So… this continues from…. *insert drum roll here with dramatic pause*… Whose House? – Part I – The Fall (whoda thunk it?)
The Topic: Comparison and Contrast Between “Ministry” and “Fellowship” in Evangelism
The Modality: Sharing one of my most embarrassing and shameful experiences in ministry, face-to-face defiance of God… Oh, and the consequences thereof.
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We last left our young ministry padawan pondering their failure and writing it up for The Pastor to address the next day. The issue was not, and would not be, “justice” or “punishment” or any such thing. The issue would be, “where’s the lack, the chink, the vulnerability of heart that made (or makes) such defiance look like a right idea”? Almost always, it was (and yet is), something of God I don’t clearly understand… once I understand, I tend never to make that mistake again. (Of course, that’s not to say I don’t find entirely NEW mistakes to make… just sayin’)
So, next morning I walk in to The Pastor’s office, bringing my daily sheets of “prayer journaling” (probably the best, though inadequate way to describe it)… plop them in his Inbox per daily usual, and start to head back to my office. Normally, we do the “debrief” at about 11 and break at noon for lunch, but this day, his appointments were such that he said, “Go ahead and sit down, I’ll need to leave early before lunch,” and he picks up my papers.
Now, be aware, Gentle Reader, that I had never EVER in my walk on this staff, “defied” Holy God. I’d done lots and lots of wrong things, wrong judgments, impetuous words or actions. The Pastor had had to address, and even clean up, some of my messes, yes. But never before had I broken the “One Rule”… and I was ashamed. For the first time, before him, I was deeply ashamed. He NEVER broke the One Rule. He was one of those (almost irritating) people to whom… to KNOW the will of God for his life, day, or moment… was to DESIRE the will of God for that moment. He honestly could never wrap his head around willful defiance. Couldn’t “comprehend” the attitude. (I was a great help to him in this arena.)
As he reached for the papers, I said, “Hey, would it be ok with you, while you’re reading, if I just take a minute back in my office to finish something up? I’ll be right back.”
Being a reasonable and considerate guy, he said, “Sure, that will be fine,” and I headed for the door. But before I could reach it, he stopped me, with a strange look on his face, and said, “wait just a moment…” and I could see he was doing that praying/listening thing! My heart sank. God was “telling…” durnit! And he looked up at me and said, “Do you REALLY have something to do? Why do you want to leave?”
And I knew God had already blown this, so there was no point “speaking less than the truth” (as we called it). I said, “I do not want to be here, to sit here, while you read those pages, sir.”
“Because I messed up… Big Time. And I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed of myself, and I’m ashamed before you. I do not want to watch you, as you read that. I am afraid.”
“Ah,” he said as he nodded. “Then sit down, right there, and relax if you can. Be at peace and wait for me.”
So, miserably I sat, trying not to squirm, as he carefully read through what I had done, and my conviction of being so wrong. When he finished, he looked up and I was relieved to see no anger or disappointment on his face.
He simply said, “I asked you to remain here and wait as I read that, because you needed to face that fear and hear me clearly when I say this now and forever. There is nothing in those pages, nor in anything you could ever do or say, that will EVER make me ashamed of you or disappointed in you. Dismiss that from your mind and heart.
“You make mistakes, you sin. So do I, so does everyone here. But you love Our Father and seek to serve Him. I am only a brother, not your Judge. But even Our Judge does not condemn us, or feel ashamed of us, or even get disappointed in us. Jesus paid for all our mistakes and sins at the Cross, and now we just seek to grow together as a Family under Our Father. That will NEVER change, no matter what you do, so never let that fear grasp your heart again.
“Do you understand that?” and his voice was mild… gentle… not confrontive. And he waited until I could look him dead in the eyes and say, “Yes, sir. I do.” And I did, and from that day to this, that has never ever changed between us.
“Good!” he said, turning back to the pages with a more cheerful, businesslike, air. And his face took on a confused, almost amused, expression as he said, “I hear you here. This was wrong, yes. This was defiant, yes. But the Lord has already dealt with all that, there’s nothing for me to address of that. But what I want to know is, ‘How?’… ‘Why?’… this is just so unlike you! Of all the challenges you bring me on any given day, ‘turning Pharisee’ is certainly not the one I expect! What was in your mind, in your heart? What happened there?”
I pondered for a moment, then sort of mumbled… “It was that ‘Fellowship’/’Ministry’ thing. I had to run. I couldn’t fix it…” and, of course, I was making no sense. (As is so often the case when the Holy Spirit is really working in one’s heart.)
He had me stop, slow down, take it step by step, He inquired what I meant by the “Fellowship/Ministry Thing”, and I explained what Uncle Elder Deacon had taught me the weekend before. Now, I had thought that was “theology”. A given part of this culture of worship, this denomination I was not raised in. I thought that to be a doctrinal statement. It certainly made “sense” to me. It “sounded” scriptural enough. Had a very “holy ring” to it. All that.
But when I described it, I saw my teacher close his eyes and ponder. And then he folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. I knew what he was doing. And I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. Sometimes I “liked” where this went, but often I did not. So… rather like kid banished to their bedroom to “wait til your father gets home”… I just sat and waited, resigned to my fate.
He opened his eyes, leaned forward, reached for his Bible and said, “Little Monk, you were taught an error. I understand now. Your defiance was wrong, but the confusion behind wasn’t your fault. ‘Fellowship’ and ‘Ministry’ don’t work that way, but I don’t want to try to ‘preach’ that to you, I need you to see it first hand.
“SO… I have a homework assignment for you. This is NOT punishment, or correction in any negative sense. You and the Lord are fine, but there’s a mistake, something you don’t understand, and He needs to show it to you, not me. So I’m going to make this assignment, but there is NO TIME LIMIT on it. Normally, you turn work around overnight. Do NOT do that with this. Take all the time you need, and I know when it is finished, you will turn it in. Clear?”
“Fine. Now, the Gospel of Mark is sometimes called the ‘Travelogue of Jesus’. It’s this wonderful series of encounter after encounter in rapid fire sequence. Like ‘and then we went there’, and ‘then we did this’, and ‘then we met them’, and ‘then we went THERE’. There’s a wondrous sense of ‘movement’ to Mark. So…
“I want you to take Uncle Elder’s paradigm, and overlay it on the Gospel of Mark. This is very simple. DON’T WRITE much. This ISN”T that kind of assignment. Just take notebook paper, and make four columns, so…” and he illustrated a narrow first and fourth column, splitting the page in half for the two center columns.
“Then, just LIST… don’t DESCRIBE… the encounters. Start with Column One, the verses address, Column Two “Where was the encounter? House? Temple? Boat? Beach? Hillside?”, Column Three “Who did Jesus or they encounter?”, and then in this Last narrow Column Four, just put one letter… “M” if this was a “Ministry” encounter, or “F” if it was “Fellowship”. Got it?”
I got it, sounded simple. I felt vastly relieved. I could do this standing on my head. He said I didn’t need to finish it overnight, but I was certain I could DO so… I LIVED in the Gospels, these days. No sweat!
Know what? I was wrong! I was dead wrong!. Let’s see, that was a Tuesday, yeah. So, by Friday, as we had just gone on with “life in the fast lane” and we had never addressed this sin again (a practice of his, once something is learned and fixed, that’s it… you never exhume dead sins. Jesus buried them, that’s enough.) So as we’re closing up shop Friday, I pop my head in and say, “Oh, by the way, just to let you know, I’ve not neglected that Mark assignment. I work on it every night. It’s just going slower than I expected.” And he just waved a cheery hand and assured me, he knew I was working on it. Not to worry.
So, the weekend goes by. And I am CERTAIN I’ll have it finished by Monday. And AGAIN I am dead wrong. Not even close…
And that day, Monday of the second week of this Mark assignment, I remember saying the stupidest words to that man that I have ever uttered in my entire life…
They were, “Um, sir? You know that Mark assignment?” he nods… “Would you consider changing it to something else? I’m sort of having a problem with it.”
He smiles , shakes his head patiently, and says not to worry, just take all the time I need.
At which point I whine, “But, do you REALIZE…. there are SIXTEEN CHAPTERS to the Gospel of Mark?” *o my, Gentle Reader, just go ahead and shake your head. This is a fellow who BREATHES the Gospels… you think he knew that? Duh!*
But he nodded gently with a smile, and patiently said, “Yes, Little Monk. I knew that. Just don’t be anxious about it, take your time. You’ll get it done. I’m not worried.”
And so passed that week… Until Thursday, when I put down my pen and papers, and I smiled…
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I’m going to stop this post right here, Gentle Reader. At that stopping point, everything just exploded in a startling insight and Truth. And I will NOT spoil your potential discovery, by describing what happened next.
There will be a Part III — and it will give the answer. But before I do that, let me pose the same challenge to you, Gentle Reader. Try the exercise. OK, maybe you don’t want to try it with all Sixteen Chapters.. but maybe just one or two. Work on this homework for at least one diligent hour or so of JOYFUL Bible Study time… it’s really a great Read! Honest! Nothing dull or heavy about it!
Try that, before opening up Part III and see if we arrive at the same destination!
Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader. We’re all on this journey together. Please keep me in your prayers!