Work and Vocation

Eye Candy, Smokescreens, and Accepting Mediocrity

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Do these numbers mean anything to you?

$219, 000, 000 +

$122, 000, 000 +

$118, 000, 000 +

They shouldn’t unless you’re a sports geek on cosmic levels. These numbers are the amount of money three NFL players have made in their career:

Eli Manning

Jay Cutler

Sam Bradford

Whether you watch football or care there’s something interesting about these salaries and the men who are paid gobs of money to play with a ball. It’s eye candy and smokescreens.

Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls, we’ll give him that. But has only made the playoffs 6 times in his career of 15 years. Will have a 59% completion percentage, and might have a 500 winning percentage.

Jay Cutler has also made gobs of money. Came into the league with much promise and natural gifts. But he has been average at best. Losing record 74-79, quite a few touchdowns, but a ton of interceptions. Played in 2 playoff games in 12 seasons.

Sam Bradford, oh man. A guy who can’t stay healthy and has been paid money we all dream about. A backup quarterback at best. Losing record, only played a full season twice, no playoff wins.

Smokescreens and eye candy. What we can learn from these examples is choosing the easy route for your life and organization. It’s easy to allow someone to be mediocre for years when from the eye test, everything appears good. At least they aren’t difficult to work with and don’t make a mess of things. Or, maybe, the person is better than the other options available.

But in all these examples these men have not put their organizations in a better place. They have set their clubs back many years because the investment was so high for eye candy, smokescreens, and mediocrity.

High salaries are proven to not motivate even the best employees. Can even work against the worker who gets comfortable and relies on past achievements. Not pushing themselves to be better.

Nothing against Manning, Bradford, or Cutler. This is not an attack on their character or blaming them for taking these ridiculous salaries with average results.

I get it. Everything is a risk and not everything works out.

But when a guy is asked to do a job for 8, 12, 15 years with mediocre results, maybe it’s time to move on.

I think a lot of decisions we make aren’t based on seeing the bigger whole and vision and settling for mediocrity. Well, they're a good guy or gal. They went to a good school. Who cares?

It’s easier to let the eye candy and smokescreen test fool you. Paying a guy who appears to “look” like a quarterback for many years to get average results.

The Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl with Russell Wilson who was working with a rookie contract. Patrick Mahomes is a second year player with a 9-2 record, and an MVP candidate. More money doesn’t equal results. And the eyes can deceive us.

Roger Daltrey, Rocking, and Retirement

RD.jpg

In a recent interview with The Who lead singer Roger Daltrey he made an interesting comment when asked if the band could still play: I can still sing the sh*&$% out of those songs. 

Roger is seventy-five years old. 

I’m not sure if something has given old school rockers a special means of grace but they never seem to slow down. Paul McCartney is in his seventies and still plays three hour shows without sipping water (a friend witnessed this recently). I don’t know if there’s a fountain of youth afforded to musicians who have done more drugs than a Mexican Cartel. 

One thing is for certain: retirement is not a thing for most of these aging artists. 

I’ve been reflecting on retirement of late not because I’m anywhere close to what our state deems “retirement age.” Not that I care. I like work and creating and hopefully leaving things better than I left them. I know my body and mind will break down at some point and retirement in some form will be necessary. 

But I don’t think retirement should be our ultimate goal and reason we work. Our Creator made us in his image to reflect him, and this Creator is a Worker. Our reflecting involves creating, making, working, and stewarding stuff from the resources of creation. Retirement is not a thing. 

Daltrey, McCartney, Tom Petty until his untimely death, still rocked and worked and shared their music with the world. They don’t need to. They have more money than most. 

Yet, why does our culture place such a high premium on retirement?

Recently I read something from Frederick Buechner that talked about retirement:


“SOMEWHERE AROUND the age of sixty-five, many people decide it's time to stop working and start just enjoying life. The trouble, of course, is that they're apt to discover that with nothing much to do except play golf, travel, catch up on their reading, watch TV, and so on, life isn't all that enjoyable. They need something to give themselves to the way they once gave themselves to their jobs. The question is, give themselves to what? Maybe they could do worse than give themselves to the world that needs them as much as they need the world.

 

This may involve things like volunteer work at the hospital or delivering meals on wheels or heading the library-fund drive, but the place where giving yourself to the world starts is simply paying attention to the world—to the people you've been saying hello to for years without really knowing them, to the elementary-school kids hanging upside down on the jungle gym, to the woman taxi driver with the face of a Boston bull and no teeth to speak of who waits for fares at the bus stop, to the old vets marching down Main Street on Memorial Day.

 

If retirees just learn to keep their eyes open, the chances are they will find themselves more involved, fulfilled, challenged, and nourished than all the years they spent with their noses to the grindstone. And enjoying themselves more too.” -Originally published in Beyond Words 


I want to keep rocking when I’m seventy five, pushing the limits, serving the world with grace, creating art, and making a dent until Jesus calls me home. I want to give myself to something that matters and I don’t think TV and golf are high on the list.

Let’s keep rocking!

The Man Who Saved My Life Died Today

Author, pastor, and theologian Eugene Peterson died today. The same man who saved my life. Let me explain. 

Like most young guys coming out of school working their first “real” job you’re clueless but pretend everything’s fine. Fake it until you make it they say. 

Well I faked it, but didn’t make it. I was a young pastor excited to serve the church and see people coming to know and mature in Jesus. Excited to see our community serve our neighbors and watch our city transformed with a renewed hope in God. My own conversion experience was so powerful and unexpected and amazing. I wanted the word to “taste and see the Lord is good.”

But as I began my vocation in pastoral ministry, I didn’t like what I saw. My first boss treated me like trash. They squelched my voice in meetings when I suggested change. 

The church seemed more concerned with budgets and how many people filled the pews each week than with faithfulness to God and his word and love for his people. More concerned with their navels and insider church politics instead of the people in our communities who were hurting and not yet disciples of Jesus. 

The church felt more like a business and less like a family. 

That is when a seasoned Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson saved my life. 

This small and humble Charismatic-turned-Presbyterian from Montana showed me a compelling and different approach to life and ministry. Instead of a hurried and frantic business-like approach to pastoral work. He fought for a prayerful and with-the-people approach. Peterson showed me marketing and business tactics would have to submit to Word and Sprit. Workaholism would have to submit to Sabbath. 

Peterson taught me how to read the Scriptures and pray. How to take a day off and be still and silent and play. 

Eugene didn’t save me from a burning building or separation from God. He saved my soul from the frantic pace and faulty ideologies the church often buys into and gave me a fresh vision for what the Bride of Christ could be. 

Years later after devouring dozens of Peterson’s books I met him in person. He came to our seminary and did a lecture on pastoral ministry. He was not a dynamic speaker, and I was shocked at how ordinary he was. 

Despite Eugene Peterson’s unassuming demeanor and lack of dynamic communication skills. Peterson was magnetic for different reasons. He was a good listener. He acted as if you were the only person in the room. Each question we asked Eugene he would give a calculated, wise, and thoughtful response. Like a wise sage trying to counsel a wayward son. 

Peterson taught me ministry is primarily about people. Treat them with respect. Listen and don’t do all the talking. That is hard for someone like myself who often has diarrhea of the mouth and is anxious to get to the next thing.

Another gift from that seminary lecture fourteen years ago was something he said about pastoring a church and doing conferences. He said he never wanted to pastor a church or do a conference with over three hundred people. Why? 

He wouldn’t know all their names. He felt you wouldn’t be able to have a good conversation and interaction in large crowds. Three hundred people was the max.

Sounds like Jesus. 

Jesus changed the world with twelve disciples and only when the crowds emerged did they leave disappointed when he challenged their commitment to follow him. 

In a culture that values bigness and flashy over the faithful and fruitful Eugene Peterson was a gift and still is. He literally saved my life. 

If I would have never picked up a Peterson book, I’m not sure I’d still be a pastor. His vision for life with God and vocational ministry looms large in my vision for the church I lead and the legacy I hope to leave. 

I continue to come back to his books, essays, and poems. What he wrote thirty years ago is still relevant today. The same problems we face in the church today are the same ones he dealt with. Nothing new under the sun, I guess. 

I’m saddened today because Eugene Peterson left us. Maybe selfishly I’d hoped he’d had written one more book or essay or done one more interview. Something to gleam more wisdom from the small man from Montana. 

But I’m not sad for him. I’m jealous. Peterson leaves us on the spinning ball called earth with broken bodies and disordered loves. Eugene now lives and sees and knows nothing of sin, pain, and sorrow. What we all long for. He sees the God he wrote about and prayed to and preached about for 85 years. 

I’m also saddened that more pastors and people in the church have not listened to this wise, godly, and sweet man’s counsel. Too many pastors and leaders and dad’s and mom’s and kid’s have burned out and flamed out and made a mess of their lives because of the seductive nature of our culture. 

Believing external achievements are equivalent to our contentment and joy in God or related to the health of our soul. Peterson unearthed the lies of the Enemy and the world for what true contentment looked like. He found it in the Messiah and he found it in relationships. 

Relationship with God, family, church family, and neighbor. People are not widgets and formulas we try to fix. Image bearers are gifts from God we’re called to love and serve. Peterson lived his life for what mattered and would last. 

I don’t give all the credit to Peterson for saving my life. He wouldn’t want it that way. I have many mentors living and dead to thank for their wisdom and encouragement over the years. But Peterson is still is a distant mentor who I will continual come back to for the reminders I often need. 

Like the best thing you can do for the church is stay faithful to Scripture, pray for your people, and be with them. Simple, but often hard to pull off. 

I’ll come back to Peterson when I need to be reminded to take a day off, Sabbath. The church and world will be fine if I turn off the phone and take a nap. 

Eugene Peterson was a great man and has influenced more pastors and Christians than we could count. He has run his race well. 

So, to honor the man, who saved my life, I’d like to share some posts in the coming months related to his work. I hope these reflections and quotes and ideas will help pass on a great legacy of Christian faithfulness in the world. 

Thanks Eugene, and we are jealous for what you are now experiencing… 

Writer Beware of the Gollum Factor

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In November 2017, I joined a bunch of crazies who write rough draft novels in a month. Maybe you’ve heard of it, National Novel Writing Month.

With the help of my oldest son (the idea guy), NaNoWriMo 2017, would be the year for kid’s books. Not one, but two shorter middle grade action adventure books.

Crazy? Why, yes.

Thirty days later of blood, sweat, and tears… we did it. We wrote not one, but two rough drafts of our kid’s novels.

Enter early 2018, the hard work of cleaning up plot holes, fixing obvious spelling, grammar, and unclear sections of the book. A polish here, rewrite there.

Sent the book off to a couple editors and proofreaders. Found an illustrator to make line drawings. And employed a cover design, formatted for ebook and print, and hit publish (obviously there’s more to it, but you get the gist).

But now what? The euphoria of the creative process dimming like the setting sun. No more wondering if the book will ever see the light of day. It’s out, no do-overs.

What if people like it? What if they hate it? And the writer police arrest you and throw away the key.

All the hours of spilling your guts on the page and wondering if you’ll ever see the finish line. In the process of creation you fall in love with the characters, ideas, and in some strange way never want the feeling to end.

Maybe it’s fear, resistance, or the self-doubt of wasting hours on something that will not cure cancer.

Beware of the Gollum Factor

The post-creation hangover is what I call the Gollum Factor. Every writer, creator, designer, artist, or human who makes anything, feels this repeatedly.

You know Gollum, right? The creepy gremlin looking creature in the Lord of the Rings who says: “Oh, my precious…”

Gollum is how I think about our books, art, and projects. We labor for days, weeks, and sometimes years on something. We share it with the world. Sometimes to great applause and other times with a thud.

But instead of moving on, making the next thing, we live in the past and continue to pet, caress, and obsess over Our Precious.

It’s not a bad thing to be proud of the stuff we make. But when our art, book, or project becomes too precious, we have problems. Instead of making the next thing, we talk about the old thing. We sound like the old guy in the bar reminiscing about the state championship in football. Move on, already.

I see this in many areas of life. Politicians trying to create a future, based on a mythical past. The church stuck in the past and wanting to hold on to the good old days, whatever that means. A couple who talk about when their relationship was thriving, but never invest in today. The business using the same marketing tactics of the 50’s, with little to no results. My Precious… Our Precious…

When the Gollum Factor is alive and well, instead of letting go, moving on; we freeze. Instead of climbing the next hill, trying something new, pushing ourselves to make something better than the last, we pet, caress, and talk about Our Precious.

Hard Hats Required for Defeating Gollum

I live by a simple phrase for creation: Hard Hat Creative. It makes the process of creating less mystical, and more practical. Instead of treating every book, article, or talk I give as the greatest thing since slice bread. I put on my creative hard hat and go to work again the next day. Pushing, sweating, thinking, praying, and not waiting for inspiration that may never come.

No Muse, no magic fairy dust, no superstitions, no waiting, hoping, and begging for inspiration. We punch the clock, butt in a chair, and make the next thing.

I’m not immune to the Gollum Factor. My first kid’s book is out in the world, and I want to talk about it, caress it, and tell the world how precious it is.

But, I will try my best to resist. In fact, book two is already off to the editors. Take that Gollum…

Toss Our Precious on the floor, say thanks for the memories it was fun, and make the next thing.

*Originally published on The Writer Cooperative

Lead From Your Flaws

Adam Grant in his best-selling book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World suggests leading with our flaws is a more powerful way to impact an audience, sell an idea, and deepen relationships. 

He gives four reasons:

1. Disarms the audience. 

When people hear about a struggle, flaw, or why something won’t, or didn’t work, communication barriers fall down. Why?

Humans are wired to find flaws in people, things, situations, and naturally are skeptical. 

Leading with your flaws puts people at ease became they already don’t want to like you or the product.

2. It makes you look smart. 

Flaws make you look smart because you’ve thought about things. Grant gives an example of when a person leaves a review for a book and/or product. If the review is glowing and there’s no critique we haven’t thought about it long enough. 

But if the end of the review gives a couple ways, it could be improved… they look smart. 

Nothing is perfect and if someone never shares the flaws, it appears they are not all that smart. 

If someone is pitching an idea or product and does not do the hard work of showing the flaws. They obviously have no intention of making it better in the future.

3. It makes you more trustworthy. 

People who never show weakness, struggle, or flaws… are questionable. Why? Everyone has flaws and people who don’t talk about them are liars. When you lead with flaws people are more willing to trust you. 

If I only hear victory and never defeat I know the person is not living in reality. Their not trustworthy.

4. Leaves an audience with a more favorable response to the message, product, or idea.

Start with the flaws upfront there’s a good chance people will see you and/or the message more favorably. Why? 

If the serious flaws are already named people are more apt to see the message in a good light. In most cases they will downplay the flaws because you already named them. 

Nothing is perfect and everything is broken. When the presenter names the flaws, it puts the hearer at ease. They know the flaws can be overcome and in many cases made better. 

I wonder how applicable these ideas could be in different arenas of life?

Pastors: share your flaws and struggles to bring the congregation down to the human level. Too many pastors preach/teach like they have it altogether. 

Salesman: tell the customer why the flaws in your product are not a deal killer. Rather, an opportunity for your company to grow and make it better. 

Parents: tell your kids why mother’s and father’s need grace and splatter egg on their face often. Watch your children relate on a deeper level with you knowing perfection is a mythical idea. 

Spouses/partners: when you share openly your flaws and acknowledge defects… you can connect more deeply with your spouse. They are not dumb and see them, anyway. Don’t be liars and allow flaws to be something avoided. Celebrate them and laugh at how often you fall on your face. 

Lead with your flaws. You’ll be glad you did. And, if you’re like me, it’s easy to do. 

God as Vocational Director and Why Your Work Matters

“Vocation is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God in the world.” -Steve Garber

God is a worker. He makes people in his likeness and image reflecting their Maker as workers. 

The vocations, labors, and works of ordinary image bearers are essential to the work of God in the world. In the seemingly inconsequential daily work of people God’s mission and work is fulfilled on the earth.

Labor and work has intrinsic value on its own because God has commissioned all people to partner with him in the redemption of all things.

How so?

Robert Banks in his book Faith Goes to Work describes God as a Vocational Director reflected in the specific kinds of work people do on a daily basis:

1. Redemptive Work (God’s saving and reconciling acts). People participate in this work as:

  • Pastors
  • Counselors
  • Peacemakers
  • Evangelists
  • Writers
  • Poets
  • Filmakers
  • Actors
  • Performers/dancers
  • Songwriters (when they incorporate redemptive elements in their art)

2. Creative Work (God’s fashioning of the physical and human world). People in the arts display this work:

  • Poets
  • Writers
  • Painters
  • Sculptors
  • Novelists
  • Musicians, etc.

And, people who are craftsman and use creative skills in their work:

  • Potters
  • Weavers
  • Interior designers
  • Builders/construction
  • Metalworkers
  • Carpenters
  • Architects
  • Urban planners
  • Fashion designers

3. Providential Work (God’s provision and sustaining of humans and the creation).

This work includes anything that sustains and maintains the creation in a beneficial and orderly fashion. And, whatever redeems, conserves, replenishes, and creates :

  • Bureaucrats
  • Policymakers
  • Public utility workers
  • Shopkeepers
  • Career counselors
  • Shipbuilders
  • Farmers
  • Fireman, police, paramedics
  • IT specialists
  • Repairmen
  • Entrepreneur
  • Bankers and brokers
  • Plumbers
  • Engineers
  • Business school professors
  • Plumbers
  • Welders
  • Janitors
  • Mathematicians
  • Sales

4. Justice Work (God’s maintenance of justice). 

  • Judges
  • Lawyers
  • Paralegals
  • Government regulators
  • Legal secretaries
  • City planners
  • Prison wardens and guards
  • Policy advocates and researchers
  • Law professors
  • Diplomats
  • Supervisors
  • Administrators and law enforcement

5. Compassionate Work (God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding). 

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Paramedics
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Community workers
  • Non-profit directors
  • Emergency medical technicians
  • Counselors
  • Welfare agents
  • Homemaker

6. Revelatory Work (God’s work to enlighten with truth).

  • Pastors
  • Scientists
  • Journalists
  • Scholars
  • Writers

God continues his work in the world through a variety of vocations on the earth. We must celebrate the intrinsic value of work because God gives it significant weight and eternal value, honor, and importance for his redemptive purposes.  

May this give new meaning to your work on Monday. 

*If your job is not mentioned please forgive me. Add it to the appropriate category. 

Insanity of the Perfectionism Demon

Anne Lamott wrote in her classic book Bird by Bird:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”

Perfectionism is a demon of the worst kind. Not only for the  writer, but for any human, anyone trying to be a decent friend, partner, spouse, brother, sister, artist, or business owner. 

Every day is an opportunity to make, create, invest, and build something for the benefit of others. But every day the perfectionism demon unlocks the back gate and rips into our lives with his talons in full view. 

Perfectionism is the enemy of done, completion, and finishing what we start. When the enemy of perfectionist lies speaks, we freeze, and like Lamott suggests: we go insane. 

The perfectionism demon affects all. Keeps the artist from creating, dad’s from parenting, and pastors from preaching. Mom’s from being okay, with being okay. Perfectionism puts relationships in a sphere where angels fear to tread and make them impossible to enjoy.

Perfectionism keeps us from living inside the walls of grace, where failure is expected, and forgiveness is available. The demon of perfect is what Satan uses to suffocate any attempts at holy living, taking risks, and starting something, that needs starting. 

The perfectionism oppressor is crafty. Many people assume that perfectionism is not their problem and vice. But in reality, the reason we don’t start stuff, finish stuff, struggle to have healthy relationships, and talk a good game about all the things we want to do, but never do… is because of perfectionism. 

We are more cramped and insane than we’d like to admit. 

But the answer and remedy for destroying and laying to rest the Enemy, is not mere will power, and brute strength. The answer found in knowing the whole universe runs on grace, we run on grace.

We aren’t everything we should be. The world is not everything it should be, and walks with a limp. There are no perfect conditions, perfect timing, perfect people, and ideal situations. 

Everything and everyone is a mess. 

When we know our situation the power of grace has room to run.  When perfectionism identified as the enemy of the people, we can turn away, and just put one foot in front of the other, knowing it will be messy, but worth the time and effort. 

Perfectionism always submits to grace, and grace keeps us sane. 

 

Faceless Impact

In 2009, I moved from Colorado to start a new church in Kansas City Missouri. We didn’t know one person, had little money, yet faith in a Big God. 

As you can imagine there were many days of uncertainty and times, I wanted to give up. While spiraling into a state of depression and confusion over the how’s and why’s of starting a church, someone came into my life. This someone was not a familiar face, and to this day, I’ve never met the man. 

Call it Divine Providence, luck, or good timing… I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a church leaders conference. I’d hope this conference would give me some inspiration and direction into the future of our church. I can’t explain, or describe, what this one hour talk did inside of me, but I’ve never recovered. 

A pastor named Dave Browning from Christ the King Church in Seattle made an impact on me that will last the rest of my days. It wasn’t his speaking style or charisma that drew me. It wasn’t how famous he was in Christian circles, or personality that caught my eye, he wasn’t a known commodity in church world.

Browning’s humility, and how he understood the realities of God, and the church are what grabbed me. He did ministry in a way that refused to buy into the hype, glitz, and glamour of many American churches today. 

Dave gave pastors permission to be ordinary. He believed love and grace were the keys for true impact and a fruitful ministry. Dave wasn’t scared to preach hard truths from the Bible. Dave knew giant facilities, state-of-the-art technology, and big budgets were unnecessary for reaching people with the gospel. 

Dave believed the heart and essence of life and ministry was love for God and loving people. And ministry was never meant to be complicated and cluttered. Keep the main thing, the main thing. He would often say, keep the main King, the main King (Jesus that is).. 

My consternation in the early years of starting a new church revolved around expectations. Not to mention the insecurities of being a young pastor in an unfamiliar city. You needed a nice building, lots of money, fancy equipment, people, and good press in the community. If you could preach like Spurgeon, understand culture like Keller, and lead like Stanley, that would help too.

Yet, what I realized, and what Dave helped me see, was more is not better, hype does not equal effectiveness, and humility, love, and being the best version of you is the entire thing.  

Dave Browning saved my life that day. 

He had written a couple books, which I’ve since purchased, and offered a ton of helpful teaching on leadership, which I’ve gained much from over the years. 

Fast forward a couple years. I looked up Dave to see how he was doing. What I saw was devastating. He had an inoperable brain tumor. Dave died at 52, in 2016. 

My heart and prayers go out to his family and church. The lives he touched with the grace of Jesus are immeasurable. 

Dave didn’t seem to care about the accolades and limelight that ministry can bring. Whenever you have a platform or stage the temptations of being something, or believing your something, are hard to fight. Especially when Dave had planted 50 congregations around the world in his short time on earth. People want to know the secret sauce.

Well the secret sauce Dave believed in his bones were simple. Love God, love your neighbor, and show the grace and love you’ve been given from Jesus. Do that and you’ll experience true life and success. 

When I reflect on that day in 2009, and the impact of a man I never met. I found comfort.

Comfort that impact and effectiveness is not always big and bright and obvious. You never know how you’re impacting the lives of those around you, and for most of us mortals, it’s only a handful of lives if we’re lucky. 

When we’re willing to be present to God and people and share what we’re learning along the way. You never know. Your YouTube video might change the life of a young pastor, dreamer, mom, dad, or a kid who wants to make a difference in their world, somehow, and someway. 

Thanks, Dave. I’m eternally grateful. 

Thursday's: A Peek Over the Shoulder of a Working Pastor

Thursday’s. A normal day in the calendar, after Wednesday, and before Friday. If an 80’s or 90’s kid, you’ll remember Thursday’s the day Seinfeld and Friends aired on TV. That glowing box in your living room when you had to watch it live, or tape on VHS. 

I digress.

Thursday’s. A day in my week that’s often the same. Take that back, always the same, with a few rare exceptions the last eight years. 

I’m not sure how your work rhythms play out, but Thursday’s is a sacred day for me. A day blocked off, closed, and when possible, free of distractions. 

It’s sermon day. 

I’m a pastor, and most weeks, I stand in front of hundreds of people and teach from the Bible. Some call it a sermon, homily, or meditation. Regardless of your preference, language, or church background, the sermon is a person standing in front of a church, and trying with all grace, to explain the beauties and immensities of God and all its implications for life and the world. 

Not a small task. 

Thursday’s, a day when I feel the weight of preaching. It’s not the only day for study or prayer, but it’s my day, an uninterrupted day for deep, focused, and prayerful work. 

Preaching is not someone giving a lecture, an opinion piece akin to the New York Times, or cliches and moral platitudes soothing anxious and weary souls with promises of prosperity, or your best life now. 

Preaching is prayerfully examining and meditating over ancient texts. Texts written through human authors (40), over a 1500 years span, on three continents, and in a variety of styles and genres. These texts while being captured by humans, the Divine always in the background doing work, ensuring the message is clear. 

No human could dream up what’s written in the pages of the Bible, even if they tried. Humanity could never compile a book comprising sixty six separate books, over generations, and still have one cohesive and united narrative. Unless God’s involved. 

We are too selfish, unenlightened, and blind to our sins, to come up with anything close to the Bible.

It’s a miracle. 

That’s the weight I feel. Many pastors, priests, and ordinary disciples of Jesus, have stepped into a pulpit, classroom, or in conversation, said things about God from the Bible. 

I’m no special flower.

But, what’s happening on Sunday’s, is not a man giving his opinions on public policy, or why he thinks Seinfeld is the greatest show ever written. 

I’m speaking on behalf of God and what he’s revealed to humanity. The weight is real. Observations about Seinfeld would be easier.

I’ve been called to say something to the family of God. Things like: God is good, sin is gross, and Jesus is making all things new. 

I’m not the only qualified one to say these things. The Bible is a public document most can access. 

But because God cares about truth, and he seems to care about saving, and building up and deepening the church of Jesus Christ, he calls some to help with the teaching task, and gives more formal offices to serve God’s people. 

None of these men and woman are perfect, and see everything, and get everything right. We are dealing with an infinite God, and finite human messengers. But in God’s grace, and by his love for the church, he still uses crooked sticks to make paths straight.

I’ve been called to this holy task and I still laugh most days. 

On any given Sunday people gather who hate God, love God, and are suffering from cancer. Come to a gathering on Sunday and the faces will tell a story: 

“I’m hurt. Dry. In pain. Confused. Worried about children, finances, spouses, friends, employment, disease, mental instability, and addictions I can’t seem to kick. Some feel as if life isn’t fair because everything is turning up aces, and others don’t want to live another day.” 

All in the church, all staring back at me.

The weight is real. These image-bearers of God need something grander and eternal and bigger than current realities. No need for platitudes and cliches to make it another day. We need a word from God, promises, commands, and reminders of events which happened in time and space. Reality, a reality of natural and spiritual forces, and hope.

Sometimes what we need is:

...stop that… turn back to the grace and mercies of God.

We need God to speak.

Thursday’s are when I have to make sense of texts written thousands of years ago. Try with all my might to make sense of a culture so foreign to our own, and how it makes sense for today. 

My tools are ancient texts and voices of the past. Can I hear? Will I hear? My tools are not always tangible and involve Spirit, reason, gifts, mind, heart, soul, pen, paper, and computer. 

What are the issues of the day? How can the eternal promises of God, and unchanging voice of Jesus, give hope amidst racism, sexism, hatred, idolatry, sin, abuse, worry, anxiety, lying, cheating, stealing, finances, gardening, shopping, TV watching, and daily stuff of marriage, parenting, work, friendships, home, and neighborhood?

Thursday’s will involve handwriting the main text for the week. It will include sketching ideas, words, making connections, questions, and confusion. Thursday’s will witness a man on his face pleading with God to speak and to give the gift of understanding and faith. 

Some Thursday’s will feel like giving up and becoming a truck driver or something not involving confusing ancient texts or people. 

But I keep coming back every Thursday. Maybe because I’m crazy? Pay check? Not enough money in the world makes this job easy.

Or, maybe because I don’t have many employable skills? Few jobs require Greek or Hebrew, not to mention the biblical kind. 

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s something greater going on. This calling from God is real, and haunts me every Thursday, and the other days of the week. God in his infinite mercy and sense of humor, has called this man, a frail, weak, and unimpressive man, to say something on behalf of God.

Preaching is not about me and building an empire. It’s not an opportunity to show off eloquence or speaking abilities. 

Preaching is pointing to Another.

I’m just a beggar, speaking to other beggars, showing them where they can find bread. Or if you like, I’m just a thirsty soul, telling other thirsty souls, where they can find a drink. 

And one truth, one I’m not sure my congregation will ever understand. 

This preacher, needs the sermon, more than they do. He needs to hear from God.