The prospective pastor was obviously a seasoned communicator, a veteran with over thirty years of experience in ministry. Leaders in the local church were impressed with his desire to facilitate healing and reconciliation between them and their former pastor; the pain from their parting still lingered. With conviction and purpose, he delivered his message to the members and invited guests.
I was impressed. The message was simple—a moving depiction of the agape-love feast, punctuated with practical illustrations of love, reconciliation, and restoration. One could feel a rising sense of hope, a lifting of our vision to the power of the cross and the blood of Jesus to heal and restore ruptured and broken relationships. God knew we needed this! I was ready to break bread and share the cup with my brothers and sisters in Christ, anticipating the feast in love and forgiveness as Jesus had loved and forgiven me. The preacher delivered his heartfelt conclusion and began to transition to the Lord’s Supper.
He should have skipped the transition.
In ten short minutes, the veteran poisoned the table he had just set. Deliberately and forcefully, he addressed the former pastor with accusation after accusation gleaned from the offended he had met with throughout the week. Hope for reconciliation gave way to confusion in the crowd. It was surreal, a shocking contrast to the joy and hope of the message of the gospel. Fear, intimidation, and shame moved effortlessly among us. The preacher crescendoed to the end of his list, pointed at the former pastor and declared him to be a Judas Iscariot, betrayer and destroyer of the Lord and his church.
After a brief pause for effect, he looked me in the eye and asked, “Pastor, do you have anything to say?” That’s right. I was that former pastor. All those horrible things he had just said were about me.
So what would you say?
My wife, Lisa, and I have discovered in our adventures with God that He is amazingly faithful. We may feel powerless, but we are never helpless, for the helper is very real and always present. “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted (tested) beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted (tested), he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13 NIV; an alternative translation to “tempted” in the Greek language is “tested”). Could we stand up under this test? Could there possibly be “a way out” of this that would result in glory to the King and advance for His kingdom? For us, ultimately, the question became, “Is God really faithful?”
In the years that preceded this event in our lives, and the years that have followed, we have been learning to ask questions of God about who He is, about who we are, about His kingdom and His people. In every season and experience, God is intentional in offering us opportunities to grow and mature. But those “opportunities” are often veiled and obscure. Most treasures are not immediately perceived; we must dig for them.
It had been a very difficult season for our family. The “ministry honeymoon” was definitely over; dissatisfaction among leaders and members bubbled to the surface, and we were all faced with the realization that issues had to be addressed. It was painful. None of us were adequately prepared for the excruciating and seemingly endless board meetings. Our peacemaking skills (such as they were back then) were strained beyond our capacity. After one particularly grueling meeting, I went back to my office, collapsed to the floor, and wept uncontrollably. In the hour that followed, it felt as though a sword was being thrust through my stomach; the pain was palpable. I cried out to God to deliver me from this obvious attack of the enemy designed to destroy me.
God answered me, but not in the way I anticipated. “This is not the enemy. This is my sword. It is time that you die to your flesh, to your pride.” There is nothing as piercing as the Lord’s judgments. He is always right (Psalm 51:4) and no defense can escape the scrutiny of His truth. I did not die quietly that night; but I did die. And a long process of transformation had begun.
It took some digging, but Lisa and I discovered many treasures in the midst of that season of conflict (and many since). Here are a few:
- God delights in revealing Himself to us in any season or circumstance. We learned to ask God, “Who do you want to be for us in this season?” God is always revealing Himself in some way or other, perhaps as Faithful One, as Judge, or as Comforter. Our lives are changed as we behold Him.
- The bride of Christ (the church) is beautiful and precious to Him; therefore, she is beautiful and precious to us. She may be in process of transformation, but like the bride of Hosea 2, she will be cleansed, she will find her voice and sing again, and she will be fruitful. Speak tenderly to her. God does.
- Never vilify those who oppose you now. It is likely that someday they will have the opportunity to become your ally.
- “Sowing and reaping” is a powerful biblical principle and reality. Every seed counts.
- Blessing brings life and fruitfulness. Cursing, angry self-preserving defense, and accusation are fitting only for the one whose mission is to steal, kill, and destroy. Shall we join with the minister of intercession or the minister of accusation?
- God is a Redeemer. He wastes nothing and no one, not even our abject failures.
- The mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart (Matt. 12:34). Every heart has a history. Pay attention to the history of your heart and allow the Holy Spirit to access the wounds, the shame, the fear, the unbelief, etc. Invite Him to address you before the moments of testing and confrontation arise. Say the same thing He says about that attitude, that unbelief. Think and act differently, in a way consistent with God’s truth. Then you will overflow with blessing rather than bitterness, life rather than death, hope instead of despair.
That night, at the unexpected invitation to address my former congregation, I did not come prepared with those “Seven Recently Acquired Treasures” that I listed above to assist me in determining what I should say. I had the time it took to walk twelve or so paces to the pulpit. But the previous few months of brokenness prepared my heart for this moment. With every step, I was aware of the faithful one walking with me. And I remembered the blood and the broken body of Jesus, and the feast of love prepared for me and for the rest of His bride. Love won the night. The Holy Spirit helped me speak words of blessing, forgiveness, hope, and love. That night began the preparation for the major move of reconciliation and restoration that was to come: seven years later, we were welcomed back into that same church and invited to participate on their leadership team.
Let God’s living Word make your heart clean and aware of His presence, even in the wilderness places of rejection and confrontation. Humble yourself (agree with God). And when your time of testing comes, you will know what to say.