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Friday, 20 September 2013

Do all dogs go to heaven

Babette, my faithful dog died this afternoon and as we went and took care of all the details to properly take care of her body, I couldn't help but think about the movie All Dogs Go to Heaven and found myself hoping it is so. Theologically it may not be so orthodox and I may be held to task for this because I'm a pastor, but dogs, especially pet dogs are a wonderful gift from God that keeps on giving. Babette often reminded me of this; she reminded me of what a sinner is all about, often deliberately being disobedient and then coming up to me, head hung low, but with a seeming grin also on her face as she counted on my forgiveness and love. There were times when she even took great joy in her disobedience, her tail wagging away as she would refuse to come when I called, even when I was offering her a treat. She would only come when she felt it was time to come. That so often reflects my own relationship with God, I too find myself sometimes dragging my feet when I sense God calling me to a certain path or task.
Babette was great at evangelism, she was friendly to everyone in our neighbourhood and was well known, even by those who didn't have dogs. I can't count the number of times she has startled people by jumping up at them, looking for a friendly pet on the head, with a great grin on her face that made her look fierce and scary. But after being here 10 years now, most people know how loving and gentle she was. The people in our neighbourhood know me as Babette's owner, the religious guy who works at the church on the corner, the guy we can stop by and talk to any time. It is going to be strange to walk through the neighbourhood without her.
I always joked that every pastor needs a dog because, like God, they love you unconditionally and that even when my wife, my kids, my church or all of them together would be angry and frustrated with me, Babette would still love me and lovingly accept me for who I am no matter how badly I messed up. I would come into the house after a day at work, whether good or tough, and Babette would be there with her tail wagging, eager to greet me.
I already miss her, but am also so thankful to God for having had her as part of our family for the past 10 years and just maybe I'll see her again one day in heaven!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Time to Simply Think

It's amazing how quickly time goes by in September. Even though I'm on sabbatical, time hasn't slowed down. This is usually the busiest time of the year with the church's ministries starting up again, making sure our safe church policies are reviewed and carried out, our corn roast by the cadets and Bible studies and small group studies all beginning to meet again. It's wonderful to have a good leadership team in place as I haven't worried once about how the start is going.
So far, the first two weeks of the sabbatical have been filled with reading, study, some writing, and a whole lot of thinking and reflecting. It's wonderful to have the time to simply think. There's a lot to think about: my relationship with God, my family, with the church among other things. But my thoughts keep going back to how the past 10 years have gone here in First Montreal; where I've messed up and failed and where, thanks to God and His working in and through me, I've been able to do well and help various people and the church move forward. I've realized that it's much easier to list what I consider failures as I've been reminded often by different people when I have not lived up to their expectations, or I have simply and truly messed up. I went into ministry to help people find healing in God, and the hardest part of failing as a pastor is that often it involves people getting hurt, kind of the opposite of what I prayed God would do through me.
However, thanks to a wise counselor and friend, I'm coming to see that what I may consider a failure can often be a part of God's plan and a part of the journey of healing or growth that God has been taking us on. Sometimes we need to experience deep hurt before we allow God to work in us. Some time we need to suffer so we can understand how great our need is for healing; healing that only God can do. The very words I've so often used to encourage others during difficult times, I needed to hear myself. I thank God for the wisdom and faith of this counselor!
This has raised up a concern at the same time. Who do pastors go to when they experience a crisis; either as a pastor called into a situation, or in our own life situations. As my counselor mentioned, those who work in the mental health field undergo debriefings regularly to help them maintain their own mental health and deal with the stress and trauma they go through. As pastors we may have peer learning groups, regional pastors, and ministerial associations where we can find support and encouragement, but my own experience has shown my the value of trained professional counseling. I began my first session trying to stay in control, but through the counselor's skills and persistence, she worked past my control to the hurt and pain I often tuck away. Often pastors have no choice to just tuck this stuff away as there is always something else needing our attention, another person needing someone to help them see that God is near, so it's easy to not deal with it until it's too late.
I wonder if pastors and their elders need to sit down more often and talk openly about the pastor's emotional and spiritual needs, asking if there are things the pastor should be talking about and isn't? I wonder if we as pastors need to be pushed to find a trusted Christian counselor and be strongly encouraged to meet with them a couple times each year to hear those words, "God is here and He is working in you and through you, often through those painful moments you don't want to deal with." Just a thought.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sabbatical time

It's been a while since I've posted. It's been a busy time getting ready to take advantage of the gift the church has given me of a 3 month sabbatical. I have been fascinated by the reaction of many people who see this as an extended vacation rather than as a part of the rhythm of being in ministry, but I've been very encouraged by support and encouragement of the leadership in the church who have walked with me and my family through the past 10 years that we've been here. My elders and deacons have worked closely with me to shape this sabbatical with my needs, but also the needs of my wife and family in mind. They realize that a refreshed pastor is also a blessing for the church. I've been given three months to do some reading and writing, receive personal counseling to work through the highs, the lows and the regular times of ministry over the past 10 years and how it has shaped me, and finally time to get away with my wife for a week at a Focus on the Family retreat center where together we'll spend some time reflecting together on the past 10 years and do some reflecting on where God is leading us and dreaming about the possibilities of what God may have in store for us as a family and in our church.
It's only been a week but I can already feel the difference as I settle into a different routine, one that allows me to spend evenings at home with my family, gives me time to do some reflecting, and to rest. The rest part has surprised me the most. Sabbatical comes from the Hebrew root for rest, but it has still been a very pleasant surprise to experience it. The rest is not necessarily physical rest, most of the rest has come from not needing to be responsible for most of the day to day and week to week organization of the church, a release from needing to be present at the various meetings in the church, and a release of responsibility and authority to the elders and deacons for the next 3 months. I am blessed with wonderful leaders, both within council and in the church who are very gifted and committed to our church and where God is leading us, and who He is transforming us into as His presence here in the island of MontrĂ©al.
Before answering the call into ministry, I never appreciated how much the pastor carries in his or her heart and mind for and from the congregation and the community around the church. There are the times of celebration and joy, the times of struggle, and the times of grief and suffering and they all come to rest in the soul of the pastor because of the love we carry for the people God has placed us among. These have all found a place inside me and they are now a part of who I am. It is an honour to have all these moments within me as I have been blessed to have been invited into the most private and intimate moments of peoples' lives to help them see how God is present with them. The blessing of this sabbatical is that I now have the time to reflect on how these have shaped me over the years and to become more self aware of who I am becoming as a person and a pastor. Already after one session of counseling I have been able to let go of some of the hurt inside and see how God has used this to shape me and to be a blessing to others in it.
Over the next 3 months I hope to share some of what I am learning during this sabbatical through this blog. I am looking forward to the opportunity to have times to "be still and know God," to learn more about myself, and to do some focused reading and writing. Stay tuned.