sunday, june 17th, 2007, 10:40 a.m.
Mac gripped hard on the pulpit. This was the most difficult oration of his career, even more so than that very first time he stood behind a pulpit as an insecure novice. He found it necessary to clear his throat often, to stay in command of his emotions. His people were spiritually disheveled, and he was letting go of their lives. No longer would he be their one-man steering committee. They would still be fenced in by his love and concern and prayers, but not his guidance.
He was convinced he had failed the Lord by misdirecting their affections and loyalties, and now felt powerless to reverse his mistakes. He was calling it quits. Vivian was grieving her losses at home, Kyle by her side. Katie was in her mom’s spot, first row on the left. Some of the pews had empty spaces where regulars usually sat, other pews entirely empty. Mac knew next Sunday’s attendance would be diminished further. The atmosphere was tense as Mac gave the same chronological account he gave to the elders two days ago. The people found it difficult to absorb his Thursday morning recommitment to Jesus Christ. How could their pastor, any pastor, be in such an unhealthy spiritual state to make recommitment to Christ necessary? When Mac announced his resignation he could hear their collective sighs, and sense the fear that accompanies sudden uncertainty.
And he could not comfort them or give them assurance. He didn’t know what next week would bring. Their fate was in the hands of six men. He would not coerce them individually, though certain Donald Williamson would be lobbying on the phone, arguing his case, “The board represents the congregation, and it is obvious the majority want to remain under the helm of our denomination.”
Mac tried to deflect the blame and anger from many which even at this moment was assailing Reuben Tanner – If it weren’t for the plumber this wouldn’t have happened! some were thinking. Why couldn’t he have left good enough alone? Way to go, Tanner! You just wrecked a beautiful church! Thanks to an usher our pastor is leaving us! Mac tried to steer the blame where it belonged, on himself. He publicly thanked Reuben for his courage; he told the people he had examined Roo’s message and found it faultless; he spoke of the positive effects his message had on several people; he testified if it were not for Reuben’s preaching he would still be blind to his own backslidden condition; he even questioned the validity of a people who would not tolerate the preaching of Jesus Christ from their pulpit. Nonetheless, many remained adamant – they were losing their pastor, they were hurting big time, and Tanner was their only possible target.
When Mac finished speaking he stood silent for a full minute, clutching the pulpit, head hung low, desperately wanting to preach to his people a word of hope in Christ, knowing when he walked away from this podium he might never return. The congregation added his pain to their own, and tears flowed freely throughout the rows of people. Katie walked to the pulpit and slowly escorted her daddy, blinded by tears, to their seat.
Soon Reuben was behind the pulpit, soon Jeni was praying Holy Ghost power upon her husband, soon the fear always accompanying public speaking vanished, soon Mrs. Waters was seated at the piano, uninvited but welcomed. Roo got right into it, no introductory remarks, nor did he make reference to the reaction to his message two Sundays previous, nor did he speak of Mac’s resignation. Like the first part of his twofold exhortation, he was candid. He simply felt he was given an assignment and he should get on with it without fanfare. Roo was emboldened by Mac’s admonition at the board meeting, “I encourage you to freely share your insights. Don’t hold back.”
May the name of the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified!
In response to my message two weeks ago, some of you have decided to return to fellowship with, and obedience to, the Lord Jesus Christ in greater measure. Most of you have not. This exhortation is directed to those who chose Christ. I will share several insights, for your consideration, how to draw closer to your Lord and Savior, King and God, Elder Brother and Friend.
But first, I have a question for those who know they have distanced themselves from Christ over the years, and have decided to reject, or postpone, His invitation to return to Him. My question is…… why?
Here, Roo was silent for a full moment. And then he asked again, Why?, and waited another minute.
May I humbly suggest the answer to my own question?
The reason you do not return to the intimate relationship you once had with Jesus Christ is because of at least one idol in your life, perhaps more than one, perhaps several. An idol is a false god. There is something or someone between you and God, something or someone you love more. It is more common than most think for God’s people to backslide. You know how the Israelites repeatedly turned to idols. Likewise, rare is the young Christian who grows steadfastly in his love for Jesus; most seriously regress at some time in their Christianity, some repeatedly, some permanently.
The very first man God created was the first to backslide. Adam loved God. (How could anyone know God, as Adam knew God, and not love Him? Such is impossible.) But Adam had an idol in his life, someone he loved more than God. Her name was Eve. Eve was healthy, beautiful, intelligent. I imagine her as someone who had a sense of humor, laughed a lot, pulsated with vitality, and was very attentive to Adam. She was his partner. When it came time to decide between his wife and God Adam chose his wife and he disobeyed God. Eve was Adam’s idol.
Among us are many idols represented. For some of you, like Adam, your spouse is your idol. For others, it is your children. Some other false gods are friends, business, pleasure, money, ministry, entertainment, fashion. The most subtle idol is religiosity, the turning from Christ to works and custom. This usually involves the shifting of lordship from Jesus to religious man. I believe this is the chief idol of the Center.
Idols are destructive. Idols are blinding. Idols damage those around you. Idols keep you from intimacy with Christ. Idols will rob you of eternal rewards. Idols will hamper your ability to hear what the Spirit is saying. Picture a boy in class with a finger poked in each ear while the teacher is talking; so the man and woman with idols prevents him/herself from hearing truth and direction. And know your children will be influenced to adopt your idols as their own.
And also it must be said, some idols will cost heaven itself.
Every person here wants more of Christ, relationally, than what he or she has. But only a few want Him enough. Only a few are willing to depose their idols, their little gods. I plead with you, you who have refused to place your life under the lordship of Jesus Christ – reconsider. Count the cost of shuffling your First Love behind second and third and fourth. Do not reject Christ’s invitation into meaningful fellowship with Himself.
Afraid. That is the word best describing the Andersons, Brent and his wife, seated five rows from the front, right hand side. Fear is a contagious curse and Mrs. Anderson became afflicted soon after their marriage in the mid-eighties. Though they lived and played and slept in prosperity, fear kept them from reveling in it. Every business decision in Brent’s car sales business was engendered by anxiety, afraid to expand and afraid not to; fearful of hiring, fearful of firing; afraid of failure, afraid of bankruptcy.
And at this moment Brent was afraid of his own weakness. The Center needed decisive and strong elders at this historical junction, and he knew he was neither. Serving on the board of elders was to be a pastime, a diversion from business; never did he consider he would actually have to make a decision that mattered. The Andersons were two of many who rejected the plumber’s call to return to Christ – Jesus was long ago replaced by business concerns and a love for things – and instead clung to their idols.
On Friday evening he was one of six who must make a decision that would seriously affect the lives of many – adults, teens, and children. The will of God was never a consideration since suddenly burdened with a responsibility he was incapable of handling; the fear of man, far surpassing the fear of the Lord, will determine his vote.
And now to those who have decided to follow Christ at all cost. I have a message for you, some insights for your consideration. I will suggest twelve means of gaining Christ relationally. But first, it is important to know drawing closer to Christ is a process. Change will come slowly, perhaps very slowly, but it will come.
You see, nobody – relationally speaking – is frozen; no one is at a standstill. Since you first believed in Christ you have either been elevating – attaining more of Jesus – or declining. Some years you may have been progressing, others regressing. A casual inspection of the church would bring the conclusion most Christians are on the decline. What one attains (through repentance and turning again to Christ) is a reverse of direction – no longer declining, but inclining, gaining instead of losing. Picture a derailed locomotive. A huge crane is brought to the sight, the locomotive is lifted back on the tracks, and it is on its way. When you repent, sincerely, of lukewarmness you are lifted, by the Holy Spirit, back on track. You are on your way again. So as I share these twelve insights, don’t think arriving, think advancing. Think being on track, going in the right direction.
One. Speak Christ.
Make a determined effort to speak His lovely name. There is power in the “name which is above every name.” Speaking Christ will affect every listener. Not only will the mention of His name cause demons to tremble, it will take away the strength of one’s own rebellious flesh. You can affect the condition of your heart by intentionally speaking the name of Jesus Christ. As you resolutely speak Christ in conversation He will become, more and more, your Lord. Your heart will come to yield to the lordship of Christ.
Have you noticed most Christians rarely speak the name of Jesus? Speaking His powerful name threatens their idols, so His name goes unmentioned. Their idols are spoken of often, but not so Christ. Can you see that Christians could overthrow their idols by consistently speaking His name? Can you see that your own heart will be positively influenced by speaking Christ?
Two. Give Jesus time.
Lots of time. Make time when you can, and ask God to make time when you cannot. Is it not reasonable to assume Christ will give you the necessary time required to sit at His feet? – for it is He who invites. Remember, it was Mary, not occupied Martha, who had chosen the better part. And will Jesus not give increase as your hunger for Him increases and as you prove faithful with the time He has given you? Give the Lord the first hour of the day. The first hour of the day is the firstfruit of the day, the first and best. If that’s too much, give him a half-hour or even fifteen minutes. Make it a holy habit, never to be broken. Be faithful. In time, you may decide to spend other specific intervals of alone time with Christ throughout the day, perhaps a time in the afternoon and/or evening. In time, you might set aside an entire day, a Monday or a Friday or whatever. Life’s priority must be pursuing Christ. Yes, pursuing Christ is to be a way of life. The more time spent seeking Christ, the more of Christ you will attain.
Don’t let the secular world, nor Christians who pattern themselves after the world, decree what hours you are to work and not work. We are not called to pattern the secular world, to look to the world to determine our hours, vacation time, retirement age. Yes, such is sometimes necessary and right, but be mindful that your God is able to turn circumstances around to your favor.
I doubt that more than one of fifty North American Christians will finish the course the Lord has set before them, so intent are they to go with the flow dictated by both the world and the lukewarm, rather than flowing in the Spirit. When I say flowing in the Spirit, I mean voluntarily living your life under the governorship of the Holy Spirit. Do not emulate the crowd. If you have hopes of completing your course, the Lord’s commission on your life, you must resist peer pressure to live in the same manner as the majority who have no such ambition. Ask the Lord to make a way for you to spend time loving and serving Him. “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”
A warning: You will know you are losing your fervor for Christ when you begin to renege on your meeting times with Christ. Those alone times will be the first to go.
The good news is that you could never fully lose your intimacy with Jesus if you keep your commitment to meet with Him daily.
Noble. Noble is the adjective most applicable to the Tanners seated three rows back, right hand side, John on one side of his mother, his siblings on the other.
Mac’s sequential report centered around the children’s father caused them to realize more fully the crisis Dad had been going through the past couple of months. He was the target of the agitation of many, and each of the five accepted his reproach as a Tanner reproach, and bore it with dignity. The Christ-centered possess a poise the lukewarm can only envy, a confidence resultant of an inner stability. Every Tanner was reflective, appreciative and spiritually hardy because every Tanner had a love-relationship with Christ. The Center was not their center, that is, not the center of their lives, and the plumber’s message that brought division to the church unified them further. They would do just fine.
Three. “Be filled with the Spirit.”
Do you realize you are totally dependent upon the Holy Spirit to draw relationally closer to Christ? The Holy Spirit will partner with you to bring about the will of God in your life. The Holy Spirit loves Jesus fully, and His desire is for you to love Jesus increasingly. “Holy Spirit, cause me to love Jesus” is a good prayer to be repeated a thousand times.
How does one become “filled with the Spirit”? Jesus taught, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” “Everyone who asks receives.”
Some want the Holy Spirit for illicit reasons, wanting the power but not intimacy with Jesus. The purest motive for asking for the Holy Spirit is to gain Christ.
Four. Nourish yourself.
Be responsible. You are responsible for you. Feed on the Word of God. Contemplate the words of Jesus. Make a rule: “I will never read anything until I have first read the Bible.” And be sure that at least some of your reading includes the words of Christ, red words in most Bibles.
And read quality books. There are many books written by Christ-centered disciples, and many more written by men and women laden with idols. How do you know the books to read and the books to ignore? Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to the books of His choice for you. To the degree you bow to His lordship, the Holy Spirit will faithfully guide you through every aspect of life.
I highly recommend the writings of A.W. Tozer. Most of Tozer’s books are still in print though he died in the early sixties, such is the quality of his insights into the character of God and the spiritual deficiency of evangelicals.
Hopeful. The Tomas’ were hopeful. Slender David and very pregnant Sheila sat with their two year old behind the Tanners, listening intently to Reuben’s insights. Though they grieved for the assemblage they were hopeful something good, something fruitful would emerge from the chaos. What an adventure for the Center people if they were given opportunity to build anew, to start all over. No more traditions of man to govern their lives. No more titles and hierarchy and control. Jesus would be more than a symbolic lord, and the Holy Spirit would be their pastor. The Center would be an example to contemporary assemblies, proof that God’s ways work.
Since the last meeting David and Sheila were in serious intercession for his fellow elders. David’s Christianity – beginning at thirteen when a much younger Terry Maclin challenged the young people to get off the fence and make a courageous stand for Christ – had been dirtied with compromise; he was an evangelical and compromise is something evangelicals do. He was certain if the elders chose the path of conciliation the Center would continue to be an academy for the lukewarm. He was able to take his vacation early so he could spend his time before the Lord praying for his colleagues, and have time to lobby for a new way. He would not cower to Mr. Williamson or the two biggies from headquarters. He would be the man of God he was called to be.
Five. Forgive yourself.
When you sin turn immediately to your Sin-bearer for forgiveness. And accept it. Do not wallow in remorse. Do not focus on you who failed again, but rather on Him who forgave again. Sanctification does not come by critically gazing within, by trying harder, by whipping oneself with denunciations; sanctification comes by gazing upon the Sanctifier, by ceasing all effort to be good enough, by fully accepting the righteousness won for you by the bloodied cross.
It is your intention and determination to follow Christ that pleases Christ, not your ability to stay on course without faltering. It is the lukewarm, not the impeccable, whom He said He will spit out of His mouth.
Six. Stay free in Christ.
“Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Do not call a man by a title, even though others do. Never ask a man, “May I?” Don’t accept anyone as mediator between you and Christ. Don’t allow anyone to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit in your life. See yourself from the perspective of the Bible, and not that of others. Example: You are not a layman. You are not a denominational person. You are what God has made you to be, His adopted son or daughter, an ambassador of the truths of God.
Faithful. The Borrics, Tony and his wife and daughter Tanya sitting halfway to the back on the left side, were faithful. Tony made his share of mistakes over his Christian years, but always responded to the gentle corrections of the Holy Spirit. Faithfully he served as an elder, as a carpenter, as a husband, and as a father.
Mrs. Borric was no less faithful, up early every morning with her husband, he in his private study, her in the sewing room, having alone time with Jesus; faithfully she attended women’s prayer and Bible study; faithfully she served her husband. Shy and quiet Tanya had been faithful to her commitment to Christ throughout her teenage years, refusing to compromise to gain acceptance.
It was Tony’s faithfulness to the Christ he loved that spawned his decision to resign from the board, and his loyalty to God’s word that prompted him to close the Bible. Had he remained his vote could have done much good deciding the outcome of the Center; nonetheless, he never regretted doing what he thought to be right. He would contact every elder to express his opinion that this was an opportunity for them to stand for righteousness, to be an influence and example in the entire Christian community. Perhaps they too would be influenced to choose right over expedience.
Faithful. The Williamsons, sitting a few rows in front of the Borrics, too, were faithful. Faithfully the husband served the denomination as pastor, south of the border, for several decades, and faithfully the wife stood by her man through thick and thin. Their selfless loyalty was passed on, two sons and three grandsons were today pastoring within evangelicalism.
Donald was not hearing Tanner this morning. The plumber has bested him, fine, hats off to him. But he certainly wasn’t going to consider his ‘insights’. Now the fight was not against Tanner, but Maclin. Maclin had betrayed the denomination the old man loved and the leadership who trusted him. Now Maclin wanted to lead the board and the entire assemblage into a risky experiment, away from the spiritual umbrella of any and all denominations. Madness!
There was still fight in that old man. He arranged the arrival of Johnston and Grover to fly in Friday morning. He would pressure the board to do whatever necessary to be at a Friday p.m. meeting with the super and his assistant. An afternoon with the dignitaries a few hours prior to their scheduled evening meeting would do much for the cause. He had not forgotten how to use leverage.
Donald knew pressuring Edwards and Tomas between now and then would be a waste; they were both in Maclin’s camp. He would apply his lobbying skills to Anderson and Chesney who he reckoned both lacked strength to buck the system. Their vote plus his equaled three and three equaled victory. If one of those failed to come through, there was still hope that Waters would be reasonable and vote to remain under the protection of the denomination.
Until then the faithful Williamsons would be in serious prayer.
Seven. Worship Him.
Join the heavenly choir in praise of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” As you do, and to the degree you do, there will be a shift of focus from you to Him. You will slowly become like the One who has your attention. Behold and become. As you gaze you will change. As you obey you will change. Perspective will be loftier. Fruit will be bountiful. Rewards will be in the waiting.
Praise is more than song and clapping and dancing. Praise is also obedience. Most evangelicals praise Christ with their lips, but praise man with their obedience; they do this by choosing tradition over the Bible.
Also, praise is gratitude, the continual bearing of an attitude of thanksgiving and appreciation unto the Lord. And praise is generosity, sharing with Christ’s people because they are Christ’s, and giving to the unsaved because He died for them.
Eight. Keep good company.
No friendship is perfect, some friendships are beneficial, some are harmful. Likewise no church is perfect, some are beneficial, some, perhaps many, perhaps most, are actually harmful, depending on one’s spiritual growth (a church that is helpful to a new Christian, may be a hindrance to someone wanting more of Christ then what that church is able to give). How silly for the passionate to place themselves under the ministry of the lukewarm for no other reason than to feel attached to Christian society. Do not under any circumstance commit yourself to a friend or to a church. What is beneficial this year may be a detriment next year. As you mature in Christ fewer can help you because you would have passed many by, because many simply do not want to go deeper in Christ. (This is in reference to receiving from others, not ministering to others.)
Do not choose the educated or licensed over the broken. Only the one dwelling in the secret place, only the one with moistened eyes, only the one broken in Christ bears the anointing that can break through the strongholds of your life. Some think healthy Christianity is bouncing from one Christian friend to another. This could be nothing more than restlessness, or a need for an audience, a futile attempt to squeeze from flesh what is only attainable through intimacy with Jesus.
Fellowship versus alone time, it’s a matter of balance.
Confused. Nelson Chesney, on the right opposite the Borrics, was confused, having more questions than answers.
Nelson loved accounting. He could always depend on the numbers. Long before he was born and long after he was gone, two plus two equaled four. If only life were as certain as mathematics. He thought he had a stable family – until cancer stole his wife, leaving him to raise five children alone. The Center was his last refuge of stability, Pastor Mac was a solid rock; now all was upheaval.
How could it have happened? How could one insignificant plumber cause such turmoil? And how could Pastor Mac abandon them? And how could Christians who believe in the same Bible be in conflict?
Nine. Learn generosity.
Generosity will draw you to Christ as stinginess will pull you away. Generosity opens the heart. As you give you will stretch your faith in Christ, making yourself reliant on His provision. You will find giving will hurt less and less as you give more and more. Giving is following through on the sweet things you say to Jesus in prayer.
Ten. Break the bread.
Have your own communion service with Jesus, as well as with others. You may decide to “do this in remembrance” of Him daily. When Jesus said, “Do this,” He was speaking to you. Others may say, “Don’t do this (at home, by yourself, etc.),” but Jesus said, “Do this.” Whom will you obey? Breaking the bread and drinking “the fruit of the vine” is an excellent way of drawing closer to Christ, by yourself and with others.
Broken. Shaun Edwards, seated with his wife in the same pew as the Borrics, was a broken man, fully repentant. Like everyone there, he started out well. He responded to Mac’s invitation to receive Christ when the church was in its beginnings in the Maclin residence, and was for years after a flame for his Jesus. He had a huge heart, wanting to pour himself into the lives of the saved and unsaved.
Shaun was studious and intelligent. His knowledge of Scripture soon surpassed his teachers and in time he was elevated to Sunday School Superintendent. There was a day, many years ago, when his love for the Center – the people, his status, social ties, recognition – surpassed his love for Christ, a common story, and it was downhill from there. Until the plumber’s preaching two weeks ago.
This morning his brokenness went deeper as he realized he had years ago taught others many of the insights the plumber was now sharing. He recommitted his life to Jesus Christ last week, and this very hour, following Mac’s example, committed himself to obedience to the Bible he loved, signing the last page as a declaration to Christ.
Eleven. Always choose Christ.
It is a mistake to try to sanctify yourself. Sanctification will come as you bow to and worship the Lord Jesus. One day the Holy Spirit will, in His gentle manner, ask you to give up a habit or a reliance (upon something or someone). If you obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit you are actually obeying Christ. You are making a decision for Jesus. Your obedience will cause you to be drawn closer to Christ. Contrary to this, if you disobey you will distance yourself, somewhat, from Christ. Your disobedience could put you on the path of backsliding again.
I will give one example. Let’s say you are one who talks too much. Talking interferes with listening. You are so intent on vocalizing you become unteachable. You have an unusual need to give an opinion about every subject. Jesus loves you, immensely, regardless. However, there will be a day when He will ask you to confront that bad habit. Jesus will empower you as soon as you take steps of obedience. Obedience will gain you Christ. But should you ignore or disobey His promptings, you will lose a degree of intimacy. You will be the loser.
Burdened. Both Maclins, father and daughter, seated in the front pew were deeply burdened for the people. A crushing thing, regret. Mac had caused his people to sit at the feet of his lord and idol, and now he, after making them captives, was himself set free. A terrible irony.
Would he be given opportunity to bring freedom to those he betrayed? To revive others as he and his pigtails have been revived? To fan the embers he was certain were still warm in those good hearts?
Many would leave, no matter what decision the board made. Where would they go? What evangelical church in the city could/would lead them into a deep and intimate relationship with Christ?
Mac would pray faithfully for those who left and those who stayed. And so would Katie.
Twelve. Expect and accept adversity.
Christ is free, but Christ isn’t cheap. Actually, He is very expensive. Think back to the time you first received Christ. Though it was a tremendous experience, it brought complications. Likewise there are complications in store for the one recomitting his/her life to Christ. Do not be taken by surprise.
When you lose friends do not assume there must be something wrong with you. It is only natural the lukewarm will no longer want your company; you will make them feel uncomfortable, though they will not know why. Should you foolishly confront them, they would deny such is true. A fruit of idol worship is blindness; they cannot see.
Understand that those wanting Christ today are avoided by those wanting Christ tomorrow. Marthas and Marys don’t get along too good. Those laden with religious ambitions have little in common with those whose only ambition is to gain Christ. They will be buds only with those who play their religious and worldly games, and idolize their idols. I assure you, embracing Christ as a lifestyle will cost you friends.
And there is a greater price: Embracing Christ will cost you YOU. You see, both Christ and you want to be seated on the throne of your life. There is a battle over the lordship of YOU. Perhaps that’s the reason most avoid Christ; Christ threatens the YOU in you. You instinctively know for Christ to increase, the YOU in you must decrease.
There is a price attached to the Pearl of Great Price. Paul was put to death because he embraced Christ. John was banished to Patmos because loving Christ was his life. Persecution awaits everyone determined to live with and for and under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Hopefully, these twelve points will help you draw closer to Christ. Please understand you can have more of Christ if you want more of Christ…… enough. Every Christian has exactly as much of Christ as he or she wants. If you wanted more you would have more; if you wanted less you would have less. And…… if you now want more you can have more.
I challenge ever person in this room: Do you want more of Christ? I believe every person could truthfully reply yes. Now let me rephrase the question: Do you want Christ enough?
Undecided. Sheldon Waters, now taking Reuben’s place behind the pulpit, was right in the middle of this way and that way, the new and the old. He loved Pastor Mac like a father loves a son, but was unconvinced his way was best for the Center. He thought he knew where the other elders stood, Nelson Chesney a possible exception. Sheldon’s vote could matter immensely, and both the negatives and the positives in the congregation would apply pressure to conform to their preference. After listening to their arguments and suggestions, he would reply, “I have heard both sides, and I am still undecided. Please pray for me.”
Sheldon was supposed to be leading in song, but nothing would come out, their was no song in him. Mrs. Waters continue to play her sweet, anointed music at the piano.
Distraught. There are many adjectives to describe the congregation of Bryden Falls Community Christian Center at this moment – angry, confused, sad, fearful – but the most descriptive word was distraught. Distraught like the parents who discovered their teen ran away from home. Distraught like the neighborhood after a tornado.
Some left quickly, never to return. Others embraced Pastor Mac with deep affection and appreciation, some looking for assurance in his moistened eyes, but none was there. Though there had not been an altar call, several were there on their knees at the altar, seeking solace and direction.
saturday, june 23rd, 2007, 9:15 a.m.
Three of the four Maclins were at the Center cleaning and packing. Kyle was at home, embarrassed, angry, confused. A few weeks ago he was a somebody, the pastor’s kid off to seminary, captain of a prominent band; now he had been demoted to less than an ordinary. His dad had been toppled by a layman/plumber/usher, and his band had disgraced itself before the city. And it wasn’t his fault; he was a victim, an innocent with every right to be angry.
Vivian suffered the same fate as her son, only her losses were more intense. She had been number two at the Center, number one’s wife, but now that was all history. As the minister’s wife she was a step above layman, but now she must join the ranks of the common. And there was no hope of a comeback; her husband pledged he would never pastor again.
Katie would be at her father’s side these trying days. She had always esteemed her daddy, and that esteem puffed considerably the last few days. He had demonstrated courage and humility, strength and integrity in what surely was the most distressing time in his ministry. And now they had much in common, a renewed enthusiasm for Jesus. She was privileged that he allowed her to share his burdens.
While Katie was straightening and wiping the sanctuary chairs and Vivian was packing books and fifteen years of miscellaneous things from Mac’s office, Mac was polishing the pulpit. The knowledge of his and their future, and that of the entire church, was lying on the boardroom table, and Mac was afraid to look. He kept on polishing.
“Were you in the boardroom?” he asked his wife when she came back to the sanctuary.
“Yes, for a few minutes.”
“Tell me, was the Bible opened or closed?” He worked the polish a little harder.
“Does it matter?”
“But what difference does it make?”
“Vivian, I must know. Was the Bible opened or closed when you entered the boardroom.”
“It was closed.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am sure.”
The bottle of polish was empty, and Mac had only begun his chore. He reckoned this was the fourth or fifth bottle he used on the pulpit since he and Reuben first polished it that snowy January day. He had made it his business to keep the pulpit clean and glossy over the years, and it would be in prime shape before he left.
The elders had made a decision to remain under the protection of the denomination. Tomorrow the interim pastor would be speaking to his people, and the business of regaining normality would begin.
There was only one kind of polish Mac found acceptable, and sometimes he had to look in two or three stores to find it. Most polishes were in spray cans but Mac preferred the liquid. He didn’t like the idea of getting spray in the air, and the liquid was easier to work into the wood.
He empathized with the elders. They were not accustomed to making decisions of this magnitude, and he could well imagine the pressure to conform to majority opinion. Stepping outside of evangelical norm would have the immediate effect of making the Center the hub of controversy, and the finger of blame would be pointed at the six.
It would be a shame to buy a new bottle of polish when he only needed a little to finish the job. As far as he knew, this particular polish only came in a large size, and it was quite expensive. He couldn’t charge it to the Center because he was no longer its captain.
He couldn’t help but wonder how the vote went. For sure, Donald voted to stay in the denomination. David and Shaun seemed to be strong in their allegiance to the Bible. But what about Sheldon? And Nelson and Brent?
Mac decided the job must be finished, though he could lose much time trying to find another bottle. It just seemed fitting to leave the pulpit in good shape, though none, he was sure, would notice.
Too bad he would never be given an opportunity to undo the damage he had done. Good thing he convinced the elders to give Reuben the opportunity to finish his message; he was sure at least a few would never forget. Too bad the Center could not be a catalyst within evangelicalism to bring about a better way of gathering unto Christ. Good thing some in the Center found their way back to Christ, including his precious Katie. Too bad people like Tony and Reuben and Shaun and David would never be given an opportunity to share their insights and convictions with the people. Good thing Reuben’s house was open to people like David Tomas and many others who wanted to pursue Christ.
Mac had polished until his rag was dry. He couldn’t put it off any longer; he must go and hunt down some more polish though he didn’t like leaving the girls by ……
The hand that rested on his shoulder was too strong to be Katie’s, and Vivian never did that sort of thing. Turning around, he was elated to see his old acquaintance and new friend.
“We came to help,” Roo pointed to Jeni and John.
“The Bible was closed.”
“I thought it would be.”
“You and I will not be welcome.”
“We are braced for that. We did not tell the younger kids until we were sure of the vote.”
“Where are they?”
“They are at the baseball field playing. We are giving the Kennys time to themselves.”
“How are they doing?”
“Adjusting quite well. They need time. Can we help?”
“Jeni, Vivian is in the office clearing out my stuff. She could use a friend.”
John was embarrassed to see Katie, and Katie equally embarrassed to see John. Had they known the other would be here they would have stayed away. John followed his mom to the office and started loading boxes into Reuben’s Plumbing van. Mac and Roo sat on the floor near the pulpit and chatted about the consequences of the elders’ decision. Katie hurried to finish her chore so she could leave for home.
“I am out of furniture polish,” Mac said to his new friend.
“Maybe we should send the kids for more,” Reuben suggested.
“Kids? John and Katie?” Mac tried to hide his excitement. Just then Jeni and Vivian entered the sanctuary, each with questions about what to do with this thing and that.
“Mac is out of polish,” Reuben said to his wife, “and I suggested we send John and Katie to pick up some more. What do you think?”
“I think that is an excellent suggestion,” Jenni replied. “What do you think, Vivian?”
At first Vivian seemed alarmed at the suggestion, but then, “Oh, yes. I suppose that would be okay. What do you think, Terry?”
“An excellent suggestion!” And before anyone could change his or her mind he opened the sanctuary door leading into the hallway and called for John returning for another load. “John! Please come here for a moment!” And then, “Katie, please come up here for a moment.”
And when everyone was together, “I ran out of furniture polish while polishing the pulpit. Mr. Tanner thought it would be a good idea if you and John went and bought another bottle. It has to be exactly the same as this one. You may have to look in two or three stores. Do you think you two can handle that?”
Katie looked at John, and John looked at Katie. Then Katie looked to her mom.
“I think that would be okay.”
“Dad? Mom?” John asked his parents.
“Well, we do need polish,” Reuben answered.
“Yes, of course. Are you with me, Katie?”
“Yes, I am with you.”
“And pick us up a coffee on the way home!” Mac shouted to the young pair hurrying out the door.
“You got it, Daddy!” Katie shouted back.
The old man with the dignity and the warm smile entering the foyer was unnoticed by John and Katie chattering nonstop as they loaded innumerable boxes into the van. Jeni and Vivian were sipping their coffee at the boardroom table, renewing the friendship that had crumbled many years ago. For several seconds the old seer gazed at pastor and plumber working the polish into the oak of the eminent pulpit. On his way out the front door he stopped to scratch the new red carpet with the tip of his cane, and seemed satisfied.
Mac and Roo quietly and vigorously buffed the oak with dry, soft rags. It was Mac who broke the silence.
“Powerful brute, isn’t it?”
Roo knew what he was referring to. “It is.”
Again they worked in silence, a beautiful sheen spreading over the pulpit. Ten minutes later it was Reuben who broke the quiet.
“Love you, Mac.”
“Love you, Roo.”