On joy and pain

Tealights

So many things we achieve are achieved only through struggle and conflict, not in easy ways. They always seem to involve crosses. I have so longed to find somewhere in life some corner where joy is unmingled with pain. But I have never found it. Wherever I find joy, my own or other people’s, it always seems to be mingled with pain. And I find that the people I most respect are people who know the link between joy and pain. And I have found that if we will own pain and weep over it together, we will also find Christ’s overflowing comfort. The bad news is that there may be no corner of reality where joy is not related to pain. The good news is that there is no corner of reality where pain cannot be transformed into overflowing joy.

– John Goldingay, Walk On: Life, Loss, Trust, and Other Realities

For more on loss, click here.

Anniversaries and Appreciation

Time sure flies, doesn’t it?

Two years ago on Halloween, I started my Leadership Residency at The District Church, not sure where the road would lead or what would happen, not sure whether or not I was even called to fulltime pastoral ministry.

I guess God did, though; and one year ago today, I was ordained and began my service as Associate Pastor at The District Church.

And what an adventure it’s been! As I look back, even just over the last twenty-four months, I can see how God has been growing me and teaching me, developing me and maturing me, hammering at those places in me that need purifying — the Master Blacksmith at work. I can see how God has been knitting together a tremendous community here in DC — a community of flawed and imperfect people, but a people who are being renewed day by day, a people who are seeking after God and seeking to serve one another and the city in which we live. I can see how God has been at work in so many different ways, and it is truly gratifying that I get to be a part of it.

To top it off, yesterday at the end of the service, Aaron, Amy and I were invited up to the stage, and the church threw us a surprise Pastor Appreciation Day (we had NO clue!), complete with ginormous cake and dozens of cards written to us by people in the community. It was truly humbling, so encouraging, and reminded me that I am so privileged to serve as one of the pastors of such an amazing group of folks.

It also reminded me how much I appreciate all of you. Most of you have been walking this journey with me at least the last year; many for the last two years; and still a good few since my time at Sojourners, at Fuller, and beyond.

And so I wanted to take this opportunity just to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your love, your support, your prayers, your wisdom, and above all, your friendship. I would not be where I am now, if not for you.

Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God

I have a new quote on my desk from French philosopher and priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that reads:

Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.

(I have Stephen Colbert to thank for bringing it to my attention.)

A couple weeks ago, life was dragging a little bit. I wasn’t unhappy by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a little heaviness to my gait, a little lethargy in my life, and a little less patience with people. Life didn’t seem as full or as vibrant as it normally did.

Reflecting on this at the time, it wasn’t a hard malaise to diagnose: I realized that I had gotten so busy doing things for God that I was neglecting spending time with God. This in turn had an impact on the rhythms of my day–I found myself working later and longer, and allowing the healthy boundaries between work and rest to become fudged–and on top of that, in the midst of my own busyness, I was also neglecting to spend life-giving time with my closest friends.

Joy is not happiness; it is not contingent upon circumstance. Joy is deeper, more rooted, and more connected with the person of God. In John 15, Jesus talked to his disciples about the importance of remaining–“abiding”–in him, and he said:

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

So take a moment to do a life-check: Are you finding–or making–the space in your life to do things that make your heart sing, to spend time with people that give you life, and to rest in and commune with the God whose presence is evidenced by joy?

If not, what are you going to do about it?

Spurgeon: what a joyful Christian you ought to be!

Grateful for this reminder of perspective from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening:

“Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work.” Psalm 92:4

Do you believe that your sins are forgiven, and that Christ has made a full atonement for them? Then what a joyful Christian you ought to be! How you should live above the common trials and troubles of the world! Since sin is forgiven, can it matter what happens to you now? Luther said, “Smite, Lord, smite, for my sin is forgiven; if thou hast but forgiven me, smite as hard as thou wilt;” and in a similar spirit you may say, “Send sickness, poverty, losses, crosses, persecution, what thou wilt, thou hast forgiven me, and my soul is glad.”

Christian, if thou art thus saved, whilst thou art glad, be grateful and loving. Cling to that cross which took thy sin away; serve thou him who served thee. “I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

Let not your zeal evaporate in some little ebullition of song. Show your love in expressive tokens. Love the brethren of him who loved you. If there be a Mephibosheth anywhere who is lame or halt, help him for Jonathan’s sake. If there be a poor tried believer, weep with him, and bear his cross for the sake of him who wept for thee and carried thy sins.

Since thou art thus forgiven freely for Christ’s sake, go and tell to others the joyful news of pardoning mercy. Be not contented with this unspeakable blessing for thyself alone, but publish abroad the story of the cross.

Holy gladness and holy boldness will make you a good preacher, and all the world will be a pulpit for you to preach in. Cheerful holiness is the most forcible of sermons, but the Lord must give it you. Seek it this morning before you go into the world. When it is the Lord’s work in which we rejoice, we need not be afraid of being too glad.

My First Sermon

Previously on “Justin @The District Church”

  1. Washington, DC: Chapter 2 (October 11, 2010)
  2. Beginning November (and the Leadership Residency) (November 1, 2010)
  3. Why The District Church? (November 18, 2010)

Dear friends,

Well, I did it: this past Sunday, I tried something new … I preached for the first time ever!

I gave the second message in our Advent series, focused on joy and peace, and you can listen to my message, “Wanted: Some Joy and Peace, Please,” on the Media page of The District Church’s website.

I got a lot of good feedback and constructive comments, which will give me stuff to work with whenever I next get the opportunity to preach. For now, I’m just glad I got to engage in another part of what I feel God has called me to.

Have a listen and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and feedback. (Be warned: I start speaking a little quickly! And, apparently, I acquire a different accent.)

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

It took a lot of work; there was a lot of stress involved; at several points it looked like it wasn’t going to work out, and at others, we were tired enough of it to want to quit. But the inaugural Columbia Heights Christmas Tree Lighting was a resounding success given our limited resources and time. A lot of the folks in the community were very appreciative of our efforts and for the tree itself. The lighting took place this past Monday, which was windy and chilly (in fact, I think with wind chill, the temperature was about 14ºF)!

Anyway, you can read a couple of recap blogs (complete with photos) here at Prince of Petworth and No Limit, Just A Line. And here’s a pic that I took:

Prayer Updates and Asks

Your thoughts and prayers have been appreciated. To recap:

  1. The routine of life was just beginning to fall into place when Christmas season arrived and blew it all up with long days and late nights, especially working on the Christmas tree (see above). Hopefully in the new year, things will settle down again!
  2. An opportunity has come up for me to potentially babysit a friend’s kid—which would, if it works out, be an additional source of income. Will be talking it out this week, so I’ll have news one way or another by the time of my next update.
  3. No update on finding a house in the neighborhood for the church just yet. But we’re still praying and looking. Please also pray for the continuing fundraising as well so that at some point soon, I’ll be able to give Aaron and Amy their basement back. They’ve been most gracious hosts and I love living with them, but I also want to be able to give them some of their space back!

Moving forward, I’d appreciate prayer for the following:

  1. Our Christmas Eve, Eve, Eve (Eve3) service, which will take place on—you guessed it—next Wednesday, December 22. We want to invite people from around the neighborhood to celebrate Christmas with us, so please pray for our outreach, for me as I prepare the music for the evening, and Aaron, who’ll be speaking.
  2. Rest this holiday season. The last couple months have been amazing and extraordinary, but also exhausting, and I’m really learning my limits! I’ll be heading to Pittsburgh for the Christmas weekend to spend some time with some dear friends. Then I’ll be back in DC to ring in the New Year. Let me know if you’ll be nearby or in DC for the holidays—would love to see you!

Support Update

Out of the $30,000 I’d budgeted for the year (November to November) for rent, utilities, health insurance, food, transportation, etc., I’m now up to $13,400 or 45%, which is pretty stellar considering it’s only been two months since I started raising support!

As mentioned above, if the church were to be able to buy a house, this would help immensely, since it’d cut about a third of what I need to raise (for rent). Also, this potentially babysitting gig may not be substantial, but every little helps, so thanks to God for that possibility! Thanks also to all of you who are supporting me in love, in prayer, and in dollars!

For those of you who have given, I’ll be getting in touch soon (probably in the new year or when I get back from my Christmas break) to ask you to connect me with somebody you think would be able, interested and willing to support me!

Wishing you all joy and peace this Christmas time (and if you listen to my sermon you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about),

Justin.


If you’d like to support me, you’re most welcome to do so via the church website. Please make sure to select “Leadership Residency” when it asks you to “Choose a Fund.” All gifts are fully tax-deductible.