Week 1, Jan 2022
Happy New Year, Grace! I hope and pray that the Christmas to New Year break was exactly that – a restful stoppage from all the frenetic activity of life. The post-Christmas, pre-New Year daze brings a slower, mellower feel that I always look forward to.
We went to bed late, slept in, and let each day bring whatever it happened to offer: reading time, naps, video games, walks, impromptu meals, a spontaneous excursion to DC to see the National Christmas tree, a morning of fishing, all sprinkled with recovery time from all the different activities. It has been a leisurely, unhurried pace that I’m grateful for.
Over the break, I had the opportunity to read several different books: some essays by Ann Patchett, a memoir by Phillip Yancey, a Lenten book on Dethroning Mammon, and an authorized biography of one of my favorite writers/pastors, Eugene Peterson.
Peterson pastored for almost 30 years in Bel Air, MD, and has written many different works. Most notably, he translated The Message paraphrase of the Bible. (I’ve decided to read through the Bible this year using it.) His ideas of what a pastor is and what a pastor does have deeply influenced me and shaped the vision for my calling.
Peterson was very concerned about the “professionalization” of the pastorate – what he described as the devolving of pastors into CEOs or church leaders who rely more on business leadership principles than the slow, often painstaking work of spiritual direction and care. Peterson advocated for deep relationships, unhurried conversations, and paying attention to what God is doing in our midst together. I long to be the kind of “unbusy” pastor he described.
In a church our size, I feel the constant temptation to be a leader once removed. To become a preaching figure, a personality in the pulpit instead of a pastor in the lobby. It has been a constant wrestling match in my calling here at Grace.
That’s why your names are so important to me, and I try hard to remember them. I try to remember the bits and details of your life: a birth, a job change, a surgery, a prayer request. I don’t always succeed at it, but it’s a small step in trying to maintain the integrity of what it means to pastor Grace Community Church.
Anonymity is the enemy of deep spiritual formation because God’s work happens in the details of our lives. The beautiful calling we have is to experience that often slow-going, invisible work in relationship with each other, one particular experience of grace and redemption after another.
In Ephesians 2:10, the Apostle Paul described God’s work of the Church as His poema – the Greek word for handiwork or workmanship. Right after describing our salvation by God’s grace through faith, not from our works, Paul says we are the poema of God. It’s only used for divine works of creation, something only God could do. I think it’s a beautiful to describe what is happening in us as a church.
I used to think that the poema was a one-and-done deal, the finished product of God’s salvation. But as I read the Bible and learn from other’s experiences, I wonder if the poema is actually an ongoing work of God? God’s continued handiwork displaying the unfolding beauty of his Gospel in our lives? And it’s plural – OUR lives. God’s poema is revealed as we pursue him together, doing the good works he has prepared for us to do.
That’s what I hope to capture here in this regular letter – reminders of the personal, in-process journeying together that characterizes us as a living poema, not just an assembly that gathers on Sundays.
As we enter into 2022, life is not what we hoped it would be. COVID keeps coming back for another bite of the apple. We thought we were past having to make decisions over whether it’s safe to gather or not (that feels so 2020). But here we are again – long lines for testing, mask mandates, that general malaise of feeling unsafe – a new round of fatigue on top of already feeling exhausted.
At the same time, let’s remember that God is quietly and intentionally carrying out his poema-demonstrating work among us. Christ is alive. His Spirit dwells among us. He still invites us to walk with him in other-worldly, counter-cultural ways. COVID can’t stop us from developing the habits that form us into the image of Christ. We can still meet with God in the quiet. We can develop new resolve to worship him. We can choose to know and be known. We can love one another. All of that is poema-revealing stuff.
We are his poema, and I can’t imagine being part of any other project with any other people.