During seminary, my pastorate of 30 months experienced one death in the congregation. The husband of the deceased lady said, “Pastor, do you know where there is a cemetery around here?” (We were in the bayou country southwest of New Orleans.) I told him, “I’ll find out.”
I called the pastor of the larger First Baptist Church of Luling, a few miles away. Don Grafton said, “Joe, I’ve been here 11 years and haven’t had the first funeral.”
He had no idea how to find the nearest cemetery.
That is the exception, believe me. Six years later, when I became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, if I remember correctly, we had seven funerals the first week or two. It was like people had “saved up” their dying until the new pastor was on the field.
I’ve buried them of all ages and situations. Once I did a double funeral for a 34-year-old man and his 64-year-old grandfather. Do the math real quick. How is this possible?
The grandfather had died ten years earlier and no funeral had ever been held. They interred his ashes inside the grandson’s casket. (The 34-year-old had been killed with an axe and stored in the family’s freezer. Police arrested his wife’s lesbian lover. Both women are serving life terms in our state penitentiary.)
The hardest funerals are for precious little children. Second most heart-breaking are for mothers who died giving birth. Next are the young fathers who leave behind a stunned and grieving family.
Nothing about this is fun. It all tears your heart out and shakes you to your core.
Six of the finest young people on this planet happen to be our granddaughters. Margaret and I are blessed beyond measure.
In order of their arrival into our lives, they are Leah Carla, Jessica Mae, Abigail Rebecca, Erin Elizabeth, Darilyn Samantha, and JoAnne Lauren. They are as pretty and sweet as their names.
Sometimes, when I’m in the car with one of you, I will raise the question: “How do you choose a husband? What kind of man will you marry some day?”
Now is the time for you to be thinking of this. In fact, you should have been giving this thought for some time now. Leah, senior member of this sextet, is 25 and little sis JoAnne is the youngest at 16.
First, whom to avoid. Run from these types just as fast as you can, as far as you get…
1) Lazy. No matter if he’s charming and sweet-talks you and thinks you are the best thing ever (which you are!), do not be taken in by him. If he can’t hold a job and prefers to live off the earnings of others, marrying a bum like him would be a disaster. You will be the breadwinner for your entire married life. Marry a hard worker.
(This is for pastors on the subject of sermon preparation.)
The most vulnerable time for any sermon is in the couple of days prior to its delivery.
At those times, the pastor does not need to be getting criticism or additional input from helpers (like myself!) or further ideas from deep study. This is when he needs to be putting the finishing touches on his message and getting it ready for delivery.
The first part of the week….
Early in the week–unless the pastor is such a rarity that almost none of this applies to him–he should have nailed down his subject and text for Sunday’s sermon. He should know the “one big idea” the Lord wants communicated. And he should have a general idea where he’s going with this sermon.
How did he get to this point? By staying in the word day in and day out, and mapping out sermon ideas weeks in advance. This way, he has known for at least a couple of weeks that next Sunday he would be preaching from this text on that subject. This is not something he “thunk up” at the last minute. The message has been marinating over these days.
“And Moses said, ‘Who me, Lord? I’ve not been to seminary. I didn’t even finish college. The other preachers won’t respect me. Pulpit committees won’t have anything to do with me. There’s a bounty on me back in Egypt. I stutter a lot, and tend to freeze up in front of groups. You’ve clearly dialed a wrong number, Lord.”
“And God said, ‘Shut up and listen.'” (My rather free version of Exodus 3-4.)
“The Lord can’t use a nothing nobody like me.”
Ever heard that? Ever said it?
Repent, sinner. You underestimate God! (And you might be overestimating your own importance in the equation.)
The Lord delights in taking nobodies and doing great things with them.
“God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for HIm to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).
It’s Easter, preacher. What are you preaching?
Don’t preach about Springtime, as much as we all love it. This is not the day for that.
Don’t make the analogy about how Easter eggs speak to us about new birth and all that foolishness.
Stay on track.
You have the greatest message on the planet; try not to weaken it with trivialities.
Tell your people–and all those whom the Holy Spirit will send this Sunday, not yet “your people,” but potentially so–that death could not hold Jesus Christ, that He is risen from the dead, and what that means to them. (Never forget that every sermon has two parts: What? and So what? The “what” is the message of Easter; the “so what” is the application.)
So, what exactly does the Easter event mean? I’m glad you asked.
Here are twelve things we church leaders do on Easter Sunday that undermine our own effectiveness in reaching people for the Lord Jesus….
1) We fuss at those who come.
“Well, good morning! We would like to welcome those of you we’ve not seen since Christmas! Hope you had a good winter!”
I put this in the same category as those who begin a worship service by rebuking the congregation. You’ve heard this, and possibly done it (I have): “Well, good morning, church!” And then, “Oh, come on. You can do better than that. Good morning, church!” Oh great. We begin the greatest hour of the week by fussing at the people of God.
2) We put on a “dog and pony show” instead of preaching the gospel.
Whatever we do to attract people to our church will be required to keep them. So, if we put on a spectacular to get people in but follow it with our normal run-of-the-mill uninspired preaching/singing/etc., we are doing no one any good.
“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know….” (Ephesians 1:18).
When they welcomed Jesus into the city on that Sunday, they did not know what they were doing.
In praising Him as the Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord, they said more than they knew. They professed more than they believed.
“Most of the multitude spread their garments in the road and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ (Matthew 21)
When they crucified Him on Friday, these people were still in the dark….
“But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of those who sleep….” (I Corinthians 15:20).
Even those who have served God all their lives need reminding of the importance of the resurrection of Jesus sometimes. Those new to the faith enjoy learning the full dimensions of the new life they have received in Christ.
Here are an even dozen aspects of the resurrection of Jesus that instruct our minds, inspire our hearts, and inform us all….
1) No one expected Jesus to rise from the dead.
Jesus’ resurrection was as much a shock to the disciples as His death had been. Thomas, known forever as the doubter, was merely voicing what most of them felt when he declared he would not believe in the risen Lord until He had done his own thorough investigation. (See John 20.)
It never fails.
We’ll write something about pastors who are under pressure from wrong-headed church members and how they should stand tall and be strong, and someone will respond with a “Yes, but” scenario.
Their preacher is a terror, they’ll say. Or an embezzler or adulterer or a bully of the first rank. Several have told me how their pastors have serious illnesses which have incapacitated them for ministry, but who insist on clinging to their pastoral jobs (along with the paycheck) to the detriment of the church. “People are leaving in droves,” they say.
What to do?
You get the impression that people think this is a new thing. Or that being as pro-pastor as I am (unabashedly!), I do not see that some preachers should be sent to pasture and immediately. (My cartooning mind wants to make a remark about sending a pastor to pasture, but I think I’ll pass.)
Nothing about any of this is new.
“Do not judge, lest you be judged…. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1ff.)
If you are prone to criticism and judging others, chances are you will be the last to know it.
It’s that kind of sin. I see it in you; it’s just part of who I am.
I find it fascinating that after issuing the warning about not judging others, our Lord followed with the caution about specks and logs in people’s eyes.
This is precisely how it works.
My judgmentalism of you appears so normal and natural that it never occurs to me that I am actually condemning you. So, while your rush to judgment is a log in your eye–one you really should do something about!–my human tendency to speak out on (ahem) convictions is merely a speck in mine and nothing to be concerned about.
Ain’t that the way?