“I’m Unhappy With Our Pastor”

The most common complaint denominational people and guest preachers hear when they call on local churches is, “I’m unhappy with our pastor.”

Invariably, it’s some lay leader of the church speaking.

The outside “expert”–and that’s how they seem to the church member–is seen as one who knows about the inner workings of churches and might be able to help.

The visitor is immediately thrown into a quandary. Does he ask for more information? Does he run the risk of appearing to meddle in a church’s internal affairs? Does he just listen and try to offer good counsel? Or does he brush off the leader with the suggestion that, “You ought to take that up with your preacher.”

Let’s state the obvious here: some pastors we ought to be unhappy with. I’m thinking of one preacher who was known to curse, tell shady stories, gamble, and drink. When he was forced out of the pulpit–and he had to be ousted–no one shed a tear. Everyone had been unhappy with him, and rightfully so.

But what about all those other situations in which some church members are unhappy with their preacher?

Let’s see if we can do some good on this subject.

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Deacons: Protecting the Pastor’s Blind Side

Sandra Bullock’s new movie, “The Blind Side,” has been the sleeper of the year. Word of mouth has kept movie-goers filling the theaters, earning a huge box-office for this story about a homeless kid taken in by a Christian family and who went on to become a football star.

The fascinating story carries a terrific message for life in a hundred ways. And for deacons in one specific way.

The movie opens with a slow motion depiction of a play that occurred perhaps twenty years ago in a game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was hit from his left–the blind side for this right-hand-throwing QB–by Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Theismann never played football again.

According to people in the know, that devastating play changed the way football is played. Thereafter, as soon as the ball is snapped to the QB, the left tackle moves back to protect him on his blind side. If he is a lefty, it’s the right tackle who protects him.

Sheltering and guarding the leader at his point of greatest vulnerability.

That is one of the chief roles of a deacon in today’s church.

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Finally, One More Series on the Parables

After you’ve taught or preached through the parables of Matthew, consider one more brief series of messages for your people.

Preach the parables of you.

We have all had defining stories happen in our families and our personal lives that would make great teaching parables. They are interesting stories in themselves but they also serve as trucks which we can load down with spiritual truths and deliver to our people.

Most congregations might enjoy this kind of a diversion in your preaching.

Eugene Peterson, in his book on the Psalms, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” gives one of his own parables.

He begins, “An incident took place a few years ago that has acquired the force of a parable for me.”

Peterson was in a hospital room, recovering from minor surgery on his nose which had been broken years earlier in a basketball game. The pain was great and he was in no mood for fellowship.

The young man in the next bed wanted to chat. Peterson brushed him off–his name was Kelly–but overheard him telling his visitors that evening that “the fellow in the next bed is a prizefighter. He got his nose broken in a championship fight.” Kelly proceeded to embellish it beyond that.

Later, after the company had left, Peterson told him what had actually happened and they got acquainted. When Kelly found out he was a pastor, he wanted nothing more to do with him and turned away.

The next morning, Kelly shook Peterson awake. His tonsillectomy was about to take place and he was panicking. “I want you to pray for me!” He did, and they wheeled him to surgery.

After he returned from surgery, Kelly kept ringing for the nurse. “I hurt. I can’t stand it. I’m going to die.”

“Peterson!” he kept calling, “Pray for me. Can’t you see I’m dying? Pray for me.”

The staff held him down and quietened him and after a while all was well.

Peterson writes, “When the man was scared, he wanted me to pray for him, and when the man was crazy he wanted me to pray for him, but in between, during the hours of so-called normalcy, he didn’t want anything to do with a pastor. What Kelly betrayed ‘in extremis’ is all many people know of religion: a religion to help them with their fears but that is forgotten when the fears are taken care of….”

Here’s a second parable, one I found today and enjoyed.

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Blessed By His Mama

Someone pointed out to me once that most preachers were blessed by their mothers, rather than by their fathers.

I’ve not done a George-Barna and looked into that theory, but my observation is that it’s accurate.

Billy Graham and I (ahem!) were blessed by our mothers. When I pastored in Charlotte twenty years ago, people still reminisced about the elder Mrs. Graham who taught Bible studies in the retirement home where she spent her last days and what a Godly influence she was.

In my case, it was my mother whose spiritual example and godly influence turned me in the direction of living for the Lord.

A few remembrances….

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Grow in Grace and Knowledge of Jesus

A young friend messaged her pastor and me this morning asking for our counsel. She wants to speed up her spiritual growth, she said, and asks what books she should be reading and what preachers she should be listening to.

The pastor gave her excellent suggestions on books and preachers, so I took a different route. I said, “If you want to move your spiritual growth to warp speed, I suggest reading large blocks of Scripture at one sitting.” In doing so, I said, she would see lessons, learn insights, and experience blessings she had missed before by the kind of piecemeal intake most of us practice regarding God’s Word.

When the Apostle Peter was concluding his second epistle, he counseled, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (II Peter 3:18)

I take it that the grace of Jesus Christ is one thing and the knowledge of Him is another. But I also find them to be complementary, partners or colleagues in the lives of believers, if you will. The more we grow in His grace, the better we know Him.

As the old song says about love and marriage, “you can’t have one without the other.”

When the disciples first learned of Jesus, they must have been puzzled, then interested, and then attracted to Him. Bit by bit they were learning of Him. The day the Lord Jesus walked by and called them to follow Him, some from their fishing boats, one from his tax books, and others from various pursuits, they began to experience His grace.

“I am so honored; He called me as a disciple!” They were celebrating His grace.

Then, day after day as they walked the hills of Galilee in His steps and saw His works and heard His teaching, they learned more of His heart, His mind, and His agenda. They were appreciating the knowledge of Jesus.

Over the next three year period, the disciples failed Him, disappointed Him, embarrassed themselves, and most eventually forsook Him. Each time, however, He forgave them and loved them and patiently went on with the training.

That was grace.

By the time Jesus ascended into Heaven and left the earthly work with the disciples, they felt they knew Him pretty well. Every day had brought new challenges, each miracle had taught new lessons, every setback presented new opportunities.

That is knowledge of Him.

No wonder Peter’s one wish for His people was that they would grow in this dual direction: the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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The Final Parable: Occupy Til I Come

The last parable in Matthew’s gospel is familiarly known as “the parable of the talents,” from 25:14-30.

Someone says, “Wait a minute. What about the story that follows this parable, the judgement of the nations in which the Lord divides mankind into the sheep and the goats?” Answer: it’s not a parable. It’s the real thing.

A parable is an illustration thrown alongside a reality to make some significant point. But we must always be careful to discern when Jesus is not telling a story but dealing with the actual reality.

The basic points in this story–this parable of the talents–are these:

1. Before leaving for an indefinite period of time, the master of three slaves gives each a certain sum of money to invest.

2. The understanding is that each will give account on his return.

3. The amount each receives is based on that servant’s abilities as the master discerns.

4. Two servants put the money to work–we’re not told how–and doubled theirs.

5. One servant, the slave judged by the master to be worthy of only the smallest portion, buried his.

6. The master is delayed ‘a long time.’ (vs. 19)

7. On his return–sudden, no doubt, although this is not a point of the story–the master called the servants for an accounting of their stewardship.

8. Two had done well and thus received great rewards. In both cases, the reward was a greater responsibility.

9. The servant who buried his money was in trouble and knew it. He pleads that it was his fear of the master that prevented him from taking a risk. “Look, here it is–you have what is yours!” (vs. 25)

10. The master had no patience with such laziness. The man was banished.

11. The money entrusted to the lazy servant was awarded the one who had been most faithful. “To him who has, it shall be given.”

12. The corollary of that principle is also stated: “To him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (vs. 29)

That’s the story.

How fitting that this should be the last of our Lord’s parables in Matthew.

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Explaining the Kingdom

The Lord had a problem.

He had to convey to His disciples the inner operations of the Kingdom of God. He had to bring them up to a proper understanding of how God did things in the spiritual realm. And He had only three years to do it.

This must have been the equivalent of teaching quantum physics to a colony of ants. It was so far outside their day-to-day experiences that little of it made sense to the disciples.

They don’t call Jesus the Master Teacher for nothing.

He pulled it off.

How He did it should be called the greatest miracle He performed, although it’s not one you see included in anyone’s list of His feats.

He taught His followers up and down the Galilean hills, in the towns of Judea, and even while the stormy sea was battering them. He gave lessons in short bytes, it appears, and was constantly reiterating the insights. He demonstrated in Himself the principles He taught and was forever surprising the disciples. He did miracles of healing and provision, and turned these events into moments of teaching.

And among His teachings, He gave parables.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like….” and “the Kingdom of God is like….”

I take the position that when He spoke of the kingdom of Heaven and of God, it was the same thing, that He used these terms interchangeably.

We have tiny examples all around us of the task Jesus was up against.

Missionaries return from their overseas assignment and stand before our churches to tell what things are like where they live. They entertain us with stories of how they learned the languages and mistakes they made. The customs of the citizens seem weird to us, and some are truly bizarre.

That is a tiny illustration of the assignment Jesus had in explaining Heaven’s operation to His followers.

A slightly better example is the foreign visitor who tries to tell you and me of his country. He is the native there and the newcomer here, and he knows his own people better than he does us. We listen intently because he speaks as an authority.

The best example, however, is one we cannot provide. The best illustration of what Jesus was up against would be a visitor from another planet, another world, coming to earth and telling us how things are where he is from.

That task would be formidable, the gap between the two immense, and the time period the alien might require to pull it off would involve years or more. He would have to learn our language, know our customs, and understand our people in order to make parallels from his own world

Jesus did it in three years. And lest anyone miss the point, as He died on the cross, He was heard to say, “It is finished.” He left no part of His assignment undone.

First, let us establish that Jesus Christ was an authority–no, THE authority–on Heaven. He Himself claimed as much.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into Heaven except the One who descended from Heaven–the Son of Man.” (John 3:13)

That is, He ought to know what He’s talking about. Jesus is a Native. And furthermore, He has no rival, no counterpart on earth who can add to what He’s saying. No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there.

That raises a question: what about Elijah and Enoch and the saints of old? Didn’t they go to Heaven? The Bible seems to indicate they did (Genesis 5:24 and II Kings 2:11) and the Lord’s people have spoken on them through the ages as though they did.

Apparently, not to the Heaven Jesus spoke of, but perhaps some intermediate “lesser-Heaven,” if you will. Not yet the final resting place of the saints of God.

But we must leave that question to God and not waste time–for that’s what it would be–speculating on such matters for which God has not given answers.

When it comes to Heaven and the things of God, Jesus is the Authority.

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Scars on Your Soul

I suppose it’s a vocational hazard.

We preachers walk through the valley of the shadow with people in the church and out of it. We do our best, weep with them, tell what we know, and offer all the encouragement we can. Then, we go on to the next thing. Someone else needs us.

That family we ministered to, however, does not go on to anything. They are forever saddled with the loss of that child or parent. They still carry the hole in their heart and return to the empty house or sad playroom. However, there is one positive thing they will always carry with them.

They never forget how the pastor ministered to them.

He forgets. Not because he meant to, but because after them, he was called to more hospital rooms, more funeral homes, and more counseling situations. He walked away from that family knowing he had a choice: he could leave a piece of himself with them–his heart, his soul, something–or he could close the door on that sad room in his inner sanctum in order to be able to give of himself to the next crisis.

If he leaves a piece of himself with every broken-hearted family he works with, pretty soon there won’t be anything left.

So he turns it off when he walks away. He goes on to the next thing.

He hates himself for doing it. But it’s a survival technique. It’s the only way to last in this kind of tear-your-heart-out-and-stomp-that-sucker ministry.

Case in point.

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Bludgeon Thy Neighbor

Pastor John Hewett attended the Carolina Panthers-Minnesota Vikings football game in Charlotte last Sunday evening. Just outside the gates, two stern-faced men stood holding up huge signs.

“JESUS CANNOT BE YOUR SAVIOR UNLESS HE IS YOUR LORD.”

Noticing the grimace on John’s face, one of the men said to him, “Jesus can save you.”

John said, “He already has.”

The fellow said, “You sure don’t act like it.”

Fascinating the way some Christians find one single aspect of the Christian faith and turn it into the end-all of salvation and righteousness and go to seed on it.

Thereafter, it becomes the theme of their sermons and the thrust of their conversations. If they’re Facebook friends with you, that’s all you ever read from them.

For some, it’s the KJV Bible. If you’re using anything else, you are a compromised liberal and naive to boot. Either you have been taken in by the con men in the faith or you are a scam artist yourself.

For some it’s Calvinism. Unless you cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ as they do–or Brother John himself did–you’re shallow, don’t know your Bible, and a blind leader of the blind.

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A Wife’s First Christmas Letter without Her Husband

Susan is my wife’s youngest sister. Margaret was 11 when she was born and almost feels like her mother. Even though Susan lives in Seattle and we’re in New Orleans, those two are joined at the hip.

Twenty-five years ago, Susan married Jim Schroeder, a native Washingtonian. Jim worked in the post office and after hours refereed high school basketball games. This large man–he was 6’2″ at least–loved flowers and grew prize-winning dahlias and roses all over his back yard.

For the past few years, Jim battled both ALS and MS. On the first Sunday of October, pneumonia ended his earthly life. We were so sad at losing him, but relieved his suffering had finally ended.

Last February–Mardi Gras weekend–our New Orleans family, all 7 of us, flew to Seattle to be with Jim and Susan while he was still well enough to enjoy the visit. Our grandkids were his delight as he was theirs. Even though he was not able to speak, he went everywhere they did and communicated through Susan who, like all wives everywhere, knew everything he was thinking.

Today, Susan’s Christmas letter arrived. It is so sweet and poignant, I thought some of our readers would enjoy it, though you did not know Jim Schroeder. It’s a fine and funny tribute of a wife to a husband.

Susan begins, “Oh, how I miss Jim this Christmas, every moment really. During the Christmas seasons of 2006 and 2007, he was so tired from overwork, some nights too tired to eat dinner–and we all know how much Jim liked dinner! He’ll never be tired again, God bless him.”

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