Monday, January 28, 2008
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 it...it 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.
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.
Labels: things i hate to talk about
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
this was from nate's worship e-mail this week...it was so good i stole it:
Dave likes candles. Actually, I like candles a lot too, but I'm in Dave's office right now, and I'm looking around and I'm thinking to myself... yea, lots of candles. There's this especially cool one near my computer that I often light while I work: it is thick and white and it has three wicks in it... I know, super fancy, Dave's taste in wax paraphernalia is impeccable. Anyway, I lit this candle when I came in this morning, like I normally do, but today, for some reason there was all this wax oozing over the sides of it, sort of making this big mess of things, so I decided to blow it out...
This brings me to my next point, I love the smell of candles. They don't have to be scented, but obviously the scented ones smell awesome. I have this blue candle in my room that I got at Target and it is my all time favorite. I don't even know what the flavor is, but I can say that the smell is sort of tropical and sweet. The point that I'm trying to make is that although I love the smell of candles that are lit, I stinking hate the smell of candles when you blow them out, which is what I am smelling now. It smells like smoke and ash and sulfur and charcoal and I don't like it. It offends my delicate nasal palate, which has been tediously refined for the enjoyment of candles that are lit.
And I've been thinking this morning that God probably views our lives in much of the same way. When we are lit and advancing the kingdom, when we are fulfilling our purpose (what does a scented candle do besides smell good and provide sweet mood lighting?) God probably looks at us and says, "Oh yea, that's my favorite flavor." (Please insert The Ladies Man voice when you read that sentence.) The cool thing is that when we are really burning good, you know, when you're are really in the presence of God worshiping, or you are working your hands to the bone at a food shelter, we are burning so intensely that all of the wax is just oozing all over the place. The remnants of our God encounter are getting all over the place, spilling onto people and sticking to them with the tenacity of... well... dried wax.
Ah, but the analogy goes further you see. I'm sitting here this morning and wondering, what are the things that I allow to blow out my spiritual-scented-candle? What are the things that I allow to distract me from my relationship with God? And I can also imagine somewhere in the heavenlies when I allow my pride or my lust or my anger to get in the way of me functioning in my purpose (which is to bring as much glory to Jesus Christ every stinkin' day) I can imagine God wrinkling his nose in heaven and saying, "Hey, what the heck, who blew that candle out? Aw man, now it stinks like smoke breath."
When I blow out my favorite candle, even though it stinks for a while, it is still my favorite candle, so it's not like God is going to throw us away or anything, but I'm just trying to do my job you know? I just want to be a good scented candle.
So this week, throughout the week, and when we come together on Sunday, let's keep this image in our mind's eye. Can we burn bright like awesome smelling scented candles? Can we make a mess this week worshiping the Lord and getting our God-wax all over everyone we interact with? Can we identify the things in our lives that we allow to quench our fire for God and make us smell like car exhaust? Can we offer worship and prayers that are like sweet-smelling incense?
This is my prayer. For all of us to become scented candles. Ones that are lit by the flame of God's Spirit dwelling within us. Ones that make God's nostrils happy.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Today I learned that someone is considering leaving the church. It's OK because last week someone decided to join the church, so at least the ying-jang karma is balanced. [I'm kidding]But, it always hurts. A sense of failure always accompanies such choices, and I usually lose part of the day thinking about what I have done wrong. As such it is good, because it keeps me close to Christ in looking for the error of my ways, and it keeps me close to him when i need emotional support in the midst of my fears. Taking-the hits is always a part of being a pastor no matter what size the church. And most hits are imagined or unintended as such anyways.
But leaving a church is a hard thing. For everybody. For the friends close to them it gives them two questions. 1 is a great question, the other is not so great.
The great question is to look hard and ask "Is this the sort of Church that Jesus wants. Is this church on page with God. And finally is this the church that God wants me at no matter if I like it or not...is this the church where he wants me to serve others with my gifts at this time...or...is God launching me out to give my gifts and experiences to another body of believers." When we find that God wants to launch us out we should be able to find confirmations from accountability groups, small groups, and the church elders. And when this happens, it is bittersweet but it is missional and closure is possible for everyone. Paul was himself launched out, and this is normal and healthy...it is a good indication of church maturity.
The bad question is to look around and say "do I like this, am i offended, is this meeting my needs, do i enjoy this." The danger with this perspective has a lot of problems in it.
1. The church for a believer is a place to serve more than enjoy. When taking supplants the desire to serve either the believer is simply immature or is headed backwards in terms of maturity.
2. Finding faults and offenses in any church is easy, and when it is dabbled with it takes root as a habit. Judgment is like crack cocaine...you will always need more if it; it will always get mor expensive; and you will always delude yourself that it is ok...even holy in some twisted way.
3. Rationalizing the decisions means looking for more offences [instead of giving grace and forgiveness] and often leads people to gossip to buttress their self argument. This is how church splits happen. Yes, yes it always looks like God is all-over such things.
4. The decision rarely is made with confirmations from other mature believers and spiritual authorities. And it usually has some wound, anger, or offense on the front end of the decision.
5. The decision often lacks a clear direction from Christ, and isn't a launching towards a mission, but treats church as a disposable non-profit club of preference...where the preaching, worship, and programs are judged and evaluated as 'good-enough to stay' or not.
6. The removal of the tithe, relationships and spiritual gifts effects others and yet a sense of responsibility and ownership of that reality is often ignored. Or we figure out a way to rationalise it in a way to satisfy our conscience.
7. and finally it causes others to ask the same question...the same way.
The hallmarks of a great church are always found in the DNA of the membership and their relationship to Christ. Issues of character, loyalty, compassion, grace, commitment, deference, passion, hope, collaboration, etc. A great church has a core that has matured to the place where these values and attributes of Christ form the backbone of personal and public decisions. As a young church, it will take some time for us to get there. And that's ok.
As we grow-up as a church people will come and go. I actually look forward to launching people forward, hard though that will always be. But sometimes others will leave through side-doors and back-doors without deference or dialogue. That's fine unless it is you. You should desire to be more mature than that, more responsible, more communal. The fact that you are reading this may very well mean that someday God will corner you with it. [I know he has with me...more than once. Because believe it or not, some pastors make decisions the exact same way. And I'm just barely mature enough to understand how wrong this is]
This week in 1st Corinthians 3 Paul is talking about this some more. The church could have split into 4 camps...4 preferences...4 divisions. He warns them that this should never happen...that unity in Christ is FAR SUPERIOR to divisions of preference [or judgment]. And one of the reasons the world doesn't take us seriously is the fact that there are so many splits, so many denominations, so many perspectives firing rockets and missiles at each other. And yet Jesus says that the world will see us as true disciples of his if we love one another.
and loving one another is hard, hard work.
and it is my hard work tonight as i pray for them...even as it is my hard work to pray for the ones that have joined with us recently. and i pray for those that will read this, not knowing how it will effect them. I pray for myself...and you...and our church...and the other churches in God's kingdom.
may grace, and long-suffering love cover and saturate all of us as we look to Christ and ask him what to do. And as we listen for the answer may we all be mindful of the answers he has already given us in his word...knowing that he will never say anything fresh that doesn't align with that. And that knowing his word, is to know his will about many things if not everything.
Jesus isn't calling any of us to speculate, gossip, or judge...he has those quotas filled to overflowing. What he asks of us is to look inside ourselves, our motivations...our character...and to choose to love each other as he did [and does]. That is plenty of work for all of us. For love and self sacrifice are what we are called to walk in and work out[ward] with our lives. Just as He did.
Labels: church...why bother