Thursday, May 07, 2009

My Friend Mike

I have a friend named Mike. We've been buds for a very long time. Maybe like, oh, 30 years. When we met I was a youth pastor in Clarendon Hills, IL. Mike worked for the Illinois Baptist State Association. He worked for the part of that organization that helped youth pastors be better at what they do. And I am sure he did a great job of it. Yet I don't recall anything that Mike ever taught me about youth pastoring. We just didn't talk about it much. In retrospect I realize that his agenda was higher than the one he was paid to carry out. Mike did something much more important than teaching me strategies and procedures.

Mike loved me.

I hold this odd distinction in the wonderful world of ministry. I've been a pastor of one sort or another all of my adult life. I actually began this journey of servant hood at the not-so-ripe age of 19. The first pastor I "worked for" got mad at me when I quit. He thought it was a personal insult. But the reason I quit was because, well, he was nuts. I think the poor guy was way over-medicated on something. At times we would be the only people in the building and he wouldn't speak to me. Then he started accusing me of saying things very controversial about him at meetings I was not even at. So it was time to leave. After I left, the church fired him. He refused to leave their "parsonage." As a matter-of-fact, he started a new mission in it. I call that "loony." They had to get a court order to make him vacate.

My next pastor ... well, my next pastor got caught with his secretary. (That wouldn't happen these days because somewhere along the way they began calling them "Administrative Assistants." So it's impossible to get caught with your "secretary.") The guy who took his place got mad at me when I resigned a few years later. (That made two out of three pastors who became angry at me when I quit. No biggie. Later on I found out that sometimes they actually encourage you to quit. It's a weird phenomenon but one I learned to live with.) He became so angry that he went and got the latest copy of the church history and then he got a sharpie and then he crossed my name out every where it appeared. I served there for four years and today they have no record that I ever existed. This man had a PhD. For stupid people like me that means he had a doctorate. He was brilliant and I was stupid. Yet he "got even with me" by striking my name from all historical records. I thought that was rather immature but what do I know? (These days I sit "in the big chair" in our church. I like my youth pastor. My Administrative Assistant is safe. I don't keep sharpies in my desk. All is well.)

But I think you are picking up a pattern here, are you not? I have a history of relationships with people I do ministry with becoming a bit dysfunctional. And that's why it meant so much to me that Mike decided to love me. We did a lot of things together. He, five other youth pastors, and I pulled a cross once from Marion, Illinois to Springfield, Illinois. We did it to draw attention to the fact that Jesus loves people. Each evening we stopped at a church or a school and held youth oriented services, complete with a band and a speaker. Lots of kids showed up. It was March and I remember it being very, very cold outside. But inside the deeper parts of me it was tremendously warm. There's just nothing like serving with brothers. Some years later Mike resigned his position and he asked me to take over the leadership of our state associations huge two day youth event held between Christmas and New Years. I asked him why in the world he would want ME to do that. Plenty of other people had better qualifications. His answer left me humbled with a dry mouth and a spinning head. Mike said, "I'm asking you to do it because I know you don't want to. Everybody else wants to. I want somebody who has the sole motivation of serving Jesus." I had to say "yes" after that. I will never forget that twenty-six kids got saved at that event.

After that Mike and I kept in touch as often as possible. Sometimes we could meet in person, sometimes merely by telephone. But we never lost touch. He came to town last week and called me up to ask me to meet him for lunch. I would have walked the twenty miles to that restaurant if necessary. I knew what Mike's motivation for wanting to meet with me was. He wanted to check on me. He wanted to love me. No way I was missing that lunch date.

Mike is a full fledged Jew. He wears the little beanie on his head but these days it's covered by an Australian bush hat. With Mike there is no reason to ask why. You just accept it as it is and laugh. You see, Mike is a renegade. He's unique. Only he hears the drums that ring in his hears. He has been that way as long as I've known him and I'm pretty certain he will never change. I surely hope not. He spent several years as the Rabbi of a Messianic Jewish synagogue. When we talk about those days his eyes light up with passion. And today Mike lives a life of wonderful retirement. He and his wife own a place just southwest of Colorado Springs. His gaze became distant as he told me how his living room window is a perfect frame for "Pikes Peak." In his free time he rides his mountain bike and climbs 14,000 foot mountains. Did I mention that he's 71 years old? He's got me by 18 years and I have to stop and catch my breath when I climb a mere 14 feet to my apartment perch on the third floor.

It's nice to be loved. It's even better when you know that the person loving you doesn't have to. He's doing it simply because he's a rabbi with a passionate heart for Jesus and Jesus kids. I could write stories about Mike all night but I think I'll just say this. He's my friend and I'm very glad.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Mike sounds like a great guy!

Your previous employers: notsomuch.

johnsonfamilyof6 said...

I remember Mike! What a awesome dude!

Anonymous said...

I remember when you and the others carried that cross. I remember seeing the pictures. And I remember that Youth Encounter. I remember all of them. God does amazing things through His servants.

Anonymous said...

Did you bring back memories? Yes you did -- on so many levels. Give Mike my love. I'd be VERY surprised me, but he was the earthly reason I got involved with Lay Renewals. He's a true Man of God and I learned so much from him.