“For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
“I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
I’ve been looking back over twenty years of articles, notes, and journals where I recorded happenings in the churches I pastored. Some of those events left scars, memories, and lessons enough for a lifetime. Some people in those stories are forever unforgettable, either for their amazing examples of Christlikeness or for lesser reasons.
Recently on this website, I chronicled the doings of a few people who were angry over nothing, raging all the time, finding fault where none existed, then pinning blame when confronted. I suggested the reason for this behavior: They are lost. Unsaved. “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” says I Corinthians 2:14, “for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he understand them for they are spiritually discerned.”
That says it as well as anything.
Today–a week after posting that piece–I was reflecting on some of those people, a few in particular. And, realizing that most are now passed to their heavenly reward (or lack thereof; not for me to say), I prayed the Lord would be merciful to them. And at that point, the Lord explained something to me.
“Take heed and beware of covetousness. For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses”(Luke 12:15).
“What do you do?” In our society, that’s often the first question people ask. It implies…
–that you do something in the way of a career. Woe to the unemployed and those who call themselves homemakers.
–that you are what you do. That your identity is bound up in what you do to earn an income. Too bad if you lose your job or retire. You become a cipher, at least in the minds of some.
If you don’t have a job, who are you? If, like my wife Bertha, you loved being married to a pastor, when God takes him home and you can no longer fill the role you loved so much–the wife of a pastor–then who are you?
In our world, people’s names were often given in accordance with what they did. They received names like Baker, Cook, Weaver, Smith, Taylor, Hunter, Fisher, Farmer, Shepherd, Miller, Marshall, Ward.
I want to call your attention to a little story found in Luke 12. Then, I’ll be asking you to use your imagination with me…
“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).
“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
We are loved. We are winners.
“I’m me and that’s good. Cause God don’t make no junk.” –from a poster by a child in a ghetto. (source unknown)
The man said, “I think my wife’s health problems go back to something in her childhood, as to how she was treated. She seems to have trouble accepting who she is in Christ.”
It’s always fascinating to consider what gives us our identity. And what conditions robbed us of the same.
“Smart Aleck” is the biography of Alexander Woollcott, drama critic for the New York Times a long time ago. Published in 1976, the book has been gathering dust in my library waiting for me to get to it. I started a few days ago. Woollcott is said to have been a master wordsmith, which is what made me order the book in the first place.
“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:
“…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.
“Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (I Peter 2:17)
The Lord seems to delight in calling His disciples to do impossible things, actions which the flesh rebels against, the world scoffs at, and we sometimes question.
I expect He’s trying to shock us out of our comfort zone and into the freedom of the Spirit where obedience to Him is as natural as breathing and where we do our best work.
His is a big job. To our detriment, we find ourselves questioning most of our Lord’s commands and dragging our feet about obeying some in particular.
For most, the four brief commands of I Peter 2:17 rank among the least doable and most unpleasant. Nor are we allowed to dismiss them as “not from Jesus but from Peter.” We either believe in the inspiration of Holy Scripture or we do not.
“In order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Corinthians 2:11)
First, Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). He is a fallen angel who was banished to earth (Revelation 12:9). He is one angry being (Revelation 12:12) since he knows that after his days here are ended, he goes straight into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
Keep that in mind.
You don’t want to trust that fellow. He is without the faintest hope of any future, big-time angry at God, and a liar of the first order. That’s a terrible combination. Don’t ever go into partnership with someone like that.
Trust nothing he says. Accept no promises from this liar.
However, he’s smart. Giving the devil his due, Martin Luther said of him, “On earth is not his equal.” You and I are no match for him by ourselves.
I awakened the other morning with this scenario playing in my head.
A young friend was being called into the ministry. He was trying to get his bearings. In my dream–if that’s what it was–I was saying to him, “Please learn to study. Learn to discipline yourself. Because we don’t need another lazy preacher.”
So, as I come to full consciousness, I’m concerned about lazy preachers?
Wonder where that came from.
Do we have lazy preachers? Of course. Always have had and always will have. You see laziness in ministers in a hundred ways, including some of these…
When the Bible says something unequivocally with no question and without complication, God’s people are on safe ground saying, “God said this and it’s so.”
Such statements would include salvation by grace through faith, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the inspiration of Scripture. The resurrection of Jesus is attested by all four gospels and Acts, plus the various epistles.
Only those who deny that holy scripture is God’s Word say otherwise.
But when good and faithful followers of Jesus see Scripture passages differently, for one to accuse the other of denying the Word can be most unfair and unChristlike. Rather, they should “man up” and do the adult thing and say, “This is how I see it; many good people disagree.”
In teaching our people, we can say, “God’s people differ on this, but I’d like to share with you what I believe this is saying.”
“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of the truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report, as deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying and behold we live; as chastened and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).
I can imagine picking up this guy’s resume’ and having it say: “In one of the two churches I served as pastor, I endured a four-hour deacons meeting in which some wanted to lynch me for preaching the gospel. Not only did I frequently preach revivals in some outstanding churches and baptized hundreds of converts, but my wife became the target of a gossip campaign because she wore a pants-suit to church one night. So, I think I’m qualified for anything now.”
A full resume’ would tell both sides of our story.