Thursday, January 9, 2020

Reflections on the First 6 Months of Officership

So what's it like? It's crazy, alright. It's the hardest thing I've ever tried to do.  It's also the most rewarding thing I've ever done.  It's amazing. It's fun. It's stressful. It's hard.  It's everything that is a high stress high adrenaline ministry. 

Talk about a crazy series of events! You go from an environment of virtually total control over your life, to being put completely in charge.  You move from a close knit community of fellow believers, to living on your own, in a big house alone, and not only that, but to an area where you don't know a single person.  And you're in charge.  You are taking the reigns. Boy oh boy, that isn't easy!  But it's so exciting, to jump into the field, pull your boots up, and get your hands dirty, working, working, working, to put the many visions and ideas you've had into practice! What a great honor and blessing to get to do that!

I do see why pastoring is viewed as a difficult profession.  You have to be a little of everything.  The number of hats I wear in a day is sometimes astonishing. And everyone seems to have expectations of you. You put your own heart on the line, and people often will amaze you, but will often also disappoint you. It's painful, but also so exciting.  When you see someone really begin to change within, you see God's very hand at work.  It's beautiful beyond words.

My hats so far include administrator, teacher, pastor, bookkeeper, youth leader, counselor, public relations coordinator, staff supervisor, cook, janitor, preacher, bible study leader, soldiership instructor, driver, camp staff, financial manager, community outreach, committee member, advisory board leader, and that's just off the top of my head. 

I was nervous when I first started. I was afraid of dealing with my staff.  I was afraid of dealing with my own daily responsibilities.  I was afraid of a lot. But the key to courage is to feel the fear, and do it anyway. And slowly the fear disappears, until it's gone.

To be alone in a new community is not easy. Most people look at that, including people in my own family, and marvel at the fact that I can do it.  And I certainly can, but it's not easy.  I've done it many times already, but this time was different. This time it was just me.

The first few months were the hardest. It was all so new. And I didn't know how to do any of it.  Nothing can prepare you for all these various duties.  Some came easily, and I enjoyed, some came more difficultly, and I hated some of the duties.  Still gotta do them though.

The first challenge was driving back and forth to camp, with van loads of kids. It sounds deceptively easy, but it wasn't that easy.  I must've driven back and forth to camp about 8 times. It was stressful. But I tried to make the best of it.  I kept wishing I had volunteers who could do something like that, but it's rare for a corps to have a strong group of volunteers. But we're working on it. After the 7th or 8th time I felt like I couldn't possibly drive back and forth for those 3 hours one more time.  

I had spent the entire second year at training college praying for my congregation.  So it came together quickly when I got there.  We started having 25-30 at dinner church every Sunday night.  It was pretty awesome.  But I think the enemy, whatever regional power exists over the area where I serve noticed that pretty quickly. And we came under spiritual attack.

I found each of my people struggling with severe battles and struggles and it drove some of them away, at least for a time.  It was heartbreaking to see, but all I could do was continue to speak and continue to pray, and help guide them through the trials and temptations of the evil one. And we got through it, mostly.

It was all so new to me during the first few months.  Everything felt like a stretch to my soul, like I was creating muscles in my body that hadn't been there before. That was hard enough. But I had a lot of help. And I had friends in the community that were very welcoming.

I felt very quickly that I was exactly where God wanted me. That became clear, and I decided I would fully embrace it.  I wouldn't let any of my complaints or personal issues interfere with God's call. But you just know when God has you at the center of His will. Things happen in a way that makes it absolutely clear. But I didn't really know if I could do it. I felt I could, but I was also green as an apple.

I think the real acid test started the first kettle season. I knew that would be the real test as to if I could handle the challenges and stresses.  I knew I would be in a situation where I was everything. I was the coordinator, counter, depositor, driver, and ringer all at once. We also didn't have a janitor at the time, so I was cleaning as well.  

But what I didn't expect was the departure of the caseworker, in mid November.  That certainly made things much more difficult, though I had my part in all that. 

But let's go back to commissioning first. What an often difficult and disappointing time transposed with excitement, and glory, and miraculous growth.  My worst nightmares had all come true that June when I became an officer.  All three dooms landed on me. I had a picture in my mind of how it would be, I would go out with my wife, who I would meet at training college, we would go out together, to a medium sized city, in a warm area of the Midwest.  

But my worst fears had been realized. To my disgrace, I was sent out, a 34 year old man, as an assistant, a semi-officer. An almost officer, so it felt in my mind.  I felt disgraced in front of my session mates who so many had gone to such choice appointments, influential, on the up and up. And I'd been sent out in disgrace as an assistant, I rightly believed that my own propensity to speak out on difficult issues had bought me this disgrace.  I'd do it all over again if I could, and speak out even louder this time. Someone has to stand in the gap.

So, in my mind, not only had I been disgraced in front of my session mates, my friends in The Salvation Army central, and my own family, who had all come to see the spectacle, I had gone out alone, unmarried, without any prospects on the horizon. None. An empty sky, that remains empty to this day.  

This I felt doubled my disgrace, for a 34 year old man, to be sent out as a lowly assistant, and not only that, but to be sent out alone, no wife, was a grave shame on my soul.  Many would argue with this supposition. But I felt at the time that to be married, was an indication of maturity, of growth, of being at that moment in life. I felt left behind by life, and by God, as I grew older, 34 years old, wondering if I might ever marry and have a family, a dream I'd had for years. 

And of course tag onto the end of that, I'd been sent to a cold area of the United States, central Michigan.  Just a little cherry on top. I have seasonal affective disorder, and I had hoped I might end up somewhere warmer, like Kansas or Indiana or Missouri.  And of course one little additional poke as well, I was hoping that I would not have to drive a minivan. I love cars, I really enjoy driving a good car. I used to drive a muscle car, I drove hondas, I love hondas, and I had a 1992 Mercedes Benz 190E, beautiful car, rear-wheel drive, so fun to drive. I didn't want something too fancy, a traverse would've been nice.  But for a single guy to drive a minivan, just felt like one more little insult from the Lord.  

I'd given my life to the Lord.  I'd left my home, in Wausau.  I left my family and friends.  I'd given away my possessions, and everything, and I'd gone to a place I didn't want to go, Chicago, for two years. I'd humbled myself, put up with insults and mistreatment, I felt, and then when the final moment culminated, each of my worst fears had been checked off on the list. I felt I'd been held up to public disgrace by the Lord, in front of everyone, and I was deeply ashamed. 

So the first six months were very difficult, coming from that perspective. But I did realize over time that my perspectives might not have fully displayed reality. In fact I realized I was probably wrong about most of it. But I'm still sour at times about it, God's will is always so tough! Why is it so tough? Who knows!

Of course the daily and weekly activities are taxing and difficult. Learning the community can be overwhelming. Trying to build up the programs is tough. Working on issues outside my strength areas is very difficult.

But I think what was surprising was the off time.  I didn't really expect to dread coming home to an empty house.  But I do dread that, and I've talked with many other single officers who feel the same way.  They just want to stay at work because going home to the empty house is just too much.  It's the loneliness.  And the pithy remarks of married officers certainly don't help at all. "It's hard being married too." "God's using this time to work on you."  Give me a break. 

But we were talking about kettle season.  So we made our goal, my first year, which was my hope.  I had to do a lot of it alone. But I had some volunteers who helped with things. I had Scott, who I called "the last soldier of the citadel."  I told him I was going to write a poem about him. The corps had been destroyed by an officer's indiscretion many years ago. While everyone had left, this one man remained, and so I thought it quite noble. And I had a few other volunteers who helped with ringing, counting, and pick ups.  We made it through.  The office was very short staffed during Christmas, and the only way that we managed to serve 40+ families toys was because my mom came for the entire month of December and helped in the office almost everyday. To put it into perspective, I have trouble sleeping at night, and have had that problem my whole life.  I didn't have problems sleeping during kettle season, I would literally pass out at the end of the day.

The spiritual attacks on the church continued, and intensified. We experienced increasing drama, rumors, gossip, and slander from within and outside the church unfortunately. And this hurt us. And we've continued to work, to try to unify the body that seems so divided. But the battle continues to this day. 

Six months later I realized that it's not a shame to be an assistant officer. It's a blessing in disguise.  It doesn't mean anything, aside from indicating that I'm single. I realized it wasn't a shame to go out single. It's not a sign of maturity to be married.  People get married at totally random points in their life.  And I realized it's not a shame to be in a cold part of the country, or to drive a minivan. So that's where I'm at now.  Am I still disappointed to be single? You bet.  Do I still have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about being an assistant? No doubt. Do I still gripe about the car and the cold? Yeah. But fundamentally I realize the truth now.  God is right, and I'm not.  That's OK. The emotions follow later. 

But overall what I can say is God is doing the impossible in our midst. He's gathered together a body of people who he is conforming to His image.  And we continue to pray for great miracles. And I really do love officership.  I also hate it at times.  But we keep fighting. I see why officers burn out over time, because eventually you think I just can't keep up with this anymore, I assume. But that's not going to be my story. Officership is crazy and amazing. So far so good. The battle is real, but God gives the victory. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

To See Jesus Face to Face

Luke 1:41-52 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[f] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Over the last five weeks we’ve traveled along the road of Bethlehem, we’ve examined the moments when Mary learned she would bear the son of God. We’ve explored the nativity, the birth of Jesus with the shepherds and the wise men, and we’ve studied the moments when Jesus was brought to the temple as a baby, and Simeon and Anna saw his glory.

Today for our final advent message we jump from Jesus as a baby, to twelve years later when Jesus is a young man. This is the only record we have of Jesus as a teenager. There is a huge gap here in the Bible, we jump from Jesus being born, to Jesus beginning his ministry at the age of 30. So we see in Luke’s gospel account that Jesus is twelve years old. His parents Mary and Joseph have just gone to Jerusalem to participate in the Passover festival.

The Passover festival was a celebration of God delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This was when Moses was blessed by God to lead God’s people out of Egypt.

So they had just been at this festival, and then they head home. They travel for a full day, and then they realize Jesus is not with them. He’s missing! So they go all the way back to Jerusalem looking for him.

I remember as a kid when my mom was shopping me and my sister would hide inside the clothing racks at stores. One time she couldn’t find us, and when we finally came and found her she was extremely angry. Where were you she said. Can you imagine how scared joseph and mary were, looking for Jesus?

They were probably freaking out!

So they look for him around Jerusalem for three days. And finally they find him in the temple, in church, talking with the priests asking them questions and sharing wisdom with them.

His mother was probably in tears, wondering where he was. And his dad was probably pretty mad.

So they look at Jesus and ask him, “How could you treat us like this? Where were you?”

And Jesus’ reply is very interesting and mysterious. He says, ““Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[f] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

In Jewish custom, at this age a child would go through the bar mitzah. You’ve probably heard that phrase. It’s a ritual in which the child becomes a man. And it usually includes an oration before the assembled guests. The child becomes a man, and is now responsible for his own actions and conduct.

Perhaps Jesus was practicing a bar mitzah with the leaders in the temple, beginning his adulthood. But there is something deeper going on here.

Jesus at this very moment declares that God is his own father. And it says Mary treasured these moments in her heart. She would always remember this moment in her life. When Jesus declared, I had to be in my father’s house.

His destiny was coming into focus. Jesus is not just a kid, or even just a man, he is something much greater. To be in the room with Jesus must’ve been like… being in the room with pure sunshine. Every word he speaks is perfect. It’s either perfect love or perfect truth or perfect justice. And I would bet that the perfect words from Jesus would include both compassionate love, but also a hard truth with a strong sense of justice. And I imagine my two prominent emotions at those moments with Jesus eye to eye would be incredible love, and a strong fear. A gentle love and a respectful fear. Because Jesus is pure love, an ocean of love for us, but also the king of kings, Lord of all of us.

So I can only imagine what he was saying to the priests in the temple that day. Just a few words from Jesus can change a life forever. It’s not like running into your neighbor or even a family member you love. It’s like running into the meaning of life. The creator of everything. It’s so far beyond what we could imagine.

And we see in these moments with Jesus at the temple a shadow and reflection of something greater that he will do in the future. We know that Jesus inevitably came to die. He came to die as a sin offering. Your heavy load of sins, those regrets, those fears, those anxious thoughts, that depression, that desire to hurt yourself, and hurt others, that shame within, that’s what Jesus came to remove. Jesus was perfect, God on Earth. Flawless. But he went to the cross, to die for our sins. To remove our grief, shame, and darkness, and put it on himself. And he deletes it that way. That’s how it works. You may not fully understand why Jesus had to die to remove your sins. But understanding isn’t required. You don’t have to get it all. Just put your faith in Jesus. Be willing to say OK, Jesus removed my sin in that way, and I accept and receive and believe that.

I don’t fully understand how Jesus dying removes my sin. It’s a God thing. It’s beyond me. But I know how it feels right now to have those sins off my back, and washed away. They are gone. I used to carry that all around and it was so heavy. And now it’s gone. The pain, the regret, the shame, the guilt, its gone, it went to Jesus on the cross, and he deleted it.

So think about this, in these moments, Mary looks for Jesus for three days. And they can’t find him. When Jesus died on the cross 20 years later, he was dead and buried for 3 days. Mary was there watching the whole thing happen, when Jesus was on the cross, and the sky went black for hours. She saw it all. And she saw him die.

But then Mary the mother of Jesus saw Jesus was alive. Three days later she found him. Just like she found him after 3 days of looking for him in the temple when he was twelve years old. Amazing how the actual events of Jesus life point us to his death, burial, and resurrection.

All of this hope in our world today, all of our this peace and justice we find in the United State of America, all of our hope in Jesus, and indeed our own salvation army, are all because of Bethlehem, because Jesus was born as a baby, grew up, and gave his life as a sacrifice for the world.

I can’t imagine a world without Jesus and the cross. It would be a dark, terrifying world. And someday as we know from the book of revelation, the presence of God in the world will be removed, and an incredibly dark and horrible time will happen in history, called the great tribulation. That will be a world without God. But at the end of the tribulation, God will raise up tribulation saints to proclaim the truth, and all of this will culminate with the return of Jesus.

And on that day the face of Jesus will fill the skies, and many who sneered as Jesus, and mocked us, and laughed at us, will suddenly be terrified and realize their day has come. And many of us who loved and followed Jesus and repented of sin, will be filled with awe and joy at his return. That is the ultimate culmination of history, all, because of Bethlehem, because Jesus came. Seek Him and find Him before time runs out. And He will remove your sins and set you free. 

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