Today's blog post is a series of quotes from David Hansen's book "The Art of Pastoring". It is what God keeps teaching me and what I struggle with. The title of this section in the book is "Endurance."
"The fact that we are called by God to love a particular person does not mean that the recipient of love will like it."
"We cherish our sin, we clutch it, it kills us but we love it. The gospel demands that we choose life, rejecting sin and its ungodly demands. So the love of God in the gospel works like a surgeon. Cutting out sin's cancer, with pain like death, the gospel heals."
"Most of us don't like the surgical role of the gospel. This is why we need God's specific definition of love to guide us in our work. Every time the parishioner winces ever so slightly, we want to stop pastoring." [Do I ever!] "As Kerkegaard says, the pastor must 'above all be able to put up with all the rudeness of the sick person without letting it upset him, any more than a physician allows himself to be disturbed by the curses and kicks of a patient during an operation.'
"The ministry in all its parts-preaching, teaching, visitation, spiritual direction, church discipline, church politics-works under the Lord's sovereign hand to excise the pernicious tumor of sin from the parishioners we love. The process causes the Old Man to scream, bite, claw, threaten, slancer, and accuse.
"Enduring this abuse is quite necessary. No pastor in his or her right mind likes it. Quite a few people, highly qualified for pastoral ministry in every other way, find this to be the point of impossibility for them. They must find other places to serve in Christ's kingdom. I still don't know whether I can take it. I take the problems one at a time as best I can. Enduring is never a triumph. It just happens." -pgs 38-39
This is probably my #1 struggle in ministry. God is still working on both me and my wife in this department. God continues to teach me of my own inadequacy. It is only Him that can do anything. May God sustain us all rather than us relying on our own coping skills! :)
This fall and early winter has proved to be far different than what I would have predicted. Over the last few months I have watched the roaring lion of Satan launching various attacks and bringing great pressure to bear in the life of various parts of our church. I don't mean that as a negative statement. Although it has not been fun, it has been allowed by God to test us, refine us, teach us, and break us-keep us broken. Between these events and the weather of December, God has been really teaching me to turn to Him more, trust Him more, and to remember that it is a privilege to suffer for Him. I will not tell you that I have passed all these tests with flying colors. I have wallowed in discouragement; I have struggled mightily with the desire to run away from hard things; I have forgotten to take refuge in prayer and the Word.
God is much more faithful than I am. He has sent me grace, good friends who have listened, encouraged, pushed. He has blessed me with the most amazing spouse in the world who can talk things out with me and help me to put my hands back in Christ's when I've let go. Christ has not reassured me that I am ok. On the contrary, He has made me face my weakness and failure more and more. He has instead given me more and more appreciation of the ENORMOUS amount of grace that He showers on me every day. My unworthiness only makes His grace all the more powerful!
Through all this I have also found myself thankful for something you might find surprising. I am thankful for critics.
I am surrounded by a lot of very encouraging people. They love me and they seek to encourage me. They are very reassuring. This is very nice for my emotions as I like to be assured, encouraged and reassured. However, there is one problem with those who love you and seek to encourage. They may have a hard time telling you some things you need to hear. Those that love me tend to give me the benefit of the doubt. A lot. They emphasize my positives over my negatives and sometimes don't even clearly see some of my negatives. When they do, they tend to be gentle and careful in bringing up the shortfalls if they bring them up at all.
My critics have no such compunctions. They are not blinded by my positives. They are not motivated to spare my feelings. They are not awed by my gifts and strengths nor overly gracious with my failings. They may not make me feel very good, but they are invaluable to me. Some things a critic says may not be true, or completely accurate, but even when off the mark, it should serve to point me toward areas needing growth.
When I was awaiting the vote of the church fellowship 7 years ago on whether they would call me as senior pastor, I sought counsel from a fellow pastor. He told me to hope that I didn't get a unanimous vote. He told me it would be much better for me if I knew there were those who were not supporters and were not convinced I was right. He told me it would make me a better pastor. It has.
So as 2013 passes behind us, as I look back over a very challenging few months and know that the challenges are only beginning, I am thankful for the Grace of Christ, for the presence of friends, and for critics who force me to question myself and keep my feet on the ground, my knees toward the throne and my head out of the clouds.
Check out the Youtube video below for a fun illustration of the power of critics as a new board is formed. (from Babylon 5)
As we say goodbye to Thanksgiving, I wanted to reflect on something that Sarah and I have discovered that has greatly improved the gratitude in our house. It is the discovery of a link between taking responsibility and being grateful. This may seem very simple, but it has had a profound effect on the peace, joy, and love in our household.
Taking responsibility is always a tough thing. It tends to go very much against our human nature. We tend to be self-centric, motivated by what works best for us, feels good for us, and is easiest. Taking reponsibility tends to move us away from ourselves and towards others. It can be uncomfortable and disconcerting. Stage one responsibility is tough enough. It requires us to own up to our mistakes and actions. It causes us to own the consequences of our actions or inactions, whether intended or not. While this is basic, it is not easy. Many a politician is incapable of doing this first step, especially without an accompanying explanation of why it really wasn't all their fault.
Stage two responsibility is even harder and therefore more rare. It is taking responsibility for that which is not your fault or even techically your problem. This is what Jesus did with us as He took responsibility for our sin, paying for what we did wrong. It wasn't at all His fault yet He took full responsibility for fixing a problem we caused. That's advanced responsibility taking!
So, how can that change a family dynamic and encourage thanksgiving? In our home, Sarah and I have begun working to really look at everything that needs to be done in the house as our personal responsibility. Dishes need to be washed? That's on me. Floor need to be swept? Mine. You get the idea. While that makes for an uncomfortable amount of responsibility, but then here is what happens next. When someone else does ANYTHING in the house, they have actually done one of my jobs. This makes me very grateful. Instead of thinking that its about time my wife took care of something, I am relieved that she was able to take care of that before I got to it. I am so grateful.
Just today wood needed to be brought in and the garbage needed to be taken out. I put both on my list of things I needed to get done today. Before I got that far on the list, my wife went ahead and got them done. I was filled with thankfulness and my wife was happy because she was also taking responsibility. This has changed the attitude in our house a lot. Instead of being frustrated over what isn't done yet, you take responsibility. We are more patient, more understanding, more grateful for what is accomplished, and more gentle with each other because after all, everything is our responsibility.
Now that is not to say that we are perfect in that attitude yet, but it is progress and one that we are working on teaching our children. They will struggle with it as much as we do because they are as selfish as we are. As we close off the Thanksgiving weekend, in all areas of your life, look around at your house, your church, your work, and see things as your responsibility, no matter what has been assigned to you. Realize that you are called to be a servant and see it all as your work. You will find yourself being less critical, more grateful, and more understanding with all those around you. It will take work, but that's responsible!
It has been a bit of a rough week for me. I have struggled with some of the strongest discouragement and the heaviest heart I have had in a very long time (years). Throughout this week, God has ministered to me. On Wednesday I met with one of the deacons for 15 minutes. The wisdom, love, truth and grace spoken into my heart in those 15 minutes got me through a busy day of ministry.
Yesterday I was struggling with the sermon for this Sunday. It wasn't working right and I was pretty sure that I was following my spirit much more than the Holy Spirit but I needed help to navigate because my own emotions can get in my way. I spent 20 minutes on the phone with a dear Christian brother. We went over the sermon together. He brought correction, gentle admonition, Biblical guidance and teaching, and grace to me. I cried as he prayed with me. Phone call over, new sermon written. This one is the Lord's. Grace & peace.
Today I got a phone call from Pastor Cliff. He asked if he could meet with me. I was going to be coming home past his house and told him I would come by. I spent probably 30 minutes there. He ministered the Word to me, with grace and love. Made me cry again, but out of joy and such a feeling of love.
As I left Cliff's today, I thought of Timothy & Paul. Paul was the older, experienced saint who was teaching. Timothy the younger pastor in charge of teaching a crop of new men. Paul the mentor, Timothy the mentee. Listen to Paul speak to Timothy, his younger student.
(1 Timothy 1:2) to Timothy, a true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I write this to you, Timothy, the son I love so much. All the best from our God and Christ be yours! I write this to you, Timothy, the son I love so much. All the best from our God and Christ be yours! Every time I say your name in prayer--which is practically all the time--I thank God for you, the God I worship with my whole life in the tradition of my ancestors. I miss you a lot, especially when I remember that last tearful good-bye, and I look forward to a joy-packed reunion. That precious memory triggers another: your honest faith--and what a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you! And the special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed--keep that ablaze! (2 Timothy 1:2-6)
You've been a good apprentice to me, a part of my teaching, my manner of life, direction, faith, steadiness, love, patience, troubles, sufferings--suffering along with me in all the grief I had to put up with in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. And you also well know that God rescued me! (2 Timothy 3:10-11)
How wonderful must it have been to have Paul loving on you, guiding you, teaching you, and exhorting you. As I sat with Cliff today, I was deeply moved by how blessed I am. He is a man of God with decades of not just experience, not even just wisdom, but of gentle faithfullness. He reaches out to me, he teaches me, he constantly seeks to build me up and encourage me. I can say that in knowing him and being mentored by him for over 20 years that he has never once hurt me although he has corrected me many a time and helped me see when I was heading the wrong direction. So many pastors do not have such an incredible gift as that.
I am DEEPLY THANKFUL for Pastor Cliff Olsen. I hope that one day I might grow in stature, knowlege, and love to be like him. I'm not there yet I'll tell you right now. I am blessed. Thank you Lord for allowing this man in my life!
"The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
As I get older, I have to be more concerned with heart disease and proper care of my heart. What I am becomming more and more aware of is that spiritually I have a congenital heart disease that presents a great danger to my spiritual life. I'm guessing you do to. Like the plaque that can block my physical vessels, this disease is sometimes very hard to detect until it builds up and then it may be too late. I am speaking of course about Pride.
Pride is an interesting thing. For many Christians, it is a fairly safe thing to talk about because we identify pride as the stuck-on-themselves, boastful, arrogant bores that think they're better than the rest of us. We aren't like that. We are very aware that we're not perfect, we seek to be modest and a bit humble. We know to avoid going on Kayne West and proclaiming ourselves the best and brightest. You just don't do that. See, no heart disease here, I feel fine! But wait, there it is. A simple word, but one that can be an important early indicator of heart issue. "I". Pride builds up in subtle and almost invisible ways. Being a very nice person can really hide an "I Heart". An "I heart" is your factory default setting. To see if that is still there, look to what your reaction is when you are worried, scared, threatened, or hurt. Concern for others get's pushed back a little and you defend yourself. You are worried about YOU. This doesn't look like pride, because no boasting is involved, but suddenly it is very hard to see past you. "I" is in the center. Insult the church down the block and I may be pleasantly apologetic. Insult the church I pastor and suddenly I'm making excuses and explanations and defense. Yup, "I".
When we move beyond that, there is another way pride sneaks past us and begins to build up. This one can be even more hard to notice. I call it "Others Heart". This one can't be pride can it? After all, aren't we supposed to put others before ourselves? Yes, Biblically (but saying that leaves out a point. More in a minute). The problem is which "Others" we choose. This is where my wife, my kids, my friends come in. Much like my example about churches, let's talk about kids. If you want to point out the problems with a child, I'm ready to listen and to talk about (lovingly of course) where that parent went wrong. What that parent ought to do. Now point out the problem with my kids. I will not deny the problem, but let me explain... Oh, there it is. It is pride. Why am I gentler with my own, well because they are MY kids. The difference is in "I". The problem is that although I am giving myself to others, I am now invested in others and therefore have pride at stake in the others. My heart looks less selfish, but this is still ultimately about me. I will tell you right now that this is a major struggle for me because I love my kids and I am hugely loyal to my friends.
God is trying to break my sick heart. He's probably after yours too. First step to to break a heart open, to tear out the "I" and "Others" that are naturally in there. Jesus called this dying to self. To lose one's life. To love Him more than Father or Mother. This is really hard. It is often only through tough times and conflict that He can even get me to see the "I's" and "Others" that have taken the seat of my heart.
So what are we to do. It is too simple to simply say that we need to let Christ rule in our hearts. It is the answer, but it is too easy to simply say it and move on. What does it mean to allow Christ to rule in your heart? I am still learning so I cannot claim to have this down or to be an expert, but here is what I have observed so far. It means constantly, daily, being aware of just how much a sinner I am. I am not talking about how much I sin any given day. Measuring the amount of sinful actions is a great way to get pride. Realizing that even if you didn't have any big sinful actions today and are still the worst kind of sinner is a much better start.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. (Romans 7:18)
Paul the apostle makes it clear. There's nothing good in there. So when you see someone bad off in sin and you see them as worse than you, it means you quietly see yourself as better off, in other words, you've got some good. No you don't! David, after being made to see his sin with Bathsheba, didn't focus on what sins he had committed but instead stated, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. " (Psalms 51:5). His point is that he has been a sinner since the womb. He was born that way, and so was I. So were you.
When I stay in that truth and realize that only Christ's daily grace, His Holy Spirit, His mercy produces anything in me, I start being able to leave behind the subtleties of pride. When I see someone deep in sin and realize that they are just like me, that the only thing that separates me from the worst sinner is God's forgiveness, God's righteousness, and God's mercy.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Now I go a step further to make sure that I am keeping Christ in the center of my heart. Christ is strong when I am weak, so when I look at myself, whether aloud or in my own eyes, I need to focus on, and dwell in my weakness.
And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Now perhaps I am moving toward having Christ dwell in my heart. I am focused on what He has done, not what I have done with Him, for Him, because of Him, or in His service. I am nothing. Without Him I can do NOTHING. So really, I am nothing, I am an adopted kid with inherited righteousness and the glory for that goes to God. There is no one on this planet worse than me and no one that I can look down on. When I find myself doing that, or acting out of my own person, I must realize that the ever present pride has again begun to clog up my heart. This is a big battle and one that I personally am not winning yet. Oh may I continue to recognize my own weakness and let the love of Christ live in me richly!