Decades ago, I read a disturbingly candid essay by a pastor about his struggles with pornography. It was in Leadership magazine. Years later, two of his realizations still stand out to me.
The author came to see (as I recall) that he was attracted to these images because they were unreal. The women in the pictures never had bad days, were never crabby and demanding, never disrespectful and demeaning. No mood swings. They always suited his mood, his needs, his wants. They were unreal.
He came to see that he had no actual relationship with these women whatever. If (he named a female celebrity) had sat down next to him in an airplane, she wouldn't know him from Adam. Whatever may have happened in his sinful fantasies, the two of them had no relationship in the real world.
Of course, this is why so many women resent actresses and models. It isn't catty pettiness or smallness. It is that they know how visually-tempted men can be, and they know that they can't compete with a fantasy — if their man is fool enough to chase one.
And they're right, in a way. They can't compete with these women. Because these women don't exist in the real world! They may not even look like their pictures! Thanks to computer wizardry, the pictures we see may actually bear only the slightest resemblance to the actual women.
Nobody can compete with a fantasy.
And this post is not about pornography, men, women, nor marriage.
It is about people with paper pastors.
Now, some professed Christians sin outright, by never physically attending an actual, in-person church. We've talked about that, and they aren't our focus.
But others do attend a church — physically. They come in, they sit down. They sing, they may give financially. They may look at you, Pastor, as you preach.
But you know their heart belongs to another.
Their real pastor isn't you. It's Dave Hunt. Or it's John Piper. Or it's John MacArthur, or Ligon Duncan, or Mark Dever, or David Cloud, or Joel Osteen. Or it's Charles Spurgeon, or D. M. Lloyd-Jones, or J. C. Ryle. Or Calvin, or Luther, or Bahnsen, or de Mar, or R. B. Thieme, or J. Vernon McGee.
And they're such better pastors than you are! You know they are!
Well, paper pastors are never in a bad mood. They're never cranky, or sleepy or sick. (Especially the dead ones.)
They've never just had someone else pull their guts out with a rusty fork, and then had to turn and listen graciously to your complaint about the translation they preach from, or argue about a Greek word you can't even pronounce. They don't have a family who loses the time you use. They never half-listen, never have an appointment that cuts short their time. Their office hours are your office hours. They're available 24/7, and everywhere, at your whim, and you always have their undivided attention.
What's more is they always have all the answers! They can tell you with complete confidence and masterful eloquence. They never stammer, guess, nor search their memory. And they can prove it — whatever they're saying! With footnotes!
And these paper pastors maintain the perfect distance. If you don't want to hear something, they don't press it — or you can instantly shut them up, snap! They never ask you to do something uncomfortable and follow up on you. They never persistently probe an area of sin, in you, in person, eyeball to eyeball... nor will they. Church discipline will not be a threat with them. Ever.
Because they don't know you from Adam.
Yet how many pastors know that there are people in their flocks, thinking, "John Piper would never say it that way. Dave Hunt says that what he just preached is heresy. John MacArthur isn't like that. Mahaney says that... Mohler says that... Lloyd-Jones said...."
So, because it's awkward for your pastor to say it to you — and because I've no church who'd suspect I'm talking to them, at the moment — I'll just tell you plain:
Brother, sister: John Piper isn't your pastor. John MacArthur knows nothing about you. Dave Hunt never got on his knees and prayed for you. Lloyd-Jones won't come to your house when you're recovering from surgery, or one of your children shatters your heart, or your marriage is shaking and rocking and barely hanging on. Charles Spurgeon won't weep with you as you weep.
You could buy or not buy _____'s next book, and he'd never know it. But if you're in a manageable-size church with a caring pastor and you're suddenly gone next Sunday, he'll be concerned. He may call. He may ask if everything's okay.
God gave you the pastor He gave you.
God told Paul to tell you: We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13) God told the writer to the Hebrews to tell you: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17) Your flesh-and-blood pastor can't compete with these paper pastors for the same reason you can't compete with paper women and paper men.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the powers of this dark world.” Ephesians 6:12
As the war in Iraq drags on, we are all a little war weary from the complex battle that continues to wage over there. The tired troops want to come home, but with courage and dedication to the cause, they remain on the frontlines. Those of us watching from a distance do what we can to support them, driving around with our “Support the Troops” stickers on our cars and praying fervently for their safety and success.
While no one can accurately predict the resolution, the war carries a poignant lesson for all those who care about the cause of Jesus Christ. As God’s people, we are engaged in a war of far greater proportions—warfare against the hierarchies and unseen powers of the satanic hosts (Ephesians 6:10-12). This battle concerns the liberation of the eternally lost, the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, and the glory of His name.
What strikes me is the surprising lack of support for the frontline men and women who are in the trenches waging this war against the gates of hell. Some of our spiritual troops are dug in on battlefields far away. From massive urban centers like Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro to the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea, among executives and shopkeepers and natives, these soldiers are penetrating enemy territory with the life-changing claims of Christ.
I am frequently brought face-to-face with the everyday struggles of missionaries who serve as soldiers in the work of the kingdom. Some spend an inordinate amount of time getting to the frontlines because the funds they need are not available. Others often feel forgotten and neglected during their stint on the field. When they finally come home, they feel that somehow they don’t fit.
I also have the privilege of talking heart-to-heart with pastors who labor in their homelands. While some feel loved and supported, others speak of the difficulty they face in trying to focus their church’s attention on the advancement of the gospel. Often a pastor is the target of bickering and petty agendas that turn the congregation inward and end up dividing and sapping its strength.
Laymen fight it out in the trenches of the marketplace, where they see their careers as an opportunity to show Jesus to their world by working with integrity and ethical purity, and some of them do this against great odds. Yet many find little enthusiasm or support for what they are doing in the tough arena of secular society.
So, as Americans commemorate Memorial Day, I think it’s fitting to stop and consider how we are doing in terms of spiritual warfare. Let’s take seriously Paul’s advice to “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). If each of us were to make a personal commitment to put away what is petty and temporary and instead concentrate on what will advance the cause of Christ, think of the ground we could claim for His kingdom! If we pledge to pray consistently and specifically for those involved on the frontlines, we will provide a vital aspect of support. And if we put our money where we say our hearts are, we will keep the battle lines supplied.
The big difference, of course, between earth-side battles and spiritual battles, is that we already know the outcome. Jesus already claimed eternal victory, and in the meantime He gives us the power for victory in the skirmishes we face along the way. So enlist yourself today, and don’t forget to support the troops!
It has been a while since I posted on this blog due to moving to the Steele Creek area of Charlotte. Sorry. I hope some have not given up on me as a blogger. Let me know if you still read these things! Today, the “Cross Happening” is that God reminded me that “He Knows.” I have been living mostly in Steele Creek. Lynn and the kids are still at REVILO until school is out. I have been busy getting the house ready for them (many visits to Lowe’s and many visits from workmen from Peidmont Natural Gas, Time Warner, Invisible Fence, …) and trying to reach out to my neighbors and lay the ground work for a new church. It has been lonely when I stop to rest. Solitude is good, but I am not use to it. Here is the passage God used to encourage me today. Rev. 2:12-13 “And to the angel of the church in Pergammum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword, I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.’” There is much here but what ministered to me was – even though I am new to the city and very few people know or care that I am here to start a church from scratch – God knows where I dwell. How is this for honesty: Even though there are over 200 people praying for this church plant and for me, even though I heard a great sermon on not worrying from Lee Shellnutt last Sunday from the Sermon on the Mount, even though I know that God must build his church – I get anxious that this church plant will not go well. That I will not see the new conversions that I am praying for, that no one will want to gather together to reach out to the lost, that I will mess it up. God told me today – I KNOW WHERE YOU DWELL. God knows. God knows where Satan is at work. He knows that a 52 year old sinner is now is Steele Creek. I can rest, breathe and simply be faithful to His calling on my life. Another honesty statement: It is really easy to know He knows and still get anxious. Pray that my focus will be more and more on God and less and less of what I think other people will think of me. He is the one with the two-edged sword – it is best to please Him first – don’t you think?