Thursday, December 2, 2010


A long quote by C. S. Lewis and a short quote by J. R. R. Tolkien regarding vocation:

"Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain...The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public, nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain. And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside, that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric, for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ringer can ever have it." (C. S. Lewis, "The Inner Ring")

"Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere." Elrond (The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 283)

I find that I need constant reminders about what is most important in my vocation. Lewis's essay, "The Inner Ring," is both convicting and inspiring every time I read it. I still feel the temptation in me at times to pursue the inner ring, though I have made it my passion and my commitment, as far as I am able, to simply be a sound craftsman. I want to be a sound craftsman in my vocation as a minister of word and sacrament. And though the world, and perhaps even others in my vocation, may look at my craft as the work of small hands, I truly believe that it is the kind of work that helps to move the wheels of the world.

And when I think of all of that, I am humbled and I am content. Truly, the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places (Ps. 16:6).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Comapny They Keep

About a year ago I read Diana Pavlac Glyer's wonderful book The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community.

As a fan of both Tolkien and Lewis, it was wonderful and fascinating to read about their creative process.

A large part of Glyer's book examines Tolkien, Lewis, and the rest of the Inklings as resonators, opponents, editors, and collaborators. It was simply amazing to discover how much these great writers wanted and received input from their friends during the creative process.

As a pastor, I immediately began to think of correlations between their work and mine. I crave the input and feedback of others in my work of preaching, teaching, and ministry leadership. I would even go so far as to say that these kinds of interactions with holy friends are vital to my pursuit of faithfulness and excellence in ministry. Here's what Jones and Armstrong, in their book Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry say about such friendships:
“How do holy friends shape us in our discernment, and in our growth? Holy friends are those who, over time, get to know us well enough that they can challenge sins we have come to love, affirm gifts we are afraid to claim, and dream dreams about how we can bear witness to God's kingdom that we otherwise would not have dreamed.”
I have been blessed to have a few such friends, but I want more.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Value of Repeated Words

I'm not sure a pastor can overestimate the value of repeated words. You see we are so prone to doubt and forgetfulness, at least I am, that we need to hear things over and over again.

We understand this truth in some of the other contexts of life. It still moves my heart for my wife to tell me, "I love you," even though I have heard her say that literally thousands of times.

Our children hear us pray for them every night that "they would never know a day they did not love and trust the Lord Jesus as their Lord and Savior." (I learned this phrase by hearing it over and over again from my pastor during my years in seminary.)

A couple of weeks ago, when my small children were struggling a bit with all of the new things that have come with our move (home, school, routines, etc.), I told each of them at different times - "I have a job for you." I said, "I have an important job for you, do you think you can do it?" "Sure!" was the confident reply. I said, "Your job today is to remember that your Daddy loves you. Can you do that?" Each time a little face lit up, I received a nod or a "Yes," and I could see a precious soul encouraged. It's only been a couple of weeks, but now, as they are heading out to school, I just have to say - "Do you remember your job?" or "Remember your job today, okay?" and I see fresh encouragement. Repeated words are that powerful.

God himself filled the Bible with repeated words and phrases. "I will be your God, and you will be my people" is the refrain of God's love song to his people on page after page of Holy Scripture.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "It is no trouble for me to say the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you." (Philippians 3:1)

Repeated words are powerful. And the particular repeated words may change with a change in context, or perhaps over time, but it is hard for me to imagine pastoral ministry now without them.

Here are some of the repeated words I have heard myself saying over and over again:

(In pastoral conversation with someone struggling to believe that Jesus really takes away the guilt and the shame of sin)

"Listen to me. As a minister of the gospel, and on the authority of God's word, I tell you that your sins are forgiven because of Jesus."

(as a part of the liturgy of the Lord's Service)

-the Declaration of Forgiveness
"Almighty God, in his mercy, has given his Son to die for you, and for His sake forgives you of all of your sins. Therefore, upon your confession, I declare to you that God forgives you of all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

-at the Lord's Table
"May our faith grow even now, so that we would believe more than ever before in the reality of our salvation - that our salvation is as real as the taste of this bread and the scent of this cup - for we pray in Jesus' name. Amen." (I also learned this phrase from Dr. George Robertson, my pastor during my seminary years, by hearing him use it so often.)

Don't people come to know what I'm going to say at certain times and in certain contexts? Yes. But they like it.

Can't repeated words, especially in a liturgy, become a lifeless routine? Yes. But abuse does not negate proper use. When the words of worship become a lifeless routine we must act pastorally and relationally - calling brothers and sisters to repentance and falling on our knees ourselves and praying that God would send again seasons of refreshing through the Savior appointed for us, even Jesus (Acts 3:19-20).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Quotes I love

“Fairy tales don’t tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” - G.K. Chesterton

"Don't just stand there, go and die." - Jack Miller

"If you make me laugh I know I can make you like me. Cause when I laugh I can be a lot of fun." - Rich Mullins

"Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere." - Elrond (The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 283)

The stories go unnoticed not because they are kept secret but because the people around are blind to God. So many eyes, glazed by television, don't see the God stories being enacted right before them, sometimes in their own homes. It is my task, I have decided, to see, to listen.
- Eugene Peterson - Under the Unpredictable Plant