I love you. This is not some sort of weak Valentine’s Day love that I hand out to every member of the class – but a deep and rich sort of love that I have for you. When you hurt, I hurt. I love you like one of my children, and like a child, there are times when I wish I could better understand what is going on inside you so that I could better care for you or meet your needs – but I am determined, that no matter what, I will love you. I want you to know that I often think about you, each of you, that you are regularly in my prayers, as are your family members who never come with you – or who live somewhere else. I know how you long for your husband, or wife, or child to know Christ – and I long for that too.
You should know that your souls rest upon my heart with considerable weight. Just as a parent feels a burden for the future life and choices of their child, so I feel that weight as I think of your future. I know that before God you each stand individually accountable, but I have taken responsibility before God for shepherding this flock, and so I often feel that weight. It is my prayer and greatest desire that every one that sits under the proclamation of the Word should come to be saved, that is: to put on the Lord Jesus Christ; to believe the gospel. But my desire for you doesn’t stop there, I want to see you thrive! I want to see you grow up in Christ and to see you conformed to his image. A lot of the time I don’t know how to do that – but I know that Paul told Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of the scriptures and to prayer, and that by doing so he would save both himself and his hearers (I Timothy 4:13-16). So, when I don’t know what else to do, I preach, and when I preach the gospel, it isn’t just because I think there are lost people in our midst, but because I am convinced that the gospel (that is the good news of Christ’s victory on our behalf) is as much for the man or woman who has belonged to him for 70 years as for the one who doesn’t yet know him. I preach the Word because I love you, and I long to see you growing strong and mature.
You have grown. I have watched you grow. In fact, it seems in the last few years that we have enjoyed a deepening of our fellowship, and I live with the expectation that God is at work within you and within us to bring about renewal and revival. But I also realize that there are some tensions that threaten our unity. I don’t think any of these things are enormous, but it is often the little foxes that ruin the vine, and I worry that some little thing may cause a disproportionate break in our fellowship.
I also realize that a bit of discontent can feel very large to the person who is upset by it. There are those who don’t understand (or like) the doctrinal flavor that is set within my teaching. As I think about this and pray about it, I know that I cannot set aside these strong understandings I have gleaned from scripture. So I hope that my love and care for you, and my determination to continue to search the scriptures and base my teaching upon them will persuade you, that while we may differ at points, we can agree that the primary mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The best way for pursuing this, I am certain, is the proclamation of the gospel and the systematic teaching of the Word of God through sermons and Bible Studies.
There is a passage in scripture that says that ‘Love covers over a multitude of sins’ (I Peter 4:8). I don’t think that verse is meant as an excuse for willful sin; but rather that in the midst of trying to live for God and his glory we will sometimes rub each other the wrong way, and some of that rubbing may actually be sinful, although we aren’t aware that we have perhaps wronged our brother or sister. It’s there that love covers the sin – the knowledge that we are loved and cared for and that you won’t be abandoned or thrown out or left behind just because you don’t agree on some point.
I sense that our adversary is magnifying little things beyond their proportion right now, in an attempt to cut off this little congregation in the midst of our journey towards Christ. He can’t ultimately keep us from Christ, but he might prevent us from growing into a more effective tool of evangelism and discipleship.
So I plead with you to set your focus on the big picture. Feel free to come to me and tell me that you are concerned about a certain thing I have said, or have done, or have failed to do – but do not let it rupture our fellowship and our pursuit of God and his glory.
I know that in history God used a man named Peter Bohler to awaken another man named John Wesley; and then he used John Wesley to awaken much of the world. Both men were used to God’s greater glory – but sadly in the midst of their friendship a rupture occurred over how the lost are saved, and though both carried on in their work for the Lord, I cannot help but think that they were both wounded in the loss of one another.
As your pastor, tasked by God with leading you and feeding you and even correcting you when necessary, I ask that you would pray for me. I need your prayers. Pray for the church, pray that we might finally get down to the work we were given to do and make disciples – new disciples who were once in the kingdom of darkness and mature ones who have long been in the kingdom of God. Don’t let an annoyance, irritation or frustration blunt the work of God among us. I invite you to correct me, that is why you have a Bible and a brain – but please be open to correction from the same sources.
Regardless of the outcome, know that I will love you, and will continue to love you and pray for you that you might be continually remade in the image of Christ.