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Christ in Keflar

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I went into my very first ministry experience, excited to be able to spend my life involved in the process of growing the church.  I was the Assistant Pastor.  I loved the pastors of the North Head church.  I knew that everyone else loved them too.  Why did men who were so loved move so frequently.  Oh yeah, that’s what God wanted.  Why was God so intent on shuffling pastors like a deck of cards – so very often?

I wasn’t totally sure what an Assistant Pastor did but I had my job description.  It was extremely specific.

¨      In charge of the Sunday School

¨      In charge of the Bus Ministry

¨      Preaching in the midweek and evening services a few times a month.

¨      Lead the music.  Back then that meant that you got up and waved your hands at the people – I could do that in ¾ or 4/4 time.  Never could get 6/8.  You did that in time with the instrumentalists.  If they played fast then you waved fast and if they played slow then you waved slow.

¨      In charge of youth ministry.  That was a misnomer, no one is ever in charge of youth ministry except the youth.  I hated it.  When I left that church I remember saying that I had learned one thing for sure.  I would never be a youth pastor.  God was listening.

¨      In charge of CYC – had to start a program.  There was none in existence.

¨      In charge of Junior Church.  We had it in a long mobile home that we parked between the parsonage and the church – we called it the Gospel Train.  I wore overalls and a conductors hat.  I liked it better than my suit and tie.  I did all the things that I wished I had been able to do when I was a child.  I produced an experience for kids that was all that I missed and loved it.

¨      I knocked on 50 new doors every week – cold turkey – especially in the winter.  I’d just go to the door and introduce myself as the pastor who got stabbed in the parsonage bedroom.  They’d ask to see my scars, I’d give them an autograph and I’d leave.

¨      I visited the hospital a couple of times a week.  I remember finding an old man waiting at the doorway one day and he looked confused.  I asked him if he needed help and he said he was looking for a taxi.  I volunteered to drive him home in my Chevy Malibu with black vinyl interior.  I used to burn myself on it in the summer.  On the way home, I learned that you should never ask a person why they were in the hospital.  He had a hemorrhoid operation.  I could tell when he left the car.  I drove back to the church like a dog.

¨      I worked with an irregular church attender named Junior Lamb.  He owned an ambulance service.  He used to blow smoke in my face.  I went to my first two suicides, they were terrible.

The church grew consistently over 300.  Midway through the second year the senior pastor told me that one of us was going to leave.  I volunteered.  I was ready.  Everytime I’d get called into the office it would be a reaming out session because I didn’t know how to organize my time or something else.  I don’t ever remember hearing that I did a good job.

My thought was that there was little hope for the person in the pew if two preachers couldn’t get along and decided that I should teach.

I attended a Wesleyan school in Allentown and worked as a security guard at night, A fryer at Arthur Treachers Fish ‘n Chips after classes and then traveled for the school on the weekend.

But I couldn’t get away from the local church no matter what I tried.  I used to paint houses with a guy named Larry Moore.  Larry will be speaking here in October.  His Dad pastored in Western New York and was looking for a Youth Pastor who did nothing but youth ministry.  That was intriguing.  Perhaps I could manage my time more effectively with a little less responsibility.  Fred Moore loved me back to spiritual health in the five years that I worked for him.  He remains the finest man of God that I have known in ministry.  I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Fred.  Here are a few pictures of Fred an some of the 20th year youth group reunion that we had this summer.

I learned after a bit that when Fred called me into his office it wasn’t to chastise me because I wasn’t doing ministry exactly as he would do it.  He never insisted that I do it his way.  In a church of 400-500 the youth group often topped 200 in attendance.  I was given much freedom and encouragement and was never so productive.

Apart from Fredericton First this is the sweet spot of ministry for me.  My decision to come here was influenced by the similarities in the ministry environments of these two churches.

What’s this all about?

Dealing With Pain

Our natural tendencies

It’s a long introduction that may allow me to talk to you about pain.  We all have it or experience it.  Sometimes we get some real raw deals.  I have a dear minister friend today who is being destroyed by a sick church.  He is a man of character, integrity and vision and the church that he serves is choking him.  One day they will answer to God for the things that they are doing to this man.

There are those in this room who have had tremendously difficult life experiences and continue to have them today.  Some who live with chronic pain and others who live with them, watching them suffer, both tortured.  Some have been abandoned by unfaithful loved ones who have reneged on marriage vows.

Some have been through negative past church experiences and if you look around today beneath the vestiges of spirituality, you’ll see the bulk of keflar – body armor because many when they have been hurt, make it their determination that this will never again take place.  And this is a greater tragedy than the initial hurt.

Remember?  “Burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice . . .”

Peter asked Christ how many times we ought to forgive someone.  Jesus said “Burn me seventy times seven.”  Because the person deserves all those chances.  Never.  We don’t deserve the many chances that God has given us.  How many chances have you had my unsaved friend?  How many sermons have you turned your nose up to.  How many times have you refused God?

What if today was your final chance and you never knew it?  No one ever does you know.  For some today this might be true.  What if God in heaven decided that you would be here today to hear these words?  You thought it was just your own goodness that got you out of bed today and you thought that you were earning points with God by coming to church.  In reality it was His sweet spirit prompting your mind and emotions today to bring you here to listen to one last sermon.  Someone here today could wake up in a lost eternity this week with these words ringing in their ears.  The last chance squandered.  But you didn’t know – no one knows the day that they will meet God.  We all will though.

I read the beautiful prayer of Paul from the Philippian jail.  Did you hear that – from the jail.  Hard times and this is his prayer.

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. [1] Philippians 3:7-11 (NIV)

Verse 10 – most of us want the power but we know and want nothing of the “fellowship of sharing in his sufferings

The problem with our aversion to pain is that it causes us to react in ways that compound the damage.

¨      We choose to protect ourselves so that no one can ever hurt us again.  A couple of years ago Gary Fitch took me out west.  In Banff, I helped him pick out a rain coat.  At the time Far West was in.  They had various coats promising waterproof, water repellent, water resistant and breathable.  I remember the raincoats that I wore as a child.  No water got in but you got soaked because no air got out.  The truth is that no coat is 100% waterproof and breathable.  The more it protects you from the outside elements, the less breathable it becomes.  You see, some of you today have chosen to react to the elements of life by looking for something that is 100% waterproof.  You’re not healing from the pain of your past because everything is locked in and you get wet either way.  You don’t have friends because you won’t let them in – as a matter of fact you are sending signals to people to stay away either by anger or depression.  You panic when anyone gets close enough to see your pain.

¨      You choose to dig out that big wide pain brush.  Church is bad because your past experience was bad in some church or with some particular church person.  And so you are never going back there again.  Or you treat people poorly based on your negative past experience with someone else.  When you take out the big wide brush you make a mess.  In trimming out the window that you have on life you obscure the entire pane.

¨       Or your heart becomes petrified.  Hardened.  Hard hearted people also have hearing loss.  As a matter, the more hardened you allow yourself to become the more difficult it becomes to discern the voice of God from other conflicting voices. To love all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it safe in a casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is--hell.

David Watson, I Believe in the Church

Our Supernatural Response

So what does a person do?  How do we respond when life caves in on us?

Look at the scripture with me.

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah [2] Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)

¨      Take Cover.  Learn to keep your head down.  I remember one day thinking that the greatest wounds that I have received in my service to Christ have come from people who call themselves fellow soldiers of Christ.  Often I get hit from behind.  Bang in the back of the head.  Wounds from people who ought to be fighting the same enemy that you are fighting are extremely painful.  One of the common and colossal sins of the anaemic church is that we destroy ourselves and never engage the enemy.

14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”b 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. [3] Galatians 5:14-15 (NIV)

¨      Call for Back Up.  Get reliable help.  Commissioner Gordon had the Bat Signal.  We’ve got Dr. Phil and Oprah. 

Jimmy Olsen?  Remember him?  Superman’s sidekick.  Superman gave him a “signal” watch.  He touched the button on the watch and it emitted a supersonic signal that only Superman could hear – from anywhere.  And he responded in a flash.

1I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?  2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  3He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  5The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  7The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life; 8the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.[4] Psalm 121

Most of us call God when we can’t reach anyone else, when no one else is home.

Where is your help going to come from?  I’m not sure that I know how to fully explain this to you.  You know it if you’ve experienced Divine help.  He loves you enough to give you the help that you need.  That is not always pain relief.

Every once in a while, I pray that God would help me to become miraculously rich.  I rehearse my benevolent motives with God.  I tell Him that then I could work with the church for free.

But I know myself too well and God knows me better.  You see riches would sharpen my tongue and diminish my compassion.  It would shorten my patience with people.  My pride would take over because I would fancy myself to be invulnerable.  The more convinced we become that others have no hold over us, the more difficult we become to live with.  That is why arrogance seems to often accompany self-made riches and accomplishments.

There are those here today who don’t believe that God is helping them because they want to direct their own rescue.

There once was a flood and everyone had reached safety except for one man.

He climbed to the top of his house with the water lapping at his feet.

A helicopter flew over his head and hung down a rope for him to climb, but the man was deeply religious and said,  "It's alright! The Lord will save me!"

So the helicopter flew away. The water continued to rise and a boat came to him but, once again, the man shouted,  "No! Go AWAY! the Lord will come and save me!"  and, once again, the boat sped off.

The water was getting dangerously deep by now so the helicopter came back and, on cue, the man repeated,  "I don't need saving! My Lord will come"

Reluctantly, the helicopter left.

The rain continued to pour, the water continued to rise and the man drowned.

At the gates of heaven, the man met St. Peter.  Confused, he asked, "Peter, I have lived the life of a faithful man - why did my Lord not rescue me?"

St. Peter replied, "For pity sake! He sent you two helicopters and a boat!"

You are convinced that you know what is needed to fix things and you just won’t accept anything else.  That is the very issue that creates the problem that you now face.  You know better than God what is best for you.

The problems that I face in my own life are not God’s creation – they are my own.  My own “wisdom” led me to my current situation.  My own wisdom is not sufficient to direct the rescue operation.

The rescue can be frightening.  It can produce additional pain.  Extrication can be excruciating.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a fireman with the jaws of life or Jesus who is life.  Sometimes there is no pain free pathway back to health.  You can lay there if you wish and choose the pain that you know over the pain required but that is grim.

¨      Hold the line.

That  means that you wait.  One of the most difficult things that we can do in life.  Some of our waiting seems needless.  We want the line to move faster.  We want the light to change quicker.  We want the new car today.  We want relief now.  We’ve done everything else – God needs to hurry up.

“Hold the line” – you remember the military term when the enemy is advancing and the soldiers on the front lines want to be able to fire but the command has not yet been given.  Fear and apprehension rises in their hearts as they can feel the “safe space” decreasing with each step that their adversaries take.

In our own lives there is always the tendency to panic.  To discharge the weapon when the enemy is still too far away.  Then we exhaust our resources needlessly so that we have nothing left by the time that the battle cry is sounded.

We do that through worry and anxiety, fearing things that never take place.

We call ourselves followers of God but we want to call the cadence and have God keep in step with us.

Second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher and trainer in godliness, maturity, and genuine spirituality most of us ever encounter.

n      Richard Hendrix,  Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 3.

In prayer, we are aware that God is in action and that when the circumstances are ready, when others are in the right place, and when our hearts are prepared, he will call us into the action. Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.

n      Eugene Peterson, Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 2.

15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. 16 You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee! You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift! 17 A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.”  [5]

Someone asked Roger Staubach, former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, about football injuries. "How do you keep on keeping on if you're playing professional football?"

Roger said something important: "If you're not playing hurt, you're not playing football."

It's exactly the same way with the Christian faith. If you're not living it hurt, you're probably not living the Christian faith.

-- Steve Brown, "The Prime Principle," Preaching Today, Tape No. 107.

Where does your help come from?


[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

b  Lev. 19:18

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]The Holy Bible  : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Ps 121:1-8). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]The Holy Bible  : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Is 30:15-17). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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