Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Set Apart and Ordained"

The other day I happened to glance at my ordination certificate which hangs on the wall of my office, near my desk. I noticed the date written in Marlin Brown's clear handwriting - August 3, 1980 - thirty-five years ago this Monday. It reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with an older pastor and mentor of mine, Lewis Krause. Lewis was reflecting on the thirty-fifth anniversary of his ordination, talking about the road he had traveled, the churches he had served, and the lessons he had learned along the way. I remember thinking, as any young person would, that thirty-five years seemed like an eternity, a milestone far out in the distance, unthinkable to me as a young pastor. Well, here it is, my turn to mark thirty-five years and to reflect on my own journey. Somewhere in heaven, Lewis is smiling down saying, "I told you, didn't I, Drew?"

I snapped a picture of my certificate in case you've never seen one. The good folks at my first country church in Nettleton, Missouri, called for my ordination and asked my home church, First Baptist Church of Grandview to do the honors. The deacons from the church in Nettleton, Bill Ford and Bob Shaney, participated in the service, and most of the folks in my little congregation made the journey south to Grandview. The other men and women who participated in the service were all special people to me, a Who's Who of family and friends, ministers and mentors, who had been and continued to be great encouragers to me through the years. It still humbles me to think of the investment that has been made in me and my ministry by such choice servants of God. Here's the program from the service.

Some of those who participated in my ordination are gone now, leaving it to my generation to carry the ball. My father has been gone for twenty-six of those thirty-five years. I often told Dad that the sermon he preached at my ordination was the best sermon he ever preached. He suggested it was probably the only sermon of his that had my undivided attention. I do remember it well. Dad was talking about what it means to be called, to be sent from God, and he didn't pull any punches. He put it to me straight. And thirty-five years later I can read his ordination sermon and know how wise and thoughtful were his words to me. My two preacher brothers, Pete and Jim, chimed in as well, and have been wonderful help all along the way.

So, this week I have been thinking about the journey and what I have learned along the way. Eight days after my ordination I met a beautiful, brown-eyed girl on campus at William Jewell. After some serious persuading on my part, Suzanne decided to come along for the ride and what a ride it has been. First came three years of seminary while she paid the bills and I tried my hand at church planting in south Kansas City. Then, on to Lincoln (5 years and one child), Independence (5 years and two more), Lamar (5 years and a doctorate), Sedalia (14 years and an empty nest), and then across the country to Arlington, Virginia (3 years and counting).

I did a little math. That's more than 1700 Sundays with at least one sermon preached, nearly 500 funerals and around 200 weddings, marrying and burying through the years. I have no idea how many new believers I have baptized or how many Supper's I have served. And I don't want to know how many committee meetings I have attended or how many business meetings I have endured. No doubt I have been in far more hospital rooms than the average person.

What have I learned in these thirty-five years? When I began, I thought I would change the world, using my gifts and talents to accomplish great things for God. But, I have learned through the years and sometimes, the hard way, that I am merely a lucky spectator. I get to watch God do His good work in people's lives. As a pastor I have a ringside seat to watch the Champ do His thing.  

Have I ever wanted to quit? Yes, to be honest. Once or twice I might have laid it down and walked away, except for the understanding and encouragement of fellow pastors and mentors. Have I ever wondered what my life would be like if I had chosen a different path? Sure, but quarterbacking the Chiefs has its own unique challenges, too. All things weighed together, I have known far more laughter than tears, more joys than sorrows, more grace than pain.

Dad concluded my ordination message with these words:

"Drew, I became a pastor like you did when I was nineteen years old. After thirty-two years in His ministry, if I had a thousand lives to live, I'd spend every one of them as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

"My prayer is that you will stay so close day by day to the One who called you that His power will be upon your life, and that those whose lives are touched by your ministry will say: 'There was a young man sent from God whose name was Drew Hill.'" 

Now I get it, Dad. At last, I understand, Lewis. Thirty-five years is a long time, a tough and tiresome journey, but worth every step.

Monday, July 20, 2015

"Was It Worth It, Jesus?"

I spent last week working in northeast DC alongside a team of volunteers from Memorial. We were working with a wonderful ministry called City Gate which provides after school activities and summer day camps for disadvantaged children in eleven locations around Washington. Our team provided leadership for a week-long day camp at a large, Section 8 apartment complex. We had about 80 kids and we adapted a Vacation Bible School approach to this unique setting. My job was to work with sixteen 6th - 8th graders, who were actually too old for the program, but came anyway because they had nothing else to do. Believe it or not, this is my favorite age group to teach or coach, not quite too cool for school, and still able to be motivated and engaged, at least for short periods of time.

We didn't have a room, since the younger kids filled up the two classrooms inside the community building. So, we put a canopy over a picnic table in the yard to give us some shade from the heat and cover from the rain.

I guess I had one advantage from the start - being a man. Most of these kids have so few men in their lives, even fewer that express any real interest or concern for them. They seemed surprised that I was coming back, committed to being with them all week. I'm afraid most the volunteer teams that come through drop by for a day or two and then head to the Smithsonian. Everyday, "Are you coming back? You'll be here tomorrow? You here all week?"

"Sure, I'll be here. See you tomorrow." Hard to believe that a single week of contact with these kids could represent so much more consistency than they usually have in their lives. So, day by day, we began to get acquainted - Tilly and Tomiwa and Tyler, Josh and Hivan and Kerod, Jalia and Toure' and Makayla, Tiwalade and Latasha and LT, Daniella and Brandee and Adetilewa and Raivlyn. Man, I thought Bible names were tough. They seemed to pick up "Drew" pretty quickly.

"Help me remember who you are. Tell me your name and tell me about your best day ever." Around the table and the tent, each one shared. Some hesitated, "My best day ever? Hmmm." "My best day was my birthday. I got to go skating." "My best day was when my little sister was born." "My best day was when I got to go to Six Flags."

As we were nearing the end of that conversation, Latasha asked, "Can we talk about our worst day?" I said, "Well, you don't have to, but you can if you want to." When her turn came, she said, "My worst day was when my grandma died of cancer." I said, "I'm sorry you lost your grandma. Did she live here close?" She nodded and said, "I lived with her."

Around the circle we went, each one sharing their worst days, some not so bad really, others heart-breaking stuff, right out in the open. It was real. No pretense, just raw life experience. It was quite a conversation. Here's a few exerpts from our study time each morning, my questions and their answers:

If you were the Creator, what kind of world would you create?
  • No apartments, only houses.
  • No killers, no rapists. No kidnapping or car-jacking. No stealing.
  • Everything is free.
  • No aging. (We stop getting older at 28.)
  • No getting sick.
  • No war.
  • No dentists.
  • No rich people. 
  • No Donald Trump.
  • No commercials.
  • Skittles, lots of Skittles.
  • Rainbows every Tuesday.
 If you were starting a new church, what kind of church would it be?
  • Gospel rap.
  • Involved in everything.
  • Serves the neighborhood.
  • Helps the homeless.
  • Feeds the poor.
  • Teaches about God.
  • Has Vacation Bible School.
  • Gives away Bibles.
  • Sunday lunch.
  •  A celebration every day.
If you could interview Jesus on your own late night talk show, what five questions would you ask Him?
  • What did it feel like to be born into a homeless family?
  • Were you ever afraid to do what God asked you to do?
  • Why did you have to be crucified?
  • Why did you have to go alone?
  • What did you mean when you said, "It is finished,"?
Tilly's group came up with a final bonus question for Jesus:
  • The way the world is today, was it worth it?
 As you can imagine, we had lots of great conversation, talking about their thoughts and ideas and questions. I remember seminary classroom debates that were not nearly as gritty and challenging as talking with this bunch at City Gate.

In the afternoons it was touch football, between two sidewalks, a building, and a row of trees. And watch out for that manhole cover. I was quarterback for both teams, kind of a seven on seven drill, and we had a great time each day. Of course, I could only throw to one person each play, so the others let me know how open they were and why I should've thrown it to them. Tomiwa said repeatedly, "You are the worst quarterback in the history of the world!" He kept track of how many picks I threw, eight in one game, but I also threw 22 touchdowns, so not too bad. The score was 98 to 84. By Thursday I thought my arm was going to fall off. It's been a long time since I was coaching youth football.

My worst moment at City Gate was my last. When I handed the football back to LT at the end of the day Friday, he looked at me and said, "So, this is it? You're done? You won't be back next week?"

"No, LT. I won't be here next week, but I hope to come back sometime before too long," being careful not to promise more than I could deliver. "Take care of yourself, LT. Remember what we talked about." He nodded looking down at the football in his hands and then he was gone.

I wouldn't trade my week at City Gate for anything. I was exhausted, sunburned and sore, yet somehow refreshed, renewed. It took a bunch of kids in the projects to remind me of just how good the Good News is, and how great is the love of the Father for all His children. God bless them all.