Monday, October 29, 2018

A Few Thoughts After Pittsburgh

[an open letter to my faith community, whom I love dearly]

I’m not a fearful person by nature. I don’t worry too much; I don’t assume the worst; and I rarely look over my shoulder. And this week’s shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue won’t change that—it won’t have me worried about something similar happening at our own church on a Sunday morning.

I would be lying if I told you, however, that this scenario hadn’t crossed my mind a few times during the rash of mass shootings over the last few years. I’m not losing any sleep, not afraid of such violence, and I’ll proudly and excitedly head to church each Sunday morning. But the Pittsburgh shooting happening at a place of worship has me mindful of how devastating it would be to lose 11 of you—my dearest friends and faith family. My heart breaks for the beautiful people of Tree of Life Synagogue. I can’t imagine their pain and sincerely pray that God would ease their sorrow and meet them at this time of suffering.

But, as I ponder the hypothetical idea of this sort of tragedy striking First Baptist Bozeman, I’m encouraged by an unshakable knowledge that you all would be unwaveringly faithful in the midst of such adversity. I know, without a doubt, that you’d show up for worship the next Sunday, that you’d show up for each other through love, support, and encouragement, and that you’d show up in the world as a pillar of faith, unshaken by the evil and violence of our world.

That gives me great hope for the future of the church. That gives me great pride in being your pastor. And that gives me great joy at calling you my friends and sojourners on the journey of faith. Thanks for being so incredibly faithful.

Monday, October 22, 2018

We Lost a Good One Today

After a long, beautiful, and faithful life, author/pastor/theologian Eugene Peterson passed away this morning at his home on the shores of Flathead Lake here in Montana. Peterson is the author of over 30 books on scripture, pastoral leadership, and the spiritual life, but is best-known for penning the incredibly profound Bible paraphrase, The Message. He has impacted countless people throughout his magnificent career and has left behind a beautiful library of resources to guide Christians long into the future.

And I count myself as one who has been deeply impacted by Peterson’s wisdom. The Message has been a great resource in understanding and communicating the context and relevance of scripture; many of his books have greatly altered the way I think about God, scripture, and the Christian life; and I’m especially grateful for his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, which has been transformative in my spiritual life for years.

But the text from Peterson that first flooded my memory when I heard the news of his passing was a piece published in Christianity Today in 1981—an article called ‘The Unbusy Pastor.’ I providentially stumbled upon these words just days after becoming the pastor at FBC, and his thoughts have been my constant guide for the past three years.

In the article, Peterson discourages pastors from finding their worth in the idolatry of busyness. We love being busy—the vain adrenaline of being needed. Or, as Peterson argues, we allow busyness to happen to us because we are too unfocused or spineless to say no that which God has not called us, so we can say yes to our true pastoral calling.

But the part of the article that is most helpful are the three outcomes of an ‘unbusy life’: a life of prayer, the ability to actually preach and not just deliver sermons, and the time to be a pastor who really listens. Peterson says:

“I want to be a pastor who prays. I don't want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others, but to be personally involved with all my senses, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.”

“I want to be a pastor who preaches. I want the people who come to worship in my congregation each Sunday to hear the Word of God preached in such a way that they hear its distinctive note of authority as God's Word, and to know that their own lives are being addressed on their home territory.”

“I want to be a pastor who listens. The question I put to myself is not ‘How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?’ but ‘How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?’”

And I want these things too…so Peterson’s words are deeply profound and continue to ring in my heart and soul as I seek to pastor well. Thank you, Eugene, for being a mentor from afar. Thank you for your constant and unending faithfulness. Thank you for your wisdom and insight. Thank you for leaving a great legacy for the next generation of pastors, leaders, and Christ-followers. You will be missed.

Monday, October 15, 2018

From Rubble to Riesling…Concrete to Champagne…Mess to Merlot

This past Sunday I preached on the book of Micah—a prophetic book about the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem. It’s a hard book to read, full of devastation, suffering, and hardship, but also full of hope. After three chapters of impending doom, chapters four and five offer the promise that one day God will right all wrongs and bring about his ultimate redemption.

God doesn’t bring calamity and disaster just for the sake of being cruel. God is always interested in the restoration of all things.

I didn’t mention it in my sermon, but there’s a strange verse in chapter one that seems to make this point. Micah 1:6 begins, “Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards.” And then Micah proceeds to explain this destruction in further detail. So, at first glance, this line about planting vineyards doesn’t seem to fit with the overall story of judgment. What does ‘planting vineyards’ have to do with anything? Why would God bother to share these words through the prophet Micah?

I think it’s because destruction and judgment is never the point. Restoration and renewal is always the point.

Even in the midst of this diatribe about devastation, calamity, and being hauled off to exile, Micah offers us a hint of restoration: this tearing down process is going to make room for new growth. The heap of rubble will make space and fertile ground for a vineyard to rise up in its place. It actually sounds really nice: less concrete and more wine.

While it can too often be taken out of context—essentially that God will make everything good for Christians—I love Paul’s words to the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” When you face struggle, pain, and suffering, take heart that God is with you and is working to bring about goodness from your grief. It may take time, but God loves you and is actively working on your behalf.

So, as we endure our own personal devastation, calamity, and ‘heaps of rubble,’ may we hold hope that our God is One who takes those places of destruction and transforms them into places of beauty. May we have eyes to see the restorative work of God in all circumstances—even in the midst of pain and suffering. And may we not lose sight of God’s presence and activity in the midst of our seasons of struggle.