Posts Tagged 'transitions'

“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:15-17).

“Jacques Ellul insists that this resurrection life must be lived in this world, but at the same time he insists that the Christian ‘must not act in exactly the same way as everyone else. He has a part to play in this world which no one else can possibly fulfill.’” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 261)

Graduate school is a lot of fun. I am learning so much about achievement gaps, high-stakes testing, functional behavior assessments, response to intervention, No Child Left Behind, and more. I am learning about Bloom’s Taxonomy, KWL, Evidence Based Practice, content standards, teacher accountability, labor unions, graphic organizers, charter schools, magnet schools, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and…well, there are more ways for a human to be ‘broken’ than I could have ever imagined…and I could go on and on for a while. I have learned more than I thought I needed to know, and less than I probably need to know. Who would have thought that teaching children to read would be such a complicated ordeal?

Education is a serious enterprise in the United States. I am getting my money’s worth out of this experience and I am glad for it because I am spending a lot of money getting this education.

About 9 months ago or so, I began to realize something strange. It goes something like this. I am in school to learn about more than the multitude of variations of ASD that a child might have. I am learning about more than the thousands of children’s books published every year in the United States. I am learning about more than what is required to be a certified teacher in the state of Ohio (3 different praxis exams including HQT requirements for NCLB, comprehensive exams, 52 hours of graduate school, a semester of student teaching, a portfolio, and more).

You know what is scary? I have been learning about myself. You know what I realize? I’m ugly. I realize that I am pretty much un-fun. You know I have had to learn how to laugh and be the class clown again? I’m boring. I’m sensitive to rebuke. I Hate failure (I recently lost three points on an assignment; not happy). I’m jealous of the success of others. I’m impatient (the trip to Cleveland about kills me). I’m arrogant. There are a few people who are smarter than I am (I didn’t get the highest grade on a recent mid-term). I’m comfortable. I like leading, and not so much following. I like talking, and not so much listening. I like being in charge, and not so much taking orders. And, trust me, there’s more.

I am learning not just what is required of a teacher, but I am also learning the sort of teacher I do not want to be. This has been the most important lesson I have learned and not just from going to class at CSU, but also from working a part time job at a local school. And I realize, most importantly, that the teacher I do not want to be is a teacher who is not the things I just listed, above, that I am. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I’ll say it this way then: not having my own pulpit any longer is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is harder to lose a pulpit than it is to gain one.

What I have learned, though, is that those things I described above are the very things that I had become. I hate mirrors. I keep asking God, ‘Is it safe to land?’ He keeps saying, ‘Wait’ (which I suspect is God’s way of saying, ‘Oh, I have a few more revelations for you.”) As I look back on nearly fifteen years in the pulpit I realize that I had quite forgotten what it was to be a terrified 25 year old fresh out of Bible School and stepping into a pulpit for the first time. I had grown quite comfortable with my skills. Frankly, I had become impatient, arrogant, condescending, comfortable, boring, sensitive, jealous, boring, and un-fun. And more. You know what I forgot most? People. I did a lot of serving, but I think sometimes I did it so I could be up front, in charge, and not (always) because I loved people.

I forgot what it was like to work 60 hours a week and have to get up on Sundays to worship. I forgot what it was like to have visitors in town and want to stay up late Saturday thus necessitating an absence on Sunday. I had quite forgotten that most people do not have Bible College educations and even less have seminary educations. I forgot to be with people and their hurt. I forgot what it was like to serve because I was called to and not because I was paid to. I used to complain that the money I was paid tied me down, bound my hands and prevented service, real service. As I look back I realize it did so, but not in a way I expected: that is, I stopped serving because I could and wanted to and started doing so because I had to.  I forgot what it was like to drown in sin, to struggle with addiction, and to feel hopelessness. I forgot what it was like to think God had moved a million miles in the opposite direction.

I forgot how to suffer. I forgot how to hurt. I forgot how to feel. There is a certain amount of pleasure and satisfaction that comes from a sermon well-written and better-delivered. And don’t get me wrong: a great sermon goes a long way on paper. But for all that I suffered, I forgot to suffer. I forgot to weep with my people. I forgot to hold them. So protective of myself was I, so angry at not having leadership, so frustrated by the lack of growth, so bitter at betrayal, so jealous of fellas half my age preaching in churches a hundred times the size of mine…I was becoming more and more the person I was warning the congregation not to become. I gave up the safety of insecurity and vulnerability and weakness for the caves of strength and clarity and well-spokenness. I traded. In the end, the only way for Jesus to awaken me was to destroy me.

Now, here I am, alone with the self I hate, the one I created in the image of the world. Here I am, now, alone with my introspection. I am the Bob Eucker of preaching: thought I belonged in the front row only to find out…not so much. Here I am, now, saved by grace only much more aware of it than ever before in my life. I am learning what I had forgotten: how to love and be loved, how to be known by Jesus, how to walk by faith. I am learning to let Jesus be in charge. I am learning to follow and listen. Learning that temptations are all around and there are people who will spoon feed them to you if you ask.

I’m in no way undermining the consequences or the failure or the sin of those who hurt my family. But, and this is a huge but, but, neither I am clinging to them for dear life and breath any longer. Holding on was probably worse than experiencing them to begin with. Genuine love, true joy, is possible when the person counts on Christ for his love and joy and not on the perfection of circumstances or identity. I spent almost ten years forging an identity in this community where I live only to have it taken away in a matter of hours and days. I spent the better part of 20 years becoming a preacher, but along the way I forgot how to be a disciple.

Sad. But true.

I should wrap this up for now. In learning what sort of teacher I do not want to be, I have inadvertently, or not, learned the sort of preacher that I had become. I also have learned why I became not so useful in the church. You see, I let My Ministry become that which defined me and my life and my existence. I learned from Tim Keller that this is a bad thing to do. My identity, Paul wrote, is not wrapped up in who I am or what I do. That is why he writes that we are to imitate Christ. Our identity is wrapped up in who He is which is, precisely, why Paul writes that we are to become like Christ.

I do not know yet what part I am to play in this world, but I am learning that if I must continue that I must find myself in Jesus first. So all I’m really trying to say is this: be careful. Maybe you are a young preacher, setting out on your way and looking to forge an identity or be the next big thing on youtube or the next big itunes podcaster. Don’t give in. You were meant for less.

Maybe you are a long time faithful person in Jesus. Don’t despise the wilderness.

I am meant for less. Thankfully. Because where there is less, there I will find Jesus, the one who has been looking for me all along. And now that I am exposed, undone, out in the open…now, I suspect, he can finally see me, and I can finally see Him.

And He is a sight to behold!

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Dearest Friends of & Analysis:

Sometime today, if all goes according to schedule, I will receive my last severance check from the church I served for nearly ten years of my life. That’s what I got for nearly ten-years of service to one church: six weeks of severance and no going away party. I didn’t even get to go back and say good-bye. Just a ’sign this paper, clean out your office, and leave your door unlocked and keys on the desk’ was all I got. Life goes on.

So now I’m in a rather interesting phase of life. Even though I preached the Gospel with as much conviction and vigor as anyone, and I am as orthodox and conservative as the preachers I listen to (Carson, Wells, Keller; almost too conservative for!) it wasn’t enough. The Lord had other plans for me and my family. So I have been hired to work at a local video store as an assistant store manager, I have gone back to graduate school to work on my M.Ed in Moderate/Intensive Special Education, and I am staying the community where the church I served is located which means I still hear the rumors, still see the people, and still have to drive by periodically and see the place that was my home for nearly 10 years.

Today I will receive the last paycheck I will ever receive from a church. It’s a weird feeling: Euphoric on one hand since I have always had issues with ‘paid’ ministry; heartbreaking on the other because I no longer have a pulpit to preach from and because, despite my flaws that were evidently too much for some, I really did love my people. Like I said, it’s weird. Churches are strange creatures indeed. This is a difficult period of life because all I have known since 1991 is church work: Preaching, teaching, funerals, weddings, etc. Now I am learning about Diversity in the Classroom, the Rights of Special Needs students, and how to teach phonics. Strange indeed.

Anyhow, I have decided that one of the important things I have to do, as part of this so-called reclamation project, is rededicate myself to the Word of God. I have thought long and hard about this because there is a large part of me that really wants to blog about the last ten years of my life and the church that so unceremoniously disrupted my life and that of my family. Instead, I am rededicating myself to Scripture. Thus I am starting at the beginning, Genesis, and taking a long, slow, pilgrimage through the Bible–one chapter at a time–and blogging my way through it.

This little post is to let you know what has been going on since the middle of July and why I may have been not a little tense. I have sadly taken out some of it out on some of you and I am sorry I did. I haven’t slept well for the last 8 months and my stomach is constantly upset–can’t shake the nerves, the tears, or the hurt. Good friends and a new church home have helped immensely. I’m trying to learn, trying to grow, trying to make sense of God’s will in all of this and it is difficult. There are no answers that seem satisfactory as I was never given a reason why I was asked to leave.

Anyhow, as a shameless personal plug, if you would like to follow me on my journey through the Scripture, I invite you to visit my blog: Pilgrim at Lake View Avenue. There you can follow as I chronicle my way through the Bible. I am not making any judgments. I am not consulting the 1500 theological books sitting in bookcases in my house–the ones that are no longer serving my former congregation. I am reading through the Bible, slowly, and listening to God’s voice as if for the first time. I am reading the Bible as if I have never read it before–getting a fresh perspective, fresh water, fresh bread. I would be honored and greatly appreciative if you would join me on the journey–even if only periodically you pick up your Back-pack, lace up your boots, and travel with me.

Below is where my journey led me today–Genesis 2. Yesterday’s post is for Genesis 1. As always, I appreciate the friendships I have here at–especially the other writers who have been so gracious as to pray for me and my family and counsel me behind the scenes. Thanks again.


It is hard to start a project so massive. I think maybe I’ve taken on too much. Day to day. My course load at CSU is rather intense; 10 hours of graduate work is nothing to scoff at. Still I’m going on with my project to stay grounded in Scripture during this period of transition. If I don’t stay grounded, it is likely I will fall apart. So, Genesis 2.

I am reading this as if it were the first time I have ever read the Bible. How would the first time reader or, better, listener, have heard this chapter? What would have gone through their minds? Fresh eyes will hopefully lend fresh insight and fresh understanding. I come at this chapter, Genesis 2, then with mounds of questions:

Why is there a ‘second’ account of creation? Wasn’t the first enough? Did we need more detail?

Why does the Pishon river get more attention than its more famous brother, the Euphrates? Or even the Tigris?

Why did God rest on the seventh day? Was God really tired?

Does this chapter ‘fit’ with the previous chapter? Can they be reconciled?

Why did God create man to work? Why not create a self-sustaining world that never required any maintenance?

Why are we given so much information about this garden that God ‘planted’?

Why are we told about the gold in Havilah? The bdellium and onyx stones? Will knowledge of these ancient things give us greater insight into the mysteries of God? Will knowledge that there was good gold in Havilah, a place I cannot go now, give me greater wisdom unto salvation?

Why did God create the possibility for man to do the wrong thing by creating a tree ‘of the knowledge of good and evil’?

Did Adam and Eve understand what God meant when he said, ‘On the day you eat of it you shall surely die’? Did they know what death meant?

When man was in the garden, with God Almighty, why did God decided it was ‘not good’ for man to be alone?  Did God really expect Adam to find a suitable companion from among the oxen, beavers, and rattlesnakes?

What sort of drug did God use to cause Adam to fall into a deep sleep? Or is this a subtle way of saying that without sleep the creation of the woman would have caused man a great deal of pain?

Why did God entrust Adam to name all the animals? Did Adam ever have any regrets about the platypus? Did he have to think twice about the armadillo? And where did okapi come from?

Why did God shape the woman out of flesh but the man out of dust?

I wonder what the first night of sex was like? I wonder how they discovered it? I wonder who was on top? Did they do it for hours like teenagers who cannot get enough of the joyous discovery? Or was it like 10 minutes and done? Were either of them disappointed? Was it awkward or were they pros?

I wonder what it was like to not be ashamed? I wonder why we are told they weren’t ashamed? Is it to shame us who are ashamed?

I wonder what Adam and Eve looked like? Were they the quintessential buff models of physical perfection? Or were they rough, hairy, and reeking of body odor and bad breath?

Why are told more than once that ‘God put the man in the garden he had formed’?

What kind of work did Adam do in the garden without tools like shovels, hoes, spades, edgers, post-hole diggers, backhoes, front-loaders, and Chevy pick-up trucks? How did he get along without mulch and manure? What about a John Deere? How did he manage without that?!?

If chapter 1 teaches me a great deal about God, chapter 2 teaches me a great deal about man. Man was formed, shaped, created for work, given instructions, a consumer, married, unhappy as a loner, creative, fragile, and in love. And even in the midst of all this, all this newness and wonderment, man somehow survived. I mean, if I have this many questions, and more, imagine Adam’s questions. One day he wasn’t; then he was. Did he have to learn? Or was he like Neo: Plug him in and upload the knowledge?

I wonder what Adam’s first words were? What was the first breath like? Did he play Yahtzee?

I wonder what it is like to be in the presence of Almighty God, in a really cool garden, and yet still be rather lonely–lonely enough that God Almighty recognizes it and decides that despite all the ‘good’ stuff he had created, man’s loneliness is ‘not good.’

I wonder why God was not offended that man was lonely enough to need a companion other than God?

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