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!
I’ve been dealing with some things recently. Maybe you’ve had this happen to you. Here’s what “this” is:
I’ve been dealing with a lot of frustration and discontent over the last several months. Really over the last year. Recently I’ve begun to ask God to show me what was going on in my heart and why I was dealing with all this stuff.
You gotta be careful what you ask God for in prayer. When you ask Him to reveal to you what’s going on in your heart, that may very well be the most painful thing you could ever ask for. When I asked God to show me what was going on in my heart. He was gracious enough in His love to do that.
And it has not been pretty. My heart is a dark chasm of idolatry and self. Actually, let me put it this way. I have made self my idol. It has taken on many forms but at the bottom of this deep darkness is self. My very identity has been taken over by self rather than Christ.
And then, of course, I also asked God to take away from me the things that were keeping me from a closer walk with Him.
Can I just tell you that you better be sure about that prayer before you pray it?! I think too often we pay lip service to being pruned and made into His image. Truth is, pruning usually hurts.
Let’s start with fitness. Anyone who knows my life and me over the last 8-9 years knows I’ve been all up in the fitness world. I drank the CrossFit Kool-Aid in 2009 and never looked back. I competed in 2010-2011 and even reached the pinnacle of Regionals in 2011. 2012-2015 I owned an affiliate and did some local competitions. I now work for Iron Tribe Fitness in Birmingham, AL.
A huge part of my identity has been tied up in being the fittest guy in the room for quite awhile. Now, in fairness, I’m not the fittest guy in the room in some rooms but in others I am. Heck, my wife and I met at a CrossFit gym in Noblesville, Indiana. Intensity is my middle name. Get the picture?
Over the last several months, things have changed. I was recently diagnosed with ulcers and told, not to stop working out, but to take it a bit easier in life in general. During this time, I have seen a dramatic drop in strength (for me at least) and then 2 weeks ago, I injured my shoulder again.
My doctor said to me this week, “Listen, I think at some point you have to accept the fact that you are getting older and there are some things that maybe you need to think about. Like risk and reward kind of thinking. Sure, you can keep pushing the levels but at what cost?”
I had to take a step back mentally and ask myself some hard questions. I don’t have to stop working out but I need to be a little smarter about the volume at which I train. I mean, let’s be real, I’m not a competitive athlete anymore. And that’s when it hit me.
If I’m not training and performing at that level, who am I? I had a real struggle of identity for a minute…actually for a few days.
Let me bring it a little closer. I left my law enforcement career to follow what my wife and I truly believed was the call of God to go into vocational ministry. We sacrificed a lot to go to seminary. Then we became real super Christians and went into church planting, following what we believed and our elders confirmed was a legitimate call on our lives.
And things fell apart. Went down in flames. And we were left holding the pieces and burnt ashes of dreams that got torn down and burnt up. And it hurt a lot. But we moved on.
Or so I thought.
We prayed for God’s provision and He provided the job I now have. We are close to my family for the first time in many years and part of a really good church here. Things are seemingly beginning to settle down for us.
So why am I still struggling with these issues of self worth and identity? This last Sunday our pastor preached on the High Priestly prayer from John 17 (we’re in a series in John). The pastor talked about how we are in Christ and about our identity. I don’t remember the exact words the pastor used but he said something along the lines of identity and being in Christ and our identity being found in Him alone and man, the Spirit pricked me. It was like He said, “Your identity is found in everything around me but not me.” That hurt.
Then yesterday I was having a conversation with a pastor friend of mine in Indy and he talked about how gracious God has been to me in this time; by giving me a job that has provided for my family financially, by allowing us to live closer to my parents in the their retirement, by blessing us with yet another healthy child…and I was pricked again by the Spirit. It was like He said, “See, I have been gracious to you. Am I not enough?”
Then I read an article yesterday by Jared Wilson in which he talked about leaving ministry and the idolatry that being in ministry had been for him. Jared made the statement that along the lines of ‘if God takes something away from you and it causes an identity crisis, it’s an idol.’ And it hit me like a truck.
My idol was me and my desires.
Sure, they were good desires. It is a good and Christ honoring thing to plant churches and preach the Word and share the gospel with others.
Unless it becomes an idol.
At the heart of our deepest desire, if we’re not careful, we find idolatry. If our deepest desire isn’t Christ and who He is, then our desire is not for him but for ourselves.
I had taken a very good desire to serve Christ and His Church and, in my flesh, twisted it into my own identity. Who was I without being a pastor and church planter? Who was I if I wasn’t doing what I believed God called me to?
But then the Spirit comes, reminding me that my very identity is Christ. My existence is now Christ and Him crucified.
I find myself comforted by the fact that many of the heroes of the Bible were idolatrous in some way. Yet God used them. Why? Why would God use idolatrous and sinful people?
Because they’re not the point. I’m not the point. You’re not the point. The goal is not to be the savior but to model the Saviour.
Christ is the point.
God used all those idolatrous and sinful people and He still uses sinful and idolatrous people like me because Christ is the point. He gets the glory.
And how does He work for His glory and my good? By conforming me to His image (see Romans 8:29).
And what is His image, what are we to be like?
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6
Taking on the form of a servant.
If Jesus’ identity is found in who the Father says He is, how much more is my identity found in who the Father says I am.
He calls me son.
That is enough.
Soli Deo Gloria!