Peoples Talkin

“Peoples Talkin, Preacher!” Those were the first words out of Earl’s mouth when he walked into my office that afternoon. “Really? What are they talking about?” I asked. He responded, “I don’t recall.” “Well, who’s doing the talking?” I asked. He said, “I can’t remember, but they’re upset.” “Why are they upset?” I asked. To which Earl replied, “I’m not sure, but I thought you oughta know.”

“Earl, so you’re telling me that peoples talkin and they’re upset, but you don’t know exactly what they’re talking about, who’s doing the talking, or even why they’re upset?” “That’s correct,” he replied. I asked, “Why do you think I should know this when there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it?” He said, “Because peoples talkin, preacher. They’re not happy and I just thought you oughta know.”

Ghost chatter, that’s what I call it. It comes from those that hide behind vague concerns and mask their agendas though the voices of other people. When in reality they’ve simply had their feelings hurt because someone did something they didn’t agree with. When the words “I’m concerned” leaves someone’s lips without a detailed explanation, it’s typically a red flag that what’s to follow is coming from a place of personal offense. It’s a cowardice way to interact and certainly not the mark of a Christ-follower.

It’s all tied to leadership.

Leaders make decisions, pure and simple. They lead by example and try to bring everyone along. Good leaders are also courageous enough to admit when they’re wrong. Sometimes along the way trust is broken. A good leader will do anything in their power to restore brokenness in relationships. That doesn’t mean that all parties will submit to the restoration process. Nonetheless, a leader must keep their side of the road clean.

People’s feelings are going to get hurt as you lead. There’s no way around it. Not everyone is going to agree when it comes to direction. When people come together, it’s a beautiful thing. When they don’t, there’s really nothing anyone can do about it. My job has always been to do my very best at bringing everyone along, mending bridges when necessary, and always leaving the door open for anyone who wants to return at a later time.

I’ve experienced ‘people talkin’ on numerous occasions over the years. I’ve had people shake their fist in my face. I’ve witnessed people attempt to crawl over my desk while foaming at the mouth. Once a church member even gave me the middle finger at a stoplight (I just smiled and waved). I’ve had people listen through the walls during board meetings. I’ve endured people conducting secret meetings in an attempt to persuade decisions. I’ve had to dismiss staff members for causing division only to have them seek revenge by influencing people against me. I’ve withstood gossip, name-calling, insults, backbiting, and the list goes on… You name it and in twenty years, I’ve likely encountered it.

Let me tell you something about Earl. He loved Jesus. He was innocent. He was my friend. He was a man of integrity. When I preached his funeral I spoke with deep admiration for this man. I miss him. He was certainly one-of-a-kind. If you knew him, you know what I mean.

Like Earl, we all have the capacity to get caught in the middle of awkward situations. Don’t let the folks caught in the middle become a hindrance to your ministry. It’s not their fault. It’s the ones deliberately sewing discord, using intimidation to get their way, and hiding behind others to fulfill personal vendettas. These are the people we must stand up to.

People will never stop talking. Even if you go to great lengths to make things right, some will never stop with the ghost chatter. They can’t, it’s too deeply ingrained in who they are. It’s sad actually. Pray for those people, they aren’t your enemy. Many of them suffer with much deeper pain than we can possibly imagine.

Nonetheless, let your ‘yes be yes,’ and your ‘no be no.’ Say what you mean, and mean what you say. The Israelites ‘murmured’ against Moses and the Pharisees ‘muttered’ against Jesus. Remember, it was the common folk and the religious elite who turned on our Lord. If he caught it from both sides, what makes you think you’ll be exempt?

In the midst of all the chatter I implore you to be a good leader anyway. Live with conviction. Lead with integrity. Apologize when you’re wrong. Extend grace and stand for truth. Yield to people over petty issues. Fight for significant ones. Try to bring everyone along. Realize not everyone is going to come. It’s okay. Don’t ever close the door on relationships, even when people hurt you. Set you’re eyes on the goal. Keep Jesus first. And always remember, when ‘peoples talkin’ it usually means you’re doing something right… Let ‘em talk.

Paul

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

Although there are in the chronology of Scripture further writings of the Apostle Paul, these are actually the last words penned before his death in Rome. The year was 67AD and the Apostle was confined to a prison cell. As he awaited his imminent execution, he took pen in hand and a parchment that had been brought to him, and he wrote a final letter to his young protégée by the name of Timothy.

He talked about the church, the Lord Jesus, and how to carry on the work of the ministry. He took a momentary glimpse forward into his future, where there was a crown of righteousness laid up for him. Then one last time he cast a look over his shoulder and reviewed his life. In examining his life, Paul doesn’t go all the way back to his birthplace of Tarsus, but only to his place of re-birth on the Damascus Road. Paul realized that everything prior to that just did not matter.

Tradition teaches us that physically speaking Paul was diminutive in stature, possibly less than five feet tall. He was frail and physically limited. But in the faith, he was a mighty giant: a crusader, a wise master-builder, a visionary, a man who shook an entire continent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In speaking of the accomplishments of the Paul, we must not forget that over half the books of the NT were penned by him. Paul is someone whom we can become fascinated with. So, what was he like, the one who wrote half of the NT? The man that brought the Gospel to an entire continent, the one who without much dispute is the greatest servant of Christ who ever lived, and certainly without any debate the most influential?

What was Paul’s secret?

I don’t believe the things we typically equate with greatness made Paul great: talent, intellect, good looks, wealth, fame, etc. These are not the qualities that made Paul particularly special. I believe Paul’s secret to success is rather simple: He absolutely refused to give up. There was no quitting in the Apostle Paul. He realized that with God if you don’t quit you can’t lose!

Never Give Up

Though people reviled him, Paul didn’t quit. People literally threw rocks at him, but he never gave up. He was thrown in prison many times, yet never gave in. Let the ships sink and let the snakes bite, this man wasn’t hindered. He was relentless in his mission. The secret of the Apostle Paul is that he absolutely refused to quit! Paul lived by a personal motto: “One thing I do, forgetting those things behind… I press on.”

Along the way Paul had many opportunities to give up. He got saved on the Damascus Road and went into the city blind. God healed him and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He started preaching the Gospel. The governor of the city ordered that he be put to death and he had to flee the city. He couldn’t leave through the city gates because the guards were watching for him. He had to be placed in a basket and lowered down in the middle of the night over the city wall.

Paul is accustomed to red carpet treatment, being dignified, and getting special attention as a leader. Now, he has to get in a basket to leave town, not very honorable. He use to walk right up to governors and be given special treatment and now he’s being lowered down in a basket. That would’ve been a good time to quit, right from the start. But Paul didn’t quit; he pressed on.

Paul left Damascus and came to Jerusalem, the place of the great mother church. When he got there nobody believed that he was even saved. The other Apostles thought he was pretending. Paul could have been offended at that. He was being treated poorly. That would’ve been a good opportunity to quit, but he didn’t, he just kept on going.

How about when he was at Miletus preaching and a mob picked up stones and began hurling rocks at him until he was unconscious. They drug him outside the city and left him for dead. Those traveling with him stood around him wondering if he was alive. Then all of the sudden he stood up on his feet and went right back into the city and kept preaching.

What can the Devil do with a man or woman like Paul? You beat them, leave them for dead, try to kill them every way possible, and they get back up and keep on going. Paul had many opportunities to quit that he just plain missed.

Then we read verse 16 and it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye: “At my first defense not one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” At Paul’s trial in Rome nobody stood with him. The man who had brought the Gospel to the Gentiles had to go to trial before Caesar alone; no one even associated with him. Then in verse 17 Paul says: “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed…” 

Paul passed up every opportunity to quit. He said, “I’ll just go a little further.” And when he got to the end of his life he was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

The culture we live in is becoming progressively like that of the Apostle Paul. There is a great deal of hostility toward the Christian faith and it’s only growing. In the days ahead standing firm on the foundation laid before us will become more and more difficult. I remind you, Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it.

As you go down the road of life you too will have many exit opportunities. You can give up at any time. You can get off at one of many exits. I plead with you today in the tradition of the Apostle Paul: Don’t Quit! Stay the course. Remain faithful. Only those who finish the race obtain the prize. And never forget, with God, if you don’t quit you can’t lose.

Religious Ego

Our culture demands privilege. People fight for rights and are easily offended when they don’t get what they believe they deserve. Entitlement is so entrenched in our society that it shows up in the least expected places. I’ve seen the attitude of offense rear it’s ugly head in religious circles enough over the years to confirm that it’s alive and well in the church. However, the culprit is always the same: the human ego.

The human ego takes great pride in its religion. Through spiritual activity it tries to balance its sense of guilt with the delusion of personal righteousness. When ego is mixed with religion one’s spirituality becomes about felt needs, personal ambitions, and self-interests. We live in a society that worships fame and notoriety. This is a cultural crisis. The result is people who constantly look for recognition and validation. If they can’t find it in the world, the next best place is the church.

Let me say first of all, if you consider yourself a Christ-follower, you have given up your rights. You are not your own. I know that’s a difficult concept, but it is the aim of the Christian life. The very idea behind following Jesus is one of dying to self and taking up your cross. Jesus doesn’t ask to simply be worshiped on Sunday; he invites us to follow him.

Paul calls us to become “living sacrifices,” however the problem with living sacrifices is that they have the tendency to crawl off the altar. When we start defending our rights, it’s usually our ego doing the talking. When that gets mixed with spirituality things gets messy. Many churches are dying because so many plank-eyed religious folk walk around bumping into one another. Their ego blinds them to the bigger picture.

People who are easily offended are too invested in their own self-esteem. Human ego has a relentless need to be right, to feel important, to achieve success. When people compare themselves to others to measure their self-worth they naturally want to preserve their image. When they live in the mode of constant self-preservation being offended is a byproduct. Thus, it’s a never-ending cycle that’s usually fueled by the most trivial things.

When you truly understand forgiveness you don’t have time to be offended. Instead, you live with a deep understanding that your self-worth is grounded in the person of Christ. You discover that “who you are” is not something that can be sustained by weekly religious activity. You realize that the most sincere version of you that you will ever be is only found when you die to the person in the mirror. When you’re able to look at yourself and say, “You are broken and can’t do this own your own…” Only then will you understand your deep need for forgiveness.

When you understand forgiveness, you won’t be easily offended. Instead, you’ll develop the ability to forgive others the same way God forgives you. As you learn to love more deeply you won’t feel the need to prove anyone wrong because you won’t be tempted to prop yourself up against the standard of another person.

If your identity is caught up in something other than Jesus discovering a healthy sense of self-worth will be difficult. Offense will likely visit your life regularly. However, when you begin to identify your inadequacies your ego will loose its power. As this happens you’ll realize that being offended doesn’t mean you’re right. Instead, it’s an indication that you’ve got areas of your life that need to be laid back on the altar.

The message of “death to self” is a hard pill to swallow. Nonetheless, it’s the way to abundant life. It’s the only path to real spiritual growth, yet it’s rarely addressed. In a society that worships often at the altar of fame and fortune few people have the taste for the kind of Christian discipleship that costs them everything. Always remember, Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it.


(Sources: Richard Rohr; Tim Suttle; Doug Hopkins)