Longing to See You

Longing to See You

“8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — 12or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” – Romans 1:8-12

These words from St. Paul reflect his pastoral heart. The apostle says to his parish, “I am longing to see you”.

At the center of the pastoral vocation is a deep longing. It is a longing to be in relationship: to bear witness to the presence and activity of Christ in the people with whom I do ministry.

When people ask to see me, they often say at the end of our meeting, “I’m sorry to have taken up so much of your time.” I want to say back, “Are you kidding me?! This is the best part of my job! If I could just do this all day, I would.”

The pastor’s first job is to be in relationship with God’s people: not to be “professionally religious”, not to solve their problems, not to entertain them, not to teach theology or correct bad behavior, and certainly not to maintain buildings and manage institutions. All of the above are important and necessary parts of ordained ministry, but they are not the heart of the pastoral vocation. The heart is the relationship: the “longing to see you” that Paul wrote about.

To be sure, there is an exchange of something that happens in this relationship: Paul says that he wants to “share some spiritual gift” in order to “strengthen” his people. But he goes on to say that the exchange is a two-way street: “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Every relationship is a matter of simultaneous giving and taking. All of us are constantly being both filled and emptied by love in the relational network of the Trinity, “in whom we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17).

As Christians, we believe that we are saved by a relationship. The Incarnation is a relationship in which God “takes on flesh” and “moves into the neighborhood”, as Eugene Peterson put it. Jesus Christ is Emmanuel: “God with us.” Each Sunday, we further celebrate the Real Presence of Christ in our celebration of the Eucharist. By faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ into our very selves.

If we, as Christians, truly want to bear witness to the saving activity of our Incarnate Deity, then our action must mirror God’s in its relational nature. We must follow that deep, inner longing to be with one another in the flesh, as God is with us. When our fellow human beings come to believe that they are loved, that they are not alone, then can we say that we have truly done our job as witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is the longing to be in relationship that brought God from heaven to earth in the person of Jesus Christ; it is that same longing that fuels the pastoral vocation. It is the longing to be in relationship that draws the Church together in covenant community; it is that same longing that sends us out into the world as witnesses of the Gospel.

“I saw the person before I saw his or her poverty. And I realized that the person who is hungry, abandoned or in need is first of all a heart who needs to find another heart; someone who will listen, understand and love. People who are poor and discouraged need to hear someone say to them, “I love you. I have confidence in you. You are beautiful. You can give life to others.” This helps them find confidence in themselves, new strength, new hope. The poor do not need to hear a lot of words, not even pious words. They may need people who will do things for them. Above all they need friendship: friends who love them and are willing to do things with them. This will help them grow and develop both humanly and spiritually.” – Jean Vanier

“Infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” – Pastor’s Report for 2014

“Infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” – Pastor’s Report for 2014

J. Barrett Lee:

My annual Pastor’s Report to North Presbyterian Church

Originally posted on North Presbyterian Church:

Wow, it has been quite an eventful year at North!

2014 was our first full calendar year together as pastor & congregation. We faced many challenges & opportunities, overcoming obstacles with faith in God, “whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

Family

In the life of my family, it has been a delight to really start to put down roots and become part of the Kalamazoo community. Our daughter started kindergarten this year at El Sol Elementary School. We have become invested in the fabric of the Vine neighborhood, where we live. We saw God’s hand at work there when a condemned former crack house on our street was finally razed by the city. Neighborhood residents then joined forces to transform the empty lot into a community garden. Through this common cause, residents on the block have come to know and care…

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Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did (Reblog)

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did (Reblog)

Originally posted on North Presbyterian Church:

Reblogged from Daily Kos:

At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.

My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this. If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

Click here to read the full article

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(Reblog) I am Not Charlie: a Christian response to the killings in Paris

This is a reblog of an article by my seminary professor, Bob Ekblad:

I was deeply troubled by news of this week’s killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo, France’s beloved satirical newspaper, by two French Muslim brothers of Algerian descent, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi. I’ve been haunted by footage I saw of these gunmen’s shooting of a police officer in cold blood on a Parisian street where our good friends live and where we regularly stay. The killing of four hostages in the Jewish kosher grocery store by another jihadist activist, followed by the French police’s shooting of all three gunmen, has made this a traumatic week for France and the world.

Should we be surprised by these killings? Offense, resentment, and shame carried by many young Muslim men and others on the margins today incite rage. In this case, the rage is directed against the dishonoring gaze and mocking words of journalism that appears to consider nothing sacred, except free speech.

Click here to read the full article on Bob’s blog

(Reblog) Reasons to celebrate the PC(USA) this Advent season (Moderator’s column)

It’s a little late for Advent, but I love this article and this guy. Moderator Heath Rada lays out some of what makes our church a good one:

Heath Rada, Moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

  • I celebrate the PC(USA) as a denomination that unequivocally affirms the Lordship of Jesus Christ as our Savior. Each new member, when joining the church, confesses that she or he accepts Jesus as their personal Savior. In fact, they could not be members if they do not confess that as their position. Do we state that everyone has to be a Christian to be saved? I thank God that I am not called upon to provide God’s answer to that question, for only God can give the answer. God is the judge; that is God’s job. But I do know that all members of the PC(USA) say they believe Jesus is the mandated key to salvation, and for that I celebrate our denomination.
  • I am grateful that the PC(USA) believes in the authority of the Scriptures as being God’s word. Anyone who is ordained a teaching or ruling elder in our denomination affirms that this is his or her belief. Does that mean we all agree on every interpretation of God’s word? No. Does anyone? But it does mean that we see the Holy Bible as the authority, and understand as much as we possibly can, though we are also told in the Scriptures that today “we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12, NRSV). I cannot attest to my interpretation of the Word as being the only one. Being a member of the PC(USA) allows us the latitude to keep on searching for the ultimate truth. Whether I am liberal or conservative, from one social class or race or another, does not matter. The PC(USA) invites us all to become a family of Jesus Christ bound together.
  • The PC(USA) believes in taking the Good News to all the world. Ninety-four million Christians around the world attribute the PC(USA) with being the source of their knowing Jesus Christ! Though we may have fewer full-time missionaries throughout the world today than we did 50 years ago, we now send thousands of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members (more than ever in our history) to serve in international missions—work missions, teaching missions, medical missions, etc. We all share in this role in ways and numbers that we never have before, and we model the Good News as we deliver needed services with our talents and gifts.

Click here to read the full article

(Reblog) Ten Things You Should Know To Welcome People of All Abilities to Church

By J.C. Mitchell

1.    If you have had one or even a few people with special needs in your ministry, this does not mean you know how to welcome all.  Very often when I tell a pastor about my ministry at Open Gathering they start telling me their one success story (which I do enjoy learning from), but they do not seem to understand there is more to do to welcome all.  This is not unlike someone saying there is no more racism because Obama was elected president…

Click here to read the full article at D-Mergent