Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Sometimes it helps to put our troubles into perspective. Let me share a memory from many years ago. As a young pastor just beginning a family, I served several churches as pastor on a small salary. My wife Mary and I had some financial struggles, but we were happy, getting by living in a mobile home nicely furnished at one church, and later a larger pastorium, although we sometimes didn’t have the money to refill the butane heater. Our first child, Melissa, was born. Money was tight, but God provided. Eventually, I decided God was calling me to return to New Orleans Baptist Seminary and work on a doctoral degree.
Those days in seminary working on my doctorate were especially difficult times financially. I gave up my church position as pastor to dedicate myself to study, and I took a job on campus working for the grounds crew three days a week, so I could be in class and study the other days. I also worked as a grader for the professor, but that paid very little. My income was even less than when I worked for a church, even with Mary working. We stretched the money every way that we could.
One December day during this time, I got a call from the church there in New Orleans where we were members. They wanted me to pick up a Christmas gift for a needy seminary student family. I was so excited, because I thought that must be for my family. I arrived at the church, and they gave me the name and address of a student family in my apartment building. My heart dropped, but I dutifully took the gifts of food, gift cards and other presents, and went to the door of the family and knocked. When they opened the door, I was shocked– the family had an apartment full of kids, and had almost no possessions inside. They were so much worse off than me and Mary and Melissa. It put things in perspective, and I rarely felt sorry for myself again. I was thankful for what I had.
We all have a choice, to look down at our problems, or look up at our God, the Lord who provides (Genesis 22:14). As the apostle Paul wrote, “Set your minds on things above, not earthly things” (Colossians 3:1). A poet put it this way: “Two men looked out prison bars/ One saw mud, one saw stars.” It all depends on your perpsective, so let’s look up and be thankful for what we have.
Are you ticked off? Angry? Has something made you hot under the collar? In John 9, the Bible tells the story of how Jesus healed a man who was born blind, but instead of people celebrating, he got nitpickers, wound lickers, goodness sakers… and finally, an arm waver. Compare your own attitude with theirs:
1. Nitpickers (John 9:14-16)
The Pharisees nitpicked about how Jesus supposedly “worked” on the Sabbath because he made some mud with His saliva, touched a blind man’s eyes, and healed him. The Jewish Mishnah did not allow kneading dough on the Sabbath, and so in their minds, what Jesus did qualified as a violation. Never mind that a blind man could now see! Nitpickers love to burst the balloons of our celebrations, observing at a wedding that the bride needs to lose weight, criticizing a child for not making all A’s on his report card, complaining about the songs we sing at church. Don’t be a nitpicker!
2. Wound lickers (John 9:18-19)
The Pharisees could not leave well enough alone. They summoned the man’s parents to know if he was really born blind and how he received his sight. They wanted to expose some imaginary wrong. Wound lickers refuse to let others or themselves heal. The husband who always brings up his wife’s past mistakes, the woman who says after a divorce that she will never trust a man again, or the church member who says he’ll never go back to the church because nobody called when he was sick, are all examples of wound lickers. Scarred by emotional wounds, we cannot heal if we continue to lick them and gnaw at them. Don’t be a wound licker!
3. Goodness sakers (John 9:28)
Finally, the Pharisees crossed their arms, and looked down their noses, ridiculing Jesus and the man He healed. They said, “We know that God has spoken to Moses. But this man– we don’t know where He’s from!” Ray Stevens had a humorous song, “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” with a character named Sister Bertha Better-than-You. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sisters and brothers like Bertha in our churches, putting their hands on their hips and declaring, “For goodness sake, who let those people in here?” Being a goodness saker is the greatest temptation of church members, and it is the biggest turnoff to the lost. For goodness sake, don’t be a goodness saker!
4. Arm wavers (John 9:38)
It’s stunning that this story is almost over before somebody finally celebrates. The arm waver is the man who was healed of blindness. It progressively comes to him throughout the chapter, as he realized just who Jesus is. He calls Jesus a “man” (v. 11), then a “prophet” (v. 17), then recognizes Jesus as a life changer (v. 25), then a “man from God” (v. 33), and finally he calls Him “Lord” (v. 38) and does a full body wave, worshiping at Jesus’ feet. He challenges the nitpickers and goodness sakers, reminding them that nobody in history has healed a man born blind. He declared, “Whether or not He’s a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (v. 25).
How we need arm wavers. These are the people who cheer for their child’s Little League team when they down by ten runs, and praise the grandchildren for their creative coloring (even though they colored on the wall). They are the ones who jump up and shout when someone trusts in Christ and is baptized. In heaven, nobody will be nit picking (“I don’t like my mansion”), wound licking (“I see your husband didn’t make it”), or goodness saking (“I’ve got a better mansion than you”), but all will be arm waving before the throne of God. So if that’s what we’ll do in heaven, why don’t we live like that on earth?
“How is your day going?” asks a friend.
How do you answer that question? Many people let circumstances beyond their control determine their answer to that question. If they are sick, or the weather is bad, or somebody has treated them poorly, then they decide it’s a bad day. But if their health is improving, or the weather is nice, or somebody was kind to them, then they decide it’s a good day. The problem with that approach to life, is that it allows other people to decide for us what kind of day we are having!
God’s Word teaches us a better way. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” says Psalm 118:24. “Give thanks in everything,” we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Really? Everything? How can I give thanks for cancer or a loved one who is dying? Notice scripture does not say to give thanks for everything, but to give thanks in everything. We can give thanks to God despite our troubles, because God often works through our troubles for good, and because, as bad as things may seem, we still have many blessings around us. Many of the psalms list reasons to give thanks. Read Psalm 103, 136, and 138, and you will see what I mean.
A pastor in Illinois was grieving the death of his father. His father always had a thankful attitude. But his son didn’t feel that way. He missed his Dad terribly. His mother told her son that during the war in Korea, his father was depressed one day, and went up on a mountain. On the mountain, God spoke to his heart in prayer. He decided right there, in the midst of war, to make it his daily habit to count his blessings. It changed his life. As the mother told her son this story, they came across an old photograph of the pastor’s father in his Army t-shirt in Korea. He had a happy smile. His mother pointed to something in the background. It was a mountain. “That,” she said, “was where your father counted his blessings.”
Someone wisely said,
Count your blessings instead of your crosses;
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count your joys instead of your woes;
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears;
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean;
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth;
Count on God instead of yourself.
As Christians, we are able to do that, because we have the greatest blessing of all, the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s blessing number one! Start there, and keep counting. On a mountain in Korea, a soldier decided to count his blessings. When and where will you do and I do the same?
If you are looking for a resource for your church’s new member class, this is a book you will want to read.
Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, has written I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. It is a short book that can easily be read in one sitting, but it has the potential of making a big impact in local churches.
The book opens with a story about two members of the same church with completely opposite attitudes about church. Then he zooms in on the Biblical attitude members should have in six short chapters, based on Rainer’s extensive research in attitudes among church members. These chapters teach members to be active, bring unity, avoid the tendency to insist on personal preferences, pray for leaders, lead their own families to be involved, and to treasure church membership as a gift. The main point of the book is that church membership is not like a country-club membership with perks and privileges.
There are some churches that reject the term “membership,” saying it is an unbiblical modern term. Rainer disagrees, pointing out that 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 speaks of the “individual members” of the church. Rather than reject the term, Rainer seeks to give a Biblical definition of the term “membership.” He emphasizes that Biblical church membership is a treasured gift, just as our salvation is a gift, and thus we should serve in our churches gladly, not begrudgingly.
One of the strengths of this little book is that each chapter includes a pledge of loyalty for members to make. This requires the reader to respond to the challenge of the book. Each chapter also includes discussion questions, making this book an outstanding resource for small group or one-on-one study for church members, both new and old.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
A Baptist pastor accepted the call to a church in Sledge, Mississippi. The day that he moved in, a 90-year-old woman drove up and greeted him in his driveway. “I’m Mrs. Irby,” she said. “I was a Presbyterian until my husband died, then I went back to the Methodist Church. But I don’t ever intend on coming to your church. I just came by to say welcome to the community.” With that, she drove off, spinning wheels and throwing dirt and rocks all over the new pastor.
So the pastor was surprised months later, when Mrs. Irby showed up one Sunday morning at the Baptist church. Early in the service, the pastor asked everybody to stand and greet one another. Mrs. Irby started to head out the door. The Baptists asked her where she was going, and she said, “In my church, when you stand, it’s time to go.” They helped her back to her pew to stay for the rest of the service. The pastor began to preach, and Mrs. Irby shouted loudly to the young lady beside her, “When is he ever gonna quit?” The congregation chuckled, and the pastor wrapped up his sermon quickly. Mrs. Irby stood to go. As she greeted the pastor at the door, she said, “The only reason I came here today is that the Methodists didn’t have church because their pipes busted. But I didn’t get a thing out of your sermon. Next time I’ll have to remember to bring my hearing aids.” And with that, she was out the door, never to return.
Which reminds me: you only get out of church what you put into it. The psalmist says, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” (Psalm 100:2, 4, ESV). Come to church with a prayer in your heart, a smile on your face, a Bible in your hand, and if you need them, glasses on your eyes and hearing aids in your ears, so that you don’t miss what God wants to say to you.