Viruses that infect the church

“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:13).

The nature of computer viruses, as I understand them, is that a kink is placed in the inner workings of these systems which infiltrates all aspects and makes it impossible for the computer to do the work for which it was intended.

They are called “viruses” for good reason. Plagues are the result of viruses being passed along from one person to another until millions are infected and a great many die.

Quarantining the carriers has traditionally been the means of stopping the virus in its tracks.

In the Kingdom of God–the church on earth, if you will–bad ideas and wrong-headed philosophies function in the same way as viruses.  They infect a church and as members and leaders interact with other churches, as people relocate and assume places in other congregations, the infection is spread.

The result is always deadly.

Here are seven viruses which I have observed affecting and infecting the Lord’s work on earth today....

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Online or on campus? Come to campus if you can.

“And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth, He began to teach them, saying….” (Matthew 5:1-2)

I am a product of the old-fashioned system of education. From first-grade through the doctoral program, I sat in classrooms among other students listening while trained men and women taught us.

No one phoned it in to us nor we to them.

Just so you’ll know where I’m coming from.

Nothing about it was easy. When I was in seminary, taking a full load of classes on theology, Hebrew, church history, Christian ethics, and the like, while trying to hold down an afternoon job at the Coca-Cola Bottling company, the stresses were plenty. With our one-year-old son, Margaret and I had moved from Birmingham, Alabama, into a four-plex on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

This is our story. (Well, okay, this is part of our story.)

Several things happened there that changed this farm boy forever, and for the better, may I say.

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Where is God is not the question. Rather, where are you?

I need to tell you a story.

In her World War Two novel, “His Majesty’s Hope,” Susan Elia MacNeal tells of a German nurse, Elise, who learns that a Downs Syndrome child in her care was abruptly discharged and bused to some distant hospital where she was later reported to have died of pneumonia. Elise decided to look further into this suspicious matter.

Donning her nurse’s uniform, Elise boarded the next bus carting children to the hospital in question. All the children on board, she noticed, were blind, deaf, epileptic, retarded, and similarly handicapped. The nurse in charge seemed callous and uncaring, and administered a sedative to “help the children rest.”

At its destination, the bus was met by authorities who instructed the children to disrobe for a shower. Doctors examined the children, marking those with gold fillings in their mouths with a large X on their bodies. As they entered the shower room, a large metal door slammed behind them and latches were thrown. That’s when Elise realized what was happening.

The children were being gassed. Exterminated.

“You’ll get used to it,” said an orderly to the stunned Elise.

She ran outside the building and vomited on the grass.

Later, on the bus ride back into Berlin, Elisa asked the other nurse, the hardened one, “But what about the fifth commandment? ‘Thou shalt not kill’?”

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What to worry about this Memorial Day

You get the impression newspaper editors begin their staff meetings by asking what their constituents need to be worrying about today.

This Memorial Day, 2013, we have our choice of several juicy issues, any one of which can keep you up at night….

–The crumbling highway infrastructure. We’ve had three bridges knocked out in this country this week alone.

–The weather.  Tornadoes destroyed much of Moore, Oklahoma a week ago, taking 24 lives in spite of the advance notice.  We’re told that Oklahoma is the number one target for these monster storms.

–Terrorism. A British soldier was gunned down on the streets of London a few days ago. Nine suspects have been arrested, several of them apparently terrorists.

–The continuing assault on traditional morals and the definition of the family. The Scouts will accept gay kids into membership and more and more states are legalizing same sex marriage.

Okay, had enough?

If one enjoys worrying, he can always find good cause.

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To those reading these articles on crosswalk, sermoncentral, and

There is a reason very few who write articles for the various “preacher” online services such as,, and reply to those who leave comments.

It messes up their day.

Case in point. This morning, I decided to check the replies on an article of mine which one of the above services had sent out recently to 50,000 of their closest friends. There might have been 15 or 20 comments.  Several said things like, “You didn’t give us a remedy” or “You misinterpreted that text” or “You didn’t quote Bonhoeffer” or “What do you have against preachers?”

Ugh.  I hit reply a time or two and left notes. And then regretted it.  It’s so hard not to sound defensive when you are trying to explain why you said one thing and not something else.

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Lord, make me a silken Christian.

“The silk we love for its softness and beauty is also one of the strongest and toughest fibers in the world. It has a strength of around five grams per denier compared with three grams per denier for a drawn wire of soft steel.” (From “The History of Silk,” by Harold Verner, quoted by Liz Trenow in her novel “The Last Telegram.”)

Soft and beautiful. Strong and tough.

You gotta love it.

What some in our day have called “a velvet-brick” and others “a steel magnolia.” Soft and beautiful, strong and tough.

A pretty apt description of our Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t it?  We see His softness and beauty in a hundred things He did: took time to receive the little children and bless them, responded to the cries of the leper and touched him, restored a dead son to his grieving mother, forgave an adulterous woman who had been publicly humiliated by religious bullies, and saved a five-times married woman of Samaria.  He invited the dying thief on the cross next to Him to spend eternity with Him in Paradise, and prayed for His executioners.

Our Lord said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

No wonder people are so enamored by this Lord Jesus Christ.

He was a beautiful man.

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Transitioning to new ministry assignments does not have to be traumatic.

“…for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (II Timothy 1:11).

The Lord did not call me to preach.

In the Spring of my senior year of college, the Lord called me into the ministry.

He did not call me to preach.

He did not call me to the mission field or to the pastorate or to be the director of missions for a Baptist association. (At the time, I loved working with youth so much, I kept wanting to discover He’d called me to that. But, no.)

God called me into the ministry. I recall the moment so precisely and the way the Holy Spirit worded it: “I want you in the ministry.”

That is a broader definition than the others, and it indicated from the first that His specific assignments for me might vary from time to time.

As they did and continue to do so.

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When a pastor gets called to an ignorant church

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

The pastor had been called from his rural church to another part of the country. He was excited about the new challenge, as he well should have been. In a parting comment to a friend, he assessed the state of spirituality of the church members he was leaving behind:

“There is enough ignorance in this county to ignorantize the whole country.”

What happens when a pastor gets called to a church like that? A church where the members and leaders alike do not know the Word of God and have no idea of how things should be done (what Paul called “how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God”–I Timothy 3:15), or why it all matters.

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The point at which no preacher must ever arrive

“Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on…” (Philippians 3:12).

No matter how accomplished you become in sermon-building and how comfortable you feel standing before crowds delivering the Lord’s message, you should never get to the point of phoning it in.

The time never comes when a preacher can switch on automatic pilot.

There are good reasons for this limitation….

1) You are not big enough for that.

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The two-faced church: Both are accurate.

“…a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

Anyone can criticize the church. It’s the most vulnerable institution in the world, the most victimized, and the most vilified.

Criticizing the church is like clubbing baby seals.  It has no way of fighting back, but just lays there and takes what you dish out. The difference is that, after the beating, the church stands to her feet and goes on about her business, while you the critic walk away beaming as though you have done something heroic.

You haven’t. You have picked on the easiest target in the world.

In this morning’s newspaper, some (ahem) rocket scientist wrote a letter to the editor taking on the church for the Spanish  Inquisition of the Middle Ages and before that the Crusades.  I assume he just discovered these.

No institution on earth has been so targeted for villainy as has the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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