(This will meander a bit…please read it through and connect the dots)
I’ve been a pastor since 1989. Most of the pastors I am friends with genuinely love people. They sincerely care. There are other pastors that I have met that seem to be more concerned with being celebrities, but they are in the minority of my personal circles.
If my experience with other pastors is accurate, my conclusion is that pastors care about people. That means they feel things…emotional things…spiritual things…and they think about things…and are concerned about people…and situations…and potentials for danger…and possibilities for greatness…and the list goes on.
Good pastors don’t just work with their minds and bodies…they also work with their hearts. Their hearts are their most valuable asset, and perhaps their area of most vulnerability.
Good pastors are anointed men. When they speak, it can sometimes seem larger than life…and that’s because it is larger than life. There is an anointing from God upon them. When they are doing their thing, it’s other worldly (Heavenly). The Apostle Paul said, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”. The pastor is only a clay pot, at best. The treasure is Jesus, and the treasure is the Gospel message. Sometimes people confuse the treasure with the clay pot. If a pastor is really “bringing it”, some people erroneously focus on the man instead of on the treasure. There seems to be a fine line between the two.
A good pastor is an honest man, and seeks to be transparent…and he lays his heart out there…and sometimes he makes people feel like they have become his confidantes. Most people I know crave intimacy and honest relationships. A good pastor might seem to be offering that on an individual level, when all he is really doing is trying to be transparent from the pulpit and make a point about the frailty of man and the greatness of God.
(I hope you are still reading…I’m going to connect the dots soon)
A good pastor has wisdom from on high. He can counsel in many ways…sometimes from the pulpit or sometimes face to face. It can be an amazing thing to receive a word from the Lord through a pastor.
A good pastor is an encourager…he encourages people to have faith and to be everything that God intends them to be…and he sometimes genuinely believes more for a person than they believe for themselves.
A good pastor is a good listener…he isn’t in a hurry to find a solution to your problem. He knows that you are more than a problem to be solved…you are a person to be understood and loved.
A good pastor seems to be able to move forward when other seems stuck…he has navigated through his life well enough to be further ahead than he was five years ago. Paul told Timothy…”Let you progress be evident to all”. A good pastor’s progress in life is evident.
(Dot connection now follows…)
If all that is true, then here’s where it can get weird for some people and their pastor. I’ll list a few things numerically.
- Your pastor cannot be your best friend. Yes he is a good listener, and genuinely cares about you…but that doesn’t put him in the BFF status. It just doesn’t. Love between brethren is one thing…but being best friends is something altogether different. Please allow your pastor to choose his own personal friends as he continues to be genuinely friendly with as many people as he can be.
- Your pastor cannot tell you every decision to make. He has had to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling…through his own tears, doubts, disappointments, poor decisions and good choices, etc. He has failed and succeeded on his own. Now you have to do the same for yourself. He will be there to give you general counsel, and to pray for you and support you, but you have to pray and make your own decisions. Spiritual growth is costly, and there are no shortcuts. Pay the price.
- Your pastor cannot be blamed for your lack of spiritual progress. He encourages you to be all that you can be, that is true…but maybe he sees that you don’t have the calling to be the next Billy Graham, and so he gently suggests that your strengths lie elsewhere. I have heard men say that they are called to be (fill in the blank), but for the last twenty years, their pastor has held them back. If God has called you to something, no one can hold you back…but there is wisdom in the multitude of counselors. If none of your friends are affirming you in an area, maybe your strengths lie elsewhere. Don’t blame your pastor. He can’t hold you back if God has called you…he doesn’t have that kind of power…but maybe God hasn’t called you.
- Your pastor cannot be expected to choose you to be his confidante. It’s great that you care about your pastor, and want to be there for him, but please allow him to choose his own confidantes and counselors. Instead, if you sense that your pastor isn’t looking for another confidante, pray for him instead. He needs it. Let him choose his own confidantes.
- Your pastor cannot set the trajectory of your life for you. He cannot decide what you are going to be. He cannot be expected to tell you what your life purposes are in any kind of detailed sense. Every Christian is here to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”, but the details of how that works out is between you and God.
Alistair Begg says, “The best of men, are men at best”. Most pastors I know wouldn’t even consider themselves the best of men. Martyn Lloyd Jones, the great British preacher said, “I wouldn’t walk across the street to hear myself preach”. Most of my pastoral friends would say the same thing.
Dear Christian…your pastor can’t do a lot of things for you, but he can do some things very well. Receive him for what he is, a pastor. If God makes it to be anything more, that’s great.
Ephesians 4:11-12 (NKJV) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…
Christianity is a subculture among every greater culture in which it finds itself. Jesus taught that “narrow is the way that leads to eternal life and few find it”. The implication is that there are more people that haven’t found Jesus than those who have. In any given city, there will be more unbelievers than there will be Christians. Therefore, the Church is a subculture of the greater community in which it is found.
Then within the Church Universal in any given city, there are different churches, with different philosophies of ministry, different doctrinal emphases, and a different flavor in music, dress, etc. Each individual church is a subculture of a larger subculture.
I am not suggesting that any Church should conform itself to worldly standards to be more relevant or relateable. Jesus taught us otherwise…that following Him would actually separate family members. Every Christian knows that or ought to know that. Following Jesus puts you in a subculture of the great community you live in.
For me, that’s all OK so far.
Here is my concern…
The Church in its purest form is already a smaller piece of the pie in any given culture, but I find that we often “Gospelize” non-Gospel issues, making ourselves even more unrelatable and marginal than we naturally are or are intended to be.
We have strong opinions on lesser issues, and we go soft on major doctrinal issues and commands. In my opinion, church leaders or congregants sometimes over-emphasize such issues as home schooling, vaccinations, politics, or support for Israel. We fight over issues like drinking alcohol or church membership. We hang Israeli flags in our foyers, and then wonder why people of Arab ethnicity are uncomfortable in our churches. We are blind to the fact that our churches aren’t multi-generational, and if we do see that, we hate making changes to welcome people of others age groups. We forget about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
The phrase is true: “like attracts like” and we usually choose to gather together with people that share more preferences than one might imagine.
The negative result with this can sometimes be a silent or spoken disapproval of others that are not like us, even from Christian to Christian. It’s not wrong to have strong opinions; it is wrong to over-emphasize secondary preferences.
If we insist on living with the idea of “like attracts like”, we inadvertently reduce our approachability and relatability to others that might simply want to worship God and hear a good Bible study. We chase them away with our silent or spoken disapproval.
We become a subculture of a subculture of a subculture, and then we wonder why “no one wants to come to our church”.
I believe that the solution to the “overculturizing” of our churches is to have increasingly less absolutes both corporately and individually. I like to use the phrase “vanilla church”. When you eat vanilla ice cream, it is suited for any kind of topping you might want add. I want our church to be as vanilla as possible regarding all secondary issues, but I want us to be deep and strong in the main truths of the Bible.
Being more vanilla on secondary issues means that we need to be more flexible with negotiable things. It means we forsake personal preferences that matter only to us and our friends. It means allowing people to all scoop from the same bucket of ice cream, but having a wide variety of toppings for individual taste. (Forgive the food analogies. It’s how I think)
Instead of overculturizing our churches with secondary and tertiary issues, let’s major on the majors, and let people be free to “work out THEIR OWN salvation with fear and trembling”, without the fear of the disapproval of others in the next pew.
2 Timothy 2:1-14
-Paul wrote 2nd timothy around 64-67 AD.
-Accepted that this is the last letter Paul wrote
-July 18th 64 AD was the start of the great fire in Rome, Nero rumored to have started fire (probably didn’t) blame shifted to the Christians to quiet the rumors.
-The following account was written by the Roman historian Tacitus “Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their enormities….. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of “hating the human race.”
-Paul in prison, convinced his death is imminent ch.4:6 “the time of my departure is at hand.”
-Paul was Abandoned by all in Asia ch1:15, faced his prosecutors (Nero) alone ch.4:16
V.1 – Not of this world?
–Abandoned, betrayed, imprisoned, stripped of his rights as a roman citizen, stripped of all human rights, and left for dead. You therefore be strong in….
-Politics, financial security, greatness of Rome, establishing laws that “honor” god, personal rights etc….
-Aware his time was close Paul chooses not to address any pressing issue of the world.
-Timothy a beloved son of Paul (spiritually) was pointed to the grace that is in Jesus
-Our children’s future does not depend on the laws we pass or an amendment but in the grace that is in Jesus.
-1st timothy is mostly about timothy’s calling or gifts, but 2nd timothy has mostly to do with character.
-Timothy was a timid man, had a weak stomach and enjoyed a good cry ch1:4. Paul pulled no punches. People will abandon you, ministry hurts, requires hard work and good character, and you will suffer. You therefore be strong in the grace that is in Jesus.
V.3-7 Character revealed
-we must endure hardship, not may, not could, but must.
-A distracted soldier is a liability to the men around him, Lance Armstrong is not remembered for all his charity and accomplishments.
-Character is revealed in a snap shot, but established between chapters. David ran at goliath because he had an established relationship with the lord, Saul only knew Samuel. We don’t read the day to day events in the bible only the moments that reveal, but we do not rise to an occasion, our strength is in HIS grace, and we are more than conquerors.
-Soldiers, farmers, and athletes are all familiar with pain, suffering and hard work
-A good soldier is not concerned with anything other than the battle in front of him/her. Hence Paul does not address the issues of Rome which may have included, at the time, the martyrdom and the torture of Christian people. He does not call for a new leader, or mention Nero by name. This was not Paul’s war.
-Consider Joseph, trials can make us bitter or better. We do not develop calluses to protect ourselves, we fight like Mexican boxers.
-Julio Cesar Chavez V. Meldrick Taylor. Chavez allowed Taylor, the younger quicker fighter, in range. In order to hit Taylor once Chavez got hit 3 times. Joseph suffered enough for multiple life times to land one big shot. Chavez got beat for 9 rounds straight, Meldrick Taylor can no longer speak properly. Joseph trusted in God’s plan when there is no way he could have known what he would do for a nation.
-Sometimes the hard work is sitting down before the Lord and meditating on his word, “Consider what I say, and may the lord give you understanding.”
-We must endure hardship, we must spend time with the lord. Bitter or better can hinge on the time we spend with our God.
-You can have my notes, but I’d rather have you turn the paper over to the blank side and have you take your own notes.
-God wants to meet with you, and the Holy Spirit wants to give you understanding.
V.2, 8-10 the bloody mess
-Lee Shaw called me to encourage me after Petey passed away. He warned me away from ministry and when I wouldn’t concede he said “it’s a bloody mess out here, and I’ll do anything I can to help you.”
-Commit these things to faithful men, not the most gifted, not the best looking but the ones who will not quit.
-Petey asked me to open his house for study… then to pull a trailer to set up at church…. then to a prayer meeting…. then to teaching the youth twice a month…. then to teaching the youth full time… then to be on the board…. then to teach on Sunday.
-Teaching someone who can teach others, proves extremely difficult and costly
-I was a man not worth committing anything to.
-“But I’m not called to be a pastor?”
-Are we called to be like Christ? Are we called to make disciples of all nations? Are we called to teach our wives and our children?
-Consider Stephen and Peter
-Peter spoke to the religious leaders in Acts ch.4
-Acts 4:13 “They perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men.”
-Stephen was called to wait tables, Stephen was the help.
-Stephen also addressed the religious leaders like peter did.
-Acts 7:54 “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart.”
-Stephen was a man of good character, a student of the bible ready in season.
-The religious leaders marveled because Peter and John weren’t that sharp, but when Stephen spoke they were cut to the heart.
-Stephen the table waiter….. -Acts 6:8 “and Stephen full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”
-Paul suffered as a criminal because he chose to serve God
-We do not suffer for the sake of suffering, but for the elect. Not for the sanctity of marriage, not for the greatness of America, not because “America was founded on god,” not because of health care, not for anything of this world.
-We must not cling to the edifice of a decadent past, we may yearn nostalgically for a time when America was a God fearing nation, but I don’t know that time and neither will my kids if there ever was a time like that.
-Pick a side and lose the rest of the people on the other side. John Wayne is the worst actor ever, I probably just upset someone (like my dad). Let the Gospel offend and let those of this world fight for it. We fight for the elect and must cautious not to alienate those chosen by God by picking sides in any arena other than that of our faith.
-John Wayne is fine……
-“Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David was raised from the dead.”
-Our God conquered death, we need not fret over…. anything.
V.11-13 Faithful departed
-Baptized into his death
-Romans 6:4 “Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life
-martyrdom, “The context here seems rather to point to physical death as the highest point of suffering for Christ. The reference then is to the martyr’s death now viewed from the standpoint of the crowning day.” (Hiebert)
-Stephen, Paul, Peter, James etc. were faithful to the end. The worst punishment our society can place on a person is death, but death has become a crowning day.
-Paul suffered for the sake of the elect, he endured chains and trouble but it’s worth it. Notice Paul only encourages timothy to press on. He does not waiver. This is a dying man’s last letter he will write to a beloved son, had it not been worth it certainly Paul would have told his Son to walk away.
-This passage is more speaking towards (I believe) the millennial reign, which is found in revelation.
-regardless, in this life or the next, it is worth it. “O taste and see that The Lord is good”
-That means YOU must taste and see, you must meet with the lord. Saul confronted with an enemy ran to a medium to raise Samuel. Saul was not familiar with inquiring of the lord, and that is the only thing that separates Saul from David.
-If we deny him he will also deny us. When a human tries to comprehend the free will of man and the sovereignty of God it is merely a guess, and when religious people guess wrong then proceed to teach it, it is always disastrous. Continue in the faith
-No matter your condition spiritually and no matter what you believe we cannot change God. When we sin or transgress his grace is sufficient.
-where sin abounds grace abounds much more
-God is always faithful and he does not change
-Sin has already been paid for and there remains a road or way for you in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
-I don’t pick my kids up when they fall, because they have to learn to get up. I will not talk to the coach to get my daughter more playing time though I have paid for it, she must earn it through hard work. I challenge them in their weak areas to teach them to overcome. I charge my son with the protection of the girls when I’m out of the house, because he will one day need to fulfill that call. The sports they play are tools for me to help them develop a foundation. I challenge their thought to teach them to think freely and understand. I listen so they can develop a voice….. I try to listen.
-When I want to teach them to be strong in the grace that is in our God, I confess my failures to them, ask for forgiveness when I have wronged them and so they see that HE remains faithful even when we are faithless.
-Our future will not be through legislation nor will we see things get better, our war will become our kids if they make that choice.
-Character must be developed not talent, the Faithful departed are men and women of character.
- Stephen (not a pastor) was called to serve tables, but did so much more. What is your idea of the pastoral staffs job description?
- God picks leaders based on character, in what areas can you build character?
- What is the greatest gift we can give our children or our future children?
It’s not enough for a Christian to feel “desperate for God”. That phrase has become popular in our conversations and worship. It’s a good phrase, but it falls short.
It seems that for many Christians, feeling “desperate for God” has somehow become a stopping point. There is no following through to be dedicated to God.
I am desperate for God. As I write this, I currently feel desperate for God, but what will happen as a result of my felt desperation? Will I rise early and stay up late seeking God? Will I be more careful to avoid time wasting activities in order to see God. Do I really believe that Jesus is all I need? If I believe that, then why do I sometimes fall so short in being dedicated to God?
Jesus addressed seven churches in Revelation, chapters 2 & 3. He gave them the remedies to correct the problems that existed among them.
As we consider what Jesus told them to do, it’s important to consider what He didn’t tell them to do. They were in desperate situations, and Jesus gave them the remedies.
Jesus didn’t tell them to:
1. Buy a new book about how to be desperate for God.
2. Drive somewhere to receive an anointing that only certain people can give you.
3. Seek to be “refreshed” by attending a certain event.
4. Pray that the Spirit would fall upon me in a fresh new way. (to solve my problems)
I am not opposed to new books, receiving prayer, attending events, or praying to be filled with the Spirit.
Consider the exhortations that Jesus gave to these churches:
Revelation 2:5 (NKJV) Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.
Revelation 2:10 (NKJV) Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Revelation 2:16 (NKJV) Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
Revelation 2:25-26 (NKJV) But hold fast what you have till I come. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations–
Revelation 3:3 (NKJV) Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
Revelation 3:11 (NKJV) Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
Revelation 3:18-20 (NKJV) I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
All the remedies that Jesus gave them required them to seek Him. Jesus didn’t “fix” them. He told the to “stop doing the bad stuff, quit neglecting the good stuff, and re-dedicate yourself to doing what is important”.
It’s a healthy thing to realize your deep need for God. Jesus said, “Without Me, you can do nothing”. (John 15:5) Most Christians agree to that statement, but we fall short in living like we believe it.
Revelation 2:17 (NKJV) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ‘
May I encourage you…being desperate for God isn’t enough. It’s just the starting point. Decide to turn your desperation into dedication, and Jesus will meet you in ways you’ve never known.
I just started teaching through the Book of the Revelation. It’s a book that reveals Jesus, hence, “The Revelation”. Chapter one is all about Jesus introducing Himself via a vision to John. John had spent 3 1/2 years with Jesus during His incarnation, but now he was seeing the exalted Christ in all His glory.
Upon seeing this fresh vision of Jesus, we read of John in verse 17, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead”.
Each Sunday, at the end of the sermon, I receive questions via texts, and this last Sunday, someone asked me if verse 17 refers to what has come to be known as “being slain in the Spirit”. That is a conversation for a different time, but it did make me think about why some people pursue spiritual or so called spiritual experiences. I do believe that someone can be overcome by the presence of God, as John was here. Conversely, I also think that church leaders can manipulate desperate people into experiencing something that isn’t from God, but that is soulish, and in some instances, even devilish…but all that is secondary to the main point I want to make.
John didn’t go looking for an overcoming experience with Jesus. He simply encountered Jesus, and then was overcome with the person of Jesus. The experience was from heaven, and was real, and undoubtedly unforgettable, but the main point is this: John didn’t pursue the experience, he experienced Jesus, and an experience followed.
I have been in churches where “so called” spiritual things were happening: people being slain in the Spirit, groups of people speaking in tongues, healings, etc. I believe that some of it was real, but that a lot of it wasn’t. I have been “overcome” by the Spirit, and have been deeply touched by the Holy Spirit, but I was never “looking for a touch”. The experiences were memorable and life changing, but I never read in the Bible that we are to pursue an experience with Jesus, but rather, we are to seek after Jesus.
Some may ask, “Why does it matter”? It does matter.
First, the Bible says to “seek first after the Kingdom of God”. (Matthew 6:33) That is clear.
The Bible says to draw near to God, and He will draw near to you”. (James 4:8) That is clear.
Secondly, it matters because when Believers seek experiences, they can unwittingly be led astray because their focus is off. A Christian can have a legitimate “overwhelming experience” with Jesus, and be radically blessed, but the danger therein is that that same Christian can become an “experience chaser”, and that can be a very slippery slope that leads into unbiblical and even devilish pursuits.
In Acts 18, Simon the Sorcerer saw the Apostles ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, and offered them money so he could experience what they experienced.
18And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Simon wasn’t seeking after Jesus, he was seeking after an experience, and he was sharply rebuked by Peter.
Why is that some Believers think passing around venomous snakes is a good idea, or even a Biblical idea? I cannot and will not judge their motives. Undoubtedly, some Christians are truly seeking God, but their lack of Biblical discernment leads them to pursue foolish and dangerous pursuits. There are a myriad of other examples, many of which are sanctioned by pastors in pulpits, but that are in no way sanctioned by God in His word.
My biggest concern is this: Both pastors and congregants can easily become people that chase experiences. Pastors hype up their congregations with either sinful or neutral props, words, and environments. The focus becomes chasing the experience, and everything starts revolving around duplicating a previous experience. This is foolish. It is the “tail chasing the dog”.
Pastors, you don’t need to hype up your church into a frenzy or even into a “feel good”. That isn’t the goal. Be a faithful pastor and study to show yourself approved, and then teach the Bible so well that the people have an amazing fresh and powerful revelation of Jesus. Jesus told Peter, “Feed My sheep”. (John 21:17)
Congregants, if you have had some amazing experience with Jesus, that’s fantastic, but we are not told to seek experiences, we are told to seek God. Be a faithful Christian, and seek Jesus. If He wants to give you an “overwhelming experience” then that is up to Him. Your part is to draw close to God.
It seems as though many churches today major in “chasing experiences”, and minor in seeking Jesus. We don’t need “soulish hype”, we need a “spiritual revelation” of the exalted Christ. Check your Bible: the men and women who encountered God were not people looking for an experience, but were people who encountered God, and as a result, had an experience.
We don’t need hype, we need revelation.
A wise philosopher has said with truth that “knowledge is power”. Koheleth was equally realistic, however, when he said, ” In much wisdom is much grief, and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow’ (Ecclesiastes 1:18).
In this “present evil age”, (Galatians 1:4), knowledge not only opens the eyes, it fills them with tears; for the more discerningly we perceive, so the more painful mystery we find underlying human life. Yet the old adage is wrong which naively avers that “where ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise”. Such bliss of ignorance is the “fool’s paradise”, which never lasts long, and “great is the fall thereof”.
There is a knowledge which opens the eyes to that which transcends all mere human discovery, and which at the same time comforts the heart with divine reassurance concerning the present mystery of things. Christ has come- Son of God and Savior of men. In Him is the answer to our human sin problem. In Him is the answer to our race’s heart cry after God and the basic truth of things. In Him is the answer to the groping and sighing of the soul after peace and joy and certainty and ultimate self fulfillment.
To know Christ as the Calvary Sin-Bearer, and as the risen Savior who personally indwells the heart, is of all knowledge the most blessed. Already He is the clear answer to many of life’s most poignant problems, and He is the implicit pledge of ultimate divine answer to them all. Compared with knowing Him, all other knowledge is insignificant, incomplete, and eventually unsatisfying, as every philosopher who ever lived has realized before he died.
Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Him. To know Jesus as a living reality in the heart is life eternal and heaven begun below.
Jay Sidlow Baxter, from his book “Going Deeper”, 1959.
I was 16 when I went away to the Young Life Camp called Woodleaf, north of Sacramento. I had been attending Young Life meetings which were connected with my high school, Valencia High School in Placentia, CA.
The meetings were mostly fun with some singing of popular songs off the radio. A lot of the popular kids attended the Young Life club meetings, and some of them invited me to go. Someone would usually do something crazy like swallow a live goldfish or something. There would be skits and other fun things. Then there would be a talk at the end, and the talks would be about Jesus. I don’t remember many details of those talks, but they were about Jesus.
We went away to summer camp in 1972, and the camp was fun. We rode mini motorcycles, swam in a pond, played team games, etc. There were also nightly meetings which included skits, music, and talks about Jesus. I don’t remember many details of those talks either. In fact, there were a lot of things I didn’t pay much attention to in those days. They were difficult days.
My parents had divorced when I was in Jr. High, and I kind of checked out of life emotionally. In high school, I clung to my girlfriend, and to sports, and that was about all I remember paying much attention to. I was confused, lonely, and insecure. It was hard to live in the moment. I pretty much tuned a lot of things out. I had already experienced drinking alcohol at an early age, and was very susceptible to dealing with the pain of life in an unhealthy way. Reality was a bit much for me to handle.
But somehow, those talks about Jesus in the summer of 1972 cut through the confusion and pain that I was experiencing, and on the bus ride home from camp, I talked to God. My prayer wasn’t theologically deep, but it went something like this: “O.K. Jesus, if you are really there, I am ready for you”. I didn’t understand a whole lot about Jesus, but I had a strong sense that if He was real, I needed Him.
Experiences can be hard to prove, and they probably don’t need to be, but I still remember what happened next. I felt something physically happen in me, almost like standing under a cold waterfall. I didn’t lose control or have some ecstatic experience, but I did experience a physical sensation that followed that simple, sincere prayer. As I now understand it, I had become born again.
And so, my journey of faith began…
I am a follower of Jesus, and because of that, I get lumped into a large pool of people that go by various names. They are called Evangelicals. They are called Conservatives. They are called Homophobes.
They are called Christians.
A lot of what these people do embarrasses me, angers me, and leaves me shaking my head. I do not resonate with most of what they do. I do not prioritize life the way that they do. In fact, I actually hate some of the things that are done in Jesus’ name. I do not associate with them in many of their activities, and yet, because of a common shared faith in the person of Jesus, I am united with them in a bond that will never pass away.
The bottom line is this: though I do not sympathize or empathize with many (called) Christians, I am united with them by a shared faith and a mutual indwelling of God’s Spirit.
I cannot dismiss myself from them simply because they do things that I think are foolish. To do so would mean that my valuation of them is based upon a philosophical agreement, rather than the bond of Christ. To dismiss them would be to value my opinion over the truth of what Jesus prayed for and what Paul the Apostle declared: We are one in Christ.
I must be willing to be guilty by association to those who would paint me into the same corner as others with whom I disagree on many levels.
But this is the lesser of things to consider. To many, Jesus is guilty by associating with us.
When Christians do stupid things, He gets blamed, maligned, and mocked, yet He never disassociates Himself from us. When I do foolish things, He never turns away from me.
Jesus is willing to be mocked, blamed, misunderstood, and mis-characterized by the masses that see the foolish things that His followers do and say, often in His name.
If you are a Christ follower, it’s not about you, it’s about Him. Do not divorce yourself from those whom Jesus indwells, simply because they do things that embarrass you. Following Jesus isn’t all about you finding people that agree with you on every point. Following Jesus is to recognize the Church Universal, and to love her in spite of all her failings.
Though it isn’t right, Jesus is willing to be guilty by association. How about you?
God calls His people to different tasks, and He gives them different gifts by which they may serve Him, but gifting is only one side of this equation. God gives the calling and the gifting, but we must grow into these callings, and we must develop the gifts He has given us. We must also grow in the grace of God.
Let me offer a hypothetical example. A young man is called to be a leader in his church. He senses that calling even as a young teen. The sense of it is strong, and he is sure of it. But with that calling, the young man must grow spiritually. He must respond appropriately. There must be self discipline. There must be growth. Most importantly, he must learn to live in the grace of God for himself. He must be OK with who he is as a person. His victories must be tempered with the knowledge that God’s grace has enabled him. His failures must be met with a sureness that God’s grace pardons him because of Jesus. He must be sure to pay attention to God’s timing.
Let me offer an illustration. A young boy wants to be a soldier. He is intelligent, and a committed patriot. He studies weaponry and battle tactics. Because the army (church) is short on soldiers (servants), he is enlisted and outfitted. He is committed, but he hasn’t grown enough (matured enough) to be effective. He stumbles with boots that are four sizes too large. The gun is too heavy to carry. He fatigues in the battlefield because he doesn’t have the strength to carry the over-sized backpack. Instead of being an asset, he now becomes a liability. Not only can he not do his job, but he endangers his fellow soldiers who have to constantly rescue him. His comrades cannot depend on him. They may even begin to resent him; not because they don’t like him, but because instead of helping, he actually makes warfare (ministry) more dangerous (difficult).
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