Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What's been going on in My World, Part Two

As I stood there on that Sunday morning on the first Sunday in November, I felt a sense of peace...with regard to the continuance of the vision God had given me. I felt a sense of relief...in believing this was the direction God was leading me. Admittedly, I felt a burden...knowing my heart was still strongly connected to the people who had been so supportive, along with persons there who had come to receive Christ while with me. There was a part of me that was apprehensive in knowing, as a 'Founding Pastor', there is a certain level of power and freedom that you experience in leadership that is very rare, and hard to obtain...in our cultural and religious contexts. It had it's advantages and disadvantages! I would always struggle with seeing Pastors who had great visions who had to place their dreams on the shelf because a committee or board voted against it. And, in a sense, I felt that if I were to continue on as a Pastor I 1) probably would never plant a church again and 2) I would be a part of a system that tried to run the preacher.

All of these dynamics were at work in those moments; and, even now, there are high highs and low lows. There are moments of confusion, disappointment, happiness, peace, tranquility and much sadness. All in all, I know that the first Sunday in November was a wise and prayerful decision. What happened afterwords, is what became most difficult.

After viewing a sense of confusion and misunderstanding, I decided to take the advice of a Pastoral acquaintance of mine - to have a church wide dialogue with our members in place of Sunday school. After morning communion, I announced that plan, to which some members attended. As timing would have it, two of our ministers were out. With a total of about 20 to 25 people present in the fellowship hall of the church, I told them my desire to hear them. I was not there to expound on what I had said, but wanted to know their thoughts and, if able, to answer their questions. Some asked for clarity, not understanding if they had actually heard me say that I was moving on. Some were insistent that I must be going somewhere else. Others asked what would happen next.

I expressed my plan to serve for the next month, and to make a transition for their search for a new pastor. I did express that I had someone in mind. What I thought would be met with excitement, turned to seeming disappointment with my choice. Looking back, I should have insisted that they meet with this young man, and seeing where he stood. However, I began to falter, not realizing in wisdom that they were in shock, and that if I had mentioned to them the Pope would be taking over, no matter how ideal...that was not the time to trust their instincts or judgments. Many of them cried. Some expressed their anger. In hindsight, I can still honestly say that my motives were pure and I was not running away. After all 40 or so people, active members, give or take, is still a good number. Giving wasn't it's best, but we weren't in any debt. I LITERALLY felt as I had expressed, I had taken them as far as I could. Period!

Then....I said, during that month, I would talk with my Pastor in Houston, and will continue in prayer. In hindsight, what this did was gave no sense of closure, on my part. It was not my first, but most impressionable, lesson in the reality that it is not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it that can make the world of difference. As the Founder AND Pastor, while logic says I should have stayed forever, IF I was not...I should have TOLD them where they were going next and with whom, and they would make the decision to follow or not.

I decided that I would take a break from Pastoring, concentrate on Preaching, Teach at a Bible College in Houston a few nights a week, go back to my Houston church, finally begin a doctoral program, and enjoy making a living as a chaplain. I'd even explored entering the reserves! I had no doubt that if God wanted me to Pastor...I could and would Pastor.

As if things weren't complicated enough, something I didn't want to happen, and certainly didn't anticipate happening...happened! I had known of a church congregation, of which I'd preached several times as a teenager, who had been searching for a Pastor. This church, also a part of my Father's association of churches, I knew, was a great congregation, from what I could remember. This church, in Victoria (1 1/2 hours from Houston), seemed to be a good church for someone older in age, but yet good with youth, and could do a great job of rebuilding after a period of struggle and hardship. One day I was talking to a fellow-chaplain resident who was aggressively looking for and at churches searching for Pastors. For the time I had known him, he had been unable to secure anything. I don't know what it was, but Mt. Salem in Victoria came to mind! I told him what I knew about the church, which was very little. He asked if he could contact my father, etc. The next thing I knew, he had actually been asked to preach at the church in Victoria the last Sunday in October. The report was...they loved him! I was excited on several fronts...first, a good congregation was excited about this new chapter. Second, my colleague was about to finally fulfill the goal of pastoring in Texas (he had come from California) and third, my father and his association would now have someone to lead this congregation, which would benefit them. The congregation then asked him to come and be with them the first week in November. I was happy for my colleague and them.

After the 2nd Sunday, I get a call from the Pastor who was working with the congregation in Victoria...who asked how I was doing; how the ministry was going (I did not tell him of my 1st Sunday incident), etc. He then told me that the church would not be considering my colleague. He then asked, if I would be willing to Be a candidate. I immediately and unreservedly said 'No Sir!' He, of course, asked why not. Not mentioning my new plans of being back in the Dallas Fort Worth area, after my residency in September 2011, i simply expressed, first, I don't think it is right to go and be a candidate at a church I recommended someone to inquire about and, second, I didn't hear Victoria in my vision. Logic told me - don't ruin a possible lifelong friendship with someone to be a candidate in a place you don't have any plans of going. But then....after he said a few other things, the Pastor said, 'Can you come and preach?'. Now...I grew up in a setting where, unless you are dead or incapacitated, you PREACH. I didn't hesitate for a moment! I gave him one stipulation, however - I can only come the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That's it. And I could not schedule anything beyond that. But then he said something to me...'just when you come a preach, pray. And then see what God says'. That was a set up!

On the 3rd Sunday of November, I traveled to Victoria. I was so intent on going there, preaching a message of encouragement to them, not being a candidate...that I didn't even take my family. I preached out of Philippians 1:12-16 and entitled the message 'Knocked Down but Not Knocked Out'. To be honest, there was nothing exceptional about the message, other than Jesus Christ, of course. I did sing, which is VERY rare for me, but nothing out of the ordinary. When I got back to Houston, I followed up with that Pastor with simply a courtesy call, thanking him for the opportunity to preach. He called me back to inform me that he heard nothing but positive feedback about my being with them.

He then asked me 'What'd you think?' and 'Did you pray?'

Next time I'll have to explain what I saw, my prayer and how I responded, initially....

Friday, July 01, 2011

Positive Power of Words

I came across an interesting yet true story about the author of one of my favorite novels, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Nathaniel Hawthorne came home heartbroken. He’d just been fired from his job in the custom house. His wife, rather than responding with anxiety, surprised him with joy. “Now you can write your book!”

He wasn’t so positive. “And what shall we live on while I’m writing it?”

To his amazement she opened a drawer and revealed a wad of money she’d saved out of her housekeeping budget. “I always knew you were a man of genius,” she told him. “I always knew you’d write a masterpiece.”

She believed in her husband. And because she did, he wrote. And because he wrote, every library in America has a copy of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Hidden and prevailing lesson I carry away from Hawthorne's biography is that we have the power to change someone’s life simply by the words we speak and write. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” We often misinterpret these words, typically employing them for our own selfish promotions and proclivities. But behind these words of Solomon are a simple, yet profound truth and reality...there is power in words. All of my life I have loved and enjoyed paper, words, writings and books. My love for books is something that comes naturally: My father, my paternal grandfather, and my great-grandmother...just to name a few, are and/or were lovers of words and books. I look on with such nostalgia and internal joy as I see my sons cultivating a love for books and reading. I hope and pray this continues. Many of my teachers, professors and peers have encouraged me, through the years, to think about one day writing. My current chaplain supervisor has stressed his desire to see me 'move toward the possibility of publication'. I would almost agree were it not for my own tendency to be overly critical of myself, coupled with my tendency to procrastinate when I'm uncertain of the ambiguous. Many moons ago, one of my seminary professors encouraged me to become a 'blogger'. Little did I know the underlying challenges and discipline that are connected to a blog. I'm definitely sporadic, but love it when I make time to record and chronicle my thoughts. I hope to do better!

My hope and prayer, during this stage of my life, is to have FAITH to know that my WORDS are meaningful and significant; and have the power to change lives.

In borrowing a popular Max Lucado favorite of mine, an example of this form of faith was found on the wall of a concentration camp. On it a prisoner had carved the words:
I believe in the sun, even though it doesn’t shine.
I believe in love, even when it isn’t shown.
I believe in God, even when he doesn’t speak.