If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
2 Timothy 2:13
My first panic attack was in the pulpit.
I was an inexperienced first year seminary student and a rookie youth minister. My senior pastor was an exceedingly gracious man, one as much in need of a vacation as a willing preacher to fill his pulpit. He offered me a chance to preach.
To this day, I don’t know if I’m more mystified by the invitation or my willingness to imbibe the intoxicating cocktail of hubris, people pleasing, and opportunism that drove me to accept. In either case, my fateful decision soon resulted in me standing before a congregation of hundreds with the empty expression of a man emerging shellshocked from a still warm blast crater.
Candidly, I don’t remember much of it. In the few words that I did manage to mumble, I offered up a weird and incoherent reference to Friedrich Nietzsche. Not God. Not Jesus. Not the Holy Spirit. Nope. I seized my first opportunity in the pulpit to talk a little bit about 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Let’s pause for a second. You know that little part of you that, even though it’s part of you, talks like it’s a detached observer? Even as other parts of me were descending into incoherence, that part of me started making all sorts of sense. It started with some questions.
“Talk to me, man. What’s going on?”
“Friedrich Nietzsche? Interesting choice. Hmmm. Where you plan on going with that?”
“Um, what do you think about faking a heart attack?”
Seeing the congregation awash in a tidal wave of confusion and the conflicted form of compassion that motivates a person to take a suffering pet to the veterinarian to be put out of its misery, the voice started getting more direct.
“Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP! Seriously, dude: QUIT TALKING!”
Convinced that recovery was neither imminent nor possible, I managed to mutter a simple statement of surrender. I said something like, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.” I then grabbed my notes, walked down the aisle as though to the gallows, and right out the back of the sanctuary. The congregation, sitting in rapt silence, was eventually dismissed amidst their own growing realization that my bizarre performance was not some form of avant garde skit.
I would have gone out to my car and just left. However, at the time, I drove an antique Cadillac Coupe de Ville and I wasn’t at all confident that it would start. I couldn’t imagine anything more pathetic than those poor souls emerging from the church to see their already humiliated youth minister grinding his starter in their parking lot, unable to flee the scene.
Instead, I retreated to my office. I shut the door, turned off the lights, and pressed myself into its darkest corner. I planned to stay there until everyone left, and then just leave quietly. If all went smoothly, they’d never see me again. I’d go back to my apartment, write a letter of resignation, withdraw from seminary, and - Lord-willing - die several decades later in obscurity, perhaps as a Trappist monk somewhere outside Ulaanbataar, Mongolia.
I started to cry. I was a failure and everyone knew it. My ministry as a preacher seemed over even before it began.
And then something happened. I heard a rustling outside my office window. It was a middle school student in my youth group, climbing up the side of the building. I saw his little fingers reach the ledge of my office window. He pulled himself up, looked inside, and somehow caught my eyes through the darkness. He yelled through the glass, “We love you, Kev! God loves you!”
Frankly, I don’t know if that kid remembers that day or his gesture. What I do know is that little middle schooler saved me about $2,000 in airfare to Ulaanbataar.
The hundreds who simply left that day weren’t without compassion. They were also great people, forming a very loving congregation. Their mercy took the form of space, and there’s something to be said for that. However, let’s face it: they chose a much easier form of compassion. Running to the wounded, not from them, is more difficult. Identifying with the ashamed and disgraced can be downright painful.
Child of God: Jesus ran toward us at our worst, not our best. He still does. Even in the midst of your failures, he remains faithful. When you fail, he won’t fail to keep loving you. He loves you too much for that.
You're loved. Don't forget it.
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