Pastor, what makes your sermon Christian?

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them…. Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him…” (Acts 8:5,35).

Preach Jesus!

Two sermons stand out in my mind as possibly the worst I have ever heard.

(And to those who ask about the worst sermons I personally have ever preached, there have been so many, it’s hard to choose!)

One sermon was interesting and easy to follow.  The other was a self-centered rant I found completely offensive.

The first was delivered by an interim pastor who, according to the introduction, taught at a local Christian college.   The second was delivered by a young pastor who told us that he had started that church only 8 years previously. It now ran in the thousands.  We were at one of their multiple locations watching him on a large screen. By any measurement the world uses to judge success, the man was all that and more.

Both sermons were helpful in some ways. Neither was biblical.  Both were delivered by gifted communicators; neither mentioned Jesus.  Neither message had even a passing acquaintance with the gospel.

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Hoisted on one’s own petard. Whatever that means.

I bought three cheap little rubber snakes at Walmart to drop into the tall grass in my front yard to give my grandson a start as he goes by with the mower.

The only one they scared was me.

Son Neil was videoing it as Grant pushed the mower ever closer to the serpents.  Then, at the magic moment, when he saw the snakes, he never batted an eye—but started to push the mower over them, until Neil stopped him.

Later, after I’d taken the snakes into the house, Neil returned them to the front yard and laid them in the flower garden as decorations.  So, next morning when I went to bring in the newspaper, my eye spots the snakes and my nerves jerk before my mind has time to signal that “it’s okay; they’re just rubber.”

I bought them to scare Grant, but the only person they startle is me.

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The perfect story…a little too flawed for my personal comfort.

The story that follows is only one-half of this article.  Please stick around for some background and a little discussion on whether preachers should use such stories.

As I recall the story, here’s what happened….

During the Second World War, John Blanchard was stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.  One Sunday afternoon, he walked down to the base library and checked out several books. He took them back to his room and lay on the bunk flipping through  them. One was a book of poetry.

Blanchard quickly decided the poetry was not very good, but what made the book special was the previous owner–clearly a woman, with wonderful flowing handwriting in green ink–had written in the margins.  Her notes, Blanchard saw, were better than the poetry.  He devoured the  book and her comments.  For the next couple of days, his mind kept going back to what he had read.

Blanchard noticed that the owner’s name was in the front of the book. Miss Hollis Maydell of New York City.  He did a little sleuthing and found an address for her, then wrote a letter telling of finding the book and how he was fascinated by her comments. He invited her to correspond with him.

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59 things not to say to a preacher

1. “I enjoyed your little talk.”

2. “Is what you said true, or was that just preacher talk?”

3. “I heard (famous preacher) preach that same sermon on television.  He did it so much better.”

4. “Could you come to my home and preach that sermon to my husband?”

5. “You ought to hear the pastor at our church.  He’s been to seminary.”

6. “Our church is so much bigger (better, friendlier, whatever) than yours.”

7. “The restroom is out of paper.”

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The Lord promises to be with my mouth

“Now, therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exodus 4:12).

I love the sass we hear coming from Moses.

Is that too strong a word?  It probably is, since my dictionary defines sass as “disrespectful speech.”

Gentle backtalk.  Assertiveness, maybe.

Anyway….

Toward the end of his exchange with the Lord who spoke to him from the burning bush, as God called him to confront Pharaoh and deliver Israel from Egypt, and after Moses has run up excuse after excuse, only to be shot down by the Lord, Moses adds one more.  (I love that sentence! smiley-face here)

“O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

Something about that resonates with me.

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Should the retired pastor remain in that church?

“I’m retired and wondering if I need to join another church. The present pastor doesn’t quite seem to know how to relate to me. I feel I’m in the way around here. So, I’m wondering: should the retired pastor join another church or can he remain in the one where he has invested so many years of his life?”

My answer: That depends.

The pastor asking this added: “Have you ever written on that subject?”

Not until now.

He said, “I feel so awkward, like I’m in the way.”

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A praise sandwich: The most fundamental lesson in the Lord’s Prayer

“Our Father, who art in Heaven….” (Matthew 6:9)

The Lord’s Prayer is a praise sandwich. Okay, maybe a “praise parenthesis.” Envelope? (I’m searching for the best metaphor. Anyone got a good one?)

This prayer begins and ends with praise. In between are the personal requests we make for ourselves.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with a concern for Thy Name, Thy Kingdom, and Thy Will.

It ends with Thy Kingdom, Thy Power, and Thy Glory.

In between, we have Give us, Forgive us, Lead us, and Deliver us.

What could be simpler?

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Part 2 — The most fun I ever had in the ministry

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry…” (I Timothy 1:12).

I was pastoring the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi.  This was the zenith of our twelve-plus years in that wonderful old church located in the heart of “the Friendly City.”

Here is the background….

In the summer of 1979, we had flown over 70 of our people–adults and youth–to New Jersey where they spent two weeks in a church-building blitz as well as ministering in the community. My son Neil was 16 that summer and went along. He has never forgotten the experience of working alongside successful businessmen and women who rolled up their sleeves and worked like dogs and sweat like…uh, pigs?

The experience was so great for our church, we decided that since we needed a new building for our music ministry in Columbus, rather than contract it out as we might normally do, we could build it ourselves.  The summer of 1981 would be highlighted by a two-week period in which we would ask our people to take their vacation from work and act just as if they were in New Jersey or somewhere, and help construct that three-story building.  (Yes, we actually hired an on-the-scene construction supervisor, and paid to have the foundation poured and the steel girders erected.  Some things you don’t want volunteers doing.)

Anyway, we decided we would raise the money for the project and not go in debt.  Our target date for the money was March 1, 1981.  Now, I want to share with you excerpts from my journal leading up to that.  Every pastor in the audience will see in a heartbeat why this experience ranks as perhaps “the most fun” of all my years in the ministry….

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The most fun I ever had in the ministry (part 1)

A friend challenged me to write an article under this title. She saw where I posted a number of possible subjects to get the creative writing juices going for preachers, and the one titled “write about the most fun you ever had in the ministry” intrigued her.

I told her I’d give it a try.

With the call of God on one’s life, a place to serve, great friends alongside you, and laughter in your heart, it hardly gets any better than this!

Now, fun comes in many shapes and sizes and varieties in the ministry.  Mostly, for me, the “fun” was of two types:  a) everyone enjoying one another and b) great things happening in the church.

This article is of the first type; the next article gives the second type of fun.

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How to say ‘no’ to a wonderful opportunity

“They said to Him, ‘Lord! Everyone is looking for you.’ He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'” (Mark 1:35-38).

Turning down a lousy request is no problem.

–“Hey Joe! Wanna go bungee jumping?” Ha. Not in this lifetime.

–“Hey preacher! How about a night of bar-hopping on Bourbon Street!” You talking to me, Leroy?

–“Pastor, would you write a book on the superiority of your theological system over all others?”  Uh, no.  But have a nice day.

Saying ‘no’ to something you hate to do, do not want to do, cannot do, and would not be caught dead doing–piece of cake.

No one has to counsel you on how to do that.

It’s all those other requests that you find difficult to turn down.

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