You don’t realize just how desperately you need Jesus until He takes away a lot of the things that you are depending on that are infinitely smaller than Him. There were people out to get me, there were people wanting to take me down, there were people who were opposing me at every turn, and I didn’t realize just how dependant I had become over the years on what people think of me until God took that away. And now, for the very first time, I have people who don’t like me, who don’t approve of me, who are out to get me, who are criticizing me privately and publicly, and stirring up trouble to get me thrown out. God brought me to the end of myself. He broke my legs, and in the process, taught me grace.
So this book is basically an autobiographical account of the most difficult year of my life, the year when God brought me to the end of myself and helped me rediscover the “now” power of the Gospel, that everything I need and everything I long for, in Christ, I already possess. All of the approval I long for, all of the affection that I long for, all of the acceptance that I long for, all of the worth and value and purpose that I long for, I already possess in Christ. And when that grips your heart, it absolutely sets you free because now you’re no longer dependant on transient things like what other people think of you to make you feel like you matter. It absolutely set me free, and I wrote the book because I love pastors.
It seems unfair to me that just because I come from a well-known family and the church was well known that I’m the only one telling this story and it’s getting press. I know a lot of pastors who have gone through not only similar things but worse things than me, but my hope is to give voice to the painful struggle of pastoral ministry and church leadership and to really exhort Christian leaders and pastors to find their identity and security and their worth and their value in what Jesus has already accomplished for us. I think so often, at least this is the case for me, you begin to believe ‘If my ministry is successful, I’m a success. And if my ministry’s a failure, then I’m a failure.’ That just confines you to life in a prison cell. It steals your joy, it robs you of your freedom, it takes away your courage and your boldness to say things and do things you need to say and do because you’re afraid of what other people might say or how they might react.
The only thing that got me through, the absolute only thing that got me through was coming to a fresh realization that everything I need in Christ I already possess. And that just liberated me to live and lead in a free, Gospel-centered way.
FREEDOM IN CHRIST
What I realized during that difficult time is that it’s only the Gospel that had the power to free me from my addiction to being liked. And that is something that we struggle with, whether we’re conscious of it or not. One of the reasons we get into ministry and get into preaching is because we’re people pleasers. And that’s something that only the Gospel can free you from and can free you for living life in a posture of “to live is Christ; to die is gain.” I’ve discovered that pain and suffering is the primary tool God uses to set us free.
Throughout the book, I talk about that real slavery, according to the Bible, is self-reliance, trying to secure for myself the approval and the acceptance and the meaning and validation that I long for and realizing that the Gospel is just as important after you become a Christian as it was before is something that was brand new to me. I grew up in church thinking that the power of the Gospel was for people outside the church. When I heard the word Gospel, it was synonymous almost exclusively with evangelism, that once God saves you, He moves you beyond the Gospel. Another way I thought about it theologically was justification is step 1, sanctification is step 2, and once you get to step 2, you never need to go back to step 1. And what I’ve learned is that sanctification is a process, that daily process of getting used to your justification and believing that what God has said about you is true.