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.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

And what if today had been my last day on earth... what?
Last night while watching the evening news, I was reminded of the significance of today (other than it being my wife's birthday). Today, May 21, at 6 p.m. (or, as Linda insisted, 7 p.m.), the rapture was supposed to have taken place and the Great Tribulation begun. Since I began writing this blog at 7:30 p.m., it's safe to say that either a) we both were left behind – or, at least, everyone that I know was or b) we're all good until the next minister figures out a new date for us to shout or snicker about. No, Chicken Little, it appears that the sky is not falling after all.

But at 5:59 p.m. when I opened my journal to enter my thoughts, I paused to consider what if Harold Camping had been right and today had been the onset of the Apocalypse (and on Linda's birthday of all days). What if standing outside the gate of heaven there are nice angelic orderlies who give you forms to fill out listing how you had spent your last day on this (or, rather, that) side of eternity? Here's what would have appeared on my form:
  • Good reading
    Woke up at 4:30 a.m. and read for awhile in The Return of the King (not by coincidence, mind you; I've been working on the third installment of the Trilogy for the last couple of weeks)
  • I then spent awhile uploading the pictures I had taken at Ed & Emma's Spring Concert
  • Having stayed up 'til midnight last night to finish watching Gran Torino, I laid back in bed to snooze for awhile and slept till after 9
  • We lounged around the house in our pjs for a good part of the morning while I returned to uploading pictures and Linda worked on her family history
  • In honor of her birthday, we took Linda out to the Chetek Cafe (which specializes in German cuisine) and all of us ordered the buffet
  • We then drove up to Lake 7 to watch “Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides” 

    Well, we made it through the movie...
  • We frequent this place a lot
    After the movie we drove over to Wal-Mart to do our weekly grocery shopping
  • After helping unload groceries, I drove over to Refuge only to discover that the family that had volunteered to clean this week must have forgot and so I ran the vacuum cleaner and changed out the garbage bags
  • And at 5:59 p.m., I knelt on the steps of the altar in the sanctuary and began to pen my journal entry after which I spent perhaps twenty or so minutes in prayer
  • I drove home, retrieved my dinner from the microwave and watched the first 15 minutes or so of House while I ate
  • Given that Ed, Emma and Christine were all out with friends, Linda, Charlie and I walked on down to Dairy Queen for Linda's birthday “cake” (or, in our case, Blizzards). Charlie downed his quickly and left leaving Linda and I to spend the next half hour or so to finish ours and walk casually home talking about life-after-kids and Ed's upcoming party.

Taken as a whole it was a fairly pedestrian day. I did not “witness.” I did “watch and pray” (much). I had no Bible reading time. I just hung out with my family, enjoyed a decent buffet for lunch and a few BLTs for dinner (with DQ for a nightcap.) Actually not a bad way to spend a day, even if it were your last day on earth.

Still, I don't know what is worse: getting caught up with the hype of some guy's crazy prediction about not just the day but the hour of the Lord's return or joining the rest of the world who is presently yucking it up at the expense of all these Christians who believed this guy. That Camping and his followers are presently the butt of many a joke they only have themselves to blame. As many a pastor will undoubtedly point out to their congregations tomorrow morning, when asked about the time of the Lord's appearing Jesus stated unequivocally, "No one knows when that day or hour will come. Even the angels in heaven and the Son don't know. Only the Father knows” (Matt 24:36, GOD'S WORD Translation.) What part of “don't know” do these (or those who will come after them) don't get? But lest I sound cynical, it's the rest of that same passage that makes me a little nervous:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying
and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing
about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is
how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37-39, NIV)

What did Jesus enumerate as the “signs of the end”? Namely three things: 1) eating, 2) drinking and 3) making plans to be married or getting married. In other words, life will be going on as normal when he appears. And if that would have been tonight in my neighborhood it would have looked like people working in their flower beds or enjoying a barbecue in their backyard or cutting their grass or tossing the ball at the Roselawn field or taking a walk over to DQ for a birthday blizzard. Just run-of-the-mill Midwest stuff, to be sure, but all signs that more than just summer is around the corner.
My blooming Trillium
A perfect day,” is what Linda said to me as she kissed me goodnight a little while ago. I'm glad she thinks so. I can't help but wonder if all those people in California who had put all their chips, as it were, on 5/21/11, agree with her sentiment.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lost and Found

Two weeks ago someone broke a basement window at Refuge, entered our building, forced the door to the office (the only locked door inside the building) and stole an unspecified amount of money from an envelope that The Focus kept in one of the desk drawers. They also found my little stash of “ice cream money” that I keep in another drawer for needed DQ-runs when the urge hits me (which is at least once weekly). The basement window got broke and so did the office door but for the most part it was something to scratch your head and laugh about. What was so funny? Well, all the things “they” (I'm assuming it was more than one person) could have taken but didn't. For starters, A.A. (which meets in our building)'s rent money was in an envelope lying on the floor where it had been slipped under the door as usual. Written on it was: “A.A. May rent”. For another, we had just received an offering on behalf of the Chetek Food Shelf which I had yet to deliver to their treasurer. When I left for track practice on Tuesday afternoon, it was lying on my desk with the following on the envelope: Chetek Food Shelf Offering: $135. All of it was cash. Apparently they did not see this either. Even a Pregnancy Help Center bottle with a couple of bucks worth of change was left untouched. They didn't touch the computers, the sound equipment, the guitars and a few other items that might have netted them something on ebay had they tried. The check book and the credit cards were right where you would expect to find them, too. By all accounts they were not on a search and destroy mission. They were just looking for something they could put in their pocket. (They did take a crappy old laptop that I hadn't used in years and I told people at the time, “If they can get it to work for them, God bless them”.) Again, it was to me, all in all, a joke (albeit a very bad one). Nothing really to write home about.

My office as I found it
But sometime late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, they returned (of course, I'm assuming it wasn't a new wave of assailant(s)) but this time it's clear they were on an altogether different mission. When I arrived early Sunday morning at my usual 4:30 a.m. time, the door was open and the moment I turned on the light in the entryway, it was clear a small tornado had moved through our building. The office printer was in the middle of the floor as well lots of other stuff. They had emptied a bottle of what turned out to be oil onto the carpet of the foyer for good measure. My office had been thoroughly trashed. The computer was gone as was the monitor, books had been flung off the shelf and both desks' contents had been emptied onto the floor. You literally could not enter the room without wading. (When I went to call the police, I could not find the phone. At first I thought it was buried under everything but later after the floor had been cleared we discovered that they walked off with that as well!)

In the sanctuary, the sound booth had been ransacked and the tower of the sanctuary computer was missing. As was my new-to-me guitar I had purchased a few months ago. In the basement it looks like they attempted some vandalism in the fellowship hall planning to spray the contents of the entryway fire extinguisher downstairs but fortunately were unsuccessful at that. They did some destruction to the refrigerator in the kitchen and found the guitar I had bought in the Philippines back in 2004 which I keep downstairs and took that as well. This go-around was really about spite. Their actions appear not to be motivated by monetary gain but by simple meanspiritedness. The fact that they stole or damaged everything I had laughed about the last time makes me believe they were trying to prove some kind of point.

So, here's a tally sheet of sorts of what at this juncture appears to be lost for good:

  • Regarding the office computer:
    • Ten or more years of sermons and messages.
      As a rule, I rarely preach the same sermon twice, but I like keeping them on hand for reference if I should need them. Besides they represent hours and hours of study.
    • Several hundred pages of personal Scripture meditations that I have compiled over the last two years including multiple references from commentaries and books I have read
    • Four or more years of blog installments I have posted either at my former MySpace page or
      at Facebook and Pastor Martin's Myopia.
      I don't believe that many of you actually read what I post but as being things created by me they are of importance to me.
    • Family history files I kept on the office computer for access if I needed them
      I rarely work at the office on genealogical research but I kept files on hand in case I got emails from family contacts.
    • Three years of Cross Country practice routines, records, times, and other things that are invaluable to me as a Cross Country coach
    • Our Constitution and By-laws
    • Board of Deacon/Board of Trustee minutes and agendas that go back 10 or more years.
    • My own extensive quote file from things I've read that I always referenced for messages, blogs or emails (it beats having to track it down during sermon prep time)
    • A plethora of pictures
    • And so much more
How will their loss affect the fellowship I serve as pastor? Hardly at all. How does their loss
affect me? More than I can articulate. It's like hours and hours and hours of work has just been
deleted permanently. A well-meaning brother said to me today, “God will give you new
messages now.” And I pray that He does but that in itself doesn't help alleviate the sense of loss I now feel.

  • My sense of peace
    • Sunday night, for the first time ever, I seriously considered getting into my van and driving over to our building to check on things before I went to bed. I didn't but the fact that I wrestled with this thought makes me aware that something of an intangible nature has been lost as well.
    • This month, with Ed's party getting closer in the window, the stress level is already increasing in my life. Now that I am having to deal with trying to pick up the pieces as well as submit all kinds of estimates to the police and our insurance people, it has increased all the more. I thought I was in a reasonably frame of mind and then just yesterday morning during a VBS planning meeting I lashed out at someone for no logical reason. (I am grateful for a group of brothers and sisters who blessed me and helped restore me)
    • A few members of my family and several of the kids of our faith family are now afraid that the same thieves or people like them will now break into their home next. It's an irrational fear, I'll agree, but there it is all the same. And frankly, that a seven year old boy is afraid inside his own home makes me a little p.o'd.
  • My workshop
    • My office is one of the places where I work my craft. I'm a stacker by nature and my office usually looks in some state of a need of good cleaning but it's my workbench all the same. For the present time, I've lost that and must work from home. While some people may think that's a good thing they fail to realize that even if I work all day on “church”-stuff from home I don't feel like I'm at work for the fact that I'm not at work. I'm at home.
  • My guitar
    • Sure it can be replaced (I may end up with an even better one, right?) but in the short term how will I minister up at the jail where I am both preacher and worship leader rolled up into one? How will I minister at the nursing home where the same applies? It's like a very important tool has been lost out of my tool box and in the short term I'm going to have to make do on borrowed instruments in the mean time. It's more than inconvenient. It's aggravating and downright frustrating.
  • The meaning of Church
    • If I've preached on it once, I've preached on it several times that “church” is not a building. It's people gathered together by the Name of Jesus. They don't need a building – the tallest tree on the savannah will do. Sunday morning, I found an opportunity to see if that was really true for me. Jon & Melissa came in early to help set things in order. We had no mics, no amplification, and no boards to project the words of the music on the wall. I led worship on Kale's guitar (which has seen so many better days) and yet joy was in the place: we set apart new leaders for our fellowship, we had kids blessing moms, and one of our deacons brought the Word. Worship was uplifting (someone emailed me and said that for them it was like being inside “a good heart-felt movie watching the body worship together”), the message was from God, the altar was full and people stayed afterward per usual to visit and bless one another. True, we in no way can compare ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Myanmar or China who must meet in secret or fellow believers in Egypt or India who suffer loss because of Muslim mobs but I bless those perpetrators for giving me a reason to rejoice.
    • When during the aforementioned VBS planning meeting this morning I lost my composure and leaked out anger I did not know was there, I found a reason to humble myself (and that's always a good thing) before the person who took it on the chin and before the rest of the group. They forgave me and ministered to me and reminded me that what is going on in our community between several of the fellowships is more than people just liking each other. It's Church with a capital C in action. They lovingly restored me even though frankly I had been a total jerk.
  • An opportunity for obedience
    • Okay, it's easy to forgive unnamed “enemies” when the worst thing they do is snub coming to my fellowship. But this break-in is personal. The things they did and took affect me and hurt deeply. That being said, however, Jesus said to bless those who “curse you and pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). Now I have an opportunity to follow orders and do just this. As I have instructed others in the past, I now must instruct myself: Forgiveness is not an act of emotion but one of the will. I will forgive and bless and “fake it” until “I make it.” As I wrote above, sometimes obedience precedes the feeling of peace that comes in walking out the Word. As I type these words I feel peace...however, tomorrow when I make another attempt to clean my office, that feeling may collapse like a house of cards. As my friend Duane likes to say, “obedience is primary” and I will endeavor to act out in action until my spirit gets with it in truth.
In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this story of Christmas thievery turns with the Grinch atop Mt. Crumpit 3000 feet above Whoville awaiting to hear the much anticipated lament the Whos will undoubtedly let out when they discover all their toys, holiday treats and decorations have been stolen. Of course, he doesn't hear any sobbing or loud wailing. All he hears is singing – welcoming Christmas presents or no. It befuddles him and he stands in the snow trying to figure out the source of the joy that reaches him. I realize it's just a story, a bit of media Americana as relished now as It's A Wonderful Life. If it were a true one, Seuss would have reported that victim impact statements would have been issued by the score as well as a form to itemize each item that had been taken from each Who. (Who thinks to write down the serial number on computers anyway?) But joy is a thing that may be found in the most unlikeliest of places whether it's while standing with your “grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow” or in the midst of the refuse of what was once my office. As Job once said in the shadow of far more graver circumstances than my own, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” and “...shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (1:21 and 2:10). So, in the end the tally sheet of what has been found far outweighs the impact of what has been lost and I have reason all over again to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Some (somewhat) mortal thoughts about turning 49

You never want to wear the red shirt
Tomorrow I turn 49. I realize that 49 is just a number – it comes after 48 and it's right before 50. But the fact that I am one year away of leaving my 40's behind me for good has put me in a somewhat reflective frame of mind.

For one thing, I'm most likely already past the half way mark in my life. Even if I were to celebrate my 98th birthday 49 years from now, on that day will I even know who all those smiling people are and why they are trying to spoon feed me some sugary white stuff? Historically, Martin men have not made it out of their 80s and while I'm all for setting a new precedent the genes may be against me.

"Go on and kiss de girl..."
For another thing, I'm aging. Even though I've been running since I was 38 and consider myself in relatively good shape (my weight notwithstanding), in the last few years I've dealt with various running ailments which take me longer to recover from. What's more, half the hair I still own is gray or graying. And as funny as I think the voice overs for all those Viagra and Ciallis commercials are...well...I now understand why there is a market for them. (I think of that guy in It's A Wonderful Life who sits on his front porch listening to George make small talk to Mary and finally in exasperation says, “Why don't you kiss 'er instead of talkin' her to death...?” When George hesitates, the old guy throws up his hands and states, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people!” Indeed.)

Looking back on the “first 48” here is the short list of a few of my accomplishments and experiences:
  • Me at 3 days
    I was born (sadly, not every baby gets that opportunity these days)

  • I was born again just prior to my 18th birthday now nearly 31 years ago
  • I graduated from high school, Bible school and a liberal arts college
  • Linda at 19
    I was lucky enough to find a beautiful woman who loved me anyway and married me in spite of my questionable prospects

    Still lovely

    At the Choo Choo in Superior 2000

  • I have fathered four wonderful children who make me humble and proud at the same time

  • I have been blessed to serve as the pastor of a wonderful faith community for nearly 20 years.

  • In 1993, we bought a (now) 120 year-old house and have slowly been able to remodel it
  • Twin Cities '09
    I have run (to date) 8 marathons and over 60 shorter races

  • I founded a youth group which ran for 11 years and was a co-founder of another one that is presently in its eighth year of operation
  • I helped start our local youth center (11 years and counting), a local mentoring program (8 years) and a ministry focused on reaching out to our Somali neighbors in nearby Barron (3 years)
  • Playing Fagin at the Barn
    I have performed on various stages of Barron County and have been fortunate enough to play roles that have made people laugh

  • I have served as Chetek-Weyerhaueser Cross Country Coach for three seasons with hopes of many more to come
  • I've had the opportunity to minister in Canada, Mexico and the Philippines on a handful of occasions
It's not what I would call the resume' of an A-lister, but over the course of my 48 years I have met scores of wonderful people who have enriched my life and in return, I have sought to pass some of their richness on. I am content and I concur with what the psalmist affirms in Psalm 16:
“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in
pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (vv.5-6, NIV)

Now, looking ahead, I think of all the things for me to do or attempt that remain on my “Bucket List” such as:

Stand at the left flank marker of the 20th Maine atop Little Round Top at Gettysburg and shout “BAYONETS!” (I duly crossed this off the list last summer when Ed, Christine, Emma and I did this not once but four times, once for each one of our cameras)

Hike the Ice Age Trail in its entirety.

Run every public road in Barron County at least once.

There's a first time for everything, right?
Run the Antarctica Marathon.

Write the definitive Martin family history and perhaps put to rest the question only a few Martins really worry about: Did we emigrate from Scotland or Ireland?

Travel to either country of origin to say (in so many words) “A Martin has returned”

Write something that others would find worth reading (my Mom and Dad as fans don't really count) and, oh yeah, pay for it.

To canoe the entire length of the Red Cedar River from Lake Chetac in Sawyer County to the Chippewa River some 85 miles south.

It's enough to keep me occupied for many years to come.

I'm not depressed but I am mindful that time is passing by, that my parents and my children are getting older and more of my life is behind me than ahead. It provokes me to pray that line from the Psalm of Moses: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (90:12). Selah. Hallelujah and Amen.