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!

Discipleship

Pastor Keep Running

As I slogged through my morning run in unseasonably warm temps a conversation I had more than twenty years ago came to mind. I had been on a similar run with a good friend in college. I was older so surely wiser and we were discussing getting ahead in life, conquering the goals we had given ourselves and the like.

Then nearing the halfway point of our planned run my friend slowed down and exclaimed that he was done. It was too taxing and he was too tired to keep going. I then attempted to coach him about running through our “walls” and persevering. “If you want get to the next level, succeed at what is ahead of you, you need to keep running when you don’t have anything left.”

The reader will understand that this had more to do with than just running. I don’t know if he remembers the conversation, or finishing the run like a champ, but he has done well for himself so he figured it out somehow.

But as I was running this morning, it wasn’t perseverance to finish the physical run I had on my mind. Instead perseverance to finish the spiritual race we are called to run. Specifically, the call of pastors to keep going, to stick it out and lead in hard places.

Over the last several weeks I have been exhorting the church about having enough hope to persevere through the transformation we experience in Christ as part of his church. It is far too easy to bail out when there are churches more aligned with my political perspectives or preference of music etc. But we are made for the long haul, in community.

Then the Lord returns the question back on me as I have been preparing for a brief sabbatical to find some refreshment and rest.

I have a high view of God’s sovereignty, but I wonder how many churches miss out on fresh moves of God, or have them delayed, because pastors pull the ejection chord when things get hard or don’t live up to the ideal in our heads. For some this means leaving ministry, for others it can be finding a new flock that looks and feels more ideal.

Now I know the Lord calls leaders to new endeavors as he aligns the church to match his desires, but I wonder how many pastors convince themselves they are hearing a call when they really need to tap into some perseverance.

This is where the fruit is, this is where relationship is forged. This is where discipleship happens. This is what are called to.

So pastor brothers, keep running. The grace of Christ is sufficient for you even when it feels like you don’t have anything else, he is enough. Keep taking the steps, keep preaching the gospel, keep surrendering yourself to the transformation of the Spirit and see what he might do in and through you.

The Lord will refine you as he refines the church. Be up for that. And stick with them.

Whenever you go out, walk together, and when you reach your destination, stay together.” – Augustine

Discipleship

#forwardtothenew

I am convinced that the pastoral vocation is not one of mandating behaviors or ordering people to live in a certain way (how great would that be?!) but rather inviting those you shepherd into the life of faith. To living from the grace of Christ, in a vastly different way than our prevailing culture. To sacrifice, valuing others, experiencing the presence of Christ among other things. Revealing your life as persuasion for others to join the Jesus way.

From this realization and alignment then I have been thinking today about what it means to move forward, into a new sense of life, instead of “getting back to normal.”

Normal wasn’t working. It was riddled with anxiety and the glossing over of the ills of society, as long as I got mine who cared. Even faith too often served as an accessory versus a priority. But what comes next doesn’t have to look or act the same as before.

We have the opportunity to be formed by this moment for what’s next, for great moves of God in the church, for fervent evangelism in our communities, and unrelenting love of our neighbors, the least among us. We can make surrender to Jesus and the newness of life he provides our main thing.

This is what I am up for. Forward to the new. I don’t think I can argue you into it. That sounds exhausting anyway. But I can let you see what it looks like as I attempt it. I can let you in on how I battle to find joy and trust in the Lord in the middle of highs and lows. I can show you places where renewal is taking root and invite you to join in.

You don’t have to follow me, but I do think you should follow Jesus. At least that is who I plan to keep following. And he wants you to step forward to the new.