Something remarkable happened this last Sunday. But before I get to that, we need to talk about the past a little. Background is important in stories.
As many of you know (or don’t) I was the pastor of a small church here in Nashville for the last year. We were around 40, give or take a few and depending on the Sunday. It was also a congregation in need of some change. I came in as their pastor knowing that. So, during the push for change, God granted a vision of what we could be. I could see it as clear as I see this computer screen I’m looking at right now.
The vision caused conflict and exposed sin. On both sides of the issue, mine included. I really hadn’t seen this until the last three days. Up until this point, I had placed the lion’s share of the blame for the church falling apart on the members. In my heart, I blamed them for not submitting to their pastor and following the vision I believed God had for the church. For the record, I still believe in that vision. I still believe that is what God truly wanted for this church.
But I got in the way.
Let’s go back for a second to something I said in the beginning. Actually it was a word I used. The word: Push.
I’m kind of a bull in a china shop for the most part. When I see something, I go for it. I’m all in, all gas pedal all the time. My wife continually tells me to slow down. There have been times (maybe like once) that I’ve listened to her. But if I’m being honest, it’s rare that I heed counsel like that. It’s not because I’m trying to be a jerk. I believe in the rightness of what I’m trying to do. Leaders should be that way, right? Convinced of the vision and passionate to see it come to fruition.
But then I read the gospels. I’m in the gospel of Matthew right now and moving really slowly and I’m struck by Jesus.
His temperament, his care, his pace, his patience with his knucklehead disciples, his tenderness toward the hurting, his shepherding of the people, his harsh words for those who thought they had stuff figured out, his humility.
And I realize that I don’t, for the most part, possess most of these traits. My temperament has been sketchy at times, my pace frenetic, my patience lacking, lacking tenderness and kindness at times and above all, lacking humility.
I am struck by Jesus and my desperate need for him.
I’m reading Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Church, right now. I read a chapter this morning that just owned me. In this chapter, Chan talks about those who are pastors and what they should be like and he said something that just crushed me.
“It is very easy to see people as projects that you want to fix rather than children you deeply love.”
When I read this sentence, the Holy Spirit just absolutely thumped me. Like when you get kicked in the head thumped. I was overwhelmed with conviction.
My pride had done this. I had seen the brothers and sisters of this church as projects to be fixed rather than children to be loved. Oh the devastation that our sin brings, that my pride and impatience has brought!
Which brings me back to Sunday. My family and I have been visiting churches, looking for a home since our church stopped meeting together. This last Sunday we went to a local Anglican church to worship. When we walked in to the sanctuary, there sat three of the families from our former church. It instantly felt weird and tight and tense. We even sat next to them, which was doubly weird and a little painful.
It came time to take the Supper. As my family and I were walking forward, I felt an arm go around my shoulders and looked up to see one of the guys who had been an elder. He asked to speak with me before we took the Supper. He confessed to me his own bitterness toward me and asked my forgiveness. Of course, I forgave him. Then he asked, “May I take the Supper with you?” I was struck by the humility of that. He asked if he could receive the Supper with me. We knelt at the altar and he put his arm around me. The priest came to both of us with a smile on his face, put the bread in our hands and said, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.” Arm in arm, we ate the bread in silence. Then the cup, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness of sin.” And we drank. As we were walking back to our seats, my brother said to me, “This is my favorite Lord’s Supper ever.”
And I was struck by something. It was sin that had led us to our division. Sure, I had been sinned against and wronged but I had sinned and done wrong. I had been prideful, looking at my fellow believers as projects rather than children. I had been hurtful in my pushing for change. I had not cared for them as a pastor should. This brother had shown much more humility in that moment, much more kindness than I had shown.
And I learned something about the grace of God.
Coming to the Table with those how have wronged you or those whom you have wronged is at once both painful and healing. Jesus’ body was broken, his blood poured out for their sin against you and your sin against them. His wounds have healed us, even from our own divisions…if we will but trust in him. If this is where you are today, I beg of you to turn to his mercy.
The remarkable thing is that Jesus has invited those of us who have wounded him to his Table. This is the staggering, unbelievable beauty of God’s grace; that those of us who have hammered the nails and betrayed him by our pride and sin have been invited to feast on the very One we have crucified. Oh what joy is ours in Christ Jesus!
Come behold the wondrous mystery of Christ our King, crucified for our sin, raised to life so that we may know the love of the Father!
Soli Deo Gloria!
There are some things we’ve been spending a lot of time with recently in my home. In the last eight weeks, our whole lives have been entirely up-ended, turned upside down, wrung out, crushed and left alone. It has felt like being left alone to drown in a pool of your own blood.
I’m not being dramatic about that. This has felt like we’ve been gutted and left for dead. I refuse to pretty this up and smooth it over. What has occurred in our lives as a family has been utterly devastating. We have suffered emotionally, physically and spiritually. And that suffering has come at the hands of people who claim to follow Jesus, religious people.
There’s a thing about pain that you may not know that I’m learning. I mean, I kind of knew this before. It’s not like this is the first time in my life I’ve experienced pain. But what pain and loss and betrayal and abandonment have taught me is that it changes you.
When you sit in the pain, it changes you.
It changes how you sleep, how you get out of bed, how you relate to your spouse and your children, how you feel about yourself…and the list goes on. Pain is foggy. What I mean by that is that it confuses things. You can’t see clearly, think clearly. It’s hard to have clarity and focus when the waves of pain seem to crash over you endlessly. When this is what’s going on in your life and those waves are crashing over you, it feels like it’s always high tide.
When you sit in the pain, it changes you.
We’ve been seeing a counselor recently. I remember the days when I used to think that people who went to counseling were weak or soft or whatever. Now, I’m of the firm opinion that counseling is so beneficial in some situations that you’re a fool if you don’t find someone who can give you a listening ear and give good, godly counsel. So I’m not ashamed to say we’ve been seeing a counselor.
In one of our sessions something came up that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. I remember saying to the counselor something like, “They say time heals all wounds.” He laughed and said, “That’s bullshit.”
And I was so grateful to him for saying that. ‘Cause that’s what I was thinking. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. You just get used to living with it. Then he started talking about Jesus. And something stuck in my heart and now I wanna talk about it with you.
In John’s gospel, in chapter 20, we find a remarkable story. Verses 19-29 contain this story. I won’t quote the whole thing here; go read it for yourself. Do that right now, go read John 20:19-29. Look at verse 20 for a second. Now read verses 24-27.
Let’s talk about this for a minute. Our counselor brought this out a bit when he said that if he had been Jesus, he’d have been resurrected with a perfect body. No nail holes or a giant gaping hole in his side.
But that’s exactly how Jesus was known to his disciples. They knew he had really been raised because he was standing there right in front of them with holes in his hands, feet and side. Can you imagine this for a second?! Surely they thought they were seeing a ghost. But no, Jesus was like, “Nope, I’m really real guys. Thomas, put your finger through this hole in my hand. Stick your hand in my side. It’s really me.”
Do you think Thomas had the stones to actually stick his finger into Jesus’ hands and sides? I’m not sure if I’d have wanted to hug Jesus or run away. So what?
Here’s my point. Jesus has scars. He still carries the marks of betrayal and beating and arrest and execution, all at the hands and the will of the religious people of the day. Why? Why would Jesus still have holes in him?
Because his scars matter.
Your scars matter.
My scars matter.
Our scars matter because they draw us closer to Jesus. In his scars we see that all our suffering and all our pain matters to Jesus. He has been there. He has gone before us. His scars show the depth of his love for us. Don’t hide your scars, brothers and sisters. He can redeem those and use them for your good and his glory if you’ll let him.
Don’t hide your scars, brothers and sisters. They make you look like Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!