Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
Sunday, September 3, 2000
Every Sunday somebody tells me "a good one." A good story, a good joke, or an encouraging
quote. So I go to church expecting to hear at least one or two good ones.
Last Sunday was no exception. One man asked me if I knew how severe the drought in Alabama had been. So I asked him how bad has it been. He said, "This bad: the other day I saw two grown bull frogs in a ditch and neither one of them had ever learned to swim!"
Not bad. It was good for a laugh. Laughter is always helpful in church, for strange things happen in church. People get angry with each other sometimes over the least little thing. One woman asked another woman to stop wearing a certain perfume; it made her sneeze in church.
A woman came storming up to me one day to insist that I tell a certain mother to stop disturbing church by taking her little girl to the bathroom. I resorted to my "grin and bear it" attitude by saying, "Iíll ask the Lord to help me figure out what I can do about it."
That means, "I donít plan to die in that ditch." And usually the Lord passes on such stuff also.
My wife did have a solution for this problem when our boys were small. She told our sons to go to the bathroom just before worship. Then she reminded them that they would not be permitted to leave the church service. I think she didn't want our boys to disturb the folks who were sleeping while I was preaching.
If during church one of our sons said, "Mom, Iíve got to go," she simply said, "No, you donít; go ahead and wet the pew. After church I will wipe it up with this towel in my purse." None of our boys ever wet a pew.
Troubles do develop in churches because they are made up of people, and people have problems. Sometimes they disagree about things. Now and then people can take up sides and manage to split a church wide open. That is always sad when it happens.
I hear about a church in Tennessee that split up over the issue of which foot should be washed first in the foot-washing service. Now I have heard there is a church in the Volunteer State called "The Left Foot Baptist Church." I guess they are the folks who quit wanting to worship with the folks who wanted to wash the right foot first.
Honest, I am not making this up -- and the story did say that it was a Baptist Church. I suppose it could have been a Methodist Church, but my guess is that the Methodists heard about this dispute and decided against the practice of foot-washing in church. If so, they were wise. It is just not smart to fight about some things.
Trouble in church reminds me of that old saying, "Into every life some rain will fall." How true that is. Life is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes we all have to deal with storms and thorns. Life is not easy and my guess is that God did not mean for it to be easy.
Troubles do come, and troubles do go. Like the storms, they donít last forever. In the midst of them our faith is tested. And somehow we become stronger through the testing. We learn to decide what is truly important. We often learn that none of us is always right, and at times we find that we must admit that we have been wrong. It usually takes that for a breach in friendship to be resolved.
The Japanese talk about an attitude they call the "bamboo perspective." They see the need to learn to bend, but not break, under the pressures of life. Unity with other people is usually not possible unless we are all willing to bend a little in our attitudes. Divisiveness thrives when no one is willing to bend.
We might learn a lesson from a story I heard about a brand new fifty dollar bill. The preacher held it up in church and asked if anyone wanted it. Every hand went up. Then he crushed the new bill in his hand as if he were wadding up a piece of paper. Again he asked if anyone wanted it. Once more every hand was raised. Next he dropped the $50 bill and ground it into the floor with his shoe. Now the bill was dirty and wrinkled. Does anyone still want it, he asked. As every hand went up again, the people realized his point. The bill was not worth any less because of the dirt or its wrinkled condition. It was still worth the same as a brand new bill.
What is the point? If people throw dirt on us, or damage our reputation, our worth is still the same to God. If we stumble into mistakes, or make decisions of poor judgment, our value remains the same to God.
The lesson? Surely God wants us all to learn to think as he thinks, to love as he loves, and to forgive as he forgives. When we are willing to do that, even imperfectly, we may save God the grief of seeing his churches divided.
In the meantime, a little laughter over a few "good ones" will help us all.