“See to it that no one misleads you….. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (24:4,11).
Our Lord knew His people. He knew that there was something about their makeup which would make them susceptible to being misled. By “being misled,” we mean being conned, scammed, hoodwinked, deceived, tricked, lied to, fooled, and abused.
In Old Testament days false prophets came through the land, preaching half-truths and whole lies and filling God’s people with false expectations and pagan ways. The New Testament church, just beginning to find its way and choose its methods, quickly became the target of these scammers and con-artists.
In Matthew 24, our Lord cautions His people to keep their guard up concerning prophecies about end times: His return, signs of the end, fulfilment of certain prophecies, apostasies, portents and omens.
On the morning of Sunday 19 May, 1940, Clementine Churchill returned early from a church service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, having walked out when the preacher delivered a pacifist sermon. Winston told her, ‘”You ought to have cried, ‘Shame!’, desecrating the House of God with lies!'” (Darkest Hour, by Anthony McCarten, p. 154)
It was Easter 1968. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, all of us–white and black alike–were hurting and confused, disturbed and concerned. That Sunday I preached a sermon that addressed racism in America. I was 28 years old and in the first year of pastoring Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta. I’ve long since forgotten the sermon, but will never forget a phone call I received that afternoon.
Mrs. Glenn Powell called. She owned a beauty shop in town which I had quickly learned was gossip central. Mrs. Powell had made no secret of her unhappiness with my sermons or with me personally.
“Brother McKeever, what will you be preaching tonight?” I told her.
“Encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11).
Bertha was in her mid-forties. She and husband Gary had gone to pastor in central Florida, and the women of their neighborhood had given a welcoming tea for her at a local upscale restaurant. There were perhaps 20 or 30 in attendance. It was an impressive event.
Throughout the afternoon, an elderly lady across the table kept staring at Bertha. Finally, in her quavering voice, the woman said, “My dear. You are soooo lovely!”
Bertha smiled and thanked her.
A short time afterwards, Bertha was walking home from the tea with one of the women who was a neighbor. The woman said, “Oh, by the way, the older woman who told you you’re so lovely, she is actually almost blind. I thought you would want to know.”
Bertha has no memory of how she responded to that. My own opinion is there is no answer to it. It’s a show-stopper.
Why, we wonder, did the neighbor feel it important to shoot down the older lady’s compliment? What kind of mentality prompts one to do such a thing? Why couldn’t she be content with the pastor’s wife receiving a compliment? (And a fitting compliment at that. Bertha is my bride now of nearly 11 months, and people still remark on her loveliness.)
Facebook users see it all the time.
A number of my friends are going to think this was written just for them. They will be right.
They’ve just lost their ministry positions which had been their existence for the last year or many years. They loved that church and delighted in serving Christ there. And now, they’ve been cut loose and told their services are no longer needed. They are hurting as though a death had occurred. They grieve, they fear for their future, and they deal with anger over how they were treated.
The termination of ministers is reaching the epidemic level. And shows no signs of abating.
So, this is a word to ministry friends who have suddenly found themselves cut loose. Flockless shepherds. Ministers without portfolio. Called by God, trained for the ministry, employed by a church, and then suddenly made redundant. Pink-slipped. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
God bless you. May He comfort you with His nearness. Hold your head up high. No moping allowed (except in private, maybe on your back porch).
May He speak to you in your pain and minister to you through a few of His most faithful servants. Those who have been there/done that will be of most comfort to you.
In one sense, this is a word to you five years ago. Something we wish we could turn back the clock and say to you back then when things were going well.
I’m tempted to say, “Some of my best ideas for ministry came from other people.” Which is true, of course. Ask any pastor or staffer. And, just as equally true, some of my best ideas bombed and I wouldn’t want to tell you about them. Smiley-face here.
But here are a couple of things the Lord gave me (I know, I know. We should say that cautiously, lest we join the Name Above All Other Names to something unworthy) that not only worked out, but turned out to be some of the best things we did in my last pastorate…
First idea. An idea for stewardship. Purpose: To motivate people to tithe their incomes to the church over the difficult summer months
Summer is hard on churches which live from month to month financially. And yes, sometimes from week to week. People go on vacations or find distractions to take them away on weekends. A large segment of the Lord’s flock give only when they are in church. Sundays when they are out, the church goes lacking.
Once when our church was hurting financially–which seemed to be a constant for that congregation–the Lord gave me the idea which we were to name “SUMMER BLESSED.” (I have no memory of the moment the idea arrived or whether it was sparked by something another church was doing.)
In naming it “Summer Blessed,” the idea was to “make this a summer blessed of the Lord.” With the full support of the church leadership, I threw out this challenge to our congregation: “Tithe your income for the three months of the summer and do so faithfully. Then, at the end of August if you do not feel your life has been immeasurably blessed as a result, if you will request a refund, we will return all the money you gave to the church.”
“Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together”–unless, of course, the Lord reveals to you that you are the church, as one lady said to me. Or, that you are smarter than the preacher, the deacons are trying to run the church, or no one in the congregation will speak to you. Hebrews 10:25, sort of.
When you don’t want to do something, you shouldn’t have to have an excuse.
If you do not want to go to church, for instance, if you can skip church for a whole year and never miss it, you should “man up” and admit, “I’m not a Christian and don’t believe all that Bible stuff. Church is for people who take the Lord seriously. Not me. So, I don’t go.”
Hmm. That felt ‘mean,’ didn’t it? But it’s dead on accurate.
Please read on.
By “go to church,” we don’t necessarily mean a building with a steeple on it. It could be a group of God’s people gathered in a living room to sing and pray and study the Word. Or, fifty people in a storefront. The point is not the location or the structure but God’s people meeting on a regular basis for the work and worship of the Lord.
The redeemed of the Lord will be drawn to one another. They love each other. Jesus said so.
I heard of a pastor somewhere who collected excuses on “why people who call themselves Christians don’t go to church.” He did not make these up…
This is merely one possible scenario, but I’ve seen it happen several times.
We had interviewed Brian and all the background checks and references were great. We liked him, were impressed by the work he was doing in his present church, and knew God was going to continue doing great things through him.
He liked us, and possibly felt some leadership from the Lord. If we had called, I expect he would have accepted.
But we backed off. We did not call him to our staff.
My journal tells how he responded when I informed him.
“I told Brian we had learned 100 good things about him. But the bottom line is I don’t have inner peace about this.”
He asked what in particular was the hangup. I said “Nothing. It’s just that I feel a sense of unease, that it’s not right.”
From the beginning, the Lord’s people talk a better game than we live.
So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them. And yet, judging by the way we live, the Lord’s people probably do not believe the following…
One. God sends the pastor to the church.
Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy. People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t. And they vote on the recommendation of their committee. And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.
Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches? They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).
Two. God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.
In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?
If we believed that God hears, cares, and answers, we would be praying over every detail of our lives. “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) would define our very existence.
Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah. And there eat bread and there do your prophesying! But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.” (Amos 7:12-13).
My journal from a number of years back has this:
Got a letter today from a sweet, humble (really), godly lady who criticized the preaching of our Thanksgiving guest preacher. She said, ‘Notice what he did last Tuesday night. He told of the 9 thankless lepers and suggested reasons why they did not give thanks. Many people left our church when he was here because of this kind of preaching.”
Our speaker had been the interim pastor before I arrived. For some 18 months he had ministered to our troubled congregation as they tried to recover from a devastating split. He had been the essence of faithfulness.
She continued, “Our people want line upon line, precept upon precept.”
“Diotrephes who loves the preeminence…” (3 John 9)
In one church I served, the assistant pastor had been there for over 25 years and was long past retirement age. After I learned he was working against my leadership, when our people started talking about his retiring, I jumped on that bandwagon. We set a date, with his complete involvement, and the congregation gave a generous love offering. Then, just before the big day, the personnel committee informed me that they were asking him to remain in place. He would not be retiring.
Yes, they “informed” me. They didn’t ask.
He gladly stayed on, seeing himself as the savior of the church against this young whippersnapper of a pastor. (I was 46, not exactly a kid.)
And no, he did not return the love gift.
Why would he want to hold onto the job? It seemed to give him a sense of prestige being a prominent leader in the city’s most storied church. That and a dollar would have bought him a cup of coffee.
If you conclude I had more problems in that church than just the assistant pastor, you would be correct. I ended up leaving after only three years on less than ideal terms.
What’s funny about that–sad funny, not ha-ha funny–is that two years later, I heard the new pastor was trying to get him to retire and having a time of it. I had to smile.