In the past few weeks, I have been confronting a reality about myself and what I want and the reality of what God wants. Now, I'm not talking about doing what God needs me to do. I think I've been following His lead on this for quite some time. However, I am talking about dealing with some desires that reside deep within myself.
It's confession time, and I ask my congregation members to please understand that this has nothing to do with you and your actions toward me as your pastor. You are truly a blessing to me. Bear with this post and read to the end. Perhaps, then you may understand better.
While it is my intent and purpose to follow Christ and what He calls me to do as a clergy, I much more clearly understand that He isn't concerned with what we do. I know He cuts to the heart, and He made me look deep down within to see where my heart lies and what it truly desires.
As I read once more Timothy Keller's The Reason for God, I was hit hard by the following statement:
On the Cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth through giving all away. Jesus Christ turns the values of the world upside down...You see. I believe what Keller says here is true. I have preached and proclaimed this. To an extent, I have lived parts of it. But what about deep down. Do I desire this? In my heart, is this the desire that I have for myself and my life?
This upside down pattern so contradicts the thinking of the world that it creates an "alternate kingdom," an alternate reality, a counterculture among those who have been transformed by it. In this peaceable kingdom there is a reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. In this new counterculture, Christians look at money as something to be given away. They look at power as something to use strictly for service. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition, these normal marks of human life, are opposite of the mindset of those who have understood and experienced the Cross. Christ creates a whole new order of life. Those who are shaped by the great reversal of the Cross no longer need self-justification through money, status, career, or pride of race and class. So the Cross creates a counterculture in which sex, money, and power cease to control us and are used in life-giving and community-building rather than in destructive ways. (Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Kindle location 3048)
I climbed down into the recesses of my heart and considered things I had said in conversations with others in the previous week. Here are a few:
"I'm envious of you and those like you who have ranches and property. I want that too."
"In the ELCA, because of my more conservative theology, I have reached the limits of my upward mobility."
"I'd love to be the pastor of a two or three thousand member congregation and get the chance to preach to thousands on a given Sunday."
After hearing about a Methodist pastor who had a $275,000 salary. "Man, I'm in the wrong denomination."
What are some of my heart's desires? Power. Wealth. Status. The exact opposite of the desire of those affected by the Cross of Christ. Deep down, I want to be wealthy. I want to have status. I want people to believe I have something worthwhile to say and that I am an effective apologist and defender of the Christian faith. I want people to change their minds after engaging me and my thoughts (see Who is missing in that statement?).
After reading Keller's statement, I noted this in my Kindle, "O.K., Kevin. Stop grousing and longing for the big congregation and the self-importance and perceived influence you think it will bring. Stop longing for material wealth in the form of a ranch and winning the lottery so you can feel financially secure. Stop dreaming of being more than "just a country preacher " and blossom where God has planted you. Don't just assent to your faith intellectually. Let this go into the depths of your being. Be at peace with who you are instead of what you think you are supposed to be. Truly embrace the counter-cultural nature of this faith you are called to."
I felt no depression writing that statement. I felt no guilt for my desires. I felt like Christ confronted me in a kind, loving, gentle way and said, "I'm here to cleanse this from you. I'm here to free you from all of that so you will be at peace. My plans for you are my own. Release all of this into my care and instead focus on what you know to be true. Concentrate on growing in your relationship with me. That is enough."
And I truly knew this to be trustworthy. I thought about where I am and what I am doing. I thought about my congregation and what I am allowed to do as I serve as their pastor. I thought about the opportunities that have opened up for me and my family in the last couple of years.
I don't own a ranch, but there are several congregation members who allow me access to theirs to hunt, work, relax and get away from the office.
I don't have a two or three thousand member congregation, but I have a mid-sized church that truly cares for people in the community and seeks to make a difference in what they do. I know my people and have developed some deep, personal relationships--relationships that would be impossible in a large congregation.
I don't have status within my denomination or synod, but I am respected in the surrounding community by many because I don't compromise my basic principles--yet, I love, care and show concern for those whose principles are different than my own.
I don't have great material wealth, but I have enough.
I am just a country preacher, and that is enough.
As I was driving back to my hotel Tuesday afternoon after these events took place. I filled my car with gas. I looked at the powerball lottery sign that read $115 million. For an instant, I thought about buying a ticket. I had plenty of one dollar bills. But as I walked toward the doors of the convenient store, I just smiled. I handled my business and walked out without a ticket. There was still a bit of desire, but it was overwhelmed with something greater:
I was at peace.