What Is That to You?

Jesus showed Peter that he was going to die for Him. Peter then noticed John and asked Jesus about him. Peter was implying, “What is your plan for John? Will he die for you too?” Jesus responded by saying, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

That is a word I need to remember and keep remembering.

I have a problem with comparing my calling and ministry with other pastors. It’s the old story of the grass appearing greener on the other side of the fence. I’ve asked the Lord before, “What about ______? Why is their ministry/church different than the one you’ve entrusted to me?”

The Lord’s word to Peter is a word to me: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

The Same But Different

Following Jesus is the same for everyone in some ways. We all walk by faith. We’re all called to die to ourselves. But each of our paths are also uniquely crafted by the Lord for us. He crafts the obstacles for me. They’re perfectly shaped to hit me at the right time and in the right place in order to knock off my rough edges. If another were walking my path, it wouldn’t hit them in the right way. You might say my path is customized for me.

Knowing that gives me freedom to walk my path toward Jesus and not worry about someone else’s path. The Lord is customizing my brother’s path too. That path is not mine to walk. My path is here in Michigan, with my wife, my children, this church, this community, this denomination.

Jesus is not telling me to be apathetic to the path of my brother and ignore him when he needs help. He’s telling me to focus on what He’s called me to do and not be distracted by what He’s called others to do.

“Lord, what about my brother? Have you called him to go through the same struggle you’ve called me?” Well, that’s not a question Jesus cares to answer. He’s called me to follow Him. And it will help me to focus on that.

Not Friends With Jesus’ Followers? Not Friends With Jesus

I’m tired of people saying they love Jesus but either have a loose affiliation with or flat out reject any fellowship with followers of Jesus. That’s not true, and I can prove it to you by Jesus’ own words.

In John 15:12 Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” He is talking to His followers at this time–not just anyone, which is very important. Then Jesus said in John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

Let’s get this straight by turning these verses into an if/then exercise:

  1. If Jesus commands His followers in verse 12 to love each other . . .
  2. And if Jesus said in verse 14 that His friends do what He commands . . .
  3. Then we can conclude that if someone doesn’t love Jesus’ followers, they aren’t friends with Jesus.

I am tempted to jump to the obvious implication that if you don’t regularly attend church, then you should wonder whether or not you are truly friends with Jesus. But that is too easy of an implication because it still possible (likely?) that there are some who regularly attend church but that don’t love followers of Jesus.

You can force yourself to sit in a pew one hour a week and still not love Jesus’ followers. So while I do think local church attendance is part of how a follower loves other Jesus followers, I need to press this implication further.

If someone is characterized by any of the following:

  • Spends little to no time with followers of Jesus throughout their normal week
  • Holds on to resentment toward followers of Jesus
  • Is unwilling to serve or sacrifice for followers of Jesus
  • Is apathetic about the hurts or needs of followers of Jesus

Then that person should ask themselves if they’re truly a friend of Jesus. How could someone claim to be a friend of the King of kings and refuse to do what He says? They might identify as “Christian” in a kind of cultural way, but that term is increasingly different than a true follower of Jesus.

Thank God for Philip

Philip had been following Jesus for nearly three years by the time Jesus asked him what might have been the most gut-wrenching question he had ever heard. Jesus had found him on His way to Galilee and simply said, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and took him to Jesus (John 1:43-46). He spent time with Jesus every day: following Him around, eating with Him, talking with Him, learning from Him.

He had heard Jesus talk about His Father countless times. Jesus did His Father’s will. He came from His Father and was sent by His Father. He was given authority by His Father. Jesus said “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). He even claimed to be God on several occasions, using the famous phrase, “I AM,” when talking to the Jews (John 9:58). Philip heard these things.

But when Jesus said something similar in John 14:7 (“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also”), Philip replied by asking Jesus to show them the Father. That’s when the gut shot came:

“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:9a).

A Lot Like Me

I feel like that at times. I’ve been following Jesus since I was seven years old. That makes 23 years. And sometimes I feel like I barely know Him. I ask Him questions I should know the answer to. I express frustration about things I should be having faith through.

But here’s the thing: Jesus still didn’t reject Philip. 

The question probably stung–as discipline does–but it didn’t destroy him. None of the wounds Christ gives His true disciples destroy. They only push us closer to the Lord. It’s a loving correction that we need.

A Lot Like All of Us

Philip is like all of the disciples. In that moment at the beginning of the upper room discourse, many of the disciples were confused and asking Jesus questions. He was about to die, rise again, and then leave them for a time. They thought His kingdom would be consummated directly after the resurrection. Jesus was telling them that He was doing something they didn’t expect, and it scared them. That’s why Jesus said on multiple times in chapter 14 of John, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Philip wasn’t the only one having trouble processing what was happening.

But that didn’t mean Philip wasn’t following Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean having a perfect understanding of how God is working in all of life’s events. It means seeking to follow Jesus in the midst of those events. Sometimes we’ll ask Him questions we should already know the answer to. And there may be a small, healing wound as a result. The important thing is not whether or not we have questions. The important thing is this: who do we bring our questions to? 

True disciples bring their questions to Jesus. That’s why I thank God for Philip.

 

Why Social Media Isn’t For Me

I was on Twitter before Twitter was cool (is it cool now?). My old employer encouraged being part of cutting edge communication, so that meant we should all join in. I was such an early bird that my handle (@JacobRiggs) didn’t have any numbers after it.

Facebook used to be a site just for college students (remember that?). I was on it then.

Instagram has never been my thing. Me and tons of pictures at my fingertips with no accountability is not a good idea. I’m too much of a sinner for that.

When It Started

I started disliking Facebook first. It was the red numbers. I’m pretty sure those still exist. You know the notifications at the top right hand part of the site that tell you you’re important? Yeah, my addiction to those was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Book Face (thank you Jim Halpert).

Maybe Facebook didn’t intend for this to be the case. Actually I doubt that. I think they craft the notification tool in order to keep people coming back to the site again and again. For me, that notification tool was a satanic tool. Over time I realized more and more that I was addicted to the praise of people. I needed it to give me self-worth. This materialized in countless ways that the Holy Spirit is still uncovering, but Facebook was one of those avenues.

So I just deleted it. It was hard to do (BTW, if you can’t stop, you should. Paul said, “I will not be enslaved to anything”). Once I went back, but that didn’t last long.

Twitter Too

I shouldn’t be too hard on Facebook just because it’s mostly older people now. After all, Twitter did the same thing to me. It felt great seeing something I wrote retweeted and liked by, oh, say, 12 people.

But Twitter also had another negative impact on me (although it wasn’t like this when I first started using it 10 years ago). I found myself getting upset about things that people in my real world were not upset about and didn’t even know about. There is an online world that can impact the real world, but it tries to suck you into it entirely. Many twitter users are robots. I was literally feeling anxious about something that isn’t even real. So I realized I had to say goodbye to Twitter as well.

Now, the Why

It was hard to say goodbye. It felt like a part of me was dying. The old connections I had on Facebook gave me validation, and I loved that. The retweets and likes on Twitter gave me hope that I could maybe be a real author one day, and I needed that.

But deep down that validation and “hope” was hurting me. And the way it was hurting me is probably cliche’ now, but it was true: anxiety. The red numbers on Facebook always made me want more and more red numbers. The retweets and likes on Twitter made me want more and more of the same. Sometimes I sought them so much that I would write things in a twisted way in order to get more recognition. The Bible calls that lying.

Only when God started showing me that He validates me did I find freedom to say goodbye. God cares for me. Period. Not based upon anything I offer Him or anything I’ve done, but just because He does. God sent His Son for me. 

Here’s Your Out, Or Maybe Not

Should everyone get off of social media? Maybe. Should many? Yes. There are other reasons people should leave immediately other than just how it encourages anxiety. It also enables and encourages many sins that send people to hell: gossip, lust, bigotry, hatred, slander, laziness, pride. The list could go on and on.

You might not resonate with anything I’ve written here and find yourself not addicted to them. After all, social media can be used in good ways. Our church has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. You might be able to use your accounts to catch up with family or laugh over a funny video with friends and talk (in person) about it later.

I steal a look at Facebook on my wife’s account sometimes to check our church’s page or organizations I’m interested in. But I’m still not able to engage in it with my own accounts in a consistent, healthy way. So I’m staying away. I’d rather lose 12 likes than have my whole body thrown into hell. It really is about that for me in part. And the other part is that removing this has been one of several factors in giving my heart peace and my mind soundness.

Enjoy laughing at the cat videos, ignoring foolish political rants, and arguing with strangers about what color that article of clothing is. For now, I’m happy to do without that, and increasingly OK without those red numbers too. For that, I’m very grateful to the Lord.

Thank You For Listening to Preaching

Church family,

There are many, many people who are better preachers than me, yet many of you come every week to hear God’s Word from my mouth. This is just a short letter to say thank you.

Thank you for going to bed at a good time on Saturday night as I know many of you do so you can be refreshed and prepared to hear from God’s Word. I believe God honors that small act of faith.

Thank you for paying attention to what I’m saying. I can tell you do, and I can tell you take it seriously. I feel honored when you care to listen to what I’ve been preparing to share with you for 12-15 hours of the last week.

Thank you for not taking my word for it, but looking at God’s Word yourselves and considering whether what I’m saying is what God says. We both know that if any change will happen in our lives, it will be because God does it through His Word, and not my opinion, personality, or humor.

Thank you for forgiving me when I have said something in error or with the wrong spirit or tone. I have said things out of anger before, and it humbles me so much to know that you haven’t rejected me because of those sins.

Thank you for saying “Amen” when I ask you to during my sermons. I know it makes you uncomfortable to audibly respond during preaching, but sometimes hearing you say “Amen” helps me finish what God has put in my heart and mind. I need you during preaching just as much as you need me.

Thank you for listening well to guest preachers I sometimes invite to serve you. I often hear good remarks about your attentiveness and respect you give to them. (And thank you for still wanting me back after they’re done preaching.)

Thank you for following me well when I have few illustrations and stories. You can follow a deep theological point better than others I have preached to. It’s a sign of your maturity. (And I hope to be able to illustrate things better in the future.)

Thank you for loving me and my family outside of the pulpit. You always have. And I hope I can be better at doing the same.

Thank you again,
Pastor Jacob

 

Pastoring Is Lonely, But It Doesn’t Have to Be

Loneliness is real for many, but especially pastors. As I can see, there are a few contributing factors to this:

  1. We spend a lot of time alone. Studying for a sermon takes time. (Or at least it should.) For me it takes 12-15 hours each week to prepare a sermon for Sunday. It takes another 5+ to prepare for my teaching on Wednesday, and another 1 to prepare for teaching Sunday school. That’s 20+ hours spent alone each week. That doesn’t mention time in prayer, planning, other reading, etc.
  2. Some of what we know cannot be shared. Pastors are shepherds, and sometimes sheep share things with us that we can’t share with anyone else–not even our wives. This can be burdensome. It naturally makes us feel like no one can relate to what we’re doing–because not many people can.
  3. We have extra pressure to be holy. We are to set examples for the flock. That is not easy–especially when your flock has been following Jesus longer than you have! We aren’t called to be the savior of the sheep. They already have one. But our Shepherd has saved us to be holy, and if we fall, we impact a lot more people than if a sheep falls into major sin. People are watching us and some even set their standards of behavior based off of how we live. “If the pastor does it, then I can too.”
  4. We are under focused spiritual attack. Satan hates a lot of things: like babies, marriages, people who want to tell others about Jesus, and prayers. Pastors are involved in all four of those and have devoted their lives to playing a role in destroying the works of the devil. So we have targets on our backs. And some of the arrows heading our way have “hide,” or “no one will understand” etched into the shafts. So we keep things in.
  5. We sometimes make decisions not everyone likes. You can’t please everyone–even among the saved. On top of that, sometimes there are messengers of Satan within the church who don’t like anything you do. There’s just nothing to be done about this reality. This means people will naturally not feel as free to be themselves around us. It’s like being around the CEO of a company. It’s cool to be friendly or even to critique them, but it’s strange to be near to them in a relationship. Leadership is lonely. It’s part of the price we pay to have the influence God has given us.

Moving Past The Loneliness

There are two things to do if this is you (both of which I am currently seeking to do):

  1. Pray God would give you a friend. Of course the Lord helps us in our weaknesses, but He also hears our prayers and gives us what we need. And many pastors just need friends. If you’re a sheep, pray God would give your pastor a friend. And if you’re a pastor, pray for the same thing.
  2. Open up. Tell someone what you’re feeling, not just thinking. I have found that when I do this, instead of condemning me, people actually open up to me and put their guard down. Suddenly I’m not in an ivory tower anymore and they realize it’s OK to admit weakness (which is necessary to be a Christian!).

We all realize as pastors that the spiritual health of those Jesus has entrusted to us depends in part on our spiritual health. Open up and find a friend. It won’t just be a balm for you, it will prepare you to serve others well too.

 

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

The pastor is the leader. I’m called an “overseer” and “shepherd” in Scripture. That means I’m supposed to know where and how to lead the sheep Jesus has entrusted to me.

But I confess, I often do not know how and where to lead the sheep.

What I Do Know

Of course I know I’m to lead the sheep to Jesus. That’s easy to understand. Of course I know the sheep need to be fed by God’s Word. The sheep need to be cared for, protected, have their wounds bound up. All of these happen through God’s Word.

I know of course I’m supposed to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.

I know our mission: to help people follow Jesus.

But how to do those things? I’m still figuring that out. And I probably will be until I die.

Semitary For Leadership

Leadership is not taught well in seminary. Maybe not at all. There were no classes on how to run a business meeting, how to identify future leaders, how to train people to teach the Bible, how to resolve conflict, how to know when to change something, how to confront bullies, etc. I basically know two things from seminary: (1) theology and (2) how to study the Bible. Almost everything else I’m trying to figure out as I go.

I know I’m supposed to lead, but I don’t know how. For example:

  • We are called to help people follow Jesus in community. Should we start home groups? Should we push Sunday school more? Should we have more fellowship meals? What will be most beneficial in accomplishing that goal? I don’t know.
  • We are called to evangelize. But I’m not good at it myself! I can preach, but I’m not a walk-up-to-someone-on-the-street-and-lead-them-to-Jesus kind of guy. Do we need a program? Do we need an evangelistic course to invite people to? Do we need to make Sunday morning the mechanism for evangelism and focus everything around that? Do we need to go back to door to door? I don’t know.

I Need Help

I’m sorry if it makes you feel insecure to know that your pastor doesn’t know what he’s doing, but it’s often the truth. Remember, I’m not your lead pastor. The one who holds that responsibility is the fountain of wisdom.

Maybe there aren’t classes for leadership in seminary because you can’t really teach those things in a classroom. They require wisdom, and wisdom primarily comes from experience. Knowledge I have. Experience I do not have. Therefore wisdom is lacking. Therefore, more and more I am realizing my need to learn from the experience of others. Maybe if I’m still pastoring when I’m 85 I won’t need wisdom from others, but until then, if you have an insight, I need to hear it.

But I’m Still the Leader

Hebrews 13:17a says “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account . . .” I will be judged with stricter judgment as a teacher of God’s Word and an overseer of souls. I’m not here to make Christians happy. I’m here to make Jesus happy. After I receive counsel and wisdom, I still have to make decisions. By God’s grace, and unless I disqualify myself, I’m striving to shepherd and lead as well as I can.

I will make mistakes in leadership. I have already made many. When those errors come to my attention, I will do my best to make it right.

This is probably the biggest area in which I need prayer: leadership.