Friday, October 9, 2009
During these four years of pastoring, I've come to realize that many Christians (myself included) have ignored vast sections of Jesus' teaching and example from the gospels and have created a Jesus that fits comfortably into their particular paradigm. To put it another way, there are a lot of false Jesus's floating out there; the Jesus of the religious right, the Jesus of politial ideologies, the Jesus of American patriotism, the Jesus of economic prosperity, the "Jesus of Suburbia (to quote Green Day) and many other false Jesus's.
Leading a pre-Christian to Jesus and then discipling that new Christian is an exhuasting and rewarding work. Trying to lead an established Christian to Jesus however, is a serious threat to one's personal well-being and vocational comfort. For a well-meaning Christian to leave behind a false Jesus to which they've held onto for years and turn to the Jesus of scripture is a drastic and rarely seen conversion. Difficult personal experiences over the past couple years have taught me that most established Christians don't take too kindly to having their false views of Jesus challenged; personal attacks, sleepless nights, tears of anguish, broken relationships and various other unfortunate circumstances have resulted from being faithful to this burning desire to lead Christians to Jesus.
But when the conversion happens - it makes all that other stuff worth it!
For an example, check out the email conversation I had last week with a guy from nearby conversation, with whom I've been friends for years and has an almost identical background as myself.
Hey brother, I just listenend to your Politics sermon from a year ago. Very, very nicely done. This has been an issue that I have just recently been delivered from, and I wish there were more people that believed like you and could deliver a message like this. Nice job (a little late).
Also, I'd like to get your perspective and thoughts on some issues that I'm dealing with at [my church], mostly pertaining to passion and outreach. Obviously these are things that Trinity does well, and I'd like to know what you think could be done. I would like to get your idea on how a large, prominent, comfortable, rich, white, Johnson County suburban, Nazarene church can become an outreach centered church.
I really want to include my responses, which share a lot of behind-the-scenes struggles, but I don't feel it's appropriate to share all of that.
Good stuff man. I appreciate your out of the box thinking and mentality towards this Christian contentment that the church finds itself in.
I got deep in trouble last year during election season as I would listen to the one-sided lineup all day of Chris Stigall, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage. I noticed myself becoming very angry as the day progressed. I would even come home and rant to Michelle about how I hated the greedy left, and how much I thought Obama was a dumb a**. Not cool. About a month ago, I made it out to your blog and saw that you were reccommending the Turning Jesus Over to Caesar podcast. As I read through your blog I honestly thought to myself, "Donnie must be a bleeding heart, liberal idiot that is way off track." (sorry) However, I did listen to the sermon with a very critical mind and finished with a very open minded broken spirit. I made the paradigm shift of realizing that first I am a citizen of the Kingdom of Christ and second I am a citizen of the USA, and that has made all of the difference. I basically have stopped fighting the politics war and focused my attention back on the eternal soul war. I feel very liberated.
Thanks for what you do for the kingdom. Keep it up.
Part of one of my responses:
Of course, you realize that your life just got more difficult. The right-winged politics you'll experience from some people at _____ Church will drive you crazy. And if people find out you don't believe that the Republican party is God's plan to "bring America back to God," you'll become a marked man. I suggest you keep these ideas to just a few close friends. Being set free from right-wing politics in most convservative churches is like converting to Christianity in a Muslim nation, very dangerous! I'm only half-way joking.
It's not about liberal or conservative, it's about Jesus and His Kingdom. If I were pastoring on the East coast, I'd probably have to tell my church that the Democratic party isn't God's party. Also, would you be okay if I shared your email on my blog? I'll write it in such a way that people won't know who I'm talking about. I'd like to share perspective, if you don't mind.
His final response
Yeah, you can share it. I'm still developing what exactly I believe, but I now see the world through a Kingdom view, rather than an American view. You are correct about being careful when sharing this idea. It's not something that I'm going to be bringing up at the next board meeting.
"I hope you will put up with a little more of my foolishness. Please bear with me. For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.3 But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed." - 2 Corinthians 11:1-4
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
And on the Love Wins front, we combined with Bonita's again last weekend to serve at My Father's House. We spent the morning helping organize the storage area of their thrift store. The service project was a great time, as was hanging out together at lunch afterwards.
My favorite part of the morning was the 'stump / shock the pastor' session while doing some work. I had some hard questions thrown at me as well as some "I shouldn't say that in front of a pastor," even though I don't care. In fact, in situations like that, I usually drop a profanity to let people know I'm a normal guy.
But what I think is really going on when people throw tough questions at me or take on a tough persona is the deeper question of "will you befriend and accept me for who I am." Or even deeper, "does God love and accept me just the way I am."
The answer to both questions is a solid "YES!"
But in no way was I prepared for "the agony of defeat." I wasn't ready to watch as people I'd baptized decided to return to a life of sin. I had no way of knowing that people I'd personally discipled would leave TFC to find a church where they could be "spiritually fed." How was I to know that I'd be capable of both leading someone to faith and then committing an unintentional and unperceived (to me) slight that so offended them they inexplicably cut off the relationship? I didn't know that the high of helping a person push through their personal barriers to faith would give way to the low of watching that person let up on their search. In the midst of the excitement in helping a marriage reconcile, I was unable to see the devestating divorce waiting in the future. And never, not even in my wildest dreams, (though I was warned by other pastors) could I have imagined the incredibly immature behavior to come from people who sincerely consider themselves mature Christians.
I just didn't see any of it coming. And it's taking a lot of work to learn how to sort through it all.
I guess this is just what it means to pastor a congregation. A friend of mine, who also started a new church, recently told me about how he'd experienced the thrill of baptizing his neighbors, only to experience the agony of seeing them divorce a year later. I now understand the ache in Paul's heart as he wrote these words to the church he planted in Corinth, "I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you." - 2 Corinthians 2:4
"Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?" - 2 Corinthians 11:28-29
Paul knew the pain of seeing people he loved make terrible choices and even turn away from Christ.
What did Paul do? Did the agony and frustration cause him quit proclaiming the gospel and to give up starting new churches? No. He was doggedly determined to do what he knew deep in his heart that God had called him to do. May I do the same. May I continue to proclaim Christ with boldness and love. May I lead with a soft heart and a thick skin.