Pastors… who are they really?

Christianity is a bumpy ride at best… if anyone says differently, they’re not being honest or they’re not living life! I don’t care who you are, life can definitely be hard (even when it seems to be going well). Choosing to follow Jesus is not a promise of sugar cane lollipops and clean sheets! Following Christ is a demanding choice that brings with it the promise of a healthier life if we choose to follow the example that Jesus taught and what God promises.

I’ve been more challenged in my latter adult life than at any other time, because I choose to follow Christ! I choose to make the hard choices I do to help me live the best life I can. I can’t say I get it right all of the time or even most of the time for that matter, but it’s incredible to know the difference because it means I have a path to follow and a guide to help show the way. It gives me hope!

God does want not tell us how to live our lives in terms of what we choose to do when buying a house, what we want for a career, where we want to live or what colour to paint the bathroom. I do believe though, that He hopes we’ll share or offer our choices to Him and ask for His guidance and wisdom. I know there are probably some people who just read that who may in part disagree with me. That’s completely OK… that’s between you and God to wrestle with. I’ll continue to engage God and wrestle with that stuff too.

I suppose this is where our Pastors come into the picture. What a huge responsibility they have. They have to be available for questions or thoughts like I just mentioned. They also have to be there for us as we struggle through our challenges, losses and triumphs. They’re an amazing group of people wouldn’t you agree? They choose to be an earthly guide to us as they present the Word or Message of God. They do this not just every Sunday, but every day! Every single day, our Pastors are on the spot because they must lead lives of example; the example that Jesus left for all of us to follow. That is an awesome responsibility! Not only must our Pastors lead lives of example, but their husbands or wives also share and present a similar example. On top of that, they must try to live out in their own lives the same advice they offer us. Talk about a hard road to walk!

While they engage in this life of service, they knowingly choose to be held by God to a higher standard! They are held accountable because they have chosen to publicly accept the responsibility for leading His people in a life committed to following Jesus Christ! WOW! I don’t know about you, but to me that seems like a pretty incredible responsibility to accept! To add even more responsibility, they must do what I just described with absolute grace and humility! When you think about it, it’s a pretty incredible life choice to make!

I hope by now you’re beginning to see my point. Our Pastors are pretty incredible people who have taken on an awesome responsibility! It’s been my privilege to make and maintain deeply bonded friendships with nearly all of the Pastors and families who have come into my life! I’m getting a little choked up thinking about it actually! Some of the very best friends I’ve ever had are Pastors! If you’ve known me for most of my life, you’d quickly realize how bizarre and unusual that sounds! I spent the 80% of my life outside of any form of Church or organized religion. I still do not consider myself a religious person, but I am definitely a deeply committed man of faith and follower of Jesus Christ! I’ve been a follower walking in grace for nearly 30 years, but I’ve not been involved in a church or with any pastors for the majority of it. In fact, it’s only in the last 10 years of my life where I’ve really become closely connected with any church or pastors. There’s a long story to my testimony and maybe one day, I’ll write about it, but this is about pastors and so I’ll continue to focus my thoughts on them. To do that though, I’ll have to share a little bit of what I’ve seen through my friendships with them.

Probably the most significant thing I’ve notice is THAT THEY’RE PEOPLE TOO! They experience the same struggles and trials in life that we do. They have to pay bills, maintain mortgages, raise children, buy food, face trials and cry tears like the rest of us do. When it comes to experiencing all that life can bring, they are no less subject to the trials of life than we are! I won’t share specifics about what I’ve seen, but I can tell you that what I’ve seen is no less challenging than anything I’ve faced in my lifetime.

When our pastors have trouble with their children, who can they turn to? Of course, they can and will turn to God, but it’s also nice and real to need a certain amount of human support too. They’re there for us when we need them… are we just as available to them when they need us? When their kids or family get sick, when they maybe having a marital or relational problem or when they’re struggling in their faith just like we do, who here on Earth can they turn to?

So far, I’ve only focused on the stuff life can bring their way, but what about the stuff that really doesn’t belong to them like our expectations of them? Do we consider that they have lives and trials just like we have when we say we need them? Are we aware of the difficult decisions they must make like whether or not to help someone financially? They have to make financial decisions every single day with funds entrusted to them by their congregation and by God! They must discern whether someone is truly in need or is fabricating a story just to get a hand out. They choose to help guide our children, teens and young adults and they have to deal with our expectations of how they’re to do that too.

Who do they turn to when they have troubles within their own pastoral community? Managing a staff of church employees and pastoral staff is no different than managing regular employees because they’re all regular people, but who can they talk to about it. Peer review and experience are important resources to lean on when making business and staffing decisions and they exist beyond the church. Are we available without judgment and in confidence?

Who do they turn to when they’re struggling with a problem themselves? What if they need someone who isn’t in the pastoral community to listen to them because they need someone who has shared the same experience? What if they need to turn to you for help, would you be ready or willing? I don’t necessarily want to talk with my girlfriend about everything. I may be struggling in a relationship issue with her and I need to hear another perspective before I try to discuss it with her. I’m not saying that we should air our laundry publicly, but sometimes, it’s helpful to say what you’re thinking to someone else and have them reflect back to you what they heard you say. Maybe the issue is all me and I need a checkup from the neck up. Our pastors needs are no different.

I think we have an conception or understanding that our Pastors are infinitely wise, their lives are largely without trouble or trial and that they probably don’t need us. Well, guess again! They’re people just like us and they need the same love and grace we do! They’re no less human and therefore no less prone to the trials or temptations in life that we are.

I’ve seen in a few cases where people live their faith lives vicariously through their pastor. They “do what they do” and happily accept the grace they receive from their pastor or friends, but are very quick to judge a pastor when they fall in the same things they’re guilty of because their expectation is that their pastor is beyond sin! Well… I’d rather have a sinful, repentant and real pastor than a fake, holier than thou pastor any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

I happened to be at an event recently where my pastor and his wife wept openly while they watched their son admit to a part of his life he’d been struggling with. It was not easy for their son to admit to and it was no easier for my friends to watch their son make his obviously honest and sincere testimony! What I can tell you is this… they were not crying because they felt shame or guilt because of what their son was publicly offering in his testimony. They were weeping tears of joy because their child had claimed freedom from the dominion of pain they’d been labouring under and the guilt and shame of that past. What was my response? I cried with them, held them and supported them too because they’re my friends and I love them!

Pastors have kids who have to go through the same teenage years that ours do… those waters can be shark infested at the best of times and it’s no different for them. They have illness, financial challenge, need for retirement and other challenges to face within their own families and lives just like we do. They do all of that and still listen to our burdens and suffering because let’s face it, most of the time we need their counsel when things aren’t going too well in our lives. We usually need them when we have a difficult challenge or question we’re facing and we want or need their time to work through that stuff. They share with us as we watch our kids being born and they weep with us when we lay our loved ones to rest. All the while, they’re facing the same stuff in their own lives!

I think we should have a national “love your pastor” day because they definitely deserve our love and respect! One day seems too little considering they give back to and serve us nearly every day. Think about that… they’re living a pastoral life every day of their life. Here’s a challenge from me to you. Make a day in your own life to honour or thank your pastor… just as they do for you each and every day of theirs.

I have to say that I’m overwhelmed when I think of all of the pastors who’ve been giving, loving and kind to me. They’ve sacrificed their time when I’ve needed them. They’ve been there to help guide me through very difficult moments in life and in my faith. God has richly blessed me by allowing me to become closely connected with my pastors! They are among the wisest and most gracious people I’ve ever met. Not because they bear the title pastor, but because they choose to be kind, gracious, humble, truthful and above all, human!

I’m writing this today because I want to honour the pastors who’ve always been there for me and who continue to remain willing to be there for me. Beyond that, they choose to call me friend and share friendship and life with me! What a blessing they are. I’ve been told that no matter where I am or what time of the day it may be, I’m always welcome to call… not because I’m anyone special, but because they truly love me, care for me and want the very best for me!

What an amazing blessing our pastors are to us each and every day… let’s all take time to give them a hug and tell them that we not only we appreciate what they do for us, but why! Tell your pastor that you love them if you do and how they’ve helped you or helped shape your life. Worshiping God is about more than music. Worshiping God is about recognizing and rejoicing in his blessing and provision for us. Celebrating your pastors and their families with love and acknowledgment of their life choice is God honouring worship too, not to mention, it’s just kind appreciation for all of the love and sacrifice we receive from them every day.

Larry, Don, Arden, Mike, Sara, Heather, BrianD, BrianT, Ed, Lynda, Doug, TimB, TimD, Scott, Rick, Anthony, Nate and any that I’ve missed; to you and your families, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all of the love, care, compassion and patience you’ve shared with me over the years. Thank you for loving me enough to kick my butt when I’ve needed it. Thank you for always being willing to ask the hard questions and then walk through them with me. Thank you for trusting me with your confidence when you’ve needed my friendship and thank you especially for always being real people! You’re a light unto my path and my life would not be the same without your loving friendship!

Always and with love,
Tim

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Hearing from God

As it often happens on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I find myself lounging for the first couple of hours of the day with my coffee and my laptop. I’m an early riser and because I’m usually up before the rest of humanity, I do something that allows me to be silent and still and that feeds my heart and mind. I read and enjoy the nectar produced by pouring hot water over carefully roasted beans and then blending that nectar with cream… but I digress.

The results of my reading usually find me inspired or challenged by a topic. Today, as I often do, I was reading a blog post at Relevant magazine. The post I’m referring to was about God’s hearing voice or waiting in what we feel is His silence (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/3-reasons-god-silent#h7EARcT5zmWlUuOV.99).  It was an interesting read and for the most part, I agree and feel similarly, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

At the bottom of the blog article, there is a place for reader comments. My writing today is in response to a question posed by a reader named “Jennifer” who asked “What if you kind of feel like you have never “heard” from God? Could someone explain what hearing from God means?”

I too have felt like this in the past. I wondered what it would feel like, look like or sound like if I were to hear from God. I didn’t have the first clue what hearing from God would resemble. Jennifer… I’m going to try to answer your question, because it’s a tough one and it may challenge us both. You’re going to have to be a little patient with me though… I’m going to share my experience and my take on how it might happen or at least, how it’s happened for me.

What I’ve come to learn about “hearing” from God is this. Hearing from God is like hearing from anyone else… we have to play an active role in our relationship with Him and we have to be willing to communicate. Communicating means listening as much as it does talking. It also means being a little sensitive or perceptive toward God just as we must when we get know friends and family in our life. We learn those little unspoken mannerisms particular to them.

When we listen, do we know what to listen for when it comes to hearing from God? Does it sound like a booming voice? Is it a quiet whisper? In my experience, I’ve sensed God’s leading or voice, but I’ve also actually “heard” audibly and directly from God. Before you say “Really?” and roll your eyes, please let me explain. When I heard God’s voice, it was something that was completely unexpected! It was in a location that I would have thought would be the last place on Earth that I would have experienced God actually speaking to me. That’s exactly what happened to me though.

I was standing in a restaurant/bar in one of the major casino properties in Vegas when I was given a verbal and direct account by God of what was about to occur in the next few minutes. I can’t share the details of what he said to me as this involves more than just me. What I can say though, is that it was an amazing and powerful experience in which God used me in someone else’s life… to show them love and acceptance. God told me “word for word” what was I was about to hear… I did not hear Him tell me how to respond. He simply told me, in great detail, what was about to occur. Now… I have to tell you, having this happen to me while enjoying a beer in a restaurant/bar in Vegas was not lost on me. I’m here to tell you that I was a little more than blown out of my socks. I just stood there, leaning against a shelf, holding my beer and listening to the Author of the Universe tell me what was going to happen next.

I didn’t know why at the time God chose to speak to me, but I just listened (for about 3 minutes).  Call it 1 minute after God had shared with me what He wanted me to know, I was approached by this person and what happened thereafter had me holding my jaw from hitting the floor!  What I heard was exactly what God had told me that I would hear.  This person shared the same statements and the same questions God said they would… VERBATIM!  Yup… my mind was blown, but as a result what God had revealed to me, I was also quite prepared and at peace. The other person however… was a little more than surprised that I had such clarity in our situation considering I’d only met them a couple of hours beforehand and we’d not spoken ten words to each other. I was however, able to be used by God in this person’s life for the next 4 hours. We talked and connected because I had been prepared for this conversation by what God shared with me and by His Holy Spirit. I was led by and open to what God was doing. Why did God choose me to share this experience with this person? I don’t honestly know! I suppose he’d been preparing me for some time in various ways before this event actually happened. What I do know, is that it happened and that I’m humbled and grateful to have been a part!

I heard God clearly and directly before this person came over to talk to me and share with me what they needed to. God’s voice was clear and distinct, but I couldn’t describe what it sounded like if you were to ask. As I mentioned, this person was a complete stranger to me before that day began. I’d only become acquainted with them a few hours before our experience together. What I heard just before our experience was God’s audible (to me) voice. What I heard and felt afterward was a peaceful guiding of my mind and heart through the rest of the conversation that followed. God used the experiences of my life and also my life with Him to witness to another. At first, God’s voice was audible and then, it became spiritual. It was easy to follow because I was open to it. God was in my heart and guided me every step of the way. I know that God loved this other person enough to bring us together to answer some questions that they’d been seeking and suffering in their life. He talked to us and through us both, but make no mistake… it all began with God actually speaking to me in an audible form! I heard His voice.

So, after my regurgitation… what am I saying about hearing God’s voice? God can speak to us in many ways, but rest assured that He does speak to us! He can speak audibly to us, though I can tell you that in my experience, it’s rare. What I just described was the only time in my life where I’d actually heard God talk to me directly in an audible form… at least, that I’m aware of. God can speak through scripture. He can speak through the life of another or through a direct human interaction. He can use a tree or an eagle. He can us the laughter or tears of a child. He is not limited in any way. We however are limited in our ability to hear Him because OUR perceptions, intelligence and doubt get in the way.

Something I’ve come to learn about God is that He’s very direct. He lets me know what He’s thinking, but it’s up to me to listen or see what He’s trying to tell me. I have to do my part. I have to remain aware and sensitive. That can happen through prayer sometimes, but mostly, for me it happens through living my life. God does speak to us and answer us, but WE have to get out of the way to hear it! There was a time in my life when God was giving me answers. In fact, He was probably shouting at me, but I wasn’t listening to him at all! That said, He never stopped trying to share with me what He wanted me to know. He never stopped pursuing me!

My point here is that God is not limited in the way that He communicates with us and that His communication with us is unique to us! It’s between Me and God as much as your communication is between YOU and God. It all starts with letting God into your heart and then spending time with him. You may feel a peace that you can’t explain. You may hear His voice directly. You may read a piece of scripture that speaks to you. You may hear an answer that comes from another person who may be a complete stranger or a trusted friend. You will know that it is God though. You will know it because it will be clear and undeniable truth. God is direct and purposeful and He wastes nothing!

My inspiration to write this post came because I read a question asked by someone I’ve never met or am likely to meet. It came because I saw something in the words that spoke to me. There was something about the question that prompted me to write this today. I don’t know if it will help or if it even answers Jennifer’s question, but I did sense that God wanted me to try. God spoke to me through the question of another because he needed me to know the answer to something that I’m going through right now. He also needed me to know that He’s there even though the answers I’m searching for right now seem elusive and hard to see. Now that I’m here, I see much of what I’ve been missing because I’ve been getting in the way.

There is a great DVD series by Bill Hybels called “Whispers”, which is an excellent resource that speaks to this very question that I would recommend anyone watch.

I am quite sure that there will be some people who will read this and think… “yeah… another God following nutbar!”. Honestly, if I read what you just did, I’d have my doubts too. It seems so far fetched and anyone with some patience and a keyboard could conjur up a story like this. If that’s what you think, that’s OK, you don’t have to believe a word I’ve shared. All I can do is to tell you is that this really happened to me. If you’re reading this and doubting what I’ve said, ask yourself this… “Tim will never meet me, he has no agenda in my life and he’ll likely never be aware of what happens to me… why did he take the time to write this?” I could offer you the answer here, but I’d rather you ask it by making a comment. Better still though… I hope you’ll try to answer it for yourself and maybe even ask God in the process. I promise you, God is listening and He would absolutely love to hear from you! He will answer, just be still and wait on Him… His answer may be subtle, but it will come.

I know this whole article sounds cryptic and weird, but that’s was my experience. God’s voice or method of communication is as varied as we are! Because of that, how He reveals Himself to us is personal and unique to us. I can tell you is that the best way to hear Him is to talk to Him and then, live your life. There is a lot of “noise” experienced while living life, but if you look or listen carefully, you’ll hear from God… You’ll know it’s Him because what you hear will be clear and identifiable truth. Absolute truth! You just need to be honest with yourself about what you hear! It may be very hard to hear, but trust that it will be exactly what you need to hear because God loves you and cares enough about you to tell you… and He’ll never stop! Ever!

Since when is it not OK to say “I don’t know” ?

I’ve spent the morning lounging, reading about Mothers everywhere and reading about God. I just read an interesting article that got me thinking… why do we (oftentimes) feel the need to have or supply an answer in a particular situation? The article I was reading was on “how not to debate an atheist” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/how-not-debate-atheist#HVLU2VJukgdmlKW4.99).

No… my article is not at all related to the one I just mentioned (except that I enjoyed reading it and it inspired the thoughts I’m about to share with you).

Pick the situation… Should I get married, should I ask for a raise, can I trust Jesus, is there a God, will the economy remain stable, should I choose chemotherapy, holistic medicine or surgery? These are all very tough questions and each need very careful consideration. In the end, we’re the only ones who can answer them for ourselves. We’re the only ones because we must bear the responsibility and consequences of our choices. They may have great outcomes or they may bring new challenges or trials. In the end, we must choose.

If you’re like me, you don’t try to answer these questions alone… you reach out to someone you trust. A well meaning friend, a pastor, a teacher, your parent, God. Even the most introverted and introspective people need to lean on someone else from time to time. We just can’t do it alone because we don’t have all the answers. It’s what happens though, when we lean on another for an answer, that this article is about.

While reading the article on how NOT to debate an atheist, it struck me… why do we feel we need to have an answer for any given question that is beyond our knowledge? What inspired this question in me was this excerpt from the article:

“”Science doesn’t have all the answers,” is a weak platform—science is designed to admit its ignorance and look for better data. Science may not know what happened before the Big Bang, but that doesn’t make God the default explanation. When we ascribe to God that which science can’t explain, we put faith on the run, fleeing from the ever-advancing front of scientific insight.”

When we don’t have an answer to a question… why do we feel the need to provide one? Isn’t it okay to say “I don’t know, but I’ll sit here with you”? I was going to write “until one comes to us”, but sometimes, we just don’t get the answer we need (or when we need it). Sometimes, there is no answer because we just can’t possibly know. I can’t know what you’re going through because I don’t live your life, so I can’t know all of the circumstances or experiences you’ve encountered that have brought you to where you are currently.

Sure… sometimes the answers appear to be clear, but are they really? It’s arrogant and presumptive to believe we can provide an answer in someone else’s life. There are times, that we need to help someone make a choice because they’re suffering or under great stress or uncertainty, but we must do that with complete and total humility, because the decision has the potential to change the course of their life.

I will admit that I’m someone who likes to have an answer. I used to feel the need to always have an answer, but I came to learn that I have very few answers to my own questions. If that’s true, then what makes me an authority on what someone else is going through?

Sometimes, we just need to sit with someone and bear out their circumstance with them in a loving and gentle way. Admitting that we don’t have an answer to a question is a good thing (though sometimes scary). When we admit we don’t know about something, two very important things happen. We receive an opportunity to learn and we receive an opportunity to challenge ourselves to find an answer and in so doing, we grow! In the process of that learning, we’re likely to learn even more than the answer that launched us into this unknown area.

Because of a good friend of mine, I discovered that I didn’t know much about Crohn’s disease, but I’ve learned through my friendship how to be his friend! I have no magic answer, no antidote, no diet. All I can do is to learn (with him) how this condition affects his life and how I can be there to support him. I wish I could answer why he has to suffer with unpredictable fatigue or why stress can dramatically and inexplicably change what seems like a “string of good days” into a crash. I don’t have those answers any more than I know what will happen tomorrow in my own life.

Running away from questions by trying to feign knowledge or even worse, by writing them off to a mystical source (God) is foolish and a missed opportunity. What’s even more important though is that sometimes, we just need to be a friend in silence and support through love and community. Just sitting with someone and talking with them may bring the answers to the questions being faced. Either way, the point here is to love the person through their trial without heaping your agenda on them too. In my case, spending time with God and asking Him these very same questions is paramount!

Sometimes, our answers are right in front of us, but we can’t see or hear them because of all of the distraction or noise. This is something I’ve become very aware of and sensitive to. Because I believe in God and that he has a plan for my life, I choose to listen to him. I can’t always do that well though, because the noise of my life can get in the way of my hearing his voice or seeing his direction. My good friends help me to face the truth of my situation, to challenge me to ask hard questions or to walk into the unknown; but a very wise and cherished friend asked me to consider spending a little time just “being” and to let the “noise” of my life subside until I can hear God’s voice. Wise advise indeed! (you know who you are and I love you for it).

Do we need to help ourselves and our friends by helping them answer tough questions… sure, but sometimes, that means asking even more questions that help to illuminate the truth in the situation. Just be willing to be patient and expect not to have the answers in your time frame. That part is not up to us and impatience won’t bring the answers any sooner… trust me! Sometimes, the best thing we can do to find our answers is to live our lives and not focus so directly on our problems.

Getting back to my point, ignorance is not a bad thing! It’s an opportunity to lean and to grow. Being willing to admit that we don’t know is wise! Wisdom is about not having an abundance of knowledge. It’s knowing how to apply that knowledge and admitting that we may need to learn even more. Wisdom is a combination knowledge, love, compassion, truth and humility.

The next time someone says to you… “I think I’m going to ??????????, what do you think?”, rather than blurting out an answer, why not try doing the verb in the question… why not try spending some time “thinking” with the person who is struggling, especially if you really don’t have an answer?  Friendship is about patience, love, respect and above all, honesty.

I don’t always practice this myself… but I’m learning to.

PS

You always encouraged me to learn and ask to questions.  You always encouraged me to engage!  You always encouraged me!  I love  and miss you Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day!