Tuesday, August 18, 2015
An Authentic Pastor
An Authentic Pastor
Don Norek went home to Jesus on August 9, 2015.
Notorious for his annual indiscriminate Christmas gift giveaways, eschatological obsession, street evangelism, and passion for Jesus that made peers appear as BB guns compared to heavy artillery, I was like everyone who knew him; feeling safe in his presence, uneasy about my passion for Jesus dwarfed by his, and encouraged about God’s ultimate victory despite our worst attempts at managing His graces entrusted to us.
We met during Boone County Fair week about ten years ago.
I gave a copy of my non-best-selling Fifteen Secrets for Life and Ministry to him; which, by the way, in a confessional moment about two weeks before his graduation to paradise over caffeine at Starbucks, he said he’d never read. I said he wasn’t unique in that respect, for nobody reads what I write, and we laughed.
During that inaugural divine appointment at the fairgrounds, I asked Don to tell me about the local churches and pastors in Belvidere and Boone County; and like my first meeting with Jim Turner when I asked him to go through the membership of the church on the corner of Lincoln and Main, he provided descriptions, concerns, cautions, and prognostications with discernments confirmed without exception over the last decade.
We were friends with extended telephone conversations about two or three times a week, regular lunches, and trips to the table about twice a month on early Sunday mornings in the chapel; and when Don said he only needed a minute or two when I answered the phone while driving, I knew I’d better pull to the side and settle down for a while.
He was my John the Baptist – raw, rough, tough, direct, passionately penetrating, and fearless yet always redemptive: “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand…Prepare the way of the Lord!”
I’d often leave our times together and sing along with Greg Holden as singing about Don whose commitment to Jesus was uncompromising because he knew only Jesus saves:
A hero into the masses,
To those born without chances
There’s a freedom that everyone deserves
I know there’s greed and there’s corruption
I’ve seen death and mass destruction
But I’m telling you, and hope that I’m heard
I will not be commanded,
I will not be controlled
And I will not let my future go on,
Without the help of my soul
Jesus said His soldiers – Don would like that synonym for disciples – must be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. said Jesus calls us to the difficult balance of being tough-minded and tenderhearted.
Not sacrificing either.
Complementing each with the other.
It is not enough to be tough-minded.
It is not enough to be tenderhearted.
Both are required of His soldiers.
King explained, “Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that His disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. He knew they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So He said to them, ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.’ And He gave them a formula for action: ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’”
Fleshing that out, King continued, “We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart…To have serpentlike qualities devoid of dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish. To have dovelike without serpentlike qualities is to be sentimental, anemic, and aimless.”
God knows Don was both tough-minded and tenderhearted.
He could pass out toys to children and sandwiches to the hungry with such tenderness; and he could stand before the guardians of everything antithetical to loving Jesus by loving like Jesus with toughness.
In a time when clergy have become more concerned with saving their own vocational skins than souls entrusted to them, Don was the rare exception; believing a decision to follow Jesus and receive confident living and eternal life by grace through faith in Him requires salt (stinging to heal), light (exposing darkness and reflecting Someone better), and leaven (mixing in to make better).
In a time when clergy have become good humor men agreeing with the last person that they’ve talked to lest their perks and pensions be risked, Don was the rare exception; believing a decision to follow Jesus and receive confident living and eternal life by grace through faith includes consistent courage to look up, stand up, speak up, and act up for Jesus even if it means you’re not liked by pulpiteers and pewsitters with lower standards.
Don loved people enough to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth according to Jesus by the book.
Of course, Don was not pure and perfect in every way; and he was the first to admit it; but if you were going to challenge him about anything, it better be with Jesus and Holy Scripture as your model and manual or he’d write you off as Jesus did in Matthew 15 and 23.
And he did miscalculate the second coming on a few occasions.
When he talked about the end times, I was mostly quiet.
Really, it was hard to get a word in once he got on one of his eschatological rolls.
Truth is he knew the Bible inside and out; and I often felt like his apprentice when it came to eschatology among other things.
He just couldn’t get the exact date down.
I asked him why it was so important.
He said, “Doctor, sometimes for a reverend doctor, you are really dense. It’s because people need to get right and ready before it’s too late.”
As I said, he was my-I-hope-your John the Baptist: “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand…Prepare the way of the Lord!”
Because he loved Jesus so much, he loved like Jesus; and as the apostle assured, “Jesus wants everybody to be saved.”
That, for me, sums up Don’s life and ministry.
He wanted everybody to be saved.
He wanted everybody to share his strength and confidence and passion and courage and certainty that the best life begins the first nano-second after the last breath in this one.
He wanted everybody to know they’re going to heaven by grace through faith in Jesus; for only in knowing that/Him, can a person live with freedom and fearlessness in the meantime before the end time.
When I heard Don had gone home to Jesus, I thought about the apostle writing, “Now we see in a mirror dimly; but then…[when we’re in heaven with Jesus]…face to face. Now we know in part; but then…[when we’re in heaven with Jesus]…we will know fully even as we have been fully known.”
Finally, Don’s got the exact date!
In “our” time together, Don got many things right.
He was a faithful husband and father.
He served his country as a Captain in the Special Forces 101st Ranger Airborne Division with two tours in Vietnam and many special assignments.
He founded His Glory Mission.
He did all so well and so righteously in, through, and for Jesus.
While the words are often uttered without credibility, they’re right on for this authentic husband, father, patriot, servant, friend, and authentic pastor: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Don Norek rests in peace because he lived that/His way.
Blessings and Love!