Many years ago in a church far away, I went to visit one of my church members. Interesting man. Very small. Wiry frame. A farmer. He lived way out a dirt road in a small neat home. Sparse furnishings, but everything that you needed. No clutter in the house at all. Shotgun leaning up in the corner. And I went to see him because I had heard that he was angry with another church member. The shotgun worried me a little bit, because he was really mad. And I was new there, and I wondered, "What had just happened. I'd better go see this man. I'll keep my eye on the shotgun." He was red in the face, and he was just steaming. "How can we have a man like him on our church books! (Oh boy. This is going to be fun.) John told me that he would be here on Tuesday to plow my field and he didn't show up till Thursday. And he had the nerve to get mad at me when he finally showed up and I told him that I had already had it plowed on Wednesday by somebody by somebody that's more responsible! He is a liar and I think we should drop his name from the church books!" I saw that we had a situation that needed some attention. So I decided to fish for some more facts. "When did this happen? This week or last week?" "No, it was back in 1970." I was dealing with a grudge that was nearly two decades old and was still as fresh as if it had just happened! This man had been thrown a curve ball by another church member and had never gotten over it. He had allowed it to rule his life. For years he was bitter, because of one act of another church member. He died a few years later and I never heard that he had ever laid the grudge to rest. His life was full of anger and bitterness and it showed on his face and it showed on how he treated others.
Not as long ago and in a church not as far away, there was a lady that was constantly criticizing everything that the church did. "Our church is Babylon. Our church is going down the tubes. Our church is this. Our church that. Have you read what the church just put out? I can't believe they would publish such a thing. Can you believe what our church board just did? I never heard of such a thing!" On and on and on. If she was not in charge, it was not good enough! If things did not go her way, she let you know about it for months. She always had a bitter, ugly look on her face and I found myself secretly wondering what had ever attracted her husband to her. As I was visiting her home one day, a small house in the city, I saw a black and white picture in a frame on the shelf. She had gone into the kitchen to take care of the dog (which she had stepped on the day before, by the way). This picture caught my attention because the lady in the photo could have easily been a model. She was gorgeous. The look on her face was appealing. She walked back in the living room and saw me looking at her pictures. "Who is in this picture?" I asked. "Oh Pastor," she said, "That's me." Well, I saw what had attracted her husband to her, but what happened? If that is what years of bitterness can do your outward appearance, what can it do to the insides?
How does one handle the curve balls of church life? Keep your eyes on Jesus. And then you learn how better how to treat one another. This sermon brings to a close the series on the "One Another" texts in the Bible.
Handling the curve balls of church life is a four step program. Step one is found in Romans 15:5-7. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Accept one another, just as Jesus accepted you. If we truly believe that Jesus would have died for any one of us, than how can we not be accepting of each other. Each of us is of infinite value in God's for some reason.
So how can we, who are infinitely beneath God, think less of someone who is different or thinks differently than we do? When we accept one another and realize that God is in control of His church that He loves, it solves a whole heap of church issues. It brings unity. If we don't believe that God is in control of His church, then we become critical of the church and each other. I heard a sermon once titled "Don't Beat the Bride." Who is the bride of Christ? You know what? I am of the personality that you can beat up on me all you want, but you had better not say something about my wife. I think Jesus is the same way. You notice that when He was on earth, He took all kinds of abuse, but when he saw people abusing His father's house, he got violent. He cleaned it out. Don't mess with My Father. And I think He feels the same way about His bride.
A story is told about a soldier who was finally coming home after having fought in Vietnam. He called his parents from San Francisco. "Mom and Dad, I'm coming home, but I have a favor to ask. I have that a friend I'd like to bring home with me." "Sure," they replied. "We'd love to meet him." "There's something you should know," the son continued. "He was hurt pretty badly in the fighting. He stepped on a land mine and lost an arm and a leg. He has nowhere else to go, and I want him to come and live with us."
"I'm sorry to hear that, son. Maybe we can help him find somewhere to live." "No, Mom and Dad, I want him to live with us." "Son," said the father, "you don't know what you're asking. Someone with such a handicap would be a terrible burden to us. We have our own lives to live, and we can't let something like this interfere with our lives. I think you should just come on home and forget about this guy. He'll find a way to live on his own."
At that point, the son hung up the phone. The parents heard nothing more from him. A few days later, however, they received a call from the San Francisco police. Their son died after falling from a building, they were told. The police believed it was suicide. The grief-stricken parents flew to San Francisco and were taken to the city morgue to identify the body of their son. They recognized him, but to their horror they also discovered something they didn't know their son had only one arm and one leg.
The parents in this story are not unlike many of us. We find it easy to love those who are good-looking or fun to have around, but we don't like people who inconvenience us or make us feel uncomfortable. We would rather stay away from people who aren't as healthy, beautiful, or smart as we are, or think the way that we do. Thankfully, God doesn't treat us that way. God loves us with an unconditional love that welcomes us into a family, His family, regardless of how messed up we are. And then the transformation can begin in our lives. Sometimes we think that we must be transformed before we come to Christ. If that were the case, then none of us could ever come to Christ, because He is the one that transforms us.
Step two is found in Galations 6:1,2. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. [Did you here that? I love that. It doesn't say anything about condemning or running him out. It says to restore him gently.] But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Bear one another's burdens to fulfill the law of Christ. What is the law of Chris? What does Paul say it was? The law of Christ is to love one another. Bearing one another's burdens is a way to love one another. Too often we meet each other in the store or the church lobby. "How are you?" Do we really want to know? "I'm fine, thank you." Do we really trust each other with the truth? It almost sounds like the Psychiatric Hotline. Have you ever called that?
"Welcome to the Psychiatric Hot Line.
Are we this impersonal to each other's needs? Do we treat one another as if they were part of our own body? When one part of my body is hurting, the rest of it takes notice. When you stub your toe, the rest of your body stops what it was doing and where it was going. The whole body reacts and starts jumping around. And finally it pulls the sock off and says "What happened to you down there?" And you massage the bruised toe for a while until it feels better. Should it be any different in the body of Christ? When one of the least of these is hurting that we stop what we are doing and take notice. And do what we can to bear their burden for a while. It is easy to be speaking to someone in pleasant conversation and not know of a huge crisis looming in their life. Sometimes it is hard to know what each other's burdens are.
Andy and Debbie Aho are Adventist missionaries to the Masai people in Kenya. It was this couple that hosted my family last year as we visited their mission camp. Debbie likes to go for a jog around the little grass runway near her tent every morning and watch the sunrise. It is usual for zebra and various species of antelope to scurry from her approach. In the dim light she recognizes bushes that she was once suspicious of, thinking they were wild animals. All is familiar now and peaceful--until some unusual shapes loom up before her. She is face to face with elephants, two adults, two young. The following is the rest of the story, told in her own words that she emailed to friends.
"I am shocked. I am horrified. They are maybefifty feet in front of me and they see me. What happens next takes place in a matter of seconds. I think that I might be able to stand still and back up slowly. But they are running at me. I can't stand still; I have to run and hide. I hope that if I plunge behind the nearest bush they will leave me alone. They are screaming at me. I'm crouched behind the prickly branches of a mid size bush, deep in the grass, and they are stamping around looking for me. I look up and see a huge elephant head, her trunk swinging, her tusks only a few feet from me, and I know that I will be killed if I stay there. I cry out, 'O God, I'm going to be killed.' I cannot believe that my life is going to end this way. I am on a morning walk, I am not anticipating danger. The mission group is there asleep in their tents. Maybe I am just asleep and this is all a nightmare, but I can't wake up no matter how much I want to. I am shocked that I am here in a bush with screaming, stamping elephants intent on killing me.
"I wonder if I should curl up in a ball to protect my heart and lungs. Stories of elephant attacks flood my memory and I know that this situation does not end well. Expecting the worse, I decide to run. I run towards a tall tree that might provide me some protection. As I run I see that camp is nearby. Why oh why does not someone realize the danger I am in and come help me. I run fast. Maybe because of the darkness the elephants don't see me leave the bush right away. For whatever reason, I gain on the tree before they catch me, but they are fast behind. From behind the wide tree trunk I watch in horror as they stampede towards the tree. They will kill me against the tree. There are no other places I can run to. As they come at me I instinctively round the tree. I have no plan, I am shocked this is happening, I have no way to save myself. I realize with certainty that I am about to be killed by angry elephants.
"I cry out, 'Lord save me.' I hear that cry ringing in my ears even now as I write this. I press against the tree and circle. Suddenly I find that the tree has a large crevice in its trunk and I slip into it. The elephants have not quite rounded the tree to where I am so they don't see me do it. As I slip in I could reach out and touch the hind quarters of the second adult. It all happens so fast. The elephants are confused and are stamping around in the grass looking for me. And, I stand pressed into the crevice for a long time. Eventually they make their way from the tree to the edge of the forest. I watch from the tree trunk, fearful that if I leave they will see me walking down the runway and will return to kill me. When they are finally out of sight, I leave the tree.
"As I walk down the runway Andy is coming at me, jogging. He is totally unaware of what just happened. I stop him and about collapse as I tell him the story. This is Not like 'I could have been killed," but "I was going to be killed and something happened and I lived.' Later I come to the lodge to put out breakfast. A woman greets me with, 'Hey someone saw elephants near camp, isn't that neat? 'Amazing,' I say. Another says, 'Boy there were elephants around and I missed them. Bummer.' Bummer for you I think. I saw them.
"It was a horrible experience. I believe that God saved me, that He led me to that tree and tucked me into it. I am okay but am fragile inside.
"I am finding it hard to concentrate but I've managed to put out meals and appear relaxed. I have decided to modify my morning routine.
This event happened on Monday, March 14, 2005. Just as she appeared relaxed and unhurt after the attack, many that we meet are walking with internal scars that we can't see, experiences that we cannot imagine. What can we do to help bear their burdens? As I first read this email, I thought, "When we see what is happening on the front lines of the Gospel Commission, it can put our own issues in their proper perspective."
Step three is found in James 5:16. Therefore confess your sins to each other...
What does it mean to confess our sins to one another? This "one another" text is in the context of seeking physical healing. But I believe that its counsel is valid for spiritual healing as well. This does not mean that we should go around telling everyone our sins, just laying it on the line all the time. "Well, do you know what I just did?" I remember when we'd go to Week of Prayer meetings, and some pastor would get up and say, "I did drugs and I did all this. But the Lord finally saved me." I've thought about that. I don't think we should lay all that stuff out there. It can almost become a temptation. Like the three friends who were out fishing in a boat. After a couple hours without so much as a nibble, they were starting to get bored. One man said, "I've got an idea, let's be totally honest with each other and confess our worst sin. I'll go first. I have a big problem with the sin of lust. I've been cheating on my wife for over a year. I just can't seem to control myself." The second man said, "As long as we're being honest with each other, I'll tell you what my problem is. It's the sin of greed. I just can't get enough money, so I've been embezzling funds from my company for years. I just can't seem to control myself." The third man said, "Well, my problem is the sin of gossip. Not only can't I control myself, I can't wait to get home!" Be careful who we confess out sins to!
The sins we confess to each other are the ones that we committed against that particular individual. All sins are to be confessed to God. The implication of this text is that a person is also to receive forgiveness when he confesses. How forgiving are we? How many of us need forgiveness?
In his short story, "The Capitol of the World," Ernest Hemingway tells the story of a Spanish father and his teenage son. The relationship between father and son became strained and eventually shattered. When the rebellious son whose name was Paco, a common Spanish name ran away from home, his father began a long and arduous search to find him. As a last resort, the exhausted father placed an ad in a Madrid newspaper, hoping that his son would see the ad and respond to it. The ad read, "Dear Paco, Please meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. Love, Father." As Hemingway tells the story, the next day at noon, in front of the newspaper office, there were 800 Pacos, all seeking forgiveness from their fathers. Who needs forgiveness?
Step four in handling the curve balls of church life is also found in James 5:16. And pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Step fou, also found in this same verse: James 5:16. Pray for one each other that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Is that true? Pray for one another. I'm not talking about a pastor I knew from England. He was pastoring a neighboring church. And we were sitting and having a conversation getting to know the pastors in the community. We were also sharing some of the issues in the church. How do we deal with troublemakers and so forth. His counsel to me was: "When I enter a new church, my wife figures out who the old trouble makers are and then she gets on her knees and prays that the Lord will lay them to rest, and He does." I imagine that the members of his church are praying as well that they don't get on the bad side of the pastor's wife!
This afternoon is a memorial service for my Aunt Alice. In her Bible was found her prayer list. It was extensive! This could explain why she had so many friends. That's what I'm talking about. It is hard to have enemies when you are praying for everyone, isn't it? Aren't you a lot more forgiving of somebody who you are talking to God about on your knees? If you don't see eye to eye with a fellow saint, start praying for him. Something will change. It may even be you!
If we spent more time in prayer and less time trying to fix the problems of the church, more problems would be fixed:
The curve balls of church life become soft pitches that can be knocked out of the park. When we do these things by the grace of Jesus, we discover that it's not all about me. It's about Him and it's about one another.
Major Sources: Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks by Youth Specialties
Hymn of Praise: #171, Thine is the Glory Scripture: Romans 15:5-7 Hymn of Response: #505, I Need the Prayers
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last updated May 1, 2005 by Bob Beckett.