Waiting for the Lord

Today, was my first day of sabbath since writing about “active,” “saying yes” sabbath. After preaching three times in three different churches yesterday, I was spiritually exhausted and ready for rest. After doing my running/psalm-chanting and doing some light reading, I decided to take some time in solitude and quiet. I drove out to North Park, found a quiet spot by the lake and read the daily lectionary readings for today. When I was finished reading, I got up and wandered the park. I eventually found the old nature access trail that my dad use to take my brother and I too when we were little.

As I walked, I cleared my mind and listened for God. A song kept coming to mind. It was one that we sang in the seminary choir, based on Isaiah 40:31 – “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

I began to talk with God about waiting. In many ways my work in ministry, and my life more broadly is in a season of waiting. Working in New Church Development has meant taking some big steps into unknown territory with the results still not finalized. We’re waiting on grants to be approved. We’re waiting to see who will be a part of the seed group. We’re waiting to see what form this church plant takes in coming months. When will we grow beyond Chris and Eileen’s living room and into a larger space? How will we build bridges with the international and racial-ethnic communities? Now that I’m also beginning with InterVarsity, that’s brought into play even more waiting. When will I have raised enough in support funds to begin? (And on top of that… HOW will I raise enough support???) In all of this, I’ve already seen God’s hand at work, and I know that God will bring the answers to these questions in the right time. Nevertheless, the waiting isn’t always a comfortable place.

God then used the Scripture I had read from lectionary readings to remind me of two things about waiting for the Lord. First, when waiting for the Lord is always a confident waiting. We always know that God will bring the work of the Kingdom to completion. Second, waiting for the Lord is an active, not a passive task.  We get to work with God in bringing his work to completion.

In the gospel lesson, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, the wise virgins readied themselves by taking flasks of oil for the lamps. They knew the bridegroom was coming, and they actively prepared for his arrival. The foolish virgins, though, acted passively and brought no oil.

In the lesson from Romans 11, Paul alludes to his expectation of God’s faithfulness to Israel (v. 12: “… how much more will [Israel’s] full inclusion mean!”). Paul’s waiting for God to fulfill his covenant with Israel. He’s confident of it, and at the same actively pursuing the fulfillment of God’s promises with Him. In Acts, in every town he enters, he’s eager to go to the synagogue to proclaim Christ to his fellow Jews.

The author of Psalm 37 is waiting for God to deal with the wicked, and yet at the same time he remains confident in God’s faithfulness and exhorts the righteous to continue living faithfully.

I may be in a season of waiting, but that’s not the same as a season of uncertainty. God will bring this piece of his work to completion. Out of that confidence comes a desire to work with God in bringing about that completion.

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Sabbath Brainstorming

After my last post (below), I’ve been continuing to think about how to live out the “saying yes” part of Sabbath. When we rest from our regular labors, how can we actively and intentionally live in communion with God. I’m more-than-partially indebted to this article from InterVarsity as well as Mark Labberton’s The Dangerous Act of Worshipped (mentioned below) for getting me thinking in this direction.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Spend time in silence actively listening to God.
  2. Read a book of the Bible, or an extended portion of one, straight through.
  3. Memorize a verse of Scripture.
  4. Write a prayer or psalm.
  5. Pray with a friend.
  6. Appreciate God’s creation by hiking.
  7. Appreciate the fruit of the earth by visiting a new restaurant or…
  8. by visiting a winery or brewery.
  9. Appreciate the creative beauty God gives to people by visiting an art gallery or museum or…
  10. … by seeing a play/musical/film.
  11. Be transformed by the renewing of my mind by reading a book or…
  12. … by attending a lecture.
  13. Appreciate the body God’s given me by exercising. (I actually started combining 3 and 10. I run several times per week and when I do, I chant verses from a psalm, adding a new verse each time I run.)
  14. Appreciate the people God has put in my life by spending time with family or friends or…
  15. … reconnecting with someone I’ve lost touch with.

Obviously there’s a lot more that could be added to this, and in addition to actually doing these things as intentional spiritual practices, I also want to keep expanding the list. Any suggestions?

Learning Sabbath Rest

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

I preached on this text this morning, so I’ve been spending a lot of time with it over the past week or so. As I thought about what it means that Jesus invites us to rest, I also started thinking about what keeps me from resting despite Jesus’ gift of sabbath.

For years, I’ve been wanting to get into a habit of weekly sabbath. Obviously, working in ministry, Sunday’s don’t typically work out, since the first half of Sundays are typically work for pastors. That combined with a full-time seminary schedule made sabbath difficult, but I was finally able to work things out a few months ago so that I could take a full 24-hour sabbath from Sunday afternoon until Monday afternoon.

The break from regular ministry work (and, until recently, school work) was good. The problem is, I’m less and less certain that what I’m doing is really sabbath. In his book, The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton talks about sabbath in terms of “saying no and saying yes.” First, we say “no – to our agendas, schedules, to our production drive, our sense of time and urgency, to the busyness and patterns of every day, to our power, to our cultivated blindness.” (Labberton, 105) This part I’m getting fairly good at. In my last term of seminary, when I kept myself from doing any schoolwork for 24 hours each week, it felt almost liberating.

My problem comes with the second half of sabbath rest, the saying “yes” half. According to Labberton, “The other movement in sabbath practices is saying yes to God and yes to the world God has given us. Here energy is focused toward re-creation and seeking the renewal of mind and body that comes from seeking and resting in God.” (106) This I find much harder. When I rest from my regular work, what I do instead has little to do with seeking renewal from God. For example, last week, I spent my “sabbath” watching approximately half of Season 3 of The Office. Is that really time spent resting in the presence of Jesus, or just plain old laziness?

I think working in ministry makes the “yes” piece of sabbath rest difficult. I’m use to associating Jesus with labor rather than with rest. It’s difficult, for instance, for me to read Scripture devotionally without thinking about ways to turn my reflections into sermon illustrations or lessons. I’m also noticing in my relationship with my friend and co-pastor (note the order) Chris, that it’s a lot easier for me to start talking NCD business without taking time to ask how he’s doing or say how I’m doing. (Chris, if you read this, don’t let me do that :-)) My instinct, then, whether conscious or not, is to seek rest elsewhere instead of in the presence of Jesus.

There’s a paradox here. Jesus Christ is both the Lord who demands our service and the Shepherd who restores our souls. To learn sabbath rest, I need to rediscover the latter.

Drumroll….

… I have a job! I found out this week that I’ve been appointed to InterVarsity’s Graduate Student and Faculty Ministry on the campuses of Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh. This is great affirmation on God’s call on my life to do church planting in and around Squirrel Hill, as this will both provide connections and ministry to the university community there and provide for some of my financial needs. The next step is to raise my support, so please pray!

E-care?

Last Saturday night, the PC(USA) General Assembly elected Bruce Reyes-Chow as its moderator. Something that made Bruce unique from other moderators and moderatorial candidates in the past is his use of the internet in his campaign. Bruce used a blog, a facebook group, and I’m assuming a bunch of other online social-networking resources to share more about himself and his positions, and, perhaps more importantly, to listen to the concerns of his fellow Presbyterians. The “Web 2.0” approach to ministry is a natural extension of Bruce’s personality, it seems. In fact, he mentioned during the moderator election that much of his pastoral work at Mission Bay is done online. He also made a point of saying that the medium of the internet in no way lessens his pastoral work.

As someone who’s worked for the past two years in college-age ministry, and someone who’s going to be doing more campus ministry and church planting with young adults, I’ve been intrigued for a while now about the appropriate use of online communication in ministry, particularly in pastoral care.

Working at KUPC, I found that using the internet helped my ministry a lot. Being on Facebook helped me learn people’s names much more quickly. Reading the blogs of students in the church helped me better understand who they are and the contexts I was called to preach into. Being on AIM opened up the possibility for some conversations with students that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. These are just a few examples among many of my ministry being enriched because of the internet.

At the same time, though, I saw ways in which the internet created barriers in ministry, especially in pastoral care.  In fact, my first experience in pastoral care at KUPC came to me via email. Without breaking any sort of confidentiality, I’ll just say that it was a pretty significant crisis. At first I found myself grateful that I was contacted by email. I didn’t have to be caught off guard, and it gave me the chance to really pray about and discern the situation. I found myself pacing back and forth in my dorm room and reciting what I had heard in Pastoral Care class… “Ok. Where’s Jesus in the situation? How do I bear witness to Jesus in this context?” Eventually I worked through these and more specific questions and sent a response.

Soon after, though, my gratitude for the internet turned into frustration as I got no immediate reply from the person on the other end. Was my email  helpful? Did I say everything that needed to be said? What if I missed the point of the problem entirely? I was quickly finding the isolation that the internet creates a frustration for ministry.

Now, I later realized that these questions that I was asking myself were really more reflective of my wanting to be affirmed than they were for doing faithful ministry. But, as I continued to handle this and other pastoral care “cases”  by communicating through IMs, emails or both, I also began to realize that other things were missing that were more important, like eye contact and (when appropriate) physical touch.

Perhaps the biggest piece that I’ve seen missing in doing “e-care” is the opportunity to pray with a person. In doing any one-on-one pastoral care, I always make a point of concluding a session by praying with and for the person. Frankly, I think the time spent in prayer with the person has always been the high point of any pastoral care I’ve done.  Most people will rarely hear someone actually pray for them, and that’s a gift we as pastors can give to people.

So, I’ve seen how “web 2.0” culture has opened up doors for ministry. At the same time, though, I’ve seen its limits. The same resource that makes us more connected to one another than ever before also seems, in some ways, to isolate us and keep us from communication on a deeper level.

Rather than draw any definitive conclusion, I simply pose a few questions:How much technology is too much in doing ministry? Is it possible to do pastoral care completely online without ever meeting in person? To what extent is our culture’s (over?)reliance on the internet to communicate an asset we can use for the sake of the gospel, and to what extent is it a fallacy that needs to be critiqued by the gospel?