Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Learning with an Old Dog

As pastors go, I'm kind of an old dog.  An "old dog" in the sense of the saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."  But I am learning new tricks.  I'm learning new ways of doing what I've always done (for the last 25 years) and I'm learning to do new things.  I'm learning these new things because because some of my old ways don't fit me as well as they did.  The reasons for this and the details of what I'm learning could fill several books.

In my last blogpost (written Sunday morning just before worship) I spoke of a series of messages on discipleship that I tried to begin that morning.  I say "tried to begin" because I'm not sure that first one of the series went so well.  I felt awkward as I got past the first few minutes of the message.  I felt a bit like I was learning to ride a bike all over again.  It was frustrating.  I felt embarrassed.  It's been a long time since I've felt that out of sorts while preaching.  I was glad when it was over.

Now, I'm not saying any of this to gain sympathy or to have people tell me that "it wasn't so bad."  I'm sharing this to sort of "dare" myself and other old dogs to put new learnings into practice, even when it's awkward at first.

So what's new about how I tried to preach on Sunday?  For 25 years I've mostly followed the pattern that my former church denomination followed.  Now I'm launching off in a new direction, joining together with Pastor Per Nilsen and his team, a team that meets every few weeks to pray and plan for the upcoming weeks of worship.  I think one reason it felt awkward last Sunday was that I hadn't yet met with the "Nilsen team."  I'm looking forward to meeting with them tomorrow.

The important thing is that I keep learning from Jesus.  If He is leading me to do things in new ways, which I believe He is, then it's good to follow.  This is true even when it doesn't "feel" good at the beginning.  Feeling good or comfortable is no guarantee that we are doing the Lord's will.  Having a group to learn with, like the group I'll be meeting to pray and plan with tomorrow--that's no guarantee either--though it is a lot better than just trying to figure things out alone.

I've been reading one of C. S. Lewis' lesser known works over the past few days.  A Grief Observed is a series of reflections written following the death of the author's wife.  It's not a book Lewis' planned to write.  As a matter of fact, he mostly wrote it as a way for him to work through the emotional minefield that huge loss brought his way.  It's a very personal book (he first published it under a pseudonym) and is only about one particular tragedy (he married late in life and his wife died within three years of their marriage).  Even so, as I read it, I could relate to it in many ways.  Grief has been my companion (our companion really) in recent years too. 

Getting back to the subject at hand, as Lewis writes, he moves along, bit by bit, finally coming to the point where he can see that God may be teaching him through the loss.  Lewis doesn't mean that God somehow made his wife die, but he does claim that God could very well be like a schoolmaster who might say something like, "'Good; you have mastered that... I am very pleased... And now you are ready to go on to the next.'

Lewis struggled tremendously through his loss.  I've struggled through mine.  All of us do.  Still, we can choose to remember that God is somehow, ultimately, in control.  (That's bearable only because of Jesus.)  And, if God is somehow in control, we can be confident that there is something to be learned in every situation, even the most painful, even the most tragic.  We can learn.  We can change.  We can grow.

I don't think I ever "mastered" the business of being a more-or-less traditional Lutheran pastor.  I may, however, from God's point of view, have done just about as much I could have in that role.  I don't know that for sure, but, because I do trust that God is indeed wanting to teach me, I'll accept the changes in my life as ways that He is bringing me into a new place so I can keep learning from Him.  I'm still a Lutheran pastor in my basic theological outlook, but not in the way I used to be.  Things have changed and I've moved on to the next lesson.  Perhaps this is also true for you.

I'd suggest, if it is true for you, that you not try to learn alone.  Come alongside people like those at Crossroads who are trying to learn new ways.  Be patient through the learning and be desperate in prayer, and join hands with others along the way.  Together, we can learn what He is desiring to teach.

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