The United Methodist Church has three - and only three - general rules.
- Do Good
- Do No Harm
- Stay In Love With God
I've always had a clear sense of what it's meant to do good as a pastor. I've always tried to keep this at the top of the list and pushed the congregation hard to do good in the process. Unfortunately, sometimes when you try to do good, people often end up feeling harmed. They think they are getting left behind or choices are made that conflict with their priorities. So ministry for me has largely been a balance between trying to do good, and doing my best to help people heal when they feel they've been harmed.
But somewhere in the midst of doing good and doing no harm, staying in love with God ended up being placed on the back-burner. Outside of my daily Upper Room devotional (which I highly recommend) all of my study and reflection went into the work of the ministry. All my energy went into trying to keep everyone focused on heading in same direction, trying to work out whatever differences came up, and work through moments of brokenness. Little energy was going into working on the one relationship that needs to be right, so that all the other ones rest on solid ground.
This has taken on me, personally, a real toll. I must credit my wife with forcing me to acknowledge this. As a member of our staff for the last couple of years, she's experienced first hand the complexities of this work. The difficulties of trying to keep everyone focused on fulfilling all three, The Great Commandment:
"The most important commandment," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
The Great Commission:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
and The Great Requirement:
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
It was Aimee who begged me to just take some time, and go seek God's presence. It was the SPRC and staff of Community UMC who gave me the blessing to do so (for which I am thankful).
So I'm taking some time off from the ministry of the Lord, to just go chase the Lord. You've heard of a "date night" where couples set aside a night once a week or once a month to reconnect, focusing only on one another over dinner.... this is time I'm setting aside to just be in God's presence. To let the Lord know that every other relationship I have will only grow and flourish if I'm right with Him first.
I'm going to listen to Trappist monks chant the Psalms just like they've been doing for 1200 years. I'm going to spend some time some other folks who want to figure out how to be spiritual and holy, and not still not be overly weird. I'm going to visit some friends of mine who are ministers who have been down this road and know what it's like. And I'm going to visit my grandmother whose health is deteriorating slowly, and ask the Lord to be present with her.
Mostly, I'm just going to invite God to speak by getting away from the noise, and go to a place where I might be able to patiently listen. To go find that place Jesus always went away from the crowds where he could sit in his Father's presence.
In the meantime Daniel Hughes and our Lead Lay Pastor, David Imler, are going to take care of preaching at the Shawnee Campus. Charlotte, Daniel and our staff will all be available to serve and guide you. Christ's wonderful ministry will continue at this church... and with a little prayer your pastor will come back refreshed by Living Water and Bread Alone Which Satisfies.
I'll preach this Sunday, and then you won't see me again until early February. Until then, do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God.