Even in the difficult years, it wasn’t all bad.
My journal records a conversation with a deacon almost 25 years ago.
At one point he said, “Pastor, you know that I voted against your coming to our church. But God has shown me that I was wrong. You have meant so much to me and my family.”
We were talking about the church’s response to my first two years there. In a word, let’s just say it was lacking. Lukewarm. Tepid.
It was a Sunday night and we had just completed a weekend revival with a preacher friend of mine who was as fine and godly as anyone I ever knew. His messages were anointed and straight from the throne. I had so wanted our people to hear God’s message through him. But so few had turned out.
The problem was his style. He was low key. He would often stand with his hands in his pockets and talk in a conversational tone.
The congregation could not abide that. They had been conditioned to believe that powerful preaching is loud and bombastic, accompanied by guilt-inducing tirades and finger-pointing assaults. (They would have been so surprised to learn that Jesus sometimes preached sitting down in a boat!)
As we discussed the church’s lack of response during my first two years, I said, “Sometimes I wish God would send someone here whom they would respond to.”
If that sounds like discouragement, it was.
This is all about excellence. Not perfection, but giving your best, leaving nothing in the locker room, cutting no corners. Whether we are the janitor in the school, the yardman at the church, or serving the President of the United States.
She was telling me how she came to make the hard decision to change jobs.
“I was working in the fraud division of a financial company,” she said. “They trained me for the position and I was working hard at it. But for some reason, I just wasn’t getting it. And that felt bad.”
“I’m very good at what I do,” she explained.
“So this was a new thing for me. I went to work feeling uncomfortable, like I was not doing what they had brought me there for.”
“Then, a former co-worker who knew me and worked for a bank, recommended me to her boss. I interviewed and felt quickly this was where I needed to be.”
“From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).
“…I bear branded on my body the owner’s stamp of the Lord Jesus” –the Moffett translation.
“…I bear on my body the scars that mark me as a slave of Jesus” –Goodspeed.
At Mississippi State University, the Kenyan student carried horizontal scars across his face. “Identification marks for my tribe,” he explained to me. Wow. Tough clan.
We were returning from the cemetery in the mortuary’s station wagon. The director and I were chatting and perhaps could have been more observant. We did not notice the pickup truck coming from our right and running the stop sign at 30 or 40 mph. We broadsided the truck.
My forehead broke the dashboard.
I bled and bled. And got a ride to the hospital in the EMS van.
The emergency room people decided I had suffered no serious injuries and taped up the two gashes in my face. At the wedding rehearsal that night, I sported a large white bandage on my forehead, just above the eyebrows. It made for some memorable wedding photos the next day.
“Encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day approaching.” .-Hebrews 10:25
“They have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:18).
My journal records a painful episode in the most difficult of my six pastorates.
Because of internal dissension that was directed at me and undermined everything we were trying to do in that church, I had asked the deacon leadership to step up and get involved in dealing with the dissenters. They met, talked it out, then tossed the ball back into my lap.
“We want you to visit in the homes of every deacon (all 24 of them!). Find out what’s going on in their lives. Ask them for their personal goals, their hopes and dreams.” Then, at some point I was to ask, “Have I ever failed you in any way?” The idea was to give the disgruntled the opportunity to tell me to my face what they had against me. Thereafter, the leadership felt, when anyone start stirring up trouble, it could be dealt with more easily.
So, even though it felt like I was being punished for the sins of the troublemakers, I made the visits, usually three a night.
Bob is the pastor of a small church in another state. The other day he told me what happened.
First, as a layman he was put on the search committee to find the new preacher. Then, they elected him chairman of the team. And then, he began to gather information to present to prospective pastors.
“What is our salary package?” he asked the church treasurer.
The old gentleman had controlled the purse strings for that little congregation for several years. So, we should not have been surprised when he told Bob, “We don’t want a preacher who thinks about those things. He should settle with the Lord if He’s calling him here, and come no matter what it pays.”
Bob said, “I don’t think so. The laborer is worthy of his hire, Scripture says.”
Because Bob wanted to do this right, he insisted that the church pay an adequate salary with benefits. And did what was necessary to put it together into an acceptable form.
And then, something interesting happened.
“The angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them forth, and said, ‘Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20).
Preach the Word.
Preach the Word as the Lord leads.
A denominational website reprinted an article of ours recently. Most readers were appreciative but one guy left comments telling us what to preach.
“You ought to be preaching on racism,” he said. “The churches are full of it.”
He came back later with a post script. “After the church shooting in South Carolina, the sale of Confederate flags and guns went through the roof. Yet the churches were silent. This is sinful.”
The writer is the kind of guy who probably thought our article on “godly mothers” was tame and harmless. A real manly preacher would roll up his sleeves and wade into the hot-button issues, wouldn’t he? Enough with these sissy messages on love and humility, servanthood and Christlikeness. Let’s stir up something, make some people angry, take a hard stand.
I have been an assistant pastor and as pastor, I have had assistants. They can be a great help in time of need. And they can be a pastor’s biggest headache.
I wish I’d had one in a certain church. I regretted having one in another.
In his book “The Twelve Caesars,” Michael Grant says these rulers of the Roman Empire were one-man shows for a long time. Their burdens were heavy and their duties endless. Most caesars worked very hard, he said. They desperately needed advisors, consultants, and assistants. But therein lay a huge problem. How does one bring on board someone to be his assistant, an up-close and personal consultant, who is in on all the important issues of the day, without him being caught up in all the intrigue, the dramas, the personal animosities and rivalries. How to find out who is loyal.
An assistant can be the pastor’s best friend; an assistant can do a great deal of damage.
I asked a pastor about a staff member he was having issues with. “Are you afraid of him?” He answered, “I’m not afraid of him, but I’m afraid of the damage he can do.”
“In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
We were expecting hostility from the world. But certainly not from the Lord’s people.
Church is where we get blindsided.
The Lord wanted His people to know what to expect. The road ahead would be rough. They should prepare for turbulence.
The Lord would not be bringing His children around the storms but through them. We will not miss out on the tempest, but will ride it out with Jesus in our boat, at times standing at the helm and at other times, seemingly asleep and unconcerned.
The lengthy passage of Matthew 10:16ff is the holy grail on this subject, as the Lord instructs His children on what lies ahead and what to expect. His disciples should expect to encounter opposition, persecution, slander, defamation, and for some, even death. So, when it comes–as it does daily to millions of His children throughout the world–no one can say they weren’t warned.
But what about the church? Should we expect opposition and persecution there also?
“Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen.”
The end to the Lord’s prayer reminds us to commit everything to Him. His will has supremacy and ultimately is the only thing that matters.
I was preaching a series of meetings in a South Carolina church. On Sunday morning at the time for the offering, an older gentleman stepped up to the pulpit and led the prayer. It was a fine prayer and was offered in faith. But then, I noticed something.
“I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I spoke nothing in secret” (John 18:20).
Something happened this week to remind me of why, as a young teen, I hated the typical television sitcom. I could never say “I Love Lucy.” And here’s why.
I was listening to the replay of a 1950’s radio program “The Life of Riley.” William Bendix’ character, the husband and father of the Riley household and namesake of the program, was a bumbling, stumbling embarrassment to the males in the audience, always jumping to conclusions and misunderstanding what the normal people around him were up to. He needed a good whupping, I always thought. As a nine-year-old as well as today, I find that hard to listen to.
In the early 1950s, we had no television. To watch anything, we had to walk down the country road either to my grandmother’s or to Uncle Cecil’s. Now, Granny would watch whatever you wished–she was just glad to have the company–but at my uncle’s, you sat there and watched whatever they chose. And the one program they loved above all others was “I Love Lucy.” They even named their youngest child after the baby in the show.