Why Feeling Unworthy can be Good and Important

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah is taken in a vision into the throne room of God. His reaction—“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” He panics. He is unworthy of God’s presence. He has said bad things, and his people have said bad things.

But an angel comes over and touches his lips with a coal from the altar. He is declared to be atoned for and without guilt. Then, when God asks who God can send, Isaiah responds, “Here am I; Send me.”

We often feel unworthy when God calls us to things. And we think because we feel unworthy that we must be unworthy. Why would God use us? How could God use us? We have made to many mistakes. We are not holy. We are not the most talented.

But let me tell you a paradoxical truth. While we think feeling unworthy makes us unworthy, feeling unworthy is actually the first step on the path to being worthy. Think about it this way—what makes you truly unworthy is thinking you are worthy. If God calls you to do something and you say, “Yep, I got this,” then we have a problem. There is no space in a big head for God’s leading. Our pride and arrogance constricts the Holy Spirit.

We must confess that we are unworthy so that God can use us. We must walk through saying “Woe is me” so that we can be ready to say, “Here I am. Send me.”

You think you are not worthy? Good. You are not worthy. I am not worthy. But when we admit that we are not worthy, we actually become ready. Ready for God’s grace and ready for God’s sending. I am not arguing for some kind of negative self-view, but rather for a self-view that comes from God’s view.

You say, “Woe is me. I am not worthy. I am not able.”

God responds, “Good. You admit it. Now, let’s get to work.

Pastors as “The Elite of Prayer”

Today I came across this great quote by Peter Taylor Forsyth. He was a Scottish theologian who lived from 1848–1921. In his book, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, he writes:
I speak to and of the ministry, which is at once our despair and our hope. If the preachers have brought preaching down it is the preachers that must save it. The Church will be what its ministers make it. A Church of faith like Protestantism must always be what its chief believers make it. And these foremost and formative believers are the ministers. The real archbishops are the archbelievers. If a Church has not its chief believers in the pulpit it is unfortunate. And if a whole denomination of Churches fail in this matter there is something fatally wrong. The ministers are in idea the experts in faith. They are the élite of prayer. If the Church is to be saved from the world it is the ministers that must do it. And how can they do it but as men pre-eminently saved from the world? And no man has the seal of that salvation on him except by action—by thought and prayer which become moral action. A man has the stamp of supernatural reality upon him only by such prayer. If another than the minister carry that stamp in any Church he is its true minister. The true minister, in the pulpit or out, does all his business in the spirit of this prayer. The man of commerce may say he cannot. I will not argue that now. I will only say that the minister has this advantage—he not only can but he must, if he know his business, and is to keep it going. And no man ought to take up this business unless he know it. A preacher whose chief power is not in studious prayer is, to that extent, a man who does not know his business. A stringent ethic would say he was in danger of becoming a quack. That of prayer is the minister’s business. (pgs 129-130) Continue reading

Lessons on God’s Calling- Abraham

When I was in seminary and going through the ordination process, I was forced to use the language of call. I was supposed to be able to share the story of God’s call on my life and particularly how I felt called to ministry as a full-time vocation. This was a consistent conversation in those days with seminary admissions counselors, professors, classmates, denominational committees, and the floor of Presbytery.

Saturday, July 15 was the 5-year anniversary of my ordination. As I look back, it is rather striking the difference between my seminary and ordination days and now. The language of call that was so valuable in those days is almost non-existent in the church. So I am taking some time in sermons and blogs to reflect on what it means to listen to and follow God’s calling and leading in our own lives.We begin with the calling of Father Abraham, then still called Abram, in Gen 12: Continue reading

Trusting God in Anxiety–No If’s, And’s, or But’s

We all go through times of anxiety where we don’t know what is going to happen. We want to do God’s will, but we find ourselves waiting and wondering what that will is. So let me give you a little bit of spiritual guidance for anxious times. There are 5 things I hope you remember as we have these conversations in the coming months.

1. God has plans and purposes for us. (See Jeremiah 29:10-14). Plans for good. Plans to use us. Plans for a future and a hope. I do not believe in a God who is distant, out there, surprised about the circumstances we pray about. If God is in any way out there, then God is out there in the future and knows what lies ahead.

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Sermon: True Freedom

The following is a sermon given July 2, 2017 with thoughts for the 4th of July. You can listen to the sermon HERE.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Today, with the 4th of July this Tuesday, we are taking a break from out series on the Bad Habits of Jesus. Instead, I want to take a biblical look at the themes of the Fourth, namely, words like liberty, independence, and freedom. What does biblical freedom look like?

Freedom is a major theme in the Bible, but to understand it, you have to understand the cultural contexts that were the opposite of freedom. Freedom in the Bible is not defined by itself, as grace or love might be. Freedom is defined by its opposites.

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But the Light Fades- A Lesson from Thomas R. Kelly

I read this quote in A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly today, and it really moved me:

But the light fades, the will weakens, the humdrum returns. Can we stay this fading? No, nor should we try, for we must learn the disciplines of His will, and pass beyond this first lesson of His Grace. But the Eternal Inward Light does not die when ecstasy dies, nor exist only intermittently, with the flickering of our psychic states. Continuously renewed immediacy, not receding memory of the Divine Touch, lies at the base of religious living. (pg 5)

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The Bible as One Big Story

This is the third is a blog series I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

The Bible is primarily story. Even the law is written in the context of the story of the law. The book of Numbers is the story of the Numbers as much as it is a catalogue of the numbers. The teaching we have from Jesus is not arranged categorically or even chronologically. They are written in stories of where he was at, who he was with, and where he was going. Even the works of Paul are written in the context of a story. They are letters with instructions for particular churches at particular moments in their stories.

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5 Levels of Reading the Bible

This is the second in a series of blogs I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

Let me lay out some framework for how to read the Bible as story. I suggest that you look at any particular passage of the Bible on five levels. This may sound pretty basic, as opposed to the in depth exegesis that many of us did in seminary, but the simplicity is what the church is bad at. We have looked at these texts so academically that we have lost our ability to see the stories as story.

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3 Shifts in our Understanding of What the Bible is

This is the first in series of blogs I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

What does the Bible mean for Christians? I am convinced anymore that it does not mean very much.

Barna Trends 2017 reports that “more than half of U.S. adults believe it is either the actual, literal word of God or the inspired word of God without error. Nearly half read the Bible at least once a month and three out of five say they wish they spent more time reading it.” (pg. 140) While these are better numbers than one might expect, there is a growing skepticism towards the Bible. Continue reading

The Psalm Jesus Quoted from the Cross

Mark 15:34- And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is a difficult passage. Does God the Father forsake Jesus in this moment? How can we understand these words?

In order to understand them, you have to take a look at the Psalm that Jesus is quoting from. Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. This is a Psalm attributed to David. It includes instructions with it—To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. These comment is marking the tune that the Psalm is meant to be sung to. It is a Psalm that was sung by the Jewish people in worship. It would be like saying “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…” or “Great is thy faithfulness O God my Father…” Continue reading

To a Discouraged Minister

I have been spending time every day in a book called the Minister’s Prayer Book by John W. Doberstein. This week, I came across this wonderful quote by Friedrich Zündel (1827–1891) under the titled “To a Discouraged Minister.” There is so much truth here:


“When difficulties pile up before you like insurmountable mountains… When behind you, you see nothing but failures.  When before you, you see nothing but trouble . . .  Continue reading

Pray and Prepare- Learning Life from Nehemiah

I have been preaching the book of Nehemiah, and it has been very insightful for me personally. Nehemiah finds out about the challenges in Jerusalem and prays for months. Then he gets to talk to the king about it. It seems like a fortuitous conversation, until you realize that Nehemiah knows the supplies he needs, the permissions that he needs, and even how long rebuilding the wall should take. He has not just been praying. He has been planning.

This is a major theme in Nehemiah. He prays and prepares. He prays and plans. He asks God to help and then takes action. He trusts God to work it out and then works on it. He is the same way with the people he is leading. God will build our walls, and here is your shovel. God will protect us, so grab your swords. Continue reading

Hints for a Different Kind of Advent

Advent and Christmas can be a crazy time. We hang banners in the church that say faith, hope, joy, and peace. Yet so often we feel the exact opposite of those things at this time of the year. There is lots to do and a lot of pressure to look like you have it all together. So here are a few hints for have a different kind of Advent this year.

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A Letter To Christians before Election Day

Dear Christians,

It is the day before the 2016 presidential election. I don’t think there has ever been a more divisive or worry-filled election. Tomorrow, some people will be exited that their candidate won and relieved that the other lost. Others will be devastated that their candidate lost and terrified that the other won. There will be Christians in both groups. I am not here to tell you who you should vote for, or who I will vote for. I want to remind us all of a few things to remember in the next several days. Continue reading

Disneyworld Church

I took a few weeks off from the blog for some much needed vacation and some much needed focus on my dissertation. I spent vacation with my family at Disney World in Orlando Florida. We avoided Hurricane Matthew and had a wonderful time. As I was there, I was caught up in the magic and wonder of Disneyworld. I have been reading a lot about Walt Disney since being down there. He was a total genius.

I was inspired by the way Walt Disney and his company understood the centrality of story. Disney started out by going back to old stories and retelling them in a new way. We forget how forward thinking this was when Disney created Snow White. No one thought cartoons could do more than make you laugh. Disney thought they could make you cry and tell a story. Everything in Disney is about the stories or creating new stories. goofy Continue reading

Mountains and Valleys

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There is a very interesting theme of mountains and valleys in the Bible. All kids of high points happen on mountains. Moses gets the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Mount Zion is the site of the Jewish Temple. We have the Sermon on the Mount and the Transfiguration on a mountain. The Psalms refer often to mountains. For instance, Psalm 98:8 says, ”let the hills sing for joy together.”

All kids of low points happen in valleys. The Valley of Jezreel is where Jehu killed Jehorum and where Hosea 1:5 says that judgment will come upon Israel. The Valley of Siddim is where Sodom and Gomorroah were located. Achan was stoned in the Valley of Achor. The place that Jesus used to speak of hell was called Gehenna and it is a valley outside of Jerusalem that was used as the city dump. The Psalmist tells us that we sometimes “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

This is one of the areas of scripture that is truest to life. We have mountains and valleys. We have high points and low points.

This week I am coming off of a major mountain top. I spent last week on Orcas Island in upper Washington state. It was the last gathering for my doctor of ministry program. It was a beautiful place spent laughing and learning with great friends. It was also the first time since our honeymoon that my wife and I had more than one night away from our kids. My wife even got to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing Orcas in the wild.

And now it is over. I am back to life. And it feels like a valley. I am tired. I am a bit down. I don’t have enough energy and motivation to get ahead on things. I have been doing the things I need to do, but I am also taking time to recover.

Here is the thing I am clinging to- the feelings of mountains and valleys are not representative of how close God is. God is the Lord of the valleys and the mountains. Psalm 95:4 tells us-

         In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.

God is with us in both. In fact, they are often related. Anytime you come off the mountaintop it feels like a valley. Anytime you climb out of a valley it feels like a mountaintop.

So cling to mountain experiences—sometimes they don’t come back around for a while and they are your chance to get a larger perspective. And be patient in the valley because those are the times that can shape your character most. And realize that wherever you are Jesus is Lord there too.

Finding Your Identity in Christ

I have been thinking a lot about identity of late. I have come to believe that how you and I view ourselves has a huge impact on how we act and react in different situations. If I see myself as passive and a victim in certain situations, then I am likely to get pushed around. If you see yourself as powerful and in control, then you would react totally in the same situations.

There is a lot of research that has been done into the idea of identity. We have different kinds of identities. Personal identities are ones that you and I hold for ourselves. Role identities related to jobs or responsibilities. Social identities are ones based on our relationships such as who we know or who we are related to.

identity

This means that we all have multiple identities that we move in and out of in different contexts at different times. Have you ever mixed your social groups? Have you ever mixed your college friends and your church friends? It may have been awkward because you have different identities with each of these groups and you don’t know who to be when they mix.

These identities change over time as we change, our contexts change, and as we test out our identities in real life. For example, if I see myself as the boss but nobody listens to me, then I have a problem. Either the people supposedly working for me are losers or I have to adjust my identity to acknowledge that I am not the boss I think I am.

While Paul does not talk about identity in our modern psychological terms in his letters, I think it is an underlying theme in his works. He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Paul’s theology of identity relates to the resurrection of Jesus. He lays it out in Colossians 3 that we have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. We are considered to be new in Christ. Yet we still have some of our old self in us. We need to put to death all thee selfish actions and destructive behaviors of our old selves. We cannot walk in them anymore. Paul does not think that you are earning your new status. Actually, as Christians we are supposed to become what we already are in Christ.

The idea of Christians finding their identity in Christ is especially difficult in the world we live in. We live in a world where everything is an identity. I know people who find their identity in their job, their kids, who they hang out with, the car they drive, the neighborhood they live in, their sexual preferences, the color of their skin…

We make anything and everything an identity today. But the problem with all of these things is that they cannot hold up to the pressure of life. Identities quickly become idolatries, and idols always let you down because they cannot hold the weight of your life.

The only hope is to find your identity in Christ. That is the only thing that will hold up to the pressures of life. That does not mean that you lose all of those other aspects of your life. They are reordered to less importance. They are less defining when your identity is truly found in Christ. They are arranged to fit around Christ’s purpose for your life.

But all of these parts of your life also become more beautiful in Christ. I am not my kids and should not find my identity in them, yet when I look at being a father in Christ the value of that work and the purpose of that responsibility takes on a whole new meaning. Your job is not a good identity, but it can be a holy calling if you see it in Christ.

Your life because so much more in Christ. If you are finding your identity in anything other than Christ, then you are selling yourself short.

 

5 Tips for Getting More out of Christmas (especially pastors)

Christmas gets crazy. There is so much to do: gifts to be purchased and wrapped, travel plans to be made, and work goals to accomplish. This is even more challenging for pastors who have extra worship services and visits to do. The pressure during the holidays is so much higher. I admit that the first few years that I was a pastor I totally missed personally experiencing Advent and Christmas. I did it. I went through the motions, but it was not a heart experience.

Over the last few years I have worked to be intentional about getting more out of Christmas and Advent. Here are my best suggestions for you:

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1. Create a good soundtrack.
All great movies have great soundtracks. The music sets the emotions for each scene and each character. Christmas has great music. There is also now some great music related to the themes of Advent. Here are some of the albums in my playlist:

Advent Albums- Daniel Renstrom’s On the Incarnation, Robbie Seay Band’s December Vol. 2, The Brilliance Advent, Vol. 2

Christmas Albums- Vince Guaraldi Trio, Holidays Rule Compilation Album, David Crowder Band, Joy Electric, Citizens & Saints, James Taylor, The Rend Collective, The Piano Guys, Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Find ones that work for you.

2. Get some good movies.
Movies have this amazing ability to get you out of your own head and get you to live vicariously through another character. A great Christmas movie can do that for you. I am not a Hallmark Channel guy. At my house the big one is Elf. We also watch the old clamation movies like Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph. We watch both Grinch movies. I also love to watch classics like White Christmas, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, and some version of “A Christmas Carol.”

3. Get a good devotional
I find that a good devotional can help me in any season. Here are a few I have used the last few years:
Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent by Richard Rohr is incredibly thought provoking.
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas including readings by people like Bonhoeffer, Dillard, Eliot, Lewis, Luther, Merton, Nouwen, and Yancey among many others. This book is loaded with great people and great insights.
Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen: Daily Scripture and Prayers together with Nouwen’s Own Words– This book is a series of readings from the works of Nouwen compiled around the themes of Advent and Christmas.

I have also written 2 devotions for the month of December. You can download them athttp://www.jordanrimmer.com/adventdevotinals/

4. Create Margin in your Schedule
This is a tough one, but I think that it is really important for people to create more margin in their schedules during the holidays. By margin I mean creating more gaps in your schedule. Keep distance between meetings and schedule times during the week with nothing in them. I get all my home visits and meetings done very early in the week. I like to be ahead and coasting for the few days before Christmas Eve. I want to be at my best for my kids and family, but I also want to be at my best for my church. I have found that in order to do that I have to slow down.

5. Make some good family traditions
There is something powerful about traditions and experiences. They provide anchors for stories the way symbols do in movies. Anymore I try to be intentional about creating some of these movements.

Decorating– We decorate the tree after Thanksgiving. Every year we let each of our kids get a new ornament for the tree. It is fun now because it is like a little history of their childhood every year.

Nail in the tree- Every year we hang a large nail in the middle of the tree to help us remember why Jesus came to earth. It is covered by the ornaments, but we all know it is in there.

Elf on the Shelf- We have gotten into the Elf on the Shelf. We don’t do it as a behavior management tool but as a fun way to build expectation for Christmas.

Date- We celebrate Christmas a day early on Christmas day. We open presents the morning of the 24th, hang out all day, and then have Christmas Eve that night. The next day we travel to see family. I think this a good way for pastor families to do the holiday.

Bonus: Stick with the story.
I never get tired of reading and studying the Christmas story. I use it as the anchor to keep me in the holiday. Read it over and over. Notice specific words, phrases, and images. Imagine what the characters were feeling or thinking.

2 Free Advent Devotionals that I Wrote

I have written 2 different Advent devotionals for my church. They are both very different but I wrote both to be helpful for people who want to get a better experience of Advent.

The AdThe Advent Hours Experience Covervent Hours Experiment is a devotional that I put together with my dad. It is a journey from December 1-25 that uses a simple liturgy of hours. If you are not familiar, this is an ancient style of praying primarily the Psalms throughout the day. Each day has morning, noontime, and evening hours that varies but can include Psalms, Bible passages, creeds, prayers, and Christmas carol lyrics. There are also nighttime prayers called Compline that are written for every week in Advent. If you have never prayed this way before then this is a great place to start.

 

The other devotion is title adventhistorycoverChristmas Reflection from Church History: Readings about Christmas and the Incarnation from the Creeds, Church Fathers, and Great Thinkers of Church History. For this volume I compiled great quotes and insights from all kinds of different figures in Christian history and laid them out. This is a great way to reflect on what Christmas and the incarnation means as well as experience some of the great figures of our faith.