“Why wasn’t this perfume sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” –Judas (John 12:5)
We were on the highway returning from a ministry event in a nearby state. This being Saturday afternoon, the airwaves were filled with football games. And since I subscribe to Sirius XM radio just for this purpose–to hear the games while traveling, no matter how isolated the highway!–I was going back and forth between two stations, keeping up with the two games.
One was a baseball game in which “my” team was in the playoffs, headed, we hope toward the World Series. The broadcast originated in the home city, the announcers were “our guys,” and the crowd was pulling for “my team.” And, since the good guys won, it was all sweetness.
The other was a football game between my favorite college team and an arch rival. Our guys were the visitors and Sirius XM was airing the broadcast from the rival’s station. This meant the announcers were unknown to me and clearly partisan, just as they should have been.The crowd–all 90,000 of them–were really into the game. The score was up and down, the fortunes of the teams waxed hot and cold, and the crowd alternately cheered and groaned. Eventually, the host team won, handing our team its first loss of the season.
So, I’m switching back and forth between the stations. And yes, while driving. (It’s not as bad as it sounds. Bertha will tell you I’m a safe driver.)
Before long I realized something. I literally hate listening to the “other” team’s broadcast. It’s painful. Every time my team did something good the crowd groaned and the announcers barely mentioned it. But if my guys threw an interception, fumbled the ball, or were thrown for a loss–something that would grieve any fan of a team–the announcers screamed, the fans cheered and the stadium rocked.
So, they are cheering every time I feel badly and groaning every time I get excited.
Not a good way to follow a game on radio.
Meanwhile, back at church
Later, reflecting on that, I had flashbacks of a few painful memories from church over the decades. The experience of listening to the enemy’s broadcast–of having them rejoice in our defeats and refuse to celebrate our victories–reminded me of how these things felt….
–Everyone is excited over the revival. The devil’s advocates/naysayers’ club members stepped in to pour cold water over the enthusiasm. “How much did the visiting preacher get from the offering?” “Well, I’ve seen revivals like that before. Everyone gets excited for a week or two, but pretty soon everything is back like it was before.” “He wasn’t all that great a preacher.” “We’ll give it a little time to see if those converts ‘stick.'”
–The congregation voted to renovate the old sanctuary. It’s a generation past due, but we were excited to get the program underway. As we are preparing for the transition to temporary facilities, the devil’s advocates/naysayers’ club members made their presence felt. “The preacher is pushing this! On some kind of an ego trip!” “That’s too much money!” “I like the church the way it was before.” “We’ll lose members during this time we’re meeting in the school.”
–The church treasurer is up giving the monthly financial report to the congregation. As pastor, I know we’re in good shape and am glad for the news to get out. However, as he drones on–I’ve never known a church treasurer to be gifted in public speaking!–I am surprised to hear him say, “And we are running a deficit for the first three months of the year.” I think, “Deficit? I don’t think so.” What’s that all about?
The first time that happened, when the treasurer paused, I said, “Mike, may I ask you about that?” First question was: “Are we current with all our bills? Are we paid up?” Answer: Yes, we are. We owe no one anything other than the bond issue on the new property. Okay. Second question: “Do we have a good balance in the bank?” Answer: We do. We are never overdrawn. No problem. Third question: “So, why do you say we are running a deficit? We clearly are not.” Answer: The budget for the year calls for $20,000 a week (let’s say) but we’re taking in slightly less than that. So, that’s what we could call a deficit.
Thus began my education in the ways of church treasurers. They are balance sheet people. They want it all there on the paper, in debits and credits. If it’s not on the plus side it must be a negative. Hence, we were running a deficit.
From then on, in churches where the treasurer gave a monthly report to the congregation–fewer and fewer do this any more–I would meet with them in advance and prep them on how to communicate financial information to the people.
I emphasized that we want to encourage the congregation and to make them feel we are doing well (because we were). When in financial need–that happens to every church occasionally–we want to handle it well and not panic the people. We want to put our situation in the best light. Scripture does this in a way. “I know how to abound and how to be abased,” said Paul in Philippians 4. “I can do all things through Christ” and “My God shall supply all your need.” When the Corinthians were slow to pay what they had pledged, Paul gently reminds them and tells how the Macedonians did far more with far fewer resources (2 Corinthians 8).
You’ll find them in almost every church. I call them the DANC TEAM. (DA = “devil’s advocate” NC = “naysayers club”) They take it as their Christian duty to remind everyone that what was done was not perfect, it could have been better, the devil is at work, and we’d better not get complacent. Their favorite text–if they have one–is “let not him who thinks he standeth fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).
Don’t get overly satisfied with yourself is their mantra.
–They are against celebrating victories. And can always be counted on to have a minority report when faith is expressed.
–Someone does a great job and someone else decides it is their Christian duty not to let them get too excited over the victory. “Yes, but….” “Well, you could have done better.” My wife Bertha, ever the teacher, says it reminds her of parents who are never satisfied with a child’s report card. Even if the child has worked hard and the grades have improved, instead of praising the child they keep raising the bar. “Well, it is better, but it’s not an A.” “How do you expect to get into college?” “Your brother did better than you.”
–The pastor’s sermons are great. God is really using his messages. People are saying so. And someone decides they need to be brought down to earth. “Well, he’s not as good as Charles Stanley.” “You should have heard him when he first came.” “Well, I admit he’s doing better than he was.” They simply cannot allow people around them to rejoice without the ballast of their negativity.
The voice of the enemy
The rival’s broadcast sounded just like what it was: the voice of the opposition. They cheered when we were down, groaned when we did well.
Enemy in the camp. To the apostle counseling our Lord to “get such thoughts about going to a cross and dying out of your mind; not going to happen!” Jesus said, “Get behind me, satan. You are an offense to me; you do not understand the things of the Spirit of God!” (Matthew 16:21-23, my paraphrase). (The word ‘satan’ means ‘adversary’ or ‘enemy.’)
The Apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock…. After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them” (Acts 20:28-30).
Watch out for the enemy. You will know him (or her) by their deeds and their negativity.