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sit walk standOn becoming commissioned as a lay minister, I have to confess, I had some doubts. In fact, it reminded me of the moments right before walking down the aisle. That voice, “Are you out of your mind? This is not for you! Go back!” But of course, whether for courage or stubbornness, I went forward. I walked it.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called . . . [Ephesians 4:1, NKJV]

On Wednesday last, I had the privilege of sharing my commissioning with five other fellow travelers at Restore Church Campus in Havre de Grace.  We were challenged (and entertained) by Don Cox, one of the church mentors and overseers (don’t particularly like that word, but the thesaurus wasn’t much help. Other choice was “head honcho.”) Anyway, his message was powerful and touched on the very heart of my peek into the future: sit, walk, stand. Don promised to speak on the entire book of Ephesians, and so he did, having put a great portion of it to memory.

The three words are echoed in the title of Watchman Nee’s book, but it is not a book for the faint-hearted. Written in the mid-seventies, the book still resonates today.

So what is this odd sequence of sitting and then walking before standing? Sitting is establishing one’s location. Here, and presumably, in Christ. I have written about this myself and find that phrase to be one of the great mysteries. Before anything else can happen or before any “going,” one has to accept the Christ truth and surrender to it. This is primary to faith.

Now, the assumption might be that standing would be next. After all, once in Christ, let me stand and stretch and experience the feeling. Ha Ha. Not so. It’s a go word: walk! And take Christ with you.

It is in this section that I really appreciated Don’s words as he illuminated Ephesians 4:1: not just to walk but to walk worthy. The newer translations say it a little differently, but this particular phrase will be clanging around my spirit for a while. And it’s not about rules or “do’s” or “do not’s.” Instead, we are asked to make decisions along the way, “is this action or this choice worthy of the One who lives within me, the One with whom I share spiritual space?”

And then finally, the moments of standing. Each and every journey has stopping points. Sometimes, they are places to rest, have a drink, eat a bite, and then take up the hike again. Other times, it’s a great wall of unexpected sorrow or diverloss (actually, joy can stop an expedition in its tracks too). These times are the ones where we are encouraged to suit up for the next leg of the journey. In Ephesians, Paul uses the metaphor of a suit of armor. That’s probably not the best one for a 21st century audience, but we get the idea.

So, in a way, there is a resting as we stand, but there is also prepping. And in some cases, we may need to sit again in order to remember how we have come so far and ultimately, why.

I am no different today really than I was a few days ago except for this one truth. I get it. I am in the process of suiting up. Perhaps a better image would be a wet suit before the big plunge. So be it. Let’s roll.

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All believers are stepping stones

Apparently I still need a priest. That title is not in my tradition although there has always been the pastor/preacher who was meant to guide or shepherd the church body (and thereby, me too) as well as deliver messages or teach by way of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In truth, the human versions are often found wanting. Naturally.

Hebrews 7:26, 28b
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. . . . made perfect forever.

On occasion, there are ministers who have crossed my path who have changed my course. In my early days as a Christian in New York, I attended a pentecostal church (much to my own dismay) led by a very old pastor from Norway. I had no personal relationship with him, nor did I find him particularly accessible, but his instruction gave me a hunger for understanding scripture and he was able to explain passages that had stumped me on my own.

Another key pastor in my life was during my early years of marriage while living in Atlanta. He was a brilliant speaker, always intriguing and interesting from the pulpit. He engaged people personally and I am pretty sure everyone who attended that small church had dinner in his home several times a year. It was how his (very southern) family operated. Everyone knew him, warts and all. Through other para-church activities, we became friends and although he was flawed in many ways, his transparency, intelligence, and knowledge of the Bible made a lasting mark. He was our tipping point.

Since then, I have sat under pastors for short periods of time and long. In recent years, I’ve known several pastors of great intelligence who I admired and who gave many words of wisdom and yet, the one thing I longed for was a more personal connection, a sense of camaraderie and kinship. But how could I expect someone who was “ministering” to hundreds or even a thousand of people to guide me? They were simply too busy, too torn by their responsibilities to church and family, too sapped of energy by the truly needy. Oftentimes, I felt like the capable child in a family who everyone assumed was fine, strong, and secure which made it easier to spend time and energy with the struggling one, the emotionally unstable one. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just how things seemed to evolve.

So, what is my relationship really supposed to be with a pastor now? Having known and followed Christ over 30 years, do I still expect a pastor to be a kind of visionary guide who will come and say, “Jesus told me” that you should do such & such? I would be suspicious of that kind of approach anyway.

All right, all right, I know that Christ is the perfect pastor/priest. Christ is the ultimate shepherd, the ultimate guide, and the one to whom I should be looking for direction. I know that, honestly I do. (I also know that the success of such a relationship depends a great deal on my participation, my willingness to listen, and my time spent in silence. This is not a Sunday morning activity alone, but daily. I get that.)

But what, then, is my relationship to these human pastors? These flawed, but loving men and now women, who have felt called to operate in the role of church leader to “equip the saints.” I believe, at this point, based on experience and a certain amount of self-sufficiency (i.e. self-taught Bible study), that I want to walk beside. I skimmed an interesting online article by Craig Bluemel (who on further browse, appears to be controversial), but I did appreciate his view of the “elders” of the church as co-workers with the pastor. That we are no longer in a time when the church should be a pyramid. We all have something to share and teach by the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are all called to serve. We are indeed that priesthood of all believers [I Peter 2:9]. We need to stop looking elsewhere for “spiritual food” and spend more time looking within and sharing with others what we know.

Christ is our High Priest and will be, forever, yes. But we are the bumbling hands and feet and voice, whether trained or not. We are all imperfect. And so, we should combine our gifts and use them corporately to nurture and celebrate the Holy Spirit on earth.

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