Saturday, June 8, 2019

When Someone You Love Does Not Weather the Storm

In high school I was required to take “Honors English” and we spent most of our senior year reading classic English lit. It was Charles Dickens who wrote A Tale of Two Cities. Today I was reminded of the classic opening of this masterpiece. The first line reads, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the season of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

When you find yourself in a storm, Dickens first line covers the gamut of emotions you often feel. Today I received an email from one of my dearest friends in the world; a senior saint with a great deal of wisdom. She has been reading my blogs, knows more details then most about what’s going on in my life, and is one of the wisest people I know. In her email she talked about a previous blog where I inferred I would need grace from friends and people I formerly pastored. She explained to me, rightfully I think, that I might be asking too much of many people. She explained how the hurt would be “real as people who had heard the Word proclaimed to weather the storm in the end witness the storm breaking the deliverer. It is a scary scene to witness. I am very much aware of how strong Satan is.”

It hurts to acknowledge our shepherd is vulnerable and human and at times we are shocked because we think he “ought to know better.” We rationalize since he knows the teaching of scripture he should be able to ward off the enemy, as though the strategy for fighting temptation is cerebral.  

Why do we read of pastors not being able to stay in the fight; not being able to weather the storm? The call of God to be a pastor is unique calling, an unspeakable privilege to be sure, but it can also be unspeakable hard. The enemy is not fond of a pastor’s life’s mission; he is threatened by it, so he is going to attack him.

Another reason pastors sometimes quit the fight and are unable to weather life’s storms is because of the pedestal they are put on. Pastors can make great friends, counselors, and leaders, but they make poor heroes. When a pastor is put on a pedestal, and they fall, it hurts a lot more to fall from a pedestal than it does from the ground where everybody else is standing. Only Jesus belongs on a pedestal. Yes, its true pastors are shepherds… but they are also sheep like everybody else. We pastors have struggles and fears. We sin and withdraw and grow cynical and get depressed and anxious. We often are unsure of ourselves, and we go through seasons wondering if we really belong in ministry. Many of us are more frustrated with ourselves than a church member could ever be with us. Sometimes we see our hypocrisy a lot more clearly than they do. Sometimes we grow more tired of ourselves than they grow tired of us. 

Brian Dodd is a “leadership guru” and has a lot of great things to say. He wrote an article about pastors that I want to close with some of the points he made because I don’t think you have to be a pastor to relate to these:
§  Every leader stumbles.
§  If you stumble and you’re not the leader some people may never know. If you are the leader and you stumble, everyone knows.
§  The best part of leadership is people know you. The worst part of leadership is everyone knows you.
§  We can at times think God is ashamed of us… Dodd writes, “Your mistakes do not change how God feels about you. But it may change how you feel about God.”
§  The temptation we face is to think that we must earn God’s love and acceptance though better behavior.
§  We live in a world that quits on you. God won’t quit on you.
§  God often allows the consequences that result from our choices to run their course because He wants to purify us, not penalize us.
§  It’s always too soon to quit. God is not finished with you. We see a scene, a snapshot of what is immediately in front of us. We don’t see the whole movie.

Let's together fix our eyes upon Jesus! 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Broken things and broken people

One of my favorite songs right now is a Crowder song that came out in 2014 entitled Come As You Are. When this song first came out I found it moved me; it moves me even more so now. Here’s part of the lyrics:

Come out of sadness from wherever you've been,
Come broken hearted let rescue begin.
Come find your mercy Oh sinner come kneel,
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

There's hope for the hopeless and all those who've strayed,
Come sit at the table come taste the grace.
There's rest for the weary rest that endures,
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't cure.

So lay down your burdens, Lay down your shame,
All who are broken, lift up your face.
Oh wanderer come home, you're not too far,
So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart.
Come as you are.

Fall in his arms come as you are
There's joy for the morning, oh sinner be still.
Earth has no sorrow, that heaven can't heal.

Crowder touches on something that we know in our head even as our hearts tell us something else. We know that God uses “broken” things but our hearts wants us to believe that God will not use us. This morning I was thinking about how some things are better broken; yes, you read that correctly some things are better broken. How many of us would stop in Philadelphia to see the “Liberty Bell” were it not broken? I doubt many tourists in Italy would visit the town of Pisa were it not for the tower that’s not quite right. Have you ever seen a mosaic? Most mosaics are beautiful yet the reality is that a mosaic consists of broken pieces arranged to be something beautiful. We live in a world of broken things: broken hearts, broken promises, broken homes, and broken bodies to name a few. However, like a mosaic, God has a wonderful way of making something beautiful out of broken and ragged pieces.

The bible is FILLED with broken people. That’s one of the great things about God’s word. It does not cover up or gloss over the foibles and failures of God’s people. 

  • Joseph’s family was the epitome of dysfunction to the point his brothers sold him into slavery. Yet God chose to use Joseph to save his people from famine. 
  • Ruth was chosen by God to be in the lineage of Jesus even though she was a Moabite (unwelcome in the temple), childless, and a widow.

 Not all of the broken people were broken because of the acts of others. Many were broken because of their own poor choices. 

  • Moses was a murderer yet God chose him to lead His people out of bondage. 
  • Rahab was a prostitute yet in Matthew 1 there she is listed as the great great grandmother of king David, clearly in the lineage of Jesus. 
  • Speaking of David, he was an adulterer that God chose to be leader of His people. 
  • Abraham the bible calls the father of the faithful yet he lied on multiple occasions. 
  • Saul of Tarsus arrested, had tortured, and even killed 1st Century Christians. Then he met Jesus who gave him the name Paul. And the apostle Paul was used to plant churches and right almost half of our New Testament.

Are your broken today because of the actions of someone else? Are you broken because of your own choices? In either instance this morning, realize God will use you in your brokenness. We often think when we are broken that God is finished with us when it’s possible just the opposite is true. God may not be “finished” but rather only now beginning to use us for His glory.

As I listened to Crowder’s song this morning the words “come as you are” kept resonating with my heart. Like many of you who read this today, I find myself in a place of brokenness. The enemy tells me that I can’t come to God like this; he lies and says God will not accept me. But the truth of Crowder’s song is found in its simplicity. Crowder says come as you are … friend there is no other way to come to God than as you are. He likely won’t leave you were you are but He will welcome you if you come as you are.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Maybe the most important blog I have ever posted

This morning I have been thinking of Jesus’ parable referred to as The Good Samaritan. Jesus answers the question of an “expert in the law” (Luke 10:25) who asked the Lord what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what the law said and the law expert recited what Jesus had said in Matthew 22:35-40. In that passage Jesus is asked, what is the ‘Greatest Commandment’ and Jesus had said to love the Lord your God with all that you are and the second commandment much like the first was to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus tells him he is right so then he asks the Lord “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:28)

It is in this context that Jesus tells the parable of The Good Samaritan. You probably know the story but just in case … A man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was robbed, beaten, and left in a ditch on the side of the road. A priest walking by saw him and moved to the other side of the road to ignore him. Jesus said a Levite (a priest’s helper) responded the same way. But then Jesus says a Samaritan, one of the despised “half-breed” Jews who had intermarried with pagan Gentiles, walked up, saw the man, bandaged his wounds, put him on his donkey, and took him to an inn where he paid the innkeeper to take care of the man. He told the innkeeper if what he gave him was not enough to cover the expenses, the next time he passed through he would pay him the rest. Jesus then asked the law expert which of the three he thought was a neighbor to the man who was in the ditch. The law expert responded “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus then said, “Go and do likewise.”

Why am I reflecting on this today? I think for a couple of reasons: 
  1. When life is good for us, it is easy for us to be like the priest or Levite and see people whose life is in the ditch, only to cross the road and avoid them.
  2. At times the wheels come off of all of this wagon we call life and our life ends up in the ditch … this is one of those times for me.

In all honesty there have been times, too many as matter of fact, where I have been the priest or the Levite. It is easy to stand in judgment of those whose life becomes derailed: “Well that is what he gets, he knew better than to travel this road alone. There has to be some great sin in his life or he would not have ended up in the ditch in the first place.” Today I am learning that the view from the ditch is different from the view from the road. There is a lot of pain in the ditch. There are the wounded in the ditch. There is dirt in the ditch. I am learning once you have been in a ditch you cannot help but think back on all the times you acted in judgment about those people who experienced life in the ditch. In all honesty, mercy looks different from the ditch. It gives you a completely new perspective. You think back over all the times you walked past someone in the ditch because you thought you were just too busy, not the right person, or you would catch them on the way back, you did not have the right words, or you thought they deserved the ditch. When you are in the ditch, you remember all the inadequate, inappropriate, or perhaps even harsh words you spoke to someone in the very same ditch you now find yourself.

In a previous blog, I referenced “decisions” I have made and am making that people did not or will not agree with. The first of those decisions was to leave Eastwood for a secular job. “How can you leave the call of God on your life? A man of God would never or should never do that!” Well, that is not the only decision I have made that people will take issue with; more decisions will become known in the days ahead. “Brother Tom, that is kind of cryptic. What do you mean other decisions? What have you done?” The easy thing to do would be to spend your time talking about what “great sin” caused my life to end up in the ditch. Can I ask you to spend more time talking to the One who can pull me from the ditch than you do talking to others about why I am in the ditch?

Some will conclude, “Well, everything he preached was a lie!” Nothing could be further from the truth. I preached the truth as best I knew and tried to preach the full counsel of God’s Word. Here is the problem though … no man can live completely the full counsel of God’s Word. So will there be a disconnect of sorts for some of you as you try to understand? Absolutely! However, please know I believe everything that I preached, but I am also human and not immune to poor decisions and sin.

In the days ahead, some of you may feel the need to “preach” to me about the error of my ways. Please don’t! If you feel the need to blast me on my social media page, I will simply block you. Instead, if you cannot get past the urge to take issue with me on my social media account, or if you feel like you can no longer have fellowship with me, I would ask you simply to unfriend me. Hear once again the words of our Lord: “‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:36-37)