- In our message last week we noted the way forward is never turning back nor is it standing still. The way forward is difficult, involves work, and often great sacrifice.Sometime the way forward is not what we want. Sometimes the solution is not what we want to do. Often, like medicine, the way forward puts a bad taste in our mouth.Jennifer and I are getting away for a copula weeks. I’ve timed this message so that you will have those two weeks to think about what I am communicating this morning.Here is what I know. In the life of our church I think we feel like we are in the wilderness. There is a way forward, but it is so tempting to keep things just as they are. Sometimes we even want things to be like the used to be.As a church, we are in the middle of a very significant time of trial. So, what is going on here? Where is God telling us to go?Let’s look at our passage and pray before we see what the Bible has to offer in regard to these questions.I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong;PRAYKnowing God’s direction is not always so easy to discern. Sometimes we get in the way. Let’s first discuss when our vision becomes too big for us to hear from God.Disposing of the DreamIn our series we’ve noted how God directs the path of his children. He provides, He guides, and he disciplines those He loves.Your pastor is not above the people. Honestly, in my time here at FBC Minneola I’ve felt like this is one big trial. Along the way are many smaller trials, but the biggest trial is one in which I see we are all still involved.In the last nine years not everything worked out like I’d hoped. God’s done lots of amazing things and we’ve come a long way as a church, but there were some troubled times. Not everything went as well as I anticipated and hoped. We’ve experienced way more setbacks, problems, and pushback than I ever imagined.Here is what happens to pastors facing challenges like the one we are facing. Often they get protective about their churches and sometimes they get bitter. Most begin polishing their resume and get ready to resign. It happens more often than you might think.I have to tell you. Some of the issues we’ve experienced are my own making; they were the result of being my first pastorate and sometimes because I didn’t love other people in the way I’d like to be loved.Sometimes problems are of our making.Also, Satan is still busy. The enemy of the church stays busy. Because we’ve reached out to our community in the name of Jesus, the enemy takes note and gets aggressive.ILL - Do you recall the timing of the floor flooding. It happened when I was on vacation. The pastor is away, the devil goes to play. On another vacation, Scott resigned from being our worship leader; that was the first day.Not all happens when I’m away. We were our busiest reaching many hurting when burglarized. Our youth group were the bigger than the church when Brandon left. And, the list of broken things when we’ve had no money is pretty extensive.Ultimately, in all of this, even in my own struggles being pastor, I seek God loving me and this church. Often, I see God loving us with much mercy which humbles me greatly.TRANS - In our text Paul said become as I am. For obvious reason we don’t want to be like anyone when they are following themselves instead of God.Let’s shift from the “I did it my way” tune to consider how we hear the voice of God.Direction of the DeityDo you ever wonder why God is not growing our church? The Bible says “God grows the church.” Why has God called me to pastor this church? Why did God call me at this time? What is God doing in all of this?You might ask these sort of questions. Perhaps you’ve got some ideas, answers, or thoughts on these matters.What I see is God polishing me, tuning me, honing me.Sometimes God must wear down the spots in a soul that need change before He can use a person.It seems God is changing me through difficulties, disappointments, and suffering.For me, this is a painful understanding. See, like most pastors, I have lots of ideas, thoughts, visions, for our church. It is true that visionaries do make the best pastors. But, sometimes visionaries don’t make the best “pastoral pastors,” that is, sometime visionary leaders don’t show the people enough love.Do you know that the greatest thing God’s taught me in my time pastoring FBC Minneola? It’s not what you think. It’s not getting a doctorate, coping with difficult times, nor even working on the craft of preaching. Nope! The best thing God taught me here with you is that you don’t want to simply be part of my vision, you want to be part of my heart.I’d like to read a little something penned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together:“On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. By sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and to abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exalted moods that sweep over us like a wave of rapture. For God is not a God of emotionalism, but the God of truth. Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community, the better for both. However, a community that cannot bear and cannot survive such disillusionment, clinging instead to its idealized image, when that should be done away with, loses at the same time the promise of a durable Christian community. Sooner or later it is bound to collapse. Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the community. They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure.”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together; Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Works, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), pp. 35-36.)Now listen to how Bonhoeffer applies this to pastors and the people:“That also applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous parishioners about their congregations. Pastors should not complain about their congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. Congregations have not been entrusted to them in order that they should become accusers of their congregations before God and their fellow human beings. When pastors lose faith in a Christian community in which they have been placed and begin to make accusations against it, they had better examine themselves first to see whether the underlying problem is not their own idealized image, which should be shattered by God. And if they find that to be true, let them thank God for leading them into this predicament. But if they find that it is not true, let them nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of those whom God has gathered together. Instead, let them accuse themselves of their unbelief, let them ask for an understanding of their own failure and their particular sin, and pray that they may not wrong other Christians. Let such pastors, recognizing their own guilt, make intercession for those charged to their care. Let them do what they have been instructed to do and thank God.”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together; Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Works, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), pp. 37-38.)As your pastor, I’m sorry. I’ve not always loved you like Jesus would. Please forgive me. Please forgive me for making my own vision more important than you. What God is teaching me is that you are more interested in being part of my heart than my vision. It’s not the sort of lesson that comes quickly or easily because it requires I give up my ideas of that church should be or how it should operate. Pray for me that the one who began a good work in me will be faithful to finish it for my good and for your good.TRANS - Now, I hope you see that while this might sound a bit backward, I’m actually setting you an example of how God wants all his children to express themselves within the church.We all have faults, and sin, and must bring this to the attention of the church. Confess your sin to one another is so important a part of the healing process that even secular self-help programs recognize the benefit. How much greater still then God’s people within His church.Once done, people a positioned to hear from God. That is why this message is so important!Doing the Deity’s DirectionsCrucified with Christ is the way forward. In the wilderness, the way forward is difficult. It will be hard. We have lots of work ahead of us.Turning back is not the way forward. Going to Egypt is not heading toward the land of promise. Relying on how we used to do church is not the way to press on to the future God has for us.The way forward is the only way as there is no other. The way is to take hold of the cross ever so tightly. The way forward though the mess in which we are is the same way forward that Paul recommends to the Galatians:I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong;If we will move forward, out of this wilderness, we have to do what Paul is calling the Galatians to do. We have to imitate Paul, to become crucified like him with Christ:I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Imitating the crucified Paul as he imitates the crucified Christ—that is the way forward for each and every one of us, both in our current situation as a church and also in every other difficult situation in which we find ourselves. Letting our own desires and ambitions and wishes and dreams and preferences—our very life—be crucified on the cross with Christ, for the good of others, as an expression of the life and love of Christ working in and through us—that’s the call of the gospel on all our lives. And that’s the only way forward as a church.Consider the word from Philippians:Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.This “mind of Christ” is the only way forward. The mind of Christ is what I need as pastor. The mind of Christ is what you need, as His children; desperately need.Crucifixion with Christ—raising Him up in praise—putting self second—this is victory!What challenging, difficult, what is it that God wants yet we resist?In what way’s might people prevent God from accomplishing His will to grow our church?What are you doing that is bearing fruit of new fellowship in our church; who did you bring, will you bring, to join this church?Ask God to reveal your part in preventing His will from taking FBC Minneola to the next level.Remember, God uses people to do the work.(end)
- Nearer, My God, to Thee
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