to eye.

We walked a little further up the street and all of us stopped and waited for the pastor. And waited. And waited. I chided someone standing near,” Doesn’t he know we are busy?” We waited some more.

In time he came walking up and took us to the community garden his church had created over the ground where a Meth house had stood. As he was describing how the garden came into being, Doris (the woman he had been talking to on the steps) came into the garden. He stopped talking to us and went over to talk to Doris. Then he asked if we had a plastic bag from our Subway sandwiches he could have, and he and Doris began to pick tomatoes for her.

He saw Doris.

Ever feel unnoticed, like Doris? Like no matter what you do no one’s paying attention?

I’m sure Zacchaeus felt that way. Every time he took his tax-collecting, price-gouging, money-grubbing, Roman-collaborating self down the street, people would just turn the other way. He was a non-person. But not to Jesus. In this story, Zacchaeus climbs a tree because he’s looking for Jesus, and what he finds is that all along Jesus has been looking for him. That changes him.

How did Jesus know his name?

Having been noticed he begins to notice others and to care about them. Jesus is always looking for us. That heals us of the wounds that have been inflicted by other people because having been noticed and cared for by Jesus we can notice and care for others. Jesus seeks us. And Jesus knows our name. There is something about understanding that Jesus sees and knows our name that changes us.

Jesus was saying, “You are why I have come to this town, Zacchaeus. I didn’t come for recreation. I didn’t come for entertainment. I didn’t come to further my career. I came here for you.”

To us, it looks like Zacchaeus might be an interruption to the busy ministry of the Son of God. But Jesus lived life by a different rhythm. People were never interruptions to him. I love what Henri Nouwen wrote in, Reaching Out,

While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know…my whole life I had been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

Zacchaeus was the work of Christ. And so are you.

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The Strange and the Stranger

Who do you need to make space for that is strange to you?

Who is your “hard to love” person? On every street and in every home lives someone who is hard to love. If you look down your street or across the dinner table and don’t see one, it might mean you are the “hard to love” person. Who in your world do you think is too far from God’s grace or secretly hope they are too far? Who is too dirty, rude, obnoxious or strange to sit at God’s table?

Let me suggest a few possibilities:

A gay person.
A greedy person
A man who has been convicted of domestic violence
A radical feminist
An Oakland Raider fan
A black person
A conservative
An undocumented immigrant
A white supremacist
A Muslim
A millennial who plays video games all day.

When we really absorb Jesus into our core, we all will be people who are marked by humility and hospitality. The challenge for you and me is to always be ready to offer hospitality to the strange and the strangers of this world.

Let me tell you a true story that happened to me a few years ago…

One of us said, “What is that moving this way?” Someone reached for their spyglasses and described what they saw. At thirteen thousand feet and walking towards us a half a mile away was a man with no backpack, rain gear, or anything you might normally consider important while climbing the alpine ridges of the Sangre De Cristo mountains. But there he came as quick as you please.

He was wearing a floppy straw hat with a red bandanna wrapped around the sweatband with some sort of cordage to tie it under his chin. He wore a plain white fruit-of-the-loom undershirt and sky-blue, unhemmed polyester dress slacks that had been cut off mid-thigh. The stray strands blew like spider webs in the breeze. On his feet were a pair of low-grade suede hiking shoes and white cotton athletic socks. Dangling from his leather belt was an almost empty half-gallon milk jug.

As this was described to us our mood moved from disbelief to confusion to incredulity. We had seventy-pound packs, three-hundred-dollar backpacking boots, not a stitch of cotton on our bodies. We were prepared for hypothermia. We had rain gear, rope, food for six days, water purification tablets, sleeping bags, emergency gear, and first aid kit. We were totally prepared for these rugged mountains.

Not this guy.

When he approached our group he smiled and said, “Howdy!” His glasses were thick, and they fogged up as he looked at us. He was barely breathing hard at altitude. He scratched at his right forearm, then his neck and then at his thigh. Someone asked where he was camped and he shrugged and tossed his head to his left and down the line of ridges indicating south and said, “Back thataway.”

“Where you headed?” we asked next. With the same vagueness, he jutted out his chin northward and said, “Thataway.”

We sat on a 13,200-foot pass where there was no trail and no shelter in any direction. Where had this guy come from and where was he going?

He untwisted the lid to the milk jug and took a swallow of the little water that was left in the jug, wiped his mouth and grinned. We were dumbstruck. He was dressed more like a beach bum from the south Texas gulf coast than a man walking alpine ridges in Colorado.

An awkward silence hung between us.

Finally, someone asked him if he needed anything.

“I’m alright,” he said. “Bugs are really bad, aren’t they? I could use some insect repellent if you could spare any” he said. He was covered with pink bumps, some scabbed over, and some looked infected. Smallpox or a hornet’s nest was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw him standing there scratching.

My friend Jim jumped up and said, “I have a second bottle of ‘Jungle Juice’ I’ll give you.”

“No. Just squirt me a little in this sandwich bag.” He reached in his pocket pulled out a crumpled-up baggie, turned it inside out dumping some crumbs and held it open for Jim. About six or seven good squirts was enough he said. He twisted a knot in the top of it and put it into his pocket, rubbed the spillage on his arms, legs, neck, and face.

“Don’t get any of that juice on your glasses, it’ll dissolve your lenses,” someone offered. Nervous laughter rippled around our group.

“Well,” he said. “I better get going. Thanks for the bug juice.” He grinned, looked northward and off he went. We watched him drop down over the edge of the ridge; never to be seen again.

We sat there, slack-jawed.

Someone quoted:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:3

Wait, one more thing…

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:34-36

I am not certain that an angel will show up when we show the kindness of God, but I do know that the King of Kings always shows up where we accept the strange and the stranger.

The King, I tell you. The King.

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My Pastor Friend

Me, Dave, and Mt. Princeton

This past week I was privileged to spend a week hosting one of my writing and pastoring heros. David Hansen is now retired, but he has led a very wonderful life as a pastor and writer. The thing that struck me as we spent time together was how surprised he was at the impact that he has had on pastors all over the nation through his writings.

His book The Art of Pastoring is still in print and I give it away to pastors all the time.

I asked him permission to share this with you. Here is Dave’s tribute to one of his mentors:

The Eugene Peterson I knew for over thirty years was a sanctified genius who gave what he had to the work of the Kingdom of God including whatever it meant to be a fully Christian man to anyone he happened to be with. The fact is that Eugene was a better man in his personal relationships than he was in his very best writings, sermons and lectures. The result of this is that we can all aspire to be as good as Eugene was when he was at his very best.

I met Eugene and his amazing wife Jan in the late 1980s. I was pastoring two little churches in the Bitterroot Valley, South of Missoula, Montana. One day I received a phone call from my brother-in-law, Bruce Becker, who at the time was pastoring a Presbyterian church in northwest Ohio. He told me he had attended a one-day seminar led by a Presbyterian pastor named Eugene Peterson and he said, “You and he read a lot of the same stuff, he likes Karl Barth.”

One of the two churches I was pastoring was half Presbyterian and half American Baptist, (the latter being my denomination) so I looked around in the office and sure enough I found a booklet listing Presbyterian churches and pastors in the U.S. I looked up Eugene and mailed him a letter to his church in Bel Air, Maryland. About a month later I received a letter from him from an address on Flathead Lake! (It’s about two hours north of where we were living at the time.) He invited me up to spend the night with him and Jan. So I drove my powder blue ’65 Volkswagen Bug to their place on the lake. I arrived at about 10:30 in the morning. Following a warm welcome from both, Jan went to the kitchen to prepare lunch while Eugene and I talked books.

We enjoyed a delicious conversation about authors common to both of us, including Karl Barth, P.T. Forsyth, and Baron von Hugel. At one point I mentioned that I was discouraged in my pastoral counseling, (I was pretending to be a psychologist). He asked me if I had ever heard of something called “Spiritual Direction”. “No” I responded. He said he had tried the “be a psychologist” route himself and had failed miserably but there was another way. He talked about pastoral care which was a “listening for God’s work” in the life of the parishioner which included cross experiences as well as resurrection. It sounded wonderful. This non-method valued the life of the Cross and Resurrection in the person’s life. Jan called for lunch, and as I rose from my seat Eugene said emphatically, “read St. John of the Cross”.

Lunch with Jan and Eugene was delicious food and fellowship. At one point, Jan asked me “Which one of Eugene’s books do you like the best? I said, “I’ve never read anything by him.” She looked stumped, he laughed out loud. Thus, began a thirty-something year journey with two very dear people.

When Eugene wrote his autobiography, he entitled it simply, “The Pastor” a peculiar title considering all the things he’d done in his life. He appreciated his years lecturing and mentoring students at Regent College, but he never lost track of what he was first and foremost vocationally – a pastor. He communicated to me several times over his years at Regent that on a level basic to what God had made him to be, he felt out of place at Regent College.

One day, fairly early in his Regent years, I called him and asked him in a smart-alecky kind of way, what it was like “being a professor”. “It’s terrible”, he said “I don’t know who I am here. I’m a pastor, not a professor. I’m a preacher, not a lecturer.” So I asked him, “What’s the difference between being a professor and being a pastor.”

He answered immediately (he obviously had thought about it). “Professors are the “CPA’s (certified public accountants) of the Kingdom. They work to purify, categorize and store the truth. We pastors use the truth like a football. We run with it try to score with it, we get tackled sometimes and kick it through the goalposts.” I thought: that is exactly what I do and what I love doing. That’s not to say that he did not enjoy his time at Regent. Of course, he did – but he never felt like he made the transition from being a pastor to a “professor”.

One time in the early 1990’s he mailed me some translations he’d made of some Psalms. In his letter, he intimated that the voice he was using in these translations were something he might publish someday. The first translation was Psalm 1. The last clause of Psalm 1:1, the old translations say something like “…nor sit in the seat of mockers.” He had translated that clause, “…or go to smart-ass college.” I suggested to him that he might not get that line published!

Eugene, a man from his beloved home state of Montana, knew just how someone might say it there. In fact, there are a number of “Montanaisms” in The Message. I can hear a Montana accent in it frequently. It definitely doesn’t make it less valuable than translations by New Testament and Old Testament scholars where you can hear the “accent” of the professional academy.

One time, Eugene got really mad at me and I deserved it. Here’s how it went. I had been blessed in that in our frequent dialogs by phone and letter, Eugene thought enough of my thoughts about pastoral ministry that he suggested I should try out writing for publication. He gave me a double blessing in that he gave my name to InterVarsity Press and Leadership Journal as someone who might be able to publish with them.

As it turned out, the break he gave me worked out. I began writing for Leadership, and in 1994, my first book, The Art of Pastoring, Ministry Without all the Answers came out with Inter-Varsity Press. In less than a decade, I had four books out, scads of articles, and speaking gigs galore. Then the writing stopped. My publishers were still enthusiastic about my work and prodded me, but I had nothing more to write about. I tried again and again but I was done. I was frustrated. One day, my frustration poured out on him. I called him (he was at Regent College by that time) and told him my tale of woe, ending with – “I guess from now on I’ll just be a pastor.” (I am really embarrassed to admit that I said that but I really did say it.)

SILENCE over the phone. I knew I was in for it. “ONLY a PASTOR” he exclaimed stridently.

“That’s the highest calling there is…you can’t go any higher than that!” “You’re right,” I admitted…sheepishly and ashamedly.

I bring this shame-faced story up because it gives us an important insight into how he saw himself. When he titled his autobiography The Pastor he gave himself the highest title and the highest honor he could think of. Not “The Professor” not, “The Writer” not, “The Bible Translator”, but “The Pastor”, that’s where his heart always was.

Eugene Peterson was a pastor and that’s really how he thought about himself. It’s a truth he never abandoned about himself, when he was at Regent, and when he was translating The Message and after that and into retirement and as he and his amazing wife Jan kept pastoring people through hosting people at their place at Regent and their home on Flathead Lake in Montana.

If you need more evidence that Eugene thought of himself first and foremost as a pastor, it is reported by his son Eric, a Presbyterian minister in Spokane, Washington, that one of Eugene’s last verbalizations came when he said, out of a stupor, out of the blue, “It seems so sacred that they trusted me so much.”

This line means so much to me personally, right now, because this past January 2018, I retired after forty years in the ministry. I reflect back that people trusted me during some of the toughest times in their lives – what an honor! Yes, there were a few hair-brained schemes I came up with over the years where, thank goodness, they didn’t trust me; but the overall impression is one of being trusted and being welcome in people’s lives and what an awesome privilege that was.

You can have that too. You don’t have to be a Eugene Peterson author-writer-“professor” to live the kind of life he led. The best of Eugene was how sanctified he was in person for pastoral ministry when he was a pastor in Bel Air or meeting with fellow pilgrims at their place in Montana or at Regent College.

You can do what Eugene Peterson did when he was at his very best and who’s to say you can’t do it just as well or better than he did. Being a pastor and a pastoral person was what he treasured most about himself. And may God bless you with the same impression about your life now over many years.

I did the writing, speaking, teaching gig. It was okay. But looking back I wouldn’t trade having been a pastor for forty years for any of that other stuff. I’m no genius, and I’m not all that sanctified, but if I could take something of Eugene’s and have it for my own, it would be to be like him as a pastor and as a human being. In my opinion, he was better at being a human than he was at anything else he did.

You can tell I admire Eugene to the skies, but I still haven’t read all his books, and I don’t use The Message as my Bible, (my Bible-savvy wife does) but may God bless us all with the same aspiration and the same success as Eugene “The Human Being”. That’s what I want to emulate. That’s what I remember, that’s who I want to be like. Not the author, not the professor, not even the pastor, rather, to emulate the Man.

David Hansen did just that. He is at his heart a pastor. And I am proud to call him my friend.

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