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Pastor John v4

Pastors of all kinds, and denominations receive dumb letters occasionally (well I hope it’s sporadic!). People get mad, and you would like to say back to them, “Hey, buddy…your brokenness is showing!” But pastors aren’t supposed to talk straight, rebuke an attitude, disagree with, or enter a tense confrontation with his/her members. Pastors are nice. Pastors are sweet. Pastors are approachable. Pastors are wusses…Wait a minute!

“Whoever says ‘I know him but does not keep his commandments is a liar & the truth is not in him…'” Now, now, pastor, don’t you go calling someone a liar.

“Those people? They went out from us, but they were never part of us.” Now pastor, don’t you go judging people just cause they left your church.

“Who is the liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” Pastor, get off of your high horse, who do you think you are calling someone an antichrist?

“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us.” Now pastor, you know he has a good heart. You don’t need to judge him. Plus, that would be gossip, talking about him, and it would embarrass him if you brought this up in front of everyone.

John was in his nineties (he deserves to be a little cranky at that age, don’t you think?), and I can imagine how ticked off he was at this situation and the people ripping his beloved churches apart. Is it possible for a pastor to be kind, loving, gentle, accepting, and not be a wimp? Is it possible for a pastor to argue with a church member in a healthy way?

If we really want to grow spiritually we should free up our leaders to speak the truth. Yes, in love, but please speak the truth! “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” That’s the royal kiss-up. If you haven’t had your panties in a wad lately from something your pastor said, your pastor is too nice. The very Word he/she studies and preaches has first bored into his own heart in such a way that he has been challenged, corrected, rebuked, and empowered. The Word he’s ruminating on is burning in his soul; bending his character into line. Most times, like everyone, the pastor is in process as well.

John, the pastor wasn’t afraid to speak prophetically. If the “prophet” in the pastor has been corralled, the church will be vulnerable; vulnerable to heresies, bad attitudes that course through a church like a deadly virus, and ungratefulness that is contagious.

The word for today from pastor John? Unleash the prophet in your pastor. You need it!

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Pastor John v3

“Pastor, your church is screwed up.” If any self-respecting professional counseling group did an inventory of John’s church (actually network of small groups), their report would be concise, clear and depressing. “There’s heresy, and many of your good members are passionately pursuing those who are propagating a vile philosophy. Plus, you have a leader in your churches that can’t stand you, John! I mean he doesn’t like you, or anyone who follows you. He’s actually thrown out members of his own church because they showed kindness to anyone you sent their way.”

After watching untold Jesus-followers die for the faith, an old battle-weary apostle now has to deal with a threat from within. It just isn’t fair, is it? By now John should have plenty in his IRA, his house paid off, his cars paid off, and his great grandkids joyfully by his side. Heck, he should have been to Disney World 10 times by now! Instead, he’s pastoring in an environment that is anything but serene.

God does not seem to care about our comfort. God doesn’t seem to be swayed by our long track record of faithfulness, as in, “It’s okay to kick back, rest, retire now.” God seemingly overlooks our age, our present pain, and our past experiences, when it comes to doing His work. He is not impressed. “Go…” And yet the very fact that God would choose to use a 90-year old pastor to rescue a quickly dying church brings me hope.

How did John have so much joy in the midst of such loss, pain, and challenge? He’s already happy, and now he writes so that his “joy may be complete.” We pastors, sure can complain, and yet pastor John, in the face of losing his beloved churches, simply wants the joy he has, to come to fruition.

I watched a church devolve into almost anarchy a few weeks ago. Gone was respect for the pastor. The joy the church once had was now like the fading last specks of sunlight dissipating behind the coming storm clouds of the west. False accusations, and “prophesies” were spoken from people who had no credible standing. As I watched this sad display of cowardice and contentious conjecture, my heart broke. I couldn’t help but reflect upon John’s situation. Somewhere in the midst of that cacophony was joy, a joy only someone like John could find.

How do we find joy when the world is collapsing all around us? How do we rejoice in hope when those who should be defending us, are attacking us?

“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.” 2 John 3

We Christians, we followers of Christ should be a hardy group. We shall not succumb to the frailties of our fallen nature, but rise to the occasion when grace, mercy, and peace is needed, especially when it is in short supply all around us.

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Pastor John, v2

So, John has experienced so much in his long life…and I complain; I still complain. People misunderstand you as a pastor, don’t agree with your leadership, the church doesn’t grow, doesn’t give, doesn’t do this or that, but at least they aren’t trying to kill me! I don’t know what church life was like prior to his 90’s but John never gave up on the church. He loved it, gave his life for it, and continued to put up with, well, crap. Crap comes with the church.

In 1 John he writes so that “our joy may be complete.” John never lost the joy, and so many of us simply, amidst the “crap,” lose our joy. John had heretics leading his people, the people he loved, astray. Yet, he looks for more joy. These gnostics, dualists, docetists, whatever you want to call them, were quickly not only causing a church split, but basically destroying the network of house churches John cared for. He even says, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we commanded by the Father.” (v4). “Some.” When we only have “some” we moan and groan, complain, get depressed, and think it’s just not worth it. Joy = some. Think about it – do you still see the “some”? There is joy in appreciating the “some.”

My dad is 87-years old. He rarely complains. His wife of 62-years, my mother, is dying of cancer. My dad still has a great smile, a wonderful laugh, and a great appreciation for the “some.” For him it’s as simple as being able to work in his yard, even with his fading eyesight. It’s watching the many humming birds feed at his feeders, or the egrets feed in the southern cypress swamp behind his home.

Today, look for the “some,” not the many. See if you, like John, can find that lost joy in the few.

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Pastor John

I’ve always thought of the apostle John as the “emissary of love,” kind of like the Barry White of the New Testament. Who isn’t a follower of Jesus that wasn’t told early on, “Read the Gospel of John.” And then there were these silly, but memorable songs we sang to help memorize his words…let’s see if I can still ramble them off – “Beloved let us love one another; for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God for God is love. So, beloved, let us love one another…first John four-seven and eight!”

Yea, so what if I remember it in KJV. Not sure how that would work with the Message.

If you read the Epistles of John, the “love disciple” takes on a new persona. He is pastor John in a battle for the health of his church(es). Many commentators believe John was well into his 90’s when he wrote the Epistles. Imagine it – no medicines to sooth the aches and pains of old age, no glasses to help him read & write, and try to look back on the history he has experienced over all those years.

I count 11 Roman emperors that he saw come and go, many of which were simply brutal, mass murderers. Caligula, Vespasian and his son, soon to be ruler, Titus. How about Nero who killed Peter & Paul? Or the ruler who made sure his guests could see while dining in his garden by impaling Christians on poles, lighting them, and using the light as his garden illumination for an evenings hospitality?

John watched as Jesus’ words were fulfilled and the Temple was burnt, destroyed, and the Roman soldiers scraped the bars of gold from the crevices of the mighty stones. I’m nowhere near 90…yet. But I am old enough to feel like it would be nice to slow down a bit, enjoy the church, your family, and all the years of seeing God do amazing things. No such plan for the mighty pastor John.

Take a moment to consider the trail of tears in your life – what have they done to you? Have they broken you until you want to run off, retire, and never re-fire again? John has some guidance and encouragement for us. This aged pastor, leader, apostle, wasn’t allowed to take his RV away from the fray with the bumper sticker, “I’m Spending My Church’s Inheritance.” No. Get ready for the “old man” to take a stand.

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The Apostle John in the 21st Century

I’m finishing up a summer series on the Epistles of John. I have to say, I’ve learned more than anyone in our church for sure. Yes, I have read the little books of John many times, but until I slowed down, took a look at each of the primary players, I never realized how much this old man, this faithful, beloved disciple, had to endure. Decades of Roman abuse, destruction of the temple as Jesus prophesied, severe persecution to the point of using Christians on sticks as torches to light an emperor’s garden, the list goes on and on. In the midst of all of that, the elder, a true elder in experience and age, had to contend with cults in his churches, church splits, and challenges to his authority…and we pastors think we have a lot to deal with. It’s as someone famous once said, “God, if this is how you treat your friends…”

So, let’s go to John and see what he can tell us about persevering, about staying the course, finishing well, when nothing seems to be going well. Please feel free to respond, debate, contribute, etc.

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Illuminate – Moving Among the Young Vineyardites

Last week I spoke at Camp Vineyard. It was a youth summer camp/retreat with a total, as I understand it, of 260 people. The ages were from middle school to high school. I can’t lie…well, I could, but I shouldn’t…I went with a lot of concern (fear, since I can’t lie). You see I used to be a youth pastor. I had as many as 120 teenagers at one time in my group. We took them to winter retreats, summer retreats, and had concerts (Third Day came 3 times…how fitting!) just for them and their friends. Yes, I had kids mooning passer-byes on the over-pass in the back of our building. Yes, I had people trying to hook-up in the parking lot. Yes, I had kids sneaking smokes in the church bathrooms. Having done jail ministry and youth ministry, I think I have run out of things that will shock me. But I was shocked last week!

No, it wasn’t from too much exposure of the rear. No, it wasn’t from finding too young of couples trying to couple. And no, I did not see one teenager slipping off for a smoke. Yet, I was shocked.

This group was the most polite group of young people I have ever been around. They also were the most spiritually hungry, as well as ready to let the Holy Spirit come.

The first night I took the stage, and looked out, instead of seeing the sneering, rabid, hypnotic glare of a coven of bloodthirsty savages, I saw a community of young Jesus-followers hungry for the move of the Holy Spirit. They made this old surfer, pastor feel right at home. They listened. They responded. I was shocked!

Jesus basically said that if the kingdom was going to come, it would come through kids. Well, at least through those who have childlike faith, and attitudes. God told us that one of the signs, evidence, that the Holy Spirit had come would be that our sons and daughters would prophesy. They did. In the book of Acts we are told that Philip had four daughters who were prophets. Man, I cannot begin to imagine what that was like for Philip.

Yes, I was shocked at my return to youth camp. But it wasn’t for the reasons I expected.

I’ll write a little more tomorrow. It was an amazing experience for me. If this is who will be leading our tribe, the Vineyard in the future, we’re in good hands!

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Mega-Madness and Meaningless Mania

I have come to realize I will never be the pastor of a mega-church. But I can pastor a church with a mega-heart. I have to admit I have listened to those who describe smaller churches as inferior churches, and that any healthy thing grows. Any healthy thing does grow…to its healthy, mature size. When something is bigger than it should be, it is a freak of nature. Something is wrong, just as something is wrong when you don’t grow enough, or at least to a healthy size.

I should have read Tim Keller’s words years ago: “To impose a size culture practice on a church that does not have that size will wreak havoc on it and eventually force the church back into the size with which the practices are compatible.” I think most of the havoc has been wreaked on me. But it was a self-inflicted wound. I don’t blame these super creative, gifted, giants of Christendom. After all, we mere mortals always see ourselves as grasshoppers when gazing upon these Nephilim. And dare I quote it, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Yes, “They were a people strong and numerous, and tall…”

Do I want my church to grow? Yes. But if the size of the body outgrows the size of the heart, it won’t be around long. Maybe I need to back up, and see that we develop a mega-heart first before we start building “iron beds thirteen feet long and six feet wide.”

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Reflections

I am reading through a friend’s manuscript for a new book he is about to have published. It prompted me to reflect, to revisit the landmarks of my past, as well as ponder where the divine “sherpa” is taking me. It’s funny isn’t it? I mean, take a look back. What do you see? Where have the footsteps left the biggest marks, as in, “No-o-o-o…I don’t want to go there!” Or, maybe you see the places where you stopped for awhile, and took in the view. Remember those moments on your journey where a laugh, a baby’s cry, a friend’s kind touch on the shoulder, made the expedition easier?

I bet you can trace your ice axe’s scars across the glacier of your life, and see that the “sherpa” didn’t miss a beat in getting you to more solid ground. Yea, it was sketchy for a bit, but the ropes held, the fog cleared, and you made it to another precipice where a new view would reveal the wonders of the journey.

Keep your eyes on the “sherpa.” The expedition isn’t over.

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