“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.
Someone will post a statement on their FB page and within minutes a “friend” will oppose it. Or point out the downside of it. Or question it. Say how that doesn’t tell the whole story. Or deny it outright and wonder how anyone could be so crass as to believe that.
Someone will praise their team for winning last night’s game. Immediately a FB “friend” will comment that your team did not win so much as the other team lost it by their ineptitude. Or they will blame the loss on poor coaching. The referees. Lack of fan support.
And you must not dare try to say something sane and reasonable about a controversial issue. You may as well draw a target upon your back. Do it and get ready to take the slings and arrows.
What I’m calling “the Facebook Syndrome” is the tendency of people to criticize a positive statement, to find fault with one’s presentation, to never allow someone to feel good about the job they just did.
That is the very thing that keeps a lot of good-thinking people away from social media. It attracts the mentally ill, the eccentrics, the devil’s advocates, the naysayers. They’re never content to let a compliment go unchallenged, a fact go unexamined, a joy go uncriticized.
It does get wearisome. As one who does a great deal of stuff on Facebook, some of it cutting edge and controversial on purpose, I see this all the time. My friends tease that I’m a pot-stirrer, always trying to rock the boat. Far from it, in fact. I grieve at the arguing back and forth that quickly erupts when all I’ve tried to do is say something clear and helpful.
Why do people do this? They’re all over social media.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’re the same people who do this at church. They cannot leave well enough alone, dare not leave a positive blessing to stand on its own, and will not let anyone receive an unadulterated (i.e., pure, not watered down) compliment. They have to tell you “the other side,” the facts of life, how things are in the real world.
It gets wearisome. Ask any minister.
“I love my pastor’s preaching.” Oh really? Well, you’re the first I’ve heard say that!
“I love my pastor’s preaching.” I’m glad you do. No one in my family does.
“I love my pastor’s preaching.” Ha. Do you remember that sermon on tithing he preached last month? My husband still hasn’t forgiven him for that!
“I love my pastor’s preaching.” Great. Why don’t you write him a note and say so. He sure gets a lot of the negative remarks. And better yet, tell everyone you know!
John Bisagno pastored the great First Baptist Church of Houston, TX for many years and was mightily used of God there. In fact, Brother John was one of the first mega-church pastors who really took our denomination–if not Christendom–by storm. For a number of years, he was baptizing a thousand people a year. A spell-binding preacher, he was on the program of denominational conventions and meetings of all types, easily the most popular and most beloved of his generation. But while preaching in our church in the late 1980s, he told me something that I found amazing.
“I have a deacon who has opposed every thing we have done in our church. Every single thing.”
Now, knowing this preacher, I figured he would have made short work of that gentleman and shown him the door. He could have. But he didn’t. I never asked why. For our purposes here, I’m simply pointing out that the naysayer was there, on the job, always with a ‘no’ vote. He will answer to God for that.
I can imagine what the man might say in his own defense. Almost every pastor has heard it.
“I just felt like someone should be the devil’s advocate.”
In a church of the Lord Jesus Christ, a member thinks the devil needs a voice. An advocate. A lawyer. A personal representative. To be heard.
I’d give a quarter to know what the Lord will say to such a person at Judgement. And will not venture to suggest what that might be, other than to imagine it has to do with “you like him so much, go spend eternity with the devil”.
Discouragement: A sin of the first order
In the Old Testament, warriors who discouraged their colleagues were counted as traitors and dealt with accordingly.
–“Why are you discouraging the sons of Israel so that they did not go into the land which the Lord had given them?” (See Numbers 32:6ff.)
–It was the unbelieving enemies who discouraged Israel in the post-exile days. See Ezra 5:3 and Nehemiah 4.
–Other texts are I Samuel 30:6 and I Kings 19.
–In Deuteronomy 20:8, Moses addresses the army. “Whoever is fearful and fainthearted among you may go home, lest you infect everyone around you with that fatal disease.” (Okay, my own spin on what he said.)
–Isaiah 8:12 “Do not fear what they fear. Fear God.”
How does one discourage others around him? The list is endless…
–“I know you mean well, pastor, but Mrs. So-and-So is against it, and you know her family built this church.”
–“We dare not go forward without the money in the bank, preacher. Faith is good and all that righteous stuff, but this is the real world.”
–“You’ve set the goal too high. When we don’t meet it, the people will be disappointed. Let’s be reasonable.”
–“Let’s keep the pastor’s salary low. It will keep him humble and on his knees before the Lord.”
–“Let’s not get too bold here. We tried that very thing 25 years ago and it didn’t work.”
Why do naysayers do what they do?
- They’re hurting. (Let’s start by being charitable and assuming the best.) I once had a deacon who was against everything. A friend told me after one particularly difficult session with the man, “Preacher, don’t let Jack bother you. I once served on the city council with him and he opposed everything there. I said, ‘Jack, tell me something you’re for.’ He looked at me like, ‘Huh?” I said, ‘You’re against everything. Tell me what you’re for.’ And he couldn’t think of a thing.” Then one day I visited in Jack’s home and discovered the man had severe back problems and lived with chronic pain. I never worried about his nay-saying after that. My heart went out to the man.
- Bad mental health. They simply cannot go to sleep at night knowing someone is happy, the church is united, and the pastor is pleased with everything. Some missing cog in their machinery wants to make sure everyone is as miserable as they are. Whether they are saved or not we will leave with the Father.
- Some are unsaved. They simply are unbelievers. We recall how our Lord said the persecutors of His followers would do their work for one huge reason: “They do not know the One who sent me” (John 15:21). Here are passages that speak to this…
–“Not all have faith.” (2 Thessalonians 3:2)
–“The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he understand them, for they are spiritually appraised.” (I Corinthians 2:14).
–When the Israelites left Egypt, they were not alone. Fleeing the oppression of the Pharaoh with them was a large contingent of other slaves, people from all backgrounds and nationalities who simply wanted to be free. (See Exodus 12:38 and Numbers 11:4)
Called “the rabble” in some translations, they became a thorn in the flesh to Moses. Much of the “murmuring” of the crowd during the wilderness wanderings was begun by these people who had no faith and yet no hesitation in speaking up. Their doubts and fears were contagious and soon infected the congregation. Their descendants are in every church in the land, and can be heard when any congregation decides to do something by faith. They scream to high heaven. Whoever heard of such a thing? Where will we get the money to do that? What will the outside world say? The church should be run as a business. Our pastor has his head in the clouds.
Final word: I would hate to be the one who said, “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and given to poor people?” (John 12:5) Judas was the ultimate naysayer, the voice of no-faith, the devil’s advocate.
Lord, help me to speak faith at all times. To encourage Thy people. To comfort the hurting. To give strength to the weak. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.