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Thoughts from Jay Kesler

Greetings Friends,

I hope you are all faring well in your isolation (or partial isolation). Hopefully we will soon be past the worst of this pandemic, and our need for confinement, and be able to greet one another once again with a handshake, hug, or holy kiss. Until then (and since most have a bit of time) I offer you this very insightful 'thought.' It comes from a book called, "The Strong Weak People" by Jay Kesler. Formerly a worker with Youth for Christ, and a practicing pastor, and then president of Taylor University, Jay is a man with a very pastoral heart. In fact, I can honestly say I've never read anything by him that I did not like! This excerpt comes from the chapter of his book entitled: "The Family That Failed Together." As I read through it I found myself saying "how true" more than once. I did cut down the length and hence the many times you'll see the little .... following a section. I encourage you to browse through it, and would suggest that many of you may also find yourselves nodding in agreement. Enjoy.
"It was a hot Sunday evening in August. I had just finished speaking at the evening service at a prestigious Eastern suburban church. As I stood in the foyer I noticed a man beside me waiting for everyone to leave. I sensed he wanted to speak to me alone. "I know you are busy," he said, "but I'm confused and need some help... My wife, Marj, and I have been members of this church for almost 30 years," he began. "We've been faithful to the services, held many church offices, and participated in neighborhood visitation programs. We've really wanted to be used by the Lord, but somehow all of our activities seemed to stay on the surface. You would think our church work would have gotten us into the "in" group, but it didn't. We just assumed that all the people with problems were outside the church, and those of us in the church had the answers to all our problems..."
"I suppose most churches are made up of people like us. People who work hard in a variety of programs but never seem to be of specific spiritual help to anyone. However, last year all that changed." "What happened?" I asked... "To make a long story short, I just visited my son Ken this afternoon in the state penitentiary... He was involved with some others in a series of crimes which resulted in an armed robbery. He was arrested and the story was in all the papers and on the television. Before the trial was over, everyone knew about it. There was no place to hide. My wife and I were ashamed to go out of the house for days. Over and over we asked God how this could be. Why us? We felt all alone in the world... even at church."
"But here's my point... Like I said, as far as I could tell we'd never been of spiritual help to anyone. But since our trouble, and all the publicity, we've had a constant stream of people from the church coming to us for spiritual help. Why is it that when you're doing well the relationships in church are smooth and formal, and people hardly notice you, but now that we have all these troubles with our family, everyone is telling us theirs as if we know some secret?" Bob's frustration showed in his flushed face and outstretched hands. When he regained his composure, he continued. "Here's the way I've figured it out, and I want you to tell me if I'm on the right track. It seems to me that when people take a super-spiritual pose in the church, pretending they have no problems, all the other church people are afraid to be honest with them for fear that they will look like failures because they have problems. We never dreamed so many people in our congregation were hurting with personal family problems. What do you think?"
...This thoughtful father added this postscript to our conversation: "This afternoon (when I visited my son in the penitentiary) my son put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Dad, I know I've caused you a lot of trouble and pain. I want you to know I'm sorry and I love you both more than you can tell.' Then Bob added, "You know, I'd go through everything, including the shame, except for the man shot in the robbery, just to have him say that to me and feel his hand on my shoulder. My wife and I have learned so much about ourselves, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our relationship with our kids. I'm not saying it's good to do bad things, but it's been a truly good experience."
This account (says Kesler) had a profound effect on me. It prompted me to reexamine my own relationships. I began to wonder who started the lie that Christians have to succeed all the time? Perhaps some of it stems from always putting people who have succeeded up in front of congregations and youth groups. This technique may be a good strategy for sales motivation meetings, but it seems to have done great harm to the church. In a world where success models are spotlighted and failures are pushed off into the shadows, we have learned to mask our feelings and defeats... Yet, only as we are willing to open ourselves to one another, do we discover the strength of bearing each other's burdens. If we allow others to see the help we have found in Christ in times of crisis, they can be strengthened and encouraged by "someone who has been there."
So, how can churches develop an atmosphere which would help us to "bear one another's burdens?" First of all, we can't bear one another's burdens if we aren't willing to admit we have any. It takes a healthy self-esteem and confidence in the grace of God to remove the mask that some of us have learned to wear. Our competent, masked self has been accepted by our group of friends, and we fear that if they see our real selves and discover our weaknesses they will no longer like us (or look up to us). Yet a great transformation will begin to take place in any congregation when Christians begin to love one another enough that they can be truthful.
Masked lives produce masked responses and superficial relationships. Open, honest lives, produce friendliness and compassion... In my friends experience, not only did the tragedy and sense of failure bring him and his wife closer together, but possibly it restored their son as they clung to God. It also transformed the quality of their church life... Demonstrations of Christian reality manifested in relationships within the church are a strong affirmation of the Gospel message... Christ speaks to us in the midst of our failure, pain and sorrow as well as in our triumphs. More people in the world are hurting than successful and happy. For this reason, the Incarnation of Jesus has spoken to people of all strata in all eras. Just as Jesus was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3), so also our own identification with suffering people gives us a believable ministry to the world."
Nearly 35 years of ministry have confirmed Kesler's words to me. Testimonies given by people who seem to have done everything right, are very ineffective in offering grace and help to anyone in their times of struggle and need. Primarily it's because that's not where most people are at. If Jesus had come, and been blessed with everything going His way (because he did everything right), He would have few if any followers today. The idea that everything will go right for the person who does things right, and that if they don't go right it's because that person messed up, or didn't have enough faith, is a form of "law" that will enslave most to despair. It brings us back into the company of Job's self-righteous friends who actually end up getting severely rebuked by God for suggesting things went wrong for Job because he did wrong. People don't need "just try harder" messages, or "if you only do things like me, you'd be blessed like me" type messages.
People relate far more to the Peter's of the Bible, who in wanting to serve Jesus faithfully fail Him horribly (Matthew 26:69-75). Or the Paul's of the Bible who fall into depression, and despair, and lose all hope, and need the Lord to speak to them to get them out of it (Acts 23:11 / Acts 27:20-26 / II Corinth. 1:8-11). They relate more the David's of the Bible who mess up big time, even though God calls them "a man after His own heart." Or the John-Mark's of the Bible who in their fickle youthfulness go back on their word, or break their commitments, but are not forever written off by the Lord for doing so (Acts 15:36-41 / Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24).
People relate far more to those who struggle, and those who admit their failures, and those who are transparent about their weaknesses, than those who make it seem they have no struggles (and you wouldn't either if you just did things the way they do). Transparency in confessing and admitting struggles, while still clinging to Christ, is of much more help and usefulness in this fallen world than those who put on the facade of having it all together -- since only Jesus did, and things did not go His way by any stretch of the imagination.

Walking in the GRACE in which we now stand, Pastor Jeff

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