59. Wolf in sheep’s clothes

My overseas trip in October 2002 was my fifth time back in my country of birth. My first return trip in 1971 was also our honeymoon, filled with incredible excitement and new experiences. The second trip in 1977 was in between jobs while we lived in Tasmania. Isobel was very brave taking our two very young children; Ben was only two, Michelle 9 months old at the time.

The third occasion in 1988 I returned on my own for a visit to my family and friends, especially one, who was very well off and helped pay my fare. As a stopover I visited my sister in Alabama and Los Angeles for three days. I had written to a very large church and asked for the possibility of a bed for a few nights. I explained that I was a member of …Church (one of the largest congregations in Australia) and active in the music team as well as the youth ministry. My letter stressed the point that I would be more than willing to repay any hospitality to anyone visiting Australia.

Unfortunately, I never even received a reply. Church administration was perhaps busy with bookwork. My request was most likely treated as ‘a cheapskate looking for a freebie’. Looking back now I had been a little naïve, thinking that there were still Christians who followed the scriptures, regarding the provision of hospitality. I would have enjoyed the opportunity of touching base with another leader of the world-wide youth program I was involved in. Perhaps, I could not be accommodated because the weekend in early October, the one I chose to visit, was a public holiday?

While expressing my negative experiences in church related matters, one other example comes to mind. If ever there was a good example of a bad example this was it.

One Saturday I and another parent was taking my children and a group of their friends (about 10 of them) on a bicycle/camping tour to a forest south of Adelaide. To facilitate the weekend I asked my mate to drive my van to carry the luggage. To save time and effort we decided to drive the kids uphill for the steep incline from Adelaide to Stirling, an elevated suburb just below Mount Lofty. We could not all be transported at once, so my mate did three trips up the mountain and back.  

As a transfer point we used a church car park. The kids and I sprawled out on the lawn, waiting almost an hour for our turn. As the last group was about to board the van I glanced back to ensure we had forgotten nothing on the well kept lawn. I saw a man, dressed in black with a clerical-collar, standing right where we had been sitting. He looked at the ground then lifted his head to look in our direction. He did this a couple of times. Then I noticed the chocolate wrapper; the object of his dismay. For a moment I hesitated. Then I called out to the boys: “Who dropped that wrapper? Pick it up!” A boy named David walked over and stooped down in front of the clergyman to pick up the offending item.

(How ironic that at the time of writing it is “Clean-up Australia Day”!)

Fancy being watched by someone the whole hour we were there! At the time I was too busy to think much about the incident. Today, probably twelve years after the event, I realized that I had witnessed a good example of a bad example.  

Was this a typical leader in the church of Jesus Christ? If yes, I am not surprised that some traditional churches are declining in membership. I wondered what theme from the bible the priest was preaching on the next day. Was he guarding the purity of the heart of his parishioners as he was the appearance of his property? Yes, he did teach David a lesson about tidiness. I learned a bigger one.

Without the living Christ motivating people to love one another the church is nothing but stain glass windows, surrounded by manicured lawns. Thank God there are many shiny examples of the opposite, vibrant congregations where Jesus reigns and HIS love flows. The church is people. Many churches seem more concerned with preserving pompous property or planning entertaining programs than showing concern for hurting people and restoring families. I know I am digressing from my story, but I feel very strongly about waking the sleeping giant – the church of the living God – into action!

On judgment day you and I will have to give account to God. We will not be asked how spotless the church property had been kept. God will not be interested in how many sermons we preached on love, forgiveness or clean living. He will ask: “What have you done about my son Jesus?

God sees the heart. He is only interested in the level of our longing for HIM and his love. In the past I have joked: “If you want to get hurt, join a church.” Why is it that the Christian community is full of hurting people, casualties of the community they turned to for help, for love, for acceptance?

One bitter experience comes to my mind. It was only a little omission by someone, but it left a mark that I never forgot. After performing in our own church a group staged a production of a musical in a city theatre for 5 days. I had been asked to play a 15 second segment on the trumpet. Everyone’s name was listed in the program, except mine. Even those actors who only had a one-sentence-role were mentioned. A close friend asked me, why was my name not included? I had no answer.

Like everyone else I had to rush home from work, snatch a bite to eat, race ½ hour into the city, find a parking spot and stay for the whole performance. Just for my 15 second appearance. It hurt that my small part was not recognized. I never found out why I was not included in the list of artists.

Experiences like these are common. People get hurt in churches because it is the place where we least expect it. Church goers are no different to any other members of the community. Some may think they are more important than non-believers; they let their non-church going neighbours know it. Hypocrites! Conflict in churches must be dealt with immediately. Forgiveness and reconciliation must prevail before churches split, pastors leave and the kingdom of God is disgraced in front of a confused world.  

How true it is in our Christian walk, as it is on the road, to allow for other’s mistakes and to not insist on our rights, for the sake of the gospel. We must die, lay our life on the altar for God. He did it for you and me.

Many turn away from churches because of disappointments, such as the ones I mentioned. If you have been disappointed with churches don’t walk away, rejoin and stick with it. The church needs you on fire to bring new life into a dead congregation. Sadly, many churches are dominated by traditionalists who think they own the place. I have heard of parishioners being upset, because a newcomer inadvertently sat in their seat.

May be this kind of event is symbolic. A person being upset, instead of elated when a newcomer sits in their seat, should examine themselves before taking up any seat. Don’t be disenchanted, the church may just need someone like you to wake up the sleeping giant.

Christians and especially Ministers of religion have such a huge responsibility. One slip-up can turn many against God. How long has it been since you examined yourself, your motives, your zeal, your prayer life? The world is watching you. What impression of Christ do you leave behind in people? You are HIS mouthpiece, his hands and his feet. Do you want to be used by HIM in the great adventure of the Christian life? Be fair dinkum, take HIM seriously and you will be.

Humans will let you down sooner or later. If this has happened in the past, don’t make this the reason for turning your back on Jesus. Forgive; forget; let God judge the religious people you trusted for love and acceptance.  

Jesus will never disappoint you. I look forward to judgment day, to God’s verdict on my life, my faithfulness, my trust in HIM – By your grace and mercy, Lord, let it be: “You good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord”.    

 

Chapter 60

 

Index

  Autobiography - Dieter Fischer  

 

1. More in number      2. A sound mind       3. Now I'm found       4. Candle and the Wind

 

  5. Realm of Nature      6. All in his Hand        7. The Wonder of it All     8. To Think God loves