Monday, January 25, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

After All These Years

I have been putting off retirement these past three years.  Wayne Dyer once wrote, "When you are what you do when you don't you aren't."  I must admit I have become what I do, but then what I do is so wonderful I have not minded that...until now.

So after 44 years of ministry I will take the next step and see what is out there.  At a seminar I went to a few years ago when I thought I was going to retire sooner entitled ,"Finishing Strong, Ending Well," the leader said, "Do not ask what you are going to do when you retire.  Ask rather who you will be."  Quite frankly I am not sure I know the answer to that question.

I have loved sharing the gifts that God has given me in the work of ministry.  I used to tell first year pastors in a program I helped lead called, "The Art of the Start," that if you chose ministry as a job then you are in the wrong "work" because ministry is not a job it is a life.  Having said that I would then say to these idealistic-save the world for Jesus-newbies, "But you are responsible for carving out a life within that life for you and your family.  If you do not do that you will get lost doing the "work" of ministry and you will not take care of yourself or your family."

I could say those words because in my younger years I did some of that.  I gave myself to the work too much.  O, I did a good job and was rewarded for it in many ways.  But there were times I walked out on my family when I did not have to because of the "job."  I learned the hard way not to do that.

Ministry is a scared journey.  People allow you into parts of their lives where no one else can go.  You are there at  beginnings and at sometimes tragic endings.  The raw materials of life are part of the ongoing work of being a pastor.  You literally hold people's hearts and lives in your hands.  It can be scary for sure and as a young pastor I was frightened that I would not measure up.

I thought I had to have answers for questions that seemed to have no answers.  I figured I had to be some kind of strong to overcome the vulnerability and pain that I often had to walk into.  Then good old God whispered in my ear, "Just be there and help them know I am there with them and you.  No need to answer questions.  Hold on to them and I will hold on to you."

And that is why I believe in God.  It is not all the education and the experience.  I believe because I have felt the unseen, powerful presence of a God who is beneath our questions and who holds us up when life lets us down.

I wish I had kept a count of how many babies I have baptized, how many youth I have confirmed, how many funerals I have conducted, how many sermons I have preached; but alas I am not a record keeper.  But I know of one who has kept a kind of record.  The one who called out to a seventeen year old boy one night and literally held his hands out to me and asked me to be a minister has known of all those experiences because he was there...and that is what matters.

So now it is time to take one last trip toward a land that seems to be a strange land but I shall step toward that place trusting the one who has lead me for all these years.  "All will be well," I hear him whisper.  For sure Jesus knows I sometimes have trouble trusting.  I thought years ago I would have to get out of the ministry because of my struggle with trust, but then the one who called my name simply said, "Give it up.  I knew who you were when I called you and I know who you are now.  I know you have doubts and struggles but I know what I am doing...I am not yourself and you will be able to especially help others who are struggling."

And that has been my gift; to stand with those who ask questions and let them know it is OK . To assure them that the doubts and questions are in fact a part of the journey.  My latest book just published has always been "in" me.  I was reluctant to write it before I retired but decided to risk it.  It has been a joy to hear people tell me how reassuring it was for them. (The Christian Skeptic: Caught Between Belief and Doubt)

I am so thankful to have been a part of so many people's lives.  I am so grateful to have had the high 
privilege of standing in  front of people to offer words about and "old, old story" that is alive and far reaching.  Not many ministers get to serve the kinds of churches I have been fortunate enough to serve.  What a journey it has been.  Thank you Jesus for calling that seventeen year old boy and not giving up on him when he doubted.  You knew what you were doing when I did not.

Now it is time for the next step...and yes I have some trust issues...what's new, huh.