August 24, 2007

An Interview with Paul Abspoel

Five questions for John (The Shepherd’s Staff)
1. You are a pastor, a shepherd. Please tell us some things about this occupation. And let us know: who is shepherding you?

Tell you some things about this occupation, hmmm. The standing joke is that I only work on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s and then I work too long! (There seems to be no end to “long winded preacher” jokes.)

As a pastor I am called on to perform a wide variety of tasks. The most visible, of course, is the Sunday morning sermon. This is an opportunity for me to share the Word of God with the people of God and it is truly a humbling endeavor. When I stand in the pulpit and look across the congregation I see people who are rejoicing and people who are suffering; I can see those who have come to the end of their hope and I can see others who are moving from strength to strength; I know the woman who has just lost her husband and the couple who is celebrating their newborn child. I see all these people and their cares and know that they have come expecting to hear from God. Let me tell you, I am unequal to the task. Yet, miraculously, Sunday after Sunday God speaks to His people. Did I tell you this was humbling work?

As pastor I have the simple joy of holding newborn children, baptizing newborn believers, and blessing the union of newborn marriages. I also have the quiet and solemn task of burying the dead, consoling the sick, and listening to the suffering. There are lost sheep to find, ornery sheep to corral, and new sheep to welcome to the flock. Somewhere in the midst of this work there are committees to guide, staff to supervise, and sermons to prepare. It is a work that is never completed and it is a work that brings me great joy.

You ask, “Who shepherd’s you?” My “Paul” passed away this year and I am looking for another to help me grow upwards and onwards. My “Barnabas”(my encourager) is a fellow pastor in a neighboring city whom I talk with weekly. My “Epaphroditus”(my companion on the journey) is actually a group of men I meet with each Sunday morning. Sometimes we talk of deep spiritual matters, but most often we just share our lives with each other.

2. Are there any opportunities in life that you regret to have missed and are there any dreams of the future that you would like to see realized one day?

I am largely content with my life. As I look back, most of the opportunities I may regret having missed are largely due to the foolishness of youth. I regret that I didn’t learn more about gardening from my grandfather. I regret that I didn’t spend more time talking to my great-grandmother about her life. She lived to be 103 and was born in 1888. There are a few changes she saw first hand that I would love to have her perspective on now.

As for dreams, I am always dreaming new ones. It is an intrinsic part of my nature. Selfish dreams include: thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, working on a sailing vessel for 6 months, and completing a marathon. Dreams for my family include: all kinds of travel adventures (too many to list here), continued closeness in the coming years of change, and dinner tonight around our table. Dreams for my church include: to reach all kinds of people in all kinds of places, and a vision that is truly God-sized instead of being limited to the size or geographic location of our church.

3. Is there a part of Jesus’ message that you find hard to understand or obey? If so, please let us know which part and why.

Ah, Paul, the question is too big! The more I know the less I understand. The more I obey the more I realize the depth of my disobedience. If Jesus’ message was a simple issue of black and white/good and evil I could come to grips with it, but Jesus demands so much more than some standard of behavior, He demands my heart!

Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16 always cause me to pause in my pursuit of “God’s purposes” for my life. Peter has just confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God and has been affirmed by Jesus as being in tune with God. (v.17). In the next breath Jesus is rebuking Peter for “not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (v.23) He even calls Peter “Satan”. Pretty strong stuff. I’m amazed that Peter goes from getting right to getting it wrong in the blink of an eye. I wonder how many times I get something right but then begin to use it in a wrong way? I’m guilty.

As I said, my friend, I find this question too big to sink my teeth into here. The bottom line, is that we live in a bottom line driven age. It’s all got to be measured, quantified, codified, and cataloged, but living by Jesus’ standards is not conveniently measured. I am desperately tempted to live by the measures (both secular and spiritual) of this era when I know that Jesus is patently unimpressed with those standards. He is always looking to the heart.

4. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Please explain.

My children. I am increasingly convinced that the single greatest contribution I will make to this world will be the lives of my children. They are a joy to me and I see in them the ability to do more than I ever dreamed of doing. The Psalmist describes children as “arrows in the hand of a warrior” (Ps. 127:4). Arrows are to be released from the hand of the archer to reach a target that is beyond his reach. I clearly see my children doing just this sort of thing. They will have more influence, more ability, and more opportunity than I will ever achieve. What a marvelous opportunity I have to “aim” them in the right direction!

5. Please name your favourite a) actor / actress, b) author, c) musician / artist and d) sports hero. Of course we would all like to know what you admire so much in them and why.

First, a disclaimer: These kinds of questions are patently unfair to me. I don’t do “favorites” very well. I have an eclectic sensibility when it comes to these kinds of things. I enjoy all kinds...but, if I must…

Favorite actor/actress – John Wayne. There is not a more classic expression of the American spirit than John Wayne. Rugged individualism, determination, swagger all show up in this man. Of interest is the fact that one of my favorite movies starring Mr. Wayne is his comedic role in North to Alaska. I can remember as a kid trying to imitate his signature walk.

Favorite author – Ah, see, here I am unfairly cornered. Fiction, I love J.R.R. Tolkien. His imagery and adventure are spectacular, but it’s the underlying story that compels. The least of all make the greatest difference. Non-fiction, I enjoy Thomas Cahill and his “Hinges of History” series. A remarkable view of the broad sweep of history. For something to challenge me I enjoy Phillip Yancey. Yancey never fails to ask questions about spiritual matters that, I believe, many people ask but are afraid to voice. His fearless grappling with matters like prayer, miracles, and grace are always thought provoking. In the classic vein, I am a great fan of Andrew Murray. I could go on and on here.

Favorite musician/artist - Again, unfairly cornered. I think of Sherrill Richardson who plays banjo in a local bluegrass band. I’m not a big bluegrass fan, but I love to watch him play. I think of my grandmother sitting at a poorly tuned piano in her living room playing “The Old Rugged Cross” and the family singing in four part harmony. I also think of the music that has moved my soul, IONA’s music stirred the earthy echoes of a spiritual heritage from Ireland, Steve Camp’s lyrics stirred the needful response of action to God’s call upon a life, and Brahms Concerto No. 2 for piano stirs the joy of the ear to hear.

Favorite sports hero – At last an easy one! I grew up in the shadow of Paul “Bear” Bryant and Alabama football. His legacy of winning and character made an impression on my young life. His benevolent image smiles down on me even as I write these words. Historically he provided a troubled state a rallying point during a troubled era. It was before my day, but the legacy of Alabama football helped to transcend the racial upheaval of the 60’s. I clearly remember the racial rumblings that were silenced by this larger than life man when he started the first African-american quarterback in the University’s history.

Whew! That was a harder assignment than I imagined. Thank you for the opportunity to share these things. Thanks also for some excellent questions!

If you would like to be interviewed follow the instructions below!

1. Leave me a comment saying “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


Katrín said...

Feel free to post anything you like :)

If you'd like to read the book I referred to in my last post it's right HERE or you can find it on this website:


Paul said...

John, I think these blog memes are mixed blessings. It is not so easy to come up with 5 good questions, but it is even a bigger challenge to give some good answers. I like the fact that this interview meme is not 'imposed' on you, but that you can invite someone to interview you. I am happy that you did!

I am impressed by your answers and I guess there are some things that you've shared with us, that we wouldn't have heard from you otherwise. Am I right?
I admire the way you talk about your church, your Lord and your children. I think you are a caring man and that you are a blessing for many people. Praise God for good shepherds!

Paul Thompson said...

Hey John,
Great interview. I enjoyed reading about you, getting to know you better. I like your answers. (by the way, I love the picture you have of the little lamb on the right side of your blog)

John said...

Paul A. - Yes you are right, there are somethings you probably wouldn't have heard from me otherwise. Thanks for drawing me out.

It is a mixed blessing to do this meme - time consuming but refreshing.

Lucy Arin said...

I'm game, this sounds like fun. Then I'll use it in one of my Tuesday posts. Send me an interview, please.


Carol L. Douglas said...

Great answers, John. I hate cataloging "greatest" and "favorite"--it's just too hard. I also think it's truly great when a man or woman recognizes their finest achievement to be their kids.