Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Identity

One of the primary gifts of the story is that of identity.  Knowing our story confers upon us that sense of identity that is critical to both formation and purpose.

The story-less life produces a vacuum that demands filling and by God or by another source it will be filled. Typically, in the absence of the internal pressure created by a storied life, we will adopt the dominant narrative of the world immediately around us. This is more unconscious than conscious though we will become actively committed to the promotion and preservation of the narrative we assume.

Even when that narrative is “they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.” (Hauerwas)

In 1984 a book by Thomas Oden was published called, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition. In this brief but important book, Oden voices his concern about the shift in pastoral care from the Classic tradition, wholesale, to a modern psycho-therapeutic version. Oden laments the lack of familiarity with our story, illustrated by the neglect in the system of formation for pastors for reading and familiarity with the Classic work on pastoral care by Gregory the Great. In place of our story, Oden demonstrates, we adopted the dominant story of the day that focused on the works of Jung, Freud and other psycho-therapies, to provide pastoral care to help people sort out their issues.

Oden wrote, “So pastoral theology has become in many cases little more than a thoughtless mimic of the most current psychological trends.  Often these trends, as psychologist Paul Vitz has astutely shown, have been bad psychology to begin with.” (Oden, p33)

In 2011, Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor, as published.  Among the many insights about the storied-life or the importance of the narrative, The Pastor, illustrates over and over again our tendency to assume the dominant narrative of our times when we’ve become disconnected from our story.  This is not a problem exclusive to pastors, this is a human problem. But when those who are charged with the care of souls have become disconnected from our story, what hope can souls have to do anything but the same? When pastors have lost the plot, how do those we shepherd not become “twice the child of hell” we ourselves have become?

In The Pastor, Peterson tells the story of a young pastor who had been part of their “Company of Pastors” that were seeking to recover the plot of our narrative that education and church experience has driven out of them or perhaps had simply failed to transmit to them. A young pastor who had been part of the group for seven years was moving on to “multiply his effectiveness.” Peterson tells about the lunch they shared before this young pastor, Phillip, left.

The more he talked that day over our plate of breadsticks and bowls of vichyssoise, I realized that he had, despite the Company of Pastors, absorbed a concept of pastor that had far more to do with American values – competitive, impersonal, functional – than with what I had articulated as the consensus of our Company in Five Smooth Stones. That bothered me. It didn’t bother me that he was changing congregations – there are many valid, urgent, and, yes, biblical reasons to change congregations.  But Phillip’s reasons seemed to be fueled by something more like adrenaline and ego and size. (Peterson, p156)

In Oden’s experience, our story-less experience found us taking on the dominant narrative of pop-psychology as pastoral care. In Peterson’s experience, this same lack of conviction or coherence about the story we are in, led us to adopt the story that good pastoral care is about growing bigger churches.  Peterson writes, “…the momentum of what was being termed church growth was gathering.  All of us in the Company agreed that it was misnamed.  It was more like church cancer – growth that was a deadly illness, the explosion of runaway cells that attack the health and equilibrium of the body.” (Peterson, p158) The work of the Company, to reinforce the nature of the story we find ourselves in, for one another, gave them a perspective on the dominant narrative of church growth, that many will not share.  Knowing what story you are does that.

It often moves you to the fringe. It makes you a threat to the dominant narrative. And the keepers of the dominant narrative will first try to get you back and then failing that, they will mock you and if you persist, will exile or eliminate you.

It happens for to men and women at work who live in a way consistent with their story but contrary to the dominant narrative. When your story is love and the dominant narrative is fear or resentment, love becomes the violence that threatens the system. And you will be stopped. The workplace can be hostile unless you adopt the dominant narrative.

It happens to pastors who invite people to live a story that is different from the dominant narrative that they have adopted when they did not know the story they were in. We have in our minds a story about what a pastor is, does and should be and should do. When our pastors don’t conform to that story, we do not question our story, we question the pastor – their knowledge, their character, their aptitude and their proficiency.

It happens to millennials when they won’t dance to the same tune we love.

A friend who trains people in a particular field related some training day stories to me. One of those stories was about the amount of work my friend has to do to bridge the understanding gap between older members of the workforce with the newer. The younger members worked their shift but when their shift was scheduled to be over, they went home. The older members were living a story that saw this as a lack of commitment, a poor work ethic, an unwillingness to be team players. The younger members story was that they worked to live, they didn’t live to work and they would not give up family time or play time to conform to the story their older counterparts were living. Both had the same job description, both were doing the job they were asked to do but both were living in stories that made them critical of the other. And both felt an internal pressure for the other to adopt their story as the common narrative.

In the U.S. right now we’re experiencing an incredible clash of narratives. I am both fascinated and appalled by what I see. It’s the classic experience of the bigger brother grabbing the little brother’s arm (sorry, Brad, I did you wrong) and using it to smack his little brother in the face while he keeps repeating, “stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself…” You will accept my dominant narrative even while you know that it is not the story we are in.

This is the ongoing challenge for us all. What story are we in? What makes us believe that is our story? What Company are we a part of that supports or challenges (or does both) the story we think we are in? How have you determined the narrative by which you are living your life, making your choices, evaluating reality?  Will you accept the dominant narrative or will you speak and live prophetically, declaring a different story through which others will find hope? Can you clearly articulate for others the story in which you find yourself?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Withdrawals and Deposits

I’m a few days in to my withdrawal from reading and commenting on anything beyond pictures of cats and the personal posts of a few friends on Facebook.  I’m not even indulging much in the passively supportive blue thumbs up. And I have to tell you, I am feeling lighter, happier, more optimistic and positive about the future and life in general.  Churchill’s black dog has moved outside to the porch again and it feels good.

But I’m feeling weak this morning. I may or may not have the withdrawal shakes (possibly coffee induced). There is a strong temptation to start commenting on current events and the lies and “misstatements” that keep popping up in the news. The thing is, these statements are almost instantly verifiable now and the general lack of interest in the veracity of a statement made by high ranking government officials in this post-truth era is overwhelming. What keeps me clean and sober is the knowledge that pointing out one falsehood will be – almost – immediately met by a comment like, “Oh, and you don’t think ____________ told/tells lies…?” fill in the blank with Obama, Clinton (either Mr. or Mrs.) or CNN. So I’ll keep my nose clean for now and pour myself another glass of cat videos and sniff a few clever memes about TGIF.

The deposits I’m finding of peace and lightness – yes, maybe the byproduct of denial – don’t bring me down, man! – are worth it.  Clean and sober. One day at a time. One day at a time.

My modified prayer for today:

God grant me the serenity 
To accept the things I cannot change; 
Courage to change the things I can; 
And wisdom to know the difference
And the sanity not post about it. 

Living one day at a time; 
Without reading political posts today;
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world 
As it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right 
If I surrender to His Will; 
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life 
And supremely happy with Him 
Forever and ever in the Kingdom coming. 

Amen.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

When the Prophetic Community Speaks to Power

Stanley Hauerwas describes our current generation: “America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story. That is what Americans mean by “freedom.””

Becoming detached from our story has serious consequences. We forget who we are and how to live as people of the story. This “no story” life results in us making up our own story as we go along which creates terrific anxiety or terrific apathy. Another outcome of a “no story” life is that we tend toward acquiescence, we let others tell us what our story is.  The Orwell novel, 1984, is an extreme example of this outcome.

As a pastor in the United States, what I’ve observed is that this “no story” existence has resulted in followers of Jesus who’ve adopted the story of America as our story.  At worst, this comes out as Nationalism and at its least worst it comes out as what C.S. Lewis described as, “Christian – and.” (Screwtape, letter 25) Wherever we land on this spectrum, the “no story” existence means we are not living in our true vocation as the prophetic community of God.

Here’s Hauerwas again, “The story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story obviously has implications for how faith is understood. The story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story produces people who say things such as, “I believe Jesus is Lord – but that’s just my personal opinion.” The grammar of this kind of avowal obviously reveals a superficial person. But such people are the kind many think crucial to sustain democracy. For such a people are necessary in order to avoid the conflicts that otherwise might undermine the order, which is confused with peace, necessary to sustain a society that shares no goods in common other than the belief that there are no goods in common.”

The outcome is that instead of the prophetic community of God speaking to Power, we tend to ingratiate ourselves in the hope that we might get some of that sweet, sweet power. That would be the Sadducees for those keeping track of where the Bible is in all this.  The other side of this same coin are the Pharisees who are still after power but attempt to achieve it through corporate righteousness that requires God to transfer the power to us. (Almost every charismatic gathering I’ve been to in the last 20 years.)  In either case, we do not speak to Power as the prophetic community of God.  The Sadducees sought compromise, “Where can we find our place in Rome’s story?” and the Pharisees sought dominance, “We will rule our own people to righteousness by fear and intimidation and that will lead us to power.” 

But our story, the story Jesus is telling, is neither of these two or any other besides the His own. Our vocation, our destiny, our “it’s written on the wall” story, is that we are called to speak to Power as the prophetic community of God.

So if it’s not option Sadducee or option Pharisee, what are we to be? (Edited: I am not meaning to imply by this question that those who voted in the recent election are either Sadducees or Pharisees. I mean for these and other groups of their time, Essenes and Zealots for example, to stand in for various stories we adopt as people with "no story." - thanks for calling me on this Daniel.) First and foremost, we live the story of Jesus and by living that story faithfully (which is not the same as perfectly), we prove it over and over and over.  And second, like the first, we see that our allegiance is never (and by never I mean never ever) given to any Power other than the King and His Kingdom. We support, with our lives, no human policy that conflicts with the King’s Way.

The problem, of course, is that we have preachers and pastors and theologians like Niebuhr, who assure us that God has, in fact, called us to make America great again. That being the very best kind of citizens is what following Jesus is all about.

Imagine the dilemma of those first century Jews when they have been told the story in their day was either the Sadducee story of go along to get along, the Pharisee story of control to get control and the Zealot story of kill and take control. And then along comes this nobody carpenter’s son from, of all places, Nazareth and Galilee telling them, “You have heard that it was said, but I tell you…” calling them to the story as He told it and no one else.

And he spoke to Power. And just to prove he had authority to speak to the Power, He spoke to the Powers and disarmed and defeated them. Everything we have to fear that keeps us bound to having no story, Jesus disarmed and demonstrated His authority over.

Jesus spoke to Power.

In Luke 22, when they come to arrest Him, Jesus confronts their hypocrisy and indicates they are working on behalf of evil. At the end of this chapter, His words seem less than respectful to these God appointed authorities, so disrespectful that they want to see Jesus killed and they turn to the Power to which they are beholden.  When Jesus came before Pilate, He has little regard for the Roman government official and Pilate sends Jesus off to Herod. Before Herod Antipas, Jesus speaks by remaining silent, a silent protest, the Word of God becomes silent to speak to the Power. This was a defiant silence, make no mistake, an aggressive silence, a deafening silence.

When the prophetic community of God speaks to the Power, we do so like Jesus did. The authority to do so comes from our faithfulness to living the story that Jesus is telling. It looks far less like Facebook posts and blog posts and marching placards and far more like people who invited refugees to come live in their home, even when the Power says, “you will not.” It looks far more like people who live integrated and not segregated lives, even when the Principality says, “we will burn you down!” It looks much more like people who turn church buildings from empty halls during the week into hostels for those without shelter from the cold, even when the Powers say, “you’re not zoned for that!” It is the confident declaration of truth and righteousness in the way that we live, birthed from a story of love and mercy, that finds a way to feed hungry people in Moore Square, even when the Power says, “we will arrest you.”

But please understand this story is predicated on understanding a hard reality of that story: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” As dear St. Francis asked, “how many rights does a dead man have?”


May we live each day and each moment of each day as the prophetic community of God and live as people who know our story.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Refugees, God and Our Story

Jesus was a refugee. That's Bible.

That may be why this whole refugee crisis strikes such a deep chord with me.  God has a soft spot for refugees and I think He's grown one in me too.

I'm grateful that I am not alone.  As the days have unfolded, many Christian groups and leaders have spoken up about the plight of refugees, pleading with President Trump to change his executive order that banned them, for at least 120 days, from completing the process they started 18 months to 2 years ago. I'm thankful that the national directors of the Vineyard, Phil & Jan Strout, have issued a statement in favor of refugees.  I'm grateful that the NAE has issued a statement and for World Vision, World Relief and others that have spoken up. 

My heart breaks for them and I hope there is more that we can do, as followers of Jesus, for those displaced by war and famine.  I have very low expectations on nations or governments but I have high expectations on those who follow Jesus, believe in the Resurrection and have experienced God's perfect love that we've been told (and told others) drives out fear.

I know I have some Christian friends who think this is all much ado about nothing. Some who think we're not giving the new President a chance. But honestly, if the new President banned the birth of baby boys or just wrote an executive order to raise our taxes by 10%, I don't think we'd feel inclined to give him a chance. Maybe you would. I just don't think followers of Jesus are called to spectate while the world is on fire. And you can be sure of this, for some of these refugees, the world has already burned down.

People turned back had already been vetted for 18 months or more, already sold their homes, businesses, and came with only what they could fit on the plane. And we've sent them back to places of conflict with less than they had before. Some people we turned back or refused a flight to were on their way for life-saving medical procedures, one of whom has already died (currently, this report appears to be false and the woman in question died just before the ban - join with me in praying that the 4 month old needing heart surgery will survive and get treatment, let's be pro-life). These are people I'm called to love, even if the United States government is not.  I can't ignore this.

Let me share a simple principle: when governments make laws or rules or orders that contradict what Jesus has already told us, government loses every time. Every. Time. That's what following Jesus means. That's why there have been so many martyrs over the last 2000 years. Christians weren't put to death for being good citizens, they've been put to death for disrupting the Order.

Recently, on a Fox morning show, the exchange in this video occurred:




I promise you, Jesus and Mary & Joseph were, in fact, refugees in Egypt despite what the fair and balanced folks at Fox News might think. God has a soft spot for refugees and it would be wise for us to act accordingly.

As followers of Jesus, our interests can never be "America first." We are bound to "Jesus first" thinking and as Vineyard pastor, Rich Nathan recently remarked, "We NEVER read "Jesus, moved by fear..." or "Jesus moved by a desire for security.." It's ALWAYS "Jesus moved by compassion."

If you'd like a quick run down on the order itself and what it actually means, give this a watch:
These are days for followers of Jesus to speak up, open our homes and hearts, let perfect love cast out our fears and live and die like Jesus so that we may all live again like Jesus.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Facebook is My Drug, but Not by Choice

The old prophet Isaiah recorded this message from God, ““Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord…” (Is 1:18 NAS)

If a Sorting Hat put me in a House, this would be the motto of the House into which I would be sorted.

This is the both the reward and poison I find on Facebook. It has come to be the most immediate and effective way for me to reach out to the network of people who I know in the world. I have friends in Canada from coast to coast. I have friends in the U.S. from coast to coast. I have friends in the U.K., New Zealand and Australia.  I have friends in South Africa.  Not “Facebook friends” with whom my connections are only virtual but real, flesh and blood friends with whom I’ve broken bread, drank wine and sang songs together. Facebook has become the primary way in which I can address all these friends at once and invite them to “come, let us reason together.”

This is important to me because of my wiring. I learn best in community. I think best in community. I grow best in community. I feel best in community.  Yes, I'm an introvert, that's how I recharge, but I need people for the really good stuff.

Facebook has been a lovely way to facilitate long distance conversation in a simple way that does not require everyone to be at the same place at the same time in order to facilitate the sharing, posing, refining and exploring of ideas and observations.

Facebook has also been like a terrible poison that injects itself into the veins of my ordinary days. Friends post their own words or the words of others that they endorse and I am devastated to glimpse that which inspires, informs and fuels their world view. I have hurt more than one friend simply by commenting on their post with a statement, link or question that pushes back on their post. And I have hurt more than one friend simply by posting something that they felt was offensive or contrary to how they felt I should see things. Some of these friends have “unfollowed” me on Facebook, some have “unfollowed” me in real life.

In this texting age, I have discovered that when someone texts me, they expect a fairly quick reply. When I fail to reply in a timely fashion, I have unintentionally hurt people. When I have failed to ever reply to a text, I’ve deeply offended people. There is an expectation that comes with the development of technologies, particular social technologies, and I often fail to live up to the implicit protocol of social communication technology. On Facebook, it feels like the stakes are raised exponentially to give a magic thumbs up to someone’s post, their new profile picture, or their link. And as a Christian, may God have mercy on our soul if we post or share something that our fellow Christians deem as Liberal (yes, I’ve been called a ‘libtard’ thank you muchly) or as a Fundamentalist (on my own wall, thank you for stopping by), a Republican, a Feminist, an Academic (God’s ways are higher than our ways, He offends the mind to reveal the heart, your head is getting in the way of the Spirit, stop me if you’ve heard this one…) or a Socialist (medical care for everyone paid for by our tax dollars, that’s evil!) It is wearisome.

But like a moth to the flame, I keep coming back because I need community with which to work out my stuff.

And to be honest, I live in a place where getting together with friends often requires a juggling of schedules, calendars and appointments that can be so extensive that we actually need to schedule time together to schedule time together.

And did I mention how much I hate the phone. Hate is not the right word. I literally have a negative physical and emotional reaction to a ringing phone.

I need people, want people in my life (like for real, not a number on my Homepage, a number IN MY HOME.) I’ll open a bottle of wine, pour you a glass of Scotch if you like, crack open a beer for you or make a cup of coffee or tea.  I need people to “Come now, and let us reason together.” And so I post on Facebook, I entertain trolls and delight in my friends who offer insight, support, correction and new challenges.  And so I read posts on Facebook and stupidly troll others and despair over some of the posts my friends make and die a little inside and the poison gets pushed inside.

They tell me that some lovely, addictive chemical gets released in our brains now when someone “likes” our post on Facebook or “likes” our picture we’ve just posted. For me, I keep coming back for the interaction, both the sacred and the profane. No doubt I have some unholy reasons and some very unhealthy ones, but deep, deep down I know this to be true, I long to connect with others with whom I can say, and practice in love, come, let us reason together.

This is my confession.

I share this confession because I am about to take a long step back from posting on Facebook.  I will continue to use Facebook to show off my granddaughter, to announce events and to otherwise advertise things associated with my full-time gig. But I'm going to stop liking things, posting ideas or links.  I think the people who would be sorted in the same House as me already have all those ideas and links. And I have this idea that if I keep shooting up with the poison, I'll never get outside to see if I can find some others like me who just want to hang out in real life and talk it out.

This matters because of expectations. I have friends and people from church who will feel abandoned because I haven't liked their post or commented on the latest mess (and I'm anticipating many of those are ahead of us). Some of my friends will feel like I'm not standing up for things I should because I won't offer a post, share or comment. If that happens to you, I'm sorry.  My door will be open to you, we can sit and have a drink together and talk it out.  If you're marching, I'll go march with you. If you want to sit on the lawn somewhere, I'll sit with you. Seriously.  But I have to take this step back for now and reserve my energy for ramblings blog posts and real life conversations which I can only hope will fill in the hours I'll have once I stop following the flow on Facebook.

Stop by, I'm buying. Let's reason together. See you then.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Death and Hope

During my studies at SSU for my Masters of Ministry, Pete Fitch gave us an expression for a spiritual condition to aim for and to practice: Fat Souls.

It could be my appetite for Guinness or for food in general, but this practice of a mode of being has stuck with me.  Sometimes I feel myself getting thin, sometimes it sneaks up on me but whenever I sense it I know my practices have not been keeping my soul fat enough to withstand the weight of the world that is constantly pressing in on me. 

And I try to do something about it.

After an incredibly intense 10 days, I arranged for the Elusive and myself to retreat to the mountains for 48 hours. A time to rest, reorient and renew in the Appalachians at a Christian conference center called, Ridgecrest.  They offer this ridiculous deal for pastors for which we are grateful and try to take advantage of a couple times each year.

I went tired but also excited.  I’m supposed to be starting work on a second Masters next week and I wanted to be rested up for it.

Our second night there coincided with the start of the South East Vineyard Regional Worship leaders retreat and so we snuck in to see and hear old friends and new friends.  Legends John and Marie Barnett led worship that night and the Swirlmaster, David Ruis, spoke.

During worship, I died.  During the message, I received hope.

I don’t remember how many songs we were in to the worship set, but it wasn’t long before I knew the Spirit was speaking to me.  There are times where I ‘sense’ the Spirit speaking to me, I get ideas or impressions but there are other times where I ‘know’ the Spirit is speaking to me, I recognize that Voice that is neither mine nor the enemies, neither vague nor opaque. And as I worshipped with a room full of people jumping in with both feet, led by two people who live what they sing and who embody “a sacrifice of praise,” God was inviting me to die.

I was supposed to start school again next week, I was excited, looking forward to it and full of anticipation.  And the Spirit took it all apart, took me right down to my core again, challenged me and called me to something else.  I had a choice and I chose to die to my dream. I wasn’t happy about it.  I didn’t feel some spiritual euphoria as a result.  But I did feel peace.  Or maybe ‘resolved’ is a better word. I told the Elusive the next day. And the next day I withdrew from the school.

I still don’t feel happy about it.  Maybe what I feel is a small slice of what Paul felt when the Spirit prevented him from going to Bithynia (which I hear is lovely).

As Jon Foreman sings: "Friend, all along / Thought I was learning how to take / How to bend not how to break / How to live not how to cry, but really / I've been learning how to die / I've been learning how to die"

I was undone during the worship.  When David Ruis spoke to us, I was filled with hope. 

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I often think I might be mad, alone, a voice out in the wilderness (the crazy - tinfoil hat kind, not the John kind). David’s message gave me hope for myself (I haven’t completely lost the plot) and for us as a movement, a collection of saints moving together further up and further into the story of God. I won't try to recap, but if you get the chance to hear or watch the message when it's available, you should.  It's a message for all of us.  It's a message that reminded me of what I love about the Vineyard.

My soul got fatter this week, even as I feel a significant sense of personal loss.  Weird, right?  

Sometimes I attend gatherings of my Tribe and I’m left feeling that sense of being the “odd duck.” Tuesday night felt like I was in one of the very best expressions of who our Tribe is and what I believe our Tribe is called to be. It was a night of beauty, of honesty, of simplicity, depth and Kingdom and Spirit and power.


I’m grateful for the Swirl that is our Vineyard worship community and the friends who created the space for my Liminal moment Tuesday night.  I’m grateful for a safe place to die and for a resurrection of hope.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ordaining Amy

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of organizing and leading an ordination service for my friend, Amy.

Personally, I like Thomas Oden’s somewhat sacramental view of ordination and the meaning and purposes he unpacks in his book, Pastoral Theology. Ordination is far more, (if Oden is right – and I think he is) than conferring a title or making something legal or official.  Ordination is a vow, a sacred commitment, that is reciprocal in nature.  The Ordained owns their calling and declares their willingness to be responsible for and to the community of faith.  The ordaining community of faith affirms the calling and declares their willingness to cooperate with and support the Ordained in all ways needed.

The Scripture that we read for Amy’s ordination was from 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verses 12-17. It’s a favorite of mine, with deep significance for me about own sense of the call to ministry.
While I didn’t share these specific thoughts with Amy and the saints assembled, I’m putting them up here as a record, a stone of remembering for me and for her in future days.

1 Timothy 1:12-17 NLT
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him,13 even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 14 Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.
15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

A few personal observations from the Text that resonate within my soul, 29 years on this journey of my own.

God will enable you where he has called you. (vs. 12)
You did not imagine God’s call on your life.  As the community of faith and as faithful friends, we’ve gathered here to affirm that we see what you feel, God has called you to represent him, to share his story and his love with the world around you.

Your ordination is not based on human will but God’s will and he will empower you by his Holy Spirit for every situation you find yourself in, every trial you face, every soul you are called to care for.  Our calling is not based on our adequacy or superior ability but rather God’s willingness to use the imperfect, the limping, the misfits and the weak to reveal his own great power.  God is with you. 

And that is always enough.

Your past does not determine your future. (vs. 13)
There are all kinds of things about our pasts that try to intrude on our present experiences and our understanding of who we are or who we’re not.

The good news from Jesus is this, “behold, I make all things new.” And “anyone in Christ is a new creation.”

God has set you free to engage with him in writing the chapters of your story that are still to come. Many people will continue to offer to write your story for you.  Politely decline these offers.  Listen and follow and play the part God gives you and resist the pressure to play the parts others want you to play.

Jesus offers us a new perspective on the future, a new freedom, new possibilities, he removes human limitations and prejudices and he alone determines the story of your life.

Two practices that last: faith and love. (vs. 14)
Out of all the things man has made the ministry of the gospel, the two greatest practices we are called to engage in are faith and love.

Trust God and demonstrate the reality of God to the hearts that surround you by showing what God can do with a life that is committed to trusting him with your past, trusting him in your present and trusting him for your future.

Love others as Christ has loved you.  Do what love does and embody for the whole world this truth – that God is love and that love wins. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

You are being called into the company of Wounded Healers. (vs 15, 16)
Good leaders, wise leaders and honest leaders walk with a limp.

Don’t hide your imperfections and wounds from the world.  Embrace your limp and live transparently with a world that clings to their masks. Let your liberty and freedom create a hunger for those you do life with to live true faced with you.

Liberate souls and disarm the Powers by celebrating your weaknesses because when you are weak, he is strong. These words from God are true for you and me and call us out from behind our masks to be true faced to those we know: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 

The scars of Jesus and our own scars, not our pretend perfection and flawlessness, are what will bring healing and hope to those with whom we journey

He is God, you are not. (vs. 17)
Two great truths that every pastor or minister of the gospel needs to remember at all times:
There is a God.  You are not him.

We are not ordaining you to be our, or anyone else’s savior, that job’s already been filled.
We are not asking you to be perfect or challenging you to always say and do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reasons.

You won’t.  You can’t.

Be perfectly imperfect and trust God. 

Rest. 
Rely.
Find your identity in your being and not your doing.

I have been directly involved in two ordinations in my lifetime.  The first was a woman within a tradition that allowed her to preach on the mission field but not in her home church.  Amy’s, my second, felt redemptive in that I have come to understand that God has called Amy and God has called many women, to preach and teach and lead – and her freedom to be who God created her to be, provided by Jesus, also liberates me.  I have never known anyone whose calling was more certain to me than Amy’s.  I’m grateful for the grace that allowed me to be part of her service of ordination and the affirmation of the church that this seemed right to us and to the Holy Spirit.