It’s not nice to NOT point

In 2012, a group of historians honored Abraham Lincoln in a towering way. On the occasion of President’s Day, they constructed a three-story tall tower of replicated books. There were close to seven thousand books used for the project. Lincoln was the subject of them all!

I remember reading an article about the project. It mentioned there are over fifteen thousand books written about the former president. That there’s only one person who’s walked across history that has more books written about him. Jesus.

If that’s true, then the two most talked about people in the English language represent religion and politics. Go figure.

Of course, Jesus is the primary subject of most New Testament books. Even when he’s not, he kind of is.

The book of Hebrews is all about Jesus. All the Old Testament references written in the letter point to Jesus. Although the author didn’t write in chapters or verses, you can’t read any of the chapters we created without reading about Jesus.

Whether it was Paul or some other person close to the mission of Jesus, whoever wrote Hebrews hoped to encourage people of faith. The book isn’t biographical. It’s not even a testament. Hebrews is a reassurance.

Re because it’s written to people who already knew faith in Jesus. Assurance because it reminds us of the way in which Christ fulfilled God’s covenant. Most likely, Hebrews was writing before the end of the first century. That’s how soon Christians began to grow weary of trusting in Christ.

In a sense, you and I are a tower of books dedicated to Christ.

We may not have written anything about him. But I recall God’s promise told of through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). For a world that needs peace, we are the written material that tells of the goodness of God in Christ Jesus.

As the church, we are to point people to Jesus. Not ourselves. Not even John Wesley.Not our traditions, not our favorite songs.

I very much appreciated it when my United Methodist denomination changed part of its membership vows. We used to ask people if they would be loyal to The United Methodist Church. I half-cringed when I would ask that question. Now we ask if you will be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church. That makes a difference.

The difference is that we are pointing to Jesus. He’s the fulfillment of God’s promise.

I read something several years ago that struck me. It aptly described what a lot of the church in the US has become. We aren’t focused so much on Jesus as God’s covenant fulfillment. Instead, we’ve made Jesus a consumable product, maybe just another book to buy:
“Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, is said to have observed that: In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

The church isn’t just talking about Jesus. We certainly shouldn’t be selling Jesus. How can we share with the world what God has written on our hearts? Our focus is on living a life centered on a daily communion with the living Christ.

How will you point to Jesus every day so that someone else can experience that kind of fellowship?

Stay blessed…john

Something a Pharisee might say

If you were a Pharisee, it would have been your responsibility to question Jesus.

You are, after all, a teacher of all things religious. If some man came around proclaiming to be God’s anointed, which many men did, the rest of us would trust your judgment. We’d wonder what you had to say about his claims.

That’s what the Pharisees did. Think of Nicodemus seeking out Jesus to talk to him. Some of the questions we know Pharisees asked Jesus are legitimate. After a while, though, what we see happening is that they decided to not believe him. Their inquiries morphed into holy ambushes.

By the time we get to John 8, Jesus has done much to demonstrate his belief that God his Father sent him to the world. Jesus offered signs pointing to his identity and the Pharisees chose to either ignore them or reject them altogether.

That’s not what we want to do, right?

We have recognized that Jesus is the Christ. That’s why we worship and follow him–not just go to a worship service and call ourselves Christians.

Now, allow me to make a turn here. It may feel unrelated, but I promise it’s not. Trust me.

Actually, don’t merely trust me. Listen to what I’m saying. Pray and reflect upon what ideas I’m offering to you. Compare what you hear from me with what we read in scripture.

There have been too many instances of pastors making the testimony of Jesus their own.

In John 8, the Pharisees want a witness to testify on behalf of Jesus. According to Jesus, he doesn’t have one and doesn’t need one. He’s his own witness. Actually, not only do I testify on my behalf, but God does, too. You can’t see God, but he’s testifying right now for me.

More and more, we are learning about pastors, propped up by large money-producing ministries, taking advantage of their position. There’s an entire industry built like this. And there are many others who forego their integrity for the chance to enjoy such ministry success.

In part, they’ve used this Jesus-like stance. Essentially, it goes like this: I am called by God. Don’t question me. That’s kin to questioning God. I speak for God and who are you to question me?

Does that sound like something some Pharisees might say?

The results of all this are disastrous. It is sin. The gravest issue is the hurt and abuse people experience as a result. Then there’s the church’s witness to consider.

How do we avoid all this?

I read a tweet that said, “Want to know if you have a healthy pastor? Disagree with them.”

I’m not asking you to be contrary. That’s not a helpful attitude. 

But let’s hold ourselves accountable to one another. Let’s continually ask if our decisions, our ideas, our attitudes and our worship are truly rooted and pointing to Jesus.

Stay blessed…john

Let me tell you what happened

It’s appointment season in The United Methodist Church.

From now until June, you’re bound to see social media posts from pastors thanking God for their time at their church. The bishop, they’ll say, has appointed them to a new church. As United Methodists Christians with Facebook accounts, it’s something we’re used to seeing. I know I check our conference’s website to make sure my name doesn’t pop up as one who is moving!

All that to say, that I’ve been reflecting on pastoral appointments.

There’s a first conversation I dread having at a new church. It’s one I’ve had at every church I’ve served. To be sure, I don’t initiate it. There are many things I want to talk about, but this isn’t one I enjoy hearing.

I call it the “Let me tell you what happened” talk.

All relationships have difficulties. Marriages do. Families struggle with one another all the time. Work relationships have difficulties. Sometimes, it’s even hard to get along with the cashier at the grocery store.

And even church families have rifts.

When a new pastor comes along, she doesn’t know what’s happened between members. Or he doesn’t realize how long it’s been since feelings were first hurt. So, somebody has to fill them in with the juicy details, right?

Sometimes, the conversation is necessary. I don’t want to give you the impression I don’t care how people have hurt one another. I do. That’s a part of a congregation’s story. I’m not pretending there isn’t any friction among members.

A lot of it is petty, though.

And I don’t do petty all that well. Maybe that’s a growing edge for me.

Remember that time Moses struck the rock twice? Water came out for the people and their livestock to drink. No sooner had everyone had a drink, Moses lost his chance to see the promised land.

When we study that story from Numbers 20 we tend to look at the anger of Moses. But what if Moses wasn’t only angry? There’s an idea that begs us to ask, what if he was grieving?

Read the story again.

In one sentence, Miriam, Moses’ sister dies. In the next sentence, the people rally against Moses and Aaron.

Let’s assume the story reads that way on purpose.

If so, the people hurt Moses. They didn’t mourn his sister or acknowledge what her death meant to him. They were much too concerned about their well-being. They worried more about their livestock.

If I were a new pastor to that congregation, I’d want to know about a story like that.

The real pain a church has experienced together will show. That’s what needs to be addressed. Not that a new pastor is coming to save the day. Some might think that’s their job. That kind of mindset can add to the damage already done. Sometimes, though, new eyes can see healing others cannot. Someone who hasn’t been fighting as long can help bridge the restoration of relationships.

That’s a virtue of the church, after all. It’s good when we live in unity. We can’t do that if we’re too busy hurting one another. There are real steps to healing. Real steps. Hard steps. Sometimes, real hard steps.

No pastor wants their congregation to live in disunity because we’ve brushed our pain under the rug. Who do you need to forgive in church? What stories do we need to acknowledge?

Let’s seek reconciliation together.

Stay blessed…john