The Night They Tried to Fire the Preacher…

church fights

We moved away from the ranch when my mother married my step-father.  For ten years, I lived in Largo, an exploding suburb of St. Petersburg.  It was at the First Baptist Church of Largo that I made my profession of faith and was baptized.

Because Baptists believe in the priesthood of believers, at that time baptized church members no matter their age could attend church conference and vote.  At eight years old, my vote carried the same weight as my parents.

I was a weird kid; church conference fascinated me.  Normally calm men would get red in the face as they struggled to hold back words.  I think I knew what words they wanted to say; I’d heard them in the cowpens.  Timid women would forget Paul’s injunction to keep silent in church and would stand up to lambast Deacons, Music Directors, and the Preacher’s wife.  If you didn’t have a dog in the fight, a Baptist business meeting in late 60’s was better than anything on television for raw entertainment value.

I must have been about eleven when I sat with Mama at a church conference one Wednesday night.  Pop was there too, which was unusual; that should have been my first clue that something was up.  Roy Attaway, a good friend of my parents went forward to make a motion declaring “no-confidence” in the preacher.  I’d never heard this phrase before.  I wasn’t sure what “no-confidence” meant, but I could tell by Mr. Roy’s tone, he didn’t like the preacher.

I leaned over to ask Mama what “no-confidence” meant and she shushed me.  When Mama shushed, she meant it.  So, I leaned over to my friend Charles Brown and whispered my question to him.  Before he could answer me, Mama grabbed my ear and yanked me back to her side (which is why to this day, my left ear lobe is longer than my right).

People got up and said nice things about the preacher, followed by people who got up and said not so nice things about the preacher.  As best I could follow, some folks were upset that the preacher always insisting on his way, and they didn’t like his way.  I looked at my parents and could tell by their nodding, they were on the side of people who didn’t like the way the Preacher was doing things.

When Baptists get up a head of steam, a church conference can last a long, long time.  The meeting had started at 6:30; it was drawing close to 9:30, way past my bedtime.  Still the entertainment value was high.  The drama was better than “The NBC Mystery Theater” on TV that night.

Someone finally called for the vote.  It was carefully explained by the Preacher (who was the moderator – awkward) that a “yes” vote meant a vote of “no-confidence,” and a “no” vote meant you approved of the preacher (Baptists would later go on to write many parts of the IRS tax code).  My parents raised their hands to vote “yes.”  It was then I realized I could vote too.

I didn’t particularly like the preacher, but I didn’t dislike him either.  To my eleven-year old mind, I knew he wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t think he ought to be fired.  It wasn’t like he was caught sniffing glue, or sneaking a peek at a Playboy.  It was just that he and the other grownups didn’t agree.  I understood that.  I didn’t agree with grownups very much either.

My mother reached over and tried to raise my hand for me.  I snatched it away.  When the vote for the “no’s” occurred, I raised my hand.  My mother gave a me look that said, “Wait till we get home, young man.”

As I recall the vote ended up failing by five votes.  On the way home, my mother said, “Why did you vote the same way Charles Brown voted?  Don’t you think I know more than he does?”  I recognized the danger in those questions, and wisely left them unanswered.  Then I spoke the truth, “I voted the way I voted because it seemed right to me.”

I mark that night as the first time I learned some people think church is about winning and losing.  Maybe my parents had a point; maybe the Preacher was a little hard-headed.  Still, I wondered then, and wonder now, why didn’t they just get together and talk about it?  Maybe even pray about it?  Why did it have to come down to winning and losing?

Too many churches make dumb decisions because they think every decision must have winners and losers.  Funny, I don’t remember Jesus talking much about winning and losing in the church.  I remember a lot of stuff about love, and serving, and making sure we follow Jesus.  Maybe if we stuck to that, we’d be a lot better off.

My parents are gone now; the Preacher in question is still alive and is my friend on Facebook; and First Baptist Largo no longer exists.  I myself narrowly escaped a group that wanted to fire me at a church in Kentucky for some reason or other.

Still, I think back to the night they wanted to fire the Preacher.  The biggest lesson I learned? You can be all grown up and still not really do what Jesus wants you to do.

 

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us…

Pogo Earth Day strip-8x6

How many more times must this be breaking news? A disgruntled former student, who was identified as a threat, took an AR-15 into his old school, opened fire, and killed seventeen.  They went to school that day, never dreaming it would their last day on earth.

The wearying debate renews between gun advocates and gun controllers.  Facebook fingers point in every direction.  We all want to find who to blame.  Was it the parents?  The school administration?  Teachers who failed to make a report about the troubled student?

What if the system didn’t break down?  What if the problem is the system itself?  What if the problem is the culture we are building?

Culture is a strange thing: it is built by what is accepted by the majority.  Choice by choice, the majority builds the culture it wants.  We may decry a culture of violence, but we still purchase video games that allow us to give virtual opponents a gory death.  Parents try hard not to warp their children and become so hands off they leave the souls of their children blank slates.  We push sex and technology onto our children before they have the wisdom to make good decisions.  It is easier to be carried by the tide than to fight against it.

Resisting what is accepted by the majority has always been God’s agenda.  God said to Noah, “I want you to resist this culture.  Build an ark.  Be foolish.  I’m going to save you.”  God said to his people in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, “You are not to be like the nations around you.  You are to be my people and follow my ways, my teaching.”  Jesus said, “I do not give you as the worlds gives.  Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The call to God’s people is the same: Resist the darkness.  Resist the violence.  Dare to parent your children like Jesus would, and risk being called the most unpopular parent in the world (you will survive).  Churches, invest in children and students.  Their homes are broken and they need to know God’s people love them and accept them.

Jesus followers, stop being entertained by violence.  It is not entertaining.  It is sending a message.  Hollywood says, “We’re only making movies people want to see.”  Let’s send a message back, “I don’t want to see that.”

Do you own a gun?  Make sure it’s locked so kids can’t get to it.  Own an AR-15?  Ask Jesus if that’s something you really need.  Even if he says “yes,” I’ll bet he also says, “Lock it up.”  You might say, “Nobody’s going to get my AR-15 and shoot up a school.”  That’s not the point.  The point is you should ask Jesus what he thinks.  Or do you trust Jesus only with heavenly matters and tell him to stay away from what you treasure?

I don’t know if Jesus followers can stem this tide of violence.  I don’t know if we can stop children from killing children.  But I know this: Jesus followers can live by a different culture, the culture of the Kingdom of God.  That’s where we’re supposed to be.

Years ago, Walt Kelly drew a cartoon of his character Pogo, looking at a trash filled swamp.  He said to his friend, Porcupine, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Look at the swamp of this violent culture.  Who trashed it?  We did.  Only Jesus can redeem it.  His church is to be his agent of redemption, people who say, we will not live by this culture of violence.  We will be different.

For Jesus followers, it’s time for the enemy to longer be us.  Stop aiding the cause of the enemy.  Let’s be citizens of a different kingdom, the kingdom of light, peace, joy, and powerful redemption – the Kingdom of God.

 

Missing Grace…

grace 

It’s so easy to miss grace.  We miss grace when:

  • We have to prove we are right about everything.
  • We don’t take time to understand people, especially the ones that ignite our anger.
  • We forget God made us with the capacity for peace.
  • We make decisions from the broken parts of our soul, not the healed parts of our soul.
  • We let our passions control us.
  • We never stop and ask “God, what is your purpose for my life?”
  • We make ourselves responsible for someone’s bitterness.
  • We make all battles personal.
  • We decide to fight fire with fire and get even.
  • We forget country wisdom: “Never get in a fight with a pig; you’ll get dirty and so will the pig, but the pig with enjoy it.”
  • We sell out, thinking money is more important than grace.

Hebrews 12:15a says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God…”

God’s people are to be people of grace.  God’s grace fills us and we share it with others.

How do we catch the grace of God?  We catch the grace of God when:

  • We realize it such a little thing for us to be right and everything for God to be right.
  • We seek to understand before we are understood (warning: this requires a mature soul).
  • We learn to be a peacemaker, which is the same as learning to be a child of God.
  • We let God heal all the brokenness of our souls, so our woundedness doesn’t wound others.
  • We give our passions to God and let Him control them.
  • We live out our God given purpose each day.
  • We refuse to own someone else’s issues; instead, we pray God’s peace for them.
  • We recognize most fights are about something besides what we are fighting about, so we seek to discover the real issue.
  • We let God handle making things even.
  • We stay out of the mud.
  • We prize grace above wealth, security, and status.

Wouldn’t you love to be part of a church, a group of God’s people, who daily catch the grace of God?

What are you doing to make church a place of grace?

Church Fights…

church fight

I’ve seen my share of church fights.  I’ve even been the subject of one or two.

I didn’t witness it first hand, but family legend has it that my Aunt Ouida and Mizz Eva Robertson nearly got in a wrestling match over the color of the carpet when my home church built a new building (my bet would have been on Aunt Ouida).

When I was ten, I remember sitting through a church business meeting when one of my parent’s friends made a motion of “No-confidence” in the pastor.  At ten, I thought he said, “The pastor has no car sense.”  He probably didn’t; but the motion failed.

When I went to college I was introduced to the whole idea of church splits.  In rural Alabama, every time someone got mad, they went down the road a piece and started another church.  They usually named it: “Unity.”

I am not making this up:  in one Alabama community, there was Old New Hope Baptist Church, New New Hope Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church #1, and New Hope Baptist Church #2.  All were splits off the original New Hope.  I wonder what was so important that they kept splitting?

I recently read about a pastor who was hit in the jaw during a church business meeting.  Thankfully, that’s never happened to me, although I’ve had to duck a few verbal swipes.

When you get to bottom of it, most church fights are about two things: prestige and power.  Someone wants recognition and feels hurt if they don’t get it.  Hurt people are like hurt dogs; they don’t just bark; they bite.

There are always folks in church that want power.  They are used to being in charge at work, so they want to be in charge at church.  More than once I’ve known men who were henpecked at home to throw their weight around at church.  I guess they needed to feel powerful in some area of life and it wasn’t going to be at home.

I imagine Jesus gets tired of his people fighting for prestige and power.  I imagine Jesus would say to his church, “Look, all the glory goes to the Father.  What part of that do you not get?  And why are you so intent on power in my church?  You do remember it’s my church, right?  I’m the one who gets to make decisions, not you.”  Maybe Jesus does speak that bluntly, but people who pursue prestige and power don’t listen to his voice.

Jesus, through his servant Paul, actually makes it clear believers need to fight.  Paul told his protégé Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith.”

What’s the good fight of faith?  The good fight of faith is to fight for what is right, not expedient.  The good fight of faith is to fight for everyone to be loved.  The good fight of faith is to fight for everyone to discover God’s way of life and live it.  The good fight of faith is to fight for a world that lives by values of humility, justice, and servanthood.

These fights, Paul said, cause you to take hold of eternal life.  In other words, fighting these fights gives you a life that matters.

I wonder if churches fight over prestige and power because they forgot they were supposed to fight a good fight of faith.  It’s easier, I suppose to fight over the color of the carpet, than to fight for the way of Jesus.

Still, wouldn’t be great to see a church fight break out over how to love each other like Jesus loved us?  I’d go to a church business meeting to see that fight.  Wouldn’t you?

Maybe that’s why so many churches are half empty on Sunday:  nobody wants to see another fight over prestige and power.  If you want to see that, just tune into CNN or Fox News.

Maybe every seat in church would be filled if we fought the good fight of faith – loving each other like Jesus loves us.