|Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 6:00 am
Two of the most dangerous words in a minister’s vocabulary are, “Yes, but…”These are also two of the most destructive words a congregation will ever utter. The order of their utterance is important.
First we say, “Yes. I agree. We agree. This is true and right.”
● It is right that people matter more than things. My marriage is my highest priority. My children deserve my full attention.
● It is right that personal morality matters. Yes, I should be honest and forthcoming with my spouse, my children and my employer.
● It is biblical and Christ-like to care for our community and all those in it who are in need. It is important, even essential, that we speak the truth in love.
● It is right that we should be flexible about all things that are not essentials of the faith. We agree that we should care for our staff and respect them.
● Yes, my body is the temple of God. Yes, gossip is wrong and expressly prohibited in Scripture.
The list of things to which we say “yes” is long and filled with a beautiful litany of assertions with which none can argue.
Then comes the second word, “but…”
● My spouse doesn’t appreciate me. My church takes advantage of me, and our staff is lazy. My children will understand that I have work to do.
● Talking about him or her behind their back feels right. If I spoke the truth, they might not like me. She is so hard to be nice to, why bother?
● I’ve worked hard today, so I deserve an extra dessert. My illness is more important than anything else on your agenda.
● We’ve got to take care of our own before we worry about those people out there. How dare you change the order of worship.
In short, the “yes, but…” approach reveals that we believe that we are an exception to the rule. We believe in the rule, the truth, the value; we just don’t think it applies to us.
Over many years of pastoral ministry, I’ve heard people explain away the most obscene actions, attitudes or intentions with these two words: “Yes, but…”
I continue to be astonished at our ability to make exceptions of ourselves.
Our ability to rationalize and justify our actions is profound. It is dark, demonic and at the root of much of the evil in congregational and clergy life.
We are quick to excuse ourselves and our behavior behind a stream of denial and blindness to our truth.
We talk ourselves into believing that what is right for everyone else somehow does not apply to us.
Congregations and clergy alike are infected by this insidious disease that eats away at the heart of who we are and our mission in the world.
If we do not face up to our actions, we run the risk of ruining our witness and thwarting the plans God has for us in the future.
What are we to do? Fortunately, the Bible is clear, and there are many who have walked this path back into God’s intentions.
First, we must confess.
Granted, it is much easier and enjoyable to confess the sins of others. They are so obvious and clear and numerous! However, our call to confession starts internally.
If you are not sure if you are guilty of this two-word sin, simply ask your spouse, children, colleagues or a trusted friend, “When and where do I say ‘yes, but…?’ How have I made an exception of myself?”
Then listen as non-defensively as possible, with no excuses or explanations allowed. Take your medicine.
Second is remorse and repentance.
Own your sin and turn away from it. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet, it will take all you have for the rest of your life to accomplish this move.
Along the way, you will discover that neither you nor your congregation can accomplish this in your own strength.
What is necessary is a profound sense of our helplessness and inability to manage ourselves.
Third, we turn to the good news of grace; we throw ourselves and our flaws and foibles upon the mercy and grace of God.
What we cannot do for ourselves, God does in us, with us and through us. That forgiveness frees us from the illusion of perfection. No longer do we believe we are an exception to God’s truth.
Now that we have been humbled and shown the truth about ourselves, we no longer find it necessary to excuse or defend our actions or pretend to be perfect. We know our tendencies to rationalize and justify.
We have those around us who help us see ourselves as we truly are. We are on the journey toward spiritual health as a congregation and as a minister. There is hope for us.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
At the NusicCares Person of the Year Event honoring him on Friday, February 6, Bob Dylan expressed gratitude to 9 groups that helped him along the way. He expressed great thanks to Peter, Paul and Mary who made “Blowing in the Wind,” a hit. He then mentioned The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny and Cher, Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers, Nina Simone, Jimmy Hendrix, and Joan Baez. He lavished praise on Johnny Cash. Johnny saw that people were putting me down and he came to my defense. “I’ll always cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days.”
During this week of Valentine’s Day, we can follow his lead and thank those who have helped us along the way. If a great talent like Bob Dylan can express gratitude to those who made his career take flight, we can take the time to thank those who have helped us.
Think of your last accomplished whether it is big or small. Who helped you? Who was there to cheer you on? Who paved the way? Have you thanked any or all of them?
Rome, Jan 25: Pope Francis has laid out his formula for fostering Christian unity: resist competing for souls and make concrete gestures of acceptance and dialogue. Francis celebrated vespers today evening in a Rome basilica along with Anglican, Orthodox and other church leaders to cap an annual week of prayer for unity of Christians. He told the church leaders that “our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms.”
Francis said getting to know “those who are different from ourselves can make us grow.” He also cautioned about “subtle theoretical discussions in which each side tries to convince the other.” Referring to Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and elsewhere, Francis described their suffering as a kind of “ecumenism of blood.”
I have a mighty pen I prefer over any other pen. I carry it with me always. When someone offers me a pen to sign a document or a payment slip, I pull out my mighty pen and sign it. I like the way my name looks on the paper. It is bold and clear. My name pulsates on the page when I write it with this pen.
I am careful signing my name. I am proud of my name and the family heritage it represents. I love my family and using the right pen to sign my name, and to declare my identity and heritage, is an important part of personhood for me.
In a Bible study group I teach regularly is a certified handwriting expert. He is always making insightful comments about my writing on the whiteboard in our classroom. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I disagree. Sometimes I like what he says and sometimes I do not. When I really want him to analyze my handwriting, I pull out my mighty pen and write on a piece of paper.
My mighty pen is not an expensive pen. It is not a cheap pen. It is a pen purchased either online or at a big box office supply store. Finding refills is not always easy. When I cannot find them, I just buy more pens with the cartridge already in them. I have a desk full of them. Periodically one breaks, and I reluctantly throw it away.
I do not have a sword. A gun. Or other weapons. I do not need one. I have a pen. And, the pen is mightier than the sword. My pen empowers me to write words and craft documents that illuminate the living Word of God and the Church on earth, which is undeniably mightier than the sword. If any sword is at play through my pen, it is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
Those who have only a sword, rather than a pen, are like Lucy of Peanuts cartoon fame. I remember cartoons where Charlie Brown or Linus–take your pick–were trying to answer one of her impossible questions or dilemmas. Then all of a sudden she cocks her fist and goes “POW” as she hits him. She then turns to us and says, “I had to hit him. He was beginning to make sense.”
Sword bearers and their fighters do not have a pen. They cannot write the words that express their feelings. When they disagree, they slash someone. Rather than working at putting words together that form powerful ideas, they believe executing those with whom they disagree will silence their pen. It will not.
This fact was proven again recently in Paris, France as so-called Islamic radicals failed to silence the pen of Charlie Hebdo. I do not necessarily have any affirmation for the satire of Charlie Hebdo, but I do defend the mighty nature of the pen and the freedom of expression. If I do not give others that freedom, I cannot claim it for myself.
What is sad about the attacks in France is that the Islamic prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr”.
Some people of Islamic faith are like some Christians. They scan the scriptures they consider holy to find the part with which they agree. They look for justifications of what they desire to be and do anyway. They contradict love with hate. They oppose grace in favor of judgment.
As Jesus taught us, “Those who take up the sword, shall perish by the sword.” [Matthew 26:52 NASB]. May we always be people who follow the written and living Word of God. May we be grateful that the stories of the drama of redemption were put into writing using the pens of those times. May we embrace the Word of God to be living within and among us for the creation and sustaining of a world of unconditional love.
Dr. David Dockery is the featured speaker for the 20th. Annual John A. Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston on January 18 and 19. His theme is “Worship Then and Now.”
Dr. Don Gardner, an alumnus of Union University, will introduce Dr. Dockery at 5p.m. on Sunday January 18. Special music will be provided by David Templeton, Minister of Music. A book signing and reception will follow.
Dr. Doug Hunter, Executive Director of the Whitfield Center for Christian Leadership at Charleston Southern University will introduce the speaker on Monday, January 19 at 10a.m. A question and answer period will follow both lectures.
Dr. Dockery is currently the president of Trinity International University. Previously he served for 18 years as president of Union University (Baptist) in Jackson, Tennessee. He has also served as Chief Academic Officer at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he was Professor of Theology and New Testament. He is the author or editor of more than thirty books including: Renewing Minds, Faith and Learning, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, Christian Leadership Essentials, and Great Traditions of Christian Thinking. He served on the Board of Christianity Today International. For Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Dr. Dockery earned degrees from The University of Alabama/Birmingham, Grace Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Texas University System.
The Lectureship is presented free to the public to honor the work of Dr. John A. Hamrick, who served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston for 29 years and was the founding president of what is now Charleston Southern University. It is supported by contributions.
First Baptist Church, the oldest Baptist congregation in the South, is located on lower Church Street. The parking is located at 48 Meeting Street just across from the Russell House. The public is invited to attend. For further information contact Lori Lethco at 843-722-3896 ext. 22 or consult the church web site at www.fbcharleston.org.