Life at the Speed of Your Father

When pride comes, then comes shame;
But with the humble is wisdom.
Proverbs 11:2

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” Mac Davis

I went backpacking with my eighty-year-old father and twenty-six-year old son recently and it might not surprise you to know they both walked at a different pace. Being sixty-years-old, my pace is somewhere between them. We had a good time enjoying the wilderness of Colorado and the mountains we love.

At one point my dad wondered aloud why Christians can look at what our current president says and does and see him so differently. I wonder the same thing. We talked about it for several hours beside Sand Creek in the Sangre De Cristo mountains.

Full disclosure: My dad voted for and, to a large extent, supports the current president. I did not vote for him and do not support virtually anything the president stands for.

Our conversation ranged far and wide to all the sensitive social issues: Abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration reform, religious liberty, etc. On virtually all of those issues my dad and I are in agreement, but when it comes to supporting the President we differ greatly.

After our long and amicable conversation, I went for a solo hike up to Lower Sand Lake. I asked God to help me understand how two men who love Him so much and agree about most things theologically and politically could be at such odds on this. I’m not sure He gave me a very definitive answer.

The Romanowski Rule

But what did occur to me is that some people support their guy because he is their guy. They are loyal, if nothing else. That reminded me of a professional football player from the 90’s named Bill Romanowski. He played for the San Francisco 49er’s and the Denver Broncos. ESPN named him the fifth dirtiest player in the history of the NFL. When he played for the other teams I hated him. He was dirty. In my mind, every tackle there was a flagrant foul and unnecessary roughness. He should have been penalized on every play.

Then he came to the Broncos (my all-time favorite team) and for several years in the late 90’s Bill Romanowski helped us win. We even won back-to-back Super Bowls. It’s funny, I didn’t see him as such a dirty player during those years. He was helping us get what we all wanted. A world championship.

But then he went to play for the hated Oakland Raiders. Now he was the devil incarnate again.

Honestly, I think many see the current president the way I viewed Bill Romanowski. As long as he helps us win at the political game, we can overlook his antics, but those on the “other team” look at him with disgust and contempt.

The Humility Principle

On the hike down from the lake I wondered what singular character trait Christians should admire in a leader and immediately I thought of humility. It doesn’t mean we agree with everything he or she stands for, but shouldn’t Christians admire leaders who display some modicum of humility?

By the way, the humblest man I know is my father. I remember him saying many times growing up in his home that the sign of a maturing Christian is that they display a “teachable spirit.” I find it difficult to believe that a leader with a teachable spirit would not be humble. That is the kind of leader I want to be anyway.

Isn’t humility indispensable to the life of a Christian and shouldn’t it be our most important value in a leader? This is true in business, church life, and politics. How can you embrace in your heart a pastor who is narcissistic? How can a Christian who follows Jesus so closely that the dust from his sandals is on their clothing at the same time embrace a leader who is filled with hubris?

The Executive Director for our state denomination of Colorado Baptist, Nathan Lorick recently said,

“I believe the two greatest qualities of a leader are integrity and humility. Culture tends to make it about ability, yet without integrity and humility, ability will eventually lead to a dead end in leadership. I will take a leader with these two qualities any day!”

I completely agree. As has been my practice for decades, I will pray for the leaders who do not display integrity and humility, but I will give my allegiance to those who display at least a hint of humility.

This week my dad had a procedure done to his heart that, hopefully, will help the bottom chamber and the top chamber stop beating out of sync. Right now, he can’t walk very far on a trail without his heart racing out of control and causing him to be light-headed and short of breath.

Dad hiking Music Pass Trail with Tijeras Peak in the background

On our hike to Sand Creek I never walked with my son. His pace was too fast for me, but I told my dad on Father’s Day this year that I wanted to go backpacking with him. Frequently, between breaths, Dad would say things like, “Son, you don’t have to wait on me. Go on ahead.” But I didn’t come into the wilderness with him to hike by myself. I came in the wilderness to be with him.

If I want to walk with my father, I have to go at his pace.

There are a lot of layers of meaning to that last line. What is true of my dad is true of my Heavenly Father, too, but we will save that for another time.

Being with my father was more important than the pace at which I was able to cover ground. And, honestly, it was more important than keeping pace with my son. I will be back in the wilderness with my son. I know that for certain.

But now is the time to walk with my father, no matter who he voted for.

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My Letter to Eugene Peterson

Dear Mr. Peterson,

I received your address from David Hansen. I read his book The Art of Pastoring and sent him a letter thanking him for his contribution to my understanding of what it meant to be a pastor and we have become pen pals. (Even though we do it by email.) Since you wrote and endorsement to his book, I wondered if he might have a way for me to get a letter to you. He obliged.

I am a third-generation Southern Baptist preacher. My oldest son has also answered the call to be a minister. The first book of yours that I bought was The Contemplative Pastor. I tried to read it, but I could not find it interesting. I tried. I really did. But my value system and maturity as a Christ-follower was as deep as a birdbath in my thirties. Ten years, and a life implosion later, I read it again. It fed my soul. I read it every other year now to remind myself of what my primary responsibility to my congregation is to be.

I read The Message every day.

When I finished reading your memoir The Pastor, with tears in my eyes, I said aloud to God or myself or both—I am proud to be a pastor. I have not always felt that way. My calling a pastor has been unequivocal, but my self-esteem in that calling has always been queasy at best. After I read The Pastor that all changed. God used that book to change how I view my calling.

So, thank you.

I’ve been married to the same girl for thirty-six years. We have three grown sons and four grandgingers. I pastor a small, older congregation in the mountains of Colorado in a town called Buena Vista. It is at the headwaters of the Arkansas River.

Every summer people come from all over the country to raft the river. That means that river guides also come to lead those trips while the water is high from the spring run-off. These guides live like homeless people. They live in tents and eat mostly Ramen for the summer. Our church began a ministry to feed those river guides over twenty years ago. So, every Monday night from Memorial Day through the first week of August, we open our doors to the guides to come take a shower and eat a home-cooked meal. We can feed upwards to 100 guides.

These guides won’t tolerate much evangelizing, so we try our best to show them kindness and the love of Jesus in the form of Soup, Soap, and Soul Care. They can get a good meal, and hot shower, and prayer or a warm conversation if they want one.

My congregation is primarily senior adults. When I was considering whether to answer the call to pastor this mountain church, I was lamenting to my seventy-eight-year-old father that everyone is so old. He looked at me sternly and said, “Son, old people need a pastor, too.” The church extended an invitation to me to be her pastor, I accepted, and my wife and I moved here from the Pacific Northwest in the spring of 2015.

We have struggled with what we need to do to be the church God wants us to be. There are twenty churches in this town of 2,700 people. Three other churches are large and very effective. I know their pastors well and love them dearly. They are reaching many young families with children and students. We are attracting early retired folks and lots of snowbirds. At first, I struggled with this mono-demographic. But, as time has gone on, I have grown accustomed to who we are. We are trying to be a church of elders, not just seniors.

While I lived in the Seattle area for fifteen years, I began to mentor young church planting pastors. I fell in love with them. I love spending time with them and listening to them. I don’t have much to offer them in terms of strategies, but I ask them about their hearts, kids, and wives. That seemed to surprise them and comfort them at the same time. I’m old enough to be their father and it comes easy for me to shepherd their souls.

I have a dream of offering, for the lack of a better term, a ministry intensive to pastors. This would be loosely based on the psychological model of intensives. A ministry couple would come and spend a week with my wife and I in our mountain home and we would do a 360-degree examination of their ministry that would include: Interior Life of the Soul, Relationships as a Pastor (Marriage, parenting, friendships, and spiritual direction), Pastoral Care of their Congregation, and Leadership as a Shepherd.

We have not had a pastor come yet. But, we are ready.

I’m really writing this letter to tell you how much you have meant to me as a mentor. I am a voracious reader. I’ve read all your books. Some of them more than once. No one has influenced my calling as a pastor more than you. God has used you to make me a better shepherd.

I have a Mt. Rushmore of authors: Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, C.S. Lewis, and you.

So, thank you, sir for being faithful to your Lord and Master. I admire you greatly. When I am faced with how to respond to a pastoral concern, I pray to the Lord, I read the ancient book that we love, and I ask myself, “How would Eugene respond?”

Thank you for showing me the way…The Jesus Way.

Gratefully yours,

joe

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The Salt and Light Company

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.  –Jesus

We all know what happens when a revolutionary party suddenly finds itself in power. It’s one thing to shout angrily from the sidelines, but quite another to form a government and run a country. All sorts of things have to be organized and dealt with which a rebel movement can happily ignore.

When this happens, two questions are asked. First, can this movement really do the basic things that a government can do better than its predecessor? Was it just making a lot of noise which now turns out to be hot air, or can it really deliver the goods? Second, can it remain true to itself and its original ideals even though it’s now in power? Will it, in turn, become corrupt and just like all other governments, starting off in a blaze of glory and good intentions and ending up riddled with corruption and muddle?

Jesus was starting a revolution all right – but it was a different sort of revolution from all the other ones that were bubbling up in his days. (the above paragraphs adapted from N.T. Wright)

For instance, Jesus said in his famous sermon on the mount…

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.  Matthew 5:38-39

In this world the assumption is: “You hurt me, I will hurt you back.” In the Kingdom revenge no longer gets the last word, but love and mercy get the last word. I have to apply this with wisdom and discretion and judgment. This teaching was never to be used to justify someone staying in an abusive relationship.

He goes on and says, And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

A Roman soldier was allowed by law to force an Israelite to carry his pack for a mile. This happened all the time. How do you think the zealots, who were bent on the violent overthrow of the Roman government in Israel, felt about this law? They hated it. How do you think a zealot felt when Jesus said,

OK, here is the idea: A Roman soldier comes, gives you his burden, and forces you to carry it a mile for him. When you are done, look at him and say, “I have got some time, I can help you some more. Let me carry it for you for another mile.”

These are dangerous words.

Jesus is NOT saying, “Anytime somebody asks you to do something, you always have to do it.”  He is saying, “The general prevailing attitude is: If you’ve got an enemy, stick it to him. But in the Kingdom here is what we are going to do: We are going to love our enemies.”

The is the divine conspiracy of subversive spirituality. How well are we at doing this?

Jesus is saying, “Now in the Kingdom, here is what we are going to do: See these people that get mad at us—we are going to love them. But now, how are you actually going to do it? How am I doing it?  This is revolutionary, how are we going to do it?

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. 

Effie Peyton was an 85-year-old saint in a church I pastored.  I would go to visit her in the hospital and always leave feeling blessed by her. I would walk into the room with the buzzing machines, the harsh florescent lights and when she would see me she always reached over and grabbed her teeth and put them in her mouth and smiled a huge smile, this 80-pound woman.

“Pastor, how’s that beautiful wife of yours?” she’d ask. “And what about those boys?  They are getting so big!”

We’d visit a while and then I could tell she was getting tired and I would make a move to leave and she’s say, “Pastor, can I pray for you?” Then she’d spend the next several minutes with her spindly arms up outstretched to her heavenly Father, and pray for me and my family.

A nurse came in one time while she was praying and Effie new she was in the room, so she started praying for the nurse, by name.

I left the room and then lingered just outside her room for a moment and heard her say to the nurse, “Honey, that’s my pastor. He’s a good man. He loves Jesus. Honey, do you love Jesus?”

She was the salt of the earth.

In the day-to-dayness of your life and when you bring joy, when you challenge somebody, when you listen, when you touch, when you hug, when you laugh, when you say “You matter,” when you give a gift, when you write a note, when you make a call, when you volunteer, when you say to somebody…

Honey, Jesus loves you, He would love to be your friend.

that is the revolutionary movement that Jesus started, that cost Him His life—that revolution has now spread around the globe—while empires, nations and civilizations have come and gone.

And so, my friend always remember that you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.  May you live this day to love God, love others, and serve the world.

That’s revolutionary.

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Welcome

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — Jesus

Who would you secretly nominate as a person or a people group with whom God might be irritated? And, if truth were known, you are secretly hoping they don’t find favor with God.

Maybe they are people of color.
Maybe they wear their pants sagging and their hat sideways.
Maybe they were buttoned down oxford shirts and power ties.
Maybe they speak with a clipped northeastern accent. Or with a thick southern drawl.
Maybe they have a confederate flag flying outside their house.
Maybe they are loud and proud.
Maybe they wear scarves over their faces and turbans on their heads.
Maybe they are chronically addicted.
Maybe they are obese.
Maybe they are ugly.
Maybe they are super attractive.
Maybe they are young.
Maybe they are old.

Whoever you thought of is who Jesus is speaking to on this mountainside. They had no spiritual qualifications. They had no credentials. They were religiously illiterate.

There are a lot of folks like that in our day, maybe you are one of them.

The people sitting on the mountain side don’t know the Bible. No one’s asking them to teach Sunday School. They’re spiritual zeros, didn’t get the faith-gene.

When you read the stories just preceding this you find that Jesus was busy loving, healing, serving, and touching the untouchables of his day…

So, let’s say that Jesus sees in the crowd someone that has been brought to Him that He’s just helped. Maybe it’s a man who was brought to Jesus because he had been demon-possessed, emotionally tormented, out of his mind, a spiritual zero. Never part of a faith community; nobody would ask him what does he think about God.

But now he’s calm and in his right mind. Why? Because even though he had done nothing to deserve it, Jesus just comes up and touches him, and heals him. And so Jesus has him stand up, and they smile at each other.

And Jesus turns around and has him face the crowd. Jesus says,  “You want to know who’s blessed? This guy right here; blessed are the spiritual basket cases. Blessed are the faith-challenged. Blessed are the religious disasters, for now theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

He goes, maybe, to a middle-aged woman. She has always been sad her whole lifelong, because she was unable to have children. That’s always a sad thing. That day it was desperately broken. And now her husband has died and she’s alone. And she’s penniless. To tell the truth, she would have supported herself by becoming a prostitute because that was the only way. But now she is too old even to do that.

She has no hope. She comes to Jesus in utter desperation because she’s got nothing else to do.

He sees her, and He whispers to James and John, “You watch out for her, now. Because that’s going to be one of our core values, caring for widows.”

And Jesus goes to this widow. And He has her stand up and He puts an arm around this woman’s shoulder, and He has her face the crowd.

Jesus says, “Want to know who’s blessed? Blessed are those who mourn. Not because it’s a good thing to mourn, but because the reality of the presence of the Kingdom is coming down to the mourning, and they shall be comforted now. You just watch what happens in the life of this woman. In my kingdom, things will be different for the likes of her. Better, much better.”

And on and on he goes.

It’s important to remember that the Beatitudes are NOT instructions on how to be blessed. The Beatitudes are not instructions on how to do anything. The Beatitudes are designed to shock people into realizing that now the blessing, the good and beautiful life—that we all drive ourselves crazy and frantic and busy trying to grab a hold of—the life in the Kingdom is now available to anybody who wants it through personal contact with this man Jesus.

And no one and no thing can shut you out.

What about ‘The Blessed’ in Our Day? If Jesus were giving them right here? What would they sound like?

Who are the people that our culture says are shut out of the good life?

Blessed are the geeks.

Blessed are the nerds.

Blessed are the wimps.

Blessed are you when you have dandruff and blemishes and all manner of bad breath.

Blessed are those who have no fashion sense.

Blessed are the uncoordinated.

Blessed are the middle-managers.

Blessed are the wrinkled.

Blessed are the anxious.

Blessed are the unemployed.

Blessed are the homeless.

Blessed are the “deplorables.”

Blessed are the drop-outs and the burn-outs and the left-outs.

Blessed are the chronically angry.

Blessed are the liberals.

Blessed are the sexually addicted and the sexually frustrated.

Blessed are the mentally ill.

Blessed are the HIV positive.

Blessed are the parents who failed.

Blessed are the children who ran away.

Blessed are the divorced.

Blessed are the barren.

Blessed are the pregnant out of wedlock.

Blessed are the failures.

Blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed…

Is this good news for anybody yet?

Here’s the Kingdom, now, available to you through Jesus to begin now and to know in its fullness one day and enjoy into eternity.

See, when Jesus began to form His community, it’s like there was a giant welcome mat out in front of Him. Everybody’s welcome, nobody’s perfect.

Anything’s possible with God.

Now, of course, lots of people rejected Jesus. But it was because they didn’t want His Kingdom. It was never because He gave them the subtle vibe that they really weren’t Kingdom material.

Because for Jesus everybody was Kingdom material: Everybody’s welcome, nobody’s perfect, anything’s possible.

I think in a lot of relationships I have a lot of moments in my life when I put up a “No Trespassing” sign where Jesus would roll out a welcome mat.

Not long ago, I met with a pastor and I began to speak ugly about another brother in Christ. I began to paint a picture of him to my friend in a way that made him look silly and shallow.

My wife was gone and I sent her a text: “I spoke ugly about a pastor to another pastor and feel horrible about it. I am an idiot. Please pray for me.”

She replied: “I know.”

I have been called to speak words like “apples of gold in settings of silver” and yet often I find myself speaking words that tear down rather than build up.

I have thoughts that cause me to blush in shame. I am in a perpetual state of repentance. I am daily, sometimes hourly in need of course correction because I fall so far short of the life I want to live for King Jesus.

Nobody needs the Kingdom more than me.

But you want to know who’s blessed?

Me.

I’m blessed. Not because I ever get it right or have anything together or am well-gifted, because Jesus came to me almost 50 years ago. I don’t know why. He just did.

You know who’s blessed?

You.

Not because you live in a well-managed.  Not because you’re well-off, well-fed, well-dressed, well-educated. Because, truth be known, underneath our nice well managed life we are a mess…a hot mess.

Oh, how I wish we could conjure the spirit of the late Brennan Manning. We need him now more than ever. As Manning reminded us in his final book,

Blessed is the…

The inmate who promised the parole board he’d be good, but he wasn’t…
The dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way…
The liar, the tramp, the thief; otherwise known as the pastor, speaker, and author…
The disciple whose cheese slid off the cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese ‘n’ crackers’…
The younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again…

The favor and flourishing of God has come to all of those who feel left out of the good life in this world.

That’s good news. The good news of the Kingdom. Are you in the Kingdom or are you trying to make it on your own

 

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Apples of Gold

I am writing two blogs at the same time about how a pastor should treat their church and how a church might treat her pastor. You read the other one by clicking here.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold, in settings of silver.  Proverbs 25:11

About twenty-five years ago I asked my wife if I was her favorite preacher. She didn’t even pause but said, “No, Andy is.”

Not long after that conversation I left ministry to work on a marriage that my distorted understanding of ministry had almost destroyed.

After several years of not standing behind a pulpit, I was invited to preach again. When the service was over, my wife leaned over to me and said that she had forgotten how good of a preacher I was and that she really enjoyed hearing me.

Not going to lie, tears came to my eyes.

Years later, Lynette and I heard a speaker talk about marriage and how men need to be respected for what they do. He said that much of their sense of worth is derived from how well they perform professionally. God’s design is that we strive for excellence in what we do to provide for our families.

Then he said something like, “Wives make sure you speak words of admiration to your man when he comes home. He needs to hear that you think what he does is wonderful. He needs to hear that you admire and respect him professionally. Never neglect this, ladies. I promise you there is an attractive person at work who is going to tell him. And if you haven’t said it and they won’t stop saying it, you increase your odds of losing him to her.”

I glanced over at my wife and noticed tears brimming in her eyes.  Later, after everyone had left, I asked her what moved her so much about that clip.  And she said something that was so insightful for both of us. She said, “For years people would tell you how good of a preacher you were, but you had such a big head in those days that I didn’t want to make your head grow even larger, so I never told you how good of a leader and preacher you were. I should have told you. Maybe it would have helped save us a lot of pain.”

My heart was pierced.

We both felt the weight of that insight. I felt it in the stupidity of falling for the devil’s bait, and she felt the weight of not satisfying my hunger for strange fruit.

Not too long ago I preached a sermon and when I was finished, and we were walking out of the building, my wife grabbed my lapel and pulled me close to her and said in a whisper for my ears only, “God told me something and I want to tell you.” She said, “That was the best sermon you’ve preached in years. I needed to learn about trusting God. It really helped me. Thank you.”

My wife has been listening to me preach since 1981 and the person who touches me the most with her words is Lynette Chambers. They are more valuable to me than gold.

Here is a ministry analogy. What if a church found a way to speak words and do deeds of respect and admiration for their pastor? What if the church decided deep down in her soul, down where the knobs are, that above all else she was going to communicate to her undershepherd that they were the apple of her eye?

Do your best to be sincere with your words of admiration. (Better to not say anything than to lie when a outreach plan is bad.) And if you struggle finding something to affirm in your pastor, keep looking and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you. If you still can’t find anything worthy of praise, go see a counselor. You have other problems.

Also, be very specific about what you admire. Just saying “nice meeting” or “good event” is pleasant but not as helpful as sharing where exactly God spoke to you through the meeting, for instance. And share the words as soon as you can.

Your pastor needs to know that you don’t worship them, but that they are valued.

One of the most discouraging things that happens to pastors is that they get delayed feedback on non-sermon aspects of ministry. In other words, every Sunday most pastors stand at the back of the church to say goodbye to folks. Where an awful lot of lying happens in church.

“Great sermon, pastor.”

You and I both know that we are doing well if we preach a good sermon once a month.

Let’s leave sermons aside for a moment and think about offering affirmation for longevity, prayers, faithfulness, gentleness, presence, or just the one-on-one impact that comes from a mentoring relationship. Its  been my experience that affirmation for these kinds of things happen when the parishioner is moving to another state. If they are doing something that is impacting you, tell them right away. Don’t delay.

One last quality that helps to Velcro your words to your pastor’s soul is when you personalize it.  Let me give you an example. The other day a man told me, “Pastor, I appreciate you challenging me. I see God working in and through you and that encourages me. As you can tell we sometime start at different places on an issue, but you are gracious and full of truth. Two things I hope to emulate one day.”

And, by the way, frequency of the affirmation is not as important as depth.

  • Sincere
  • Specific
  • Immediate
  • Personal

Church, I promise you no matter what others may say, the person a pastor wants to hear from the most is you. Your words are balm for our souls and they may just save you a ton of pain. There are no guarantees that words of admiration will protect your relationship with your pastor, but I can testify from experience that the absence of them weakens the bond.

Respect. You can’t give too much of it to the pastor God gave you. You might be surprised at how much love will flow your way when you tell your shepherd how much you admire them.

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The Priceless Bride

I am writing two blogs at the same time about how a pastor should treat their church and how the church might treat her pastor. You read the other one by clicking here.

…show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life… 1 Peter 3:8

What does it mean to honor someone? How do I honor you?

In ancient writings, something of honor was something of substance (literally, heavy), valuable, costly, even priceless. Homer said, “The greater the cost of the gift, the more the honor…”

Not only does it signify something or someone who is a priceless treasure, but it is also used for someone who occupies a highly respected position in our lives, someone high on our priority list.

Twenty-odd years ago, I was reading a book about relationships and it casually mentioned that if you want to know if your wife feels loved by you that you should ask her and if she feels safe or is upset enough to tell you the truth she will tell you.  It went on to say that it doesn’t matter how good a job you think you are doing in demonstrating love …it only matters how she feels.

So, I closed the book and looked across the way towards my wife of 16 years confident as a pastor and a marriage counselor that if anyone in the wide world felt love be someone it would be Lynette Jean Chambers, I asked “Nette, do you feel loved by me and if so in what ways?”

With no hesitation she put down a crosstitch needle and pattern she was working on, looked me in the eye like someone had just thrown a slow pitch over the plate. Like she had been waiting for 10 years for me to ask that question…she unflinchingly said…”NO!” and then went back to her stupid crosstich.

“What?” I stammered?  “Are you serious?”

She said, “It is true. There are any number of people that are loved more by you than me.”

I was gut-punched. My fantasy bubble of being a good lover had gone down like the Hindenburg.  And it started me on a long journey to change the way I treated my wife, the bride of my youth. I would not fear asking that question today.

Understanding that the most important human covenant relationship I have is with the bride of my youth, may I draw an analogy from this relationship as it relates to ministry? The longer I serve as a pastor the more I see resemblances between the relationship between a pastor and the church to be similar to the relationship between a husband and a wife.

They both have chosen one another in a loving and hopeful relationship. They both dream of a bright future together. I might imagine fruit of their covenant relationship populating another daughter church or individuals passing through the waters of baptism.

I wonder if, over time, a church can feel unloved by her pastor. I wonder if she can feel that other interests are more important to him than she is. I wonder if she can feel used or taken advantage of. I wonder if she can begin to believe that she exists to further the pastor’ career but not actually share in a life-giving and vital relationship in the community in which they both live.

If I were to ask my church if she felt loved by me, her pastor, what she might say? I wonder if she feels safe. I wonder if she feels valued. I wonder if she feels protected. I wonder if she feels respected.

  • How do I treat my church on an average day?
  • Am I using her to try to satisfy some spiritual pathology?
  • Do I honor and respect the bride of Christ?
  • How do I talk about her to other pastors?
  • Do I talk down to her?
  • Do I manipulate her?
  • Do I power up on her?
  • Do I hide from her?
  • Does she know that after my family she is my “top priority”?
  • Do I communicate this with both words and actions?

If you are a pastor, would you fear asking your church those questions?  If so, you can change that.  It won’t be easy or quick…but it is doable.

I realize that I am living in an age where pastors sell their souls for a bowl of success-porridge, and by doing so they sacrifice their families on the altar of that insecurity. But that is a perversion of God’s intent. If I love Jesus well, if I am at rest in my identity as the beloved of God, my wife will feel treasured and honored in proportion to my sense of that belovedness.

And so will Jesus’ wife.

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To Tell the Truth

“Men occasionally stumble on the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” – Winston Churchill

You can’t handle the truth! – Jack Nicholson

All character flaws involve self-deception. What’s sobering about this is self-deception is that it is going on inside you and me not just daily but virtually incessantly. Of course, we don’t even notice it. This is a big part of the dynamic of sin. We selectively forget about a vow, or value, or an ethic. We all have this part of our character we euphemistically call a blind spot. By definition we are each completely unaware of that area of our lives.

In order for those of us who are followers of Jesus to engage in sinful behavior we have to set aside conscious thoughts about God. We can’t adore Jesus and participate in sin at the same time. So, we temporarily forget God.

I love what writer Neal Plantinga says,

“I go hours, days, weeks at a time and never really think about Him; never really turn my heart and will over to Him; never seriously attend to Him; never bring Him in sustained focus to my mind. The thought that by doing this I am wounding the One who loves me, the thought that I am entangled more and more in the sin that brought Jesus to the cross, that thought becomes bearable and then routine. Eventually I find God doesn’t seem very real. I find myself not praying all that much. The less I pray, the less real God seems. I forget God. I forget sin.”

How did David forget that he slept with Bathsheba and killed her husband? How do preachers forget their own sexual sin while preaching God’s judgment with such vitriol? How does a billionaire extol philanthropy and preach business ethics while ripping off a whole nation in a giant Ponzi scheme?

Well, they just do what you and I do all the time every day, around sexuality, gossip, judgmentalism, racism, vindictiveness, and envy. We just forget. We just block who we are and what we’ve done out of sustained consciousness for extended periods of time.

So, we need each other desperately. I desperately need you, and you desperately need me. I need the truth, but I need it spoken carefully to me.

I’ve had folks who have felt compelled to set me straight over the years as a pastor. They feel as if it is their calling in life to come into my office and fix me. I’ve had one deacon tell me that I was the most unmerciful pastor he had ever known.

Honestly, I have some people who actually speak truth into my life and do it so well that often I don’t realize what they are doing. They might take me to lunch, and we talk, then as I drive away I think, “Oh, I see what they did there.”

The best way for a community to do this is by invitation. I have some people in my life where I’ve said, “If you see anything in me anytime in anyway, call me on it.” (I don’t need any more at this time.)

How Do I Speak the Truth?

  1. Pray before, during, and after one says what must be said.
  2. Make sure God wants you to say anything at all.
  3. We should have a relationship with the person with whom we are going to talk.
  4. We should attempt to conduct the conversation either with the individual alone or with just a few people.
  5. What we say must be the truth.
  6. We must make sure we are speaking from an attitude of love.
  7. We must guide those to whom we speak back to God, and the Bible.

Trying to grow spiritually without hearing the truth about yourself from somebody else is like trying to do brain surgery on yourself without a mirror.

Sometimes truth-telling it is like time-release cold medicine that doesn’t take effect until we need it the most.

Back in the nineties I pastored a church in Denver. I was young and full of vim and vigor. I took quite a bit of pride in my ability to preach, lead, and grow a church. And by all accounts that was happening. But along the way I stepped on more than a few people in order to grow my church and make a name for myself and make myself feel good.

I had a member in that Church named Dr. Richard Beal. He taught theology at Denver Seminary and Colorado Christian University. I spent a lot of time with Dr. Beal so I could learn as much as I could from this seventy-six-year-old man.

Dr. Richard S. Beal (age 96)

A group in the church did not like some of the changes I had implemented and were starting to grumble. I got wind of it and preached a scathing sermon about it.

That same Sunday evening I was greeting people at Church when Dr. Beal pulled me aside, shook my hand, and said, “Pastor, I just wanted to say to you that I know you weren’t speaking directly to me this morning in your sermon, because I support you and many of the changes you are trying to do, but I want you to know that you hurt my heart with your sermon. It seemed as if your sermon came from a place other than love for your people. You are better than that, pastor.”

I began to pull my hand out of his, but he would not let me go. That’s when I noticed the tears in his eyes.

…speaking the truth in love, we must grow up… –Saint Paul

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