Thursday, October 1, 2020

2020 Pastor Appreciation

I posted the blog below last year,  and it bears repeating... particularly in light of this extraordinarily challenging year. While healthcare, retail, delivery, and education workers have been recognized in our culture as being "front line heroes"... pastors have been left out of that list. But the reality is that they have cared for others, completely re-thought how they work and minister, been on a steep learning curve, faced financial challenges, and more. Please consider how to encourage and appreciate the pastors around you this year!

My Love-Hate Relationship with Pastor Appreciation Month (2019 post)

A couple of nights ago, I spent a couple of hours preparing facebook posts for the next month. These are posts to go on our Genesis Conference facebook page, reminding people that October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I spent the time doing it, because I want to see our pastors loved, supported, and appreciated by those they serve. But all the time I was getting these posts ready, I kept thinking...

I WISH PASTOR APPRECIATION MONTH HAD NEVER BEEN INVENTED.

Why?

The fact is, pastors these days could really use love, support and appreciation. Being a pastor in a local church is a weighty, stressful business as you deal with the tough stuff in people's lives (I've recently read two different articles that named "pastor" as one of the most stressful careers you can have). For what is required, pay is low. It can feel to a pastor like everyone in the congregation is your "boss" and gets to evaluate your performance (that's not the way our system actually works, but it can feel that way). Since everyone in the congregation has different expectations, that means the pastor is always falling short in someone's eyes.  (I remember a number of years ago, asking the members of the church that I pastored what were the 2-3 things that I - as their pastor - MUST do. At the meeting where they were replying, the list grew so long that another pastor in the room exclaimed "no human could do all that!" Yup).

So why do I wish Pastor Appreciation Month had never been invented?

Because now that it has, there's a new weight that it brings. If you are a pastor, and no one appreciates you during the month of October, it can be like a dagger in your heart... and all before you start into the crazily demanding season of advent. Sure, you hope that it's just that everyone is too busy to recognize you. Or the organizers never got organized. (And most often, this IS the case!).  But in the back of your mind... you wonder. And you may wish this month had never been born.

So why did I spend a couple of hours two nights ago writing up facebook posts that highlight this month that I have a love-hate relationship with? 

Because I love my pastors. I really do. I love the ones that are pastoring beautifully... and I love the ones that are in a mess. I love the ones that are encouraged and enjoying their jobs right now... and I love the ones that are discouraged and ready to give up. I love those who are looking for something new. And I love the ones that I will have to have hard conversations with about being in a place where their leadership is no longer effective.

I love my pastors... because no matter who they are, I know they have sacrificed in order to follow this call of God on their lives. They have given up time and money. They have given a chunk of their heart. They have been bruised and battered, and celebrated and commended... and through it all, they have followed this crazy thing called a "call."

A "call" is that whisper from God that invites you into the ministry. A call can be exhilarating or exhausting. It can be beautiful or haunting. It can be embraced or ignored. A call becomes part of who you are, part of how your heart beats, part of how your heart bleeds.

And because of all this... I wish that every pastor I know would be thanked and celebrated and appreciated and prayed for, not just this month, but every month.

Friends, if you've take the time to read all of this, you have the time to do something for your pastor. Pray for him and drop him a note to tell him that you did. Send her an email talking about that message of hers from months ago that wrecked you in a good way. Buy a box of candy, or a gift-card to a local restaurant or movie theater or amazon, and anonymously leave it on their desk with a simple note that says "thanks for all you do!"  Pick some flower from your garden and leave them with a thank-you. Do something that encourages and thanks the entire pastor's family. Use your skills to help them out (Volunteer to change their oil! Babysit their kids!).  Remind your small group to send notes as well. These things don't have to be big, or expensive... they just need to let the pastor know that all they do is noticed and appreciated.

And most of all? Pray for your pastor.  Pray for their walk with God, and their relationships. Pray that they would receive a fresh wind of God's Spirit. Pray that their needs would be met and pray for their spiritual protection. Pray that they would love well, and be well loved.

For those who are caring well for their pastors? Thank you.

 "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, 
because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. 
Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, 
for that would be of no benefit to you. Pray..." 
- Hebrews 13:17-18





Friday, September 4, 2020

Woe to me! Reflections on a country divided.

George Floyd died in Minneapolis, in the metropolitan area where I lived for 19 years.

Daniel Prude died in Rochester, in the county I now call home.


In the midst of this time of grief, misunderstanding, anger, fear, confusion and sorrow…

I struggle to know what to say.


I have dear friends and family who are…

*African Americans who have faced racial prejudice their whole lives

*In law enforcement and are feeling vilified 

*Republicans

*Democrats

*Hunters who fight for gun owners rights

*Gun control advocates who want all guns “off the streets”

*Centrists who are feeling torn apart by trying to remain in the middle


I know for certain that this country is a mess. 

It seems that everything is upside down.

I’m guessing that no matter where you find yourself, you agree with that statement. 


But how do we untangle this mess that we find ourselves in?


The other day I was reading in the book of Isaiah, chapter 5. I read:

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil...” 


I thought about all the social media posts that have made me grieve, and when I read those words of Isaiah, I said “YES!” 


Woe to those who call evil good and good evil! They deserve it! 


And then I read on:  

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes.”

And again I said “YES!”


And then I said…. “Oh.  Wait.  Is that me??” 


By me judging everyone else… was I bringing “woe” upon my head, thinking I was smarter than everyone else? 


I’ve been sitting with that question for a few days.


I want to see systemic cultural change. And I want to work for this change.


But if I am to truly be part of seeing change come to this country, this region, this culture… it’s got to start with me. 


Isaiah comes to understand this. While in Isaiah 5 he says: “Woe to THOSE who are…” something changes in Isaiah 6. What happens? Isaiah 6 starts this way:


In the year that King Uzziah died


Uzziah had been a king who many had great hopes in. He followed God and he’d been extraordinarily effective as a king.  But in the latter part of his life, he becomes convinced that he doesn’t need to do things God’s way, and he goes to the temple, stepping into the role of a priest (which he was not). The result? Immediate leprosy which lasts for the rest of his life, reminding him of his arrogance. 


When Isaiah starts (what we now call) chapter 6 with “In the year that King Uzziah died” I think he’s saying: “In the year that my hope in the king fully died…”


What might we say here? Perhaps: 

In 2020, the year our hopes in the government, science, technology, the economy & humanity itself died…


Then what? Here’s what brought Isaiah from a place of despair to a place of purpose: 


I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim… And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.


Isaiah sees God. He sees the holiness and the beauty and the power of God. 

And something radically shifts. Rather than pointing his finger at others (“woe to those who…”) he changes which direction he’s pointing his finger.


“Woe to ME!…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.


When we see God, everything changes. We see our own sins, shortcomings, mistakes and flaws. We see how unfair we can be. We see how we have hate in our hearts. We see how we are the problem, rather than the solution. 


But we don’t have to stay there. 


 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”


The Lord “atones” for Isaiah’s guilt, and therefore it is taken away. 


THIS is the essence of the good news of Jesus.  Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Once we see our own guilt, and ask for forgiveness, Jesus offers it. Friends, how we need to see our need for Jesus to do this again and again in our lives and our churches!


And it’s only in that place of humility that we can hear the next words that the Lord speaks to both Isaiah and to us: 


 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”


Is our world incredibly messed up? Yes. 

Are people seeing good and calling it bad, and bad and calling it good? Yes. 

Are people wise in their own eyes? Yes.

Does all this bring “woe”? Yes. 


But… does the Lord call us to look at Him, and in light of His greatness and beauty and perfection and power, humbly cry out “Woe to ME”? Yes.


And when we do, there is atonement, forgiveness, and an invitation. 


Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”


There are many places where the Lord is ready to send us. Places of hurt where healing is needed. Places of brokenness where reconciliation is needed. Places of hopelessness where hope is needed. Are we willing to go?


Jesus brings healing... Jesus brings reconciliation... Jesus brings hope...

THROUGH US.


Here am I, send me.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Staycations and Sabbath

In this year of COVID, we, like so many others, found our vacation plans shifting. We’d hoped to rent a cabin on a lake in Canada, but the border remains closed. In addition, so many things that make up a vacation (restaurants! shops!) are off the list. But we also knew I needed to truly get a break from work. Our only option? A “staycation.”

I had never wanted to “staycation” before, convinced it would become a week of home projects that “should” get done, rather than a week of rest. But with some careful planning, I’ve been surprised by how restful and fun it’s been. In addition, the things that were most restful have made me think about my current Sabbath (day of rest) practices, which have gotten pretty ragged in the midst of COVID. Here’s a few things I’ve learned that I want to remember:

1. Careful planning made a difference. For a few weeks prior to the staycation, I let those who I work with know I was going to be on vacation. I had many more people call me to talk during those weeks, wanting to catch me before I’d be “gone.” But it wasn’t just planning at work... it was planning at home. I spent the day that I would normally spend packing for a trip, cleaning the house instead (although I did “pack” fun things for the week... I laid aside books, crafts, and knitting projects filled with possibilities). I put away any “should do” items. By the time vacation was ready to start I wanted my house to feel like a home I rented... and in many ways, it did. Then...

2. I intentionally looked at my home as if it was someone else’s and I was renting it for the week. This allowed me to look at something that needed to be done and internally think: this is not my problem! (And I was surprised how well that little trick worked). But this way of thinking had an unexpected benefit: I saw and appreciated things in my home that usually escape my attention. The home we “rented” had an amazing library filled with my favorite books! It had a beautiful garden where I picked roses. It had lots of quiet spots with good light to enjoy a cup of coffee, the view of the garden, a time of prayer, or a good book. The biggest surprise? My office became my “go to” quiet place. With all my work cleared out of the way, it was a wonderful quiet spot to read surrounded by books, with journal and pen supplies in easy reach.

3. I disconnected from most tech. I turned on auto reply for email (and really didn’t check), put a voicemail and text response on that let people know I was “away.” I didn’t check social media (once I caught myself automatically there, but that was short lived). I did use my iPad, as I had books on there that I wanted to read. (I have wondered if I should go “screenless” next time). I think the week helped de-program me from automatically checking social media multiple times a day.

4. I used what I had.  Just before vacation, I read an article on Sabbath which talked about Sabbath being a time to be grateful for what you have, rather than a day to shop. In these days of COVID, where one day runs into the next, and shopping is as easy as picking up the phone, I had lost that principle. But when you go on vacation to a lake in a remote area, you learn to use what you have. I tried to carry that principle this week. Again, it helped.

In addition to remembering these principles for a future staycation, I want to re-remember them for my weekly days of rest. All apply... and I think all will help me reincorporate a rhythm of rest into my week during this truly unique season.

I hope you get time to truly rest this week and this summer!