Into the Smoke

Years ago my friend David, knowing I like Civil War history, gave me a coffee mug with a painting on it by Mort Künstler entitled, "Steady, Boys, Steady."

It portrays one brigade of Pickett's Charge, the ill-fated bloodbath that was part of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. The painting shows a long double line of ragtag Confederate soldiers, bayoneted guns resting on their shoulders, marching forward. One man carries their flag. Everything around them is obscured by the smoke of cannons, and there are explosions nearby. Out ahead of them, the focal point of the picture, is Brigade Commander Lewis Armistead. He is perhaps ten feet ahead of his troops. His hat is raised high on the tip of his saber so his troops can see to follow.

In the first frightening months pastoring a new church, I looked at the picture on that coffee mug at least a hundred times. I'd look at Lewis Armistead and think, He must have been frightened, too. But when you are a leader, sometimes you just put your hat on your sword and march into the smoke. Over and over I'd tell myself, Put your hat on your sword and march into the smoke.

The way we pastors deal with the turmoil around us depends on how we deal with the turmoil within us.

Sharing in the Sufferings

The phrase "sharing in the sufferings of Christ" is one that makes many of us uneasy, because we're not sure we do it. We feel a little sheepish putting ourselves in the same category as martyrs. But all growing Christians share in Christ's sufferings. We don't have a choice about it.

Essentially this means that we accept the shame and disgrace of the crucified life for Christ's sake. All that the Lord produces in our lives and all we are taught in Scripture runs headlong into the ways of the world around us, and the world pushes back. Pastors share this Christlike suffering with all believers.

Indeed, a great part of our work is helping our fellow believers understand how they share in the sufferings of Christ.

I had been a solo pastor less than a year when I got a call at nine o'clock in the evening from a distraught husband. He and his wife had had a big fight and she had kicked him out. He didn't know how to stand up to her, and he didn't know where to go. I covered the phone and whispered the story to my wife. We agreed to take him in for the night. He was relieved but told me he had to go back home to get clothes for work the next day. I said I would go with him.

When we walked in the front door, his wife unloaded. She raged while we went to the bedroom closet. She turned her anger on me. It felt like a boxer's body blows. I started talking her down.

Three hours later I left them together, smiling. A good night's work for a pastor.

But something went wrong in me that night. Some vital emotional organ had been bruised. Within a day I plunged into a deep depression. I was afraid of the phone and the dark. I couldn't watch a TV drama. All I wanted to do was sleep. I had no sense whatever of God's presence.

I clung to the advice I had heard, "Never doubt in the darkness what you knew to be true in the light." I told a few of my leaders what was happening to me, and they prayed for me.

A couple weeks later, I read something about Jesus healing memories. There is dangerous nonsense out there on the subject. But what I read simply recommended inviting Jesus to come into a bad memory. Just pray and ask Jesus to bring his healing into this situation.

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Winter 2013: Callings  | Posted
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