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Here we have this person, Jesus, one utterly beloved of God. Loved by the perfection of love. Son of the Father of love. Intimate with Love itself. As Jesus put it, "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:11). He also said that "whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).

Can you imagine what it would be like to be in the presence of someone who so knew he was loved that he could live and breath and act in complete self-confidence that indeed nothing could separate him from love, nothing could shake the ground of his existence? We rightly believe that Jesus attracted people to himself and his teaching because he loved. Did it ever occur to us that maybe Jesus attracted others also because they could see he lived in the utter confidence that he was loved, and they were desperately thirsty to know what having that type of love was like?

Ultimately, that's the ground of our authority, if we would just believe it. It's a hard thing to believe many days, especially when we're in the thick of things, duking it out with boards or members or clients or competitors. It's hard when we feel our calling or effectiveness or the very purpose of our lives seems to be on the line. At such times, we're tempted to play the cards of delegated authority, of expertise, of manipulation—anything to secure our place in our church, in the office, in our world, anything to justify our existence.

But if we can remember and believe that first and foremost our existence and our authority is grounded in God's love for us, we need not fear, nor respond in fear.

Take my conversation with Stanley. I was a young pastor, desperate to establish my authority in the church, anxious to show myself and others that I deserved the position, that I was strong enough and talented enough to do the job. I was, in short, trying to justify my calling to myself, to my congregation, and to Stanley. So I pulled the delegated authority card.

But if I were to have that conversation today, I hope it would be grounded in the self-confidence that I am loved no matter what, that I don't have to exert anything, prove anything, or justify anything; that there is nothing to prove. If I were to talk to Stanley today, I would hope it would go like this:

"Stanley, I've heard from parishioners that you don't care for the way I'm leading the church, and I'm sorry to hear that. Like most people I want to be liked by everyone, but I also know that this is not possible. Still, I am anxious to hear what you think, because I have a lot to learn as a young pastor. You have a great deal of experience in the church, and I suspect I could learn a lot from you. But I'm wondering if you could do me one favor. Instead of criticizing me to others, I wonder if you'd be willing to just tell me your concerns face to face. I feel I could learn so much more about you and from you if we handled it this way."

I suspect Stanley would have appreciated this approach as well.

Note the difference? The first response was grounded in fear, and was a desperate attempt to justify myself and my position. The second is grounded in the confidence that no matter what Stanley or others in the church think, I am still loved. Knowing and believing that one is loved—well, it carries with it an authority that is hard to define but also hard to resist!

In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today in Carol Stream, Illinois.
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