Vocation

Frost’s Two Paths

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Each day, your life wraps around you like a warm bed. It becomes cozy and secure like a soft mattress beneath your slumbering body. There are times when it might be a little uncomfortable. The mattress might be lumpy. But each day, the blanket of life lulls you back under its warmth. Occasionally, you open your eyes and look outside the window. It seems sunny. It seems like it would be warm. But can it really be more comfortable outside than in your bed? Is it really better than being under your blanket? Could that really be? So you stay.

And that is ok. Your body needs rest. Your life needs rest and contentment. These are truly blessings of God. However, occasionally, you just cannot shake that feeling that there is something more appealing out that window. You, now, have a decision. Does your contentment outweigh whatever might be drawing you out from the comfort of the blanket of life? Is there something bigger in store for you? Is it worth chancing your feet on the cold floor to find out?

Lord God, You have called you servants to ventures of which we cannot se the ending by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

There are numerous times in our lives when we are faced with Frost’s proverbial two paths. One looks well-traveled and comfortable. The other looks cold and unknown. You know what one holds. The other is a crap-shoot. There are times when it is perfectly feasible to take the comfortable path. God’s good gifts of contentment and satisfaction await. The daring move is not always the right move.

However, when the same unknown path is set before you and you just cannot turn away, have the courage to take it knowing that God is right beside you. Sometimes the daring move is the right move. It will be painful. It will be scary. It will be uncertain. But during those times, your good Lord is supporting you with His love, and leading you with His hand. Sometimes the path that is least traveled does make all the difference in our lives. However, the love and care of our God traveled the path to the cross for you. So, if you are so inclined, throw off the blanket. Venture onto the cold floor. Do something. See what God has planned.

Ordination Nostalgia

This Sunday will mark the 6th anniversary of my ordination. Through the past 6 years, I have been challenged, I have failed, I have succeeded, and I have been blessed. While there are days when I want to throw all of my theology books out on the street corner and go work for a record store, I really, really, really like what I do. I am very thankful for a supportive wife, a caring congregation, and the continual strength that God gives me each day.

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I am (quite often) asked, “When did you know that you wanted to be a pastor?” This question is rather hard for me to answer. It is a question that was painful to think about during my college and seminary years, because it did not have an answer until the beautiful work of the Spirit was completed in calling me to the ministry in 2008. Let me explain.

When I graduated high school and enrolled in college, I did not want to be a pastor. I wanted to be a high school band director. However, the narrow escaping of the first semester of Music Theory led to major occupational discernment. If I could only pass the first semester of music theory with the intense help of my roommate, how in the world was I going to make it through the rest? So began one of the first of many existential crises.

As I debated my life and future, I examined the interests that I possessed. I liked to read. I liked to argue. Why not try theology? So I changed my major (just like roughly 75% of college students by the way), and I began to pursue a major in theology. I was also convinced by a few friends to join the Pre-Seminary Student Association (PSSA). This is where I was introduced to the painfulness of answering the above stated question. I heard story after story of members of the PSSA that involved most if not all of the following events:

1. They were the sons of pastors.
2. They had known their whole life that they were going to be a pastor.
3. When they were three-years old (the age that randomly occurs in every story), the clouds parted, a beam of light shown from heaven, and the voice of God told them that they were to be a pastor.

I had no higher calling. I did not know I wanted to be a pastor. I just knew that I wasn’t failing my classes, and the homework did not seem so awful. So I kept taking classes and I never came close to failing. I actually enjoyed what I was studying. The pages of Scripture were filled with people that had no want to be a prophet, apostle, teacher, pastor, king, judge, etc. Yet God worked through them. They became important/necessary cogs in the plan of God’s salvation of humankind. This gave me hope. If God could work through the likes of Abraham, David, Paul, Peter, et al., maybe I stood a chance. Yet, my answer to “When did you know you were going to be a pastor?” was still, at best, “I don’t know yet”.

This continued all the way through college and seminary. I took classes. I passed. I went on vicarage. I had a great experience. I passed. I came back for my fourth year of classes. I passed. Then, on Call Day of 2008. I heard the words. “John Patrick Niles. Missouri District. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Concordia, Missouri. Associate Pastor.” Then, I knew. The Holy Spirit had led a congregation to call me to be their pastor. God had acted in time to call another unprepared, unqualified, mess-of-a-sinner to stand in His stead for His saints. But there was still a question of authority.

Then, on June 29th, 2008, I kneeled before a circuit counselor and numerous other pastors. I took my vows. They placed their hands and blessings upon me. The pastoral yoke (figuratively seen in the stole and personally felt by the weight of the vows I had just taken) was placed upon me. A few weeks later, I was installed at St. Paul’s, and have been serving there for the last 6 years. I have epic moments of triumph. I have equally epic moments of failure. But I know that I am meant to be a pastor to these people at this time. That certainty comes from a beautiful marriage of Call Day and my ordination.

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For those that might read this and find themselves frustrated at the process of finding a vocation, frustrated in their current vocation, doubting where they are or where they are going, not sure of how God will use them in this life, take heart! If God can use an uncertain servant who failed music theory like me, He can and will use your talents, passions, and skills. Let the accounts of Scripture be your certainty.

The Intersections of Life

traffic-main_fullHave you ever stood at the on-ramp of your life and observed the traffic flow? How is that for an abstract beginning to a blog post?

Seriously, though.

Does your life ever feel like a highway where every little title/hat/job that you have is like a long line of traffic all trying to get to the same place or exit at the same time? No? Well, I guess I am the only one. In that case, just stop reading and I hope my next post is more applicable. However, I find this to be one of the most difficult and most constant struggles in my life. Wife, children, personal time, congregational needs, professional responsibilities, hobbies, past-times, etc., etc. There are times when I feel as if I am managing the traffic flow quite well. Most of the time, however, I feel like a semi has jackknifed across three lanes, there is an SUV on fire on the shoulder, and a school bus with a flat tire in the other lane. In the midst of all of these vocations… somewhere deep down in the midst of all the traffic, you find Patrick. Most of the time it is a lonely place, a scary place.

And down there, in that lonely and scary place is one of the truly and exquisitely beautiful truths of Lutheran theology –  the doctrine of vocation. The doctrine of vocation states that God has given us callings in life. These callings usually revolve around our identity (i.e. parent, sibling, occupation, spouse, Christian, etc.). Within those callings, we have responsibilities. Our problems often come when we sacrifice one set of responsibilities for another. A proper understanding of the doctrine of vocation does not make problems go away. There will still be time-management problems. There will be issues with devoting too much time to one area and not enough in another. This is life on this side of eternity. However, a proper view of vocation gives us a different starting point. Instead of seeing our life as the freeway, we begin to see our life as the car. What? Stay with me for a minute. Check it out:

I am always a father. I am always a husband. I am always a pastor. I am always an avid basketball fan. I am always an aspiring writer. The problem is when I try to separate them, because it is like separating and denying part of my identity. I am one car driving down the highway of life negotiating turn after turn. There are times whempty roaden I veer into oncoming traffic. There are times when I forget to check my blind-spot. These mistakes cause damage… sometimes, it is damage that I cannot repair on my own. That is where Jesus comes in and takes the wheel (I know. That metaphor made me sick too.) Jesus comes in with the grace given us in our baptisms, His supper to nourish and strengthen our lives in vocation, His Word to guide and direct us, and forgiveness. The forgiveness spreads out into our vocations and begins to heal the damage from our “accidents”. Jesus is who He is, and because of His forgiveness, we are who we are. We begin our vocations each day as forgiven children of God. We live in our vocations as forgiven children of God. We lay our head on our pillows at night as forgiven children of God.

While it is easy for us to focus on our own efforts, the doctrine of vocation focuses our lives on Christ and what He gives. Vocation puts the intersections of our life in Christ.

A Little Call Day Encouragement!

Over the course of today and tomorrow (May 1st and May 2nd), many seminarians will be receiving their first call to serve as pastors to various Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod parishes. It was only four years ago that I remember receiving my first call. So many thoughts go through your head as you wait to hear your name and future destination called. Your feet cannot walk quick enough to receive the papers that validate that you are God’s man to preach and administer the Sacraments to a certain flock. It is an incredible day. I read these words of a classmate of mine that put everything in perspective and thought I would share them with you today. This is from Rev. Anthony Voltattorni over at his blog We Are All Beggars. Enjoy.

The Truth About Call Day

 
Today and tomorrow are Call Day at the Seminaries.
 
Like children running to the Christmas Tree to see what presents they have received, Seminarians run to chapel to find out where they will serve as a Pastor in the Lutheran Church.  It’s our form of the Draft.  

But let us not misunderstand the situation.  With all of the match-making that goes on at the Seminary between the candidate and the congregation we might be tempted to think that the system is perfect.  But this is far from the truth.  For today every single congregation mentioned tonight will receive an imperfect sinner as their pastor.  And every seminarian will find that his congregation is not as ideal as he had imagined the night before.  

We must approach the task with our feet grounded in the truth that the imperfect Pastor is sent by God to preach the Word and to administer the Sacraments to imperfect people.  God allows nothing less.  

 
Therefore, dear congregations, do not let Satan tell you that this young punk will leave in a couple years so do not entrust yourselves to his care. 
 
Therefore, dear seminarians, do not let Satan tell you that the first parish is only a platform for something greater, or that soon you can take another call and be done with those entrusted to you.    

Hear, rather, the words of Friedrich von Bodelschwingh to his son upon receiving his first parish:

“I beg you, do not look upon Dortmund as a steppingstone, but rather say: Here I shall stay as long as it pleases God; if it be his will, until I die.  Look upon every child, your confirmands, every member of the congregation as if you will have to give account for every soul on the day of the Lord Jesus.  Every day commit all these human souls from the worst and weakest of hands, namely, your won, into the best and strongest of hands.  Then you will be able to carry on your ministry not only without care but also with joy overflowing and joyful hope.”

Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, quoted in Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book, 210.

No matter how may crosses shadow the path you are about to take, the Call you have is the best Call.  The Parish you will soon serve is most blessed.  For there is the body of Christ.

Blessed Call Day!