Friday, November 23, 2012

Complaining Preachers - Complaining Church Members

I finally finished reading Joyce Meyer's Battlefield of the Mind (which I highly recommend) and have started reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together as part of my morning devotions and prayer time. I read this little book years ago, but had forgotten how powerful it was. Below is something that just jumped out at, rather it screamed at me.....and I want to share it here in hopes of getting some feedback and reaction. The section is a little long, but worth reading. Especially reading it slowly, so that what this saint is telling us can sink in.

   “Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even when there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our  fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ . 
   This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men. When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him in to this predicament. But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray to God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God.
   Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases. 
   Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it."

Bonhoeffer said earlier in his book that some love their idea of Christian community more than the community itself, and that when this happens, that person begins to destroy the community. It reminds of the old Peanuts cartoon where Linus says "I love mankind. It's people I cannot stand!" Until we learn to love people first, as Christ loves us, then we will always be complaining. Whether we are preachers, congregation members, or folks who have given up on the church.

Here's my prayer today- O God, let me love the people, not my idea of what they should be. And thank you for loving me so much, that while I was yet a sinner, you sent Christ for me. Amen."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Let those with ears to hear, listen- A Meditation on Starbucks and Listening to God

For several years Joel, a friend of mine, and I met each other at 5:30 each morning in downtown Columbia. We would walk for for an hour and a half, talking as we walked. The first hour we would settle all the problems of the world, which, like the mercies of God, are new every morning. The last half hour we would figure out where to eat breakfast.

We would usually stop by one of two coffee shops in the Five Points area- Drip, a locally owned one, and Starbucks. We got to know the baristas at both places really well. One of the ones at Starbucks, a muscular, jolly man with dreadlocks was our favorite. Since we were there before many of the early-birds, knew us fairly well. One morning he offered us his favorite drink- a large iced coffee with an extra shot of espresso, sugar-free vanilla, and cream. Not half-and-half, not milk, but cream. It was great, and quickly became one of my favorites.

The problem is, when I go to any other Starbucks and ask for that, they cannot hear me. For example, this week I stopped by the local store and the woman behind the counter asked what I wanted. "Large iced coffee, extra shot of espresso, sugar-free vanilla, real cream," I said. She said back to me, "Large iced-coffee with half-and-half." "No, ma'am," I said, then repeated my order. "Oh," she said, "large iced coffee, extra shot, sugar free vanilla, and milk." "No, ma'am," I said again, then repeated my order. She looked at me as if I had spoken Vulcan or some unknown language. "I don't understand," she said. "You want a large iced-coffee, an extra shot, sugar-free vanilla, and milk." "Almost," I said. "Instead of milk, this is what I want," and I walked over to the prep area, leaned across the counter, pointed my finger at a container that had the word "CREAM" in big black letters on it. I wasn't getting mad, and I didn't raise my voice, and I certainly did not want to be rude. But I dod not know how else to put it. She punched something into the register, a slip came out, stuck it to a cup, and handed it to the woman preparing the coffee. She looked at it, started preparing the drink, and said, "2% milk, right?" "Nope," I said, and told her my order. She mixed a lot of things in the cup, handed it to me, and said, "Is this right?" "Close, but no cigar." I did not ask her to redo the drink. This has happened to me several times, and each time I ask them to "make it right" (as their sign says) it still doesn't come out right. 

So I took the drink and walked back down the road to home.

I thought about this as I walked. The folks at Starbucks don't want to give me something other than what I ask for, they don't intentionally screw-up my order. They are nice people. But they are used to hearing certain things, and answering questions in certain ways. They already know what the answer from me should be.

And I wonder, how often is that true for me? How often does God speak to me, and I hear something different? How often do I read the Bible, already knowing what it's going to say (at least in my mind) and don't hear what it really says? How often do people tell me something, or ask me a question, and I just don't hear? Does God ever (figuratively) lean over the counter and point to someone, something, some Scripture,  and say "There. That one. That's what I'm talking about." And I wonder if I do something and God says "Close, but no cigar."

Jesus often ended his parables with these words, "Let those with ears to hear, hear." God, let that be true with me.