October 19, 2017

iMonk Classic: Surprising Encouragement

Wheat Field with a Partridge, Van Gogh

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From August 2008

Note from CM: Tomorrow morning, I will preach a sermon on the same basic theme as this post, using the text with which Michael ends his essay. Surely God’s hesed goes before us and surrounds each and every day of our lives.

* * *

Just a couple of stories about the grace that’s all around us, that appears in small ways, and might appear more often if we prayed and took notice of where Jesus said the Kingdom appears.

Story I.

On Thursday, almost everyone I work with was at a waterpark about an hour away, including my family. I opted to stay home and get work done, as school is about to start and I am way behind on several projects that have to be completed soon.

While the entire staff is gone, a volunteer group from one of our supporting churches comes and does whatever needs to be done in order to keep everything safe and running in the absence of all the support staff. These are people who come a very long way just to do a servant ministry on this one day.

So I was on campus and had to go to the main office for a moment, and outside that building was one man from this group, enjoying the beauty of the day on our nearly deserted campus. I passed him going in and spoke briefly, and on my way out I did the same. He was friendly, but it was all small talk.

So as I approached my car across the street from the bench where he was sitting in the yard, he says, “I like that Internet Monk web site.”

Now, a bit of a detour. I’m not the internet monk around here. In fact, while I know a lot of my co-workers read the site, not all do so in a supportive way. So not only do I never mention it, I really make an effort to completely keep it under the radar as much as possible.

But it’s important to know that a good bit of what I do hear is from those few who are offended by something I say. And that has caused me endless hours of stress and confusion over whether I should stop writing or not. My choice, obviously, is to keep writing, because God has given me hundreds of thousands of readers and what happens at this site is, if my mail is accurate, overwhelmingly positive.

I’ve decided that God made me who I am: a communicator and a writer. I can be a better one in my context, but I won’t ever cease to be one.

But I just never know what someone who is a supporter of our ministry thinks, because it’s the nature of things that it’s the criticism that is brought to my attention.

So here sits this Baptist man, a middle aged deacon, and I didn’t even know he knew my name. And he wants to say to me that he, for one, likes this web site and likes what I write.

I turned around and was silent for a moment, then I said “Well, thank you very much. It’s good to hear that.”

He walked toward me and said, “I’ve had some Bible questions I wanted to ask you….” and away we went on the witch at Endor.

I needed that.

Wheat Field with Sheaves, Van Gogh

Story II.

My wife was at work, and the pastor of the local Baptist church came by to talk print shop business.

Being a pastor, the conversation turned to church, and he said “I know you’re going through a transition right now, and I wanted to give you something.”

Background: My wife has been an important part of our local Baptist church. Played the piano for services when asked. Played piano for choir rehearsals a lot. Sang in the choir. She’s loved and liked by the staff and people.

Knowing that they now know she’s going to the Roman Catholic Church, and knowing that I’m deeply struggling with it as a husband and a minister, it’s been difficult for her to know how people feel about her. Especially the pastor. (These are Southern Baptists, who aren’t exactly famous for ecumenical fervor.)

So she was expecting an anti-Catholic tract or some sort of Protestant apologetic book. She’s had some minor brushes with unfriendly comments already from some who attend the church.

He held out to her a crucifix. An older one from its look. A gift for her.

“My step-father was a Catholic, and this belonged to him. I thought you would appreciate it.”

And then he offered to come by and pray with us anytime, and to be pastor to our family in this unusual situation.

My list of people who have responded to all of this with any measure of simple Christian compassion had five names on it. Now I’ll be adding a sixth.

Story III.

There is discouragement in my world, but if I am honest, most of it is smaller than I make it. I am the one who amplifies it most of the time.

As I’ve learned to listen more and more to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I’m learning that Jesus was very dependable when he taught us that the Kingdom of God is upon is. Right here, right now, close by.

I choose to not see it because I am lobbying for that most destructive of emotions: self-pity. Jesus is reminding me that there is sufficiency in the love he extends, and the love he places around us. That love comes in thousands of different ways in a day.

The problem is that I don’t expect it, don’t listen or look for it, don’t live in expectation that his gracious love will meet me throughout the day.

* * *

Lamentations 3:22-24“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Comments

  1. If you haven’t read Lamentations 3 in the Message translation- well worth it:) I really wish I had started reading this site while Michael was still alive. Oh well, I look forward to meeting him in heaven.

  2. alvin_tsf says:

    thank you so much for this. I am, right at this very moment, wallowing in discouragement and…self-pity. it’s sunday morning here in Manila, Philippines. i feel so down. 2 years ago, I gave up my job at a bank to study in seminary full-time, believing that is where God was leading me. to serve His people through preaching and teaching the Bible. it has been a wonderful experience so far. but the situation at my home church has been quite different. since last year, I have had a rocky relationship with our resident pastor. He came in the same time I entered seminary. It has really been difficult for me to play the church “politics” game. mostly because I don’t play it well. and I have been crying out to God, asking Him why ministry became a lot harder since I became involved in a more intense and direct way. and I’ve often thought of giving up, thinking I may have made a mistake in “discerning” His call. but this post reminded me of why I was serving HIm….I gave my life to Him as a response to His steadfast love. I can persevere because of His faithfulness that reaches to the skies and His compassion, it has never failed me. and His kingdom is indeed all around. thanks for reminding to look carefully for it. have a blessed day!

    • alvin_tfs – your comment reminded me of something I read in a book, a true story, God @ Ground Zero by Chaplain Ray Giunta. He was at ground zero for the first 90 days after 9/11. Before he was a chaplain he was a detective with the LAPD and felt the call into ministry. Once his seminary schooling was completed he went into the “church” work and was instantly bored by the “politics” (as you said). Having been a detective he was accustomed to a little more “drama”. And so it went that he became a chaplain and did work in Oklahoma after the bombings and 9/11. Just wanted to share and also a book I highly recommend.

      • alvin_tsf says:

        thanks so much for the recommendation. will try to read it. I have not discounted the fact that God may also be leading me into other types of ministries that are outside the church. bottomline is my continuing response to His grace and presence, which I always need to be reminded of. thanks to everyone for the encouragement. ironically, I constantly read IMonk to be encouraged and realize that I am not alone in my struggles! God bless us all

  3. Jesus is reminding me that there is sufficiency in the love he extends, and the love he places around us. That love comes in thousands of different ways in a day.

    There it is. That preaches.

    T

  4. Also a reminder to us, to be aware of the effect we have on other people whose paths we cross, even briefly.

  5. Father God, I give thanks for this day and all those who struggle around the worls – the Body of Christ including Alvin. You know our hearts – none are not known by you Father for you are Holy and Great. I pray for the Spirit of encouragement for all who seem to be on the edge of faith and trust in Jesus Christ. May they sense the presence of you, Father God in the deep places of their souls where only you Father can touch. Magnify yourself in the hearts and minds and may the Spirit reveal scriptures that would help them. It’s in Jesus Christ I pray for us all – the Body of Christ around the world. Help us to perservere as your children. Amen

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