Monday, July 29, 2013

Betwixt and between

It’s Monday, my last Monday at Mayo Clinic.  At the end of the day on Wednesday I will leave Mayo as ‘retired.’  As I've noted before, I won’t really be retired, but just ending my employment at Mayo, with a few weeks before starting to serve as pastor at the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church in Dulce, NM.

I have tried to savor these last days, the final week at Mayo, the final week of a 27 year career.  Doing a particular task for perhaps the last time.  Walking through a hallway for the last time.  Having a conversation with a particular person for the last time. 

And my awareness of this sense of finality has been aided by two things.  One has been my co-workers frequently asking me “How many more days?”  And the other has been in conversations with people I have worked with for many years, as we talk about what it is like to leave and to stay.  I have both asked the question and had the conversation in the past, although it was I who was staying and someone else who was leaving.

As my career at Mayo winds down I feel both at home there and a bit detached.  I am separating from Mayo, while my co-workers and the Clinic will be continuing on.  I am stepping off of one path, but not quite stepping onto the other.  I feel betwixt and between, in a middle and unresolved place.  No longer fully part of either one place or the other.

As I was thinking about this I remembered reading a book, Resident Aliens, several years ago.  The main point of the book was that Christians live in the world, but not as people who are fully of the world.  Christians are people who, because they have placed their faith in Jesus and are united to Him as His disciples, are really citizens of another place.  They are called to live and serve in the world, in the knowledge that their true homeland is somewhere else.  As they live, grow and serve in Christ they do so as foreigners, in a foreign land.

In his letter to the Philippians the apostle Paul writes,

 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Experiencing the end of my time at Mayo and anticipating the beginning of our time in Dulce has heightened my awareness that home isn't really at Mayo, it won’t be in Dulce, nor will I truly find it in the space I share with my family.  As a Christian, home, in the truest sense of the word, is that place prepared for me by my Savior, where He will one day call me to.

And lastly, as I was pondering these thoughts on my way to work this morning this song was playing on the radio, another gentle reminder from God as to where home really is.  May I continue to serve God here in this world as I await the time of His choosing to bring me home.  And may you do so too, to His joy and glory. 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The county fair and eternal joy

Today was the last day of our county fair.  We went there after church and, to tell the truth, it wasn’t the kind of place I was anticipating that God would reveal Himself.  But He did, in a surprising and delightful way.

This afternoon a person could get a pass and have unlimited rides at the fair midway.  We got a pass for our daughter and watched her go from ride to ride to ride.  There were a few that she thought would be too much for her to handle, and a few that she rode more than once.  There was one ride that she rode five times in a row.

After those five rides we persuaded her to take a break so that we could go have a snack and sit a while, before returning to ride some more.  And when we went back to the midway she went straight to that one particular ride and rode it at least ten more times, all in a row. 

It wasn’t a very busy ride and as soon as she got off she ran around to the start and got on again.  She was by herself but had no hesitation about asking people if she could sit with them, and as we watched her they rarely said ‘no.’ 

She sat with boys, girls, teenagers, grown-ups.  It didn’t matter to her.  She put her arms in the air as the ride swung back-and-forth, screeching to her heart’s content.  And when it finished she got off, ran around to the front and got back on, enthusiastically riding another time.

As she rode, again and again, I saw unending delight in her face.  It just kept going and going.  And as I noticed that delight I had a glimpse of the kind of joy that awaits all Christians in our eternal home in heaven.

In heaven there will be joy that is full and complete, in ways that we can’t fully grasp in this life.  It will be a joy that will be unending and always delightful.  It will touch our deepest places.  Every recess of every wounded heart will know healing.  

Our joy won’t be because of what we will be doing, but the source of our joy will be because of the one who has called us to heaven and with whom we will dwell forever, Christ Jesus, our faithful Lord and Savior.

In Revelation 7:17 John writes,

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The image that John gives here is but one glimpse of the joy of heaven.  I count myself blessed that my wife and I were able to see an image of that kind of joy in our daughter today.  An image that points to the unending, eternal joy to be known in Christ Jesus.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Are you excited?

“Are you excited?”  That is a question I have heard a lot this week, perhaps a bit more with each day.

I am excited, and that sense is growing, but is also tempered by what is, I hope, a realistic sense of what lies ahead.

Today is Wednesday and by the end of the work day next Wednesday I will be “retired” from my job at Mayo Clinic, the job I have had for 27 years.  That is a significant period of time to work in the same place and I have met many good people, both employees and patients, over the course of those years.  But like all things do, my time at Mayo is coming to an end.  The day is rapidly approaching where the faces, the routines, which are so familiar, will change.  In a sense they will change dramatically.  Next week I will go to work on Wednesday morning, much as I have since 1986, and when I return home in the evening it will be with the knowledge that I won’t be returning to work there again.  That moment on Wednesday afternoon will be the end of one thing and another step to the next significant thing.

I am not retiring in the traditional sense, the one where every day is Saturday.   I am leaving Mayo as retired by virtue of being of an age and years of employment that meet the retirement criteria.  My retirement from Mayo is because I have been called into another vocation, to serve as the pastor of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church.

Leaving a place and vocation that I know well for a place and vocation that are new to me will be a pretty big change.  There is going to be a lot of adjustment.  There will be a steep learning curve.  And my family will be along for the ride.

I am excited about the moving into pastoral ministry for what I anticipate to be the last phase of my working career.  I am excited to move into a new community, to meet new people and to live in what for me is a new part of the country.  I am excited to be doing this with Robin and our youngest daughter.  And I am glad that they are excited about these changes too. 

But I also have a sense of realism of the task that lies ahead.  Like many other vocations, including the vocation of being a parent, there are all manner of things that can happen in pastoral ministry that can’t really be prepared for but instead have to be experienced.  I can learn and study and think about this and that, but I won’t really understand many situations fully until after they have happened and I have had a chance to think back on them and the way I handled them.

And I know that being a pastor is a big responsibility, not just in the sense of the things to be done among the congregation and community, but particularly in spiritual responsibility.  Among the wisdom Paul gives to Timothy about his vocation are these words:

“By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

We are off from Rochester to Dulce because we, and most particularly me, have been called there by God to serve among His people.  It will be big changes in many ways.  Some parts may come easily and others certainly won’t.  But we serve a big God, a God who is always good, a God who is always faithful, and most importantly, a God who reveals Himself personally through His Son, Christ Jesus.

We go in faith to serve this God, to His glory, now and forever.

Yeah, I am excited!

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


“Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
    nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
   that yields its fruit in its season,
   and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
  for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.”

I like to read.  So does my wife.  She taught elementary school for 27 years and now home-schools our youngest.  I am in a career change from health care to pastoral ministry.  Given our ages, vocational interests and just the other kinds of things that we enjoy one of the results is that we have accumulated quite a few books. 

In the spring of last year we moved from the house I had lived in for 19 years.  In the process of moving we down-sized a bit.  Clothes, furniture, books and all manner of other things.  As we get ready to move again, this time to a place that we anticipate calling “home” for a longer period of time, we are paring down again.  Dining room table, car, some more clothes, and a few books are all on the way out.

But as we pack our things the thing that we seem to have in the largest supply is books.  We have boxes and boxes and boxes of books.  I’ll confess that most of them are mine, and that I have continued to accumulate books during the year we have lived in our present home.

Many of the books I have are connected to my transition into ministry.  As we have approached this time and place I have sought out books that would be useful in ministry.  Commentaries on the Bible.  Books about theology, preaching and counseling.  Some history and biography.  Reference books. 

And amidst all of those books are a few that hold positions theologically that I don’t agree with.  They are the kinds of books that give me clarity in understanding why I do believe the things I do.  And there are a number books I have had for years and years.  Books that “I haven’t gotten around to reading yet but think that I still may read them someday.”

Out of all of these books only one really stands out as distinct from all the others, and that is my Bible. 

My Bible, and only my Bible, is the book that touches my heart again and again as I read from it.  It is the book that feeds my soul and sets the compass of my life.  It grounds me in knowing who God is, who I am, and how we should interact with each other. 

Article 2 of the Belgic Confession says that there are two ways in which God reveals himself to the world.  The first is in a general way, in what we may observe and perceive of God in nature.  The second way is through the Bible, where the Confession says,

“He makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.”

I have lots of books, but only one that really matters.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 15, 2013


We have been waiting.  We are waiting.  A few words on the past wait and then a few on the present one.

My wife, Robin, and I have been waiting on a call to pastor a church.  Actually, I have been the one waiting for the call.  I’m the one with the seminary degree and who feels led by God to serve as a pastor.  But we go as a couple, (and even better with our daughter, as a family), to wherever it is that God is leading.  So in a sense we are both called.  We both need to feel that the place where I am called is the place where God is leading both of us to serve among His people.

Last week the call came and I will be serving as the pastor of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church in Dulce, NM.  We don’t know the particulars of when we will be moving but we are beginning to pack and dispose of some things we won’t be need when we get there.

The waiting has been longer than we anticipated it would be.  I graduated from seminary two years ago and at that time we imagined things would be settled in less than a year.  I sent information out to many churches and had an interview every few months, rising on the lists of several search committees but never reaching the top until last week. 

That process was occasionally disappointing but we were okay with it.  We never expected God’s call to be something that would dramatically come in all capital letters, i.e. “BRAD, I AM SENDING YOU TO…”  We did think that however long it took that things would work out in a reasonable manner, following the steps of the process our denomination uses.  And it has.

Our time of waiting has been good for us.  It has allowed us to spend some time with family and friends that we hadn’t anticipated having.  It has allowed us to practice patience in circumstances that could easily have pushed our patience to its limits.  It has allowed us to think through some of the implications of our eventual move and make decision about things that hadn’t come to mind earlier.  We have trusted that God knew what was in our future and that He would reveal it according to His plan. 

We are glad to be done waiting for a call, and to know where and with whom we will be serving.  What we have been waiting for is now in the past. 

And we are waiting.  Yesterday the verdict came down in the George Zimmerman case, where he was charged in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  I’ll state at the beginning that I only know the barest of the facts of the case from when the shooting first took place and I haven’t followed any of the coverage of the trial.       

My wife has followed the case, and she has an understanding of the issues underlying it that I don’t have.  She raised two biracial children in her first marriage.  As we traveled in the car yesterday she shared with me a perspective on race that I wouldn’t have come to know any other way.  She also wrote about some of her thoughts in her blog, which can be read here.

I don’t know much about the Zimmerman case but as I consider what little I do know of it, add the insight Robin has given me into racial issues, and remember the presence of injustice large and small throughout our world, I am reminded that we who call ourselves disciples of Christ Jesus are still waiting. 

We are waiting for the promised return of our Lord and Savior, and with His return the setting right of all things, for all time. 

I could wait for His return passively, sitting and reading my Bible, which teaches that things will get worse before He comes.  I could wait knowing that injustice of every kind will escalate, taking forms that I can barely imagine.

Or I can wait actively, knowing that in the big picture He calls all of His disciples to discern and be obedient to His will.  In what ways and in what places is God calling me to use the gifts He has given me to shine His light in an unjust world?  That is the question before me, again, and again.

The last words in the Bible attributed to Jesus are Revelation 22:20,

“Surely, I am coming soon.”

And I as I remember this promise of Jesus I join the Apostle John in his response,

“Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”

We are waiting, in confidence, for the glorious return of the King.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Imperishable, undefiled and unfading

My wife, Robin, and I are currently reading 1 Peter.  When we read the opening portion verse 4 just jumped out at both of us.  Peter is writing of the hope that awaits all believers in Jesus, saying they will receive:

“…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading…”

What I have included above is a phrase from verse 4, a small part of a longer sentence running from verses 3 through 5, but in three powerfully chosen and well-placed words Peter richly describes the nature of eternal life in Christ that awaits all who have faith in Him.

Eternal life in Christ is imperishable.  It is something that we will receive and which will never end.  As I look out my window I can see two barns about 100 yards from our house.  Well, one barn and the collapsed barn.  There is a picture at our local history center that shows this farm site 60 or so years ago.  The farm was in its prime then.  Classic Americana.  But time has taken its toll, and some parts are suffering more than others.  One barn fell several years ago, during a particularly severe winter, and the other barn needs serious attention.  Without regular attention the farm site will perish.

But eternal life will not perish.  It is not subject to the ravages of time and weather, nor does it require the attention of human hands to keep things in good order.  It is kept in good order through the finished work of Christ.  The promise of God is that eternal life is just that.  Eternal.

Secondly, eternal life is undefiled.  There will be nothing about it that is impure.  There will be no imperfections, ever.  The nectarines Robin recently bought were not quite ripe.  She left them on the counter a few days and they became juicy and delightful.  But left out a few more days and it would be a different story.  The nectarines would begin to decay and there would be no possibility of enjoying them. 

One of the promises of heaven is that all of the sin that still taints our lives, sin that lingers now even as we believe in Christ, will be gone.  As the Psalmist says in Psalm 51, we will be washed and whiter than snow.  There will both a place and a people that will eternally be in the perfection that existed at Creation.

And lastly, eternal life is unfading.  There is nothing about the beauty and glory of our heavenly inheritance that will diminish over time.  Nothing will lose its luster. Ever.  I’m certain that the truck currently parked near the barn brought delight to its first owner.  Shiny, gleaming, and with that “new car smell.”  But when I see it now, parked as it has been for a period of time that no one seems to know, it has faded, to say the least.  It would be possible to restore the truck to a condition near to that when it was new, but that is likely not in the future of this truck.

But a restoration of infinite worth awaits believers at the resurrection.  We will be brought to a perfect state that is beyond our ability to fully grasp, and like every other aspect of eternal life, it will be both perfect and unchanging. 

Imperishable. Undefiled. Unfading.  May you find your hope and know peace in the promises of God for all who call in faith on Christ Jesus. 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.