Dearest Grubnat, my poppet, my pigsnie,
The reports of your progress warm my blackened heart. When you were assigned to one of the Enemy’s ministers ten years ago, his infernal Majesty and I knew you’d have a rough go of it. The zeal of one new to the pastorate can be a daunting challenge to even the most cunning of our comrades, but we also believed that time breeds all wounds and that your task would become easier the longer your patient remained. You now prosper from that sweet spot of pastoral fatigue and assimilation. The shine of newness is gone. And up pop the cracks in the ministerial armor.
There are many temptations common among the Enemy’s undershepherds but one universal temptation of them arises from their flesh and it is this: they want people to be pleased with them. Wanting to be liked is not a sin, really — to use the Enemy’s terminology — but it can be quickly turned to one at the hands of a spiritual disintegrator as shrewd as yourself. Some tacks you might consider:
Suggest to your client that he works for the people, not the Enemy. This will not be a hard sell as they are faces he sees every day. Remind him who pays his salary. The quicker you can get your patient to see himself as a professional, as an employee, the better.
Strike up with your fellow workers to send in to his office, voicemail, and email inbox parishioner after parishioner with demands, requests, and philosophical banners to wave. Through them propose hill after hill to die on, all save Golgotha.
Keep his head spinning. Even so-called “innocent” concerns can be proper distractions from Who your patient is ultimately beholden to if they offer plausible substitutes for the “first importance” of the Bad News. The slip into people-pleasing mode can be masked as subtly as a serpent slithering in the tall grass (no offense intended to his Majesty).
Help your patient to see all that he lacks. Stroke his discontent. The less satisfied your patient is with what the Enemy has done for him and all the Enemy has given him, the more alluring the validation, approval, and praise of others will be. Empty him of his confidence by highlighting his failures so that therefore his head will be far more easily swelled with adulations and self-confidences. Then pop those like a pin to a balloon and start again. It is easy for a pastor to move to pride—it is his default setting—so this should not be too difficult for you.
Turning your patient into a man-pleaser may require employment of what we have come to call the “rope-a-dope” technique, outlined as follows: First, make things very comfortable in the church for your patient. When he is very much pleased with himself and neither sober nor watchful, but drunk on ease and set to pastoral autopilot, then it is time to strike.
Bring in reinforcements to stoke division and dissension in his flock. Put him on the defensive. Demoralize him. Make him feel as though he has more to prove, more to be. Prod him to strive to enter the unrest. Make arrangements to see that he comes to shepherd under compulsion, not willingly, much less eagerly, and suggest that he view the sheep of his flock as problems to be fixed or resources to be used.
If you can steer him into a position of prideful domineering, that would be most excellent, but the key in all congregational unrest is not just to divorce the people of a church from each other or from their leaders but to divorce the leader from faith in the Enemy. Hype his understanding, if you must, so he will lean on it. Or deconstruct it, if you must, so he will fall back into man-pleasing. Whisper, “Yea to you when all men speak well of you.”
Convince him that difficulty is something strange, undeserved. Convince him that allegiance to himself is a suitable substitute for allegiance to the Enemy. Convince him to seek peace at all costs, especially at the expense of the truth of the Bad News. Your patient is a needy, insecure little man. Ply him with the tenuous, vaporous security of being liked as if it is the end all, be all.
And these are but the rudiments of but one temptation. There is always more to do and much to learn. More to come, if the Enemy delays.
"Of which salvation... the angels desire to look into." I Pet. 1:10, 12
This passage always captures my imagination, the Greek word for "to look" literally means to stoop down or to bend over. Such illustrious word usage makes it easy for the imagination to run wild, for us to picture the angels leaning over the edge of heaven straining to see details of this divine drama. It begins with a race, though made a little lower than the angels, made superior to them in the fact that they were made in God's own image, rebelling against the God who made and sustained them. The concept of rebellion would not be strange to them, the angelic race was itself divided between those who rebelled against the Almighty and those who remained loyal. However, it was at the mere generality of rebellion that the similarities stopped, for unlike angels these humans married and procreated and perhaps the angels were ponderous at the idea of a spreading, contaminated race.
The gulf between the humans and angels is further widened by the fact that when the angels rebelled it was an unpardonable act, they were separated, the angels that remained loyal God placed on one side and those siding with Lucifer placed on the other, forever antithesized. With these humans on the other hand, the first thing God did was to kill an animal as their substitute, cover their nakedness with it's skin, and promise that one day a conqueror would come to relieve them of the curse. Surely by now the angels were curiously crowding around to see what the Father of lights was doing. And then for the next 2,000 years (for whatever sense of time is had by such creatures in such a setting) the anticipation builds as they are periodically sent as messengers and helpers to steer these unruly sons of Adam and daughters of Eve along the course the Captain has set.
Then, in the fullness of time, God the Son is brought forth as incarnate deity and the angels are allowed once more to enter the realm of man and sing of the mystery that they still don't fully comprehend, that of peace on earth and good will toward men. They continue their ministrations to the Son for the next 33 years, and one is even given the task of delivering the message to Jesus' followers at the empty tomb that they should not look for the living among the dead, that he was not there but had risen. Finally, Jesus has ascended back into heaven, the angels continue to marvel at this unfolding mystery and yet Peter says in the present tense that the angels still long to "look into" these things.
The main purpose of this small statement is to cause the reader to stop and consider how precious, unique, powerful, and wonderful is the gospel. We are so enthralled with the doctrine of angels, we love to read novels depicting what it might look like "behind the scenes", we love to hear preachers and teachers unfold the biblical revelation we have on who they are and what they can do, and if they could give us a word of advice from their personal experience, I bet they would say to follow their example and be less interested in them and more interested in the wonder of the gospel!
"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." James 1:2-4 Trials... afflictions... persecution... those situations that make it hard to believe that God is not only in control but is working all things together for my good, I should consider those times to be "all joy"? Just as true love is manifest not by loving those who are the most lovable, but by loving our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), so true joy brought about by the Spirit of God is evidenced not in the easiest of times, but the hardest. Remember the story of Job? Our great adversary was not convinced that his righteous character and strong faith was anything more than an allegiance based on self-preservation, Satan thought that if God stopped blessing Job in every area of his life that Job would lose faith. The opposite turned out to be true and Job's faith was strengthened through the severe trials he endured. I live Job's life, I feel as though I have nothing in my life worth complaining about, my health, my job, my family, my church, the list would go on indefinitely were I to try to act upon that old gospel song and count my blessings, naming them one by one. However, what would my reaction look like if I fell into "divers temptations"? If my health, my family, my friends and my resources were all stripped away from me in the blink of an eye, could I say with Job, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord? I'd like to think so, the truth is that a man who is ultimately satisfied with God will always be content, his greatest satisfaction is something that cannot be taken away from him. On the other hand a covetous man, one who looks to physical things - whether material or intangible - will never be content. So I write this now, and a time in my life when everything seems to be going my way, to remind myself that my ultimate joy must be in Christ or else it may be gone tomorrow. In this passage I'm called to ask myself, "If luxuries of this world cause me to have a leanness in my soul, (Psalm 106:15) oughtn't my prayers contain less requests for tangible solutions and more requests for trials that drive me to Christ?" C.H. Spurgeon once eloquently said, "I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages." If the Captain of our salvation was made perfect through sufferings (Heb. 2:10) am I to expect anything less? Is it enough for me, the servant, to be as my Lord? (Matt. 10:25) That which will make me entire is not propinquity in a relationship, position in society, or possessions in my domain. God has promised only one thing that will put me in a state where I lack nothing, and that is the trying of my faith! So let me be tried, let me be like my master, who endured the cross and despised the shame for the joy that was set before him! (Heb. 12:2) And let me learn to be like those wise apostles who when imprisoned and beaten for preaching the gospel, rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41)
"To believe in the power of man in the work of regeneration is the great heresy of Rome, and from that error has come the ruin of the Church. Conversion proceeds from the grace of God alone, and the system which ascribes it partly to man and partly to God is worse than Pelagianism" (The Reformation in England (London, 1962), Vol. 1, p. 98)