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Confession and Hot Dog Buns

Hot Dog Buns

Have you ever seen Father of the Bride? It’s a 1991 comedy starring Steve Martin about his daughter’s wedding. There’s this scene where Steve Martin’s character, George Banks, is so frustrated and stressed by the wedding costs and preparations that he leaves to go for a drive. His wife says, “While you’re out would you mind going to the supermarket and picking up something for dinner?”

The next scene shows him in the bread isle ripping open hotdog bun packages and pulling four buns out of each package. One of the employee’s approaches him and asks, “Excuse me sir, what are you doing?”

“I’ll tell you what I am doing. I want to buy eight hotdogs and eight hotdog buns to go with it. But no one sells eight hotdog buns, they only sell twelve hotdog buns. So I end up paying for four buns I don’t need. So I am removing the superfluous buns.”

The employ tries to explain that the buns are not priced individually. George responds by launching into a rant about the greed of corporate America—specifically about the big shots at the hotdog company and the big shots at the bun company who conspired to rip off the American public. Shortly after his diatribe, security is called and he gets arrested.

Confessions of a Pastor

The other day I had a similar meltdown over the phone. At the time, my wife was a couple weeks out from her due date, our son was sick, and we were supposed to have a bunch of family come visit. I also had some irons in the fire at work, and we had received a letter from a debt collector a couple weeks prior. The letter stated that we owed money from a medical bill dating back to my son’s birth in August of 2016—2.5 years ago!

Needless to say, I have been feeling overwhelmed lately. The sort of overwhelm and anxiety that feels like the walls are closing in or that the oxygen level in the room is expiring. I called our insurance to inquire about the supposed bill. The lady in the billing department couldn’t go back that far so she passed it up the line for investigation. She told me someone would call me with their findings.

A few days ago I received the phone call, but I missed it. The voicemail said I could return this call from Jessie who was a Provider Services Team Lead. So I called the number back. After almost yelling at the automated response questions, I was finally able to speak to a person. I had already spoken with these people about the issue they were investigating and I just wanted to speak with Jessie. Simple right? Wrong. Because I wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of my wife she could not transfer me through.

I lost it. I went George Banks on her. Usually, I care a lot about how I treat people because I firmly believe that is one of the simplest ways we can reflect Christ. I came unraveled on the phone. She said she couldn’t answer anything in regards to my wife’s profile. I said, “How about this, I don’t want any information about my wife. I just want to talk to Jessie. Who called me. I am SIMPLY returning a phone call. How about that? Just let me talk to Jessie.”

I realized I was clearly not getting anywhere so I hung up after attempting an apology. Turns out, the issue was not even related to my wife’s coverage. It was on my son’s, and I could have spoken for him because he’s a minor. I eventually got through and they are still sorting out the details with the debt collector. They filed a grievance for us and I am praying it is resolved without us having to pay. I find it ridiculous that we are being billed 2.5 years later.

Anyhow, the point is this: Sometimes I don’t have it all together. Actually, the truth is that most of the time I do not have it all together. I really love people and I really desire to reflect Christ to people. But sometimes it is hard to try to reflect hope and grace for other people’s struggles and then go home to your own. Sometimes it is hard to be attentive to everybody when you just want some solitude time. Sometimes it is hard proclaiming the nearness of God when you feel He is distant. Sometimes life hits me too.

There is a perceived pressure, whether it is true or not, to have it all together as a Christian and especially as a pastor. Sometimes people even allude to the idea that “You probably don’t struggle with [fill in the blank] because you’re a pastor.” Sometimes I just want to say to people, “Actually, I’m a human.” Some people have even said to me, “I appreciate your sharing about your own struggles because it makes you seem human.” As if being a pastor automatically graduates you to glorification.

So, here it is—my confession: I struggle to believe the truths of God’s promises when my circumstances cloud His goodness. I am easily swayed by my emotions and my circumstances. I have questions for which I have found no satisfying answer either in theology or secular philosophy. I am grumpy sometimes. My wife and I disagree occasionally. In the midst of those disagreements we even say mean things. I lose my patience with my son every now and then. I think I’ve come close to murdering our dog a time or two. It’s a challenge in our world to not face the temptation to lust on a regular basis. Sometimes I skip my devotional time because other things seem more pressing. Forgiveness is hard for me to give when I have been deeply hurt. My identity is often rooted in how successful I feel as a pastor. I care too much about other people’s opinions. Sometimes I wish we made more money. Every now and then I get depressed.

Gospel of Grace

I am not sure where along the way we got the idea that being a Christian meant that we have it all together. The very premise of the Gospel is that we don’t. That all of our striving and grasping and trying and working cannot heal the brokenness or satisfy the ache in our own hearts. The very heart of the Gospel is that we can’t, therefore He did. Paul says it like this, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”[1]

In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes,

We must know who we are. How difficult it is to be honest, to accept that I am unacceptable, to renounce self-justification, to give up the pretense that my prayers, spiritual insight, tithing, and successes in ministry have made me pleasing to God! No antecedent beauty enamors me in His eyes. I am lovable only because He loves me.

…Honesty requires the truthfulness to admit the attachment and addictions that control our attention, dominate our consciousness, and function as false gods. I can be addicted to vodka or to being nice, to marijuana or being loved, to cocaine or being right, to gambling or relationships, to golf or gossiping. Perhaps my addiction is food, performance, money, popularity, power, revenge, reading, television, tobacco, weight, or winning. When we give anything more priority than we give to God, we commit idolatry. Thus we all commit idolatry countless times every day.[2]

I think what Manning points out is easy for us to forget—that we all need rescue. That we all need redemption. That none of us, if we were honest, have it all together. Even after coming to believe the right things about God, our inner lives need transformed. The beginning of that transformation is the honesty and humility to acknowledge we need it. God doesn’t want to make you nice. He wants to make you new! This isn’t a renovation project. It’s resurrection! And resurrection, last time I checked, was above my pay grade.

The beautiful thing is that we don’t have it all together, but God is absolutely obsessed with loving us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [3] He knows what He purchased with His blood. He knows what we are in the dark recesses of our being. He knows our selfish natures, and yet He loves us. This is not an invitation to act like sin doesn’t matter. It is an invitation to cooperate with God’s transformative power by humbly acknowledging the essential truth that we don’t have it all together. God’s transformative grace can work with humility; it cannot work with pride—especially of the self-righteous kind.

Often it is not our sins that keep us from God. It is our reluctance to admit we have them. In the Gospels it was not the sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors who missed the Kingdom of God. It was the religious. The people who had it all together. The sad reality is that Jesus loved them too, but they were to prideful to embrace grace. For them, God’s love had to be earned, but you can’t earn something that is free. When you try to work for something that is free, you end up missing the very essence of it. Not because it wasn’t offered, but because you didn’t live in light of the freedom reality.

Philip Yancey states it well, “Grace comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it and I am one of those people.”[4]

That is my confession: I am one of those people who doesn’t deserve grace, but desperately needs it.

[1] Romans 5:6

[2] Manning, B. (2000). The Ragamuffin Gospel. (p. 83-84)

[3] Romans 5:8

[4] Yancey, P. (1997). What’s So Amazing About Grace? (p. 42)

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