Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An open letter to my pastor's kids

Dear Justin and Caleb and Sarah,

I'm writing this because I want you to have a written testimony of what your father and I have said to you from the day you were born about being pastor's kids.  It's often said that PK's are holy terrors, and certainly you've all had your moments. It's also often assumed that you are held to a higher standard than other kids because people know what Dad does so they expect more of you. My least favorite assumption is that you are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time at church. Dad and I have tried diligently to dispell these common assumptions, and we will continue to do so until you are adults.

Not one of you has ever been more trouble than the average child or teenager. Granted, we've been at our wits' end with each of you at times, however we are very aware that you have been far more obedient and less trouble than most kids. Just today, when we were sad about a certain disappointment, we had to remind ourselves that it could be so much worse. Having said that, I want all three of you to know that we have higher expectations for you than just "average".

If that makes you think we hold you to an unfair standard, you are wrong. I promise you that our standards are indeed based on Whose you are, but you don't ultimately belong to us.  You belong to God. Justin and Caleb, you have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Our standards for you are based on God's standards for His children. When we expect you to give your best, respect and obey authority, be not just polite but truly helpful, use language that is Christlike, and be full of truth, it's because that's exactly what God expects and the Holy Spirit empowers you to be. I not only expect that of you, but also of your Christian friends. Dad and I are held to that same standard. 

We do, in fact, spend a lot of time at church. We do expect you to be there too because that's one place you can learn from other Jesus followers. It's also where you get practice ministering with the gifts and talents God continues to develop in you. You know well that you've been allowed to do other activities besides church, and we've attempted to let you lead "normal" lives.  We will continue to expect you to be an active part of this ministry team we call family. Although Dad and I chose this life, God chose all three of you for this life! My constant prayer is that genuine service in Jesus' name will be second nature to you and that you will continue this lifestyle even if you aren't getting paid for it as an adult.

The bottom line is that I love you, and I believe God's plan for you is to radiate His character and love in whatever you are doing. I won't back down or back away. I won't lower my standards to less than God's standards. But neither will I ever let anyone hold you accountable for more than God's will for your lives. I won't give you everything but I'll try to make sure you have everything you need. I'll continue to mess up on a daily basis and I'll probably embarrass you like crazy! 

You are not pastor's kids, you are our kids. That's enough to make you different  so don't blame the church or God. My prayer is that you will love Jesus more than you love me, that you will know that He cannot let you down, and that you grow to find joy in serving Him!


Sometimes you just have to laugh!

October has been Pastor Appreciation Month, and I've seen several great blog posts about everything from how to appreciate your pastor to how hard it is to be a pastor's wife.  I'd like to add my two cents worth. Our current church doesn't need to celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month because they appreciate Blake year round!  (Many have indeed taken time this month to verbalize their thanks to Blake as well as the whole family, and some have even blessed us with free babysitting and money to eat out! For these gifts we are so so thankful!  There's just nothing like a steak with just the two of us!)  But seriously, we wake up every morning so incredibly thankful for First Baptist Lee's Summit and their unconditional grace toward us! They have helped us to love ministry more than ever and sealed our callings once again!  Without even knowing it, they've healed me in ways I wasn't even aware I needed.  I've never met a local church more supportive and kind to not only us, but also to their community.  Not one hint of ugliness prevails in this church, and I'm convinced that God is their ultimate desire!  We McKinney's do not deserve to live life with these gracious Midwestern folks, but we sure are grateful for the HUGE blessings and support they have been to us for four years now!  I'm not a Midwestern girl by birth, but I am now one in spirit and truth!  I'm never leaving... which is so funny because I said I was never coming!  Praise God He knew what He was doing!

A blog I've read recently articulated a great blessing that makes ministry fun!  Another pastor's wife wrote about how we, as ministry spouses, have a front row seat to so many wonderful things!  She talked about how being married to the minister means that we hear daily of God's miraculous and merciful acts.  She mentioned how blessed we are that our families have opportunities to meet and hear stories of great saints who are living out their faith in reckless ways and seeing Him faithful.  All this is so true, and I'm very grateful for this reality; however, we as pastor's spouses also have a front row seat to some pretty funny stuff too!  I have Blake's permission to share one recent example.

Just last week a dear friend and church member passed away.  Jackie Voris was absolutely the most servant hearted person in Lee's Summit!  She served our family and our church in the preschool department, rocking babies with the joy of Jesus every week!  She cooked the best cinnamon rolls in the world and was probably the very reason Blake decided we were being called to Lee's Summit four years ago as he is an avid cinnamon roll lover!  Jackie cooked for every Disciple Now and youth camp our boys attended....and she made those cinnamon rolls a million times for hungry teenagers!  She was a massive supporter of every single women's ministry event I worked on, and she encouraged me in more ways than I know how to put into words.  Needless to say, Jackie was a saint to us, our church, and this community.  Blake was honored to preach her funeral last Friday at 10am at FBCLS.  Then he rode to Boliver, MO with Jim Carter in the hearse to preach at the graveside service.

On the way to Boliver, Blake developed a kidney stone.  Poor Jim must have wondered what in the world he was going to do with a pastor in excruciating pain!  Was there time to take him to the ER and make Jackie late to her own funeral...literally?  Would poor Jim have to do the service himself?  They at least needed some pain medicine, and evidently that's not a normal addition to a hearse.  So here's the funny part! Jim and Blake (and Jackie's earthly body) stopped at the only place they could find in rural Missouri to buy some pain medicine:  a liquor store!  Oh my, how Jackie must have been laughing in heaven!  Can you even imagine that sight - a hearse at the liquor store?  I've been wondering what the family must have thought if they were following behind!  By the way, Blake assures me the only "medicine" they purchased at the liquor store was Motrin.

Well, Blake made it through the trip and the graveside service.  Incidentally, he also made it through a band competition, three worship services, and hosting a small group at our house last weekend while nursing that kidney stone.  The entire bottle of Motrin was used!  These are the everyday, normal life occurrences that even pastor's have to deal with.  And these stories, in addition to all the great miraculous and merciful moments, make ministry memorable!  God is indeed faithful, even using well placed liquor stores.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lost Sheep...continued lessons

I have not forgotten some of the lessons from Luke 15 and the parable about the lost sheep.  It's been marinating for weeks now and I'm still shaken by it.  I've already written about how the tax collectors and sinners leaned in to listen to Jesus as they ate with Him, while the Pharisee's and teachers of the law simply muttered and criticized!  Sometimes, the so called "lost" people of our world listen and actually hear way more than we realize.  I love this quote from biblegateway.com's commentary on Luke 15:

"The fact that tax collectors and sinners listen to Jesus while the leadership does not is a cultural reversal of expectation. Sometimes hearers are found in surprising places."

Two questions for myself from this:
Do I even have friends who are "lost" or do I live in my own little Christian bubble?
When I am around nonChristians, do they lean in and hear Jesus on my lips?

 I'm still convinced that they will listen intently if what they're hearing is actually Jesus...if we are speaking Jesus' words in His merciful and eternally loving ways.  Sadly, what my lost friends hear more often from me and other Christians is more of the muttering and criticizing as opposed to Jesus' words of grace.

Having said that, I'm also mesmerized by the rest of this parable.  The basics as I see it are these:

1.  God goes out of the expected way to search for and find those who are not close to Him.  Scripture plainly says that He leaves the NINETY- NINE in the open country.  Are you kidding me, Shepherd?  Leave the majority of those sheep, the ones who aren't wandering off, just to find ONE?  Isn't that ridiculous math? I mean seriously, aren't 99 safe sheep more important than one drifter? That seems upside down from how it should be!!
There's no other way to put this...Jesus values individuals!  The shepherd thought that one sheep was as worthy of being rescued as those other sheep who never wandered off!  All those Pharisees could do was condemn and gossip about the tax collectors and sinners, but Jesus is saying that they are as worthy of His mercy and attention and fellowship as those who devoted their life to keeping the law.  Yet again, Jesus shows us the "upside-down-ness" of God's Kingdom!  He values not only the lost, but the individual.  When's the last time I invested in a lost individual as opposed to trying to impress the masses of church people?

2.  Once He finds that one...that ONE...He brings them home and celebrates!  He doesn't lecture, He doesn't refuse to ever take that sheep out again, He doesn't complain. He lovingly carries the sheep home on His shoulders and then throws a party!  This also underscores the absolute value of one soul to God because a party is expensive and time intensive and messy, but it was the only reaction we see recorded here. When's the last time I genuinely celebrated that one lost person who was rescued as opposed to shaking my head and just feeling relief?  And I love that the shepherd called his friends to celebrate!  Those Pharisee's should have been willing to celebrate with Jesus that tax collectors and sinners were being rescued, but they weren't true friends of Jesus.  They were only rule followers, not willing to even consider the upside-down principles of God's Kingdom.

Am I living and leading an upside-down faith?

I want to value one lost person so much so that I notice them missing, I pursue them persistently, and I celebrate over their safe return with my friends!  What changes would I have to make in my belief system, my submission, my ego, and my daily life to become an upside-down shepherd or at least a partying friend of the Great Shepherd?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When a lesson is more for you than the group to whom you were speaking...

Just recently I prepared a devotional thought for a group of friends who are each coordinating a large women's event in their area.  These friends have been charged with the challenge to lead their teams in prioritizing inviting women who are not a part of a church or who do not have an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  While the time with my friends was necessarily incredibly brief because they had many items on their meeting agenda, I have not been able to get away from the larger lessons I learned while studying for this devotion.

I was really forced to ask myself some questions about my own personal ministry and the ministries in which I participate.  The primary question I am still struggling with is this:  am I prioritizing relationships with women outside the church, and especially those women who most likely don't have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? As a Midwestern, suburban pastor's wife and stay at home mom, it's really easy to fall into the sinful trap of living inside a "Christian bubble".  If I'm honest, I have very few good friends who are not Christians, and I tend to find myself primarily around Christians throughout the week.  I have this sense that God may be pruning me in some areas to foster a rearrangement of my priorities and opportunities when it comes to stepping outside of my little bubble.  Can I honestly say that scares me?

Luke 15:1-7 is a parable with which I am quite familiar.  If you're reading this blog, I"ll bet you know it as well.  Check it out at http://bible.com/111/luk.15.1.niv.  Over the next few days I hope to share a few of the truths in this passage that are shaking me up and making me rethink some ministry strategies in my life.

For today, verse one is enough to both encourage me and challenge me!  Verse one says, "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus."  Just this first verse, not even getting into the parable itself yet, actually surprised me!  As you probably already know, tax collectors were those Jews who worked for the Roman government to take money from their Jewish neighbors. They were considered traitors by their Jewish peers because, not only did they work for the Romans, but they extorted extra money from their Jewish neighbors in order to make money themselves.  They literally took the money from their own people for themsleves as well as for the oppressive Romans.  Jesus was obviously Jewish, as were the Pharisees, so he should have despised the tax collectors like every other Jew.  At the very least, He should have distanced Himself from them.  Because of this, the tax collectors should have felt ostracized by Jesus and His followers...as ostracized as the Pharisees attempted to make them!  But not only are tax collectors hanging out with Jesus, just plain old sinners are eating with Him as well.  One resource I read described these sinners as those who refused to follow the law the way the Pharisees interpreted it.  In other words, sinners were those who didn't even attempt to be "perfect".  Who knows why they didn't follow the law?  Maybe the hypocritical Pharisees made them sick at their stomach and it was a sort of passive aggressive way to get back at them.  Maybe they just honestly realized that they were completely unable to be perfect so they gave up.  Maybe they thought it was just too much fun to be bad.  I have no idea why they chose to be sinners, but I can honestly relate a little.  Anyway, these tax collectors and sinners were definitely outside of the Pharisee's "religious bubble". These tax collectors and sinners were considered, by the Pharisees and obviously not by God, to be the riff raff, the secular humanists, the appalling losers who obviously deserved to be separated from God.  (As if we don't all deserve that?!)

I am very much impressed that Jesus wanted to hang out with the tax collectors and sinners, but honestly that isn't even what grabs me the most about this part of the story.  I'm not at all surprised by the mercy and grace of Jesus because He's extended it to me and my family over and over again.  I think the tax collectors and sinners must have been surprised by Jesus' attitude toward them, though.  No one "religious" had ever accepted them.  I firmly believe that is exactly why it says they were gathered around "to hear him."  The Message renders it like this, "...they listened intently to Jesus..." This is precisely what has most captivated and encouraged me today!

Totally honestly, I usually assume that people outside the church or those we would call "lost" wouldn't possibly listen to me tell them about Jesus.  This is why I rarely invite them to church or Bible study or women's ministry events. For many reasons, I think that most unchurched friends are unchurched because they just don't want to hear it.  I mean come on, this is the Midwestern US, haven't most people heard of Jesus and just decided either they are in or out? And if they don't seem to be searching then why would they listen to what I've got to say about God?  But here's the deal:  they weren't listening to anyone but Jesus in this passage.  And again, I cannot help but believe that they listened because He actually valued them.  My NIV study Bible notes on this passage say, "More than simple association, eating with a person indicated acceptance and recognition." So, of course, no one is going to just listen to me talk ABOUT Jesus, but they very well might be willing to associate with someone who values them as Jesus did.

I can hear some of you say already, "But I can't accept the way they live or their views or their actions."  No, but I can value them, because God valued all of us enough to send His Son.  I can deeply care about those outside the church or those who aren't really seeking God...at least don't realize they are seeking God.  I can eat with them, engage in ongoing encouraging conversation with them, be a true friend with them.  All the while I want to pray for them and share with them when they are struggling.

I am encouraged that "the lost" and "the unchurched" will listen to Jesus.  They will actually lean in and listen intently.  This encourages me to actually invite my friends into situations where Jesus is accurately represented and praised.  This encourages me to stop assuming that people won't listen to Jesus.  So the question becomes, am I speaking and living Jesus' words alongside them?

 Or am I muttering about them as the Pharisees were in this scene?  (That may be a totally different post!!!)

And to those friends with whom I shared this devotion on Tuesday:  be encouraged that if you value the "lost" and "unchurched" in Jesus' name, they will listen.  Don't just throw some tickets in their direction, really invite them and engage them and make them know they are more than your ministry.  Make them true friends!

No real earth shattering new thoughts, but ponderings that will hopefully rearrange how I'm living.