Some things I got out of my system….

“Those that were gain to me I counted loss….” (Philippians 3:7)


I wondered how things would be in that church of another denomination.  They had a good reputation and were growing while the small church I pastored was struggling.  So I visited their revival service one night.

One time was enough.

The preacher was delivering some shallow, hardly biblical at all, message and was whooping up the excitement to keep the people dancing in the aisles.  When the furor died down, he would step up the microphone and continue his tirade.  When the people returned to the uproar, he took a break and walked over to the piano player–who had not slowed down the constant banging at any point–and carried on a conversation.

I could not take any more of that and never envied that church or its pastor again.

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I answered your email, but you never received it.

This happens too often, and it’s frustrating.

A fellow who reads this blog emailed to say, “I’ve been asked to serve on an ordination council.”  He asked a couple of questions, then said, “What would be some good questions for me to ask the candidate?”  I replied at length, then hit “send.”  A few minutes later, my email was returned to me.  “Undeliverable,” said the message.

I resent the message.  Same thing happened.

Arghhh.  What to do now?

Mostly, when this happens–and as I say, it occurs more often than one might expect–I keep trying to resend it or I might put a message on our website in hope the person will see it.

If he doesn’t, what will he think?  Either that I did not get his email or  received it but did not reply, both of which are wrong.

Is this like unanswered prayer, I wonder?

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That sermon needed a good illustration, pastor!

“Jesus never taught without telling stories.”  –Mark 4:34 

Recently, as my wife and I ministered in a church in another state for a few days, we noticed something interesting.  A senior lady in the congregation approached us several times with a story or joke.  In each case, her tale was something we had heard a dozen times over fifty years.  Which makes a point people might want to keep in mind when they start telling a joke or story they’ve heard to a preacher: They have heard them all.  Particularly if they have been in ministry for half a century or more, they have more than likely told that story so many times they grew tired of it.

They laugh and say the same thing Johnny Carson used to say on his television show when someone told him a stale joke: “That’s funny. That’s really funny.”  He didn’t laugh, but said it was funny.

Okay, now.

Tell the preacher a story, yes, but preferably one that happened to you or of which you have personal knowledge.  We love those.  I still recall first-person stories told me a generation ago, because I have used them more than once.

We preachers are always in the market for a good story or great sermon illustration.  We know the value of these things.

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Churchfails: Scoundrels in the Lord’s family

“There must be heresies among you” –I Corinthians 11:19.

The complete text of that verse goes: “There must be heresies (or divisions) among you that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”

How will we know what we believe if we don’t know what we don’t?

“Churchfails” is a book edited by David Stabnow and written by several seminary professors.  Subtitle: “100 blunders in church history (and what we can learn from them).”

I predict you’re going to love this book.

You know immediately that much of this is tongue-in-cheek when you read the introductions to the seven learned authors of these short, pithy chapters.  For instance…

–“Rex Butler was a shoe salesman in his former life, then God called him to teach when he was 40 years old.  He went from selling soles to schooling souls…..following in the footsteps of William Carey and D. L. Moody!”  (Joe’s note:  Carey was a cobbler and Moody sold shoes.)

–Ken “Deep Dish” Cleaver grew up in the Windy City, a land flowing with cheese and sausage…… We actually invited him to be on our team of authors because he’s an avid unicyclist and we needed the balance.”

–Rodrick K. Durst was “raised and trained in California, moving between campuses of Golden Gate Seminary to catch all the earthquakes…..”

–Lloyd A. Harsch is a “parent, professor, pastor, political pundit, and punster…..He has a captive audience that is pressured to applaud his puns because he submits their grades!”

–James Lutzweiler is “a part-time mushroom picker…..” Stephen O. Presley “hails from (Texas) but ventured out to study theology among the brave-hearted kilt-wearers of the far northern territory….” David K. Stabnow (editor of the book) “gave up a dead-end career digging graves in the frozen soil of Minnesota in favor of herding cats and shepherding words as Bible and Reference Book Editor at B&H.  He lives in Nashville but doesn’t listen to country music.”

Whew.  And the book hasn’t even gotten underway yet.

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Twelve things about prayer you may not know (or may have overlooked)

“Pray without ceasing.”  — I Thessalonians 5:17.

I do not imply that I know more about prayer than you.  I hate to hear anyone celebrated as “an expert in prayer,” for the simple reason that no child should be called an expert in talking to his/her parent.  What’s so hard about that?

Granted, we make it harder than it should be, with our rules, our religions, our legalism, our opinions, our blindness, and our sinfulness.  But in its essence, prayer is talking to the Father through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Period.

What I do imply however (for this article) is that there are insights in Scripture on the subject of prayer many of us may have missed.  Here are a few……

One. Scripture says you do not know how to pray as you should.  That’s Romans 8:26. So, let’s not let that stop us.  God’s not looking for eloquence but faith.

Two.  Scripture says both the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus are interceding for us.  That is Romans 8:26 and 8:34.  Now, personally, I have no idea how this works, particularly when Romans 8:31 says “God is for us!”  So, it appears the Triune God is on our side!

Three. Scripture says the best pray-ers were Moses and Samuel.  That’s Jeremiah 15:1.

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Why we envy bi-vocational pastors

“Because (Paul) was of the same trade, he stayed with (Aquila and Priscilla) and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:3).

“I had a right to be supported by the churches,” said the Apostle Paul.  “But I did not exercise that right, but supported myself.”  (I Corinthians 9)

Some churches pay their ministers enough to allow them to quit their “day jobs,” as we call them, and devote their full time to the service of the church and the work of the Kingdom.

Other churches cannot afford that privilege.  And some churches and pastors choose the dual arrangement for reasons of their own.

I remember the day when my church began paying me full time.  It was like dying and going to Heaven, I thought.  For the first three years of our marriage, while pastoring a small church and then attending seminary, I worked in the production office of a cast iron pipe factory, worked in the office of a trucking line, and worked in the office of a soft-drink bottling company.  Suddenly, all that went away when a church called me as pastor and paid enough to live one.

I loved the idea of being able to serve the Lord and His church 24/7.

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The pastor’s heart: Reservoir or cesspool?

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).  “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). 

This is one of those lessons almost no pastor learns except by personal experience.

Someone told you a joke years ago.  In my case, it was an older cousin and I was a young teen.  The joke was dirty by any measurement and some would say it was funny.  But it was filthy and has stayed with me all these years.  The joke is still in my mind and I am unable to get rid of it.

I wish I’d known.

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“Two questions that bug me about pastors”

“But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of some pastors, when I saw the success of those less gifted  than me….  Their strength is firm; they are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men.  Therefore pride serves as their necklace…. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than their heart could wish….” (Psalm 73…sort of…  With apologies to the Psalmist.) 

A pastor friend who has seen his share of troubles during his pastorates which total perhaps 25 years shared his questions with me.

One.  Some pastors live their entire lives without problems, serving church after church with a string of unbroken successes.  What sets these pastors apart?

Two.  And yet other pastors seem to know setback after setback in their ministries.  Are they to blame for this?  What are the characteristics that lead some pastors to go from trouble to trouble in churches?

After posing the questions–good ones, I think most will agree–he said, “I expect there are so many reasons for this,” and he named a few.  “God’s sovereignty, the pastor’s ability to deal with church politics, and temperament/personality.”

I promised him I would give this some thought and put the questions out here for our friends to comment on.  (Consider this your invitation.)

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The “poor me” pastor with the inferiority complex

“Why is everybody always picking on me?”  –1950s song by The Coasters

The biggest egotist in the room may be the wallflower who sits alone, absorbed in killer thoughts about his isolation.  “Why does no one talk to me?”  “They’re all snobs.”  “Why did I bother coming to this thing anyway?” I, I, I, me, me, my, my.

Over the years I’ve met quite a few pastors who were being victimized and brutalized by their own low self-esteem and their inferiority complex.  It’s tempting to say here that “it’s not a complex if you’re really inferior,” but that would be cruel.  This person afflicts enough mental cruelty upon himself/herself without outside aid.

The poor-me pastor is usually in one of three situations…

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What the lonely pastor should do

“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). 

When you are hurting, you need a friend.

Even our Lord did.

At a denominational meeting, a man approached and introduced himself. It turns out he reads this blog and is acquainted with my cartoons. And he said something that lingers with me to this day.

“Sometimes I think about calling you.  It gets so lonely where I’m working and I just need someone to talk to.”

As I recall, he is not a pastor of a congregation but works with pastors and other ministers.  Therefore, he has no regular constituency.  And often, that means no one is looking after him.  He is bearing this burden alone.

I tore off a piece of paper and wrote my phone number.  “Call me,” I told him.  “Please!”

That is one courageous man.

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