What I’m Learning About Worship

So, what’s your philosophy of worship?

You don’t have one? Well, as my friend Jerry Clower once said about the ‘ego,’ “If you don’t have one, you oughta be getting yourself one, because you’re going to be needing one!”

Your philosophy of worship would tell how you think people worship best, who can do it, and under what circumstances. What kind of worship does the Lord treasure most from people like yourself? And what advice could you give a younger Christian on how to get the most–and give the most!–during an hour devoted to worship.

Personally, I’m still learning. (I’d better learn quick, since I’m team-teaching a course on Worship Leadership at the Orlando extension of NOBTS the first week of January!)

But, here’s where I am at the moment….

Continue reading “What I’m Learning About Worship” »

The Parable of Unforgiveness

The text is Matthew 18:21-35. Its length keeps us from printing it here, but my guess is it’s so familiar you already know the details of the parable.

It all started with a question, the way so many of the Lord’s most memorable teachings had their genesis.

Throughout this chapter, the Lord has called attention to the virtues of childlikeness, has warned of the danger of causing “these little ones who believe in me” to stumble, and has spoken the parable of the lost sheep. He taught the disciples what to do when a brother sinned against them and how the church leadership should deal with the matter.

Jesus went on in His teaching, but Simon Peter was stuck back there on the matter of his brother offending him.

“Lord,” he said, “How many times must I forgive my brother when he keeps sinning against me? Seven times?” Some rabbis had given seven as a reasonable limit for such tolerance. That sounds about right to most of us.

Jesus’s answer had two parts.

First, He said, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Basically, an unlimited number of times since we can’t imagine that the Lord was encouraging us to keep count.

Secondly, He followed that up with this parable of the unforgiving servant.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is said to have commented, “In the Bible it says they asked Jesus how many times you should forgive and he said 70 times 7. Well, I want you all to know that I’m keeping a chart!”

Not knowing whom she was addressing or how seriously she meant it, I have no idea whether that elicited laughter or groans. I hope she was teasing someone.

The way we understand the teachings of the Lord, the person who keeps a chart on others has one kept on him by the Lord Himself. And no reasonable person wants that.

If you expect forgiveness from Him, you’d better become good at showing it to others.

Continue reading “The Parable of Unforgiveness” »

The Parable of the Faithful Shepherd

This parable–found in Matthew 18:11-14–has its more famous counterpart in Luke 15, right along side the parables of the lost coin and lost son (a.k.a., “The Prodigal Son”). People who know the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15 often do not know of the existence of this variation on the same theme in Matthew 18. And yet, this lesser known story brings its own unique insights to the saga of redemption.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?

“And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.

“In the same way, your Father in Heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

These little ones.

Did you notice that? Jesus is speaking of a certain group of people.

This is why a parable is meaningless until we establish its setting, its context. We must go back to the larger passage and read to understand what was going on, to whom was He speaking, and what was His point.

He’s talking about children in Matthew 18:1-6. Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? He sets a child before the disciples and establishes four life-changing, ministry-directing principles:

–to enter the kingdom, become as a little child. Otherwise, you are unwelcome and not allowed to enter.

–to be great in the kingdom, humble yourself as a little child. Otherwise, you resist everything the Lord calls on you to do and are useless in His service.

–to receive a little child in Jesus’ name is to welcome Jesus. A staggering statement. We not only honor Jesus when we reach out to the child in love and mercy, it is none less than Jesus Himself we are touching.

–to hinder a child who believes in Jesus is to bring upon himself a fate worse than death. (As I write, this very morning’s (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reports that the archbishop of Dublin has handed over to authorities more than 60,000 secret files on priests who have abused children in their parishes over the decades. Investigators found a secret insurance policy, taken out in 1987, by which the church protected itself against lawsuits by victims. The church was protecting everyone except the children. That’s the Catholic church, but anyone who thinks the problem is confined to one segment of Christianity–or humanity, for that matter–is sadly mistaken.)

The next segment of Matthew 18–verses 7 through 9–warns those who cause people to sin (anyone!) by their own misdeeds. Such people should go to every length to rid themselves of vices which harm others.

And then, just before our parable, Jesus utters a statement unlike anything found anywhere else in Scripture. Millions of people love this and it has given rise to all kinds of fantasies regarding angels.

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in Heaven always behold the face of my Father in Heaven.” (Matt. 18:10)

What is He saying? That each of us has a personal, guardian angel? That our guardian angels have a special relationship with the Father without the need of a go-between? That each child has a guardian angel?

Here is what Professor Craig Blomberg has to say on this subject:

“It may or may not imply the idea of guardian angels, that each person has an angel watching out for and representing him or her before God. Similar Jewish beliefs were common, having developed out of Psalm 91:11. Others see a more collective concept here, as with the angels who watch over nations in Daniel 10:10-14 or over churches as in one interpretation of Revelation 2:1-3:22.”

Blomberg continues, “Seeing God’s face seems to imply access to God (cf. similar expressions in 2 Samuel 14:24; I Kings 10:8). At any rate, Hebrews 1:14 teaches that angels are concerned for believers and serve them. So Jesus’ words here are appropriate even if we cannot be sure of all the specific ways in which angels minister to us.”

Now, to the parable.

Continue reading “The Parable of the Faithful Shepherd” »

The Parable of the Homeless Demon

“Now, when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places, seeking rest, and does not find it.

“Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came;’ and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.

“Then it goes, and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

Jesus knew demons. He saw them, grieved at their ugly activities, and threw them out at every chance. Earlier in this chapter–verse 22–Jesus healed a man tormented with one, causing blindness and muteness. That set off a long discussion on the subject of the work of the devil.

After making numerous points on Satanology–is that a word?–He gave them an unforgettable word-picture (a parable) to put the whole thing into perspective.

At the end, He said, “And that’s how it will be for this wicked generation.”

How is that? What will things be like?

And how are things today?

Those questions bring us to this story. It may take up only 3 verses of Matthew 12, but those brief sentences contain a world of information and insight.

Have you ever heard this little parable preached on or taught? Other than the times I’ve done it myself, I cannot recall ever hearing any preacher even refer to it. And yet it is loaded with insights and implications for us today.

This parable explains some things you’ve been wondering.

Continue reading “The Parable of the Homeless Demon” »

My Granddaughter’s Husband

Last Sunday, Pastor Mike Miller gave the congregation of Kenner (LA) First Baptist Alistair Begg’s 7 things a young woman should look for in a husband.

She should hold out for someone who:

–fears God. You can tell this by listening to him pray.

–has moral character. Does he respect you and have high standards?

–honors his parents.

–forgives easily .

–has biblical priorities.

–loves selflessly.

–is willing to lead or follow, sets aside his own rights, gives leadership to the home. (I’m a mite fuzzy on this one, but those are the notes I wrote down verbatim. The fact that my hearing is terrible may mean I missed something here.)

All right. Good list. Not a thing wrong with it. However….

I went on Facebook and asked my “friends” what they would add to the list. Among the 20 or more suggestions–mostly serious, I think, but you never know–were trust, patience, loves children, able to clean fish, a good mix with the wife re: spontaneity versus orderliness, good listener, and able to cook.

Here are five more, rounding out Dr. Begg’s list to an even twelve, which is as biblical a number as seven.

Continue reading “My Granddaughter’s Husband” »

How to Give Thanks–and How Not To

It is said that when Maureen Stapleton won the Academy Award, she gushed into the microphone, “I want to thank everyone I’ve ever known!”

That got a laugh, I’m sure, and everyone understood the sense of gratitude that threatened to overload her nervous system. It’s a grand feeling, we know, although few among us have ever been in the position she was at that moment.

But does anyone think that Ms. Stapleton’s friends and family members, her co-stars and colleagues, her producers and directors, immediately felt appreciated and properly thanked by that statement? Surely not. No one took it as a personal word of appreciation.

Impersonal, general, generic one-size-fits-all thanks does not do the job. A message on the sign-board in front of a place of business saying “Thanks for your patronage” does not communicate thanksgiving.

There are ways to say “thanks” effectively and also ways to say “thanks” when you’re wasting your breath.

Continue reading “How to Give Thanks–and How Not To” »

Motivating the Troops

In the Jimmy Stewart movie, “Rear Window,” Grace Kelly stands at the back of his apartment soaking in the lovely music drifting in from a penthouse across the way where the composer is slaving away. She asks, “Where does a person get the inspiration to write such beautiful music?”

Stewart answers, “Well, he gets it from his landlord the first of each month.”

Motivation comes in all shapes and sizes.

Every captain works on finding ways to motivate the crew. It comes with the job. The coach looks for ways to fire up the team for one more game, the sales manager for one more contest, the pastor for one more service, the major for one more battle.

Driving south on the interstate recently, I was reflecting on my assignment for that evening. An association in South Alabama was gathering its leaders–its troops–for what they call “M Night.” The M, most people have long forgotten even though this event has been around for 50 years, once stood for Mobilization. The idea was to get the churches revved up in the area of discipleship.

I’ve attended a bunch of these annual evenings over the years and been the featured speaker at quite a number. To me, however, the M always stood for Motivation. It’s a kissing cousin to Mobilization, I figure, because if you get the team motivated, they will mobilize, meaning they’ll get out there and do the job.

The radio was on, tuned to a station that was dying with its waning signal. I heard only this part of the interview.

Interviewer: “You are nationally known for these speeches. I suppose you call yourself a Motivational Speaker.”

Subject: “No, never. The way I look at it, motivation doesn’t last. Strategy lasts. I call myself a Strategist.”

Out of range, I lost the station. But that was enough. A word from God? I’m not sure, but it sure set me to thinking.

Maybe it was not sufficient to talk to the Baptists of Geneva County, Alabama, about their motivation, not if it would last only a few hours and then vanish with the dawn. There ought to be something heavier, more solid, longer lasting.

So, I spoke on strategy.

Today, something in the Times-Picayune sports pages jerked me back to motivation, however. Saints Coach Sean Payton motivates his team week in and week out to face yet another foe, some fearsome and some almost laughable. The fact that their record is now 9-0 says something about his success.

How Payton gets his teams up is worth a look.

Continue reading “Motivating the Troops” »

For Those Who Love New Orleans

There’s nothing dull going on in New Orleans. Never. Not in politics, entertainment, religion, or sports.

You ready for this?

Start with the new Disney movie, “The Princess and the Frog.” You can see the trailer for this–and that’s all I’ve seen so far; I think it’s out today–at www.nola.com. What makes it fascinating is that this cartoon flick is set in New Orleans.

The city has been beautifully drawn again and again over the centuries, by some of the world’s finest artists. But never more strikingly–and may I say, more idealistically–than in this movie. Don’t look for dirt on the streets or trash in the gutter. This is Disneyland-come-South where nary a speck of dirt can be seen.

It’s gorgeous.

Mike Scott, movie critic for the Times-Picayune, refers to the “loving treatment” of New Orleans, “which ends up being a character in the movie.” He says that when the Disney people came to town last week and showed the first 30 minutes of the movie, “if the rest of it is as good as that first portion, they’ve done it again.”

A local church is in the news. The Church of Christ on Elysian Fields has gone to court to oust their pastor, accusing him of egotism, one-man rule, and money-grabbing. Elders produced an affidavit from a church in Waxahachie, Texas, formerly served by Pastor Jarvis James, as evidence that he’d racked up the same misbehavior there and they too had had to kick him out.

The article by reporter Katie Reckdahl was so sensitive to the religious issues involved and so knowledgeable about scripture’s admonitions about believers going to court against one another, that I wrote a letter to the editor complimenting her. We grieve over the situation; we’re grateful when the media covers it graciously.

What did it for me, however, was nothing Katie Reckdahl wrote. It was a photo that accompanied the article.

Continue reading “For Those Who Love New Orleans” »

A Working Lunch? Not For Me, Thanks

I am surely the least introspective person you know. Something happens to me, I find it a little odd, I move on. Anyone else would analyze it and dig out whatever messages or lessons the event contained and learn from it.

I ignore it, go forward, and make the same mistakes the next day.

One day after many years in the ministry it finally dawned on me that when all those friends or co-workers or colleagues in various denominational offices invite me to lunch where we can a) work on a problem, b) settle a difference, or c) plan a meeting, there is a reason my spirit drags its feet. (Does a spirit have feet?)

I hate working lunches.

Let’s do lunch or have a working meeting, but not both please.

Most definitely, I do not want to go to lunch to work on a problem in our relationship. If I have offended you or you have trod on my sensibilities, then let’s get together and clear the air. But not over lunch.

Lunch is a time to enjoy food and relax. It is an event that calls for happy chatter and good fellowship.

What it does not call for–what intrudes as obviously as a stomach-ache at a banquet or gossip at a concert–is work. We spread out our notebooks, stress out our minds, slave over the problem–all while a waiter is asking whether we want a salad or soup.

No thanks.

There is a reason for this dislike of mine for working mealtimes. A few horror stories in fact.

Continue reading “A Working Lunch? Not For Me, Thanks” »

Word Wrangling

Many of us pastors have trouble staying out of the ditches and onto the road.

A scholar friend says, “Truth is a ridge on either side of which are vast chasms to be avoided at all cost.”

It’s one thing to love word-study and to delight in finding a particular word in Scripture that turns out to be a well-spring of insights and applications, and a far different thing to fight over the meaning of some obscure Greek word.

Somewhere in my past I encountered a translation of I Timothy 6:5 that warns God’s leaders of “word-wrangling.” This morning, looking that passage up in various translations and commentaries and other study helps, no one has it that way, but more as “constant striving” and “chronic disagreement.” (The Greek word—ahem, here we go now–is ‘disparatribai,’ a double compound word which according to Thayer, means “constant contention, incessant wrangling or strife.”)

“Thayer” refers to a well-respected Greek-English lexicon used for generations. In the above quote, he used the word “wrangling”. Maybe I got it from him.

What started all this in my mind was two things.

The image of wrangling suggests a cowboy roping a dogie, jumping off his horse, and wrestling the animal to the ground.

Some of us do that with words. We capture them, hogtie them, and put our own brand on them. The result may be to make the word mean something entirely different from the writer’s original intention.

And since our audiences–that would be the men and women of our congregations–are not knowledgeable about the Greek and Hebrew (most don’t have a clue what a lexicon is!), when we start parsing (ahem) these words in sermons, they either shift into neutral intending to catch up when we return to the main highway or they stand in awe, assured we must know what we’re talking about since we use phrases like “the original Greek says” and “my Hebrew professor used to say this word means.”

Why our people put up with this stuff is beyond me.

They shouldn’t.

The other thing that drove me to turn on the computer this morning and drive down this particular lane was Acts 2:40 where Peter told the Jerusalem crowd to “save yourselves.”

Yep. That’s what he said.

Continue reading “Word Wrangling” »