“For the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not subject itself to the things of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7).
It’s not that believers and unbelievers think in different ways. Rather, it’s that spiritually-minded Christians and carnally-minded church members (Christians? Let’s assume they are, but it’s hard to know) think and act and value in opposite ways.
Let the church take notice.
In an article on sacrificial giving, I made a statement that attracted some attention: Those who are in the flesh resent being told they are in the flesh.
More than one reader reacted to that in anger. (Thus proving the point, some might conclude.)
A number of years ago, a college classmate contacted me to see if I would be willing to serve as a mystery-shopper for Seiko watches. His marketing firm had with a contract to see that salespeople in jewelry stores put Seiko ahead of the competition. So, I would enter a store and tell the clerk “I’m looking for a man’s watch in a medium price range.” If I was taken immediately to the Seiko display, I’d say, “Congratulations. I’m the Seiko mystery shopper and you just won 10 dollars.” (This was back with 10 dollars was maybe 25.) Then, I’d get their signature and fill out a report. For each store, I was paid 5 dollars.
Mostly I did it for the fun of it.
A few weeks ago, when we mentioned mystery worshipers on this website, a number of readers wondered if I had a list of questions for people enlisted for this role. I didn’t.
But now I do.
(Readers need to know I love deacons. And yet, I bear scars from run-ins with a few members of that fraternity over the years. My son is a wonderful deacon. These days, I’m writing a series on “My Favorite Deacon” for Lifeway’s Deacon Magazine. So, let no one interpret what follows as a putdown of deacons. It is not. I am, however, aware that many pastors fight ongoing battles with some who insist on controlling the church. My heart goes out to them. This is sent forth with them in mind.)
Deacons and pastors were given as servants of God’s people. Ephesians 5:21 urging that we “submit to one another in the fear of the Lord” applies to both groups in the same way it does to the entire congregation.
There is no place for bigshots and autocrats in the family of the Lord. Jesus Christ is Lord of the church (see Matthew 16:18), and Scripture warns pastors not to “lord it over the congregation” (see I Peter 5:3).
What then is the pastor to do when the deacons insist that their job is to run the church? That was the situation I came into in 1990 as a new pastor. Now, not all deacons were infected by the ruling virus, but at least half of the group of 24 were, enough to thwart anything the pastor tried to do that smacked of upsetting their little apple cart.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable….that the man of God may be complete” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Those who demand a Scripture verse for everything they do place an intolerable burden on the Christian life never intended by the Heavenly Father.
Some among us have all the answers about the Christian life and have solved all the mysteries of doctrine and theology.
Is there a verse of Scripture on that?
When my friend Freddie Arnold told me that a certain solution was exactly what I needed to take care of the mildew in my concrete, I wrote it down.
And promptly forgot what I had written.
Over the next several weeks, when I would be out and about and could have run by Home Depot or Lowe’s and picked up that item, my mind would not recall it, try as I might. So, eventually, I dug out my note and determined I would remember it the next time. And forgot it again.
It would not stay in my mind.
Shock Wave, it’s called.
And even now, I had to work at finding those two words in the cluttered file system of my mind.
Some things just will not stick with me. You can tell me and I walk away without remembering one word of it. It’s like the brain has no cells in that tiny portion of gray matter and we have to find another mental refrigerator on which to apply the magnet containing that piece of information.
Medicines are like that.
Mostly, the pastor should let others defend him. But sometimes, he is the only one able to tell the whole story. His staunchest supporters can do only so much, and he has to take it the rest of the way. Here is an instance when I did this…
In cleaning out some files the other day, I ran across a letter I’d written to our congregation almost exactly half-way through my 14 year ministry at the last church in which I was answering some critics.
Following is the letter in its entirety….
“God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). “Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof….” (2 Timothy 3:5).
Former U.S. Senator John W. Warner used to tell of an experience during his term as Undersecretary of the U.S. Navy (1969-72). During a visit to an unnamed foreign country, he was impressed by the majestic World War II cruiser on display in the harbor of the capital city. This major component of the country’s defense system looked to be everything one would expect with its gleaming brass gun mounts, its sparkling paint, its bright signal flags.
When Mr. Warner asked for permission to come aboard and inspect the ship, a routine request almost always granted, he was surprised as the captain nervously informed him that this would not be possible.
Later, an aide told Warner the reason for the denial.
The ship was a sham.
The year was 1972 and the Vietnam war was raging. Daily news reports told of the horrible damage being done to the bodies of children when their villages were napalmed. Napalm is liquid fire, so use your imagination.
At some point, my wife and I learned that a hospital in Da Nang was working to repair these burned bodies and that they were hurting for funds. So we began sending them contributions from time to time. I forget how we got it to them.
One day I came home for lunch. As I entered the apartment, Margaret looked up from the Newsweek where she was reading yet another story of the horrors taking place in Vietnam. She was in tears. “Can’t we do more to help these children?” she said.
I said, “Maybe we can send $25 a month instead of occasionally.”
She said, “No. I mean, like, adopt one.”
I reacted instantly. “What? Honey, you don’t just adopt a foreign child!”
When she saw how closed I was to the subject, she dropped it. But she continued to pray.
Oh man. When a friend suggested we ask Facebook friends what to do when a pastor or staff-member is not tithing–and not even giving anything to the Lord’s work–I went with it. And the fur flew, far more than I expected. Answers ranged from “Terminate the guy, immediately” (a large contingent said that) to “Tithe? That’s Old Testament law and has no place for New Testament believers!” to “Who are you to judge?” They argued back and forth, and some became rather unChristian in their comments. Then, one group accused the other of Pharisaism and condemned the condemners.
Amazing how this issue arouses the dander of some otherwise reasonably minded people. Even so, ever the one to charge hell with a water pistol, I thought I’d take on the subject. Here goes….
First, I write as a tither. But it was hard getting started, I will admit.
Giving one-tenth of my income to the Lord was never taught in the churches I grew up in. As a college student I joined a Southern Baptist church where tithing seemed to be a pillar of the faith. One day, the minister of education approached to ask if I would give my tithing testimony. I stared at him blankly and said, “What is that?” First time I’d heard of this thing called “tithing.” He was aghast. But then, Ron Palmer had come from a longtime Southern Baptist family where tithing had been ingrained in him since childhood. It was new to me.
Learning to tithe was slow and hard.
Someone has to be in charge. Don’t they?
On the highway, in the classroom, at the factory, during the ball game, and in the Christian life, nothing works without someone present being empowered to say, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Right? Or not?
Here are a few thoughts to begin a conversation around your dinner table on the subject of authority….
In “The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published,” David Skinner describes the hostile reaction that greeted the release of “Webster’s Third Edition” in 1961. The incident makes a great point for all of us, particularly church folk.
But first, the context.