10 Things the Lay Speaker (And the Inexperienced Preacher) Does Not Know (But Needs to Learn Fast)

As one who has a great deal of respect for godly laymen and laywomen, I’m always glad when one rises in church to deliver a sermon or a testimony or a report. And since I’m in a different church almost every Sunday, I get to see a good bit of this. And sometimes….

Sometimes I want to applaud them. “Good job. Well done.” (In fact, I often say it to them following the service.)

But at other times, I want to shake them. “Pay attention to what you are doing! You can do better than this!”

I say this fully aware that we all had to start out somewhere, sometime, someway, and no beginner came to the speaking craft full-grown. We crawl before we walk and do that before we run.

However–and this is what prompts this diatribe today–what gets my goat is when the lay speaker or preacher is mature in years and should know better and still makes glaring mistakes.

Here is my list of ten things the beginning (or rusty or occasional) speaker seems not to know, but needs to learn quickly in order to be effective.

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What Not to Say to a Hurricane Victim–Even Six Years Later

As I write, yesterday, August 29, 2011, was the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s arrival in our part of the world.

There were a few commemorative activities, but most people wanted to ignore it. If college and NFL football season will get here, it will suit us just fine. We grieve for the folks who caught the brunt of Hurricane Irene over the last week, but we are relieved it avoided us.

It’s called Hurricane Fatigue. We’re tired of hearing about them, dealing with them, reading about them, and worrying about whether we are in the path of the next one.

Someone develop an app that blocks out all references to hurricanes on our nightly news and we’ll buy it.

Write a book about Hurricane Katrina and, even if we buy it to display on a coffee table, do not expect us to read it. Not in this lifetime.

Furthermore, I’m thinking our experience is probably typical. The survivors of Betsy in 1965 and Camille in 1969–and all the more recent editions of these crazy women–probably felt the same way: “If you want to talk about hurricanes, do so. But leave me out of it.”

With that background, here are five comments or “words of wisdom” we suggest you avoid next time you speak with someone who has come through these type storms.

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The Fruit of the Spirit is Humility

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility…. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Humility may be the most elusive of all personality traits.

If you think you have it, you probably don’t. If you think you don’t, you may well do. Other people are better authorities on whether you possess it, yet they’re not infallible.

The Bible says God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (I Peter 5:5).

We’re told to humble ourselves (I Peter 5:6), but I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where we are encouraged to ask the Lord to humble us.

For good reason, I’m thinking.

When God humbles you, He does it with a strong hand. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, potentate of Babylon, once he decided that all the gains God had given him were the result of his own military genius, God decided to send him a healthy dose of humiliation. Next day, Nebuchadnezzar was out in the pasture, munching grass alongside the cows. Eventually, when he came to his senses and gave God the praise, the Lord restored his sanity. (Daniel chapter 4)

Lesson number 1 about humility: “You don’t want God humbling you!”

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What Burdens the Pastor Most

When the prophets Nahum, Habakkuk, and Malachi stood up to preach, they began with the words, “The burden of the Lord.”

That was a dead giveaway this was not going to be a sweet little devotional filled with funny stories and touching vignettes. The men of God were about to drop a heavy load from their hearts into the laps and onto the shoulders of their audiences.

It took me a long time laboring in the Lord’s vineyard to figure something out. The burden God gives His preacher for some problem, some people, or some cause is every bit as much a gift from Him as the blessings of salvation. And it becomes my starting place.

Starting place for what? I’m glad you asked.

The burden God gives you, pastor, is your beginning point for three things….

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10 Ways to Know You’re Getting it Right

The marks on the door-facing leading into the back yard tell of the growth of the children over the years.

The clothing in back of the closet the kids can no longer wear speak of the growth of your young’uns.

The escalating cost of schoolbooks as the kids move into high school and then into college bear eloquent testimony to the maturation of the offspring.

They’re growing up.

But how can you tell when spiritual growth is taking place? Where are the markers? How are we to know if one’s development as a disciple of Jesus Christ has plateau’ed or is even regressing?

To my knowledge, there is no answer book for this question. There are only indicators.

Here is my list of ten signs–indicators, markers–that we are growing in Christ, that we are getting it right.

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What “Seeing Through a Glass Darkly” Means

The epitaph for this generation could read: “They Didn’t Know.”

Nothing new about that, however. Reading the New Testament, one is struck by how often significant players in the Lord’s drama were said to have not had a clue.

On the cross, the Savior summed it up when He prayed, “Father, forgive them. They do not know….”

Here are instances throughout the New Testament where that can be said.

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5 Church Members Who are Practicing Atheists

Recently, we said in an article on this website that the problem with “preacher-eaters and trouble-makers” in the church is that they do not believe in God. I stand by that statement, although it requires a little clarification.

Theoretically, they do.

Those members who are determined to have their way regardless of the cost to the fellowship of the church, the unity of the congregation, the continuance of the pastor’s ministry, or the sacrifice of programs of the church are not without religious convictions.

They have even had religious experiences.

The problem is they are now living godless existences. Their work in the church is being conducted in the flesh and for their own purposes.

The shame of it is they are almost always unaware of these conditions. They have fallen into a shameless pattern of seeing nothing but what is in their own field of vision, of wanting only what they see as important, and advocating nothing but their own program. They are not knowingly mean-spirited people. They are self-deluded.

They are atheists in the strictest sense.

Whatever belief in God they possess is theoretical. God was in Christ, yes. He was in the past. And He will be in the future, they believe, when He takes them and others like them to Heaven.

As for the present, alas, they are on their own.

What, you ask, would lead me to say such outrageous things about some people who are members of good Baptist churches and who frequently get elected to high positions of leadership in those churches?

Two things.

1) I have a half-century of dealing with them. I have met them in every church I ever served. However, it took me decades to identify the problem.

2) The clue to their atheism is simple: There is no fear of God in them.

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The Fruit of the Spirit is Faith/Faithfulness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness….

Some translations have “faith” and others “faithfulness.” The Greek word pistis doesn’t give us much help, since it is translated in a dozen or more ways. Sometimes “faith” refers to a body of doctrine, sometimes to confidence in Jesus, sometimes to the message of Jesus, and so forth.

In the context of the fruit of the Spirit, I’m going with pistis referring to faithfulness, that is, fidelity and loyalty, the quality of being true and steadfast. Reliable.

The Holy Spirit in trust of your life and mine will consistently and increasingly make us true to the Savior, true to the Word, and true to each other.

A phrase every believer serious about his life in Christ would do well to commit to memory is this: A long obedience in the same direction.

The expression originated (as far as can be known) from Friedrich Nietzsche in his book “Beyond Good and Evil:” “The essential thing in heaven and in earth is…that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

That phrase–a long obedience in the same direction–later formed the title of a popular work by Eugene Peterson on Psalms 120-134.

That expression does not sum up what “faithfulness” means to followers of Jesus Christ, but it encompasses three essential parts: 1) obedience, 2) steady, tenured obedience, and 3) in the same direction.

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The Most Overlooked Aspect of Salvation

It’s risky talking about the typical anything in church–people are as varied as their fingerprints, voice patterns, and DNA–but once in a while, it’s safe to draw a few general conclusions. Here’s one:

The average Christian who goes forth to witness for the Lord leaves out fully one-half of the equation between God and man.

Here’s what that means.

Suppose I decide to join the New Orleans Saints football team. Their offices and facilities are not more than 2 miles from my house, so one morning, I drive down, park my car and walk inside. A guard meets me.

“I’m here,” I tell him. “It took some doing, but I finally relented. I’m ready to give myself to this team.”

Being of a suspicious bent, the guard looks me up and down and says, “What are you talking about, mister? Why are you here?”

“I’m joining the Saints,” I say. “I’ve heard by the commercials that you need the support of the community. So, I have studied up on everything–talked to people, read the books, watched some games on tape–and I am now ready to join the team.”

“Oh, you are, are you?” he says.

“Yes sir,” I announce confidently. “In fact, I want Mr. Benson (he’s the owner) to know that I trust him. I believe he’s got the good of the community at heart. And Coach Payton, well, he’s the best. I feel like I know him personally. And of course, Drew Brees, the quarterback–well, sir, it’s going to be fun working with a champion like him. This is a big day for me.”

“There is only one problem, mister,” says the security guard.

“How could there be a problem?” I ask. “I think I’ve got everything figured out.”

“All but one,” he says. “The Saints don’t want you on the team. You may know them, but they don’t know you. You may approve the owner and the coaches, but frankly, sir, that doesn’t mean squat.”

I’m crestfallen. But the guard is not through.

“Sir, you run on home now. There is no place for you here. The Saints will be on television in a few weeks and you can watch their games from home. Get you a pennant and wave it, wear the t-shirt, put a sticker on your car.”

“But you cannot join the team,” he emphasizes, as he ushers me out the door.

The question before us today, class, is this: Even if you decided that you know Jesus, trust in Jesus, and have received Jesus, how do you know that He knows you, trusts you, and receives you?

After all, if Jesus does not know you, you are not saved (Matthew 7:23).

And, if Jesus does not trust you, you are not saved (John 2:23-25).

If Jesus does not receive you, you are not saved (II Corinthians 5:17).

In explaining how to be saved, many of us have left off the entire divine side of the operation. In so doing, we may well have left a lot of people in mortal peril.

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The Fruit of the Spirit is Goodness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness…. (Galatians 5:22-23)

God will make you good.

Or at least gooder than you are now.

Looking at me, you might want to argue with that. After all, you don’t see a lot of goodness in me. My responses are: a) You should have seen me before and b) you ought to know what I would have been without Him.

Here is what I have learned about goodness through more than a half-century of living as a Christian:

1) Jesus is good. God is good.

2) I’m not. And you are not either.

3) The sanctification process–that growth into Christlikeness which the Holy Spirit initiates in every believer’s life from the moment of spiritual birth and continues until the nanosecond of our actual glorification–involves making us good.

4) You are not the judge of whatever goodness the Lord has managed to perfect in you to this point. Goodness seems to be like humility in this aspect, that the bearer has little idea of what extent he/she has attained this trait.

5) Therefore, there is a sense in which you can regain your virginity. So to speak.

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