May is a bit of a strange anniversary for me. It was a year ago this time that I was working on the final two Sunday messages that I would share as lead pastor of the Ithaca Vineyard (the church I planted in Upstate NY in 1999). I was also preparing to step down at the end of the month to begin making final preparations for our family’s upcoming move to Ireland.
Since last May I haven’t taught in a church setting. The last time I went 12 months without speaking publicly? Since I first began public speaking/teaching back in 1988, I’ve never gone more that a couple months…so this has been a big change.
I recently read a blog post that Pete Scazzaro wrote this week about solitude.[read the full post here]
I thought using what he wrote as a jumping off point would be a helpful way to share some things that I’ve been thinking about recently. Here’s the opening paragraph from Scazzaro:
“When I asked my PhD friend to reflect, after over 30 years of therapy with high-powered executives and pastors, why leaders have such a difficult time stopping and being still. He laughed. “Pete,” he replied with a smile, “They are terrified. They can’t stop. Their self is so tied into achievement, into their doing and work, they are afraid they will die if they stop.”
Church leadership is a weird thing. It just is.
In leaving Ithaca, and moving to Dublin (especially considering our plan to wait a period of time before we began planting), I was in a lot of ways moved out of that whirlwind of activity that is church leadership, and set firmly on the sidelines.
Some days it is really good.
Some days I just want to do something.
Some days I’m reminded that the Ithaca Vineyard is carrying on well without me there, thank you very much.
And in going almost a year before bringing on a new lead pastor, it has made me wonder about the value of all of that activity I was so skilled at creating.
That lead to another thought…
Recently I was thinking about various “heroes of the faith.” Perhaps you can think of exceptions, but as far as I can think, anyone who has done anything worthwhile for God, has gone through a fairly intense period of trial and testing. “Wilderness” seems to be how it is often expressed in scripture.
Wilderness is a good description of it I think. And it seem to just be part of the process.
We recognize these times as normal for the people following after God.
In fact, when we hear people share their stories, the other side of the wilderness, of trying something…dealing with oppositions, facing false accusations, getting to a point of despair…and then God breaks in some way, things turn around, and life is different from that point…we want to cheer. “Yeah God for coming through!” and “Yeah to the person/people who stuck it out, despite it all.”
We love those stories…And so many of God’s stories are like that.
But sometimes we come into the story in the middle of that wilderness season. We hear the accusations being made. We see the struggles. We observe when it seems like nothing is going right for this person. We see the tears and the despair…and what do we think?
Maybe you’re better at this than me, and naturally think:
“Wow, look at what they are going through, they must be in the middle of one of God’s very cool stories! Can’t wait to see how this one turns out!!”
Let’s face it, I think for a lot of us, our natural tendency is to think, “I wonder what they did wrong.” “Perhaps they missed out on what God had for them, because if they were really following God’s will, wouldn’t he be blessing them?”
I think that says something about what we mean when think of God’s “blessings” and what we want when we ask God to bless us.
I think it probably says something about our view of those “wilderness” times.
Which probably impacts how we act in the middle of them.
I’ve always loved that passage in John where Jesus & his disciples come upon a man born blind. Their first response is “who sinned? The man, or his parents.”
We’d say something more like “who’s fault?” “who’s to blame?” Because it makes more sense to us if we can put it into some type of frame-work that makes sense to us.
Of course Jesus response blew away their way of thinking about it. Sometimes difficulties come because, God wants to do something for us that can only happen when we’ve recognized that there is nothing else for us to rely on other than him.
Like I said…just stuff I’ve been thinking about lately…