In the 16 years that Tiffany and I have been married, she has shared and even reminded me of a lesson she learned when she was younger. In case you missed this portion of information in a previous blog, my wife, Tiffany, is also a pastors kid. Growing up in a pastors home, you learn many important life lessons. Some are easy lessons and some aren’t. Today, you’re going to hear about a lesson that she learned as a kid that has now impacted how WE (yes, both of us) do ministry. The lesson she learned from her father has impacted me and I am reminded often about the message of love, grace and forgiveness that Jesus desires for us to pursue and live out.
He had me stand in front of him with my hands held out, palms down. As he looked at me with hurt in his eyes, both of his hands came down with a sting on the tops of mine. “Ouch!” I yelped as I pulled my arms back and stared at him in bewilderment. “Put them back and don’t pull them away”, he replied. I did so and he again struck them several times as the tears started forming in his eyes. As I looked at him completely stunned and in horrible confusion he began, “It hurts and it will sting every time someone hurts you. You have to keep your hands and heart extended just like Jesus did and does. It doesn’t ever get easier, but when you keep your eyes off people and on Jesus He gives you the strength to love them and continue extending that love to them.”
I knew exactly what he was talking about and tears began to stream down my face. A hard lesson to hear and learn as a teenage girl of 15. My best friend and fellow student in our youth group had turned her back on me, started spreading lies about me and also lies about my dad. Because of her actions and words, there were multiple friends lost and several families who left our church. Even to this day I can still envision where we were and hear some of her cutting words that left me so heartbroken, wondering how ANYONE could say such hurtful things.
“Keep your eyes off people and on Jesus”…. If he said it once, he said it a million times. It was drilled into my mind and eventually it began to become real in my heart.
Through the years I started to learn what all my dad was actually saying in that one sentence. Love, grace and forgiveness had been extended to me and now I was to go and do likewise. I deserve death. You deserve death. We all deserve death and yet… grace is extended to us all and according to John 20:23, that same grace now lives within me/us. I (we) am to give that same love, grace and forgiveness that Jesus does. Crazy and reckless, huh?
Looking back over the lessons that the Lord has taught both Paul and I growing up and storms He has walked us through together, I realize how the majority of them were and are preparing us for ministry to other pastors and their families that we may cross paths with at Restoration Farm. This vivid memory I have shared with you is most definitely one of them.
Because the church is filled with fallen human beings, how many other pastors and their families have gone through a similar situation? Lies being spread, words of anger being lashed out, judgement and criticism spoken or even being driven from the position God has placed them in because of personal opinion? Unfortunately, it happens every week. According to https://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/ , over 1,500 pastors left the ministry every month in 2018 and over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.
It makes me wonder how many of these pastors would still be in ministry today if they and their families had a place to go to share their hurt, share their situations, share their hearts? How many would still be passionately pouring into the flocks they had been given if they had someone who valued their calling to pour into them, remind them of the love, grace and forgiveness given to them? Would they still be in ministry if they had someone to walk beside them as they seek to ‘keep their eyes on Jesus’ and help provide them with the tools, prayer and support to extend that same love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus?
You may be thinking “well that wasn’t the case with such and such a pastor. They went off the deep end and did such and such. It wasn’t the fault of anyone in the church even”. Sometimes we often forget that pastors, their spouses and yes… even their children, are fallen human beings as well. Again, it makes me wonder how many of these pastors (or family members) would be prevented from falling into a moral failure if they had a place to go. How many of these pastors could and would return to ministry if they had a place to go that valued their calling to pour into them, remind them of the love, grace and forgiveness given to them? To walk beside them as they seek to extend love, grace and forgiveness to themselves? To extend the same reckless grace extended to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
I’m thankful for a father who sought to love Jesus with all of his heart, soul and mind. I’m thankful for a pastor who took the time to teach me what it meant to ‘Keep your eyes off people and on Jesus’. I’m thankful he extended the love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus to those who were used by Satan to hurt him and his family. I’m thankful for the reckless grace of Jesus and that his same grace now lives in me. I’m thankful for that grace that allowed me to also love and forgive the individual who caused so much pain. I’m also thankful to say that the Lord has allowed restoration with most of the friends and families affected in our youth group and our church throughout the years and continues to work His glory.
This paragraph struck me and has stuck with me. Bill Vanderbush and Brit Eaton say it in their book Reckless grace, “Once you truly receive God’s reckless grace, it’s darn near impossible not to give away! Releasing that grace in the overflow becomes not only your right as a child of God, but your responsibility as a coheir to the kingdom of heaven with Jesus Christ. This is the magnitude of the gift you carry!”. As we think about the weight of that responsibility, that is what drives…. no, compels us toward Restoration Farm. We believe that we have been gifted with Jesus’ grace and we are to give it away. It’s not so much what we give away as much as it is to how we give it away. Our desire is to extend His grace through Restoration Farm.
Jesus, I understand the challenge of this gift. I understand that there will most likely be ministers and family members that, as humans ourselves, we may feel don’t deserve your reckless grace. I understand that there will most likely be ministers and family members that are hurting deeply, cut through to the core wondering if they can even go on and experience or extend grace themselves. May we be a beacon Jesus, a light that loves and supports them through the power of your name to keep their eyes on YOU! May we live up to the name you have given us for this facility/ministry and through the power of your name assist to restore the love, grace and forgiveness that may be felt as lost or forgotten. This task may be great but the void of pastors leaving the ministry is greater. Help us to be a place that sees that statistic go down because we chose to step out and follow you. Amen.