Mid-August Out on Bittersweet
It is mid-August out on Bittersweet—our second August. It was a beautiful week, cool and sunny every day. These days, when I got home from my Bethel duties, I usually stay outdoors until after dark, trimming, mowing, weeding, watching birds, working on the Carriage House, or reading on the porch.
This week a great triumph. I fixed the rolling barn door. The building is a century old and the mechanism on the large rolling door is original hardware so I was happy to get it rolling smoothly open and closed. I have a nice workshop within and a window facing north so when I open the door and windows my workplace is bright and the airy.
I sit on the steps in the twilight and listen to the night coming on. I listen for the sounds to change and I wonder what all thy all are, birds, frogs, insects, sometimes the unique call of the Barred Owl. Fireflies blink out over the green meadow and under the trees in the Walnut grove. Swallows dive through the air toward evening feeding on insects and later as darkness sets in bats flit around in and out of the Walnuts and over the meadow.
This week I heard coyotes howling in the woods beyond the far north field. Hazard heard them to and started growling threateningly, unaware that in a confrontation they would do him in. He was out the other day and I was talking on the phone when a bold Red-tailed Hawk performed a low threatening fly-over, just to remind him of his place in the food chain, I suppose. In all the countryside around Bittersweet is safe and inviting. Bucolic and pastoral.
Yesterday I quietly passed a milestone. On August 11 of my Junior year of High School I was invited to pastor a little country church in Ohio. I served there until late August of the next year when I left to study at Moody. During that year I baptized all the young people in the church along with my little brother, Nathan. I have been thinking about some of the things I have learned in over 40 years of pastoral work. This week I will share one of them:
“There is always music amongst the trees, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.” –Minnie Aumonier
We have a delightful lady named Sarah in our church at Bethel. When she was well and could attend regularly she was on the “A” team, serving at the greeters desk, the “face” of Bethel Church. And she has a joyful face.
A while ago she was in the hospital. On the way up to see her I was thinking about there and praying for her. I wondered, “Does she need a sunny word of encouragement today or does she need a listening ear?”
I walked into her room and she broke into radiant smile. “Sarah, I was thinking about you on the way up. Do you need a listening ear today or a sunny word of encouragement?”
Immediately she said; “O, a sunny word of encouragement.” That is what I love to hear, but that is not alway what people want or need.
43 Years Ago Yesterday
It was 43 years ago yesterday I was called to pastor my first church. I was 17 years old. I pastored there for a little over a year and then left for Moody.
I’ve learned a few things in my attempts to pastor people for 43 years. Here is one of them. Sometimes people need a sunny word of encouragement, or a word of Godly advice. Sometimes they may need correction, warning, or rebuke. Sometimes what people need most is teaching or instruction.
I’m wired to encourage, so that tends to be my default mode. As they say, “If you are a hammer, everything is a nail.”
I usually feel that I can fix about anything with a roll of my encouragement duct tape… but it’s not so.
Sometimes, maybe more often than I have been deeply aware of it in my own ministry, people really crave a listening ear. They don’t want encouragement yet. They don’t need information. They don’t want a lecture or a pep talk or a full-length motivational speech. They need a friend to listen to them. They need understanding. They need empathy.
You may thing someone really needs encouragement and they have wallowed in their troubles long enough, but do be careful, you can get hurt trying to rescue someone who does not want to be rescued.
Today on the first full day of my 43rd year of pastoral ministry I am reminding myself to pray for each of the precious souls for whom I will give an account and listen to them with my heart.
Help me, Lord.
August 12, 2019