What It Feels Like To Be Installed

Handyman Checking Washing Machine With Flashlight

Installation is such a funny word to describe what happened to me this past weekend. Maybe that’s why people used every word imaginable: coronation, inauguration, commemoration, ordination, indignation… (just kidding about the last one).

Though I have been functioning in the lead pastor role for a few months now, there was something so powerful and beautiful about the Church gathered to witness the goodness of God over my life. I say “the Church” with a capital ‘C’ because there were pastors, church leaders, and congregants from all over the region together to support and encourage what God has done.

I wanted to share a few highlight moments that stood out to me from this weekend.

  1. The elders’ charges. I was deeply moved by the gravity of all that they were calling me to, yet I did not feel burdened by it. Their love and concern for me and the flock were evident in the things that they charged me with. Devotion to the Word. Shepherding and caring for the flock. Preaching the Gospel to the lost. Praying continually. Caring for my family. These are things I would expect of anyone who is a Christ follower, but I understand how important it is that I stay focused on these things for the sake of the church. I felt their authority, and I sensed God’s good grace.
  2. Mark Norman’s baton. dscf7067I thought I was going to make it through the service. I really did. During the first two songs, I was overcome with emotion thinking about God’s good favor in my life. It’s more than I deserve. Once I got through that, I thought I’d be ok…until I saw that man’s face. His humility, gentleness, and my great esteem for him brought all my tears to overflowing. It was a mixture of missing him, thankfulness that he would entrust this sacred group of people to me, and awe over the work of God. I’m looking at the baton as I write this, and I’m overwhelmed again.
  3. Praying together as a church. dscf7084I look back on the pictures of the gathered church with hands extended, and I am so grateful to be a part of the body. God knew what he was doing when he knit us together. He knew that no one of us were sufficient to make Christ known on our own. He put us in community – locally and universally – for the sake of experiencing the power of what it means to have Christ in common. When we exploded in singing the anthem, “Be Thou My Vision,” I was undone.
  4. The Intergenerational Gathering. You may or may not know, but Sarah and I grew up at Korean Immigrant Church in Silver Spring. There were about 50 folks who came to support this moment in Grace’s history. Many of them had aged to just barely being recognizable to me. When my uncle from Korea prayed, his words connected the dots for me. He prayed something like, “Lord, you opened the doors of this country to immigrants many years ago, and now it is an opportunity to return the blessing – to prepare this church for the second coming of Christ.” Wow. I realized then and there that there is so much more going on in the greater story of history and time than any of us realize. The generations and the nations gathering together at Grace. What will God do?

I could go into lots more details and anecdotes about the weekend, but I’ll leave you with this. Several people congratulated me that evening saying, “we’re behind you.” While I am grateful for the sentiment of support, as I thought about that imagery, I realized that it’s not the most accurate. As God has called me to lead, I believe that God is calling me to lead in a contrary way to the usual picture of leader-follower. Henri Nouwen captures what truly excites me about our road ahead.

Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from a concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people.

I’m so proud to be a pastor at Grace Community Church, and I’m even more humbled as I rely on God’s grace to be the kind of pastor this church deserves.

The Weeklong Sermon -Living Faithfully with Doubt

In recognition of Father’s Day, I spoke about an imperfect father with an imperfect faith. The father’s son had been afflicted by an unclean spirit since birth, and he was at his wit’s end. He comes to Jesus asking for help, and Jesus responds by telling him to have faith. The father’s response is a study in contrasts – “I believe. Help my unbelief!”

Faith + doubt. Yes, they can coexist. No, doubt doesn’t mean the end of the world or apostasy. I think that doubt and unbelief are different in fact. Unbelief is a sign of rebellion, an unwillingness to submit to the rightful rule/reign of God. Doubt is a sign of reality. It’s trying to live faithfully before an invisible God in the complexity of the world. Unbelief is arrogant. Doubt is humble.

Often though, I find that Christians are so afraid of doubt. Because they equate it with unbelief, both are intolerable and reason for investigation. I remember as a high schooler being dismissed because I had doubts about the efficacy of prayer. I wasn’t rejected…so long as I didn’t keep raising doubts. When we see doubt as abnormal, we cannot tolerate doubt.

Phillip Yancey’s book, Reaching for the Invisible God, has been so comforting to me. The beginning of the book talks about the place of doubt in faith. While cautioning that doubt can be toxic if not properly examined, he reminds me that doubt is a result of trying to live out faith in the world. My biggest takeaways from him:

  1. Doubt can be the result of living faith. When we live in our comfortable bubbles, then we don’t raise questions. We don’t ask, “what if?” When we aren’t confronted with new questions (or anything new, for that matter), we won’t have doubt. When we take seriously the call to risky obedience in pursuing Jesus, we will experience new situations, new challenges, and the doubt that comes with it.
  2. Doubt must be approached with humility. We must recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and that some things are truly beyond us. I was comforted to remember that mystery is what makes faith so real.
  3. Not all doubt is the same. There is intellectual doubt (questions about doctrine, theodicy, etc.); willful doubt (“Did God really say…?”; and situational doubt (will God come through? Can he be trusted?) I’m sure there’s more categories than even those, but it’s helpful to remember that different doubts require different handling.
  4. Doubt can be nourishing when spoken and handled in community. I feel sorry for those who have to deal with their doubt in isolation. Doubt can lead to deeper faith when we have doubt companions who continue to love us and point us to God even when we cannot see (or don’t want to see).

The last one hits me especially hard. How can we be a community that is ok with doubt? A community that doesn’t panic, doesn’t raise an Inquisition, but rather patiently walks with each other because we know that God has compassion and patience towards us?

Isn’t it reassuring to know that God doesn’t get defensive or insecure because we have questions or doubts? That he doesn’t put us on a prescribed curriculum of apologetics or suffering in order to make us come around? No, he gives us kindness, mercy, and a constant invitation to seek him and find.

I’m about to embark on my own “seek and find” leg. This week marks the beginning of a 4-week sabbatical during which my family and I will get some much-anticipated time to regroup, rest, play, and reflect on the journey thus far. We’re taking the time away from the church as we look toward stepping into the lead pastor position at my church when I return. I anticipate that God will help Sarah and me deal with some of our doubts: over our abilities, his sufficiency, what we need, how this will all go down, and I’m sure much more that I haven’t even articulated yet.

It’s my prayer that during the four weeks, God will also do his work in the church I love, granting the security for doubts to be spoken and the mercy for doubts to lead to deeper faith. I’m looking forward to coming back and living life with the people of God, a life filled with faith and doubt as we take bold steps to follow Jesus into whatever may come.

The Weeklong Sermon – Come to the Table

 

Mephibosheth. No, that’s not a Hebrew curse word though the meaning of the name could be just as offensive. The young man whose name means “from the mouth of shame” was the son of Jonathan, grandson of King Saul, Israel’s first king. Mephibosheth doesn’t make many headlines in the saga of King David’s reign and dysfunctional family, but in his infrequent cameo appearances, he reminds us of God’s incredible kindness and steadfast loyalty.

One of my last points from this past weekend was that Mephibosheth loved the King more than the table. (I love the play on words that the mouth of shame gets to eat at the table of the king!) I have a tendency to get so caught up with the provisions of God that I forget the joy of knowing God. John Piper says it another way: we can get so enamored with the gifts that we forget the Giver.

Here are some of the things that happen when we forget the King in view of the table:

  1. We won’t endure suffering. When our perspective becomes myopically consumed with only the table blessings of God, we have no way to deal with Job’s question, “shall we receive good from God and not disaster?” Life will bring its share of hardships, and the promise of God is to be with us through it all. We’re not promised the table necessarily, but the King of the table.
  2. We won’t take faith-filled risks. If our lives are fashioned around enjoying the table instead of the King, we won’t step out of our comfort zones in obedience to the King. We won’t take risks in order to experience and have more of the King. Our life with God will be safe and comfortable.
  3. We won’t be able to comfort the afflicted. We’ve all experienced the well-intentioned, but unhelpful encouragement to just look on the brighter side of things, to be more positive. When the table is our only joy, the only comfort we can give to the afflicted is a pep-talk like, “rain showers can bring rainbows”, don’t worry – you’ll sit at the table one day. What people in the valley of the shadow of death need to know is that the Lord is their shepherd.

Be vigilant to pay attention and redirect your heart and vision to the King, not just his table. By spending unhurried time with him, by applying the Gospel to our lives in our relationships, and by the disciplines of fasting and simplicity, we can stoke a longing to have more of God. The amazing thing is that our hunger for God can never be satisfied, it can only grow in appetite. So come to the table today not for a solo fast food meal, but to dine with him.

After all, the table is only precious because of the One who has invited us to sit with him!