Reigning in Life
Updated: Dec 8, 2021
This post marks the launch of our new website. Consider it a soft opening. We’re starting with a blog. Eventually there may be pages for poetry, music and podcasts.
I retired from my last church, which I pastored for 19 years, on August 1, 2021. I was as surprised as anyone when I announced my retirement at the end of April. I love preaching and leading worship. I believe in the importance of Christian community. I’ve never looked forward to retirement. Yet here I am in a place that feels as right as it feels strange and disorienting.
A friend of mine called from upstate New York a few weeks ago, unaware of my change in employment status and geographical location (Michigan). He questioned whether a pastor can ever retire from doing God’s work. For me being "retired" is a way to fly under the radar a bit. What’s important hasn’t changed: Sharon and I want to live for Christ and contribute what we can to his church and mission, while being closer to family.
Pastoring a church is hard. There’s nothing wrong with it being hard; Jesus was clear about following him not being for the fainthearted. Part of what makes church life challenging are the imperfections we all bring to Christian community. (Our last church had a sign in front that said, “No Perfect People Allowed.”)
Particular circumstances can highlight our imperfections. The perfect storm of Covid, Black Lives Matter protests and the deep political divisions in our country have brought out both the best and the worst in us. A fourth stress point within many churches and our own denomination has been the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. An unprecedented percentage of pastors have thought about leaving pastoral ministry altogether over the past year.
What was already hard got a lot harder.
I actually like hard. And even when I don’t, I know it helps me grow.
I’m ready for a different kind of hard at this stage in my life. While I hope to have a bit more time for recreation (Dutch shuffleboard anyone?), it’s the biblical theme of re-creation that I feel especially drawn to explore – or what the Bible calls New Creation. Its scope ranges from the personal to the cosmic, from what we call spiritual to the nuts and bolts reality of our everyday lives. It’s about human flourishing and the flourishing of all creation.
And that, by the way, is why Jesus came – to remove every barrier to our experiencing what he called abundant living" (John 10:10).
Human flourishing is at least partly tied to our understanding of who we are and why we’re here. Over the last few years I’ve been reading and thinking about what it means that human beings were made in God’s image. The unprecedented idea that every human person has value and dignity is newer than most of us realize, and is one of the primary contributions of the Judeo-Christian tradition to contemporary political and economic systems on the right and the left. While we all struggle with it in practice, most of us at least give lip service to the idea that “all people are created equal.”
But the biblical understanding of being made in God’s image doesn’t stop there. In fact, it doesn’t even begin here. It begins with a vision of humanity that is even more grand and breathtaking: that we were made to reign.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule....’”
If that sounds too grandiose for your taste, let me suggest that you’re already doing it. You’re already reigning. Through your words and your silence, your action and inaction, your attitudes, moods and assumptions you are exerting an outsized influence wherever you happen to live, work, play and learn, and in ways that reverberate to the larger world.
Reigning isn’t a choice. How we reign is.
Jesus, instead of training his students to be good Christians, gave them the authority and tools to be co-regents with him and each other – a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 18:18) in a new creation.
For those who may find the idea of reigning off-putting, don’t worry, it’s not what you think. In God’s kingdom reigning isn’t “lording it” over others, it’s serving them (Mark 10:42-44). Kingdom reigning isn’t top-down, it’s collaborative. It doesn’t overpower, it empowers. It affirms each person’s dignity and call because biblically everyone is called to reign – together.
“Reign in life.” That’s how the apostle Paul puts it (Romans 5:17). I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to reign in life. (The alternative, of course, is being ruled by life.) None of us wants to be a mere victim of our circumstances and impulses. We want to flourish and we want to help others flourish in the midst of lives that are often extremely hard.
For me writing is hard. So here’s the tentative title for a book I began a few months ago: Reigning in Life: the Path and Purpose of Christian Discipleship.
I hope you’ll help me write it. I need your observations, questions and push back. I also hope you won’t gather from this post that we’re confining ourselves to this specific topic. We hope that by living more marginal lives we'll be more free to follow the leading of the Spirit. We want to do that humbly. We know that wisdom doesn't come cheap; nor does it automatically come with age or experience. We both love the Bible, and spend a fair amount of time with it each morning. We also do quite a bit of other reading. Sharon and I often talk with each other about what we're learning and hearing. We hope this blog might be a way for you to join the conversation. We want this to be a safe place for everyone; we trust you'll tell us when it's stopped being that for you.
In today's lectionary reading, John, the author of Revelation, talks about writing to the "seven churches" from an island called Patmos. He was likely exiled there for his public witness to the gospel of God's kingdom (talk about being marginalized). "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches (1:11)." I don't know if it's a sign, but today seems as good as any to launch this blog and website.
I'm looking forward to where the Spirit leads.