Preacher’s Post: Keeping It Simple

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I’m told being a pastor is complicated.
And I guess when I started out, I also thought it was complicated. I remember being asked on one of my first Sunday mornings at St. Andrew, “Pastor, what do we do with the dead deer in the parking lot.” Darn good question! And I remember thinking to myself, “Wonderful—one more church problem they failed to cover in the seminary Ministry 101 class.” I can tell you the list is a lot longer thirty-five years later, yet at the same time even though there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to church, what really matters to me is so simple. It’s down to one thing: Serving as a conduit for the Spirit of Christ to connect us to God and each other in love. And there’s only one indicator of whether or not that one thing is happening: more and more of us are living God’s way more and more hours of the day so the promises Paul outlined in Galatians 5:22-23 are coming true:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

What I am discovering more and more is these qualities, which truly make life and love possible, can’t be manufactured by me trying harder to get it right and prove I am “enough.” Brené Browns work is so important because it emerges from story after story told by real people like you and me.   Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging…shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. (Brené Brown)

Paul says these “fruits of the Spirit” are gifts that grow in our lives as we live God’s way: “Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.  Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.” (Galatians 5:23-24) That’s not the message we get in so many ways 24/7. Melissa Camara Wilkins nailed it: Our culture has been whispering to us since we could listen: more is better. Be more, do more, have more. It’s not a want, it’s a need. More. More. More. I can hear the echo of Rev. Fred (Mr.) Rogers: “Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.”

I believe we make life shallow and complicated because the one thing that terrifies us is the one thing that promises real life: Surrender to the God who loves us. Daily giving up and dying to our way so we can let go and live God’s way is the way of Jesus. Everyone who held up a sign last Easter morning was bearing witness to the new life only possible as we surrender:

DROWNING IN FEAR // MY FAITH RESTORED

WANT CERTAINTY // TRUSTING MESSY FAITH

ANGER HURT // FORGIVING PEACE

OVERWHELMED PRIDEFUL // COMFORTED HUMBLED

FEAR SHAME // I KNOW GOD’S GRACE

NOT ENOUGH // BECOMING WHO I’M CREATED TO BE

NOT ENOUGH // JESUS LOVES ME

ANGRY LONELY STUCK // PEACE FREEDOM IN GOD’S FAMILY

DROWNING IN ALCOHOL // SOBER SERENITY

WAS LOST  //  LIVING FAITH ON MY KNEES

FEAR WORRY CONTROL // LEARNING TO BREATHE & TRUST

I knew what was coming at the end of the message and it still took my breath away. I realized once again this is the main thing I do and what we do…provide the “space” for God’s Spirit to work deeply in our lives so we’re loved into God’s way of surrender and new life. It is Jesus’ promise coming true: “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest.  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And what is Jesus’ “yoke”? Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.  For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it. Will you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not! There is nothing you can give to regain your life. (Matthew 16:24-26)

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