Thursday, October 29, 2009

Odds & Ends

Here are some items that came "under the preacher's roof," but not under a particular category:

When we recently celebrated my dad's ninetieth birthday with a party at church, he was the most surprised person present - at his age. Dad suffers advanced dementia and could not understand why all those people were present, so I explained, "It's a birthday party. Do you know whose birthday it is?"
"No," he answered.
"It's yours. Do you know how old you are?"
He couldn't remember.
"It's yours. Your ninety years old."
He sat back in astonishment: "Ninety? Why - that's old!"
No kidding. "You're no more surprised than we are," I said.

A support worker at a local funeral home told me this story. It actually happened this way, and I offer it to those of you who are looking for something to tell this Halloween:

A couple of support workers at the funeral home suspected their hearse might have a leak in the roof. The only way to test it was to take it through the local car wash. One of the workers volunteered to lay in the back - without a casket - and watch the car's ceiling for any sign of a drip. After the car made its way through the wash cycle, they came to the last stop where an attendant waited to towel dry the car. Just as he made his way to dry the hearse side windows, the man inside raised up, waved out the window to the attendant, and said, "Hi!"

The attendant has not been seen or heard from, since.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Can't Help Those People

Every church has some of "those" people - those people who are forever in trouble
- who seem to be overwhelmed constantly with problems, but can never figure out how to deal with them
- who complain about how they are being treated by God, but do not bother to make an appearance in church
- who are offended if anyone suggests they are not right with the Lord, yet never have time for the Word of God or prayer - or simple obedience, for that matter - in any part of their daily lives
- who are easily offended at people in church for not giving them enough attention, but cannot tell you who is actually attending church (because they have not been there in so long).
- who cannot understand why their prayer (or more accurately, prayer requests) are not answered as they wish while their lives are filled with myriad sinful habits and backslidings
- whose families seem to perpetuate their sinful habits and unfaithfulness through succeeding generations.
I have met enough of "those" drifting people through several churches over the last thirty plus years that I cannot be accused of focusing on a particular family for the above description. I have always found myself drawn somehow to trying to help those people because that is my nature. It is my calling. In virtually every case, I have been stymied and frustrated. Not infrequently, my wife and I have found ourselves the objects of scorn after spending ourselves to help. We've cleaned homes, given away stoves, refrigerators and rugs, babysat the children, sat up all night with the sick and bereaved, and made endless runs to the hospital at all hours - all to no avail.
I've had to come face-to - face with the fact that there are people I just can't help. Most of all, I can't help people who don't want to be helped. They enjoy their misery or their sin too much to make changes. And they are not about to be changed by some preacher.
Have you ever known people like "those" people, or am I the only one? I don't think so. At some point, every pastor has to contend with the chronically backslidden. This blog is not about giving you a quick and easy answer. I have none, or else I would have used it long ago. The answer, I think, is to keep trying with them, but not to be obsessed with them. Do not let them drag you down. Go after and focus on other people. Victories in other areas will keep you from the perpetual discouragement that "those" people breed. Even if they fail, we must not. We must keep moving forward for the sake of others.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"At Least Somebody Had Good Sense"

A retired pastor and I were sharing memories about our families recently when he told this story, explaining "I have a daughter who is a true blond. She doesn't dye her hair. " Really.
It seems his family was together sharing laughs and telling jokes when someone told a "blond" joke that went like this:
A blond owned a car that was badly dented in a hailstorm. She wanted to have the dents removed and asked a friend who he might recommend to do repair on her car.
"Oh, you don't have to spend money repairing the car," her friend advised, "All you have to do is blow on the tailpipe real hard, and the dents will pop out."
The advice sounded reasonable to her. So the next day, the blond got down on her knees and was about to begin blowing into the car tailpipe when another blond friend happened to come by.
"What in the world are you doing?" she asked.
The blond explained, "I'm repairing my car. If I blow hard enough on the tailpipe, the dents will pop out."
Her friend replied, "That won't work if the windows are all rolled down."

The pastor's family were all laughing hysterically at the joke, except for his blond daughter, who looked about with a confused expression. Finally she spoke: "Well, at least somebody had good sense."
It was several minutes before the family could regain their composure, while the daughter never understood what was so funny.
Isn't it comforting to know that God doesn't put all the craziness under one preacher's roof? He spreads it around. Really.

Monday, October 12, 2009

You Have to be Kidding

There are two women out right now, buying material and preparing a Halloween costume for me. Their project began when our church decided to do something special for the kids in our town on "Beggar's Night," and one of the ladies suggested that we dress as Bible characters. Fair enough, so I "volunteered" to dress as Jonah. Quicker than you could say "Me and my big mouth," the idea was born to dress the preacher as Jonah being swallowed by the fish. I've seen the pattern these crafty ladies have in mind, and I can't begin to describe it to you.
I can tell you that I've been nearly the victim of several plots hatched by church members who were determined to have fun at the preacher's expense. Don't ask me what they were thinking. I haven't a clue. At least the ladies in our church are dressing me all in fun. I'm not too sure about the others.
One church wanted me to ride down the isle on a "stick" pony - during the Sunday morning service - while the pianist and organist played "Circuit Ridin' Preacher."
Another church insisted that my wife and I participate in an egg toss so they could watch me being plastered with raw eggs. When my wife and I won the game, one deacon was so sure we had cheated that he insisted on squeezing the egg to prove it was a fake. The egg exploded and he was covered in yoke.
A third church wanted to "paddle" me for my birthday. I drew the line at that and insisted that the ministry needed to guard its dignity - what I had left of it. I probably offended some people by not going along with their prank - no, I'm sure of it - but what were they thinking? Somehow, I can't visualize D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones going along with being paddled for his birthday. Or Spurgeon. Or John R. Rice, for that matter. Not that I approach any of those men, but then, when does the preacher begin to preserve the esteem due his office if he is constantly treated as the class clown?
The difference between my church now and those of the past is that this church knows where to draw the line. They have not allowed a little fun to desecrate the office of pastor and I appreciate that. For the record, I didn't ride the stick pony either. But I will dress up as Jonah for the kids and have a little fun on Beggar's Night. On Sunday, I'll be back in the pulpit and the people will still look at me as their pastor. No kidding.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Everybody Hits "The Wall"

Marathon runners call it "hitting the wall" - that moment when the body suddenly decides it has had enough. Everything, every muscle, every organ, every fiber in the runner's body cries out to stop. Please, not another step. Runners know if they can overcome"the wall," their bodies will adjust and get a second wind. Often, they can finish the race stronger than when they began. They just have to get past "the wall."
In the ministry, everybody hits "the wall." It is that moment when the pastor and his family are tempted to think they cannot go on any further; when the burdens have become too much; the stress too great; the heartache more than the heart can bear.
I read a letter like that just yesterday. It came from a young missionary wife and mother in Africa. She and her husband are on the field for the very first time. Being away from home is one thing, but they are thousands of miles from everything familiar to them. The adjustments are astronomical. They are not so alone from people, but they are very alone from ordinary things. Now the husband is sick, very sick and his situation has not improved as of this moment. His wife writes, "I'm having one of those 'I hate Africa' moments." In reality, neither of them hate Africa. In fact, they have been willing to change their entire lives just for Africa, and the opportunity to reach Africans with the gospel. But they have hit the wall.
We all hit the wall. The ministry becomes work, a burden. It's not fun anymore. The headaches are too much. People are too much. The sacrifices mount to the point that all we can see are our problems, and we are tempted - very tempted - to cave. One pastor I knew became so frustrated with his church that he told another pastor, "You want 'em? You can have them" and stomped out of the ministry entirely.
We have to remember that if we refocus on the Lord, we can get past "the wall." Life will go on, not always better, maybe not the same, usually not what we expected, but life will go on. Often, I have found that some unexpected blessing will come if I just do not quit. It is part of that "reaping if we do not faint." There is life beyond "the wall" - a second wind, a harvest ahead, and the finish line. The preacher's life is never a sprint, always a marathon.