Perry Emerick – Mesa Campus Pastor
When you are in ministry, there are times when you feel a bit elevated or pedestaled, where folks elevate your stature and perhaps hold you to a standard higher than most. It is something that most all of us have wrestled with, that simply because we work at a church that somehow we have an extra measure of something holy. The truth is, working at a church certainly doesn’t make us somehow more holy than everyone else. Sorry to break that to some of you! Yet, there is something about our commitment to ministry that carries with it in the eyes of those we minister to a sense of piety, of an extra measure of God’s grace and approval… a special relationship with God that is somehow deeper than not only what they have, but what they may feel they can have.
Even when it comes to prayer, some believe our prayers have greater significance. I have been at a number of meals or social gatherings where it’s been said to me, “Hey, let’s have the professional pray for the meal.” We joke about it on those occasions when we are golfing and they pair us up with someone, and they are cursing and talking crude the first 3 holes and then at about hole 4 they finally ask,“So what do you do?” And then all of the sudden their behavior changes. Or when on an airplane and the talkative person next to you finds out you’re a pastor, on go the earbuds and the movie.
Yet for all followers of Jesus, especially those who take their faith very serious and have been doing it for some time, we’ve all likely experienced that sense or pressure to be, for lack of a better term, “better” at it. And likely that has been a source of internal tension. How do I manage the expectations of others and not disappoint people? Or if we really want to spiritualize it, how do I not cause them to STUMBLE?
And so we walk this line… this tension.
But I want to reframe the question and invite you to wrestle deeply with this question.
How does God see you? What does God think of you? What does Jesus think of you? My guess is that you instantly began to evaluate yourself through the eyes of God. Perhaps you saw the face of God gazing at you with some kind of expression. You began to consider your choices, words, actions, thoughts, effectiveness, your shortcomings, and you almost unconsciously landed on some kind of valuation measure.
Now, I want you to hold onto that measure, that image of God and how he sees you…and I want to ask you one more question:
Does that God that you serve look the same as the God you share?
Does the way that God looks at you, evaluates you, feels about you, what He expects of you… is that the same as the God you describe to others and invite them to embrace? It’s a sobering question.
How this thought came about for me was when I was counseling someone – mind you it was someone who has experienced some pretty traumatic events in his life, but he loves Jesus and is actively serving and ministering to others – and when I asked him to describe how God saw him, he described a God who was very critical of him. A God who was often disappointed in him because he didn’t do enough or didn’t do things right.
And I was struck by that. This guy is a new dad and I even asked him, “Is that the same God you want your baby to know and follow someday?”
But it caused me to reflect on the God I serve. How do I believe God sees me? How do I feel about how God feels about me? It isn’t about what I know because intellectually I can articulate Jesus’ love and his like of me quite well. But at the end of the day, does the Jesus I talk to others about treat me the same as I proclaim that He will treat them? And when I was honest with myself, I recognized that often I feel like God is disappointed in me too. That I have to be better than everyone else spiritually and behaviorally because I know better.
Fearing that I was alone in this view, I decided to take a comprehensive survey of our church staff to see how they felt, so I asked 2 female and 2 male staff members, and all of them, when they really thought about it, admitted that the God they serve is different than the God they share.
It brought to mind the contrasting images of Peter and Judas. I won’t go into the passages because I’m hoping you are somewhat aware of the story, but to summarize, both of these men were a part of Jesus’ 12 disciples. Both of these men experienced the miracles. Both of these men were a part of the 72 sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand. Both of these men had experienced the power of God working through them when they did, coming back and saying “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” And both of these men had their feet washed by Jesus and dined with him at the last supper. And both these men betrayed Jesus, one for money, and one for reputation.
And yet, in the end, they each possessed a different view of the same Lord they have been traveling with for 3 years. One could only see a God who was disappointed in him, to the point he took his own life; the other saw a God who loved and forgave, whose grace was available even to his own disciple.
My friends, my hope is that you and I are willing to see Jesus more like Peter than Judas, that rather than beat ourselves up for falling short because we ought to know better, we instead confess it and allow Jesus to work in us. That the grace we hype up and exuberantly share from the stage or the leader’s chair is the same grace we cling too in our own day to day moments of living.
And if you struggle with this, let me give you a few suggestions:
- Go to church. Don’t just attend church, go to church. Don’t go and critically evaluate, go and be fed, be still, and dine on the body and blood of Christ as a reminder not of his disappointment in you, but his abundant love for you.
- Find a community to be real. I get the tension, it can be hard to be vulnerable. But if you can’t be real anywhere, than how real is God’s grace to you? It’s not about other’s conditional measure of your holiness, it’s about God’s unconditional love in your brokenness. Find a place to be real.
- Serve the Jesus you share. Rededicate your life to that Jesus that delights in you, not the one disappointed in you. Yes, he wants you to live a certain way, but it isn’t simply to please him or somehow avoid his disappointment, it’s to experience the fullness of what he created for you…because he delights in you.
Let me close with 2 verses:
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness.” Zephaniah 3:17
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9 (ESV)
My friends, abide in his love.
I invite you to ponder the two questions below and perhaps share with someone this week:
- How is the God I serve different than the one I share? Why?
- What do you do to maintain a fresh and honest love for God?