2012 opened with me filming my initial opening video for my website faithandconviction.org. I don’t recall which video that was, but my journal entry from January 2, 2012 says:
Yesterday [January 1, my daughter] helped me record the first videos…. It was somewhat chilly while we did the videos, and I felt somewhat pleased. I don’t really feel afraid of the camera, but I am not looking through it the way I want. I asked [her] if we should reshoot [the videos] and she said, “Yes.” because she wants me to get more natural with the camera. The hard part is, I think “on camera” and when thinking I look away. I just don’t want scripted dialogue. I hate it. It feels unnatural, artificial, contrived.
I went back and watched one of my early videos Answering: How did you arrive at this point? All I can say is I cringe watching that video, and feel awkward watching it. Compared to some of my latest videos, I have improved.
My January 2012 journal entries have me contemplating about many things, including the traffic accident, thoughts about being “rich” in the United States, brainstorming ideas for videos and a specific video shoot. I continued praying for others mentioning their requests in my prayers. I wrote about trying to understand the complexities of marriage: interaction and relationship. I wrote several entries containing thoughts regarding my religious heritage, religious orthodoxy, denominationalism, and about my experiences with the Messianic Synagogue.
About mid-January an invitation was given to Mary and me. This invitation was something unexpected to a type of event and commitment that I had never experienced. Those who gave us the invitation did so only after praying. They spoke to us, and wanted us to consider our involvement but only after we had given ourselves to prayer.
Mary believed that her prayers led her to an affirmative answer regarding their invitation. Me, on the other hand, I was slow to come to terms with this offer. As I meditated upon their invitation, I wrote:
I asked [one of them] what would make them ask me and Mary, and [the person] said several things, but what got my attention was that [the person] said that Mary and I are people serving the Kingdom for the correct reasons and not saying “Hey, look at me.”
From the previous several years I learned that involving myself in events and occasions in the church is not wrong or immoral, but that those with whom you yoke yourself do not always have the same goals, which can create turmoil. So I did not want to answer too quickly. I wanted to give proper time for careful consideration. I wrote saying:
I have yet to really get an answer that I feel is directly divine [even though Mary felt she had], but I am putting the pieces, or voices of the people, together and I see three witnesses [three individuals, one of which is Mary]. So to hesitate to give [them] a “yes” would seem to go against intended things. I will say “yes” yet I wonder where this will lead?
That invitation occurred in January, yet I am not certain of when we gave our affirmation. Our response to that invitation led Mary and me to participate in an event that, for us, was truly ground breaking. When I arrive at that moment, I will discuss this event in greater detail.
On January 21, 2012 my journal contains this entry:
At [the Messianic worship] service, I prayed that God would empower me to see in and see the spirit like the prophet who prayed that God would open the eyes of the prophet’s servant, then [the servant] saw the LORD’s army in the mountains.
I have prayed asking this before, yet as I began my prayer last night, I did not know exactly what to pray for, but the thought was certainly there. …
To be able to see God’s workings within the spirit realm has to be not a gift but a privilege. To be able to see with the spirit to see the spirit’s workings and to see more of how God does things has to be amazing. For me, if that occurs, then the Bible, will in some way, truly come alive in a bold new way.
Three days later, I wrote another journal entry that related to the previous prayer request.
Friday night, I prayed for the spiritual vision and described some of that prayer in my entry 01.21.2012. At Havdalah [worship service], at the close of Sabbath, I had [someone] anoint me and [I] rededicated myself to the Messiah – [I] never have done such [before, not like this]. Sunday night and Monday morning were junk because I was highly irritable.
But [Monday morning] during my nap while waiting for the students in the [early morning bus route], I distinctly recall hearing my name, “Raymond” and I was like “What’s Mary doing here? Is that her?” because the style and tone reminded me of my wife. But in just a few brief moments I oriented myself and knew Mary did not call my name, but I don’t remember being able to hear my name again.
But this morning [Tuesday], somewhere in the 4 o’clock hour, I heard “trust”. It was stated, and it certainly was not in the form of a question. I am not certain I can describe the tone, but the voice tone and the word “trust” seemed to be encouraging me to have the quality, not asking if I had it, [it was] kind of like, “trust me, it will be okay.” I am not certain that my description does the statement of “trust” justice.
Anyway, I had not shared my prayer request or the issue that I heard my name with Mary until this morning [Tuesday] as I left for work. I shared because twice within two days, I have heard something. She found the events interesting and tried to encourage me. I am wondering, for now, if I am being given one word at a time, or will I have a full thought given to me? For now, it is: “Raymond. Trust.”
I closed out January recording some thoughts about the pulpit, its leadership, and its restrictions. In part, I said:
…[I]f you don’t have participation from each and every one of the leadership, even deacons, having one of them with you when you do your ministerial efforts, you can forget about influencing things for the long run. The same routine will eventually play out, when someone doesn’t like what you do [as a pulpit minister], the leadership that never participated with you will leave you out on your own. …
…[D]on’t compromise your integrity. Do the best you can where you are. Rock the boat only when necessary. Remain blameless before God. When it is time for you to move, God will make it happen. Don’t grieve over it. Make sure you stay married to Christ, and not to the Christians (Church). … The pulpit is a place of non-freedom. You simply have to cater to as many people as possible, and if the leadership is not one that challenges the church and expects the church to be challenged, your leadership will be effective, just not as effective as you would like. Remember[:] plant and/or water, let God give the increase.
…[After] experiencing the fallout of a very specific congregational situation, I am just thankful for the freedom that God has given me. I have far more freedom now to speak those things that I have learned because I don’t have to cater to the ears of those who cover my [living] expenses.
Pulpit ministry, or any ministry for that matter like youth ministry or outreach ministry or even I suppose mission ministry, can be rewarding. But here is the fact, F A C T, fact about ministry: this church will not allow you to be you, the church requires you to be something you are not, all while the church itself finds all kinds of ways to permit itself freedom in forgiveness to conduct itself poorly.
From pulpit ministry, what I have learned is the following. The church members, and church leaders for that matter, see the Minister(s) -from the pulpit to those who receive endowments for their work overseas- as presenting the church’s “best”. In essence, the minister and thus the ministry becomes the face of the church, which means the church wants to look spotless, perfect, gentle spoken, kind, always forgiving – in a word domesticated, and thus the minister(s) and ministries become the salvational works of the church corporate.
The church wants to build an image of morality and righteousness. That is a façade. That is not truth. That is a company, even when not-for-profit, selling itself, and is as phony as the set pieces and characters played by actors for any type of movie.
Christians, all Christians, are broken and weathered from the storms of life, and all Christians are sinners, type of sin doesn’t matter because even the most righteous person behind the scenes can tell the most vicious lies.
The church wants Christ in the pulpit and in its classrooms and in its mission fields. Yet, Jesus was condemned for not being what the people wanted. Yet, Christ is the image of morality and righteousness.
So what have I learned?
Non-Christians want authentic people, with authentic faith, admitting authentic flaws. Present a “perfect” body and it’s a lie. In other words: be real, don’t pretend. Yet, in Christ, Christians are perfected. And that’s the paradox.
The church seems not to have yet learned the lesson that Christ did not perform ministry in a bubble, he worked among some of the worst “sinners” yet himself was untainted. Yet, Christ doesn’t call us to be him, for only ONE man can lay down his live for all, and that is Jesus.
So what are we to be?
One, be an example of love. Two, be an example of being forgiven. Three, be an example of living the freedom that God through the Bible permits, the very freedom that much of the church wants to strip away, the very freedom that Jesus died to give, even when living that freedom takes you outside the church building and church ministries but opens doors to truly minister.
For all its inherent flaws, the church conglomerate is only one type of ministry, and embodies a particular type of human personality, and usually that is not the personality of Jesus. As such, the church conglomerate cannot embody all ministry types that God wants, because he has created a multiplicity of human personalities.
Follow Christ. Learn his teachings. Know who he is.
But permit God to lead you, reshape you, and put you into ministry in the capacity he wants, which just might challenge those who believe that they embody the righteousness of God himself.
Blessings and Shalom