Perplexed…

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.–Paul (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

This blog is called Pastormac’s Ponderings, not Pastormac’s solutions, so may I ponder for a minute?   Today I am perplexed.  I have this tension in my life, one we all face to some degree, some of you many more frequently than I do.  I am very much aware as I pen this, that my troubles are nothing on some of you.  My health is good, my family intact.  I am indeed grateful for those things. I don’t want to merely complain, but I do want to ponder out loud, as it were.  Maybe to attempt to articulate the tension I am experiencing, the disconnect, will help me understand my next move.  For those of you who are praying people on my blog, I’d be appreciative of your prayers.  If you have helpful advice, I’ll take it. If it actually helps, I will reign blessing upon your head for eternity (doesn’t that sound better than just saying I’ll be eternally grateful, and I suspect equally unlikely 🙂  If you have criticism of my life, understand that I will gauge such advice and criticism based upon how well you know my life. 🙂  If you have encouragement, I long for it.

Here’s my tension: Three parts.

Part 1)  I believe that God is good; I believe that He desires to bless me because He’s that kind of God.  I believe He has given me some great blessings and that he has a great plan for my life.  I believe these things because they are part of who God is, not based on anything I do or don’t do. I believe that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and nothing is too difficult for Him.  These are things I truly believe, not things I merely think I should believe.

Part 2) I believe that for the last 23 years as a pastor, I’ve made many many errors, I’ve done many silly, stupid, and sometimes just plain wrong and sinful things.  However, I also believe that to the best of my ability and faith at each moment over the last 23 years, my goal has been to follow God where He leads, to minister as He enables, and to walk the path of good works He has prepared beforehand.  I have enjoyed the journey and learned along the way, growing, trusting, rethinking and watching God’s work over that time.  I have regularly made decisions which were detrimental to my financial status out of desire to minister to others, to glorify God and to strengthen the local church. My problems may be many but neither greed nor laziness have been noticeably issues.  My wife, who would be the most aware of hypocrisy in my life, will tell you much more strongly than I think is true, that I have made all my decisions based on what I believed God wanted through my life. I have made some very big mistakes, but this has been the context in which those mistakes have occurred.  I accept as a given that I am unaware of many failures and sins in my life, but I do not believe these in themselves correlate to my struggle outlined below.  If they do, I only wait revelation from God to make whatever change is necessary.  All options are on the table.

Part 3)  (I’ve drafted this part four times.  I desire to be open, honest and at the same time not complain or whine.  I want to explain without defending and share without “blog streaking” (as a friend of mine says).  I’m finding this collection of desires impossible to fulfill.  But here’s my best shot)  I am financially feeling pressed on every side.  Everyone’s hand is out for money.  Money they deserve, or are owed.  I am perplexed about what I should do next.  So many steps of faith and hope and responsibility; steps which seemingly had to be taken; steps made prayerfully and with counsel; steps which so many people felt were good or necessary ideas; so many steps have lead to no relief and deepening struggle financially over the last four years.  I’ve accomplished a lot of pretty cool things all of which had financial promise when I did them: Planted a church, got my college degree, completed and published my book, revamped my conference,  started a new, great job, at a little place called Apple.  None of these have relieved our situation.  Where I’ve made more money, I’ve lost more income from other previously fruitful sources.  I am feeling persecuted by self doubt and the doubts of others.  I am feeling struck down by bad news and hope deferred.

It is entirely due to the Grace of God, that I feel hard pressed, but not crushed; blessings are still abundant in my life. My family is unbelievably precious and a great gift.  My faith is intact and God’s goodness as clear to me as ever.  I can only credit God for that conviction.

It is due only to God’s strength, that I am perplexed (mightily so) but not in despair.  Hope is precious and real, not to be confused with optimism and denial.  It is a faith for the future.  There will be an end to this and it will be good. I am at a loss to explain this hope to some who despair around me, and here again I can only credit God for that constancy.

I am persecuted, but not abandoned.  My family, my wife, and my faithful friends, are amazingly constant. They stand by me and with me when others have abandoned lesser failures.   Some have even helped as they’ve been able financially at times; I know few of them (if any) believe as I do that great things are still to come, some of them are struggling with even the idea that God is good or smart or powerful, but they stand with me anyway, as I walk down a path of trust that to them looks as if the foundation (God, not my plans) is crumbling or undependable, or capricious. I am grieved, among other things, that any unwitting stupidity or blindness on my part has encumbered their view of God in this way.  What these people don’t see, that I can see, is that their very presence in my life is one of the greatest proofs to me of God’s continuing goodness, of His undeserved Grace in my life.

I am struck down.  I feel a bit like Rocky looking up at Apollo Creed from the a position of vulnerability.  I fear destruction, and yet, I am undoubtedly still here.  Not destroyed.    I feel vulnerable and unable to change my circumstances.  I feel as if every move I make produces less money.  Let me be clear.  Fruit is abundant.  I see changed lives, blessed people, faith enriched, lives enriched,  (both spiritually and in my secular job).  I am doing good things, but when it comes to financial fruit, the tree is barren.

That leads me to a truth of my life without which I would be crushed, despairing and destroyed (and I suspect abandoned).  Habakkuk, the prophet, says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, though there be no fruit on the vine, though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice.  I will exult in the God of my salvation.”

See I understand that our lives are not about material things; I understand that money doesn’t make you happy.  I do rejoice in God and my salvation and life in Him. But I worry for my family, and I am perplexed about the lesson I am supposed to learn from God.  And as I look at Paul’s verse above, I wonder:  How does a jar of clay show the surpassing power of God if it fails completely?

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