Irresponsibility and Bitterness: two sides of the same painful coin

Not responsible for broken windshields.”

We’ve all seen that sign on the back of large trucks on the highway.

But if the rock hitting my car flew out of that truck’s unsecured load, the driver is responsible, regardless of the sign.  The lawcourts have established this, and lawyers get rich making the point…again and again and again.

I write on this website for pastors and church leaders.  We try to encourage pastors to faithfulness and greater effectiveness, and to lift their spirits when circumstances crush them.  As a result, I sometimes receive critical notes from those who have been abused by pastors.

My pastor husband divorced me and ran off with the secretary.  The church supported him and kept him on.  The children sided with their dad and now will have nothing to do with me. Where is God when this happened?  I’ve quit going to church and question whether God really cares.

I hear from the adult children of ministers who were mistreated by their churches:

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The point at which I stopped reading your book

In a book of historical fiction on the Civil War, the author told of the train stopping in Birmingham, Alabama, and soldiers getting aboard.

That’s when I tossed it away.

Birmingham, Alabama did not exist during the Civil War. The city was founded in 1870, five years after the end of that war, and chartered the next year.

A western novel I was reading told of some goings-on in the city of New Orleans. The author made reference to the point at which Bourbon Street intersects with the Mississippi River.  This famous street runs parallel to the river and at no point intersects it.

Then, the writer described a scene taking place in a New Orleans mansion “built in the mid-nineteenth century.”  Well, hello. The story was taking place in 1865, by any accounts the middle of the 19th century.

Where were the editors, one wonders?  Does no one in the publishing business read a book with a critical eye any more?

I stopped reading Fannie Flagg’s new book “The Whole Town’s Talking” a third of the way in. My daughter-in-law did the same thing. The difference is I had bought the book, whereas Julie had only to return hers to the library.

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What the church might say after the tempest

“So the brethren brought Saul down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace….”  (Acts 9:30-31).

After they slipped the new disciple, Saul of Tarsus, out of the city, the Jerusalem disciples had peace.  The work flourished.

Some people bless the Lord’s work more by leaving than by arriving and working.

That’s what started me thinking about this….

The church building was relieved when the last pastor resigned.  It sighed with relief.  The sanctuary knew quietness and peace again.  Its ulcers eased and started healing. The church office grew calm and the pastor’s study went into a fast.

The conference room had more meetings than before, since more committees are required to run a program when one man is not calling all the shots. A dictatorship is the most efficient form of government, we read.  But the Lord’s church was never intended as a one-person rule.

These, however, were purposeful meetings. The walls breathed easily as the voices within prayed and affirmed.

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And the Lord said to Gabriel, “This guy has me cornered.”

In 1990, during a 12-month break between two pastorates–what most call unemployment–I kept a journal recording what was happening, what I prayed would happen, and what I feared might happen.  Below is a little reverie from that time when I was praying for the next pastorate, worrying whether there would be a next one, and anxious to get on with it.  In this piece, I imagined the Lord stepping in to answer our prayers.

God said to Gabriel, “This guy has me cornered.”

“He came when I called him to the last church and served where I sent him.  He turned down a bigger opportunity and a hundred thousand dollar bribe to see a difficult situation to its conclusion.  In the process, I showed him the 66th psalm.”

Background: One night in the middle of our firestorm, Margaret and I had sat on the back porch reading Scripture and talking.  I began to read Psalm 67. Quickly, everything inside me said, “No.  Psalm 66.”  Now, I could not have told you the difference. One psalm was the same as the other. But I read Psalm 66 out loud, and we were amazed. We saw the Lord was sending us a message.  In verses 10-12, He perfectly described our situation. 

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Special delivery to church staff members

“Only Luke is with me.  Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11).

From time to time, pastors invite me to spend an hour or two with their leadership team, primarily the church staff, at their weekly meeting.  It’s informal and conversational and takes place around the office conference table with the coffee pot going and a rapidly diminishing plate of donuts before us.

Some thoughts I share with the team include the following…

One.  Nothing is more important than that you keep yourself close to the Lord.

He is your source. “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Jesus Christ is the Giver of everything that concerns you.  He called you into this work (after saving you!) and He sent you to this church.  If either of those is not the case, you would do well to get alone with Him for an hour and clear everything up, then do as His Spirit instructs.

Keeping yourself close to Jesus means exactly what you think it does:  daily quiet time with Him, with your Bible open and your heart in constant prayer, bringing every thought and act under His lordship.  We should begin and end the day in prayer, and offer up prayers throughout the day.  “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).  We should know God’s word and meditate upon it.  A church staffer should never say knowing the Word is the preacher’s job;  it’s every believer’s privilege and duty.

From time to time, your pastor is going to exasperate you; Jesus will give you patience and understanding.  Your income is not going to be sufficient; Jesus will hear your prayers and send what He wants you to have.  Your job conditions are going to change, and sometimes the assignment dearest to your heart and matching perfectly your spiritual gifts and talents will be taken from you;  Jesus will be your counselor, guide, and protector, or you will be in trouble.

The Holy Spirit will be your Human Resources Director.  He is your Lord.

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“…you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold…” (Revelation 3:16)

Mediocrity is a warm blanket.

Mediocrity is remaining with the bunch that finishes neither early or late, that turns in work much like everyone else’s, that is satisfied with pretty good.

Mediocrity is the head in the sand when the storm is raging around us.

Close your eyes until it all blows over.

Mediocrity is the coward’s way out when life-or-death decisions are being made.  “Well, let’s give this some more thought.”  “Let’s not be too hasty here.”  “We don’t want people to think we’re extremists.”

There’s safety in mediocrity.  We’re like everyone around us.  We don’t stand out.  No one criticizes us. They don’t even see us.  We blend into the landscape.

Our English word mediocre comes from two Latin words, medi meaning “halfway,” and ocris meaning “mountain.”  Somewhere there is a list of everyone climbing to the crest of Mount Everest.  But no one ever bothered to note those who got half way up and turned around for home.

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I don’t have to understand it all in order to believe

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How  unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord….”  (Romans 11:33-34) 

I do not understand all the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation.

Nor do you.

Nor is it necessary that we do.

Sorry if you find that offensive, friend.  After a half-century of considering these things–what has been written and preached and declared as “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” from pulpits far and wide–I feel confident in saying that so far, no one expositor has gotten it all right.

That’s my opinion.  You’re welcome to yours.  But we will go on loving each other in Christ.

The list of other things we do not understand (or agree on!) is extensive.

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One word for a new year

A pastor I know has a practice I now find myself adopting.

Dr. David Uth said at Ridgecrest a few years back that at the start of each new year, the Lord gives him a single word as the focus of his ministry that year.  One time the word was “One,” as in unity and oneness. Another time, it was “Mission.”

He had an interesting story on that.  He was pastoring the dynamic First Baptist Church of West Monroe, LA.  It was the first Sunday of the new year, and two men from a church in Florida had come to hear him preach, representing the pastor search team from FBC Orlando.

David had no idea they were in town.

That Saturday night, the two men drove around West Monroe.  They were unimpressed.  “I don’t think there’s anything for us here,” said one.  The other said, “Let’s stay and hear him preach tomorrow.  We’re already here.”

Then, one said, “I want to do a little test.  If he says the word ‘mission’ in the sermon tomorrow, that’s a sign the Lord wants us to continue with him.”

David smiled in telling this story.

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If I were a pastor again at Christmastime…

I’ve not pastored since the Spring of 2004, and so have the perspective of a good many years on this subject.

I have, of course, been in church all that time–for five years as director of missions for the SBC churches in the New Orleans area, retiring in 2009–and probably two-thirds of the Sundays have been preaching in churches far and wide, big and small, contemporary and traditional, impressive and otherwise.

I have always loved the Christmas season.  I enjoy the constant carols in the department stores (although I confess that Brenda Lee’s “Rock Around the Christmas Tree” and a couple other seasonal things have outlived their usefulness with me!) and browsing the stores and the displays some stores still make.  I’m good with Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings as well as Merry Christmas.  One is as scriptural as the other.

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Shrinking God: Why that’s not a good idea

“O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).

“These things you have done, and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you” (Psalm 50:21).

For some reason, at the very time we need God’s great love and power, we keep trying to make Him less than He is.

Which is laughable, when you stop to think about it.

This is the God who created the far reaches of this universe with its distances and complexities and components.  And we’re going to reduce Him and make Him like one of us?  Truly laughable.

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