Having recently returned from sunny south Florida, I’d like to share some thoughts with you about my recent vacation. First of all, let me say that I’m grateful for the church I serve! They sent Debra and me to the Liberate 2014 conference as a gift for pastor’s appreciation month. I love my church family.
I won’t lie, it was nice to get out of the snow for a week and relax and spend time with my family. All in all, the conference was refreshing and encouraging, and the time away was much appreciated. That being said, I’d like to share some of the things I learned while attending the conference.
The Pastor’s Conference
The first part of Liberate began with a pastor’s conference. The speakers were Steve Brown, Scotty Smith, and Tullian Tchividgian. Steve Brown’s talk was entitled “Grace for the Pastor.” The main takeaway for me was the thought that God’s grace should make us bold. He said, “If you ever get over your fear, you’re going to be dangerous.” So often we Christians live in fear: fear of what others think of us, fear of what might happen if we follow Jesus with reckless abandon, or (perhaps) the fear of being ordinary, i.e., not doing anything “extraordinary” with our lives.
Scotty Smith’s talk also fell under the rubric “Grace for the Pastor.” Having been sexually abused as a child, Smith said he struggled to overcome guilt and shame throughout his life. He said it was only the grace of God in the gospel that helped him move past his shame. The most important sentence to me in his message was, “As long as your cry for relief is louder than your cry for a changed heart, you will never grow as a person.” Wow, that’s all I can say. That was quite profound. I was so convicted. The more I thought about it, the more I had to confess that I prize trouble-free days more than gospel growth. It made me think of something I read from John Piper recently: “Only eternity will show the full wisdom and mercy of God in the curious derailing of our plans and ‘reinterpretation’ of our prayers for a ‘good day.’”
Finally, Pastor Tullian’s talk was on “Grace for the Exhausted Pastor.” Some of you may already know Tullian’s story, but if you don’t here’s the shortest version possible: When he came to Coral Ridge (the church he pastors), he assumed leadership of a church that had only had one pastor for fifty years. This is no easy task! He had his share of struggles for sure. For example, while he was preaching one Sunday morning, there was a group of people in the first row making rude comments to him. I have no idea how he got through that sermon.
But back to his conference message: During his talk, he made a number of comments that stood out to me. Here they are:
- “We don’t always have to look good. God wants us to depend on him.”
- We must develop “a sanctified I-Don’t-Careness.” Simply put, we can’t live in the bondage of always caring about what everyone thinks of us. As Paul Tripp says, “I’ve been accepted by God. I don’t need you to like me.”
- “All of the joy, peace, approval, and vindication we seek in this life has already been given to us by Christ, and no one can take that away from us!”
- Tullian often says, “Because Christ won for me, I’m free to lose.” Thus, his conclusion, “You can’t beat a person who doesn’t care if he loses.”
- We must pray for sharp minds, soft hearts, and steel spines.
Exposing My Idols
My idols were exposed and my heart was laid bare at this conference. Here are the two that kept being brought to the forefront.
- Rather than finding my identity in Christ, I try to justify my existence through accomplishments.
These words from John Lennon resonate with me: “I’m a loser. I’m not who I pretend to be.” That may seem overly-dramatic, but it’s true. For much of my life (and even to this day), I have tried to impress people with my accomplishments: It’s why I joined the Marine Corps, it’s why I wanted to get my PhD. My motives weren’t pure. So as I sat in that conference, I began to ask myself, “Why did I do all those things?” And the main thought that kept coming to mind was that I wanted to find some way of justifying my existence. I wanted to appear significant. But I’m not, and that’s okay. I need to be okay with being average.
Here’s the lesson: I am not my accomplishments. For much of my life (and I’m sure I’ll continue to think this) I’ve often thought, “How will be people remember me when I’m dead and gone?” It’s an interesting question. But more than that: Why do I even care what people think of me? Why do I even care if people think of me when I’m dead? As David Zahl says, “You are loved. You don’t have to be remembered.”
2. Confession: Although it’s tough to admit, I still struggle to believe the gospel.
Just to clarify what I mean: I don’t question the veracity of Scripture or the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. No. I struggle to believe that God loves me. Let me elaborate: When I hear that God loves me and has accepted me because of the work of Christ on my behalf, my first instinct is to say, “I don’t believe it.” It sounds too good to be true. But the fact that I have that reaction proves to me that I’ve heard the gospel accurately. The gospel is good news! It is too good to be true! Jesus came to save sinners like me. And because my trust is in Him, I’m forgiven. God has no wrath toward me. I only receive grace and mercy. This is why I love singing the chorus of the hymn, “His Be the Victor’s Name”:
What though the vile accuser roar, Of sins that I have done, I know them well, and thousands more, My God, he knoweth none.
Good Quotes from Paul Tripp’s Message:
“Jesus didn’t purchase savability; he took names with him to the cross.”
“Your success in ministry isn’t a reflection of your character, it’s a revelation of God’s.”
“Theology never just defines who God is, it redefines who you are in relation to him.”