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Three Things I Liked This Week

First up, I like the Air BnB we’re staying at in Gallatin, Tennessee!

Second, I like the prayer “The Saviour,” in The Valley of Vision, especially these lines:

Make him [Christ] all  my desire, all my hope, all my glory. . . . May thy dear Son preserve me from this present evil world, so that it’s smiles never allure, nor its frowns ever terrify, nor its vices defile, nor its errors delude me.”

Third, I like Mary Oliver’s poem “Why I Wake Early”:

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

 

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

 

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Three Things I liked This Week

I liked Carey Nieuwhof’s interview with Rich Villodas. I thought Rich Villodas shared a number of good insights on why we’re witnessing so many scandals among evangelical leaders.

I liked—loved!—this line from Spurgeon’s August 3rd devotional:

The Lord Jesus is not limited in His power or restricted in His mission. He is so prolific in grace that, like the sun that shines as it rolls onward in its orbit, His path is radiant with loving-kindness. He is a swift arrow of love that not only reaches its ordained target but perfumes the air through which it flies. Virtue is always going out of Jesus, just as sweet fragrance exudes from flowers; and it will always be emanating from Him, like water from a sparkling fountain.

I liked this line from Mary Oliver’s poem “Just Lying on the Grass at Blackwater”:

I have not done a thousand things
or a hundred things but, perhaps, a few.

May the Lord help me accept my own limitations!

 

 

Why No Podcast?

My Idea That Went Nowhere

I pondered starting a podcast during the pandemic. I decided on the name Ordinary Pastor. My plan was to interview . . . wait for it . . . ordinary pastors. I wanted to create a venue where ordinary pastors, serving in smaller or out-of-the-way churches could share their stories—their call to ministry and life lessons, along with the challenges and blessings of serving in obscurity. I envisioned a community of pastors bonding together around a shared identity: We are the pastors history books will ignore.

Alas, I never went forward with the idea.

Exactly Why Are You Telling Us This?

Why am I writing about this, you might wonder? I am infrequently asked why I haven’t started a podcast. Yes, you read that correctly: I am asked infrequently—only a handful of people have posed the question to me. Still, I decided to give it some thought.

Here’s what I came up with:

My Reasoning

First, I don’t think I could sustain it. Starting and maintaining a good podcast is a huge time commitment. I have a wife and three kids I need to do a better job of loving and serving. I have sermons to prepare and preach. I have books to read and papers to write for my DMin degree. Hosting a podcast would end up being one more thing to do.

Second, I don’t possess the necessary skills. I’m not tech savvy. I have no marketing capabilities (and marketing myself feels gross anyway). I also don’t know the first thing about business. And—and this is probably the clincher—I don’t have the time, margin, or mental and physical energy to learn how to do any of the aforementioned. I’m tired.

Finally—and this may be the actual clincher—I am suspicious of my motives. What do I mean? Well, one of the goals of starting a podcast would be for people to listen to it. (Brilliant observation, I know.) And a growing audience brings with it at least a certain level of notoriety. And I’m suspicious of being in the spotlight even a little bit.

I’m also suspicious of establishing an identity for myself apart from the local church. I’m not a free-floating minister to the masses. I serve a specific congregation. While it’s appropriate for pastors to preach and write for a broader audience than just their local congregation, I don’t think that’s something I should actively seek. And while starting a podcast doesn’t guarantee this, it creates the potential for it to happen.

The Vortex of Toxicity That Is Social Media

Beyond all this, starting and maintaining a thriving podcast requires a social media presence. And I don’t want to be on social media. It’s a toxic environment: Too much self-promotion, cynicism, grandstanding, and virtue-signaling. Just thinking about it makes me want a shower.

A Pace of Life Conducive to Prolonged Contemplation

One final thought: Pastors traffic heavily in words. We prepare sermons, we write for church publications, we offer counsel, etc. Doing this well requires depth and clarity of thought. Depth and clarity of thought depend upon a certain pace of life—unhurried stillness, quiet reflection, and inner calm. I suspect those three blessings would flee from me if I started a podcast.

The Quotable Lewis

And I can’t seem to get C. S. Lewis’s counsel to a friend out of my mind:

“Don’t be too easily convinced that God really wants you to do all sorts of work you needn’t do. . . . There can be intemperance in work just as in drink. What feels like zeal may be only fidgets or even the flattering of one’s own self-importance.”

Make of those words what you will.

Embracing Our Given Life

Jenny disliked her job at the local bank. The work was monotonous, her boss was overbearing, and the pay left much to be desired. She wanted more out of life.

With a cloud of despairing weariness settling in over her head, and a heart that was souring with each passing day, she scheduled a meeting with her pastor. She hoped his counsel would shed light on the root of her discouragement and help restore some sense of joy to her life.

On the day of the meeting, she arrived ten minutes early and prayed quietly in her car. “Give me an open and receptive heart to my pastor’s words,” she whispered under her breath.

After the usual exchange of pleasantries and an opening prayer, Jenny unburdened her heart. She complained about her boss’s lack of respect for her; she lampooned the bank for never giving her a raise; and she sulked over their failure to express even the slightest gratitude for her nearly ten years of hard work.

Her pastor listened quietly and intently, stroking his beard and nodding his head.

“So, what do you think I should do?” Jenny asked.

Tilting his head slightly leftward, the pastor took a deep breath, leaned forward, and said, “You’re free to get a new job, Jenny, but don’t expect it to make you any happier.”

“Why do you say that?” Jenny probed, as she repositioned herself in her chair.

The pastor sipped his coffee, leaned back in his seat, and calmly replied, “Complaining is usually a veiled lament about deeper issues of the soul. But since most people fail to explore the complexities of their own souls, they often work out their spiritual anxieties by attempting to rearrange something external, like leaving their job, getting a new spouse, or changing churches. My recommendation to you, Jenny, is to spend some time praying and reflecting on what’s really going on in your heart. What is this really about? What is the source of your disappointment?”

“I think I may already know, pastor.”

Jenny leaned forward to grab a tissue from the small mahogany table that separated her from the pastor. After wiping tears from her eyes, she sighed heavily, and said, “This just isn’t what I expected for my life. This isn’t what I envisioned for my future. I didn’t expect to be single at forty, with three children to raise all alone. Each morning on my drive to work I ask myself ‘How is this my life?’”

Imagined Life Versus Given Life

Wendell Berry wisely observed that there’s often a gap between our imagined life and our given life.[1] The life we envision for ourselves—the one we imagine as teenagers and daydream about as grown adults or retirees—rarely matches the one we wake up to every day. And the chasm between the two results in disappointment, frustration, anger, and envy. To make matters worse, these negative emotions spillover into our relationships in a concrete way. They prevent us from being fully present to enjoy the life God has given us, and the people he’s placed in our lives to love and serve.

The distinct features of this chasm are unique to each one of us. No two life stories are the same. So, here’s a question I’ve been pondering for the last four months: How can we glorify and enjoy God when our given life fails to align with imagined life?

Consider what follows some incomplete thoughts from a fellow wayfarer stumbling his way to our Eternal Homeland.

First, get honest with God and yourself. Acknowledge the discrepancy between your imagined life and your actual life. Own how it makes you feel—angry, disappointed, or depressed. Next, ask God to help you trace your feelings back to the root cause. What are the underlying reasons for your feelings of anger, disappointment, or depression? Have you properly grieved the loss of your loved one or the end of that marriage or relationship? Is your anger a result of failing to acknowledge your personal limitations or losses? Is your disappointment due to a blocked goal? If so, why is accomplishing that goal so important to you? Might it be that your depression is a result of pride? Tend to the deeper issues of the soul.

Second, walk by faith. I believe we do this best by recalling the providence of God. Providence, you’ll remember, refers to God’s governance of the world. God sustains and upholds the world he made (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3): “God is not like an artificer that builds a house, and then leaves it, but like a pilot he steers the ship of the whole creation.”[2] He “directs all things and brings them to their ends.”[3] This provides “unspeakable consolation” (Belgic Confession, art. 13) to us because it means that whatever comes into our lives happens “not by chance but by counsel.”[4] Neither the world nor our lives is ruled by an impersonal force or an impotent deity. Rather, the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—superintends all things for the good of his people: “The God of providence is the Father who loves us, the Son who died and rose again in union with us, and the Spirit who indwells us and shepherds us home.”[5]

These consoling truths compel us to walk by faith, which looks like:

1) Obeying his commands. Don’t forsake the King’s ways while passing through a trial. Instead, let it propel you into a season of sustained prayer; let it move you to fall afresh into God’s arms. Cry and lament. But don’t walk away. As the Puritan Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) told his congregation during a time of national turmoil in England: “Do not turn your backs on Christ; the worst of Christ is better than the best of the world.”[6]

2) Trust that God is at work in your life. Assume the posture of childlike dependence before God. Get alone with him, open your hands before him, and offer your life to him once again. Believe the promises of God. He will complete the work he began (Phil. 1:6); he will work all things for your good (Rom. 8:28). He has not removed his steadfast love from you (Ps. 66:20). You stand in his forgiveness (Rom. 5:2). Your suffering is producing endurance (Rom. 5:3): “Afflictions to the godly are medicinal.”[7]

3) Involve others. Link arms with fellow travelers who, like you, are making their way to the Celestial City. We all need to process life with a “gospel posse” (as Scotty Smith calls it)—a faith-filled group of people who trudge through the wind and snow of life with us.

Conclusion

In a fallen world, our imagined lives and given lives may never perfectly align. That’s why we need to approach each new day the same way: We begin with God. We throw ourselves on his mercy, collapse on Christ, offer ourselves up to him, and trust that he is at work. As imperfect, limited, embodied creatures, we rarely see exactly what God is doing in our lives as we’re passing through a hard season. But as a wise man once told me: Life is like the Hebrew alphabet. You can only read it backwards.

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[1] Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems 1979–1997 (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1998), 178.

[2] Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (1692; repr. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 120.

[3] Peter Martyr Vermigli, “Providence,” in The Peter Martyr Reader, eds. John Patrick Donnelly, Frank A. James III, and Joseph C. McLelland (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 1999), 195.

[4] John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence (1678; repr. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 40.

[5] Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Revelation and God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 1077.

[6] Thomas Brooks, “A Pastor’s Legacies,” in Sermons of the Great Ejection (1663; repr. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2020), 48.

[7] Thomas Watson, All Things for Good (1663; repr. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2017), 26.

Three Things I Liked This Week