On Ministers and Open Gates (Part 7)

I can remember every single one.

Every single instance.

Those moments, not always brief, but profound. I can remember them all.

One was in the passenger seat of a car. One was during a tour of a church. One was sitting in my kitchen chair in Nairobi. Another was with my parents as we sat around the large chest/coffee table in the entertainment room. One was in my brother’s and sister’s living room in front of the t.v. And one was in the basement of the home of my previous pastor, Jake.

All of these were moments when I wrestled with opportunities to pursue pastoral positions.

As was mentioned in a previous post, it is an incredibly tempting thing to jump at any and all opportunities. In a culture that teaches us that with education comes golden opportunities (and that they come quickly), it is easy to assume that the first open doors we come to are the ones through which we should walk. Especially for a young minister, full of other’s advice and eager to prove his/her own competence, there is a strong pull to accept whatever position opens up. And, if given the opportunity to interview for those positions, there is almost no question: pursue it at all costs!

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I remember those moments because they were all times when I felt a mixed concoction of excitement, anxiousness, and worry. It seemed that for every good thing about a particular position (or, at least, every ‘potentially’ good thing), I could find something else that may have been not-so-good. I tried to balance the pros and the cons. I talked my way through the possibilities, how my strengths and weaknesses would be used or challenged in different ways, attempted to discern a vision for the particular context and where the people were in their discipleship journey…

Attempting to discern the will of God is a difficult thing. Maybe it gets better with age and experience, or maybe it’s easier depending on the circumstances, I don’t truly know. But what I’ve come to discover is this: When the time is right, the will of the Lord is made clear.

It is good to wrestle with things. It is good to think through decisions, to seek counsel, to discern according to the best of our cognitive and emotional abilities. But, at the end of the day, we must recognize that even our best decisions making skills submit to the will of our Heavenly Father.

Many times our decision making skills align with His will, and so it is easy to discern. Other times, it almost goes in the opposite direction.

Most recently I was in that basement, pacing around nervously while I waited for a phone call from my new District Superintendent. My phone began to ring. I had been praying about this moment for a couple of weeks by that point. I had weighed the good and the bad, the pros and the cons, attempted to learn as much as I could about this particular church in order to make an informed decision. But I still was not completely sure what to do.

I answered. I don’t remember much, except this phrase: “The vote was pretty strong. But I don’t know how you could get a vote stronger than unanimous.”

For me, that was the moment of confirmation.

I want to be clear, though. My confirmation was not in the approval of what other people decided. I have had strong supporters for other positions before. In the end the decision to pursue what is now my first senior pastorate position fell upon the kind of confirmation and affirmation that can only come from God himself.

And, after all is said and done, he is the one to whom we are ultimately accountable.

“But seek first his Kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:33-34

When we seek first the will of our Lord, our way will be made clear. Perhaps not as timely as we would like, but when it matters the most.

 

Welcome to the life of a disciple.

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On ISIS and Lessons

I am sure you are all aware of the radical group called “ISIS.” I, myself, have been very interested in following their news stories for the last few months. I have an application on my Windows tablet that allows me to view news stories from a variety of media sites like The Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters, The Guardian and many other international publications. What has interested me the most, and what has kept me interested, is not the military activity related to ISIS. Nor has my interest been because of the various political perspectives of those in the West verses those in other places. Nor also has my interest been because of the many stories coming out about local tribes trying to stem the advancing terrorist forces.

Those are all very intriguing aspects of the ISIS situation (and I am always rooting for the local people who are doing whatever they can to stop this force), but the one thing that truly captures my attention is this: how ISIS is recruiting Westerners to not only become sympathizers, but to have them become radicalized and fly out to Syria to literally join the fight. Perhaps you have heard the stories of those from Canada and Britain who converted to a radicalized form of Islam, fought overseas, and died. Or maybe you have heard of the two girls from Denver whom the U.S. government is currently investigated. Or you may have seen the commercials ISIS has put out in an attempt to recruit more Westerners. No matter what you have heard, I am sure you can share my curiosity in regards to how and why this happens.

I tend to be a people watcher. When I would window clean on commercial jobs I would observe people and be entirely fascinated with how people socialize (or don’t socialize) with others, how they would carry themselves in a store, and how they would act in response to all manner of circumstances. I frequently catch myself zoning out as I pay attention to various situations around me and the people interacting within them. People, to me, are incredibly interesting! I say that to say this: I am not entirely surprised by the fact that people are trying to join ISIS, even if they have little to no personal connection to it.

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Some people might blame this on the violence in television, movies, or other forms of entertainment. Others may attribute this phenomenon to a strong distaste towards Western society or anti-patriotism. Others still may view this as the result of a simmering sense of anarchism among youths and maladjusted young adults. It is certainly possible that, in some cases, these may be the reason why non-Middle Easterners are joining a fight in the Middle East. I, however, am starting to wonder if there is another, more easily justifiable reason.

In some other articles I’ve read, it seems clear that one reason people join ISIS is because they are trying to find themselves. Certainly I can sympathize with someone who struggles with their own identity. In fact, I very much admire Socrates’ famous perspective that knowing one’s self is the key to a fulfilled life (although I would add a bit more that). Here is where I think we, as a society, have taken a wrong turn: we continue to tell people to “find themselves” but have neglected to give them so much as a compass or a map. We turn them loose on the world, and whatever path they choose is the path they choose. Obviously, the issue here is that it is not enough to say to someone “just go find yourself.” If it were enough to say that, then we should not be upset or disheartened when people end up joining a terrorist group in their quest for self-realization.

In all honestly, if people are joining ISIS in an attempt to actualize or define their existence, I am not sure I can fault them any more than I can fault those who do far less destructive things under the guise of “trying to find myself.” In fact, how many of us use “compassion,” “enlightenment,” “empathy,” or “sympathy” to mask our own selfish need to define ourselves at others’ expense? Maybe a good lesson to be learned from all this is that we are not all that different from ISIS sympathizers. We simply take different avenues to accomplish our goals of self-improvement for the sake of self-improvement.

Also, how many of us are angry with these people who join ISIS and yet we fully support the underlying motivations for them doing so? It is entirely possible that the real problem here is not ISIS. It seems to me that ISIS has simply stumbled upon one of our society’s greatest flaws and is succeeding richly because of it… “Come join ISIS and realize who you are. Recognize your place in this world, and become who you were meant to be.” Besides the “ISIS” part of that statement, is that not what our culture is motivating people to do? In addition, is not our culture saying this over and over without giving people the proper tools to make wise judgments in regards to how they go about ‘discovering’ themselves?

Forgive me. I forgot that to give anyone some sort of guidance is to impose on their individual freedom and thus attempt to usurp their self-sovereignty by ‘controlling’ the outcome of their quest for purpose and place.

There is something else I would like to say that relates to this topic, but I’ll make that point in part 2 so this post doesn’t get too long.

[Disclaimer: I am not at all a supporter or ISIS or its sympathizers. I don’t know a whole lot about them, but I do know that thousands – if not millions – are having their lives destroyed by this terrorist group.]