LOOKING AT WHOM?

In a post a few weeks ago I suggested that Revelation is the most difficult book in the Bible to interpret and understand. I still think that is true, but now as I come to the conclusion of a class I have been leading on the New Testament letter of Hebrews I’m thinking it is probably the second most difficult book in the New Testament.

As challenging as our study has been, we have gained a lot of knowledge as well as received much challenge and encouragement. I think challenge and encouragement for readers was the two primary goals of the author. And while parts of the letter are not easy to understand, other parts are crystal clear.

Today I’m thinking about Hebrews 12:1-3 and the writer’s image of the Christian life as running a race while keeping one’s eyes fixed on Jesus. We can get discouraged, question our faith, and get into all kinds of trouble when we take our eyes off Jesus. And often when we take our eyes off Jesus it is because we fix our eyes on someone else – usually a pastor or leader whom we look up to and admire.

The problem with fixing our eyes on another Christian is that no Christian measures up to Jesus. In spite of the highest motives and deepest faith, every Christian leader still has feet of clay. As committed to the Lord and their calling as they are, there are no perfect pastors.

This has always been the case, but in the recent months and weeks there seems to have been more cases and accusations of failures among Christian leaders than usual. Of course it grieves us, but it does not destroy our faith. Our faith is in Jesus and we are to keep our eyes on him.

The reality of the imperfection of pastors does not mean we shouldn’t respect, honor, and look up to our leaders. We should. Hebrews 13 gives two notes of instruction about how we are to view leaders.

Verse 13 tells readers to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” My sense is that these leaders are primarily the ones who first presented the gospel to them and welcomed them to faith in Christ.

Verse 17 challenges readers to “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.” The leaders in this verse seem to be the ones who are currently overseeing things.

I think all pastors and church leaders should echo the words of the Apostle Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). And we can more easily do that if we make sure we fix our eyes on Jesus and never take them off him.

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photo credit: Damien Walmsley <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/23766806@N00/34549305814″>20170618_Lily</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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PRETENDING

Living close to and being involved with my two grandsons (ages 4 and 8) almost every day gives me the opportunity to do a lot of pretending. In recent weeks I’ve played the parts of Superheroes as well as a variety of “bad guys.” And it usually is a lot of fun.

Yesterday I read an interesting blog by Lance Witt entitled Image Management that sounds a lot like pretending to me. The difference, however, is that Image Management is neither a game nor fun. Witt’s primary intended audience is pastors and ministry leaders, but what he says is applicable to all Christians.

Those familiar with the New Testament no doubt are aware that Jesus’ primary issue with the Pharisees was what he called hypocrisy. They managed their images by pretending to be something they were not. What they projected to be on the outside by their actions did not match what they actually were on the inside.

Whether we are Christians or not, most of us know that pharisaism is not dead. As a matter of fact, chances are there is a little Pharisee inside all of us. To manage our images we sometimes struggle to let people know we really are not as good or as far along in our spiritual maturity as they think we are. Image management is not really management but deception.

By raising this subject I’m not suggesting that the thing for us to do is to become totally transparent with anyone and everyone in all our interactions with others. To refrain from pretending that we are better than we are, or that we have no problems, does not require us to publically “air our dirty laundry”.

I think what I am trying to say about this issue of image management or pretending is that we really need to work at being authentic. But again, to be authentic is not a call to total transparency.

When we give up pretending and become authentic we realize we have a new freedom. And that freedom opens the door and paves the way for us to actually make progress in what we want to become.

At the conclusion of his article Witt relates the honest words of a veteran Christian leader in his upper sixties: “The older I get the less concern I have with what I have or have not done and the more concern I have for what I have or have not become.” I’m in my late sixties and those are a couple of things I too would like to have less concern and more concern about.

By the way, pretending is not a bad thing — especially with grandchildren — as long everyone knows that we are just pretending.

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“BECOMING A FRIEND OF GOD”

I don’t know when I have been more impacted by a book than I have been by Jack Deere’s memoir Even in Our Darkness: A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life. After the opening chapters, which are very short, it was difficult to put it down. I know reading his personal story touched me in a variety of ways, but I’m not sure how to describe my feelings. I’m surprised, sad, challenged, affirmed, convicted, and encouraged all at the same time.

I knew of John Deere through news stories and his books (that’s why I bought the book), but I had no idea of the ups and downs he has experienced. He calls this first book of his in almost 20 years “the unsanitized version of me becoming a friend of God.” That description compliments the book’s sub-title “A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life.”

What I have written so far may not sound like it, but I’m not necessarily recommending you read his story. He is a good writer, but Even in Our Darkness is not an easy read. It is real and raw, and as I read I was impressed with his transparency.

The darkness he writes about includes alcoholism, physical abuse, immorality, drug addiction, sexual abuse, attempted suicide, suicide, betrayal, and more. But as the book’s title suggests, this is a story of beauty even in the darkness of a broken life.

Let me share a few selected quotes that stimulated my thinking and will give you a taste of Deere’s account.

Following his dad’s funeral after he committed suicide: “We had neither church nor church friends to comfort us” (p. 34).

Commenting on some seminary faculty: “They traded blessed are the meek for blessed are the learned, and blessed are the poor in spirit for blessed are the pure in doctrine” (p. 120).

Speaking about his wife: “She tried to tell me how unhappy she was, I couldn’t hear her” (p. 136).

Assessing his spiritual state at one point: “The pursuit of knowledge had supplanted the pursuit of love, and a love of pleasure had replaced my hunger for the eternal things that can’t be seen” (p. 156).

His take on a congregation he served, “I tried to sympathize with their tiny frozen hearts” (p. 195).

This got my attention: “When the devil wants to send a message, he can always find a religious person to deliver it with perfect timing” (p228).

This is worth considering: “Anger circulates in our bodies as negative energy until we discharge it. We can carry it for years, punishing people we love, never understanding why” (p. 257).

His reflection on his life: “Almost nothing in my life has worked out like I thought it should. I thought as I grew older, I would grow more deserving of God’s love, not less” (pp. 269-70).

Thinking about his three children: “I had them too soon. I was too preoccupied with building my kingdom. I didn’t enjoy them as much as I could have” (p. 274).

Another reflection on his life: “When I lusted after material wealth, he turned my gaze toward eternity. When I sought large crowds, he brought me humility. When I tried to change my wife, he taught me how to love and understand her” (p. 278)

I read in order to learn, to be challenged, and to be encouraged as well as for other reasons. I won’t be ready for another book along the lines of this one for a while, but I am glad I read Deere’s gripping story of his life so far.

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