Our Dynamite of a God

logoThere’s been major changes in my life since retirement from pastoral ministry the middle of October of last year. That’s one reason I’ve been delinquent in posting blogs here. Diann and I are dividing our time between our son and his family in the Tampa, Florida area and our daughter and her family who have a mission in Mexico (alternating between our two homes about every fourth months). We bought a small home in Florida and are building an even smaller home here in Mexico. Building a house in Mexico is very interesting to say the least! I’m doing an on-going journal on my web site about the process. The last entry I thought might be of interest to readers of my A PASTOR’S HEART blog. It’s reprinted below. You can follow the entire series at www.daveclaassen.com . I hope you enjoy it!

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It’s a dynamite of a Sunday morning. There’s some stubborn rock that refuses to be easily moved at the very location of the front steps of our home we’re building here in Mexico. We blasted it out with dynamite this morning. We had not yet left for church in Mexico City (the service starts at noon) so we got to see Dynamite Man do his work.

DynamiteManDynamite Man had a weathered face, the wrinkles of which were only partly covered by several days growth of dark beard. He wore a red baseball cap and had a shirt that was set free from being tucked into his pants. He pulled the items of his trade from several bags to make ready for the blasting of the rocks. Our contractor Marco and his workers had previously drilled, by pounding a long chisel with a sledge hammer, the holes Dynamite Man had requested. Now Diann and I watched as he made his own dynamite sticks, packing a cardboard tube with granules of dynamite. What we found interesting was that Dynamite Man smokes cigarettes, not while he’s packing the dynamite, however. In fact, I’m not sure he smokes other than when he’s ready to light the fuses to the dynamite, which is what he did with the cigarette (I assume this is what he did, I was hiding behind some bags of cement some distance away at the lighting of the fuse). KABOOM!!!i (This is how they show an explosion in the comic books, so I thought I would adopt the method here). Only a few small rocks flew skyward because Dynamite Man had laid an old box spring over where he had placed the dynamite and then laid a couple of large truck tires on top of the mattress. He set off about seven blasts. The rock was shattered enough for removal.

Dynamite is very useful, but it certainly needs to be respected. It got me to thinking that every Sunday morning should be a dynamite of a Sunday morning, the time when many of us gather with others to worship the Lord. I’m reminded of something Annie Dillard wrote, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews.”

I sometimes remind myself when I’m praying in a comfortable and familiar way with the Lord that He is not only the ultimate Friend, my loving Heavenly Father, and indwelling Holy Spirit, but that He is also Lord God almighty, transcendent, and holy, holy, holy. I remember that when Moses asked to see God the Lord allowed Moses only to see His back because to see more of Him would have killed Moses. “Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’” (Exodus 33:18-23)

I remember how Isaiah the prophet thought he was going to die when God revealed something significant of Himself to the prophet. “’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘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.’” (Isaiah 6:5) I remind myself that if God were to really reveal Himself to me on one of my prayer walks I would find myself face down eating dirt, full of fear and trepidation. As C.S. Lewis had a character say of Aslan the Lion (the Christ-figure) in the Chronicles of Narnia, “’Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”

Yes, God is loving, tender, forgiving, compassionate, and full of grace and mercy. But God is also full of power beyond imagining and glory that is infinitely more brilliant than the biggest, brightest mega star. Balance in our belief in Him is key. That’s why I found this dynamite of a Sunday morning to be not only destructive to the rock but instructive for my walk of faith.

Yes, it was a dynamite of a Sunday morning! We had a blast!

Beyond Goals and Resolutions for 2015

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Individuals often make resolutions for a new year and pastors often set goals for their churches or the new year. The personal resolutions are often forgotten and the goals for a church frequently fall short.

I know a church where the pastor set an attendance goal at the beginning of the new year for the church to achieve by the end of the year. They didn’t meet it.

Goal setting can be good, but looking back on my ministry I’m not sure goals are all that we make them out to be. There can be a sense of obligation to set goals, after all, isn’t that what any good leader worth his or her salt would do? Actually, goal setting is easy to do; achieving the goal is another story, and one that doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Sometimes I think goals that leaders set never really trickle down to motivate the followers, it just makes the leaders feel good for having set them. Corporate buying into a goal is a tough process.

I’ve also sensed that my setting exciting goals for our church for the future could be a distraction from doing the better and more difficult work of grasping the opportunities (sometimes fairly well hidden) of what is at hand. Then too, there’s the reality that we can never predict the future and so we often find ourselves making things up as we go along instead of carrying out a carefully crafted plan of action toward a certain set of goals. I doubt Moses had a clear plan of action with objectives and goals in mind of how to lead, let alone feed, the people of Israel as they made their way toward the Promised Land. He certainly didn’t start out with the idea it would be a forty year process!

I can think of several goals I set for myself and my ministry years ago that never happened. On the other hand, God’s acted in some wonderfully serendipitous ways over those same years. It was that great theologian Woody Allen who said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.”

I don’t want to communicate that I believe goals are not good, I believe they can be. It’s just that they need to be kept in proper perspective. I want my heart and soul be in such a place with the Lord that I can both sense the goals for which He would have me aim and also be sensitive to His moment-by-moment leading.

Happy New Year!

Dave

Merry Christmas!

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May you not only be able to communicate the message of Christmas in a powerful way but may you experience that message personally in a profound way.

Merry Christmas!

Dave

More Than a Vicarious Christmas

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It’s now been two months since my retirement as senior pastor at Mayfair-Plymouth Church. Many things are different since then, including how I view the holidays. I’ve now experienced Thanksgiving and am currently going through the Advent/Christmas season without guiding the congregation through those experiences.

I realize now, more than ever, that so much of my reflection on the holiday themes was on how “it would preach.” I put a lot of thought and effort into how I could help the people get the most out of the season.

I’d like to pause and give myself at least a little credit here. Yes, I was aware, as I’m sure you are, that I was to make it all personal, and I think I did to, hopefully, to a major degree. I realized I had to embrace the meaning of it all for Dave Claassen, not just as Pastor Dave leading the congregation. It’s just that now I see it even more clearly, now that I’m no longer actively being Pastor Dave and that Christmas services I’m in an unadorned pew instead of nestled among the Christmas decorations on the church platform.

It’s easy to critique others for their approach to Christmas. I even preached about how it’s not primarily about the gift giving, Santa, the family gatherings or any of the other many traditions we associate with Christmas. It’s supposed to be primarily about Jesus, His coming, what that means to us, and how it should impact our lives. I think I heard my own preaching and didn’t make my own Christmas all about the gifts, the gatherings or whatever, yet, it was sometimes more about putting together a Christmas service that would knock the Christmas socks off the snow-covered feet of the C & E folks (Christmas and Easter) than I would care to admit.

Truth be told, the joy of Christmas for us pastors may not be so much the joy of experiencing it personally but the thrill we’re trying to create for others to experience. We can leave a Christmas service thinking, “That was really emotional, powerful, and life-changing for the people,” and all the while not having really experienced it that way ourselves.

I inwardly shake my head when someone states that the best way to experience Christmas is to be around children and see it through their eyes of wonder. Yes, this is a thrill (I am, after all a grandpa), but experiencing Christmas should be more than experiencing it vicariously. Christmas is not just for kids! If we’re not careful as pastors the Christmas season can be more a vicarious experience than anything else.

So, I want to do more than wish you a very merry vicarious Christmas! My prayer is that in spite of the disadvantage of the distraction of having to lead people in Christmas worship and celebration you’ll be able to put aside the pastor role enough to experience Christmas with the child-like wonder from your own position of being a child of God’s.

May you have a very personal merry Christmas!

Dave

 

Transition

transitionssmallSome of the photos I take and some, like the one pictured, I both create and take. To create this photo I first printed the word “transition” on a piece of paper, then placed it underneath a clear pyrex baking container. I then covered the bottom of the container with water and added a drop of green food dye on one side and a drop of blue food die on the other. I swirled it about and took the picture. The transition from green to blue illustrates the meaning of the big bold word TRANSITION.

I designed and took this picture because I have the concept of transition on my mind. Anyone wonder why? Diann and I are going through one of the bigger times of transition in our lives. This weekend will be my last sermon as pastor at Mayfair-Plymouth. We’ve sold our home in Michigan and have purchased a home in Florida (talk about change!). We’re retiring, so that involves it’s own kind of transition. We’re changing banks, getting new driver’s licenses, and a multitude of other changes that go with moving to a new area of the country. Then too, I’ve given away my flock of chickens, a hobby I’ve had for some thirty-five years.

The Mayfair-Plymouth Church family is facing this transition too (not the giving up the chickens part, you know what I mean). Actually, transition is a part of all of our lives. We’re always moving from green to blue, or from blue to green in one or more areas in life. Health issues that come up bring into play a transition to a different way of living each day. Financial changes, job changes, relationship changes, and many other changes move us into a transition, like it or not.

As I face my own transitions I hold fast to two great truths. I commend them to you in your transitions as well.

First, God has a plan. We don’t see the future clearly, but God does. As has often been said, we may not know what the future holds but we can know the One who holds the future. Nothing catches God by surprise and so He has a plan!

Second, God never changes. He is never in transition. He will never transition into a God who is less loving and helpful, for He can’t be less than He is. He can’t transition into a God who is better in some way for He is the very best in all ways! We can count on Him. God never gets up on the wrong side of the bed (for one reason, He never sleeps!), He doesn’t give in to a bad mood, He doesn’t grow tired or weary. God is rock solid! We can count on Him, depend on Him, stand upon Him. Our lives are always transitioning into something different but God always stays the same. I find great comfort in that fact!

“For who is God beside the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?” (2 Samuel 22:32)

Passing the Baton

transitionbatanPictured here is the baton I’ll be handing over to Pastor Joe French at this weekend’s services. It’s the weekend we officially transition from me being the lead pastor (senior pastor) to Joe being the lead pastor. I’ll preach my last sermon the following weekend (October 11/12).

We’ve been on this journey of transition for approximately eighteen months, guided by Pastor Rupert’s expertise in these matters (he’s the one with the PhD in leadership and has written a book on transition so Joe and I try to listen to him, sometimes). Now the time has come to pass the baton to Pastor Joe.

In a relay race one runner passes the baton on to another runner who continues the race. This is what Joe and I will do.

We’re all in a race called life. We’re all involved in passing on the baton, whether we always recognize it or not.

Parents pass on their view of life to their children. We know it has happened when we hear a small child parrot words we’ve heard from the parents. But it’s more than words. Attitudes and values are also passed on, for a lifetime.

We parents of adult children continue to pass on the baton of how to live life. Our big kids are watching how we handle aging, whether we’re aging gracefully, and, eventually, how we deal with facing death.

We also pass the baton of attitude in our friendships, work environments, our churches, and other social networks of which we’re a part. All of us are people of influence.

Sometimes we have the opportunity to train another person for a task or responsibility. We can help insure (though not guarantee) their success.

Passing a baton involves coming alongside a person, going the same direction and synchronizing our speed. If we’re going to pass on something good to others we have to learn the art of coming alongside them.

As a minister I have conducted funerals where it’s been rather obvious that not much good has been passed on from the deceased to those who have gathered to pay their respects. It’s sad, more sad than a funeral should be. On the other hand, I’ve conducted funerals where people can’t say enough of how the deceased made a positive difference in their lives. These funerals tend to be more joyous than you’d expect a funeral to be.

Yes, there’s all kinds of ways to “pass the baton” in life. We’re all in this race called life but it’s not just our race. Others are running the race of life too and we can make a difference in their lives. Let’s pass the baton and share the delight of winning!

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

There are are a variety of people to whom I’m passing on the baton in my life. This weekend I’ll be focusing on just one of those people. His name is Joe.

Keepers of Dreams and Visions

transitionIn less than one month my transition out of pastoral ministry will take place. I’ll conclude my one and only pastorate having entered my 40th year of ministry among the people of Mayfair-Plymouth Church. Joe will be taking over. I’ll pass the baton to him, literally, as in the accompanying photo.

We have been in a process of intentional transition for nearly a year and a half. In this final stage I’m sensing something strange happening to me. I no longer have a dream or vision for the church. The Great Shepherd apparently is already transferring those dreams and visions over to the new under shepherd, Joe. This is good, the way it should be.

Dreams and visions for a church are crucial to a pastor. A church may have a variety of lay leadership that exercises one degree of authority or another, depending on the church governance, but the pastor should be the key vision holder, the keeper of the dreams. Yes, lay leadership and other staff need dreams and visions too, but no one should have them more than the senior or lead pastor.

Pastors, however, can get so busy in doing the day-to-day, in dealing with disagreements, conflicts and the issues of the congregation that there’s significant drift from the goal, seing the purpose of it all, keeping the destination in view. How do we as pastors nurture dreams and visions? As I look back, here are some key elements that helped me.

Keep close to Jesus – jealously guard a personal time with Him where it’s not prayer about your work but about Him and you.

Read – always be reading a book that’s NOT on church growth, church health, church administration, church vision, church anything.

Fellowship – have regular times when you meet with one or more other pastors where you share from your heart, pray for each other, and hold each other accountable. I’ve been in such a group for the past twenty years or more and it’s been a key to my spiritual health.

Rest – find time to get away from the work of pastoral ministry. Enjoy a hobby or a mini-ministry not related to the church (writing is mine, along with raising chickens, keeping a fish pond, photography, etc.) Take a day off each week, religiously. Take vacations. Don’t take yourself so seriously!

These are just a few thoughts that come to me as I look in the rear view mirror of my ministry and how the visions and dreams were kept alive, until the Lord started transferring them to Joe. Visions and dreams are what feed pastoral passion, give energy, and set a direction for what we do.

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