The sermon pastors shy away from preaching

Will a man rob God?” (Malachi 3:8)

Some people are going to be mighty upset with their pastors one day.

When, standing before the Lord, it becomes obvious that Jesus was not speaking metaphorically when He said that in giving to Him we are “laying up treasure in Heaven” (Matthew 6:20), many who were never taught to do that on earth are going to be pointing the finger of accusation at the preachers who failed them.

Why would a pastor shy away from preaching a message on giving? The answers are many and complex, but most boil down to one: He’s afraid.

He is a coward.

Pastors do not like criticism and nothing will get him criticized quicker than a rousing sermon on turning loose of the almighty dollar and rerouting it into the offering plate.

Pastors do not like anonymous letters and nothing will fill his mailbox sooner with these orphan missives than declaring the whole counsel of God against materialism and greed.

The cowardly in any congregation enjoy anonymous carping at their spiritual leaders. If the preacher is silenced before he even begins, they have won.

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Come on and laugh with me.

“God has made laughter for me.” (Genesis 21:6)

Some laughter will do us both good.

The best thing in The Advocate, the Baton Rouge daily which has supplanted the Times-Picayune as our newspaper of choice in recent months, is Smiley Anders’ column. Smiley loads his space with items of humor, curiosity, or insight. I didn’t subscribe to the paper for this column, but it’s a nice bonus.

One:  Smiley tells about a city in Germany that was being overrun by loose dogs. A factory owner called city hall one day to complain that those wild dogs were destroying his business. He said, “The mills are alive with the hounds of Munich.”

That’s what I mean. You can’t get good stuff like that just anywhere!

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Do not do a New Year’s Resolution. There’s a better way.

When I was 8 years old, using the new Bible my dad had given me for Christmas, I began reading a chapter each night before going to bed. And, I stayed with the program for several years.(I bogged down in the major prophets. Just too heavy going for a kid.)

When I was about 12 or 13, under the influence of older cousin Billy Chadwick who seemed to know a great many things the rest of the world was clueless about, I quit using a pillow at night. For years, I slept without a pillow because Billy said using one produced poor posture.

Several times in recent years, I have started on January 1 and read the Bible through, marking up the Scriptures in order to present to one of our eight grands.  One year, in order to present Bibles to twins Abby and Erin, I alternated with two Bibles, but made sure to mark them both alike.

So, I’m not at all against making resolutions and keeping them.

It’s just that a lot of people shy away from making commitments for a full 365 days. It’s so intimidating. So, rather than begin something they cannot complete, they do nothing.

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Some people are trying to break into your church, pastor. Help them.

“And so, we built the walls.” –Nehemiah.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” – Robert Frost

A family I know has been having a difficult time getting into church. It’s not their name, but let’s call them the Carlson family.

Now, early on Mr. and Mrs. Carlson established themselves as not at all interested in spiritual things (for reasons that will become apparent). However, a favorite relative–we’ll call him Uncle Ted–who lived several states away, saw them as they were: two parents in critical need of the Lord and three precious children who would so enjoy the nurturing of a healthy church family.

One day, while visiting in their city, Uncle Ted walked down the street with the three Carlson children to a nearby Baptist church. Inside, they met the pastor and his associate. Uncle Ted told them about this young family living three blocks away who needed to be in church. The children were excited.

Later, from home, Uncle Ted wrote letters and emails to the ministers with more information on the Carlson family. He encouraged the church to reach out to these precious people living down the street.

Ted’s letters went unanswered and no one ever called at the Carlson home.

When the parents divorced and it came out that Mr. Carlson had been abusing the children in the worst way imaginable, he went to prison. Meanwhile, no church family was there to minister to them.

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The most overlooked part of the Christmas story

“Behold, 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. And this will be a sign unto you: you will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

In telling and retelling the story of the shepherds and the angels in the fields outside Bethlehem, as we focus on a hundred things we sometimes lose sight of the most important.

We picture those humble, working class shepherds…given the most boring assignment in the world, to spend the night watching sheep who are not going to be doing anything or going anywhere anyway….when suddenly the angel of the Lord materializes, hanging in the sky out in front of them, and tells them–what else?–to “Fear not!” We join the shepherds in awe of the skyful of angels singing the excelsis deo, and then we run with them into Bethlehem as they flit from stable to stable in search of the one containing a young family with a newborn baby.  They worship, then depart to spread the news.

Does anyone ever stop to reflect seriously on what the angel said to the shepherds in that opening statement?

“I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people.”

GOOD NEWS–that is “the gospel.” The first gospel preacher, if you will, was an angel.

I’ve told here how that I have built an entire sermon around two questions: 1) Why was the message of Christ good news? and 2) If it was so good, why aren’t people beating our doors down to get in on it.  (On my blog, type in Romans 1:16 and you’ll find it.)

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The Christmas Story–so worth thinking about!

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

We have become a generation of non-thinkers. We enter the house and flip on computers and television. We slide into our cars and hit the switch for radios and CD-players. We go for walks with earbuds streaming nonstop chatter and music.  In our bedrooms, we set dials to certain music or talk programs to lull us to sleep and others to wake us up.

In doing so, we deprive ourselves of a vital aspect of life, a major component of the Christian faith in particular.

We fail to meditate on the things of God.

From the beginning, God has intended that His people would be reflective, would read His word and give thought to what they found there, would wake up in the middle of the night and lie there in thought on divine matters.

“I remember your Name in the night, O Lord….” (Psalm 119:55).  “At midnight, I will rise to give thanks to You, because of your righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:62). “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).

Now, the Lord has left certain treasures lying on the surface, perhaps to entice the children to come over and search deeper. But the best treasures–the mother lode of His riches–are rarely left exposed in full view, but await the diligent workman underneath the surface, yielding their wealth only to those willing to dig and study, to wait and think, to obey and pray and dig a little deeper.

Mary got it so right. Little wonder all generations since have held her in such high esteem, even if some may have overdone the matter.

Mary demonstrates a life of faith and obedience. She vividly illustrates the reflective life and what it means to go forth in faithfulness when one’s heart is breaking and has no idea what lies ahead.

Like Mary, we would do well to treasure up all these things. We sometimes treasure old hurts and slights and take them out and study them, looking for new reasons to resent someone. We are known to treasure seductive memories and from time to time pull them out in secret and savor their forbidden pleasures all over again. Some will unearth the memory of ancient sins which did great damage at the time and which the Lord has forgiven. We pull them out in secret and mull over them, to our detriment.

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Some books I recommend highly

(A few years back, to review books, we would list all the pertinent data–as though we were giving the details of a book’s origin for a seminary class–publisher, city, date, etc.  These days, with a hundred ways of buying books online, and the way prices can vary, none of that is necessary. However, anyone having difficulty locating any of these, please let me know. — In most cases, you can go online and purchase these books new. But most are available used, from sources like www.alibris.com and www.amazon.com. I’m a big believer in buying used. The Feynman book below, for example, can be bought for $.99 and postage/handling through alibris.)

“Tough Guys and Drama Queens” by Mark Gregston.  Subtitle: How not to get blindsided by your child’s teen years.

My wife loves this book, read it cover to cover (at my request; I’d been asked to review it), and cannot recommend it highly enough. We gave copies to our three children, all of whom have teenagers.

Gregston has a website www.parentingtodaysteen.org where parents can find a ton of help in negotiating their way through the thicket of raising these precious, precocious youngsters.

Gregston lists three pitfalls to avoid: perfectionism, authoritarianism, and judging. Among the “parenting practices that really work” he builds chapters around relating to the kids, asking questions, fostering independence, and using conflict to bring about real change.

If you know someone with children about to arrive in their teens, get this book and get it quickly. As Snuffy Smith (cartoon character) used to say, “Time’s a-wastin’!”

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Hearing aids? I hear all I need to now.

“But I say to you who hear….” (Luke 6:27)

Every man in my family has worn hearing aids by the time he reached his mid-50s. I’m the only exception.

There is one big reason why, at the age of 72, I have never used hearing aids: “The problem is not with me.”

People don’t talk loud enough.

When I turn up the television so I can hear, my wife complains.

When I’m not looking at the person talking to me, he or she mumbles. I have to turn in their direction and ask them to repeat it.

I recall when our dad finally relented and bought hearing aids. He made jokes about the fellow who bought one without his family knowing and began to hear what they were saying around him for the first time in years. “He changed his will three times,” Pop said.

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Two Sunday morning musings

First: It’s amazing what God can do with one finger.

Kathryn is on the ministerial staff of a large church in a nearby state. Recently, during a visit there, I spent a Sunday sketching members at an open house they were conducting. A few days later, she called to ask if I could do a drawing of her family as an unusual Christmas gift.

At my request, she sent along a number of photographs of the family–herself, her brother, and their parents. She also included shots of their house, Dad with his prized sports car, and the beloved family cat.

One picture in particular caught my attention.

The four of them are standing together laughing.  The brother has his arm around Kathryn. His fingers are barely visible on the far side of her arm.

Therein lies the problem.

There are six fingers showing.

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Living and dying up to date

Have you ever thought of a story to tell someone when it was too late?

Recently, while guest-preaching at the First Baptist Church of Natchez, Mississippi, I should have told this story because it’s about someone many of the older members will remember.

Some forty years ago, the minister of education of that church–his name escapes me–told in their weekly mailout of a senior lady stopping by the church office that week. She had read a book, found it helpful, and thought the pastor would enjoy it, so had dropped it off at his study. As long as she was in the building, she ran by the bookkeeper’s desk to check on her giving for the year. “I like to stay up to date,” she said.

She was.

Before the weekend, she had died.

The minister telling the story noted, “She died up to date.”

I like everything about that story. For all these years, I have treasured that line about this saint of the Lord whom I never met and do not know.

She died up to date.

Yesterday at lunch, my friend Lonnie and I were sharing about a hundred subjects. That’s what happens when you get two right-brained people together for an hour. No one subject gets more than a 5-minute treatment; we flitted from one thing to another. A story of his made me think of one, and so forth. No one was trying to top the other; neither of us is into oneupsmanship. We just enjoy the fellowship. Iron sharpening iron, perhaps. (Nerf sharpening nerf?)

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