Thursday, March 23, 2006

Call Me Isaac...

Something was wrong with Isaac. Look at his father and you see a giant of the faith. Abraham had his faults -- serious ones -- but his faith is what we remember. Look at Isaac's son and you see a rascal, but we remember Jacob for working an extra seven years for Rachel, for being the father of the sons whose names would mark the tribes, and for a life that made his name into a synonym for Israel.

What happened to Isaac? I wonder if it wasn't that long trip up Mount Moriah and the aborted sacrifice at the top. There are a lot of wonderful spiritual lessons to be learned from that event, but I wonder about its long term effect on Isaac. Isaac seemed to keep God at arm's length throughout his life. He didn't write long psalms of praise. He believed in God and followed Him, but at a distance.

Call me Isaac. I wish that wasn't my name. A childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in a rigid, cold church might be the reason. Maybe its just my DNA.

I am in awe of many of the bloggers I read each week. They think about God all the time, write about Him, discuss six, seven, or twenty of the latest books on evangelism, theology, church issues, or spiritual growth. They have lives centered around their congregation and the greater church. Their cars rattle with CD cases emblazoned with the names of dozens of Christian music superstars. They go to seminars... and take notes.

Confession time: one of the reasons I am a preacher is because of gratitude... but there is another reason. While I am thrilled that God didn't leave me in a ditch by the side of the road (which would have been His right and no one would have blamed him,least of all me), one of the reasons I work in a church setting is so that I'll show up on Sunday. You read that right: I am not sure I would attend if I didn't have to. Church is hard for me. Interaction with God's people is good for me and I know my soul needs it... but it has never felt natural. I don't get excited about church events and I struggle to fit in.

Church or college lectureships? I almost never go. When I do attend I am surrounded by people with notebooks, bags of the latest books and CDs, going from group to group to talk about speakers, subjects, church issues, etc. That world is as strange to me as the world of a Tibetan monk. I recently read a series of blogs and articles admonishing church people to ease a little out of their shells and the substitute culture of the religious. I couldn't relate. I don't listen to Christian music (don't send me stuff. I've tried it). I read two to three books a week -- mainly a mixture of history, politics, sociology, mysteries and thrillers. I make myself read ten to twenty religious books a year but it is a struggle. I keep asking my id "are we there yet?"

Don't get me wrong: I love my Lord. I will follow Him anywhere. But I can't feel at home in preacher-culture, church-culture, and if you drop me into a religious bookstore I don't know what to look for. Put me around an atheist, a homeless guy, or a confused student and I know what to do. And I do it. But tomorrow, around the metaphorical water cooler in the church office, while the other ministers may be discussing this or that hot religious author, or some leadership conference they attended, or the cool new song by whatever-their-name is... I'll be quiet, smile every now and then, and move along.

I am Isaac. For some reason I cannot draw that close to the things that matter to everyone else. I admire those people. I envy them. And I will never be one of them. While others are at Tulsa (and God bless them and the workshop) I will be speaking to two small churches, one in Ohio and one in Virginia. During the day I will be reading quietly, walking around, calling to check on my wife, son, daughter -- my family. I WON'T be hanging out with the brethren or doing all that other preacher stuff. I've tried to...but it comes off as fake to everyone around me, because it is.

All of this, perversely, makes me love Jesus even more. If He will let someone like me, who cannot draw closer, work for him, share the good news, and bring his meager talents to the table -- what a wonderful savior He is! He even loves people like me: his backward kids, the underachievers, the kid who never makes cover of "Perfectly Adequate Preacher Monthly." Thanks, God. You're just what I need. Call me Isaac if you want to, Lord, but keep calling me nonetheless.


At 3/24/2006 07:46:00 AM , Blogger DJG said...

I think we need more people who know what to do around an athiest and a homeless guy.

I think you are much closer than you think.

At 3/24/2006 07:51:00 AM , Blogger Suzie said...

Wow! My husband is a minister and has expressed those same feelings to me. He is most definitely an Isaac. Somedays I am refreshed by it, and some days, unfortunately I am harsh and critical of him. Thanks for opening my eyes.

At 3/24/2006 10:32:00 AM , Blogger carrie said...

My husband and I were in ministry for a few years. We so desired to reach the lost in the younger generations. We prayed and God led us to a youth ministry position in OK. I had always dreamed of being a youth minister's wife, maybe that was because I had such a great youth minister growing up. After a few months, I became that Isaac. I did so many things at that church because I was expected to do it. I dreaded attending church because of the "politics" that were involved. My husband was so talented at reaching the lost! He had not been raised in a church and was brought to Christ in the lowest times in his life, as a struggling teen. But, through bad circumstances, we decided to not stay in ministry. We had lost a passion. I admire people like you, who can minister people for many years. Sure, something can be said about studying His word through numerous books and music. But, if you are always studying and never ministering and reaching out, what good have you done? Thank you for being willing to open up your true person. That is what it takes to be the true hands and feet of Christ. You may be an Isaac, but you are reaching the lost and saving souls. God Bless you!

At 3/24/2006 10:44:00 AM , Blogger Billy D said...

Patrick - I could have written that. I'm grateful you did. It makes me feel a little better about my own situation.
I pull something positive out of every single visit I have here. Every one.

At 3/24/2006 10:58:00 AM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

This comes from a dear friend of mine via email. I thought it was so powerful in imagery that it needed to be shared. He graciously allowed me to do so:

Dear Patrick,
Winter has been hard on both of us. I have read your recent blog and looked with interest at the time of the writing. You must have pondered these thoughts all day.( I also know you are very busy.)I don't know how to respond other than ( for what it's worth)I too struggle in a group and as I prepare our Worship schedule here in **** for the
next quarter I want desperately to leave my name off. We are in deep cover and engaged in a fierce battle with the evil one and you and I can fight with him one on one better than we can with the group. Is there something seriously amiss or is this one of his schemes?

Let's not blame our church family. Let's find out the real culprit and put this to rest if we can.
Isaac must have remembered that great display of love that his father went through. We must also learn to hold tight and follow as you have said.

I remember traveling one time early one stormy winter morning. My truck was warm and safe and I was very familiar with winter and driving in it. As I traveled I looked ahead and on the side of the road were two children waiting for the school bus. Their backs were to the wind and the older was sheltering the younger from the cold. As the bus approached the older child grabbed all the stuff at their feet and took his siblings arm and ran as his dear brother held on tight because of the strength and assurance he felt in
his older brothers arm. I relayed this story from the "Lords Table" one time as just how it is sometimes. We just grab for that arm of our dear brother and hang on cause we know he is strong and more than able to carry all the stuff and get us safely ( even in the storm)to the bus. All we have to do is hang on. We don't try to make a contribution, we don't try to get there first cause he's got all the stuff, we just hang on until we're blessed with the warmth of the bus and the safety it affords and carry on.I believe that learning to lean takes us out of the mix sometimes.
This an old old song but when we learn that trusting and obeying are the only way. The battle with the devil will be much harder for him than it will be for us.

Your Friend

At 3/24/2006 11:26:00 AM , Blogger carrie said...

I have read your recent comments. It is obvious you are in a "storm". This is a current song by Casting Crowns. I heard this song and has been a powerful addition to my life and thought I would share it. I have copied this straight off of their website God Bless you and may you find the strength and the encouragement you need!

02. Praise You In This Storm

Written by Mark Hall / Music by Mark Hall and Bernie Herms

If there ever were a test of our faith - if there ever were a test of the motives of our worship - it is when a storm rolls into our lives. We watched and prayed for a precious little girl named Erin Edwards struggle with a deadly disease for several years. The courage, the witness, and the worship of Erin's mother Laurie inspired this song. Sometimes God calms our storms. Sometimes He chooses to ride them with us.
Romans 8:28 / 2 Corinthians. 4:16-18
Psalm 42:5 / Psalm 121:1-2
Job 1:20-21 / Daniel 3:16-18

2005 Club Zoo Music (BMI) / SWECS Music (BMI) (adm. by EMI CMG Publishing) / Word Music, LLC (ASCAP) / Banahama Tunes (ASCAP) (adm. by Word Music, LLC)

I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
And stepped in and saved the day
Once again, I say Amen, and it is still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear you whisper through the rain
I'm with you
As your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

I'll Praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
You are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will Praise You in this storm

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry
You raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can't find you

I lift my eyes into the hills
Where does my help come from
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth

At 3/24/2006 12:57:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Carrie, you are sweet and kind to think so, but I'm not in a storm. This is just the way I've been all my life. It amazes and humbles me that God will use me anyway. I thought I'd share my story so that others might drop their ivory tower facades and join me in telling theirs. God has blessed me so much, if He gave me more I wouldn't know where to put it!!!

At 3/24/2006 02:06:00 PM , Blogger Mark said...

Patrick -

Your post struck me pretty hard. I have tried to describe to a few people how I feel on Sunday evening after worship, having preached twice that day. I don't think I would be more worn out if I had run a half marathon. People look at me like I am crazy! Many think preachers are all of one personality type - the "life-of-the-party" type. I am not - neither are you. It takes incredible energy for me to preach and surround myself with people. Yet for some reason God called me to this. You are certainly not the only Isaac-preacher out there. I think there are many of them - and many of them do great work. I think some of the early preachers in the Restoration were Isaac-types - when you read their bios, you see they were given to bouts of solemnity / depression. I am thinking here of A. Campbell and W. Scott, among others.

The preacher-as-hero, life-of-the-party-guy is a stereotype. A popular stereotype, granted. I think Paul was an Isaac, don't you?

At 3/24/2006 02:42:00 PM , Blogger lee said...

I identify with Isaac because he was so loved by his parents and had a sweet, submitting relationship with them. Isaac was the culmination of his parents' faith in God to produce a miracle. My dad told me once that he and mom didn't think they could have other children until I was conceived later in their marriage.

Isaac so trusted his father's faith that when he was a young man in his thirties (like Jesus), he was willing to be led and bound on the altar of sacrifice. I, too, loyally trusted my parents decisions.
But at some point, I had to choose to follow God for myself. After Isaac had been a part of such a dramatic display of parental faith, might he have always anticipated, like I do, to what lengths will God require me to give up esteemed things or loved people?

I've wondered if easy going Isaac's
favoritism to his man's man Esau was influenced by his early separation from rowdy Ishmael. Isaac was the life made possible only by supernatural spirit. But Ishmael was banished in order to protect the promise that resided in Isaac. When I was born again eternally, I became part of that promise that carries profound accountability.

Isaac's life was marked by a perservering faith, but like him, I grew complacent within my self indulgent circle of comfort and concerns and it took a family crisis to shake me up and open my eyes to caring what God thinks.

Fitting in is not necessarily compatible with being called out.

At 3/24/2006 06:26:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Mark, I'm not sure about Paul. He is an amazingly complex creature. He doesn't strike me as an Isaac since he treasured the company of Christians -- even on the road to prison in Rome. While I love the brethren and would miss them terribly were I to be without them -- I want to be able to leave them when I am ready to leave! We have three morning services at Rochester. At the end of the third, I take my family to lunch and then retreat for the rest of the day. God bless my elders for letting me do that! In the words of Donald Miller: I am a rechargeable screwdriver. It takes me twenty hours of charging for ten minutes work!

At 3/25/2006 01:22:00 AM , Blogger Hoots Musings said...

My husband and I had the same conversation tonight. WE DONT fit in at our church. We are not sure why. We fight to make ourselves go. We are not bad christians, but we both are more comfortable away from the church building than in it. What does that make me? LOL

Loved your post and your view on being a minister.

At 3/25/2006 07:59:00 AM , Anonymous Will said...

I know just how you feel about the baggage that sits around Christianity, and I can appreciate what you said about finding Church hard - I think you're lucky if you don't find it hard. There's really only one thing that keeps me coming back to Christianity and that's Jesus. Every time I get in a flap over some side issue related to my faith, or some complex argument, I'm reminded that he is there for me, like an unbreakable pillar amidst a storm - and that no matter what I do, and how far I wander, he will pursue me relentlessly out of his limitless love. That really awes me.

Great site btw.

At 3/25/2006 02:08:00 PM , Blogger Niki said...

When I met my husband, he was the campus clown and life of the party...funny and loud. I spent many years in vain trying to change that, and come to find out that wasn't who he really was. He was searching for who he really was. After all these years he has found his identity in Christ, and it's not who everyone that knows him expected it to be. He is still funny and can be loud, but he is an introvert at heart and would rather be who he is than conform to the image that is expected of him. He'd rather be with his family than attending any retreat, party, or other social function. He is at home with the homeless people we work with, and teenagers in general, and those who don't fit the "Christian mold". He struggles, but follows where God leads, whenever and wherever that is. Like Jacob, God gave him a new name, but by your description, he is like Isaac as well. I love him that way. I suspect there are a lot more of you "Isaac's" out there than you realize.

Everytime you share your life and your heart, I am humbled by your honesty and genuine spirit. It takes all kinds my friend, and I'm so thankful you do your part. Someone once told me that "If you don't do you, you doesn't get done, and others will suffer for it". Wise words...

At 3/26/2006 12:27:00 AM , Blogger heidi said...

The extraordinary always looks bizarre to the status quo.

Don't you think it odd when the Redeemed DO fit in? Even in the church, there seems to be that contingent which demands conformity to protocol over conformity to the Word.

I was always under the impression that believers are to recognize that we are the ones free to walk in the uniqueness He intended for each of us.

At 3/26/2006 01:26:00 AM , Anonymous renee cutts said...

God is so kind to us. In the pages God has left us, each can find someone whom has walked in our shoes before us, someone who did God's will despite the battle raging all around and within. That gives me great hope.

Christianity isn't easy for anyone of us. Sometimes I think it would be easier to face the lion in the arena than to be stalked by it for a lifetime but I fear neither are easy. Both teach us the necessity to gain what strength we have from God. When we do His will, whatever comes from it, is of Him. We can do no more and no less.

To be swept up in His will is a breathless and humble existence knowing the creator of everything has chosen you to be one of His vessels. I always feel like such a patched and ragged bag unworthy for any use. But as I read the life stories of others in the Bible, I see that the holes and stretched open seams they had just allowed more of His light out.

In our weaknesses, others see His strength. Maybe we shouldn't worry with patches and should watch in awe with what He does with our holes.

At 3/26/2006 04:15:00 PM , Blogger Keith Brenton said...

That's okay, Patrick. Everybody's different, you know? I used to be a church-going loner. There because I thought I ought to be. Then came a divorce, and in the early 1980s it wasn't so easy to find a church home. God led me to one. And as I get older, I appreciate its fellowship more and more; how it helps me follow and offers encouragement and provides accountability ... just as I sometimes am blessed to do for others there.

Anyway, the kid who has ambitions to be featured - even in "Moderately Adequate Preacher Monthly" - has his ambitions set too low. Following, as you say, should always be the goal. Even at a distance.

I'm glad you're good at the ministry you've chosen!

And I'm doubly glad it includes all of us in your blog-flock.

At 3/26/2006 04:28:00 PM , Blogger David U said...

PM, you are in good company.....Jesus enjoyed being around the homeless. unbelieving, and confused folks a LOT more than he did the religious ones. By His grace, I hope to get where you are someday. I don't like being around "religious" folks all that much either, but I want to feel more comfortable around the homeless, unbelieving and confused.

You are helping me to get there.


At 3/27/2006 08:33:00 AM , Blogger That Girl said...

I wish we could all just be real! It feels so good to hear all these other people that are not perfect. Sometimes, I feel like I must just be the biggest loser God made.

At 3/27/2006 10:25:00 AM , Blogger mike the eyeguy said...


I'm a little late to the party on this one, but all I can say is God wired you and me with the same hardware.

I have to really work to fit in and to go period, and were it not for my teenage sons needing the structure and fellowship of a youth group, I'm reasonably sure that most Sunday mornings I would be seeking God on top of one of the beautiful mountains which overlook Huntsville.

Yet, I know there is benefit in "hanging in" for better or worse in community. But here is the question that really haunts me: Had I not been raised in the church, would I be a Christian today?

Given my personality type, natural skepticism and the mottled Christian landscape in America today, I think I would be a tough nut for God to crack--but hopefully not an impenetrable one.

At 3/27/2006 11:47:00 PM , Blogger J. Kevin Parker said...

Patrick, I read this post aloud to my wife--your honesty is amazing and refreshing! I am off the charts extravert (thank you, Meyers-Briggs), and I STILL don't fit the preacher mold my church wants from me. And my wife is FAR from it. And I guess since my kids aren't hellions, they don't fit the preacher kid mold, either, for which I'm very thankful!

I am a Gen-Xer, converted as a teen, and I LOVE my Lord. And being an extrovert helps me in some ways, but I will never be the guy that visits every member's home and holds their hand while they eat some more spiritual baby food after being in the church 50+ years. I hold the hands of actual hurting people and spend time in relationships with people who are growing closer to Christ.

We have a whole lot of people in church that have been so thoroughly brainwashed in our Christian bubbles that they have no connection with the lost (though they are full of ideas about how to reach them!). I've decided I have to be relevant and do work that nobody else is doing--many people can do the song and dance routine expected of many of us preachers.

I'm thankful for your church family understanding who God made you to be, and for your boldness to share this knowing many of them will read it.

At 3/28/2006 06:57:00 PM , Blogger Jeff Slater said...

Thanks for your words Patrick. I can definitely relate. My father-in-law is a minister, and he and I are very different. Put him in a room with 20 strangers and he will be everyone's friend within 30 minutes. Put me in that same room, and I will go off in the corner and read a book.

I appreciated what Mark said. On Sundays I preach 3 sermons (we have two A.M. services) and teach a class. When we get home on Sunday evening, I am COMPLETELY worn out. And for the same reasons Mark gave.

It's good to know that there are other Isaacs out there.


At 3/28/2006 10:32:00 PM , Blogger Laurie said...

Sadly, I am more of a Jonah.

At 3/29/2006 05:11:00 PM , Blogger Getting Sweeter said...

I enjoyed your post. My husband and I know several pastors and its funny when we think about how different there personalities are from each other.

One,I have no don't, is an Isaac. Those who don't know him may consider him unfriendly because he's not very talkative or social but get him talking to a lost man or even on the subject of winning souls for the Lord and you see a totally different man.

Another Pastor we know is high energy and exciting to be around. Another is very dogmatic.

The great thing about all of them is how everyone of them has such a passion for what God has called them to and God is blessing each one of their ministries.

Isn't it great how we are all different and yet God uses each of us to fulfill his mission here.

At 3/31/2006 07:40:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick, I truly wish I could be one of those people who knows what to do around an atheist and homeless guy. I wouldn't know what to say. I could give the homeless guy food, but that's about it.

And I, too, rarely listen to Christian music. Too much of it rates limberger on the cheese factor. I don't like "sappy-happy-clappy" songs, and too much of Christian music is like that to me (and even some of the songs we sing on Sundays give me the cringes--"A Beautiful Life" is one of those!).

Sometimes I think we are too insulated.

At 4/05/2006 09:40:00 AM , Blogger JD said...

It is always an education to read your posts, Patrick. You have enriched all of us in wonderful ways. Thank you for being brillantly honest. It lights the way for the rest of us.

At 4/05/2006 12:09:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you posted these thoughts... See, I've been wrestling with this idea for years, wondering if was healthy to like being a loner most of the time. And I've always felt it was difficult to connect with other people, or more than a few anyway. This post and something that Greg Stevenson said on his new blog, are both helping the idea to really sink in that some people are introverts, and that doesn't change. Even though I still feel like an outsider to most social circles, I'm more at-ease in my own skin (which is a good thing, since I seem to be attached to it for the long term).


At 4/06/2006 12:37:00 PM , Anonymous scott said...

Thank you, thank you and thank you.
In my sermon last week I confessed my struggle to minister to people sometimes. I shared how I was introverted by nature.
A lady called me that night to thank me for the lessons of the day. She told me that I had no reason to be introverted. To her, it was a character flaw that could be overcome.
It's hard to explain sometimes that it's just the way I'm wired.
Again, thank you.

At 4/11/2006 10:23:00 PM , Blogger Serena said...

I appreciate you sharing that. My husband can relate to people but needs the alone time to recharge or he runs out. I'm more like that but also need community. He is pretty content as a loner, so I don't have much community other than online right now. I think he is seeing the need, but we won't ever fit back in the institutional church. A home fellowship would be great though. It has been hard to even do that here, knowing that we are not permanent in this area. I really hate it, though, when people try to conform you to their image. I think that G-d does a much better job.
Btw, I think it is just how Isaac was wired and how you are wired, and how my husband is wired more than the circumstances of your life. You are just more the contemplative type. It shows in your writing, brother.
I'm hoping we can work out seeing you when we come through Michigan. Jackson isn't that far away.
Love and shalom,

At 4/18/2006 02:06:00 AM , Anonymous Hilbert Ault said...

Hi Patrick,
Do you tell the kids that using intrumental music at the worship service is sinful?
Thanks for answering,
Hilbert Ault


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