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July 2010 entries

The Unique Pain of a Pastor

"Be diligent to come to me quickly, for Demas has forsaken me...only Luke is with me." 2 Timothy 4:9 - 10

I have not experienced every vocation in life. No far from it. But I have had a few. I have been a computer operator, a salesman and sales manager. I have managed retail stores and I have written computer programs. I have put batteries in watches and torn tickets at movie theaters. But none of these vocations have brought so much pleasure or so much pain as being a pastor.

The above scripture came to my mind a little while ago as I spotted someone in the parking lot of a nearby store. The Lord refreshed my memory about the days when they had stopped me almost weekly after each message to tell me how much a blessing it had been. I haven't seen her at church in years. I had assumed she and her family had left town. I guess I was wrong.

I have learned over the years that there are several reasons why people leave church only moments after being active and encouraging. Sometimes someone in the congregation snubs them in a store or acts hateful toward them at work. Their feelings are hurt and and they choose to avoid any confrontation with that person even if it means changing churches.

Other times they hear a little rumor in the church. It often involves the pastor or one of the staff members. They choose only to hear the story of the party who claims to know the "down and dirty" and never asks for the other side of the story. I have been accused of mistreating people and behavior that wasn't even a part of my life before I was saved. It has happened so often that I have decided to take the Jesus route; "when He was reviled; He opened not His mouth."

Still others were attracted by the campus or one of our programs and quickly joined our fellowship. After the newness wore off they decided the vision of Dallas Bay is not the vision they have for church in general. Or more likely, they have no vision at all. Church to them is a place to make you feel comfortable or even convicted for a while. They don't share the same vision where church isn't a place to cling tightly to tradition that makes us comfortable, but it is a place that does whatever it takes to reach people with the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ. John described these people perfectly; "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us; they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." 1 John 2:19

But I have to admit, the same hurt that I hear in Paul's words when he says to Timothy, "Demas has forsaken me" is all too real to me. People I have prayed with; people I have visited in the hospital or shared a meal in their home; just disappear as quickly as they came. I have come to conclude that I don't thank God nearly enough for those people who are in my life and the life of the church He has called me to serve. And I have come to conclude that some of those who have left have fulfilled their purpose in my life and the life of the church. God will use them somewhere else that their talents and their prayers and their words of encouragement are just what that church needs. To pray them back may rob some other of their blessings. So for those who God has today placed in my life may I once again try and emulate the heart of Paul; "I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers." Philemon 4.    

Insights from New York City

It's been a couple of days but I have just about settled back into the slower pace of life in rural Tennessee. For nearly 5 days last week my wife and I were immersed into the hectic activity of New York City. Since I was using most of the sabbatical the church had presented to me for 20 years of service for hunting trips, I asked Marilyn where she would like to go for a week. I was a little surprised when she chose NYC. Not because I thought she wouldn't enjoy the trip. She has always been fascinated with the city. The reason I thought she would choose mountains over skyscrapers is her fear of flying and I had always said I would not drive to or in New York. The combination of many prayers and a few little white pills made the flight a reality. So we show up in New York as lost as a ball in high weeds. I was expecting the people to be rude and obnoxious. What we found were a helpful and proud congregation of about 8.5 million people. I won't boar you with the details of our time there except to say we both had a great time. I would like to make a point about the spiritual condition of the city.

As a pastor there was one interesting comment made by one of our tour guides that I could particularly appreciate. As he was pointing out all the expensive apartments and talking about how much it cost to live in the city we approached a beautiful church. Remember we had been talking about business executives and TV stars and their homes and offices all along the way. Not once had he declared how much money they made or the lifestyles they led. But coming to the church he remarked that the pastor had just resigned and then said, "Do you know how much that pastor made as a salary?" He then commenced to tell everyone what he made and gave us a disgusting grimace. Wow, even in New York City the pastor's pay is the topic of conversation. It seems things aren't much different there after all.

 Did you know there are over 8,000 churches in New York City? Some of them are old and ornate and others are store front and shabby. One tour guide told us that most of the churches in uptown Manhattan are Southern Baptist. That was a shock, but a good one. However, one church best exemplified the spiritual condition of America. The tour guide pointed to one beautiful massive church and began to wax eloquent about its claim to be tolerant. While it was a protestant church in name he boasted that it honored all religions. Inside there was a menorah to honor the Jewish faith. There was also a Buddha to honor those who were Buddhists. After mentioning a few other religious icons that were there to honor other faiths I leaned over to my wife and said, "What about honoring God?" In their attempt to be tolerant of every religion the church was breaking a principle of Christianity; the exclusivity of Christ as the only Son of God and the only way to heaven. Don't misunderstand, I do believe in honoring all people as God's highest creation. I also believe there is some good in most every religion in the world. But I don't believe that it is honoring to God to be pluralistic in our approach to faith. By Christ's own teachings we learn that the way is narrow and it only goes through the cross on our ultimate quest to make it to heaven. Is it honoring to God to display symbols of religions that lead people away from Chrisy? I don't think so. Thank God for the Baptist influence, and the influence of other Bible believing churches on a city with so many people who without Christ are bound for a God-less eternity. Pray for those churches that they will shatter the darkness with the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.    

Two Kinds of Atheists

Sorry about the extended period of time between this and my last blog entry. I have been both preoccupied and out of sorts. I have been busy with work but also side tracked by vacation. In it all I came down with a summer cold which all but stopped me in my tracks. I am better now, thanks for asking.

I just want to make an observation that I think you may have noticed in our society. There seems to be a major rift in our country. Those who believe that traditional values and faith are the way to get out of the mess that we find ourselves in and those who believe traditional values and faith have gotten us here. I suppose there could be one more group. Those would be the people who choose to stick their heads in the sand and fail to acknowledge that we are in a mess.

I am firmly in the camp that believes that the answers to our problems can only be found in faith and in turning to the God of our fathers. That being said; I think there is a deeper problem to be addressed. That problem is in my own community of faith. We tend to say we believe in God and our actions are guided by His principles. We point to and denounce others as turning to secular solutions as atheists and pagans. I would like to suggest that while there are certainly atheists in the camp of the secular world I would also suggest we have them in our camp as well.

Why I say that is because there are in reality two kinds of atheists. The first is the kind we point our fingers at and blame for the ills of our society. These are the intellectual atheists. They are people who have reasoned God out of their thinking. They turn to natural history and psychology to explain our ills. They believe that man can find the answers to his problems through working harder, working together and tolerance. They say those of us who have faith are delaying or hindering the process of human enlightenment.

I can deal with those people okay. For the most part they are honest about their beliefs, or should I say disbelief's. I don't think they are right and have not heard one come up with a plausible defense of their reasoning. I am more concerned with another atheist. These are the contextual atheists. They scare me the most and they are most often found in the family of faith. These are those who pull the God card out when it best suits them or works in their favor. They are loud and proud at the 4th of July, Easter and Christmas. However, when faith means swallowing pride or giving grace toward others; then they act like God has no lordship over their life. An example recently of such contextual atheism was a fella who argued that he was leaving his wife because God didn't want him to be miserable and that the Divine had supplied him with a new partner. The truth is he was denying the existence of the God of the Bible and His principles by his actions and fabricated his own deity to suit his desires. This same person will become ballistic when a teacher promotes evolution as fact to his child in the classroom. Someone has rightly said He is either God of all or He is not God at all.

I would suggest we look at ourselves and the plank in our eye before we worry over the speck in another's eye. I know for myself I find that I too often make decisions as if God did not exist and find myself in a spiritual wasteland as a result. I can't seem to find time to point my finger at others as long as I'm trying to clean up my own life. I am concerned about militant atheists and their damage to society, but I am equally concerned over those who use God as long as it is to their advantage. "Lord help us to love others and live with the constant reminder that You are there and You love those who don't believe as much as you love us who often live as if you don't. Amen"