A Life of Listening

Leighton put his hand on my friend’s knee and encouraged him; my friend had just broken into warranted tears as the rest of us watched. At our denomination’s general assembly, pastors under 40 gathered to meet this man, evangelist, father, husband, and soon-to-be-friend. He asked us questions that I cannot remember. We went in a circle, and when my friend broke down Leighton stopped the meeting, with his silence and kind sigh, and focused on my friend. He asked him a question or two. He spoke words of light and life, as gentle and profound as I have ever heard, and he paused. In so doing, he helped us pause. We who know how to enter a hospital room but are uncomfortable when one of our brothers is so honest about the struggles of the pastor’s life. Leighton paused. And now I know that he was listening – to my friend and his tears, and to the Holy Spirit.

So when my old mentor put my name in as a reader of this book I accepted. None of the officials know that I have never finished one of these on time or written a blog about them read by more than 10 folks (I’m now 1 for 6 in pre-reading a book before publication). I finished A Life of Listening in a week and the reason is that it is easy to read – though sometimes laughter and tears get in the way. And I have never said or written that about a book before – Christian or non, fiction or essay. I laughed a bit (not a lot, but his subtle humor is fantastic). I wept a bit (not a lot because the medium speed of the book kept me from sinking into the sad season).

Initially, some of the travel and celebrity aspects of an itinerant evangelist weren’t interesting to me. But Leighton presents these things as they happened – neither hiding his life nor holding it up and asking it to shine brighter than it does.

There is only one other Christian author I can read more than one chapter of at a time, and I’m a 42 year old pastor who reads a lot. A Life of Listening flows delightfully as Leighton tells about listening to, and learning to listen to, the Holy Spirit as he moves through life amidst many other strong and pushy voices.

I too long to discern the voice of the Spirit amidst the many competing voices on Twitter, in my family, and certainly in my congregation. Leighton’s book calmed me and helped me, through the lens of his life, to discern this voice. I highly recommend A Life of Listening for a number of reasons. One, it is as readable of a book as I have come across in a long, long time. Two, this is what followers of Jesus do – we discern the voice of the Spirit amidst the chaos and detritus of the fall and our limits – and Leighton is a terrific partner in this travel. Three, it drew me to prayer that heals the wounds of some of those old voices. And finally, I know that this man’s life and writing match up – which leads me to want to learn from him.

Shabbat

I’m taking five weeks off from pastoral ministry, and I wonder your reaction? I’m certain there is a spectrum, between zero-interest, meh, huh? huh, and how old is he again? You’re welcome to continue reading wherever you fall on this particular spectrum.

I’m doing it for a number of reasons, personally and professionally. Our personnel committee approved it last year and our elders this year. The elders had one caveat: “call it a mini-sabbatical” and not a “sabbatical”.

They understand two things that I long for you to understand. One, this increases the chances that I will last as a pastor; two, pastoring is a heavy job. I have many successful friends and I ask them about work. Their jobs are more complex than mine. They work for global, publicly traded companies that makes engines in everything, or software for everyone, or manage the finances of some of the most financially successful people in the world. They laugh when I ask about the heaviness of their jobs compared with mine. I don’t want to solve the problems on their desk and they don’t want to solve mine. But each of them has been an elder in a local church and know the weight of the job I have. It is heavy.

If you want to pray for me, pray that the Holy Spirit will help me care without carrying. We have about 200 members here at CPC and I worry about the kids, the parents, the friends, and the co-workers of those 200. That is not my concern and yet in my strength, empathy, therein is an achilles – I get worn out in the concern for the 1000 people I know of in and around this area. It is good that I care as much as I do, it is not sustainable that I carry the weight of 1000 souls with me.

On the professional side – I have been working for a church since 2001 without a break. That isn’t the problem though. The problem is being in charge. For those of you who are the head of your organization, you know what I am talking about. For those of you who are not – it is an entirely different kind of chair, altogether. “It’s an entirely different kind of chair.”

Personally, it has not been easy. Most of you know that both I and my wife have had cancer and while we have been declared cancer-free, it will linger for the rest of our lives through far, tests, anger and sadness. There are other things I want to both set down and deal with – spiritually and emotionally. Things I do not want to carry into pastoral ministry. I had a lot of challenges growing up. If you have heard me preach, you likely have some sense of this.

I won’t have my phone, but I’m confident in our elders should you need anything while I’m away. I won’t be checking email, but I’m confident you kind of hate email anyway. I won’t be on social media, but I’m confident you weren’t waiting on my next tweet.

I believe this is a move of health for me, my family, and for the church I am so honored to serve. See you soon.

Flint, Syria, and Simsbury

As humans we care about injustice, pain, and suffering – even when it is far from us. Some of us connect emotionally. Others do not, but we still recognize that we have some power to help. We have limits to how much we can do. For this reason I often hesitate to jump on the “We should all ______” bandwagons. Nevertheless, there are real problems in the world that we can support. In Matthew 23, Jesus offers an eerie teaching that states His followers are those who inexorably helped the widow, the orphan, the one without clothes or food. We move to help when and where we can.

I have a good friend pastoring in Flint, Michigan. If this particular crisis stirs your heart, please consider praying and/or giving. Pete Scribner, their pastor, has a wonderful blend of justice and a desire to love well – in a sustainable way that begins the loving work of evangelism. He and I served together in Saint Louis for years and he is a dear brother.

When the Refugee crisis first swelled from a news standpoint, I researched the organizations in CT that can actually take in refugees. They needed end-tables at the time. Do you see how giant these problems are? I contacted a few folks who know more about this than I do, and it was not clear that we had a role as a church to me. I felt helpless, even as I prayed and gave a bit of money to an organization on the ground.

Our denomination has done good work getting folks on the ground providing tangible support and also some medium-length sustainable efforts to help the refugees.

Here is an email explaining two of the ways we are serving (and I say ‘we’ because if you give to Covenant Presbyterian Church, we have already sent along some money and that came from our general offering)

“Many of our churches have asked how they can help the refugees from Syria and other parts of the persecuted Middle East. I wanted to let you know how you can get involved through EPC efforts. Currently, we have two direct paths:

  1. EPC Syrian Refugee Relief Fund
    1. Provide Bibles in local language
    2. Provide food, clothing, medical, and discipleship materials to refugees
    3. Send language-fluent EPC disciple-makers to spend time with refugees
  2. Blanket Them With Hope Project (In this link is also a video about current efforts)
    1. Provide funding to offer training to refugee women in skills to make blankets for their family and income opportunity
    2. “Purchase” blankets from refugee women to cover the cost of the blanket and provide some income. Blankets would then be distributed locally to those in need.

 

 

 

Love of Neighbor and Safety

I just finished a very very well-written piece by a pastor in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a heady fellow and very good with words. My encouragement is that you read slowly. I had to.

With one exception (literally, one sentence…) I whole-heartedly recommend all of this as the Christian perspective. The reason: Pastor Huffman lives easily in the tension of safety (which matters) and love for stranger/alien/neighbor. Both matter. This is a dialectic matter – not all politically charged issues are. Neither ‘side’ is unbiblical, off their proverbial rocker, etc. Many of the individuals on both sides are; such is humanity.

This will not be solved quickly or with Bible verses. We read the Bible, but verses should not be used to batter the other side. At least not with this particular issue.

Immigration as a spiritual issue is close to you. Whether you live in the city of Saint Louis where 60 languages are spoken within a 3 miles radium or the suburbs of Hartford, walled in by ‘mountains’ and slowly connected by old cattle trails. There are neighbors for us to love. Safety matters and so does our belief that Jesus loved the stranger and calls us to the same.

Some Thoughts

I do not want attention; especially on the shoulders of the Paris terror attacks. But, many look to me to help them spiritually. How do I think, in light of what has happened? If the Gospel is true, how do I pray for those in Paris? Do I have another role when I am moved emotionally and spiritually by these things? So, I chose to write something brief, trusting that those who want to know what I think will look hard enough and forgive my lack of interest in a splashy title.

If you are a follower of Jesus, please pray before doing anything on Social media. And then, after you pray, please don’t believe the lie that it is important that you say something. I’m not saying do or do not say anything, although I strongly encourage you to pray before doing anything else, I’m simply saying it is a lie that we all need to tell the world, as it were, our perspective.

There is another lie also. That our prayers do not matter. This is not true. They matter and they are not separate from the rest of your life (perhaps a lie, or at least a misunderstanding of our interconnectedness).

For me, it was helpful to pray the Lord’s prayer very slowly, clause by clause, and picture what I know is going on in Paris. These prayers matter.

Secondly, here are two articles that helped me interact intellectually with this particular moment. One is from Christianity Today and another is by Anne Lamott. These sent me back to prayer, for different reasons. I post them here not because I expect you to agree or disagree, but because we often cannot turn off the news and I found them helpful. So, if you want to read something – perhaps these will encourage you.

What Job teaches about money

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I like to do video introductions to sermon series, but the office is abuzz with extra work this week so I’m taking to the blog.

For the next 3 weeks at CPC we will look at some of the Wisdom Literature teachings on money. Specifically, what does the book of Job say about money, then Proverbs, and finally Ecclesiastes (one sermon each). This section of the Bible is often overlooked and misunderstood. But, it is titled this way for a reason – some of the most helpful-in-life teachings are from the Wisdom Books in the Old Testament. And, spending a few weeks zeroing in on the money teachings, which are embedded in especially these 3 books, will greatly encourage us.

The story of Job is not about money. But, he has a lot at the beginning and even more at the end. Therefore, what he says, what his friends say (which is later discounted), and what God says (and does not say), is important as we develop a framework for the Scripture’s teachings on money. From the beginning of the Bible to the end of it, money is seen as neither good nor evil in and of itself. Therefore, the good use and enjoyment of it requires wisdom. In our religiousness, we can often hate money and desire some life where we “just don’t have to worry about it anymore” (this statement has multiple lies embedded in it). And, in our irreligious moments we just wish we had a billion dollars (or 2, if we already have 1), thinking then we could do what we want if we had seemingly unlimited funds and… similarly… we would not worry anymore.

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In the Wisdom Literature, and in Scripture generally, there is a greater freedom than either loving or hating money and I look forward to unpacking these things over the next few weeks at the Barn.

PS – I’m aware that many of us get nervous when a pastor speaks about money. I think I get that. If you do not think I do, please shoot me an email. In the meantime, I agree that pastors often speak poorly about money. But the answer is not silence. It is to speak well about money – because there is freedom and life to be found in the Scriptures. Not freedom to give all of your money to the church, but freedom to learn to steward as God would have us – for His glory, our own enjoyment, and the sake of our neighbor.

Church is a family on mission

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I preached these words a few weeks ago, in the context of the final verses in Colossians.  Last week I teared up because we are sending a family off to Saint Louis for the husband to pursue Seminary training.  In the moment I thought, “Does my sermon matter as much as this moment – which embodies both doing family and remembering our mission?”

However, after church a good friend mentioned that he was sad that I miss Saint Louis so much.  I was confused.  I mean, it’s a great city, but I don’t miss ‘it’ terribly.  When I choked up, that was why he thought that I was emotional.  I didn’t think much about it because this man is not always to be trusted.  ;).  Then, my wife told me she had the same reaction.  And last night another friend told me the same thing.  When I told her the truth – that I will miss the family – she said, “I didn’t know you were that close.”  “We aren’t really.”  But, as their pastor, there is level of emotion and care that bolsters the friendship.  I love them more than I know them.

Church is a family on Mission and we will miss the Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 2.18.42 PMCarrolls.  I like Saint Louis fine, but that is not why I felt strong emotion last Sunday.  Pastor.  Friends.  Church.  Spiritual Friendship.  Community.  Sending.  Those are the reasons.