Pastor, Show Them How (Part III)

(Back in October, I began a three-part series on “Pastor, You’ll Have to Show Them How.” It reminded the Lord’s shepherds that congregations do not come by great faith, strong compassion, and devout courage automatically. The pastor needs to teach these qualities to their people. I envisioned this as three articles, and did the first two–on how the pastor can teach faith and compassion to their people. For some reason, though, I neglected to do the third one. So, here it is, a few months late. The two earlier articles are found on my blog by scrolling down the archives (right side) to October 22, 2010.)

What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart. (Deuteronomy 20:8)

God did not want cowards in His army.

There’s something about faintheartedness that spreads from one person to another like wildfire. Better to go forward with a small fighting force made up of champions than with a massive one infiltrated with cowards.

Fear and courage are brothers, we are told. They show up at the same time, often hand in hand. But, like the brothers in my family and maybe yours, the competition between them is fierce. They struggle to see which will rule the day.

Fear and courage are both contagious.

Let someone start the conversation by pointing out how strong the enemy is and how weak our side is and how foolish we would be to go forward, and soon, his solo is drowned out by a chorus of like-minded fearmongers.

They had been waiting for an excuse to go home.

Let someone stand up and speak faith and courage, and often–not always, alas–others will step out of the crowd to stand with him. Ten warriors with courage–strong of heart and dead-set on victory–can do more than a thousand who are ruled by fear.

The twelve spies had returned from their forty days in Canaan. Israel’s multitude gathered around, eager for their report. There was good news a-plenty: the fields were fertile, the crops abundant, the orchards loaded, and the barns filled. But there was another side to the report: the land was well-populated, the cities were walled and protected by standing armies equipped with the latest technology. And if that wasn’t enough, there were giants in the land.

This could go either way.

It all came down to leadership.

Immediately after the report, faithful Caleb spoke up. “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”

To his dismay, ten of the twelve spies responded: “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” They continued, “That land devours its inhabitants! We were like grasshoppers in the sight of those people!” (Numbers 14)

Caleb, you were outvoted, sir. Sorry. The twelfth member of your team, Joshua, seems to have kept quiet. We wonder why.

All night long, the sleepless congregation tossed in their beds, dwelling on their fears. By sunrise, they had hatched a plan. They would abandon Moses and this invisible “God” of his and return to Egypt. There, they would apologize to Pharaoh and act like none of this ever happened.

Now, at last, Joshua spoke up.

Continue reading “Pastor, Show Them How (Part III)” »

Notes on Galatians

Southern Baptists across the land will be focusing on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians during this winter of 2010-11. We’ll be posting a series of cartoons on the epistle which teachers and pastors may download free of charge and use in their sessions. Following are notes on Galatians which may be of assistance to teachers and pastors. They’re not always in order, as we’re adding comments over a period of several days. In no way are they intended to be exhaustive. Or for that matter, exhausting!)

1. Galatians is Romans’ Little Brother.

A couple of seasons ago, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans was the focus of this mid-winter study. A lot of people who had probably shied away from this fearsome book delved in and found Romans to be rich, nourishing, and delightful. They discovered that it deals at length with subjects Galatians considers more concisely.

The point being: “If you like Galatians, you will love Romans!” And vice versa.

2. Subject: Paul, an Apostle? hah!

In this and other epistles, Paul defends his apostleship against the attacks of those who say he arrived too late and was not there “from the beginning.” He does not dispute that he came late to the party. “As one born out of due time,” is how he put it in I Corinthians 15:8.

Paul points out that while he did not get his gospel from the apostles, he did spend the same amount of time with Jesus as they–three years (Gal. 1:17-18).

He is not a man-made apostle and needs not to look to any human agency for accreditation or affirmation (Galatians 1:1). This, we rush to note, is not a put-down of seminaries or Bible schools. Paul had received a great deal of rabbinical training under Gamaliel, the master teacher of his day, and was clearly a strong believer in education. Once he came to know Christ, the Holy Spirit built upon everything he had learned in his new ministry.

In the most extensive defense of his apostleship–the Second Epistle to the Corinthians–Paul does an on-side kick (reverse handoff? choose your favorite sports metaphor!) that completely takes his critics by surprise. He presents his resume’ in a reverse manner, listing not his awards and accomplishments, but his scars and hardships. II Corinthians 11:22-32 is a fascinating document, one that shouts to believers of all generations what to look for in authentic leadership.

The question then becomes not: “What have you accomplished for the Lord?” but more like “What has serving Christ cost you?”

“Paul’s Gospel” is the message he preached across the known world of his day. The reason we need to establish what he preached is because of the strong judgment he pronounces upon anyone preaching anything else (1:8-9)!

Orthodox Christianity–a loaded expression, I suppose–has traditionally held that the gospel Paul preached is the authentic Christian message. That’s why Romans in particular has held such a esteemed place in the history of this faith.

I have pointed out Galatians 1:8-9 to those who came to my door hawking another gospel although they were using identical words to the ones Scripture uses. Anyone preaching any gospel of salvation other than the one found in Galatians and Romans is incurring the wrath of God upon himself. “For neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). In every case, the young perveyors of alternative religions standing inside my doorway have not had an answer to that passage.

3. Ours is Not a Derived Salvation or a Second-Hand Apostleship.

This is hinted at in the previous point, but needs elaborating.

Continue reading “Notes on Galatians” »

End of the Year’s Leftovers

Cleaning out a stack of papers, here are some of the tidbits I found. If you find anything of use to yourself in teaching or sermonizing, welcome to them.

Here is the makings of a sermon on God.

Nowhere is it written that the Lord of this universe has to be a God of love. It would be just as conceivable that a despot, a tyrant, might create a universe for sport. Or that God may be flighty like some people we know, and create a universe one day, then abandon it as His attention drifts toward some new project.

There are indeed those who think of the Lord of the universe as a tyrant who kills babies or an an absentee landlord who made us but has no further interest in our doings.

Were it not for three overriding facts, many of us might agree with them….

1) This World.

Creation speaks of a great God, a Lord of order and beauty, a Deity of kindness and compassion. My friend Fisher Humpreys asks, “Who but God would have thought of oysters?” And we might add, an octopus? a hippo? a camel? or my Uncle Edwin? The heavens declare the glory of God, and so does the earth.

2)The Bible.

Its revelation of God. This book is unique among the writings of all history. The more we learn about its intricacies and revelations, its teachings and its consistencies, the more we come away shaking our heads knowing, “This is from God.” Only the fool dismisses the Bible as a collection thrown together by a cabal intent on deceiving the world. We all should be so deceived, this Word is so wonderful.

3)The Lord Jesus Christ.

Among those who have walked this planet, He is unique. They said of Him, “No one ever spoke like this man” (John 7:46). We would add, “No one ever was born as He was born.” “No one ever lived as He lived.” “No one taught as He taught.” “No one worked as He worked.” “No one died quite the way He died.” And, then, “No one ever rose from the dead the way He did.”

There, pastor! See if you can find a sermon in there somewhere!

I thought of writing an article called, “Confessions of a Homesick Preacher.” Here are some of the notes I jotted down on that subject.

Continue reading “End of the Year’s Leftovers” »

Easy Does It, Pastor

A friend e-mailed me today with a question I’ve never heard before.

Referring to Isaiah’s experience of worship in the 6th chapter of his prophecy, my friend said, “Is that descriptive or prescriptive?” That is, does this account of Isaiah’s experience simply show us how he worshiped on that occasion or is it saying this is how it’s to be done, and that all these elements must be present for worship to take place?

My correspondent felt it was descriptive. However, he has friends, he says, who were taught in seminary that Isaiah 6 is a blueprint for worship which must be followed.

I agreed with him. This passage makes no pretense at ordering all God’s children for all time to worship in the same way or to touch all those guidestones. It tells what happened to Isaiah on that day. Period.

All you have to do is think of others throughout Scripture who worshiped God in many different ways. Some had visions like Isaiah, but most seemed not to have done so. Some were shaken to the core, but most seem not to have been. Some experienced a life-changing call into the ministry, but they were in the minority.

What troubles me is how some among us–pastors and Bible teachers–take a wonderful passage with much to teach us and make of it something God never intended.

We turn the coat of many colors into a strait jacket.

Continue reading “Easy Does It, Pastor” »

What’s a Pastor to Do–Nothing is Going on at the Church!

The most blessed period for pastors is usually the two weeks or so just after the last Christmas program has been completed at church and the arrival of New Years.

Think of it. Your church members are out of town, there are no committee meetings, nothing is on your calendar. You are free.

Now, if you have small children, chances are your spouse has plans that involve lengthy driving to see grandparents. No way out of it; you have to go.

However, the good news is the kids will grow up quickly and you’ll be staying at home over the holidays.

What that time comes, I have some suggestions on how to make the most of the down-period between the last of the Christmas events at church and the start of the New Year.

Continue reading “What’s a Pastor to Do–Nothing is Going on at the Church!” »

The Other Side of Christmas

The first shoe to drop was in the fields outside Bethlehem. The most-favored angel of all the ages brought the best news ever delivered to a small cluster of shepherds who heard it in stunned silence.

Do not be afraid. For I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10)

In making this announcement-of-all-announcements, the angel was revealing what God was doing at that moment, Who the babe in the manger actually was, and the purpose for which He had made this momentuous journey.

He came as our Savior.

If I may be allowed to say so, Jesus wasn’t the Savior yet. He came to do the things necessary in order to become our Savior. Salvation is not a do-it-yourself project for us, but in a manner of speaking, it was for Jesus. He came into the world to become our Light, our Pioneer and Trail-blazer, our Sin-bearer, our Propitiation, our Substitute, our Mediator.

Our Savior.

That’s the first part of the story. The second part–the other shoe to drop–is the account of what He did to achieve our salvation.

The New Testament is rife with tributes to Jesus for what He accomplished. From the Epistle to the Hebrews alone, here are some of the glowing testimonials to what He achieved.

Here is the other side of the Christmas story.

Continue reading “The Other Side of Christmas” »

Let Out of Jail

My first pastorate was the most frustrating of the six churches I shepherded. But I made a discovery that was like striking oil or stumbling over a gold vein.

Here’s what happened.

Just after finishing college, we married and I took a job. The plan was to work for two years and pay some bills, save what we could, and then head to seminary in New Orleans. That, incidentally, is precisely what we did, I’m happy to report.

In the meantime, I wanted to pastor a church. The problem was I was Southern Baptist and had just graduated from a Methodist college (Birmingham-Southern) with a degree in history and political science. My training in preaching, in church leadership, and in theology were practically non-existent.

Not exactly the kind of credentials an SBC pastor search committee was looking for.

Thanks to the recommendation from a preacher friend of my brother Ron, a tiny church some 25 miles north of the city invited me to fill the pulpit. After a couple of Sundays, they apparently decided to live dangerously and made me their pastor. I was elated.

I would remain there for the next year and two months. My short tenure furnished one of the most forgettable periods in that church’s long history. But it taught me a hundred lessons more precious than gold, lessons found only in the school of experience and nowhere else.

The most inspiring moment in that pastorate, however, came the day something hit me which had never occurred to my untutored mind. It came with such force that I laughed out loud at the prospect:

I could resign this church and they would call someone better. I would be free and they would go forward. It was a win-win proposition.

Continue reading “Let Out of Jail” »

Christmas Urgings

This is a word for pastors and other church leaders concerning the activities your church sponsors during the Christmas season.

I wish I could tell you how to slow down and enjoy the season. Christmas for ministers is a little like the Thanksgiving meal for mom. She spends so much time planning and shopping, baking and serving, that when she finally gets a chance to sit at the table, she’s too tired to enjoy the feast. She does it for the family.

That’s the ministers. They have a hard time enjoying all the services and ministries of Christmas since they themselves are spread so thin.

Following are a few suggestions–urgings, even (that’s stronger)–as to how to make the most of these events in your church, pastor.

Continue reading “Christmas Urgings” »

Your Congregation’s Attention Span

A few years back, we would hear panicky reports that the attention span of Americans was shrinking to the point that sermons should be down-sized severely and immediately. Whether anyone did that or not, I’m not able to say.

I know for a fact, however, that in some of the largest churches in the country, the pastors regularly devote 45 minutes to their sermons. That should belie the earlier fears.

However, look at Facebook. They give FBers something like four lines to say what you want to say. “Status,” they call it. I imagine that the original thought was people would sign in and actually reveal their “status,” that is, where they happened to be at the moment and what they were doing. However, that got old real quick. There are few things more boring and annoying that reading that “I’m in the car wash” and “On my way to the cleaners.” I mean, who cares?

What Facebook has become for most of us is two things: a means of sharing photos/goings-on with a large circle of friends and family and a platform for our views and convictions.

If I were a pastor, I would get on Facebook immediately and would do the following….

Continue reading “Your Congregation’s Attention Span” »

How to Arrive in Heaven in Grand Style

Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble, for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1:11)

It finally hit me the other day what Peter is promising the faithful here: a grand reception in Heaven when we arrive.

Here’s the way “The Message” expresses verse 11–

Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior Jesus Christ.

It reminds me of the way we all welcomed our New Orleans Saints home from Miami last January 8, on a Monday afternoon. This was no well-organized parade, but a spontaneous outpouring of affection from an estimated 20,000 fans who lined both sides of the highways–and then filled the streets too!–waving our banners, hollering our “Who Dats!”, and cheering our champions as they arrived home.

That’s the idea. When you arrive in Heaven, they throw a party for you.

Continue reading “How to Arrive in Heaven in Grand Style” »