I received an invite to the 20th anniversary of my ADFA graduation last week. Its been years since I was in contact with anyone from my graduating class, and I was surprised that my reaction was mostly fearful. I was worried about going.
Maybe part of that was due to the fact that I was not the nicest person to know back then (I’m probably still not now, but I like to think I have improved since my first years as an adult). I’m embarrassed by who I was, what I did, and how I treated people.
But the biggest part of that fear was how to explain what I do now.
You’d think, for a minister of religion, that would be pretty simple.
But in my mind it wasn’t. So I had to sit down and ask myself why. And I’m not particularly proud of the answer, because the reason for my fear was pride.
I want to impress the people I knew 20 years ago – most of whom were in the Army, Navy or Air Force longer than I was.
Many, if not all of them, will have served in at least one combat zone over the last 20 years, some will have done half a dozen or more tours of duty in up to 4 or 5 different war zones or conflicts. I know some have started their own very successful businesses. Several have studied in other fields and started completely different careers. All will be earning significantly more that they were twenty years ago, and yet when I look at the current defence pay rates, I’m not earning any more than I was 15 years ago.
My biggest concern was the fact that nothing I am doing now is likely to impress any of my old class mates. All the choices I’ve made in the last 10 years or so to train for and enter into full time Christian ministry are likely to be considered with indifference, pity or derision.
Those in my congregation will know that this shouldn’t matter. I am constantly preaching that Jesus is sufficient. That obeying Jesus matters more than what other people think of you.
Yet despite knowing this, despite preaching this, I still find that I want to achieve my security by impressing and earning respect from people without reference to Jesus.
It feels like Jesus isn’t sufficient for me. I want Jesus and status and acceptance. And without status and acceptance, I’ve been tempted to turn from Jesus to get it.
I was actually wracking my brains to try to come up with hobbies, actions, or activities I’m involved in which may lend me some level of respect or credibility among a high performing and pretty secular group of (ex-)peers.
My pride has caused me to seek security in something other than Jesus.
This fear of rejection, fear of being seen as a failure, has revealed just how broken and sinful I am. It makes me keenly aware of the struggle between the sinful nature and the spirit that Paul talks about in Romans 7.
It hurts to realise and confess that I am not as faithful, not as strong and not as Godly as I thought I was. It hurts my pride to realise that my sinfulness is worse than I told myself it was, and I need God’s mercy much more than I realised.
I imagine the apostle Peter felt much the same when he denied Jesus three times, after having confidently asserted that even if it meant death, he would never abandon him.
And in the face of this, the only response left to me is the one Peter and the disciples reached in John 6, when so many abandoned Jesus because his teaching was hard: that I have nowhere else to go except to Jesus.
“To whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and know that you are the holy one of God.”
It wasn’t that the twelve didn’t find Jesus’ teaching hard. Its that they were convinced they needed Jesus more than they needed an easier life.
And this is what I am brought to as well. Through the weakness of my character, I’m left to remember that Jesus gives eternal life – and that I am in desperate need of the mercy of God in order to receive that.
I have nothing to offer my class mates other than the hope that Jesus provides and I have constantly preached: that Jesus knows me, knows my weakness and sinfulness, and yet he died that I may live.
No-one, no amount of respect from others, no level of credibility within any group, can actually match that level of love and acceptance, and I am crazy to feel other wise.
I don’t know what will happen when I attend my reunion. I don’t know how people will respond to the changes in me. It is unlikely to be as bad or as negative as I have imagined, but the mere thought of it has reminded me just how much I need God’s forgiveness through Jesus, and just how much Jesus loves and is patient with me.
And I pray I will honour him next weekend.