Encountering Jesus

“You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas”   – John 1:42

Sometimes you encounter someone in your life that you know you will never forget.

A little over a year ago, Lynette and I boarded a plane in Denver and flew to Munich, Germany. The first leg of our trip to Israel. I was stuffed into a middle seat and my knees were shoved into the kidneys of the person sitting in the seat right in front of me for the nine-hour flight. I felt like a size 14-foot stuffed into a pair of size 9 stilettos.

When we boarded our flight from Munich to Tel Aviv, our assigned seats were right in front of the exit row for that 5-hour flight. Again, a huge man in a little seat.

In the exit row sat a pint-size woman dressed in a long flowing black robe and habit. She had a window seat next to the exit door with no seat in front of her. She had enough leg room for Shaquille O’Neil.

I remember thinking, Dear Lord, what have I done to displease you on this flight to your homeland? Why does she get a seat with leg room she will not need, and I get stuck in the size 9, kidney-crushing, knee-bruising seat?

She said, “Sir, have you said your prayers today?”

I said, “Yes, I have spoken to God.” (thinking about my whining poor-is-me thought a moment before)

“Well, I am the answer to your prayers today,” she said.

Then she got up and gave me her seat and took mine beside Lynette. I stretched out, and despite my chagrined heart, fell asleep.

Lynette learned that she was from California and her twin sister was an actress in Hollywood. Her name was Mother Catherine and she served at The Church of Mary Magdalene which is a Russian Orthodox church located on the Mount of Olives, near the Garden of Gethsemane in East Jerusalem.

When we got off the plane in Tel Aviv, she invited us to have lunch with her at the Church of Mary Magdalene. She said the tour will take us down the route Jesus took on Palm Sunday and we would walk right past her church.

“Just knock on the big green door and ask for me and we will have lunch together,” she said.

Sure enough about a week later we were walking down that road and walked past a large green gate that was ajar and I asked one of the ladies inside if Mother Catherine was available. The lady said she didn’t know who I was talking about until she said, “Oh, Mother Katarina! No. She was unavailable right then.”

I asked her to tell Mother Katarina that a very large American man and his beautiful blond wife wanted to say hi and to thank her again for her generosity on the flight from Munich to Israel.”

She promised she would.

That is an encounter I will never forget with a woman who reminded me of Jesus.

In the New Testament, there is a place where Jesus meets the Apostle Peter for the first time.  When He looks at Peter and more than that—looks into Peter—he says in essence, “You have been called Simon all of your life but from now on I am going to call you Peter.” 

In the ancient near east names defined and described your life. They could be descriptive, or they could be prescriptive.

The name “Simon” meant “shifting sand.” It was a descriptive name depicting a man who vacillated and was highly impulsive. Over and over in the New Testament, we see that Peter is often the very first one to speak and the last one to think. He was often wrong, but never in doubt.

But Jesus looks Simon full in the face and gives him a prescriptive name, Cephas or Peter which means “Rock.” Peter must have gulped at the thought of becoming something so stable and strong as a rock. He understood what Jesus was doing. Jesus was saying to Peter that intimacy with me is going to change who you are. And that is exactly what happened to Peter.

Sea of Galilee

Peter started out with such promise and possibilities and yet at the end of the Gospels, we find him dejected, defeated, depressed over his failure of failures in denying Jesus three times. And then on the shores of the Sea of Galilee Jesus offers him breakfast and says to him once again: Follow Me.

By the end of the story of Peter’s life, we see somebody who has become a church leader, we see someone who possesses a calm humility and deep confidence in Jesus. We see somebody who is willing to stick his neck out for the Christian story. And then at the end of things we see somebody who eventually lays down his own life for his allegiance to Jesus.

When Jesus encountered Peter for the first time he easily could have said, “Simon Peter, have you said your prayers today? Because I am the answer to your prayers.”

Dear Lord,

I get easily gigged by so much in this world. My emotions run hot and often I speak before I think. I want to encounter you at such a deep level that my thoughts are your thoughts and my words are your words. Come deeper into my life so that I can avoid the firey darts of the evil one and the arrows thrown by our culture that cause me to react in ways that dishonor the grace you have given me.

Amen

 

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My “Wants” for 2020

You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”  – James 4:15

Predictions for the coming year are often fun and interesting. My friend Jamie Greening has written a delightful article about his predictions. You can read it by clicking on the link below.

Predictions for 2020

I’m not good at that stuff so I am going to set down a few of my “wants” for 2020.

10. That I will hold in my hand a finished and printed copy of my cowboy novel about two young men who are just discovering their sexuality and how their friendship develops in spite of their sexual confusion.

9. I want to hike the Rainbow Trail from Music Pass to Poncha Springs. And I want to bag a couple of fourteeners along the way.  The wilderness calls my name. I love the sense of accomplishment and the simplicity of the trail. Not to mention the fascinating people you meet along the way.

8. I want to interview someone who works with their hands (a plumber, farmer, or mechanic) about their journey with Jesus on the Potter’s Inn Soul Care Conversation podcast.

7. I want to be a gentle yet bold prophetic voice to white evangelicals who have lost their way and call them back to love of character and decency. And I am going to spend more time in prayer for white evangelicals and myself in order to minimize how much I get triggered by them.

6. I want to increase my soul care practice for ministry leaders, especially young pastors.

5. I want to hold my newest granddaughter, Cora Lee Chambers,  in my church on Mother’s Day for her baby dedication.

4. I want to read more novels this year.

3. I want to love and serve my wife in such a way that she thinks that I finally got religion and she feels deeply loved down to her bones.

2. I want to develop my Galilean accent so that with every laughter, conversation, prayer, lament, and sermon I utter—folks will wonder.

1.  I want to live my life in such a way that people who know me will hunger and thirst for more of God.

I can’t predict if any of those things will come true, but I will arrange my life in such a way that they have the best possibility to occur, Lord willing.

#ComeAtMe2020

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Finding My Freedom

If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven…”          John 20:23 (NIV)

In October 1914, Thomas Mott Osborne entered Auburn Prison in upstate New York, and like all the other prisoners, issued a set of prison grays, and led to a cell, four feet wide by seven and a half feet tall. The only difference between prisoner number 33,333x and the other 1,229 inmates was the issue of freedom. On his command, he could leave the prison anytime he wanted.

After his appointment to the Governor’s State Commission on Prison Reform, Osborne made it his mission to live as one of the inmates, study their experience, and emerge as their advocate. He voluntarily laid aside his freedom to experience life behind bars. He slept in a dank, drafty cell just like theirs. He ate their food and worked like they did. He even endured their most dreaded punishment, a night in “the box.” While he could order his own release at any time, he was nevertheless confined. He wrote,

“I am a prisoner, locked, double locked. By no human possibility, by no act of my own, can I throw open the iron grating which shuts me from the world into this small stone vault. I am a voluntary prisoner, it is true; nevertheless even a voluntary prisoner can’t unlock the door to his own cell.”

When I read that I wondered how many ways am I a voluntary prisoner of my own pathologies. Issues of narcissism, of self-medication, of willful blindness to the truth about myself, others, and the ways of the world. The truth is that while I may be much harder on myself than you will ever be, you can see my blind spots where, by definition, I can’t even get a good glimpse.

Talking to God about it is one thing but sharing my sin with someone else…no way.  Why can’t I just tell my sins to God and leave it like that?  Why do I have to drag someone else into this? Well, you can. But I think part of the reason it is vital to have a trusted spiritual friend is, like Mr. Osborne who was a volunteer in prison, we need someone else to open the door to self-revelation.  And beyond that, because it is the way God chooses to communicate forgiveness.

God has given us our brothers and sisters to be Christ’s ambassadors and make God’s presence and forgiveness real to us.  It is through the voice of our brothers and sisters that the word of forgiveness is heard and takes root in our lives.

When you risk honesty with one trusted person you will be amazed at the freedom that invades your life.

I am only as sick as my secrets. If you feel like there is a steel door between you and joy and wholeness, find a trusted spiritual friend soon so you can know what it is like to lay your burden down. There is nothing like telling someone trustworthy all your darkness. Remember what Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!”

Who is a good candidate to help me out of my self-imposed imprisonment? Somebody you trust and who can keep a confidence. Someone who understands the value of what you’re doing and will respect the weight of your confession. Someone mature enough that they won’t be shocked. Someone who knows God well enough that they can reflect His forgiveness to you.

I love what Jesus’ half-brother said at the end of his practical little letter about the reciprocating nature of relational healing, “Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed…” James 5:16

My wife and I watched the Netflix original film The Two Popes starring Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Price as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (later Pope Francis). Towards the end of the film, Pope Benedict asked his eventual successor to hear his confession. They went through the specific rituals and rites of proper Catholic confession and absolution then Pope Benedict said to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in almost a whisper, “Thank you.”

In many ways, the film described how one man helped another man out of the confinement of his role as the Pope of Rome. I loved the story.

The truth is I can’t find my way out of my confinement without you. I need you or someone like you and you need me, or someone like me.

And we both need Jesus to set us free. Remember, even a voluntary prisoner can’t unlock the door to his own cell.

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What Is The Deepest Truth About You?

All of the things that we place at the center of our lives are extraordinarily demanding, brittle, and fragile. But what Jesus tells us is that if we belong to Him the most important thing about us, the thing that is most true about your life is not what you have done or not done, it’s not your degrees or the initials after your name. It’s not your socioeconomic status or your relationship status. It’s not whether you are a democrat or a republican. A conservative or a liberal. Irish, Native-American or Mexican. Or your old or young. Rich or poor.

Recently I recorded a podcast for Potter’s Inn Soul Care Conversations that will take you less than 29 minutes to listen for the answer to the question,”What is the deepest truth about you?’

I am certain it will encourage your heart. Listen by clicking here: You Are The Beloved of God

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From the Front Porch

We exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. – Saint Paul, (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

What do pastors do all day anyway? Of course, the joke is that we only work for one hour on Sunday mornings.

Sometimes we get strange requests. I’ve been asked to pray for a pet pit bull that it would be healed from a terminal disease. I’ve listened to so many strange stories I can’t tell you. I’ve seen snakes slither across the stage during church. I’ve seen deacons drop the Lord’s Supper elements during Communion.

About a year ago I received a note from someone attending our church…

Pastor,

I have an “unspoken” prayer request and please keep this “confidential.”

Signed,

Anonymous

Aside from the basics of officiating at funerals and weddings, visiting the sick in hospitals, preaching on Sundays…what do we do? Or better asked, “What should we be doing?”

On two occasions in my ministry, I have been called “Father.” Each time it took me aback. We Baptist don’t think of ourselves that way. It is foreign to our ears. I do find that over the years I have felt that the office has a paternal feel to it.

I’ll the first time this became apparent to me was when a part-time staff person who led our music when I was in my mid-thirties told me that I was a father figure for him. He was forty at the time. I couldn’t understand how I could be a father figure for someone older than me at such a young age. Then it dawned on me that it wasn’t so much me as it was the role and office of pastor.

There is an old adage that says, “a mother is only as happy as her saddest child.”  As a father, I know that to be true. Of my three adult sons, I have one son who is struggling with his faith right now and one is not living for Jesus at all.

Remember the famous story Jesus told about the two sons? Jesus never mentions that the reason the younger son wanted his inheritance early so he could leave and squander it was due to any failure on the father’s part. Perhaps I am reading too much into that, but I find some comfort in that thought.

This past summer my father and I were backpacking, and Dad asked a question and told me a story. He asked why me, my brother and sisters were so deeply committed to Jesus. We discussed that for a while then he told me a story. He said that my mothers’ grandfather, Dad Conway, who was a deacon in my dad’s first church and would come to him and say, “Let’s go to the church house to pray.” They would drive down to the church and pray. One time my great grandfather, Dad Conway, made a promise to my dad that he would pray for each of his children by name until the day he died.

He kept that promise.

Dad told me that he would to the same thing for my kids and grandkids. I told my mother this story and she said that she has been doing that for years.

My heart aches for my two sons. Their faces are always at the front of my mind. At the same time, there are many other faces that press against the glass of my imagination. Not children of mine. I see faces of congregants and friends; people who are trying so hard to find their way in this world without Jesus. Oh, they go to church. Some regularly, some intermittently but they are in my flock and I am their shepherd.

And while I am delighted with our church family and I am at peace with Jesus, I am also very aware that my sense of melancholy is tied to the saddest member of my church.

I am careful about boundaries. I am quite willing to let people feel the full weight of the consequences of their sins. These consequences can be their best tutors. It is a delicate balance for a pastor knowing how to be available to and accommodating with congregants and not neglect your own health or the health of other primary relationships.

There is a difference between legitimate needs and perceived needs. You learn on the difference the more kids you have. The first child you are a Shiite protective parent. You are there in the room with him every time he turns over or whimpers. By the third child, a crying baby is like your alarm on Saturday mornings. Getting up when it goes off is really optional.

Part of what pastors do is to discern the difference between an urgent need that is not very important and an important need that has turned urgent.

One time a man who had been recently married called me on Saturday and told me he needed to talk to me. Said it was urgent. I asked him to explain. “Well,” he said, “You know Betty and I have been married for seven days now, but I want an annulment. Do you do annulments? Can you help me?

I said, “Bill, I would be happy to help you. Let’s set up a time to visit the first thing Monday morning.”

He said, “Pastor, did you hear me say that I need to talk to you right away? This is serious.”

I can tell by the tone of your voice that it is serious, “Let’s set a time for us to get together the first thing Monday morning.”

He wasn’t happy with me but agreed to meet Monday morning and they are still married.

Not all pastors are good at this. But being sensitive to legitimate needs in a congregant’s life is one of the most important practices we have to learn. A haunting question I frequently ask myself is as follows:

“Am I daily living the life I am inviting others to live?

A life of reflection?

A life of obedience?

A life of prayer?

A life of silence and solitude?

A life of justice and mercy?

A life of grace and truth?

Other than my own father, Eugene Peterson has had the greatest impact on my vocation as a pastor. Most pastors consider him to be a pastor’s pastor. He is who we all want to be when we grow up.

His son, Leif Peterson preached at his memorial service a couple of years ago. Here is the way he closed his sermon,

When I was in high school, I used to joke with my dad that he only had one sermon. And although it was a joke between us, I believed then, as I do now, that it is largely accurate. My dad had one message.

A few years ago, there was a commissioning service in Colorado for the translation of the New Testament that my dad had completed. I was invited to say a few words. In preparation, I couldn’t shake that thought that for his whole life my dad only had one sermon—one message.

So I wrote a poem.

The Message

It’s almost laughable

how you fooled them.

How for thirty years, every week

you made them think

you were saying something new.

They thought you were

a magician. In your long black robe,

hiding so much up your ample sleeves,

always pulling something fresh

and making them think it was just

for them. And that’s just

the beginning. There was more.

Casual conversations at church picnics,

unmemorable chats at the local Denny’s

over eggs and toast. Counseling sessions

that saved marriages, maybe even lives.

And they didn’t know what

a fraud you were. They didn’t know

how simple it all was. They were blind

to your secret, only saw the magic

you performed, how you made the mysterious,

the ominous, the holy, into a cup of coffee,

how you made a cup of coffee into an act of grace,

how you could make

God into something that worked for them.

It’s so funny that they didn’t notice.

So many times I’ve wanted to

expose you. Tell them all what you’ve

been up to. And now you’re doing it

again. You’ve got this new group fooled

into thinking you’re worth millions.

They’re printing it on T-shirts, coffee mugs,

message pads, a new version every week,

for some new flock. But, I must say this,

they’ve widened your audience. Now you’re fooling

them all over the world, in churches, schools, homes,

prisons. It’s so funny.

Only my inheritance keeps me

from giving you away.

Because I alone know your secret.

I alone know what you’ve been doing.

How you’ve fooled them all, taking something

so simple, something a child could understand

and making it into a career, a vocation, an empire.

I know.

Because for fifty years you’ve

been telling me the secret. For fifty

years you’ve steeled into my room

at night and whispered softly to my

sleeping head. It’s the same message

over and over and you don’t vary

it one bit.

God loves you.

He’s on your side.

He’s coming after you.

He’s relentless.

Pastors carry you in their hearts. It is this love that keeps a father on the front porch looking down a long and dusty road for a broken and sad boy to come home. And when he sees the familiar stride of his child, to be quick to leap off the porch and run down the road to embrace his son.

And it is this same heart that makes a pastor stand on the porch of a little church every Sunday morning looking at a parking lot for that troubled family to drive up.

So, I wait and watch—ready to run to both my son and you.

For I am a pastor.

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Stumbling Towards Grace

The success or failure of my own formation in Christlikenss can be measured by how irritable I am. – Dallas Willard

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. – Saint Paul

One time I was traveling from Phoenix to my home in Seattle and got my usual window seat. I put the earbuds in, got my book out and got as comfortable as my 6’4” tall and wide-body can get on a plane. Then a lady sat down beside me and ignored my warning signs—scowl (stink eye), no eye contact, earbuds, book, etc— and started talking to me. I had to take my headphones out of one ear to hear her. She was nice enough, but she was clearly not heeding the markers that I didn’t want to be bothered. When she engaged the man in the aisle seat in a conversation, I reloaded my ear with my headphones and thought, “Just open up your book, turn the music up, never look at her, and maybe she will leave you alone.”

It worked for about 30 minutes. Then she tapped me on the arm and asked me a question. “What book are you reading?” I held the spine up so that she could see that it read The Care of Souls.

“What is that about?” she asked.

I mumbled something, but I didn’t tell her that it was about how to be present with those God puts in your path and really listen to them. I put my headphones back on and pretended to be more interested in my book than I really was.

She pulled out a newspaper she had brought on board. It was a copy of the latest National Enquirer with headlines like “Hillary Clinton gives birth to Alien Baby” and “Donald Trump Embraces Christianity” and other bizarre story titles. She spread the paper wide and leaned towards me so that our arms touched. Thus, I surrendered my territory on the armrest that separated us. I moved even further away from her. But the more I moved away from her the more she spread out.

Twenty minutes later she folded her paper up and went to the restroom. I closed my book and put my head in my hands and sighed. I was so weary of this person and it was only an hour into my two- and a half-hour flight. When she came back and saw me with my head down, she re-belted and began to rub my shoulders. “You must be very tense,” she said over the whine of the jet engine.

What could I do? I let her massage my shoulders for what I assumed was the appropriate time for a stranger giving a neck rub on a plane and smiled and said thanks. I opened up my book again, not reading—just staring at the page. I can’t describe the bile that came into my soul if not my throat.

About this time the man in the aisle seat pulled a care-worn Bible out of his briefcase and began to read. This caught her eye and she began to ask questions about God, faith, and spiritual things. The older man smiled and answered every one of her questions with grace and aplomb.

She shared with this older man some of her pain and struggles. He nodded, listened and gently asked if he could pray for her. She allowed that he could and then took her hand and pressed it between both of his knobby hands and prayed so sweet and low that the lady began to weep.

Thinking in Jerusalem

You would think I would have rejoiced that the old man had distracted her from bothering me. You would have thought I would have paused and prayed for this woman to hear the Gospel. But I found a strange thing happening—I began to sense the resentment that had reached a saturation point with the woman, start to leach toward the grace-filled gentleman.

Now I had two people with whom to be frustrated, an irritating-National-Enquirer-reading-sinner and an irritating-King-James-Bible-reading-saint.

The woman was offensive to me, no question. But so was the kind man who was a much better saint to her than me. Why did he offend me so much? I suppose it was because he was behaving like Jesus to the woman and I was behaving like—Joe. His kindness and grace were pointing a luminous spotlight on my banal behavior.

I can still see her face and sandy-colored hair in my memory.

Lord, we’ve talked about this incident before. I want to say again, that I am sorry for my boorish behavior. There is no way for me to apologize to the woman, but I can change the way I deal with others when I am grumpy and tired. I have tried to do that since this encounter. And by your grace, I am changing—incrementally—but changing nonetheless. I can also pray for her and so I ask that You,

…Bless her and keep her;
Make Your face to shine upon her, and be gracious to her;
Lift up Your countenance upon her, and give her peace.

This was many years ago, but the memory of the darkness of my heart that day serves to remind me that I am a long way away from the man God had in mind when he thought me up. I have to keep surrendering, stay with my training, keep remembering that I am stumbling towards Christlikeness.

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Simple Prayer Podcast

Pray without ceasing. – Saint Paul

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found that 45% of Americans – and a majority of Christians (55%) – say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions. The same survey found that 63% of Christians in the U.S. say praying regularly is an essential part of their Christian identity.

How often do you pray?

What is the content of your prayers?

Do you feel like your prayer-life is causing your soul to flourish?

Would you like to tweak your prayer experience?

Jeremy Frye and I enjoyed a recent conversation about our sacred journey through prayer. Perhaps you would consider subscribing to the podcast. You can listen here: Potter’s Inn Soul Care Conversations

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What Lies Beneath

Thow shall not covet… Exodus 20:17

The Hebrew word for covet is “chamad.” It doesn’t simply mean to desire something in and of itself. It means to over desire something. A domineering desire, a feverish all-encompassing desire. Lust or obsession would be accurate.

Thomas Aquinas, who was a Christian thinker and church leader in the Middle Ages said our predicament is this: we turn perfectly good desires for significance and security—into ultimate desires. And ultimately our deep bottomless longings for security, love, and significance can only find a home in God.

Christianity doesn’t ask you to ignore or suppress your desires. Christianity tells you to listen more deeply to the pangs of hunger in your life. Because those desires, as distorted as they may be, are pointing you to the only place you and I will ever find soul-satisfaction.

What is it that you are looking for, really? What is underneath our desire to eat when we aren’t hungry? What is underneath our desire to sit and be mindlessly entertained by binge-watching reruns of Friends? What is underneath our desire to check how many “likes” we received on our latest social media posts?

In 1654 scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Why do we have to have the T.V. on as background noise when we are home alone? Why do we have to have the radio blaring to the latest angry radio host? Or even to classic rock stations?

Why do you ogle after your neighbor’s house? Or grind your teeth at your sister’s waistline? Or feverishly drool over your friend’s portfolio or their shoe closet or their Jeep or anything else for that matter.

What is the question behind the question?

What’s behind the sixty hour work week? What’s behind the relentless posting of political grenades on social media? What’s behind viewing websites that are inappropriate? What’s behind purchasing more and more stuff we don’t need?

G.K. Chesterton has famously said, “Every time a man knocks on the door of a brothel, he is really looking for God.”

Because the desire underneath all desires is the desire for Jesus. Ultimately the deep desires of your life are meant to drive you to the Living God. When we spend our lives hungry for things that God made but not God—our lives become misshapen. But God, thankfully, breaks into our distorted desires to show us that ultimately all of these desires are meant to lead us home—to him.

From time-to-time when I was growing up, my Dad would sing a solo in Church. It was always high anxiety the week we heard Dad practicing his solo as mom accompanied him on our piano. There was many a time we’d hear my mom say, “Let’s try that again. I’m not sure you are hitting the right note.” But Dad was persistent, and Mom was gracious; somehow they pulled it off and the church was blessed.

As I remember, Dad only sang three songs during his pastoring career. One that he loved to sing was Fill My Cup, Lord.

Like the woman at the well I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy;
And then I heard my Savior speaking:
“Draw from my well that never shall run dry”.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more–
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

We worship our way into distorted desires, and we worship our way out. So, when you realize that you have enough but are hungry for more remember that you have Jesus.

And…

Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

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When Bob Dylan and Jesus Agreed

The wind died down and it was completely calm. Mark 4:39

When I was in High School, I was struggling with my walk with Jesus. Most of that circled around whether or not I was really called to be a shepherd of his sheep. I felt a sense of call when I was a boy, but the older I got the less attractive that vocation became. This affected my walk with Jesus.

Pro Tip: You can’t run from your call and walk with Jesus.

There is nothing like the misery of wanting to walk a life of intimacy with Jesus and running from him at the same time. In fact, it makes other discomforts that are natural life-irritations almost unbearable. It’s like one magnifies the intensity of the other. Normal everyday pebbles in our shoes become infected and debilitating sores when you are running from God.

One summer I was working on a cattle ranch in northern New Mexico and the wind was fierce and relentless. It was a day after day after day occurrence.

My lips were chapped, cracked, and bleeding; my face was constantly red from the wind-blown particles chaffing my skin. You couldn’t speak in a normal voice when you were outside, you had to yell over the din of the forever wind. I had to use a cord to tie down my cowboy hat when I rode my horse to check the cattle; which looked goofy.

John Wayne never did that.

For over two weeks, daily angry winds blew me to a shriveled and nearly insane teenager.

That summer I was trying to reignite my walk with Jesus by reading my bible every day and journaling my prayers and walking in obedience, but that wind was testing my paper-thin resolve.

On day 16 of the tortuous wind, I was reading in the Old Testament book of Judges about Gideon where he asked God to confirm that he wanted him to take on the Philistine by setting out a fleece and asking him to not allow dew to touch the ground but saturate the fleece. God did it. Then Gideon tested God again and God came through again.

I loved that story. I thought to myself, “I have an idea of how to discern God’s will for my future.”

One night, I wrote in my journal these sentences.

“I give up, Lord. If you really want me to shepherd your sheep then, like Gideon, show me a sign. Would you please stop the wind? Please? If you stop this wind, I’ll shepherd your sheep.”

I woke up the next morning to a dead calm.

You would have thought I would have been thrilled with the calm morning. I was not. I was scared out of my mind. Why? Because I realized that tucked away in a two-room mountain cow camp cabin, Someone was listening to a pimple-faced, gangly teenager.

And now—I had to do something with this answered prayer.

It was calm on the outside in northern New Mexico, but the wind was still raging in the soul of a teenage boy. Then I remembered the flannelgraph story of Jesus sleeping through a storm and then silencing the wind with a word and found some solace.

Over the years I’ve learned that the only good place to be during a storm is in the arms of God. And while it’s a good place, it may not be a safe place.

Do you remember what Mr. Beaver said to little Lucy in describing the Christ figure Aslan in Chronicles of Narnia?

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Lucy. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I don’t know what storm is brewing in your life, but maybe the answer is not only blowing in the wind but in the behavior of the wind when Jesus said, “Quiet! Be still!”

That’s a good place to be.

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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.

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 passed.

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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