The hardest part of the Christian life

“The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11)

“Without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Whoever would follow Jesus Christ in this world must plan to do a great many things by faith.

Believers will not have all the evidence they would like, cannot see the obstructions and blessings awaiting them, and will not learn until Heaven what their obedience accomplished.

We will live by incomplete evidence, partial information, and spotty results, or we will not make it.

The person who walks and lives by faith may be asked to do things that make no sense to outsiders, take stands that are understood and valued only by the Almighty (and later by history), and become a spectacle to people who do not know the Lord and see everything through the prism of today’s culture.

We will be considered foolish by some, naive by others, and misguided by many, or we will not accomplish His purposes for us. We will be labeled and libeled, persecuted and prosecuted, for nothing more than telling the world of the love of God and attempting to live out that love’s demands.

It’s all about faith. However, living by faith–thinking, acting, reacting, speaking, working, fighting, and loving by confidence in the living God–is the hardest part of the Christian life.

It’s so hard, in fact, that many who start out following Jesus cannot handle it and eventually drop out.

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10 big things Jesus said which you and I keep (conveniently) forgetting

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things I tell you” (Luke 6:46).

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

I apologize for the title. There are wonderful churches filled with faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who are getting these things right; I don’t mean to imply otherwise. But that does not negate the fact that untold thousands of churches still exist primarily for themselves, have no vision outside their doors and no compassion for anyone knocking on those doors.

If none of this fits you or your congregation, give thanks. If it does, you are hereby assigned to take the lead in reversing matters. However, do not miss our notes at the conclusion.

1) We keep forgetting the second commandment is a command.

We want our religion to be private, just “me and the Lord.”

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The pastor does well, receives a sucker punch, replies, and second-guesses himself.

Here is the backstory. Some years ago, while I was still pastoring, I gathered my books and drove 100 miles north to spend a few days in a friend’s camphouse to study and pray. I stopped for lunch at a family-style restaurant in the next town and soon found myself seated across from two older gentlemen in faded overalls. I was trying to read, but the one directly across wanted to talk politics. I said I was from New Orleans and had no idea what Mississippi was doing. He didn’t skip a beat, but asked who we were going to elect as governor. That led to a discussion on a candidate who had been a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. I assured the man he had no chance, that he believed things our people do not hold. “For instance?” he said.  I said, “He believes in the superiority of  the white race.” “Well, that’s a little hard to argue with,” he said. I laid down my book and said, “I’ll argue with it.” All around us, people of both races were tuned to this discussion.

He wanted to know why it was that through history whenever blacks and whites lived together, the blacks ended up as slaves of the whites. I’d heard that before. I said, “Sir, you’ll be happy to know that didn’t happen often. But if it did, it speaks more to the inferiority of the whites, that they would make slaves of their neighbors.” He didn’t miss a beat. “That brings up the matter of slavery. I see you have a Bible there.” Yes? “You know there is nothing in the Bible against slavery.” I said, “Are you serious?” He said, “Give me one verse in all the Bible that says slavery is wrong.”

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Setting the Garbage on the Curb

It happened again this morning. In the pre-dawn hours I lay awake, unable to sleep. Anxieties were filling the room like ghosts in the night, trying to frighten and alarm me with varying degrees of success, but successfully robbing me of sleep. As always, I lay there sending up little prayers to the Father.

“Forgive me of my sin, Father. Help me. You are my Rock. You are my strength.”

Lying there, I thought of all the reasons the Lord has for not hearing me. I’m such a poor Christian. My prayer life is so shallow. I read the Bible in the mornings and rarely give it another thought in the day. He takes care of my financial needs and still I worry. What kind of Christian am I. Why should He forgive me. What if the people I work with knew what a poor Christian I am.

And then this morning, He sent an answer.

I heard the garbage truck outside, running its usual early Saturday morning route. The motor revved as workers compacted the trash. Someone hollered. A can hit the pavement. The engine purred as the truck softly moved forward to the next house. The noises were oddly comforting, and then the Holy Spirit told me why.

The workers are taking away our garbage. The sanitation system has ways of dealing with it, places to dump it, methods for disposing of it. It will be gone; we will never see that trash again. Their system works–our streets are clean and our homes are free from the continual buildup of accumulated garbage and the unhealthy conditions that would produce. We owe a great debt to workers whom we rarely ever see.

In the same way, God removes the sin we have confessed. It is gone. We will walk outside later this morning and retrieve the garbage cans we set out last night. They will be empty. We will set them back in place inside the fence, ready to receive today’s and tomorrow’s garbage. That’s the process; we believe in it and rarely question it.

Shouldn’t we believe God just as strongly and surely? Shouldn’t we take as fact that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

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Some people are disqualified to serve. Here’s why.

“Now, I urge you brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”  (Romans 16:17)

Not everyone is qualified to serve and lead in the Lord’s church.

Don’t miss that– “to serve and to lead.”  In the Lord’s work, serving and leading often consist of the same activities, performed by the same people. The Lord’s best servants are the congregation’s best leaders. Those who lead best are humble servants willing to stoop and wash the feet or rise and lead the charge, whatever the situation requires.

The one unwilling to serve is unqualified to lead.

Recently, a pastor told me about a staff member his church had been considering bringing on board. When she balked at a background check, refusing to let the leadership look into her history, all the red flags went up and they called a halt to the proceedings. Something in her background apparently worked against her usefulness to that church. Finding this out before she came on board may have helped the church avoid a major problem.

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How the preacher got his mojo back

“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure…. I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning….. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God. Then I perceived their end…. God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73)

The most difficult place for any Christian pastor to serve may be next to a military base.

The greatest opportunity any pastor may have in a long lifetime may be serving next to a military base.

As the Apostle Paul said, “A wide door for effective service  opened to me; and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9).

Jim and Patsy told their story to some of us not long ago. I have never forgotten their testimony and want to continue lifting them to the Lord.

Background: they are from the U.S. and pastor a church near an American military base somewhere overseas. They’ve been there two years.

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Outline that sermon, pastor. If you can.

Writing an article on something so obvious as “it’s good to outline a sermon” is akin to announcing “life is good, trees are tall, flowers are pretty.”

But, for the right-brainers (like me) out there who struggle with this, things are not quite so obvious or simple.  Anyone who ever heard the Granddaddy of all Right-Brain Preachers, the inimitable Calvin Miller, has seen upclose and personal the two great sides of “out of the overflow preaching” which occupied this space last time: a) It’s a delight to hear; b) it’s impossible to follow. That is to say, you love the experience but could not reproduce it in a thousand years.

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How pastors discourage their people from using the Bible

(For this article, we enlisted the aid of our Facebook friends. We’re quoting them here, but not verbatim. They will recognize themselves. Thanks, guys.)

“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul… They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb…. In keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7-11)

The Bible loves the Bible.

From one end to the other, God’s word tells us how wonderful is God’s word. Better than gold and sweeter than honey it is. Job said, “I have esteemed the words of Thy mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).

We preachers believe this. And we say those words to our people. We like our people to bring their Bibles to church, open them as we read and preach, and use them when they return home.

There is nothing wrong with our aspirations in this regard.

When it comes to connecting our people with God’s word personally to the point that they will become ardent readers and diligent students of Scripture, we should give ourselves a C-minus, however. And sometimes, an F.

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What “preaching out of the overflow” means and why it’s not necessarily a good idea.

“My cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5).

A child rushes into the kitchen to tell his mother something going on in his life. He’s so excited he’s about to explode. His words gush out in torrents, the story appears in no particular order, and mom gets a tale she will remember forever but which the child could not reproduce in the same way for love or money.

Something similar happens when a pastor “preaches out of the overflow,” as we say.

He is so full of his subject, has so many great insights and stories and convictions and burdens to relate, and excitedly pours them out all over the congregation. No one is bored, no one goes to sleep, but some have a little trouble following his train of thought.

Granted, such a sermon is a vast improvement over the kind of dead monologue some ministers inflict on their dozing flocks, as though the sheep weren’t getting enough rest at home and needed a sedative. Given a choice, most of us would take the “explosion of joy” any day of the week.

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I’ll be driving, thanks.

(Don’t miss the post script at the end.)

“Thanks, pastor. I plan to arrive Saturday in time to meet you for dinner. My travel arrangements? Oh, I’ll be driving.”

Now, I don’t mind flying to preach in your church. Next month in fact, I’ll be taking a plane to Orlando for a revival meeting, and the following month to Denver for a Sunday morning service in Aurora.

Last March, I flew to Italy for a week. I don’t mind flying.

But I’d rather drive if that’s doable.

Later this week, for instance, I’ll be driving to a weekend of ministry for a church in the Fort Worth, Texas area.  Since hopping a plane between New Orleans (the airport is 1 mile from my house as the Cessna flies) and D-FW is so simple and efficient, that seemed the most practical alternative. But when I went online to arrange a ticket, I was too late or something. The direct flights were full and closed and expensive, and the others had me flying around the world and getting home in the wee hours of Monday morning.  So, I opted out of that and thought of a plan (see below).

I love to drive and drive I will this week.  And, in doing so, I will try to make the most of it.

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