Archive for August, 2014

On the last day of our stay in the Dominican Republic, we spent some time on this beach.  And it offered a chance to do some reflection on ministry and calling.

On the last day of our stay in the Dominican Republic, we spent some time on this beach. And it offered a chance to do some reflection on ministry and calling.

Sometimes events in life don’t come with a warning light.  Many times they don’t announce themselves at all — either on their arrival and on their leaving.

Life happens.

Sometime around September 2013, life happened for me.  I don’t know the day that it started, but I know what would come after that.  Sometime in that month, I started a string of health events that would follow me well into this year.  It started with a sinus infection that never really responded to medication.

And things kept building from there.  It would become a series of health events that included continued sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, exposure to the flu, internal infections, an immune system crash and eventually sinus surgery to address an underlying issue.

After spending more than nine months on a combination of steroids and antibiotics, I reached a place of feeling absolutely depleted physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  This ordeal affected my life, my personality, my relationships and my faith.

Every journey brings with it opportunities and costs and this journey was costly.  It cost me days and events and time with those I love the most.  I was sick during key dates with my family: pneumonia and flu during our anniversary and the Christmas holidays, infections during Grace’s birthday and Valentine’s Day, sinus issues and infections during Easter, recovery from surgery on my own birthday and Denise’s birthday.

It also left me limping through some of the biggest seasons in the church: I was ill through Advent, I could barely stand up with pneumonia on Christmas Eve, I was fighting a terrible infection during one of the church’s biggest weekends of outreach, I limped through Lent and Easter and into Annual Conference.  Many Sundays became a time for me to put the energy I did have into sermons and then I would return home and collapse on the couch for the rest of the day.

God and I would have many conversations during that time.  Some of them bore out my anger and my questions.  I kept returning to the Psalms, particularly those of David.  Honestly, there were many days when I was asking God the one-word question of “Why?”

I know that those questions and those struggles that boil underneath will eventually come to the surface.  They came out in my relationships with those I love the most.  They started to make their way into my conversations with others.  Those issues started to work their way into sermons.  There were times I absolutely lost the energy to smile.  Maybe I simply became a little darker and more sullen.

Now, this is where I pause for a moment to make a theological statement.  Sometimes people will say that we shouldn’t express questions, fears, doubts and frustrations (especially when you’re a pastor).  I would challenge those who say that to read the Psalms written by David who is described as a man after God’s own heart.  David has a tendency to ask the questions that others won’t ask and to cry out to God in pain, despair and frustration.

But those things don’t last forever.

Surgery in mid-May improved the sinus issue even if the recovery took longer than expected.  The remnants of the sinus infection appeared again and I would knock it out in late June.  

By the time of the mission trip to the Dominican Republic in early July, I was healing physically.  It was was also starting to impact my healing emotionally and mentally.  

Maybe sometimes there’s a sense that the spiritual aspect of healing is impacted by the other ways that we heal.  In some ways, I was still feeling the affects of a broken and hurting heart.

Then, we finally arrived (after a couple of days of trying) in the Dominican Republic.  Somewhere in that time and that journey together, my healing took a significant step forward.  I had the chance to remember why God called me in the first place and to see it play out before me.

I reconnected with the heart of God by seeing others connect to God’s heart.  I watched young people get excited about being missionaries and I witnessed some of them do things I’d never thought they would do.

There were people there who truly loved God, who loved others and who were doing some amazing things in the name of Jesus.

I talked to other pastors who were there in the Dominican Republic.  I listened to their stories, their journeys of faith and I was reminded so much of my own.

There was a day when I sat on the beach at Puerto Plata and listened to Pastor Fausto share the journey that the had taken to find his place in ministry.  He talked about the church that we had been working with that week.  He shared where he saw God working and the challenges that come with ministry.  And there are those times when the challenges you face lead those in ministry to ask, “Is this really worth it?”

Maybe it was that day, as we sat there on the beach, talking about life and faith and church, that I really started to realize that God was working to heal me and my broken heart.

I remember that verse where Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “I now call you friends…”  I had that thought when we left the Dominican Republic to come home.  I now had friends, those who shared in the same journey, in places like the Dominican Republic and in New York and in Prosperity and Columbia and Greenwood and all across the state.

As I end this series of blogs related to that trip to the Dominican Republic, I realize some things that happened in my life and my heart and the impact they have on the minister that I’m becoming.

Those thoughts:

  • God clearly called me into ministry. 
  • God didn’t call me into ministry because of what I could do.  God called me into ministry because of what God can do through me.
  • My worth in ministry is not determined by a weekly counting of noses (attendance) and nickels (money).  My worth is ministry comes from the calling that God gave to me, is giving to me and will continue to give to me.
  • The Gospel is the bottom line.  It changes everything. It changes me. 
Participants in our mission trip and children from the community work together to scrape and paint bleachers in Santiago.

Participants in our mission trip and children from the community work together to scrape and paint bleachers in Santiago.

Sometimes I think God speaks to us softly.  It’s a gentle whisper, a nudge deep within us to do something.  Sometimes, God speaks to us in such a clear way that it as if light is shining to show us the path.

And then sometimes, and maybe it’s just with me, God borrows a move from Gibbs on the TV show, NCIS, and God smacks me on the back of the head.  Trust me, it gets my attention.

Somewhere in the middle of that missions trip to the Dominican moment, I had one of those head slap from God kind of moments.

Maybe it’s because this trip put some distance between me and what I’d been experiencing since September 2013.  Somewhere in that month, I started a battle with a nasty virus that would lead me through sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, an immune system crash, etc.  It would lead to round after round of antibiotics and steroids.  Ultimately, I had sinus surgery.  To say the least, it was a very trying period of my life.

Maybe it was just that I was now in a situation where I had experienced some serious God moments (God-incidences — not coincidences!).  Something in me was already opening up for this.

But it happened one day in quiet time.

I kept coming back to a variation of a quote.  “The church doesn’t need a mission.  The church is the mission.”  It’s been said so many times and attributed to so many people that I have no clue who to credit it too.  Another way of saying it is, “The church doesn’t need a mission.  God’s mission has a church.”

But, there it was, in my head, and it started an inner conversation. In the situation that I found myself, how could we find a way to reach others for Christ?

We had been doing that through personal evangelism and meetings with those in the community in Santiago.  We did that through Vacation Bible School.  We were spending time together in worship and we were having some very profound moments of spending time with God.

But, something was tugging me in a different way.

It’s when I kept going back and saying that quote over and over again.  Then, it stuck, “The church is the mission.”

During the time that we had been in Santiago, the church (translated Eternal King Congregation) had hosted us, they had worshipped with us.  They were the site of the Vacation Bible School.  Maybe there was a way, in our role as missionaries, to come alongside this church and give them an opportunity to reach those in their community.

So, we heard about a need for the church.  The church was looking for some help with repainting its facilities.  And we decided to respond.

It was an interesting experiencing to go into one of the Dominican Republic’s versions of the home improvement stores that we are used to (Lowe’s, Home Depot). But we left armed with paint, rollers, brushes, scrapers, tape and other items.  We were ready to make the church the mission.

Now, I’m glad that I’m serving a church that does a lot of work on homes in the area around the church.  The youth and leaders who were with us know what is involved in those kinds of projects.  And they jumped in.

We scraped the paint on the bleachers and on the basketball goals. We worked to repaint the backboards and repair one of the rims.  But something bigger was happening here, something bigger than all of us.

Within about 30 minutes of us starting this project, others joined in.  It was children and teens from the neighborhood around the church.  They were armed with scrapers, or flat rocks that we were using as scrapers.  They took up paint brushes and rollers.

In a moment, I looked across the projects and it seemed like in that moment, it was an image for me of the kingdom of God.  What we were doing transcended who we were.  I had conversations with kids with only a limited knowledge of Spanish.  We did a lot of sign language and hand motions.  They followed my lead and we laughed and smiled at the moments wayward paint ended up on someone’s clothes (sometimes mine!)

I looked out at Steven Douglas, Wightman’s youth minister, and he also had a group following him from project to project.  The youth who were serving as missionaries were doing the same thing.

Then other things started to happen.  Others from the neighborhood began to arrive at the church.  They brought coconuts and fresh mangos.  Someone nearby shared with us some fried yucca.  Members of the church arrived and they joined in.

One of those church members looked at me and said, in nearly perfect English, “This is a good thing.  The community is excited about what is happening here today.”

In the afternoon, we would take a break from our painting to help with VBS, but we would return the next day and our helpers would return too.

Sometimes, most definitely, the church is the mission.

And maybe in that moment, I had some insight into how I view the church.

– The church’s mission is to “go” and by going, it means the church steps out from behind the walls and goes into the world.  Going into the world isn’t easy and sometimes it’s messy, but it is there that are able to show what it means to love Jesus.

The church is open to all.  The church encourages people of all backgrounds to work together for a common purpose, sharing the love of Christ with the world.  In those moments, we are most like the Kingdom of God.  It doesn’t matter where we are in the journey of faith, there should be a place for us in the church.

The church opens doors.  By doing things that help others, by showing hospitality to the world, we open the door to sharing Christ with others.

The church helps us to take steps to move toward Jesus.  The church is a place for people to bring all that they have experienced, all of their burdens, and it is the place where we can lay them down before Christ.  By sharing together in the community of faith, we have the strength to takes steps toward Jesus.

– The church doesn’t need a mission.  The church is the mission.