In the Present Tense

November 4, 2010

For those sitting in darkness. . .

Filed under: Culture and the Bible, Present Truth, Surviving in Church — edoutlook @ 3:34 am

A young friend of mine just sent me a message which included this: “I’ve been wondering why I’ve been wasting my time being unfulfilled in the Adventist church I’m in.” Not only do I hear this same sentiment from many young Christians of nearly every denomination–I spent many years of my life feeling exactly the same way.

It feels like there’s no point to it all. I used to ask myself why did I even care? In my case, not only did I not receive any positive reinforcement, I was repeatedly vilified. I was accused of virtually every possible sin-even once of borderline adultery. Oh, in that case, it was a clear instance of confusing me with a different teacher at summer camp.

Had the pastor–yes, it was my pastor who made the accusation–bothered to inquire, he would have discovered the truth. When the pastor made the accusation in front of several church members, my wife burst out laughing. She had been at camp with me, and even spotted the offending person’s behavior before I did.

Another pastor said my “existence” was a problem for the church. That was the first time I truly felt suicidal. I share this not to disparage the pastors involved, nor to stimulate sympathy. I just want those now feeling that sort of discouragement, those “sitting in darkness” that I have been there. Occasionally, I return there.

I have no magic answers. I will not offer texts that tell you to have patience. One saint said to me many years ago, “Never pray for patience. If you do, God will send you trials!”

All I can do is share my own experience.

My parents sent me to a boarding academy, with predictions that I would love it there. In fact, that’s what I anticipated. I arrived on campus expecting only the best. Instead, I experienced three years of nearly unremitting hell. Happily, I did meet the girl I later married there. But several faculty members attempted to break us up repeatedly.

Some thirty years later, I went to a class reunion (my wife’s experience is much different, and I went for her). Much to my surprise, someone whom I did not remember–he had been a freshman my junior (and last) year–told me how my treatment of him had been so radically different than the way other upper classmen treated him. I had been an encouragement to him.

I taught church school for more than a decade. Although I enjoyed the classroom, and my supervisors and students praised my teaching, not all parents and pastors agreed. Politics came into the scene, and often I had to move because of displeasing someone whose money or station gave them power.

I left one school in the midwest in the late 1970’s purged by one parent–whose children loved my classroom. There had been a young girl there “saved” from her insufficiently pious family–that’s how the pastor’s wife had phrased it. I did not agree, and did what little I could to help the girl reconcile. This brought me censure, and appeared not to help the girl.

Thirty years later I met this now grown woman in New York City, of all places. She came up to me and after identifying herself, she said, “You were the one who knew what they were doing to me, all those years ago.”

I sighed, and said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”

She shook her head, “You were the only one who saw. In fact, it took me years to realize what they had taken from me. What I had lost.”

We talked for a while. I asked her how she recognized me at a distance, my hair now being gray. “I recognized your laugh,” she said.

I could go on. I have many more stories. But the point is not about how wonderful I was. Because at the very times I was encouraging or helping others–often unknowingly–I was personally going through great discouragement.

All this has taught me to view this text in perhaps an unorthodox way :

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.

Phillippians 2:14-15

You probably have thought of this in reference to the world at large. But we all know that the Enemy works hardest in the church, because that’s where he can do the most damage. All churches are full of sinners, some of whom are “crooked and perverse.” And it’s doubly disturbing when we encounter them in the church. All I can say is, if God has put you in such a place, it must be because He needs your light in that part of His world.

It may be years before you realize who may have been guided to safety, kept from discouragement by your light in that dark place.

It may not be much, but it’s what I can offer.

November 2, 2010

Political parties. . .and Churches?

I’m departing from the series on First Principles– well, sorta– because I want to talk about something that’s timely.

As I write this, it looks like a political tide of historic proportions is about to sweep the U.S. This is not a partisan post. I’m not going to comment on whether I’m in favor or opposed to either the current direction of policy, or the predicted wave of opposition to it.

Numerous commentators on both sides of the issue have pointed out that it’s not generally a good idea to tell voters that they are too stupid, or angry, or inattentive– whatever– to know what’s good for you. In my years, I’ve seen this from all sides of the political spectrum at different times. In politics, it’s self-defeating.

What concerns me is that I have often heard this same thing from evangelists, preachers, and other church officials. For example, “If they don’t respond to our evangelism, it’s because they are hardened in sin,” one might say.

“Yes, I know, it’s terrible how blinded people have become by the corruption in society,” another might reply.

I’ve actually heard serious people saying this things. Repeatedly. For many years.

Imagine a business saying “Our customers are just not bright enough to buy our product.” Or buying ad advertisement telling customers, “If you actually knew what you were doing, you would beg us to sell you our services.” A business that says that sort of thing would soon be out of business.

But churches and political parties often become so certain of how correct they are, that anyone who doesn’t come on board is stupid, foolish, or not paying attention.

Well, the Bible makes it pretty clear that people–including ourselves– are in fact stupid, foolish, and not paying attention. That simply gives us a better idea of what our task is. It is precisely sinful, corrupted, hardened, foolish, and inattentive people it is our duty to reach.

Put another way, both political parties and churches that bemoan the condition of their audience should instead recognize that it is their message, their marketing, their communication that is lacking.

Next time you hear someone talking about how difficult it is to reach the audience, be aware that they’re really saying: We don’t know how to do our job. Because a prerequisite to learning is admitting our ignorance.


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