pastor (6)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd
(This post is #6 in a 22-part series. To fully appreciate this series, first read the first installment’s introduction (posted Mon., Oct. 2).
 
Steve Bracken. At the start, I thought what Steve exemplified and shepherded me in most was sincere love and joy in the Lord. To me, his unquestionably genuine (key words!), quick, irrepressible smile was ample evidence enough of the presence and fruit of God’s Spirit at work within him.
 
However, that quickly evolved into a perception of Steve as an embodiment of the essence and true end of the gospel itself – peace – for if Steve was anything at all, it was peace and striving to be a peacemaker. Knowing Steve was like watching Romans 12.18 walking and talking; if tattoos had been “cool” back then, then that text is what should have been tattooed around his neck. Love, joy, and peace – ever wrapped in robes of gentleness and kindness – that’s what Steve was all about in big and obvious ways.
 
And yet, those things aren’t what Steve modeled for me, and pastored me in, best. To understand, you’d have to understand the time and place in which I came to know him. Suffice it to say that it was in many ways an appalling and galling time in our church family. Tumultuous times had bubbled to the surface, the atmosphere was ever-tense, and passive-aggressive ways were frequently in full-display, so much so that even I, a still infant Christian, could detect such with ease. Whispering, gossip, outrageous speculations, insinuations, and slights filled the air.
 
I will tell you what I have never told anyone until now: though those were some of the most joyful and vigorous times of growth for me in the Lord, they were also some of the most disheartening and depressing times for me ever in the life of a church family.
 
But, without ever directly mentioning the subject or the word (at least that I can recall), it was Steve Bracken who ministered one extremely strong and vital word to me through it all and in every moment.
 
Courage.
 
Courage under fire. Courage while caught in a crossfire. Courage when reputed pillars of faith caved around him and mimicked cowardly critics. Courage when seemingly everything around shouted discouragement. Courage to be a blessing and give words of blessing even as the air was filled with curses. Daily. Courage to take it, take it all, and take it with a smile.” Courage to keep going and to do so sowing seeds of peace while a multitude shouted for war. Courage to forgive … again and again and again.
 
Wow. Talk about guts for God! Talk about what it means to be a man, a true man of God!*
 
Just … wow.
 
I have one deep regret regarding, Steve: I never told me any of what I have told you here.
 
Oh, Father God, forgive me of this sin. Thank you so much for my bold and beautiful brother, Steve Bracken! Increase his tribe and count me among it. In the name of our Prince of Peace, I pray. Amen.
 
[ Two notes: * My bride and I elected Steve to officiate our wedding ceremony and I could not have been more pleased to have had such a smiling, courageous hero and champion of peace to do so. It made the moment all the more beautiful to me. * Steve died on Valentine’s Day 2015. His remains are buried in Seagoville, TX. And though I’ve never visited his grave, I’m told that engraved on his gravestone are the most of fitting words: “Keep smiling.” ]