“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). And on the other hand, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).
Self-control is a mighty good thing to have. And as rare as Spanish doubloons in the Sunday offering.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). So, the much-desired quality of self-control is found among the nine traits making up the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is also a pretty solid description of Christlikeness.
The ability to master one’s own spirit is not as recognizable as its opposite, the failure or inability to control one’s inner self. That trait–a spirit out of control–is quickly on full display whenever its owner is offended, attacked, questioned, called to account for something he/she has done, or otherwise challenged. The uncontrolled spirit has no defenses against temptation, no muscles for hard tasks, and no patience with difficult people. “Love one’s enemies”? (Luke 6:27) The uncontrolled spirit has difficulty loving its own friends and thus nothing in reserve for its opponents.
“…who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously….” (I Peter 2:23).
Public speakers and entertainers know that hecklers can be their best friend. By their response to someone interrupting and insulting, a speaker can win over an audience. That is such a given that some comedians have been known to pay hecklers to attend their performances and ply their trade.
In his book “Mud Hen in a Peacock Parade: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven,” retired seminary professor Dan R. Crawford tells of a put-down he received in the most public of gatherings.
“Whoever receives you, receives Me. Whoever listens to you, listens to Me. Whoever rejects you, rejects Me.” (Matthew 10:40 and Luke 10:16)
Pastors are reluctant to preach this because it sounds self-serving. “People, the Lord in Heaven is taking note of how you treat me. Whatever you do to me, Jesus considers it the same as though you were doing it to Him.”
He’ll not be saying that.
So, I’ll say it for him. Because it’s true.
Consider this. “A king arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding. And they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready; come to the wedding.” But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.” (That’s Matthew 22:1-6)
We must not miss the reaction of the king in the Lord’s story. “But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And his sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” (Matthew 22:7)
However the people treated the king’s messengers, it was the same as doing it to him.
“Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business….” (Acts 6:3).
The original trouble-shooters–the Lord’s S.W.A.T. team perhaps–in the New Testament church were the deacons.
They still are best at this risky business.
In deacon training conferences we point out that deacons “ride drag” for the congregation, a reference to the old West when cowboys would move the herd to the railhead. Someone is riding point, showing the way, others are riding flank to keep the herd from spreading out too much, and then some are riding at the back of the group of cattle, bringing up the rear. Those assigned to ride drag were usually the lowliest hands, the newest hires, or someone in trouble with the boss. Their job was to keep the herd moving, to handle any animals in difficulty (headstrong, caught in briars or a ditch, etc), and such. In so doing, they ate the dust of the entire herd and emerged covered with grime.
The word “deacon,” we’re told, comes from the Greek diakonos, meaning literally “through the dust.”
When problems arise within the congregation, when some church member is unhappy and spreading dissent, as a rule the worst person to deal with the cancer is the pastor himself. Why? Several reasons…
This is a work in the making. For some reason–don’t ask me to explain; I cannot–it occurred to me recently that the matter of giving to the Lord’s work could be labeled “the delicate art of giving to the Lord.” Here are some reasons for thinking of it in this way; you may think of others….
When we give to the Lord, so many things can go wrong. The world looks askance at it, even friends wonder about all the money we’re giving, and so many questions arise.
I call it a delicate art, this business of giving to the Lord. Here are some reasons for that.
One. It doesn’t look like what it is.
It may appear you are giving to poor people, to the needy, or to the gospel worker, or the church itself. Someone may even say you’re “paying the preacher.” One of my uncles said on one occasion, “I don’t figure I owe the preacher anything; I’ve not been to hear him preach in ages.”
In truth, I am laying up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:20), I am ministering to the saints (2 Corinthians 9:1), I am honoring my Lord by my faithfulness (see Mark 12:41-44), and I am honoring His name (see Hebrews 6:10).
Two. Outsiders will accuse you of wasting your money.
Judas said, “What a waste!”(see Mark 14:4). He was a thief, say the gospel writers, and cared little for the honor of the Lord.
This was written some years back after the drowning death of little Haylee Mazzella, the granddaughter of my dear friends Dr. Buford and Bonnie Easley. I came across it this week, handwritten hastily, in an old file. I have no idea whether I ever shared it with the family or not. The grandfather is now in Heaven, alongside our wonderful Lord Jesus and Buford’s precious granddaughter. My heart still hurts from the memory.
If our grief could ease just a sliver of your grief, you would have none left because so many friends are sorrowing for you today.
If our tears could dry your tears, you would weep no more, because so many are heartbroken for you today.
If our pain could erase yours, you would never against experience a moment’s discomfort the rest of your life, because so many are hurting for you today.
If our prayers could bring your child back, she would be with us this very moment because so many are interceding for you today.
If our grief could ease your grief, our tears dry your tears, our pain erase your pain, and our prayers undo this tragedy, it would be done in a heartbeat.
“My wife handles the religion in our family. Talk to her.” –A man in Luling, LA giving his young pastor the brushoff when I tried to introduce the matter of his relationship to Christ
Who handles the big things in your family?
The old joke goes: “When my wife and I got married, we decided I would handle the big things in life and she would take care of the little things, like where we lived, the house we would buy, the car we drive, and such. It’s worked well. And, so far, over these 40 years, there have not been any big things.”
I told a group of Facebook friends I was reading James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty,” about his years in government, first as a U.S.Attorney and then Director of the F.B.I. It’s a fascinating book and contains much worth retaining. (Although, admittedly, it can be boring in places.)
Because the man is controversial, the book has been attacked and disputed from the Trump team and his supporters.
The reaction of Facebookers was along party lines.
The pastor says “Now, in the original Greek, this word means….” and church members roll their eyes. Oh brother, some are thinking.
Or, he might say, “In the original Hebrew, that word is…..and it means…..”
To the pastors among us, I ask: Is this necessary?
I find a great many church members are completely turned off by this little one-upsmanship of the preacher. It feels to many like he’s showing off, bragging that he knows some Greek.
I’m not one to say the preacher is showing off. After all, if he studied the language for a few years, clearly learning the Bible in its original forms is important to him, he is now capable of bringing in some of the finer insights from the Word.
But he must not overdo it by trying too hard or expecting too much.
I fear I’ve done this so many times in the past. Forgive me, members of the six churches I’ve served.
“Joy is the business of Heaven.” –C. S. Lewis
What started me thinking of this was a line from James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty.”
“Although I have had a different idea of ‘fun’ than most, there were some parts of the Justice Department that had become black holes, where joy went to die.”
James Comey explains further about his days at the Justice Department: “Places where morale had gotten so low and the battle scars from bureaucratic wrangling with other departments and the White House so deep, I worried that we were on the verge of losing some of our best, most capable lawyers.”
Sound familiar, pastor?
In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
Tomorrow is the National Day of Prayer. That’s a good thing. It keeps us focused on the importance of prayer, and probably dumps a load of guilt on all of us for not praying more or better.
Three aspects of prayer make it difficult, and probably even unreasonable. And then, one overwhelming reality keeps us at it with the strong confidence that praying is the best thing we can ever do.