Another Thanksgiving Thought

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Just a Thought…

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A Photovotional — Pastoring Generations

GenerationalInfluenceThe photos I share in my Photovotionals (devotions based on my photos) are pictures I’ve taken, except for this one! It was taken long before I was born by an unknown photographer, over a hundred years ago. The caption states that this is “The Claassen Brothers” threshing operation. As best as we can determine it’s my grandfather with his hand resting on the “roof” of the steam engine.

My grandfather pictured here was my Dad’s dad, John Claassen. My Dad carried the same name, John Claassen. My middle name is John, as is my son Dan’s, as is my grandson Casey’s: five generations with the same name. I never met my grandpa Claassen, for he died from complications after an appendectomy when my Dad was only ten years old. This photo gives me something of a connection to a man whose genes I carry but who I never knew.

Time separates us from both our ancestors and descendants, usually when the distance is more than four generations. Most of us didn’t get to know our great great grandparents nor will most of us know our great great grandchildren. Time separates people even more than does distance. Distances can be overcome while the passage of time can’t – transportation machines we can build, time machines we can’t.

We have not known our distant ancestors nor will we know our distant descendants, but we’re connected nevertheless. The connection is not just genetic but also by influence. This influence is not limited to our own family either. We’ve all been influenced by people who are no relation to us but who, like us, are the product of their ancestors, making their ancestors influencers on our lives. And we influence not only our children but others younger than us who will go on to influence still other people, many of whom will be born long after we’re gone, if the Lord tarries with His second coming.

We’ve been given the power of choice, of how to respond to the influence of those who came before us. We’ve been given the power of choice, of how to influence those who come after us. What “curses” of past generations do we want to stop and not pass on? What “blessings” do we want to pass on? “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) In the chain of events that are unfolding each of us is a connecting link between the past and the future and have the choice to leave this world a better place.

As pastors we have congregations that span several generations and we seek to minister to them all. Our influence as pastors helps people deal with their past, encouraging them to give up hope of changing the past, and encouraging them to hold on to hope in making the future better than what the past has handed them.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:50)

The Brick Laying Pastor

MayfairPlymouthCrossCropOur church building was built with bricks, thousands of bricks. The tower in the accompanying photo is our church “steeple” and it’s made out of brick too. I’ve always thought bricklayers have to be patient people because whatever they’re building it’s done one brick at a time.

A church building is not the church – we pastors have all said that a gazzillion times. We tell our people that the church is not brick or mortar, or stone or wood, or any other building material. Through the ministry of reminding we say it, one more time, that the church is people in relationship with God and with each other, living out discipleship together. OK, we get this. But this true church, as over against the brick and mortar building we often make our gathering place, is also built one brick at a time, bricks not of clay, but of seemingly small and daily words and actions.

Looking back on thirty-eight years of ministry, I can’t recall 99.9% of what I’ve said or done as a pastor. People will remind me of a comment I made some thirty years ago of which I have no recollection. It often sounds as if, according to their telling of it, that I said it spontaneously, in a casual conversation, and that it was impacting! People will share how I showed up just at the right moment, at some crisis moment in their lives. I graciously accept their affirmation, deciding to keep it to myself that, for the life of me, I can’t remember the event. On the down side, I’ve found out about times I’ve hurt someone, disappointed someone, or didn’t come through for someone and I have no recollection of what to them was a painful experience.

We’ve made thousands of decisions as a church, most of which I can’t remember, and they’ve all contributed to getting us to where we find ourselves today, some with negative ramifications and hopefully many with positive results. I know there’s no one who can tell me what I preached on three weeks ago (even I can’t remember) but I’ve got to believe the effort contributed something to our spiritual pilgrimage. I also don’t remember what I ate for dinner five days ago, but I know that food has contributed life to my body. I’m thinking that feeding the body of Christ is like that, not usually memorable but nonetheless nourishing.

There have been memorable pivotal meetings and defining moments in my ministry, but most of it has been day to day ministry where I have done rather ordinary things from one hour to the next. Rarely, in being an instrument of the Lord to help build His church, have I had the instant gratification of putting up large pre-fab sections. Mostly, it’s happened one brick at a time.

Individual bricks are rather ordinary objects, but they can be used to build an architectural masterpiece. We dream of having a great ministry for God, and we should. But it comes down to what we’re called to do in the ministry today. We can do no better than to hear the Master Bricklayer say to us, “Here’s another brick,” and put ourselves to the task of laying it in place.

Pastor’s Office or Pastor’s Study?

pastorstudyThere’s been a subtle name change going on with the space where pastors work. What used to be called the pastor’s study is now called simply the pastor’s office. Why?

More and more the pastor is called upon to do leadership and management in the church. We go to leadership conferences, not study conferences. I’ve been at the same church for over 38 years and I can testify that church ministry is far more complex than it was the first years of my ministry. This requires more time to shepherd these complexities that can take away the time we spend providing green pasture upon which our people need to feed.

The pastor’s study was a place where the pastor, well, the pastor studied! The title was a reminder to the pastor and also the people that this was the primary task of the spiritual leader.

My goal is to be a pastor who studies. It’s important that I maintain set hours when I work on the sermon. The secretary has instructions to tell any caller that “he’s studying for his sermon right now. Can I take a message, or is this an emergency?” I consider it holy time and space where the sermon must come to life.

I also try to be intentional about doing some general reading in the first hour of each work day. Many days it’s less than an hour and some days no time at all, but it’s what I aim for. I need to be taking in more than I deliver each week in sermons, Bible studies, and writing. I need more input than I have output. This reading is in a variety of areas – theology, spirituality, church health, etc. It’s amazing how many books and articles you can read if you devote just 45 minutes to this work even four days a week.

Occasionally someone will glance into my office while I’m studying for the sermon or doing my general reading. I sometimes catch myself wishing the person had caught me on the phone or shuffling papers. I’m tempted to day, as I look up from my reading, “I really am working!” Why should I have to explain? After all, one of the primary tasks of the pastor should be to study, in his study!

I think of Paul’s advice to young Timothy. “Study to show yourself approved before God, a workman that doesn’t need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

What do you think? Let’s get some conversation going.

A Photovotional — The Serendipitous Life

HorseInMistCroppedSmallThe fog was a shroud of gossamer floating about in thick and thin waves. Through it all ran a horse. The picture was there for the taking. But there are always variables. Fog comes and goes, so you have to be ready. I couldn’t shout instructions to the horse as to what he should do to make himself more photogenic. I’m not a horse whisperer, but even if I were, he was at a distance that would have required shouting, not whispering. Fog and horse were in place, all that remained was for a photographer to drive by; that would be me. It all came together and, presto, here’s the picture. Photos like this are not planned; they just happen and you have to be ready. I almost always have my camera with me in the car.

I’ve come to realize that much of life happens spontaneously. We plan some, and should, but always we must be open to the unexpected. Consider how the bookends of life, both birth and death, are not easily scheduled. Expectant young parents wait for the birth of their child, and wait some more. Adult children sit beside the bed and wait for the death of an elderly parent. Both the maternity ward and the Hospice unit operate on a flexible time frame. Life in between the bookends often doesn’t go as scheduled either.

Jesus went about doing a great many miracles, but of the 30 plus recorded miracles in the four gospels there are none that were planned ahead of time by Jesus. It was miracles by interruptions. God’s calling for each of us comes without a printed schedule. He informs us on a need-to-know basis, which often means about the time it happens! It’s a calling to act spontaneously by the Spirit!

Each day is filled with the unexpected, but with His help we can expect to carry out His will in the midst of the surprise. Who will we bump into? What phone call will come? What will get canceled? What good news will we get? What bad news will we get? Will we be healthy or sick tomorrow? Will we have a narrow miss or an accident? God is very much alive and active in all of our unknowns. As has often been said, we don’t know what the future holds but we can know the One who holds the future! God says, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.” (Isaiah 42:16)