Writings by Cole Huffman

Taught to Abound

G. K. Chesterton believed gratitude was an issue for atheists enjoying sunsets. Who have they to thank for the evening sky aglow? Theists wanting to offer that up as a See! See! plausibility for God be warned: most atheists today shrug off Chestertonisms. They don’t necessarily believe gratitude has to be directed to anyone to be experienced.

Who do I thank for designating October Pastor Appreciation Month? The creator is unknown to me though a web search turned up an interesting origins story. Apparently the original idea was for a Pastor Appreciation Day observed the second Sunday of every October. The inspiration was Groundhog Day, which strikes me as fitting. If Punxsutawney Phil emerging from his cloister with a seasonal nod is to be celebrated, why not also Pastor Phil at First Church Punxsutawney for his word in season?

But speaking personally, I have to say—and in no way mean to dampen the goodwill of the pastor appreciation moon cycle—that it is all a little embarrassing. I was mortified a couple years back to find out some at First Evan thought the staff came up with Pastor Appreciation Month. For the record, we did not.

I once heard a story about a beloved Bible teacher from yesteryear. I don’t recall who it was, but he was headed out for ministry cross-country. A leader in his church arranged to book him on a first class train car. Knowing his modest minister protested special treatment, he included a note with the ticket: “Dr. ___________, we are teaching you to abound. Enjoy the journey.”

“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” is a favorite line in the Psalms (16:6). It describes my tenure at First Evan. That same psalm says there are “pleasures forevermore” at God’s right hand, which means He is always abounding. I heard a message on this psalm in Birmingham where the speaker said, “One of the best things I’ve ever heard is that my sin doesn’t damage God.” Meaning: I can’t make Him less than He is. I can damage my experience of His goodness, but cannot lessen His own experience of joy. He is never not abounding.

I experience more encouragement here in a year than some pastors get in a lifetime. In fact, I abound in appreciation to the point it’s sometimes depressing. Aren’t there other guys better and more deserving of First Evan’s graces? I know there are.

Ministry may be a thankless task in some places, but not here. I’m constantly being “jumped from behind by grace,” a William Willimon descriptor, perpetually surprised and not surprised (simultaneously) by the goodness of First Evan’s people. Surprised that your goodness is shown to me. Not surprised by the amount you show. You turned Pastor Appreciation Day into Month!

Oh, I know you’re sinners. And you know I am. But you’re better than you know at being Christ’s people, and I’m getting better at it too—due more to your ministry to me than mine to you. I think of the Sting (Gordon Sumner) lyric, his song All This Time: “Men go crazy in congregations but they only get better.”

You’re good at appreciating your staff and loving us well. Thank you. You let my family and me be ourselves as Lynn and I are raising our children among you and it is not a fishbowl experience for them. Thank you. You’re good at grace and good at not knowing how good at grace you are. Thank you.

When I arrived at First Evan almost 14 years ago now, I was at the lowest ebb of my life, feeling like a failure for what happened in the church I help start, and full of bitterness. I thought I’d be here a couple of years, try to heal, and move on. I got more than healing at First Evan. I got wholeness. Thank you.

There ought to be a Congregation Appreciation Month. Make it November. We’ll take Labor Day as our inspiration for it because continuity of faithful witness is the work of the church, and because groundhogs (a.k.a. “whistlepigs”!) are actually destructive little creatures, and you’re nothing of the sort.

You, First Evaners, are Thessalonian, perhaps Paul’s favorite people of all. His words for them are mine for you: “We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 1:2-3)

Posted by Cole Huffman at 2:53 PM
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