What if we believed Jesus really did abolish death?

“Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

You are going to love this.

If death has been abolished, then to most of us, what we have seems to be a “dead man walking.”  The corpse appears to be very much alive and well, this grim reaper who persists in continuing to mow down a fair to middlin’ number of victims every day.

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” said Paul in I Corinthians 15:26.

So, has death been abolished or not?

I’m indebted to a couple of old books for some insights worth their weight in gold. One is a biography of J. B. Phillips and the other is a quote from a book Mr. Phillips wrote.

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Get the love out: Sometimes only words will do

“My little children, let us not love in word or tongue (only), but in deed and in truth”(I John 3:18).

In our effort to encourage people to “love one another,” we must not leave the impression that words do not count.  While deeds of love and other expressions are vital, a lot of people need to hear the actual words.

“I love you.”  “You have no idea how much you mean to me.” “Thank you for being such a precious friend.” “I treasure you.”

Speaking love is a good thing to do.

First, something inside me needs to speak words of love.  It’s good for me.

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Heresies inside my church

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine….”  “Preach the word….with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2,3).

For a pastor, the way to deal with bad theology in his church is always to preach the Word.

Just hang in there, year after year, teaching and preaching God’s unchanging truth.  The changes in your people will come as you remain faithful.

The word “orthodox” means “right thinking.”  Straight shooting. Sound doctrine. Solid reasoning.

We think of heresy as something the bad guys do, the “spiritual gift” of cults, and the aberration of the rebellious. After all, aren’t all heretics nuts? (We interrupt to recommend a book. A half century ago, Walter Nigg wrote “The Heretics” to establish that the great heresies in church history were the result of some pretty smart people with real grievances, and not ‘nuts.’  Reading it was life-changing for me. I checked alibris.com and amazon.com just now. A used copy or two is available, and new reprints are expensive. However, this is a great investment and the book will be a keeper.)

As Walt Kelly’s comic strip ‘possum Pogo once noted, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

There is enough heresy inside the walls of your church to start twelve new cults by breakfast.

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The Lego Moment: When the “truth” of a heresy snaps into place

“Even though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8,9).

The devil, that master of falsehoods and creator of fake religions, is no fool.

He knows that a manmade religion has to look and feel right if people are going to buy it.

So, he keeps tweaking it until he finds the right combination to achieve that “aha!” moment when everything falls into place. He blends a mixture of doctrinal teachings that sound impressive, emotional incentives that feel good, and outlandish rewards out in the future that entice the unthinking alongwith a certain amount of history which he has either created out of whole cloth or tampered with to make it say what he wishes and a fellowship of the deceived-and-deceiving so the seeker can be locked into the system.

When the seeker is combing over the details of this new religion and suddenly finds it all snapping into place–a “lego moment,” if you will–two things are true:

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How the pastor can worry himself into an early grave

Why do people do the things they do?

Try to figure that one out and soon your brain will explode from over-exertion.

Why did certain people leave your church? Why did that pastor search committee–that looked so promising, talked so excitedly, and seemed so certain–suddenly disappear without a word of explanation? Why did a friend turn on you and walk out of your life without a word?

People are going to leave your church, pastor.

You ministered to them faithfully, you thought you had a great relationship with them and they were happy under your ministry, then suddenly you noticed they were gone. Sometime later, you learn they joined another church down the road a mile. What happened?  Ideally, they will make an appointment to explain their actions.

But don’t hold your breath, preacher. This is not an ideal world.

In a half century of ministry, the number of families that have come to explain why they were leaving, I could count on one hand.

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Smile. C’mon, you can do this.

I have accidentally become an evangelist for smiling.

I want to see God’s people smiling, and do not understand why many refuse to do so until their natural reluctance is overpowered by something really hilarious.  If anyone on the planet has cause to smile, it’s us.  We’re saved, our names are written in glory, there is no condemnation either here or in the future waiting to ambush us, and from here on in, it’s all good!  That sure brings a smile to this country boy’s face.

Now, the Scriptures say very little about smiling, if at all. However, the references to joy leak out from every page. And what is a smile, after all, but “joy made visible.”

So, the old saw holds true here: “If you’re saved, tell your face about it.”

Now, I sketch people wherever I go, sometimes as many as 500 in one week. And since everyone on the planet looks better smiling and they will like the finished product more if it shows them in the best light, I tell people, “Look at me–not down at the sketchbook–and smile please. I want to see your teeth.”  Or, I might just say, “Say cheese.” Or if it’s a child, after learning he is 5 or 6 years old, to get a smile, I’ll say, “And are you married?”

You  would be surprised, and probably distressed, to know how often the subject replies, “I don’t smile.” Or, “I don’t like my smile.”

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Dumb stories we preachers tell

“Whatever was I thinking?”

I’ve said that. And I’ve sometimes thought it about other preachers whose sermon illustrations just got entered into the competition for dumbest story of the year.

A “dumb” story in this piece, refers to an account of something that distracts from God’s message, or sucks all the air out of the room so that no one hears anything for the next 15 minutes, or overpowers the sermon so the story is all anyone remembers for the next week, or is mind-bogglingly offensive. Or is just plumb stupid, did we say that?

Most of us preachers have been guilty of telling one or two of those over the years. Or a hundred.

Consider this a call for greater discernment in selecting stories and illustrations, parables and news items for our sermons.

1) A story that overpowers the sermon and smothers whatever point you were making is unworthy and needs to be tossed.

Have you heard the one about the dad who went fishing with his son and the boy’s friend?

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7 things I learned in choir rehearsal

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).

During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.

Rehearsing songs–whether for church or school assembly or for the juke joint down the street–is hard work.

Gradually, I began to see some patterns forming. Eventually, those shapes merged to form life-lessons that have remained with me all these years.

1) I do not like new songs.

The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clothes-lines of blackbirds.  The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it.  This is no fun.  It’s work.

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How to be disappointed in your pastor (Reasons 11-20)

When we asked Facebook friends for ways to find disappointment in the pastor, we were swamped with responses.  Apparently, everyone knows ways to put down the preacher. So, following up on yesterday’s list, here are 10 more pointers to (ahem) help readers conclude that their pastor is a loser and should exit the church so hot-shots like you can bring in a real God-called minister. (Can you tell this is tongue-in-cheek?)

“Therefore, also, we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). That’s the preacher’s assignment.  Yours, too, church member. Okay, let’s cut to the chase….

11. Expect the pastor to be in the office all the time.

“I ran by the church to see the preacher and he wasn’t there. The secretary said, ‘I don’t know where he is. He never tells me anything!'”

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How to be disappointed in your pastor (Reasons 1-10)

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (I Timothy 5:17).

The first step toward running a pastor off or leaving the church in search of a better preacher is rejecting the one you have.

We have some pointers on how to do that.

Not that some people need a recipe for finding shortcomings with God’s shepherds. Fault-finders will always find a way. But just in case anyone out there in churchland has been wondering how they could justify rejecting their pastors (to themselves at least), we have the blueprint….

1) Expect the pastor to read your mind.

“You know we always have our meeting on the first Tuesday of September, Pastor. Why did you schedule that revival then?”

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