Jesus, pt 1

Which Jesus?

I started Credo Fridays with the center of what I believe. God, part one, was how Jesus is my best understanding of God. The God who looks like Jesus, is the God I worship, the God I tell others about, the God who is the center of my heart, mind, soul and strength.

The obvious question, it seems to me in 2019, with a multitude of people who claim to follow Jesus, in an age where everyone is trying to appropriate Jesus for their own cause, who insist that Jesus is on their side, and to whom politicians attempt to favorably compare themselves or other politicians is…which Jesus?

The Jesus I believe in springs out of the prophetic tradition of the Jewish people. Jesus exists within a story and a context from which he cannot be separated and still be called authentic.

The Jesus I believe in is 100% man. Regardless of his parentage, the good news is that Jesus is as human as you are. As I am. There is no good news if Jesus isn’t every bit as human as you and me.

The Jesus I believe is part of a story and I have to know that story to understand the world and all its component parts. I have to know that story in order to hear the music to which I’m contributing. I have to know that story or I won’t be able to understand the myself or what I’m doing here. The Jesus I believe in is the key to understanding the whole book we call the Bible.

The Jesus I believe in unco-optable. He’s the same God who, in response to conquesting Joshua’s question, “Whose side are you on?” Always answers, “My side.” He doesn’t dance for me, cry for me or perform magic tricks on demand. He doesn’t help my team beat the other team. He doesn’t favor my human, political party over the others. He doesn’t make trouble bypass my life to dump it out on someone else. He doesn’t send hurricanes to punish people for misbehaving. Jesus doesn’t favor my church over another. He doesn’t join me but I am invited to join him. He is NEVER aligned with a human political party (did I say that already?).

The Jesus I believe in disarmed the Powers by powerlessness. He came in peace and the way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that’s coming. He builds a peaceable kingdom and conquers exclusively by love and never by violence or even the threat of violence or any kind of coercion.


The Jesus I believe in chose an embezzler to manage his finances, elevated the status of women by inclusion, embraced outcasts and practiced table fellowship with the sexually immoral (and all the other ‘wrong kinds of people’), who confronted self-righteous leaders and congratulated the astute sinful people for their theological insights, who forgave and forgave, and he would never make it as a mega-church pastor (or even a mini-church pastor) today in North America.

The Jesus I believe in was far too inclusive for our conservative authorities today and far too demanding and confrontational for our liberal gurus.

The Jesus I believe in can be found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts and be understood by everyone, from brilliant academics to those with no formal education. Knowing him, however, will require an investment of your entire lifetime.

The Jesus I believe in did not authorize any humans to be God’s final word on a subject and he never will. There’s a window we all can see through but only darkly for now. The Jesus I believe in looks for humility, not commanders; he blesses allegiance (of which we only get to pledge once) and he invites us to share dialog not diatribes.

As Dr. Lockridge famously said, “I wish I could describe Him to you. But He’s indescribable. Yes. He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible, He’s irresistible. I’m trying to tell you, the Heavens cannot contain Him, let alone a man explain Him.” My description above is provided, not as a comprehensive or exhaustive description but with just enough details to distinguish the Jesus I believe in from the rest of the current cast.

My conviction is this – the Jesus I believe in is the one under whose influence I live…beyond that is just wish making or playing pretend.

“I believe what I believe it’s what makes me what I am / I did not make it no it is making me…” ― Rich Mullins

Entangled

One aspect of a pastor’s life that no one prepared me for was how entangled all my relationships would be because I am a pastor.

The one piece of guidance I was given that I believe was intended to protect me from the natural entanglement of a pastor’s life: never be friends with people from your church.

(I’ll say more about that in a minute.)

What that piece of advice was meant to protect me from is the built in dysfunction of the interconnected, overlapping, enmeshed and complicated relationships that make up a pastor’s life.

When I first went to work as a pastor it was in a tradition that would vote every year to affirm elders and ministers for the coming year. Potentially, my employment was on the line every single year according to the will of a simple majority. Imagine what it would be like to lead a large group of volunteers and participants with whom you…

celebrate births, weddings, pledges of allegiance to Jesus and worship;
share moments in Bible study, baptisms and burials;
try to care for during divorce, remarriage, grief, unemployment and family conflict, chronic illness;
receive confessions, encourage fidelity, preach the hard passages and the comforting passages, break bread, and argue about the style of music/color of carpet/proposed changes…

all the while knowing that whatever you do in any and all of these circumstances could be the difference between thumbs up or thumbs down at annual meeting time…could mean the end of your current job.

Most of my adult life, a group of the people I pastor and share life with – or all the people I pastor and share life with – have determined my salary, know my salary, know my house payment and utility expenses, know my healthcare costs and determine what plan I can afford. For the whole of my adult life, if I ever felt I needed a raise to make ends meet – I would have to approach the people I pastor, the people I share life with, and ask a small group of them, or all of them (depending on the church system I was in) if I could have a salary increase.

The first summer after I started Bible college, preparing for full-time ministry, I sat in on a church board meeting where the elders discussed the height of the grass on their pastor’s lawn.

I probably should have run away and joined the circus at that point.

A pastor friend once asked me if any of the elders from my church walked into my home unannounced just to make sure I was keeping an orderly home. His did. Thankfully mine never have.

At least not that I know of.

Another pastor friend had several of his own family members part of the church he pastored. Family issues became church issues and church issues became family issues and ultimately my friend “felt led” to move to another church, far away, to escape the conflict.

“Don’t become friends with the people you pastor.” Is, for me, terrible guidance. It seems so unlike Jesus as to even be sinful for me. But I understand the complications and pain that led people to teach this to people in pastoral formation.

Imagine if every time you had a conflict at work it affected all of your closest relationships, overlapped with your relationship with God, potentially interfered with your income and struck at the heart of who you are as a person and follower of Jesus.

Every. Time.

Imagine if every important relationship in your life was all in one place and all those relationships were in relationship with each other.

Imagine being invited out to dinner with friends and you don’t know until the meal is over and you are home again if this will be a work night or a fun night.

Imagine being out with a couple you and your wife have been friends with for 4 years. You have walked with them through marriage troubles, business troubles and poured your life into them to see them grow healthier and deeper in their faith. And just before dessert arrives they tell you there’s something they need to talk to you about. They lower their eyes, look back and forth to each other, hem and haw and finally tell you that their kids, who are early teens, have been going to the youth group at the McChurch down the road, the really big one, and they are really loving the youth group there and all the cool stuff they get to do and all the other kids from their schools who go there and, well, they’ve decided, “for the sake of their children’s faith” to leave your church and go to McChurch starting this Sunday.

But they hope you can still be friends.

But they have just joined a power group from McChurch and all those new relationships are taking a lot of their time.

When this happens I have felt…
Judged as inadequate as a friend, a pastor and a human being.
Betrayed as someone I felt was close lets me know we weren’t as close as I thought we were.
Embarrassed because I thought we were better friends than to have this conversation in this way.
Exposed as a terrible pastor because you’re leaving for McChurch. McChurch!
Fearful because you will inevitably invite some of our mutual friends to join you and your family – not intending for me to find out you were recruiting but I’m not stupid and why would you think I was that stupid when we were friends for so long? – over at McChurch.

Complicated.

And God help the church whose pastor starts from a place of insecurity. (that’s another post.)

It’s a strange thing to be your spouse’s pastor. To be your children’s pastor…especially when they want to talk with you about attending another church.
It’s hard when the place you worship is the place you work and the place you work is full of the people whose giving pays your bills and attendance indicates some kind of validity to your vocation. It can be almost impossible as a church planter to not see new people as “potential givers” or reduce the Faithful to “giving units” (yes, I have heard ministries talk about the Imago Dei using exactly those terms). The multi-layered complexities of relationship for people involved in pastoral ministry can be mentally staggering.

And emotionally painful.

The pastor’s life is an entangled life. You can get around that by creating a system that allows you or facilitates you keeping your distance. But I would argue that it’s impossible to be a good pastor and keep your distance. I would argue that the pastor’s life is, if you’re doing it right, a life of heart break that can make you bitter or better.

Entanglement is part of the deal and that’s why a pastor’s own well-being, mental health, spiritual formation and ethical practice is so important. This entanglement is why working the 12 steps should be part of every pastor’s rule of life. I recommend to every pastor that they find a coach, formal or informal, find a spiritual director, take your vacation times in blocks, take a sabbatical every seven years, listen to your spouse’s evaluation of how things are, make your listening prayer time a priority. The interconnectedness of relationships, identity, vocation, spirituality and recreation is why we all need to be mindful about our interactions with each other and commit ourselves to being as emotionally healthy as we possibly can.

Because things are so entangled, I want to add this postscript, I feel I ought to add this postscript – I’m posting this as part of Pastoral Ministry Tuesday (PMT). This is not a cry for help. This is not a complaint about the church I pastor. This is not my laundry list of complaints. This is not a lack of gratitude on my part for this beautiful life God has given me. But this is an attempt to pull back the curtain a little on this PMT on just how tangled up and challenging life might be for a pastor you know.

SELAH.

God pt 1

Like everything else in my life, my perception of God – who God is, what God’s like – was something that developed over time, through experiences, intentional and unplanned teaching and the magic of cultural osmosis.

Early on, I had a concept of the Trinity that was close to the Shack long before the book was written. 3 distinct persons, none of whom bore a resemblance to the other but still managed a cohesive arrangement as “God.” All 3 had their chores, all 3 worked towards the same end but all 3 had their own way of getting things done and fans who lined up to cheer for them.

Over time, experience, Bible study, intentional classroom learning, unplanned life learning and generous doses of suffering that fueled my passion to “know” God better, a clearer and more specific image of God emerged in my heart and my head. The God I knew I knew gave way to the God I am coming to know. This God I am coming to know still exists in the Trinity but I have come to know all 3 by the singular face of Jesus.

And this is where I want to start my Credo Friday posts.

My very best understanding of God is Jesus.

God acts like Jesus, talks like Jesus and relates to Man like Jesus.
God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is always like Jesus in character, relationship to self and TELOS – sharing the same ultimate aim or goal.

Jesus has become the lens through which I view all the rest of my Credo.

The ultimate test for every other element of my Credo is simple – is this Jesus? Can I see this in Jesus? Is this compatible with Jesus? Did Jesus demonstrate this or talk about this? Does this line up with the character of Jesus?

As a Christian, a Christ-follower, you’d think this would have been obvious for me from the very start of my journey. It was not. You’d think this would be, as a Christian, a Christ-follower, an easy transition to make. It has not been.

What it has done for me though is to completely revolutionize my faith. That’s not hyperbole. My faith has been turned upside down by this simple change in perspective that seems obvious but took me decades to come to. It changed everything from my approach to leadership to the way I read my Bible to my perspective on politics, ethics, worship, relationships…all things have to pass through this lens, this filter, this understanding now.

Jesus is my starting place and my final answer. Jesus is the face of God. And that has changed everything for me.

Which Jesus? That will be a post for another Credo Friday.

The Pool

The Pool is a metaphor for one of the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry for me.

You might choose the metaphor of a group hiking trip, a group skiing trip, a group rafting trip – anything that involves a group of people at a variety of stages of experience and knowledge where consequences are involved, and you have the picture.

I love the pool – I even like the pool.

Some of the people in the pool are great swimmers, been doing it their whole lives.
Some of the people in the pool can’t swim yet but they enter the pool hoping to become swimmers.
Some people have been in the pool a long, long time, but they have never moved out of the shallow end.
Some people are decent swimmers and they move back and forth between the deep end and the shallow end, coaxing people to go deeper.
Some people are out in the deep end and they have neither time nor respect for the people in the shallows.
Some people are in the deep end and they inspire others to want to jump in and those that have already jumped in to move out a little deeper.
Some people have been so traumatized by a previous experience in the pool they’re just doing well to show up and stick their feet in.
Some people…well…you get the idea.

The challenge, for me, has been creating a pool experience that everyone gets the most out of and wherein everyone has the chance to become the best swimmer they can be, all while being totally immersed in the pool.

While some feel the water is too cold.
And some are bored and want a water slide like the pool their cousin attends.
While some feel the water is too hot.
And some are frustrated by how crowded it is in the pool.
While some seem to check out for weeks at a time.
And some are upset that the pool will close down if we don’t find more people to get in.
While some are so into the pool that they don’t know anyone still on dry land.
And some would prefer a segregated pool.

For some, messages are too basic. For some, too deep.

For some, we need more Bible. For some, we need more Spirit.

For some, we need more sizzle. For some, we need more quiet contemplation.

And for some…well…you get the idea.

Tuesdays are going to be Pastoral Ministry Tuesdays here at A Pastor’s Story. I’m going to share some of the day to day challenges of pastoral ministry – life at the Pool – and some honest reflections on this life that I feel I chose but I also feel chose me. One of my greatest challenges is being one of the leaders of a community that wants to follow Jesus that is made up of people coming from all kinds of different backgrounds and life experiences, expectations and hurts, perspectives and education. Attached to this challenge is another – a challenge to not give in to our consumer culture and turn to marketing, branding and franchising based on homogeneity, but to honor God’s beautiful mosaic rather than the cultural blender. Growing a diverse but harmonious family of Jesus followers is an altogether different proposition than developing a client base around brand recognition that increases our market share.

Tuesdays I’ll share with you the joys, the trials, the temptations and the amazing dreams that come true in a pastor’s story.

Credo Fridays

A lot has changed in the last 37 years. That’s how long I’ve been following Jesus.

Among the big things that have changed would have to be the things I believe.

My credo.

I’ll be doing “Credo Fridays” here on the blog where I will be unpacking the things I believe. Rich Mullins once sang, “…I believe what I believe it’s what makes me what I am / I did not make it, no it is making me…” and that’s what makes everyone’s credo so important, it shapes you, it forms you, it’s the spring from which your way of living flows.

Mine has changed so much over the last 37 years that the Bible College sophomore Brian would be the first in line to pick up a rock and stone the present-day pastor Brian as a heretic. Which is especially fun because that guy still lives in my head and pops up every now and then just to yell, “J’Accuse…!”

30 years ago, before email was a thing, I had a painful correspondence exchange with an older saint who had published an article in one of our denomination’s weekly publications. His assertion was that he had not changed his mind about a single doctrine of the Church in over 40 years. At 26, it was inconceivable to me that a person of his age had not changed his way of thinking about any of the things he believed about God. At the ripening older age of 56, I find it even harder to believe.

I am a work in progress and I find that I spend a great deal of time unlearning things I thought I knew and learning new things that are really old things that I’ve only just discovered. And while I have strong convictions about my credo, and while there are things I have come to believe that I don’t think I will ever be talked out of, my “certainty” pile has gotten smaller, not bigger over the last 30 years. My orthodoxy has become much more generous than the pharisaical days of my youth.

The credo I’ll be sharing is my own. Not my wife’s, not my family’s and certainly not my denominations. I’m not presenting it here to convince you to make it your credo. I’m writing out my credo to help me better know me and for anyone interested in knowing what makes me, me. The unintended side effect is that my transparency may alienate friends and even provoke people I love to walk away from me #smh. But if Recovery has taught me anything it’s that secrets kill us and honesty sets us free. So join me on Fridays for my Credo confessions as I unpack the beliefs that shape the person I am still becoming and explain some of the choices of my present and provoke my inner Bible college sophomore to look for something heavy to throw.

A New Journey Begins

I came home from the Camino de Santiago with a few mandates.


At the top of that list was to return to blogging.


A subheading for blogging was a list of things I should write about – dangerous (for me) things.

I’ve put starting this off for as long as I can.

I’ll be posting (at least) weekly and the subject matter will revolve around this pastor’s life. Like walking the Camino, everyone has their own approach to being a pastor but this will be a record, an explanation and an exploration of the pastor’s life I am choosing to live.


I’m both excited and scared to be getting out of the boat and starting this return to regular posts of some of the things I write. You’re welcome to “listen in,” react, comment, lurk or just pass on by.


Welcome to a pastor’s story.