The Associate Pastor’s Really Hard Book

Selection_010I once belonged to a men’s accountability group.  This is where a group of men got together to ask each other the really hard questions such as if we read our Bible, if we loved our wives, and how much porn we used that week.

These groups came about as a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to a public relations disaster for the Evangelical church where a prominent preacher spent lots of money that, technically, was not legal on items that, technically, was not the gospel.  About the same time, another prominent preacher got a picture of himself in the newspaper in an intimate relationship with someone who, technically, was not his wife.  Years later, after prison, one of the gentlemen wrote a book entitled I Was Wrong which, technically, was an understatement.

Our group was led by an associate pastor who liked to ask the really hard questions.  He made a career out of it.  No one was really sure what he did of practical benefit program-wise at the church but he would sit for hours with the senior pastor at the coffee shop asking the really hard questions.  His wife said that he wasn’t very good at practical details but was much better at this sort of big picture stuff.  After a couple of years, he left the church that eventually died and disbanded and became a church consultant where he could travel the world meeting with other pastors asking the really hard questions.

We sat in a circle, those of us guys in this accountability group, and asked each other the really hard questions and tried to be vulnerable.  Being vulnerable was really popular back then, too.   In a moment of vulnerability, the associate pastor said, “I really need this!  I mean, I wouldn’t be reading my Bible if I didn’t have a group of men asking me the hard questions.”

Now I am not being judgmental here as I would be the first to admit that habits can be difficult to form and maintain in our busy lives.  Further, there are parts of the Bible that are less interesting and I can be prone to skim read like the rest.  Nevertheless, the statement struck me as a bit off.  I got to wondering how this goes down on that final day when we see the things clearly:

“Oh, Lord Jesus!  I am speechless!  Thank you that it was the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.  Thank you for delivering my life from utter wreckage and despair and bringing me into way of light and life!  Thank you for sustaining me, providing my daily bread and seeing me through countless trials and temptations!

“But, dude!  Your book is a total dog!  I mean, who writes this stuff?  If I didn’t have a group of marines staring me down asking me the hard questions, I simply would not have been able to grind through it.  Like hello!  Nails on chalkboard!  Does anyone up here have any writing experience?”

To the Hebrew poet, the words of God are like dessert – sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.  To an early apostle, the Christian longs for the Word as the most basic mother’s milk of nutrition.  I wonder if other bookish religions have the same problem as our group leader.

I thought back to a Bar Mitzvah I attended years ago for a young relative on the Jewish side of my family.  Before the preliminary synagogue service, my uncle was arguing with the usher who wanted my the uncle to wear a proper yarmulke instead of his cowboy hat.  Another relative, took the side of my uncle and told him he should have told the usher to go to hell.  (Do Jews believe in hell?)

Anyway, when I got into the service, wearing a yarmulke and not a cowboy hat, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  They began to read the psalms but the difference was that the Scripture reading was not the rushed preliminary to what the preacher had to say.  Rather the Psalms were the prayers of the people, the fulcrum of identification.

It was not a portion to be analyzed, dissected, defended, and intellectualized.  It was assimilated as  the very words of wandering, struggle, hope and redemption that formed the heart cry of the congregation.  It was the place where they sat.

Later, the decorative scroll containing the first five books of Moses was taken out of its cabinet and reverently paraded  around the synagogue.    These are the very words of God they said.  And the people of the book celebrated, reverenced, and danced.  They kissed the scroll.  They recognized their place as a part of its very narrative.

Over the years, I’ve moved away from seeing the Bible as something trying to identify with me – trying to be cool and hip as it gives me relevant advise that helps me with my money management, self-image, and child training.  It is no longer my tool box where I pull out proof texts to do battle against the atheists,  doubters, and those of dubious theological opinions.  I no longer feel the pressure of a book that has to be gotten through by personal conquest as I watch  myself slipping farther and farther behind in my Bible in a year plan.

The Bible begins to be less burdensome and more attractive as I stop trying to make it identify with me and my world and I identify with it.

I begin my day sitting with my Scripture portion reading slowly and thoughtfully with a cup of coffee and the dog sleeping by my side on the couch.  I identify Israel’s wanderings as my wanderings.  As the blind man’s darkness as my darkness.  As Peter’s failure as my failure.  I am not better-than.  I am those wandering in the desert.

Yet, I am reminded of a God that lifts up the fallen, encourages the fainting, and fulfills the mission that Israel was never able to do on its own strength and merits.  It dissuades my heart from thinking selfishness is freedom and pulls me against my will to love and serve.  It captures my thinking that wants to make idols of my felt needs and desires and points me to the one true God who is all wise and transcendent.  I am not less-than.  I am in Christ who has done all things well on humanity’s behalf to whom God said, “You are my Son in whom I am well pleased.”

Though very little of the Bible is really about me and it was not written to fix my first world problems such as changing the oil or knowing how secular governments should be best ordered.  Yet, I am connected to its story.  At a point in time, God spoke into nothingness, created culture, formed a people,  provided redemption, and will one day establish a kingdom where things will be made right.  I have identification, a little part and space in that grand scenario.

Each morning, I look to that little part and space and take my part in the grand meta-narrative.  My meditations remind me of who I am and where I belong.  It is a cherished part of my day.