I have been a born again Christian for just over thirty nine years now. I asked Jesus into my life at the ripe old age of sixteen and have never once during those thirty nine years regretted making that decision. It was the decision that completely changed the course of my life. I shudder to think what my life might have turned out like but for Jesus rescuing me from Satan, sin and self. I mentioned in my last blog that I felt this was the way the Lord would have me to continue the blog and to be really honest I do not know exactly what shape it will take. My prayer and heart’s desire is that it takes the form and shape of whatever God wants it to take.
Thirty five of my thirty nine years as a Christian, a follower of Jesus, have been spent as a lay person in the church and the other four as the Pastor of the Lurgan church or the Nazarene. I am experiencing life from both sides of the pulpit. During my thirty five years as a lay person I have endeavoured to live my life and serve my Saviour in the way that pleases him most and honours his name. There have been times when I did not please and honour my Saviour; there have been times when like the Apostle Peter I followed at a distance, and like Peter there have been times when I wept bitterly. Sometimes my life could have been described as being like those people Jesus referred to in the Church of Laodicea, hot, cold or lukewarm.
There are many wonderful attributes that God possesses that I don’t. I would like to have them as a true part of my personality but to suggest that I fully possess them would be some statement to make. The two that I have particularly in mind are God’s Unconditional Love and God’s Unfailing Love. Most of us would probably agree that it is relatively easy to love people who love us and cause us no pain, hurt or harm but it is certainly not as easy to love those people who may cause us pain, hurt and harm. Jesus never stopped loving those who caused him to suffer at their hands; he cried out to his father that he would forgive them for doing so.
After Peter had denied that he knew Jesus three times he was not discarded and dumped as a failure by Jesus. Jesus had warned him of what would take place but Peter could not conceive that he could deny his Lord. In John ch 21 we read the beautiful story of Jesus re-affirming his love for Peter, three times Jesus asked Peter did he love him and three times Peter declared that he did. Jesus then commissioned him to feed his sheep and feed his lambs. Jesus forgives and forgets our failings. He knows far better than we do just how weak a vessel we really are. He also knows the intent and motives of our heart. He knows when we genuinely seek to serve him as best we can through his amazing grace and by the power of his Holy Spirit.
He also knows when we are play acting like the hypocritical Pharisees that he often rebuked and exposed. I shared a story with someone the other day about a little boy who got himself into a lot of trouble at home. His mother smelt something burning in the house and finally traced the smell and the thickening smoke to the kitchen. It seemed as if the oven was on fire but she could not work out how it could be as she had not placed anything in it. When she turned the oven off and opened the door there before her was a pair of her husband’s slippers burnt to a crisp.
It was not difficult to track down the culprit as there were only two people in the house at that time, herself and her young son. The young boy was upstairs playing when his mother found him; she scolded him and disciplined him. She told him that there would be worse to come when his father returned home and saw what he had done to his favourite slippers. I am sure the young boy was dreading the front door opening and what would soon follow. As expected his father rushed up the stairs and demanded that his young son try and explain his actions.
Through a stream of tiny tears the fathers’ young son told him that he did not mean to burn and destroy his favourite slippers. He went on to explain to him that because it was so cold outside he had put his slippers into the oven to warm them up for him coming home but he forgot about them. The father lifted his son in his arms and told him to stop crying and that everything was ok, he thanked his son for his thoughtfulness. Sometimes when we sincerely try to do good things they sometimes turn out wrong. Our heavenly father knows our heart and our motives. He will not punish us for innocent mistakes. Love conquers all.
Sadly we see today many instances where love has failed. During my counselling years I encountered married couples who on their wedding day pledged to love one another till death parted them but it was not death that was parting them. One woman once told me that for her divorce was worse than death because her husband was still alive but another woman was sharing his love and not her. Jesus tells us about a church in Ephesus where some people had forsaken their first love, meaning their love for him. Many people have promised and pledged their love to each other for life and many have broken their promise and pledge. God will not, cannot break his promise of unfailing love to us. God is love.
Some years ago during another counselling session with a married couple who lived some distance away from Lurgan I encountered for the first time someone who was desperate not to let their marriage and love for their spouse fail. The thing that touched my heart was that their spouse did not seem to mind if the marriage failed or not. They did not appear to share the desire or commitment to work their differences out. One would talk of their love for the other but the other did not appear to reciprocate that love towards them. I can’t say what was causing their love to fail; I can’t say whether or not the one who was reluctant to try and work things out was in love with someone else. I do know that when they left me one of them was a lot sadder than the other.
This reminds me of the time when a rich young man came up to Jesus and asked him one of life’s most important if not the most important questions that anyone could ever ask.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother”. “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked at this sincere young man and loved him; he wanted to have a living relationship with him. He gave him the answer to his question but the young man still went away sad because he could not love Jesus more than his great wealth. Dear friends how often has the love of money ruined people’s lives, how often has their money left them high and dry? Jesus offers us his unconditional unfailing love but if we do not accept it there is nothing he can do except watch us go away from him sad.
Experiencing life from the other side of the pulpit is many things. The thing that strikes me is that I do not see myself as being any different irrespective of what side of the pulpit I am standing. My desire to seek and serve God has not really changed except for the responsibilities of preparing two sermons and a bible study each week. Yes I have more people that I have to visit, I have people that come to me to be married, I have the responsibility of conducting funerals and there are a list of other things that I am responsible and accountable for but I am the same person who just wants to be who God wants me to be and do what he wants me to do.
I am who I am. I do not put myself under pressure by aspiring to become someone who I am not meant to be. I am learning that not everyone will be happy with me or even accept me for who I am. I have had the tendency at times to be a people pleaser and have discovered that to be very stressful and not conducive to my well being. It is very liberating when one discovers that no matter how hard you try to please people that there will inevitably be those who will never be satisfied or pleased with what you do or who you are. The Lord Jesus lived a spotless life and yet there were people who conspired to kill him, people told lies about him; they even accused him of being the Devil. They eventually killed him but he arose again. He did not waver in fulfilling the mission that his heavenly father had given him to complete, neither should anyone else who has been called and sent by God.
Being a Pastor is for me a privilege beyond what I can describe, I did not choose to be a Pastor, God called me to be a Pastor. With privilege comes responsibility and accountability. My first Pastor in the Nazarene church once said that if God calls you to be a Pastor do not stoop to be a king. I am not a king but I am an adopted son of the king of kings. Praise his holy name.