Sub-dividing the Gospel

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this quote. I read it online as the report from a television station in a Southern city. A large, new, huge church in that city had made the news because the previous Sunday its leaders had asked a woman to leave the church and take her severely handicapped child with her.

The child, according to the article, had made noises during the service. The kind of noises one might expect a handicapped child to make.

“We’re not set up for handicapped people,” she was told.

The crowning statement came from–according to the article–a staff member who said, “Our church is not about ministry. We’re about worship.”

Pardon me while I throw up.

Where in the sam hill, I want to know, did someone come up with the idea that it’s possible for disciples of Jesus Christ to pick and choose the portions of the Gospel they will abide by?

Where did churches get the idea they may choose to emphasize evangelism or ministry or worship or Bible study or doctrine to the exclusion of all the others?

At what point did we decide it’s all right to subdivide the gospel?

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Joe’s Journal: April 27, 2011

When Hurricane Katrina devastated our part of the world–August/September 2005–I began devoting this blog to telling what was happening in our lives and in the city. The website became something of “Joe’s Journal,” as some referred to it. After a couple of years, we reverted more to the original conception of the blog as a ministry to pastors and other church leaders. There are over 1,000 articles on this blog, if you can believe it. Personally, I find that staggering.

It occurred to me recently that once in a while, it might be a good idea to post a page or two of my current journal. To tell what’s going on in my life, not for self-promotion–Lord, help us!–but for other reasons. Case in point is the following account.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2011, I drove from my mother’s farmhouse in Winston County, Alabama, to Sevierville, Tennessee, for the bi-ennial meeting of the National Association of Southern Baptist Secretaries where I was to be a conference presenter and the sketcher (artist) of as many of the attendees as possible in their four-day meeting.

I had checked the weather and was glad I’d opted not to fly. A weather system was blowing in, bringing more storms. I fly a great deal, but never in a storm if I can help it. I’ve done that a few times in my life, and don’t choose to ever again.

This part of Northern Alabama had had isolated storms the day before, but, I figured, the worst was over.

Little did I know.

And even less did I know that I would be caught in the middle of the worst onslaught of tornadoes in this country in nearly a century.

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6 Things We Have To Get Right in Church or It’s All Over

In the Lord’s work as in anything else in life, there are essentials and non-essentials. There are the loadbearing features and cosmetic for-appearance-only aspects.

If we don’t know which is which, we’re in big trouble.

In the late 16th century, the mayor of Windsor engaged architect Christopher Wren to design and oversee the building of a town hall. When it was completed, the mayor refused to pay the bill, insisting that it needed more than the few columns Wren had designed. No matter that it was pointed out to him that the columns were holding up the building just fine. He wanted more columns and would not pay until they were installed.

Christopher Wren had several more columns added to the building. Each was identical to the first ones he had installed, with one exception. Each lacked one inch going all the way to the ceiling.

Some of those columns were load-bearing and others were cosmetic.

It’s a wise church leader who knows which is which in the Lord’s work.

Here is my list of “six load-bearers,” six essentials which we must get right in the Lord’s work or it’s all over.

Please let me point out up front, these are not arranged in the order of priority. This is to ward off letters I sometimes get from debaters and arguers that B is more important than A, that C should be higher. I suggest, somewhat impishly, that he should have read the article more fully, because I said in the body that there was no particular order, that they are listed as they occurred to me. Anyone who writes learns quickly that some people prefer to skip the reading of the material in order to get on with criticizing it.

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Dealing With The Preacher-Eaters in the Pews

Recently, in an article on this website, I cautioned young assistant pastors on a snare lying in their path (i.e., certain church members puffing them up into believing that they are superior to the pastor and ought to have his job). In telling my own story from several decades back, I expressed gratitude that I had not become the senior pastor for several reasons. Chief among them was the extremely strong laymen who exercised great influence in that church, and who would have “chewed me up and spat me out.”

A young pastor wrote asking me to elaborate on that. Who are those men? How do they operate? What is a pastor to do when he finds himself serving a church with such leadership in place?

Nothing that follows is meant to imply that I have all wisdom on this subject. Far from it. I carry scars from encounters with some of those men. Not men from that church in my previous article, but from their clones with whom I did battle in two subsequent churches.

The Apostle John wrote to a friend whom he called “beloved Gaius” in the little epistle we call III John. The key issue is a church boss who was exercising tyrannical control over the congregation. John says, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” (III John 9-10)

They’ve always been with us, these self-important self-appointed church rulers who reign as big frogs in small ponds and get their thrills from dominating God-sent ministers.

Who are they?

They are almost always men. I’ve never seen a woman try to control the church and the preachers the way some men do. Perhaps you have. Human nature being what it is, doubtless there are female Diotrephes out there. Thankfully, they are rare.

Where do they come from?

Ah, there is the rub.

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The Trap That Snares Assistant Pastors

I was 30 years old and had left my first post-seminary pastorate to join the staff of the largest church in the state. My title was “Minister of Evangelism,” although some of my closest buddies kept pronouncing it as “Vandalism.”

Once in a while, the pastor let me preach in his absence. It was a heady experience.

The church I had just left ran slightly over 200 in attendance. The new congregation was over seven times that size, and was peopled with an entirely different kind of human beings. The governor was a deacon, a previous governor sat on the front pew, the state denominational leadership could be found throughout the sanctuary, and television cameras beamed the live broadcast across the state.

The first time I preached in the pastor’s absence he had come down with a cold and called me the night before. “Be ready to preach,” he said. “Just in case.” The next morning, his wife called. “You’ve got it.”

That day, a dozen people joined the church.

Leaders told the preacher, “From now on, when you see you’re going to be out of town, there’s no need to bring in guest preachers. Joe can handle it.”

And that’s when it began to happen. That snare that traps all assistant pastors at one time or the other began to be set for me.

One day, I found myself sitting in the office of the editor of our state denominational weekly. He was encouraging me. He liked my kind of preaching. My sermons, he assured me, were more biblical than the pastor’s. More meatier, more edifying.

I floated out of his office thinking I must be one of the best preachers in the state if that veteran leader thought so.

Not good. Not good at all.

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Choosing the Kind of Senior You Want to Be

On those Sundays when churches observe “Senior Adult Sunday” and invite me to speak, I address the younger adults in the congregation.

Don’t you wish you were a senior adult! You don’t have to go to work in the morning. You can sleep as late as you like. (Well, you ‘can’t,’ but if you could you could!) You get to see your children grow up and to know your grandchildren. You have finally become the person you’ve been working at becoming all those years. You have attained a degree of maturity. And (don’t miss this!) every month the federal government sends money into your bank account. It’s a great life.

My sermon has four points:

1) Don’t you wish you were (a senior adult).

2) Don’t assume you will be. Not everyone is blessed to live so long.

3) Don’t put off doing things for the latter years of your life. You may not live long enough to get to them.

4) Determine to finish strong, no matter how much longer you live.

The Lord’s Word gives us a wonderful picture of God’s “senior saints”–three promises, if you will.

The righteous will flourish like the palm tree…. They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. (Ps 92:12-15)

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Is the USA in Bible Prophecy?

I’m trying hard to answer this question with a straight face.

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: No sirree!

Last night, driving the interstate from Jackson, Mississippi, to New Orleans, I passed a billboard advertising some ministry that is focusing on biblical prophecy. Big letters: “THE USA IN BIBLE PROPHECY!” And a website.

My opinion–and that’s all this is; this is my website and I can freely post it; thank you very much–is that the people involved in this kind of “find the USA in the Bible ministry” are of two types: 1) well-intentioned unthinking believers who love Jesus but were never grounded in the essentials of the Christian life, and are now being led seriously off-track; and 2) clones of Harold Camping (the guy who gets his kicks out of his own off-brand interpretations of Scripture and loves to predict the end of the world) who spend all their time trying to unlock the Rubik’s cube of the Bible so they can know more than anyone else as to what the Lord is up to.

Both groups are in bad trouble.

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Death, How We Hate You

I’ve put it off as long as I can. Writing this one.

Duane McDaniel, executive director of the New Orleans Baptist Association, went to Heaven over this last weekend. Far too soon, if I had any say in it. He was only 54 years old. His funeral is next Sunday, June 5 at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans.

Rachel Lively was ten years younger than Duane. The mother of a 17 year old son and a 12 year old daughter. Her funeral is tomorrow morning, June 3, at First Baptist Church of Brandon, Mississippi.

They both died of strokes.

I was Rachel’s pastor during her childhood. When she married and moved away, I saw her rarely, but her parents, Roy and Penny Lively of Brandon, have remained our close and dear friends all these years. As you can expect, they were shocked and are broken-hearted by the death of their daughter. I’ll be driving up for the visitation at the funeral home this (Thursday) evening.

Duane McDaniel’s photo and obituary are in this morning’s Times-Picayune. I cannot look at that smiling, happy, beaming face without the tears flowing. We were nowhere near ready to hand this dear brother back to Heaven.

Death, we hate you with a passion. What heart-break you bring. What sorrow you spread. What dreams you stab through the heart. What loneliness you produce. Tears.

It helps some to remember that the Lord Jesus hated death too. We sometimes gloss it over a little by calling death a friend because it sends us to Heaven. But make no mistake; it’s an enemy. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.I Corinthians 15:26.

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(Father’s Day) “Preparing Sermons for Special Days–Tough Job for Many Preachers”

For some of us in the ministry, sermons for Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, July 4, and the like come easily. But other pastors have a difficult time planning such sermons. Some ignore those days altogether.

Here is my approach. It might possibly help a pastor somewhere find how to pull this off without feeling that he was caving in to the culture and turning his back on his call to preach the Word.

Right now, I’m thinking about my sermon for Father’s Day. That Sunday, I’ll be filling in for Pastor Craig Beeman at the First Baptist Church of Winnsboro, Lousiana. It’s nearly 3 weeks away and a good time to get to work.

Typically, we pastors close the door to our study and sink into our chair and say out loud, “What do I want to say about Father’s Day? Lord, what do you want me to say?” And, if I may say so, typically no answer comes. We’re stuck. That’s why this sort of thing is no fun.

I suggest those are the wrong questions. A better question is: “Lord, what lesson have you taught me about fatherhood?”

Sit there for a few minutes and consider your own role as a father, your dad’s role, the men you have known who were fathers and granddads, and sermons you have preached on this subject before. What key points, what definitive stories, what lesson looms large in your mind?

In my case, as I consider that question, two things occupy center stage in my mind.

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