Sometimes Ministry Shrapnel Runs Deep

Korean_War_shrapnel_ankle_X-rayHave you ever heard those stories of war-torn heroes who have memories and keepsakes of battle lodged in their bodies?  They have fought hard battles and shrapnel sometimes gets embedded where it cannot be removed.  Years later, when all but the scars are seemingly forgotten, the shards begin to migrate around the body, reminding that veteran of his valiant history – and sometimes threatening his well-being.

Sometimes ministry shrapnel is like that.

We face battles.  Sometimes we conclude service with wounds, scars, and shrapnel.  And sometimes the shrapnel is deeper and more difficult than we ever dreamed.  And just when we think those days are behind us, those sharp metal memories begin to snake their way around our systems.

Never underestimate (as I have) the seriousness of ministry shrapnel.  Don’t deny its existence.  And don’t let it lie dormant until it migrates to your vital organs.

You may be battle-weary.  You have earned those stripes.  And Jehovah Rapha (Our God is Healer) sees every bit of shrapnel you carry, where it came from, how long you’ll be nursing those wounds, and when your medical treatment will be complete.

Be brave.  Be strong – and courageous.  Be healed.

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#firstworldproblems

My iPod loses its charge too fast.

That stupid special report interrupted my favorite show.

Traffic sucked and I had to wait in line at Wal-Mart for like 40 minutes.

Welcome to #firstworldproblems.

Recently, I was having a conversation with some youth ministry buddies about our woes in youth ministry.  Let’s compare and contrast.

Our elders have just reduced our insurance benefit.  #firstworldproblems

My friend Leah lives in a grass hut in Africa where she has no running water.  She poops in a hole in the ground, has eaten more than an occasional bug, and puts her life at risk every day in a politically volatile part of the country…not to mention mosquitoes and malaria.

We didn’t get our Christmas bonus this year.  #firstworldproblems

My friends Julian and Amy are chained to this country while their heart engages the people of China.  They wait patiently for God to release them while wondering why he hasn’t yet.  And their people await their arrival.

No one even mentioned Pastor Appreciation this year.  #firstworldproblems

I hear the voices of countless missionaries who served their entire lives with nary a thank you.  Martyrs in countries around the world sacrifice everything – their very lives – for the cause of the gospel.   Pastors preach the word under cover of night so they won’t be imprisoned.

I can’t get a job in youth ministry anywhere.  #firstworldproblems

I have good friends all over the country, Justin and others,  who work their regular jobs and STILL serve God by serving students.  They get nothing – no benefits, no bonuses, no paychecks, and very little, if any, appreciation.  They do it because they love Jesus and embrace the call.

Katie asked me this morning what I would do if I was never able to find a job in the church again.  I have no idea – but I do know this.  That’s a #firstworldproblem.

Don’t misunderstand.  My convo with my buddies has legitimacy   Churches should provide well for those they hire.  Appreciation should not be an anomaly   A workman is worth his or her wage.

I have just realized these past months that those concerns should not dominate me or my focus.  (And they have – at least at times throughout my ministry.)  But they’re ultimately #firstworldproblems and I want to be #otherworldfocused.

The Great Youth Ministry Tramp

As ministers, we must be willing to admit that ministerial success often becomes the real basis for our joy and significance, much more so than the love and acceptance we have in Jesus Christ. Ministry success often becomes what we look to in order to measure our worth to others and our confidence before God. ”    – Tim Keller  (read the whole post here)

A good friend of mine posted this blog by Tim Keller today.  It rocked my world….again.  I have been wrestling with the truth of equating youth ministry success with the sufficiency of God for a good half year now.  After 23 years of ‘in the trenches’ ministry, I realized I had a mistress – and I’m not even sure when I got into bed with her.

Ministry is a sneaky seductress that looks so much like your First Love when it all begins – sometimes it’s easy to mistake the two.

When I was a kid, we had a set of twins in our school.  Suzanne and Suzette.  I could never, ever tell them apart.  I was never so excited as I was the day they determined to no longer dress alike.  Now that we’re all grown, I can easily tell them apart (no matter who is wearing the striped shirt and crazy jams – hey, it was the 80’s!)  I look at them now and wonder how I could have ever mistaken the two.

About six months ago, I had that same realization about ministry and my walk with Jesus.  Early on, ministry was because of Jesus.  But somewhere along the line, ministry became my Jesus.  And I didn’t even know it.  That little success-harlot gave me a sideways glance and I only recognized her as my True Love.  She spent a long time  patiently wooing me from the One who truly had my heart.  She wasn’t flirty.  She wasn’t sly.  She was sinister, cold, and calculated.  It was as though the witch had taken the form of the Princess – and I was none the wiser.

But, as often happens in a relationship, trial by fire came.  And the disguise was no longer a sufficient ruse.  The skank reared her ugly head and I realized I’d been had.  I had been sleeping with the enemy all this time. Looking back, I wonder how I ever confused the two.  The differences are so obvious to me now – but they were so veiled early on…

The sad part…even now that I KNOW I was tricked by that *!%^$@ – I still fight the draw back to her poisonous lips.  She whispers sweetly – her perfume intoxicating – her promises empty, but alluring.

The hardest thing on your relationship with Jesus is ministry – their appearance so similar, it’s other-worldly.  Know your First Love – intimately, deeply, truly.  Guard your heart – it is the only way you can truly distinguish the Princess from the prostitute. (Proverbs 4.23).