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Retrospective Lessons From Four Hard Teachings

In agile, there’s this thing we do at the end of a sprint (which is a period of one to four weeks) called a retrospective. We look back at the sprint and think about what went well, what could we do better, and what actionable steps are we taking to get better for the next sprint.

This article isn’t going to be about Trump, Biden, COVID, Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, police brutality, implicit bias, Supreme Court justices, or a church splitting. This article isn’t going to be about how we as a nation can do better.

This is just me doing a retrospective before the next sprint. Feel free to read over my shoulder.

Lesson 1: I Need to Get Uncomfortable with “Common” Sin

Some Sin is Unimaginable

Most of us would be disgusted by a person slandering others because of the color of their skin. We might give granny a pass because she is a product of her generation, but we’re still shocked. Child molesters make us gag. A real-life Hannibal Lector frightens us. Hitler, in most of our minds, has a special place in hell.

Sins that disgust us are so bad that we usually can’t imagine doing them. You and I both are not usually comfortable with any of those sins.

Some Sin is Wrongly Acceptable

We only have issues with lying when the car dealership cheats us, but lying in and of itself as a concept generally doesn’t offend us. Cowardice doesn’t look great on a movie screen, but it doesn’t invoke the same reaction that Hitler does. We usually shake our heads when someone brags a lot, but it doesn’t make us yearn that it didn’t exist. We feel a mixture of sadness and envy for people who live for the next party, but it never makes us bristle with righteous indignation.

I’ve noticed that I give sins that I’m comfortable with a pass. Is it because I can imagine myself doing those common sins in the right circumstance? Gossip is terrible, but if I’m spreading the truth (or what I think is the truth), is it wrong? In that case, it’s just informing people, right? Sure, situations matter, but I find that the situations we invent don’t happen often but can justify anything. Sure, lying to the Gestapo is the right thing to do when you’re hiding Jews but does that justify lying on our taxes?

Respect the Reality of Rebellion

The Bible displays a group of people sitting under God’s judgment, don’t inherit His kingdom, and are eventually locked out of his city and sent to eternal damnation. That group is made up of murderers, adulterers, thieves, the greedy, liars, the boastful, cowards, and those who live for pleasure (1 Cor 6:9-10; Mark 7:21-23; Romans 1:29-31; Matt 5:28; Gal 5:19-21; Rev 21:8; 2 Tim 3:1-5; Col 3:4-10; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Titus 3:3) to name a few. In that place, there is darkness, pain, weeping, gnashing of teeth, and continued rebellion.

It’s horrible. All of these things are flattened out and put in that place because they all belong to the same active rebellion.

Why don’t I gag? I need to get uncomfortable with all of it!

Lesson 2: I Need to Be Faithful to Scripture

False teachers are not always known for preaching modalism from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. They might just be sitting across a coffee table in a Lazy-Boy encouraging a young couple to sleep together. Or patiently forming a faction at a ping-pong table while underscoring the shortcomings of all the local leaders. Or like Arius, so concerned with the flock that he would put his heresy that rejected the deity of Christ into easily remembered songs.  

Dividers, strife-causers, and false teachers start somewhere. Maybe they start with concern for the death of a loved one, a heart that understands the struggles of sexual attraction, and possibly a way to highlight some good character of God mixed with a step away from Scripture. That step always goes wrong. It’s because something else—a situation, a feeling, whatever—held priority over God’s word.

Be Faithful to Preaching God’s Word

Amos 8:11-13 speaks about a day when there is such a famine for the word of God that people will stagger from ocean to ocean, searching for a message from the Lord. But Paul says that there is a day coming that people won’t even be able to handle proper doctrine, and they’ll acquire teachers that satisfy what they want to hear, no matter what that is.

That being the case, I must preach the word, in and out of season (2 Tim 4:3). I know that I must be irenic, charitable, graceful, winsome, and not overbearing, but all the while, I need to faithfully discipline, rebuke, exhort, and correct.

Be Faithful to God’s Word No Matter What

Remember the prophet Jeremiah? Josiah is a great king and will be even greater a few years after Jeremiah’s ministry starts. Early on, Jeremiah is supposed to preach that disaster is coming because Judah is unfaithful! He would preach through the reign of four more kings, sometimes writing letters that no one reads and sometimes speaking even though he expected to be ignored and killed. Jeremiah was often sad, often lonely, unsure of where things were heading and yet he remained faithful.

Am I willing to take that same approach even if it means continued loneliness?

Lesson 3: Service Is a Calling and a Decision

Jesus Christ Chose to Serve

Jesus Christ our Lord was called to come as a servant. In so doing he was called for obedience even to death on the cross. Yet he decided to show his calling by actively loving and serving His disciples. He made it a habit to pray for them (Luke 22:32) and encourage them. With all of this, he still decided he would illustrate their need to serve one another by washing their feet. He already had the highest position, and He was also already a servant, but He still chose to give them an example to follow.

Choosing to Serve No Matter the Cost

I’m grateful to brother Alexander Strauch for sending me his book Agape Leadership: Lessons from the Life of Robert L. Peterson. It was impactful and eye-opening how that man just gave himself, no matter what hours or cost. If Mr. Peterson had money in his pocket, he gave it to someone in need. He knew that Christian ministers sometimes needed to recuperate so he made his home a resting place, often cleaning their shoes at night and setting up a relaxing atmosphere for those workers. He tirelessly gave himself to serving his assembly even when they didn’t agree with him theologically. What an example.

Here’s the point: the Lord loves and leads his flock; I’m just a current under-shepherd called to love and serve them while He’s preparing their home. With that calling, there is the need to decide: should I serve if it means losing something? Loss of time? Loss of reputation? Loss of respect? Loss of mileage? Increased stress? Increased loneliness? Increased pressures?

Committed Service Has Long-Lasting Effects

Joseph always served. He served in Potiphar’s home while Potiphar’s wife was always tempting him to sleep with her. When the opportunity to sin hops up, the dude ran away from it leaving his coat in her clenched hands, likely knowing full well what it’s going to look like. With that shred of evidence, he gets falsely accused and thrown into prison. What does he do there? Chooses to serve. He helps some guys out and only asks that they mention him to the king. No one says anything to the king for another three years, during which time Joseph continued to serve.

Because Joseph decided to do that, he eventually is placed in a position where he can help his family and adopted nation. He can serve his king and kinsmen even if it means that he is unrecognizable to his own family. Eventually his family survives the storm of famine and they all have kids. Eventually those kids would have kids and generations later, a young lady would give birth to the Lord of Glory. Because of Josephs’s service, eventually, Jesus would choose to get down and wash nasty feet leaving us an example to follow.

Joseph and Jesus and Robert Patterson served and taught a lesson: can I serve like that?

Lesson 4: God’s Hand is in Control

Don’t Lose Confidence in God

There is no way possible that anyone could have planned for the number of things that happened this year. No one could have been prepared enough to handle the combination of all of that. Even locally, I couldn’t even remotely envision the split that my church had gone through this year—it came as a complete surprise. Neither can any of the remaining members. We do not understand it, and the reactions have dumbfounded us.

I know plenty of Biblically sound churches going through the same thing during COVID-19. During such a high-pressure time people are more ramped up making decisions they never would have made a year ago even though they think they are being completely rational right now. I have confidence that God’s judgment was already placed on His Son and anything he is doing right now is ultimately for His glory (Rev 4:11) and the good of those who love Him even if we don’t see the good today (Rom 8:28).

Be Thankful Knowing That God Works All Things for Good

Yet in all of this, I’ve already seen my Lord’s hand. My cousin recently moved to my state and needed a local assembly. One of the couples who left my church now belongs to a church in the same area where she lives, and they were able to welcome her while my family has been hunkered down since we’re high-risk. People in our assembly have stepped up to do work that is tied to the assembly and not off-shoots without oversight. I see relationships forming through tears. I see young believers deeply trusting the Lord. I see brothers and sisters bonding together in ways I haven’t seen in years.

Through it, all God shows again and again that He reigns. That is incredibly comforting. I can put down these lessons now, way before the New Year, and know that the Lord is still working no matter what may come. Rey Reynoso is nothing, a mere tool in the hand of the master. God is the master artisan. God’s got his hand on the throttle and knows precisely where He’s taking us—taking me. It’s better that way. I am sure the Lord will continue showing that He is in fact the God who is working.

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