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There was a moment in my sermon last week where I said something completely unplanned and unexpected. I was talking about how the crowds in Jerusalem had been cut to the heart (Acts 2:37). I mentioned that our hearts often become hardened and calloused. Perhaps we’re trying to preserve our pride. Trying to preserve our self-sufficiency. Whatever it is, we build up a wall and defend ourselves against any suggestion that we need help or correction. And as I spoke to this, I referred to a mentor of mine who had suddenly passed away last week.
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That mentor was one of my professors from Regent College, Don Lewis. Don took a lot of men at Regent under his wings, and I was one of them. He was one of the most kind-hearted, encouraging, generous people I have ever encountered. So many future pastors were discipled by Don and spent time being prayed for by him in his office. He was beloved by so many, not primarily because of his teaching, but because of his caring.
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After hearing of his death, I went back and read some of the emails between Don and myself from years ago. There was one email in particular where Don had written some difficult things. He had challenged me to alter some of my thoughts and behaviours, to assess my priorities, to take action in some areas of shortcoming. The whole message was couched in love and affirmation. He made it abundantly clear that he was not being critical, but he was concerned for me and that he thought highly of me. But at the time, I couldn’t see that. I was convinced he was overreacting. I felt rejected and discarded. My pride was wounded. And so I pulled away. He continued to message me, to check in with me, to pray for me. But I kept him at an arms length. Our relationship was never quite the same afterward.
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The great tragedy in this, again, is that I can see looking back that his intention was nothing but genuine love. There are people who are critical, who seek to tear you down with their words. There are people who issue correction from a place of self-righteousness. There are people who don’t really know you but still feel free to “speak into your life”. But that wasn’t Don. Not one bit. I should have known that then; I know that now. And so I am cut to the heart, especially now that he has gone to be with the Lord. I have sorrow about how I responded to a friend and mentor who only wanted to see me grow in my likeness to Jesus, and sorrow that I don’t have the opportunity now to make things right.
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What am I to do with this?
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In line with Acts 2, repentance is in order. I need to change my thinking when it comes to correction, especially from those who know me and love me. I don’t want to repeat those same mistakes again! Being cut to the heart isn’t a lot of fun. But it creates an opportunity for life-giving change.
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In line with Acts 2, I need to bring this to Jesus. There is forgiveness in his name. He can forgive me because he bore my guilt and shame at the cross. He can also empower my repentance by filling me with His Holy Spirit. Without him, there’s no release from the burden of sin.
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And in line with Acts 2, I can move forward with hope because of the resurrection of Jesus. While death has temporarily taken hold of Don, it will not have the final word. He will be raised in a resurrection body, as will I if my faith is in Christ. I believe we will see each other face to face and we will be fully restored, fully reconciled. I do have sorrow because my own actions cost me a closer relationship with him in this life. But I have hope knowing that because of the power of Christ over death, this is not the end of the story.
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And perhaps something in this speaks to you. May the Lord lead you as you seek wholeness in your relationship with others and with Him.