Reasons I Didn’t Resign

21 09 2010

Brothers and sisters in Christ, especially my family at Michigan Lutheran Seminary-

I can’t say it’s been a surprise, but it’s certainly been an experience listening to friends and families share their conjectures with me. Sometimes it’s what they’ve heard from others and sometimes what they’ve personally thought. I wanted to put up this post to try to ease some tensions and to try not to lose the value of my resigning for the good of the ministry.

We have a few terms in our circles for describing different kinds of resignations. A resignation for cause is the one that I think people fear the most. Resignation for cause means that a called worker has done something sinful that disqualifies them from serving. A clear-cut example would be teaching heresy. Other more complicated issues would be getting caught in some big, public sin like adultery or embezzlement. The distinguishing mark of resignation for cause is the repentance that everyone will be hoping for. The forgiveness the resigned called worker receives is the same forgiveness we all receive—complete and unconditionally paid for by the blood of Christ. However, the called worker still must leave their post because leaders in the church are held to a higher standard than those who serve as members. “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3:2-4,7). There is the possibility that the called worker might return under some circumstances, but the reputation requirements do make it difficult.

A called worker may also resign for personal reasons. Due to circumstances in his life, he cannot do the work. Perhaps his health is failing. Perhaps his family can’t handle the pressures of the ministry at this point in their lives. Perhaps it is an issue in which his wife needs extra attention so that he does not feel he is able to offer due attention to his work. These things could certainly be addressed in a way that allowed a return to the ministry if the the worker desired it.

There are some circumstances that are much more difficult to parse. There is no great, public sin. Inability to serve is not the issue. As a leader the called worker has a decision to make in a difficult situation and reaches the conclusion that the best thing for the ministry of the gospel in general and the ministry of the calling body in particular is that he simply step away, confident that the Lord of the church will provide another worker to take his place.

That’s where I am. I came here to offer myself in whatever service the school needed most. I can’t say that I thought this was the service my alma mater would need most from me, but I’m confident that is the very best service I could offer under these very unexpected circumstances.

What were the circumstances? That’s the thing, my friends. I can only serve the school by this resignation if I am able to take the reasons with me. I can only tell you why I didn’t resign. Did my marriage need intensive counseling? I’m happy to take the free counseling that the synod offers to help us deal with the upcoming transition, but I could have gotten that without resigning through the Member Assistance Program that operates right out of the school, too. Plus, that would be a resignation for personal reasons. Does it have to do with my hospitalization last spring? That’s an interesting coincidence, but that issue has been corrected (and, again, that would be personal reasons). Did I do something wrong? I do plenty, but nothing to disqualify me from serving in the ministry. Last but not least, is there something going on in the synod that a poor, naive parish pastor couldn’t handle looking at and so he had to walk away? Brothers and sisters, walking away from that wouldn’t be for the good of the ministry, would it? Of course not. There’s plenty I’d still like to work on in the ministerial education system and in the synod, too, and, quite frankly, I wanted to keep working on those issues as the president of MLS and as a delegate to the 2011 convention (I was up next for the first time in my ministry). Those things were hard to give up.

It was very hard to decide that it was better for the ministry to leave than to stay. I would not have imagined a situation happening where my service was better in resigning rather than in staying and working on the issues I had been most concerned about. Nonetheless, the situation occurred. If you can come up with it by guessing at what happened, then you’re smarter than I am—a possibility I certainly concede. However, this post is as much as I can ever say in terms of confirming or denying whether or not you actually came up with the right situation. Otherwise my service in resignation becomes useless and the school is not served by it. Seeing as I’ve already seen the positive effects of my resignation in action, I’m definitely not going to say more than I have. It’s the hardest service I’ve ever performed, but it’s still a service to the Lord, and I can still honestly say that there is joy in it.

So thank you for your concerns and prayers. I still have my CRM status, which means that I am still eligible to preach and receive a call. But I will be looking for a job while my family heals from this. We will be mourning the joy of serving at MLS. Will I go back to the ministry? I’d like to, but I want to be sure of my family’s feelings first. Resignations like this are rare but still possible, no matter where you serve. I can tell them how unlikely a similar situation would be, but first I want to make sure that it won’t sound to them something like talking about the rarity of a plane crash to someone who has just survived one.

Thanks again for your support and prayers, and God bless you all with the peace that comes from knowing that the omnipotent Father in heaven was more willing to let his perfectly faithful Son die innocently for our sins rather than see us die in them—and especially with the peace of his victory over our death.

Your brother in Christ,

Aaron

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Unashamed Weakness

29 12 2009

Hebrews 2:10-18

 Heb 2 10-18 Unashamed Weakness

Hebrews 2:10-18 (NIV)

 10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12He says,
   “I will declare your name to my brothers;
      in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”[a] 13And again,
   “I will put my trust in him.”[b] And again he says,
   “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”[c] 14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for[d]the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. 

Footnotes:
  1. Hebrews 2:12 Psalm 22:22
  2. Hebrews 2:13 Isaiah 8:17
  3. Hebrews 2:13 Isaiah 8:18
  4. Hebrews 2:17 Or and that he might turn aside God’s wrath, taking away

 

It was really my brother who talked me into playing football. I think I can fairly say that I never would have done it if he hadn’t pushed me. I just had too many reasons to feel embarrassed about it. I mean, I never played real football. It was always two-hand touch out on the Kinney Elementary playground. And even then there was always some argument on the field about the actual rules of football, and I never had any idea what they were talking about. Downs, receptions, touchbacks—I pretty much had end zone and touchdown handled, and that was about it. I couldn’t even imagine trying to figure out a real position with real pads and real tackles and real rules. I figured that I would be too ashamed of my ignorance, too ashamed of my weaknesses.

No doubt there’s been something in your experience that has produced much the same feeling. Perhaps you struggle with multiplication or fractions, so you’re ashamed to do math in front of the class. Maybe you’re no good at public speaking, so you’re ashamed to get up in front of people. Perhaps you’re really out of your element watching over little kids, so you don’t like to get caught doing any kind of babysitting—or even watching over little tykes for just a couple of minutes.

We’re ashamed to admit when we’re weak, ashamed to admit that we need help. We would like to believe that we can take care of ourselves. Our heroes are self-sufficient because that’s how we want to be. We want people to turn to us when they need help, not the other way around. Who looks up to a person who needs help from them? Thus we become ashamed of weakness.

In that sense it’s understandable that the Jewish people to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed had a hard time seeing Jesus as a hero. You may not feel that way yourself, but when you consider how much shame there is among us—especially among the adults—when we appear before people all needy and desperate, you may understand how these descendants of Abraham struggled with that baby being more important than angels. He was helpless. He needed to be fed, coddled, changed and bathed. This baby couldn’t even bring the blessings of a warm hotel room to his parents on the night of his birth!

You know, we may well understand their reluctance to honor him in his weakness better than we think. Check out your bulletin cover, for example. It sports a feature of religious art that I was really trying to avoid when I looked for a fitting picture on Friday. See the little glow around the boy Jesus’ head? That’s called a halo, as you are probably aware. Why is it there? Did Jesus’ head really glow like that? Of course not. But we can’t help but think of his power and holiness when we picture him in our minds, so we think of things like that.

And what about the people who lived in his time, who knew him by name and saw him day to day? You see, they wouldn’t even be able to picture a halo being there. Do you know why? Because it wasn’t there. What they knew wasn’t even a particularly good-looking kid. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,” Isaiah prophesied, “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (53:3). The people who knew Jesus by sight knew someone who was so normal in appearance that he was not physically noteworthy at all. No glow of power. No attractive outward qualities. Just a baby (or a kid or a guy).

Besides which, we do the same thing with his Word. It’s not flashy or full of pictures, so we have great difficulty paying attention to it, despite the fact that it is the powerful Word of Life. I doubt we would enjoy seeing a tally this year of how many hours we have spent studying God’s Word versus reading news stories, novels, or even watching TV.

Somebody who didn’t know us might well think that we were ashamed of this plain-looking guy and his boring, old book. Yet he as God was not ashamed to have his infinitely wise and powerful thoughts expressed in plain, human language for us. Likewise, the book of Hebrews says, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect [reach his goal] through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy [referring to Jesus, the Savior] and those who are made holy [us] are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” And he has three Messianic quotes to demonstrate it, too.

The Jews that the author of Hebrews wrote to had some trouble with that, as evidenced by the fact that they were having difficulty ranking the all-too-familiar and all-too-human Jesus of Nazareth as more important and powerful in their minds than the bright, flashy angels who announced his birth and appeared and disappeared all over the place throughout the salvation story. And we have trouble with Jesus of Nazareth being as weak as we are as evidenced by our inability to imagine him not looking handsome or glowing or doing a miracle—despite the fact that the Word of God speaks of only three years that he actually did miracles but ten times more where he just ate, drank, slept, studied, learned a trade and was generally just human.

But he was not ashamed. Despite the fact that saving us meant being the Almighty God on his heavenly throne ruling all things and then in the very next moment becoming a helpless, thoughtless, microscopic, single-celled fertilized egg, he was not ashamed of that weakness. Even though saving us meant being so weak that there were times when his strength actually reached its limits and he had to be helped by angels (whom he created and whom he sustains by his very will!), he was not ashamed. Yes, even though our salvation meant that he would have to subject himself to death—“even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)—he was not ashamed. He was not ashamed because that was the only way to “make men holy,” to set us apart from the sin we were born in and the death we are by nature destined for. He was not ashamed because being clothed in our weakness was the only way he could be faithful to his own Word about sinners deserving eternal death while still having us live with him forever in heaven.

There is a lesson in this about ourselves that is hard to learn. It’s about our pride and about the ridiculous foolishness that follows it. It’s about that desire I spoke of earlier, about the desire to be self-sufficient, to not to have to need help from anyone else because we can figure things out for ourselves, handle things ourselves. We want to be important by being strong and heroic, and, you know what? This is going to be hard to hear and you may not immediately understand it, but I’m going to have to say it anyway: Our heroes are self-sufficient, independent and always able to think their way out of their own problems because we are still tempted by the original deadly desire that Adam and Eve allowed themselves to fall prey to back in the Garden of Eden. And do you know what that original deadly desire was? It was the desire of creatures to be like God, to be independent of God, to not need God. It was being ashamed of our weakness and wanting to have God’s unique, almighty, completely independent way of being. We want to be gods and resent that he “took the job” first.

It’s just so evil. And it really makes no sense, but it’s the way we are. We are so corrupted by that evil that we need his help now even more than we needed it before our race fell into sin. We not only need him to supply for our existence, which we always needed, but now we also need him to supply deliverance by joining us in our weakness, living the perfect life of trust in God that we owe him but never at any time actually provided him, and we need him to provide a way out of the eternal separation from him that wanting to live independent of his power and providence truly deserves.

And that is why he was not ashamed to show up in our world just as weak as we are. That is why he was not ashamed to be a helpless, cold little baby. That is why he is not ashamed to call us brothers. For “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

I tell you, by all outward appearances, that boy in the temple was truly just a boy—a weak, normal boy. But we needed true, human flesh and blood to destroy sin and death. We needed it for our salvation, and God, without shame, provided it. Amen.

Christmas 1                                                                    Unashamed Weakness    

 December 27, 2009

Pastor Aaron C. Frey    Hebrews 2:10-18





No Sabbath on Providence

25 11 2009

Ge 8 20-22 No Sabbath on Providence (CLICK FOR AUDIO)

No Sabbath on Providence

Try out the two links above–especially the NEW AUDIO!
Genesis 8:20-22

Ge 8 20-22 No Sabbath on Providence

Providence is an unnecessarily fancy English word. It sounds sort of scholarly and thoughtful, but all it really is is provide with an -nce on the end. And that’s all it means, too. Providence refers to the way that God provides for us day after day. Providence is all the ways that God brings to us all the stuff that we need for our body and life.

The problem with providence—or, should I say, our problem with understanding providence—is that we too easily dismiss everyday things as things that would happen all on their own whether God were willing them to happen or not. That means that, at times, we think that God isn’t personally and actively working for us in any kind of powerful way when we get our food, clothes and other things, as though the earth would spin, the sun would shine, the rain would fall and seeds would grow even if God were to take a vacation or suddenly cease to exist.

We don’t think enough about God’s work of providence, then, because we think of God’s power as only being necessary to accomplish what we classify as “supernatural” things, and not at all necessary to accomplish the starting of a motor or the moving of my arm or the signing of a paycheck.

Shameful, isn’t it? I mean, who gives us arms? Who gives us strength? Where does the seed come from? Why does the seed do what it does? Who gives us the power even to think about or to ask these questions? Do these things come from us “naturally,” or do they happen because it is God’s will for them to happen—his continual, ongoing and active will?

You see, providence—which is just a fancy way to say, “God providing for us”—doesn’t take a break. It is a continual work of God. It is something he is actively and at all times doing. That’s really the point of today’s text. When the Flood was over, Noah wanted to thank the Lord for not wiping out the entire human race despite the fact that they deserved it. So he built an altar and made what I personally classify as a shockingly generous and trusting sacrifice. With only seven pairs of sacrifice-worthy animals available on the entire planet, he burned some of them up. I’d have probably thought to burn velociraptors, but I’m not as trusting. Regardless, when the Lord caught wind of this shockingly trusting sacrifice, he was pleased and said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

This, my friends, is the reason why it is so easy for sinners who do not trust the Lord to take their food and daily supplies for granted. It’s because the Lord made a promise, and he never breaks a promise. Do you hear what I’m saying? We take these things for granted because we think of them as happening on their own with or without God’s involvement. But it’s not the unbreakable rules of physics that keep these things going. It is God’s promise. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease,” because God actively keeps his promise each and every minute of each and every day, even though it would be just and fair for him to cease because the evil inclinations of our hearts that are always before his eyes.

Tomorrow, as tonight, we will put time aside to honor the Lord for keeping that promise. We will put time aside for giving thanks to him for continuing nonstop in the keeping of that promise minute after minute, hour after hour, day-in and day-out for century after century after century since he first caught the scent of that divinely inspired sacrifice. Tomorrow we take a holiday—a “holy day”—for thanksgiving to the provider of daily providence.

By the way, I inserted that term holiday, or “holy day,” right at that spot in our meditation tonight for a reason. I want to use it as a hook for you to use tomorrow so that you can more easily recall this meditation and use it to enhance your Thanksgiving. I mean, we all know that Thanksgiving is a holiday. We’ll be thinking about it all day tomorrow because most of us will have the day off. That’s how we got the word holiday in the first place, as it so happens.

Just think of the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Or, if I want to translate the commandment much more naturally and fluently for the English-speaking person, I’d simply say, “Observe the Day of Rest by taking it off in God’s honor.” The point of the command, you see, was to take a day off each week as a way of remembering that it wasn’t by your own strength and effort that you provided for yourself and your family. It was by the promise of God, who said he would always and ceaselessly provide seedtime and harvest and all that we need for living off the earth.

You see, providing for you and your family is God’s work, not yours. When you take a day off from working, you demonstrate that fact. You say, “I could keep working. It’s logical that if I get food and clothing and all good things from working, I would have even more good things if I worked on every possible day that I can work.” But that’s a godless attitude that does not acknowledge this promise from God in Genesis 8. The logic of the Sabbath Day is, “I work because it is a privilege from God to be involved in the actions of his providence, but I am not the Provider. So if my loving Provider, who wants only the best for me, tells me to take a day off, I will happily do so knowing that I will have even more of the good things he desires to give me when I don’t work at his command, just as I trust that I will have all that I need when I do work at his command.”

Do you follow that? Is that making sense? A Sabbath Day is a holy day, a day that God has “set aside” (that’s what holy means) for his purposes—in this case, the purpose of remembering that he provides for you through his work, not you through yours.

Genesis 8 has an interesting way of bringing that to light, actually. When it says, “seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease,” it uses the Hebrew word for Sabbath. Do you see where? “…seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Do you see it?

That’s right. It’s the word cease. We take days off, and God wants us to take days off. These are good things. The point of this promise, however, is that God never will! We get seedtime and harvest, day and night, season after season not because things have to work that way. They didn’t during the Flood. We have these because God never takes a Sabbath—never takes a day off or holiday—from making it happen. There is no Sabbath, no day of rest, for God’s providence, and he loves it that way!

So what does that mean for your day off tomorrow? It means everything! It gives real meaning to the day! In fact, it gives meaning to every day, whether it’s a “Sabbath Day” or a working day. Why? Because we will have peace on all days knowing that it is not we who provide happiness, blessing and daily supply to the people in our lives. We can rest secure without worries no matter what the day holds because there is no Sabbath—no ceasing, no rest—for the providence of God!

And do you know what’s the best way to illustrate that? It’s right in front of you, right at the front of this church. For just as you are powerless to make a seed grow if God does not bless it and bring it forth from the ground as a plant of providence, so you are completely powerless to break free from sin, distrust and rebellion toward God. Now, he can describe to you the way that a spiritually alive and trusting soul behaves, but you cannot be by your own efforts like the person he describes. Even our best efforts by nature are little more than make-up on the deceased. Make-up and embalming is not life.

But God is, and there is no Sabbath for his providence, no rest for the God who supplies our life. Look to the front of our church! Look at that cross! Jesus would not quit until he had lived that life in your place and died the death of a sinful rebel in your stead. He took no days off from his mission. He shunned every easy path. Why? Because that’s who the One, True God is. He enjoys working ceaselessly at giving you what you need, whether it be food, rest, or forgiveness and salvation. He never gets tired of it, and that’s why you are forgiven, why you are provided for.

Your Thanksgiving, brothers and sisters, is more than a holiday; it is a Sabbath. Set aside a day with his blessing to enjoy being well and unceasingly provided for, to his glory. Amen.

Thanksgiving Eve                                                        No Sabbath on Providence November 25, 2009

Pastor Aaron C. Frey    Genesis 8:20-22