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(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…
I am a follower of Jesus.
Like you, I am faced with choices, desires, options, and possibilities. Some options are obviously contrary to the heart of God, and so I know not to consider them as viable. But what about those other options? What about my desires, dreams, and hopes? Everyone has them, or had them at one time.
As a follower of Jesus, there are many paths that are considered acceptable by my church culture. If I want to pursue something, and it has a “Jesus element” to it, then I usually get approval by most people that I know. There are other activities that are considered good and acceptable by my popular culture, and are not obviously “wrong”, and so once again I receive a nod of approval.
Following Jesus is completely contrary to the two scenarios that I have just described. Neither public approval nor my church culture approval is enough to validate a trajectory for my life. My own desires, predispositions, and tendencies are not to be the compass for my existence. Someone has said that, “the enemy of the best is the good”. It is incredibly easy to be a few degrees off regarding what one ought to be doing with their life. A few degrees off doesn’t seem like much when a pilot first takes off, but obviously, the further he flies, the more off course he gets. Such can be the outcome of a person’s life. We can be well intentioned, but way off course. We can “land” in a place that is distant from where we should have landed.
To some I may sound idealistic. To others, legalistic and confined. I have considered those possibilities as well. I have wondered if I ought not allow myself to be more free, to follow the impulses and passions of my heart.
As I understand it, following Jesus is neither a matter of pragmatism, or logic. Pragmatism dictates that we ought to do the things that “works”. Logic is the thing that seems obvious.
A Christian man might be a very talented athlete, with a great possibility of a professional career. Pragmatism and logic would dictate that that is the course he ought to pursue, but it may not necessarily be the path that God has chosen for him. Just because a man can follow a path and be successful at it doesn’t mean that he should. Two examples of this come to mind: Jim Elliot, and Eric Liddell. Both men were incredibly gifted athletes, but both set aside their athletic pursuits to pursue a greater prize.
People undoubtedly called Elliot and Liddell foolish for choosing Christian service over athletic careers, but both men stayed their courses as they felt led by God, and their lives and deaths have become models of faith for the Christian Church. Pragmatism and logic would have dictated different paths for Elliot and Liddell. Their personal passion for sports, coupled with their athletic talents would have seemed to be evidence of an athletic career, but the Spirit of God had a greater plan.
Let me conclude with some scripture that points to what I am suggesting.
Philippians 3:12-14 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
John 8:29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.
Both Paul and Jesus could have been incredibly successful in the eyes of the world if they had chosen different paths. Paul would have been a shaper of culture, a great author, and a philosopher. Jesus could have changed the temporary course of history for Israel by driving out the Romans, and He would have been an amazing king.
Aren’t we glad that neither of them chose the good instead of the best? Aren’t we glad that they did not allow pragmatism and logic to dictate their actions?
Dear reader, if you are a Christ follower, don’t miss the best because you choose the good. Don’t allow pragmatism or logic to dictate you life path. Just because you can do something well, and because you have a passion for it doesn’t mean that those pursuits should be the focus of your life. God may allow you to pursue some things as part time hobbies, but keep the main thing the main thing.
Some thoughts for fellow followers of Jesus…
The ten second sound bite version of what I am writing is this: If you blew it, and have a mess on your hands, let God fix it. You thought you could be in control and do things your own way, and now you have a mess. In your flesh, you made a mess. What makes you think that in your flesh, you can fix it? Better to walk in the Spirit like you should have to begin with. Walk in the Spirit, and let God fix it.
The longer version of the same story line is as follows…
Sin is a nasty thing. It promises much, and delivers little. The consequences are always bigger than the gratification. It never seems as bad as it really is…until later.
We get used to sinning. We minimize it. We get de-sensitized to it. We agree in our heads that something is wrong, but we do it anyway, intending to stop.
There are sins of commission: we do things that we know are wrong.
There are sins of omission: we don’t do things we know that we should.
The sin in a Christian’s life can run the gamut of not reading your Bible (dumb…you need God’s Word, heart, and direction) to something much more obvious, like substance abuse or sexual immorality. We can be committing little sins, like being disagreeable, or we can be committing bigger sins, such as being violent and a striker. A sin of omission might be that you don’t think that church attendance is important, and eventually find yourself isolated, alone, unchallenged, un-encouraged, etc. There are numerous examples of sins of commission and omission.
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Filed under: Christianity
, Decision Making
, Dying To Self
, God's Will
, Good Intentions
, Self Awareness
, Spirit Filled Life
, Spiritual Blindness
, Spiritual Growth
Dear friends….please take 33 minutes to watch this documentary video.
It is upsetting, shocking, and compelling, but it brings forth some facts and asks some questions that need to be considered.
John 21:19-22 19This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” 20Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
The year was 1984. I had just quit the band Undercover, which at the time, was hugely popular and used by God. I was walking through Knott’s Berry Farm on one of the Christian Music Nights they had once a year. This year, I was not on stage, as I had been previously. I was just a guy in the crowd, wandering around from stage to stage, watching the bands, getting recognized a bit, but feeling quite alone and confused.
I was wondering about what my immediate future held. I was feeling drawn to the pastoral ministry, but still feeling like I had some music left in me: songs to write, concerts to perform etc. I was walking through Knott’s hoping for and looking for some direction.
God spoke clearly to me that night. He didn’t speak to me about the particular direction of what I was supposed to do, but of how I was supposed to live. The reminder that I received was that I needed to not worry about what other people were doing and saying, or what God was doing in and through other people. My responsibility was and still is, to follow Jesus.
Fast forward 27 years. My need to follow Jesus hasn’t changed. The voices of the experts have changed a bit. I am offered much advice from pewsitters and church growth experts about how to serve Jesus. I don’t discount that some of that advice is good, but it never has and never will be better advice than what I receive from Jesus.
I still don’t need to worry about what others are doing and saying. Yes, there are some good thoughts I can learn from. There are examples of outstanding works being done that I can gather from, but the greatest advice and direction I can get needs to come to me from Jesus. He speaks through His Word, and He speaks by His spirit through impressions, thoughts, leanings, and holy hunches.
My life is unique, as is yours. No one knows what you need more than God. Listen for His voice first and foremost. Don’t just agree with me, but do it. Learn the art of quite reflection, prayer, and Bible reading. Until that is done, restrain yourself from other voices.
“You follow Me” is advice I still need to follow.
“As long as nobody gets hurt” presumes that those mutually participating in something know the entire future of their own or another’s life.
How can we possibly know the future, and jeopardize it for the moment? We can’t possibly be sure that current actions won’t bring future hurt. Better to trust God than your own logic, IMO.
Mark 14:3-9 3And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.
6But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
Many who love Jesus give of themselves to Him.
They give time, money, talents, material possessions.
They forsake personal gain, high paying careers, and upward mobility.
Some would say that they give too much.
Parents may encourage their child to go to college and prepare for a good career, rather than go to Bible college and prepare for a life of godly service.
They would never tell their child to not be a Christian; they would just tell them to have a “balanced” life, and be sure to have a good career first. They may suggest that their child not get too fanatical about their Christian faith. They would emphasize that it’s a tough world out there, so their child needs to “look out for #1”.
There are many other examples of how people that give their lives to Jesus are warned or corrected by others who are around Jesus. The disciples were with Jesus all the time, had seen the miracles, and heard Him teach, but they thought that what this was did was “a waste”. They justified their opinion by saying that some good social act could have been done instead. Helping the poor is important, but it wasn’t more important at that moment.
They made the mistake that so many Christians make: they miss the best and suggest the good. They are committed, but not too committed. They worship and serve, to a point. They give, but are careful to not go beyond what is reasonable. They try to be “reasonable” in their Christian life, and are careful to maintain a “balance”.
I never read about keeping a balance. I read about being led by the Holy Spirit.
Like the woman who poured out the costly ointment, some Christians pour out their lives to God.
Like the woman, they are told that what they have done is extravagant and extreme.
Jesus had a different opinion, and defended her.
Be careful about how you judge such things.
When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, the mob came to arrest Him, led by Judas. Peter sought to protect Jesus, and swung his sword, cutting off a man’s ear. Jesus healed the man, and then said to Peter…
“…do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26:53, 54)
Jesus told Peter that he could have prayed for twelve legions of angels to protect Him for this crowd.
1 Legion = 6,000 angels.
12 Legions = 72,000 angels
In 2 Kings 19:35, one angel killed 185,000 soldiers in one night.
Jesus could have been defended against 13,320,000,000 people.
Thirteen billion, three hundred and twenty million.
Twice the Earth’s present population.
Those are staggering numbers, but the numbers aren’t the point.
The point is this: Jesus would not use the provision of God to avoid the will of God.
That which was rightfully available for Jesus could have been used by Jesus to avoid the will of the Father.
Question yourself: do you ever use the provision of God to avoid the will of God?
If you avoid the will of God, (disobey), then you are using the provision of God for purposes that are contrary to the will of God. You use your mind, body, money, talents, family, friends, job…..you use blessings from God to avoid doing the will of God.
Instead of obeying God, you stay busy with the life God provided, you hide in the home God provided, you drive away on the car God provided, you do the lesser instead of the greater with the talent and mind God provided.
Dear Christian…everything you have is the provision of God.
May we not use the provision of God to avoid the will of God.
My friend Roby Duke (now with Jesus) once said this to a group of song writers: “Your inspiration is perfect, but your songwriting needs work”.
We can be wonderfully inspired to express ourselves, but not quite have the ability, time, or energy to rightly say what we are trying to say. Perhaps the inspiration is fighting against good common sense that would tell us to slow down and think it through. Now is such a moment for me. The inspiration is perfect. I am rushing ahead. I hope this comes out O.K.
QUESTION: “It is easy to live vicariously through others, but is that really living?”
Let’s start with one of many definitions for the word “vicarious”.
“Felt or enjoyed through imagined participation in the experience of others”: a vicarious thrill.
There is a place for such experience in moderation, but our world is making it increasingly easy for people to feel emotions that don’t have any corresponding personal experience.
We can dial up, Google, Net Flix, read, browse, or Pay Per View our way to any emotion we want, without ever having to actually “do” something that requires dedication, effort, commitment, or faith.
If there was ever a generation that could become addicted to “feeling without doing”, that generation is now.
One might ask what the danger or problem is with living vicariously through the great accomplishments of others. Some of that might be O.K., in that it might inspire us to aspire to do great things. Plus, it certainly feels good to feel good. So what’s the problem?
The problem is this: That kind of living, if it becomes the habitual lifestyle of a person, does nothing to produce in them the quality traits needed to actually enjoy those emotions from first hand accomplishment.
I understand that some of the things that “thrill” us are only for a few to actually experience. We can’t all go out and win gold medals, climb Mt. Everest, or do world tours singing about changing the world.
But I wonder, if vicarious living comes to satisfy us to the point that we don’t pursue what we COULD BE DOING, then has it gone too far? I say “yes”: then it has gone to far.
So….what is it that you are actually supposed to be doing?
I submit to you that actually desiring, struggling, sacrificing, and dedicating one’s self on a personal level is far more important than taking the vicarious route of simply feeling the goose bumps from someone else’s accomplishment. The satisfaction that comes from personal accomplishment is much more valuable than enjoying someone else’s “bigger than life” accomplishment.
Finally, if you are a follower of Jesus, then He wants to live through you. Your part is to surrender, seek His will, believe His promises, walk in holiness by His power, and take small and big steps of faith in responding to what He wants to do through you.
That process has been the most satisfying part of my life, whenever I have actually gotten out of the way long enough for it to happen. The small victories of having my life so bound up in His life have been the most satisfying experiences of my life. My experiences may not compare to some of the great accomplishments of others, but they don’t need to. They are my experiences with God, and I can have first hand satisfaction from them.
Rich Mullins said it well: “Jesus, write me into Your story…whisper it to me.”
Filed under: Decision Making
, Dying To Self
, Fellowship With God
, God's Will
, Good Intentions
, Spirit Filled Life
Every Christian must come to a conclusion about what their life will focus on, about what their “battles” will be, about what message they will declare, and about how their voice will be heard.
There is no shortage of causes and fights that Christians are pursuing in these days in which we live. I respect and agree with many of the causes being suggested, but I am not inclined to join particular fights in the ways that some might hope.
I am very mindful that I must be careful to not judge the motivations and passion of others regarding their causes. For those passions and actions, they shall answer to Jesus, and not to me.
I am bothered by many events I see on the political stages of the world. In fact, I am increasingly disillusioned with the promises of the politicians, regardless of what side of the aisle they sit on. I have no hope in man. None. As the writer to the Hebrews wrote about the ancients…
Hebrews 11:14-16 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Some might call me an escapist, and they would be right. But please see me as a functioning escapist. I’ll live here functionally until the day I leave.
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