I recently received a very puzzling “Friend Request” on my Facebook account for Folllow Illustrated. The request came in from a woman who had dogged my steps at a church for six years. She was indefatigable in her gossip and under-mining me throughout the course of my ministry. In a weird way, I was impressed by her unswerving persistence to her mission – it was just a lousy mission. And don’t think I imagined my persecution by this woman. A member of the church board took my wife and I to lunch to apologize for our treatment. A high school classmate of this woman called me one day to explain how thirty years earlier in high school this woman had gone about destroying people who competed against her for class office and school prominence. I was relieved to be informed of all this. I often say, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”
Overall, I was quite confused by this woman’s relentless antagonism. Her daughter once wrote a school paper about “the most influential person in my life” – I was the subject of that paper. The woman once stood in the doorway of my office plaintively inquiring of me, “How can I get my husband to be more involved in the spiritual development of our kids?” Hmmmm. By the way, her husband was an elected member of the church board. I’m about to gag, let’s get a word from our Sponsor:
With [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:9-10)
Over the course of my church involvement, I’ve been a Sunday school teacher, a deacon, and elder, an associate pastor, supposedly a co-lead pastor, and a senior pastor. Church leaders (at all levels) beg people to consider the claims of the Gospel and to become engaged in “the life of the church”. Time after time, I’ve seen non-believers and new Christians get involved in the church only to be scalded by the contempt, back-biting-gossip, character assassination, and down-right unholy mean-spiritedness that goes on every Sunday morning in America’s “houses of worship”. I don’t blame anyone for running from the church as if it were on fire… in many cases it is. Even Jesus, our Sponsor, agreed with getting some distance from unsavory characters:
“As you enter the house, give it your greeting. If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” (Matthew 10:12-15)
Jesus personally knew what it was like to be despised (see Isaiah 53:3). He suffered rejection from the beginning of His life to the very bitter end (see Matthew 27:41-44). I’m NOT comparing myself to Jesus in any way. AND I am following the admonition of Jesus to the frail humans he sent out to ministry on earth. Many times, I’ve entered a “house that does not receive me” as in this present case. When that happens, I try to follow the words of Jesus and “shake the dust off [my] feet”. So I replied to Mrs. Smiling-In-Your-Face-While-Stabbing-You-In-The-Back as follows (unedited except for the name of the church):
“I received an email saying that you wanted to be Facebook friends with FollowIllustrated Clark Smith. I don't know what you are searching for, but you will not find it here. You are one of the most evil people I have ever met. I had to resign my employment at [such-and-such church] specifically because of YOU. You ruined my life and my career. Now you are stalking me on Facebook. Go away. Go far away. Go to the remotest point you can think of. Leave. Me. Alone.”
Jesus promised a destiny worse than what was visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah for those who reject ones who come with His blessing. I don’t know what this snippy little haus frau deserves – that’s not up to me to decide. I do know that you can pretend to keep all the commandments you want, but if you can’t keep your tongue in check… well, for the sake of your beneficiaries you should consider if your life insurance has a “Sodom and Gomorrah” clause in it.
For those of us desirous truly following Jesus daily and not just singing in the choir on Sunday, I want to give you peace. You are not required to be a punching bag for people with unresolved personal issues Followers of Jesus are commanded to “Go!”. We are not commanded to “Stay”. Sometimes the leaving is not on your own terms, but it is always healthiest to find the place where your blessing is received. Let me know if I can pray for you and your need to leave a bad situation. I will happily do so. I’ve been there.
Clark H Smith