Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Breaking a Pastor's Heart

I am not a typical pastor, by most people’s standards. I like to hunt, shoot guns, and ride a motorcycle. As you can imagine, I am not usually described as a “softy.” Yet, this pastor’s heart has been breaking of late. What could break the heart of a gun-toting, camo wearing, motorcycle riding pastor? It’s simple: the lack of submission to biblical authority in the lives of those who claim to follow Christ.

Not too long ago I had a young man in my office discussing church membership. I knew that he and his girlfriend were cohabitating; that is, living together before marriage. So, I asked him if he thought their living arrangement would be a problem when it came to church membership. He said, “No. The church shouldn’t judge anyone for anything.” Some time later I got a text from a college ministry leader. He had received a prayer request from a young man in his ministry asking the group to pray that he and his girlfriend find a new place to live. A prayer request that, if God answered it the way the young man wanted, would result in the young man and his girlfriend living in sin!

Others will certainly identify with these kinds of circumstances or any number of other areas of life where the Scripture calls us to an obedience that goes against the culture. We regularly engage with cohabitating couples, people who are angry that we espouse a biblical definition of marriage, people who are more faithful to give to their retirement account than to the work of the kingdom, people who vote for political candidates despite those candidates holding non-biblical views on social and moral issues, to name just a few. In short, we encounter men and women who are driven by their pursuit of immediate happiness rather than faithful obedience to Christ. There are many reasons for this, of course: our sin nature, the battle with the flesh, spiritual warfare, among others.

It seems to me, however, that much of what breaks my heart as a pastor is rooted in a problem as old as the Garden of Eden: we doubt God’s Word applies to us, especially when it restricts our behavior. When the crafty serpent tempted our first parents, he did so by inviting them to question whether God had really spoken. He asked them, “Did God really say?” The implication is that, if God loved you, he would not impose rules that restrict you? Our first parents bought the enemy’s lie and we have been following their lead ever since.

There seems to be an increasing disconnect between what Christ followers affirm intellectually about the Bible and that to which they are willing to submit experientially. We will agree with our church’s doctrinal statement about the Bible, yet when the church begins to evaluate behavior and lifestyles in light of biblical teaching, we want to cry foul. We seem to miss the fact that if Bible is true it must be authoritative over every area of our lives. We do not get to pick and choose which parts of the Bible are true. We cannot have a Bible that is true when it speaks to forgiveness and salvation, but not when it speaks to holiness, obedience or the transformation of our behavior by the Holy Spirit.

In the encounters described above, it was clear that the individuals were disregarding the Bible’s authority over their lives. It seems people are happy to believe the Bible is true and accurate when it speaks to Jesus providing eternal life, but not when it speaks to how they live out the reality of that salvation. For example, the young man who didn’t think the church should ever “judge” anyone, obviously has not read 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 in which Paul, when discussing a man engaged in sexual immorality, says “I have already passed judgment on the one who did this” and then admonishes the gathered church to “hand this man over to Satan.” Indeed, Paul could say such a thing because he understood that we are not our own, but have been bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20).

The disconcerting truth is this: we are not free to live as we please. Not if we are faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Faithful followers of Jesus Christ recognize that the Bible is not only true when it speaks to salvation, but also when it speaks to how we live. In our culture that means the church must speak biblical truth about a wide range of lifestyle issues. It means we must admonish Christ followers to honor God by not engaging in the immorality of cohabitation, pre-marital sex, pornography, and drug use, among others. We need to exhort believers to think biblically about political topics and candidates before casting their votes. And, we need to tie these issues to the reality of the Bible’s authority over us.

When believers live as if God’s Word has no authority over their lives, it breaks the heart of their pastor. More than that, it breaks God’s heart. It breaks God’s heart because it results in broken lives. And, more often than not, we pastors are the ones who are called upon to help put the pieces back together. Yet, the simple truth is that God’s Word to us is not intended to restrict our behavior because God is mean or because he does not want us to have any fun. No, his Word is intended to protect us from the pain and sorrow of a life that is broken by the consequences of disobedience.