Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Here's what's bugging me

Jeremiah 1:4-10
The word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the LORD."
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me,
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

Several years ago Gary Larson published a cartoon in his Far Side series.  It was a picture of a bum propped up against the side of a city building.  Seated next to him is a human-sized bug, antennae and all.  There are beer cans all around on the ground.  The bug says to the bum, "I used to be a big-shot... had a corner office and everything... then one day this guy comes into my office and says, 'hey, he's nothing but a big cockroach!'"

I don't know which is worse, Jeremiah saying, "I am only a boy," which he probably wasn't at that point,  or God saying to Jeremiah, "I have appointed you as a prophet to the nations."  Either way, Jeremiah know's he's in trouble.  

Anyone who tells God, "I am only a boy" is really saying, "I'm just not up to the job you've got in mind for me."  John Eldridge, in his challenging book, Wild at Heart talks quite directly to men who feel this way.  A man, he says, needs to know that he's up to the task -- and it takes a Dad to say it.  For some reason, mom just can't instill that in a young man.  If your dad called you a failure as your were growing up or refused to approve positive directions you wanted to go in, you're likely going to have a hard time as an adult feeling like you're really up to the challenge.  Or worse, you'll always be trying to prove yourself and overcompensating.  I'll be honest.  I suffer from this myself.  I've never felt like I was quite fully grown up.  And I have had both responses.  I have shrunk back from trying something because I didn't believe I could do it, and I have forged ahead just to prove I could when others told me it was impossible.

What would be so hard about having a right assessment of myself and just being able to relax and do what I hear God telling me?

On the other end we have God telling Jeremiah that he's a prophet to the nations.  Wow, shades of Elmer Gantry, George Carlin, and a little Steve Martin thrown in.  Or, if you like, you can consider people who actually believe or believed themselves to be prophets.  Many of them have started religions along the way, and often with kind of disasterous results.    

If we get off our high horse for a moment and realize that anyone who presumes to be a preaching pastor (and there are other kinds of pastors) is really called to prophetic ministry, then every preaching pastor should take God's words to Jeremiah very seriously and soberly: you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  In accepting the call to preach, every pastor needs God to "touch his mouth."  Interestingly, one of God's angels touched another prophet's mouth.  Isaiah had confessed to being a man of unclean lips, and God cleansed his sin before sending him out.  Not so here.  Jeremiah is no more holy than Isaiah, but a foul mouth is not Jeremiah's particular sin.  

The final statement in the passage is almost poetic, and it begins with the left hand:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

Sometimes things must be pulled down before they can be built up.  And so God says Jeremiah is over nations (people groups) and over kingdoms (political entities).  What follows is all negative.  He is to pluck up and pull down, destroy and overthrow.   That has to happen before he can build and plant.  A pastor often has to tear down the very thing he has been set over -- the people groups and political entities of his church -- and not just when he first arrives.  Churches become complacent when they can identify 'our people'.  They become downright dangerous when they can identify streams of power 'my position'.   A wise pastor knows when things are getting too comfy and does something about it.  An unwise, or simply green pastor blows it all up too early in the process and may never get the chance to build and to plant.

Jon


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