For Pastors & Normal People

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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.

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