I’ve turned in my mind and now I’m getting there actually to Ecclesiastes chapter nine. Ecclesiastes chapter nine …
I just want to thank you, Jim, for welcoming me and, Greg, Darcy, thanks so much and your team, allowing me to come and be with you and I’m … I’ve turned to the Bible. I’m about to read the Bible with Lays Barbecue Baked Chips breath, ’cause I had a Subway Sandwich and I’m using these glasses so that I can read.
There used to be a time where I would stand up like this and I didn’t have any glasses to read. Now I do and I’m thinking, it’s about 9:42, two hours ahead in St. Louis so my oldest son Nathan has been off of work and probably at his girlfriend’s family’s house. Abigail has probably just gotten home from work.
Taylor is probably online playing a video game with his cousin Drew who lives in Indiana and they’re best buddies. Jessica, hopefully, is being able to slow down and watch Frazier or something like that, which is one of her favorite shows. I’m just sharing all that to say I’m a human being and I’ve opened to Ecclesiastes chapter nine.
As we turn there, the question of greatness is set in front of us. It’s verse 13, Ecclesiastes nine.
“I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siege works against it but there was found in it a poor wise man and he by his wisdom delivered the city and no one remembered that poor man, but I say, that wisdom is better than might. Though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard, the words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.”
Let’s pray together.
Our Lord, Your Book is open. We feel the fatigue in our bodies and in our minds from a good day. We ask for Your Spirit now. We would make much of Jesus. May You would draw us to Yourself, Lord, according to the need You know we have. Thanks for letting us yawn. Thanks for not being mad or cranky about it. Thanks for walking in, it’s in Your name we pray, amen.
Did you see the word was repeated three times in the English translation, in the ESV, it’s great, great, great? Verse 13, “I have seen this example of wisdom under the sun, it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siege works.”
What’s happening is greatness is being talked about and two separate approaches to greatness is set before us. The one approach to greatness is a king who does a large thing in a very visible way, demonstrating his power as fast as he can. A large king picking on a little city with just a few people in it. Yeah, way to go. You want to say, “Pick on someone your own size,” huh, but here he is, a political leader, wanting to exercise his power, he wants to do a great thing, in a visible way, as fast as he can and that is one approach to greatness.
In contrast, is this other way of greatness. It’s pictured in this man of poverty who has no resources. He has no position. He has no status. He has no team to mobilize and yet he is the one who delivers this city and in that picture greatness is set in front of us.
I’m telling you tonight a bit of a fool’s story. If we were in a group together and let’s say it’s Fool’s Anonymous, I’m the one standing up saying, “Hi, my name is Zack,” and you would say, “Hi, Zach.” I would say, “I’ve been a fool for 49 years. I’m a recovering fool. Jesus loves me and I love Him and I’d like for you to hear about Him,” but I have to say, my folly has come with this issue of greatness.
I followed the path of the great king who besieged the little city, with great siege works. I can’t be too hard on myself in one sense, because this view of greatness is the view all around us. That if you want to do something great and we would say, great for God, you must do something large, famous, fast in order to do a great thing for God.
I didn’t start out that way. When I started out in ministry, vocational ministry, I was a Seminary Student, I was leading a youth group at a little tiny church, and I was just trying to learn. It was all about Jesus as best I can see and I just wanted to serve. I was just Zack from Henryville, Indiana. I used to have a mullet. I still have the earring mark, if you look close enough and so I’m just wanting to serve Him, you know.
I had gone out to LaFollette Field at Ball State University, when I was in college and I began to say to the Lord, I’d go out there at night and pray, and I would say, “Lord, I want to serve you and I’ll go no matter where you send me.” That’s just what it was about, but somewhere along the line, this other way, this folly, this Fool’s Way of Greatness began to slip in and you know where it slipped in was through the church.
I committed myself to congregations and church all my adult life and when I say that, I speak as one who would defend her, as one within and how it started was, I remember my very first Presbyterian …
Now I just admitted I’m a Presbyterian, I’m very sorry. I can be persuaded, let’s just talk … I’m just kidding, so … I’m just looking forward to being in heaven together …
My very first Presbyterian meeting, which is a region, it’s a region of pastors and other kinds of lay leaders who gather together in a region. Now here’s what I noticed. I walked in with the church pastor that I was serving with, he was faithful in a small place, kind of revitalized a difficult work. Imperfect person, he was just like me and when we came into the gathering, he said hello to someone, another person, and we just went and sat down.
A little bit later, I noticed another person walked in and lots of people got up and went over to talk to that person. There seemed to be a sort of a brouhaha about that person who was coming in. That’s a Southern Indiana term, maybe, I don’t know where that comes from. He was walking in and people began to flock around this person and talk to this person and about this person. I came to learn later that that was the person who wrote books, that was the person who spoke at conferences, and I saw it, no one ever said it but I saw it.
The small church pastor that I was with, no one said a word, one or two people. Large church pastor comes in, boom, buzz, large, famous, fast, and I think a seed was born in my heart and I began to think, “Yeah, I want to do something great for God.” I was no longer saying, “Send me wherever You want me to go.” I was saying, “I want to have a big impact. I want to have a large place. I want to speak all over the world. I want to make a difference in generation.” Earnest things.
Eventually, I became such a person and I was doing an interview from a … One of the books that I wrote that won an award, national award. I was doing a radio interview, this is years later and you can listen to that interview, it’s online. It’s not bad. Yeah, it’s not bad, but here’s the thing, it was haunting to me about it, I gave that interview from a Benedictine retreat house in the middle of nowhere Missouri. I had lost 30 pounds and I had lost hair.
My hair was coming out because my wife of 15 years had walked away from God, walked away from me, and moved away so that the kids lived with me and I had primary care of them and I became a single dad with the daily care of three kids. I was in a Schnooks grocery store. It was a grocery store and I received the phone call from Preaching Today that I had won that award. I was in sweatpants and a T-shirt, buying milk and bread in the middle of the afternoon, and some cereal probably, for my kids.
“You’ve won this award.” It was poised. Tim Keller’s name on it, other people’s names on it, it was poised, I was ready. No, I wasn’t. I was all alone. I sat down in Schnooks and cried, not out of happiness but the irony. I went home, the kids and I tried to find a little bit of sunshine day by day in a very dark world. I come to this passage, I never would have seen it as a younger person, if I saw it I wouldn’t have liked it and it’s saying that there’s a kind of greatness that is applauded and visible and there’s a kind of greatness that is of a different kind.
I’ve been on a quest, a journey to learn a different way of greatness, the Jesus way, I hope and it’s really hard, ’cause it’s not natural to me and it’s not natural in the conversations around us, but there are five basic moves and I won’t take too long on each one. Five basic moves I can see that the Lord’s been doing to move me from simple-lism, from being a simpleton and a fool, toward wisdom, five basic moves that I hope will be of some help to you.
The first is the move from reactivity to attentiveness, from reactivity to attentiveness. Verse 17, you see the contrast, the words of the wise heard in quiet, the words of the wise heard in quiet. Quiet, quiet words of the wise, in contrast to the shouting of fools. See the contrast there? From reactivity, movement, to quiet.
You see, when those things first began and when my wife at the time left, I … I’m going to try to say this as tenderly as I can. I have lived my Christian life in a complementarian world, that means the default assumption was that as the husband goes, so goes the house. I’m thinking some ways I know how and because of that, I not only experienced the abandonment and trying to walk with the kids each day and having to look at myself, what kind of person must I be if the person who lived with me walked away from Jesus.
We ask that as parents, too, don’t we? Not only that, but then I had very dear people that have known me for years opening the Bible to me, tell me how I need to change. If I would just change, she wouldn’t do this and I’m sure there are situations like that. I don’t mean to step on your toes. We’re all adults, you can disagree with me, we’ll be in heaven together. Maybe I’m not saying it right.
I’m just trying to say there didn’t seem to be a category that she was her own human being, with her own soul before God and when she would quote to elders, quote the Apostle Paul, “If the unbeliever wants to leave, let him leave, he would die an unbeliever.” “You have to let me leave.”
That’s not just, “If I just had more family worship, that wouldn’t have happened.” Well, maybe you’ll keep talking with me if you disagree. I’m just saying sometimes the double wound becomes, the person goes through the thing itself and then we add to it by letting him know if they had just been different this wouldn’t have happened to them, as if the other person has no will and they’re just a puppet. No human being is a puppet like that. Each of us are made in the image of God and each of us are accountable before that Lord and each of us carry our own load, as Paul said, burdened.
When that was happening, I began to defend myself. Ever, you ever done that? Defend yourself? Yeah, don’t. Just don’t do it. Reactivity, pain, anger, accusation, I’m telling you everything I know. I remember being, as what I said, in a restaurant, a group of fellow Presbyters came in the name of Pastoral Care, that’s what they told me it was, Pastoral Care, just checking in to see how I’m doing. We got a table in the corner of the restaurant. It was a round table, I was in the corner and those men were all around and they began to press me, interrogate me, because there had to be more, you see. It had to be that I had a secret, ’cause women just don’t do this. It has to be the man, so I’m lying somehow. It’s not as apparent.
They’re trying to find a secret. I have a porn addiction. I’m having an affair. I’m some kind of a … I have an anger problem. They’re just trying to find out what the secret is so they are pressing and pressing and pressing and I remember yelling in the restaurant, I yelled, “What do you want from me?” I was right there in that moment, in that restaurant with my oldest watching the youngest two, while I could be away for an hour to get back to them.
“I’ve told you everything I can.” Years later, one of those men called, wrote to me and asked my forgiveness that he was trying to do due diligence. He would have to answer to people. I always wondered, who, what people? I think I know. Scared that he would have to give an account to whoever it was so he had to make sure he would rake me over the coals.
Later on, I said to a group of folks like that, “You know what, if I had a secret, you guys were awful.” You know how to do that. We know how to do that. We Presbyterians even we call our gathering as elders a court and court was in session and the shepherds, don’t know where we went, but in reactivity, I defend myself and defending myself only proved …
I remember my pastor who had walked with me through the whole thing and the elders who were walking with our family. It’s just that other elders out and about had a hard time trusting that our actual elders who knew us were doing a good job, so we kept getting checked in on and all that kind of stuff. I remember my pastor telling me, “Zack, people are treating you like you have a broken arm. You’re sitting there, both of your legs are cut off and you’re bleeding to death and they’re treating you like you have a broken arm and if you would just move your arm, then everything would be fine.” Simple-lism. Simplicity.
Defending myself, reactivity, or imaginary conversations … You know what imaginary conversation is, right? It’s when, I don’t know, you’re walking and it started out as a prayer …
It’s in … You know, it’s direct address to God, third person about the person, you know, “God, he,” right, so it’s prayer and somewhere along the line, you’re no longer talking to God, and the he has become you. “You [inaudible 00:21:14], you and why, you [inaudible 00:21:15,” like that and you’re having a conversation with nobody but you’re all in. It’s as if they’re right there and you’re just trying to win.
If I could just say it this way. If I could just say it that way. If I could just get it right. If they could just … If they could just … and you think the problem is your sentences. If I could just get the sentence right, she would stay. What kind of folly is that? If I could just quote the right verse. Her problem was not the absence of Biblical knowledge.
If I could just quote the right verse, if I could just say the right thing. You know that … The American … There’s an American story, The Little Train that Could. It’s about this little train and he’s going to climb a big mountain and he’s having a hard time, but then he just says, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and so he does. You know there are some mountains in life, it doesn’t matter how much you think you can, you can’t and what happens when you face that?
What happens when a guy who is a professional talker, this is my gift, what happens when my words bring no change? I can’t defend myself. I can’t organize sentences right to keep a person that I had loved and … for trying to pursue and humble in any way I can, it’s not working. No words are working. Word is going around that there’s a dark secret, I’m living in a fishbowl of slander and rumor.
Had to take my son out of the local Christian high school and home schooled. I’m home schooling my seventh grader in the midst of walking through that together, because as Dr. F once … For some reason, people are talking to him about the … Reactivity. I want to fight, I want to defend, I … Stop the slander, this isn’t true.
Years later, five, six years later, I was reacquainted with a group of old people who I used to do life with and all that time they lived in the same community, they had no idea the kids lived with me. Rumor. Slander. I remember sitting in a court room with the church I pastured being accused of being a cult, me being accused of being a cult leader and a danger to my kids. That’s the most helpless, humbling thing, but when you do, what does a pitcher in baseball do when the other team’s hitting your best stuff?
You had a curve ball or fast ball, a slide and the other team’s popping them. What do you do? You sit down and maybe for the first time in a long, long time, you say, “Yes, Lord, I’m listening. Your servant is listening.” The Word won’t work. Emotions don’t work. There’s nothing you can do that’s worked. [inaudible 00:25:14].
Reactivity is moving from folly, as the fool is constantly speed and movement and emotion, wah. Coming to a place of recognition that the words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
Jesus reaches into your reactivity and He comes to you like He did with that storm and He says, right through your soul, your frenzied, frantic, explosive, defensive soul and says, “Shh. Shh. Quiet.” Moving from a reactive soul to an attentive one that’s able to hear a word like, “Behold,” and actually behold. It’s a work of grace.
I called a friend 10 times in 10 minutes. He didn’t answer the phone, I knew they were there, so I called again. I called again. Have you ever been there? So frenzied, in your emotion that you are texting, you are emailing, you are [inaudible 00:27:01] someone … You send someone an email, they don’t respond in three minutes, so you think something’s wrong and you send it all the more and then all the more and everything speeds up and all we’re doing is multiplying words that have no power to change what is.
Reactivity to attentiveness, what Matthew Henry called the Sabbath Heart, a residue from the Sabbath itself. Everything around us still swirls but something inside has slowed down so that we are able to weather what comes.
The second move is from consumerism to human presence or ordinary presence, presence, P-R-E-S-E-N-C-E not the Christmas kind. From consumerism to presence.
The great king in verse 15, he’s mobilizing everybody. He’s leveraging everything. Leverage, mobilize for the sake of conquering.
Well, that’s been a part of my life. Using people, rather than loving, so that I could leverage Gospel things. You know what that means is it means that I could take a picture of all of us right now and myself and put it on some materials and use you. Use you for my own platform and consume you without loving you and you know that you can consume me without loving me. You can consume any speaker, get the resource without relationship. Use the resource, making sure they better keep saying everything right.
The way we talk … The way I’ve learned and talk about this now, in among us as … in our leadership team is I’ll say there are three kinds of decision making as leaders. There’s emergency room decision making. There’s boardroom decision making and then there’s just the shepherd thing. I don’t have a better name for that. I’ve got to come up with something. Remember, [inaudible 00:30:00].
Emergency room. Emergency room values immediacy and relief, so you go to the emergency room, their whole goal is immediately to relieve you in order to stabilize you so they can figure out stuff later, right. Immediacy and relief, whooh. Thankfully, we need that. My youngest has a peanut allergy. I’m thankful for emergency room action of immediacy and relief.
Boardroom, BR, boardroom, efficiency and quantity. Efficiency and quantity, the most amount of productivity for the least amount of buck. That’s awesome. Oh, in a church, we’ve got budgets and stuff, it’s good to figure that out. Here’s the problem, if emergency becomes the norm, then the church is always in crisis. Reactivity, always in crisis. Consuming, reactivity. Creating crisis, even when there isn’t any. There’s no proportionality. Everything that happens is huge, right. Right, you wouldn’t know where to go from there.
The children’s ministry didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. Waah, crisis. Man, what are you going to do if someone dies? Like if you’re using that much emotion for the children’s decision, I mean you’re already right there. What happens when something really bad happens? Where do you go? You’re already using it all. It’s like everything’s a crisis.
On the flip side is the boardroom, it’s really awesome, but the problem is that the Lord Jesus rarely bring immediate relief and the Lord Jesus doesn’t seem to be worried about money like we are and He’s not very efficient. I’m just going to let that sit there.
I know He knows what I mean. I’m hoping you know. He’s not. The Lord doesn’t relate to you to get the most production for the least amount of money. He doesn’t relate to you like that. If He was more efficient, there would have been stuff I’m just learning in my 49th year, it seems like I should have learned that a little while ago. Would have been helpful, you know.
The Lord is the kind of Lord who will spend 30 years in a carpenter shop learning the names of trees. What is that about? Theologians call that the years of obscurity and then there’s the years of popularity and, buddy, I like that. I like that years, besides the crucifixion stuff, I like that years of popularity.
The years of obscurity, you know I’m thinking if the Lord was 20 … I don’t know … How do we know? I’m just … I’m thinking if He’s 20 and He’s building a table. He’s got sawdust in His beard and if you were to say to them, “So where are you from?” “I’m from the eternal residence of the Living God.” I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
I think He would just say, “From Nazareth. Where are you from?” What’s He doing there? I mean Herod did a lot of bad things when Jesus was a boy. Why didn’t He like get to 13, get the bar mitzvah and get after it? What, what, what is He waiting for?
What if when He says, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” what if He doesn’t start with the years of popularity when He means that? What if He means the entirety of His life? His ordinary life, trees, tables, sawdust, skinned knees, parents who don’t understand, family dynamics, figuring that out, you know. He’s not leveraging a thing …
Here’s the thing, so if you’re a leader in ministry, let me ask you this question. If I take away from you immediacy and relief, efficiency and quantity, you no longer have those to use, what’s left? Your presence. You. Your eye contact. Your appropriate touch. Your tears. Your laughter. Your prayers. Your open book.
Some of us are mobilizing, mobilizing, mobilizing but we’re really just consuming people to leverage them, to get something out which means I’m told I constantly have to mobilize you to become somebody other than who you are to get you somewhere other than where you are to do something other than what you’re doing. Which means who you actually are already, where you actually are already and what you’re actually doing already doesn’t matter, but it seems to me that when you remove all this stuff, we’re just offering our presence, which is what our Lord Jesus did, He just offered His presence.
Now there’s no leverage. This man is a poor man. He has no resources, there’s nothing you can … Hah, there’s no networking power with Him. There was found within the poor wise men. It’s not a metaphor. He was actually poor. He just got no networking power. There’s nothing you can use him for but he is wise and he could deliver you. Do you want it?
If he has nothing you can use, all he has is himself and the wisdom you need for rescue and he’s wise. Will you choose it? Because the king will overlook you and other people will overlook you. CS Lewis called this the Inner Ring, the Inner Ring. It’s just what we had on the playground and the kids in school, you know. I want to be in your group so badly that I will do whatever I know you approve of in order to get in your group and I’ll be sure not to do anything I know you don’t like to make sure I’m in your group.
Which means, you’re not now loving me and I’m not now loving you as you actually are. What we’re doing now is maneuvering. I have a club. This is what you have to do to be in our club. Rather than who are you? What’s your life been like? What frustrations do you have, what desires, what longings are in your life? What do you think about God? What do you think about His comment?
None of that’s asked and we’re consuming. You strip that away and all you got is just you. Man, I had just me. I was sitting there looking in the mirror. I had gotten the laundry out, I was coming over and I had looked in the mirror and I realized I had lost hair and lost weight and I started to cry. I’m holding like underwear and stuff. I’m starting to cry, at that moment, my youngest son who completely started over with potty training came down and poured grape juice right on the carpet. He had a lot to deal with, too. How does a four year old express it?
At that very moment, I’m crying, holding underwear, he pours the grape juice on the carpet and my bright idea to get a dog to help all of this.
The dog comes running in from outside where it had just eaten something and he just vomits, blugh … right there on the … Right there on the floor. That’s what I had to offer. Nobody called me for conferences then. Nobody called me then.
From consumerism just to our presence. I’m Zack, son of Verne, son of Jen from Henryville, Indiana. I used to have a mullet and an earring and I’d go out on LaFollette Field of Ball State University and cry out to God to use me in the generation. I’m the guy that sought after greatness of the wrong kind, trying to be in an inner ring and there holding underwear with the grape juice and the vomit. I had to come to terms with this question. Does the Lord love me?
It’s not about consumerism, it’s not leverage, nothing to leverage. I got nothing now. Does He love me just as a human being, as a single dad with kids trying to learn how to use a crock pot? ‘Cause I went to McDonald’s so many times and I switched over from McDonald’s to Subway so that was better. Finally, someone gave me the idea, “You need a crock pot.” I feel like a cracked pot. “No, you need a crock pot.”
Then there’s from hurry to patience, from reactivity to attentiveness, from consumerism just to ordinary presence, from hurry to patience. Most things in life, this guy wants to say large, famous, fast, everything around you say, “You’ve got to do something large, famous, and fast, if you want to be something great for God,” but most things in life that really matter require you to do small, mostly overlooked things over a long period of time. Yeah?
All right, think it out with me. You want to learn how to play the piano well. Small, mostly overlooked, long period of time. You want to learn how to paint. You want to learn how to be an expert in your field. You want to have a marriage that thrives. Small, mostly overlooked, over a long … Parenting, small mostly overlooked, long period of time. Friendship, the kind of friendship that lasts. Forgiveness, small, mostly overlooked, long period of time. Learning the Books in the Bible for the first time, getting through sickness, getting through a sickness that’s chronic. Loving someone, bearing with, hoping with, enduring with.
It isn’t large, famous, fast, click, selfie, leverage, boom. It isn’t that way. In order, in order to experience love and to give it, it’s going to be a lot of small, overlooked things that over a long period of time accumulate into something. It’s patience. It’s this …
Here’s the thing, if you look into Scripture, the word haste is almost always equated with folly. Look it up, you can check it for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Haste and hurry are almost always associated with folly in the Bible. In fact, and look up the word slow and it’s almost always used to describe the character of God. He is slow to anger. You want to use not slow in His keeping His promises, but it sure seems slow.
Slow. 30 years in a carpenter’s shop. Slow. From hurry to patience. There are some things you just can’t fix, not immediately.
I remember … No, that’s … I can’t remember being on a porch as a pastor and a young girl is on the porch. She had run away, we were out looking for her. She was on a porch, curled up in her pajamas, mom had the door closed, wasn’t going to let her in. Why? ‘Cause dad’s on the phone telling mom, don’t let her in, tough love. Mom was bawling her eyes out, telling the girl that ran away who’s curled up in her pajamas on the porch that she won’t let her in. We had been looking, looking, looking. We finally found her right there on the porch.
I’m going to ask you a question. What do you say? What sentence can you say to fix that? You can’t fix her anorexia with a sentence. You can’t fix the dynamic with a husband and the wife, who are figuring out tough love in a sentence. You can’t. It’s going to take a lot of not just sentences, but silences, of ordinary presence and a lot of patience.
Here’s a thing, you were never meant to fix everything and you were never meant to know everything and you were never meant to be everywhere at once. Someone who can fix everything, theologians call that omnipotence. Someone who can know everything, theologians all that omniscience. Someone who can be everywhere at once, theologians call that omnipresence and who have we just described? God.
You were never meant to fix everything. You shouldn’t repent because you can’t fix everything. You don’t have to repent ’cause you can’t fix everything. You have to repent ’cause you were trying to. You were trying to do what only God can do. You don’t have to repent ’cause you don’t know everything. Only God knows everything. You have to repent for trying to know everything. You don’t have to repent ’cause you can’t be everywhere at once.
You have to repent ’cause you’ve been trying to and I know someone’s saying, “Aha, I can be everywhere at once. I can Tweet and I can blah, blah, blah, and blah, blah, blah and I can send out my blah, blah, blah,” and I’ll say, “Yes, but you’re wrong. You’re still in one place in the globe, on one chair, and your fingers are on one keyboard and not any other keyboard in the entire galaxy.”
Don’t buy the illusion, the real you can only be at one place at one time and that leads us from rootlessness to stability. Reactivity to attentiveness, consumerism to human presence, hurrying to patience, from rootlessness to stability. This guy can’t go anywhere, he has to stay. He has to stay in the city. He’s going to have to go through by staying where he is.
One of the skills that you and I have learned is how to get somewhere. Our culture is built on it, teaches you how to get somewhere, especially if you’re in a white collar world, it teaches you how to get somewhere. Well, you went to kindergarten in order to get to … Excuse me, elementary school.
You went to that Subway sandwich. You went to … just being real.
You went to elementary school in order to get to junior high. You went to junior high in order to get to high school. You went to high school to get your first job, not your last job, you hope, your first job which will lead to another job, or you went to college, not to stay there, but to get your first job or to go to school and even more, or you went into the military.
All you’re doing is going from one thing to … and you’ve learned. You have learned how to move. You have learned how to start a new thing. You’ve learned how to move from one thing to another. You have that set of skills, but takes a completely different set of skills to stay there once you get there. One of these years, you’re going to get where you’re going and there’s nowhere else to go. Now what?
Before, if you didn’t like the way it was, you could just move, rearrange geography, rearrange … but what if you’re in a city and you’re going to have to stay … I’m not now talking about those of us in dangerous situations, for me to plan in a community to get us out. I’m talking about I’m a single dad at that time with three children and there’s nothing changing. That’s the way it’s going to be. It isn’t what I asked for. It’s now what my life is.
There’s no way around that unless I want to go off the rails, too. Now it’s my role. [inaudible 00:49:24], so the only way out is a lot of small step, one step. It’s through. The skill sets you need to stay somewhere is you’ve got to come to terms with boredom. You need a hefty theology of boredom.
You need a theology of beauty. I love these purple trees. I’ve never seen that in my life. We don’t have them in Missouri. I have never seen a purple tree, Jacaranda, something like this. Yeah, I’ve never seen in my life and I tell you as a younger man, I never would have noticed or cared, ’cause what does it have to do with getting me where I need to go, but now, it just doesn’t get any better in life. What else is there? [inaudible 00:50:14] what else? God created that tree.
It is incredible, it is no waste of time to say, “Wow, Lord, that is vivid. That’s amazing.” To be able to stay in a place over a long period of time, you have to learn to derive pleasure in small, mostly overlooked things that God delights in. You have to come to terms with the fact that we get bored with things that don’t bore God. He just delights in seeing the same old person, making the same old tree.
GK Chesterton said it this way, “What if God doesn’t make all daisies alike because He ran out of ideas? What if He makes all daisies alike because He enjoys them so much? What if the sun rises every day,” Chesterton said, “Not just because of some mechanical thing but the Lord delights in it so much that He says, ‘Do it again.'” Chesterton says, “What if God is like the child who you’ve just read the book to before bed and they say, ‘Can we read it again?’ and then you finish it, ‘Can we read it again?’ and the distinction becomes clear, you and I are now bored, and they aren’t.”
“The pleasure of the story is enjoyable. They just see the goodness of it. ‘Ah, let’s do it again,'” and Chesterton said, “What if that’s like God? He just delights every day in doing small ordinary things again, ’cause they’re so amazing.”
To be in one place over a long period of time, there is … or be in a place where you don’t want to be, but that’s not an interruption. It’s what your life is, is you have to learn the skill of forgiveness and you have to learn to live in days you’ve got being fixed. You begin to learn the names of trees and how to use ramen noodles with pineapple and any kind of stuff, you can make a Hawaiian ramen noodle, and you don’t even need a crock pot.
When someone says, “Ah, that’s not spiritual.” I’m like, “Man, that’s my life. Are you telling me God’s not there ’cause He’s all I’m holding onto right now.” No you need to do something larger, bigger, faster for God. I just imagine the … Adam comes home from a long day at work … I’m stereotyping … Adam comes home from a long day at work. Eve’s in there. He comes in. He sits down, puts his shovel over, “Eve, I’ve just got to get out of this place. I was made for something more, Eve. I can just feel it. I just want to do something significant for God.” That’s exactly what they did.
Listen, you were given a place to be, a people to love in that place, and a thing to do and that was the great thing God created. That was all that was necessary to glorify Him. Hah, you don’t have to be somebody else other than you are. You don’t have to be somewhere else other than you are. You don’t have to do something else other than you are. Be in a place, love the people there, do the thing He gave you to. It’s a good life. It’s enough. It takes a lot of effort to do that.
Boredom, love, mundane joy, routine, rhythm, bearing with. Reactivity, the desire for consumerism, the desire for hurry, this feeling of rootlessness, and finally this movement from performance to grace.
Oh, man, verse 15, “There was found in it a poor wise man and he by his wisdom delivered the city,” they gave him a key to the city, they hoisted him up, they made a statue, they declared a day in his honor, he went on a book tour, he was famous, made millions. I can’t believe the sentence there in verse 15, do you?
“Yet no one remembered that poor man.” That epitaph would be, you know, on a tombstone, “Here lies a man that saved the city that forgot him.” Solomon says, “This is great.” Some of you are working really hard wondering what your legacy is, how to be remembered. [inaudible 00:55:58]
No one’s going to write about this meeting, maybe somebody will but we’re not going to be in Time Magazine or something. We’re going to disperse and go back home and in a couple of years we all won’t quite remember, “Was so and so there? Was that the year that Eswine was there or was that … No.”
Your great hope isn’t being remembered. Your great hope is that the Lord remembers you, every day of your life so that when you’re standing in a mirror, holding our underwear and your dog vomits, your child trying to figure out what to respond or the grape juice on the floor, you don’t have to get somewhere else for God to be with you. He’s there already.
Because the Lord Jesus paid for our reactivity to give us His attentiveness. He paid for our leveraging and consuming people to teach us presence and love. The Lord Jesus paid for all of our haste and hurry to deliver us from it, so we could patiently live. The Lord Jesus paid for our rootlessness, constant restlessness so that we could learn how to be in a place with the people, with the thing to do and to feel grateful for it and the Lord Jesus delivers us from our performance.
Eventually, eventually, I was called to be a pastor of the church, Riverside Church. I was a single dad with three kids. Probably the only church in America that would do this and truth be told, we’d all say, “We wouldn’t do that again,” and we’ll laugh together, because it’s a lot to ask.
When I came to Riverside church there were a number of seminary students, local seminary students in the church. When they heard that I was going to be the pastor, stood and applauded. Two years later, none of those, not one of those students was still in the congregation.
Those who counseled me said there, “Zach, it’s one thing for people to have encountered your persona, to see you at your best when you’re in the classroom or you’re in your office or you’re preaching and preaching. It’s another thing for them to encounter your real self, the single dad with three kids who’s a mess. They couldn’t handle the [inaudible 00:58:52], it would have required them to love you and you would have had to love them, not consume each other.”
Well, that’s a lot to think about … and our church went from 300 people down to about 75. Still want me? That was 2008, financial crisis. We lost a whole lot of money, had to let full time people go. I wanted to quit. Told the elders I resign. All their friends were leaving, I didn’t want to do that to anybody. What am I doing wrong? I’m too broken, I guess, and a lot to ask for a young congregation.
[inaudible 01:00:03] said to me, “Zach, we don’t want you to resign. We think you need to weather this.” We’re about 75 now, you know, I mean … and he said this, “If we have to turn the lights out on this church, it’ll be you and me doing this together.” Tell you what, for a person that was in the midst of full on self-abandonment in a community, in a church culture, in my own family, that grown man looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sticking with you through thick and thin.”
When I was interviewed by that search committee about being a pastor there, I said no. Then I said no again, then I said no again, and finally, I said, “Listen, I don’t know how to be a single dad, much less a pastor and a single dad. I don’t know how to do it.” They said, “We don’t know how to do it either, but we’re willing to learn with you.”
Now a lot of those folks couldn’t, couldn’t fulfill that earnest desire they had, but a core group of people, the leaders who had started that church, all the core leaders, none of them left and that’s how they talked to me. “If we have to turn the lights out, we’ll do it together.” In my grown life as a person, this made Zach [inaudible 01:01:42]. I never experienced a man talk to me like that, not in the worst part of life that I will be with through thick and thin. The closest is a very dear mentor and friend who has always reminded me that I’m already discovered and already loved and so are you.
No one remembered that poor man, so it’s all about grace and, finally, when a woman at the church, her name is Jessica, still is, very active in the church in all kinds of ways. I had told the elders when I first came, I can, I just, I can’t date. I can’t do anything like that. I don’t trust myself. I’m worried about my kids. I can’t do anything like that. If something like that ever comes up, you’ll have to tell me, you’ll have to tell me.
I went to them and I said, “There’s a woman in our church, I’m feeling weird. We’re just talking real easy and I’m starting to not sure if I’m supposed to repent as a pastor, I’m starting to pray. What’s happening?” I said, “If this was some other ordinary thing in life, I’d probably just say, ‘Hey, do you want to get coffee or something and …'” They said, “Who was it?” I said, “Jessica Stony.”
[inaudible 01:03:09] looked at Brian and Janice, they looked at each other, they smiled, they turned back to me and they said this, “Remember when you said we’d need to tell you who to date?” I said, yes. They said, “Jessica Stony’s the one woman in our congregation we would whole heartedly commend. We think you should.” I said, “Well, okay, thank you. I think I’m just going to back away.”
That was a little too spooky for me.
They call me up one week later … These are elders … Presbyterian elders, I have already told you about how I was related to by other Presbyterian elders. I’m encountering a different kind of elder, not in terms of their commitment to Scripture, but in terms their way they’re living out grace and the Gospel and the implications of costly love.
He calls me and he says, “It’s just coffee. We think you should go.”
So I did and, of course, we had to it like 007, ’cause if someone just saw us out the rumors would start. I’m tired of rumors, right, and all that. We met 40 minutes away at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon and the elders knew it, their wives knew it, our team knew it. My kids knew it ’cause I’d … My oldest two, ’cause I had asked them, “How would you feel if I went on a date?” They were involved in that whole thing and, well, we’re married now and so …
The very first … This is early … This is where I’ll finish … We’re early in our marriage, that was 10 years ago. We’re early in our marriage and I’m called out, there’s a crisis call. I’m heading out the door as a pastor, to go to Pastoral Care, Jessica says, “Hey, hey, wait, wait,” and I said, “What?” and she comes over there and I’m at the kitchen door and she just … I mean she kisses me like we’re married, so and then she looks me in the eyes and she says, “Zack, you are a son of the King. Go get ’em.”
I’m learning grace from her. From performance to grace. “Your identity is already established, Zack, before you walk out the door, no matter what happens in the coming minutes, you’re already the King’s son, so get after it.” Well, we’ve been trying to ever since.
Who is after all the poor wise man who delivers the city? I just think it’s a picture of Jesus. Didn’t he come in His poverty to deliver us and He isn’t remembered or known? Some of us know, ’cause He’s been so kind and so faithful, to overcome our reactivity and our consumerism, our hurry, our rootlessness, our performance, and can work in us attentiveness, presence, patience, stability, and grace. This is what He does and this is why we have hope.
Thank You, Lord, for your goodness to us tonight. Thank You for all day. We ask now that You would continue to open our hearts to You and any of us here who needs to ask You anything, You’d be willing, as You always are to so kindly give us hope that You will hear us. We thank that it’s Your kindness that leads us to repentance and we thank You that You weep with us when we weep and You rejoice with us when we rejoice. We thank You, Lord, in Jesus’ name, amen.