Jumbotron Regrets

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This photograph makes me squirm.

It was taken at a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game from the owner’s box. My wife and I had been flown to Toronto for an all-expenses-paid visit; a thank-you from the team’s owners for preaching a sermon on the Jays and for letting them use that sermon, along with a follow-up interview, for their upcoming playoff marketing campaign.

Two television news crews had visited the church when I preached that sermon and the story went viral; catching the attention of the team.

The team sent me an email that referenced my “now famous sermon.” Looking back, I see that that is when my downfall began; for just a second I believed the sermon was mine. I opted out of a previous commitment to make the once-in-a-lifetime trip. I deserved this.

And I did.

Sitting in the owner’s box with retired players and management, taking in great hospitality, looking down on the game, looking around at the crowd of 50,000—it was all so heady.

Then the moment came. Nearing the end of the first inning, an owner’s representative came up and told me to pay attention to the stadium Jumbotron. Sixty seconds later there was my face—my pre-recorded interview was playing between innings.

What haunts me is what happened next. I could not stop myself from reaching into my pocket and pulling out my phone, taking a picture of myself and tweeting it out to the world.

I knew it was the wrong thing to do; that I would be taking credit for something I shouldn’t take credit for. It felt like the prideful sin of King David counting his armies. But that didn’t stop me.

Such is the power of pride. When the self is filled with self there is no room for God.

Things started to fall apart when I arrived home from that trip. Walking through the airport I read an email that so unsettled me that I literally broke down in the time it took me to walk from the arrivals level to the parking lot. I took a six-week leave of absence from my job. It wasn’t enough. Conflicts arose. Six months later I left my pastoral position at the church.

When God called me into the ministry 25 years ago I questioned his judgment. Why me? I have way too much pride to do that kind of work. But God insisted. Then he called me to a church plant where he was planning to do something new; something that could lead to sermons making the news, and the writing of books. For most of the past 25 years it felt like I had a handle on my calling.

I thought I did . . . until I didn’t.

Over the past year I’ve learned a lot about my prideful tendencies to take control, take credit, and take God for granted. Throughout my life I’ve operated with the implied assumption that I was responsible for my success. Even now I’m not sure that I’ve moved past that fallacy.

I’ve been reading Old Testament stories about good and bad kings this past month. You have to shake your head at the pride-filled choices these leaders made. Some were straight up wicked, and others were only mostly good. Even King David blew it big time . . . repeatedly.

Last week, now a year into this humbling wilderness journey, with still no clear next-step calling in sight, I realized that the agonizing, lost, uncertainty I’ve been experiencing is what dying to self feels like.

I can’t fix myself.

Last night, lying awake and praying for direction, I realized that I couldn’t even trust my ability to discern any more. For 56 years my gut has never let me down. Discernment has always been a hallmark of my ministry; a spiritual gift.

A gift that I forgot was a gift.

So now I don’t know much about anything. My future calling continues to be very unclear—to me.

But I do know one thing. This humbling season is turning my heart back to God.

About the Author

John Van Sloten is a Calgary-based CRC pastor, teacher and writer. His latest book is Every Job a Parable; What Walmart Greeters, Nurses and Astronauts tell us about God  (Navpress USA, Hodder & Stoughton UK).

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Comments

Thanks John, for an interesting article which speaks to me of you working yourself into a corner that you are having a hard time of getting out of.  I don’t know if this is a fictional article to spur a conversation or an actual account in your life.  I’m leaning in the direction of fiction. 

If I get the picture right, you have guilted yourself into letting pride dominate yourself.  And now you feel as though you cannot escape God’s disappointed stare, by which you now think he should have gotten the credit for a great sermon and more.  I believe your thinking here shows a perverted view of God or a perverted view of people.  Your feelings of guilt demonstrate that you are making too much of yourself either before God or people.  Who really cares?  Life moves on.  People have more important things to think about than your past mistakes.  And God has other things to think about and act on, as well.

You have psychologized yourself into this corner and now it’s time to psychologize yourself out into the open again.  Get on with your life.  Thanks, John, for an interesting article.

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