January 23, 2015

I was watching a TV show with a typical ending that speaks to the inconsistency of contemporary thinking.  A man was in bed with a former girlfriend (now married).  A woman he has been seeking a relationship with at work shows up at his door wanting to start a relationship with him, something that has been going back and forth for most of the show.  She sees the other woman walk into the room covered in a sheet, shock, disappointment, confusion and anger soon follow.

What this reflects is man’s desire to commit adultery and fornication in conflict with the law of God written on man’s heart.  Of all the Ten Commandments the one concerning adultery is the one we want to eliminate.  We want free sex with anyone, at anytime and anywhere.  We want it to be inclusive not exclusive.  We want no strings attached and to be able to walk away.

But then one of them gets this peculiar notion of exclusivity.  They don’t want to share.  What they thought would lead to a long term relationship leads to heartbreak when the other is in bed with someone else.  In context with man’s desire, the one caught with another woman should not feel guilty because the other woman wanted an exclusive relationship and was angry because of what she stumbled onto.  In fact she had no right to any expectations of the sort from him.

So where does the hurt and betrayal and other emotions come from?  It comes from the law of God written on our hearts.  We must to reason, philosophize, or simply say God doesn’t exist but the fact remains that evidence to the contrary is everywhere.  If we were just animals, not made in His Image and moral creatures, none of those emotions would surface.  But they do come, hard and fast.  We can come up with theories, alternative fictional stories about the origin of man, or just simply deny that God exists, but the evidence of emotion to being wronged points to a moral Creator and a God who will hold us accountable to that evidence of His existence.

Further digression

I ask that you indulge me just a little bit longer.  At this point, you are wondering how I knew what type of culture this particular church had?  How did I know about how cold they were and about the gossiping and the lack of genuine concern for anyone outside of their little cliques?  And how did I know how most just vanished out the door before the echo of the song of benediction stopped ringing in the corners of the sanctuary?  I guess I will have to explain that.

I wasn’t hired in the usual way.  What happens is the church assembles a pulpit committee or a search committee in order to fill the senior pastor’s vacancy.  They gather a group of names, interview them and decide who they want to present before the congregation via a sermon.  Kind of like a working interview at that point.  He would preach, the congregation would ask him questions about what he believes and decide via a vote.  I was hired in a less conventional way.

You see, I was spending the summer in the town where my family vacationed in the summer.  It was up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a beautiful part of the state.  Well, I was a year removed from Gordon Conwell seminary.  I had interviewed at some small churches but always seemed to fall flat in my sermons.  I was spending time at the summer place of my parents when the nearby church had an emergency of sorts.  The pastor had taken ill.  He had let a cough progress into mono.

The people in the church were familiar with me because this was the church that was our home away from our home church, so to speak.  Well, now they were in a bind so they asked me to fill in while the regular pastor recovered.  I said not a problem.  And I did pretty well and I suppose it was because there was no pressure on me.  I knew I was not interviewing for the position so I felt free to speak and to preach, and essentially practice for a later position in the ministry.  So I gave everything into each sermon.  Because of that time I grew quickly and became more proficient in my preparation and presentation.

Now it during this time that an elder of my church happened to hear me preach while on vacation.  He didn’t speak to me other than when he was leaving when I greeted everyone as they left.  It wasn’t much, just a hello and he commented that it was nice sermon from a young preacher.  I said thank you and he left.  It was about a month later I saw him again and he had about a dozen other people with him.  I didn’t think anything of it.  My sermon that day was taken from the third chapter of Romans.  I had started my summer in the first chapter of Romans.

After the service the group hung around for the after church dinner.  The elder who had come before had asked if I could spend some time with him and the other people with him.  So I said sure, just let me mingle with the members of the church first and then we could have the whole rest of the afternoon.  So I did, spent time talking to the people and they waited.  Some talked with the members of the church and some of the church came over to talk to them.

Anyway, it finally came time to sit down with them.  As it turns out, I sort of interviewed with them that day.  The elder had brought the other elders and the search committee to hear me preach.  It was backwards, sermon first and interview second, but it worked best that way.  I am terrible at interviews.  And they were interested in taking me on as their new senior pastor.  They wanted a younger person who bring a little bit of passion and fire to his sermons.

I asked for a day or two to think it over and seek some advice.  I went over to the pastor’s house, the sick one, the next day.  He was almost fully recovered and ready to return to the pulpit.  He missed it but he needed the time off.  Anyway, I talked to him about it and he made a suggestion.  He suggested that I take the position on the condition that I be able to attend the church for ten weeks as a parishioner to observe the culture of the congregation.  They agreed.

So, that’s how I knew about the church and how I knew about the culture I was walking into.

I must digress

I apologize if what I am relating to you about my story seems to be all over the place.  My thoughts have been scattered a little.  I have had time to think as I sit in this room and I tend to write my thoughts down as I write them.  From this point I will make an effort to try to keep the events in chronological order and elaborate where I feel it is needed.  My story is an interesting one and I really think people need to hear it.  But I want people to hear it not because it is my story but because it is something the Lord did through me.  It was a lesson I learned and everyone needs to read.

Now what I have written up to this point is in relative order.  I did see that the church began to grow as members began to reach out to people they didn’t really know.  This wasn’t limited to new people who came to a service.  This also meant people who they have seen at church many times before but just never talked to them.  It was amazing to me that so many of the original hundred or so members were still essentially strangers.  They exchanged greetings and such but they didn’t know much beyond their names and what type of car they drove (funny, people always seem to notice and remember what type of car others drive as if it really was a matter of importance).  They had never been to each other’s houses or anything.

What I originally found disturbing was the amount of gossiping that went on in the church.  There were groups of couples and families, cliques if you will, and they would gossip about people they barely knew in passing, and speak as if they were an authority on the topic.  Most of what they talked about was hearsay and rumors, and only half true.  Nobody went to the target of the gossip to get the real story.  Why?  I presume it was more fun to talk about it amongst their friends and speculate on the circumstances, and then add their own commentary.  It was sad and pathetic, and completely wrong in light of what I knew about what the bible said about gossip and the community of believers.

I know we are supposed to be a family, and families gossip.  But a church family should learn to rise above the gossip and bring to those who are the target of the gossip a sense of support, love and acceptance.  I believe that when we gossip about someone we are actually rejecting that person as a valuable person.  I suppose one could argue that Jesus sounded like He was gossiping when He warned His disciples about the Pharisees and scribes, but what He said in private was tame compared to what He said to the Pharisees in public.

Needless to say, atmosphere in the church was one that was considered somewhat cold and standoffish.  It was a culture that had to be changed, and in order to change it when I first got there I had to essentially shock them and get them to question, and squirm, their attitudes.  We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are to be as one body and one family.  Not as a blood related family that remembers all offenses, slight and immense, and brings them up or allows them to taint relationships.

How do I know that this was the culture in the church?  In order to tell you that I must digress a little bit further.