August 22, 2014 is a day that will not soon be forgotten by me. It was the last day of my training as required by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). The four hundred hours of clinical and academic work was among the most intense four hundred hours of work of I have had in quite some time. The intensity was met with me being honoured to present the last worship service of the unit. As I began to prepare the homily I found it difficult to put on paper words that would adequately present the intensity of completion that was accomplished not by me alone but also my peers as we all traveled the CPE journey.
Despite my inability to properly pen proper words for the homily on that last day of CPE I could not help but think of Paul when he was winding up his ministry as he sought to encourage Timothy. In his charge to Timothy in II Timothy chapter four Paul says in part that he fought a good fight and kept the faith. This is to say that Paul endured many things during his ministry. He had to lay aside some of his own views in order to be effective in preaching the Gospel. This led him to journey down difficult roads which included Paul being shipwrecked, snake-bitten, imprisoned and other difficulties. Interestingly none of these things deterred Paul from meeting the task at hand. Paul completed what was required of him so that he could confidently declare that he had fought a good fight.
My peers and I have also endured a number of things in order to accomplish the mission at hand. While we were not shipwrecked or snake-bitten the trouble we endured was not for the faint of heart. We had the temerity to set our sights on completing CPE and would not relent despite the troubles that came our way. There were obstacles to be met both within and without the program. Some of us disclosed some of the trouble and yet there were many obstacles that were not mentioned but either me or my peers. Yet there was an absolute necessity to complete the task at hand. And so we labored tirelessly as we journeyed through the challenge of Clinical Pastoral Education.
I certainly can speak with no authority as to the totality of the obstacles of my peers yet I can say that looking over my life some might have counted me out many years ago. You see I was told my entire childhood that I was no good that that I would amount to nothing. I was the one in school that had few friends and was often the brunt of many jokes and the skinny kid that was the natural target of not just being bullied but also being beat up on multiple occasions. Certainly people such as my first grade teacher saw much good in me yet very few took time out to aid in positively molding this stuttering, quiet kid that just did not fit in any crowd. Even so it would seem that a tenacious attitude was being built for many years in the young loner that I was.
One might not have thought that a young skinny kid would do well in the United States Marine Corps. Unexpectedly this strong-willed young man became a strong young Marine and there was certainly no stopping from this point on. No, it was not easy even in the military but then there was no promise of an easy life. There was no suggestion that being a Marine would put to rest all of the worlds ills. In fact the contrary was the case as I was being molded not just to a Marine but also a man of character; a man of destiny and a man of audacity. I did not and would quit in boot camp and could not and would not quit on whatever else life had to offer. No, quitting was not an option and neither was holding to the idea that the quiet young boy would amount to nothing but nothingness.
There is no intent here to discuss my biography. That would take much more than an essay of around a thousand words. The intent here is to show that audacity is a necessary tool used to bring the best from all of us. You see there were some that said that I was not chaplain material. That would not stop me from walking toward that pull of ministry that is deeply imbedded in me. Yes, there were some that encouraged me to move forward but as in my childhood the idea of not pursuing was the drumbeat of others. There was even one peer who told me at least twice that I did not belong in the CPE program. Nonetheless my tenacious audacity would not allow me to march away from that which I knew was part of the work I had been working toward for a number of years. No, I could not listen to the dissenters rather I had to heed the call which is so much part of my life.
In heeding the call I walked through certain aspects of academia. More importantly my CPE journey led me to many people; some in beds and others sitting in chairs. I have talked with staffers including doctors, nurses and housekeepers. I have been on the bedsides of the dying and the crying. Some of those with whom I have ministered have been hurt physically while others were in emotional turmoil. Some just needed someone to talk to and others just needed the feeling of belonging. I have had the opportunity to minister to many while some have ministered to me. It has been a journey and a journey well worth taking.
No journey comes without bumps in the road. This is perhaps a point that Paul was making to Timothy. Undoubtedly Paul endured obstacles which may have seemed insurmountable. It is certain that many sought to discourage as well as ridicule Paul as he journeyed the road of pointing men to the Saviour. The tenacity of Paul serves as an example of all that have a need to persevere despite certain opposition. Giving up was an option Paul could not enjoy and I am certain that it is an option that the children of God cannot entertain. Determination is sometimes confused for stubbornness yet without determined audacity nothing will ever be accomplished.
No worthwhile journey comes with ease. Nothing is accomplished without some blood, sweat and tears. Yes there are sweet victories along the road of success and there are also bitter failures. Yet the failures are not reason enough to end a journey rather the failures make successes all the more sweet. So, as I have said in times past do not quit and don’t give in. Let God complete the work He has begun in you as you use that deep-seated audacity of completion to do the unique work that is for you and you alone.
As I have been journeying through CPE I have learned that there is much to be learned not only in the academics of Clinical Pastoral Education but also the practical application thereof. Yes, I have learned much and there is much to be learned. Even there are times when questions are posed to me that the answer is not immediately obvious. It is for this reason that I struggled with writing for week five of the journey. I was simply uncertain about what to write about. The week entailed so much that expressing this part of the journey in about eight hundred words simply did not seem reasonable or even possible.
Let me explain. Part of my growth edge came from the discussion of pastoral resources as presented by Charles W. Taylor in The Skilled Pastor: Counseling as the Practice of Theology. Among the resources discussed with and by my peers was the matter of rites and or/rituals such as marriage, baptism, funerals and the like. While each of these is celebrated differently depending upon worldviews it is not incumbent upon me to know the specific practices each worldview. And this is the point I would like to stress; certain uncertainties are not only OK but that some ignorance is welcome depending on the circumstances.
Without going in detail last week I was asked a question by my CPE supervisor while we were behind closed doors with my peers. After less than a moment of contemplation my response was that I did not know. My supervisor politely responded that my lack of knowledge was not only honest but very welcoming. You see sometimes, especially those of us that minister professionally, think that we need to know everything. We often think that we not only need to know all answers but also have the ability to fix all problems. The reality is that neither of these can be accomplished. Further because neither of these can be accomplished we can trust in the Lord all the more.
The words “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” found in Proverbs 3:5 make it clear that our own understandings will often fail us. This is why the author broadly encourages his audience not to trust in their own understanding but rather that reliance and dependence on the Lord will bring about ultimate success. Perhaps this is why the matter of uncertainty becomes irrelevant to those trusting in the Lord. It is also a principle upon which Abram lived. You see he was completely uncertain about not only where he was to live but also his future. This, however, was not a hindrance rather a benefit.
Having said that of any reading this finds himself in a state of uncertainty concerning a certain matter perhaps it would be wise to lay aside the purported wisdom of man in lieu of leaning on and trusting the absolute wisdom of our Lord.
In week two of the CPE journey I brought about some discussion about introspection. Introspect serves a number of purposes and among the chief purposes is that the one looking inward looks honestly with the potential as well as probability of making positive changes for the future. However changes cannot be made unless goals are set in the life of the one looking inward.
The fact as that all need to have goals in their lives. Without goals there is a lack of motivation to effect positive change. For instance, in my own life I had an educational goal of completing college. My goal was originally to complete a degree in business. Once that goal was met my goal was challenged as I began to seek out other things to do with my life. However to complete long-term goals my academic career had to be furthered. Introspection caused me to not only work toward my distant goals but also to work on more immediate goals. It is because of the accomplishments of certain educational goals coupled with considerable introspection that I am now walking closer to my destiny both professionally and personally.
In conjunction with my academic goals I also have ministry goals. Among those goals is to plant a church. While I will not go into the specifics in this essay I will say that the large goal of planting a church comes with multiple other goals that will have the ultimate end of the local body. Yet once that work is done there are many other things that are goal related that will require considerable introspection and subsequent work in order to accomplish what is ahead. The fact is that the academic goals have placed me in position to fulfill not only my professional goals but also my ministry goals. Further it cannot be said loud enough that the goals that I have met and strive for as these words are being keyed come with much work. Even so the result of the work of meeting goals is rewarding within itself.
While God’s call to Habakkuk to “write the vision” (Habakkuk 2:2) is often attributed to churches and para-church ministries the fact is that the principles of writing visions (goals) can and should apply to individuals as well. Goals are the impetus of life’s victories without which nothing can be accomplished. Even more it becomes quite evident that God has goals for His people. Consider for a moment Jeremiah 29:11 wherein God succinctly states that He knows “the thoughts that I think toward you…thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
The text in Jeremiah clearly shows that God has plans and goals for His people. Even more of God’s goals are seen throughout biblical text. With that said if God has plans and goals for His people then the Christian ought to follow suit and have plans and goals. It is certain that goals cause one to relieve himself from his “holy righteousness” in order to get done what God has in store. With that dare I say to one and to all to take time out to look within and set goals that serve only to get you moving?
If anyone knows anything about philosophy it is certain that Frederick Nietzsche’s idea of a “dead god” is either infamous or famous depending on one’s world view. Nietzsche’s dead god did not mean that our God was without life rather it was Nietzsche’s way of presenting the idea that God was not involved in His creation. It is much like the idea of Deism wherein it is believed that God created man and then pulled away from mankind with little to no involvement. This, by extension, would make God a peripheral God, an idea which must be challenged.
The fact of the matter is that God was involved with His creation from the time of the creation. The narrative in Genesis clearly shows that Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship with God. Relationships are far from peripheral in that there needs to interaction between the parties involved in the relationship. With that God spent time with man until sin caused a breach in the relationship. In spite of the breach God continued to reach out to man to repair a broken relationship. God longed for the communion He once enjoyed with man so that from the time sin entered the camp God put in place a plan to restore that relationship. Peripheral thinking would lend one to believe that a peripheral God would not care about a broken relationship. Thus, if God were a peripheral God there would be no concern for what was lost.
There are many other scriptural examples of God working to restore broken relationships between himself and man. Take for instance the period of time when the Israelites were in bondage to the whims of the Egyptians. The people of God were not allowed to worship Him and desired to be in a place where they could worship without hindrance. God heard the desires of His people and worked diligently to bring His people out from the land of bondage into a state of freedom. With this in mind God chose Moses and gave him specific instructions as to what to do in order to deliver God’s people. It is not certain that a peripheral God would take the time and care to bring His people from a state of bondage into a state of freedom where worship of Him is not only allowed but also encouraged.
The multiple encounters of God in the Old Testament with His people clearly show that our God is not dead. That is to say that God is not separated from those that love Him rather multiple evidences show that God speaks to and works with not only those that love Him but also God reaches out to those who have not chosen to love Him. There is no more evidence of that then the text found in John 3:16-17 which reads:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
The fact of God sending His Son into a sinful world does not speak of One who is peripheral. In fact the converse is true. For instance, if God were a peripheral God there would be no concern for the sinful state of man. There would be no desire to restore the broken relationship. A peripheral God would not put the life of His Son into the hands of those that chose to forsake Him on every hand. Instead God with all His love looked down through the annals of time and saw a wretched people in need of deliverance. If God were a peripheral God salvation would be non-existent and all mankind would be dammed by reason of the first Adam.
Moreover if God were merely peripheral Jesus would not have sacrificed himself on the cross with the result of paving the way for man to accept Him, the one and only source of redemption. If God were a peripheral God the spilled blood of Jesus would be void thereby making His atoning work of none effect. If God were as suggested by Nietzsche the promise made by Jesus to never leave us nor forsake us would be a lie. Further His fulfilled promise to send the Holy Ghost to live in believers would be null. If God were a peripheral God then my life is not worth living. Yet because God is intimately involved in the lives of those that love Him I am awed that God is not a peripheral God.
There is much talk today about faith. People are starting groups entitled “Faith” and others suggest that their faith in God is immovable. Preachers are slamming their fists on pulpits to make the point of the necessity of faith. Yet many people still have no idea what faith really is nor are they sure how to employ it. Despite this the matter of faith is a rather simple one and one that even a baby can employ in his life.
The fact is that faith, at its simplest level, is nothing more than absolute assurance that God is true to His Word. It is the realization that God cannot and will not lie to the extent that the Word of God has never failed. Faith is knowing that no matter how long and difficult the journey God will bring it to a successful end. He has to because God has promised man that He would never leave nor forsake him. And If God will never leave man then His Word is true and has to stand on its own.
This being the case why do so many Christians live defeated lives? Why is there not only discouragement on a large scale but many Christians seem not to understand the very fundamentals of faith as laid out here? Perhaps the answer is found in Romans 14:23, “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Hereby we see the problem, doubt which sin is. But the question must be answered as to what doubt is. Specific to Romans 14:23 doubt is “to be at variance with one’s self, hesitate, doubt.”
The picture of doubt here is an internal struggle. The fight is whether or not to trust God. And if God is trusted is it feasible to depend on Him? And if there is a dependency on God will He do what He says? Is what God says for me? And the questions go on and on. It is for this reason that doubt becomes strong thereby eradicating faith. The fact is that doubt is sin and God cannot operate where there is sin. This is the reason when doubt raises its head God is forced to withdraw His hand. Even so the tables can just as easily be turned.
Let not faith be a word of convenience rather it should be part of the Christian lifestyle. Faith recognizes that God is faithful that promised (Hebrews 10:23) and will do just what He says. So don’t waver because the winds blow. Instead pull your coat closer, bow your head toward the wind in prayer and continue to move toward the promise. It is there and waiting for you. Just don’t doubt. No, don’t give in and let God pull from you because of the sin of doubt. No, hold on to the promise of God and let God bring it to pass.
 Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for diakrinō (Strong’s 1252)“. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2012. 28 Nov 2012. < http:// www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1252&t=KJV