Things that no longer bother me

“Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty.  Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me” (Psalm 131:1).

At least, I hope that’s true of me.

A young minister texted to say he was studying the various explanations and interpretations about the day of the Lord’s actual crucifixion, the number of days/nights He was in the tomb, etc.  “What is your theory?” he wanted to know.

I replied that I don’t have a theory, that for a lot of reasons such questions do not bother me.

He did not say whether that was a satisfactory answer.  But it’s the truth.

A lot of things I used to obsess about and study and address in sermons no longer bother me.  Part of it–I would hope all of it–results from a mature perspective of the world and the call of God.  Some things just do not matter to me that much.  If you the reader disagree, that’s fine and it’s your privilege.  I’m not saying the Lord makes all His disciples the same. The variety of His gifts and calls seems endless.

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Servanthood: A different kind of leadership

“…your servant, for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). 

God wants you to be a leader, Christian.  But not your garden variety kind of leader, where you have lots of followers who obey your commands, groupies surrounding you to anticipate your whims.

God calls you and me to be servant-leaders.  A servant leader is the kind the world knows little of, the type that is counter-intuitive, we might say.  That is, it doesn’t look or feel like a leader but it is.

Once again, the way of the Lord is upside down compared to the world’s way.  (You’ve noticed that, have you?)

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“Oh, how long it’s been since I’ve seen you!”

Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16). 

Songwriter Robert Sherman was attending the birthday party for Will Durant, the 85-year-old who with his wife Ariel had recently produced the enormous set of volumes on The History of Civilization.  It was a feat of incredible magnitude for which they had won all kinds of awards.

One month earlier, Sherman had spent several hours with Dr. Durant during which they discussed literature and film.  But now, in the crowded reception, Durant just cannot place Sherman.  He knows he’s supposed to know him, but cannot get beyond that.

Know the feeling? I sure do.

Bob Sherman said Will Durant would stare, smile, and try to make the connection. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head.

Finally, Durant said, “It’s good of you to come.  It’s been a long time since I have seen you.  Too long.”

Sherman, relating this story in Moose: Chapters from my Life, called Durant’s words  “an all purpose statement.”

And Sherman understands the problem.  The older we get, the more prone we are to forgetfulness.

Do you have a similar story?  Here is one of mine.

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If I were to preach a sermon on homosexuality

“And such were some of you.”  (I Corinthians 6:11).

On a social-media platform the other day, pastors admitted their reluctance to address homosexuality for the obvious reasons: it is such a hot-button issue, good people differ, and the historic Christian position is becoming more and more a lightning rod.

I’m a Southern Baptist.  I’m a Bible-believing conservative follower of Jesus Christ.  I find nothing in Scripture to support homosexuality or a lifestyle consistent with that practice.  Not a word.  (I need to say that up front because some might question this from what follows.)

Pastors need to address such issues as homosexuality, transgender, and same sex marriage in their sermons.  No church wants or needs a steady diet of it, to be sure, but neither should we shy away from these hot potato issues.

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Lessons in prayer from a blind beggar

A blind man sat by the roadside begging.  When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he began to call out, “Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:35fff)

The blind beggar of Jericho had a name, at least in a way he did.  Bartimaeus they called him, according to the account in Mark 10.  However, Bar-Timaeus means “Son of Timaeus.”  This tells us no one really knew his name, only that his father was a man known to some.

Bartimaeus was blind.  In that culture, no options existed for a blind adult other than to beg.  Perhaps someone helped him to his begging place each day, we don’t know.  We may assume that he was unwashed, that he needed a haircut last year and had not had a bath in memory.  By any standards of the day, his situation was clearly hopeless.

Maybe so, but….

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How to select your “life verse”

“Lord, to whom shall  we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  

Your life verse is not just a cute, catchy line that looks good on a bumper sticker.

Your life verse understands you.  It sums up a lot about your life.  It has your number.

Your life verse knows your deep, dark secrets.

When you were young, you were still finding out who you were and had yet to encounter life’s bruises and hurts. You could not have found a verse that “fit” since you didn’t know “what size you were,” to stay with the metaphor.  But by this time, you have lived enough to carry scars from disappointments and battles.  You have failed and sometimes failed bigtime.  You have hurt and cried and cried out to God.  And now you are ready to find your life verse.

Your life verse won’t necessarily make you happy.  It may be a reminder of the scars you wear and a few you have inflicted.

Here’s mine.

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Some things I got out of my system….

“Those that were gain to me I counted loss….” (Philippians 3:7)

First. 

I wondered how things would be in that church of another denomination.  They had a good reputation and were growing while the small church I pastored was struggling.  So I visited their revival service one night.

One time was enough.

The preacher was delivering some shallow, hardly biblical at all, message and was whooping up the excitement to keep the people dancing in the aisles.  When the furor died down, he would step up the microphone and continue his tirade.  When the people returned to the uproar, he took a break and walked over to the piano player–who had not slowed down the constant banging at any point–and carried on a conversation.

I could not take any more of that and never envied that church or its pastor again.

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I answered your email, but you never received it.

This happens too often, and it’s frustrating.

A fellow who reads this blog emailed to say, “I’ve been asked to serve on an ordination council.”  He asked a couple of questions, then said, “What would be some good questions for me to ask the candidate?”  I replied at length, then hit “send.”  A few minutes later, my email was returned to me.  “Undeliverable,” said the message.

I resent the message.  Same thing happened.

Arghhh.  What to do now?

Mostly, when this happens–and as I say, it occurs more often than one might expect–I keep trying to resend it or I might put a message on our website in hope the person will see it.

If he doesn’t, what will he think?  Either that I did not get his email or  received it but did not reply, both of which are wrong.

Is this like unanswered prayer, I wonder?

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That sermon needed a good illustration, pastor!

“Jesus never taught without telling stories.”  –Mark 4:34 

Recently, as my wife and I ministered in a church in another state for a few days, we noticed something interesting.  A senior lady in the congregation approached us several times with a story or joke.  In each case, her tale was something we had heard a dozen times over fifty years.  Which makes a point people might want to keep in mind when they start telling a joke or story they’ve heard to a preacher: They have heard them all.  Particularly if they have been in ministry for half a century or more, they have more than likely told that story so many times they grew tired of it.

They laugh and say the same thing Johnny Carson used to say on his television show when someone told him a stale joke: “That’s funny. That’s really funny.”  He didn’t laugh, but said it was funny.

Okay, now.

Tell the preacher a story, yes, but preferably one that happened to you or of which you have personal knowledge.  We love those.  I still recall first-person stories told me a generation ago, because I have used them more than once.

We preachers are always in the market for a good story or great sermon illustration.  We know the value of these things.

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Churchfails: Scoundrels in the Lord’s family

“There must be heresies among you” –I Corinthians 11:19.

The complete text of that verse goes: “There must be heresies (or divisions) among you that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”

How will we know what we believe if we don’t know what we don’t?

“Churchfails” is a book edited by David Stabnow and written by several seminary professors.  Subtitle: “100 blunders in church history (and what we can learn from them).”

I predict you’re going to love this book.

You know immediately that much of this is tongue-in-cheek when you read the introductions to the seven learned authors of these short, pithy chapters.  For instance…

–“Rex Butler was a shoe salesman in his former life, then God called him to teach when he was 40 years old.  He went from selling soles to schooling souls…..following in the footsteps of William Carey and D. L. Moody!”  (Joe’s note:  Carey was a cobbler and Moody sold shoes.)

–Ken “Deep Dish” Cleaver grew up in the Windy City, a land flowing with cheese and sausage…… We actually invited him to be on our team of authors because he’s an avid unicyclist and we needed the balance.”

–Rodrick K. Durst was “raised and trained in California, moving between campuses of Golden Gate Seminary to catch all the earthquakes…..”

–Lloyd A. Harsch is a “parent, professor, pastor, political pundit, and punster…..He has a captive audience that is pressured to applaud his puns because he submits their grades!”

–James Lutzweiler is “a part-time mushroom picker…..” Stephen O. Presley “hails from (Texas) but ventured out to study theology among the brave-hearted kilt-wearers of the far northern territory….” David K. Stabnow (editor of the book) “gave up a dead-end career digging graves in the frozen soil of Minnesota in favor of herding cats and shepherding words as Bible and Reference Book Editor at B&H.  He lives in Nashville but doesn’t listen to country music.”

Whew.  And the book hasn’t even gotten underway yet.

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