The surprises of the prodigal

“A certain man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’  And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, where he squandered his estate with loose living….” (Luke 15:11ff.)

The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is iconic. That means it is typical, well-known, an accurate depiction of a thousand things about this life.  Understand that story and you know a great deal about how life works and what God does.

If you knew nothing more about God than how He is depicted in this parable, you would love him with all your heart.

You and I are represented by the foolish, younger son.

That son, the subject of a few million sermons and the inspiration of almost as many conversions, received a lot of surprises in this story…

One. He was surprised that the father granted his selfish request. Some lessons we just have to learn for ourselves, and the Father was a good teacher.

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Calling a new pastor: 8 ways to avoid a lemon

A news article on how to avoid buying a lemon when purchasing a car caught my eye. It gave the usual stuff such as reading the information on the window sticker, checking the maintenance record, studying the interior, the exterior, the tires, etc.

The thought occurred to me that there should be some equally dependable methods for churches to use in verifying the reliability of the new pastor they are considering.  Veteran workers in the Lord’s vineyard all have their stories of churches that acted too hastily, of committees that did not do their background work or leaders who made a pastoral choice due to pressure from some strong individual, and the church paid a severe price for their errors.

There should be some foolproof way to guarantee that the new pastor is everything he claims to be and all the committee hopes and promises he is.

There isn’t.

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20 things pastors should not love too much

“Do not be excessively righteous or overly wise” (Ecclesiastes 7:16).

Most of us would not include those excesses in a list of which to be wary.  But for most, I imagine the list might look more like this…

(the first ten)

One.  We should not be in love with the sound of our own voice.

The preacher who delights too much with his own voice will outtalk everyone in the room and drone on far longer in sermons than is wise.  Better we learn to tame that critter, then put him to use in the service of the Lord.

Two. We should beware of loving those extra desserts.

More and more these days, the overweight preacher is the norm.  Sometimes the culprit is that he announced from the pulpit his favorite dessert to be lemon icebox pie or banana pudding, and now well-meaning church members keep him supplied.  Sometimes, it’s the church dinners where ladies bring a dozen or more home-made desserts that would tempt a saint.

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Ten hard lessons I’ve learned about leading the Lord’s church

This is not the final list. I’m still learning.

Most of what follows about leading God’s church is counter-intuitive. Which is to say, it’s not what one might expect.

In no particular order….

One. Bigness is overrated.

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).

Most pastors, it would appear, have wanted to lead big churches, wanted to grow their church to be huge, or wanted to move to a large church.  Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than you would ever think.

Small churches can be healthy too; behold the hummingbird or the honeybee.

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The mentality that is killing your church

All this missions stuff is okay, I guess. But what’s in it for us?

Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers into the harvest.’  And the disciples said, ‘Why? What do we get out of it, Lord?'”  (Matthew 9:37-38 with a small insertion by moi to make the point.)

“Behold,” Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues, and you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”  And the disciples said, “Let’s skip that part and get to the part where you reward us.”  (Matthew 10:16ff with my insertion.  The part about rewards comes in the last verse of the chapter.)

Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and report what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear.  The dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  And the Lord’s disciples said, “Okay, enough about these losers, already.  Tell us about the blessings you have for us.  Who gets to sit on your right and who on your left?” (Matthew 11:3ff, with my tongue-in-cheek foolishness.)

I was reading one church’s minutes from a century ago.  In a business meeting, the clerk told of a request for ten dollars from a new church in Texas. This was back when ten dollars was two hundred. After voting to send the money, the secretary said, “This spirit of generosity was put to the test when someone pointed out the church fellowship hall needed renovating.”  As I recall, they ended up spending $2,000 on that project.

“What’s in it for us? ” is the prevailing principle of decision-making for too many churches.  Denominational leaders and professional fund-raisers know that to be successful in their promotions, they have to convince churches that this project will reap great rewards for them personally.  It’s not enough to do something for the kingdom.

It’s not sufficient to do something to please God, honor Christ, or obey the Spirit.

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You are somebody! Finding our identity in Christ

“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

We are loved. We are winners.

“I’m me and that’s good. Cause God don’t make no junk.” –from a poster by a child in a ghetto.  (source unknown)

The man said, “I think my wife’s health problems go back to something in her childhood, as to how she was treated.  She seems to have trouble accepting who she is in Christ.”

It’s always fascinating to consider what gives us our identity.  And what conditions robbed us of the same.

“Smart Aleck” is the biography of Alexander Woollcott, drama critic for the New York Times a long time ago.  Published in 1976, the book has been gathering dust in my library waiting for me to get to it.  I started a few days ago.  Woollcott is said to have been a master wordsmith, which is what made me order the book in the first place.

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Be ready for anything: A theology of surprises

“Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Anyone deciding to start following Jesus should buckle his seat-belt and prepare to be surprised. Nothing is as you expect it to be.

Consider such statements as…

–“Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

–“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

–“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

When I asked my wife for the scripture that comes to mind on this subject, she said, “When Naomi returned from Moab widowed and childless, she said to Ruth, ‘I went out full but the Lord has brought me back empty.’ (Ruth 1:21.)  She had no idea the Lord was about to put her in the lineage of the Messiah, something far better than she could ever have asked or planned or imagined.”

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The silly side of seniors remarrying

Did you hear about the senior couple who got married and spent their honeymoon getting out of the car?

It’s funny only if it doesn’t apply to you.

Since it appears we’re now doing a brief series on the subject of seniors remarrying, we thought there should be a place to record things that made us laugh, the silliness that has kept the fun in our relationship.

Oh, one more thing before we go on.  Keep in mind that lovers often laugh at things no one else would, that they have secret, little inside jokes based on something said early in the relationship, and so not everyone will find what follows as humorous as we did. And that’s perfectly fine.  We’re not going into the stand-up comic business.

One.

Bertha and I had not been seeing each other more than one week, but already knew the Lord was in this.  In one of our nightly (8 pm) phone calls, she said, “What would be a deal-breaker for you in this?”  One would think this would bring a serious response from me.  But my mind doesn’t work that way.

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Some widowed seniors need to remarry.

“Two are better than one…” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).

It was for good reason the Lord said “It is not good for man to be alone.”  He who made humans knew them.  “He knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”  (Genesis 2:18 and Psalm 103:14)

The Heavenly Father knows we need someone in harness with us.

Ever try to row a boat with one oar?  By stroking only on one side of the boat?

Without the counterbalance of the other oar, we tend to get off course, to go in circles, if you will.

Most of us need marriage.  We are better people as a result of being joined in wedlock to someone different from us, someone who loves us, but who sees life from another angle and brings their own perspective into every issue.

Consider this a word in favor of marriage and remarriage.

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Should widowed seniors marry again? We have thoughts on that subject.

Bertha and I were married to our spouses–Gary and Margaret–for some 52 years each.  The Lord took Gary to Heaven in May 2014 and He took Margaret in January 2015.  While we had never met each other’s families, Gary and I had been friends since seminary in the 1960s.  Bertha and I met for the first time on February 15, 2016.  We were married on January 11, 2017 after eleven months of visits (we lived 200 miles apart), phone calls, texts, letters, and all the usual stuff.

As I sit at the laptop typing this, our marriage is two weeks old.  I recommend it!

A child expresses dismay that her grandmother is thinking of marrying again.  She may say this, or perhaps it goes unsaid: “How can anyone take grandpa’s place?” Her older siblings are surprised to think of grandmother going to bed with another man. “And at her age!”

An adult son expresses dismay that his father is thinking of marrying again.  He may voice this, or perhaps it goes unsaid: “He’ll end up marrying some young thing who will walk off with our inheritance!” His sister adds, “Mom has a dog for companionship. What does she need with a man? I thought she was beyond that.”

Sound familiar?

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