Christmas time is here (again?) it is crazy to believe that it's that time of year again! God has done so much in my life and in the life of my family. This past Worship Collective was a reminder of God's faithfulness and the blessing it is to gather together in the name of our Savior to celebrate his coming! I am so thankful for all the opportunities God has blessed me with. Also, these guys! My family, my wife, my sisters, my kiddos, and my family of fellow residents! A significant part of development in this season has been this community of guys. We are all growing together through shared development opportunities. We and able to help encourage one another on this journey.
Speaking of development, recently I finished reading The Imperfect Pastor with my Mentor Daniel Darnell and it was truly transformative. Here is a description of what that looks like for me on a day-to-day basis:
The dried rice and beans stuck in the grout of the dining room floor compete with the guitar that needs to be tuned and the song that needs to be learned. The trash is full, I should probably take it out while I worry about the email I forgot to send. The mundane and everyday work competes with the tasks of ministry that are calling my name. Often I struggle, wondering how these two worlds of family and vocation can complement one another rather than collide. Last fall I began reading a book called The Imperfect Pastor by small town pastor Zack Eswine.
The Imperfect Pastor brings authentic clarity to what it means to live within the human constraints of time and space which God ordained, and to take joy while doing so, as Jesus himself also did, in the “mattering” things of life.
Before opening the pages of this book I had never pondered what it meant for Jesus, who is God in the flesh, to spend years of his life, before his “ministry” began, learning to be a carpenter. In Luke, scripture says: “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:52). The Savior of the world who lacked nothing and was “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) grew from childhood into adulthood just like us. Jesus developed skills and learned new information, yet in the same breath he knew all, and was God. In fact, Jesus was with God in the beginning before the world was created! (John 1:2). The creator of all things arrived as a humble infant and put on the flesh of mortal humanity.
After finishing this book there are several things that have been impressed upon me. The first is how the mundane work of a servant is the calling of anyone who desires to follow Jesus the Nazarene. Jesus does not ask us to do great things for him, or to create a platform of any kind; he simply asks that we believe in him, and give him our trust and our lives. In the gospel of John, the crowds listening to Jesus teach ask this: “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28). Jesus’s answer is clear and simple: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). To clarify, it is not wrong to desire greatness or great things, but we must direct these desires through belief in the one who “establishes our steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Pastor Zack puts it like this:
Our problem arises from how the haste of doing large things, famously and fast as we can, is reshaping our definition of what a great thing is. Desire greatness, dear pastor! But bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us (pg. 29).
This is encouraging and reviving. Often I feel stressed to do something “great” for God, but he has called me to humbly serve my family, the church, and my community with hands of mortality, within the human boundaries he has predestined for me. Zack gives another convicting reminder of this by calling out one of the tendencies I often find myself in: “To the important pastor doing large and famous things speedily, the brokenness of people actually feels like an intrusion keeping us from getting important work for God done” (pg. 28). This is liberating and convicting in the same breath. Jesus does not ask me to do things fast and famously, but to believe in him, trust in him and receive the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus (Romans 6:22-23). This beckons my heart to servanthood and to cry out, “he must increase, and I must decrease (John 3:30). In chapter five Pastor Zack Eswine also describes what it must have been like for Jesus to experience life within these human boundaries of time and space:
What is the meaning of this sawdust caught in Jesus’s beard and dangling from his smile – and all this tree bark obscurity for thirty years? (pg. 77).
I had never thought about this before either! If there is anyone in the history of the world that should be using his time and influence as fast and famously as possible, would it not be the savior of the world? The man who was God in the flesh? Dr. Eswine is just as incredulous, and continues in the same chapter:
Thirty years! Jesus had a world to save, injustice to confront, lepers to touch. Isn’t greatness for God squandered by years of obscurity? What business does a savior have learning the names of trees? (pg. 77).
This speaks volumes to me because I often have thoughts of frustration along the same lines! What is the point of doing the same thing day in and day out? What is the point of cleaning the tub for the 100th time? What was the point of my 16-year-old self learning algebra equations and sanding cross scratches from a red oak cabinet face? Then it hits me: My destiny and purpose in life is not in stressing about making people see truth or in being “someone great”, my purpose is in serving my savior in humble obscurity.
My purpose lies in holding my wife’s hand, changing diapers, learning new songs to the best of my ability, and doing all for the glory of God.
Something amazing begins to happen within my heart when I realize that all these small mundane things serve and bring glory to my savior. Furthermore, Jesus had many similar experiences. He was fully human. He grew in stature and wisdom, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. Jesus knows our every struggle and he knows us (Hebrews 2:17, Luke 2:52, Isaiah 53:3). We can see this purpose lived out vividly in the scriptures as God sends his son to earth as an infant. Would we not expect the God of the entire universe to send his son to save all humankind in spectacular fashion? Pastor Zach illustrates this concept through scripture by making the arrival of Jesus personal: “But here the anticlimax begins. No planets were formed, ‘you will find a baby,’ they said, ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger’. The sign of God’s fame lay in the aroma of cattle and hay—the placenta of new birth, the cries and warmth of ordinary life” (pg. 81). God chose to send his son in the most humble and ordinary way possible. Even the heavenly host of angels declared the arrival of the King of Kings in a remote location with a few ragamuffin shepherds attending. These shepherds went and saw the Christ child in his humble state and bowed down before him. And then they did something unheard of. They returned to their fields of sheep “praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Pastor Zach writes about these events in such a way that I am yet again astonished at the implications:
“By means of the shepherds returning, God seems to seriously imply that seeing God’s glory, hearing his voice, receiving good news, and beholding his love was never meant to deliver us from ordinary life and love in a place – it was meant instead to provide the means to preserve us there” (pg. 81).
The Imperfect Pastor points us to the hope of eternal life found in scripture with a jolting human perspective. This hope and free gift of salvation is not meant as a means of escapism, but as a means to preserve, protect, embolden, and give profound joy to all who would “believe” in the only son of God. This Advent season, as smiling faces tear away wrapping paper taped minutes before, may we marvel at the glory, hidden in human form, Jesus, who has delivered us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15) and given us hope everlasting! “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).