Friday, November 20, 2009

In the Preacher's Dog House (Happy Birthday, Daughter)

I seem to have created a problem for myself. Having noticed my birthday letter to our son, our younger daughter - who shares the same birthday with her brother - wrote to give me permission to publish "amazing stories" about her. Drat. Just as I was about to write something boring. Not that I couldn't come up with something absolutely amazing, even thrilling, about "Lady Talksalot" (See my earlier blogs). Perhaps it is fitting that my birthday greetings come tardily to the one I used to introduce as "the late Jennifer..."Still, I have the sense that I've put myself royally in the dog house, and I must make amends.
Since my first birthday epistle was to honor her aged brother for breaching his thirtieth year, gray roots and all, I must write our daughter a homage to her not-yet-departed youth and remind her of what she has not yet attained: Social Security.
Herewith, Daughter, I submit my list of things you can still enjoy before you reach the big 3-0:

1. The fantasy of thinking you're so much older and wiser that all those silly eighteen year-olds.
2. Children - at an age when you are still young enough to run after them.
3. A face without wrinkles.
4. The prospect of several more years of reasonably good health.
5. The excitement of young love (followed by the satisfaction of mature love).
6. The opportunity to correct your mistakes before it's too late.
7. Time.
8. Ice cream - without fear of calories and middle age spread.
9. Friends as young as you are.
10. The opportunity to hold on to the ones you love.

These things won't disappear when you hit thirty, but when you do, time will seem to accelerate and birthdays will come with awesome regularity. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, and remember too that your dad loves you - always.

Happy Birthday again, Mrs. M.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pastors Struggle Too

This is not "great confession" time, but it could be. As a child, I idolized my pastor. I looked up to him as the most godly of all men - certainly the most godly of all I knew. That's not to put down my own parents because, in fact, we all looked up to our pastor. I thought he was one person who did not share the same spiritual struggles as the rest of us poor mortals. Then, as the fellow says, "I are one," and my attitude has changed considerably.
I discovered along the way that pastors struggle like everyone else, maybe more. We have "issues" that the typical laity do not live with. I'm not talking about "sins that so easily beset." We all have those, and that goes without saying. But pastors have to deal with matters that go beyond the usual "besetting sin." I struggle with watching our church grow v-e-r-y slowly. I wish I had a more rapid answer, but I don't. I have to live with the fact that the church grows and goes at God's speed, not mine. I struggle with not always knowing the best, most effective way to reach the community with the gospel. I wish all our methods worked, but they don't.
I struggle with not being able to visit all our people as often as I would like. I struggle with not always being as available, and thereby not always as close to our members as I want. I struggle with not being able to help them past their personal problems. I struggle with all the things I wish I could do to help, but can't. I watch them suffer needs, go through difficulties and endure pain. I feel utterly helpless at times. Of all people, I should be able to help, But too often, I can't.
In a word, I struggle with my own inadequacy. How often I've thought of Paul's question, "Who is sufficient for these things?" and I've answered, "Not me, that's for sure."
This is one struggle I do not expect to overcome. I'm glad I have a patient and kind church who understands and accepts that they have a most imperfect pastor. I have to keep reminding myself that pastors are always at their best when they are at their weakest. It's at that point that we all have to throw ourselves unreservedly on the Lord - or else we would leave the ministry. But thankfully, Paul said one more thing that keeps us going: "When I am weak, then I am made strong." If Paul had his struggles too, at least I'm in good company.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Son

Today is our son's thirtieth birthday, so I wrote him a personal note. I thought I would pass it along in case there are other families out there with thirty-year-old offspring still under foot and needing a word of encouragement:

Dear Son,
Today you're thirty. Before you begin applying for Social Security (although the way Congress is going, it might be good to get yours while you can), I thought I would encourage you by noting some of the advantages of having reached your plateau:

1. You look more attractive to women who are looking for more mature men.
2. You can stop worrying about whether your clothes are the latest style.
3. You can claim dementia for everything you forget and it begins to make sense.
4. You can trust people over thirty.
5. You can say "When you've lived as long as I have..." and sound like you mean it.
6. Teen aged servers at McDonalds start giving you Senior Discounts.
7. You're one year closer to your Golden Buckeye Card.
8. Car insurance gets cheaper (This is for real).
9. College professors begin treating you like you have brain (This also is for real).
10. You get to laugh at the way teenagers dress.
11. You no longer have to show your I.D. to prove your age.
12. You're old enough to do it, but smart enough not to.

Congrats and have a good day. While you're at it, have a good year. I'm proud of you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

While the Preacher Wasn't Looking

A preacher I know - someone who is not likely ever to read this column - is in real trouble. His church is dissolving into a virtual civil war of infighting and general dissatisfaction. People have left, are leaving, and will leave steadily until there is nothing left but a hollow shell. The pastor has not been capable of addressing the situation or handling it properly. He has not known what to do. Instead, he has made himself absent most of the time, preferring a perpetual vacation to the angst of having to face a disintegrating church. Do not be too quick to judge this man. He did not directly create this mess, and he surely did not intend it to happen. He has been a pastor for many years and he is worn out from the onslaught of competing church members. Retirement is looking better and better. Anything is better that the current debacle.

What caused this situation? One or two church members -underlings; a lay person whose position allowed him (or her?) opportunity to become the unofficial "church boss." This person has succeeded in agitating for the direction he wants the church to go. He works behind the scenes to dictate the church program, music, special events, and anything else that appeals to this person and elevates his power. But you say, "How could a pastor let this happen?" This problem situation happens all the time because pastors are notorious for letting their attention be taken up by other issues - the various needs and burdens of individual church families, Bible study, preparing to preach, visiting the lost, the sick, the afflicted. While the pastor is looking one way, the "church boss," or wanna-be boss, is working in another. Pastors have - and need - deacons to help him keep an eye on all the activity going on around him. Pastors and their families need good vigilant church members who are alert to the plague of bossism in church.

This is a plea to churches and church members to cease and desist from all the church politics, the infighting and backbiting, the petty jealousy and self-serving competition that grows like a cancer, eating a church from the inside. Many a church could have its epitaph written over the door of an empty building: "Here lies the remains of a once thriving church. Death by suicide."