Review: Chivalry

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Chivalry:The Quest for a Personal Code of Honor in an Unjust World by Zach Hunter

It’s not a list of rules. It’s a code of honor, calling men and women to higher standards. It’s about being more. And if we live it, it will transform us – and the world.

Or at least that’s what the book claims. It also claims that author Hunter unites teachings of ancient knights with the teachings of Jesus. Thus, the book claims to be Christian.

Sigh.

The book has some great stuff in it. Great advice. And the ten principles to live by aren’t bad by any means!

For instance, the first principle, “I will not go on this journey alone” encourages the reader to find mentors and friends who are not afraid to correct them. It urges us to find people from many walks of life to encourage us, so that we don’t “lean one direction” too much. Use people of different ages – both older and younger! One great observation said, “By now, I know that if my phone rings and I’m hoping their names don’t show up on my caller ID, I’m probably going through something I really need them for.” The closing line of that chapter says, “Chivalrous people aren’t foolishly confident, believing they don’t need anyone else on this journey. They realize they are human, weak, and vulnerable.” This is fantastic advice.

Other principles include “I will practice self control and selflessness,” “I will fight only for the sake of those who are unable to defend themselves, or in the defense of justice,” and “I will honor truth and always keep my promises.” Ten principles in all unfold through the book. The volume ends with questions to dig deeper into each principle as well as a pledge to “live the code” for each principle.

I said it before: This is fantastic advice. The book stirs up that desire to be more and to do more. It gives solid application for the advice and stories fill the book with great readable examples.

But… despite all that, I don’t know if I can really recommend this book as-is.

You see, it claims to be Christian… but for nearly all the book, Jesus is used as merely example. “Jesus did this, so you should do it, too.” Jesus becomes one more person to try to emulate, right along with Confucius (I kid you not) and Audrey Hepburn. Granted, Jesus is used far more often than either of the other two, but an example he is.

To be fair, Hunter does talk about Jesus being our Savior. Briefly. About halfway into the book. But in the same token, he talks about hating the word sin and prefers thinking about it as “missing the mark,” which just encourages him to try harder. He talks about how we don’t need more rules… and then lays out ten principles to live by.

The thing is… this book could be fantastic. Talk about the principles and how we don’t live by them. Show how miserably we fail, even though the principles are good (and they are good). And then point to Jesus who did keep the principles… and now, because he has died for us, our failures are gone. Because he have been given his righteousness, in God’s eyes we are already chivalrous. We are knights. So now, be what we have been given credit for being already. You have Christ’s chivalry… so be chivalrous!

Such a book wouldn’t just lay out principles, but also give the power to do them. It wouldn’t be a pep talk pumping us up to try and then fail, but a way to point to Christ and live out his grace every day. Honestly, I’m considering taking these “ten principles” and trying to work them into a teen Bible study (or a sermon series? Maybe. Not sure on that.). However, they need to be shown that sanctification flows from justification – that Christian life flows from the Life that was given for us. This book by itself… it’s good advice, but it ignores the source of our ability to do anything.

So, can I recommend the book? Alas, not as a Christian book. Good advice? Absolutely. Well-written? You got that right.

But it needs a lot more Jesus to make it a good Christian book.

Not in Kansas

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He started tearing up. “She didn’t know that Jesus died for her. She didn’t know that Jesus loved her personally. But… but she confessed her faith in Jesus before she died.”

This man sitting at my table… he’s one of the people I serve. And he’s talking about his mother. He’s talking about witnessing to his mother, about sharing Jesus with her. He’s talking about his passion of sharing Jesus, and how glad he was that God used him to bring God’s Word to his mother.

Earlier this week: “Yeah, I’ve got this coworker that’s not Christian. I want her to come meet you. I’ve been inviting her to church for years.” She’s sitting in her living room, and I’m visiting her. And she’s talking about her witnessing opportunities, and wanting to be equipped to reach out better.

Earlier than that: “Yeah. Yeah, that’d be good!” She’s back from college – literally just a few hours before I arrived to visit. She wants to get a college group going while everyone’s home for the summer to talk about “real life” problems they have, and what Jesus says about them. I ask her to talk to the others, and we’d do it. Just tell me when to show up! And – I talked to her today. She’s in process. She’s taking ownership and going forward with it.

I am so not where I was.

The thought of members where I was being ready to do these kind of things… to list off people they wanted to be trained to witness to? To tell stories of how the Holy Spirit motivated them to reach out – to family members, even? And not “just” bring-them-to-church but to actively talk about Jesus? To be told, “That’s a good idea – go do it” and respond with, “Ok, I can do that!” – I am going through a bit of a culture shock here!

One of my members scattered Bible verses through a conversation… and not to “prove his point” but because he’s that in touch with the Word. And that member is a leader in the church. That blew me away – a spiritually mature man leading the church? Whoa!

A young man – 20 years old! – volunteered to accompany me to our church’s district convention. Usually that goes to retired men who have to be battered into it – at least in my experience – but this young man said, “It sounds really interesting. I want to grow in God’s Word!”

I just… I’m overwhelmed. And I get it – this is the honeymoon. New pastor and all that. There are problems here, and I’ve started seeing some of them first-hand. I’m sure I’ll complain about them soon enough. But right now… it is amazing serving people who are, at least in part, interested in maturing in faith.

It’s also really, really scary. It means I need to up my game. It means I need to be digging far deeper into Scripture, spending more time in prayer, and learning from those who have gone before me far more than I have been the last few years. Not that I ignored Scripture – far from it! – but now I need to be able to feed those who actually know it already!

Am I up for this?

I don’t know. I really, really don’t know. But… I ask God to help me. It’s all about Jesus. And that’s something I can handle. That’s something the Holy Spirit has taught me.

Now… time to handle the culture shock!

Well, that escalated quickly.

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Today… I finally got to preach for my congregation. Today we finally got to have a “normal” week after… what seems like months of “lasts” and “firsts.” And, sure, today was the first time I got to preach here, but… well, it feels like home.

The congregation seemed to accept my leadership. We had (seriously) record-breaking attendance for Bible study this morning, and on Mother’s Day, no less! One of the congregation pulled me aside and with tears told me, “I praise Jesus that he sent you to us.” We had my first council meeting here this morning, and it looks like I’ll be able to work well with these guys.

But as I left the council meeting and tried to get into the sanctuary to set up for worship, a woman grabbed me. She introduced herself and asked, “Pastor, may I take Communion this morning? I was confirmed in one of your churches when I was fifteen.”

Which set off a yellow flag for me. Usually when people phrase it that way, it means they’ve not belonged to a church for quite a while. I was right; she belonged to a different church body currently. However, it’s a church body close to ours in most doctrines. Apparently she moved into the area a couple months ago and has been attending here regularly – regularly enough several of our members knew her name.

So I told her that I wouldn’t commune her today, but, “Let’s get together this week and talk. If everything looks good, maybe we can do a confession of faith and you’ll be able to join here, so I can commune you next time.”

She about burst with happiness. I’m meeting her tomorrow at noon.

And God laughs. I was called for evangelism here, and I’m hitting the ground running. Our Bible studies for the next couple months will be on how to share Jesus well, personally and congregationally. I have plans on how to reach out into the community – after I’ve figured out the community better! But here he says, “Well, here’s one of my daughters that needs a home. Here.”

Of course, tomorrow I could learn that I can’t welcome her into membership that easily. We’ll find out as I ask about what she believes. But for now it’s a fantastic opportunity, and one that – well, I’m excited for!

I’ve found a new place to serve. I’ve been called to be a pastor here. And it is so, so good to finally be the pastor here and not waiting in between.

This… this is a blessing.

“And I ask…” Again

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Not my installation… but AN installation!

And I ask God to help me.

It’s my second time standing in front of a congregation publicly making my promises. It’s my second time kneeling as pastors lay their hands on me and speak the promises of God. It’s my second time declaring my intent to remain faithful to God.

And I ask God to help me.

Last time, I wrote that all the stress landed on that phrase. I am thankful that this week God has reminded me that I need to rely on that.

As I’ve started planning ahead, I’ve looked back. I’ve evaluated. I’m determined to avoid my many mistakes of the last call (and admittedly discover new ones). I’ve looked ahead on what I need to do to serve this congregation well. What I need to do to get to know the people here well. To get to know how outreach may work best at this time at this place. I’ve started dreaming about how awesome it’s going to be to grow this congregation. How successful I’m going to be here. What I’m going to be able to accomplish here without the hindrances of the past. How things will be so different. Better. Because all those people who held me back aren’t holding me back anymore.

And then God slaps me.

This last week I got to attend a pastors’ conference and meet the local brothers. And… it reminded me that I can’t rely on me. That was the message in sermons and devotions. And today, a classmate preacehd for my installation… and he reminded me that it’s not about me. It’s about relying on Christ. Because he’s the one who carries me. He’s the one who carries the church.

Yeah.

It’s fun to dream. But… it’s not about me. (more…)

A Time to Mourn

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Monday night: The evening before the moving truck arrives. All day long we have been packing, throwing up dust as we take up items we’ve not glanced at in years and decide on keep, donate, or trash. Over the last couple weeks we’ve made twelve runs to goodwill. But now, in the evening, everything needs to get wrapped up. The moving truck is coming! I need to run over to the church office to settle just a couple paperwork items and leave them in church coucilmen’s boxes. And to get to the office I need to pass through the Sanctuary.

And as I walk through that darkened room… it finally hits.

This isn’t my church any more. I don’t belong here any more. I am only a guest here now.

This is not my Sanctuary.

Shove it away. I scamper through to the church office. I don’t have time for this right now. We have so much to do yet tonight. I do what I need to. My Bride finds me, we touch base on a couple of things. I ask if I can spend some time in the Sanctuary.

My Bride is amazing. Have I mentioned that before? “Take your time.”

And so I go and turn on the lights…

And there she is. The place that has frustrated me so often. The home of the people I have loved. Her stained glass, her wooden pews, and there… there is the altar.

And at last. At last, the tears come. (more…)

Farewell Eve

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Tomorrow I say goodbye.

OK. Deep breath.

I’ve really been saying goodbye for a long time, though. But all this week, I visited shut-ins for the last time. One of them wept and begged, “Don’t go! Please, don’t go! Change your mind! You just can’t leave!” And my heart broke a little… but not as much as I thought it would.

Last Sunday I delivered Communion to my congregation at a regular service for the last time. God used me to deliver forgiveness they could taste and see… for the last time. I placed the wafer on her lips, one last time. I handed over that little cup to her, one last time. One last time I received Communion from this man.

And… I thought it would be more emotional. But it wasn’t.

And is it because… because I’m listening to what I’m saying? My theme the last week has been, “Because of Easter, every goodbye is temporary.” Because Jesus lives again, every Christian will live again. All those united to Jesus’s death through baptism will surely live again. And that’s not just you.

It’s this goober, too.

And that means my congregation.. they’re stuck with me for all eternity. But I won’t be their pastor. No, we will all be guests at the wedding supper of the Lamb. We will be around the Throne day and night, and we get to serve Jesus in his temple! I won’t be their pastor, because our Pastor will be with us in ways we can only dream about now.

And is it… is it that I’m soaking this in as much as I’m trying to deliver it? Is it not as emotional because I’m getting it?

Then again… Paul certainly knew he would see his beloved congregations again, and he still wept at parting.

Or is it that all my tears have been saved up for tomorrow? For my last service, my last formal proclamation of Law and Gospel to this particular congregation?

There are some who are honestly happy to see me go. They’ve told me as much. And you know what? To be honest, I won’t miss those people all that much, either.

But there are others that… that I will miss so, so much. I love the people God has given me, and parting will hurt.

I’ve theorized that maybe I’m not feeling much because I’ve been so busy. Packing isn’t the most…. relaxing of pursuits, you know? And maybe because I’m so tired I just don’t have the energy to deal with the emotions, so they’re going to hit after I leave. And – yeah, I think that’s going to happen in a major way. It’s a good thing I’ve got some days between leaving here and arriving there. I think I’ll need that time to mourn.

But right now I’m bracing for tomorrow. To see these faces that I love one last time.

Well, one last time until forever arrives.

Empty Shelves

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Your life is a luxurious library filled with every book you have ever read. Shelves hold volumes dedicated to your triumphs and countless screeds to your shames, tucked away under your more public adventures.

And there will come a time when every book will be torn from you. Every valued paragraph you ever read, every character, every page, until the shelves are bare and you are left without any precious fiction to protect you. When that time comes, cling, cling to God’s Word. The other books may well entertain. They may inspire. They may define who you think you are.

But none of them were written by the God who knew you in your deepest shame and still loved you. None of them were written by a God who chose to die to take your guilt. And no other book has the power to actually strengthen what matters: your grasp of God’s love for you. Revel in this story, for it is the only one that matters. Here God died and lives for you, to make you his own.

When the shelves of your life are empty, cling to this book, even if it is the only book left.

Gratitude at the Wrong Time

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Tonight is not about me.

Tonight is about Jesus.

If tonight is about me at all, it’s about my sin. It’s about the enormity of my filth. Look at me. How many times have I said I’d do something, but failed to follow through? How many times have I made promises but not kept them? How many times have I been selfish, making it about me, and not about others? My filth, and how often I have returned to it, even knowing better, again and again and again and again.

I have sinned. By my fault. By my own fault. By my own most grievous fault.

And tonight I see the weight of my sin, the offense my filth has caused. Do you see your Savior? Do you see him, there, all his weight hanging on three nails piercing through skin and muscle and arteries? I did that. Me. That is how offensive my filth is. That is the cost.

And Jesus pays it all.

He screams at the top of his lungs, bursting vocal cords, bellowing out with all the strength that is left in him, “It is finished!” Paid in full! It’s over! It’s done!

I owe nothing.

Tonight is not about me.

It’s about Jesus.

Tonight I led a Good Friday service. And I pray I pointed to the cross. The only time I talked about me is when I stood with the congregation and confessed my sins. Otherwise, it was about Jesus, only Jesus. How he completed our salvation. How he paid the price. We stood in wonder at the foot of the cross.

And on the way out, in the silence, I received tearful hugs, and people whispered in my ear, “I’m going to miss you pastor. I love you, pastor.”

And… and… but…

But it’s not about me!

Says the guy that one post ago was trying to figure out if he should be offended that there seems to be no official goodbye planned.

if it’s about me, it’s about my sin. My selfishness.

I’m never happy, am I?

One day I complain about no one seeming to notice… and the next I complain that they do notice, but at the wrong time.

If I am known as a pastor who pointed to Christ, I will be content.

I need to say it again so I get it through my thick skill: If I am known as a pastor who pointed to Christ, I will be content.

And I pray that tonight, when the people expressed their sorrow over my leaving, it was because tonight I pointed them to Christ, and they want a pastor who does that. I pray that it was the proper love a people have for the person who connects them with Jesus. And… and I think it was.

And… and if there is no formal goodbye, these words, even if they were after a Good Friday service, I will value them.

I will miss the people here. I do look forward to a new adventure, but… man.

It’s not about me. And that’s a good thing.

It’s about Jesus.

Forgotten

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Today was my goodbye party. Supposedly. There were no speeches and no tears. There was a cake. It wished God’s blessings to my family. But that was the only thing that marked today as a farewell.

Because it wasn’t really a goodbye party. Not at all. Today the congregation met with my church body’s district president to arrange to get a new pastor in here. The district president couldn’t show up until the early afternoon, so to make sure people stuck around for the meeting, church leadership invented a goodbye party as an excuse to keep people around.

Except I’m here for another two weeks, and one of those weeks is Holy Week. Saying goodbye now is marvelously premature. And I think the congregation gets that.

Next week is Easter, and all glory goes to Christ. I’m glad to be here for one final Holy Week.

But the week after is my goodbye. And right now… the only thing planned for that day is worship. That’s it. If there’s something planned, the congregation as a whole is… really mum about it, and that’s highly unusual. Certain people can keep a secret. But others can’t. And, frankly, a surprise something would not be good for me as I suspect I’ll already be pretty emotional that day.

Which means… I’ll lead worship one last time… and then everyone will go home. No formal goodbye. No party. Nothing.

And… I’m really, really torn about this.

On one hand… I’m just a servant. I’ve worked hard to point to Christ and away from me. I want them connected to Jesus far more than they are to me. And they need to stay loyal to him, whether or not I’m here. So if they don’t freak out that I’m leaving, if it’s just going from one preacher pointing to Christ to another… isn’t that a good thing?

But.

But I have wept with them and for them. I have bled for them. And yes. I want them to weep for me. When I leave here, I will mourn. Oh, I will mourn so much! But… is my passing simply a nonevent? Or is this just another sign of immaturity in the congregation? Should I be surprised that the congregation just lets me go with a pat on the back?

Or am I being selfish in thinking I should receive some sort of recognition? Shouldn’t I be happy to serve Christ, whether or not the people I serve recognize me?

Or should I expect to depart like Paul did, as his people wept at his passing simply because yes, he pointed them to Christ?

At this point… it appears that when I leave… there will be no goodbye. Or at least, no special noting of my leaving. And I am struggling so much. I pray that I receive such… disdain? Is that what this is? I pray I receive it as simply a sign of their immaturity, and move on to a congregation that has some maturity. I pray that the slight rolls off my back… because there is no point in holding on to it. Why? What would it accomplish?

No. Just… just serve.

And see what the next adventure is.

The Farewell Road

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I preached the last sermon tonight.

Not for my congregation. I’m on a Wednesday night rotation until Easter, so I’m visiting other churches once a week. But tonight was the last sermon at this particular congregation – and other than my own, it’s the one I’m closest to. As people filed out tonight after worship and shook my hand, a few dozen said, “We’re going to miss you. God’s blessings on where you’re going.”

And I said goodbye tonight to a number of people I love. I may see them again around town – I’m still not leaving for a number of weeks – but I won’t likely see them in my position as pastor.

So tonight I preached my last sermon. And… I pointed to Christ. I didn’t point out it was my last visit. I didn’t point out that this was my farewell. Because it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. I don’t care if they’re sad I’m going. I care that they’re connected to Christ.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I do love them. And I want that love returned. If I was quickly forgotten.. I don’t think I have the good grace of John the Baptist to say, “He must increase, I must decrease.” I still have too much of the narcissist inside me that wants to be remembered well.

But… I want to be remembered this way: As a man who pointed to Christ. Not to self. Not to church. Not to tradition.

To Christ.

I planned out my last service in my congregation today. The last service serving this group of people. My last chance to speak in front of people that I love so, so dearly. What do I do? Do I plan out a “normal” service to stress that nothing changes? Do I honor those who will be sad by tackling my leaving directly? Do I pick my favorite hymns, or nondescript songs to match the theme of the day, or…?

My church uses a three-year cycle for Scripture readings in worship. I looked up what we were supposed to use that day… and found that one of the readings is Peter reciting what he preached. Christ crucified. Christ risen. Forgiveness of sins.

Perfect.

So my last week will explicitly focus on what the focus of worship is: Jesus. It’s about what Jesus has done. Always. And even after I go, it must be what the center of worship is. And for the next pastor. And the pastor after that. And the pastor after that.

And I am merely one more link in a chain of people pointing to Christ.

And that is the focus of my last Sunday here. And off I go to be another link in another chain. And I’m ok with that.

Not forgotten. Not derided. Simply… a man who points to Christ.

All the other details? Go ahead forget them. Let me point to Jesus. He’s the one you need, anyway. Certainly not me!

So as I say goodbye… let me point you to Christ, one last time.