At our Consistory meeting last week I asked all those whose terms were ending to share a few reflections and any advice for those just coming on the board. One of our elders–Peeter Lukas, a thoughtful, godly man who works on the line at GM–shared this letter. I thought it was worth sharing with others.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to adequately express our gratitude to God for having led Carolyn and I finally to our "home" here at URC these past four years and me to the spiritual banquet table known as the board of elders. It was only yesterday, three years ago, that a couple of elders said to me–or was it a warning?–that the eldership would change my life and that I'd never be the same again. Truer words were never spoken to one who with awkward diligence has spent a lifetime staying in the background. By curious paradox these efforts at staying "small" end up producing people who, in this untested state of isolation, become too big–too big with fear, too big in self-reliance, too many glances at self and too few gazes upon Christ and His grace.
"You're called to be faithful, not successful" were the scalpel sharp words of wisdom so graciously applied to my brooding heart by fellow elder Keith Widder a couple of years ago. Paul exhorted Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Tim.2:15). He didn't say, "Do your perfect..." I'm relieved at that, but both statements, by Keith and Paul, nonetheless point first to my utter impossibility to fulfill the task of elder, and my need for the gospel of grace to do anything that even slightly resembles Christ-likeness.
What have I learned these past three years? To be an elder implies the possession of at least a modicum of biblical wisdom and insight. And yet, what I learned seems to center in the most elementary of lessons. In John 15:5 Jesus plainly said "without me, you can do nothing." In moments of insanity, I've recited–please tell me brothers that I'm not the only one here who has done this!–I've recited the words of the late and great mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, who roamed the streets of the city yelling at stray passerbyers, "Hey, how am I doin'? How am I doin'?"
In the glorious messiness of URC, Christ has had to remind me often that "without Me you can do nothing." "People are messy" is no longer a cute book title. I no longer wonder or have a vague inkling of what I'm like; I now must say "thou art the man." I've shed tears for others, I've shed tears for myself.
The eldership seems to not only encapsulate the gospel but to heighten it. As an elder you're helpless, but with Him, all things are possible. It has stripped and overwhelmed me, and yet it has also alleviated my endless introspection–mmm, mostly—mmm, somewhat. There are better burdens in life than your own. There's always that one sheep stuck in a hedge who needs a helping hand. There's the young person who you know is watching, looking for signs of the living Christ within you. There are always prayers for others, prayers that always acknowledge that "without Me you can do nothing."
When men express an interest in the eldership we all respond the same, don't we? We're measured, careful in our words. A serious joy descends upon us. We invite, but we know that a holy nakedness will occur if they join this "merry band of brothers."
A then elder-to-be recently asked me how to prepare for the office. I simply replied that you're never fully ready for the office. All we can do is to come as we are and see where God leads and how He will equip us. We're never ready–and yet we will continue to invite men to be fools for Christ's sake, to follow in His footsteps and to participate in the protection of His Bride. Is there any greater privilege and joy for the likes of us?
Thank you, dear brothers. Thank you for this spiritual home called URC. Thank you for the privilege of locking arms and hearts together for Christ's sake.
It's a privilege indeed to serve with men like Peeter and many others like him.