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

Face to Face

I am thankful for the letters of the Apostle John in the Bible. To me they serve as permission to be brief but weighty in communication. But in the wake of this pandemic, John’s concluding line in his second letter laid bare my heart.

Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 12 (ESV)

I have much to say to those I pastor, and man have I tried using the paper and ink of our day. But I long for face to face. It is what we were meant for. Without a doubt. And thank God we are in the beginning stages of gathering as the church again.

Even with this desire, the hunger for the complete joy we find in community, I don’t think John would encourage us to be reckless about it. As a whole I don’t think Scripture would either. So I won’t infringe on the conscience of others with my claim of my own rights, I will be patient as we get toward the day we can see smiles without masks again, I will attempt to humbly remind and be reminded that every path is an experiment as we don’t have all the answers.

I hope to be face to face soon, and that hope will carry us through… We are people of hope, now we get to live like it.

Uncategorized

Surrendering to the Head

Recently I was struck by two pictures. Both were of churches in prayer, a model for all of us, to be prayerfully embraced with one another petitioning the Lord together. Beautiful. But the position of the pastors was different in the two pictures. In one, the pastor was one the floor with the church, close to them and occupying the same space – in it together. The second pastor wasn’t close to the congregation. He was pictured high above the church as they huddled, he hovered as if looking over his domain.

Now just because these tow pictures have different pastoral postures means nothing about the reality in each church, and we can’t conclude anything about the pastors by the pictures. But the difference forced me to contemplate my own posture toward those I shepherd along with our team of elders. Then Jack Miller gave word to the reality in too many churches.

“It’s almost as though I try to act as the head of the church. I know that may sound silly. Who after all is so stupid as to think he can replace Christ as Lord over the church and its mission? Still, the history of the church has very few pages that are not blotted by the megalomania of church leaders. It is simply that we are prone to fall in love with our own authority as official leaders and unconsciously distance ourselves from Christ as the real Head of the church. We begin to try to control the church or the members of the team and end up in personality conflicts with brothers and sisters who either dislike our control or want to impose their own control on us. When this happens, we are inwardly swept by anxieties. For the irony of it all is that the more we try to control the work in our own name, the more the work and its problems control us. We begin by trying to own the work of God and end up with the ministry owning us. Perfecting the work becomes our bondage, and the bondage manifests itself by our losing the capacity to patiently listen to others and to be corrected by them.”

“Indeed when we get into this perfectionist frame, we can fall into some very nasty bondages in our leadership. We hate criticism; we get preoccupied with trivia and are willing to fight major battles over minor issues. We feel threatened when anyone disagrees with us or introduces an idea that is unfamiliar. I once knew of a church situation where a pastor and his associate gradually developed such a rotten relationship that more than once they beat on each other with their fists!”

“So I want you to join me in confessing our human depravity as leaders. Do not be surprised to find your corruption expressing itself in perfectionist self-will in your own leadership style. Expect to encounter in yourself defensiveness, dominance, and poor listening practices. But I also urge you to have much greater confidence in Christ’s capacity to release you from such bondages. He is the crucified Head of the church, the only One who knows how to perfect it! Just to know that fact, to rest upon it, and to build upon it, is to be released from the bondages which duty imposes upon out spirits. You find His liberating grace through honest confession of sin and fresh release by surrendering the government of the church to its Head.” –┬áJack Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader.

May we surrender…