To be honest I remember very little of University days, in terms of what was said in lectures. There are however 2 things I remember Rev Professor Murdo Ewan Madonald saying in Practical Theology. I have tried to put them both into practice over the years. The first is that if we were having trouble as ministers with dominant people in a congregation or a Kirk Session trying to control us, we were to say to them, “Yes, I am your servant, but you are not my master!” Unfortunately he never told us what to do to cope with the aftermath of saying that!!
It is however my second memory from Murdo Ewan’s classes that I want to share and concentrate on in this blog. He said almost as a throwaway comment one day, “Make sure that the offence in your ministry is the offence of the cross. Make sure it is not you that is being offensive and a stumbling block to people.”
I think there is wisdom in that. It is good to think about it. In every relationship difficult times can come along. It is easy for believers to assume that any difficulty we face with people is because of the offence of the gospel, an adverse reaction to the Light of Christ within me… but it may well be that I am behaving in a way that is offensive. Please don’t hide today behind the notion that every difficulty that you face is a spiritual attack upon you. Are you aware of the effect of “you” upon people?
It takes time to unlearn things that are wrong or only half true. Half true principles are probably the more dangerous. In the late 70’s and early 80’s a half truth broke from the world of secular psychology or psychotherapy into the Christian World, namely that “I am not responsible for your reactions.” That can be true or a lie at the same time. If you are behaving in a way that is wrong or offensive or abusive then you do bear a responsibility for how people react to you.
As I write, I am thinking about the story of Joseph in the bible. The purposes of God were upon his shoulders as we know from the fullness of the story. However when we first meet Joseph, he is utterly obnoxious, but cannot see it. He upsets his siblings and even his parents by thinking only of himself and the importance he had in God’s purposes. There was indeed a high calling upon his life, but he failed to see that he was obnoxious. The attacks that came his way were in no way excusable, but they were understandable. It was only after years of refining from what was obnoxious that God’s purpose could unfold in fullness.
Is the cross the only offensive thing about you or me? We cannot take away the offence of the cross in that it declares all people sinful and unable to save ourselves, however highly we think of ourselves. The cross has always been a stumbling block to people’s pride in themselves that we ca get to heaven by our own good deeds, or merit the love and blessing of God. It also demands a death to King Self, or Queen Self who have usurped the throne of God in many lives and threaten to do so every moment and day in every life that will allow them territory.
So, a couple of suggestions today:
1 – Be aware of how you are affecting other people. If you keep meeting the same sort of reaction or are treated in the same way by different people indifferent settings, it may well be that you are lacking in both self-awareness or in empathy towards other people. “Why does this keep happening to me?” is a good question to ask.
2- If you want to live in reality, which is after all a key to physical, emotional, spiritual and relational health, perhaps you will have the courage to pray the words of David in Psalm 51: “Surely you desire truth in the inward parts. Purge me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow…” Only when we come into reality about ourselves can we have the right sort of ministry to others with the right motive. Only after he has asked God to help him into truth about himself does David say, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you… open my lips that my mouth may declare your praise… the sacrifices God requires are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart you will not despise, O God.”
You would be surprised how much time a pastor spends dealing with fallouts between believers. Don’t hide behind the half-truth that you are not responsible for how others react to you. Don’t hide from this simple truth, that like Joseph all of us have the capacity to be completely offensive without knowing it! Between the dream of the calling upon his life and the calling working out right, there were years of refining. We live in an “X Factor” generation where people are looking for a fast way to prominence. Sometimes the church falls into that mistake and promotes people to places they are not ready for. They have the gifting but not the character. Let me say that as minister I have never offered people an opening on the basis of their gifting alone. It is character, or the willingness to take that seriously, that I look for. Giftedness may be enough for this world or for a worldly church, but the story of Joseph reminds us that in God’s Kingdom it doesn’t work like that. Well actually, the alarming thing it that it can; I have just realised that I have to say this as well: it is possible to have a ministry based on giftedness… and be lost. One day Jesus will say to those who based their understanding of their spiritual status and well being on the fact that they successfully prophesied and cast out demons in His name, “I never knew you.”
This is a serious blog today. It is being written in the aftermath of what happened to our brothers and sisters in the Lord and their children and indeed to Muslims in Lahore, Pakistan, during this Easter time. The times are serious and could become more difficult yet for people of faith. In a world such as this , there is a need for good relationships within the body of Christ, between believers as well as for much grace in our dealings with people of other faiths. Satan loves to sow seeds of disunity in the world and in the church. Paul said to the Philippian church that it would be a matter of comfort to him in his imprisonment for the sake of Christ to hear that believers were standing side by side contending for the faith of the gospel. The picture is of a Roman formation with shields being held out in all directions to produce a turtle-like shell of protection. What would happen if within that structure a soldier suddenly decided to stick his sword or spear into someone who was fighting alongside himself? There would be a breaking of protection as shields dropped, a chink in the armour surrounding the whole company and the enemy arrows would now be able to get through to decimate the army.
We are not only called to be individual champions contending for God’s truth and Kingdom, but a company doing that together. We need unity for these difficult days of stress throughout the world, days that might well become darker still….
Will we obey the command of the bible which tells us that in as far as it depends on us we are to live at peace with people?
“Lord, may the only offensive thing about me be the offence of the cross. Show me if there be any offensive way in me.” Perhaps you are frightened to pray that prayer because facing up to getting it wrong is difficult for you. Perhaps you were brought up or schooled or are in a work environment where getting it wrong had or has severe consequences. Here is the good news: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Don’t be afraid to look at yourself with Jesus.
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