You are visiting in a church and the sermon offends you.

You’re on vacation or just traveling through, and you stop for church somewhere. As a minister of the gospel, you are so looking forward to being ministered unto.

You are beyond disappointed.

Question: Do you say something to the minister or not?

No. Almost always, the answer is “Absolutely not! There may be a hundred reasons why the preacher did not deliver today or the sermon bombed, and you don’t know any of them. Leave him to the Lord.”

When it comes to one preacher rebuking another for something, I fall back on Paul’s statement, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls….” (Romans 14:4).

However, that doesn’t stop us from wanting to.

I had spent several days ministering in an East Tennessee setting, and on Sunday morning asked my hosts to go to church with me.  Since we were old friends and they were new in that area and had not found a church home yet, I figured we’d be safe worshiping at the First Baptist Church there.

You would think.

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For you who live on shifting sands

“But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will run back and forth, and knowledge will increase” (Daniel 12:4).

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (“The Advocate,” Wednesday, August 28, 2013) has a word concerning the rapid pace of change in our generation.

Cohen cites Moises Naim’s new book “The End of Power,” that many companies which once ruled the economic world–Kodak and Blackberry among others–are now gone or on life support. Congress seems in a state of eternal gridlock and little gets done. Presidents issue directives and hold press conferences and address Congress and nothing happens.  Political parties seem ineffective in holding their mavericks in line.  CEOs take the reins of huge companies and then are fired a couple of years later because they were unable to turn the company around.

At every level, Naim says, people are lamenting an inability to get things done.

And why is this?  What’s happening?

Cohen writes, “For one, there is just more of everything–people, for sure, but also weapons and nations and billionaires and blogs and even chess masters–88 in 1972, more than 1,200 today.  Mentalities have changed. Women all over the world are walking away from abusive marriages, and people are more mobile. ‘Barriers to power have weakened,’ Naim writes. The world is awash in democracies.”

True. Everything not nailed down is coming loose. Everything is changing.

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The strangest race you will ever run

“I have finished the course” (2 Timothy 4:7).

“But flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness….” (2 Timothy 2:22)

If you think of life on earth as a race, the Christian life is the strangest one ever.

Okay, let’s think of life as a race.

And we don’t mean ‘rat race.’

Recently, I conducted the funeral of a 53-year-old man whose death was sudden and completely unexpected.  Two weeks later, the coroner has still not figured out why he died.

This gentleman was a runner and a longtime member of a local track club which oversees dozens of races of all kinds every year.  Several members of the club eulogized him during our service.

While they were speaking, something occurred to me.

Imagine a race where you have no idea how long it is or when it will end.  You don’t know whether it’s a sprint or a marathon.  It could be short, it could be long.  You would not be so foolish as to save your energy for that final burst at the end, that sprint to the finish line, the way so many runners do. 

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Make me a servant, Lord–but, an “executive” servant, if you don’t mind.

Something inside us pastors tends to love impressive offices with nice furnishings.

We have to constantly work against this lust for the trappings of the ministry while neglecting the ministry itself.

The front page of Monday, August 26, 2013’s The New Orleans Advocate tells of LSU’s new president Dr. King Alexander’s way of introducing himself to students.  He’s helping them move into the dorms.

In the photo on the front page he’s wearing a t-shirt and ball cap and loaded down with boxes and bags.  Looking anything but presidential.  (Don’t you know he had fun with that!  “No, really, I am the president of the university.  Really! My name? It’s King.”)

Okie dokie.

I will say that in my quarter-century in Louisiana, this guy is unlike any chief executive LSU has ever had.

What makes this special is a conversation I had later in the day with a minister friend concerning a church he once served as a staff member.

“The pastor talked a great game,” he said. “He sounds a lot like (a well known radio preacher) who is his mentor.  Just listening to him preach, you would think this is one great pastor, someone I can really relate to.”

You would be wrong, he said.

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The excitement factor in church

“Pastor, the minute you decide church must always be exciting is the moment you begin turning the worship services into pep rallies. After that, it all goes downhill.”

I said that on Facebook the other day and enraged a few people.

“Worshiping the Lord should always be exciting,” one person insisted. I replied, “I’m doing the funeral of a 53-year-old man today. It will be comforting, but not exciting.”

I understand where the guy is coming from.

Truth be known, my post probably ticked off the young me, the person I was some 40 years ago.

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As a mop bucket, dishpan, or dinner plate–your choice, Lord. Just use me please.

” Now, in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and earthenware, some of them to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel of honor–sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (Second Timothy 2:20-21).

We do love the practicality and earthiness of the Bible’s metaphors.

Paul was in a jail cell, and had access to several kinds of vessels. Roman guards served his food on some kind of plate. Drink came in a glass or cup of some type. And then, there was the chamber pot.

Chamber pots are not mentioned as such in Scripture to my knowledge, but you can bet they were in the homes of most people, Jew or Gentile, believer or pagan.

There is an old story about a preacher going far into the country to preach at a rural church, and then taking Sunday dinner with a farm family.  The setting was far more primitive than anything he had ever experienced, with the farm animals coming right into the house and eating what fell (or was tossed) from the table.

As a dog kept brushing up against the preacher’s leg, the man of God, hoping to get the host to do something, said, “That sure is a friendly dog.”  The farmer said, “Nah, it’s just that you’re eating out of his plate and he wants it back.”

We hope it’s apocryphal, but having known a few families along the way who let the animals roam everywhere, I would not bet against it.

So long as the dish is thoroughly washed and sterilized, it’s safe to use, no matter how it was employed earlier.

Some people feel forever stained by their sordid past.

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What I miss most about the pastorate


As much as I loved pastoring, I do not miss it.

That might need a tiny bit of explaining.

I’ve not pastored since 2004, when I became the area-wide “director of missions” for the SBC churches in metro New  Orleans, a Southern Baptist position similar to the Methodist District Superintendent or some minor bishop (but, as we tell our Catholic friends, “bishop without the authority or funny hat”).  After 5 years, I retired to a ministry of itinerant preaching, writing, cartooning/sketching, and honey-doing.

I do not miss pastoring, even though I put in 42 years serving six churches and by all reports, did a fair job of it.

I do not miss the stress.

I do not miss the constant demands placed on a pastor and the sleepless nights that result.

I do not miss the relentless return of the Sabbath with its requirement for several new sermons and fresh presentations at every level.

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Why the Lord has to call people into this work

The pastor said to me, “Pray for me. It’s hard out here. But we’re hanging in there, trying not to return evil for evil.”

I teased, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks, to put up with that stuff.”  And after a moment’s reflection, added, “It’s why God has to call people into this ministry.”

If it were easy, they’d be lining up to get in on it.

Called by God. Yes, it’s how He fills the ranks of shepherds.

“Now, the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country…to the land which I will show you; and I will make you….” (Genesis 12:1ff.)

“Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law…. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush…. (And God said) ‘I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3)

“And God said (to Isaiah), ‘Go and tell this people…'” (Isaiah 6:8)

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The biggest problem preachers and teachers face

Try this sometime. You have an image in mind of a person you have thought up. Now, find someone with some art ability and describe your creation to the point that they sketch him/her exactly as you envision them.

Good luck with that.

It’s almost impossible.

And yet, this process goes on all the time.  Here’s the way it works….

A friend contacts me. “Will you illustrate my book?”  I hem and haw, give non-answers (“Well, tell me what you have in mind.” “What exactly do you need?” “When do you need it?” “How many drawings will it be?”), and look for ways–true confession coming up here!–to get out of doing it.

Tackling such an assignment is guaranteed to age you prematurely, an exercise in frustration.

As I explained to an author recently while we were in the process of going back and forth with her descriptions and my attempts to capture them on paper, like a bad tennis match, “It’s this way with every writer who asks someone to illustrate her book. She begins thinking it’s going to be simple. ‘Just draw me a warrior holding a sword.’ Then, she looks at his sketch and wants him just a little taller. Next time, could you put a scowl on his face and not make him look so nice.  And could we change his clothes? And put armor on him.  Brown hair. Green eyes. Oh, and he’s wearing a cape.”

Multiply that times the number of characters the writer wants drawn and you see in a heartbeat the difficulty.

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Through no fault of their own: The preacher’s kids, caught in the crosshairs

The little boy was 7 years old and loved the church where his dad served as pastor.  So, he was not prepared for the bully who decided to take out his frustrations with the preacher on him.

Each week during the Sunday School assembly, the director of the children’s department would ask, “Has anyone had a birthday this week?” Now, he already knew the answer since the church bulletin carried this information. But, they would identify the children with birthdays and sing to them.

This week, little David had celebrated his 7th birthday and was eagerly anticipating that tiny bit of recognition from his friends in Sunday School. This day, however, the director chose not to ask if anyone had had a birthday that week.  David came home in tears.

His mother said to me, “How could I explain to my child that the director despises his father? And that he has fought us on everything over the past year. And that he took out his frustration on the minister’s child?”

She said, “These are things  we should not be having to explain to a 7-year-old child.”

“It really hurts.”

I suggested she tell David that church members everywhere will read his story here and will go out of their way to make sure this never happens again. His experience will end up blessing a lot of children.

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