Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why I Drive a '97 Sunfire

I suppose there are many reasons I drive a rusting '97 Sunfire.

I inherited it from my mother. It runs without a car payment. It gets me where I need to go. But as the years tick by, I become increasingly aware of its downsides.

Strange noises from any and every inch of the vehicle that others notice when they drive along. (I have for the most part blocked them out, now that my ears are so used to them.) It leaks antifreeze and stuff. And so it goes into the repair shop often for a new water pump, a new belt, a new this, a new that. It is beginning to feel like we are pouring money down the drain.

Then there are the obvious aesthetic challenges. 

A beautiful shade of....rust.

The rusting passenger door. The creaks and groans. The short that makes for a lack of good volume control on the stereo. The one slightly-cracked light on the back, the bumped up license plate that says "beep-beep" on the front. The way the fuse on the horn went out for awhile, giving me no ability to toot in those times when a horn would come in handy. This is not my dream vehicle, not by a long shot.

Still, at this very moment, it's sitting in my garage. And it still gets me where I need to go—while dispensing a healthy dose of humility in the process. Many times when I drive it I think about how God is providing my transportation for the day (give us this day our daily rusting Sunfire), and that the Almighty is watching for me to be grateful, even in this. I suppose God is smiling as I pray, "Thank you, Lord, for getting me safely where I need to be." (Aging cars as a way of breeding dependence on God. Yes, he's definitely smiling!)

But beyond all this, the real reason the Sunfire still gets me where I need to go is because we've decided to opt out of the American way. You know—the get-a-car-every-so-many-years-and-put-it-on-credit mentality. We've gone that route in our pasts, but we're trying to do something different this time around.

We started a savings account specifically for a car, and we're hoping that come spring or summer we'll be buying a vehicle outright. When we do purchase it, we're praying for a different mindset: a determination on how we can minister to the people in our lives through using the new vehicle to provide transportation while getting a good MPG that will allow us to steward our money wisely. Meanwhile, the Sunfire has decided to run for another day.

And yes, Lord, I am grateful.  

*Turns out there's a Christ-centered movement to drive junkers! No kidding. It all started in 2006 when a guy named Mike Foster sold his fully-loaded sports car to drive a junky 1993 Toyota Camry. As an act of rebellion against consumerism and in an effort to give more, Mike enlisted the help of his friends. There's even a junky car club bumper sticker. Check out and let me know what you think. Or follow Mike on twitter.

What about you? Does your faith impact what you choose to drive? How?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pastoral tears

When you sign up for the job of a pastor, no one tells you there will be tears. They mention you will be on call at times, that people will misunderstand you and sometimes confuse you, and that you might sometimes be emotionally tired.

But they forget to mention the tears. In seminary or otherwise. At least that is my experience.

You do not realize at first that sometimes you will be helping people who are so emotionally and spiritually and physically broken that all you want to do is lie down on the floor and cry with them. They didn't tell me that I would usually end up crying later, after they are gone, when I am alone with God and asking "Why?" When I am begging God to give me His vision of restoration for them. Asking that he would help me believe that all things are possible with him.

They did not tell me that those who are the most broken would bring the most joy to my heart, as I witness God's work in them. Sometimes these things go in fits and starts, two steps forward, three steps back, and over again, but nevertheless, there is an undeniable look in someone's eye when they believe God loves them and wants to make a way for them. Repentance before God is the gateway to new life, and it is so heart-achingly beautiful that I almost look away. It blows my mind that I get to see these transformations as they are happening, that I am a witness to the power of God's love in the heart of the broken.

You see, they did not tell me that next to my Bible, I would need a box of tissues in my office, stashed in my glove box, crammed into my purse. (Or that I would constantly be dispensing of a used-up tissue in my coat pocket.)

They did not share with me that occasionally I would cry because I had no words left to share with the hurting, with those who are not ready to see beyond themselves. That I would cry because they were not ready to receive all that God longs to offer them. That at times I would be a weeping prophet who didn't have clearance to speak all that my heart held.

No one happened to mention this. Though maybe they tried. Perhaps there are no words to express pastoral tears and so it is useless to try. Yet there they are, these tears, binding me to God's heart, spilling out like love all over those who need a touch from God, cleansing the pain, making way for the newness  Jesus longs to bring to every aching heart.

And just beneath the tears? Deep, abundant joy.

It is the story retold, the story of deep pain on Good Friday and brilliant joy on Easter Sunday. It is the story of new life waiting to burst forth all around me, and for this reason, the tears are worth it. I wouldn't trade them for a minute.

What in your experience brings you to tears? Do the tears give way to joy—and if so, how?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Serious heart withdrawal

I am in serious withdrawal.

And I am not referring to giving up Christmas sweets or the crass materialism that threatens to gobble us up and spit us out this time of year. This is withdrawal of another kind. Ministry withdrawal.

No sooner did I jet out of town following our two Christmas services, then I started to remember the people I live with and minister to at our church. I thought about so-and-so's surgery, whether or not certain individuals were spending the holiday alone, what it looks like for so many to soldier through the season with fractured relationships, unanswered questions...and doubts. I shook my head as I heard of several individuals who experienced searing loss at the time of year when all is supposedly "merry and bright."

My heart, it seems, was in two places at once. For some, this is parenthood; for others, it is the pastorate.

Eugene Peterson described it this way: "The pastor's question is, "Who are these particular people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?"How, indeed.

For this is a messy proposition. A mixed-up bag of highs in one meeting and deep lows in the next. Hot tears and deep joy. Hospital visits, and graveside services, and Bible teaching, and subversive acts that point towards God's advancing Kingdom while the world screams comfort and materialism and the ordinary. Looking for the uncomplicated and straightforward? One need not apply here.

But suppose one's heart beats for transformed hearts and changed lives and the new things Jesus ends up doing with and through ordinary folk. Then the rollercoaster becomes the ride of your life and withdrawal brings its own rewards. I am investing in the hearts of lives of those who matter to my Abba, and he is doing the rest.

I am trusting that all of it matters, even when I don't see how.

"Christian spirituality means living in the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life - children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships - and experiencing them as an act of faith. God wants all the material of our lives."

Did I mention it's good to be back?

[*The author is new to a temporary assignment as a part-time pastor of evangelism. Proof positive that miracles do happen.]

Your turn: What makes your heart experience withdrawal symptoms? How is God's Kingdom expanding around you in a way that brings you deep joy?

Citations: Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 41-42, 45-46). Kindle Edition.