Monday, August 25, 2014

The Land of No Pain

The Land of No Pain is, in truth, a far away place. Most people like to think of dying as going “to a better place.” Followers of Jesus boldly call this place “heaven” and acknowledge Jesus as the only way (John 14, verse 6) to get there. The reason our thoughts often turn to such a Land is because we live in a world rife with pain. And sorrow. And rejection. And hatred. And brokenness.

I wasn’t thinking much about about the pain of this world when I was a young pastor, just beginning my first foray into senior leadership. If someone had used the word “honeymoon” to describe it, I would have naively called them out of order. You see, I started out as a pastor feeling loved by everybody. The church was growing. New people were coming on board. Everybody was excited. I thought it was the easiest gig on the planet…

…until it wasn’t.

Honeymoons come to an end, I discovered. Even for me. Someone once said of the pastor job: “The first year you can’t do anything wrong, the second year you can’t do anything right, and the third year is when you just might be able to settle down and get something done.” Looking back, that prophecy turned out pretty accurate, except that my first year didn’t last quite that long. Sweet souls turned sour, friends became not so friendly and opposition became as regular as Sunday worship services.

I write this shortly after a nationally-known pastor was on the cover of the New York Times. This particular pastor has stepped up and acknowledged some things about which he has been criticized. His anger and careless words have hurt many who know him and have put him in the crosshairs. For me, I hope he comes through this with some attitudes changed and relationships restored. Right now, though, I know that he is living in The Land of Pain.

Over the past few months, we have seen many big-name pastors in The Land of Pain. Some are guilty of charting their own course to that ugly place, but others have found themselves there because of the hurt in their own families. Many of these will heal, but be forever scarred by the experiences through which they are walking. Some will follow the error of their ways into even deeper error and bring devastation upon the ones who once loved and trusted them.

When Jesus said, 10 "God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 11 God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” (Matthew 5:10-11 New Living Translation), He was obviously talking about something other than pain we inflict upon ourselves. As you read this, you are probably aware of some of the awful persecution of Christians that are happening around the world. People are still suffering and dying because they choose Jesus. And Jesus, the One who promised to be with His followers until the very end, is pouring out hope and peace and joy in the midst of their tribulation.

I look back to that pain I went through as a young pastor. Similar hurts have happened from time to time over the years. One thing that has changed is that I am no longer surprised by it. Opposition is a standard condition for anyone who wants to know Jesus deeply. Those winds in the face can either drive you to the ground or send you soaring into the sky. It all depends on what you do in response. As for me, I would rather fly!

This weekend at Stone Ridge Church, we will spend some time on Jesus’ words about opposition. I know I need the reminder…how about you? Hope to see you there? Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!

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