I’m All Talked Out

I’ve been married to Laura for 8 years but have known her most of my life. She knows me better than anyone. Unquestioningly, she’s my best friend. We have an innumerable amount of inside jokes, nick names, common interests and shared stories. You can put the two of us in a white room with nothing to do, and we’ll have plenty of fun.

However, I can’t talk to her non-stop. Eventually, I run out of words. My conversation skills tire. I shut down. I’m only human. Oh, and I’m also a dude. We were created with less words than women. It’s science. Look it up.
Now, I’ve heard the Bible requests for us to “pray without ceasing” and that we should “walk in the spirit” and “abide in him” but that just seems exhausting to me. I mean, there’s been times when I’ve been at a camp where I spent nearly the entire time praying and it was great, but I also have to admit, when I got home from that camp I was spiritually exhausted. The only thing that appealed to me was a beer and a Sci Fi original movie.
I even climbed a mountain in Canada with some good friends and spent one entire night isolated and utterly alone. I spent several hours praying under the stars. I vented every frustration, confessed every sin, and shared every dream. Eventually, I came to a point where I literally chuckled out loud, and said to God, “Welp, I suppose that’s about it.” Awkward silence hung over me and this began me down a trail this “relationship” I’m supposed to have with God may be different than I think.
I’m not against prayer in the traditional thinking. I’m simply suggesting it is not sustainable.
What if God is not the Junior High school girl with unlimited cell phone minutes we’ve been told he is?
Lets come full circle shall we. My relationship with Laura is the healthiest one I’ve ever had. As I’ve told you before, she’s my very best friend.
And I don’t talk to her all day. However, I do think of her all the time.
I thought of her after my big sale on Labor day and couldn’t wait to text her that we can pay those bills after all.
I thought of her later that night when I went out for a beer with my coworkers. Things were becoming too fun for a married man, I thought of Laura, and I came home.
I thought of her after Linc and I took a picture at the zoo. I couldn’t wait to get home and share with her about our fun day.
I thought of her just now when I realized I need to get home soon so we can go out to dinner.
Now, go read the Bible and see how many times, Jesus requests his friends to “remember me”. My favorite occasion is on one of their final moments together as they sat around a table and had dinner. It’s quite beautiful actually.
Perhaps God is not interested in my obligated conversations as he is in us becoming friends, so that he enters my thoughts often? What if this “relationship” with him is meant to be freeing rather than exhausting?
Well, figure that out on your own. I gotta get home. I just remembered, I have dinner plans.

What I Miss From Not Working In A Church

I took a break from full time vocational ministry after our church closed and spent some time working in a hotel and eventually in sales. Now that I’m back working in a church full time I’ve noticed there are some things I really miss.
1. Going to church and not being paid for it.
Waking up that first Sunday I was no longer being paid by a church was liberating.
I rolled over to Laura and asked, “Do you wanna go to church?”
“I don’t know, do you?” she responded sleepily.
It was a great moment because we were no longer obligated to be there. We were free to choose. This forced us to ask ourselves, why do we go to church. Was it for more than a paycheck? Our motives had a chance to be purified. We decided the church could be a movement that we’d love to be a part of.

2. Ego Boost
After 12 years of full time vocational ministry under the belt a question began entering my mind and wouldn’t leave like a scratch I was afraid to itch.
“Am I only doing this because it’s the only thing I can make money at?”
I’m a bit embarrassed to share that but it’s the truth. Was my worth and ability to provide an income limited to only the church? Working in sales gave me a chance to see that I was really good at other things. I could make great money for my family elsewhere. I didn’t have to be a pastor. I no longer felt desperate and inadequate. I could choose to be a pastor again for much better reasons.
2. Better friendships
I’ve always had trouble making friends with Christians. I get lost in the language they use. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want to talk about God all of the time. Sometimes, I’d rather just talk about the latest Portlandia episode or the UFC.
I also hate the feeling of walking on egg shells. Honesty gets stunted the moment you’re afraid of offending someone. Working at the hotel and in sales gave me a chance to meet some really great people. We laughed really hard and I was free to be me.
3. Quantifiable Efforts.
My favorite time of the day in sales was when I counted up everything I did. It was right there on the computer screen. I sold a certain amount of beds and made a certain amount of money. The sense of accomplishment was very rewarding. The difficulty with working in a church full time is people are not projects to be completed. Life is messier than that.
4. Praying for more than a message.
When I was working in sales, I’d often get to work an hour early and spend some time reading the Bible and praying at this Starbucks near work. Sunday was our busiest day so going to church usually wasn’t possible. God would meet me there and we had the best conversations. I remember how goofy it seemed that the God of the Universe would spend time in this grocery store Starbucks somewhere in Bellevue but He did. I think our friendship developed quite a bit and I learned to trust him in ways I hadn’t before. I think I realized how much I like him and he likes me. This happened because I was able to concentrate on much more than a message I was preparing. Ironically, I was free to experience him without the constraints of churchy things.

Funeral Theology

To be fair, I’m writing this as a way of processing the past few days. I lost my friend Jeremy and I miss him. However, the past few days has also left me with one haunting question:

“Why don’t I always treat people like this?”

I Answered My Phone

The past few days I’ve spent a lot of time over at Jeremy’s home. I let Rebecca (Jeremy’s wife) and her family know they could contact me at anytime and for any reason. I wanted to be completely accessible to them as they mourned. I answered my phone every time she called. I cleared my schedule. It was not a burden.
Did you ever notice how the majority of Jesus’ miracles did not come about by strategic planning or appointment? Rather, his miracles often began out of interruptions, inconveniences, and even annoyances. He was never too busy. Jesus would stop the world to address a need and still stops all of heaven to hear your prayer.

Others Were More Important
When someone passes away there are countless details to attend to. Rebecca’s phone was ringing off the hook. One day while I was visiting with the family, Rebecca’s phone interrupted our conversation. She apologized and I made a decision. I told her and her family, that for the next few days they will never need to apologize to me for anything. They can get angry, answer the phone, ask me to leave, anything they want. They were more important. I was just honored to be there.

The apostle Paul writes about Jesus by saying, “but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.”(2) As I studied this scripture I discovered something startling. Jesus didn’t just give lip service to the idea that other’s were more important. He didn’t just talk about it or act like it. Jesus actually thought others were better than him. When he saw another person walking by, Jesus saw their needs as more valuable.  In a world where we won’t even let the truck merge into our lane, what a revolutionary idea! What if I thought this way all of the time?

Grace Got Liberal

During one of my last conversations with Jeremy, I asked if I could share who God is. See, Jeremy was a skeptic and had plenty of questions regarding faith. I always appreciated his honest doubt. As I sat next to his bed, I decided to share the story of the thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus as they both slowly died. I’ve always enjoyed the simple conversation Jesus and the thief had.

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”(1) I think most pastors and theologians, given the choice, would leave this conversation out of the Bible. It doesn’t fit neatly into our boxes of belief regardless of how it’s dissected. Read it however you like, but I see a man throwing a hail marry pass with his last breath. This conversation seems more like a bail-out plan than belief.

Near death conversations often end up this way. Grace gets wonderfully liberal. Hoops and hurdles are removed. Questions remain unanswered, evidence is still insufficient, uncertainty shadows faith, and yet Eternity approaches. In conversations like these, it is never about a belief in a statement, it is trusting in a person. As we prayed together, Jeremy decided to trust Jesus with his life and death and today he is with God in paradise. That’s why we sing about grace being amazing.

So why don’t I always communicate grace this way? Why do I have this constant need to restrain and control God’s reckless love for others? Why not fling open the door and reveal a God that honors a dying man’s request?

1. Luke 23:39-43
2. Philippians 2:3-7