My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Friday, March 20, 2009

This, too, is my son in whom I am well pleased...

I still remember the Friday of my first official week as pastor of the fellowship I now serve. We had moved to town on a Tuesday night and the next few days I spent setting up house and office as well as meeting with the leaders of our small congregation. But now it was Friday, the first “normal” day as Pastor of what was then Chetek Full Gospel Tabernacle. I had rose early, showered, donned suit and tie and drove the three blocks to church. After putting the coffee on, I read my Bible and spent some time in prayer. I looked at the clock. It was 6:30 a.m. Now what do I do?

I had no meetings to go to. I was not yet part of any volunteer organization in Chetek. I had no people to meet with (besides it was way too early). Other than sermon prep for Sunday, what in the world do I do with the rest of my day?

Thinking about that moment seventeen and a half years later I long for such a simpler time. Since then I’ve collected an odd assortment of assignments and titles that would fill a manila folder to overflowing:
• President or Secretary of the Chetek Christian Ministerial Association
• Member of the Lions Club
• President of the Facilities Improvement Committee (a local citizens group
that helped lead a school referendum initiative)
• President or Vice President of the Chetek Youth Center Project
(our local youth center)
• President or Vice President of Kinship of Chetek (a youth mentoring group)
• Ministerial liaison to the Chetek Food Shelf (our local food bank)
• President of the Barron County chapter of the Salvation Army
• Board member of the Chetek Food Shelf
• Volunteer chaplain at the Barron County Justice Center
• President of The Well International (a ministry to the local Somali
refugee population)
• Member of the citizens’ Task Force committee exploring the possibility of
Weyerhaeuser and Chetek school districts merging
• Great Books leader at Roselawn Elementary School
• Odyssey of the Mind coach
• President or other officer of the Chetek Parent Teacher Organization
• Plus I read weekly at our local elementary school to the tune of about 3 ½
hours per week
• To say nothing of the various tasks any pastor of a small church is
called upon to do whether he feels it or not including serving as
youth leader, Sunday School teacher, VBS Director, camp counselor,
worship leader and Bible study facilitator.
In retrospect, I did not have the maturity nor experience to appreciate what a wonderful moment in time that was back in the Fall of 1991 when early one Friday morning I had nothing to do…nothing to do but tend to the Word of God and prayer, something that Scripture says (at least) is my main job description.

Over time, I went from being the “new guy” to the “everything-pastor”. It was intentional – mostly. I mean, I had an interest in many of these things at the time that I became associated with them and felt like I was honoring God by my involvement in them. But seasons change – and we with the seasons. And long after the passion subsides all that’s left is dogged adherence to your original commitment. Which is an honorable and altogether right course of action (say) in marriage but can be such a life-draining thing when it comes to volunteer associations. But my reluctance to break my word or my fear of letting others down often keeps me – as a pastor – at a place of interior clutter most often reflected in the chaos that abides in my office.

About a month ago, Linda and I attended the College of Prayer held in Menomonie. Dr. Ron Walborn of Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York was teaching on physical healing. He was following his notes that he had distributed to us earlier about the healing ministry of Jesus and then made this comment: “Oh, incidentally, Jesus had his Father’s approval before he performed any healings or miracles.” It was an aside; a throw-away comment. But it struck home. I had just finished taking the kids at The Focus (the youth church that meets in our building) through Mark 1. And there it was: Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon him and the Father pronounces his blessing on him: “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Turn back to Matthew’s Gospel and find this: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Turn forward to Luke’s Gospel and the good doctor records it this way: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Everything that he is known for – the wonderful teachings, the amazing healings, the awe-ful power encounters – all of it is found after the fact.

During the ministry time that followed, I knelt at my chair and tried to still myself before the Lord. One of the guys in my section came over and knelt beside me and began to pray for me. I shared with him how Dr. Walborn’s so-called ‘throw-away’ comment had hit me like a heat-seeking missile in search of acquisitioning a target. So he simply encouraged me to “pray into” that. Now, up until this moment I had not been feeling anything out of the ordinary. Many others in the room were expressing themselves freely but I was emotionally neutral. But as I began to pray, I had something of a vision – a vision that created an immediate emotional response in me.

It was my son, Charlie. Charlie is a great kid who is always willing to help me or Linda out at home. He has autism, a condition that only augments his natural shyness and makes him an enigma, at times, even to those who know him best. He doesn’t have a job description. While he helps out in the nursery when called upon, he doesn’t “do” anything at church. He has no assigned responsibilities. Like so many of the folks who make up the Refuge family, on Sundays he partakes of the shared worship experience and then goes home. So, here’s what I saw: it was simply a picture of Charlie walking up the steps of Refuge and the sight of him doing so moved me emotionally. And then I heard the words of the Father: “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy” (Mark 1, NLT). Charlie doesn’t do anything to gain my approval. He just has it because he is my son. And quite unexpectedly I found myself weeping with the realization that maybe this is the same way that the Father looks at me. I don’t have to do a thing to have his approval. I don’t have to rack up a score card to impress him. I have his approval already whether or not people get saved or healed or delivered – even though it is my desire to see these very things.

It is very hard for me to say no to anyone as my resume clearly shows. And in that picture of my son I saw how much I remain bound to the fear of man, that fear that is common to many pastors. The vision, however, only accentuates my hunger to be free of the fear so that I may only be about the things He calls me to. And in tending to those things I suspect I’ll experience a sense of freedom like I knew once on a certain Friday morning back in October 1991. Except this time I’ll not feel guilty about it but enjoy the sheer pleasure of knowing Him.