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In Spirit and in Truth


When Jesus was talking with the woman at the well, she wanted to argue over whose religion was right. But Jesus told her that a time was coming when the true worshippers would worship God "in spirit and in truth".

Many years ago, I discovered the truth of the teachings of Jesus. I discovered forsaking all. I discovered the concept of living by faith. And I started to practise these things within my own family. I started going into all the world to preach these truths to "every creature". Over the years I have gathered together a small handful of people who share the same revelations about forsaking all and living by faith in obedience to Jesus Christ.

When we first discovered these things, we faced the painful decision of whether to actually practise them or not. We were stepping out into unknown territory, and it took faith on our part to turn loose of all visible means of support and to trust God for our daily bread. We faced opposition from our friends and relatives. But we made the leap of faith anyway, and God has abundantly blessed us as a result.

Over the years, however, we have become quite comfortable in our new-found faith. For myself in particular, even the hard slogging of distributing tracts, with the constant threat of rejection, has only rarely been a part of my daily routine. Truth for me has largely become the air-conditioned cab of a giant crane, where I push the buttons and long arms lift junk cars and drop them into the crushing vats. As I sit at the keyboard of my computer, I confidently punch out the truth through those keys, to be distributed via email, snail mail, web site, and printed leaflet to the rest of the world. I am worshipping the Father in truth, and I am confident that what I have been saying has been the truth.

But what about the spirit? The spirit of the message is the grace of God. It is God's willingness to wipe clean the slate of charges and accusations that truth could level against me for all that I have done to break God's heart. And I have been largely sheltered from the reality of that spirit. I have not taken up my cross and followed Jesus in his ministry of love and forgiveness to others. Oh, I have been happy to receive into our fellowship those who would truly repent of their sinfulness. But I have found it hard to say as Jesus did of his executioners long before they ever repented, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) It seemed so contrary to truth, for certainly they must have had some idea that what they were doing was wrong. So I have just majored on convicting the world of sin, through the truth of what I have written.

Even within our fellowship, it has been my job to point out the flaws, to correct the grammar, to discern dishonesty, to uncover slackness, to rebuke offenders. And I have done it from the comfort of my crane, far above the rest of you.

Now I feel that God is calling on me to rediscover and practise more of his spirit, as part of my service to him. I have grown so tall in my understanding of truth, that I am able to crush you with my criticisms. Quite honestly, your sins disappoint me; they anger me; they hurt me. And I want to express that hurt, that anger, that disappointment to you. But it seems that the end result is only more crushing. Some of you have survived the criticism, and a beautiful spiritual perfume has been the result. But others have not; and I feel that their numbers will continue to grow unless I can grow in my understanding of the spirit of the gospel.

For many years I have struggled with what it means to be a true pastor. I have had no trouble with teaching, for that primarily has to do with truth. But pastoring is something quite different.

I have read books that urged me to "inspire" followers, but they never seemed to be specific enough about exactly how a person is supposed to do that. Now it has come to me that what a pastor does is something that I have more or less argued against all my life. A pastor overlooks their sins.

I read a testimony once of a man who had grown up as the son of a pastor, and he said that he had decided when he was quite young that it was the last job in the world that he wanted to have when he grew up. I wondered what he meant. After all, pastors have it pretty cushy, standing in a pulpit each Sunday and drinking cups of tea with parishioners all week. But now I see that what a true pastor must do is to see the congregation at their worst and still love them, still encourage them, still inspire them. He must learn to suppress his desire to rage at them for their immaturity, for their selfishness, for their inhumanity. He has nowhere to turn for consolation when his flock lets him down; for if he expresses his hurt, he could crush them in the process. So he must turn to the Father, in spirit and in truth, and offer up his disappointments as an act of worship.

Even what I share with you now, I am doing as a teacher... so that some of you may be able to practise this same principle in your dealings with others. But as pastors, we may never be allowed the luxury of saying, "I told you so." We may never be able to share with others the hurts that we have received at their expense; for if we did, we would drive them away. Instead, we must take their sins upon ourselves and cover them in the loving spirit of God, bury them, and remember the hurts that came with them no more.

Who knows how many others have done the same with us? Certainly our loving heavenly Father has done so... many times. And it is only as we recall his infinite mercy that we can begin to imitate that spirit in our own ministries.

In keeping with that, I want to ask others of you for your forgiveness for my failure to practise that same spirit in my own ministry. I think it is one of the main reasons why more people have not responded to our message. I think it is why many who have responded have eventually fallen away. And it is why some of you who have stayed on have not grown more than you have. Please forgive me.

We have the truth, but I fear that the world may never see it and appreciate it because of my own lack of love. On the other hand, if I can learn this lesson in my final years, then perhaps I can trick the world into believing that it has been there all the time, and they will go back through what I have said in my earlier years to discover the wonderful truths that I was trying so unsuccessfully to share with them as well.

May God grant me more of his Spirit.

Love, Dave

(See also Pastors and Teachers)

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