Archive for April, 2013
It was in the late 1980’s. Our church was buzzing and growing. God was moving powerfully. We had just moved into a new Worship Center and all of a sudden, transition was inevitable. While our numbers gained greatly, we also saw a few individuals and families depart. As any pastor would be, I was troubled.
It was a Moment for me
God had raised up a man to walk with me through these days of transition. His name was Ron Lewis. He was so helpful to me. He joined me on a trip to help the church in our advance towards reaching our region with the Gospel and he listened to me talk about a few departures we had along the way. As a Pastor, you know what it is like: we do not want to lose anyone and while God is bestowing our church with countless blessings, Satan sidetracks us with one little issue.
I will never forget what Ron Lewis told me that day.
Ronnie, Never let Anyone Outside of Your Circle of Love
In my February 13 blog about how I have stayed in the same church for 26 years, I mentioned this conversation briefly. Here was my executive staff sitting in an old Bonanza Restaurant working through how we could sustain the momentum and Ron said to me, “Ronnie, never let anyone outside of your circle of love.” I will never forget those words.
He Went on to say…
Ron expounded on his remarks. He shared with me that if my heart was big enough to forgive continually and love unconditionally, the very same people who may leave today, may come back around in the future. Even today I hear those words resounding continually; “Ronnie, never let anyone outside of your circle of love.”
How Have I Done?
I took Ron’s counsel to heart immediately. Additionally, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the words of the great scholar and teacher of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Oscar Thompson. He taught us continually, “The moment you experienced the love of Jesus Christ at salvation, you chose to forfeit the right to whom you would love.” Boom! At that holy moment, God did a major work in my life personally and as a pastor-leader.
Beginning that day, I have never let anyone outside of my circle of love! I do not have the right to love this person and not love that person. Jesus sets the bar: love all people! Yes, unconditionally love for all people. Even for a Pastor and his family, there are times we are pressed on this issue. However, love and forgiveness always wins!
What can we do to Never let Anyone Outside of our Circle of Love?
Let me share three simple actions you can take to never let anyone outside your circle of love.
First: Take People to the Lord in Prayer
Pastor, you will have people in your church that will hurt you and even offend you deeply. Others will lie about you and cause problems in the fellowship. Others will leave the church, even after you have won them, loved them, discipled them, and cared for them through some of their deepest pain. How should you respond?
Take them to Jesus in prayer one by one. Call their name out to the Lord in prayer. I am convinced that if I pray for people who have hurt me or tried to hurt the church, I will never let them outside of my circle of love. Sometimes, we want to talk to everyone else about what they have done. Insure that you talk to God about them. He is the only one who can keep your heart soft and sensitive to Him and others.
Second: Forgive Continually
Forgiveness is a way of life for a Christian, especially for a Christian leader. Please do not take it lightly. Do not try to turn the rattlesnake of un-forgiveness into your pet or friend. If you do, it will strike you with a poison that will eventually destroy you and eventually even your ministry.
A Pastor and his wife cannot let Satan win this battle! He will destroy you, your marriage, your kids, and perhaps even your leadership in the church. Un-forgiveness and bitterness never has a place in the life of a Pastor and his wife. Forgive continually.
Third: Let it go
Regardless of what has been said about you, written about you, or presumed about you, let it go. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Forgive continually. Then, let it go!
You cannot go forward holding on to a past hurt. You cannot go forward resenting people or situations or the church itself. Let it go!
The End Result
When you do not let anyone outside of your circle of love, eventually, many of them will come back to you. I’ve lived long enough and pastored the same church long enough to see this occur. Just think, if I had not prayed for them, been forgiving of them and let my personal pain go, my heart would have never been opened to their return or called them to return to us as family.
My challenge to you today is very simple: Pastor, never let anyone outside of your circle of love! You will never do this unless you take them to the Lord in prayer, forgive them continually, and let it go. Remember, the moment you received the love of Christ into your life, you forfeited your right to choose whom you would love.
Yours For The Great Commission,
How is knowing God synonymous with eternal life? For those raised in the church or Christian surroundings we have heard, as long as we can remember, that heaven is our eternal home. We come to Christ with an expectation of eternal life when we die. Absent from the body, present with the Lord to paraphrase Paul’s writings to the Philippians. But Jesus did not define eternal life in this way.
It may come as a surprise to some that Jesus did not define eternal life as something only to be gained when we die. He did not equate it with a heavenly reward.
In fact, Jesus did not equate eternal life as some kind of endless extension of the present life with its hurts and hang-ups.
More Than Time, a Relationship
Jesus defined eternal life in terms of a relationship, not a length of time. He defined it as knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ, the One sent to us. If eternal life is defined in terms of a relationship then we are not merely awaiting for Christ’s return or our death. Far from passivity, eternal life is an active, engaging relationship with our Creator, Redeemer, and Savior.
As we come to God’s Word our expectation should be a greater relational knowledge of God. This is how Paul expressed it, “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10). Such knowledge is gained over time by walking with God.
Think about this kind of relational knowledge in the context of marriage. (If you are single think about a couple you admire for their love and the longevity of their relationship.) When a couple says “I do” on their wedding day, it is because they are in love and committed to one another. They love each other because of what they know of each other. It is new, fresh, and exciting.
Compare this with a couple that has been married for 30, 40, or 50 years. Their marriage has weathered seasons and storms. They have raised children together, perhaps to adulthood. They have been through better, worse, sickness, health, temptation, aggravation, sin, and forgiveness. In short, they have experienced life for a long time. It is not uncommon to hear one or the other say, “I love her so much more than the day we got married.”
How can this be? Were they holding back in those early days? Not at all. Love increases with knowledge of another person and knowledge increases with shared experiences of life.
Developing Relational Depth
In the same way, our knowledge of God increases the longer we walk with Him. We learn His faithfulness, come to expect His intervention, understand His timing, increase in faith, and experience His mercy, love, and forgiveness.
This, according to Jesus, is eternal life. It is this kind of relational depth of soul that carries into eternity itself. It is this kind of life the hymn writer called “a foretaste of glory divine.”
This growth in the knowledge of God comes from the same gracious working of Christ by which we were called and saved.
One of the reasons I am excited about serving as Editor of the Bible Studies For Life Curriculum Series, being released this fall, is because of our commitment to disciple people about knowing, growing, and loving Jesus Christ. Bible Studies for Life is very committed to discipling people of all ages into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This involves knowing, growing, and loving Him.
Our growth in relational knowledge of God is not dependent on our strength or positive thinking. It is a result of Jesus’ gracious, continuing work in our lives. We grow in our relationship with Christ because His grace is sufficient for saving us, growing us, keeping us and, ultimately, presenting us to the Father.
Yours For The Great Commission,