Fearmongering: The cheapest kind of preaching

“Men’s hearts will be failing them from fear” (Luke 21:26).

“Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:18).

When I was a kid–sometime in the early 1950s–I recall going to a revival meeting with my grandmother in Birmingham.  The preacher scared the living daylights out of everyone with his prophecies about the future, his warnings about Russia and Communism, and his forecasts about what was about to happen.  Later, as Grandma and I walked down the dark Birmingham streets to her apartment,  I felt that every plane going overhead was about to drop an atomic bomb on us.

Scary preaching is foreign to the New Testament.

The great apostle actually thought teachings of the Lord’s return and the believers’ victory over and escape from this world should comfort us.

But listen to the typical prophecy preacher.   So many will use passages about the Lord’s return and the end times to strike terror into the hearts of the faithful.  They speak of the martyrdom of millions of the faithful, of the havoc to be wreaked throughout the world by the Lord’s death angels, of the Beast and the Antichrist and the desolation of abomination.

Matters of which they understand little.

God’s final warning!  The end is near!  Signs of the time!  The Antichrist is alive and living in New York City at this moment.  The United States in Bible prophecy!  Nuclear war predicted in Bible prophecy!

Sound familiar?  If you’ve observed the religious scene for the last 20 years or more, you’ve heard it all.  Turn on the television and you can hear it today.

There’s a reason for this.

Fear-mongering is a well-calculated plan to get religious but ignorant people into their organizations or onto their mailing lists, and then motivate them to open their bank accounts.

After all, fear works. Fear motivates.

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Is God interested in making me happy?

“He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

“…And now I am happy all the day” (“At the Cross,” a gospel song in our hymnals).

It’s good to be happy.  I’m all in favor of it, and I think the Lord is also.


God’s primary concern is not in making us happy.  He does not fret because someone is displeased with the job He is doing, someone else is .unhappy with the way a Scripture text is worded, and another is complaining about the weather today.

Pleasing us does not appear to be high on His agenda.  He seems not in the least concerned that some of us do not like His methods or the personnel He has sent in our direction as our teachers, pastors, comforters, companions.

I can just hear it now.  “Lord, are you aware that some of us are unhappy with you?  Doesn’t that concern you?”  He that sitteth in  the Heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2)

Scripture shows that God is far more interested in pleasing Himself and making Himself happy than in satisfying us.

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Some necessary things about prayer

I had led a family to Christ.  They soon joined our church and were baptized the following Sunday.  My notes remind me of something the grandfather said.  He was chairman of deacons in a church 3 hours away, and of course, they were excited about what had happened.  He said to me, “We’ve been praying for this family, but one by one.  We had no idea they’d all get saved at the same time!”

Expectations.  Dale Caston told me something that took place in a high school class when he was a teen.  The teacher asked the students, “What do you expect to get out of this class?”  She looked at one student: “Eddie, what do you expect?”  Eddie said, “Well, I’ve had you before–and I don’t expect nothing!”  —  What do you expect when you pray?  The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect little from the Lord, too much from the church, and nothing from ourselves.

“Thou art coming to a King; Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.” –John Newton

Okay.  Now, some quick thoughts on what the Lord has taught and is teaching me on prayer….

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Expectations all out of kilter

The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect–

–little of the Lord

–too much of the church

–and nothing of ourselves

And because we expect LITTLE FROM THE LORD, we are powerless, prayerless, weak, ineffective, and defeated.

Because we expect TOO MUCH FROM THE CHURCH we are frustrated, demanding, self-centered, and end up church-hopping or pastor-terminating.

Because we expect NOTHING FROM OURSELVES, we are lazy and spoiled, passive and shallow, and get offended when asked to do anything outside our comfort zone.

Luke 7:18-35 deals with expectations in three areas: What we expect of Jesus, what we expect of the preacher, and what we expect of ourselves.

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Pastors’ No-No: Overuse of the first person singular

The fellow who developed something called “My Pillow” wants everyone to know “I did it.”  “When I invented My Pillow,” he says, and goes from there.  You get the impression he locked himself in a garage and didn’t come out until he’d figured out all by his lonesome how to make this new kind of pillow.  He comes across as a solo act.

In the TV ad, he says, “I do all my own manufacturing in my home state….”

The man is in love with the first person singular pronoun.  I, me, my.  A four-year-old saying “I can do it by myself” comes to mind.

And yet, the ads show a lot of people working in the man’s factories.  He is not doing this by himself, whether he realizes it or not.

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How the pastor can participate in community services and make it work.

“Work for the welfare (shalom) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray on its behalf, for as it prospers (“in its shalom”) you will prosper (“you will have shalom”). –Jeremiah 29:7

“Pastor, we’re asking all the churches in town to join together for a prayer rally for the election coming up soon.  Can we count on First Church to participate?  And by the way, we’d like you to be the featured speaker.”

Or, “We’d like you to extend the welcome, and set the direction for the service.”

Or “lead the invocation.”

What to do, what to do.  Accepting this will require time that I do not have.  This will be outside my comfort zone.  This will not have any immediate benefit to my church.

Sound familiar?

My two suggestions are: 1) When you possibly can, accept.  It’s good for churches and pastors to work together.  And, 2) whatever you agree to do, work to make it excellent.  You are representing the Lord, your church, and your family.

After being in the ministry for over 55 years, with most of it spent in pastoring six churches, I cannot count the number of community Thanksgivings services, Easter sunrise services, and citywide prayer rallies I have attended.  Today I had a small reminder about the importance of those time-consuming events about which we sometimes wonder whether they’re worth the trouble…

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Speak up for your pastor.

Lord, let these people know there is a God in Israel.  And while you’re at it, let them know that I’m your servant” (My paraphrase of I Kings 18:36).

A friend said to me, “Whenever I heard someone running the pastor down, I tell them to pray for him.”   I said, “May I make a suggestion?  While I appreciate your telling them that, a better thing would be to tell them strongly that you disagree, and say why you love your pastor.  They need to hear this.”

Yesterday, when my wife returned from her annual doctor’s appointment, she told me something fascinating.

On her way out of the office, two assistants spoke to her. “Isn’t he wonderful?”  “We have the best doctor in the building.” Bertha agreed.  We love Dr. Paul Vanlandingham.

I found myself wondering what if the church staff did that when people come into the office?  “Don’t we have a wonderful minister?”  “We’re so blessed to have such a godly pastor.”  “The Lord has blessed us by giving us such a spirit-filled leader.”

That sort of thing.

What if the ministerial staff said something similar as they interact with church members and others during the week?

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I said, “Open your Bibles,” and got two incredible reactions

It was a typical church service.  When time came for the sermon, I suggested that everyone turn in their Bibles to the text we would be considering.

That was all.

You will not believe the two completely opposite responses I received.

First, that week I received a letter from a Rosemary Warner, someone I did not know.  Here is the letter in its entirety, unedited…

Yesterday I had the occasion to visit in your church.  I didn’t know why I chose to do that.  It just seemed like it was the thing for me to do, but now I know it was the will of someone much higher.  He sent me there for a reason.  I will not be back.

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What pastors are trying to do

“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus….” (I Timothy 4:6).

On a crowded airplane, dad and his two-year-old son sat some rows back while Mom had to sit across the aisle and up several rows.  When the plane reached its cruising altitude, Dad lifted Junior above the seats so he could see his mother.

“See Mommy?  There’s Mommy.  Wave at Mommy! See?”

Junior sees nothing but a sea of faces.

“See Mommy?  Tell Mommy I love you. Say hi to Mommy.”

Nothing.  Junior still has not found his mother.

Then, just as Dad is about to tire of this, the little boy exclaims, “THERE SHE IS! THERE’S MOMMY! HI MOMMY! HI MOMMY!”

The entire plane overhears and everyone smiles. Junior continues, “HI MOMMY! I LOVE YOU, MOMMY!”

Dad finally distracted his small son with a book.

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The pastor and his mother

Most pastors I’ve known have admitted that they were particularly blessed by their mothers.

I certainly was.

Lois Jane Kilgore McKeever grew up in church, met my dad when she and her sister were singing in church, and kept her six children in church until they were grown. (Of her four sons, two became preachers. Ron and Joe together have logged more than a hundred years serving the Lord.)

In those early years Mom got no encouragement from her husband (my wonderful dad), but she had us all ready on Saturday nights. My older brothers would pull out that number 2-1/2 washtub and fill it up.  We all bathed in the same water.  The joke was that the last kid died in quicksand.  Sunday mornings, we would walk a mile from our house to the church.

We were poor, but we were freshly scrubbed and our clothes were clean.  Lois McKeever was forever cleaning and cooking and washing clothes and cleaning house.  She kept the radio on to gospel singing and preaching, and could sing the prettiest alto you will ever hear.

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