The pastor who became Nebuchadnezzar (Part 2)

“ . . as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’” (Daniel 4:29-30)

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)

The armies of Nebuchadnezzar II attacked Jerusalem in 597 and 587 BCE, destroyed the temple, dispossessed the people of God of their inheritance and, like the Vikings at Lindisfarne, took the temple furnishings not because they cared a fig about the glory of God but because they were gold.

The ministry of the pastor is to “equip his people for works of service,” and build up “the body of Christ . . . until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.”

The desired outcome is to eliminate what’s found all too often in American Christianity: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:11-14).

So what are these two very different persons doing in the same blog post title? How could a ministry intended to build up be an agent of destruction?

There is a sense in which I don’t know how to answer this. Why did a woman and man who lived in paradise with every good thing to enjoy do the one thing that God expressly prohibited? How do you account for the perverseness of human nature?

And yet in Scripture there are examples of those whose devotion slips from the Creator to the creation–truly good and meant to be enjoyed, of course—whose lives then tumble into sorrow, corruption and loss, and their sin reverberates into the lives of those around them.

“I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if this had been too little, I would have given you even more,” the Lord said to David through the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 12:8). In so many words, go figure.

Since this is based on something that happened to me, you might think the comparison harsh because I have a score to settle or a parting shot to take. But this happened about 30 years ago. The pastor alluded to that I will discuss in this and the next post died before I moved from New York state to Maryland about 25 years ago.

Instead, as with many events recorded in Scripture, I want to provide a precedent for certain things happening that might illuminate, explain, correct and, when all is said and done, encourage you in your walk. It could happen to you is a bit of a cliché, but in some aspects it could.

“Now these things occurred as examples” (1 Cor 10:6,11) Paul says twice in referring to the people in the wilderness and their uneven devotion. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful you don’t fall!”

The church in question started as a weekly outreach, a coffeehouse that met on the third floor of a retail store building in a small town in western New York. The pastor of the new church was gifted as an evangelist. He had a way of engaging total strangers that was just magical to watch. He could have sold snow to the Inuit.

This church was affiliated with two others, each about a 45-minute drive away. The overseer of the three churches—the subject of these posts—was gifted as a prophet. There were 2-3 times he spoke things to me that were significant guideposts in my (still relatively young) spiritual life. And, 30 years later, I can tell you they were dead accurate.

If you don’t know very much about prophets in the church, the first thing you need to jettison is the notion that he or she is a contemporary Nostradamus—or the psychic Jeane Dixon, as one minister once asked me—who can tell you who’ll be president in 2028. And, incidentally, isn’t the person who swears he read something about “the end-times, one-world government” between the lines in USA Today this morning venturing out on a prophetic limb?

Yes, prophecy is predictive, but stop for a moment to reflect what a mundane observation that is. The past is the past, you’re reading this in the present and, by process of elimination, that leaves the future.

If you think about it, the covenants in the Pentateuch were predictive: If you obey me, I will bless you; if you don’t, the nation will be taken captive. If someone talks about the course of your life and its consequences, how could this not be predictive?

The point of citing these two pastors’ gifts is that they were genuinely powerful and effective in ways that many people in the church have never even seen, much less experienced over a period of months and years as I did. Despite what happened to me subsequently, this was the best church I ever attended (which was for about 7 years, I believe). Nothing else comes close.

My introduction to the ministry gifts preceded my involvement in this church by a couple of years. While on a short-term mission assignment in India, I met an American missionary who was a living demonstration of the difference between the gift of teacher and the factory-issued variety.

He could synthesize strands from various sources into something that was clear, engaging and persuasive without being heavy-handed. He didn’t harangue or browbeat; he didn’t have to. The wisdom seemed to just tumble out of his mouth. That’s they way a gift works.

“When your words came, I ate them,” said Jeremiah, “they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer 15:16). Even when you feel a bit roughed up by Jesus’ exhortations or OT prophetic denunciations, you should still be able to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8). I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on the fact that some ministry leaves a bad taste in your mouth. A gifted teacher doesn’t do that.

I realize that I’ve meandered quite a bit in this post. But I swear no one is paying me by the word to rob you of your time watching Netflix or TV Land. (Besides, I know you have a DVR.)

I will get to the point. But I’ve found from examining stats and individual interactions with this site that my audience isn’t necessarily religious in a way that the readers of Christianity Today, Charisma or Relevant are. So I need to explain some things for the uninitiated.

The man born blind (Jn 9:1-41) was no religious scholar. He didn’t listen to Christian podcasts. He didn’t have a board resting between two cement blocks sagging under the weight of all the Christian books he bought at weekend conferences and seminars (most with bookmarks at about page 35).

This was his testimony of Jesus: “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see” (9:15). I want you to see, no matter who you are.

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