To Trust in Men

A few months ago I sat across from a pastor who took my shameful history and held up his own, point for point. It wasn't a competition, it was a "You too? Me too." I am grateful for men like him who do not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but stand on the level ground before the cross and say, "There's room here. There's room here." Have you been disappointed by leadership? Are you of Jesus and not the Church because pastors modeled for you less of Christ and more of self? Do you press against authority because it has failed you again and again? You are in the company of many, including myself.

In the evangelical world there are so many reasons to be disappointed by leaders, men and women who fail us, whom we fear or find fault with, who do not take seriously the responsibility to care for our souls, or who allow wolves to run rampant among the sheep. If you have felt that searing disappointment of broken trust, you are not alone.

Recent weeks have brought a deep sadness to my heart as I view the expanse of Christian leadership. Blog wars, tit for tat, volleying back and forth, exposing, naming, calling out, "standing for truth." I feel like Elijah standing on the edge of the wilderness saying, "The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left."

Do you feel alone? Do you know the bible says to obey your leaders, submit to them, but do you just feel the betrayal of life and all it holds. Do you want, like Elijah, to find the nearest cave and create for yourself a monastery (1 Kings 19)?

You are not alone.

You suffer from the same plight that attached itself to Adam and Eve in the garden, and the enemy before them, and every one of us born after: the inability to trust authority.

When the rebellion in me, innate as my blue eyes and proclivity to melancholy, rises and makes itself known once again, I know one thing to be true in those moments.

It is not that my earthly authorities can be trusted. It is not that all things will work together. It is not even that my rebellion is idolatrous witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). The one thing I know is God is the author of all systems and order. He set lights in the sky and seas on the earth and grass on the fields and called it good. He ordained these times and these days for me, and I can trust him. Not because all things work together, but because even when they all fall down around me, He does not.

The Unbelonging

Read any media and you'll find a full on rushing swipe at Christians and conservatives. We've been told we're in the minority for a while now, and as shots ring out across the media, we duck and run, scrambling to assert our position as the new moral minority. prisonI've always been a fan of the fringe. If you can stand on the sidelines and affect change from within, you've followed the model Christ set forth well. I watched a movie a few months ago in which the principal characters return to high-school incognito. They're so far removed from high-school that what was cool then is not cool now. The jocks are jerks and the nerds are neat. What happened?

What happened is regardless of seeming strength, the sidelined and fringe affected change because they weren't swayed by what was happening in the middle of the action. Now that the nerds are cool, though, there are different fringe characters at play and this is the way of all life's ebb and flow. Remember The Heart is a Lonely Hunter?

“But look what the Church has done to Jesus during the last two thousand years. What they have made of Him. How they have turned every word He spoke for their own vile ends. Jesus would be framed and in jail if he was living today.”

We turn the vile into heroes and the hope-full into anti-heroes. Whatever fits our flavor and palate.

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If you tell the truth long and stayed enough you're going to be spit upon and hated. And if you love the fringe, the sick, the depraved, the sinners, the forgotten, and you love them with a love that values life and every cell and micro-organism and biology and mind and fault and fear and heart and sweat and blood and tears, you will not find a political home. If you are so pro-life that you rally for the rights of a two week old babe in the womb as fiercely as you fight for the right of life for a confused 13 year old or a broken 45 year old or a confident 60 year old or an aged 82 year old, you will find uneasy company in the Church. You fight not for quality of life, but life itself.

Jesus said He brings Life Abundant and who shouldn't have that?

Whether you fall in the fallen moral majority or the rising moral minority or whether you are just a sidelined character going about your business as if nobody cares, because nobody does, Jesus cares and He sees. And you are not alone.

We're all so homesick to belong, but if you are a child of God, you do not and cannot belong to this world. You may be liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional—but you do not belong and in this common life we can rejoice. So friends, be slow to rejoice in wins or losses, thrusts in your party platform or your pet politic, be slow to rejoice in anything but Heaven come to earth and the King on His throne.

See how you are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses!? Let us throw off every sin and the weight that so easily entangles us and let us run with patience this race marked out for us, setting our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despised the shame, and sits down at the right hand of his father. Hebrews 12

Leadership is Lonely (and it should be)

leadership A wise, and lonely, leader once told me, "Leadership is lonely, so choose your friends wisely." I believed him without hesitation because I saw the aching loneliness whenever he was in a crowd, the uncomfortable posture of one who longs for depth and fears it for the work it will bring.

I've been reading Paul's letters from prison thinking often of how long stretches of time alone might have been the fuel he needed to write those letters—and yet, in prison? Alone? In those days, there is no more lonely place I can think of.

Leadership is lonely. It doesn't look like it, of course, because every leader is surrounded by others, called on by others, even known, in some respect, by others. It seems like all the aching loneliness of being unknown would dissipate if only you stood with the leaders of the pack.

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One of the most helpful verses I've ever memorized is John 3:30, "He must increase, I must decrease."

Those six words have meant more to me in the swirling storms of suffering and rejoicing, lack and plenty, contentment and desire, than any six words I know. They are the mantra of my life and they are prophetic in a way, speaking future truth into what is not fully realized. They comfort me when I feel the aching loneliness of being both unknown and very known, a nobody and a leader, a friend and a stranger.

Leadership is lonely because decreasing is lonely. The larger the Lord of your life becomes to others, the less they see you, and isn't that what we all want? Just a bit? To be seen, known, and truly loved? To be unshackled from the collective prison of our minds and hearts, to be free to roam among other commoners, to find our place at the fire or the table, to fit in?

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This morning I read an article about a couple who were removed from leadership at a school in New England. They were serving Jesus faithfully, wouldn't sign a paper demanding more from them than their faithfulness to His word, and they were given the boot, stripped of their leadership.

And yet, not.

Because the crowning achievement of every kingdom leader is to be the least, the last, and the lowest. To fulfill their mission in the prison of lonely leadership or unrecognized leadership—a prophet who has no respect.

If you seek leadership, know that what you're asking for is a life of service and loneliness. It may not look like the glamorous service you suspect lies there. It may be the simple act of looking others in the face, hearing their stories while knowing yours is ever decreasing. It may be a life of quiet prayer. It may be behind a pulpit, which may be one of the loneliest places of all.

But, good and faithful—and lonely—servant, find your joy not in being known, but in making Him known.

The Promise of Place

Grey Texas days are my favorite. Because they are so rare, or because I love grey more than blue, I don't know. Back home trees enclose me and so I feel safe. Here there are no towering pines or old maples, so I take the clouds instead and find a haven in them. Being away for a month was good for me. I did not miss Texas, but I missed place.

The truth is I feel misplaced these days. Misplaced by God, misplaced by men, misplaced, mostly, by myself. I have never felt comfortable in my own skin, but these past months I have felt a foreigner even to myself.

Who is this person? I ask as I roll over awake in the morning, when I hug a friend, when I try to explain myself, excuse myself, examine myself. I feel a stranger to her and estranged from her. As though I've forgotten how to take my own pulse, as though I am unsure I have a pulse.

That sounds hyperbole and I know it, but I feel it all the same. The creeping darkness of discouragement snatches away courage, not its opposite, affirmation, as it might seem.

It is a dark day outside and there are dark days all around us. Have you felt it? I am not prone to pessimism except when I am.

I am reading Hebrews this morning, about Abraham and the promise, and I remember the promises God gave him: land, east and west and north and south; descendants as many as the stars; a son, a babe, just one. Just one.

God put Abraham in his place and gave him place and then gave him a place in history. We know him because of his son, and his son's son, and his son's son's son and so on. Because God took a man on a mountainside, an old man, and gave him place.

I wonder sometimes if Abraham knew the gift of place on that day. If he knew he was destined for good things, a forefather of faith and many mentions in the canon. Or if he only stood there and just believed what God told him.

Romans says that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4.22). The truth is my righteous anything has felt like a failure this year, but faith? Faith, not in the promise itself, but the giver of the promise? The promise of place, not for place's sake, but for the promise-giver? Faith I can muster up, if I try.

He said He's prepared good works for us (Eph. 2.10) and I have to believe that. When good anything feels very far off and very impossible today. He has prepared a place for us (John 14.2) and whether that is here, in this home, or in a new heaven and new earth, God said it.

Father, help me to know my place. That the very safest place for me is at the foot of the cross, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as your daughter, as a discipler and learner, a friend. Most of all, help me to see Christ in His place, high and lifted up, seated on the throne, parenting a world, and following the direction of His Father, wholly unconcerned with His place even while He prepares a place for us.

Fallen

I had a conversation a few months ago around my kitchen table. We were two kids washed up and battered around by a legalistic ministry in our teens. Both of us had stories, neither of us trying to outdo one another, but just sharing, "You too? I thought I was the only one." Of course we didn't think we were the only one, but isn't that one of the enemy's favorite ploys? To isolate and make us feel as though what we have experienced or will experience is singular to us?

The point of our conversation was to talk about leadership, charisma, the difference between preaching and shepherding, and I hope I was some encouragement to my brother.

This morning I read of the resignation of a man who was in leadership of a similar ministry. He admitted his failures, took responsibility, stepped down, and yet the consequences are still rife for him—and us, the Church. Even if I did not prescribe to his particular brand of faith or practice, the ache of a fallen brother sits deep in my stomach this morning. I did not celebrate him or his ministry, nor do I cast a judgmental finger in his direction. His sin was taking his eyes off Christ—for one moment or one month, it matters not. My sin is a constant same.

There will be three responses to his sin:

1. Some will call attention to it and cackle something like, "See? This man who espoused these doctrines with which I disagreed fell, therefore everything he espoused is wrong." The bible has something to say about this: "[Love] does not rejoice with wrongdoing (either the doctrine or the sin), but rejoices with the truth."

The truth is this man confessed and repented. We rejoice at that. His sin is not related to his doctrine except that anything can become an ultimate thing—and something did in his case. Something other than Christ.

2. Some who should say something will not say anything. There is this strange phenomenon within the Church. When someone falls on the other side of the fence, we write blogs, we tweet, we caution, we make a fuss—we are the pharisees who thank God we are not like those people. But when someone nearer to us theologically or ideologically falls or fails, we keep our mouth tightly shut. I think that closed-mouth tendency is good in some ways. Love covers a multitude of sins and all that. But what love does not do is ignore the level ground before the cross. Love acknowledges that none of us are exempt from taking our eyes off Christ. Love says, "He failed, yes. But for the grace of God, here go I..."

3. The third response, and I think the one we ought to do first and foremost, is to pray. If we are in a local church we have a pastor or more than one, and our minds ought to first go to them. Men who are in leadership are not exempt from failing, struggling, or fearing. I have written about this before, but more than opinions on how to handle this particular fallout, we ought to pray for our pastors and leaders. They are mere men. Real men, if you will. Made from flesh and blood and all the same things we are. You can cognitively believe any doctrine you want, but at the end of the day you are still a man or woman with a propensity toward sinfulness.

Pray for your leaders. In times like this when they watch a brother fall, they are praying more deeply and fervently that they would not fall, that they would stand accountable for us with clean hands and a pure heart.

Pray the same for them.