Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Since many of you have journeyed alongside of me as I slowly advanced down the path to becoming a pastor, I thought I would share with you my first experience as the officiant at a wedding. I did not choose to get licensed as a pastor in order to perform weddings, but I knew it was inevitable. I had turned down a few opportunities, for different reasons, and was waiting for the perfect match for my first wedding. The request came from one of my best friends, and old roommate, Brian Corbin. I agreed to do the wedding as long as he was okay with me being super nervous and most likely screwing up somehow. The deal was struck. I was excited that my first wedding would be with somebody I knew so well.

Not only was I asked to be the officiant, but also a groomsman. I was proud of the role because I had never heard anybody play both roles before. Which automatically elevates me to a new level of awesomeness. At first we thought about me walking down and just standing in line with all the other groomsman, have the bride (Aimee) come down the aisle, have a moment of awkward tension as we look around for the pastor, and finally have me pop out of the line and yell, “I’ll marry you!” Maybe put on one of those white collar things, or rip off a fake mustache for dramatic effect. We decided against it, but I definitely reserve the right to do this in the future. Overall, it was fun to be in both roles, but also confusing at times. Am I the fun guy or the spiritual guy? Do I pray for him or try to make him laugh? I eventually realized they were not opposites, and I could try to do both.

If you are wondering how I did, it is best summed up by my wife’s analysis after the ceremony. “You know how when you preached for the first time, the main comment you got from everybody was that they would have never guessed it was your first time? Well…. you could tell it was your first time.” Thanks! This was after she said that I did a great job, so don’t worry, Tatum is still the extremely supportive wife. She was just pointing out that my nerves showed a bit more. Which didn’t surprise me as I felt the weight of the day. If my sermon isn’t the greatest, “Hey, come back next week.” I have heard enough brides talk about every minute detail of their wedding day that I knew how memorable every moment is. So I felt that weight, probably more than I should have.

It was an outside wedding and we were at La Jolla cove, which is gorgeous even in overcast. Well, I walk my bridesmaid down the aisle and take my place next to Corbin. I’m already nervous standing there, and as soon as I start talking, we hear a bunch of feedback through my mic. So much that he had to take the volume down and barely anybody could hear me. In that moment, instead of pausing and logically trying to figure out the best next step, I panicked! I looked down at my notes and began to read them…. just a bit too fast. I just hoped that the sound guy would figure it out and fix it. As I look up, the bride tells me to turn off my mic, and I see Tatum given me the signal to slow down. Okay, time to regroup. Eventually they bring over another mic, I welcome everybody to the wedding who could finally hear me, and we proceeded a bit more relaxed. The rest of the wedding went great, and I felt more like myself as the wedding continued.

The only other tense moment, which nobody could feel except myself, happened while I was leading the entire wedding through communion. Now when I am nervous, my mouth gets dry. I also could not find water right before I went up there, so it was extremely dry. Add to the fact that the Body of Christ was not broken into very small pieces, and you have created quite the predicament for me. Have you ever had a piece of bread lodged in your throat? I looked down to the ground, and just pretended to have a more elongated moment of gratitude for what Christ has done for me. In reality, I was trying to find any saliva still existing in my mouth to get some momentum for swallowing. No luck. So I decided I had no choice but to introduce the blood of Christ to everybody with His body still lodged in my throat. With only one moment of borderline gagging, I force out the words, and then pour the grape juice down my throat. I can’t remember the last time I was so grateful for the impact of Christ’s blood in my life. Disaster averted, and communion was celebrated.

Overall, I think the day went well. Although I learned a lot, and plan on being more relaxed and myself at the next wedding, I only had one regret from the day. I wish I would have clearly explained what an amazing privilege it was to have Brian and Aimee as my first wedding couple. They are great together, and I’m excited to see how their marriage unfolds and blesses those around them. I just wish I would have said that on their wedding day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Avery the Teacher...

So Avery, my daughter, seems to be developing and hitting milestones on a daily basis. Her latest, which happened while in PA, was rolling over. I haven’t actually witnessed it in person. All I know is that she falls to sleep on her stomach, and when we get her in the morning, she is on her back. The funniest thing is she has the biggest smile, as if to say, “Look, I did it again!” She is so proud of herself. Whenever something like this happens, I want to go around and tell people how smart and advanced my daughter is, whether I have met you before or not! But I know parents who do that, and it can get old. They brag about the simplest things, which do not seem that phenomenal. So I will show some restraint. Instead, I’ll just let you come to the incredibly obvious conclusion of how amazing my daughter is through reading this story. Did I mention she can practically stand already?! (Stop it, Eric….)

Fatherhood has obviously brought me a lot of joy, but it has also taught me a lot. Over the past few years, I have been on a journey to understand my view of God. I have slowly learned my skewed images of God, how they influence my interactions with God, and some of the sources of these images. I am now trying to live out of the truth of who God is, instead of my distorted concepts, but this is definitely not an easy road. One of core beliefs that I have tried to shake is that God does not delight in me. He loves me because it’s His job, but delight in me? Only occasionally. How could he with the way I live on certain days?

So here is how God has been using Avery in this process. My love for Avery is as close to unconditional love as I can imagine on earth. Although I love my wife, family, and friends dearly, there are all elements of choice that do not exist the same way in my love for Avery. At the most simple things, I cannot help but love her without a single thought in my mind. I do not analyze and make a decision; I just love. As an example, when I can get Avery to smile enough that her binkie falls out of her mouth, my day is complete. It is the best prize of the day. Also, at the end of each night, I go into her room to say goodnight. Usually it’s just an excuse to look at her and smile. I love just seeing the unique sleeping position she has chosen that night. She could have been fussy all day, and it would not change that moment before I go to bed.

Now my theology claims that God looks down upon me in the same way. Regardless of what I have done that day, when I’m sleeping, He can’t help but smile at His beloved son. That was incredibly hard for me to type, because it is even harder to believe. God looks down upon me the same way I look at Avery before I go to sleep?! Sort of, yet His love is stronger. I know, its ridiculous. God loves me intimately and personally. And I bring Him joy by being who I am!

Now I realize that God may not always be pleased with my decisions, and I grieve Him when I choose contrary to what He has intended for me. When I disobey Him, He grieves. But I have realized that at the core of that grief is the loss of fulfillment that He desires for me. He grieves because He wants more for me. I did not trust Him, and it grieves Him that I, along with others, must suffer the consequences. Although this has not come out clearly in my relationship with Avery, it will just be a matter of time. I want what is best for her, and I’m sure there will be times that she chooses something contrary to that. And I will grieve when I know from experience that she will face some tough consequences. But as she falls down due to her decisions, I will be there to pick her up. And God is there for me as well. Because His love has more to do with Him than it has to do with me.

Although it still doesn’t sink in at times, my love for Avery has given me something tangible to cling to. And hopefully it becomes more of an experiential thing, and I start to live out of the confidence of that love. My heart has always lagged behind my mind in understanding this, but I’m hoping Avery will help my heart to begin to believe.

At the end of each day, God smiles upon me because I bear His image. And maybe He is so proud of my smallest development that He wants to tell all the angels. And maybe He also finds joy in my unique sleeping position. Who knows….

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why are You a Door?!

I went to a pastor’s spiritual retreat a few months ago. Luckily I work at a church where our entire staff was encouraged to go to this all-day reflective retreat. One of the exercises was to pick one of Jesus’ “I AM” statements, and really meditate on it. (Here’s a quick list I found) So I picked the statement: “I Am the Door.” If I am honest, I picked this one because I could not figure out what it meant, nor could I remember its context. Since it was a pastor’s retreat, I came up with a more spiritual reason for picking it. Something like, “I was really drawn to that one!”

I ended up spending several hours meditating on John 10 where Jesus describes Himself as the shepherd. Although I have always enjoyed this passage, John 10:9-10, where Jesus refers to Himself as the gate (or door), really hit me in a new way

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The part that stuck out to me the most was the second half of verse 9. I grew up in a more legalistic environment. I’m not throwing my childhood church or my parents under the bus whatsoever because I had an amazing childhood. Every restriction I was given as a kid was saturated in love. But the reality is, when you grow up in Amish country, the entire culture is focused a bit more on the “do’s and don’ts”.

When I first imagine the wall around my grazing area (I’m in character… I’m a sheep!!), my gut reaction is to think of it as restrictive. I chose to be a Christian, so I need to stay in my area. If I look over the wall, I can see the other sheep playing kickball, high-fiving, and laughing so hard they are crying. They get to do whatever they want and have a blast! When I ask Jesus if I can go out and play, He lets me know that He loves me, but I can’t partake in those activities. I need to focus on my math homework. I basically looked at the guidelines and boundaries in my life as a test from God to see if I really loved Him. Not really any meaning behind them, just random things to follow. If I really love God, I will show Him by blindly following His rules. Since Jesus died for me, I should not have a desire to have fun!

But Jesus says, “They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” Nothing is forced! The sheep are free to come and go! What?! There is freedom? This has been one of the most monumental learning’s for me in my adult years. Verse 9 and verse 10 are related. Our fulfillment in life, which God came to give us, is directly linked to the wall constructed around us. Yet this wall has an opening, and we are free to leave whenever we want.

But the more I have examined the wall, and each “law” or “commandment” which are piled up to make this wall, I’ve started to see the boundaries are not restrictive for arbitrary sake. They are invitational. God’s commandments invite us to trust Him with our lives. Each commandment is there for our ultimate well-being. They are placed there because God loves us dearly and wants us to experience the most fulfilling and exciting life possible. Although it does not make sense to us at times, and may not seem as attractive as the fleeting and momentary happiness we see around us, it is true! If God was willing to sacrifice His Son in order to have a relationship with us, we have to trust that His laws are tied to that love. He wouldn’t die in our place to merely have the ability to test our love and obedience. He invites us to trust Him because He has proven without a doubt that He is worthy of our trust and He has our best intentions in mind. It’s an invitation with freedom, not a command with judgment. Jesus is the unlocked door.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Protecting My Daughter

I realized early on, even within the pregnancy, that one of the strongest fatherly instincts surfacing within me was the desire to protect my daughter. Once Avery was big enough in the womb that we could feel her kicking, Tatum would often treat her like a circus trick. If she wanted to somebody to feel Avery’s kick, and Avery happened to be dormant, she would poke her belly and wake up our resting daughter. I would often try to defend my daughter, but to no avail. The attacker was too persistent, and in reality, stronger than me.

I’ve seen this trait come out even more after she has been born. Although my wife is well-researched, and I trust her wisdom as a mother, I’m often more cautious with taking her places and need my wife to reassure me. I want to protect her from anything that could harm her. I’m sure this desire for protection will become quite challenging as she gets older, and especially when she starts dating (in her late 20’s).

One of the worst feelings I have had so far as a father was listening to my daughter try to sleep with a stuffy nose. I felt helpless! When Tatum tried to feed her in the middle of the night, Avery was forced to eat, breathe, and cry through her mouth. And she was so hungry she was trying to do all three at once! I wanted to punish whoever got her sick, but unfortunately that person is WAY too likeable. (innocent smile)

So I got sick one day before Avery, and then watched my daughter follow suit. I hated the fact that I was the cause of her discomfort and pain. And since I was sick, I couldn’t hold her. So I get her sick, and then am banned from her presence. Not fun at all! The one bright spot is that Avery takes after her mother, and was an absolute trooper through her sickness (I think I cried from my stuffy nose more than she did from hers). But what I realized through the week was that this cold is just the beginning. Not only will I get her sick again, but there will be many other ways that I will not be able to protect Avery from her own father. My parenting is going to be drenched with my flaws and weaknesses. No matter how much I try, I will not even be close to being a perfect father, and Avery will be influenced by my shortcomings.

It’s hard to swallow. Although my character has grown throughout the years, and I continue to be molded by Christ, it’s inevitable that I will hurt Avery with my sarcasm. I will be selfish and pick me over my family. I will be unreasonable, angry, and judgmental at times, but hopefully I will also be apologetic, authentic, and forgiving.

And here is the greatest hope! Fortunately, Avery will have a perfect Father to balance me out. All I can hope is that my attempt at fatherhood will give her a small glimpse of His love for her. That when I show forgiveness and grace, Avery will understand it is Christ shining through me. I will shower her with my unconditional imperfect love and teach her of God’s perfect and persistent love. I will pray that Avery will choose to trust God enough to allow Him to lavish His love on her. And if my hopes and prayers are answered, and she chooses to receive His love, God will fill in the gaps that remain from my parenting and she will become the beautiful woman that God created her to be.

That truth gives me the grace that I need to be the best father possible.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pastor Lehman? Call me Eric

I’ll be completely honest with you: I really wrestled with my calling to be a pastor. I’ve always enjoyed being the guy that will grab a beer (if that offends you, I meant root beer) with somebody and just talk about life. I liked living out my faith in the midst of the real world. I liked being “one of the guys”, but just with different values. Unfortunately sitting in a cubicle punching numbers into my calculator (or excel spreadsheet) to determine the spacing and embed depth of the anchor bolts for my steel column (and that’s an easy one!) was draining me. My passions and gifts were calling me elsewhere.

I was also scared of going to seminary and working at a church because it meant I would be working with a demographic that is sometimes hard to get along with: Christians. We can often be judgmental and unloving in the midst of sharing our message of love. Our hypocrisy is what keeps many people away! And we all disagree with each other, and spend too much time arguing over things that divide us instead of looking for things that unify us. Sounds great! Sign me up!

I finally gave in and became Pastor Lehman. Luckily the oxymoronic aspects of that title allow me to either speak with spiritual authority, or as a simple layperson, depending on the situation. Over the past 6 months since I became an official pastor, I have noticed benefits and drawbacks.

- I have had the privilege of being invited into situations and conversations that I never would have if I was not a pastor. I have been blessed by watching some men take critical and monumental steps in their journey of faith. I would not have been able to witness this without the title “pastor”, or at least having the job that I do. This is a huge benefit that outweighs the drawbacks.

- Also, there are certain sacraments that I now have the honor of administering. I baptized somebody for the first time this year, and will officiate my first wedding in the fall. At first these opportunities caused some anxiety, because I recognized the significance of these moments and decisions. What if I said the wrong thing? What if their baptism/wedding is marred by my idiotic mumbling?! I then told myself to be quiet and enjoy what God was inviting me into!


- I think the title can be a barrier at times. Small talk with strangers often leads to the infamous question, “So what do you do?”. “Um, I’m a pastor”. For a small percentage of people, I then spend the next 15 minutes explaining how that is different than a priest and how I’m not only allowed to get married, but it is completely affirmed! For an even smaller percentage, they get excited and ask questions. For a majority, their countenance changes. “Oh, you need to go grab a drink? Completely understand, it’s a bit warm in here.” “You need to get back to your book? Yeah, I might watch the in-flight movie.” (I rarely do that, but said that so you knew my example was on an airplane. Genius!!)

- I end up being stereotyped at times. A person may think I’m a square, or cheesy, or judgmental, or that I can’t talk about anything other than Jesus. Regardless, they are not comfortable around me and analyze every move. This isn’t everybody, but a percentage.

- I have to pray for every meal, because supposedly I am an expert in praying. Its part of my job!!

The hardest thing for me is when people think they cannot relate to me. The title “pastor” creates a barrier for them. The reality is, I have a long way to go in my journey of being more Christ-like. I am broken and make mistakes, just like everybody else. True, I may know a little bit more about God and the Bible than the average church-goer, especially since I went to seminary. But I’m on a continuous journey trying to understand Jesus more and how his life, death, and resurrection practically apply to my life. I just happen to find extreme joy in helping others on their journey as I learn how to navigate mine. I love to learn your story, and hopefully help you take one step closer to understanding God’s love for you. I’m just another Christian guy, who is also a pastor. You can call me Eric. (or handsome, like my wife)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pondering #1 - Car Insurance

It is difficult for me to always look at life through a "serious" lens. Many of my ponderings in life add no value to the society around me, but merely entertain me (and sometimes others). Such a pondering follows....

So it feels like every other commercial I hear on the radio, and maybe every third commercial I fastforward through on my TV, is about car insurance. Geico will save you 15% if you spend 5 minutes of your time with a gecko. Progressive will compare their quote with all the others to guarantee savings. I always hear AIS on the Mikey Show and how they will save you hundreds, if not thousands, a year. Then there is All State, State Farm, and Farm All (it’s only in Lancaster County…. Ok, ok, I made it up).

Here is the logical conundrum I find myself in. Every car insurance company is promising the lowest price on car insurance. At least way lower than the price you are paying right now. How can every car insurance company be offering the lowest quote at the exact same time?! There are only a few possibilities.

My first thought: The insurance companies will continually beat each others prices, since they desire to be true to their word, and the trajectory of this glorious reality is we will all eventually have free car insurance!!! This is awesome! (Dear economy wiz: don’t test my logic, just get excited)

Second possibility: There is a devious, and quite shrewd, car insurance company out there, that remains a mystery, but has somehow convinced the great masses to buy their overpriced car insurance. And now that the internet has finally taken off in the past year, people are starting to realize how much money they can save with these other companies. But don’t worry overpriced car insurance company who is losing all their clients….. I’m sure the government will bail you out (political stab with no willingness or ammunition to back it up).

The third possibility: the car insurance companies are promising things they cannot follow through with, or they are saving their money in customer service and/or shoddy policies. I just fell asleep writing this “Hey, let’s approach this realistically” option, so let’s rule it out.

I’m personally subscribing to possibility number one, and have adjusted my budget accordingly. Any votes or proposed possibilities?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reflections of a 3-week old Father

Yes. I have been a father for 3 weeks now. Since a few have asked my thoughts, I decided to share my reflections as I’ve taken on this new role.
The backdrop you should know:
  • I read zero books in preparation for this life-changing role.
  • I have rarely hung out with kids throughout my life, except when I was a kid of course. When I walk into Floodkids (children’s ministry at my church), I panic and stare at the kids as if they are speaking a different language that I no hablo. Don’t get me wrong… I have always loved kids, but more from a distance.
  • I love my nieces and nephew, but my best way of connecting with them has produced the nickname: Crazy Uncle Eric.
  • I had never changed a diaper, watched a video on how to change a diaper, or even spent any logical energy in assessing the best tactics for said diaper-changing. (I’m sure I’ll share my first diaper change at some point)
So, here are some noticings, with the more trivial coming first:
1. Half of my times with Avery so far seem to be when she is not the happiest. I often change her diaper in the midst of the transition from Leftie to Rightie (or vice versa). This means that she is still hungry, so feeling the cool air on her bottom is not her first choice. Luckily she connects my voice to that, and the following scenario….

2. I keep thinking that I am hurting her when I change her diaper because she is crying. Which makes me wipe more gently. Which means it takes me longer. Which means Avery feels the cold air longer. Which means she cries more. Which means I am ultimately shooting myself in the foot.

3. I am not good at making songs up. And most of the songs in my head are not kid-friendly. So I end up singing “Jesus Loves Me” around 27 times in a row. I am currently working on a modified version of a DC talk song, which will be titled, “The Easy Way.”

4. I continually ask Avery “What’s wrong?”, despite knowing full well that she cannot answer that question. I also tell her “You’re okay!”, when I have no clue. Sometimes I have an entire conversation with her with her continual response being the monkey face.

5. Avery seems to have a lot of the same tastes as my wife. I have made this realization through several statements from Tatum. “Avery would like you to shave.” “Avery wants you to put some cologne on.” Weird, I can almost hear her mother making those same requests.

A few more significant…..
6. I have often felt disconnected. I can’t feed Avery, which is her absolute favorite thing to do in the world! She is often more calm in Mom’s arms then she is in mine. I’m actually okay with this, since she has known Mom for 9 months longer than me. And Tatum is a very natural Mom, while I am a loving but awkward Dad at times. The one thing that warms my heart is when I can tell she recognizes my voice. I know this will change, but I’ve realized my focus needs to be in serving Tatum. Which leads to the next one…

7. I have never had more respect for my wife then in the weeks following Avery’s birth. And since you can never really know how much I had previously respected my extremely gifted and beautiful wife, this statement will never carry as much weight as it is intended to produce. Being induced (which just produces a longer labor), going through labor, and then ending in a C-section is hard enough. But then watching her valiantly learn how to be a mother while not being able to sit up on her own, fighting off an infection with a 101 fever, and enduring the beginning pains of nursing, has made me love her ever more dearly. And praise the Lord in heaven I was born a man.

8. Although it’s a sacrifice, and an extremely daunting responsibility, I’m so proud to be a father. I know my love for Avery will continue to grow, which is exciting. For now, I’ll just enjoy watching her make 37 different faces while sleeping.