Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Amazing Story of the 27-Year-Old Youth Pastor Who Lives a Perfectly Consistent Life

This might come as a shock to you, but I have never acted inconsistently with my beliefs.

EVER.

Never have I ever once done anything that goes against my core beliefs.

Want to hear something equally crazy?  Neither have you.

Now you might say to me, “Wait just a moment, Tim.  I’ve heard you describe yourself a conscientious consumer; someone who works hard to buy fair-trade items and avoids supporting sweatshop labor.  But aren’t you wearing a Hanes T-shirt?” (Hanes was listed in the 2010 “Sweatshop Hall of Shame” by the International Labor Rights Forum).

“Why, yes I am indeed.”  I would reply.

“Well, isn’t that inconsistent with your beliefs?” you might ask?

“Apparently not,” I would reply.

Because, you see, if I did believe that sweatshop labor was wrong, I would live differently, wouldn’t I?  So when you heard me describe myself as a conscientious consumer, evidently I was being dishonest.

You remember that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”?  What if that was…you know…true?  Better yet, just imagine yourself living as a mute.  Add to that the inability to write, or sign, or pantomime, or otherwise convey your thoughts.  All you can do is live.  What will people conclude that you believe after watching you for a day?  A month?  A year?  A decade?  A lifetime?

Here is a list of shameful things you might conclude about me if you just watched me live for a while:

  • I don’t care much where products come from before they get to me.
  • I think my own leisure is more important than people.
  • It’s OK to say something hurtful, as long as the person you’re hurting isn’t listening.
  • I’d rather eat deliciously than eat ethically and healthfully.
  • I think most people are stupider than me.
  • Lust, anger, pride, and selfishness…really aren’t all that bad.

Apparently these are things I believe from time to time.  Someone might comfort me by saying, “Those aren’t things you believe, they’re just areas that you struggle to be consistent in.”  Well, I respectfully disagree.  I think I am consistent.  I think I live the way I believe.  Perhaps the only thing that is inconsistent in my life are the words I use to describe my beliefs.  Because when I call myself a “conscientious consumer,” yet buy sweatshop-produced items, I don’t live inconsistently; I describe myself inconsistently.  Let me give you an example from earlier in my life.

When I was in high school, I was punk-rock through-and-through.  Mowhawk, tattoos, piercings, chains and patches…the whole bit.  And of course, along with the punk-rock ethos, came the rallying cry of the punk-rocker: “I don’t care what people think about me.”

I used to love saying that, because it was “proof” that I was unaffected by mainstream society.  Only problem was that after making that statement, I would spend an hour (or more) in front of the mirror getting my hair to do this:

I wasn’t about to let the tuxedo take away my street cred.

But I wasn’t living inconsistently.  I was simply describing myself dishonestly.  I did care what people thought about me, and I lived in a way that proved that.  But I described myself as someone who didn’t. The inconsistency was in my description of myself.

Our actions will never be inconsistent with our beliefs.  Because our actions will always reflect what is going on in the depths of our hearts.  Consider what Jesus says:

“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit.  If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit.  The fruit tells you about the tree.

You have minds like a snake pit!  How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded?  It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.  A good person produces good deeds and words season after season.  An evil person is a blight on the orchard.”

Matthew 12:33-35 (The Message)

Nobody lives inconsistently.  People only describe themselves inconsistently.  Jesus says here, in essence, that the things we say about ourselves don’t matter much when compared to the way we live our lives.

So, here’s where the rubber meets the road spiritually.  Watch this clip from thinker/theologian/activist/heretic Peter Rollins.  Skip straight to 1:41:

Make no mistake: your actions are your beliefs.  The way you live today will tell of your adherence to the doctrine of resurrection (among others).  Your words merely describe you either correctly or incorrectly.

Now, it could be easy for us to walk away from this devastated and hopelessly aware of our inability to reach any level of real holiness.  To this I say two things:

First of all, good!  It is only in these hopeless moments of clarity that we are made aware of the depth of our sin and our need for a savior.  Use the feeling of hopelessness to propel you into the arms of the One who offers hope!

Second of all, don’t get angry or discouraged without getting honest.

Live honestly.

Live your beliefs.

Let us become the people Christ calls us to be on the inside so that we no longer need to hide behind our faulty descriptions of ourselves; so that we no longer need to masquerade as people of good standing.  And, when our lives display that we believe counter to the Gospel, may we have the courage to say the words that will ring consistently with our brokenness.  Have the courage to say, “Today, I denied the resurrection.”

And then go out tomorrow, and refuse to deny it again.

-Tim-

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Christian Pastors Should Suffer

If you’ve stuck with me for a while, you know that I’ve been obsessing about the idea of suffering.  It’s a word that God put in my head a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since then.  But, I promise that this will be my last post about suffering for some time.  Maybe I’ll move on to some happier topic soon (ponies anyone?)

But today at the church office I was going through an old binder full of students’ medical release forms that have accumulated over the past few years.  As I flipped through the binder, I passed the names and medical details of numerous students who are pursuing Christ and are making great strides in their faith, and I found myself encouraged by the lives and faiths represented by those names, birthdates, and medical policy numbers.  But the longer I spent flipping through that binder, the more names I noticed that belong to students who I knew well, but who are no longer actively pursuing Christ in community.  I don’t speak out of an arrogant assumption that just because they don’t show up to church every week it must mean they are off worshiping the devil.  I speak from the knowledge I have through my passing interactions with them and their friends.  I speak as an observer, witnessing their lives unfold via social media (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)  I feel my heart ache a bit every time I see evidence against the Spirit of God guiding their decisions.  I want so badly to see them re-enter the fold of their faith; to return from a prodigal journey all the wiser to the rich love and grace they nearly walked away from.  I ache.  I hurt.  I suffer.

Now a confession, and a plea for forgiveness.  I have been accused (rightly so) of being too pushy at times.  My zeal to see students embrace the call of Christ has often taken on an unintentionally forceful tone, and my eyes are being opened to the fact that this may serve to push more people away than it draws in.  And so I ask for forgiveness from anyone who has felt cornered or harassed by me.  Please have grace with me.  I beg you to bless me with the room I need to grow.  And I beg you to try to see what is at the core of my “pushiness”: a desire to see the Church grow and Christ transform.

So, back to suffering.  Today, I suffered.  I experienced the suffering that is perhaps only shared by pastors and parents; the suffering that comes from seeing someone you have nurtured make a series of decisions that you believe will bring them harm.  It is an awful feeling.  I hate it.  I don’t wish it on anyone…

…Except for every Christian pastor in the world.

A little while back, I was having lunch with a pastor friend/mentor.  He imparted some important wisdom to me regarding the role of a pastor.  “A pastor,” he said, “must be comfortable feeling like a victim.  Being hurt.  Suffering.”  What a job description, huh?  Who in their right mind would sign up for this?  But as he expanded on the idea, my eyes were opened to the truth and beauty that exists within the call for a pastor to be constantly willing to suffer, and to expect it every day around every corner and in every situation.

There are two types of pastors out there, I suppose: those who are willing to suffer, and those who are not.  And within the subcategory of those who are not willing to suffer, I suspect that there are two reasons that pastors do not suffer:
1. Because their church community is made up of perfect people (never mind, this doesn’t exist).
2. Because their hearts are not willing to be hurt by the losses they must necessarily witness regularly in ministry.  They are either calloused or they are blind to the the people in their community who are attempting to wriggle free of the Father’s grasp. 

As our culture grows progressively…”flexible” (I suppose that’s a nice way to put it), I suspect that we will see more and more people walk away from Christ when it becomes boring, inconvenient, offensive, or difficult.  Any pastor who ministers in a church made up of human beings will experienced this from time to time, and will be forced to stand by and watch, feeling helpless, attempting to encourage and convict, but witnessing some people drift (or sometimes run) further and further from the God who loves them so deeply.  The time to suffer has arrived.

A suffering pastor is, paradoxically, a healthy pastor.  The moment I begin to feel completely content in the health of my ministry and my flock, I must be quick to check if my contentment is based on true health, or if it is a result of the fact that I have stopped caring for those who are lost, hiding, hurting, and/or escaping. 

I want every Christian pastor to suffer, because suffering means that they are tuned in to their community; they see how many people are forfeiting their lives to gods other than Christ, and they are unwilling to let them go without a fight.  And so they fight.  And they suffer.

So may our pastors suffer, suffer badly, suffer long, and suffer well.  But never stop suffering.  Because when pastors stop suffering, they have closed their eyes to those who most desperately need a pair of loving eyes to rest upon them.

-Tim-

Tagged , , , , ,

Airplanes and God’s Unwillingness

I don’t like airplanes.  Call me crazy, but there’s something about 400 tons of steel, suitcases, and human flesh that leads me to believe that it doesn’t belong in the sky.  Even though I’m growing gradually more willing to fly (thanks in large part to this book) it’s still difficult for me to feel comfortable on an airplane.  The door swings shut, my ears pop, and scenes from countless films involving air disasters flood my mind.  Remember that Uruguayan rugby team that had to eat each other to survive after their plane crashed?  That’s the kind of stuff I think about when I get in an airplane.

Pictured: My worst nightmare.
Suspiciously not pictured: People freaking the hell out.

I just returned from an 11 day trip to Chile with the high school students from our church, and I somehow survived the twelve-hour flights (each way, plus an hour layover in Lima, Peru.  It was a long freaking time to be in an airplane.)  But as is my ritual, I spent some time with God the day before our flight left.  I asked Him humbly to protect our flight and to bless our trip, and to get us to and from our destination safely.  As I was wrapping up my time of prayer, I snuck in a request, hoping to receive a quick response to put my uneasy spirit at rest.  “God,” I asked, “Can you please give me the assurance that the flights will be safe, and that I will return home in one piece?”  I shuffled from my seat, ready to wrap up my prayer time, when suddenly the voice in my head that I frequently attribute to God came back to me clear as day.

“No,” it said.

Wait.  What?  Why not?

Lately I’ve been asking God this question a lot: “God, if you’re so big and powerful, then why won’t you just _______?”  It sounds like a childish question for a pastor to ask, but it’s a question that rings in my head every time something doesn’t happen the way I want it to.  So, if God is so big and powerful, then why wouldn’t He just tell me things would be ok?  Looking at this situation retrospectively, I see now that I am indeed alive and well, and that my plane did not go down in a horrifying ball of flames like I had feared.

So why wouldn’t God just let me in on that?  All I needed was a little, “You’ll be fine,” and I would have been content.

But I got no such thing.

I thought about this for a while that night, and I pondered the possibility that I might die on tomorrow’s flight (statistically laughable, I know.  But a lingering fear for many nonetheless).  Why does it seem like God rarely gives me the assurance that I am looking for?

If you’ve been following me blog (or talking with me face-to-face) lately, you’ll know that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of suffering.  It’s an infuriating mystery to me.  Why must we suffer and, perhaps more importantly, why are followers of Christ called to suffer?  If we are called to suffer, you’d hope that God would at least give us a heads-up when we’re not going to suffer so that we can have peace of mind.

But maybe there’s something to learn about God here.

It came to my attention, in asking God for assurance, that He was unwilling to give me any.  I don’t mean this to say that God was arbitrarily opposed to giving me information or comfort.  I mean that my having this specific information and comfort was counter to His will.  He did not desire that I should have it.  His desire was that I face uncertainty head-on.

One of my favorite songs of all time is The Self-Employed Chemist by Norma Jean.  Towards the end of the song, there is a haunting refrain in which vocalist Cory Putman asks, “What if I have to lose?  What if I have to suffer?”  This is a question I return to often, and the very question God forces us to ask when He refuses to give us the assurance we so desire.

Anxiety is a longing to avoid uncertainty.  Perhaps herein lies our love affair with logically repeatable experiments and predictable outcomes.  While certainly not altogether bad, such desires for the repeatable are perhaps symptomatic of a deeper fear of the unknown.  We want to see the same sort of predictable outcomes in our lives.  But it doesn’t always work that way.  And apparently God doesn’t want it to.

We face uncertainty everyday, provided we chose to go on living for one more day.  Will I slip and fall in the shower?  Will I experience something embarrassing today?  Will I lose my job?  Will a loved one die unexpectedly?  Will I die unexpectedly?  Will I go to heaven when I die?  Is there a heaven at all?  Is there a God at all?  Do I really exist?

What do we chose to do in the face of the necessary uncertainty of life?  This is the question that defines the type of people we are; the type of Christians we are.  God’s desire, it seems, is not that we be certain about anything, but that we be faithful in everything.

I was forced to answer whether or not I would heed the call to lead students to serve God in Chile even if it meant that I may die en route.  I asked God, “Will I die in a plane crash on the way to Chile?”  God responded, “What if you do?”

What if I have to lose?

What if I have to suffer?

Every day is an agonizing opportunity to answer these questions.  Do we continue to progress, to move, to wake up, to love, and to hope in the face of potential loss?  If we truly want to live, we must.  And, perhaps, the more uncertainty we face, the more we truly live.

-Tim-

Tagged , , , , ,