Monday, January 28, 2008

the incredible pain of frailty

I admit it...i don't want to preach on this. In fact originally I was going to have Nate do it, but it didn't work out that way.

One of the more amazing and frustrating things about knowing Gods word is that it always boils down to relationships. We want to believe it boils down to spirituality, or morality, or theology. Then if we preach it, teach it, listen to it or apply remains a matter of the head instead of the heart.

But this week the naked and raw heart of Paul the apostle is on full display. His frailty and foibles; his pain and frustration; all of the realities of abandonment and betrayal; and in the midst of it a pastors heart which is being shredded by the immaturity of the church he started.

It would be hard enough to read it with even the smallest measure of empathy...but to enter into it is overwhelming to me today. Because in order to teach on it I have to confront myself with the realities of it. And the realities of it are so very hard.

Paul is being judged. He knows full well his limitations and frailties, and confesses them a lot in his writings. But the people of Corinth so far away from him now are sitting behind closed doors and indulging in gossip...guessing at his motivations...conjecturing about his teachings...sitting in judgement.

He has abandoned everything for his call, sacrificed himself in ways unimaginable to the modern mind. By the end he will be imprisoned, whipped, shipwrecked, betrayed, abandoned, and eventually killed for his Christ. But it's not that part that seems so hard to swallow...he's a tough guy...he wears a cup. It's the friendly fire from his own people that rips him to bits.

Just like what happened to Christ. Just like what happened to God in all of the Old Testament. Just like what happens to millions of pastors...including me.

Pastors don't like to talk about pastoring. But Paul does it anyways. The low pay, the humiliation, the frailty of our own walk with God, the emptiness, the spiritual warfare...he puts it all on the line.

why...i wonder? Perhaps he knew what the future would be like. Pastors are dropping out of the ministry in epidemic numbers. The ones that stay according to leadership journal, when surveyed are depressed, feel like failures, are exhausted, and wish they had done something else with thier lives. The suicide rate is just a notch below dentists and psychologists.

and this week i will have to fully engage my own stuff in order to talk with any integrity about what Paul said. Or more importantly, what Jesus said through and with Paul. Because Jesus wants to teach us about taking care of pastors. and i really...really...don't want to talk about that. But if i don't i won't be true to the word of God...and I must be constrained to it.

so this week i will have to think about the fact that I have been healed and hurt by the church in ways I never could have imagined. And I will have to pray and study and think about what to tell you about that.

fun huh?!

below is Paul's letter, he section for this week.

1 Corinthians 4 1-4Don't imagine us leaders to be something we aren't. We are servants of Christ, not his masters. We are guides into God's most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them. The requirements for a good guide are reliability and accurate knowledge. It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don't even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless. I'm not aware of anything that would disqualify me from being a good guide for you, but that doesn't mean much. The Master makes that judgment.
5So don't get ahead of the Master and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, he will bring out in the open and place in evidence all kinds of things we never even dreamed of—inner motives and purposes and prayers. Only then will any one of us get to hear the "Well done!" of God.
6All I'm doing right now, friends, is showing how these things pertain to Apollos and me so that you will learn restraint and not rush into making judgments without knowing all the facts. It's important to look at things from God's point of view. I would rather not see you inflating or deflating reputations based on mere hearsay.
7-8For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn't everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what's the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle. Without bringing either Apollos or me into it, you're sitting on top of the world—at least God's world—and we're right there, sitting alongside you!
9-13It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We're something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We're the Messiah's misfits. You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties. You might be well-thought-of by others, but we're mostly kicked around. Much of the time we don't have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living. When they call us names, we say, "God bless you." When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We're treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture's kitchen. And it's not getting any better.
14-16I'm not writing all this as a neighborhood scold just to make you feel rotten. I'm writing as a father to you, my children. I love you and want you to grow up well, not spoiled. There are a lot of people around who can't wait to tell you what you've done wrong, but there aren't many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up. It was as Jesus helped me proclaim God's Message to you that I became your father. I'm not, you know, asking you to do anything I'm not already doing myself.
17This is why I sent Timothy to you earlier. He is also my dear son, and true to the Master. He will refresh your memory on the instructions I regularly give all the churches on the way of Christ.
18-20I know there are some among you who are so full of themselves they never listen to anyone, let alone me. They don't think I'll ever show up in person. But I'll be there sooner than you think, God willing, and then we'll see if they're full of anything but hot air. God's Way is not a matter of mere talk; it's an empowered life.
21So how should I prepare to come to you? As a severe disciplinarian who makes you toe the mark? Or as a good friend and counselor who wants to share heart-to-heart with you? You decide.



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