“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13).
I walked up to the front of the church where I was to guest-preach in a half hour and tugged on the door. It was locked.
After walking around to the back and entering, I asked an usher about that. “No one comes in through that door,” he said. I answered, “They certainly don’t. You’ve got it locked.”
I want to say a word about the pastor’s difficult situation. The hope is someone may decide to cut him a little slack when he does something you disagree with or does not come through the way you were counting on.
You have no idea what tough calls pastors have to make.
As an example, take the Judge Brett Kavanaugh situation. This controversial appointment for the Supreme Court is sucking all the air out of newsrooms these days and dividing the nation. Few people are neutral.
Recognizing that this piece will still be on our website long after this crisis has been resolved and fades into history, I need to give a little background.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is a staunch conservative, we’re told, and his rulings over the years on the bench seem to bear that out. He appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, endured a few days of their grilling, and seemed to be set for confirmation, albeit from a nearly evenly divided Senate. Then, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor, came forward saying that when she was 15 and Kavanaugh two years older, he sexually assaulted her at a party when he was drunk. He denied the charge.
So, on Thursday, September 27, 2018, Ford and Kavanaugh each appeared before the Judiciary Committee to answer questions. She was “100 percent sure” that Kavanaugh was her attacker. He was just as adamant that he was not.
And that’s where the matter stands as I write. The American people seem torn as to who is telling the truth and what it means.
“And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds in thine hands?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (Zechariah 13:6).
Wounded in the house of “those who love me” is the literal interpretation of the Hebrew there, according the footnote in my Bible.
It’s called friendly fire in military lingo.
Recently, after our article “Why professing Christians never attend church,” the responses poured in, positive and negative. The latest note, however, prompts what follows.
A reader wrote, “What about those who have been hurt by the church? Your article doesn’t address that (as a reason for believers dropping out of church).”
He listed several instances of people wounded by the church….
“Blessed is he who endures.” — James 1:12
Often, at the start of the first service for a protracted meeting –revival, prayer conference, deacons retreat, Bible study, whatever–I’ll say, “Now, everyone wonders at the end of a meeting, what was accomplished. Did we get our money’s worth?
“It’s a good question. And I want you to know that there’s a way to tell.”
“I want to tell you how to measure the effectiveness of this meeting. There are several principles. Some of you may want to write this down.”
“First principle: Wait a hundred years….. And I don’t know what the other principles are.”
It’s a light-hearted way to make a valid point. Please read on.
“And the Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?’ And Jonah said, ‘I have good reason to be angry, even to death'” (Jonah 4:4,9).
“And he came there to a cave and lodged there, and behold the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (I Kings 19:9).
Several friends have forwarded links concerning the suicide of the 30-year-old pastor in Southern California. Andrew Stoecklein had it all–a beautiful, loving wife and three children, a successful and supportive congregation (Inland Hills Church, east of Los Angeles), all the opportunity and acclaim any of us could ever ask for–and it wasn’t enough. He was clinically depressed. He sought help, took a 4-month sabbatical, and preached sermons on depression. He understood far more about his problem than most people ever will. And he took his own life.
There are no easy answers, and I’ll not be having any in this piece.
Early in my ministry, I would have. I “just knew” that the answer to all depression was to believe God. I’d tell depressed people to read Scripture and start believing God. “Memorize these verses.” “Start every day by reading 10 Psalms.”
Then, something happened to put a stop to all my shallow answers.
This morning, as we were sitting at the breakfast table discussing memories good and bad, my Bertha said something I wrote down so I’d get it just right.
We have a wagonload of memories of God’s people who have loved us and cared for us. But we also have painful memories that we wish we could edit out of our lives. But the Holy Spirit has shown me that if He took out the pain and strife, He would also be removing the lovely things that happened during that same time. Or, that happened as a direct result of the bad event.
It brought up a painful memory from my junior high days. A teacher said something really harsh that forever left its mark on me. Over the years as I have sometimes reflected on that incident, my primary focus has been on the offense. I’ve wondered about that teacher, why he did what he did, what it meant, and so forth. But I realized something from what Bertha said today.
The teacher who scarred the kid
Early in the semester of the 7th grade, all the students–perhaps a hundred of us–were herded into the gymnasium. The band director, a Mr. Keating, called everyone to order and announced that today we would be electing class officers.
“I planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase” (I Corinthians 3:6).
“Even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities” (Philippians 4:16).
I have no patience with signs in front of church buildings that read “Independent (whatever) Church.” There is no such thing as an independent church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we need each other.
Some more than others.
The believer or the church that believes he/she/it is independent and has no need of all those others is going against everything Scripture teaches and contradicting what they see happening all around them every day.
“I implore Euodia and I implore Eyntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2).
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12-13).
The First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana is bordered on the western side by Williams Boulevard and on the east by Clay Street. In between, intersecting the church property is the wonderfully named Compromise Street. I have no idea why the city planners gave it that name, but I love it. When I pastored that church (1990-2004), I sometimes called the attention of the congregation to this asphalted reminder of how intelligent people are supposed to work with each other.
God’s people are to agree. We are to live in harmony. We are to represent Christ in the world and do His work. By the very nature of who we are and what we are charged to do, we are required to compromise.
God’s people are to compromise. Constantly.
Don’t miss that.
I had the privilege of preaching in your church recently. As a retired pastor, not far from my 80th year on the planet, I’m honored when a pastor invites me to fill his pulpit. Sometimes, as was the case last Sunday, the pastor is on vacation. At other times, I’m leading a Friday/Saturday event for a specific group–leadership, deacons, seniors–and the pastor asks me to stay and preach for the Sunday morning service. I’m always delighted to do so.
First, just so you’ll know….
I’m not coming with my own agenda for your people. My entire aim is to honor Christ and bless His church. From the time you first call inviting me to preach, I begin praying for the Father to lead me on what to do and how to do it.
Even if I preach something I’ve used in other churches, this is no so-called “sugar stick.” I’m endeavoring to be obedient to the Lord with what He has given me.
As your guest, I will not be critical of how you are doing things in your church. I will leave no suggestions on your desk on how to improve your worship service or ways to deal with certain problems in your church. You didn’t invite me as a “mystery shopper” and I’m grateful not to have that burden. That said, however…
“…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Have you come across that line yet? “The church in America is dying”?
We hear it from some pollsters and from people all over social media. They count heads and conclude that if membership numbers are down or if fewer Baptists are serving in Congress or the Catholic church is having internal problems, the church must be dying.
We get the impression that the speaker–the one with the harsh pronouncement–wishes it were so.
Not so fast.