Confessions of A Former Preacher

I am interested in your response to this quote from Dan Bouchelle.  Let me know what you think:

“…While I don’t fully understand my anger, here is my current best shot at explaining it. I am angry because I couldn’t force the church to live up to my image of what it should be even when they implemented most of the changes I wanted. I am angry because I thought I had a contract with God: if I did ministry the right way, he would make me feel successful and fulfilled. I am angry because I could not shake the feeling of failure when I was doing everything I knew to do and I could not get the church to post the measurables I needed to validate my ministry. I am angry because the church I was building was too much a figment of my imagination detached from sustainable reality. I loved the people in my church and I enjoyed ministry with them. But, as a congregation—which is an abstraction in many ways—I could not reconcile what was with what should be. I am angry because other preachers who used what I thought were inferior approaches to serve inferior visions saw their churches grow while mine was plateaued or declining. I am angry because I could not solve the problem of church, as if churches are problems to be solved instead of people to be loved and developed. I am angry because I looked to my ministry for self-validation instead of modeling self-denial. I am angry because I wasn’t willing to obey what I heard God calling me to do and trust the outcomes to him instead of expecting something specific in return.”

Have you experienced something similar in the congregation where you worship?  Are you experiencing something similar now?  If you are in leadership in the Church (minister, elder, ministry leader, etc.) is this something that you have experienced personally and have had to deal with?  You can read the entire post here:  http://danbouchelle.blogspot.com/2012/05/so-you-are-angry.html

 

Four Ways to Reinforce our Trust in God’s Love During Times of Doubt

There are times when we are tempted to doubt God’s Love for us.  Times of suffering, pain, and bereavement.  In those times with doubt in God’s love assaults faith, there are four ways we can strengthen our trust in God’s love.

First, remember what God did in the past.  

The Hebrews writer reminds us in Hebrews 1:1-2:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

God has spoken.  God interacts, God engages.  God is not a disinterested, distant, God who stands separate from His people.  When His people are hurting, there is a Word from God.  When there is conflict, there is a Word from God.  When your life falls apart, there is a Word from God.  Verse two of Hebrews chapter one tells us that God’s most powerful Word spoken is His Son Jesus Christ who is the Word Himself (see John 1).  God’s Word is God’s powerful presence in the times of trouble.

  • 1 Corinthian 15:3-4 tells us that the good news is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, He was buried and rose again three days later; all “according to the Scriptures.” 
  • Roman 5:8 tells us:
    “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Those two verses provide us with a thumbnail sketch of the Gospel.  Jesus Christ died for your sin and my sin, He rose again three days later, all this was done for the purpose of demonstrating God’s love for us.  Notice that Jesus did not die for righteous people, Jesus did not die for good people.  Jesus died for the ungodly, unrighteous, and unjust.  He did not die for those who had their act together.  Jesus died “while we were still sinners.”   

The first way we reinforce our trust in God’s love is remember what God has done in the past.

Second, focus on what God is going to do in the future.  God gave us through his servant John a glimpse of what the future looks like for God’s people in Revelation 21:1-4:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The future is rooted in what God is doing today as Jesus says in Revelation 21:5:

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

This world is in the process of transformation, Jesus is making everything new.  One day in the future, because the work of Jesus Christ there is going to be no more death, pain or mourning, God will dwell with His people, God will wipe every tear from the eye of His servants.  There is time coming, when pain, death and the consequences of death will be done once and for all.  These things that are such a part of this world will be a distant fading memory.  The suffering of this world is temporary and finite.  Life with God is eternal.

  • I look forward to a time when I do not have to deal with the pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
  • I look forward to a time when I no longer haver to offer a prayer of comfort for the dying and bereaved.
  • I look forward to a time when I no longer see and hear about, abused and hurting people.

We long for and pray for that time when the old order of things will pass away and we take comfort in the truth that those things will pass away.  While we wait, we strive to live our lives in such a way that people see a glimpse of what Eternal life is like.

The second way we reinforce our trust in God’s love is to focus on what God is going to do in the future.

The third way is we show love for Jesus by obedience. 

  • Some people obey God out of fear of consequence (I don’t want to go to Hell).
  • Some people obey God in order to get a reward.  (I want to go to Heaven).

In John 15:23-24 Jesus give us the main reason for obedience

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

Jesus gives us the only valid reason for obedience; Love for Jesus.  Jesus says if you love Me, you will practice what I teach,  If you don’t love Me, you wont practice what Jesus teaches.  It is as simple as that.

Jesus expounds on what it means to keep to His teaching in John 13:34:

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

That is how the follower of Jesus is to be known to the outside world.  Some of the most disappointing times in ministry come when people claim to love the Lord with all of their heart mind and soul, then treat those who Jesus loved and died for with contempt and hate.  Jesus says that His followers must love one another.  That means we overlook a slight, we forgive the unforgivable, we bear with each other’s foibles, and failings.  We encourage each other, as well as confront each other out of a life that is filled with love, like Jesus.

The fourth way we strengthen our trust in God’s love is to connect to Jesus promise of His abiding presence.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:20:

“…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I come from a tradition that participates in the The Lord’s Supper each time we gather for worship. The Lord’s supper is reminder of the four ways we strengthen our trust in God’s love.  There is a reason why the Lord’s Supper was central to worship in the early Church:

  • The Lord’s Supper reminds us that God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for our sin.
  • The Lord’s Supper reminds us of what God is going to do in the future.
  • The Lord’s Supper reminds us that just as Jesus loved us and laid down His life for us we ought to obey His teaching and in the same way love and lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • The Lord’s Supper is a visible reminder of Jesus presence with His people.

Let me remind you that when times of doubt in God’s love come to us:  God has displayed His love for His people in three ways:

God displays His love of His people in three ways:

  1. God indentifies Himself with His people.
  2. God Judges those who oppress His people.
  3. God’s vindicates His peoples trust in Him.

God’s people strengthen their trust in Him in four ways:

  1. Remember what God has done in the past.
  2. Focus on what God is going to do in the future.
  3. Obey out of Love for Jesus Christ.
  4. Connect to God’s promise of His Abiding presence.

May God Bless you.

Questions from a Wounded People: How has God Loved Us? Part 2

How does God Display His Love to His People? 

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”  (Malachi 1:2-3)

God displays His love of His people in three ways:

First God’s love is displayed in their identity as God’s People.  Some are chosen by God and some are not.  Jacob is loved and Esau is not.  God’s Love is remembered in the Exodus where God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, and rought them into and inheritance (promised land) flowing with milk and honey.  1 Peter 2:9 Peter declares to Christians both then and now that:

….you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Many miss that the Church now has the identity as the chosen people of God.  Corporately (together we have the identity of God’s people the Church “called out ones.”  Individually we have the identity as Sons and daughters of God, adopted into God’s family.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[b] 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.  Galatians 4:4-7

In the early Church there was a common practice of giving newly baptized converts milk and honey.  The milk and honey symbolized that they are now God’s people baptized into His family and have an inheritance that cannot spoil, perish or fade (1 Peter 1:4).

The second way God displays His love is by His Judgment on those who oppress His people.  Malachi 1:4 tells us:

Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”   But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord.

The Edomites who are the descendants of Esau took advantage of Israel’s weakness and joined with Babylon in warring against Israel.   God says Edom will be judged.  This promise goes back to God’s covenant with Abraham.  In Genesis 12:3 God promises Abraham:

I will bless those who bless you,  and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

The third way God displays His love to His people is by the vindication of His peoples trust in Him.   Malachi 1:5 tells us:

You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

God Keeps His promises to His people.  God says trust in me I will bring about what I have promised.  The greatest and best promise that God has made and kept is found in Genesis the second half of verse three in Genesis chapter twelve.

“and all peoples on earth  will be blessed through you.”

God tells Abraham that everyone, including you and I will be blessed by means of Abraham and his descendants.  This blessing finds it’s greatest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who brings forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  Romans 5:8 describes God’s love and vindication of His people like this:

 …God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  

How do we strengthen this knowledge in us and encourage this knowledge of God’s love in each other?  My next post:  “Four Ways to Reinforce Your Trust in God’s Love,” will give four very practical ways of reinforcing the knowledge of God’s love in our life.

Questions from a Wounded People: How Have You Loved Us? Part 1

How has God loved us?  Malachi 1:2

2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.  “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

Have you ever doubted God’s Love?

That is a startling question that is often asked.  We are perfectly fine with the God’s first statement, “I have loved you.”  Israel’s question to God is quite disturbing.  “How have you loved us?” takes us aback it knocks the wind out of us.  We think to ourselves: “How can Israel ask that question?”  The Israelites had returned from exile in foreign country but the Kingdom of Israel was not restored to its glory as in the days of David and Solomon, even though the prophets had foretold an everlasting Kingdom.  Things looked pretty bleak.

Those who returned from captivity were in a lot of trouble, they were taxed to point where some borrowed money or sold their children into slavery to pay their taxes (see Nehemiah 5).  They were in constant threat of violence from outsiders (Nehemiah 4).  It seemed that Israel did not lose faith entirely they began to look at the mounting evidence and they begin to sense that God has abandoned them, and the questions they ask display their inward belief that God does not love them.

So the question directed to God comes, “How have You loved us?”

There are two reasons why we need to hear this: 

1) We ask the same question of “God How have You loves Us.”   The question may take a different form, like “I don’t know why God is doing this” Or “God knows what He is doing.”  A challenging circumstance arises and we do not immediately see God’s presence or purpose, so doubts rise.  We do not entirely lose faith but faith becomes blunted and obscured.

2) We need to remember we too can doubt, we too can struggle with faith.  It is not wise to be arrogant and prideful.  Remember what Peter said at the last supper: “I will never deny you” and “I will die with you.”  But then later on that night Peter denied Jesus.

Years ago I had a friend who when something would go wrong would say “God Hates Me.”  He would lose his job, his car would breakdown, the woman he wanted to date would start dating another man and utterly convinced of God’s hate for him, he would say:  “See I told You so, God hates me!”  One time he was at my house making some food in the microwave, the timer dinged, he got up from his chair opened the microwave door reached down to a small refrigerator underneath the microwave to get a beverage, then as he stood up he bashed his head on the microwave door and everyone in the room in unison said what he was going to say; “see God hates you.”

Perhaps you are not as overt as my friend, but you have some doubts about God’s love.  You look at the circumstances of your life both past and present and wonder “How have You loved us?”   There is good news for you its coming stay tuned for the next post:  Three Ways God Displays His Love to His People. 

Questions from A Wounded People: The Book of Malachi

Everywhere I go I find wounded people or perhaps they find me I don’t know.  Perhaps you have had that same experience.  

  • There is is the barristia at Starbucks, who left the congregation where she worshipped, volunteered and gave to, because there was an issue between her daughter and the daughter of the pastor and the pastor refused to listen to her and blew her off.
  • There is the widower whose wife died after a long painful illness.  He pushes away the question of why, but the question refuses to leave, nagging him inopportune times.  Sometimes he cries, sometimes he explodes in anger.  Sometimes he drives for miles by himself, trying to put some distance between himself and his question.
  • There is the wife whose husband left her, and their children.  He abandoned them, and moved in with another woman.

There is pain, grief, the feeling of betrayal, and it is in us all.  With this pain, questions come.  Questions that are hard to live with because there seems to be no way to answer them.  Within each question is a longing for something that has been lost and seems unrecoverable.  These are Questions to God from Wounded People to the God of the universe.

In the Book of Malachi, God’s People Israel asked God a series of six questions and God through the prophet Malachi responds to them.

Here are the six questions:

  1. How have you loved us?  (Malachi 1:2-5)
  2. How did we insult You?  (Malachi 1:6-2:9)
  3. Why doesn’t God accept us?  (Malachi 2:10-16)
  4. How did we wear You out?  (Malachi 2:17-3:5)
  5. How did we Rob You?  (Malachi 3:6-12)
  6. What have we said?  (Malachi 3:13-4:6)

The Book of Malachi begins with these words:

“A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.”  (Malachi 1:1)

The prophecy from God came at a pivotal time in Israel’s history.  A small group of people had just returned to Jerusalem from captivity, by a foreign nation.  The national pride of Israel was at an all time low.  Things were bad and seemed to be getting worse.  Out of this pivotal time in comes the six questions directed toward God, from a broken, hurting people.

Perhaps you are in a similar place today.  Life has chewed you up and spit you out.  You are disoriented and feel lost.  My prayer is that you will enter into this study and find hope, just as the people of Israel found hope as God answered the deep questions born in their brokenness.  We are going to go through this book slow, take our time, because healing does not normally happen overnight but over time.  May God Bless you and encourage you.

How to Live Life Differently: Conclusion

Jesus describes the person who lives life differently in this world and thus is blessed by God in Matthew 5:3-11.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Many people want to blessed by God, but few are willing to pay the price of transforming their motivations, attitudes and lifestyle.  The path that world follows of is wide and easy.  The path of the world is wide because it has to be to accomodate the High volume of traffic.  The path that follows Jesus is narrow and few find it.

  • The many are too concerned about their self esteem to be poor in spirit and too concerned with the sin of others to mourn over their own sinful condition.  
  • The many are too proud to allow themselves to be directed by God and His Word.  
  • The many are too hungry for the good life, to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness.  
  • The many are too filled with contempt of others to live mercifully.  
  • The many are too invested being successful to live authentically.  
  • The many are to too busy building their resume to proclaim the peace that was made by Jesus shed blood on the cross.  
  • the many are too concerned for their personal rights, to live in such a way that would put their rights in jeopardy and risk being persecuted for following Jesus.

The price of living life differently is costly, but the reward is great.  So we must count the cost, and make our choice.  Understand that God’s eternal blessing hangs in the balance.

I have chosen.  What will you choose?

How to Live Life Differently: Accept That You May Be Persecuted

Finally Jesus comes to the last Beatitude.  Jesus says “Blessed are the persecuted.”  If you follow in the steps of Jesus seeking God’s blessing, you may endure the curses of those around you.  Their is a reason that Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:24

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Probably none of us in North America could claim to be really persecuted.  People might harass and cajole, but I don’t know of anyone who has been killed for their faith in Jesus in the United States in the last fifty years.  What I do know is that around the world there are thousands of people who every day get tortured, beaten, imprisoned and killed because they follow Jesus Christ.

There is my brother in Christ who lives in Southeast Asia, he has been in and out of reeducation camps off and on for the last 20 years, each time he is released he plants another church.  Each time he plants another Church he is put back in the re-education camp, where they torture him, then release him, and he plants another church.

There is my sister in Christ in North Africa who had her children taken from her and was then sold into slavery because she would not deny Jesus Christ.

There are sons and daughters of Christians who were slaughtered in Syria, just a few months ago because their parents were Followers of Jesus.

The followers of Jesus must be ready and willing to follow Jesus even if that means there is the possibility of persecution.  If we call Jesus Savior and Lord, we must accept that we like our savior and Lord may be persecuted.  In the face of persecution we must like Jesus, love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.

 

How to Live Life Differently: Be a Peacemaker

Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Most people cannot tell the difference between “peacekeeping” and “peacemaking.”  A peacemaker is someone who brings to differing sides together and and uncompromisingly seeks a solution that if beneficial for both sides.  A peacekeeper is someone who tries to appease both sides through compromise.  Peace making lasts.  Peace keeping does not last.  Instead of dealing with the problem or situation once and for, peacekeepers seek to “kick the can down the road,” and temporarily stop hostilities.  A peacemaker is interested in stopping hostilities once and for all-time.  Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers, not blessed are the peacekeepers.

A peacemaker is slow to speak and quick to listen, they possess a gentle spirit. They exemplify the fruit of the Spirit in their life.  A peacemaker has great discernment and wisdom.  A peacemaker walks into a room and it changes.

In Matthew 5:9 Jesus tells us that peacemakers will be called “son’s of God.”  They are called son’s of God because they follow in the footsteps of Jesus, The Son of God, who is described as a making peace through His shed blood in Colossians 1:19-20.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

Jesus did not merely keep peace, He made peace between God and His creation.   Those who proclaim the peace that Jesus made between God and His creation and call for a response to that peace, are called peacemakers after the ultimate peacemaker Jesus.

Phil Robertson in His Autobiography “Happy, Happy, Happy,” tells this story from his early days in the duck call business.  A man from Alabama called up and ordered some duck calls, all through the conversation  the man ordering the duck calls used “the Lord’s name in vain.”  After Phil took the order he said, let me ask you a question:  ”Why would you use the name of the only one who can save you from an eternity in hell like you are using it.”  There was silence.  Then the voice on the other end of the phone said, “do you have my order?”  ”Yup,” Robertson said.  Click.  A few minutes later the phone rang it was the man who ordered the duck calls.  ”I am sorry I have never thought of it like that,” the voice on the phone said.  Robertson replied, “I got an idea, you are in Alabama right?  Why don’t you load up your truck and come to Louisiana and I will tell you about the God whose name you cursed.”  ”I might just do that,” the voice on the phone said.  A few days later there was a knock on Phil Robertson’s door.  ”Do you know who I am?” the man asked.  ”You’re that man from Alabama come on in,” Phil said.  In his living room, Phil Robertson shared the story of Jesus who made peace between God and man through His shed blood on the cross.   The man from Alabama responded, professed his faith in Jesus Christ repented and was baptized in the river outside of Phil’s House.  That’s what it means to be a peacemaker.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called son’s of God.”

How to Live Life Differently: Be Pure in Heart

Jesus says if you are going to live a blessed life you must live differently then those around you. Part of being different is being Pure in heart”  Being pure in heart does not mean that you will never have an impure thought again in your life.  The word pure here is about being authentic, being real.  There are no ulterior motives.  You’re always real with God and others. You’re authentic.

Many people instead choose to live an “Eleanor Rigby” life.

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for                                                                                                                                                (from the song “Eleanor Rigby” from the album Revolver by The Beatles)

When I was in high school I could be whoever I needed to be, with whoever I was hanging out with at the time.  It was a survival skill really.  If I was with people and it behooved me to be good, I would be really good. If I was with another group of people other, I could be really, really bad (In fact some nicknamed me Satan).  I was not a person, I was a chameleon, a hypocrite, a man with a false face.  When I was about 22 years old I became exhausted with the hypocrisy, and I decided to take the false face off.

Jesus says “Blessed are the Pure in heart. for they will see God”  You live the blessed life when you’re real because, you can’t see God when you’re wearing a false face.   You are also blessed because you can never see the world in it’s beauty, and in it’s need, until the false face that obscures the real you and the real world comes off your face.  You can only be blessed and in turn bless others if you take the false face off.   Real people are few and far between.  Be real, make the choice to be pure in heart and you will see God.

Why I Still Preach

Awhile ago I was talking to a friend of mine who asked me a penetrating question.  ”Why do you still preach?”  I had just shared a situation in the Church I was currently serving that was volatile and unstable.  It is important for me to disclose that this person is a long time ministry veteran.

“They are going to blame you for the whole thing and as far as you have described it, you had nothing to do with it,” he said.  “You are probably right,” I sighed.  “I did my best to stop it before it got going, but now it is going like a freight train that has jumped it’s track.”  “Why do you still preach?” he asked again.

I didn’t have an answer then, now after much reflection, and searching I have an answer.

Some may think it is for the pay, but that is not it.  I made more money in the late 80’s and early 90‘s working in a Body Shop.  Actually I made close to what I make now delivering pizzas six nights a week, and that was a lot less stressful.  20 years after taking out my first student loan for my ministry education I am still paying them off.

There is a much deeper reason then the money.  The prophet Jeremiah preached for 40 years without any converts, he was attacked, and scorned for preaching.  In a weary voice he proclaimed in Jeremiah 20:8-9

“The Word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long

But if I say, “I will not mention his word

    or speak anymore in his name,”

his word is in my heart like a fire,

    a fire shut up in my bones.

I am weary of holding it in;

indeed, I cannot.”

There have been times in ministry where my feelings echo Jeremiah’s.  No, I have not been thrown into any cisterns lately (but I have been thrown under a few buses).

There is a prayer that I pray each time I preach, it mirrors Jeremiah’s weary voice from Jeremiah 20:9.  “Lord Your Word is in my heart like a fire and I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot.”  So I preach because I can’t do anything else but preach.