She pushed right past my outstretched hand, ignoring my North American custom expressing openness at a distance. She placed her hand on my shoulder, her wise old eyes looking through mine into the hidden recesses of my soul. Her seasoned voice didn’t falter as she firmly said “obrigada, pastor.” After a quick embrace and kiss on the cheek, she slipped off into the crowd. Those words lingered briefly in my mind before settling into my soul.
“Who am I?” This question shapes our journey. Maybe that is our journey. Like a handshake, I’ve attempted to be open to it while also keeping a safe distance. Our circumstance and choices shape who we are. Even more, at our core we each have a unique design driving our direction. In our desire to fit in, it’s easy to hide from this design. It’s tempting to step into the crowd instead of into our destiny. .
This journey I’ve been on has been unique, to say the least. Not many computer security guys with existential tendencies fall headlong into a relationship with Christ at 32 after a lifetime of adamant atheism. When the relationship first took off I stepped fearlessly into it, letting God lead me anywhere He would like. My answer became, “Yes, God” before hearing the question.
This led to community-building, worship-leading, and mission trips. A few of these yesses also led to heartbreak and loss. They were worth it. The earth shook. We saw a glimpse of the Kingdom right here on earth. God was there through it all, sustaining me.
And now…God’s turning a new page. In this chapter, I’ve been reluctant to say yes. The calling doesn’t fit my qualifications.
Our first night in Aracaju, my pastor pulled me aside and asked, “would you rather preach the first service or last while we’re here?”
This hit me out of the blue. What? Me? But… don’t they usually get qualified people to do that?
That one question forced an internal confrontation I had been avoiding.
One of my “Yes, God” moments led me to seminary. I don’t know what He has planned, but I’ve trusted Him. Last January, the church licensed me. I can officially perform weddings now. So does that make me a…pastor? I wrestled with this for months. There is a weird mixture of high standards and heavy baggage associated with the title “pastor.”
I took the first service. I knew it would be smaller. Less pressure.
As I frantically prepared a sermon for an international congregation , I couldn’t help but reflect. From our hotel in Aracaju, my mind drifted back to Gravatai.
Two years earlier I had delivered my first sermon. I preached a lesson from Gideon from the pulpit of a chapel I helped build in 2011. This was before seminary. It was before chaplaincy. I taught about the purpose God had for Gideon. I explained that God built a potential into Gideon, which God would use. I told everyone that God had a plan, even if Gideon himself thought too little of himself to see it. How could I have forgotten? In His own way, God was providing a glimpse…foreshadowing things to come.
“Be the church.” That’s what our shirts said. That was the message of my sermon. To “be the church” is much more than showing kindness to others and helping the poor, widows, and orphans. Matthew 16 tells us that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. Gates are defensive, not offensive. Evil is on the run. Jesus didn’t intend for us to sit within the safety of our walls in the comfort of our pews. He intended for us to engage in warfare, taking on evil wherever we find it. Our weapons are not swords or guns, though. We are to fight using grace, compassion, self-sacrifice, and love. These weapons tear down gates, break chains, and set people free.
It went well. The band played “How He Loves” in English and Portuguese. It wrecked me. My own gates fell. My inner turmoil over my identity was far from my mind. And then the service was over. Everyone celebrated, hugged, and greeted each other.
I turned. That was when she spoke those words. “Obrigada, Pastor.” Thank you. Pastor.
God’s design for us is to stand out, not to fit in. Through us, He brings His kingdom to earth. The message to Gideon was “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). He told Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you…” (Jer 1:5) Our God-given purpose sits in the sweet spot that happens to be right outside our comfort zone.
Sometimes God calls us to step into an uncomfortable truth…one we didn’t expect. Maybe it’s even one we’ve avoided.
God seems to speak to me most clearly when I’m in Brazil. This year He affirmed a piece of my identity I had been denying, and He used a sweet old lady speaking in a foreign tongue to do it.
The truth is…I am a pastor.