Over the past 365 days I’ve had to face some of the most difficult decisions in my life, not to mention in the course of my calling. Cancelling services, worshipping online, delaying things people long to see return, and more than that, ministering to a congregation that has been physically separated due to dramatic, unprecedented circumstances.
I’ve even had a few people whisper behind my back, accusing me of enjoying these decisions. That I’m a-ok with skipping a Sunday here and there. Suggesting that these decisions have come easily or that I’m more than happy to make the hard calls I’ve made.
Far, far from it, my friends. These decisions have been prayed and prayed and prayed over. And despite the peace and assurance God has offered me on each one, each and every one has nevertheless ripped me in two.
The hardest decision of the last 365 days of tough ministry, though, came on May 11, 2020. The day before my forty-second birthday. It was on that morning that I had to face a hard reality and make a decision I had been dreading: canceling the teen’s annual Big Creek youth missions trip to Bear Branch, Kentucky. It’s a mission organization that’s become near and dear to my heart, and not just because it’s located in one of the most impoverished regions of the country or that it provides teens with the rare opportunity to lead and make a missions trip their own. It killed me to face reality and cancel the trip because I know, from firsthand experience, that Big Creek is a vital and necessary ministry to tens of thousands; a quite literal godsend and living, breathing gospel-delivering necessity to so many lost souls; a well-oiled Great Commission machine managed by a man truly after God’s own heart; and a mission center that desires, above all else, to excite, engage and involve teens and young adults in service of something far bigger than themselves.
Cancelling that trip snapped my heart in two.
And yet the peace I discovered in the wake of that hard-to-swallow decision was this: God has given us wisdom. The kind of wisdom outlined in scripture for moments exactly like these. For moments that this past year has been chalk full of. He expects us to use that wisdom as well… to nurture it, develop it, and protect it from our own desires and human wishes.
We weren’t created to be believers who cling to dreams. We were created to be believers who cling to hope, and even then, hope in Jesus Christ. Not hope in the future, our plans, our expectations or the things we want, when we want them, and how we want them.
There’s a big difference between dreaming and hoping. A great chasm separates the two.
When a dream is crushed, you get crushed right along with it. And it takes a long time to recover.
When hope is dashed, you… well… you’re just fine. Oh sure, it may sting for a short time. But you recover, move on quickly, put things back together. And even the sting doesn’t sting all that bad if your hope is in Jesus.
When our hope is in Christ, whatever else we hope for falls into two simple categories: things that fall within God’s will and things that fall outside of it. Moreover, when our hope is in Jesus, it’s funny how the only things we start to desire and pursue are those things that fall within God’s will.
Like our Savior, we dedicate our lives to aligning with the Father’s desires, the Father’s expectations, the Father’s plan.
If our hope is dashed it’s because we either misunderstood things or we attached ourselves to something God didn’t want us to hope in or rely on in the first place.
So much of the last 365 days has challenged Christians, myself included. It’s forced us to question how much we put our hope and faith in things like buildings. Great resources! But… not wholly required to genuinely live out and minister as believers in “The Church”. Or Sunday morning worship services. Great tools for fellowship, teaching and group ministry! But not the primary source of the growth and development of our personal relationship with Jesus. (At least they shouldn’t be the primary source…) Or missions trips, even for teenagers who desperately need such experiences to better learn to know, love and serve Christ. Wonderful teaching sources and opportunities! But not the first and foremost things we should give our young people to rely on when learning how, when and where to serve.
At least those are the lessons we should have learned from the challenges of this past year.
Instead the Church as a whole — “Big C” church, not necessarily “our little c” church, The Good Shepherd Ministries — has argued. It’s divided. It’s judged. It’s spent its time politicking. Debating. Labeling. Assigning being a good Christian to things Jesus never, ever, ever identified as characteristics of those who would be known to follow Him.
I’ll go one step farther with another statement; one I prayed about multiple times before God gently confirmed, “it needs to be said”.
The Big C church, in many ways, has allowed itself to become a political prop.
Dear friends, we were never, ever, ever called to be a political prop. We are above politics. We are beyond politics. Those are matters of this world, and we are saved by grace and called by name by Something much higher than this world. And that loving Father doesn’t call us into the mud to squabble and separate and segregate into congregations — into warring tribes — of like-minded individuals.
He calls us to unity, despite our differences, all in pursuit of His truth, His scripture, His plan, His will and His Good News.
The questions we have to ask ourselves are the same questions that have always been there. The same questions believers have been asking themselves for 2,000 years. Do we want to serve man? Do we want to serve our desires and expectations? Do we want to serve our buildings, services and missions trips? Do we want to serve our ministries over the Lord on High? Do we want to serve our political leaders? Do we want to serve our church leaders? Do we want to serve money? Do we want to serve the economy? Do we want to serve the noise and distraction of the day?
Or do we want to know, love and serve Jesus Christ?
That’s the question of 2021.
That’s the question the “Big C” church is going to have to grapple with. The question it must grapple with. That it must answer definitively. That’s the question we at The Good Shepherd Ministries are committed to answering with a resounding declaration:
We live to know, love and serve Jesus Christ. No other!