Discipleship

The Grace of Reading the Bible with Committed Friends

The pandemic closed our preferred meeting location (a local Starbucks – suburbia has few great coffee choices.) As you can imagine then we missed a couple of months of our early morning meetings. We were forced to get creative and meet in the parking lot instead.

It has been a great way to affirm guidelines for social distancing and continue studying Scripture together.

Today we read an imprecatory psalm and thought through how we pray for those opposed to us in light of Christ. It was a rich conversation on trusting in the Lord’s care and purpose and we set out for the day with renewed determination to trust and pray.

I am thankful for these committed friends. We need them. You need them. Do what you can to find them. Open the book, and read.

Discipleship

Pandemic Growth

As we move through the sixth month of pandemic strangeness in the church I suspect other pastors of small churches have experienced much of the same things I have. One being the predominance of time spent thinking about or attempting to disciple those in the church that have been outliers. Those that haven’t engaged in online communication or meetings, or who have prefered to not re-gather as the church has been able to.

It struck me on Sunday when I was having a conversation with one of our leaders about state guidelines and what 50% capacity of our facility would look like. I made the comment that at this point I wasn’t even sure what 100% of our church was. Simply because some families have been silent, others vocal about preferring to have John MacArthur as their pastor, or some other reason to not participate in the family life of the church.

Truth is, I have also spent a lot of time thinking about and encouraging those that are engaging and have actually exhibited tremendous growth in spiritual maturity and sacrifice for others. These are things I am determined to focus on more.

Also on Sunday I was greatly encouraged by one member who asked me for a recommendation for a book to study (along with Scripture) with a couple of dechurched friends. She had a burden for her friends given that they didn’t have community and wanted to do what she could to encourage and show them Jesus. This busy mother with her own business was taking time to disciple people on top of the ways she serves the church. Her family is always making the effort to engage and participate in the life of the church. A real encouragement to me.

Then yesterday another member of the church emailed a group of guys about the baby shower most of our wives would be attending and how he wanted to get together and eat a good meal. But he also mentioned that most of us would have to be home with kids so he was going to bring the grilled meat and beverages to us. What a huge blessing and sacrifice from him to care for the body!

There is much to rejoice in these days in the life of the church. I am grateful for the flourishing of these partners in ministry and looking forward to more of it!

Discipleship, Grace

Being Direct

As the earth seems to crumble, and the structures we have built up to carry us through seem to teeter under the weight of a global pandemic, environmental disaster, and political upheaval, each of us is being stretched and made to bend in difficult ways.

I have spent a lot of breath on calling my friends, family, and church to be sure not to waste the pandemic but come through it in such a way that it is clear they have been with Jesus. That’s what we all want isn’t it? At least those of us who call Jesus savior! But more than mere exhortation away from waste of time and energy on things temporary, I also believe we each need spurs, those that can speak directly to us and tell us the truth when we are blinded by bias and a cherishing of self over all things.

To that end, this morning I had a direct conversation with a member of our church. Now, I don’t think I am known for sugar-coating things, and have always attempted to be forthcoming and direct. Today was no exception, although I am not sure he appreciated by directness.

As a pastor that will stand before Jesus and give an account of how I cared for his flock, I take the task seriously and I couldn’t avoid the conversation any longer. As I have watched this guy interact (or refuse to) over the last six months I have had an increasing unease about where he has been placing his hope and the things he was valuing.

So I told him. I let him know that I was concerned that he had been missing, intentionally, the biblical call to “love one another” in the church and the way he was putting his preference before the value of the body of believers was sinful. He has essentially been speaking with his actions that the church is not worth sacrificing for and participation was only worthwhile when his pet-opinions were highlighted over everyone else’s.

But there was more. I also told him that I was convinced he had zero positive influence with his neighbors because of the way he condescends to those holding differing political views. I told him I thought the candidate he supports is actually an anti-Christ and I gave Scripture to show it. That didn’t land as well as it should have but it is true.

What’s more, I told him that it was clear his wife and kids were merely floating along in the cultural river of fear, gossip, conspiracy, and intrigue because he refused to show them Jesus in meaningful ways. No husband or father likes to hear that he is failing to lead spiritually but sometimes we have to face the truth.

By this point in the conversation I am pretty sure he was more prepared to fight than break down in tears admitting his fault in repentance. Shoot, I was ready to fight. This guy has been pissing me off and I am pretty sure he has even been badmouthing me to others.

Rather than press further into his faults, I looked him the eyes as best I could and told him that he was exactly who Jesus decided to spend his life for. That even in all of these failed opportunities, in his political idolatry, in his obsession with gun rights and mask-wearing, Jesus took on the cross for him. All of those things could never cloud his Savior’s love for him and universe bending desire for his heart.

As best I could, I relayed to this guy that Jesus’ approval of him was not determined or diminished because he had focused on other things. That Christ’s work truly was finished and from that work now he could live with hope, joy, and purpose far better than all those temporary things. I told him that he was forgiven and made the righteousness of God by the God-man willingly becoming sin for him.

That seemed to be what he needed to hear. And at that moment we took a deep breath and prayed that Jesus would forgive us of the way we have let distractions get in the way this year (he is quick to forgive!), asking for strength to choose what is right and pure and glorifying to Christ, that he would be transformed all the more by the grace of Jesus for him.

I raised a hearty “amen” and mentioned how it was God’s loving kindness that brings us to repentance, and because that’s true we could be honest about our sin and selfishness. Jesus loves us still.

Then I got up from my chair and started on the list of tasks set for the day. You see, the member of our church was me. I needed some direct talk and a thick application of the gospel of grace. I won’t always get things right, but Jesus will keep me.

And friend, he will keep you too. You are probably getting a lot of things wrong right now and wasting energy on things that don’t matter. Know that Jesus loves you still. He frees you by his grace to cling to what is good. And he will carry you all the way home. Turn to him. Smile and get on with the day.

And if all else fails, just give me a call and I will be as direct with you as I can!