She was buried in a cemetery within a short walk of our neighborhood. The morning of the graveside service was sunny. I conducted the service in a small chapel and dismissed the family inviting them to a dinner at the church. They were reluctant to leave. They stood around under a tree talking. The workers stood out of sight and shuffled their feet and smoked politely waiting for the family to return to their cars. Finally someone said, “Can we watch the burial?”
All the guests walked across the cemetery to the grave and waited until April’s body was lowered into the ground. On that walk I looked at gravestones. I calculated the life-spans of those whose bodies were buried there. My mind was filled with sober thoughts about how many more years of life I will have to live. Of course I’d like to live a healthy life and die preaching at 100. If that happens then I’ve only lived a little more than half my life. Reading the gravestones, though, that seems unlikely. I didn’t see any who lived to be 100. Most of them lived into their 70’s.
With deep solemnity I began to wonder what I could accomplish for Christ and His kingdom, if I only have twenty years to live. What will I do with the next twenty years of my life, should God allow me to live two more decades?
Sometimes I wrestle with a dark temptation to arrange a life of ease for myself. I am tempted to placate and pacify the people around me so that my life is easy and predictable. Sometimes I am tempted to gather familiar and cherished things and people around me and create a little kingdom with me at the center. I’m tempted to make easy choices, to prioritize comfort, and to create a soft, comfortable routine for myself. I’m tempted to find a green pasture and “nibble around the edges” of ministry.
What Is Expected of Pastors
I’ve been a pastor all my adult life and most of my adolescence. My Grandfather and Dad and two brothers and a son are pastors. I’ve read pastors and listened to pastors and spent time with pastors for years. I have a pretty good sense of what many expect from pastors. Pastors are often considered professional “nice guys” who are skilled at keeping people happy, talking in holy abstractions, and staying out of the way when people are grappling with the raw realities of living. We are pressured to confine our role to conducting ceremonies, dispensing platitudes, delivering harmless homilies and then stepping out of the way while people wrestle with the blood, sweat, tears, toil, grief, guilt and shame of life. We are often shouldered to the margins of life. We’re not always sure where to stand, what to say, and what to do with our hands. We are pressured to contribute valiantly to the general inertia of the church. To protect our modest livelihoods we are expected to see to it that people get what they expect.
When the apostles visited a town it was common for a revival and a riot to break out simultaneously. They often had to flee for their lives to the next town to keep from being martyred. Occasionally people would follow them to the next town to finish the job. They laid down their lives and changed the world. We modern pastors are trained to sip tea and speak in harmless abstractions. The early apostles were men who moved continents for God. When they spoke people’s hearts were stabbed. They grabbed people by the throat with their preaching and demanded change of Kings and peasants. We are expected to feed people their milk, powder their bottoms, change their diapers and tuck them in for a nap — anything to keep them from fussing.
Something is Stirring
If you have read this far you can tell that lately I’ve had a stirring deep in my soul. I have a strong sense of resistance in my heart when people who love me and care about me warn me to live cautiously and to move slowly and to be careful not to expect too much too fast. I’ve spent too much of my life following the “move slowly” model. That’s a good motto for people who are paving the road to hell for millions. Life is short and millions will go to hell if things don’t change and soon. I’ve spent much of my life trying to keep people happy who are unwilling to change things that really should be changed. I’m not sure that is what God wants me to do with the rest of my life. I’m sure that’s not what Jesus did with his short life.
I want to live the rest of my life boldly. I want to accomplish things that matter and things that last, not just maintain the status-quo and prostitute the Christian ministry for my own comfort. I want to inspire hundreds of people to live boldly and join Christ on his mission. I want to challenge them to do what needs to be done. I want to inspire them to give what needs to be given. I want to motivate them to go where they need to go. I want to convince them to change what needs to be changed, to pursue the mission of Jesus.
I want to make disciples and win souls and challenge others to join me. I want to live on a mission right here in one of the greatest mission-fields on earth. I want to resist the spirit of the age and call people to repentance. I want to train people to start Jesus groups and Jesus clusters every day everywhere I go. I want to use the time I have to do the work of God.
For whatever years I have left I want to follow the advice of the great Baptist missionary William Carey, who said; “Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.”
November 19, 2012