Church was hard today. I woke this morning with a prayer on my mind, or maybe praying outright. Who can know for sure when one is woken? It was a prayer for Pastor Ken and his family.
Ken Wytsma delivered his last sermon as pastor at Antioch in Bend. He has accepted a call to serve as pastor to Village Baptist in Beaverton, Oregon. Village Baptist was one of the first churches I attended when I first moved to Oregon. I had a group of friends at Cedar Mill Bible Church and a group at Village Baptist. I used to move between those groups, never really finding a home among either, but I made some good friends along the way.
Those of you who’ve followed this blog for any length of time have heard me speak of Ken before. He is the founder of the Justice Project, author of several books on the topic of justice (his lastest is The Myth of Equality). If you haven’t yet discovered Ken the writer, you should. He will make you think. That, for me, is always the mark of a good writer and a good preacher: They make you think. They don’t tell you what to think.
Part of the reason Tim and I relocated to Central Oregon was Ken. We were looking forward to sitting underneath his teachings. We have both long admired Ken’s intellectual and historical approach to Scripture. Ken never takes things out of context. He always considers the historical context of every sermon I’ve heard him preach.
So you can imagine our heartache when Ken announced a few weeks ago that he was under consideration for a position at Village. I cried that Sunday, too. Big, grieving tears. Those tears were for me. Today’s tears were for Ken and his family and for the challenge that awaits them.
Moving is hard. Selling a home is hard. Leaving friends is hard. Making new friends is even harder. Pastoring a church is always hard. Pastoring a church as well and as honestly as Ken does it is unbearably hard.
Ken’s last sermon encompassed a lot of things, as all his sermons tend to do – grace, justice, encouragement, grief, a call to step up, especially for women to lead.
As he preached, I was reminded once again of how very fortunate I have been throughout my life to have been mentored and taught by some of the finest pastors of my generation. Ken may be the best known, the most global face among them, but Pastors Herb Anderson and Paul Moorefield at First Baptist of Corvallis and Pastor Smitty at Rose Hill Baptist in Columbus, Georgia, were nonetheless devoted servants.
Each one of these men were advocates for the brokenhearted. Each of these men were ambassadors of grace. I still remember the day Pastor Anderson stood in that pulpit at First B and talked about the day his young son fell out of a fire spotting tower. His son did not die but he was permanently brain damaged. Pastor Anderson had a penchant for reciting poetry and he recited one that day, altho, I can’t remember which poem he chose, I remember that it was poetry that spoke to him in the aftermath of the guilt he bore over that accident.
Pastor Paul and I had dozens of conversations about grace and our need for it. He was one of the first men to tell me I was a writer. I blew him off at the time but would circle back to it in time for him to see one of my books published. We went out for dinner after my book reading. By then he was struggling with the cancer that would take his life. I was on book tour when he died.
Pastor Smitty was the pastor who walked with me through my abortion. Not an easy thing for a pastor of a Baptist church to do. He never once approached me with condemnation or judgement, but always with an inordinate amount of grace. We spoke of it many times in the decades to come, and in the aftermath of the heartache of his young grandson’s death by suicide. I thanked him numerous times for the grace he gave me, including in those last moments of his life.
Maybe that’s why when Pastor Ken spoke of grace, our need to experience it and extend it, the memories of these pastors returned, erasing time, distance and even death.
Ken read from Hebrews 10:
Let us continue to hold firmly to the hope we confess without wavering, for the one who made the promise is faithful. And let us continue to consider how to spur one another to love and good deeds.
Ever since Social Media took over our free time and made headway into our work lives, there has been a push to elevate one’s self. In the author realm this is known as “building your platform.” It’s called that in other professions as well, but basically it means to make one’s self look more important than we really are, so that consumers/audiences desire whatever book (product) we happen to be promoting. A lot of publishers won’t even consider publishing an author who doesn’t have a “following” in the thousands. Many employers in marketing demand the same – a platform and an audience. I don’t have one author or creative friend who enjoys this pressure or expectation. Not a one. Me included.
So when Ken pushed back against that concept – of elevating one’s self – it resonated deeply with me. No doubt because we have a president who demands to be elevated above all at all times. He cannot go 24 hours without being in the headlines. He needs attention the way a laboring mother needs relief. It’s exhausting to be held hostage to our president’s psychosis. We have other business to be about.
A life spent in service to itself benefits no one, not even the one it’s focused on. There is no better example of a life ill-spent than that of our current president. Who among us admires his relationship with his wife? His young son? His friends? If he had no money, who would be by this man’s side? Who would admire him if he were poor?
Heaven is not going to look like a Congressional prayer breakfast, men in suits and women in pearls.
It’s going to look like a freak show, Pastor Ken noted reading from a friend’s rap lyrics.
Jesus has always been about reaching out beyond the almost perfect people to those in the margins. Refugees. Disenfranchised. The Despairing. The Brokenhearted.
So what does it mean to “spur one another to love and good deeds”?
Or as Ken so beautifully put it “to make good flourish.” (Lord God, how I have needed to hear those words).
You know what a spur is, don’t you? That little round prickly thing on the heel of a cowgirl that when nudged up against a horse makes it get a move on.
How can we spur on making good flourish? Especially when so many among of us seem to be in the throes of despair? Often with good cause.
We can collaborate. We can create. We can connect. We can build community. We can serve others and consider how to elevate them instead of ourselves. We can admit our own need for grace, seeing it not as a flaw but as a means to draw closer to our Creator.
And we can remember to thank those who have poured grace into our lives.
We can do as much good as we can for as long as we can to as many people as we can.
That’s how we make good flourish.
We serve others.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: A novel (Mercer University Press).