A Typical or Atypical Pastor's Wife-whichever one you come to believe

Welcome to the barnyard. Watch your step! The things written here are raw and unedited. Just my thoughts thrown on a page as they flow from my heart.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cancelled Due To Lack Of Interest

There have been times, mostly in summer, that we have considered putting a sign that says "Canceled Due To Lack Of Interest" on our church doors on a Sunday morning. Of course, we don't because that would only hurt the faithful.  When your husband gets up to preach, looks out at the crowd, and is confused about whether it is Sunday morning or a small group meeting, something is wrong.  When he has sacrificed time with family and having a better paying job to seek the Lord and wrestled in prayer for a message, finally getting a message He knows is God's heart for his congregation and hardly anyone shows up to hear it....well, it's just frustrating and discouraging and it makes a Pastor question if it's worth it.   I know the subject has come up in our household more than once. 

After awhile you get the idea that people are just using you as an avenue for religious activity that placates some spiritual void and as a place to pay their tithes so they can remain under the blessing spout of God which not only discourages you, but makes you sad as well.  A non-technical study was done by a group of Pastors.  They took a Sunday and positioned people outside the building immediately following the service.  As people exited, they ask them questions like "what was the sermon about today or what one thing stuck with you from the sermon this morning?" and a very low percentage of them could answer.  Of course, at least you have to give them credit for showing up-I guess but it honestly makes you wonder how effective you really are and if they wouldn't be better off with someone else that could engage them more.  Of course, ultimately it's a question of how engaged with the Holy Spirit they truly are in a daily kind of way that engages them on Sunday anyway.   That's a whole other concern.

From the day I got saved, I was in church every Sunday barring illness.  If we wanted to travel and visit family, we went on Saturday.  If it required extra time, we took off some time from work on Friday to leave early.  Yes, our family visits were limited.  Yes, sometimes we drove into the night with our children sleeping in their car seats.  Yes, we missed family reunions, birthday parties, and other opportunities.  But, in hindsight I realize that it was worth it.  Our children learned a very important lesson.  And we never missed out on what the Spirit of God had for us.   Every effort was made to be in our local house of worship on Sunday morning.  We planned our weekend around church because church was the highlight of our weekend.  When we signed our kids up for sports, we made sure that the coaches knew that they would not attend Sunday games or practices if they interfered with local church attendance.  Now it seems that people plan their church attendance around the weekend.  They have the goofy idea that as long as they are in church somewhere then all is well.  They don't realize how self-serving that is while their absence from their local body leaves their spiritual gifting absent as well.  They see no harm in leaving what they refer to as their "church family" to spend time with blood relations but will be quick to tell you that church family comes first although their lifestyle does not portray that sentiment.  For small churches, holidays are the worst!  Christmas and Easter, the church's high holidays of the year are spent with blood relations or at larger churches with special programming at the expense of spiritual relations, yet they will always claim that spiritual family trumps blood relations.  Your church family is who you are engaged with in Kingdom work and who will be your family in eternity.  The importance of church attendance may not be lost with some but the importance of LOCAL church attendance is. 

I'm not begrudging anyone vacation or times when you just need to be away on a Sunday, but when you are absent once a month or more, it's cause for concern.  A shout out goes to those who actually say "Pastor, I won't be here next week because of such and such",  even when the such and such is a lame excuse.   I dare say that if they gave that excuse to their bosses about missing work they would not be employed very long.  How can a company establish vision, protocol, and procedure if attendance is sporadic?  How can anyone cast vision, establish protocol and tend to a group of people they don't see on a regular basis? And why is it that on the Sundays when the Lord did specifically have someone in mind, it's always the Sunday that they are missing?  And why doesn't it bother them that they missed what their shepherd, the one they say God has placed in their lives, had to say?     

All of us in ministry have heard..."well that's required of you because you're the Pastor!  You are held to a higher set of standards than the rest of us."   We know that is not true.  Teachers of the Word will be held accountable for what they teach and how it affects others for Christ, but ALL believers live by the same set of standards because we all became believers the same way and we are all subject to the same Holy Spirit.  We are ALL to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength and to put Him FIRST in ALL things.  It concerns me when parishioners think there are sub-categories of Christians or that they can remain carnal Christians until they die or Jesus returns. It doesn't work that way, and if they were in their church every Sunday, they would know this because I'm sure the Lord would lay it on the Pastor's heart.

It usually starts innocently.  They miss once for this or that ignoring their nagging conscience because they just can't see any way around it.  Pretty soon there is no conscience.  Work, sports, family parties, and vacations all include a Sunday morning where church is missed or a different church is attended.  I'm not saying that is bad all the time, but it is far too easy to justify your absence by being able to say that you attended church somewhere.  Remember, Pastors sacrifice to be in the pulpit every Sunday, sometimes way more than anyone realizes, and it's not because it's their "job."  If ministers looked at the ministry as their "job", believe me, they would be looking for another type of work in most cases.  

It's been said, "Don't worry about small beginnings", but when small happens after large has already been established, be concerned.  Helping to create a small meeting is not a good excuse to miss church!  If you feel that you won't be missing much, then you'd better start examining your personal walk with the Lord.  If church is not "happening", it's usually not the Pastor's fault.  In a self-serving culture such as ours, sacrifice for church attendance is nearly unheard of and touted as "religious-and therefore bad."  Churches have Friday services, Saturday services, and multiple services on Sundays just so they can get them all in at some point on the weekend. We might as well be Catholic for all the purpose that it serves the working of the Body of Christ in a local setting.  Put the gathering of the saints back where it belongs in life--as the highlight of your week.  The spiritual benefits will far outweigh any sacrifices that will be made.     

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When Your Colleagues Slander You

As most Pastors know, the ministry is not always kind to us.  In a town where we lived, there was a certain minister who was slandering us.  It had hindered our ministry but to what extent we are not sure.   We had experienced things with this man that probably most people hadn't that were not very flattering to his reputation but we had never said anything to anyone about it. Through the years we had learned to be content to just let the Lord handle these types of situations knowing that you don't bully or slander the Lord's kids and get away with it. Eventually our Father steps in and makes things right. 

I don't really care what people think about me, but when they go after my husband, it's harder for me to not get stirred up in my heart.  One day, while at the store, a person who had never graced the doors of our church or heard my husband preach walked up to me and spoke as if implying that she was sorry that I had to be married to him.   It took everything I had to not tell her what I knew about the self-serving talebearer she had heard that lie from!   You see, my husband is a man of incredible integrity, honesty, character and humility so to hear someone slander him without any evidence or first hand witness based on what this so-called minister had said was infuriating.  How many others had heard what she had.  How many had she repeated it to?

I happened to be weeding a flower garden later that morning and the more I stewed about  it, the madder I got until I just decided that the next time something like that happened I was just going to say what I knew to be true.   After having settled this in my mind, I began to calm down.  It was then I heard a still, small voice.  He said "for what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?  But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God."   (1 Peter 2:20) And then, "for it is better, if God should will is so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong." (1 Peter 3:17)  And finally "therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right!"  (1 Peter 4:19)

I wish I could say that those verses brought total peace to me immediately, but they didn't.   I was still mad about the injustice of the whole situation.  I was mad that taking the high road, or the narrow road-however you want to describe the right path, was the path of greatest resistance, at least for my flesh.  Quite honestly I just wanted to punch someone in the mouth!   But I had to make a decision right then and there.  Do I defend my husband and justify gossip or do I, like Jesus, stand in the face of his accusers and not say a word?  Do I right this situation by lowering myself and doing the very same wrong that was done to cause it in the first place?  Can two wrongs make anything right?

Again, I heard, "just do what is right because it is right, because it pleases me, because it's what Christ did." And I said "yes, Lord."  In this case, the Lord did rectify the situation in a very surprising way.  There are others out there who accuse my husband of all kinds of things.  (I've noticed that they always accuse him of the things they are guilty of instead of actually finding a valid fault in my husband to expose.)  But now I don't struggle.  Immediately I hear that voice saying once again "just do what's right.  I will take care of EVERYTHING that concerns your husband, your family and your ministry."   Does it still make me mad? Momentarily.  Then I remember what the Psalmist said in Psalm 73:

Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them.
Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
And washed my hands in innocence;
For I have been stricken all day long
And chastened every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
How they are destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.
When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like beast before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Duty of Religious Activity

A growing trend in what the modern church calls doctrine is a relationship-without-rules kind of mentality.  Any religious activity that you purpose to do becomes "works" and everything is based on a "position" that we have when Christ saves us.  If you religiously read your Bible, that is works.  If you devote an hour in prayer everyday, that is works.  If you choose to honor the Sabbath by not working, that is works.  The prevailing doctrine seems to focus only on the freedom that salvation brings as if it is the end all of the whole process.  But truly what is the goal of salvation?  Yes, we are freed from sin, but then what are we freed to?  Bondage is restriction.  Restriction implies that we are impeded from doing something that we want or need to do.  So when we are released from bondage, we are freed to something else.  Salvation frees us from the bondage of sin and allows us to do works of righteousness.  God didn't create Adam and Eve to sit around the garden all day and sip ice tea.  They were busy about garden, keeping it, tending it and harvesting the fruit that it produced-working.  Ephesians tells us that we "are His (God's) workmanship, created for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we should walk in them."  That sounds like work to me.  Even God worked when He created us. 

A favorite verse of those who shun all works as religion and therefore evil is Galations 5:1, "it was for freedom that Christ has set us free; therefore keep standing strong and don't be subject again to the yoke of slavery."  Well we have to ask the question, what is freedom?  "For freedom" implies that there was something that the yoke of slavery was keeping us from.

One reason that I love the Word of God is that it is living and active.  (hmmmm....even the Holy Ghost works!)  Anyway, when you read, the Spirit of God will cause you to ask questions.  And then after you have sat and pondered what the answer to that question might be, He takes you a few verses more and answers them.  If you go on to verse 13 of this same passage, Paul admonishes them to not return to slavery but to remain in the freedom that they obtained through the cross and serve...yes I said serve...one another.  Hmmm...when we serve, we are actively doing something...works! 

In his book "Abide in Christ,"  Andrew Murray devotes one whole chapter to obeying the commandments of God.  He says " When the sinner, in coming to Christ, seeks to prepare Himself by works, the voice of the Gospel sounds "not of works."   The Gospel lifts it's voice as loud "created in Christ unto good works" (Eph 2:9-10).  To the sinner out of Christ, works may be his greatest hindrance, keeping him from union with the Savior.  To the believer in Christ, works are strength and blessing, for by them faith is made perfect. (Jas 2:22), the union with Christ is cemented, and the soul is established and more deeply rooted in the love of God."  it occurred to me that Christ, by His own admission, came to serve, not to be served.  So if we are one with Christ in heart and mind, then our natural inclination will be to do the same-to serve God and others. Service implies working-we're doing something.  That's sort of a no-brainer to me.

Murray goes on to say "to the ignorant or slothful believer there is a great difference between the promises and the commands of scripture. the former he counts his comfort and his food; but to him who is really seeking to abide in Christ's love, the commands become no less precious."  He also made the point that Christ Himself abode in the Father's love through his good works. 

But what about when obedience to God is hard or uncomfortable or just don't seem "fun?"  Well to the modern way of thinking, then doing them is "works" and therefore evil and bad or "religious".  (Did you know that Jesus never spoke badly about true religion in scripture?  In fact he even commended the religious leaders of his day for keeping the tradition of religion.  Religion was never an evil word in the Bible.  That is a more recent development-an ideal that anything traditional, regulated or repetitive is bad.)  So if abstaining from alcohol causes you to be looked down upon by your peers, then it's works.  If spending an hour in prayer is hard on your knees, then certainly that could not be of God.  It must be works.  If you have found a soul mate who happens to be someone other than your spouse, then you have no obligation to remain true to that relationship because that is works.  If you choose not to neglect the gathering together with God's people on a Sunday morning even though you really don't feel like going, then that is works.  NO!  That is obedience!  And let's face it, obedience is not always pleasant.  It requires work!

In any relationship, there are rules that must be followed or that relationship will break down and eventually cease to exist.  And on the days when those rules impose upon what your fleshly desires are saying to you, then we must but remember whose rules they are and why they have been established as guideposts in our lives.  That is not evil, that is called self control, a taking captive of every thought-a fruit of righteousness and proof that the Holy Spirit has been WORKING in us!  Scripture tells us that Christ gladly endured the cross because He saw beyond it to the final outcome.  But in the Garden of Gethsemane he was not happy.  In fact, He was in great anguish, fighting that fight of faith to be obedient to what His Father was asking.  He didn't happily skip through the streets of Jerusalem and hop on the cross and say "go ahead fellows, bring on the nails."  It was a work-the greatest work anyone has ever done-but work nonetheless.  It wasn't pleasant, but He did it because He knew who had asked Him to do it and why.  And so when we do what God has asked us to do to continue in what Christ's work accomplished for us, that is not works.  That is obedience and service and pleasing to God. 

So when someone calls you religious because you choose to obey God, tell them "thank you!  That is the best compliment I've gotten all day!"  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Unless I Win The Lottery, Get A Big Book Deal, Or The Lord Returns

Every night when my co-workers and I leave for the evening they all call over their cube walls, "see you tomorrow", or "let's do this again tomorrow", or something to that effect.  One of them always says "have a wondrous evening."  Every night my reply is the same.  "Okay, unless I win the lottery, get a big book deal or the Lord returns.  Then I'm out of here!"  You can imagine the responses I get since none of my co-workers know the Lord in a personal way.  I think they give me some license because they know my husband is a minister so it would be "natural" for me to mention the Lord every now and then, but my evening greeting always gets perplexed looks and faces full of consternation.  

Some have commented betting that the book deal is the most likely since they know I don't play the lottery and they seriously doubt the Lord's return is any time soon...if ever! One always say "well, then I'll definitely see you tomorrow."  I have come to realize that they don't really like thinking about the Lord's return.  That is plainly evident.  They are like the scoffers that scripture tells us about who say "Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the Fathers fell asleep, all continues as it was from the beginning of creation."  And I often think about how they will react if, when the Lord does return, it is in the evening.  What will be their reaction when I don't show up to work?  And I wonder, will my words haunt them?  Will all the things I have said about scripture come back and prick them?  I pray they haunt them now!

Of all three of those options, the most probable and the most wondrous will be the Lord's return.  Of those three things, one of them is SURE.  Jesus IS coming again!  He said He was.  He has never lied, not once.  The New Testament is full of references to the coming of the Lord!  And we are closer at this very moment than we have ever been.  Some may think that it is far away.  Others, like me, often just stare at the sky expecting that at any moment the trumpet will sound and I will have my first solo flight!  But one thing is certain.  It WILL happen! We are heading to that point in time when it is appointed for the Lord to take His church unto Himself!  

I love thinking of what it would be like...to be the only generation that never died, to be suddenly transformed into a being that can go through wood and roofing without getting a scratch (we will have to be changed or we will all enter heaven with concussions), to enter the gates of heaven and see it in all of it's splendor, to be perfected spirit, soul and body!  But most of all to behold Christ in all of His glory, to worship before Him in perfected praise, and to have the full realization of the wondrous truth of the gospel of salvation that our finite minds can never fully comprehend while we are still on the earth. 

I pray for my co-workers.  That they would come to see the futility of the lives they are living now.  That they, like me, would be able to look ahead to this most wondrous event and bank their lives upon its reality.  

And now it's time for me to go to sleep.  I will return another time to "moos" about something else unless...I win the lottery, get a big book deal, or the Lord Returns!  "Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!"