Cheers to the Feelers
A lizard is grabbed by the tail, but with a twist of its body escapes the would-be captor. Alas, the tail is missing. But hey, at least the lizard is alive! This loss of a tail probably hurts, but the lizard goes on with life, and eventually the tail grows back.
A football player blows out his knee, requiring surgery and a year of recovery. This hurts, but the knee eventually recovers, and the football player has a powerful comeback, setting new records.
A teenager breaks his arm while snowboarding, as he attempts a flip on a mogul. If Shawn White could do it, why not give it a try? This hurts, but after the broken arm is reset, the cast is put on, and the healing process begins, the signatures on the cast from friends and strangers kind of makes it almost worth while. Plus, the video of the event is epic. The arm heals, the cast comes off, and life goes on.
For you brave souls who have been faithfully waking up early each morning, getting out of bed, and doing what humans do to survive, commendations to you. Some of you feel so deeply that you sometimes find the very act of living to be tough, and some of you manage to feel a little but go on anyway without really thinking much of it. The “feel” that I reference here is different than the hurt of a broken arm, a blown-out knee, or a lost tail. I’m not much of an authority on the lost tail hurt, but I’ve broken my wrist twice, so I know a little about that kind of hurt. The feel I speak of here involves the hurt of grief, loss, loneliness, abuse, separation, rejection, fear, anxiety, worry or depression. It’s a different kind of hurt. For those of you who deal with that kind of hurt, cheers to you. You are not alone.
Over the last seventeen years, every so often I have taken brief forays into exploring what it would take to become a licensed counselor. Talk therapy is needed now, maybe as much as it ever has been needed. So I check into the credentialing process, the time involved to become licensed, and the cost to pursue this. I then ponder what my life would look like if I met weekly with 15-25 different persons, all feeling deeply of some kind of hurt involving grief, loss, loneliness, abuse, separation, rejection, fear, anxiety, worry or depression. Would I have the emotional, mental, and spiritual fortitude to listen well to each of these hurting souls, ask meaningful questions, and provide them some kind of hope and courage to light the path they must walk? I may need to meet at least weekly with my own person who would hear me out, after spending that much time and emotional/mental energy to help others.
Seventeen years ago today, on February 22, 2005, we were driving back to Ohio from NYC, knowing that my Mom was in the final hours of her battle against cancer. I’ve been thinking of Mom again in this season. The thinking involves a lot of feeling. I’ve listened to that song “A Table in the Wilderness” by Russ Taff a lot lately. Some of the memories make me laugh and feel good. Some of the memories make me feel sad and cry. Losing Mom those many years ago did shape me and change me, and probably in more ways than I even realize now.
Feelers, I think I get you. Well, maybe I don’t understand you from every place you are coming, but I do feel you. Because you see, I feel. This feeling is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing of feeling is that I ache with joy at the beauty of the sunset, and my heart sings with pleasure at the glory of the sunrise. I see the little neighbor boy Liam walking down Corsa Avenue on his way to the daycare, and on more than one occasion when I smile at Liam and say hello, after they walk away I wipe a tear from my eye. Little children are so beautiful and precious, that my emotions well up with deep feelings of wonder and love when I see them, so young and precious. When someone I know is going through a tough time, it sometimes stops me in my tracks. I feel for them so much, I sometimes find it hard to shut off the feelers and kickstart the doers in my mind and body. Feelings, deep feelings, have sometimes hijacked my body and shut down the doing portion. It’s maddening, when feelings get that involved and almost turn off everything else. That’s when it seems that feeling is akin to a curse.
Cheers to you, feelers. I’m not ready to counsel you to stop feeling. Because God, our Creator, is described as having all sorts of emotions as well. You don’t have to stop feeling. However, if you are incapacitated with your feelings and it seems you can’t move forward with productive living, think of someone you could talk to and reach out to them. Talk therapy is a gift, and it should especially be practiced in the community of Christ followers. I hope we can have more authentic, caring conversations within the Brotherhood that promote healing, so we don’t have to gasp at the $185/hour costs of seeking out the professionals, and just decide we have to grit this grind out on our own. When we see how much Christ did for us, we should be willing and able to reach out to others who need us to listen, to ask questions, to love, and to care. When we see how much Christ did for us, we should be willing to ask for help when we are nearly captivated by our feelings, to the point of paralysis. If you are currently able to celebrate your feelings and keep on living productively with joy, consider reaching out to a feeler who is incapacitated with their feelings. If you are a feeler currently incapacitated by the negative feelings that weigh on you, there are people who are there to listen, to ask questions, and to care. If you can’t think of anyone who could listen, message me. Maybe we could talk, or maybe I could help you find someone who could listen.
I hope you feel better.
It happened before the blind eyes really knew it happened. What they thought was a threat was actually a promise. What they thought was dangerous was actually the safest bet they could have made—ever. What they thought was cancerous was the best cure ever offered.
It came as an insurrection. The ultimate subversive staged a historic coup, the effects of which reverberate today and into the unknown of the great beyond. The target of the coup was the real surprise, because the Pharisees and teachers of the Law unwittingly tried to fight the battle over power, politics, prestige, and position. They never expected that the heart was more important. The insurrection of Jesus went for the heart.
The gatekeepers of 1st century religiosity knew they were in trouble when the popular vote shifted away from them, and towards the radical carpenter from Galilee. Seeing no way out but down unless they took matters into their own hands, they took down to a new level and decided to finish off this gentle Healer who had such harsh words to say to and about them. Getting rid of him, they thought, would rid them of this plague of a man who kept stepping on their toes and besmirching their fine sounding words and best laid plans. He embarrassed them, and the people ate it up, much to their further embarrassment. Better to get rid of him before the Romans started realizing an insurrection of the Jewish power structure was in the works. But like we now know, they missed the point. The religious leaders failed to consider that Jesus was aiming for something much more important. Jesus was going for the heart, not for the power structure. In the end, the heart is where the issues of life bubble out of.
Jesus is interested in your heart.
Jesus called out the gatekeepers of 1st century religiosity. Blind guides, he called them. White-walled sepulchers, he called them. Fools. Vipers. What they cherished as central, he exposed as foolishness. He said they paid attention to the outward but missed the interior. They were white-washed tombs, with dry bones inside and no life.
He had to go, they reasoned. There was not room for him and for them.
The insurrection that was Jesus Christ began in that small stable in Bethlehem, then went to Nazareth, and from there he traveled around with his misfit band of disciples. Jesus cried over the city. He mourned when his friend Lazarus was dead. He was saddened when his followers missed the main points of his life and teachings. Jesus never lied, never stole, never abused women, never ran a company, never filed for bankruptcy, never starred in a reality TV show, never published a book, never ran for public office, never owned a home. Yet his life, teaching, ministry, death, and resurrection serve as eternal, revolutionary, revelational catalysts through the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel offers a radical and life-changing opportunity for the Spirit of God to enter the heart of all who will repent of their sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and give their lives to this unorthodox king-who-was-not-made-king, Savior and Lord of the Universe.
The insurrection of Jesus, clearly described in his teachings, modeled in his life, placed on the cross for all to see, with his body buried, and then gloriously raised to life on that Resurrection Sunday many years ago, was a gift to all who will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and lay hold of that life which is truly life. Jesus came for the heart, and the heart set free by the Truth of Jesus is free indeed. The world and its pleasures are passing away, but Jesus has overcome the world. All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, will not get you what you really need. Jesus, the ultimate insurrectionist, offers peace, hope, love, and joy unspeakable to all who will believe. Yes, in this world we will have trouble. But we can take heart, because our King, Jesus of Nazareth, has overcome the world.
I’ll go for that kind of insurrection. It gets me up in the morning. It’s what keeps me going when the world looks like a train wreck, when the news looks like death, and when I realize I’m still a man in need of a Savior. The insurrection sparked by Jesus' life, teachings, death, and resurrection is the one for my heart. This insurrection brought about the good news of the Kingdom. The gospel, when believed and lived out through Jesus, kills off, one by one, the vile imposters and orphan pretenders to the throne that try to rule my heart. The gospel allows Jesus to reign and rule. Jesus successfully fought against the powers of darkness of this world, against the enemy who is at war with God’s creation. I have given my heart to Jesus, and I know that Jesus is the ultimate victor. He has my heart, and I will serve Him who sits on the throne. Yes, my service is imperfect, flawed, and sometimes confused and spastic. I am not a perfect father, I am not a perfect husband, and I am not a perfect church leader. But I give my service to Christ, the King of my Heart, and He continues His work of refining me and transforming me and changing me. Lord Jesus, you have my heart. Please keep refining it.
As for the January 6th insurrection (Was it? Was it not?) spoken of by people of the USA, the wording is not the issue. There is a Capitol building in the capital city of the United States of America. I am blessed to be a citizen of the United States of America. But Jesus has my heart, not this country. The Capitol building is a symbol of power and might, of certainty and structure, of knowledge and strength. To some, January 6th represented a shaking of what they held in America. To others, January 6th represented an awakening to a desire to “take back” America. Several hundred would-be “insurrectionists” tried to stop the vote from being certified, and we have tens of millions of people in America who think that was an insurrection. But then, one could try to interview tens of millions of other Americans, and they will say it was a wise play by these Capitol-storming people who, in their minds, tried to stop an insurrection by attempting to stymie an "illegal" certification of a stolen vote. Radically different views of “reality,” with the same circumstances in front of all of us. How does this happen?
It's a distraction. That's what it is. A distraction posing as an insurrection. If the Capitol is the treasure, then that is where your heart is. Because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Remember Jesus? His insurrection was aimed at the heart. The heart, more vulnerable than the Capitol, is incredibly more important. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. That so-called “insurrection” of January 6 was really a distraction. This distraction has deleted millions of hours of emotional and spiritual energy from Christians in America. I don’t really care whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, a Curious, a Socialist, or a disenchanted ____________________(fill-in-the-blank). If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the original insurrectionist, you MUST NOT let the distraction of misplaced insurrectionist politics misalign your faith or dilute your vision for Christ, for His church, and for a deepening love of the Lord Your God. After all, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Where does USA fit in that statement? Remember, JESUS is asking that you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Do you love your neighbor as you love yourself? Yes? What if we change the wording of that? Love the Democrat as you love yourself. Love the Republican as you love yourself. Love the Socialist as you love yourself. Love the ______________________ (fill-in-the-blank) as you love yourself.
Stop getting distracted, Christ-follower. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The enemy is coming for you and for me. Make no mistake about, the war is escalating, the stakes are high, and your heart is on the line. Oh, may the gospel of Jesus penetrate and convict our hearts, so that we are ready and equipped for these last days. Guard your hearts in the love of Christ, and follow the treasure.
Because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Happy Transformation Year!
Grace and Peace,
And while we are on the topic of the good news of Jesus Christ and what is means for our hearts, let’s consider this wise counsel from the Apostle Paul:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Encourage a Spiritual Leader Today
The cowardly will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The cowardly are listed among those who go to the lake of fire, the second death, in Revelation 21:8. The positive spin on that is that Kingdom Christians are called to be courageous. If we are discouraged, we lack courage. If we encourage, we promote courage. Encouragement is a noble activity. Barnabas, “The Son of Encouragement," modeled encouragement well in the early church. What if a spirit of encouragement would sweep through our churches, and we would cultivate an earnest, Spirit-led desire to encourage one another?
Last year, I read in several articles and heard anecdotally from others that as many as 30% of the current church leaders in the US were trying to just keep their churches together and maintain church life, but that once everything kind of leveled out with Covid and the other racial tensions and protests, they were planning to resign. 30% sounds like a high number, but there are pastors out there who are tired, discouraged, and some are resigning. Today is a good day to encourage a spiritual leader in your life.
In the spring of the year I turned 18, the lead pastor who had been serving our church for 8 years or more stood up on a Sunday morning and announced that he was resigning. Effective immediately, he was stepping down. The church was going in a direction he did not support, but rather than make it hard for the church he would just leave.
Wham! What just happened? I never saw that one coming.
The summer I turned 18, I was involved in a ministry assignment in Quebec. Over that time period, I discovered from talking to my parents on the phone that our church of about 80 persons was involved in a split, with about half staying and half leaving to form another fellowship. The pastor was moving to another state. The pain and confusion found in a vacuum of spiritual leadership and then the recurrent pain from the splits had the capacity to make me walk away from church altogether. I thank God that there was enough faith in me and enough people who loved me that I never left church over that time. I’ll bet our pastor, the one who resigned, had been discouraged over that time.
We attended a BMA (Biblical Mennonite Alliance) summer convention in late July 2021 held in Indiana. A missionary brother and his wife who had served many years in Spain were being acknowledged for their years of service, and he was asked to share a few words with the gathered assembly. Do you know what he said? He told us that in all of his years in the church, he has never encountered so many tired, worn out, and discouraged pastors as he has in the past six months, since they arrived back from Spain on a home assignment. This missionary brother spent those few minutes blessing the pastors who were there. “Keep going,” he said slowly and clearly, along with statements like “God loves you,” “We need you,” and “I pray that you will sense and know and feel God’s blessing.” I’m a sucker for those speeches, so it was no surprise that my eyes dampened. I glanced over at a pastor friend sitting beside me. He (my friend seated beside me) has served as a pastor and then an overseer, with probably over 35 years of combined service. My eyes were wet; his eyes were rivers. The missionary spoke to our hearts. Today is a good day to encourage a spiritual leader in your life.
I’m reading Philip Yancey’s book entitled Prayer. In a chapter on prayer and the Psalms, Yancey attributes Martin Loyd-Jones with this statement: “The central cause of spiritual depression happens when you listen to yourself instead of talk to yourself.” He based his analysis on his study of the Psalms. For example: “O my God, my soul is cast down within me, there I will remember You.” “I will say to God my Rock, Why have you forgotten me?” “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” Negative emotions have their own “voices” that influence our feelings and thoughts, which often comes out in our facial features, our tone, our speech, our actions, and sometimes even our direction. Many of the Psalms provide language that talks back to those negative emotions and speaks truth to trouble. Last year I heard a lot about speaking truth to power. In this season, I'm thinking I could cultivate more solid practice in using the Psalms to speak truth to trouble.
We have no shortage of bad news. I’d rather not attempt here to outline any of the mind-numbing, heart-breaking, beat-your-head-against-the-wall-stupid news exposing the cultural, political, economic, environmental, and moral malaise of our local, state, and national condition. If we look at global news, does it get any better? Not really. The deluge of bad news around us is one reason why I peddle the gospel any chance I get. The good news of Jesus Christ is real, and it brings freedom and courage, among many other positive side effects. When we become strong and courageous with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, we rise up and become sons and daughters of encouragement. Yeah! I'm about stamping my feet and clapping my heads as I write this, but it's late and the keyboard only wants taps, not claps.
Today is a good day to encourage a spiritual leader in your life. Even if he is on top of the world, take time to encourage him. He may be wrestling with thoughts of discouragement that you don’t even know about. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”
To Preserve or to Proclaim
Should parents lean towards preservation, or towards proclamation?
What should parents consider when they make choices that affect their children? Shall they create protectionist boundaries with a goal to raise children who are preserved in the faith and our godly heritage, or shall they proclaim the gospel with adventure and vigor with a goal to raise children who are disciples of Christ, making disciples of Christ?
Are you in for this debate? I’d like to attend it with you and discuss it afterwards over a mocha latte.
After my Grandpa died about 8 years ago at the age of 93, I flew to Missouri to attend the funeral and had a good time reconnecting with my cousins. I have a lot of cousins on my Mom’s side of the family. I told Sandy after I returned that one of the surprises (and frustrations) of my conversations with my cousins after Grandpa’s funeral was that a half dozen (or more) of them asked me a question that went something like this “How will you raise your family in the city?” The questions were posed in sincerity. There were no folded arms, tight lips, or foreboding frowns to make me think that my cousins were out to trap me. They really wanted to know if I thought it possible to raise a family in New York City. Could children raised in NYC become repentant believers, followers of Christ who are active citizens in the Kingdom of God? “Of course it’s possible,” I thought to myself, and tried to respond humbly and gracefully in a way that basically said the best place to live is the place to which God has called you.
In the past two years I am more open to considering this question, and more sympathetic towards those who sincerely ask “How will you raise your family in the city?” My answers that seemed easy eight years ago come with more hesitation and less confidence today. Raising a family in the city requires more knee callouses than I would have calculated before. Prayer looms much larger in our present calculations regarding choices in our family.
What I say regarding preservationists and proclaimers may more specifically apply to the Christian (conservative Anabaptist) subculture with which I grew up and with which I still identify; however, the questions are important to consider even among the broader evangelical Christian community. What do we evaluate when we choose church, calling, ministry, family, location to live, vocation, and “community?” Parents who major on preservation are likely to value for their children choices that promote a stable home environment, proper Christian schooling environment, stable church environment, and godly work environment as the best places in which to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” For preservationist parents, the following likely factor high on their lists of important choices: their children have summer jobs as employees of businesses in the church; their children will be able to hang out with friends whose families are church-going families; they will home school their children or have them attend Christian schools which are safe and boundary-oriented; their children will date and eventually marry a person of like precious faith; their children will become stable, faithful members of a conservative Anabaptist church. For the boiler-plate preservationist parent, if all the above happen and their children “turn out right,” they have succeeded. They have raised up children who have caught onto the godly heritage and will pass it on to the next generation. Oh, and hopefully the children will make wise choices that will preserve the grandchildren’s faith and godly heritage too.
Some of the missing ingredients in the ideology of many preservationist parents are the little parts of Christ’s teachings that have to do with dying to self, taking up the cross, and preaching the gospel to the lost and the unchurched. So, while there may be thousands of 35-year-old, stable, faithful members in conservative Anabaptist churches throughout the US and Canada, how many of them know the first thing about pointing a lost or unchurched person to Christ and His church? I hasten to acknowledge that it is God who saves. We do not save. But Christ followers have the blessed privilege to partner with the Spirit in proclaiming the good news of Christ, doing the work of evangelists, and making disciples who make disciples. How many middle-aged conservative Anabaptists—stable, faithful church members—have spent any time at all engaging in meaningful dialogue that tests their faith in a hostile environment of people who are not like-minded? How many middle-aged Anabaptists have even shared their faith with an unchurched or lost person in the past six months? Asked another way, if we take a poll of conservative Anabaptist churches in the US and Canada, what percentage of our “stable, faithful members” are people who had been lost and outside the church and were pointed to Christ and His church, and then became members? I am going to guess that the current conservative Anabaptist membership is over 95% biological growth, with less than 5% growth from the lost and unchurched in the world “outside” the church. The root of conservative is “conserve.” So it does seem that for conservative Anabaptists, preservation is a big thing. A sincere question then arises in my mind. What, exactly, are we preserving? Is this an attempt to preserve an ethnic subculture with a good work ethic and model citizenship who lean rightwing Republican but don’t participate in war, and try to take seriously the Sermon on the Mount? Are we really, truly raising up the next generation of Christ followers whose feet are beautiful in the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ? What exactly is the end goal of preservationism? Is it building the Kingdom of God. Why does it seem that what is attributed as passing along this oft-noted “godly heritage” to children often looks like raising Christian who grow up pickled (preserved) and barely flickering in their passion for Christ? These are sincere questions. If preservation is the end goal, is what we are “preserving” really the full measure of what Christ is calling us to preserve?
So then we venture to proclamation. Some parents feel called to forsake houses and lands and move to places where they aim to intentionally proclaim the gospel. These parents, if you would interview them in moments where they are willing to be vulnerable and honest, would acknowledge that they often do not know what they are doing. They wish they would be more consistent in their gospel proclamation, and would wish to see more of the lost and unchurched come to Christ and His church. These parents, especially those who have been in pioneer ministry locations for years, would likely acknowledge that is hard to let go of some those things that they can’t give to their children. It’s not easy to homeschool a child who wants to attend a larger Christian school and be with friends. If there are no local Christian schools and homeschooling doesn’t seem to work for a family, what are the options for proclaimers? They homeschool and recognize that this may be one of the things they give up. Some of the urban age restrictions on teenagers working can make it hard for urban dwellers to find jobs for children in their mid-teens. What do proclaimers do? They keep praying and looking for opportunities that will engage their children in productive activity. What if the small church plant or mission setting has no other children their age in the community of faith? What do proclaimers do? They try not to worry about their children’s lack of friends, but they do pray that God would lead unchurched and lost families to the church who have children the ages of their children. There are children in the neighborhood—they pray that God would bring their children friends from the neighborhood. Those whom the Lord calls he equips. The Lord provides for whom He calls. But when years go by and your children express loneliness and a sense of loss, it is hard for a proclaimer to know how to respond. A parent doesn’t want to give a scorpion to a child who asks for a fish, right? I can identify with the angst of parenting in a setting that is more proclamation-focused with fewer of those preservationist perks that seem so important to preservationist parents and their children. And we are not done parenting, so this article will likely look different if I revisit it in ten years and revise it based on what I have learned by then.
If you are a preservationist parent, I can identify with much of what you are hoping to do with your children. You find me at a time when I empathize with many of your positions. If you had interviewed me even three years ago, I may have been a bit chin-in-air and snotty about your preservationist tendencies. Remember my generalizations mentioned earlier? Parents who major on preservation are likely to value for their children choices that promote a stable home environment, proper Christian schooling environment, stable church environment, and godly work environment as the best places in which to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” In our move to The Bronx, my wife and I were suddenly slammed against a wall of reality. We realized that we actually want all of those things for our children, but our move had up-ended the lives of the three oldest, all of whom were teenagers at the time of our move. What had we been thinking? We don’t want to lose our children, right? Absolutely not! We do not want to lose our children to the enemy! If your heart is to see your children grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, keep that heart and pray for your children. That said, I do have a message for preservationist parents. Step back and evaluate what you really want in your child. Do you want your children to grow up to be fully committed Kingdom Christians, engaged in the local church, who take up the full armor of God as proclaimers of the gospel and battle against the gates of hell? Hallelujah! What choices shall you make to provide the best platform where that can happen? It just may be that you are called to a radical lifestyle change that may upend the lives of your children. This radical lifestyle choice may seem counter-preservationist. And it may be very hard at times. But guess what? It may force your children to choose early in life which call they will answer—the call of Christ or the call of the world. Jesus has some strong words for lukewarm Christians in Revelation. From the perspective of this interested observer, sometimes it seems that in our desire to preserve, the unintended consequences of boundary-oriented preservationism ends up with generationally imbibed “godly heritage” passed on to pickled Christians who walk around with sour faces, leading melancholy lives of materialistic pursuit, with no idea how to be disciples or make disciples. Ouch. May it never be. Let’s not forget to proclaim the gospel and listen to God’s call to radical lifestyle obedience. This may actually lead us to re-locate from our green pastures and bucolic havens into the graffiti, grime, and dysfunction of towns and cities who need engaged neighbors who love the Lord our God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Proclaim the gospel while loving and caring for your children.
To you proclaimers, parents who have made conscious lifestyle choices to proclaim the gospel at work, to your neighbors, and wherever you go, you may be wondering how to care for your children while you are out doing the Lord’s work. Well, you probably already know this, but this is a reminder that caring for your children is the Lord’s work. Yes, if you have begun to answer the call of God to proclaim the gospel, you are doing a good thing. But your children need your prayers, your time, and your engagement in the middle of the journey. Those of you who know me, know that I do not advocate for pastors and missionaries and gospel proclaimers to abandon their children for the sake of the gospel. Abandonment is not in the picture. But remember, as you obey the call of God to proclaim the gospel and raise up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, some of the things you can’t give to your children may actually be things they don’t need anyway. Which is more important to give your children: 1. A father/mother who are in love with each other, are in love with Christ and His church, and are actively involved in sharing the gospel in the community; or 2. An environment of sameness and stability and uniformity in thought and relationships that insulates them from encountering anything that may shake their faith? You can provide stability, and you should cultivate an atmosphere of love and respect. But you already know that there callings of proclamation of the gospel in evangelism and discipleship that you can pursue that can actually be good for your children as well. God calls you to be a gospel-centered disciple of Christ—your response to that call is important to your children’s spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. Do not neglect or abandon your children, dear parents. Love them, teach them, train them, and bring them up on the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And please, continue to prayerfully submit yourself to active service in the Kingdom of God as a minister of reconciliation. He may be calling you to stay right where you are, or He may be calling you to move on. You already know that God’s call is not always an easy one to answer. But don’t forget to consider the hearts of your children when you respond to God’s call. Leaving houses or lands or parents in this life has often not been easy for parents—it is sometimes doubly hard for their children.
In case you missed it, I believe Christian parents should proclaim AND preserve. That said, I offer this generalized, anecdotal-based, experientially-observed critique of the wider conservative Anabaptist churches. We tend to be preservation-oriented at the expense of proclamation of the gospel. So in general, when we “preserve” our children to embrace and adopt our “godly heritage,” I wonder sometimes if we even know what we are preserving. Sometimes we miss key elements of Kingdom Christianity in the name of preservation. Let us courageously and humbly proclaim the full gospel of Jesus and live it out with love and grace in our homes and churches, pointing the lost and unchurched to Christ and His church. And let us pray fervently that our children will listen to the Spirit's call to become repentant believers in Jesus Christ, fully committed to Christ's church, and radical disciples who stand on our shoulders as they proclaim and live the good news of Jesus all over the world. We can enter into the presence of God and fully embrace the Kingdom of God, and our children can even go deeper, by the grace of God.
Is there anything more to say? Probably not, for now.
Would you like another mocha latte?
For Such a Time as This
We drove from the Bronx to Ronks yesterday.
About a month ago I purchased two tickets to see the Sight and Sound production of Esther, at their Ronks, PA, location. This was a Daddy date for Corinne Ida Schwartz, since I had not had much opportunity to do something special with her last year when she turned 13 during the height of the Covid lockdown. Corinne loves to listen to good singing, she loves to sing, and she loves to see and hear when singing and acting combine into a story line. If she could have her way, her life would be played out in one long, unbroken musical.
So there we were yesterday. She had been anticipating this trip for weeks, I had been smilingly excited about spending time with my fourteen year old daughter, but somewhat ho-hum about the production itself. We started on our way around 10:00 a.m., stopped at Chipotle around noon, and were sitting there enjoying our food. “Hey,” a guy sitting at another table says to us. “For a while there I was sure you were my former camp counselor, here on a date with your wife, but I think maybe you aren’t the guy who was my camp counselor.” I told him he’s probably right, I’m probably not his former camp counselor. This did not stop him, and he proceeded to tell me all about his life from Washington Heights in Manhattan, to The Bronx, to the camp in Westchester County—and here we were, at a Chipotle in PA. I think that is the first time that Corinne and I got tagged as husband and wife. It happens a good bit to Brianna, which is why she makes a concerted effort, especially if the other sibs are around and Sandy is away, to say “Dad” loudly every now and again to keep inquisitive people in line. Corinne didn’t seem to mind this mix-up. I thought it was kind of funny.
So we made it to Sight and Sound. We got a nice seat in the middle of the house floor. I was completely blown away by the set, the acting, and the singing. The entire production was incredibly well done. About 30 minutes into the story I realized I had better keep a lid on my emotions. It happened when Mordecai began reminiscing how it was when he first took in Esther as a little girl, and now she’s all grown up, and what is going to happen to her? All of a sudden I’m thinking of my daughters and how they are all grown up. I tell myself, “Don’t cry Rich. It’s just a show, you know.” If Mordecai had walked down the aisle past me right about then, I’d probably thrown my arms around him and sobbed. It moved me, you could say. My babies is all growin’ up, y’all. She's been given life and brought into the world, for such a time as this.
After the intermission, the emotion came back and more intense. There was the laughter surrounding the irony of Haman’s flipped position, the amazing bravery of Esther, the praying of the Jewish people, and on it went. It all touched me deep inside. Then the final song included lyrics like “We are not alone,” and celebrated with references to Yahweh. I’m telling you, this was a really good production. I recommend it to anyone who is able to go. Oh, and another perk we had that is not going to happen just every time. We happened to be seated just behind and to the right of two rows of Pentecostal ladies who really got into it. When Mordecai said boldly that he would only bow to His Lord and not to Haman, the one lady yelled out “Amen!” and they was on, baby. Waving their hands in the air when Esther said that her God would protect her, clapping and saying Amen when Esther said we are not alone, these ladies really got excited. It was like we were in heaven’s cheerleading section.
On the way back, Corinne and I finished our Chipotle and stopped at Wendy’s for a Frostie for her. I was getting tired so I figured a Wendy’s coffee would help. It was the closest thing to black truck-stop coffee I’ve had in a long time, but I survived. It was a good trip back, listening to Fiddler on the Roof songs in the car, sharing song preferences from Spotify, and talking about life. This young woman Corinne is a good gift to our family. I’m glad we could spend some real time together.
Our Hells and our Heavens
Finishing up an insurance report this afternoon, I took a break from the mundane and set my gaze on the divine.
Did you know that our relationships with each other touch on the divine? You’ve probably thought of this before, but here it is if it did not cross your mind today. I’ve been pondering that this week. Rich Mullins’ song “We are not as strong as we think we are” came to mind this afternoon. He has this shiver-my-spine, oh-so-accurate line that says “With these our hells and our heavens so few inches apart, we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.”
Yes, we are not as strong as we think we are.
This morning I had the incalculably blessed opportunity to teach two classes on Peacemaking. The more I consider Jesus’ words “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God,” the more I want to become a more excellent peacemaker. When Jesus said to his disciples “If you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, you must be a servant,” He did not tell them to stop trying to be great. Think of it. Jesus left the door open for us to want to be great. But the greatness must be in the form of servanthood, humility, others-centered, submission to the Master. If you want to be great, you have to be a servant. I’ve thought of that lesson in reference to Peacemaking. What if, by the power given to Christ-followers through the Holy Spirit, a whole generation of Christ-followers would set out to become GREAT PEACEMAKERS. I don’t want to just be a peacemaker. I want to become an excellent peacemaker. I don’t want to just be a so-so listener. I want to become an excellent listener. I don’t want to just sort of radiate the glory of Christ. I want to become a polished mirror that reflects the glory of Christ clearly in thought, action, and speech.
What does that have to do with “these are hells and our heavens”? More casual, less compelling lines could have been written into Mullins song. Maybe “our sorrows and our joys” or “our pain and our fulfillment.” The greatest joys in this world are found by the redeemed in the presence of the Maker of the Universe, our Heavenly Father, Lord of All. And the greatest relational joys I have ever experienced on this earth apart from being in the presence of Christ have been found in God-ordained relationships with His people. Relating with followers of Jesus has given me the closest and clearest windows into heaven that I have experienced. These are my heavens.
But now comes the nearly paralyzing and painful confession. Some of the greatest sadness and confusion and pain that I have ever experienced in my life has come from—sigh. You guessed it, relationships with Christ-followers that have gone off the rails somehow. These relational dysfunctions are my hells, if you can allow me to use the term. I thank God that the “hells” just described are temporal and do not have to be permanent. I thank God that forgiveness is a God-offered choice and I have extended forgiveness to others, and others have forgiven me. I thank God that reconciliation is available, and difficulties do not have to last a lifetime. But broken relationships inflict deep pain. Yes, pain that comes from broken relationships can be almost too intense to accurately describe.
I’ve heard that cool line “It’s better to have loved and lost than to not have loved at all.” I’m going to agree with the one who coined that line. I won’t walk away from God and from his church just because there is brokenness and hurt and pain and misunderstanding. In fact, the reason I need Christ and His church more and more is that I need my broken-ness and hurt and pain and misunderstanding to be met by the love and forgiveness and healing of Christ and His church. I need to walk each day into a more whole representation of the man that God has called me to become. So because Christ has loved me so much and has given me His church, I will walk in His love and love and be loved by His church. I need the church.
Now that I’m on a roll, I will pivot a bit and mention that I attended a funeral of my step-brother, Andy Miller, over the weekend. We received the shocking news last Tuesday (June 15) that Andy, who had been dealing with several weeks of weakness from Covid, suddenly had chest pains and collapsed. They could not revive him. He had no comorbidities or underlying health conditions—he was actually the picture of good health until his 48 year old body died and allowed his spirit to be released to the Lord. Andy leaves behind a legacy of consistency, care, service, and strength. His passing leaves a huge void for his family.
I traveled to Missouri for the funeral. It was good to reconnect with my stepbrothers and my stepsister and the rest of my cousins. As I stood by the grave and watched my stepbrothers, Kevin and Chad, and some other men moving boards and lowering the casket, I thought to myself “I like those guys a lot. They are really good guys.” And then I thought “I hate death. You know, the Bible says that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Death is an enemy.” And I became motivated to fight death. I will not let death to steal my joy. There is an enemy of our souls, the devil, and at some point the devil will be destroyed, and with him, death.
At some point, I will die, and after that will be the judgment. But while I still live, I will love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind. And I will love my neighbor as I love myself. These are my heavens.
If the “hells” of brokenness and hurts and misunderstanding in relationships come- and they will- I don’t have to stay stuck. Because Jesus loves me, I can get up by the power of the Holy Spirit and keep loving Jesus and being loved by Him. And I will keep loving others.
An Imperfect Soldier
, say If you want me to say I’m broken.
If it sounds betters to say I’m imperfect
I can say that, too.
There seem to be at least as many fails as victories
In that 360 degree evaluation that circulates in my head.
And parenting, in this stage of life,
Feels like a perpetual fail with only glimmers of grace.
But let me interject something here.
For the sake of sanity and for God’s glory
I will not celebrate or major on the negatives.
Yes, I can “glory in my weakness.”
It is necessary and right to honestly acknowledge
That this man, Richard Schwartz, has major limitations.
But courage must be seized, faith laid hold of
And up I rise to walk and then run to the battle.
What exactly is this battle?
Who am I fighting, and why?
Am I alone?
Is there a team with me?
What is the end game? Will we win?
Do skirmishes matter,
Or is the final battle the only thing at stake?
And why, of all places, is the battle happening here?
The battle belongs to the Lord.
I am fighting because I am a soldier in the Lord’s Army.
And there is a war against the devil.
The things I fight against are earthly, sensual, demonic.
My heart and my flesh cry out to the living God
And the grace of Christ crucifies my flesh.
I beat my body and bring it under subjection
So I can be a fit solder in the Lord’s Army.
Oh, and you asked if you are alone?
You are never alone.
As God is my witness, you are never alone.
There is a cloud of witnesses cheering you on.
Friends, family, and the church of Jesus is with you.
No, my friend, you are not alone.
You asked about the end game?
There is no end without going through the middle.
The journey defines the end game.
A thousand dawns illuminate what will be
And sometimes the Final Battle
Is as simple as breathing a prayer of surrender
Before the death rattle rises
And the Glorious Conqueror carries you home.
Your eternal reward,
The home given by the Glorious Conqueror,
Is a prize worth going through
Those thousand glowing dawns
And the dull days of just doing the next right thing
Not everything that hurts is bad.
Pain brings purposes.
Suffering clarifies destiny.
In this introspective look at the why of battle,
I hope you remember that it is worth it.
Apart from Christ, you can do nothing.
With God, all things are possible.
Be silent before me, says your Father.
You, my child, are mine.
And this Battle is mine.
You are never alone.
Decisions do matter.
No decision is still a decision, and sometimes it is the wrong one. That’s what I’m told.
I made an important decision in December 2019, sometime between stepping off the scale in the Doctor’s office and our family supper that evening. “I’m going to lose some weight,” I told my dear wife Sandy and the rest of the family.
You see, I had weighed 165 pounds when I got married in 1998, so I really did not appreciate that 180 pound number staring at me unblinkingly from the doctor’s scale. Enough is enough, I said to myself. You’ve gotta get that weight off, I said. I ordered a digital scale on Amazon, began cutting back on food, and upped my running regimen. It’s time to do something, I said again, this time adding a clenched jaw and steely eyes for effect.
Three weeks later, well into January of 2020, I stepped on the digital scale to see how I was doing. Okay, not great. 182 pounds. Well, at least there is movement, I tried to console myself. But this is strange. I’ve been watching what I eat AND running more. How did I gain two pounds?
It’s been a strange year. Much of what has come our way I would not have even thought to include in a novel--it’s too far out. A pandemic? Protests and counter-protests? The death of civil discourse? Republicrats don’t like Democublicans? The election was hacked? Wait, the election wasn’t hacked? Swabs from Covid tests are implanting nanoparticles in the brain that are controlled by supercomputers manipulating the masses, all with access to individual Social Security numbers obtained when the Covid test was taken? Elvis was sighted in Holmes County? Wait, what? What is actually true? In all the strangeness, one thing I’ve done this year more than any other year of my life is run. I’ve passed 500 miles of running. All over the Bronx I’ve pounded the asphalt, pavement, and trails. I’ve tried to cut back on desserts, eat smaller portions of food, and run run run. This was, after all, the year to lose weight.
At a pastor’s meeting last weekend, one of the brothers talked about an article he had read citing statistics from CEO’s who were interviewed regarding the decisions they make. Apparently about 50% of their decisions turned out to be the wrong decisions. My pastor friend, who usually sees the glass half full, said he was encouraged by that statistic. It kind of takes the pressure off, he said. We don’t have to always have to be right, he said. I like his positive spirit. Another pastor said “No decision is still a decision, and sometimes not making a decision is the wrong thing to do.” I had heard that before. But it made my mind head back to December of 2019 and THE DECISION. I had decided to lose weight, and it’s a good thing I did. Because the morning of that pastor’s meeting I had stepped on my trusty ole digital scale and saw 184 pounds staring unblinkingly back at me. Well, first I had to suck in my stomach to see over it to the scale.
Wow. Here I had been trying to watch my weight this year. I had been running more. And 330 plus days into the year with all of that, I had gained four pounds.
Look on the bright side, I said to myself. I could have gained 400 pounds instead of just 4. Imagine where I would be now if I hadn’t made that decision? Goodyear may be hiring me out for their blimp commercials. Sara Lee or Jenny Craig may be calling me for a before (and hopefully after) picture for their advertisements. I may have reached the unique accomplishment of being able to balance my coffee cup on my belly button while standing.
Thank God for decisions. I think I made the right decision last December.
What decisions will I make this month that affect me next year?
Postlude: This post was written as a kind of good-humored jab at myself for my inability to lose weight this year, despite trying hard to do so. For any of my friends who may be struggling with extra weight and its effects, please know that this tongue-in-cheek expose of my lack of success is not in any way designed to make you feel bad about what you may be facing. If you do happen to feel that I was insensitive in my narrative, by all means please let me know and I will consider revising my narrative.
And maybe we can share a box of Oreos together?
Letter to a Pastor's Kid
Our daughter, Brianna, has this idea of requesting letters from other pastor's children, addressed to pastor's children. I always knew there were traps and dangers facing pastor's children. Bri's letter below shows some of them. May God help pastors lead the church with humility, courage, and grace. But please, pastors. Let's not miss our children in the process. This is my prayer, and this is a great challenge. Rich
I paste the below letter from Brianna with her permission.
Dear Perfect PK,
I see you there, ESV Bible on your lap. You scribble sermon notes in your pad. You digest every word of this sermon and close your eyes in reverence during the song, "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord." After church is dismissed, you usher thirteen six year olds upstairs and teach them about David and Goliath, how to respect their parents, and sing "Jonah Was A Preacher."
I see you.
And I know.
I know what drives you to invite your neighbors to your family's cell group meeting every Friday. It is obvious to me why you encourage your friends to go to church each Sunday and never talk bad about the church leaders. I know why you pray for the church to grow and for people to be delivered from bondage, sin, and oppression.
Yes, I know.
Because I was that Perfect PK.
I remember constantly praying that our church would be united and thrive.
I prayed. Fasted. Witnessed. Worshipped. Memorized the Word. Studied the Word. Read the Word. Practically ate the Word.
I was totally, one hundred percent devoted to my church and to my God.
Or so I thought.
But my motivation was not that the kingdom of God be advanced and God be glorified in return. I saw the church as my family's identity.
If the church flourished, we did as well. If it fell, so did the Schwartz family.
The church exists to glorify the Lord. Not the pastor, not the choir member, not the third grader in Sunday School, and most definitely not me or you. As a Pastor Kid, I was deceived into believing that my role was to be perfect in order to give my family a good image and break the stereotypes of dangerous, disrespectful, drunk preacher’s children. Without even realizing exactly what I was doing, I put up the facade that I was perfect. But the reality was that I was far from perfection.
I don’t want to be the one who pours bleach in your cheerios, but here’s the truth: you aren’t perfect either.
But God called us to be perfect, you say.
Yes, yes He did. But we are not there yet. We are sinful, wretched, broken, floundering humans. I am. You are. We all are.
Are you struggling with hidden sin? Confess it. Don’t worry that that is going to defame your earthly father’s name, because the reality is that that sin already defames your Heavenly Father and He is the One who wants to cleanse you of it.
Are you angry? Don’t stuff that inside and paste a smile on your skin. What is in the heart will come out, even if it may take years instead of minutes to unravel. And trust me, it will eventually unravel.
Are you discouraged? Admit it and turn to others for advice. Don’t believe the lie that you have to be the rock that carries your parents emotionally. You were not created for that. Only God can be the one who sustains your parents through the emotional turmoil that comes when working with people.
So, my dear fellow PK, take comfort in knowing that your family’s identity is not on the line. Your identity is first and foremost in who your Father says you are. It is not found in the number of individuals sitting on folding chairs in the sanctuary. Your identity is not in the amount of praise or verbal abuse your family receives. Your identity is not placed on how well your dad preaches and how big you smile at every guest who steps inside the church. Your identity is in Father God.
Axe the act. Cut the charade. Forfeit your facade.
Step into the freedom of being a human who will fail, but is offered forgiveness and love from God.
All my love,
A Recovering Perfect PK
Grateful for a corner
Gratefulness is a choice.
God sometimes gives days that open our eyes to see, so that we choose gratefulness.
Today is one of those days.
Sandy’s back is much better today, and she had dozens of people praying for her. This makes me so grateful. She is a gift from God to me and to us.
I met with a 70 year old man in the South Bronx this afternoon, and as I heard his story I realized again how much I have. It nearly overwhelmed me with gratefulness. This man had called the CAM hotline and said he is lonely and wishes to find a church community. The CAM hotline volunteer called me to see if I would be willing to meet with this man, so we met on a bench at Yolanda Garcia Park for nearly an hour. My new friend comes from a secular Jewish home. His parents divorced when he was sixteen. His only sister committed suicide in her 20’s. He’s lonely enough that he said “I sometimes wish I could get sick so I could go to a nursing home and at least be around people.” Wow. I never thought I would hear someone wish they could go to live in a nursing home so they wouldn’t be lonely. I heard him say at least four times “I just want to know that I have someone in my corner.” This guy said he has no purpose, little meaning, and sees no reason to get up in the morning. Wow. I hope we can be a blessing to him in our church community. I am blessed beyond words to be a part of the church. I do not deserve the goodness and kindness of God.
During another conversation today, with a friend much younger, I heard about his five year stint at Rikers Island, the NYC jail system. He says he was falsely accused and spent five cruel years at Rikers Island. Somewhere in the conversation he noted that he recently deleted all his family contacts and he is “starting over with new friends.” Then this statement…“I just want someone in my corner.” Wait. Hadn’t I just heard that phrase two hours earlier?
“I just want to know I have someone in my corner.”
Today I am so grateful for the gracious, life-changing gift of Salvation, the gift of family, and the amazing gift of the church of Jesus Christ. I know tonight, without question, that there are hundreds of people in the church of Jesus Christ around the world who are “in my corner.” These friends pray for us, care about us, love us, and sometimes they even sacrifice for us. Even Christian friends who do not know us would pour out their lives for us, because that is what real Christians do. My heart sings of the goodness of God. He pours out His goodness in many ways. The church, the bride of Christ, is just one special expression of God’s goodness.
Brighten “the corner” where you are.
Oh, and if you doubt you will ever have people in your corner, resist that doubt. There are people who care for you, of that I am sure. Don’t let another day go by without reaching out and asking for someone to stand in your corner. In this year, 2020, we all need talk therapy and people therapy more than ever. If you are single, please please move towards people. Yes, I know the church can sometimes seem like a boiling cauldron of mishmashed people with their own needs on full display. Don’t let that stop you, because Christ is at work in His church. Enter in. Reach out. Ask for help.
Son of the Father, husband to Sandy, father of six amazing gifts, Bronx brother, active participant in Believers in Jesus Church, insurance adjuster, occasional runner