We hear songs of praise from the ends of the earth, songs that give glory to the Righteous One! But my heart is heavy with grief. Weep for me, for I wither away. Deceit still prevails, and treachery is everywhere. Isaiah 24:16 (NLT)
State dinners served at the White House are more than just political form – they are meant to be a high honor for visiting dignitaries from other nations.
These dinners started in the late 1800’s and have been a tradition for all that time. In the 1960’s President Lyndon Johnson hosted 54 of those festive nights – the most in presidential history. Coming in second was Ronald Regan in the 80’s with 35 in 8 years.
President Obama has only had seven of the $500,000 nights, although it was supposed to be eight; it seems two years ago Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was to be honored, but it never happened. She canceled after learning that the [U.S.] National Security Agency spied on her.
Hmmmm….sitting down to a half-million dollar banquet given by people who want to honor you and your service to mankind, while they peek into your private life to keep tabs on you?
I believe I would have also cancelled. (That is, assuming I’d ever been invited….which I haven’t; yet!)
(And…by the way, I’m neither holding my breath nor checking the mail for invitations!)
The picture of a pat on your back before the crowd, while the “patter” is using his other hand to plunge a knife in that same back, is a well-known and well-understood cause for apprehension. Treachery, as Isaiah put it, is everywhere.
Pastors are not exempt – neither from being treacherous, nor being targeted by people who deal treacherously.
A very long time ago, and almost in another galaxy (as Star Wars has it), I was trapped by a pair of sharp operators. They were church members and leaders; they laid a trap for the naïve preacher, and in front of a congregational meeting praised my leadership and preaching and even the way I parted my hair.
Then the hammer fell!
They proposed something to the congregation in a way that seemed to have my full backing, even though they had privately suggested to me it wouldn’t work. I was in agreement with them, and assumed that was the end of it, and wouldn’t be brought up. One leader brought it up; the other quickly seconded it and called for a vote.
After all their public praise, had I contradicted this dynamic duo, it would have made me the bad guy; unfortunately, allowing it to be adopted by the congregation, only to certainly fail later made me a bad leader.
I would like to say I stood up and spoke truth to power – but it’s hard to do that when you’re sitting there in absolute disbelief and shock. I froze. I think my mouth was dropped open so wide I got splinters from the floor on my chin.
And then…the look. The proposer of the dastardly motion looked at me and grinned a little. To the gathered church brethren it looked like he was saying, we agree with your leadership here, you fine fellow of a pastor; but I knew it meant, preacher you’re gonna be one BIG fool when this flops and you get the credit for it!
Now, that’s not the only failed leadership event on my resume’, but it stands as one of the most painful events I ever experienced as a pastor. And although it was personally humbling and painful, it taught me one of the most meaningful lessons I’ve ever put on my personal tee shirt: when it comes to praise, be careful when someone wants to give a state dinner in your honor!
There’s not a treacherous demon behind every bush just waiting to stick a knife in your back. But there are some and you need to trust God’s hand to guide you through the maze.
So, do what you can to keep loving people, and keep trusting the Lord; and avoid state dinners if you can.
Think about that out on your rocky road today; and have a great day!