Shrinking God: Why that’s not a good idea

“O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).

“These things you have done, and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you” (Psalm 50:21).

For some reason, at the very time we need God’s great love and power, we keep trying to make Him less than He is.

Which is laughable, when you stop to think about it.

This is the God who created the far reaches of this universe with its distances and complexities and components.  And we’re going to reduce Him and make Him like one of us?  Truly laughable.

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The most startling news ever, straight from Heaven: Luke 2:10-12

We interrupt this program to bring you the following news….

“I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people!  Today in the City of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”

We return you now to your regularly scheduled program.

Wonder how Heaven decided who would deliver the news of Jesus’ birth that night?  Was there a competition among the angels? Did they draw straws? Was the announcer chosen by merit?  Did anyone say, “Gabriel got to tell Mary and Joseph; it’s my turn”?  What were the requirements?  A good speaking voice? Fluency in Aramaic?  And was the announcing angel disappointed when Heaven’s light was switched on and the audience for this event-for-the-ages was revealed to be a few rag-tag shepherds?

H. V. Kaltenborn, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite, eat your heart out!  This was the best announcing job of all time.

Let’s break this wonderful announcement down into its ten components…

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Christmas: Not a time for inventing new twists on the age-old story

“Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Just tell the story.

Tell the story with faithfulness and respect.  Tell it accurately and fully, bringing in the accounts of Matthew and Luke, drawing from the prophecies of old.

Tell it with gusto and love. Tell the story of the birth of Jesus with all the excitement of someone hearing it for the first time.  Tell the story without detouring into theories and guesses and myths and controversies.

Your Christmas sermon is no time to conjecture on how planets aligned themselves into creating that wandering star which led the Magi to Bethlehem.  Keep in mind that it “went before them until it came and stood over where the child was” (Matthew 2:9).  Try doing that with planets.  Stay on the subject, pastor, and don’t waste your time.

Your Christmas sermon should not waste everyone’s valuable time on the pagan origin of Christmas or the history of Augustus’ census, unless you’ve found something worthwhile, pastor.

Stay on the subject.

Tell the story with imagination and appreciation.

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One question you must never ask in ministry

“Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

Was it worth it?

You do not know which will succeed.  If both will.  Or neither.

Disciples of Jesus Christ must never try to calculate the cost/benefit of some act of ministry.

Our assignment is to obey. To be faithful.

We have no idea how God will use something we do, whether He will, or to what extent He will.  We do the act and leave the matter with Him as we move on to our next assignment.

Every pastor will identify with the following scenario….

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What pastors can learn from football coaches

Jim Mora was the popular coach of the New Orleans Saints NFL team.  On one occasion, as he and I shared an elevator, I introduced myself. I said, “Preachers can appreciate what coaches have to put up with.  We both work hard all week and everything comes down to a couple of hours on Sunday.  It’ll make or break you.”

He flashed that smile that charmed every fan, calmed many a sportswriter, and drove a few referees nuts. “But,” he said, “they don’t call radio stations the next week criticizing every little decision you made, do they?”

No, I guess not.  A friend said, “If they’d pay me the zillion bucks these guys get, I could stand that.”

Now, football coaches and pastors probably have more that differentiates us than we have in common.  A coach tends a small flock, usually no more than 50 players and a few assistants.  At the upper echelon, he gets paid astronomical bucks, is answerable only to one or two bosses, and his season lasts just a few months.  The typical pastor may have a flock numbering in the hundreds and receive a salary barely sufficient to keep the house heated and the children clothed and fed.  The pastors are answerable to everyone and his brother, and work year round with no letup.

The coach’s job description can be summed up in a sentence or two: Win games and try not to embarrass the company.  But pastors, God bless ’em, labor under multiple layers of expectations and demands and requirements.

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The burning eyes of the Lord Jesus

“His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14)

In a Harry Bosch detective story, best-selling author Michael Connelly tells of a murder victim who, while being hanged, had a bucket placed over his head. Connelly explains to the reader that killers who want to dehumanize their victims often hide their faces, perhaps blindfold them or in this case, cover their head with a bucket.

Rapists, says Connelly, will often blindfold their victims or place a pillow over their face.  They cannot stand the pain of looking into the eyes of one whom they are destroying.

The eyes tell so much of what the soul experiences.

A reporter was interviewing a medic who had  served during the Vietnam war.  “How,” he asked, “does a medic handle the constant suffering he has to deal with day after day?”  The man answered, “Never look a dying man in the eyes.”

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What people want from the pastor and have a right to expect

I hesitate to say one group in the church has a “right” to expect anything of another. Insisting on our rights will almost invariably result in resistance, frustration, anger, and division.  And yet in a very real sense believers who support the work of the Lord with their tithes and offerings and time and energy have a right to expect certain things from their shepherd.  That’s what this is about. 

What follows is directed primarily to pastors. Others may listen in, but they should not miss the “they do not have a right” which comes at the end of each section.

If I got what I deserve, I’d be in hell.  And so would you.

The Christian life is not about getting our rights or having others meet our demands.  Far from it.

We have died with Christ.  We are bondservants instructed to submit to one another.  That is a far cry from the so-called “catbird seat” from where we call the shots.

Much better for us to appreciate anything we receive from the people around us, no matter how small or poorly given.

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Pastors: Why some love them and some don’t

“All were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips…. And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they rose up and cast Him out of the city…” (Luke 4)

Who was it who said “I’m not as bad as my worst enemies say, nor as good as my biggest supporters claim”?  Something like that.

I expect there’s a lot more going on as to why some love you, pastor–and others don’t–than first meets the eye.

Stella was a senior adult and dear to everyone in our congregation. From time to time, she would drop by the church office with fudge for her pastor. It was as delicious as anything Godiva or Hershey ever hoped to make.  I made sure she knew how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness.

Meanwhile, I was having a miserable time trying to get a handle on pastoring that church. A few of the leaders were chronically dissatisfied with anything I did and most of what I said.

I welcomed her kindness.

One evening on my way out the door, I ran into Stella in the hallway.  She said, “Pastor, I want you to see something.”  Opening her purse, she brought out a letter from ten years earlier written by the pastor at that time, Dr. Carl Bates.  He was thanking Stella for the wonderful candy.

I feigned shock. “Stella! I thought I was the only pastor you made fudge for!”

She smiled. “I have always loved all my pastors.”

I gave her a hug and said, “Good for you. That’s exactly how it should be.”

A few minutes later, on the drive home, something occurred to me.

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10 reasons I believe in Heaven

“Heaven is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”  –Stephen Hawking

I’m afraid of the dark.

If we’re talking about the endless kind of darkness that offers no light anywhere, no hope ever, and nothing but nothingness, who among us would not panic at the thought of that?

I expect people like Mr. Hawking simply find the idea of Heaven too good to be true, and thus conclude that it must be a product of man’s delusional yearning for “pie in the sky by and by.”

And yet, there are solid reasons for reasonable people to believe in the concept of a Heavenly home after this earthly life.  Here are some that mean a lot to me.  By no means is this list exhaustive.  It’s simply my thinking on the subject.

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So, you are planning to go into the ministry

“Whom shall I send? and who will go for us?”  Then said I, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” (Isaiah 6)

You say the Lord has called you into His work. You’re still young and you’re excited, although with a proper amount of fear and uncertainty on what all this means.

You’re normal.  Been there, felt that.

We might have cause to worry if the living God touched your life and redirected it into His service and you picked yourself up and went on as though nothing had happened.  Amos said, “I was gathering sycamore fruit, and the Lord God called me.”  He said, “The lion roars and you will fear. God calls and you will prophesy.”

The call of God is almost as life-changing as the original salvation experience itself.

So, give thanks.  And give this a lot of prayerful thought.

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