Grief

When most people hear the word “grief,” they think about the loss of a dear family member or friend to death.  How awful to think that someone so special will not be a part of your life anymore, this side of eternity.  My heart breaks every time someone close to me has to say good-bye in this way, although I am thankful for the hope we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ, that those in Christ will be reunited with loved ones who also love their Savior.  My family and I have faced this type of grief.  My wonderful wife lost both parents, as well as a brother and a sister.  We lost beloved uncles and aunts and grandparents.  Grief hit us hardest as we had to say good-bye to our precious daughter, Christina, and our unnamed baby lost in miscarriage.  If you are going through such a loss right now, may God bless you with His presence and peace!

Yet, grief more often visits in the day-to-day losses that sometimes can also take our breath away.  This is the grief that I am dealing with right now.  After being in pastoral ministry for almost 30 years, I now find myself looking for some other type of work.  I am in grief after losing the career that I devoted my life to.  More importantly, I am in grief over the loss of a calling from God that has gripped my heart since I was 14 years-old.  I am grieving over the loss of being the protector and provider for my family.  While the small churches that I served never enabled me to make a lot of money, they were extremely generous in giving us a salary that we could at least survive on.  Now we try to survive on a very small, part-time salary with no assistance from the government programs I thought were designed to help people like us.  I am grieving the opportunity each day to share the truth and love of Jesus with others.  I know some would say that I can still share Jesus, but the truth is I feel ashamed to say to others “come to Jesus” when they may answer, “And be like you?”  I am grieving the loss of my health as I age.  As I apply for hundreds of jobs in our area, I wonder if my broken body can do the duties required.  I am grieving the loss of my confidence.  As I am rejected from hundreds of employment opportunities, I wonder if the one voted “most likely to succeed” in high school can do anything anymore.  I am grieving the loss of terrific times of prayer and fellowship with pastoral colleagues who are now no longer colleagues.

I am grieving the loss of my daughters as they grow older.  I know this is normal, but I miss the times I spent with them before.  We did a lot of ministry together.  Now, the part-time evening job I have keeps me away from their concerts and events.  Most of all, I am grieving the loss of my dear wife. No, Leah has not died.  We get to celebrate 30 incredible years of marriage this November.  She remains the love of my life.  Yet, because of her constant physical pain and tormenting mental anguish, she does not have a fraction of the life she used to have.  I know she also grieves the loss of the life she dreamed of.  She is as smart and capable and gifted and devoted to Jesus as anyone I ever met, and once had dreams of sharing Jesus in cultures around the world.  Her health issues prevented that, but at least we could share Him in our own land in the context of the local church.  Now, as her health continually declines, no local church is ever going to give us a chance to do just that.  Together, we grieve the loss of our future.  What do the days ahead hold?

I say this not to elicit your pity, but to alert you to something.  While I say I am grieving the loss of all of these things, I am not really grieving.  You see, since I became unemployed, I have been in “survival mode.”  Every waking moment is spent trying to find employment and a future.  I haven’t had time nor energy to enjoy anything.  And I have not had the time nor the energy to grieve.  I can’t grieve.  I have to survive.  I wish I could have a break from survival for a time so I can simply grieve.

Maybe you know someone going through some loss right now.  Please gift them with two things: your loving (most-often silent) presence, and the time to grieve.  Do whatever you can to help them not  just survive, but to have the time to process their loss.  They need time to feel loved by you and by their Creator.  I still spend time daily searching for God and His voice through prayer and Bible reading, but right now I am so numb, I don’t sense His presence much any more.  But I will keep searching and seeking for my gracious Savior!  I know that while I have lost much, I will never lose Him.  Yet, many feeling that same numbness will give up their search.  Will you give them time to find Him again?

Fiery Trials

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV)

It has been three months since my time as a pastor of a local church whom I loved has ended. It has been quite a trial, as work is hard to find and bills still need to be paid. Applying for dozens, even hundreds of jobs has resulted in just as many rejection notices. Perhaps the deepest struggle that I faced personally is wondering how God’s calling on my life, which has always been a certainty, now fits in this next chapter of my journey. What I devoted my life to seems to now be gone, although the One I devoted my life to remains. I have lots of questions and tons of self-doubt, but complete confidence in my Gracious God.

Peter mentions that the trials we face purify our faith as fire purifies gold. When gold is refined, the fire turns it to a molten state. In this liquid form, the impurities that were hiding in the solid gold rise to the surface. In the purification process, while the gold beneath the surface is made more pure and more beautiful, if one looks at the bubbling pot the first thing they see is the impure scum on the top. When God refines us, there are times when what you see in your life is rather ugly, but be patient, God is making your faith even more pure!

This has been the story of my life these past months. What has risen to the surface is often anger and despair that literally takes my breath away. Yet, I know that what is coming out of the refining process is pure and beautiful and will glorify my Maker. Yet, when I see the scum rise to the surface of my heart, I often grieve, “That ugliness was in me?”

Yet, there has been another observation that I made during this time. The flames that made my own faith molten have been hot enough and high enough to reach out to people around me and revealed some things in their hearts, also. I have been amazed at the people that I served that said absolutely nothing to me over these months, even remaining completely silent on my last Sunday at my fellowship. I have seen gossip about me and my family rise to the surface and pride and pettiness, once hidden behind a religious veneer, stare me right in the face. It has been heartbreaking.

But that heartache is nothing compared to the hidden beauty of others that is becoming clear. Current friends and friends from decades and decades ago have truly been Jesus to me. Their incredible generosity, encouragement and support have been what Jesus has used to get me out of bed every morning. People that I talked to yesterday and people I haven’t talked to in thirty-five years have spoken just the words that I needed to hear. It is amazing to see whom God is using as His messengers.

So, the fire has been hot. My heart has been humbled. I have been saddened and amazed by the response of others. And through it all, I know my gracious Lord continues to purify my faith for His glory.

Desperate for a New Start in the New Year

My daughters tell me I should blog more.  Seeing that my one and only blogpost is dated this past February, I can’t help but agree.  I am new to this blogging thing, but I do know one thing – blogs must be short and to the point, preferably one point.  In our 140-character culture, people won’t be able to process more.  But knowing the ramblings rolling around in my head and heart, I don’t anticipate this second attempt will be short nor to the point.  Sorry.  But here is the major theme – I desperately need a new start in the new year.

December 27th was my last time in the pulpit I have had the privilege to stand behind for the past seven years, and perhaps my last time in any pulpit after 30 years of licensed ministry in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  I am thankful to God for each of those years!  God definitely and directly called me to know Him and serve Him when I was fourteen years-young.  I began “ministry” as a fulltime endeavor when I was only nineteen and stumbled upon starting a youth ministry in my hometown.  After that, I was blessed to receive discipleship training at Last Days Ministries and St. Paul Bible College, all the time being involved in serving my Savior.  I was burdened to serve among those who had never heard the name of Jesus once, instead of staying among those who had heard His Name and rejected Him a thousand times.  After graduation and marriage to my lovely bride, I began to prepare for overseas ministry by doing my “home service” at a rescue mission, where I was blessed to serve homeless men, prisoners, and inner-city children and their broken families.  In my free time, I began church ministry by doing pulpit supply and interim pastorates in some incredible churches.  While my wife’s health prevented us from going overseas, we began pastoring local churches soon after.  We have been blessed to serve God and His children in three church plants and four established churches over the years.  My fulltime ministry life is now over because my wife’s physical and emotional health continues to decline daily, and because of the churches we served, all but two no longer exist.  While I see how the end of those ministries was God’s will and has opened the door for other multiple churches and parachurch groups to begin, it still doesn’t look good on my resume.  While I imperfectly served those congregations, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t do anything major differently.  I truly did all I did not for my own benefit, but for my King and His Kingdom.  That being said, looking at my resume, I wouldn’t hire me today!  I am branded as a loser – a failure – one who couldn’t get it done.    Now, as our current small and struggling church continues to become smaller and experience more struggles, we reluctantly move on.  To what, I do not know.

All I ever wanted to do was share the Jesus I love with others.  As I look back over the years, I hope some have met Him and now walk with Him more intimately as a result of my existence.  Yet, I fear that John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life has become my own story.  One of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life, has now become one I cannot watch without bawling like a baby as I wonder if there are any lives I have touched.

Yet, after all of this, I am more convinced than ever that God is faithful!  I am more thankful than ever that Jesus is my Redeemer and Lord, that my Loving Father has adopted me as His own, and that the Holy Spirit indwells me so that the life of Christ is my life.  And I am more convinced than ever that Jesus truly loves His Bride – the Church!  I still believe these words:  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6 ESV).  I rest on these truths:  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 ESV), and No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39 ESV).

I doubt that anyone has been able to read this far, but if you have, please pray for us.  I am applying for all kinds of jobs.  My body with fifty-plus years of wear and tear doesn’t feel up to an entry level physical labor job, but that seems to be all I am qualified for, after decades of ministry.  I am told that my bachelors and masters in ministry aren’t enough for chaplaincy or other ministry positions.  As I hunt and peck at this keyboard, it is apparent I do not have the computer skills to do most office jobs.  I can’t convince people to buy something they don’t need, so sales probably won’t work out.  Please pray that God will provide some employment (I am not picky!) so that I can provide for my family and so we won’t be homeless (again – but that is another story).  Pray for the emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing of my dear wife and precious girls.  And please pray that in all things, Jesus is glorified!

To Leaders of Large Churches

Dear brothers and sisters in large churches,
As a pastor of a small church, I dare not try to speak for all small church pastors and leaders, but I do think a few of my small church brethren might share some of my sentiments. So, please allow me to write down a few thoughts that have been heavy on my heart.

First of all, can I say a big “thank you” for all you do in our community for the sake of our King and His Kingdom? I agree with Paul when he wrote to the Philippians, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6, NIV)

When I think of you and what God is doing in and through you, I rejoice! You see multitudes of people pass from darkness into light as they are transformed by Christ and His amazing grace. I join the angels in heaven, as they rejoice over these souls that are saved. I am filled with joy when I think of addicts being set free by the Holy Spirit, wounded partners in marriage finding forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ, and the poor in our community receiving not only a cup of cold water in Jesus’ Name, but also hope and healing in that same Name. Your army of workers for the sake of the gospel make that possible. Thank you for all you do!

Thank you for having a God-honoring voice in the community we all love. Sometimes someone needs to speak up for the sake of righteousness, and you have a voice that is heard. Thank you for the times you courageously stand up for truth, as you at the same time extend Jesus’ love. Thank you for your servant-leadership given to all in our city, as you serve and lead both great and small. I appreciate you!

Thank you for bringing exciting, Christ-exalting events to our community. Because of you and your generosity, our entire city can enjoy wonderful music and gifted preaching, as you bring talented evangelists and musicians to town. Thanks for hosting these events, and thank you for inviting us all. This same generosity enables the wonderful, grace-giving, mercy ministries in our area to have the people and resources they need to make the big difference they make.
Thank you – a thousand times thank you – for all you are and all you do in Christ. I am thankful for you, and I do pray for you, because I see us truly as partners in the gospel.

I love the word behind that English word, “partnership.” “Koinonia” is translated in various translations as “partnership, communion or fellowship.” But this deep camaraderie is not just an enjoyment of each other’s company; it is “partnership for a purpose, communion for a cause, fellowship to further the Kingdom.” I enjoy our friendship. I am encouraged by you and your love. But I see our relationship as more than that – we are together to extend the good news of the gospel of Jesus to those in our community who do not yet understand who He is and what He came to do. Thanks for letting me work with you.

Can I also add a word of confession? While I am truly thankful for you, sometimes the green-eyed monster of envy rises up in the hearts of those of us in the small church. I admit that at times I have been jealous of your numbers, your budgets and your fame. Please forgive me.

Forgive me that sometimes those of us in small churches sometimes try to justify our bad attitudes. “They must not really preach the gospel in that church!” we might say. “They are a mile wide and an inch deep!” I know that over-generalizing tends to get us in trouble. As is true in our small churches, not all of your fellowships are deep or faithful. But many of you are. Thank you to those who are.

Can I make another confession? Small churches are small for a reason. Sometimes (and I use that word very purposefully)… sometimes our church families are small because God has called us to be small and to serve Him as such. Many times churches are small because they are not healthy, and sick bodies will not grow, but will over time shrivel up and die. As we pray for you, will you pray for us to experience fullness and health in Christ?

I wasn’t thinking of these things recently, but something happened that brought them to my attention. My daughter, who is in college being trained for Christian ministry, for some God-ordained reason, chose to serve her college internship in our small church. Some thought it was the easy route – that she wasn’t challenging herself enough by going home. I knew it would be the hardest thing she ever did.

She is an extremely gifted young lady who loves Jesus with all of her heart. She has been a “PK” all of her life, did not go through decades of rebellion, but has worked through a myriad of hurts and pains that go along with living in a pastor’s home. She has seen much and has a deep understanding of ministry, in spite of my efforts to shelter her. She has a heart to help the “least of these” by extending God’s mercy in very practical ways as she boldly proclaims God’s truth. I am very proud of her.

And I was extremely proud of her as she began to serve in our church. She worked tirelessly and put together a full week of camp for the children of prisoners. It was the best camp I had ever seen on paper! She worked just as hard developing our church’s first Vacation Bible School in years, with the help of her team, our church’s youth group – all three of them. Did I mention that of the three, two were her younger sisters? She did such a good job, and truly did it for Jesus!

And then the camp was cancelled. Just a few kids signed up, in spite of cards, phone calls, visits, and parents’ meetings. I tried to explain to her that she is learning a valuable lesson – that all of her service was not wasted if it was truly service to the Lord! Then we had the VBS – and our little team faithfully and lovingly served six kids over four days, in spite of hundreds of invitations being extended.

As all of this was going on, we would drive by other churches holding their own VBS’s with parking lots full and kids everywhere. Today, we went to a wonderful event where an incredible church in our town came into our neighborhood and at our local elementary school hosted an exciting festival for the children (and their families) that we had been loving and serving. Hundreds were there when we visited. We rejoiced. And we prayed for good fruit. And I saw something in my daughter’s eye that reveled something deep in her heart.

While she was happy with all that was happening, she couldn’t help but wonder, “Why?” Why did she work for months for one cancelled camp and a tiny VBS? And why did others seem to have “success” we could only dream of? After years of service in small churches, I have grown used to the hours of prayer, study and service for events that never happen or that have just the same few regulars attend. I have shielded my heart from such constant disappointment. I almost expect us on Sunday to have to sing acapella because no musicians show up. Even though I thought she had seen these realities over the years, she was shocked and told my wife, “I don’t know how you and dad do this year after year – I am struggling doing it for a few months.” I do not have answers for her. But it made me want to write to you. Can I share a few thoughts with you, brothers and sisters in the large church?

First, be thankful for what you have. You have been blessed in many ways. I realize that you have problems and disappointments that I could never dream about. But you also are experiencing blessings that some of us may never experience. God has indeed blessed you!

Second, people from our small churches will leave our churches to go be part of your church. I hate to say it this way, but here is the reality (at least in some people’s minds) – we cannot compete with the size, variety, excitement, and excellence that you offer. For better or for worse, many people desire what you have – few desire what we have. They will leave us for you much more than they will leave you for us. When they do, please check with them (or me) to see if they left my church on good terms. I will give them my blessing if they leave seeking health and life! But will you at least ask where they were and why they left? By the way, it would be to your advantage to know if these new people will be a help or a hindrance. I know you desire to grow through conversion growth, but the truth is, most who entered your doors exited mine. Check with me. I will do the same for you.

Lastly, continue to remember those of us in small churches. You are my heroes! I am so thankful for your incredible, fruitful ministry! But can I be honest? I hold those who serve selflessly and faithfully in small churches in even higher esteem. You are my heroes. Those serving in anonymity with constant disappointment are my super-heroes! Why not call up one these servants and invite them to lunch and thank them, too. Continue to invite them to your events, as full-partners and co-laborers in Christ. Return their phone calls and emails. Treat them like they are valuable members of the team, not as distractions from your “real” ministry. And please remember them in prayer, thanking God with joy for the partnership in the gospel that you have with these heroes.
Faithfully yours,
Brian Heinen