- 2017Mar 13
One of the strangest, most unfortunate aspects of the modern church is often found in the expectation of what happens in the pulpit from those who sit in the pews (or chairs). Somewhere before I was saved, it must have begun it’s slow creep into local churches. I’ve been a Christian for more than two decades, and I have watched this nasty little element grow to startling proportions. I’ve encountered it in my own ministry from both those who were members of the church where I server as pastor, and from those who tune in and watch our services via our media streams. I’m not annoyed by it, nor am I intimidated by it. Frankly, I’m bewildered by it, and disappointed that so many people parrot it, and that so many pastors cave in to it. I’m writing today about this silly pressure on preachers to make people feel good about themselves at any cost. Pastors are now expected to churn out an endless spate of optimists from the ministries entrusted to them. The regular cry to the pastor sounds like, “Hey preacher, keep it sweet, keep it short and keep on smiling.”
“And they were seeking to arrest Him but feared the people, for they perceived that He had told the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.” – Mark 12:12
Look at our Savior, friends, as He operates as the preacher. He’s initiating a visible ministry among the people that is aimed toward overhauling their temporary kingdoms for His eternal one. The clock is ticking, and Jesus only has three years of ministry opportunity to enlist as many followers as possible to make His vision a reality, right? Should He not be careful to avoid upsetting key people, so as to not offend them and drive them away? In Mark 12 the Master is speaking to highly influential listeners with PhD’s in religious affairs, and who hold recognized clout in the community – wouldn’t it be prudent for Him to use a soft-touch approach in this setting? Clearly, Jesus never benefited from our modern-day church growth material, because He does not follow the pattern that has been established for churches of the 21st century. His message in Mark 12 was creative in that it utilized a parable, but I suppose that Jesus just wasn’t subtle enough for the tastes of those gathered to listen. As a matter of fact, both He and His audience knew that He aimed the sermon at some of the very people that were gathered there that day. Not only did the Lord refrain from the temptation to make people feel great about themselves, He actually targeted some of them, intentionally challenged them, and then dumped the whole parable right on their heads without regard to their desire to leave that day feeling special. Jesus Christ had the audacity to unapologetically confront the carnality, pride, self-deception, hypocrisy and sinfulness of those who felt that they had graced His ministry with their presence that day. Look at the undesirable results of His sermon: they knew He preached the message at them, they walked away from Him angry and indignant, and then they planned to arrest Him. Is this a valid approach to a public teaching ministry?
A word to those who have pastors: God expects that pastor to regularly challenge you. Your pastor is obligated to confront you. God has commissioned him at times to lovingly reprove you and boldly rebuke you as he teaches you God’s truth. If he is always pleasant, rarely confrontational or never makes you uncomfortable, then he is in danger of being disqualified by God from his office. Unless you are without sin, then you should occasionally feel like your pastor has gone to meddling in your life when he preaches. There should be no reasonable expectation for him to always make you feel great about yourself. Hopefully, your pastor will be kind, but that does not mean He will always be accomodating. God doesn’t hold him to that unbiblical standard. Reverend Reallynice, Bishop Blessyoualways and Pastor Preciouspants are a figment of the modern church’s imagination. It’s time we wake up from the bad dream.
A word to those who are pastors: Love that flock that God has temporarily entrusted to your care. Give them valid encouragement as often as it is profitable to them. Affirm them as God affirms His children when they do well in His sight. The world tears down those who come to hear you preach, so your ministry should contain opportunities for intentional and genuine encouragement. But NEVER flatter them. Do not tell them all is well when all is certainly not. Address sin and the need to press more deeply into Christ. Leave no room for being vague when God has called pastors to be precise. Don’t let the butter-lipped, soft-touch approach to pastoring become the template for you, and do not adjust your biblical approach when people walk away angry or misunderstanding you. They did it to the Master because He left no doubts in their minds that He was confronting them about their lives. If your motivation is that the people you shepherd would be provoked unto love and good works, then your confrontation is an act of courageous love, not heartless malice. The cultural pressure is on you, preacher, to dumb down your messages, and I project that this presumption in our churches is only going to become increasingly more difficult for us. Tell God’s people the truth. Don’t lie to them via fearful silence. Rest in God’s sovereign care and usage of you, and speak the whole counsel of God. If you don’t feel you can do that, then get yourself out of the pastorate immediately, because you are hazarding the lives of people for whom Christ died. You will make a difference in the lives of the humble and willing and, should you stop being lovingly bold in your pulpit, it is the humble and willing who will walk away to find a shepherd who loves them enough to continue to tell them the truth. Somebody is likely to eventually get discouraged because you shared words which, in their minds, cornered them. I promise you that they will walk away from your ministry. Would it not be better for the pastor to see those who have no appetite for Truth abandon ship, than for the pastor to witness the departure of brokenhearted people who desired a man of God to lead them… but instead found a people-pleasing impostor?
Whether we are among the pastors or among the people, we have some constant choices to make in our churches. May God grant both the pulpit and the pew to be occupied by people with appetites for Truth and the clear communication of it.
- 2017Mar 01
There are days in life when you arise to find the surprising pleasure that nothing is troubling you. For me, those days are the exception rather than the rule, but I will take as many of those easy mornings as God chooses to give. Confession time: I like my life over-easy, my challenges well-done, and my final results with no burnt edges… all washed down with a warm, comforting cup of “Jeff’s-way” before I get to the business of living out the next twenty-four hours. If you are honest, you will admit that you prefer things to go your way also and, given the option, you would likely spend the rest of your days in the absence of drama, discouragement and dilemma. Yet Father knows best, and He typically ensures that each day’s pathway has just enough obstacles so that you will continue to look to Him to show you the direction which leads to His very best for you. I learned something recently from listening to the Psalmist’s plea:
“Gladden the soul of your servant, for to You, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon You. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon You, for You answer me.” – Psalm 86:4-7
Let’s do a little math: 4 sentences; 3 requests; 3 mentions of the Lord by name; 5 mentions of the Lord by the word ‘You’…and only 1 mention of the day of his trouble. I believe this to be a healthy ratio of what can be said to God during days of my own difficulty. The Psalmist is praying to God and preaching to himself all at the same time. His primary focus is not his own trouble, whatever that trouble might have been. He is not looking at God through the lens of His problems (which can make God appear small to us). The Psalmist swapped lenses in order to retain his focus. He was sizing up his personal difficulty in view of the greatness of His God. As a result there are a combined total of eight references to God, and only one reference to the Psalmist’s challenging situation. Do we pray with that same ratio these days?
Not to self: God is immeasurably larger than anything happening to me, the feelings associated with my trouble and the prospect of the trouble lasting longer than the opportunity for me to encounter relief. God is not uninformed, unmoved, uninvolved or unfeeling. He’s standing still so I can sense Him quickly, if I’ll only simmer down and adjust my prayer ratio from 600:1 in favor of my problem, to something more appropriate for a redeemed child of the King. Read the specific words of the Psalmist when he requests for God to “listen to my plea for grace”. I absolutely cherish that little prayer because it swallows up the smaller prayers that we are so very tempted to pray in times of tedious trouble. A plea for grace will accomplish so much more than stand-alone prayers like:
“Lord please help me pay my bills….Lord, please change my spouse…Lord, please help me get more than a 81 on my final exam so I can pass the class…Lord, please take away the pain in my hands…Lord, please remove my emotional blues..Lord, please make my enemy over there vaporize into a pink mist…”
In an assertion of trust which seems to acknowledge an awareness that he may not have known the best thing to ask, the Psalmist humbly prays, “You, O Lord…You, O Lord…You…O Lord…listen to my plea for grace…I call upon You, for You answer me.”
It is not most important to remember what to pray, but to remember to Whom you pray. When you remember Him and let your desperation flow, resting in a requested grace, you will find something more precious than His hand moving on your behalf. We will only see that clearly when we take off the short-shot lens, put the wide-angle lens over our minds and hearts, focus on the throne of the Trustworthy One, and push the button of faith in the moment of prayer. After the shutter clicks, and when that moment develops, you will find the face of God smiling on you, His beloved child.
- 2017Feb 22
September 20, 2005
It has been a long journey together, but today I need to let you know that I have finally decided to leave you for good. You may be surprised by what seems like a sudden decision on my part but, if you will search your heart, you will have to confess that you likely saw this coming. Although you know me so well, I feel compelled to walk away from you forever today. We both know that most breakups occur with the one leaving saying something like, “It’s not you. It’s me.” That is not the case with us. It's you. That is right, Religion, this is 100% on you. I have experienced enough of your ways to finally conclude that you are beneath me. Religion, please believe me when I say that you are not worthy of my time and devotion. I cannot spend another day in a relationship with you. Not only do I no longer find you attractive, I have met Someone else. You used to pretend like you were Him, and you had me fooled in earlier years after I ignorantly gave myself to you. Things are different now because He has called me to make a choice between you and Him. My decision has been made and I am making it official today: I am breaking up with you and fully devoting myself to Jesus. He's awesome.
Religion, you used to make me feel secure. You were a whole lot better than the one I was with before I met you, that's for sure. Rebellion was a terrible partner, and I really do appreciate the fact that you were there for me when Rebellion and I could no longer walk together. You seemed safe when I knew that Rebellion had put a hit out on me. He would have killed me if I had not learned of you. I owed you something for that, I suppose, but I have far surpassed paying off that debt. If I am being honest, Religion, you were initially attractive to me too. And all the discipline you brought to my crazy life back then! I guess I should thank you for that too. In reality though, I ran to you on the rebound after Rebellion and I reached our end. You took me in and made me feel like I belonged somewhere. But then you started utilizing guilt to control me. You misrepresented God to me. You really knew how to twist the Bible to get what you always wanted out of me. I never felt like I measured up to your expectations and, frankly, it was exhausting trying to make you happy, Religion. I poured everything out that I could offer but, when I went to bed at night, I always felt like I needed to be and do more satisfy your demands. Religion, please don’t take this too personally, but I found myself no longer attracted to you a long time ago. Don’t get me wrong, you always looked immaculate on the outside but, honestly, there wasn’t much to you beyond what we saw externally. You have no joy, Religion. You don't know how to love either. It was weird that you had all that control and authority, but I finally realized that you have no real power outside of manipulation. I needed help on my inside and you just don’t have what it takes. I lost my true self in you for a while, Religion, and you didn’t care.
When I was at my lowest with you, that is when I met Him. Jesus came and spoke to me with understanding, compassion and hope. He won me on, like, the very first day. I knew He loved me like nobody else ever could. But I also knew that I could not be fully His until I decided what I would do about you. He does not share those whom He loves with anyone else. He's humble, but He calls me to undivided devotion. What would people say if I left you? Would I lose the friends that we had in common? Would you talk badly about me, Religion, if I mustered up the courage to leave you? Jesus kept showing up and making Himself irresistible to me. Really, Religion, if anyone is to blame for ending our relationship, it is Jesus. You may need to take it up with Him because I have fully committed to Him now. He is very tender but is also amazingly strong. He tells me that I can’t flirt with you ever again, Religion. He tells me that you have actually seduced so many others that He views you as a true enemy to His Kingdom and glory. He called you a prostitute - I did not know He would talk like that, but He is no softy for sure. Religion, you may not know this but Jesus does not like you at all. He told me that His enemy, Satan, is actually very good friends with you! How did I miss that during all the years you and I were together? When I really understood that fact, I knew I had to leave you. I do not make any apologies to you, Religion. You are a deceiver. You are a controller. Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit, but you are the offspring of the Devil and human reasoning. I will not marry into your family! As a matter of fact, when I see you courting other people, seducing them like you did me, I plan to expose you to them. Do not ask me, “Can’t we still be friends?” The answer is a big, fat “There is no way in Heaven that I will be your friend again!” You need to hear this from me, Religion: We. Are. Finished.
I will be with Jesus from now on. He has already pledged Himself to me and, frankly, I have been cheating on you with Him for a while. I am not proud for straddling the fence on this decision for so long, going back and forth between you two. It makes me feel like a fool even thinking about how I vacillated when His offer was so pure and good. I should have run away from you and into His arms a long time ago. I am just now, today, finally able to take courage and say that I am leaving you for good and going to be with Him forever. It may sound scandalous to you because you think I owe you something. I do not. I do owe Jesus everything but, surprisingly, He makes it seem like our relationship is all about what He has done for me, and what He wants to do in the future. His kindness and mercy and grace and love make it so easy for me to give myself fully to Him. He has never made me feel unworthy or ashamed. I always felt those things when I was with you.
So, I hope you will understand the finality of what I have written. You and I are forever done, Religion. Please do not come knocking or calling. Don’t text me or message me online. Jesus taught me your scent, so I will sniff you out before you get to me again. I will be alerting others to your fragrance too. In spite of my efforts, I am sure you will continue to have plenty of willing people to satisfy your need to shame and control. You just need to go ahead and take my name off your list.
I have found my true Love, and today’s decision to leave you and follow Him is ridiculously easy.
Dogmatically and sincerely,