This morning, at breakfast, I was talking with Mom about Amanda’s upcoming ordination. She will be ordained the Rev. Amanda Lillie in May.
At that point she will hold the most advanced credential in our church. I held my first level of credential for nearly 25 years without advancing and now that I have entered the second level of credential I have to hold that for two years before I can be ordained myself.
My mother asked why it took me so long to move forward and my only real answer was a lack of ambition. Always I have been more about the call than the credential. I have ministered and gone where I felt the Lord wanted me to go and very seldom have I thought about my qualification. Honestly, the level of my credential has seldom factored into the call.
I now pursue ordination in order to walk in obedience before my presbytery. It is an act of submission. Amanda feels the same. The call is the thing. The credential feels like an affirmation of that call in the eyes of men, but the call is the thing I must walk out before God.
Just now that call is getting very exciting as we prepare the church to walk in a deeper manifestation of the love of Jesus than ever before.
One of my goals this year is to lose eighty pounds. I joined NOOM and so far I am down about 22 pounds depending on the day.
I am also trying to get rid of joint pain in my knees and hips. I think a large part of the pain is due, not just to my weight, but to what I am eating.
I am a big sweet eater and like most Americans I love my processed sugars.
As I said the other day I am on a lenten fast called the Daniel Fast, which is basically a vegetarian fast. I fasted like this in January and it went very well. This time I am having a hard time staying away from the processed sugar.
My latest NOOM lessons have been on the subject of mindful eating. It involves paying attention to what I am putting in my mouth. One of the suggestions is to increase mindfulness is to actually sit down to table to eat rather than eating on the go.
I have to admit this is a great challenge for me. I have years of ingrained on the go eating. I seldom sit at table to eat almost always choosing the grab and go method, the watch TV and eat method or the multitasking eating method.
But I do realize that the idea of slowing down to be intentional about eating is not only healthy but it is one of my three mandates of living from God, “SLOW, CONSTANT AND INTENTIONAL”.
I am going to try shifting this eating habit. I’ll let you know how it goes.
My professor for Sermon Preparation in bible college was a big proponent of planning ahead. He felt that as pastors part of our responsibility to our congregations was to take a month at the beginning of every year to plan out our sermons for the entire year. He went so far in his ministry as to instruct his secretary to clear his January schedule of all non emergency meetings. He sequestered himself in his study and spent that month actually writing out every sermon he was planning to preach through the following Christmas from outline to three point essay format.
In my 32 years of ministry I have never gone that far. I modified his ideas to better fit the rhythm of my ministry. As a youth pastor I would sit with my team each year and plan out the year in group meetings, leadership trainings and youth events. Then I would use that calendar to plan out my teachings for the year by subject and how long I would give myself to teach the series I was planning. Then I would write the sermons weekly or a few weeks at a time. Sometimes I would get a whole series written just before I launched into it. This gave me a strong structure to work from while at the same time offering me flexibility required of youth ministry.
I am finding that planning the course of the church as lead pastor uses pretty much the same principles I learned in youth ministry. For me, planning is one of the main uses of sabbatical. Last August(2022), I planned out my direction for the year (through Christmas 2023).
I suppose some think the structure would lend itself to limiting the move of the Holy Spirit (it’s actually a criticism I have heard). I find it is actually the opposite. I spent a month praying about the plan. I trusted that God had the ability to tell me in advance what He was planning to do. I also held the plan lightly enough that I was prepared to shelve it if God chose to do something different.
We are currently in the middle of a series called, “Jesus Doing Life”. It was originally meant to take us through Easter and then we were going to launch directly into a walk through The Revelation.
God has changed up plans a little. The last three weeks have been divinely interrupted. Twice I have preached extemporaneously and the third service I gave the pulpit to a staff member to share thoughts that came as the result of her trip to a conference in North Carolina. These three services affirmed some things the leadership team has been looking at and we have decided to finish up with “Jesus Doing Life” and then to launch directly into a study on healing offenses entitled, The Bait of Satan.
This decision means the study in Revelation will carry us well into 2024. The plan stands but it is adapting. It is a part of ministry I like to call planning by the seat of my pants.
I have returned to fasting for the lenten season in preparation for a deeper work of ministry coming after Easter. I have to admit it is not going well. I find myself struggling with my appetite and failing to control it, especially at night after times of ministry.
I have learned over years of practicing the discipline of fasting that the struggle with appetite is perhaps the most important thing in the fast. Not giving up in the midst of momentary failure is almost as powerful in the work of fasting as fasting perfectly. There is so much to learn about oneself in the midst of failure. The failures and the reasons for those failures reveal to me what God is working on inside of my heart. Fasting shines a light on the shadowy places of our hearts, and the centering prayer that must always accompany fasting shows us where the shadows are extending from into our lives.
In this season, I am practicing seven times of daily prayer with varying degrees of success. The night time prayer sessions of Compline, Matins and Lauds are the most difficult for me to practice. Again the night time is revealed as my time of spiritual difficulty and weakness and I am seeking God to help me discover why that is so and how to send spiritual balance into that part of my life.
DO YOU HAVE A TIME OF THE WEEK OR OF THE DAY WHEN YOU FEEL SPIRITUALLY WEAK?
“My first breakaway after I became the lead pastor of Cornerstone Church was to a place called “The Grain Bin”. It was an air B&B in the middle of nowhere upstate New York. The nearest mall or grocery store was 45 minutes away. A cup of coffee and a loaf of bread could be found in the nearby village store but little else. There was a river at the back of the property and lots and lots of quiet.
In those five days I was placed in a shell of protective silence away from the din of the world that would not be replicated in the rest of my experience to this date. I sealed myself away during that time and established an inner sense of quiet that would have to carry me for the next two years. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. I am so thankful for it now.
The quiet of the grain bin brought to the surface something inside of me that I would not have seen had it not been for the extended period of solitude and silence. That something was a core of serenity, a sense of personal destiny, an affirmation that what lay ahead was not my work but God’s and a certain knowledge that I was His vessel.
Quiet these days looks nothing like the grain bin these days. Even during my sabbatical I did not achieve that same level of solitude or silence.
Quiet these days is an early morning time of meditation before the dogs get up or mom stirs. It is a door closed to the world for 10 or 15 minutes each day for Matins & Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. It is listening to the Bible while I wash the dishes or watching a movie while Mom snoozes on the couch.
Church work does not lend itself to contemplation or prayer as easily as some would think it does. Quiet must be sought. Quiet must be prioritized. Quiet must be adapted to the life we live. It can look like anything that brings forth the core of serenity, destiny and affirmation to which we are called.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL PEACEFUL WHEN LIFE GETS CRAZY?
It is two o:clock in the afternoon on Monday. I just finished my daily devotional video for the church. I am standing at the kitchen island as I type trying to stretch the soreness out of my legs.
The soreness comes from two things: weak legs and Sunday church service.
As I have started my weight loss regimen, using NOOM, one of the things I have noticed is that I do not walk enough. My goal is 10,000 steps a day. So far I haven’t it made it up to 4,000 steps a day. Generally Sundays is my biggest day for walking especially if I pace a lot during the sermon.
I keep thinking I might solve this problem as the Spring sets in, and I can once again take the dogs out around the park for walks. Mercedes doesn’t tolerate the cold well at all anymore. Of course the old girl is only six pounds so it is not like she has a lot to protect her against the ravages of the winter wind. Snug, the younger of the two, would probably walk until he was an ice block if I let him. Anyway the lack of walking the dogs except around the yard is the excuse I am making for not walking as much as I should and the lack of walking enough is what makes my legs weak.
That takes us back to Sunday church service. If standing up for long periods of time was a NOOM goal I would rock that one on Sundays. I am generally in on Sundays by 9 A.M. and from 9 to 10 I stand around greeting people as they enter the church. Service starts at 10 and from the moment the service officiant says “Could we all stand for the reading of God’s Word?” until I say “Be Blessed and Be At Peace. You Missions field is waiting. Bring them your blessing and your peace. Catch you later.” at the end of my preach I am on my feet.
Yesterday we had an all church fellowship after church. We call these gatherings “DLT mixers”. My job is to try and stop at every table before they head out the door after lunch. I didn’t quite make it to every table yesterday and I was still on my feet at 1:25 in the afternoon.
When I got home, I probably should have done some stretches.
Instead I fell asleep on the recliner while binge-watching “Call the Midwife”.
I am not sure if this is completely normal for all pastors, but sore legs in the kitchen on Mondays is a part of my life. I wonder…when I have reached my 80 pounds weight loss goal, will this reality change?
IT IS ONE OF MY HOPES FOR SURE!
WHAT ARE COME OF YOUR MOTIVATORS TOWARD YOUR GOALS?
My cousin Kathy passed from this life into glory yesterday afternoon. She was the primary caregiver for her mother, my Aunt Gloria, for the last several years. Aunt Gloria passed about two weeks ago.
No one knew that Kathy was battling lung cancer, which had metastasized to her brain and bones, all during the last years of her mother’s life. Even Kathy was unaware of the truth. Instead she had been in treatment for a bleeding ulcer, which apparently masked the symptoms of her true disease.
When Kathy was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia a few days after Aunt Gloria’s death, we all just thought she needed rest because of her work with her mother through hospice. That Kathy’s body was only holding out for Aunt Gloria’s passing never crossed any of our minds. The news was a gut punch to her husband, her brother, her sons and to those of us who watched her life from a more removed distance. Most of all it was a gut punch to Kathy.
I got to sit with Kathy last Saturday for about an hour. We talked about faith. We talked about family. We talked about anger and the deep struggle with how unfair life is. We talked about healing and miracles. We talked about being ready for the walk into eternity. We prayed. Tears were shed ,and then the hospital chaplain, who is also a relative, came to bring Kathy a word of comfort.
I spoke with Kathy’s brother, my cousin John two days later by Facebook video. I got a chance to speak with Kathy again in that video. By that point the doctors had spoken with the family about doing hospice in hospital, as Kathy was no longer strong enough to be moved. It was another blow to Kathy who wanted to pass at home as her mother had.
I brought supper to Kathy’s husband, Jaque,s and her son, Todd, last night. As Kathy was passing, Jaques’ brother also passed away. This family now has to face three funerals at the same time. They are reeling. Decisions are piled up on top of each other and are being triaged into “what has to be done now” and. “what can I do after I have slept a bit”.
My cousin Nada is bringing supper tonight, and Beth a dear friend of Kathy’s from high school, who now owns a local grocery, is bringing supper on Saturday. I am preparing the church for a double funeral or for perhaps two back to back funerals.
In all this I recognize a shift in me and in church ministry. As a pastor in town I am connecting with the town to bring ministry to my cousin’s family. The family is being ministered to by the community, by the family, by friends and even friends of friends. The church is part of that not the center of it.
I was sitting with my mother yesterday watching an episode of CALL THE MIDWIFE. In the show I caught a glimpse of what I think God is doing in our church and town. He is not a God a who dwells in buildings. The richness of His love cannot be contained in even the most sacred of spaces. He is love. He is relationship. He is moving in our church as He moved through the sisters of Nannotus House in East London. We are coming to see we are His love flowing in and through the very center of our community.
What does the move of God look like in the days ahead? It is sitting beside the bedside of a dying loved one praying with them, crying with them. It looks like spaghetti and meatballs ordered from the local pizza place and delivered to a family that is too overwhelmed to cook. It is engaging people who don’t even see how close they are to God, in the work of God they long to be involved in without even knowing it. It is watching Murder She Wrote or Call the Midwife with people who have no one to watch it with them.It is love being recognized and brought to the surface of our everyday lives and showing the redemptive love of Christ in the darkest places.
I began the weekend thinking it would be a leisurely float down a lazy river.
Saturday I woke up very tired and feeling like I should not move myself too much. It was a day given to waiting for our new washing machine anyway so hanging out and lying low seemed to be a rare possibility presenting itself.
The washer was delivered and installed by 9:30 A.M. and the first run through was finished by 10:30 A.M. Then the maiden voyage of the washer was set in by noon.
I was tempted to do a hundred other things. I even had written some of those on my list to do, but something inside me kept telling me to take my leisure while I could….so I did.
Then I got a call at 3:30 P.M. that I was needed at a bedside in Leominster. A dear relative had just been told she had terminal cancer. On my drive in to the hospital, the Lord affirmed to me how much I need to listen to that little voice inside my spirit if I am to be effective in the role He is placing upon me. If I had given myself to the busyness on my agenda I would not have been able to bear the weight of the evening ministry God called me to.
I am learning not to second guess what is in my heart. I am learning to trust myself, through prayer, to do what I hear the Lord telling me to do on the inside even when there seem to be more logical, even more responsible ways of doing things.
On Sunday I heard the Lord telling me I should spend some time in quiet in my office before service.
I sensed that I was going to need to be extra focused at the altar call.
We had an amazing service and a powerful time of prayer around the altars afterwards, but it was “heavy lifting” in prayer. There are many difficult and complex needs in our congregation at the moment and I sensed that many of our people needed prayer to move forward into new territory and that they would need great grace because the way forward was going to be difficult.
Learning to listen to what the Lord is doing around me by listening to what is going on inside me is a skill I sense sharpening in my heart. I think in the days ahead this is a skill I will need.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL YOU USE IN YOUR WORK?
The Shepherd’s Pie is put together and in the oven; So I have a few minutes before the oven timer goes off to write this blog. It’s not multi-tasking really. At least I don’t seem to be able to think about it like that. I can’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time. The casserole is in the oven on a timer and I don’t have to think about it again until the bell goes off. Timers on things is the only way I seem to be able to manage more than one thing at a time and…..am I really?
I was at the laundromat waiting for my laundry to finish drying yesterday. I got lost in the book I was reading and missed the dryer timer. When I looked up the dryer had stopped and when I opened the door the laundry had already started to cool. The series I am in is a good series, but I think more than anything the reason I missed the buzzer on the dryer was because I got so focused on the story I couldn’t maintain even memory that I was doing anything else.
Honestly, it happens all the time if I am not careful. I get lost in a thing I really like and all the other stuff which is not as fun just gets washed away from my thought life.
….And so the bells.
I live my life by the bells…and by constantly returning to the prayer place throughout the day.
There is too much to do to get lost in one thing.
As I was sitting on the porch meditating yesterday afternoon I realized there were six projects sitting there before me. That’s just on the porch!
Maybe that is too many projects.
Sometimes it feels like I am being buried alive in all the projects, and then other times I don’t see it as I have to do all these things, but I get to do all these things.
One thing I have learned is that I have to allow myself to flow into everything I do, from the place of prayer. The more I pray, the more I seem to be able to do. The less I pray the less I seem to be able to do. Prayer has become the space between all the things I do, between: The supper’s I make, the people I visit and pray for, the sermons and devotions I write, the laundry I do, the dogs I walk, the calls I make, the plans I lay.
As long as I go to these places from the place of prayer and return to the place of prayer after I do them, I seem to be able to maintain the rhythm.
When I don’t come from and return to the space of prayer in between all of the things I do they seem to come crashing down pretty quickly.
The bells are my reminder to return once again to that Divine Center.
HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM LOSING THOSE THINGS THAT KEEP YOU CENTERED AND SANE?
Somewhere along the way I became a man much more invested in the journey than I am in the destination.
Don’t get me wrong, destinations are great. Disney, Europe, Heaven….all destinations…all progressively awesome. But at some point I began to dwell more on the journey to the awesome destinations than on the destinations themselves.
Someday I will get to Heaven. I know it will be awesome, but the journey towards Heaven is pretty awesome too! In it I am learning so much, experiencing such incredible adventures and changing in some pretty amazing ways. I am learning that the kingdom of Heaven is not only out there somewhere, but within me.
Truly speaking, I am not so sure that once I reach Heaven my journeying will be done. I am not sure the discovering will be finished. I am not sure the desination is as destinationish as we think it is. What if Heaven is as CS Lewis says just an opportunity to “go further in and deeper back”. What if eternity is just a much longer more incredible journey?