In previous Letters we have discussed the centrality of Jesus Christ in Christian leadership. The following story, taken from Placebo by Howard Pittman, is a powerful expression of this reality.
Howard O. Pittman was a Baptist minister for 35 years. On August 3, 1979, his main body trunk artery ruptured and at some point in the following hours, he experienced physical death. His spirit left his body and he was taken before the throne of God where he pleaded for an extension of his physical life. It was here that God showed him what kind of life he had really led. His words follow:
As I stood before the Gates, the sense of joy, happiness, and contentment radiated out from Heaven. I could feel the warmth it produced and as I stood there to plead my case, I could feel the awesome power of God.
Boldly I came before the throne and started out by reminding God what a great life of love, worship, and sacrifice I had lived for Him. I told Him of all the works I had done, reminding Him that I had accepted Him when I was quite young and that I had served Him all my life for all these many years. I reminded Him that I was now in trouble and only God could help by granting me an extension of my physical life. God was totally silent while I spoke. When I had completed my request, I heard the real, audible voice of God as God answered me.
The sound of His voice came down on me from over the Gates even before the words hit me. The tone of His anger knocked me on my face as God proceeded to tell me just what kind of life I had really lived. God told me what God really thought of me and even others who did as I had. God pointed out that my faith was dead, that my works were not acceptable, and that I had labored in vain. God told me that it was an abomination for me to live such a life and then dare call it a life of worship.
I could not believe God was talking to me in this manner! I had served Him for years! I thought I had lived a life pleasing to Him! As God was enumerating my wrongs, I was sure God had me confused with someone else. There was no strength left in me to even move, let alone protest, yet I was panicking within myself.
No way God could be talking about me! I just could not believe that what God said was referring to me! All of these years I thought I was doing those works for God! Now God was telling me that what I did, I did for myself. Even as I preached and testified about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, I was doing that only for myself in order that my conscience might be soothed. In essence, my first love and first works were for myself. After MY needs and wants were met or satisfied, in order to soothe my conscience I would set out to do the Lord’s work. This made my priorities out of order and unacceptable. Actually, I had become my own false god.
He makes it plain in His teachings that He is a jealous God and will have no other gods before Him; flesh, stone, blood, or whatever. He will have no other gods before Him…
Only now as I was here before Him being chastised did…two portions of Scripture become crystal clear to me as to their true meaning:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-33)
As God told me about my true motives, I could see plainly for the first time how my works were dead. Because God was displaying His wrath toward me, I could not stand nor could I speak. No strength was left within me as I was nothing more than a wet rag lying there writhing in agony.
It needs to be stated that at no time while God was chastising me did God say I was not saved nor did God say that my name was not in the Lamb’s Book of Life. God never mentioned salvation to me at all but only spoke about the works produced through my life. God told me the type of life I lived was an unacceptable life for a true Christian. As God spoke to me of my dead works, God indicated that there are some people who are not saved but think they are. These people will experience His everlasting wrath. He also made it plain to me that there are others of His children who will find themselves in my present condition on Judgment Day. This revealed to me the true meaning of 1 Corinthians 3:15 which states, “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
(Graciously, God brought Pittman back to life and sent him out with a message of preparation for Jesus’ soon return.)
Jesus came to a friend of mine once and showed her a pile of stinking garbage. It was a heap of garbage and filth, and was absolutely vile and disgusting. She understood that the garbage became viler and viler toward the center of the heap. The Lord told her that all of her most righteous works were worse, far worse, than the vilest, most stinking part of the garbage and filth before her.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… (Is. 64:6)
Christian leadership that does not proceed first and only from Christ will all be worthless in the end.
Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain… (Ps. 127:1)
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Thus, Christian leadership begins and ends with knowing God. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of true leadership.
In our next Letter, we will continue.
Next Letter: The End of Our Pursuit