The Blessing of Fellowship in Jesus Christ – Part 2

If you haven’t read the previous posting, I would encourage you to do so. If nothing else, this one may not make sense unless you do…and yes I hear the question “do any of them make sense?”

First, keep in mind with the questions I pose here, that I am asking these on a deep level. It isn’t that I don’t know the common or popular answers to these questions. I do, however, believe that sometimes we need to slip beneath the surface to reacquaint ourselves with the foundations of the Christian faith, and in particular, the foundations of ministry.

To carry on from the last post…what is it that I bring to the local church? What do I bring as a pastor? What does it mean to be a pastor?

In the later part of the first century, the Apostle John appointed Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna. Like his teacher, Polycarp took on the battle against Gnosticism in the church.

Polycarp was also a notable leader in the early church who offers pastors today a cautionary word of advice. In a letter to the Church in Philippi (likely written a century after the Apostle Paul’s letter) he wrote, “I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him in the Church” (Polycarp’s letter to the Phillipians 11:1).

What is the place that was given to Valens? What is the place that has been given to me? Valen’s downfall was covetousness. What do I covet? What struggles do I face? What “rights,” expectations and desires must I joyfully set aside for the sake of the Church? Do I understand what it means to be “the pastor”?

These are not trite questions. The place of the pastor is within the church community. It is the place where who the pastor is will speak far louder than what he says. It is the place of being who God intends us to be.

It would seem to me that who I am, being who God intends me to be, is vastly more important than my ability to preach or do the “tasks” of ministry. Not that preaching and other tasks of ministry are not important, they are, but they must grow out of being who God intends me to be.

In other words, my place in the church is one of being who God intends me to be in the community that is the local church. My “place” is that of a shepherd and teacher built on a foundation of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

It seems simple enough, yet God is persistently working on conforming me to the image of Jesus Christ. I’m not a finished work. Sometimes the “working” is not as pleasant as I would like, but I am thankful for it. I find Paul’s words to Phillippians comforting and encouraging.  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

The Blessing of Fellowship in Jesus Christ

Yes I will get to my post on lament, but for now another timely comment on life.

Those who know me reasonably well have probably heard me express my suspicion of the way the term “community” is often used in Christian circles–or at least my perception of how the term is used.

My concern is that community is often seen as being about relationship. (For those of you who think I have lost my mind here, please hear me out). The problem as I see it is that “relationship” is an abstract concept. Community, which is also an abstract concept, defined by another abstract concept such as “relationship” is  abstract to the point of meaninglessness.

If you have read my blog you will have picked up that I am very interested in the notion of “being.” In this context, I speak of concrete individuals in the church you are “being” who and what God has intended them to be.

Collectively, they form a local church, a microcosm of the Church. This concrete group of people who are “being” what God intended them to be forms a concrete community of particular people in particular relationships with one another, being what God intended them to be as a community.

“Being” what God intended us to be is founded upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is nothing abstract about “being.” The nature of these relationships is not abstract, for it too is founded upon “being,” thus Jesus Christ. The nature of the specific community is not abstract, since it too is founded upon “being.”

It is this kind of “community” that you can enter into and experience the grace, love, mercy, kindness, wisdom, caring and wholeness of Jesus Christ. I have entered this kind of community.

I have come in as a “pastor” only to find that I am the one who is being ministered to. I have entered a community of “being.” It is both humbling and invigorating. It isn’t about me. It is about Christ in us. It isn’t about what I bring to the church. It is about me “being” who I am in Jesus Christ in communion with others who are “being” who they are in Jesus Christ.

Do I bring something? Yes, I bring what one man in Christ can bring.  Do I receive something? Yes, I receive what many men and women in Christ offer. That is the blessing of fellowship in Jesus Christ.

Grieving a Passage

I have been working on a post on lament for a while, but that will wait for another day. This is not a lament, it is grieving a passage.

I sat out on the deck this afternoon to eat my lunch. It was one of those perfect, but rare summer days in southern Saskatchewan when the breeze was light, the sun warm, but not too hot. Scattered clouds drifting by, rising and falling in a cotton-ball ballet…at least for those who slow down to watch.

In a few weeks, assuming our plans come to pass, we will have left our home in Caronport in southern Saskatchewan for the city of Edmonton. City life is not unfamiliar to us. After all, we spent over 18 years in the Vancouver area.

We are going to pastor a delightful church. It is what I have spent the last four years preparing to do. It is where our hearts are. It is what we are called too. We are anxious to be there. We want to be there. It is, however, at a cost.

I will miss the quietness of the open, uncluttered prairie. As I sit in my office, I have the same view as from my deck. It is peaceful…at least when the weather is like this.

I will miss the resident flock of chickadees that congregate at my bird feeder. They are an interesting group. When ever I fill the feeder, soon one will appear. Finding it full, it will fly up to a high perch and call relentlessly until the rest of the flock appears like a biker club riding into town.

Then there are the sparrows, swallows, finches, and redpolls. Of course I will miss working in my office to song of the meadowlark, the master of the prairie aria. 

I will not miss being so exposed to the winter blizzards or the vulnerability of living in a mobile home when the summer skies unleash their fury, lightning dancing from angry clouds, rain and hail…not to mention the threat of tornadoes. I have reminded my self often that this mobile home has seen far more prairie storms than I and it is still here. Oh yeah, I wouldn’t miss the mud and pot holes masquerading as craters.

I will miss seeing the Northern Lights from my bed room window, un-encumbered by city lights. I will miss the quiet. I will miss this place we have called home for four years.

Tomorrow is a new day, a new chapter. We will leave behind some memories best forgotten and hopefully take with us those we ought not forget. There are many precious memories too that I trust will live on in our kids long after we are gone. For now, we go to make new memories.