If you tuned into the blog yesterday, you saw my disappointment and to-the-bone weariness. I had actually sent out an email to my family about baby Moses and asked “What do you think, should we adopt?” So, news of his death yesterday was a little more personal than all the other deaths we’ve had to process over there in Swaziland.
And perhaps this morning there’s a small sense of drama as to the state of my soul (“Is he down for the count? Tune in tomorrow!”) But, if I was feeling tired and weak, the outpouring of encouragement many of you gave reminded me of something of what’s at stake here. It took away the lonely edge on my circumstances that was causing my focus to veer in the direction of a pity party. Jesus thru you lifted my sagging chin. Please know how humbled and grateful I am to you.
I woke up from a dream early this morning – I was at some foreign airport. I’d lost my bags and my tickets, and as far as I could tell, there were no flights back to the U.S.A. I couldn’t even find a ticket counter to ask a question!
I don’t know about you, but life periodically feels like that to me – only, as a leader in our culture, I’m not allowed to show confusion. Most people don’t want to take a vote on where to go, they just want to ask the question we all whined to our fathers as children, “Daddy, how long till we get there?”
I don’t know how other leaders do it. I can’t tell you how many discouraged, beat-up pastors I’ve seen who looked like me in that dream. After pouring themselves out for their sheep, they’re sent packing without their luggage, a ticket home, or even a ticket counter to ask questions.
I’ve been to this distant unnamed land multiple times before. In the early days of AIM, we’d finish a hard summer of ministry and come together bruised and bloodied for a staff retreat in the north Georgia mountains. A number of those years I remember not knowing if everyone might quit – it seemed like they would. Each time, I would spill out my complaints to God as I’d go on early morning prayer walks. And I’d get the word of the Lord. That’s what kept me going.
One year, I was so peeved at my staff. I felt like Moses with the children of Israel when he smashed the Ten Commandments. God spoke to me and said, “Go back and wash their feet.” That was not what I wanted to hear. But I got a basin and a towel, and some wall between us was torn down. We cried together and reconciled. I hated the process, but it kept me in the game.
Another time, we lost a young staff member in a terrible accident. Again, I had nothing to give – the well of living water had run dry. And as I prayed, God spoke to me as plain as day and said, “Seth, I brand my sheep.” It was a word so perfect and personal that I was reduced to tears of poignant gratitude. Branding is a searing, burning experience, but it marks you for life.
Paul talked about his branding in 1 Cor. 6:4-10 (he starts with “in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots…” and then he really gets going). Of course for a real “Oh yeah – top this!” list, check out 2 Cor. 11:22-33 where we get Paul letting out all the stops, detailing 31 separate specific trials he’s faced, along the way saying, “I am out of my mind to talk like this.” No wonder Paul can make such a bald assertion to Timothy – “All godly Christians will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). No equivocation there, it’s gonna be rough, so buckle in and hang on.
What kept Paul in the game is what has kept me in ministry for 27 years. It’s the word of the Lord. Yesterday the word of the Lord came to me in the form of Taylor, Jessica, Karen, Christine, Mark, Brian, Gerrid, Pat, Jen, Allison, Taylor, Tom, Uche, Katherine, Alison, Vickie, Andy, Kim, Jeff, Angi, Mike, Kristen, Betty, Tara, Tori, Talia and a much longer list of people – some of whom I don’t even know. God spoke to me thru you and said, “Chin up, soldier.” And the word of the Lord kept me going.
I don’t know what keeps you going. I’ve found Paul’s promise of hard times and frequent pain to be accurate. Most days, the TV evangelists’ promise of “your best life now” makes me want to lose my lunch. I don’t know what planet they live on – Plastic-World, maybe. For me, slogging thru the mud and blood of real life, it’s the word of the Lord that keeps me on my feet.