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17 Of My Favorite Quotes From “The Pastor” By Eugene Peterson

Knowing people and preaching: On one of these evenings he was asked by one of the students something about preaching. Something on the order of “What is the most important thing you do in preparing to preach each Sunday?” I think we were all surprised by the answer, at least I was. His answer, “For two hours every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I walk through the neighborhood and make some home visits. There is no way that I can preach the gospel to these people if I don’t know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about. Preaching is proclamation, God’s Word revealed in Jesus, but only when it gets embedded in conversation, in a listening ear and responding tongue, does it become gospel.” P. 86-87

The Pastor by Eugene PetersonThe importance of hospitality: But a serious problem surfaced quite early. From her early adolescence Jan had wanted to be a pastor’s wife. And from an early stage I had wanted nothing to do with pastors. For Jan, “pastor’s wife” was not just being married to a pastor; it was far more vocational than that, a way of life. It meant participation in an intricate web of hospitality, living at the intersection of human need and God’s grace, inhabiting a community where men and women who didn’t fit were welcome, where neglected children were  noticed, where the stories of Jesus were told, and people who had no stories found that they did have stories, stories that were part of the Jesus story. Being a pastor’s wife would place her strategically yet unobtrusively at a heavily trafficked intersection between heaven and earth. P. 95

The Americanization of Congregation: The ink on my ordination papers wasn’t even dry before I was being told by experts, so-called, in the field of church that my main task was to run a church after the manner of my brother and sister Christian who run service stations, grocery stores, corporations, banks, hospitals, and financial services. Many of them wrote books and gave lectures on how to do it. I was astonished to learn in one of these best-selling books that the size of my parking lot had far more to do with how things fared in my congregation than my choice of texts in preaching. I was being lied to and I knew it. This is the Americanization of congregation. It means turning each congregation into a market for religious consumers, an ecclesiastical business run along the lines of advertising techniques, organizational flow charts, and energized by impressive motivational rhetoric. But this was worse. This pragmatic vocational embrace of American technology and consumerism that promised to rescue congregations from ineffective obscurity  violated everything-scriptural, theological, experiential-that had formed my identity as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor. It struck me far worse than the earlier rhetoric and crusader illusions of church. It was a blasphemous desecration of the way of life to which the church had ordained me-something on the order of a vocational abomination of desolation. P.112-113

God does not select people like we do: It became more and more clear that when God forms a church, he starts with the nobodies. That’s the way the Holy Spirit works. Those are the people he started with-Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon-to bring our Savior into the world. Why would he change strategies in bringing the salvation community, church, this congregation into formation? P. 127

Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you: But without this substantial “cleansing” and “shift” that took place in the catacombs, we would not have been able to recognize and participate in the actual church that was being formed among us. Without that, the church that most of us expected and wanted would have become the enemy of the church we were given. P. 129

Becoming a pastor who is not in a hurry: I was in the process of coming to terms with my congregation, just as they were; their less-than-developed emotional life, their lack of intellectual curiosity, the complacent acceptance of a world of consumption and diversion, their seemingly peripheral interest in God. I wasn’t giving up on them. I didn’t intend to leave them where I found them. By now I was prepared to enter a long process of growth in which they would discover for themselves the freshness of the Spirit giving vitality to the way they loved and worked and laughed and played. And I was finding areas of common ground that made us fellow pilgrims, comrades in arms in recognizing unexpected shards of beauty in worship and scripture and one another. I was learning not to impose my expectations of what I hoped for them but rather let them reveal to me, as they were able, who they were. I was becoming a pastor who wasn’t in a hurry. P. 135

People are not a problem to be fixed: Congregation is a company of people who are defined by their creation in the image of God, living souls, whether they know it or not. They are not problems to be fixed, but mysteries to be honored and revered. Who else in the community other than the pastor has the assigned task of greeting men and women and welcoming them into a congregation in which they are known not by what is wrong with them, but by who they are, just as they are? P. 137

Embracing slow sanctification: Would I trade my pastoral birthright for the mess of pottage that provided the immediate satisfaction of affirmation and discernible results? Or would I be willing to live in the ambiguities of congregation in which growth was mostly slow and mostly, at least for long stretches of time, invisible? Would I embrace the emotional gratification of solving a problem that could be diagnosed and dealt with head-on rather than give myself as a companion in searching out the sacred mysteries of salvation and holiness? P. 140

The ecstasy of crowds: Classically, there are three ways in which humans try to find transcendence-religious meaning, God meaning-apart from God as revealed in the cross of Jesus: through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, through the ecstasy of recreational sex, through the ecstasy of crowds. Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and sex, but, at least in America, almost never against the crowds. Probably because they get so much ego benefit from the crowds. P. 157

Church growth or church cancer? Meanwhile, the momentum of what was being termed church growth was gathering. All of us in the company agreed that it was misnamed. It was more like church cancer-growth that was a deadly illness, the explosion of runaway cells that attack the health and equilibrium of the body. A year or so later, another of our company left us. We hadn’t realized the rapid spread of the lust for size that was spreading through the American church and was now penetrating our own Company. P. 158

Seminary: My seminary professors had no idea what pastors were or did. P. 162

Not a strategy, just being a good neighbor: She didn’t have a strategy (Eugene talking about his wife). She didn’t have a “business plan,” or a “vision statement.” She just went about being what she has always been, a neighbor, a friend. P. 189

What do we do about our broken and hurting world? Is it possible to live in this increasingly inhospitable world in a hospitable way? Is is possible to do something focused and intentional about what is wrong in our society without turning the wrongdoers into the enemy? Gathering friends and family to the table for a meal is our most frequent act of hospitality.  P. 192

Spiritual dormancy: Did I think that being a pastor in the workplace of a congregation was all fertile farmland and and rolling green hills, grand horizons and majestic mountains? I was a pastor in a place and with a people in an American culture and an American church that seemed more like the badlands and Wall Drug than the continental kingdom of God fertility and horizon and peaks in which God’s throne is established and over which God reigns. Annually on pilgrimage to the sacred ground of Montana, my vocation was renewed in the company of my family. I was a pastor: I would stay with these people for as long as necessary to acquire an imagination and develop a faith to follow Christ right here, in this congregation, in this place, with this family, in this workplace. Didn’t I know by now that growth, any growth-but especially character growth, spiritual growth, church growth, body-of-Christ growth, soul growth-had periods of dormancy? Did I want to be a nonpastor who by diversions and novelties and distractions-“challenges”-perpetuated a kind of sub-Christian adolescence? I remembered a line from the English Novelist E. F. Forster: Ecstasy doesn’t last. But it can but a channel for something lasting.”  P. 207-208

Addicted to adrenaline: I was addicted to adrenaline. And now I was realizing how my already well-honed competitive instincts were exacerbated by the competitive and consumerist church culture that surrounded me. P. 210

Suburbia souls: Suburbia souls. I needed to renew my conversations with Newman, cultivate a way of understanding these men and women in my congregation in terms of who they were, not in terms of how they either interested  or bored me, not in terms of what I could make of them-but souls. Which I did. P. 225

God and the workplace: Most of what Jesus said and did took place in a secular workplace in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, at a public well asking a woman he didn’t know for a drink of water, on a country hillside that he turned into a huge picnic, in a court room, having supper in homes with acquaintances or friends. In our gospels, Jesus occasionally shows up in a synagogue or temple, but for the most part he spends his time in the workplace. Twenty-seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus is identified as worker: “My Father is still working, and I am also working” (Jn. 5:17). Work doesn’t take us away from God; it continues the work of God. God comes into view on the first page of our scriptures as a worker. Once we identify God in his workplace working, it isn’t long before we find ourselves in our workplaces working in the name of God. P. 281

Complete in Christ

“We are a generation of lovers who long to be loved. We spend exorbitant amounts of money to compel others to delight in us. We construct our ideal life on Facebook because we are unsatisfied with our real life, which is tainted with boredom, loneliness, insecurity, and a lack of friends and followers . We do not enjoy the person God created us to be or the life God has gifted us with. We think we are overweight, underweight, too pale, too dark, too plain, or just plain boring. Yet we crave to be delighted in by a significant other. So we pursue misguided avenues to make ourselves delightful, to satisfy our craving to be loved. -Preston Sprinkle

It goes without saying that we spend most of our life looking for things that will give us a sense of fulfillment. To put it another way, we are looking for things, or people, who will make us feel complete. Stop for a moment and ask yourself this question, “when was the last time you truly felt complete or fulfilled”? As Preston mentioned in the above quote, many of us, unfortunately, will pursue fulfillment in relationships, professional titles, drugs, exercise, family, religion and the list goes on and on.

Lately I have been captivated by the book of Colossians. I am starting to believe that Colossians may be the most Christ-centered book in the New Testament. Take a look at 1:15-20 for proof. In Colossians 2:9-10 we read this…

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

What caught my attention is that Paul is writing about being filled, about being made complete. I want this. We all want this. The questions we face when reading these two verses are rather obvious. What does it mean that we have been filled “in him”?  Filled with what? What difference does this filling make?

Two observations

First, as you carefully study this passage in its context you will notice that Paul is not exhorting the people at Colossae to work harder so that they will find fulfillment or a sense of completeness. No, Paul is writing to the Colossians to inform them that they are complete in Jesus Christ just as they are. One of the heresies floating around at Colossae was that there were “other” things, such as circumcision, that a person needed to do to be forgiven and to be pleasing to God. Paul will have none of it. There is nothing missing for the person who has embraced Jesus Christ by faith. We, like the Colossians, have “received Christ Jesus” (verse 6) and therefore have been made righteous, complete as children of God.

Second, when Paul says that we are filled he means that we are supernaturally filled with the life of Jesus Christ. Mysteries of all mysteries! You and I, human flesh, somehow have the Son of God indwelling us, making us whole, making us complete.

What difference does this make in everyday life?

What is missing from your life that is keeping you from experiencing a deep sense of fulfillment? Since we have been filled with the life of Jesus Christ and have been made perfect due to his atoning death on the cross what do we truly need that we do not already have? We have forgiveness. We have grace. We have eternal life. We have the very life of Jesus in us. We lack for nothing. What place does worry or anxiety have for a person who is complete in Jesus Christ?

Are you tired? Colossians is filled with good news for the weary and fatigued. Paul wants us to know that we can stop working so hard to please God. Let’s not twist this. The gospel does not mean that we can live anyway that we want, but it does mean that because of what Jesus did on the cross we have been made fully righteous. Take a deep breath and know that you are dearly loved by God the Father. Charles Spurgeon describes what it means to be “in Him”. Allow these words to ease the ache in your soul…

Let not your sins shake your faith in the all-sufficiency of Jesus. You are, with all your depravity, still in Him, and therefore complete. You have need of nothing beyond what there is in Him. In Him you are at this moment righteous, in Him entirely clean, in Him an object of divine approval and eternal love. Now, as you are, and where you are, you are still complete. Feeble, forgetful, frail, fearful, and fickle in yourself, yet in Him you are all that can be desired. Your unrighteousness is covered, your righteousness is accepted, your strength is perfected, your safety secured, and your heaven certain. Rejoice, then, that you are “complete in Him.”

Addictions (you may choose to use a safer, more socially acceptable word for it) that we pursue to fill us up, to take away our self-perceived emptiness, can be discarded because we are filled with the goodness of God himself. Everything else we pursue for fulfillment pales in comparison to the goodness and beauty of life found in Jesus Christ.

You and I will need to remind ourselves of these gospel truths each and every day of our lives. This world, and our adversary, will strive to make us forget who we are in Jesus Christ and all the blessings we have because of our union with him. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ and live each day in light of that truth.

“The Danger Of Not Finding God In The Ordinary.” Insights from Sensing Jesus by Zach Eswine

I have probably typed out the sentence “radical is embodying the gospel in everyday, mundane life” a thousand times on my obscure little blog.  The reason I try to emphasize the importance of embodying the gospel in everyday life is because I believe we have the tendency to get bored with our average ho-hum existence and begin to wonder what is wrong with us. What if instead of always dreaming about a more dramatic, radical life we joined God in what he is doing in our quiet neighborhood, church, school and workplace? To spin it another way, what if the discontentment we are currently experiencing is a ruse to keep us from living out our faith right where God has strategically placed us?

Sensing JesusI first heard about “Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being” by Zach Eswine from Lore Ferguson on twitter. The book is incredibly well written and I love it because it encourages us to see routine, everyday life as sacred and to seize the gospel opportunities all around us. Here is a lengthy excerpt from the book that I pray encourages you to embrace your life, right where you are at, as an opportunity to love God, love your neighbor and join in God’s ongoing redemptive work in the less glamorous arena of everyday life.

Exulting in Monotony

A placeless ambition can likewise rob us of the kind of happiness that God intends. J.W. Alexander noted this in his Thoughts on Preaching.

A pastor without care for locality becomes what Alexander called a “ceremonious visitor” of the people he serves. His body is present but his mind is always looking elsewhere for meaning and success. But “the minister of the gospel,” is meant to find the “source of happiness in his parochial work and social communion” that God gave to him. Alexander continues: “The genuine bond is as strong and tender as any on earth, and as productive of happiness. Think of this when you are tempted to discontent. What is it that really constitutes the happiness of a residence? Is it a fine house, furniture, equipage…large salary, wealthy pew holders? Nay, it is LOVE. It is the affection and mutual attachment. It is the daily flow of emotion, and commingling of interest in common sorrows and common joys; in the sick-room, and the house of bereavement, at the death-bed and the grave, at baptisms and communions…The declaration of what one believes, and the praise of what one loves, always give delight: and what but this is the minister’s work?”

Happiness with the people and place we are in confounds many of us. But what if this is what Paul meant when he said that he loved people, that they were his joy and his crown (Phil. 4:1; Thess. 2:19)?

With this thought, a sinking feeling infuriates the pounding within my chest. To dignify the ordinary with glory will require a radical shift in my habitual approach to life. In Chesterton’s words, like other pastors, I will have to relearn how to exult in monotony.

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”, and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them.”

And now it dawns on me. Restless discontent is a kind of fatigue. When a finite creature covets omnipresence he loses sight of sight itself. Imagination becomes placeless. Detail loses relevance. Routine becomes boring; arrogance and impatience bid a person to never look twice or long before moving onto somewhere or to something else. To exult in monotony is to deepen roots. To deepen roots is to look twice and long at the smiles that happen at the A&P. Such awareness of life extends the shade we can give. And I remember Jesus of Nazareth-born in Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt, growing up in his particular place. The holy One of God with a local breath. My bloomless battle to give shade without roots, it seems, must be fought at this point. No longer can I imagine great work apart from local places. A global work is a local thing. A local work has global implications. This means I must inhabit wherever I am, differently. P. 66,67

Baby Son-John Mark McMillan

 

We thought you’d come with a crown of gold
A string of pearls and a cashmere robe
We thought you’d clinch an iron fist
And rain like fire on the politics
But without a sword, no armored guard
But common born in mother’s arms
The government now rests upon
The shoulders of this baby son
Have you no room inside your heart
The inn is full, the out is dark
Upon profane shines sacred sun
Not ashamed to be one of us
Without a sword, no armored guard
But common born in mother’s arms
The government now rests upon
The shoulders of this baby son
Gloria, Allelu
Christ the Lord
We’ve longed for you

The Apostle Paul As A Nursing Mother

Paul is one of my favorite guys in Scripture. What’s not to like? Apostle, church planter, wrote most of the New Testament, courageously faced persecution in nearly every town he visited. Paul is the man.

I know that I have read the following passage many times before, but I was blown away when I read Paul’s description of himself in 1 Thessalonians 2:6-8…

“Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Did Paul really just refer to himself as a “nursing mother”? There are lots of interesting names that leaders come up with for themselves these days, but “nursing mother” is not one I have heard before. I’m kinda doubtful if “How To Lead Your Church Like A Nursing Mother” is hitting the Christian bookstores anytime soon. No conferences or even break out sessions with that kind of theme. That’s a shame.

When I think of a nursing mother I come up with words like loving, patient, kind, and selfless all for the sake of feeding and nourishing their precious child. This is how Paul thinks and feels about the church at Thessalonica!

We find this same type of sentiment in other places in 1 Thessalonians.

“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face…” 1 Thessalonians 2:17

“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:19

“For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” 1 Thessalonians 3: 8-10

As a pastor I love to think about the future, make strategic plans, vision cast and work with others to achieve goals and objectives. Visionary, catalytic leadership is important for the spiritual health of the church, but without love it will all sound (and feel) like a clanging cymbal.

How does this metaphor of a nursing mother challenge the way we are doing ministry? How should this inform and shape our ministry philosophy? Do we feel the same about our church family?

Through Paul’s life and ministry we get a glimpse of Jesus and how he relentlessly, passionately loves each one of us. No matter what our role in the church might be, Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians that deeply caring for and loving others is always priority number one.

How Can It Be-Lauren Daigle

Anesthetize: Overcoming The Desire To Numb The Pain Of Unmet Longings

“Thank God I got sober now so I could be hyper-sensitive for this series of humiliations.” -Meryl Streep in Postcards From The Edge

I still remember the conversation I had with a man who had gone through quite a few trials in his young life. He struggled with an addiction to cocaine but eventually he gave up his addiction and got clean. Not long after that he found out that his wife had a terminal disease and was going to die. After his wife died he needed to learn how to honestly deal with the pain of life without numbing himself with drugs. He was telling me about a time when he was at home and was contemplating having a beer. He was prisonnot thinking about getting drunk, just having a couple of drinks. From his perspective, nothing overtly wrong with a beer or two. What got me is that he, in that moment, sensed that the Holy Spirit was telling him not to have the drink. Instead of having a beer he was being told that he needed to stop self-medicating and actually feel the pain present in his life. He knew that his propensity was to do something, take something, to help him cope with the pain of life. He put the beer down and began the lifelong process of embracing the pain of life and looking for how God was going to meet him, heal him, where he was most deeply broken.

It makes me wonder how often we anesthetize ourselves throughout our daily lives? It may not be cocaine, it may be prescription medicine, alcohol, entertainment, food, shopping, pursuit of romance, career advancement, money, etc…

Here are a few thoughts I have when it comes to our tendency to escape our pain rather than meet God in it…

  1. Most likely we have tightened the stranglehold of an addiction in our life. Every time we turn to something other than God to deal with the pain of life or unmet expectations we enslave ourselves to something that can not possibly deliver what we need. Every compromise with sin makes it a little easier to give into it next time.
  2. We are telling God that he is not enough. When we give into an addiction we are making it very clear to ourselves and anyone else in our life that we do not believe that God is enough for us. We may not say that God is not enough out loud, but the way we live reveals what we truly believe.
  3. We are quenching (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and grieving (Ephesians 4:30) the Holy Spirit and keeping him from healing our brokenness. God loves us no matter what. Time and time again in Scripture (Luke 15) we see that God’s love for the prodigal knows no boundaries. Yet Scripture does warn us that, even as Christians, that there are repercussions if we continue our sinful habits. If we feel distant from God or that there is a serious lack of spiritual power in our lives it may be because we are trying to manage the sin in our lives instead of treating it like a cancer that wants to kill us.
  4. We keep from seeing how God was going to care for us and love us in our moment of desperation. We read in God’s Word that Jesus is (John 4:14) the living water that satisfies our deepest longings and thirsts. Perhaps we have gotten into the habit of giving into our temptation instead of patiently enduring the trial and experiencing God’s gracious provision in Christ.
  5. We may have given the devil a foothold in our life (Ephesians 4:17).  The Bible is clear that we are in a spiritual battle (1 Peter 5:8) and it would appear that continual, habitual sin may give the devil an undesired influence in our life.
  6. We keep from seeing and understanding why we are feeling the way we do. Our pain may be revealing something that we love too much. Is it possible that we feel desperate, angry, bitter, depressed, anxious because we love something or someone more than we should? If we numb ourselves instead of dealing with the pain we may never see the the many idols that are present in our lives.
  7. We reveal that we fail to understand that God uses hardships and trials (1 Peter 4:12) in our life to shape and mold us into the image of Jesus Christ. It is rather easy for us to dismiss the prosperity gospel as truly awful theology. Yet, how many times do we we demonstrate that we harbor a little gospel prosperity theology in our lives when we question God’s goodness in the middle of our trials? The Bible tells us that God redemptively uses suffering in our lives to spiritually transform us and make us more like his Son Jesus Christ.
  8. We fail to see what God is doing in mundane, everyday life. Is it possible that we have unrealistic expectations about what it means to walk with God? If so we may be tempted to escape and look for a quick fix to our unmet expectations. For some people following Jesus will mean giving up everything and moving to a new country for the sake of his kingdom. Sounds radical. Sounds exciting. For most people living as a Christian means living out our faith in the grind of everyday life. Jobs, raising children, sports, neighborhoods, friendships, hobbies are all a gift from God and his desire is that we live as salt and light in the middle of it all. Have we taken for granted what we already have been blessed with in Christ?
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