Pastoral Reflections

As I sat on the front porch taking in the warm summer-like evening with one of my boys the conversation turned to my Sunday morning exposition.  “Dad, I want to talk to you about my idols – I have identified two – and I want to talk to you about them.”  The morning exposition included a parting salvo to “keep yourself from idols” (I John 5:21).  “Wow” – I thought.  “I hope he doesn’t ask me about my idols.  I’m not sure I could be that honest.”

When people come to me having doubts about their salvation, I always see it as a good thing.  It usually indicates a sensitivity to spiritual things, a willingness to ask ultimate questions of one’s soul, and a desire to be in a right relationship with God.  In last week’s sermon Real Christians Love – part 4, I talked about the three Biblical tests from John’s gospel that a person should use to examine whether or not they are a genuine Christian.  John’s gospel was written in part so that we might know that we have eternal life (I John 5.13).  While John challenges faux Christianity, he also gives real Christians assurance of their salvation. 

Our problem is that in our sinful humanity we must “train ourselves to be godly” (I Timothy 4:7).  We must train ourselves to play the right notes at the right time and in the right way.  All the notes (desires) are good – and with God’s help – we should enjoy them fully the way he intended.  The problem with our culture is not sexual desire (or any other desire).  Sexual desire, and all the other desires God has created, should be enjoyed fully in the right way (with the right person).  We should thank God for desire.  We should rejoice in the goodness of His creation, and praise him for the delights he has given us to enjoy.      

We ignore the existence of the Evil One to our own peril.  As I noted in last Sunday’s exposition entitled Real Christians Persevere, he is at work right now in the world seeking to dissuade us from remaining in Christ.  This does not mean we should be looking for a “demon behind every bush,” but it certainly means we need to be aware that a real Evil One is alive and well in our world.  C. S. Lewis reminded us that we must not be people of extremes in our dealings with the devil: 

To me one of the most interesting ironies in church history is the expression “monastic community.”  The monks were people who wanted to be alone – in fact the English word “alone” is derived from the Greek word “monk” (monachos).  If you have ever just wanted to get away from it all, then you understand the impetus for the rise of monasticism in the very early centuries of the church.  Monks are simply people who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the culture – the pressures and problems of life – and live in seclusion.  Some were also known as “hermits”, from the Greek word “eremitic” which means “desert dweller” or “wilderness dweller.”  They were people who wanted to escape, to live in the beauty of the wilderness and just enjoy God.  

Over the years I have been very thankful for God’s presence, his promises and his pleasures (“Gifts from God to keep our hearts occupied" – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20).  However, in more recent years I have had a renewed appreciation for the people of God.  Pastors have burdens and trials just like everyone else.  In fact, sometimes God uses these to help us become better pastors – more gentle and understanding with the struggles and weaknesses of those we minister to (see Hebrews 5:1-3).  Yet the “physical presence of other Christians” to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has been an "incomparable source of joy and strength. . . ” to me (citation taken from Life Together).  I am so thankful for the people of God whom I have enjoyed in trials. If you are not in community, living life together with other Christian friends, you are really missing out...

As Sam and Frodo make their way out of the Shire for the unknown lands of Middle Earth, Sam suddenly stops in his tracks.  Frodo turns to his loyal friend with a look of concern and asks if everything is ok.  Sam pauses – and with a thoughtful expression replies:  “If I take one more step – I will be the farthest away from home I have ever been.”  Our own Christian experience is a journey – or to use the exact words of Scripture – a “walk.”  Like Sam and Frodo – we are on a journey together – with God – and with each other.  And the next step – leads us “farther than we have ever been.”  There is danger.  There is mystery.  There is adventure.  But there is one difference.  Every time we take one more step we will be closer to “home” than we were before.