Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” Jeremiah 38:4
All Jeremiah was doing was speaking the truth about the inevitable. He wasn’t arguing, he wasn’t happy about that truth, and he certainly wasn’t causing that truth to be any worse. He was just recognizing the choices his nation had made and the inevitable, irreparable consequences that were now set in motion. He was saying, “this is happening and you cannot change it…you can either choose to die right here on this hill or you can embrace reality and choose to live.” Jeremiah suffered a harsh retaliation for daring to speak that truth…for daring to recognize the inevitable and for daring to suggest that we should embrace it and figure out how to live with it.
Does any of this story feel to you like the same-sex marriage issue the American church is now facing?
As of the publishing of this post, there are 17 states in the U.S. who recognize same-sex marriages. The other 33 states have bans (either Constitutional or legislative) to same-sex marriages, and all but 5 of those bans are currently under judicial scrutiny for being overturned. There is a rapidly growing pressure in all 33 of these states to at least create some kind of “civil union” whereby the state’s interest in “licensing” and the church’s interest in the sacrament of marriage can be separated…a compromise whereby the state and the church can each maintain the control they need. Every national opinion poll I have seen shows …
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 21:1-6
What is it about this story that is sad and ridiculous and oh, so appropriate to us today?
While Jesus was watching the stuff of eternal significance, we were all watching the stuff that was just temporal and would be gone in the blink of an eye.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask,‘Who touched me?’ ” Mark 5:25-31
I have listened to so many John Maxwell talks and have read so many of his books, I do not even remember now where I heard or read some of the best leadership advice I’ve ever heard/read from him: “walk slowly through the crowds”. It is outstanding leadership counsel because genuine leadership is, after all, entirely dependent upon relationships and people skills. It is perfect for ME, because I get so narrowly focused sometimes (maybe especially on Sunday mornings) that I can walk right past hundreds of friends without even smiling or acknowledging them! I am still working on this. 🙂
It is a challenge, isn’t it? It is especially challenging when we get focused on the task at hand, on the ministry ahead, even on the relationships in front of us…but there are still people all around us who are hoping for our attention as well. It is a delicate balance between competency for the task at hand and …
Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Acts 3:4-5
The short, two-block walk in downtown San Antonio from my parking garage to my office usually crosses paths with at least a dozen or so people who are either homeless or at least very “down on their luck”. There was a time a few years ago when God brought me under conviction for my then-habit of crossing the street before I had to face them and their requests for money. I am pleased to say I do not do that anymore. I actually know several of the regulars by name now: Sal, Jorge, little Joseph, Becky, and one who just calls himself “Soldier”. While I am pleased to know these few names, God is not finished with me yet. The next lesson is about the eye contact…or lack thereof. I know God is leaning on me to be a better friend to these often-troubled souls, and in order to do that, I really am going to have to be better about making eye contact with them!
That is the real issue, isn’t it? We don’t want to see them, and we don’t want them to see us. And it is not just the homeless…it is anyone whose needs just seem overwhelming to us. We do not want them to see us as a possible source of help, because we do not believe we really have something that will help them. If you walked into a hospital ward full of sick people and you were carrying the one vaccine which you knew would cure them, you would look them all right in the eyes and tell them to line …
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ” Matthew 25:41-46
Have you seen the reality show, Undercover Bossyet? I have not, but I think the concept is brilliant. What could be more entertaining than seeing a bad employee treat someone badly who turns out to be the CEO of their company? It’s one of those concepts that makes you stop and imagine…the horror!
Jesus was pretty good at coming up with those concepts as well. There were times when you just know the disciples sat speechless, looking at one another…in horror. I think the passage above is one of those times. I think when Jesus spoke these words, all of the disciples’ minds went to the exact same place yours and mine do…to that homeless man or woman in the street earlier today with whom we would not make eye contact, because we just did not want to speak to them or otherwise get …
I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace…I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:23-24, 33-35
There are surely thousands and thousands of possible reasons people choose to be a church leader. Money is probably not one of them. Oh, I know there are those few high profile ministers (particularly in evangelical circles) who have profited tremendously, but let’s be real, that is by far the exception, not the expectation. Rather, there are other kinds of “payoffs” which I believe attract some people into leadership positions in ministry. Some of us just like to be in charge. We like the power which comes with being the leader. We like to chart the course and then expect those who are following to, well, follow. For others, it is just the attention alone which draws them in. They are otherwise lonely people and the “payoff” for them is the “friends” who gather around them as leaders. Still others choose leadership by default, because they just cannot handle following. They ascribe to the philosophy: “He who refuses to lead is doomed to be led by someone lesser than himself.”
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord… 2 Timothy 1:8
There is a lot of talk these days about “being the church” and about missional people and about moving “church” outside the walls of our church buildings. I love all that talk. I agree with it! But sometimes it feels to me like a lot of talk but very little actual implementation. Sometimes it feels to me like “the church” knows it should be moving in that direction but does not really want to move in that direction. It is, after all, very different from what our traditional churches have grown comfortable becoming.
One of the “tweaks” I think might help us is to re-think our criteria for choosing leadership in the church. Doesn’t our list of qualities for “leaders” among God’s people resemble pretty closely the qualities for leadership in the secular world? We look for charisma, competence, a good track record, good communication skills, and then, of course, we add spiritual qualifications like prayer and discernment. But would you also agree that, in most cases, we are looking for people who have “wowed” us with their presence and skills inside the church? I do see the merit in that…in order for them to be influential among God’s people, they definitely must have a testimony inside the church. But if we are trying to shift our culture from being overly inward-focused to being more outward-focused, shouldn’t we be looking for leaders who already have that mindset? If we are wanting to move toward “being the …
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over. Mark 14:43-46
My ministry brings me into contact with a good number of people who have felt wounded by the church. God seems to have given me the awesome assignment of being an encourager and exhorter to those people. I co-authored a book with Debbie Taylor Williams aimed specifically at the pain of these same dear friends: “Trusting God’s People…Again”. It is on my mind this week, because I will be speaking from it the next two Sunday evenings at my church.
Being hurt by the church is by no means a unique experience. The statistics of those who feel injured by the church are pretty overwhelming! But the pain itself, the feelings of betrayal by God’s own people…those feelings are definitely unique to these circumstances. Being hurt by the church is just not comparable to any other pain…not really. It is a deep and lasting pain of being wounded by the very place which should be the safest place in the world for us. The healing process, therefore, is likewise pretty profound.
The good news is this: the One administering the healing from this pain knows all about it from personal experience. That makes a big difference! Here is the way I describe it in the book:
THE NATURE OF PAIN / THE PROCESS OF HEALING
Like physical pain, emotional or spiritual pain can be incapacitating. When your leg is broken, no matter how much you want to walk on it, no matter how important walking might be to you, you simply cannot do it. A healing process must take
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:1, 7-8
I have a ministry. Well, it belongs to God, not to me…but you know what I mean. I have been entrusted with an amazing ministry and an amazing message about unity among God’s people. I know the feeling of ownership of a ministry. I know the pressures of stewardship of such a message. And I know the stress of placing the reputation, the very name, of that ministry into other people’s hands. I know what it feels like to send other people out in the name of Christian Unity Ministries, placing them in control of our reputation, and having little or no control over how they will exercise that stewardship.
So I am more than just a little bit amazed at what Jesus does in Matthew 10, sending out the twelve to perform miracles in His name. There was no tutorial about casting out demons. There was no dress rehearsal for any of them to practice raising the dead. He just gave them the authority, gave them a few verses of instruction, and sent them out. Surely they did not all take to this task naturally. There had to have been some humorous “fails” (like the one at the foot of the mountain in Matthew 17:16…I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him). Nevertheless, Jesus empowered them, authorized them, and sent them out to do His Father’s work, and he exercised virtually no …
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:18-20
It seems to me that the scene has by now played out for me at least a hundred times. I am counseling with a pastor who has been put through the wringer by his congregation and has been maligned and injured and his family has been as well. He has fallen victim to the church at its very worst and he now has the scars to show for it. He expresses to me his utter dismay and surprise and talks about how seminary simply did not prepare him for this. His wife expresses shock that God’s own people could behave so badly and that this was NOT what she signed on for when she agreed to marry a pastor. I listen, and I weep with them, and I grieve for them…and then I think to myself, “Welcome to the ministry. This is it. Welcome.”
Jesus was always pretty clear about the downside to following Him…the cost would be great, the sacrifice extraordinary. He never sugar-coated that. He was completely unapologetic about it throughout his entire ministry. So, I suppose my thinking has always been, “If that is true for every follower of Jesus, how much more so for those called out to shepherd other followers of Jesus?” Vocational ministry, in short, is simply not about comfort. It is about ministering to a bunch of poorly-behaved, stinky sheep who bite and who hurt you and who get …