Why the Lord is so rough on some of His choice servants

“O you of little faith!  Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The teacher is hardest on the best pupils.

The Master Teacher is hardest on the Star Pupil.

The coach is in the face of the player with the greatest potential, on his back, never letting up.

Check out these words from the Lord Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan.  You are a stumbling block to me;  for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23).

He said those harsh, cutting words, not to the Pharisees, but to Simon Peter, His “star apostle.”

Simon Peter–the disciple with the most potential, the one Jesus renamed as “Rock.”  He called Peter a “satan” (adversary) soon after commending him for his confession that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  When Peter said that, the Lord said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Called him blessed one moment and turns right around and calls him a devil.

What’s going on here?

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The scars tell the story on us

My son was trying to find a good used car for his daughters. Since their big brother had just graduated, Abby and Erin would be driving themselves to school in the fall.  Twice Neil found possibilities, but wisely took the cars to a trusted mechanic for his appraisal.

It fell to me to drive the second of these cars to the repair shop. Our mechanic friend studied the car, drove it a bit, then recommended we not buy it for a number of reasons. Then, he said, “Come here, Reverend. I want to show you something.”

“See those dirty stains on the seats?”

Each seat carried rust-colored stains in wavy lines.

“This car has been flooded,” said Rick.  “And here is something else.”

There were scratches–horizontal, odd-looking lines–on the hood and the trunk. “This is where things scraped over the car,” he said.

I thought of the 100,000 automobiles that were ruined in 2005 Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. In many cases, the water was six to ten feet deep, and lingered for weeks. I’ve seen photos and heard stories from friends who drove boats over parking lots where all you could see were the tops of cars. It’s easy to imagine something being dragged across a flooded car.

Eventually, the cars were towed and left under bridges and interstates for months before being disposed of.

Later, we learned that some people were doing hasty repair jobs on the flooded cars and passing them off as normal. “Buyer beware” became the mantra.

I said, “Thank you, Rick. I would not have known what to look for.”

Our mechanic friend saved us a lot of headaches and heartaches, and doubtless a good deal of money in repair jobs.

People who go through storms in this life, like that car often carry the scars and stains for the rest of their days.

Some of those stains and scars are visible, if you know what you are looking for….

anger that seems to have no basis in reality. A floating hostility will attach itself to whatever target (or victim) is handy.

I once pastored a church following a huge split where people had fought verbal battles and took no prisoners. Years later, a few members still carried deep anger over what had been done or said. The stains of that church storm were imbedded so deeply inside them only the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ was sufficient to remove it.

–a sense of entitlement, the feeling that “the world owes me big time after all I’ve been through.”

Such a church member can be a major pain to everyone around him. Pity the new pastor who walks into a congregation without knowing the human traps laying in wait. For members who feel they are owed a great deal in life, nothing the pastor does will ever be enough. They are chronically dissatisfied and will spread their poisonous infection to the rest of the church.

–an all-encompassing fear of conflict and trouble.  After the nightmares they have been through, they will do anything to avoid similar crises in the future.

I experienced this syndrome personally. The church I left had been embattled from the first day I arrived, and the one to which I came was trying to recover from a stormy pastorate which had decimated the congregation. If it had been up to me, I would never have led a church business meeting or attended a deacons meeting again.  A few of the really ragged ones were enough for a lifetime. And yet, every church deserves a healthy pastor and a solid program. So, I had to face my fear of conflict. Eventually, I recovered and was later able to assist other churches going through their own storms.

–a distrust of the Almighty.  “Where was God when my house was destroyed?” “If Jesus loves the church, why did He let them run off our wonderful pastor?” “If God is good, then why did my mother die in that flood?” “Why did God let that church mistreat my father the way they did?”

There are answers for these questions. However, just voicing their distrust is for many war-veterans the beginning and end of their theological musings.

On the other hand, many of the stains and scars of life’s storms are not so obvious and can be unearthed only by those willing to look beneath the surface or who are skilled at people-helping….

–A church I pastored had a leader who criticized everything and was satisfied with nothing. Only when I called on him at home did I learn of the daily physical pain the man lived with. Something in his past had scarred him for a lifetime.

–A deacon with enormous influence and leadership skills built a strong following in every church and then fought his pastor for control. His poor pastors were no match for the man’s tactics and were frequently left bleeding in the road.  Someone who had known the deacon most of his life told me his father had been a pastor and he suspects that God had called that deacon to preach early in life, but that he resisted.  Whatever went on inside him back then seemed to be continuing, with his relationships paying a huge price.

I quickly admit that I’m no psychiatrist. I’m not one of these people who can see beneath the surface and tell what’s going on with people. I tend to take them at face value, and often turn out to be wrong about them.

Here is what I know…

–Scars on our bodies tend to fix forever in our minds the history that was occurring at that moment. A V-shaped scar on my left index finger is the result of this 5-year-old reaching up to the hot stove to take hold of a pot. How that melted my skin into a “V,” I’ll never know, but there it is.  About the same time, I received the scar at the corner of an eye, the result of being chased by a big brother and falling onto the broken rim of a galvanized wash tub. And one more. What appear to be frown-marks between my eyebrows are scars from the time I was riding in the funeral home car and a fellow in a pickup truck ran a stop sign. We broad-sided him and my forehead broke the dashboard.

–When law enforcement agencies are seeking a missing person or a criminal, in giving the description they will frequently refer to the identifying scars.  They brand us, you might say.

–Our own scars are records of events and people and times in our lives when something happened.

Marijohn Wilkin wrote an unforgettable gospel song about Heaven that carries this profound line: The only thing there that’s been made by a man are the scars in the hands of Jesus.

 

 

 

Lord, make me a silken Christian.

“The silk we love for its softness and beauty is also one of the strongest and toughest fibers in the world. It has a strength of around five grams per denier compared with three grams per denier for a drawn wire of soft steel.” (From “The History of Silk,” by Harold Verner, quoted by Liz Trenow in her novel “The Last Telegram.”)

Soft and beautiful; strong and tough. What a combination.

Some in our day call this “a velvet-brick” or “a steel magnolia.” Soft and beautiful on the outside, strong and tough on the inside.

A pretty apt description of our Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t it?  We see His softness and beauty in a hundred things He did: the time He took to receive the little children and bless them, respond to the cries of the leper who had touched him, restore a dead son to his grieving mother, forgive an adulterous woman who had been publicly humiliated by religious bullies, and save a five-times married woman of Samaria.  He invited the dying thief on the cross to spend eternity with Him in Paradise, and prayed for His executioners.

Our Lord said, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

No wonder people have been so enamored by this Lord Jesus Christ from day one.

He was a beautiful man.

But the Lord’s strength and toughness are also visible–on full display, even–throughout the Gospels. 

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In the world, tribulation. But from within the church? Oh my.

“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?

Jesus said, “They will scourge you in their synagogues” (10:17), and that’s where the faithful were meeting to worship.

He said members of our own households–parents, siblings, offspring–would lead the opposition at times. They will “cause them to be put to death” (10:21).

He doesn’t specifically say “the church,” but surely all of the above includes it.  And that’s where the typical believer runs into a buzzsaw.

Church is where we get blindsided.

We knew opposition would come from the world.  Scripture makes this plain.  But in the church?

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Ten things only the strong can do

Facebook “Memories” reminded me of this a few days ago, and I’ve not been able to forget it.

We had stopped on the interstate at a Pilot Truck Stop for a bathroom/coffee break.  After paying for the coffee, I realized I did not know which was my exit. I said to the clerk, “Do people get turned around in here?”  She laughed, “All the time.”

Then she said, “The exit to the truckers actually goes up a few steps, but the exit to the cars is at street level.  Last week we had an elderly woman on a walker in here.  I called to tell her she was headed to the wrong exit.  She turned around with fire in her eyes and said, ‘I may be old, but I’m not stupid!’ and went right on.  When she got to the door, she saw her mistake, and turned around and went toward the other exit.  But she never said a word as she passed me.”

I smiled. I know how that is.  There is a simple line that explains her rude behavior:  Only the strong can admit they’re wrong and apologize.  Everyone else will try to justify themselves, find excuses, or even place blame.  The strong will have no trouble admitting to the error and not try to hide it.

The more I learn of God’s word and human behavior, the more I see a number of activities which only the strong can do.  Here’s a partial list.  You’ll think of more…

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A good story will make my day. And your sermon.

The only thing I love more than hearing a great story is to be the one telling it.

I have good company in my devotion to the story. It forms the outline of every television soap opera, sitcom and cop show and most of the movies. It fells forests to supply paper for an unending outpouring of novels, all with a story to tell. It connects with people as nothing else does.

In My Reading Life, novelist Pat Conroy drops story upon story upon the reader, more than any single book I’ve read in a year.

Conroy tells of the time an agent for his publisher took him as a young, up-and-coming author to call on booksellers and attempt to market their latest line. The publisher wanted the budding author to see how difficult it is to get bookstores to take their publications and display them prominently. On the third day out, the agent suddenly turned to Pat and said, “You’ve seen me do this. Now, let’s see if you’ve got what it takes…. We know you can write a book; now let’s see if you can sell one.”

Conroy was game. He gave it a try. Addressing the bookseller, he launched into the chatter he’d heard from the agent, making the case for each of the new works coming from the publisher. Then he came to his own book, The Water is Wide. He described it.

The store owner said, “Who gives a d–n?”

Conroy was stunned. The man said, “What should my readers care what happened to a bunch of black kids on an island no one’s ever heard of?”

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If you would serve the Lord, expect obstacles

“A great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9). 

“We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance…” (Romans 5:3). 

This is a quiz.  Name the enemies George Washington faced in the Revolutionary War.

If you answered, “The British,” you’d be only partly right.

Washington did fight the British, as the thirteen colonies asserted their independence from the Mother Nation.  But Generals Howe, Cornwallis, and Clinton and their armies were only the most visible of the forces Washington had to contend with.

He had to fight the weather.  Think of Valley Forge and even without knowing the full story, your mind immediately conjures up images of a harsh winter with all the snow, ice, sleet, and freezing temperatures that includes.

Washington had to deal with starvation and deprivation.  No one knows how many thousands of his soldiers perished from the cold and starvation at Valley Forge and how many deserted in order to save their lives.  Many surrendered to the British at Philadelphia in the vain hope that the conquerors would feed and clothe them.

Washington had to deal with a Congress that was either ignorant, misinformed, or outright hostile to his situation. He wrote letter after letter detailing the misery of his army and pleading for help.  Finally, a delegation came from the national capital, temporarily at York, PA, to see for themselves, after which congress began to act.

Washington fought disorganization, a country that made impossible demands but gave minimal support, and criticism on every side.

Still with me?

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Blindsided by opposition: Welcome to the ministry, young pastor.

(In our experience, most of the Lord’s people are wonderful and most of His churches are filled with sincere and godly workers. But once in a while, pastors come upon sick churches led by difficult people who seem to delight in controlling their ministers. When they find themselves unable to do this, they attack. Pity the poor unsuspecting preacher and his family. What follows is written just for them.)

“But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues….” (Matthew 10:17)

You and your wife–please adjust gender references herein as your situation demands–went into the ministry with heads high, hearts aglow, and eyes wide open, idealism firmly tucked under your arm, vision clear and focus solid.

As newly minted ambassadors for Christ, the two of you were ready to do battle with the world, eager to serve the saints, and glad to impart the joyful news of the gospel.

Ministry was going to be great and noble and even blessed.

That’s what you thought.

You expected the work to be hard, the hours long, and the needs great.

What you did not expect was to be blindsided by members of your own church leadership–to be slandered by people you counted on as friends when you took a courageous position, criticized for something you did well, even lied about.

You knew there would be vicious people “in the world,” outsiders who do not believe in God, who cannot discern spiritual things, and who refuse to subject themselves to moral absolutes.

You were ready for that.

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The power of a good life-altering crisis

“No chastening for the moment seems enjoyable, but painful. But afterwards, to those who have been trained by it,  it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

In the middle of the pain, no one enjoys the experience. Only in looking back–at some distant day–do you see how God  used it.

Life is understood only in looking backward, the saying goes. But it must be lived going forward.

It doesn’t work that way for everyone, Hebrews 12:11 is implying. For some, the trials are fatal.  It just depends.  “To those who have been trained by it” surely means “the people who have learned to give their woes to the Lord for His purposes.”

We can wallow in our defeat, be chained in despair by our sorrows and troubles, or we can rise above them by putting our trust in the Savior and finding His purposes.

In her book Character, Gail Sheehan tells of the lengthy rehabilitation Bob Dole endured after his World War II injury. German machine gunfire had hit him in the upper back and right arm. Medics gave him the largest possible dose of morphine, then wrote “M” (for morphine) on his forehead with his own blood, so no one who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.   Dole went through multiple surgeries and experienced recurring blood clots, life-threatening infections, and long periods of recuperation and therapy.  That he lived through all this was a miracle of the first dimension.

An interviewer once asked Senator Dole, “How did this delay your career plans?”

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What lazy theologians do

Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod in 1749.  Yet because of opposition from local clergymen–man should not dare ‘avert the stroke of heaven’–the lighthouse did not receive protection from God’s thunderbolts for more than two decades.  –The New York Review, May 26, 2016

Imagine the thinking of some people: We shouldn’t protect ourselves from lightning, lest we interfere with God’s judgment.

Abandoning their responsibility, criticizing those trying to help, and blaming their warped thinking on God.

“This is how God set things up.”

Interesting theology, I think we can agree.

If we carried that reasoning to its natural lengths, no one should wear seat belts or repair the brakes on cars just in case the Father in Heaven had planned to kill us that morning.

God should always be given a free hand in these things.

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