When You Are Worried in the Night Watches

NightmoontreeWorry is nocturnal. It spreads its crow wings to caw and scratch. We, the night worried, toss and turn. Hollered and flapped throughout the night, we dishevel our breathing and muss our hair till dawn. What will the day bring?
Continue reading “When You Are Worried in the Night Watches”

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Clarifying Your Calling: Some Questions to Help You

Sometimes when I feel that I’m trying to be something I’m not, or pretending that I’m not something that I am, or when I’m losing a sense of clarity regarding what my identity and calling in Christ actually is, I will revisit questions like these. Not all of them will resonate with me at one time or another. But the ones that do provide a strong clue regarding what to pray about.

Continue reading “Clarifying Your Calling: Some Questions to Help You”

Sermon Disconnect: Six Questions to Assess Your Preaching

Reading  glasses on bible textSometimes our preaching doesn’t connect with our hearers. Before we conclude that we are not called to this particular place, we want to remember that whether as a Rookie, who preaches for the first time at our first church or  as a seasoned veteran starting again at our third church, every congregation has its own culture, its own storyline with God and  its own providences and people prior to our arrival. Here are six markers to help you assess the obstacles that might exist between your sermons and the culture of your congregation. Continue reading “Sermon Disconnect: Six Questions to Assess Your Preaching”

Racial Learning: A Pastor Humbled in Community

I hurt my friend. I did not mean to. I would not have known it either without his help.

He is black. I am white. We are men. Both of us are husbands and fathers. His brown eyes and my blue eyes both require the aid that glasses provide.

Our community, mine and his, possesses a rich history of African American life here on this side of the tracks where Kirkham avenue companions alongside of Shady Creek for a while. Crossing back and forth across these railroad tracks has required multiple efforts over the years. Memories of pains and hopes and even blessings are the results of such attempts at this kind of travel.

Crossing the Tracks Together

Over the last two years this man and I have become friends along with others. School administrators, police force representatives, local university persons, civic and business participants and a few clergy have met together and facilitated forums designed to aid us in our attempts to talk, heal and change amid what unites us and separates us racially.

On this occasion, a team of people asked us as leaders what five words we would use if we wanted to describe what we are about and to get the word out to the broader community. My friend offered three words.

I entered the exercise earnestly and suggested that those words might not make sense to the community and I would lean toward other descriptors. Other folks joined in and led us quickly off of my friend’s three words onto other “more understandable words.” I thought nothing of it.

After the meeting I asked my friend how his week was going. His thoughts though remained fixed upon this day in which we presently stood and still on the exercise with words we had just completed. He was hurting. This was new for us.

Light Pouring In

As we talked I realized that not only is my friend black and that I am white. I learned also that he has been at this a long while and that I am new to the table. Apparently groups like this one have come and gone over the long years. White folks who start but fade. What for me is my first real attempt at racial neighbor love in a community like this is for him his fourth or fifth or sixth try. “You can’t see” he said to me. “I want to,” I answered. “Please help me to see. What has hurt you today?”

He then gently risked with me. He asked me a simple question. “Remember when you said to the group that people will not understand the words I offered?” “Yes,” I answered. “What people did you mean?” he asked. “What people will not understand my words?”

He paused and looked earnestly and sensitively into my eyes. All of a sudden, there in the long pause, I felt like a flare went off in my soul and lit up the night sky of my thoughts. His question searchlighted my hidden assumptions and brought them into plain view.

Conviction tenderly earthquaked my inner being. I saw in the pause of his presence that I had people like me in mind when I said that “the community” will not understand–white people like me. Because obviously, the words offered by my friend who has lived and served for this community long before I ever arrived here, come out of the history, experience and local knowledge of this community. I realized that I had done at least four blind things.

Confessions

1. I did not listen or inquire to find out the meaning of these words to my friend or to his part of this community.

2. I quickly implied to him that he will have to surrender the language he offered to the language that my part of this community will provide for him. (as i look back I realize that almost everyone else who agreed with me and dismissed the language my friend offered was also white–they too offered “better” words)

3. At the end of the day who knows what words we would have landed on. The words weren’t the point. Ironic isn’t it? We were developing words to aid us in our attempts to create racial understanding in our community by doing the very thing that hinders it in the first place.

4. I realized in my friend’s eyes that his hurt did not rise because the others that he didn’t know so quickly dismissed his point of view. It is that I had. We were friends. Friendship means that I am no longer, just a white man sitting with a black man. He thought I’d know as a friend; that I’d try to listen further to why he might use the words he had chosen. After all, we’ve been doing life together and that’s what friends do–they listen to each other.

And when friends fail to listen to each other and they hurt one another, they ask each other’s forgiveness. They wait amid long pauses with each other, for each other. They learn together and they go get a sandwich at Wendy’s. Trust deepens.

I’m looking forward to lunch today.

I get to eat french fries and learn from a friend.

Long-Sustained Usefulness in Ministry: The Story of William Jay

514369Immediacy offered William Jay a chance to do something large and notable as a gospel preacher. A great door for the gospel lay before him wide and open. A fan base for urban ministry waited eagerly for his sermons to take London by storm. Taking up this post, Jay would have served as a right hand man with one of the preeminent pastors of the moment. He also would have labored within proximity to other renowned pastors of reputation at the time. How could anyone say “no” to such a future? And yet, “no” is exactly what William Jay said.  He turned the offer down and chose instead to start his pastoral ministry in a small, obscure and impoverished pastoral call in the country. Why did he do this? What was the result? What can we learn?

Why did he choose to start small?

First, because his older pastoral friend and mentor, Cornelius Winter advised him to. Jay listened to his mentor’s counsel, even though at the time, he did not foresee all of the reasons why.

Second, because Jay thought that his experience did not yet match his gifts. Because he was so young, it would prove wise for him to “secure more preparation for the office” of a pastor.

What was the result?

After three years of pastoral work, Jay received a call to a church in which he would serve for the next sixty-two years. “In terms of long-sustained usefulness” Jay’s ministry at Argyle Chapel, “can scarcely have a parallel in English Church history.” He likewise became anyway, “one of the best known preachers in England” for over half a century.

Looking back, William Jay said that if he had chosen to respond to the London call when he was nineteen, it would have been a “wrong step.” For truly his mentor  (whom he deemed a “friend and father”) had foreseen things clearly.

What can we think about from this?

  • Saying “yes” to a wonderful opportunity to do something large, notable and immediately, requires, not just one set of skills, but two. The “before you get there” skills and the “after you get there” skills. The “before you get there” skill set, allows one to imagine a future, dream, assess, and make a move. The “after you get there” skill set is what one requires in order to stay in the new place once you arrive. It is one thing to dream of a thriving urban ministry just down the street from the likes of John Newton as it would have been for Jay. It is another thing to actually do the work day after day for those people and also as a young man apprenticed to the authoritative direction, personality and fame of a Mr. Rowland Hill, whom Jay would have served under. Possessing the gifts to get us someplace does not mean that we have the experience, seasoning, temperament or savvy to keep us there. We need wise counsel to assess both.
  • Saying “no” to a wonderful opportunity does not mean that our lives and ministries are over or that we missed out. A different kind of ministry, which Jay could not at the time imagine, was on God’s heart for him. We do not experience William Jay’s story today as one of the greatest preachers in church history (even though those who heard him then may have felt the worth of such a statement in their own way). To most of us his story remains unknown. What those who do know William Jay remember is this: a body of pastoral work–a long sustained usefulness of weekly preaching, occasional writing and daily pastoral care in a local place; A legacy that stands out in time even today.

Charles Spurgeon said: “O for more Jays. We would give some two or three dozen of the general run of doctors of divinity for one such a Master in Israel as William Jay of Bath.”

(See The Autobiography of William Jay, pages 52, 130, 348. See also, “William Jay the Preacher” in The Banner of Truth Magazine)

When There’s No Room for Error: A Drive Through Story

I rested my hope on the drive through dinner.

Trying to Fit it all in

It was Wednesday night. The perfect storm of activity formed and swirled through our evening schedule. Youth groups pulled up into our driveway to the barn on our rented property. Friends in ministry training were set to arrive an hour from now for our living room. All the while five Eswines presently diverged and scattered into the differing directions of after school activity and community volunteering. “Somehow we have to fit in food” I remembered. The solution emerged! “On my way to here while taking children and teens there,” I thought, “while my wife does this in the midst of our other young adult doing that, and before our guests arrive, we can eat on the way!”  We drove on time and just in time for the drive through to produce a meal that we could handle within our twenty minute car ride in order to arrive at the meetings we were to attend.

There was no room for error.

The Hardest Four Words

I pull up with haste, impatient to place my order and abrupt in tone. “Welcome to Drive through food” the chipper voice sings. “Please wait just a moment.”

(When was it that those four words, “wait just a moment” became so hard to handle?)

Then it happened. I noticed the menu screen. It normally reflects what a consumer orders. (Those two words in connection, impress their meaning upon me as I write, “consumer,” “orders.” Consumers are those who make a life out of declaring orders to their neighbors. Have I embrace such a life?).

Back to the screen. A green background hosted a series of words like “test” and “pass.”  Passing tests! Ha! How ironic! The pace quickens in my being as the slow-down I am about to endure dawns on me. It is 5:30pm. In the midst of the dinner hour and within this long line of consumers impatient to thump their car horns, the drive-through-solution for my over-activity, is rebooting its computers. There is no time to leave if we want food. No other drive-through enablers will line the street between where we are and where we have to get to.

Being Given What I don’t Want

Ten minutes later we drive and eat.
I ordered a small coke. I received a medium Doctor Pepper.
I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. I received a spicy fried chicken sandwich with sauce.
I ordered a side salad. I received fries.

We arrived at our destinations, late and grumpy! (Grumpy Eswines? Never! Right?)

A Life that Can’t Wait

I want to blame the drive-through. But I am the one who scheduled my Wednesday in such a way that the follies of haste, food as a last consideration, impatience and error-free living were required to make the evening work. If I relied on patience, on waiting, on organizing an evening around fundamental necessities and on giving room for mistakes to happen, would I miss out?

I want to never go that drive-through again. But over the last four years of visiting that local drive through maybe thirty times, this is the first and only time that I’ve been asked to wait. Does being a consumer teach me that others have to prove themselves to me every time, that I look at others through their worst rather than their best moments, that one mistake means that a relationship ends?

I hated my dinner. When did it happen that I learned to complain when I have food to eat?

I wanted to get mad at the people behind the screen. Do I treat others like this? Demanding performance without seeing an ordinary human life like me trying to do his or her  job in the midst of frustrating computer crashes (and who knows what other frustrations might exist in the stories behind their eyes as I order them what to do and what to provide for me).

Grace for the Unwaiting Life

Today is Thursday. I’m sorry and humbled. I give thanks for food to eat. I give thanks people who work. I give thanks for the freedom not to order others to change so that I can maintain my impatient pace. I give thanks for a grace way of life that intrudes into my own and beckons me to a healing reorientation on how to do a day as a family. I give thanks for forgiveness. I give thanks that I am not viewed through the lenses of my worst moments, not in Jesus anyway. I give thanks that in Jesus my neighbors too can receive this same marvelous dignity. I give thanks for that patience is a fruit of God’s Spirit, a quality of love. I give thanks that impatient consumers can find grace in the patient and waiting One. I give thanks that in Christ, performance based human beings get to be reviewed on the basis of Jesus’ performance not theirs, and that our dignity and humanity has more to measure it than our performances. I give thanks for Jesus’ error free life. I give thanks that he doesn’t put us into an error free requirement with no way out. The life, the cross, the empty tomb of the waiting One saves us, even those of us with our drive-through ways of doing life.

When We Are Worn Out

Fatigue PaintingThe man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. (Prov. 30:1)

When you hear someone say that they are tired, or when someone says to you, “wow, you look exhausted,” it is time to ask God, “What kind of fatigue am I experiencing Lord?” Rightly diagnosing our particular brand of exhaustion graciously get us more truly and quickly onto recovery’s road.  Continue reading “When We Are Worn Out”

Spurgeon’s Spooks

elementsWhen trauma finally leaves us its memory stays to haunt us. Here, ministers have no immunity pass. We too must tread the creaked floors. We too suffer nightmares that shriek and push their way into noon. Day-dreams can shiver muscle and bone. Flashback can dizzy us. These ghosts and chains clank and howl with no sense of propriety. They care little that we stand with a bible in our hands, a sermon on our lips, or a prayer upon our breath. A nuisance, they never tire to remind that though Jesus never breaks down, spiritual giants do. Foul remembrances can spook even the gritty and most valiant among us. Continue reading “Spurgeon’s Spooks”

Cultivating a Stamina for Waiting

Sowing in rowInstant video streaming, on-demand programming, twenty-four hour grocery, credit-cards, texting, and next-day delivery are wonderful. They reward my desires instantly. Immediacy befriends me. Entitlement invites me to come over. We party at once and without delay. So, when I crave a food, want a mood from a show, or need aspirin from Walgreens at 3:00am, I feel quite grateful for this split-second, on the spot way of life.

But ask me how long I can handle no response after I’ve texted or emailed somebody before I begin to doubt whether they like me, or think I’ve done something wrong to offend them or ascribe negative judgments about their character, and you can begin to see through me into an area of weakness. Continue reading “Cultivating a Stamina for Waiting”