Journey’s End

Hello again, dear readers.

It’s been a very long time since I last even thought about posting, and I hope that it’s not too great a disappointment that I am posting this only as an announcement that this will be the final post on A Heart That Burns.

I began this blog in large part as a chronicle of a particular journey I had embarked upon: to become an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. In truth, that journey has been over for me for well over a year. It was at that point, in the wake of a confrontation with some mistakes I had made in pursuit of that goal, that my wife and I made the very difficult decision to not only end my pursuit of ordination, but to leave the Church of the Nazarene.

Before I go further let me state categorically that I am not angry with anyone in the Church of the Nazarene. Some of my dearest friends – who have continued to love and support my wife and me in the past year – are Nazarenes. Ultimately, the decision was prompted by the growing knowledge that my wife Kathleen and I simply didn’t fit into the Church of the Nazarene. Part of it was that I too often found that my identity as a Jewish believer in Jesus needed to be supressed in order to fit in as a Nazarene; along with this is the simple fact that if the CoTN has any interest in ministry to Jewish people (beyond a specific local congregation), I was never able to discover it.

Our departure was also the culmination of some serious wrestling I had been doing (some of it in these pages) as to whether I actually had a continued call to ministry. My prayerful conclusion was that whether God had plans for my future that involved ministry, I was chasing a goal that more and more seemed to be one that I was pursuing of my own volition rather than the Lord’s leading.

The year that followed was very difficult. Following closely on the decision to leave the Church of the Nazarene, my schedule at work changed and the days and hours I worked made it impossible for us to attend any church service. I can’t adequately describe what that lack of fellowship was like, but it might involve the words “Siberia” and “exile.”

As terrible as this was, some good things have come out of our year of displacement. When Kathleen and I were first married, I was full-time missionary. Who we were as a couple was very much defined by ministry. Upon leaving full-time missions, Kathleen and I were both tapped within the space of mere weeks to do pastoral ministry within our local Nazarene church. Over the course of 5 years, it never really occured to us that we needed to put in any more time figuring out who we were as a couple. The past year has given us the time to do that and we are the better for it, our marriage is stronger for it, and I love her more today than I did the day we were married.

A year ago, I asked God that if ministry was no longer my path, that He would allow me to advance in the work that I do. He has been faithful in this; I earned a promotion a little over a month ago and have since started a new shift with hours that will allow Kathleen and I to see more of each other and will allow us to resume church attendance. We are excited about the start of a new journey.

As I close, I want thank those who have taken the time to follow A Heart That Burns, some of you from close to the blog’s inception. As many of the posts continue to get hits from people searching for information on John Wesley and holiness, my intention is to keep the blog up. Within a week I will shutting down all comments. Thanks again for following along with my journey, and may God bless you in your own!

Still Making Tents …

Greetings Faithful Readers (all twelve of you … you know who you are)!

When I wrote my last post more than six months ago, I wrote it with the hope that things were going to get better. Sadly, I’d be hard pressed to say that this is so when it comes to ministry. The past six months have been among the most painful I have experienced in my life. I was confronted with my own failures and I’ve had to ask myself repeatedly,

A) do I genuinely have a call, and

B) do I really belong in ministry?

These are hard confessions to make. No one wants to admit that they have sunk years of their life, countless hours, and unimaginable amounts of their energy into something they might be mistaken about.

So here I find myself, easing back into church life after somewhat of a forced sabbatical, and still making tents. I am at the point where I am ready to surrender to the idea that making tents is my life, now and in the future.

I want to be encouraged, and in truth in aspects of life outside of ministry there is much for me to be encouraged about. I have the love of a wife who is far more than I usually feel I deserve, and things are going well at my job. Despite how difficult the last few months have been, I keep coming back to a verse that my wife and I picked out separately (unaware we were picking the same verse) when the officiant of our wedding asked us each for a favorite verse.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

It’s Going To Be A Beautiful Tent

Five years ago, when I left full-time ministry and began working again in the secular world, I don’t really know that I anticipated what I was in for. I’ve worked a number of jobs since then, some of which I hated every moment of, others of which were bearable, and others of which I truly felt sad when my season of work there was over. My heart has never stopped yearning to be back in full-time ministry, but on most days I feel like I’m living out Acts 18:1-3.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together–by trade they were tentmakers.

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On my worst days, when I would come home from a job that was paying the bills but felt like it was crushing my soul, my wonderful wife would take one look at me and see how much I was hurting. Sweetly she would say to me, “It’s going to be a beautiful tent.” While I’ve always appreciated her  efforts to try and cheer me up and put things in perspective, I don’t always believe that “the tent” is going to be anything resembling beautiful. I believe   it will be large — because I’ve spent so long on it. But on most days, it seems  to me that it’s going to be more functional than beautiful, and likely to be stained with dirt and blood and sweat.

I do what I must for us as a couple, and I must provide housing and food and other essentials. I am grateful daily that God has provided these things. Yet I have to admit that I struggle mightily with spiritual dryness and discouragement. I am called to be a pastor, I am in the process of my studies for ordination, and yet … and yet it sometimes seems as if the goalposts never get closer. I want to be faithful, I want to bear into the words of the prophet Isaiah:

those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Have you ever struggled, caught between the knowledge of what God wants for you, and the reality of your present location on the journey towards that place?

What Are We Giving?

This week, my friend Michael Perkins wrote on consuming and contributing over at his blog Drip Jesus. Now let me be quick to assure you — as Michael himself does in his post — that this is not a post about tithing.

As we continue in this first week of the Lenten season, I’m struck by a couple of things that Michael writes. First is this:

We are a consumer driven society.

We consume, consume, and then consume some more.

  • We consume media. (Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter)
  • We consume art. (Books, Poetry, and other forms)
  • We consume church. (I just want to be fed. I don’t have time serve)

And we never give anything back. We never contribute.

  • We don’t add to the discussion.
  • We don’t create art.
  • We don’t pour ourselves into the lives of others.

I’ll be honest that my initial reaction to this was to think Michael was being unnecessarily harsh, but the more I reflected on this, the more I realized what he was getting at. If we call ourselves Christians, how can we possibly stand in a position in which we seek to be served rather than to serve others? To do so is to live life in opposition to the example and teachings of Christ, who was pretty clear on the subject.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

So the standard is pretty clear: we’re created to give, not receive. And that’s where Michael hit several nails on the head with his post.

  • We’ve been created to give our lives. (To the One that created us)
  • We’ve been created to give our abilities. (To the One that created us and to help further the Kingdom)
  • We’ve been created to give our stories. (To others that they may be encouraged)

A few years ago Dr. Jesse Middendorf, a General Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, issued a challenge at our annual district assembly. “How deep is your “yes” to God?” He wanted those who heard this challenge to consider if they were truly giving their all: all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their everything to the Kingdom of God.

In years past, as we entered the season of Lent, I’ve decided on one thing or another that I was going to give up for Lent, and while I don’t regret doing that, I wonder at this point in my spiritual life if I’m not doing that more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. I begin to wonder if isn’t better to start something instead of giving something up, if it wouldn’t be better for me to begin a new spiritual discipline that I take beyond the 40 days of Lent. I wonder what I am truly giving to the Kingdom, and if it’s really all that I can be giving to my Lord Jesus. J.B. Chapman once exhorted Nazarenes to be all out for souls, and that is the life I would lead and all too often am afraid that I am not leading in the least. So during Lent, I will be considering what it is that I am giving to the building of the Kingdom, and what further I can give of myself for His glory.

What are you giving?

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Despite far fewer posts than I might have desired to write, I was pleased with the traffic to my little corner of the Internet.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 15 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Post I Didn’t Want to Write

Here is the truth: I didn’t want to write this post. Yet when we truly strive to follow God and be guided by the Holy Spirit, sometimes we don’t really have a choice about certain things.

I know I am not the only person who is still struggling to make some sense of the events of December 14 in Newtown, CT. Until the last few days, I have been unable to look at the photos of 20 young boys and girls and 6 brave adults whose lives were taken from them by a sick, evil person. 20 children who might have done anything in life, stripped of dreams and possibilities. Six adults who will stand in my memory always as living examples of Jesus’ words in John 10: 11,  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

I didn’t want to write this post because I have struggled so mightily with my emotions over the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary. At times I have felt like my whole inside has been nothing but a fountain of tears about to well forth. There have been voices out there whose words have helped. My friend Michael Perkins perhaps put it best here, saying,

My heart was wrecked. And if I can be completely honest, I think it should wreck all of our hearts.”

I cannot say exactly why this shooting has affected me more powerfully than others in recent memory, such as the Aurora, Colorado massacre this past summer. I only know that I continue to be heartsick, and keep mentally coming back to words that come from the Mourner’s Kaddish, a traditional piece of liturgy from the Judaism of my childhood.

“Let He who makes peace in the heavens, grant peace to all of us and to all Israel. Let us say, Amen.”

For me — as I suspect for many other — that peace is difficult to grab hold of. As a nation, it seems we may have begun to have a much-needed conversation regarding not just guns, but the violent nature of our culture in general. It’s a violence set in numerous contexts, some of which Scot McKnight identifies thusly:

1. Movies and TV
2. Video games
3. Western movies, Comic books, Cartoon figures
4. Toys
5. Use of the hand as a gun
6. Sports, especially football (of the American kind) and ice hockey
7. Mixed martial arts
8. NASCAR
9. Paintball games
10. Hunting for Bambi

I have struggled for some time, as I’ve discussed previously, with the question of whether Jesus in fact calls Christians to lay down the sword and in the wake of Newtown, I’m forced to confess my own shame over participation in a culture which doesn’t just condone guns, but glorifies and deifies them. McKnight specifically addresses this topic of Christianity and Guns here and here, and a cursory reading of the comments attached to any of these posts will show how heated this discussion quickly becomes.

Here’s why I didn’t want to write this post: I grew up in a household full of guns, and I spent most of my childhood and early teen years hunting with my dad, who has been a freelance outdoor writer for most of my life. To his credit, my dad made certain that both of his sons understood that guns were not toys and that we understood the responsibility of using them carefully. The worst whipping I ever received came when he caught me playing with a neighbor child’s toy gun (something I was expressly forbidden from doing). When I went off to college and life on my own, when I got home on occasion, I still tried to spend time out hunting with my dad. I say all this so it will be understood that I grew up in an atmosphere that made me as ardent a defender of Second Amendment rights as you can imagine.

I’m not sure I can do that anymore. I’m still not sure of whether I can build the argument that Jesus calls us to lay down the sword completely, but I am fairly sure that when Christians show more zeal for defending their right to guns than they do to follow and disseminate the teachings of Jesus, there’s a word to describe it: idolatry. I can agree with Scot McKnight on this:

“The church should lead the way in exhibiting peaceful approaches to life and conflict, and Christians should lead the way in seeking — at the least — serious examination of gun laws and gun safety and access to guns. How many have to die before this is an issue? How many times to do we have to say America has a gun violence problem?”

I didn’t want to write this post because I know what I am opening myself up to by doing so. I’m opening myself to an onslaught from angry Christians and non-Christians alike ready to tear me to pieces. I accept that may be a consequence of following my conscience in this. I don’t pretend that I have any answers yet. But how can any of us come to any answers — or make a safer world for children in other Newtowns — if we can’t stop being so convinced we’re right and just start talking to each other?

Monday Roundup

Here’s a roundup of some things that I’m reading. Enjoy!Pastor Chad

  • I’ve been following Josh Tandy at Rookie Pastor for some time, and get quite a bit out of his blog. Josh is planting a church and could use your prayers (and financial assistance).
  • Speaking of church planting, Lifeway is offering some free curriculum to church planters. I spent a few weeks this past September working a temp job for Lifeway, getting feedback about this curriculum, and can attest that it is the real deal and does not skew any particular theological direction that I was able to discern.
  • An interesting profile on former Mars Hill pastor Rob Bell from The New Yorker. Whether you’re a fan of him or not, the piece is a good read.
  • Jazz legend Dave Brubeck passed away last week just one day shy of his 92nd birthday. I feel a great sense of loss — his “Take Five” made jazz personally accessible to me. Ben Witherington posts a fine memorial that includes a clip of some of Brubeck’s later work, whose subject matter may come as much of a pleasant surprise to you as it did to me.
  • Some great thoughts from Matt Kelley on what pastors should do When “Some People” Complain.
  • J. Lee Grady shares 10 Stupid Things Ministers Should Never Do. Maybe I’m just pessimistic, but my first thought before even reading it was, “Really? Just 10?”
  • In the same vein, here are some things that a pastor should never say. I found these enlightening, as someone who sometimes feels that my mouth must be foot-shaped, considering how often my foot jumps right into it.
  • A rather surprising list of priorities from the CEO of Yahoo.
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