Today, I gave a farewell sermon to the church that I love. It is no easy thing. I have been greatly blessed to spend these last 8 years serving Christ at Church of the Open Door. Soon, I will look with look with hope to God’s next step for me. For now, I grieve.
My wife and I went skiing a couple weeks ago. It was the first time since junior high school for either of us. Both of us had been skiing before and had embarrassing experiences. Our plan was to ski one time to get over our fear. We could love it or hate it, but we weren’t going to be afraid of it.
We took a couple shaking trips down the bunny hill and then went to a class. We both left the class feeling like we had a good start. We did. I found myself getting more comfortable throughout the day and decided to take on a couple more difficult hills. Bigger hills. Ones that scared me and thrilled me at the same time.
I noticed that I would get going fast enough that I wouldn’t be able to stop quickly. Every time that happened, something in me wanted to lean back as if leaning uphill could somehow slow my decent. I suppose it did…by causing me to wipe out. A couple times, I got scared enough that I wanted to fall intentionally. Somehow falling on purpose felt less intimidating than falling out of control.
After a few falls, I started identifying the part of the hill that scared me the most. There was a drop down that caused me to increase speed considerably. Almost every time before, I had leaned back and wiped out.
This time, I decided to take the hill differently. I whispered “alea iacta est” to myself and leaned into the fall. Skis pointed downhill, face to the wind, I leaned into the decent with all the guts I could muster. It felt risky. It felt fast. It felt good.
I noticed something. The more I leaned into the decent, the more stability I had. It was as if I was working with the decent rather than against it.
Hopefully, what I’m about to say doesn’t sound too much like a youth pastor on the bus back to the church trying to make a spiritual application to a fun day with the teens.
It seems like leaning into the risk helps. I wonder how many big things God calls us to that we get nervous about. We “lean uphill” in a desperate attempt to gain control. We may slow down the decent, but we do it sliding and rolling down a hill we were meant to sail down.
The thought for today is, lean into the decent. Figure out what God is leading you to do and go all in. Heck, maybe it isn’t some new calling, maybe it’s just something He has already said plainly in the Bible. Go and do it. Lean into the risk. Lean into trusting Him.
It’s a lot more exciting than snow up your back.
As we come to the celebration of our Savior’s birth, I find many who enter the season full of grief. For some, the season is a reminder of loss or of things that never were in the first place. Loneliness is a painful reality for many this season. Still others look to the brokenness of this world and have a hard time celebrating in light of sin’s devastating results on this world. Merry-makers seem fewer and farther between than they once were.
I have gained great encouragement from Romans 5:12-21 as it reminds us that just as Adam sinned and brought evil and death in this world, so Christ obeyed and brought redemption. The effects of sin still have not found their completion, but so it is with the effects of the resurrection. Christ is making all things new. I see it often. Sometimes it happens in big ways (salvations, miracles, healings). Sometimes it happens in small ways (hopeful smiles, encouraging words, a good meal with friends).
The hope that is kindled with even small works of redemption remind me that one day all things will be made new. The birth of Christ was like a rock dropped into the center of a pond. The ripples of redemption are making their way through the world. Someday, they will reach the shore, and all things will be new again.
That is something worth celebrating this Christmas.
Perhaps you might consider being an agent of redemption this year. Find a lonely or hurting person, maybe a friend or a stranger. Show God’s love tangibly and relationally through a meal or an act of service. See if God opens a door to plant gospel seeds.
Regardless, muster hope as you dwell in the truth that He is making all things new as we speak.
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
- and wild and sweet
- The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
- Had rolled along
- The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
- A voice, a chime,
- A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
- And with the sound
- The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
- And made forlorn
- The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
- “For hate is strong,
- And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
- The Wrong shall fail,
- The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Men were not meant to live in developments and work in cubes. We are born wild and domiciled into submission. But, like any wild thing, we can never be fully tame. There is within a man a bold sense of adventure. It is the thing that makes us want to swing from ropes, rescue damsels, and punch arrogant schmucks. I think that we have worked to hard to silence our sense of adventure.
Have you ever been sitting alone in your cubicle or in your office and had an urge to get into a bar fight? Have you ever fantasized about swinging your sword in battle or wished you could walk across the room and tell that girl you have always liked how beautiful she is?
What do you usually do about those feelings? My guess is that you get a quick hit of happiness from thinking about it. It doesn’t require you to move or change, so you settle for the fantasy and throw your dreams in the “maybe someday” part of your mind. Your life won’t change, because you won’t change. You end your day playing Call of Duty and wondering why you like life a little less every year. You are believing a lie that you have to settle for a boring life.
Now, there is nothing wrong with working in an office. I do. The fact is that a fair amount of adventure happens in the context of office work. I get to be a part of lives changing. I get to bring people together and make decisions. I get to lead in ways that matter. Offices matter.
Maybe your job doesn’t feel so adventuresome. Maybe you organize files. Maybe you fix computers. Still, you provide a product or service that earns you money and contributes to the team. There is value in it (unless you work for a company that sells porn, is a crime syndicate, is the United States Government, or all three—Military excluded. Keep up the good work, guys.). Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there is no honor in sitting at a cubicle. You are putting food on the table. Keep fighting that good fight.
This is not an “anti-corporate” post. It is an anti-mediocrity post. I have too many discussions with too many men who miss too many opportunities. There are plenty of distractions. There are plenty of comforts. Don’t waste your sense of adventure on fantasy. Live it.
Now, we can’t just go start bar fights on a whim. The truth is that sometimes the suppression of our sense of adventure causes it to erupt at the wrong time in the wrong ways. However, my guess is that there is something you’ve always wanted to do. Probably, there are a lot of things you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe you want to go on a missions trip. Maybe you want to go on a survival weekend. Maybe you want to ask that girl out. Maybe you are a 10 years into your marriage and you thought that you would be a better romantic than you are. You want to sweep your wife off of her feet, but you just like evening TV too much to plan a date.
Move. Slay the mediocrity in your soul. Turn off the TV. Put on some Metallica. Do some pushups. Make some bacon. Things need to change. You need movement. Change the pace. Take steps toward the adventure you were created for.
Here are some practical ideas:
- Create a list of things you would like to do (They can be big or small).
- Write your obituary as you would want it to read. Here is an example of what I hope mine might be like: “Daniel Samms, husband to Christy, father to Micah and Hannah, and pastor to a local underground church died Friday when authorities executed him for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in defiance to anti-proselytization mandates. He was known for loving God and loving people. Everyone around him felt loved and came to Dan for spiritual advice often. He hated the government, loved guns, and liked woodwork. He once punched an alligator just because he didn’t like its attitude. He loved only one woman and spent every day trying to impress her and glorify God. Services will be held at an undisclosed location due to government sanctions.”
- Create a “roadmap” to accomplishing some of your dreams. Maybe its a mission trip. Steps might be: Talk to the mission director, send out support letters, get a passport, go on the trip. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I just needs to be clear.
- Freaking do it.
I’ve got my eye on you, gators. Better watch it.
Resting my mind is another matter. I am so used to occupying my mind with important things, actively listening to a person in the midst of crisis or constructing a logical explanation of a theological concept. I call it having to be “on.” I have to be “on” when I’m hosting a service on Sunday mornings. I have to be “on” when somebody is in crisis and schedules a meeting with me at the church. I have to be “on” when I’m meeting with a leader. I have to be “on” when I get home and see my kids. I have to be “on” when my kids go to bed and my wife needs me to be there for her.
I have been “on” for a really long time.
The truth is that I had forgotten what it was like to be “off.” I only recently remembered that I would feel “off” when the end of a semester came. I would turn in the last paper or take the last exam and feel a deep sense of relief and pleasure that only comes after hard work is done.
The problem is that life isn’t always broken up into semesters. People need pastors all times of the year, every day of the week, sometimes every hour of the day. Or, at least pastors think that.
I’m remembering something I have always known, something I have forgotten in the pace of life and ministry….
However, I have to give a disclaimer before I type it.
It is so simple that it sounds incredibly corny. If I heard another pastor say this I would slap my forehead with the palm of my hand and wonder why I had wasted the last minute reading this blog. Ready? Don’t judge. Here it is:
People don’t need me; they need God.
(I am preemptively cringing for the face palm you just gave yourself when you read that last line.)
I wish I could tell you that the big thing God has been teaching me has to do with some complex theological question issue or that God has led me to a new way to evangelize twenty-somethings. I’d even be happy if God had inspired me with a healthy version of buffalo chicken dip that doesn’t compromise on taste.
Alas, I’m not ready for the spiritual meat of sanctified dip preparation.
God is bringing me back to the old stuff. Turns out He wants me to trust Him more. The truth is, everything He teaches me comes back to trusting Him more.
That’s all I’ve got. I’ve been through a year of loss and stress. I’ve been to the end of my rope and beyond. I’ve witnessed some of the best ministry experiences of my life.
It seems like God keeps holding out His hand and saying, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”
He always does.
So, I trust Him a little more, and He takes me a little deeper.
It is seldom easy, but it is always simple and its always adventuresome.
Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. –Psalm 9:10
One of the most important things I have experienced this year is the importance of community. Unfortunately, the term “community” has been cheapened of late. It is associated with acquaintances engaging in small talk over coffee. Christ-centered community is meant to be more than that. It is a brotherhood in the midst of a war. Regrettably, people have a tendency to keep up acquaintances without really developing deep relationships. How many times have I spent years with a friend only to find out they have struggled with an addiction that they never shared or a fear that kept them from pursuing a dream? Too many times. We keep things surface in fear of revealing too much.
All the while, we forget that this is not an afternoon at the beach. This is war. There are no mere acquaintances in war. There are only comrades and enemies. I’ve been blessed to share mutual vulnerability with a few godly people. When one person is there for another, something more than friendship is forged. It is a battlefield brotherhood that prepares us for a heavier barrage than we can now conceive. I believe that the reason that so many are lonely is that they are afraid to reveal their weakness in the fight. Perhaps we are all afraid to reveal our weaknesses because some have drawn attention to ours in order to obscure their own. We were never meant to battle alone.
Start by proving yourself trustworthy by loving someone in spite of their weakness. Then, reciprocate with your own vulnerability. It’s risky. It’s worth it. Remember, this is war.
I’ve been thinking recently about how God leads. It seems that I have a tendency to focus on doing whatever big thing He asked me to do. I like big calling. I like to know the long-term goal. Working toward a vision is in my nature. Shifting direction isn’t something that is done easily. God seems to reveal things slowly and sometimes painfully. He uproots my focus and redirects it to new heights. I’m feeling his hooks pull me through, over, and up. I’m waiting for His direction.
I used to.
I grew up in a wonderful family and had a lifetime of great experiences. While I can point to trails here and there, the overarching theme of my life was blessing. I didn’t grow up in a “health and wealth” church. We weren’t rich by american standards. We were just blessed.
I often witnessed pain in others. In fact, most of the hardships in my life were directly related to the fact that I was ministering to people in grief. Deaths, divorces, abuse, addiction were common parts of my ministry effort. I can say that I genuinely cared to the point that I often felt guilty that I had it so good. Sure, I had financial stress. I would get sick now and then. Normal stuff. But after a day of loving drunks and widowers as they cried out to God in my office, I got to go home to my reasonably comfortable life.
Sometimes, I wondered if God blessed me with a relatively easy life, so that I could have the energy to care for people in deep loss. Of course, I couldn’t escape the fact that nearly every great saint of God had a life that was marked by suffering. Was He going to crush me to use me?
My wife and I are completing the most painful year of our lives.
There isn’t the time to chronicle the story of our loss. It is enough to say that there was a lot of death. We lost grandparents, friends, and unborn children. My family was threatened and harassed. My son was diagnosed with a condition that we feared would lead to life-long disability. And, I experienced more work related stress than I can remember.
I’m not one to run from my feelings. I knew I needed to grieve, to process. It was as if something was stopping me from even doing that. Every time my wife and I made an attempt to get away to grieve, even for a moment, another loss would occur. The grief stacked upon grief to the point that there were simply no words. I reached my “breaking point” and was pushed past it more times that I can count. Every day seemed like another burden on a soul that had been crushed months before. I would try to talk it out but would find myself more frustrated. It was as if my soul was blocked. Yet, I was being pushed deeper and deeper into pain.
Everything. Everything seemed to go wrong. At every turn was another death, another conflict, another seemingly small thing that wouldn’t work when I needed it to work. I’m not the kind of guy that blames everything on demons, but I was certain that the Enemy was actively seeking to destroy my life.
Once, I sat down in the office in hopes of getting my thoughts together before going on a stressful hospital visit. The phone rang. I was being asked to do an exorcism. Yeah, because that’s all I needed. I remember sitting in that office with men of God that I love. I was so furious that I wanted to fight. I actually hoped that the demon would manifest itself. I wanted to have it out. I wanted the whole Exorcist treatment. Me and that demon were going to fight to the death if necessary. I prayed. I spoke to the demoniac. I waited for the big fight…..nothing. The demon that seemed to have no problem revealing itself to this man’s co-workers didn’t want to come out to fight. Coward. I felt like I was standing outside the hideaway of the enemy and challenging him to come out and fight like a man. He didn’t. Nothing happened. The demoniac didn’t want the demon out. It was yet another ploy of the enemy to frustrate me.
I learned two valuable lessons that day:
Don’t try to perform an exorcism in a co-workers office without asking (Sorry, Dave).
The Enemy never wants an outright fight. He just wants to frustrate you until you give up.
That’s really what I wanted to do. The pain kept coming for a while. At some point, I crossed a threshold of pain. It was a strange kind of numbness. Everything hurt so much that I couldn’t feel the new losses that as they piled up. I didn’t know how to give up, but I wanted to. Leaving ministry and going into sales or something sounded pretty good.
Then, one day I watched a sermon by Levi Lusko called Running With Horses. He tells of his own story of losing his 5 year old daughter and speaks of how Jeremiah was similarly overrun with trials. Instead of telling Jeremiah it was going to get better, God tells him it was going to get worse. In Jeremiah 12:5 God compares his trials to running against foot soldiers and that eventually he will have to run against horses. You would think that would have been discouraging. It probably was. Yet, we find out in Jeremiah 20:9 that Jeremiah simply couldn’t give up his call: But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
I can relate to Jeremiah now more than ever. I can relate to grieving people now more than ever. I can relate to Christ more than ever.
The reality is that I used to look at deep pain from the outside. I could point to a few small life losses here or there, but I had never grieved loss upon loss like I have now. I used to have compassion from the outside looking in. People would sit in my office and tell me about how their children had been brutally abused by an estranged ex, they would ask me for prayer in the midst of terminal cancer, they would as for direction when conflicts separated families. I would always care. I always spoke love, but I was always on the outside looking in.
Now I’m in it.
I think that’s what God has wanted all along.
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. --Philippians 3:8-11