Discipleship, Grace

Conquered

As I read Scripture this morning I came across a passage in Revelation 12 that at once made me nostalgic. In the apocalyptic narrative of the dragon’s defeat and Satan being thrown down, the people belonging to Christ overcome by the blood and the word of their testimony.

The description, written to encourage believers facing first century persecution, is meant to stir rejoicing in the heavens, and among those in Christ. New Life Worship added the refrain to their mid-2000s song Overcome. That was my jam for a bit. That is the place of our victory, by the blood of Jesus we have forgiveness, a new covenant of grace. And the word of our testimony echos back the glory of our Savior as we stand firm in his righteousness and mission.

But as I read this text again this morning it was something else about these conquerors that stirred a different part of my soul.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Revelation 12:11 (ESV)

Did you notice it? “For they loved not their lives even unto death.” You see if I worship only from the first half of the verse it can be my life that I cherish, a settled comfort in my faith when things are going right. After all we are overcomers. But I am struck that the conquering, the overcoming in Revelation 12 has an longer lens than my present experience. After all, there are plenty of moments that don’t feel like conquering. Especially when the standard by which I make such judgments is my life.

These conquerors though, who I think we are numbered among, don’t use their life as the gauge of overcoming. They gave their lives away. The did not love their lives, even dying for it. They answered the call of the Kingdom to come and die, not for self, but because the self had found something better.

In a year where many of us have made more than one statement prioritizing our “rights” and have aggressively tried to maintain our “lives” as they were before the pandemic, I wonder if this opportunity is exactly what we needed to steel the conquering spirit in us. All of this is for Jesus, his glory, his message, his Kingdom come. When we embrace sacrifice, surrender and giving away of our own lives, that is where this truth is owned. And where the Lord bolsters us for the battles ahead.

I know how hard this is and I am convinced that is why Scripture puts it before us so often. I also know there is never enough when the flesh lives for self. The only way I have experienced satisfaction is finding it in Jesus regardless of what life looks like. You still overcome by the blood and the word of your testimony – of God’s faithful, of his grace. And it is that blood and testimony that prime you to surrender your life for the only thing that is better.

As you ponder this today I pray that Jesus meets you and frees you of your life.

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