Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Pastor’s Great Struggle

13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Pro 18:13)

I have had fellowship with many pastors. I also am a pastor. I have had lunch with pastors, talked with pastors, and have even at times tried to reason with pastors as pastors have also tried to reason with me.

There is one particular sin that I see in myself and continually fight against. I think it is probably endemic among pastors, to our shame.

We don’t listen.

We think we do. We nod and go Mmmhmmm a lot. But if the story goes on to long, we want to finish it. If the problem is clear in the first three words, we want to give the answer and get on with things. This is also  my great shame, for which I continuously repent.

We thought we were validated by the early nouthetic counselors: The problem is sin; the solution is repentance. There. Don’t waste any more of my time. I already told you what to do.

But we never listened. It took me years of repentance to begin to understand that most people don’t actually get to the real problem the first time they meet with the pastor. They are simply testing the water to see if we listen.

We usually fail that test and the sheep scurry away. We then wonder why no one talks to us. They don’t talk because we don’t listen.

Reformed pastors, to which tribe I belong,  seem to struggle with this to a greater extent. I don’t know why, but I think I might have a few clues. We are usually well-read, full of book-knowledge, and love to see the inner workings of the great truths of scripture. We are usually well-acquainted with original languages, and have a high regard for the authority and inspiration of scripture. All of these things are great and to be greatly desired. But the devil never rests and sin turns our strengths into folly.

We already know everything, so we don’t need to listen. We already know what the problem is, so we don’t need to hear.

But the Bible doesn’t call this “an area to work on.” Nor does it call this “a weakness”.  It calls this folly and a shame to us.

Shame on us every time we fail to listen. Shame on us every time we don’t hear.

We fail to hear in so many ways: The language of a childhood victim of sexual abuse goes beyond words, but we usually don’t stick around long enough to hear.

We silence the voice of the victims of domestic abuse by repeating the mantra, “God hates divorce.”

The voice of the abuser is decidedly different, for it comes disguised as a sheep.

The voice of those who are hurting and poor and in trouble shout at us all around. We would far rather stand on the corner and shout gospel platitudes than actually listen to them.

If we would open our ears to hear, we would begin to make some sense to the cacophony around us. The voice of the proud, saying, “I am, and there is none like me.”

The voice of the hurt, building barriers around her heart to stop any more pain.

The voice of the oppressed, whispering in the corner.

We don’t hear the matter because we don’t want to. It rattles our windows and shakes our floors and makes our house unsteady. It is an unwanted visitor brought to us by sin and the power of the devil and we think that if we shut our eyes and stop our ears and ignore it perhaps it will politely go away and let us get back to our books.

But

13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. (Pro 21:13)

That should stop us in our tracks. When we refuse to hear the cry of the ones without strength, God will eventually stop HIS ears when WE cry to Him!

Also implied is the great truth that we ourselves, we pastors who have “so much knowledge” (sarcasm alert), who have everything all together – are just as needy, just as poor, just as helpless as that poor and oppressed one – we ALSO will cry out, and we will be heard to the extent that we heard those who cried to us. This should strike fear into our hearts.

Fellow pastors, we don’t need to do better. We need to repent. We need to learn to hear the cry of the poor and repent of all the times we were too busy, too uncomfortable, too unsure, too occupied with “important things”, to hear.

When we have shut our mouths long enough to listen, then we must open our mouths to speak.

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
(Pro 31:8-9 KJV)

The phrase translated “such as are appointed to die” is literally “children of vanishing.” They are the ones who are so easily ignored, the ones who suffer quietly because they have been unheard for so long. They are the ones who don’t meet your eye, withdraw into the corner, whisper so low they are hard to hear.

They vanish and are forgotten – except that their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and He entrusted them to your care and commanded you to hear them and then open your mouth to defend them, to plead their cause.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will rattle the very foundation of the nice and neat theological house that you built. Yes, the Enemy won’t give up without a fight.

But it is God’s fight, and He commanded you to fight it. And the day will come when you will stand before God and give an account of every idle word. You will be called to account for your listening skills. You will be called to account for your willingness to open your mouth.

Don’t delay. Learn to hear. Learn to speak. Learn to listen.

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Why we should have learned our catechism…

I don’t know the Duggars. Quite frankly, I’m a bit tired of hearing about them. Two weeks back, I had a vague notion about them having a bunch of kids and some kind of reality show. I wish that was still all that I knew.

But there is something quite disturbing in the air. I deal with it all the time. I have heard it repeated over and over again. It rears its ugly head every time a new scandal erupts. And it is utterly false.

It is the idea that repentance is the same thing as a carefully crafted statement accompanied by tears.

We forget that the first tears of remorse that we shed were by Cain. Esau wept tears of remorse.

In fact, Paul himself said that sorrow is NOT the same as repentance:

9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2Co 7:9-10 KJV)

His prayer was that the sorrow of the Corinthians would LEAD to repentance. Sorrow is something quite different than repentance.

Of course, this is no new insight. It was first published in 1583 in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q&A 88: In how many things does true repentance consist? In two things: the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new.

Q&A 89: What is the dying of the old man? Heartfelt sorrow for sin, causing us to hate and turn from it always more and more.

Q&A 90: What is the quickening of the new man? Heartfelt joy in God through Christ, causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.

Notice how beautifully repentance restores life! It is not the same as manipulation in order to gain an earthly goal. It is not a carefully planned statement calculated to make the consequences of your sin to go away. It is heartfelt hatred of sin because it is sin and it is always coupled with a heartfelt joy in doing all of God’s will  – everything written in the law – because that law expresses the will of God, whom we love and serve.

Though we lose every earthly delight, though we are the offscouring of the world, though we are ridiculed and reproached – or worse, ignored – we will take immense joy in knowing that our God is glorified by our quiet and peaceable lives.

I can think of no greater waste of time, at this point, in the countless comments concerning whether or not Josh Duggar has truly repented or not. I don’t care, having never met him and not being given the responsibility to shepherd him.

My biggest concern is that the false doctrine surrounding him and the Village church and every single person that falls into sin be stopped.

Quit thinking that your carefully planned, or even spontaneous, tears are the same as repentance. To repent is to turn away from sin because it is sin and turn towards the living God, because He alone is worthy of worship and honor and obedience. He alone is beautiful and worthy of our adoration and love.

Wipe away your tears; quit blathering into the camera; quit trying to convince me just how sorry you are. Everyone is sorry. Adam and Eve were sorry, and hid in the bushes trying to hide themselves from God. You don’t need to be sorry. You need to repent. You don’t need to convince me, your elders, your pastor,or the world of how sorry you are. You need to repent. Repentance may or may not include tears, but it certainly isn’t the same thing.

Repentance is never a tool to get the victims of your heinous sins to quit calling you on it.

It isn’t a tool to get out of earthly consequences.

True repentance has only one object: to see the smiling face of our heavenly Father. Turn away from the rot and filth of every idol, and seek his face for we know that he is a God who abundantly pardons.

This is also why true repentance cannot ever be the work of natural man. Even David, when he finally understood this, cried out for the Holy Spirit to purge him, make him clean, create in him a new heart. The heart that we all have is ugly and hateful, no matter how many millions say how holy and wise we are. We don’t need the acclaim of men; we don’t need to convince the world. We need a new heart, because God is not mocked. All things are open in the eyes of the One with whom we have to do.

6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
(Isa 55:6-7 KJV)

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