Last Sunday I wrote an abbreviated update that included the following statement that I had heard at a Men’s Retreat I attended last weekend (and which I subsequently was made aware was first spoken by Pastor Francis Chan):
If Jesus were the pastor of a local church, not many of us would attend after our first visit.
Wow, did I ever get a week full of responses and reactions to that. The email messages ranged from the simple question, “Why?” to sympathy that I apparently had not had a good retreat to some folks who claimed it as an “Ah-ha!” moment. It seemed appropriate to follow up a little bit this weekend.
It was a wonderful retreat, full of straightforward teaching from the words of Jesus that challenged me personally and made me wonder:
Would many of us return, week after week, to hear Jesus continue to speak clearly, with authority, and without compromise about the Kingdom of God, demanding that we let Him be the God that directs our lives instead of the God who is expected to make our lives easy?
When Jesus was teaching in the flesh, only a few followed Him to the end. In the initial season of His ministry large crowds would gather to listen, even wander the countryside with Him – but then they walked away when the teaching got challenging. In the latter portion of Jesus’ sojourn on earth, as He spoke of sacrifice and individual commitment, not only His own but that of His followers, some could only endure one “sermon” before concluding that Jesus was a wonderful preacher but His message was too hard for them.
In my pastoral ministry I am committed to letting Jesus speak for Himself through the Bible and His Spirit. I actually say out loud in many sessions that we need to defer to Jesus “because He is the smart one in the room.” However, people can hear the scripture read in my office, look at me and walk out having decided to do the exact opposite of what was just read. Some folks even go as far as to request that I not ask Jesus what He might want to reveal to them – because they already know what He is going to say and they don’t want to hear it because it is not what they want.
Not many would come back for sessions if Jesus were the pastor visibly sitting across the table.
My pastor teaches faithfully from the Word of God. This very morning he passionately shared the words and the heart of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John. He pleaded with us to love like Jesus loved – to love as we have been loved – and to be readily available to be inconvenienced for the sake of love. I dare say most of us, me included, heartily agreed with him – then walked out to actually do little – because it is easy to ignore a man teaching truth. After all, he is just a man like us.
I am afraid not many of us would come back to Avalon Church if Jesus were the pastor, standing in front of us, holding up his nail scarred hands, looking at us with eyes that obviously know our very thoughts, and demanding (as God has the right to do) that we love others.
Please understand my heart. This is not a judgment or condemnation – else I must condemn myself also. This is, instead, an appeal to seek after Jesus – to grow in our determination to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and body – so that we cannot wait to sit again at Jesus’ feet again at church.