Personal Story: A Wrecked Pastor

What gets your attention more? A story about a point of interest in life, or a story from someone’s life that makes an interesting point?  Personal stories get my attention.  When a person starts off a conversation with “I was out to sea in a huge storm…” I am about 20 times more likely to perk up and listen than if they start out saying “There are many things you can learn by being at sea in a huge storm.”  I’d say up to this point I’ve written what I would call general interest posts here on my blog.  I do share personal stories from time to time, but mostly I am writing topically about things that get my attention.  The more I read it the more it feels so…analytical, and, well it feels a bit sterile.  Its too clean.  I like analysis.  I 527767289_HAeJMiyiSgiJ1V9oFX7A_wrecking_ball_xlargeespecially like to take apart false belief systems using the gospel.  I also like applying the gospel to practical matters like raising children and being married.  I think I’m pretty good at it, but it doesn’t seem to get much traction with people.  By traction I mean pulling people along, hopefully into a better place or better life.  Some people always find a handle on what I write and get pulled along, but it doesn’t seem like in general folks are connecting with the message.  Good analysis without good handles accomplishes little.  The funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve learned much of anything that didn’t come through a story; either mine or someone else’s.  I’m feeling like I may be able to accomplish more if I just give you the story as it unfolded and unfolds.  Maybe you can come with me and we can figure some stuff out together.

So at the moment I am a wrecked pastor.  Do you have a pastor or a church?  Some have one or the other; some have both; some have neither.  You want to know the really strange thing about becoming a pastor?  You don’t really have a pastor any more; at least like most people do.  You want to know another weird thing about being a pastor?  You can’t read the Bible right any more.  It messes with your head.  Between those two things alone you could lose your mind.  Most of the pastors I know got into it because they had a pastor they admired and/or they loved the Bible.  Once you are a pastor every pastor you meet wants to find out “how the church is doing,” and every time you open the Bible you start 5914doing a sermon outline.  It sucks.  Oh and another thing is you don’t have many people you can say things like “this sucks,” to without thinking you might not want to say that out loud.  Stuff piles up in a pastor’s life like papers on a desk.  Why do pieces of paper start cluttering your desk?  Because at some point you lost the energy to put them away, or you just can’t think of any good place to put them.  They don’t fit into any category.  You don’t know how you’d label a file folder.  This is what it is like being a pastor.  I’ve always got things pending that don’t fit anywhere but they are not things I can forget about or shove into a drawer; they’re pieces of lives.  A couple divorcing with children.  A woman discovering she married a person she doesn’t really know at all.  Parents who found out their son is gay.  A bounced check in the offering.  A man who wants to tell me the fantastic thing God just revealed to him that everyone needs to get on board with.  Living clutter.  Pieces of love.

It surprised me when I got my first bout with depression.  It surprised me so much that it took two years and a bazillion tests and doctor visits before I knew what was wrong with me.  What does a pastor do when depression sits down on him?  Who preaches the good news to the good newser?  And who is going to help clear up the clutter?  I don’t know.  I’m striving to overcome depression.  I think that’s right.  My therapist friend tells me its not helpful to say I suffer with depression.  I get his point.  But I have suffered.  I’m not suffering at the moment.  You bet I’m not or I wouldn’t be writing this…well I might be, but nowhere as efficiently as I am now.  I want to help with my suffering though.  My Tina and I agreed years ago to share the bad things in our marriage – the things that gut punched us and hurt the worst – so we could give hope and guidance to other married people.  It feels like suffering, when it is offered up brings life, but suffering when it is covered up just rots.  If you are a pastor, maybe our story will bring life to you.  If you have a pastor, maybe you can get a better understanding of the story they can’t tell you by reading ours – and help bring life to them.  I titled this “A Wrecked Pastor” because at my worst that’s what it felt like.  LIke a car wreck, I’ve discovered over time that, while there was some considerable damage, the car isn’t totaled.  It still runs.  Part of getting it on the road again is telling the story to you and for you.

Bible: We are cast down but not destroyed…

Reading: The Anointing, R.T. Kendall

Listening: Lucifer’s Hammer, Larry Niven

Watching: The Americans, FX

Kellerism Today:  We worship that to which we ascribe ultimate value

The Americans & How to Stop Being Fearful


Elizabeth: “You know what I wish, as I fall asleep every night?  That I’ll wake up and not be worried.”
Phillip: “About what?”
Elizabeth: “Everything.”
Phillip: “You can’t live like that.”
Elizabeth: “Show me another way.”
from The Americans – conversation between two deep cover KGB spies living double lives in America.

Most of us aren’t living double lives like the spies in The Americans.  Well, at least we aren’t doing it on purpose.  But we do worry a lot.  The spies are worried about getting caught; getting exposed for being something they are not.  They are always looking at download (2)every person and every situation from a posture of threatening their existence.  We are worried about…about what?  What are you afraid of?  The money running out?  The kids going off the rails?  Your health going down the drain?  We look at things threatening us too.  What if the economy tears away our livelihood or age or disease steals our health or bad people turn our children into bad people?  How will we survive if that happens??  Spies develop elaborate cover stories and engage in activities intended to keep their secrets safe. In The Americans the two main spies have gone so far as to have two children together to make their fake marriage appear real.  The children don’t even know they are pawns in international espionage.  We have our own cover stories though.  We build elaborate defenses to keep us safe and happy.  We build financial walls.  We pursue education or skills we think will keep us valuable.  Some of us do have children because we want to feel our lives are meaningful.  The thing you fear the worst will be very close to the thing you believe you can’t live without.  And you may go to bed worrying about it on a regular basis.

Worry is strangling in slow motion.  Worry will not make you better at your job.  Fear will not improve your parenting skills or make you a better lover.  It will choke friendships and marriages and keep families from fulfilling their highest goals.  It will chain you to places and jobs and people you should leave behind.  Fear needs to be ruthlessly eliminated from our lives if we are going to live well.

There is only one solution for getting rid of worry and fear, and it is counterintuitive.  The way to defeat our fear is to embrace a higher fear; we must have a huge fear to defeat our little fears.  The Bible teaches this.  Our fear of everything else is supposed to be swallowed up in the fear of God.  We are not supposed to deny the fears one by one.  They exist.  They are real.  Some of our worst fears are going to come true.  We don’t deny these things; we deflect them with our fear of God.  How does this work?  What is fear?  It is a focus uponscreen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-11-42-am some object.  It is something we must reflect upon in relation to our lives.  If you are afraid of clowns and I tell you there is a clown in your living room, what are you going to do?  Stay away from the living room!  You’ll go out of your way to avoid that room.  Fear is a reference point.  Remember what I said about the spies – everything in every situation had to be looked at in relation to their lies and blowing their cover.  A new man in the corner cafe reading a newspaper could be the FBI or the CIA staking them out.  No rest for them, ever.  If you keep your reference point on your bank account, your marriage, or your children, you will be afraid for those things all the time.  If you move your reference point to God, you have only him to fear.  What is higher than God?

OK – I admit there is a hole in this method of getting rid of fear.  If we move our reference point onto God, we also have moved our fear to the person with the greatest potential to destroy our lives.  No one has more knowledge or power than God.  No one could do more damage.  Not only that, how do we know what our relationship is with God?  If we are going to reposition everything relative to God, we have to know how that works.  How do we know what He thinks of us?  How do we know its safe?  How do we know that fearing God is any different than fearing anything else?  Because of the gospel, we can answer those questions.  In the gospel fear is actually turned inside out.  Whereas all the other fears (reference points) cause us to build defenses in order to keep the fearful things away, the fear of God lets us take down all the walls.  Why?  Because the One who had all the knowledge and all the power took all his knowledge and all his power and bent it down to help us, not to destroy us or condemn us.  This is the Christian gospel – the good news – and it is either true or it is not.  If God did what the Bible says he did for us, we can be sure that none of the things we fear outside of him are fatal to us.  Paul sums it up in his letter to the Roman Christians: if God is for us, who can be against us?

So I will show you another way.  Believe the gospel.  Believe God was and is willing to give up everything to have a relationship with you that is based on love not effort.  This is what Christians call being “saved” or being “born again.”  Either way, it is a completely different way to live that deals with our fears without denying or suppressing them.

Do You Have Problems You Can’t Fix?

I decided to get rid of a program on my computer.  I went to the Add/Remove programs section, found the program I wanted to delete and clicked on a tab saying “remove.”  A Broken-Screenmessage came up on the screen:  You do not have sufficient access to delete this file, see the system administrator.  I tried it again and got the same result.  This was a program I had installed myself.  After puzzling over it for a while I decided to call the company from which I downloaded the file.  The helpful people there walked me through all the steps I tried already.  They couldn’t delete the program.  Insufficient access.  Finally they gave up.

This was pretty frustrating.  I didn’t know it at the time but when I downloaded the program, I was receiving something I couldn’t get rid of later.  My computer didn’t seem to be my computer anymore.  Every time I logged on the icon for the program would remind me I wasn’t in control.  It was one thing to consciously download a program and then be stuck with it, but what if you never asked for it? Spyware are programs which come as files attached to something on the internet like an advertisement.  You click on it to see what it’s about and a little dialogue box comes up saying you have to download this file in order to go further. Click.  Next thing you know you’ve got a program pouring popups into your screen every five minutes for Viagra.  You may have been looking for info on trips to the Bahamas but now you are being inundated with info you never asked for and don’t want.  These programs get intertwined with your hard drive like an electronic boa constrictor.  Often, when trying to delete them you will get the same message: Insufficient access.

What if there was something inside of you you didn’t want but constantly had to face?  You try every trick you know to erase it.  Reboot, run away, read up on it, buy another program which will supposedly get at it, ask an expert to help free you, but in the end you find no way to rid yourself of it.  Fearful? Angry?  Suicidal?  Suicidal people are really on to something.  They have come to the conclusion there is something so broken they can’t fix it.  They know they don’t have sufficient access to get at the thing making their lives miserable.  The problem is killing the outer man doesn’t get at the inner man.  Suicide is like taking a sledge hammer to the computer monitor; the light may go out and you don’t have to look at the image anymore, but the hard drive is still running and still messed up. Sin is the human spyware none of us asked for, but all of us live with.  It has wrapped around each of us in ways we can’t even understand.  No one has the access to rid themselves of it’s effects on their own, even though some obviously cope much better with errorimagetheir fallen state than others.  No matter how well you deal with sin here and now you are left with one final effect of sin you must face: death.  Insufficient access.  Somehow, somewhere we all come up against this statement about our own lives.  We can’t sustain them.  We can’t fix what’s broken.  We have to have someone with the ability to reach places we can’t reach.  Jesus can reach anywhere.  He holds the keys to hell and death.  There is no door He cannot open, there is nothing overcoming us that He hasn’t already overcome.  You may think you have done things to your life that cannot be undone and you are probably right if you look at your access or the access of men or the tools of men.  Invite a God into your life and He won’t start on the exterior.  God begins to work where men are unable to reach.  Just admit you personally have insufficient access and let Jesus initiate the true work in you.

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” – Jesus (Rev 1:18)

“Therefore (Jesus) is able also to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25)

“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” (Rev 3:8)

How to Have a Happy New Year (and leave the old one behind)

“Happy New Year.” (no, no exclamation mark, just period) Smile.  Words.  Move on.  I do it every year and it is done to me every year.  Mechanical, and polite and seasonally appropriate.  But it seems like many people did not have a happy 2013; at least from the comments I’ve heard and seen.  And this year I get a sense that there is not a great deal of Dans-le-Townhouse_Happy-New-Yearconfidence about 2014 being a better year. We can have a happy new year.  You can have a happy new year.  The worst can come to pass and not make it a bad year. What is the worst for you?  Financial ruin?  Relational failure?  Health destroyed?  If you have health and wealth and great relationships, there is a way to have them better than you’ve ever had them before.  Healthier.  Wealthier.  Lovelier.

There is a secret to having a happy new year.  It is an open secret, however and we are all able to learn it.  If 2013 wasn’t a good year for you, it is probably because you feel you were impoverished in some way.  You lost something.  Your money did fly away.  Or you did lose a relationship or your health did fail.  If 2013 was a good year it was probably good because you feel you were enriched in one or more of those areas: bank account, love life, health (although we don’t always take note of this at the time).  If you are nervous or hopeful about 2014 it has to do with the prospects of being enriched or impoverished in those areas next year.  But what if you were so rich in all those areas you could not become enriched or impoverished?  What if you had so much wealth, and health, and love that giving as much as you could give you never got poorer or sicker, or lonelier?  Brewster’s Millions was a movie in the mid 80’s with RIchard Pryor and John Candy (enough reason to want to see it).  Brewster inherits a ton of money, 30 million, but the catch is that he can inherit 300 million if he spends the 30 million in 30 days without telling anyone what he is doing.  He goes on a mad spending spree trying to lose all his money and have nothing to show for it.  The only problem is the more he spends the more money he makes.

That sounds like a great concept, you say, but I don’t have a rich uncle to leave me 300 million, and there is no fountain of youth to sustain my health or a way to keep from losing my loved ones.  I can be impoverished and I can be enriched, and I have to take care of myself.  Not if you learn the secret.  The Apostle Paul wrote about the secret in a letter to his friends at Phillipi.  He said:

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

When he wrote those words he was in prison facing execution.  He was in the most 220px-Brewsters_millionsimpoverished state imaginable; away from relationships, wealth and health.  Yet he says he is content.  To be precise he says he had “learned” to be content.  He said he had been wealthy and poor and come to a place where neither state changed his true condition.  He was full.  He was Brewster.  He found out that no matter what he spent he wasn’t poorer.  He found out that no matter what he gained he wasn’t any richer.  What happened to Paul?  Could it happen to us?  In reality he found out that he didn’t have a rich uncle who died and left him everything, but he did have a rich older brother who died and made him into the heir of infinite riches.  Riches that can not be exhausted.  This is the Christian story of the world.  Jesus Christ, the true older brother, the one in line to receive the inheritance of God the Father, chose to die on a cross so that we could become the heirs.  But it isn’t only wealth that comes to us through him (although God is the owner of all things and so we can lay claim to all wealth), but it is also health given in the defeat of death and love given in the defeat of hell.  The cross is Jesus the infinitely wealthy, healthy, and beloved becoming utterly impoverished so that anyone who asks according to his name can become heirs of God.  He loses all his possessions, even the clothes off his back are taken away at the cross.  He loses his health, writhing up and down as he is executed.  And worst of all he loses his Father, crying out in abandonment.  All is lost so that infinite love, health and wealth can pass to us.  This is the secret Paul learned.  This is the way to have a happy new year and forget the old.  Become the heir.  Take the offer.  And then go on a spending spree.  Give away as much love and money and energy as you can. You can’t lose.

Why Not Make Ordinary Extraordinary?

My wife once showed me a diamond anniversary ring which she said would “look very nice” with her engagement and wedding rings.  She also subtly suggested it would make a great gift to celebrate our twentieth year of marriage.  All of this was interesting to me for at least two reasons:
1 – I didn’t know where in the world I would get the money to buy the ring and
2 – we were only in our 18th year at the time.
I guess she was just giving me plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements (and money).

I got nervous about not being able to find the right ring when the time and the finances were aligned so I found a friend who let me borrow the money (nice to have friends) and I went and got the ring.  How do you hide a diamond ring for two years?  What if you forget where you put it?  How can you keep something like that in?  The next week we went out to dinner on a Tuesday night to the same place we always go and had pretty much the same meal we always have and on the way home to our same old house on the same old road at the same old stop light that always catches us I reached in my pocket, hauled out the ring and gave it to her.  I told her an ordinary day with her was better than any day without her and so let’s just celebrate the extraordinaryness of our ordinary lives.  Every day is the right day.  Every day is a special day.  Every moment is worth celebrating to it’s full

Dancin’ machine

imagesOn Sunday we got to spend 90 plus minutes with a well oiled dancin’ machine otherwise known as a timeshare salesman. I don’t dance so it was painful for everyone involved. The timesharer was leading and he knew all the steps – he even knew the steps to make when I was screwing up the routine by saying things out of turn or (most annoyingly) telling him I wasn’t interested in dancing anymore. I think there was only one step I was supposed to make and though he led me to it several times I just didn’t get it right – I just wouldn’t say yes. Oddly enough this guy who I thought liked me (he shared his last 20 years worth of vacation pictures with me, told me about his daughter’s wedding, and shared a very personal letter from a victim’s family of 9-11 about how glad they were that they’d spent a week in the time share he’d sold them) got up and walked away so fast after my last misstep it made my head spin. He couldn’t get over my dancelessness. Now that I think about it he should get together with some of the evangelists I know. They have a lot of the same moves. 

How to Dance a Different Two-Step

6a00d83451eaab69e200e54f4c16058833-800wi“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5: 39-40)

If you want to learn things that can’t be found in books there are two steps. The first thing you have to do is believe there are such things.  The second is to stop looking for them in books.