I have a wicked heart. I can totally relate to the line in Come Thou Fount that says “prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”. I want to be known, liked and exalted which makes the position I am in as pastor and preacher an extremely precarious one. I have learned over the last 20 years of ministry that if my pursuit in life (all areas of my life: marriage, children, ministry or even hobby) is anything other than knowing, experiencing, following and worshipping Jesus, things go wrong and I begin to love the transient things of this world more than Him and His glorious gospel. I am constantly guarding my heart and wrestling with my motives concerning the actions of my life. In the end what I want is Him. To behold Him and be transformed into “one degree of glory to another”. At times this belief has led me to make decisions that didn’t make much sense. It was actually this belief that led me to what was known as Highland Village First Baptist Church and what is now known as The Village.
In December 2002 I exited itinerant ministry to become a pastor. I left crowds that were in the thousands and finances that more than provided for my family to go to a small (160 people) church that cut my annual salary in half. There wasn’t one person who thought that taking the position at The Village was a “smart” move. In fact, several actually sat me down and told me they thought I was being disobedient and a bad steward of the gifts God had imparted to me. The truth is I didn’t become the pastor of a church in the suburbs of Dallas because I had a grand vision for growing a dynamic, life-transforming, church-planting, Gospel-preaching, God-centered church. I took the position because after a great deal of conversations, prayers and fasting, my wife and I felt it was the direction God through the Holy Spirit was leading us. I came to The Village because I thought that by doing so I would get to see more of Him, experience more of Him, sense more of Him, see more of me die, more of my flesh perish, and the old man in me lose more power. He is the great end that I am after. He is why. In 1 Timothy 4:10 Paul writes “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe”. I love that verse. We toil, yes. We strive, yes.
“I came to The Village because I thought that by doing so I would get to see more of Him, experience more of Him, sense more of Him, see more of me die, more of my flesh perish”
I spend a good portion of my week in dialogue with pastors. They are from different denominations and tend to be different ages (although most of them are young). The conversations range from theology to philosophy, church growth to how to lead a staff. I enjoy them. I love robust discussion over things that matter. I like it when the unanswerable questions are asked and wrestled over; it somehow feeds my soul. Lately though I have been somewhat disturbed by something I am hearing or maybe sensing in the questions and directions of the conversations in which I find myself. Maybe I am disturbed because the questions remind me of my own dark heart. The thing that disturbs me is that it seems that the goal is something else all together. The goal is growing our churches to a certain size or our platforms (pulpits, blogs, books) to certain fame. How hollow is that? And, how dangerous?
Just because men love Jesus and follow him doesn’t mean that they get to grow or reach a certain level of “success” (I use that word loosely). Here are a few men who loved our great God and King and were obedient beyond the norm:
- Moses spends his whole life with grumbling whiners and dies without getting to walk into the promise land.
- Samson suicide bombs the philistines and when the dust settles he is dead and the Philistines still rule over Israel.
- David’s son rapes his sister and leads a rebellion against David dethroning him for a season.
- Jeremiah ends up in exile with the rest of the country after repeatedly getting beaten for preaching what God commanded him to preach.
- John the Baptist is beheaded by a pervert who gives his head to a 15 year old stripper.
- Peter is killed reportedly crucified upside down.
- Paul is killed in Rome but only after he spends his life (with thorn intact) being beaten, rejected, lost at sea, and consistently dealing with people coming in behind him and destroying what he built.
If your hope is set on anything other than Him how do you survive when it goes bad? How do you remain passionate and vibrant when no one comes or the baptismal waters are still for long stretches? How do you maintain doctrinal integrity or teach hard things if He isn’t the treasure? How do you worship when your wife gets sick or your son goes for a ride in an ambulance? If He is the goal, the treasure, the pursuit, then those things are fuel that presses you into His goodness and grace all that much more. I am not saying they are pleasant or enjoyable but only that if He is your goal you will find your faith sustained.
“If your hope is set on anything other than Him, how do you survive when it goes bad?
Where is our hope? What or rather who is the goal? I love preaching the Gospel and I love planting churches but I do those things because in them there is this unbearable weight of His presence. This crushing majesty that makes me want to cry, sing and scream all at the same time. I have found that I need to constantly search my heart and confess my desire for more than just him. Will you join me in this? Will you search your heart for idolatry and pride for the good of your own heart and the depth of the people you have given to lead? May God lead us and guide us all.