Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13-NIV)
Last week I watched my daughter walk fearlessly through a burning building with flames shooting out the windows. She is about to graduate from fire academy, and within a week she will be riding fire trucks, rescuing people trapped in crushed cars, putting out fires, and performing CPR. This mother’s heart fears for her safety; yet, it swells with pride at the thought of her willingness to put her life in harm’s way to save the lives of others.
As I stood next to her captain, I felt a profound sense of respect as I looked at his blackened face and uniform. I know I would quickly follow any order he would give me. Why? Because I know that his life is dedicated to saving the lives of others and that he has my best interest at heart.
At that moment I realized a stark contrast. There are individuals in our lives (like this fire captain) who COMMAND authority, while there are others who, unfortunately, must DEMAND authority. I have been in churches where pastors pound the pulpit, insisting that worshippers look intently at them and listen carefully to what they are saying. I have heard these preachers stridently claim to have “authority” over their church members. One pastor even informed a friend that he (the pastor) was like a “parent” while my friend was like his “child.” There are growing reports of pastors declaring absolute authority over their congregations, disbanding deacon boards, and disciplining church members who dare to question their actions. Note: such pastors must TELL us they are in charge because, for some reason, we don’t seem to recognize their authority as described in the Scriptures. Are we just rebellious children? Are we not following Scripture? Or is the issue far deeper?
When Bill Clinton was serving as President, Mother Teresa visited the United States and was asked to address a joint session of Congress. This diminutive, wrinkled lady spoke of her work amongst the desperately poor. Then she addressed the sacredness of life and the evils of abortion. Members of Congress spontaneously rose to their feet to give her a standing ovation, and the pro-abortion President and Mrs. Clinton were forced to follow suite. Why? Although Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, Mother Teresa had lived her life in service to the destitute.
Mother Teresa had no money, no fancy houses, and no admiring congregation. When people wanted to meet her, they would have to travel to the poorest sections of the world where they would find her comforting the abject poor. She never once had to pound a lectern and insist that people listen to her. They hung onto her every word, mesmerized. She never had to inform others that she was in charge; yet, the most influential leaders in the world begged for an audience with her. People just naturally followed her. They recognized this tiny woman had no ulterior motive. She was called to love and serve.
Then, there is Almighty God. The immortal took on our mortality. The Creator walked among His creation. And His creation flocked to hear Him speak. Materially, He lived a simple life. He didn’t have a huge church building with a fancy sound system. His followers were not part of an established power structure – they were just non-influential townspeople and fishermen. Yet, crowds surrounded Him wherever He went.
In spite of His apparent lack of social position, those in power feared Him. The religious leaders realized that Jesus easily usurped their authority, and it frustrated them to no end. He didn’t do things the way they had always been done. He even called some of them “snakes” and rebuked them for burdening His people with unnecessary rules. He scorned them for lording their power over those whom they were called to serve; however, even those who despised Jesus were drawn to Him. They just had to see this carpenter who came from the wrong side of the tracks and who was magnetically attracting the masses.
As Jesus Christ died on the cross, He did not demand that others look at Him. He did not lecture spectators about His authority… this Man, King of the Universe. He even spoke kindly to a thief on an adjacent cross. Yet generations follow Him. Why? Because Jesus had no ulterior motive. He did not seek power and wealth. He simply and beautifully loved His people and gave His life for them.
If you are in a church with leaders who insist you follow them, you can be certain they are not in the center of God’s will. The appropriate response would be to leave! If you are in church with leaders who are distant, demanding, and arrogant, please don’t tolerate such ungodly behavior. Leave! Find a pastor who draws you by his sacrificial service to his flock. Find a pastor who would rush into a burning building to save your life. Find a pastor who knows the names of the non-influential members of his church. Such godly pastors are out there because I have known some of these great men of God.
This post is dedicated to my firefighting daughter. You demonstrate the love of Christ every time you put your life at risk. And you can be sure that if you told me to jump, I would say, “How high?” I’m so proud of you!