Mr. Pastor Answer Man

preacher pulpitI recently stumbled across an old Christian legend that makes little sense theologically, but connected with me nonetheless:

“When the son of God was nailed to the cross and gave up his spirit, he went straight down to hell from the cross and set free all the sinners who were there in torment. And the Devil wept and mourned for he thought he would get no more sinners for hell.

Then God said to him, ‘Do not weep, for I shall send you all those holy people who have become self-complacent in the consciousness of their goodness and self-righteous in their condemnation of sinners. And hell shall be filled up once more for generations until I come again.'”

As a pastor it is my vocational calling to care for and shepherd the people God has placed around me. But in my own head it quickly moves from pastoral care to answer man.

  • “Oh you’d like to know how to correctly think about God? Well, thankfully I have an answer.”
  • “You’re going through the most difficult season of your life? Don’t worry, God is in control and he promises it will result in good.”
  • “I used to struggle with that, but now I’m good at managing it.”

As a pastor I fear I often teach others about a grace where we receive a one-time time stamp of approval, where God forgives the past and equips the believer for life on their own. I speak to others from a place high above them, allowing them to see how shiny I am on the outside.

It’s as if I can start thinking, “Now that I’ve been cleansed from the bad things I’ve done I can move forward into Christian ministry, helping lead others toward God, because I’m all cleaned up.”

And quickly I start to listen to the lie that I’m a pretty good Christian. I read my Bible. I pray. I help others draw close to God. Look at me, I’m a great example!

All my old wounds perfectly healed, no longer struggling with any recognizable form of sin.

The bandages well hidden, no one can see them.

But it’s a lie.

I’m not a pretty good Christian. I need God’s grace as much today as I did during my weakest moments. Without God’s grace I’ll promptly fall back into those weak moments again.

I’m Just As Guilty Today As I Was Then

Here’s a quick rundown of a day last week (meaning this could be a lot worse):

  • I spent a good chunk of the day in conversation with God that went like this, “God, aren’t you glad I’m not like most of those other Christians?”
  • I came home after a full day at work to my wife and kid, and the first thing I said was, “why is the house such a disaster?”
  • I spent two whole hours meeting with people from church, giving them advice, the very advice I prefer to ignore in my own life. “You need a day of rest.” “You need to work on giving others a higher priority in your life.” “You seem to be doing everything you can do stop yourself from surrendering to God’s work.”

I fear I’m helping build a Christianity where no scars exist—where no blood is ever spilled—where the perfection of today is only bested by being perfect again tomorrow.

And it’s all against everything I believe to be true about mankind and about God. In the presence of God we all both completely inept, and also full of glory. In the presence of God we are completely empty, and also totally full.

When we understand this we come to see how faith comes through pain—healing comes through struggle—redemption comes through brokenness. And you can’t get any of that until you’re honest with yourself, God, and others, about how broken you really are.

“Honesty before God requires the most fundamental risk of faith we can take: the risk that God is good, that God does love us unconditionally. It is in taking this risk that we rediscover our dignity. To bring the truth of ourselves, just as we are, to God, just as God is, is the most dignified thing we can do in this life” (Gerald May).

“A person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 2:16

I’m giving up the answers and choosing to embrace the struggle of vulnerably showing my scars. I don’t want to be Mr. Pastor Answer Man anymore.

What good is a Christianity that embraces slick veneer and ignores brokenness? Didn’t Jesus come for the sick?

Lord Jesus,

Have mercy on me, a sinner.