Tag: Advice

Sermon Cast: “Cry Out” Psalm 88

Our Sermon from Sunday, August 30th reflects the deep cry of lamentation our world is experiencing and encourages us through the example of Christ and the teachings of Scripture, how to mourn with our grieving neighbors and walk through our own grief in a healthy manner that looks first to Christ and then to His Word.
 
Watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6j5MGBQBd8

Little Feet that Run the Earth, and the Tension of the ones that Do not.

My daughter is one of the great joys of my life, but after losing a child to Miscarriage and Infant Loss, this is the tension I live in now.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I have been thinking a lot lately about my March 2018 article: My Baby Had Feet as I have tried to finalize thoughts for the book by the same title and search for a publisher for it. One of the final chapters goes by the same title as this piece. Readers and followers of this website know that in August of 2019 we announced a new pregnancy and in February of 2019, 13 months, and 2 days after we lost the first baby, our daughter Erin was born. These are exciting times to be sure, and we celebrated them thoroughly, just as we celebrated her first Birthday in February. I have loved almost every minute of being a father, almost because there are things that you struggle with, especially when its your first full term child. There were some ups and downs as we navigated finding an eye doctor and surgeon to remove the congenital cataracts she was born with. There were sleepless nights and near sleepless nights, we both almost gave up hope as we struggled to finish seminary and help a newborn adjust to life outside the womb. It has been exciting to hear her find her singing voice (already, at 18 months) and start to speak and even say “amen” when we finish praying together, or when she comes running to me when I get home from the church yelling “Daddy!”. As her little personality develops, we are challenged in new and exciting ways as we seek to shepherd her, even now. To a faith that we not only pass down, but she also owns as her own as early as possible.

Still, there is a tension here, a tension that I hope to zero in on in the last chapter of “My Baby Had Feet.” This tension is this: If we had not lost the first child, the child we have now would not exist. The child we miss, and never got to meet, the child who we loved and had started to bond with and whose still, tiny frame only saw this earth for a moment, had that child lived, our daughter would not. That is a strange and yet necessary thought as you see their ultrasounds sitting side by side on the bookshelf in the living room (pictured above). Instead of grieving one and rejoicing in the other, we would have rejoiced in the one and been ignorant that another even existed or was in store for us (although by now we may have been expecting another).

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Some may say I am being overly dramatic, but this is part of my healing journey, so please walk with me. As a theologian, I am okay with such tensions, after all, we live in the liminal space of the now-but-not-yet tension of our salvation, saved, being saved, already saved, going to be saved. I am used to tensions and okay with them…as a theologian. As a human being, I am not okay with tension, I hate it, it is uncomfortable. There have been times when I want to take that ultrasound picture and throw it across the room and shout at God for taking that Child from us, even though I know it was the fallen world and not God who took that child from us, but my human instinct is to blame him. Even though I know it was He who could have let the child live and also He who brought around us friends and family who supported us, prayed for us and loved us. Even though I know it was Him who provided the tickets to the Rend Collective Concert where we started to heal, as a couple and as individuals. He did not cause my child to die in the womb, He could have prevented it, but He also had something else for us, a little girl who belts our Rend Collective, even though she does not yet have the language to do so. Maybe this is something we need to develop, along with a better theology of suffering, a theology of tensions. As I said, theologians have one, we are willing to hold in tension what seems totally contradictory, such as Man is created in the image of God, and Man is fallen, broken and utterly depraved. Like Suffering, we need to learn to sit in the liminal space between two events or two ideas or points of tension.

Like tension, we do not like suffering either, American Evangelicals and American Protestants in general are “Suffering averse” and to avoid tension we will hThe Adventuresold a completely heretical or anti-biblical position and demand others hold it too. We will downplay suffering, even ignore it, so that we can remain in our happy-go-lucky bubble. We scream or grumble at pastors who make us feel uncomfortable, we refuse to listen to any leader or government official who disagrees with our established viewpoint. We generally hate being challenged on anything, and yet, if we really dig down and dig deep in scripture, we will find a challenge to everything this world has taught us to hold dear. We will also find a lot of teaching about suffering….A LOT of teaching about suffering.

Take the book of Philippians, we love to polish this book up, to make it some great letter of affection from the Apostle to the Church which has supported him, and it is. That is not the entire story though, Paul is saying all that he says in Philippians chained to a Roman Praetorian Guard, waiting day-in and day-out to hear whether or not he is going to live to see the year 62. Nero has risen to power, and while he is not yet persecuting Christians to the extent he would in a few years, he is uttering murderous threats, and this may have concerned the Philippians. On top of that, there has been a divide among them, certain people in the church have allowed Pride to well up and cause divisions in the Church. Add to that the fact that other teachers were in the area, trying to damage Paul’s ministry, even thought they were preaching the True Gospel. Finally Paul is concerned about the Circumcision Group gaining a foothold in Philippi, likely because they had done so much damage in nearby Galatia. It is under House Arrest, chained to a guard, with detractors attacking him and a myriad of concerns for the spiritual welfare of the Philippian Church, which He loves, that Paul writes the oft misquoted and misapplied: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation, I am to be content” (4:11). And “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13)

Image may contain: 3 people, including Rachel Faulkner and Jonathan Faulkner, baby and outdoor

But it is hard for me, as a Pastor, to apply contentment in tension like this to any and ever situation. It is even harder for me to apply them to the loss of a child. To live in the tension, as Paul did, between prison and freedom in Christ. That is uncomfortable, it is also uncomfortable to live in the tension between wanting to meet and hold a child you cannot while playing tag with, singing with and dancing with a child you can. But that is where I live, between saying: I am content with this child, but I miss the one we lost. I am happy this one exists, but I wish I had these experiences with the other as well. It is the tension ever Christian lives in, “Thy will be done father” alongside “please intercede on the behalf of so and so.” I do not want to be content, I do not want to live in Liminal space, the sinful world took something from me, and I want to make them pay, I want to be angry, I do not wish to be content and focus on Christ in my pain. But this is what Scripture challenges me to do, to suffer well, because it is in suffering that God will be glorified (John 9:1-15, Phil 1:14) whether that suffering be because of the fallenness of nature (miscarriage and infant loss) or from the sinfulness of human kind such as persecution. I do not want to “Rejoice in the Lord” that is, Rejoice in all that God has done for me and for the Church in general, but at the same time, I know this is what is best for me. Christ, after all, was able to live in the tension between suffering and life, and he chose to give his up for my sins, to glorify God the father, whom He was equal with, by humbling himself and taking up the towel and then the cross. I can glorify Him through these momentary afflictions and losses without grumbling and complaining as I look forward to the day of Christ Jesus. In doing this I know I will show my salvation, and the destruction of my detractors, as well as shine as a light to the world which is depraved and fallen (Phil 1:27-2:30, 2 Cor 4:17).

I may not be saying anything here, just working out thoughts and hoping to have some good. Maybe a dad is reading this who lost a child and then had another one in the next year and they are saying: “yes, I know this tension, thank you I am not alone.” Or maybe the theologians who read this post will spend the day dissecting me and correcting me because my theology of suffering and tension needs some work or to be better fleshed out. The latter of that is true, since this post is short, and Bonhoeffer wrote books on the Theology of Suffering. But I hope I can speak clearly to one father who has gone through this experience, who is living in this tension, and help you sort out your thoughts a little bit. Because, while we focus so much on the mother after a miscarriage or infant loss, you too lost a child, someone who carried something of you and was in your image, as well as Gods. Yet, you are often left to suffer alone, and usually long after your wife has started to heal, since you have walk with her in her pain, often delaying your own grief in the moment. I know, because I have been there, just as I am here now.

Or maybe you’re a father who has never had this experience, how can reading this, gaining knowledge of this tension help you reach out to those who have. The father whose wife has struggled with infertility, or now inhabits the tension I am talking about here. How can you reach out and better walk with them through this? Or maybe you are a father who has lost many children to infant loss and miscarriage and infertility. Yes, you are a father, even if those children are not living with you on this planet, they are yours and you were part in creating them, just as I helped created Shalom. I know that it seems now that your hopes and dreams of beginning a family are smashed against the rocks, and that you live in the tension of wanting to hope in the Lord, and curse his name from grief. But hold on, you are not alone and you are not forgotten, by God or by me. Stand firm in the tension, and know that whatever happens, Christ has not abandoned you or not heard your cries. He is there with you, weeping with you and holding you up so that you can endure all things though Christ who strengthens and redeems you.

I praise God everyday for every second I get to spend with my little girl, I do not take her for granted and cannot imagine life without her, and I thank God for everything He has given me through her. But that does not mean I do not miss the child we lost, do not love the child we lost, or at times think about what that child would be like. Praise God for his mercy and the fact that I can, in fact, live in the tension.

If this is you, or this is your story and you are looking for someone to talk to or council you on this subject. I would love to listen to your story and even walk with you where I can. You can contact me through this site, and I pray you will.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

 

Advice from a Pastor who Pastored before Seminary.

Advice from a Pastor who Pastored before Seminary.download (9)

By Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Let me be clear: I am not writing this article because I think I have any answers to questions. I am writing this with one year of experience before heading here to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where I am today. My reasoning for writing this to pass along some things that you might find helpful; some things I learned in my first year of Pastoral Ministry that you should start doing in Seminary that will help make you effective ministers of the Gospel upon Graduation. These are things that I, myself, wish I had known going into my first Pastorate.

 

  1. Learn Time Management Now.
  2. Develop a Strong Devotional Life
  3. Learn to Get Out of the Way.

 

I know, I know, if you are at GCTS orientation and reading this you are thinking; “They have been telling us those first two on repeat since we arrived.” And they have, for good reason, they are pastors and professionals in ministry. But why are they so important? Why not let them roll your eyes at this advice? You should not, and here is why. They are extremely important to learn for you and your congregation.

 

So let’s continue.

1: Learn Time Management Now.

            One of the best questions posed to me so far about what my time as a Pastor is; “How did you manage working a full time job and pastoring a church at the same time?” I gave the person the only answer I could… “I did not.” I turned into the most stressed out and unpleasant person I could have been. The stress played a big role in splitting up my relationship at the time and causing the lack of sleep that lead to the fall that put me off work of two months in February.

Believe it or not, that fall probably saved my pastoral ministry. During that time the only two things that were able to give me relief from the pain were preaching and playing music. The time also served to remind me why I had been so strict on time management my last two years of college. I treated college like an 8-5 job, I did not do that with the pastoral job. In the period of a month I went from working 40 hours a week to close to 100. No one should ever have to do that, adding sixty hours even though I was hired to do about twenty.

It is important to develop a good pattern of time management now because outside of school life gets about one hundred times crazier. Add a wife and kids and bills to pay (As some of my seminarian friends have) and suddenly you cannot spend 100 hours a week doing ministry or work of any kind. It would destroy your marriage. I like the example of my pastor in Lyons, who refuses to answer cell phone calls once he is home with the family. This is certainly a model I will be adopting when I have a family.

It also might help you to sit down and write out a list of what is “Urgent” and what is “Important” and then do your best to work through those “Important” tasks before you even address the “Urgent” ones. Remember, there is absolutely no shame in saying no, something I had to learn in my second six months of pastoring. Remember also that family and your spiritual life are one that list of “Important” things and sometimes, though this is the exception, not the rule, that paper that is due in two weeks is “Urgent.” Which brings me to Number Two.

2: Develop a Strong Devotional Life.

I cannot stress the importance of this particular point. Though I kept my devotional practices during my first three months, I lost a lot of the depth that had been there before. There is a difference between devotional practice and a devotional life. Devotional practice is simply the daily task of reading the bible and praying. The Devotional Life seeks to expand upon the tasks of a devotional practice into a deep and transforming relationship with God.

Cultivating this kind of devotional life takes time, it takes work, it takes dedication. But you are not alone in this journey. Starting by learning to allow the Holy Spirit to direct you into that deeper walk, guiding you into whatever disciplines you find the Holy Spirit uses to draw you in. Past the life of religious ceremony to the depths of the transformative relationship we have in Jesus Christ.

Yesterday, as I was frustrated by a number of things throughout the day I decided to have what in Denver we called an “Artist Date.” I went back to my room and played my guitar and watched a comedy. This is part of my devotional life because it gives my soul a break from the demands of everyday life. This was part of my day, along with silent prayer and listening to God and study of scripture in the morning.

One of the benefits of my time after the fall in February and the closing of 10:31 Life Ministries in April was that I was able to refocus myself on God and rebuilding my devotional life. I even took a week off social media, something I had not done since the inception of 10:31 in 2009.

3: Learn to Get Out of the Way.

I was reading in the Gospel of John this morning about what I have dubbed the “Passing of the Torch” between the way maker (John) and the one for whom he prepared it (Jesus). I was struck by John’s willingness to step out of the way and allow the Son of God to do the work He had come to do. He finishes the passage with “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).

As a believer whose greatest struggle is pride John’s humility struck me. John did not say; “Come, let us go baptize elsewhere, since Jesus has taken our crowds, let us go collect more.” Instead he acknowledges that his work is coming to a close. John has done what he was called to do, he had prepared the way. His ministry culminated in his baptism of his cousin Jesus. Now he was to point people to Jesus and indeed he has already encouraged his own disciples to follow Jesus (See John 1:35-40). Now he would go and preach to Herod until his death in the next few years.

So often, as Pastors, we can be so easily deceived (by pride of the father of lies) to think that we are something special. We tout  our righteousness and deny any thought of weakness because we are called to preach the Gospel. We can think “the Gospel needs me; God needs me.” While it is true that God has given you a calling and a mission, you are disposable. God can raise up another to take your place if your focus is far from him- on yourself and your accomplishments. Like the Casting Crowns song says “sometimes the best thing for us to do, is just get out of the way.” Just as John understood his role must decrease now that Christ had come, so must our flesh. We must seek to be totally kingdom minded and allow the Gospel to advance by the power of the Holy Spirit alone working through us as Vessels. As they have told us here in Orientation; “Do not take yourself so seriously, it will not get you anywhere.”

 

So what did all of this do for me? I quickly found that my relationships with my congregation improved, my sermon writing improved, the gospel advanced. I was able to laugh it off when things went horribly wrong and admit when I had made a mistake. And you will make them and things will go wrong. The Important thing to remember is why you are doing this job. “Not for our own glory but for the glory of the One who calls” (John 8:50)