Five Ways Jesus Handled Difficult People

Five Ways Jesus Handled Difficult People

It’s hard to imagine Jesus having “trouble” with anyone, but we know from the gospels that there were plenty of people who tried to make trouble for Him. After all, He was publicly executed for claiming equality with God the Father. But the Scriptures also give us much insight into His strategy for dealing with difficult people on the regular. And don’t forget, Jesus told us to “love our enemies,” which implies that we have enemies in the first place. Here’s how we see Jesus handling His enemies:

  1. He questioned their questions. In Matthew 21:23-25, Jesus gets asked “By what authority do you do these things?” Getting to pull rank, name superiors, and flaunt authority was big with the Pharisees, but Jesus answered the question with a question: “I will also ask you one thing… the baptism of John, was it from men or from God?” Jesus knew that their question was really a trap. So He turned it on them, as He often did. If they admitted that John the Baptist was from God, Jesus would have asked them why they didn’t listen to him, because John the Baptist pointed everyone to Jesus! If they said he was only from men, the crowd listening in would get angry, because they regarded John as a prophet. So they didn’t answer Jesus. In counseling, this is called “Guided Self Discovery” It’s the tool used to question people’s thinking, and lead them to deeper self discovery. In Jesus’ case, He was revealing their true motives, and their lack of desire to actually understand.
  2. He ignored them. One of my favorite verses in the gospels is Mark 5:36. In some translations it words Jesus’ response to His critics as, “Ignoring them, Jesus continued…” I have to admit as a pastor I find it ironic. I was told most of my life growing up, don’t care about what others think, just trust what God tells you to do! But as a pastor, people often treat you as if you should listen to what everyone thinks! Good news, no matter what your vocation is – Jesus ignored those who didn’t actually love Him, so you can too. And, yes, we do need to listen to those who sincerely love us and care about us. We have to be willing to have and receive difficult conversations. But when a difficult person is trying to make your life more difficult, and distract you from what you know God has called you to do, be like Jesus, ignore them, and continue doing what God called you to do.
  3. He addressed them publicly. Notice that Jesus almost always dealt with the difficult people in His life in a very public setting. He was never afraid to answer their questions, but He only seemed willing to do so in a public context. It’s harder for difficult people to deny what they said, or how you responded when you choose to only deal with them where others are present.
  4. He showed them grace. There is at least one clear exception where Jesus showed incredible grace to one of the difficult people in His life: a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemas. Nicodemas came to Jesus in private, at night, likely to avoid the scrutiny of his fellow Pharisees. It becomes immediately clear by his approach to Jesus in John 3, that he was hungry to actually listen and learn from Jesus, in humility seeking to actually know this miracle worker who claimed to be from God. And as a result of his humility, and Jesus’ grace to allow him, we have some of the most memorable and spiritually significant verses in Scripture. Jesus allowed for anyone, even difficult people, to truly repent and have a change of heart. And humility is the key. It takes humility for someone who has been difficult to us to admit they’ve been hurtful and try to approach us in a repentant spirit. But it also requires humility on our part to extend grace to someone who may have hurt us in the past. I’m grateful God showed us such grace, and we must be willing – when possible and appropriate – to do the same.
  5. He never compromised Who He was. Over countless occasions in the gospels, we see Jesus, very firmly, calling the Pharisees out, asserting His identity as the Son of God, and demonstrating His power right in front of them… often directly to them protesting Him. Likewise, as followers of Jesus, our identity is in who we are in Christ. We should never compromise the person Jesus is transforming us into in order to placate critics. When we stand before God in Heaven one day, He won’t ask us why we were not like our critics or even our mentors… if anything, He’ll ask us, “why weren’t you more like My Son?” Sometimes, the best response to our enemies is to make room for God to show off in our life, and be who He made us to be.

As you reflect on this, may you and I respond to difficult people the ways that Jesus did. Don’t be distracted or discouraged by the people who are letting Satan use them. Overcome them. And in Christ, and like Christ, we must overcome evil, with good.

Blessings,
Pastor John

The Post Pandemic Pastor

The Post Pandemic Pastor

What a bizarre season of life and ministry this has been! Just in regarding pastoral ministry, SO much has changed. We’re fighting battles we never imagined, and tectonic cultural shifts that are impossible to predict or even keep up with. Most of us never fathomed a world where wearing a mask or getting a vaccine was a politically charged, polarizing issue within our churches. We knew racial tensions were a very real concern, but we never imagined a world where supporting black lives somehow meant you had to hate the police, veterans, or the American flag. We knew an online presence was important for a church, but we never would have guessed that it would be the exclusive way anyone interacted with our ministry for months on end, up to a full year.

Somewhere in the perceivable future is a relative end to the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve been living in for almost two full years. And the temptation to “go back” to the way things were before is strong. But what does going “back” even look like?! Is it possible even if it seems preferable?

“But what does going back even look like?! Is it possible even if it seems preferable?”

Most of the pastors whom I would consider peers are very hard working, driven people. Like most of them, I’ve felt trapped, stuck, or in some sort of holding pattern over the majority of the past 2 years. I’ve been itching to break out in “full throttle” ministry again. But the truth is, I haven’t rested much at all during these near two years of quarantining, sheltering in place, and social distancing. I’ve been busy trying to lead my church who is struggling emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. People have had financial setbacks, break ups, marriages, and deaths in the family. Spiritual needs have multiplied, rather than subtracted over the past 18-24 months. With shifts in office hours, schedules, and kids’ schooling, the “Type A” personality in me had to fill that shift with something – anything that felt productive.

As a result, I know hold two IT certifications, started writing a book, and started a BBQ business! What?... some of you got really into making sourdough! But I digress…

God willing, we’ll see a peak to this recent surge, and case rates will die back down soon. But what will that even mean for pastors, post-pandemic? I have some predictions, and they’re not all great…

  • There will be a rash of senior pastor resignations. Many are barely hanging on. Some of them – good men – are dying to quit, but can’t take the guilt of leaving their church in the middle of the current situation. They’re long past burnout, running on fumes. Some have quit, or emotionally resigned already.
  • Those who don’t quit, will need a break. The idea of a pastoral sabbatical has become much more common. Most pastors will likely need one over the next 2 years. If you’re an elder and you’re uneasy about the idea, please realize that this is generally preferable to the first scenario. Even allowing an extended vacation for your pastors is better than nothing.
  • Many churches will close or get consolidated. If I’m correct about my first prediction (and we already see the signs everywhere), it won’t be possible to fill all the vacancies. As a result, many churches will close down completely, while others will get absorbed into other, often larger churches; which is often a very good thing! But it will still feel like a reluctant necessity for many ministries.
  • Pastors who have rested will be eager. I’m trying to rest! I know there’s a coming wave of momentum that the church must be ready for – and I want to be ready. I believe people are longing for spiritual and community connections – a real need that healthy churches have a long track record of providing for. These lead to opportunities for the gospel seed to take root in hearts it might not have otherwise. Rested pastors will be ready pastors… Ready to take ground for the Kingdom in the next season.

That’s why I’m trying to take care of my soul better now. I’ve got a bad track record of of doing great for myself for a few months at a time, and then “falling off the wagon” of soul care. But you can’t pour into others from an empty vessel. And a cracked vessel doesn’t hold much for long.

“…you can’t pour into others from an empty vessel. And a cracked vessel doesn’t hold much for long.”

I want to be ready. I want to charge ahead when the time comes. I’m not just resting… I’m resetting. The next season after this pandemic is going to require the best out of me. We can’t go “back” – I don’t think it’s preferable or possible. But by the grace of God, I intend to charge forward with all my might. What about you, brother? What about you, sister?

Blessings,
Pastor John

The Premium of Pain

The Premium of Pain

The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives.

Pain hurts. That’s the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully question their mental health. But I’ve learned from repeated familiarity that there is a premium value for pain that is not achieved otherwise.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

It’s been the battle cry of my ministry – of my life! I even made a wristband saying as much. The difficulty is that I have to remind myself of this when it’s the least convenient. When I’ve gone through a loss, a failure, a disappointment, a setback – that’s when pain is punching the hardest. And that’s when I have to remind myself that there is a resource that only comes through such pain.

This is easily the greatest reason why most people are stuck in life. Stuck in their career because they think they can’t start over. They can start over, but starting over sucks.
Stuck in their marriage because they won’t have uncomfortable conversations about the problems in their relationship, so they settle for “peace” which isn’t true peace it’s just a pause in the fighting. And by pause, I mean nothing is being worked out together.
Stuck in their faith, because you won’t risk anything meaningful in your pursuit of truly knowing Christ, “and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10).
Stuck in your finances, because it’s more convenient to have a little fun now, rather than save for a lot of freedom later.

We are naturally pain averse. But pain comes for us all. It comes by choice through sacrifice, or it comes by consequence through inaction, playing it safe, and maintaining a status quo. But regardless of how it comes, we still have a valuable decision to make…

What do I do with my pain?

  • I can internalize it – become bitter, spiteful, and self-destructive.
  • I can vocalize it – assign blame, make public statements, protest, and pass responsibility.
  • I can mobilize it – realize that I got here at a price, and pain is a tutor – a tough and expensive one – whose lessons are hard-earned, and few are willing to pay the tuition.

Pain comes from many sources. Self inflicted, abuse by others, setbacks from life, and even from God, Himself. It was Him after all, who led His own Son to the cross. But through the price of the pain He endured on the cross, our salvation was purchased.

What might your pain purchase? You’re richer than you think. Your pain is a resource. You can choose anger and resentment, or you can choose humility, grace, perseverance, wisdom, and growth. It’s my prayer that you mobilize the premium price of pain God has allowed in your life for greater things.

Blessings,
Pastor John

Loving the people you Lead

In leadership, it’s easy for us to get into ruts of just expecting people to do what they do. This is especially true in church leadership. Our entire enterprise is built on the willful volunteering of people’s time, energy, and resources to advance our sacred mission. And important as that mission is, we leverage nothing over the majority of the people we lead. Most of them could drop what they’re doing right now and walk away, and there would be absolutely nothing we could do to stop them!
But despite this, we can still get into some nasty habits of demanding from our people, lay leaders, and volunteers in such a way that is anything but loving. Why would anyone want to be a part of our team on a volunteer basis if it is not an environment full of gratitude and ultimately love for those who give so much to make it happen?!
Jesus said, “By your love for one another will the world know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35). Yet, like anyone who gets close to us, it can be easy to take our brothers and sisters for granted and fail to show love towards them. Here are five questions we should consistently ask ourselves about our level of love for those who serve with us:

  1. Do I love my people, or do I love what they do for me? This becomes a question of motive. When we ask this question we remind ourselves that Jesus loves the people we lead, and we should also – not just for what they do in our time, but because God has placed them under our stewardship, and as such expects us to love them as He does.
  2. Am I leading them, or bossing them around? This becomes a question of how we lead. Our team needs to see us pushing with them, not simply demanding they work for us, but getting in the trenches and seeing us working with them. A leader always brings two things to the table: energy and clarity. When we serve with our people, we give energy just by joining them. But we also give clarity by actually modeling what we want them to do for us. Both of these benefits demonstrate to our team that they matter to us.
  3. Do I give credit away, or take it for myself? Hoarding credit is a sure way to make people want to leave our team! Loving leaders are humble. They give away praise, and take responsibility for areas needing improvement. People love serving a leader who lavishes praise when them team wins.
  4. Do I correct them privately, or call them out publicly? None of us like getting called out in front of our peers. On my team, we often say that we “praise publicly and criticize privately.” When we bring them in close to correct behaviors and attitudes, we demonstrate that we care about the way the feel, and don’t ever intend to humiliate them when they’re needing correction and growing opportunities.
  5. Have I dealt with critical flaws, or tried ignoring them? On the flip side of question 4, leaders can often be tempted to simply ignore the problems they see in their team. We lie to ourselves when we think this is loving them. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” In other words, a true friend will give painful news when it’s needed, but an enemy will just tell us what we want to hear. Sometimes, we need to have painful conversations with our people so that they can grow. Yes, we must do so with humility and grace. But ignoring problems is really about protecting ourselves from having a tough conversation  – not loving our people towards their full potential.

Ask yourself these 5 questions regularly. If you lead other leaders, encourage them to ask themselves these five questions about their own leadership. Together, let’s be better about loving the people we lead.

What do you think about these questions? Which ones are the most difficult to address in our leadership? What questions would you add? Put them in the comments!

Blessings,
Pastor John

Do you really care?

Do you really care?


We live in a time where it’s super easy to feel informed, and simultaneously remain completely sedentary with such information. As a result, we’ve come to the false conclusion that by sharing our opinions, we care about a particular issue.

We have confused expressing our opinion, for being active.

For example, if you say you care about homeless veterans, but the closest you’ve come to doing anything about it is sharing a meme about how “we” don’t take care of homeless veterans, you in fact, do not care for homeless veterans – You just have an opinion, about how other people, the government, churches, etc. should be caring for homeless veterans.

You don’t actually care just by saying that you care. In reality, it makes little to no difference to you, unless you’re willing to get involved. Any issue only really matters to you to the extent that you’re willing to do something about it. And just saying, sharing, posting something, or criticizing others’ actions is not the same as caring or doing something about it.

James 2 tells us that if we see someone hungry, cold, or just otherwise in need and, “…say to them, ‘Go in peace! Be warmed and filled’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use it that?” [emphasis mine]

As my father taught me growing up, A “God bless you!” never fed anyone.

The same goes for sharing our faith as Christ-followers. It isn’t enough for us to post a verse, or a cute pic of something inspirational. We have to go out and tell it. We have to live it – embody the gospel – to the world around us.

The world doesn’t need another Facebook warrior, it needs people willing to actually intervene, spend their time, money, well-being, even their very lives if necessary, to do what is right.

So, care. Do something. Get involved. Go to the needy. Serve the broken. Pour your guts out to make this world a better place. No one cares what you and I think. But they can’t ignore how we serve.

Blessings,
Pastor John

What I don’t pray for…

What I don’t pray for…

pray-forIt’s an election year… good times, amiright?! No, of course not. We’re all miserable and wondering how this circus is going to end in November. I’ve got countless people in my life who know Christ as I do, that are praying that this is somehow the end of times, and Jesus is going to come back and remove us all from the scene before all Hell literally breaks loose. But I’m not one of them…

You see, as long as I’ve been a Christ-follower, the most spiritual people I’ve known have looked longingly toward the day our salvation inevitably ends being a matter of faith but at long last a matter of sight. Many of you reading this don’t share that belief, and that’s fine. You don’t have to argue that belief, just for the moment understand that I do, and in various theological flavors all “Christians” do.

Over the years, I’ve never actually said publicly anything in that vein of thought – that I hope Jesus comes soon. I’ve been a pastor for the vast majority of my adulthood, and I’ve never once prayed for Jesus to return. I’ve always been this weird kind of outlier to my more theologically fundamentalist counterparts. But that ship sailed awhile ago.

You see, I can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to ask God to usher the rapture of His church, or the beginning of the worst period of time on earth never before seen. I know prophecy beyond the average seminary grad, and I just can’t pray for that.

Don’t misunderstand me… I believe in His return. I even long for the day that I look upon Him. But when that day does come, if my current disposition holds true in that moment, my overwhelming joy will only be comparable to my gut-wrenching agony at the fate of the world I leave behind.

Most Christians say things or quote parts of Scripture to express their longing for His return. Things like, “Even so come quickly Lord Jesus!” or “maybe today [He’ll return]”. Such thoughts break me. As much as I trust Him to judge this world in righteousness, I know beyond doubt that this will result in eternal separation from Him for so many who have rejected Him. I just can’t ask God for that, though I know one day it will come. It must come.

My prayer is two-fold…

  • “God give us more time… more people know Your Son today than at any other point in history. Please, merciful God of Heaven – stay your return but a little longer while Your servants lift up Jesus across this earth.” and…
  • “God let Your Spirit fall fresh on us again. Bring revival and new life into your church. Send a second pentecost upon my city, our nation, and this world that Your Son died to redeem. Send a tidal wave of your love and grace in ways no one can deny.”

Dearest Christ-follower who’s praying for the end to come, I fear that you know not what spirit you are of. When He does show up, may He find us living, preaching, loving, and desperately compelling our communities to turn to Jesus. That would be a really great “welcome” present. Instead of praying for that return (which you and I have no influence on anyway), why don’t you pray that He send more laborers into His field? The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, tired, and lonely. Better yet, why not join in the harvest?

Blessings,
Pastor John