Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:8-14)
A biblical mantra came to mind recently, and has lingered ever since: “I press on.”
I was organizing my new office, at church, when I received the text saying the Orlando Mayor had ordered the halt of group gatherings, originally through the end of March, 2020, to stop the spread of coronavirus. Obviously, that order has been extended, now through the end of April, 2020. I suspect it will be extended again, and possibly again after that.
I’ll confess, I hadn’t considered the possibility of closing our church’s doors, especially for Sunday worship. The most I’d pondered was how we might change how we serve communion, as people became increasingly fearful of catching the virus. Beyond a single question about our capacity for live-streaming worship services, if older members were uncomfortable attending in person, I hadn’t envisioned our current reality.
Since that day, I’ve quickly learned to use Facebook Live and ZOOM, returned to writing more blog posts, expanded my Social Media posting and consumption, am spending a LOT more time on my mobile devices, and am slowly learning how to pastor via technology. For a moderately proficient tech and Social Media user, there are now moments I’m utilizing an Iphone, an Ipad, and two Macs simultaneously! I won’t bother to mention how many apps and tabs I have open!
As a creative type, and an innovator, there are moments this all feels very stimulating. I like change. I like challenges. I’m learning new skills. I’m trying new things. I’m adapting!
As an introvert, however, so much screen time is exhausting, requiring so much more attention and intention.
But, above all, the most pervasive feeling I’m wrestling with, these days, is uncertainty. We’re all uncertain, of course. Even the experts are uncertain.
“How long will this last? Maybe a long time. How bad will it get? Bad. How bad? Possibly, really bad. What else will it impact? Everything. Can you be more specific? No.”
Yes, I have those uncertainties. But, that’s not the uncertainty I mean. The uncertainties I’m wrestling with, daily, are more specific and far more personal. I’m uncertain about ME. I’m uncertain about my abilities, my capacity to adapt and change, my leadership gifts (or lack of), my resilience, my capacity for good decision making, etc., etc.
I don’t mean to sound overly insecure, though insecurities are at play, or to make excuses for my pastoral inadequacies. But, I’d be lying if I said I felt “prepared” for this – emotionally, spiritually, professionally, etc. I wasn’t! Who was? In fact, I find myself frequently offering the disclaimer, “They didn’t teach me this in seminary!”
I didn’t take seminary courses in…
- “Ministry during a pandemic”
- “How to interpret the CARE Act for your ministry setting”
- “How to raise money during the early stages of a depression”
- “Staffing for a pandemic, 101”
- “How to offer high impact/low touch ministry via Social Media”
- “Leading worship in an empty sanctuary – or from your home”
- “Advanced preaching to empty pews”
- “Pastoral care and Social Distancing, 101”
Nope. None of it. No preparation, whatsoever.
As I recently faced another day, with significant issues on my mind and impending decisions to be made, I was reminded of simple biblical phrase, “I press on.”
To all of my scholarly readers, if there are any, I know Paul wasn’t talking about anything like we’re currently facing as 21st Century pastors, stumbling through a global pandemic. Paul was talking about something quite different, in a totally different context. Paul was talking about spiritual righteousness. Previously, he’d thought righteousness was found in one’s religious identity, one’s spiritual pedigree, and one’s rigid adherence to laws and dogmas. But, after meeting the risen Christ, he realized all of that was garbage. The Common English Bible uses the lovely, vivid phrase, “sewer trash” – a delightful image.
Instead, Paul discovered, “I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (3:9-11)
Paul knew the spiritual life was a journey, filled with many challenges. Whatever spiritual claims he’d made previously, seemed like garbage after knowing Christ. Likewise, his current spiritual state was short of who he knew Christ was calling and enabling him to become. So, he wrote, “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (3:13-14)
“I press on.”
I know I’m stretching this text beyond it’s original intent and meaning. But, I’m finding encouragement in those three simple words, “I press on.” Whatever I learned or didn’t learn in seminary doesn’t matter – today, “I press on.” Whether my past ministry experience has or hasn’t prepared me for a pandemic – today, “I press on.” No matter how prepared or unprepared I was for a pandemic, three weeks ago, doesn’t matter – today, “I press on.” Regardless of how stimulated I am by the new challenges, or how overwhelmed I feel by so much screen time and navigating the daily challenges and unknowns – today, “I press on.” Whatever uncertainties I feel about the future, the latest news, my most recent decision, or my personal capabilities don’t matter at all – today, “I press on.”
Whatever “was” is garbage – it’s in the past. Today is a new day with new challenges and fresh possibilities. Tomorrow, will be the same, as will the day after that. All I can do, day after day, throughout this pandemic and beyond, is “press on.”
Honestly, what choice do I have? What choice do you have?
Yes, I’m uncertain, about so much. Mostly, I’m uncertain about me. But, I’m NOT uncertain about the ONE I serve, the ONE who called me, or the ONE in whom I trust and believe – Christ Jesus my Lord. In him, I’m quite certain. In him, I have a sure and certain faith. And, for him, and for those he’s placed in my pastoral care, with his help,
“I press on.”