When the Pastor Visits Other Churches

As a pastor leading your own congregation, you don’t get out much. Every Sunday, you’re tied down to your own assignment. The old saw about the pastor working only one day a week is tired, but it contains one great truth: he really works on that day.

So, when he gets a chance to sit in on the worship service of another church, it’s a rarity, a blessing, and in many cases, a vacation.

The pastor is visiting his parents, he and the family are on vacation, or they are en route somewhere. On this Sunday, he leaves the tie in the closet and dresses like normal people. He is looking forward to this. Today, he gets to sit in a pew and worship without being responsible for anything.

After leaving the active pastorate nearly 6 years ago, visiting other churches has become routine for me. Most times, I’ve been the guest preacher, but often I was there as a friend of the pastor. Sometimes, as with other ministers, I was on vacation, visiting my mother, or traveling.

In the last three Sundays, I have worshiped in three greatly different churches: Williams Boulevard Baptist in Kenner, Louisiana, the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, and Eutaw Baptist Church of Eutaw, Alabama.

The first is just across town from where I live, the late pastor of that church was a longtime friend, and the present interim pastor, Mark Tolbert, was interim at our church (FBC Kenner). I love that great church and decided to visit.

My pastor, Mike Miller, approves this church-hopping thing of mine. We’ve discussed it. I send my tithe, my prayers, my family, and I’m there fairly often.

The second church–FBC, New Orleans–is likewise pastored by a dear friend, David Crosby. That Sunday, he was preaching on an event that took place in the days following Hurricane Katrina and which continues to suck the air out of the atmosphere around here. I had been praying for him and wanted to hear the sermon.

The last church, Eutaw, Alabama, my son and I were en route back to New Orleans from spending the weekend on the farm with my mom and the family. We had planned to stop for church along the way and this church, located 30 miles below Tuscaloosa on the interstate, was perfect. Rick Williams is the pastor, but we were meeting for the first time. My father-in-law grew up in Eutaw, so we figured that half the people around us were related in some way to my son.

What other pastors do irregularly–visit another church–I’m doing as a matter of routine. It occurs to me that we might make a suggestion or two as to what the visiting preacher will want to do. That’s what follows:

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“Therefore, My Beloved” (I Peter 1:13 and 2:1)

I had been preaching for 10 years the first time I heard a Bible teacher say, “When you come to a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, stop and ask what it’s ‘there for.'” I thought, “Great. Why didn’t I think of that?”

Wonder why I’d never heard it.

They say there are two parts to every sermon: what and so what?

The “what” is the doctrinal and “so what” the practical.

There’s a little storefront church in Metairie, one of those “Unity” kinds, that bills itself as dealing with “practical Christianity.” Like there’s any other kind. If it’s not practical, pertaining to normal people living their everyday lives, it’s not the authentic, biblical variety.

You often find the “so what” in Scripture with the “therefore” passages. On the basis of what has gone before, here is how we are to live.

The Bible is filled with them. First, we’ll take the ones in I Peter, then some of our favorites from the rest of the New Testament.

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“Feeling Unloved”–Leadership Lessons from Football and Politics

This should be fun to write.

I’ve saved the last item from our newspaper of a few days ago, knowing it had to furnish material for this blog but waiting for the moment. That moment has arrived. It has to do with the 3 candidates for Kenner mayor. Not a pretty thing.

The other two items are from today’s Times-Picayune, one regarding a Saints football player, a free agent, who wants to stay with the team but is “not feeling love from the front office,” and the other pertains to a candidate for city council in Kenner.

Let’s take care of the last one first. It’s the simplest.

The two candidates for this council post are compared side by side, ages, background, etc. I don’t know either, but since I live in River Ridge and not Kenner, that’s all right. What struck me was the company one of the candidates owns.

“Bill and Jerry Investments, Inc.” That’s the name of his company.

Now, I’ll buy Ben and Jerry ice cream. I’ll watch Tom and Jerry cartoons. But invest my hard-earned savings with Bill and Jerry Investments? I dunno. Sounds shaky to me. I’d be more comfortable if they used last names.

It reminds me of the time I flew Jet Blue airlines. I wanted the attendants to act more professional, and not spend their time playing games in the aisles with passengers. The short pants and polo shirts they wore didn’t inspire my confidence, either.

I sat in a meeting Tuesday night with the board members of Global Maritime Ministries and noticed the new executive director of New Orleans Baptist Association, Dr. Duane McDaniel, sitting there in his suit and tie. Now, he’s a classy guy and would look distinguished in a tank top and gym shorts. And maybe it’s just me, but I like the way he presented himself. He looked professional.

The next time you see a pastor running around in ragged jeans and flip-flops, ask yourself what kind of confidence he inspires in you.

Second item. The disgrunted Saints player.

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Dear Young Pastor

I hear you’re having a tough time of it.

Good. Glad to hear it.

As I got it, a group in the church doesn’t care for your leadership. They find fault with your sermons. They probably don’t like the color of your tie (or worse, the fact that you don’t wear one).

What makes their opposition dire is that they are the leaders of the church. Not a good thing.

Unity is always better than division.

You came close to resigning, I was told. You probably felt, “If I don’t have the support of these elected leaders of the church, then I’ll not be able to do anything here.”

You actually wrote out a resignation, perhaps to see what it would feel like.

It felt wrong. You knew you were displeasing the wrong One, the Father who sent you there in the first place.

So, you chose to hang in there and try to give leadership to a church that is not sure it wants any.

Welcome to the ministry.

Scripture says, “It is good for a young man to bear the burden in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). Whatever else that means, I suggest it is saying, “You might as well learn early on what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

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Who Gets the Oscar?

Sitting in front of the television the other evening as Hollywood was having its annual prom–it was Oscar night–I wondered something.

Who decides who steps to the microphone to receive an award?

When a movie’s name is called as the winner of “best picture” or some other category in which a number of people have collaborated, who decides which member of that crowd stands, walks to the front, accepts the kiss from Penelope Cruz, and addresses the billion people who are tuned in?

Do they work this out in advance? Is it spontaneous? Do people get their feelings hurt when the wrong person steps up and takes credit?

Michael Curtiz directed “Casablanca,” the incredible movie (my favorite) which took home several Oscars from the 1944 prom. He was named best director and the movie best picture of the year.

The other night, a Turner Classic Movie program on the three Warner Brothers was played. It’s a new bio done by the granddaughter of one of the three–Albert, Harry, and Jack. Cass Warner makes no bones about it, that Jack was the rascal in the bunch. He talked the other two into selling the studio to a Boston firm, then the next day repurchased it so it would belong exclusively to himself. The rest of the family never forgave and never forgot.

An executive who worked on “Casablanca”–I failed to notice his name–told what happened when they announced the best picture award. “I was rising to my feet when I noticed Jack Warner already on his way to the front. He accepted the Oscar like he had had anything to do with this movie. It was my movie. I’m the one who made ‘Casablanca’ happen!”

A generation later, he still had not forgotten the offense or forgiven Jack Warner.

The line often attributed to Ronald Reagan goes like this: “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” (It is also attributed to Walt Disney and others.)

That sounds great. And it’s almost true. But not entirely. It matters a great deal who gets the credit.

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The Pastor Is Preaching on an Event that has Stunned the Community

It happens to every pastor a few times in his lifetime.

An event occurs in the community that attracts the attention of the world and shocks the members of his church. His people experience a mixture of grief, sadness, amazement, and anger. The event is front-page news for a week.

The thoughtful pastor decides there are moral dimensions in play here and spiritual lessons that need to be addressed.

The pastor decides to preach on that subject next Sunday.

Start praying for him. This is the toughest kind of sermon he will ever preach.

David Crosby did just this last weekend. He went about it so responsibly, approached it so carefully, and pulled it off so successfully, I felt other pastors would be interested in what he did.

Since June 1, 1996, David Crosby has led the historic First Baptist Church of New Orleans. Some eight years ago, he led them in a total relocation from the St. Charles Avenue site to an all new facility located at 5290 Canal Boulevard. Since Katrina (date: August 29, 2005), this church has been on the front lines of the rebuilding and renewal of New Orleans. My judgement is there is no pastor in the city more involved, more knowledgeable, and more caring than David Crosby.

Last Sunday, he titled the message: “The Danziger Bridge Conspiracy: A Confusion of Loyalties.” The text was II Samuel 11:14-21,27, the account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the participation of Joab, his general, in covering it up.

It’s important for a pastor to know that David Crosby did not surprise his congregation with this sermon. He told them in advance, asked for their prayers, and involved several in internet (e-mail) discussions on how to approach the subject.

Telling the congregation in advance could also have served as a notice to anyone who chose to be absent that day for whatever reasons. Perhaps the event involved some family member or close friend and the pain was still fresh.

The front of the church bulletin Sunday introduced the sermon with background information:

“The Danziger Bridge is a vertical lift bridge which carries seven vehicular lanes of U.S.Route 90 (Chef Menteur Highway) across the Industrial Canal in New Orleans not far from the Baptist Seminary. When this bridge was completed in 1988, it was the widest lift bridge in the world. The structure itself is intriguing and unique, standing with its four great pillars towering above the highway and canal.

“Police responded to reports of gunshots on the bridge on September 4, 2005, in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Officers shot six civilians. Two of them died.

“Last week the lieutenant in charge of the police officers, Michael Lohman, pled guilty to the charge of conspiring to cover up the true nature of the shootings. Mr. Lohman worked the security detail for First Baptist Church for a number of years and is known to many of our members. The pastor’s sermon this morning will be a response to these tragic developments in our city.”

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The Other Six (News Items)

Good news is where you find it, and these days, living in New Orleans, we’ll take all we can get. The New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl exactly one month ago today. Regardless what people down here say (“I predicted this.” Yeah, right. Sure you did.), we were as surprised as anyone else.

The downside of that great news is that a new season gets underway this summer and the Saints win will be ancient history. No sooner had Coach Sean Payton got back into the office on Airline Drive when sports reporters started badgering him, wanting to know, “Can you repeat?”

So much for the kind of good news we get in this life. Almost all of it has a dark side, something that takes the shine off it, that would rob it of a lasting joy. And yet, there are bits and pieces of news here and there that are light years beyond the other kind. They are pure joy and have no negatives whatever.

A few days ago, we gave the first 6 of our even dozen items of good news, the kind that never loses its luster and carries no negatives.

I promised to come back and give the last six. These are mine and the result of a lifetime of trying to live the Christian life. You’ll think of more to add to it.

7. When the Lord Jesus comes into your life, you become a child of God.

Not just his servant or friend, but his child. Not his admirer or supporter or member. His child. Not just a convert, a number, a scalp to be counted, but the very own born-again child of the living God.

“As many as received him (Jesus), he gave the power (or right or authority) to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name” (John 1:12).

Now, I suspect you are aware that scripture uses many metaphors and similes to tell us all we are in Christ. There are places in the New Testament, for instance, that tell us we are adopted into God’s family. And others tell us we are born again. Isn’t this contradictory? Not at all. Each brings something special to the picture.

In the new birth (John 3:3), we leave behind our previous existence and begin our spiritual lives as newborn infants. In adoption (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:5), we enter at whatever real age we happen to be. The Roman custom of adoption sheds light on this. Instead of the way we do (adopting infants), the Romans adopted fully grown adults in order to have an heir.

So, we are children of God. The Apostle John said, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God!” (I John 3:1) Indeed.

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12 Bits of Good News

After a cold winter, everyone looks forward to the Spring. Well, today is March 5, and where I live–New Orleans, Louisiana–regardless of the calendar, it’s Springtime. Later this week the temperature will reach the 70s and after that, we’ll never look back.

The TV news people said today a number of economic indicators are really looking good in this country. We’re ready for this kind of “springtime” also; the winter of our economic discontent has been devastating to so many.

But, there’s a problem with this kind of good news. Know what it is?

After the Spring will come a blisteringly hot summer. And a few months later, winter again.

After a time of economic prosperity, sooner or later, there will come a downturn, a correction of the stock market, or whatever we choose to call it.

It’s life.

So, is there good news anywhere with no shadow to it, no dark side, no “other side of the coin”?

You bet there is.

Here are an even dozen pieces of really, really great news, none of which carry harmful side effects. (Note: A second article will give the last half of this; below are the first six news items.)

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Precious Blood (I Peter 1:18-19)

“…knowing you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

Unless you belong to a conservative or even fundamental Christian church, you’ve probably not heard much about the blood of Christ lately. I’m not sure why. I do know that a quick scan of my bookshelves turned up not a single sermon on “the blood.”

I heard of one Baptist church where it’s actual church policy that no hymn celebrating the blood of Jesus will be used in a service. What they do with all the Scriptural texts on that subject beats me. I’m guessing that some leader has let the mania for political correctness drive his common sense from the room.

Jesus said the new covenant was “in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25).

The writer of Hebrews said, “Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).

The Apostle John wrote, “The blood of Jesus Christ…cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7).

“Who are these clothed in white robes, praising the Lamb of Heaven? And where did they come from?” an elder asked. The Apostle John, in the midst of his vision, uttered, “You know who they are.” The elder said, “These…have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14)

Paul told the elders of Ephesus, “Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

You can preach a lot of sermons and ignore the subject of the blood of Jesus, but you’ll have to pull a Thomas Jefferson to do it. (You will recall he took scissors and cut everything out of the New Testament which did not conform to his concept of God. He was more honest than many today who do the same thing, although without the shears.)

To the best of my knowledge no one has done with the doctrine of redemption through the blood of the Lamb what J. Sidlow Baxter did in “The Master Theme of the Bible.” The first chapter of that book presents a broad summary of the entire message of Scripture on this subject.

I’m going to lay out the outline he uses, then add a word or two at the end which I hope readers will not skip.

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