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, October 10, 2014

The view from here twenty-three years later

Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn't ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.” Mark 1:16-18, The Message

A beginning is made by detaching oneself from all external goods: property, self-importance, social class and useless desire, following the holy example of the Lord's disciples. James and John left their father Zebedee and the very boat upon which their whole livelihood depended. Matthew left his counting house and followed the Lord, not merely leaving behind the profits of his occupation but also paying no heed to the dangers which were sure to befall both himself and his family at the hands of the magistrates because he had left the tax accounts unfinished. Paul speaks of the whole world being crucified to him and he to the world. Thus those who are strongly seized with the desire of following Christ can no longer be concerned with anything pertaining to this life, not even with the love of their parents or other relatives, insofar as this runs counter to the calling of the Lord.” Basil of Caesarea, 4th Century, THE LONG RULES, QUESTION 8

A week ago Wednesday (October 1) we marked twenty-three years in Chetek. For several years running I have made it a point to spend every October 1 in prayer and reflection. But this year I didn't even take the time to make a journal-entry. Here's how I spent the day:

A LITB classic, "In the Soup"
I awoke around 4 a.m. (which is my 'normal' these days) and spent the next two hours uploading pictures and updating the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Cross Country Facebook page, my team's Fb page
Around 6 I crawled back into bed just to snuggle a little bit with Linda as she was trying to wake up only to fall back to sleep myself. By the time I awoke it was too late to go for my morning run.
About mid-morning I spent about an hour and a half at Roselawn Elementary reading in various classrooms
I enjoyed lunch with a number of the pastors in Chetek and New Auburn seeing this was our monthly ministerial gathering.
I did some devotional study following lunch.
After school I led our daily Cross Country practice, which on account of the rain, was held indoors.
Following practice, the team and I drove over to one of the kids' home for a team dinner.
After dinner I drove over to Refuge and while working on some things in my office had a couple of informal conversations with folks stopping in for our Wednesday night gathering.
For two hours, eight us of from our fellowship read through and discussed Mark 10-11 and concluded in prayer.
When I returned home at 9:30-ish, I spent the remaining hours of the day watching my regular Netflix diet of Leave It to Beaver episodes capped off by viewing the entire A&E miniseries “Bonnie & Clyde” in one setting.

They pay me to hang out with such great kids
That was my day: reading to kids, fellowshiping with pastor-friends, coaching Cross Country, reading the Word alone and with those with whom I journey with and a couple of hours of TV. This would read better if I said I spent the day in prayer and fasting or I had gone on a long walk along the Ice Age Trail to be silent before the Lord (like I did last year to mark our 22nd anniversary in Chetek). Perhaps it would have been better to do those things, too. And yet, many of those activities I engaged in are things I love to do – read to children, coach Cross Country, fellowship with my friends and comrades-in-arms in the Chetek and New Auburn communities, read and study the Word and, okay, watch the Beave as well. Each are an expression of my heart and I am of the opinion that these “passions” are like breadcrumbs to follow that ultimately lead to the things we should be about.

Lately, I've been studying the Gospel of Mark in both my private devotional time and together with a handful of people from our fellowship. As I read and reflect upon the lives of those first disciples and my own, I can't help but feel that I don't hold a candle to any of them – even the ones we know nearly nothing about like Simon the Zealot, Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Mark, whom many are persuaded was Peter's ghostwriter, simply tells us that upon hearing the call of Jesus Peter and Andrew “left their nets” (1:18) and began their discipleship with him. Down the beach from them the Brothers Zebedee one-upped them for when hearing the same call they not only left their nets, but their boat and their father, too (in the boat, no less) (1:20) and began to follow Jesus. Michael Card wonders if that was the last time they ever saw their dad given that we hear no more of him! In any case, each of them began their journey by turning their back on whatever had been their life before meeting Jesus. Those four, along with the eight others that in time would join their ranks, would spend the rest of their lives committed to the spread of his message (save Judas, of course.) And except for John, who suffered a lot for the Cause, died a martyr's death.

By comparison, my journey has been a relative breeze.

Packed to the gills
Twenty-three years ago we packed up everything we owned into a 24-foot U-haul (towing an 8-foot trailer) and our then station wagon including our two kids at the time, Christine (3) and Charlie (1) and moved 200 miles away from our families in the southern part of the State. Over the last two decades, we have bought a 100-year-old home and renovated it, added a couple more kids (Ed and Emma), and essentially lived the life that most rural people live in this part of the State – gardening in the summer, hunting in the fall, snowshoeing in the winter and then holding on for spring whenever it decides to arrive. As pastor of Refuge I have been about the kinds of things that pastors do regardless of their denominational affiliation – facilitate the weekly worship gathering, preside at weddings, baby dedications and funerals, visit and pray for the sick, teach and preach the Scriptures, pray and read my Bible. I've picked up a few part-time gigs along the way such as coaching Cross Country in the fall and track in the spring as well as serving as a substitute teacher at our local elementary school. For the past ten years I have been a volunteer chaplain at the Barron County Justice Center and for nearly twenty years I've made it my habit of reading to kids at the elementary school most weeks of the school year. Frankly, it's been a lot of fun.

What have I left behind?

I love serving with these people
For sure, choosing to accept the call to serve as pastor of what was then Chetek Full Gospel Tabernacle meant we were moving away from our families. Over the last 23 years we have missed out on a lot of family gatherings simply because they have usually happened on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Sure we usually get down for Christmas but only sporadically during the rest of the calendar year. But in return the folks at Refuge have become, like Jesus said about his followers, our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and relatives. To be sure, I miss seeing my folks and the rest of the Martin-Redders' clan but we have been greatly enriched by our family here.

"Big Red" keeps rolling
By accepting a call to pastor a small congregation in a small town in a relatively small corner of the State means I have accepted as well some limits to the salary I may hope to gain here. I'm making more now than I did my first year in Chetek but I haven't been given a raise in at least seven years and this year I had to accept a pay-cut simply because the money isn't there. Coaching adds a little to the pot as does substitute teaching but frankly after all these years we still live week-to-week. God has been faithful. We haven't had a car payment since the 20th Century: our 1995 Chevy conversion van keeps running and several years ago we were given a new-to-us Buick when my folks traded up. Since buying the house in 1993, both our folks have blessed us along the way with large donations that have allowed us to remodel several rooms in this old house of ours. And now that the kids are grown and away at school or living elsewhere, Linda works full-time at a local bank. All that to say that when all is said and done, we do okay. Whatever else our economic status may indicate we are definitely not “suffering for Jesus” in Barron County. This is a beautiful part of Wisconsin to be in and we live in a town where there are no traffic lights at all. Having lived in Milwaukee, Madison and the greater Chicago-land area in the past, that's something.

I don't live in fear that the local Muslims might bomb our Sunday morning worship gathering or terrorize the folks in our neighborhood. I have found the Somali of Barron to be generally hard-working people who for the most part keep to themselves. They've come to our county because the work is here and they don't like the gang violence endemic in the Twin Cities. That goes for the 800 or so Hispanic people who speak no English whatsoever that live in our county. I have found an open door at the schools to read to students or have lunch with them. Our city council meetings begin with an invocation – a decision unanimously adopted a year or so ago when the Freedom From Religion group out of Madison tried to intimidate local councils to cease and desist from engaging in such kinds of activity. I live in a peaceful, conservative neck-of-the-woods where everybody generally gets along. The worst that I can say about the non-church going public is essentially they are indifferent to those of us who choose to follow Christ whatever our affiliation may be.

Which brings me back to those first disciples. After Jesus' conversation with the wealthy young man which sent him away downhearted as he had been challenged to sell out entirely to the Gospel, Peter chimed in: “We left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28 and Matthew adds that he also asked, What do we get out of it? Matthew 19:27). A fair question given what he had asked them to give up. And this is how Jesus responds,

Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)

In other words, there will be lots of rewards to those who follow but for the most part they come later. Anything we get in terms of material blessings on this side of the Kingdom is pure gravy. When I think of the African and Asian brothers I have had the opportunity to meet over the past several years serving under far more economically challenging circumstances than myself I'm reminded yet again I do very well indeed.

So, I really have nothing to complain about. Twenty-three years after setting out on my (to date) first call my wife still loves me even though being a pastor's wife is a moniker she still often struggles with. My children walk with Jesus and have relatively escaped being afflicted with the PK-syndrome. We have a nice home, vehicles that run and genuinely enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. I have a place to work my craft as I seek to live and share the gospel and seek the shalom of the city the Lord has taken us to. By any standard, we are blessed in ways too many to count. I offer Psalm 16 as my prayer of thanks for God's goodness in our lives these past twenty-three years:

1 Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.
5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (NIV)