Have you ever met a mature Christian? That question’s not meant to be snarky, no matter how many smirks it may inspire. It’s meant to call attention to the truly special experience of interacting with people who sincerely (and sometimes unknowingly) exude from the core of their being what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5). Their demeanor is calm and calming. Ordinary conversations with them feel holy, and when you leave, you feel understood, taken seriously, and loved. These people scare the stuff out of me.
“‘Tis the season to be jolly!” “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” That’s what most will have said over the recent festive season of Christmas & New Year. Of course the reality is quite different …many are not wonderfully jolly but lonely, suffering, grieved, anxious, elderly, heartbroken or ill; yet a few others are staring into the dark tunnel of terminal illness. Some of these dear folks are well-known to us as family, friends, believing brothers & sisters, colleagues or neighbours. This is their season to be sorry …the most dreaded, dark & dreary time of the year!
Of course any pangs of conscience that we might have been susceptible to over recent weeks, have largely been suppressed by the drip-feed of on-line entertainment and merriment – as we enjoyed & indulged ourselves to the full (or to excess), we almost entirely forgot about them: we barely gave them a thought & refused to let their needs & suffering interfere or impinge in any way with our festive schedule. Strange we should be able to find so much time for those who could repay us with presents or pleasure. The shocking thing is we did not have to be taught to […]
Pastoral burnout is a difficult issue to address – partially because it combines the hard data of how many pastors leave the vocation on a regular basis with the “soft data” (is that a thing?) with issues less easy to measure, like feelings and encouragement and relationship dynamics. I appreciated the recent Mortification of Spin podcast and would recommend it to your listening.
I’d like to add one thought to this discussion, something based on my own experience. (This was long enough ago that I think I can share it without offending anyone or causing any of my church family to fear for my current sanity.) Several years ago I went through a period characterized by loneliness and discouragement.
I’m just back from a Jonathan Edwards conference in Durham. The last talk was superb and I thought I would share its outline with you [plus a few random thoughts of my own].
It called to mind an article I read on a BBC website some years ago on what makes a person beautiful. “True beauty”, said the author, “is about symmetry, balance and harmony”. He went on to illustrate this with precision line drawings and pencil sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci. “Every model” he asserted “when you look at their face, jaw, eyes and cheekbones, will have angles that are symmetrical and identical on both sides” [Just by the way, this is a dim, distant, paraphrase]. What depressed me the next morning, as I looked in the mirror, was a nose bent in the middle and one eye higher than the other – I decided I would settle for a little inner beauty!
Our conference speaker at Durham made exactly the same point. He illustrated balance, with all parts working harmoniously, in the abseiling activity of an arachnid descending from its thread, and spinning its silky web. ‘Thus’, he provisionally concluded, ‘we see the glory of divine beauty in nature through the […]
Imagine that you’re severely stressed. Maybe that’s not too much of a stretch for you right now. If you’re anything like me in tense times, then in addition to stress-pounding Skittles to cope, you develop an irrational suspicion of other people’s motives when they encounter you in your turmoil. Someone asks “How are you?” But the inquirer seems afraid, and you interpret the nervous eyes to say: “The answer to my question is any number of positive words, followed by your grateful acknowledgement of my asking.” If you do give an upbeat answer, no matter how dishonest, and you follow it up with your thanks, no matter how insincere, you think you spy in their smiling response not only happiness, but relief. And that makes you boil. Or, someone just looks at you in your stress but doesn’t ask how you’re doing, and you get mad about what seems to be an obvious lack of concern and you suspect that they’re silently condemning you. Either way, they can’t win. Stress and the charitable judgement of others are not natural friends.
Resolving conflict is the most difficult task in pastoral work. Helping two parties who have been at odds – or even at one another’s throats – work through sin issues to reach a point where they can grant and receive forgiveness from one another is a special manifestation of the applied gospel. Like the heavenly miracle of dew from Mt. Hermon falling on Zion is the giving of the Spirit that brings brothers separated by conflict to dwell together once again in unity (Psalm 133).
Yet if years of ministry have taught me anything, it is that this hard-earned peace can be fragile. Wounds take time to heal. Trust requires effort to rebuild. Old patterns of avoidance in the relationship die slowly. Communication can be awkward. Suspicions that others in the church are talking run high. A small slight by one party can reignite flames of indignation. How is reconciliation not only to be maintained but flourish?
We can learn a lesson about reconciliation from the story of the conflict between Joseph and his brothers. After all his brothers put him through by betraying him and selling him into slavery, we know that twenty years later, as recorded in Genesis 45, Joseph, the […]
I’m not thinking about the people who get their keys out during the last song and scurry away immediately after the benediction (or maybe during!). Nor am I thinking about those individuals who only halfheartedly care about church, showing up maybe a couple times a year.
No. I have in mind those families or individuals who are actively looking for a church home. Perhaps they’ve recently moved. Or perhaps they’ve gained new convictions. Whatever the reason, they’re visiting your church, eager to settle down and call the people of the congregation their church family.
Forgive the nasty little phrase, but these folks are church shopping.
Now as you know, there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t stay. Some of the reasons are good. Some not so good. Fastidiousness is a real thing after all.
My fear is that we will lose people in the black hole of time.
Oh, yes, the black hole of time. This is that period of time following the service when the visitor is standing around awkwardly, knowing not a soul. As the church bustles about, clumped together in their familiar groups, catching up and fellowshipping, the new family nervously gathers their stuff, looks about the room and waits.
With hearts still raw from a number of unexpected deaths, we gather together to briefly discuss the role and place of grieving.
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In his beautiful tribute yesterday, James shared the news that a dear friend to a number of us at Gentle Reformation, Pastor David Long, passed into glory on Saturday evening. When I received the news, I had just said “Amen” following a quiet, tearful time of singing and praying with my family for Dave and Jenny and their family. Dave, my spiritual father, is now with the God he knew so well, served so faithfully, and told others of so sincerely.
At a conference last fall at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary on “Experiencing the Fullness of Our Union with Christ,” providentially I gave the final talk on preparing for heaven. At the start of my message and in the journal being published this week, I dedicated this talk to Dave as follows.
At the time of my study and writing of this article, I have been emotionally walking with a lifetime friend and mentor as he fights a battle against a serious form of cancer. Observing someone close to you preparing to meet God moves a discussion such as this one out of the realm of the merely academic and speculative to that of pastoral and personal. So this article is dedicated to Pastor […]
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. (Psalm 92.12-15 ESV)
Yesterday our family spent a few hours with one of the elderly couples in our church. It caused me to reflect afresh on the rich blessing of what might be labelled ‘cross-generational fellowship’ but which is nothing more or less than simply ‘Christian fellowship.’ We are blessed in our congregation to have a good spread of ages across the years, and a long and deliberately cultivated tradition of a genuine ‘church family’ ethos, where the young and the old mix in many different ways. Most importantly, we all worship together twice a week. The children are encouraged to go and speak to the most senior saints after the services. We have regular social events which are for the whole congregation, when young and old talk together. Many of our older folk who are able delight […]