Lazarus Laughed

Two stories will serve to illustrate my frame of mind as I write this post. In the first, a speaker of roughly my age stands before a gathered assembly and says, “When I was in my 20s and 30s, I cared a great deal about what people thought of me, and it affected the way I lived and worked. In my 40s and 50s that sensitivity passed, and I came to the place where I couldn’t care less what people thought about me. In my 60s it has finally dawned on me. Nobody is thinking about me at all.” (That’s a joke, not a pathetic, self-pitying cry for attention.)

The second story might be called “Lazarus Laughed.” In it, Lazarus of Bethany, the friend of Jesus, is in trouble with the religious establishment. You remember Lazarus. He’s the guy who died (John 11) and, four days later, Jesus raised him from the dead. It seems that, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Lazarus began attracting attention with his account of his own death and resurrection, particularly when he described his death as a joyous passage from this life into the presence of God. Never, he told his eager listeners, would he fear death again.

The authorities demanded that Lazarus desist from recounting his experience since it undermined the influence of the powers that be by drawing attention to the greater power of Jesus. Lazarus replied, “What will they do if I don’t heed their demands, kill me?” Then Lazarus threw back his head and laughed and laughed.

I can relate to both these stories. For far too long I cared far too much about what people think about me and my ministry. I’m not suggesting that insensitivity and coldness are admirable character traits. They are not. On the other hand, hypersensitivity to the opinions of others, particularly to their criticism and expressions of disapproval, can be debilitating. At the least, it can cause such inner turmoil that the quality of both life and work deteriorates.

At long last I think I have gotten beyond all that. I still care about the opinions of my wife and daughter and a relatively small group of extremely close friends and counselors. But I am no longer bound and limited by my fear of what other people might think or say about me. If I believe I am speaking or acting under the direction of the Spirit of God, I am confident He will prevent me from being intentionally offensive or hurtful. And if others are offended or angered or hurt or disappointed because I have not conformed to their preferences and predilections, I can live with that.

After all, what do I have to lose? I’ve been unemployed for four years. I’ve experienced all the financial stress and the sense of humiliation and failure and self-doubt that are the consequences of long-term unemployment. My wife has fought a life-threatening disease, and together we have faced the pain and fear and loneliness that accompany that kind of pilgrimage. Experiences like those have a way of clearing your head, rearranging your priorities, and sharpening your focus.

Last May I completed a two-year period of preparation and was ordained an Anglican priest. In the intervening year, I have been learning how to be a good priest. I have carefully observed many who have walked this path a lot longer than I. I like some of what I have seen, and I have tried to emulate it. But I have seen a lot that I don’t like. I have been hesitant to speak up or raise questions or suggest another way because I am new to the tradition, and I don’t want to “rock the boat.” It has been important that I be perceived as a “team player.”

And then it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. That sensibility is dangerously close to the debilitating hypersensitivity to criticism and disapproval that I thought I had left behind. I refuse to be bound by it any longer. I have done everything I can do to make my allegiance clear and to establish the transparency of my motives. It is still important for me to be a team player, but the team I am playing for is the church, the agency of the Kingdom, and the team captain is Jesus the King.

As things stand right now, I am still planning to be part of a church plant in Columbus, OH, which will relate to a local community while reaching out to the campus of Ohio State. That such an enterprise would be consistent with the plan and purpose of God seems like a no-brainer to me. A church like the one I envision is needed in that place. In God’s time I feel certain it will come about. I hope to be part of it. It hasn’t happened yet, however, and that reality has given rise to some additional thoughts.

I remain puzzled that the orthodox Anglican community in the Columbus area has not rallied to this cause. From my perspective, this is a ready-made opportunity for meaningful, practical, and fruitful outreach. I know that other Anglicans in this area already have their own local-church loyalties. Still, how can Columbus-area Anglicans, associated with the Anglican Church in North America, which has been challenged by Archbishop Duncan to plant 1000 new churches by 2014, not be willing to rearrange their priorities (and their budget) in order to help make this vision a reality? How can Columbus-area Anglicans call themselves “missional” while an opportunity for genuine mission goes begging?

God willing, next week I will attend a four-day Church Planting Seminar, under the sponsorship of the North American Church Multiplication Institute, at Ashland (OH) Theological Seminary. It will be the first extensive, systematic examination of all the elements that contribute to effective church planting that I have undertaken since I was commissioned to this work a year ago.

Everything is on the table here. I expect to come away from this experience energized and better-prepared to pursue the vision for St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center. Will this vision be realized within an Anglican context? I expect that it will, but maybe not. As I have said many times, I am as much a liturgical Anabaptist as I am an Anglican. I am the product of forty years of vocational ministry in the Free Church tradition. I haven’t abandoned all that I learned and experienced there just because I have taken Holy Orders as an Anglican priest.

A dear friend reminded me recently that I was a Bible college instructor for a lot of years, and there is likely a setting where that content can still be used in service to the Kingdom of God. How might that affect the shape or focus of the ministry which God may bring about under the banner of St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. And, as I said, everything is on the table.

I took a little break from blogging over the past week or so, but I’m back. I have a lot more to say about some things I have introduced in this post, but that’s all for now. Thanks for reading, for praying, and for sharing with me your time, your encouragement, and your faith. I love you all. Stay tuned.

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