The most frightening thing about preaching

It’s actually several facets of the same thing:  I’m speaking for God.

Imagine such a thing.

Lives hang in the balance.

People are making decisions about God based on something I say.

People are making choices about their eternal destiny based on something I say.

Is this frightening or what?

What if I get it wrong?

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You don’t pray very well. Here’s why that is all right.

“We do not know how to pray as we should….” (Romans 8:26)

My wife and I used to have this running discussion over the philosophy that says, “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing….(what?)”  She would say “It’s worth doing well,” and I said, “Poorly.”  (I would remind her of our friend Annie who says, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!” lol)

Case in point: Prayer.

Prayer is worth doing, regardless how poorly we do it.

And we do it poorly, make no mistake about that. “We do not know how to pray as we should.’

The Apostle Paul said that.

My friend, if Paul didn’t know how to pray as he should, it’s a lead-pipe cinch you and I don’t.

But that’s all right.  God knows this and has no problem with it.  In fact, He did something about it: He gave us a Divine Intercessor.

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The urgent reason for unity in your church

“Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent me….that they may be one just as we are one….that the world may know that You have sent me….” (John 17:20-23)

In the churches with which I have experience, unity seems to be a sometimes thing.

We Baptists have been known to pride ourselves on our divisions. “Where you have two of us, you have three opinions.”  A great many of our churches were started, not intentionally but accidentally, the result of division and splits.

To the average church member, it appears that unity is good but not important, welcome but not essential, comfortable but usually inconvenient.

We are dead wrong.

Unity is a huge deal to the Lord, in Scripture, and in our world today.

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Times the Lord tests the preacher

“For You, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver….” (Psalm 66:10).

I have no memory where the impetus for that particular Bible study came from that Wednesday night.  But my topic was “serving God faithfully even when fatigued.”  Perhaps it was John 4 where a very tired Lord rests at Jacob’s well, then encounters the Samaritan woman to whom He delivers a strong witness, and later the disciples remark that someone must have given Him food (4:33).

Anyway, what happened was this.

No sooner had I stepped off the platform to greet a few church members before they scattered for home than Carolyn approached me.  She and her small children had begun coming to our church after we gave them some financial assistance, and they seemed to be genuinely appreciative.  Carolyn was humble and not demanding, and we wanted to do anything for her we could.

“Brother Joe, I need to move tonight.”

How’s that?

She said, “I live in an apartment that is terrible. And I’ve lined up a new apartment that will be so much better for my children and me. But if I don’t move out of the old apartment tonight, I will lose my deposit.”

How much is your deposit, Carolyn?

Several hundred dollars.

About what she made in two weeks of work. A significant amount.

I asked where she lived now and where the new apartment was, and how much “stuff” she had.

It’s a good thing I did not know the full answers to these questions.

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Forgiving hearts and short memories

“…He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10)

“If you should mark iniquities, O Lord, who would stand?” (Psalm 130:3)

I have set records along life’s way for naivete’ and plain-out stupidity.

If everyone kept a record of my flaws and faults and slights and blights, I’d be the least popular person on the planet.

I have said things to people–blurted them out without thinking–that return to me in the middle of the night and put me to shame. “What was I thinking?”  “Why wasn’t I thinking?”

Some remarks were trivial, off-handed nonsense, meant as nothing and, as Shakespeare said, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  And yet, in my  determination to make sure no moment lacked the sound of my voice, I prated on and on.

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What the preacher should say in the wedding ceremony

“…the  two shall become one….” (Matthew 19:5)

The wedding ceremony is a great time–once in a lifetime for most people–for the pastor to get something across to two people in particular while hundreds are eavesdropping.

Not that the couple will remember a thing you say.  (When Margaret and I stood at the altar, our pastor said some wonderful things that I found fascinating and inspiring.  No exaggeration.  I stood there alongside my bride and was blessed by his comments. Alas, no one was recording anything in 1962, and my mind retained his wonderful words for exactly half an hour, so whatever he said is gone forever.)

These days, someone is recording your wedding service.

The bride and groom and close relatives will keep the CD and/or DVD for the rest of their lives and will periodically play it again.

That’s when your words are finally heard and begin to sink in.

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Reasons to believe: There are only ten thousand or so.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47).

I believe in God because I believe in butterflies.

I believe in God because I’ve seen a baby and held one and watched it grow into adulthood.  And I have seen him hold babies of his own in his arms.

I believe in God because I watched the sunrise this morning.

I believe in God because of a lack of turbulence.  As the earth spins around its axis, as the earth speeds around its orbit, as our solar system zooms through the galaxy, and as the galaxy tears across the heavens at enormous speeds, you and I don’t feel a thing.  We can lay a ball on the ground today and it’s still there tomorrow morning, unmoved.  I find that truly amazing.

I believe in God because of Jesus.

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Why I turned off that radio preacher

On the highway the other day and flipping through the radio dial, I came across a Seventh Day Adventist preacher in the middle of a sermon. Within five minutes, he had made two errors that revealed either his biblical incompetence or his spiritual presumption.

So I turned him off.

In the first instance, in trying to make the case for Christians today keeping the Sabbath, he equated the Ten Commandments with all our Lord’s statements in the Gospels about “keeping my commands” and “breaking these commandments.”  In John chapters 14 and 15, for instance, several times our Lord says things like, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15,21,23 and 15:10,14).  That preacher said Jesus was referring to the Ten Commandments.

Not even close.

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What pastors do that cause their members to cringe

“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).

Robert Schuller died last week. This founder of the Crystal Cathedral in California and founder/host of television’s “Hour of Power” broadcast was the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church.  He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable, and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.

When I read of his passing, I posted this on my Facebook page:

My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano lessons.  Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation.  Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Honey, any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, always end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.”  Schuller would say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life.  But my friend, you can end with a flourish if you start now.”

 

It’s a great story and a fine sermon illustration.

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Five facts about the sign in front of your church

Since Scripture doesn’t mention “church buildings”–other than people’s homes–we have no explicit teachings concerning their function, architecture, or anything else.  Therefore, a sign in front of the church to identify certain details about the congregation is also foreign to Scripture, a small innovation made necessary by the cultures of which we are a part. So, the principles here are basic common sense…I hope.

1. Your church needs a sign.

When oppressive governments first decide to persecute churches, they require that all signage and identifying insignia be removed.  Mistakenly under the impression that if no one can find a church the houses of worship will soon cease to exist, pagan officials forget that the Christian faith existed for centuries by word of mouth, still the best method of propagating the gospel.

Even so, it’s a good idea to have a sign in front of a church.  In America, that is a given. The church without a sign in front may as well have no door.

Please take a look at the sign identifying your church.  Get out of the car and walk up close to it. Study it closely.

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