For Pastors & Normal People

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I became a Christian going into my Sophomore year of High School in 1973. For the first year of my new found faith I attended a United Methodist church. After that I eventually landed in a non-denominational church that was basically a Calvary Chapel church that had yet to call themselves a Calvary Chapel church. The Calvary pastors had, and still do have, a reputation for being great expository and book studies preachers. I would learn to become one myself because of listening to their founder, Chuck Smith, teach through the Bible on cassette. Those were the days of cassettes. You young’uns have no idea what I’m talking about.

Calvary Chapel churches taught a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. So…I believed in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. In fact, it would be years before I discovered that not everyone believed in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church, with the exception of those “liberal churches”, whom I was told didn’t believe in the Bible anyway so I didn’t need to pay any attention to them.

One day I was perusing the local Christian Book store and I found a book that laid out the four most common interpretations of the end-times. I never knew that there were intelligent, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving people that looked at the same scriptures I did but came to different conclusions!

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Now before you go any further, take a few seconds to stop and think. Identify an important theological position you hold that Bible-believing, Jesus-loving people can’t agree on. Wait for it, wait for it…got it? Okay, hold that thought.

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Have you ever noticed how often you hear some Christians or pastors say, “The Bible clearly teaches ___________?”

Now I happen to think that there are many things the Bible clearly teaches, but in regards to those important and controversial theological subjects that Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians disagree on, if the Bible was clear on those things, there wouldn’t be disagreement. Think about it, we owe the existence of denominations to the fact that the Bible isn’t always clear.

It all comes back to Biblical hermeneutics. We all believe in the same Bible, we all love Jesus, but we often look at the same passages of scripture and come to different interpretations.

Apparently the Bible isn’t clear about ___________.

It’s okay to say, “I think my interpretation makes more sense.”

It’s okay to say, “I’ve tried to objectively look at the different positions on this and my position is ____________.”

It’s okay to say, “The Bible seems clear to me about ______________, but some of my Bible-believing, Jesus-loving sisters and brother disagree with me.”

It’s okay to say, “I might be wrong about this…but I don’t think I am.”

It’s not okay to say, “The Bible is clear about _____________.”

It’s not okay to say, “Any Bible-believing Christian will agree with me.”

It’s not okay to say, “Bible-believing churches don’t believe _____________.”

The Bible is not always clear, and I’m comfortable with that. I hope you are as well.

Recently I watched the documentary Who Killed Malcolm X? on Netflix. I’ve always been fascinated by this man’s rise to prominence within the Nation of Islam and the controversy surrounding his assassination in 1965. While Malcolm was fighting against racism and the oppression of black people, another minister was engaged in the same fight, Martin Luther King Jr. King will be gunned down three years after Malcolm.

Both Malcolm and MLK were responding to the same thing, but there couldn’t have been a more different approach between the two of them.

“Dr. King wants the same thing I want. Freedom.” – Malcolm X

And then…

“We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.” – Malcolm X

And in the documentary I heard him say in a meeting, “If the white man kills us, we’re gonna kill him back.”

I hope this doesn’t shock you but I really can’t blame Malcolm for promoting this way of thinking. Black Americans were being killed, unjustly incarcerated and discriminated against. They still are. Now contrast this with MLK’s approach to the same problem:

“World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.”

And again,

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

And my point?

At any given time I have a choice to respond to those in the church (Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, sisters and brothers) that I disagree with over very important issues and theologies, with either violent words and actions or non-violent words and actions. I can choose the way of Malcolm or the way of MLK.

Think of how you act when you are on social media and come across something that you passionately disagree with. Your blood starts to boil. Witty and mean responses begin to travel from your brain, down your arm to your hands, poised ready to bang on your keyboard. At that moment you have a choice, will I respond like Malcolm or MLK.

Although I understand Malcolm, I want to be like MLK. I want to practice non-violence. Will you join me?

I’m sorry, but I’m going to bring up our dogs again. But first, a text exchange that occurred this morning between Ellen and me.

Me: What is the medicine we use on the dogs that they hate and try to spit out? And what is it for?

Ellen: Panacur. It’s a broad spectrum de-wormer. Why?

Me: I’m going to use it as an illustration for an article I’m writing for my blog.

Ellen: You just did a thing about the dogs…don’t do too much about the dogs.

Me: This would only be my second blog where I mentioned the dogs.

Ellen: Just my opinion, but I would not use them that often.

Me: Why?

Ellen: It’s a one-trick pony. Wait and use the illustration in the future. If two out of four mention the dogs, it sounds like you’re one of those pastors who only uses their kids, or their diet, or their workout for illustrations. Boring. 

I put down my phone and thought; Well, we don’t have kids in the house anymore, I don’t diet (which I should) and I don’t exercise (which I should) so all I have left are my dogs.

Sorry Honey, and I apologize to the rest of you and promise that I won’t bring up my dogs again until this time next year. 

Have you ever had a dog with worms? It’s not that uncommon but it is kind of gross. No…it’s gross. I hope I never get worms. Here’s how Ellen and I deal with this.

I sit on the floor and hold the dog. Ellen fills a syringe with the medicine and shoots it down the back of the dog’s throat. Immediately she holds the dog’s muzzle closed so they can’t spit it out. They almost always manage to spit (or spray) some of it out, usually on me. And while all this is happening Ellen always says to the poor pooch, 

“I’m sorry, I know, I know. It doesn’t taste very good does it?”

“The human beings around us are often the bottles that hold our spiritual medicine, but it is our Father’s hand of love that pours out the medicine. The human bottle is the ‘second cause’ and has no real agency in itself.  For the medicine these human bottles hold is prescribed for us and given to us by the Great Physician of our souls.” (Hannah W. Smith: The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life)

Is there someone who has wormed their way into your life?

Pause and think.

Is there a difficult person, someone overly critical of you, a church member or board member who seems to oppose every idea you come up with? Can you think of anyone who gossips about you or your spouse? Does a co-worker, boss, or someone in your family come to mind?

Do you have any worms? If not currently I bet you have had some in the past or will in the future.

Embedded in every worm is an opportunity for spiritual growth.

“Remember that He may use anyone at all, however unwitting they may be, to teach us and direct us on our way.” (Saint John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul)

I’m sure the Father stole this from Ellen but can you hear Him say, “I’m sorry, I know, I know. It doesn’t taste very good does it?”

Take your medicine. Don’t spit it out. It’ll be good for you.

Some Christians, and the Pastors who lead them, seem more attracted to the image of Jesus with a whip in his hand, driving the money-changers out of the Temple than they do of Him with a knife and fork in his hand sharing a meal with sinners. There are those in the Christian community who are demonstrating more hostility than hospitality. If you are fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, to be on social media, you probably have encountered this.

Speaking of the need to move from hostility to hospitality, Henri Nouwen said,

“Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people, anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude, and do harm. But still, our vocation is to convert the hostel into hospitality, the enemy into a guest, and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.” (Reaching Out)

Much of our church culture is hostile towards anything they feel threatened by or anyone that thinks differently than they do. For many, their hostility sleeps until something pokes it, something they deem heretical, and unbiblical, or sinful. Hospitality can be hard work, but hostility is easy. These days hostility only needs one thing: Disagree with me.

I’m trying to push back against the surrounding pressure to be hostile and instead wade into the warm, peaceful waters of hospitality.

What are your thoughts?

We have dogs. To be precise, we have six Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Yes, you read that right…pray for us. I often feel like a rancher and my livestock have short legs and really cute butts. If you are unfamiliar with the breed…look them up.

Usually in the morning when I get up to have my ‘quiet time’ they are still crated, usually asleep, and, therefore…quiet. However, once in a while if I get up later, they have already been released outside and let back in, with me, in the living room, in my special red chair, trying to have a ‘quiet time.’

Now Corgis have a lot of energy to begin with, but first thing in the morning, after having been in their crates all night…oh mama, let me tell you, you have no idea the noise they can make. You try having a ‘quiet time’ with twentyfour Corgi feet racing around you on wood floors. I swear the house shakes.

A couple weeks ago I’m having my ‘quiet time’ along with my six obnoxious friends. I’m starting to get really irritated. They were having a good time, but not me. I was trying to be spiritual! I was trying to find God’s presence! I couldn’t take it any more and I yelled at them “STOP IT!” They simultaneously, like synchronized swimmers, stopped dead in their tracks, stared at me, laughed in my face (yes I heard them) and started back up. I shook my head in defeat, and then it came to me.

It’s easy for me to find God in quiet and solitude but what about experiencing Him in the noise, distractions, and interruptions of life? I took a deep breath, relaxed and refocused even with all the crazy happening around me. And you know what? It worked! Not perfectly, but I was able to have a meaningful quiet time in a noisy place.

Pastor’s lives are filled with distractions and interruptions. You start out thinking you’re going to have a productive day and then things go south because of a hundred unplanned intrusions. This is true for normal people as well. Maybe it’s chaotic and stressful where you work. Maybe you’re at home with a bunch of kids that behave like…well… like a bunch of Corgis.

Our goal should be to learn how to experience God’s peace and presence regardless of our surroundings. Silence and solitude are probably best for accomplishing this but that’s not the real world we live in.

Take or create every opportunity you have for silence and solitude, but the next time you are bombarded with noise or distraction or interruptions, take a deep breath and try to recognize where God might be in it all.

The older I get the more I’ve noticed my list of ‘things I’m opinionated about’ has gotten shorter. That’s not to say I don’t have some strong opinions about certain important things, only that I have fewer of those things than I once had. And then of course, once I retired from pastoring back in 2006 I experienced greater freedom to say “I don’t know.” or “I don’t really have an opinion about that.”

When you’re a pastor you’re expected to have an opinion about everything and not just an opinion, but a strong opinion. To admit that you don’t know, or say you’re not sure about some controversial subject can get you into as much trouble as landing firmly down on either side of the debate.

A few years ago I had a client who ended our relationship. He wanted help in navigating the touchy subject of same-sex marriages. Some in his church and leadership team believed one thing and others something else. He was not in favor of same-sex people getting married.  I shared with him that as I tried to objectively listen to both sides I discovered that both camps had some good points and that I was not sure where I stood on this. The silence on the other end of the phone told me that this was not what he wanted or expected to hear from me. About five minutes after ending our call I received an email from the pastor telling me that he would no longer be using me as a coach, that he was greatly disappointed in me, and that he did not think it was wise for him to let me influence him. Ouch!

Keep in mind, I did not say that I was in favor or not in favor of same-sex marriages. The fact that I tried to be open-minded in listening to the two sides of the debate resulting in me not having a strong opinion about the subject was enough to end our relationship. 

If you’re a normal person (not a pastor), you can get away with not having an opinion about certain controversial subjects like Trump, global warming, the role of women in marriage and the church, the mode of baptism and who gets to be baptized, Bernie, KJV vs NIV, immigration, to wall or not to wall…the list could go on and on.

But pastors, and I know because I was one for thirty years, have been trained and conditioned to have an opinion about everything. We are constantly evaluating, judging, drawing a line in the sand so that we and our people know clearly who is on our side and who is not, who is for us and who is against us, who is our friend and who is our enemy.

Life is a long struggle to let go of all evaluations and opinions, to be free from the burden of making judgments.

I want to live free. How about you?

Stop what you’re doing and read Luke 10:30-37, I’ll wait…

Did you do it? Probably not but that’s okay because you’re familiar with the story.

One day an “expert” in the law came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That’s a good question but Luke tells us that it wasn’t a sincere question, he was saying this to try and trap Jesus. Now Jesus could have pulled out his KJV and started quoting Bible verses at him but instead, he asks his own question, “What do you understand the Law says about this?”

 

Side Note:

 Jesus was a master question-asker.

Great leaders ask great questions

and help people think.

 

This tricky fellow says, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus tells him that this was a good answer. I bet this guy was thinking, “Dang, this isn’t going as I planned. He’s not taking the bait. I know, I know…so Jesus, who exactly is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers his question with ‘The Good Samaritan.’ You know the story.

 

Side Note:

Jesus doesn’t always answer your

questions as you’re expecting.

 

At the end of the story, Jesus says, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Did you notice that? Jesus didn’t answer his question (Who is my neighbor?) but turns it around to “Who could you be neighborly to? Who could you show kindness and mercy to?”

Here’s my twist on ‘neighbor’:

A neighbor is anyone who gives me an opportunity to show them love, mercy, and kindness.

Whether you be a pastor or a normal person, most of us, if we’re really, really honest, have contempt and disgust towards individuals or people groups who are different than us.

I hate Pelosi and her Democratic idiots. She represents all that is evil in our country.

Nope, that’s not love, mercy, or kindness.

Trump makes me want to puke. He’s an egotistical, racist, immoral pig.

Nope, that’s not love, mercy, or kindness.

 

Side Note:

 Contempt is easy to see in others and

hard to recognize in ourselves.

 

Does your stomach turn and your blood pressure rise when you think about that hard-headed board member who opposes you at every turn, the church gossip who has slandered you and spread falsehoods about you, churches that allow women pastors or those that don’t, Planned Parenthood or those that picket and protest Planned Parenthood, Evangelicals or Liberal Christians, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter, those churches that welcome LGBTQ+ people with no strings attached and those that have strings attached, Fox News or CNN. Need I go on?

Those people who bug the heck out of me are my neighbors. A neighbor is anyone who gives me an opportunity to show them love, mercy, and kindness. Jesus told me to love my neighbor.

 

Side Note:

Loving your neighbor is hard.

But try anyway.