Category Archives: Faith

On Being Out There

With his seminary graduation on the distant yet rapidly looming spring horizon, Aaron is officially “out there” in the sense of looking for a pastoral position. He finished his ministerial profile in September–a document answering a number of questions about his values, style, strengths, beliefs, and so on. It’s much more detailed than your typical resume. It’s in depth. It’s personal.

And when he sent it to that first church, it suddenly felt very . . . exposing. You try to put the essence of who you are as a leader and a Christ follower, a preacher and a person, into 15 pages, then wait for strangers to read it and decide whether they like you enough to want to talk to you.

Aaron’s very likable–who doesn’t like him? No one!–but the reality is that a lot of churches won’t even consider someone taking their “first ordained call,” even if they have other ministry and life experience. I’ve been on the other side of this as well, on a church search committee, and I think it’s sometimes unrealistic on churches’ part (most experienced pastors aren’t looking for a more difficult, lesser paying situation) and often unfair to good candidates. Sure, a few situations clearly need experience at the helm, but most of the time, how can you just rule them all out without even considering them? I am positive that when churches talk to Aaron, they are not going to see him as a naive new grad. They’re going to see a guy who loves God, Scripture, the church, and people; who’s thoughtful, passionate, and wise; who knows how to lead and knows how to love. Someone’s going to see a great pastor in waiting.

But it wasn’t the first church. It might not be the second, or the third, or the twenty-seventh.

We just pray God keeps granting us enough affirmation to ward off discouragement while we walk on.

And when necessary, we sing some Adele!

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Oregon vs. West Michigan Coffee Shops

Last week I worked at home midweek since I had to have blood drawn for the doctor in the morning. Vegas had the odds of me passing out at 45:1, but I stood strong. How do ya like me now, phlebotomists!

I actually then went to a nearby coffeeshop/restaurant to work and began to notice a curious thing: half the people around me seemed to be talking or reading about Jesus. An older lady near me seemed to be studying about prayer. A young lady with a diamond ring the size of Delaware was telling an older lady about working at a food pantry ministry. I thought one old guy was converting another but then I determined they were both Jesus-y already. And when a coworker later joined me, we were discussing Bible passages for our project energetically enough that the prayer-study lady asked us if we knew where a certain passage was and a businessman waiting for someone felt compelled to comment on what we were discussing. (He first asked us if we went to the local college, so he was all right by us–the phlebotomist had asked me too, so double score! for inheriting my mom’s mistaken-for-younger-ness).

Obviously I don’t have anything against people talking about Jesus. So I suppose I should I should have felt glad–or “blessed”–to have so many people talking about Jesus all around me. But I have to say, I mostly found it odd. It’s not bad, it’s just so very West Michigan. People in Oregon do not talk about Jesus in restaurants all that often, in my experience (with the clear exception of my pizza-joint-inhabiting youth pastor husband). Typical eavesdropping in an Oregon coffeeshop might be how the softball tournament went or how the fishing has been or if the spaghetti dinner raised enough for Herman’s cancer treatment. Rarely did I hear people speaking of their personal faith, let alone getting down to naming names like Jesus.

Does that make Oregon a less “blessed” place? I remember a conversation with someone at our old church the first time we visited after moving to Oregon. We tried to describe how it’s a different culture and he went on about how when he visited he could “feel the darkness.” I was borderline offended and I hadn’t even fallen in love with our town yet. I just wouldn’t put it that way. Yes, we encountered a lot of sad, difficult, and even dark things, and I believe Jesus can shine a light of hope and truth into those things. In terms of history and churchgoing, and maybe coffeeshop conversations, Oregon has “less Jesus” and West Michigan has “more Jesus.”

But is the whole earth filled with his glory or isn’t it?

There’s not more Jesus here than in Oregon. There’s just not. Because he’s everywhere, even if his people aren’t, or haven’t recognized him there yet.

So while there are a lot of good things about West Michigan, I wouldn’t say it is more blessed. It’s not some kind of Promised Land. It’s not free of deep, painful brokenness (believe me, life has not let us forget that this week). I don’t see this as necessarily a better place to live or raise a family just because if you talk about the Bible in a coffeeshop people around you will already know what you’re talking about. I think I’d rather have that conversation where it’s one small act of bright, rebellious light-shedding.

I’d rather hold one bright candle in a dark room than fall asleep under dull florescents.

Sometimes I miss the pagans.

Killing my money god

The god of money and stuff has died. It is no longer providing comfort and peace. . . . If your god is dead, you mope around anxiously, checking for signs he’s coming back to life. If your God is Jesus, your source of joy and generosity is alive and well. . . .

Jesus was poor and generous. All the other gods in the world are takers.

Pastor Tim

Last week I was moping. And worrying. And poking anxiously. And obsessing.

And generally getting nowhere but miserable doing it.

Last week was not a good week. Nothing was working; everything was swamped. Aaron was exhausted and overwhelmed by tests and reading and papers; I was exhausted and frustrated by temper tantrums and potty training and medical bills and my own inability to meet my minimum standards for work and income and saintlyness even a basic level of cleanliness.

By Friday we had a conversation about it that can be summed up like this: “I feel like I suck.” “I feel like I suck.” “I have to study.” “I have to work.” “I need a break.” “I need a break.” Well now, that was productive.

What do you do when something’s gotta give but there’s nothing left in the bank?

You give it up. You let it go. You look elsewhere. You leave that idol for dead once and for all (once again).

I had high hopes for myself–in myself–that I could make this work for us, this seminary thing. I thought I could do enough and make enough to make the house run smoothly and keep our brand-new savings mostly intact for three years (or good grief, at least more than three months).

What I did not, could not know was how different this life rhythm would be and how much that would affect me. I didn’t know how much I’d miss Aaron having Fridays and Saturdays off so I could work at the coffeeshop and being able to blow off steam acting crazy with teenagers. I didn’t account for simple things like having to plan and cook dinner seven nights a week instead of three or four and how tired and out of creativity I’d be at the the end of these days which start so early now.

I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do it all well enough anymore.

I didn’t want to admit my god was dead.

If your god is dead, you mope around anxiously, checking for signs he’s coming back to life.

I moped. I worried. I calculated and estimated, checked and rechecked. No use. I had to admit: the money god had not come through. I had not been able to bring him to life and make him give me peace.

The stupid thing is, we’re not out of money. I fell short of my September goals, but we weren’t in trouble. That old house we sold in Oregon sent us on our way with more savings than we’ve had in years. It was truly God’s provision for us to come to seminary. Trouble was, I wanted to make it our security.

I like to think I don’t have a spiritual problem with money because I honestly have little desire to be rich. I try to give generously and remember that even when the checkbook balance runs down, we already are rich. We usually don’t have much extra saved, and I’m usually okay with that.

But as soon as we did have that “safety net”—I fell for it. I fell in love with it, because I thought it would make me feel safe. I thought it would make me secure.

Then I found out it can’t.

It can’t comfort me, because it’s not living. It can’t give me peace, because all it does is take.

This thing–this number–became something to take pride in rather than something to be thankful for. It became something to value in and of itself and a measure of my success and worth or lack thereof. And so every time I tapped into it, it mocked me and stole my joy: You need me. You can’t make it without me, because you’re not good enough to make it on your own. If you don’t make your life revolve around protecting me, I’ll be gone, and then what will you do? You’re screwed without me.

But God didn’t give us this money to protect at all costs. He didn’t give us this provision just so we could look at it and feel better. He gave it to us as provision for this time and this task. Whether we have ten dollars or ten thousand in the end matters not one bit to him as long as we are doing and becoming what he has called us to. What good will it be for me to preserve these measly digits and lose my own generosity and joy? What good is savings at the cost of losing our balance as a family as we follow God’s call?

Slowly this started to dawn on me last Friday, through all the ugly, exhausted moments: that the one thing I can control is my response to my inability to control everything. That I may not be able to do anything about the fact that my expectations weren’t realistic at this time, but I could decide not to be upset about having to rely on God’s provision instead of myself. I could go back to being grateful for it instead of protective of it—since it’s not really mine anyway—and trusting God that we will always, as always, have enough.

Sunday we got that much needed sermon on generosity (probably the best money sermon I’ve ever sat in). And in that holy irony—whether God was blessing me with a wink and a smile or I simply had newly opened eyes to see them more gratefully—this week I’ve had work opportunities coming at me from every angle.

And I didn’t even freak out when the truck needed repairs. Take that, money god.

My Provider is alive and well.

.

How do you turn away from the money god? Or what dead idol do you most often try to bring back to life?

A Letter to My Church

To our brother and sisters, our friends and our family in Oregon:

The time has come to remember, to celebrate, and to part ways. Our time here has come to an end so that you may walk into a new beginning. Our epilogue is the new beginning of what God is doing next here in this place, through you and in you.

We are grieving our separation from you as deeply as you are grieving us. But we must turn to the next thing, becoming single-minded as we stretch and begin the next leg of our race, and so must you. Yes, this is difficult. It was not for no reason that the apostle Paul called it “straining” toward the goal. It is a strain. It is difficult. Yet we press on.

We are grateful to you for countless moments shared talking, laughing, crying, praying, eating, playing, working, and singing. We are grateful for your help and hospitality, your patience and forgiveness, your love and affection for us and our daughter. Truly we could not have asked more of a congregation. But as we prepare to step away, I ask one thing:

If you love us, feed these sheep.

Feed the children and teens and young adults who come to church, and the ones who don’t. Feed the Frontline kids, the Young Life kids, the graduates, and the younger siblings. Feed their parents and their unplanned babies. Feed the hungry and the stuffed with overconfidence; the talented and the awkward; the go-getters and the do-nothings; the thinkers, dreamers, in-betweeners. Feed their leaders all the support, resources, and encouragement they can hold.

Feed them with Oreos and soda and pizza and chips. Feed them Mondays before Club and Sundays at Frontline. Feed them a sandwich at the game, lunch out just to talk, or a holiday feast in your home. Feed them the next day with the leftovers you sent home.

Feed them the Word, with Scripture that never changes in language they can understand. Feed them words of recognition and encouragement in the grocery store, at the car wash, on the street. Feed them the Living Word by being the Christ who gives rides to town, who helps with financial aid forms, who simply knows their name. Be Christ with your presence where they are competing or performing or just plain being.

You can do this. You can make a difference. You are ready.

We have taken many steps together, but you can go on in this work without us. God is with you. He will make a way. “He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3).

And so, as the time draws near, I am finding rest in remembering that Jehovah Jireh, the God Who Provides, is also the Prince of Peace. He will make the way, and He will be present to comfort us when the road seems long and the distance great. And so, dear friends,

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

(Ephesians 3:14–21)

He is able, and I know you are willing. I can’t wait to see what He does with you next.

Blessings—

Wendy