Friday, February 03, 2012

The Source of One's Life Becomes a Sacrosanct Possession

Every morning at 6:00 am two middle-aged men exercise to Insanity in front of a big screen in a children's classroom at Emmanuel Enid. My friend and I do sometimes feel insane jumping up-and-down, running in circles, and performing the various exercises, particularly since the professionals in the video are mostly in their twenties.. During this morning's video workout, the Insanity leader said, "I sometimes ask myself, 'Why do I push myself so hard?' Answer: I want to look good!" I appreciated the leader's honesty. His desire to look good drives him to push hard in exercise. That is certainly not my reason for exercise. I just want to be able to bend over without hearing a snap, crackle or pop. Regardless, his comment "I want to look good" got me to thinking about the subject of internal motivation.

Motives for Christian leaders are tricky things to evaluate. The way we talk has become so spiritualized we've lost our connection with reality. We speak about "God moving" when in reality we are manipulating. We assume that what we do is all of God and refuse to pause to evaluate whether what we do is more about us. We push because we wish to shape perceptions and 'look good' in the eyes of others, but we dare not admit this. We are conditioned to hide behind God-talk instead of transparency. When's the last time you ever heard a  pastor say from the platform, "I am pushing hard for us to have big crowds in church and more money in the offering because I want to look good to you and feel good about myself!"  I would find that refreshing and not near as repulsive as the spiritualization of Christian ministry.

My father is a very gifted teacher. He spoke to our church staff this week on John 10:10 where Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and have life more abundantly." The word life (zoe) is defined by Strong's Lexicon as "the state of one who is possessed with vitality."  My father said that the source for our vitality in life is to be found in Jesus Christ. He pointed out that in Christ there is (1). unconditional love, and (2). a Person who cares that you exist. Your source for life should come from Him.

As he spoke my mind flashed to the 200 letters left behind by those who committed sucide in Tulsa during my tenure as Tulsa Police Chaplain. I keep them in a file in my office. Every letter reveals a desperation that led to death because of something the writer did not believe and something the writer did believe. First, the suicidal person did not believe he or she was deserving of love and acceptance, and second, the suicidal person believed nobody cared whether they lived or died.  Most people who ended their lives experienced a 'trigger'--something that led them to snap. The trigger was either the loss of a job, an end to a relationship, an exposure of a secret addiction, a diagnosis of a physical disease, or some other 'loss.'

Their source of life was lost.

Jesus came to give us life and to ensure that we do not depend upon anything else for our inner vitality. The exercise professional who draws his life from the acceptance of people when he "looks good" will one day need another source for his acceptance. The athlete who loves the limelight but no longer hears the cheers will one day need another source for his feelings of being appreciated. The businessman who requires cash flow and more capital to feel worthy will one day need another source for his sense of worth and value. Jesus came that we might find life in Him.

Here's the problem with church work. Too many pastors tie an umblical cord to ministry and suck their life from it. Too many Christian leaders need ministry. It's not just a job, its their life. If a Christian pastor thinks himself more important than a Christian plumber, he is drawing his life from what he does and not who he is. If a pastor feels value, worth and security when doing ministry but on the other hand he feels valueless, worthless, and insecure when not doing ministry, then he is drawing his life from ministry and not Christ. If a Christian pastor controls, manipulates and angrily takes 'authority' over other Christians in order to control perceptions about his ministry, then that pastor is finding his source and security in what he does rather than who he is.

In short, the source of your life apart from Christ becomes your sacrosanct possession. Nobody better mess with it. Nobody better question it. Nobody better criticize it. Nobody better threaten it. Nobody better disagree with it. Nobody better challenge it. Nobody better touch it. Nobody better hurt it. Nobody better say anything that causes people to question its value, purpose or benefits. Why? Because you die without it. Authoritarian, controlling, manipulative, pushy pastors can be better understood when we see the basis for such behavior: they are drawing their source of life from ministry and not from Christ. We only enable Christian leaders to continue down their path of personal destruction by keeping silent when pastors replace Christ with the church.

I suggest the greatest tool in God's shed for reminding Christian leaders that our source of life is to be found in Christ and not what we do is the Internet. It cuts the umblical cord that ties pastors to idolatrous ministry.


Anonymous said...

This is encouraging, Wade. Thank you for sharing it.

I'd like to ask a question that perhaps you could answer here or if you feel led do a devotional on.

I don't know what to believe in as far as the Church is concerned anymore. Piper, Mohler, Grudem and others have divided the church along gender lines. Their influence in nearly every denomination is inescapable and frightening and creates a crisis for most sincere either accept the idea that female believers are basically sex objects who should cook and be silent about the gospel or to oppose the teaching. Either way, it takes up our time and energy that could be spent on the Gospel.

What should we be doing? How do we combat it graciously without tearing apart the Church?

I guess the question is "What should the Church be doing now?" said...


"What should the church be doing now?"

Live out your giftedness. I write, so I'll write. Others speak, so they'll speak. You encourage, so encourage.

Things are slowly changing. Christ said, "I will build my church..." He is a Master-builder so I am in no way discouraged with the state of things.

Thanks for the kind word!

Off The Cuff said...

Bro. Wade,

For every "authoritarian, controlling, manipulative, pushy pastor" there are hundreds, maybe thousands who quietly and reverently go about the task of serving the Lord.
Throughout my ministry of over 30 years, I have pastored small rural churches, most of them located in the shadows of larger mega churches. I have spent many hours sitting in silence while listening to other Pastors give “praise reports” about how well their church is doing. I have seen Associations and State Conventions allocate millions of dollars to new church starts but not one dime to church retivalization. Early on I realized that if I was going to survive in this business I would have to find a different measure for success. Every night during a time of personal introspection I ask myself if I have done the best that I can do. Usually, I hear the still small voice that says “Well done”. From that I draw my (ζωή) life.
Sadly, I see many aging, retired Pastors who served faithfully throughout the course of their ministry, but their service and contributions to the Kingdom of God are all too quickly forgotten by their fellow Pastors. I suggest that all of us need to follow the teaching of your very wise Father and discover that “the source for our vitality in life is to be found in Jesus Christ.” Otherwise, retirement will be a very long and sad time.

Rex Ray said...

“Nobody better question…criticize…threaten…disagree...challenge…”

Now I know.

You asked, “What should the Church be doing now?"

“Divide and rule, a sound motto. Unite and lead, a better one.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It’s sad some pastors’ egos had rather “rule” than “lead”.

shadowspring said...

Thank you, Pastor Burleson. I appreciate this timely word. (((hugs of appreciation)))

Pege' said...

Wade..... The hills are alive with the sound of AMEN!!! ( since we live near the mountains... i thot this was funny;)
You have your self an AMEN choir here in COS!! See all the jumping around at 6 am allows you to do all that thinking over bowls of oatmeal!!! Once again thank you for pointing me back to Jesus. And thank you for acknowledging that you keep him before your eyes and heart too!!!

tammy@eating locusts said...

Thank you Wade! Just as pastors can get their life out of ministry and not Christ, the congregants can get their life out of the pastor and not Christ, too. What a two-way-dead-end street that is! Hellllo, Jesus. We all need to plug back into the Vine and, like you said, let Christ build His church. It's so much easier that way {except for the dying to ourselves part}.

Paul Burleson said...


When John 7:38 is REALLY experienced we can clip any umbilical cord, to ministry, to the church institution, to success, to any career because as Jesus cried out..."He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his INNERMOST BEING will flow rivers of living water.'" New American Standard Bible (©1995)

THEN those things..preaching, ministry, church
institution/organization, success, [any] career... are ONLY resources and, as such, they CAN make life a little better for myself and others. And when they do that they are perfectly legitimate. But NEVER as the source of life for a believer.

You're description of the evidence that those other things are the source instead of a resource is spot on. And you have nailed the real issue with much of ministry and ministers today.

I'm joining Pege' in running around shouting right now.

Victorious said...

Off the Cuff,

Thank you for that reminder that there are indeed pastors like yourself who do not base their worth on dollars and numbers. I will say that its getting more and more difficult to find one...for me at least.

Bless you!

Christiane said...

thought a lot about the role of 'shepherd' and I have decided that the closer a pastor comes to filling that role, the closer he becomes to the way Our Lord meant for him to serve.

My idea of a 'shepherd' . . .
Damien, who served the lepers on Molokai . . . he was sent there and was told not to touch them, but he cleaned and bandaged their wounds, he fed them, he nursed them, and cared for their many needs, even building huts for them, and finally, decent coffins to lay them to rest in dignity.

A far cry from many in the Church who were more 'authoritative' . . . yes, but I think Damien had Our Lord's heart for the suffering ... what could be more important than that ??

Bob Cleveland said...

I like this, Wade. A LOT!

I recall several things learned in my childhood, that feed right into this. Somewhere, when I was very young, I heard "It's amazing what one can do when he doesn't care who gets the credit". That made me, as an insecure child, develop a distaste for limelight. My biggest fear as a child was speaking in public!

Then I read in the Bible, by a simple series of deductions (I know now they were revelations) that the only value in me, worth noticing, was that I was made in the image of God. That told me, like it or not, I didn't have anything to hide behind, any more than anybody else in the world.

Finally, I discovered .. from many things I read on your blog, by the way .. that the only righteousness I would ever have was that which I received when I put my trust in Christ. That I could do nothing in my actions to add to that, for trying to add to that was denying the sufficiency of faith (the Biblical sort) in Jesus and His finished work.

Putting those three together has been the most freeing realization I have ever had. And how can we possibly place faith or trust in, or owe allegiance to, anything or anybody other than Jesus?

And also, should anyone doubt your 2:06 comment to anonymous, read 1 Corinthians 12-14, and the parable of the talents. Plus Psalm 37:4 for good measure.

Wanda (Deb) Martin said...

Thank you for this post. You have such a wonderful gift of communication! Yes, some Christian leaders appear to be worshipping their own ministries more than Jesus Christ. We may be seeing that reality in certain high profile churches as testimonies are shared by individuals who have been hurt by their pastors. May they find comfort and spiritual healing.

Anonymous said...

Once again I thank you for this week's "sermon"!

I grew up outside of a tiny oilfield hamlet in southeastern NM.

Simple reality was that we the people of the church had to find sustenance in Christ, life in Christ, and BE the church.

And when we did that, we had a real, vital connection to the Vine. He then blessed us with preachers focused on bringing us the simple truth of salvation from God's Word. Looking back I see we had ardent dispensationalists, calvinists, revivalist/arminians, and other "camps" but never were any of those groups able or even trying to get us onboard with their party. The focus was that connection to Christ.

Of course, neither had the church become big business.

The irony is that via the net I watch from afar one of the kids I grew up with pastor a church. He, too, sticks with pointing people to Christ and pastors a large, healthy church. He, too, avoids like the plague the selling of the church.

As I continue to heal from sexism run rampant in the church, and from the bullying that comes when you see the church as a moneymaking business rather than the Body of Christ, I find myself more and more in the simple New Testament teachings of Christ.

More and more the Baptist in me comes to the fore, ready to run or fight anything or anyone who tries to come between me and Jesus.

Less and less am I willing to support anyone or anything that tries to get between others and Jesus.