Those frustrating times with some church members

Pastoring God’s people can be exhausting.

Even when you do your best to serve God by ministering to His people, some are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt on anything nor forgive you for not living up to their impossible expectations.

You didn’t do it their way, weren’t there when they called, didn’t jump at their bark.

Those are the exceptions, I hasten to say to friends who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty.  It’s the 2 percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else.  It’s the 2 percent of society who require us to maintain a standing army to enforce laws.  Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that two percent will kill you.

I say to my own embarrassment and confess it as unworthy of a child of God that I remember these difficult moments with God’s headstrong people more than the precious times with the saints.  Perhaps it’s because the strained connections and harsh words feed into my own insecurities.  Or maybe it’s because there are so many more of the blessed times.

Even so, here are two instances from my journal that stand out….

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Wasting time in church

“When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…. I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.  I hate your…appointed feasts; they have become a burden to me….  Even when you multiply prayers, I will not listen.”  (Isaiah 1)

Often while preparing a sermon, I pray, “Lord, help me not to squander Thy blessing, waste their time, or miss this opportunity!”

Today, we’re talking about the second of these: Wasting time.

We do a lot of that in church, I fear.

We waste time in church every time we find ourselves:

–praising the God whose word you are flouting, pretending to adore the God whose will is the last thing you want.

–voicing hymns which express truths you do not believe and adoration you do not share.

–bringing pitiful offerings in place of something meaningful.  Or even worse, bringing an offering while griping about pastors preaching on money.

–saying prayers by rote when your mind is a thousand miles away.

Our Lord said, “This people honors me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8).

Such worshipers are wasting their time.

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When church isn’t fun any more

My journal records one of those pressurized times in a church I served some years back.

Consider that the church was still recovering from a split five years earlier, leaving us with a diminished congregation but an all-consuming debt.  Consider that some of our people still carried guilt over their actions during the fight, while others nursed hurts and anger from the same tragic event.  I’d not been around during that catastrophe, I’m happy to report, but the Father had sent me in to help the congregation pick up the pieces and return to health and usefulness.

It was hard.

I was weak personally, having just emerged from a brutal three-plus years trying to shepherd another congregation that was divided.  So, I came in gun-shy, hoping to avoid conflicts with church leadership and the demoralizing griping from church membership.

Naïve, huh?  Probably so.  People are going to look and act like who they are.

Daily I was being undermined by the angry, criticized by the hurting, ostracized by the pious, and scrutinized to the nth degree by leaders, self-appointed and otherwise.  When I tried to do a few things I considered normal and healthy, these also were thrown back in my face.

The journal records my efforts to bring in community leaders for a forum during which the guest would speak and be questioned.  Our people could not understand why in the world I would want to bring a congressman, for example, to our church.

I was stunned.  They don’t see the need? Aren’t they citizens who vote and who are affected by the actions of political leaders? Do they not care?  Where have these people been?

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Things pastors do not know

As a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, faithful pastor, you know a great many things.  “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren” (I John 3:14).  “We know love” (3:16). “We know that we are of the truth” (3:19). “We know that He abides in us” (3:24).

But there is so much we do not know.  Here is a partial list….

1) You do not know what people in your congregation are going through.

You know some of what several are experiencing. But even with those closest to you, so much of their personal lives is hidden from all but God.

2) You do not know what God is doing in each life.

It’s like the wind which blows, said our Lord to Nicodemus. “It blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes” (John 3:8).

3) You do not know the plans the Lord has for each one.

“What about him?” said Peter to the Lord, pointing to John.  “What is that to you?” said Jesus. “You follow me” (John 21:21-22).

4) You do not know exactly who is sitting in your congregation.

In one church, before I stood to preach, the pastor introduced me to each member of his congregation.  Perhaps there were thirty present.  I said, “When the church grows to 200, I want to see you do that!” He vowed that he would.  But most cannot.

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This guy found a problem in the Bible and thinks he can now disprove God

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was reading comments on a friend’s Facebook page on something she had written about the Bible.

After a number of statements from one critic in particular–each comment shallow and several of them insulting–she patiently responded with kindness and reason.

But nothing worked on that guy.

When one is determined not to believe, no amount of truth or reason or logic can penetrate the protective armor of alibis, arguments, excuses, and slander in which he clothes himself.

What was the “contradiction” he had found in Scripture?

He said, “In one place the Bible says an eye for an eye and another place it says turn the other cheek.  What do you say about such a contradiction?”

I found myself wondering if this guy was serious.  My 13-year-old neighbor could answer that.

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Things God enjoys most

“Well, I know there’s a lot of big preachers that know a lot more than I do, but it could be that the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too.”  –Tom T. Hall, “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died”

Yogi Berra watched as the batter approached the plate.  The Yankee catcher had seen it all, and this guy was like so many: eager to get a hit, but needing all the help he could find.  The batter stood at the plate and made the sign of the cross, then pointed toward the skies, both symbols of prayer as he summoned the Almighty to his aid.

“Hey buddy,” said Yogi from behind his mask, “Why don’t we just let the Lord enjoy the game?”

I’m with Yogi.

That begs the question of course.  We wonder if the Lord enjoys a baseball game occasionally.

Does God smile at the antics of a small child?  Revel at the cuteness of puppies?  Does He ever sit back and enjoy the music of an orchestra or choir?  Did God like that rainbow I saw yesterday?

Does the Lord ever summon an angel in and say, “Look at that waterfall! And take a gander at those butterflies. Didn’t we do good?”

I wouldn’t be surprised.

He has been known to enjoy His own work.

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What the bride and groom cannot promise each other

Now, everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner til death…. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises…. And of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love.  –C. S. Lewis, “Christian Marriage” in his book Mere Christianity.

In the wedding vow, we promise to be true to our beloved “so long as we both shall live.”

But what we do not promise and probably could not keep even if we did is to always be “in love” with the other.

Say what? How’s that?

C. S. Lewis says, “A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.  He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.”

But shouldn’t we always be in love?  Isn’t that the goal?

And what does that mean?  How do we define that blissful state?

And how do we nurture the feelings of romantic love so that our honeymoon never ends?

These are questions worthy of hours of discussion between us and our beloved.

Lewis asks, facetiously, “What is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love?”  That question lies in back of our culture’s addiction to divorces and devotion to relationships-that-look-like-marriage-but-without-the-formalities.  If we are no longer “in love,” the thinking goes, then we can put the relationship out of its misery.

Millions of people “put the relationship out of its misery” every year.  And then, far too many find the misery continues, even after the relationship was aborted.

The ways of a husband and wife are mysterious, I give you that.

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Your first discoveries in Heaven

“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so, amen” (Revelation 1:7).

Tonight, my wife and I watched the replay of the final services of Queen Elizabeth. It was so touching.  I found myself praying that millions across the world who were watching would take to heart all the scriptures being quoted on Heaven, eternal life, and our eternal reward.

I love to think about Heaven.  Scripture calls it “my Father’s house,” “a kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” and “paradise.”

I’m going there. I actually have a reservation, one that is “imperishable, undefiled, will not fade away, and is reserved in heaven” for us (First Peter 1:4).  How good is that?

Now, would you allow me to make a few predictions about Heaven?

As with every religious charlatan who ever came down the pike, there’s no way to prove me wrong for the time being. But unlike the con men, I’m just thinking out loud here. After all, who among us does not like thinking about Heaven, our abode forever and forever?

The first surprise, I have no doubt, will be to find yourself awake.  “Wow,” you think. “I died.  I really did.  I remember everyone gathering around the hospital bed and them all crying.  And I recall that last surge of pain and then everything went black.  And lo and behold, I wake up.  How wonderful is that?”

“As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness.  I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awaken.” (Psalm 17:15)

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Fifteen lies Satan tells you about Scripture

“(The devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

If I were the devil, I would do everything in my power to keep you from the Word of God.  I would say anything I could think of, anything I thought you would believe, anything that works, to get you to read other things.

As Paul said, “We are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).  We know how he works.  And here are some of the lies we have noticed pouring out of his factory, all geared toward destroying confidence in God’s Word.

One. “You already know it, so don’t read it.”

He’s lying to you. You do not know it. I’ve studied the Bible all my life and in no way could I say I “know” it. I know a great deal about it, but there is so much more.  For the typical church member to shun the Bible because “I’ve been there and done that” is laughable.

Two: “No one can understand it, so don’t read it.”

He’s lying.  Even a child can understand a great deal of Scripture.  Meanwhile, the Ph.D. will find plenty to challenge his thinking.  Only a book from the Almighty could touch so much at every level of their existence.

Three“It’s boring. So don’t read it.”

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Church members who practice atheism

All these things they will do to you for My Name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.  (John 15:21).

The problem with preacher-haters and trouble-makers in the church is that they do not believe in God. That statement might require a little clarification.

Those members who are determined to have their way regardless of the cost to the fellowship of the church, the unity of the congregation, the continuance of the pastor’s ministry, or the sacrifice of programs of the church are not without religious convictions.

They may have even had religious experiences. Of a sort.

Regardless of what they believe, most are atheists in the purest sense.

Whatever belief in God they possess is theoretical. God was in Christ, yes. He was in the past. And He will be in the future, they confess, when He takes them and others like them to Heaven.

As for the present, alas, they are on their own.

What, you may be wondering, would lead me to say such outrageous things about some people who are members of churches and who frequently get elected to high positions of leadership in those churches?

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