My candidate for hypocrite of the year

“Evil people and imposters will become worse (in the last days), deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Can we talk about imposters?

Specifically church-dropouts who say they love the Lord.

Nothing of what follows is intended to be mean-spirited. I will labor to make certain it doesn’t come across that way.

I’m not angry, just perturbed. I don’t want to banish anyone from heaven, from church, from “the island,” or even from this room.

I just want to say to certain ones, “C’mon, people. Get real.  You don’t mean that, so why do you keep saying it?”

I was in a group which was having a lively discussion about church leadership and whether divorced people–specifically someone with a whole cluster of divorces!–should be considered as deacon.

Most in the room were sweet-spirited, godly, well-informed scripturally and solid doctrinally.  But some were angry for reasons I doubt if even they know.  They want to banish all divorced people from anything.  But they are not the hypocrites I had in mind. It’s another group.

People like you are the reason I no longer go to church.

That’s what they say.

And they are my candidate for “hypocrites of the year.”

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7 laws of service in God’s kingdom

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).   “A disciple is not above his teacher or a slave above his master” (Luke 6:24). 

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Rudy and Rose traveled to New Orleans to help.  Unable to find a place to plug in, Rudy walked into the kitchen of Williams Boulevard Baptist Church and volunteered.  That church was strategically situated next to the Highway Patrol headquarters which was hosting hundreds of troopers from the nation, as they protected the darkened city. The church had become a hotel for the troopers and the women of the congregation were serving three meals a day.  They welcomed Rudy and assigned him to the garbage detail.

Not exactly what he had in mind.

Rudy had been pastoring a church in southern Canada.  When he saw the suffering of our people on television–entire neighborhoods flooded, thousands homeless, people being rescued off rooftops–he resigned his church, sold his gun collection to fund the move, and he and Rose came to help.

Now, he ends up emptying garbage cans.  By his own admission, Rudy was developing an attitude problem.

One day he was lifting a large bag of garbage into the dumpster.  The kitchen workers had been told not to put liquid garbage into the bags, but evidently they didn’t get the message. Suddenly, as Rudy was hoisting it up, the bag ripped and all kinds of kitchen leftovers poured down over him–gumbo, red beans and rice, gravy, grease, whatever.  

Drenched in garbage from head to foot, Rudy stood there crying like a baby.

“That’s when the Lord broke me,” he said later.  “I told the Lord, ‘If you just want me to empty garbage cans for Jesus, I’ll do it.’”  

That was a Thursday.  That Saturday night late, a minister from that church woke him up.  “Rudy, our pastor is sick. They tell me you are a preacher.  Can you preach for us tomorrow morning?”

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What’s a pastor to do when church isn’t fun any more

My journal records one of those pressurized times in my last pastorate, some years ago.

Consider that the church was still in recovery from a split five years earlier, leaving us with a diminished congregation handling an all-consuming debt.  Consider that some of our people still carried guilt over their actions during that fight, while others nursed hurts and anger from the same tragic event.  I’d not been around during that catastrophe, I’m happy to report, but the Father had sent me in to help the congregation pick up the pieces and return the congregation to health and usefulness.

It was hard.

I was weak personally, having just emerged from a brutal three-plus years trying to shepherd a divided congregation with toxic lay leadership.  So, I came in gun-shy, hoping to avoid conflict and for everyone, myself included, to have time to heal.

Naïve, huh?  Probably so.

Daily I was being undermined by the angry, criticized by the hurting, ostracized by the pious, and scrutinized to the nth degree by leaders, self-appointed and otherwise.  When I tried to lead the church to take steps I considered normal and healthy, these also were thrown back in my face.

The journal records my efforts to bring in community leaders for a Sunday night forum during which the guest would speak and take questions.  Our people could not understand why in the world I would want to bring a congressman, for example, to our church.

I was stunned.  They don’t see the need? Aren’t they citizens who vote and who are affected by the actions of political leaders? Do they not care?  Where have these people been?

If it didn’t involve evangelism or preparation for the rapture, the leadership wanted no part of it.  Not that they were doing all that much about either.  These were merely points to check off in rating anyone invited to speak in their church.

Walt Handelsman was the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.  I admired him greatly and was delighted when he gave me an autographed collection of his editorial cartoons.  When I asked if he would be available to visit our church some Sunday evening in the hour preceding worship, he quickly agreed.

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Not everyone wanting to go to Heaven would fit

Some people would not be happy in Heaven. Nothing about it appeals to them. They would be forever out of place. So, we have good news for them….

God is not going to make them go.

The biggest slander I know is that Heaven is going to be one unending church service. Every pastor, every song leader, and every pew sitter groans and thinks, “Lord, I hope not.”

Not to worry. It will not be like that. Or, like anything else you know or have prepared for or imagined in your fondest dreams.

Throw away the categories. Nothing pertains any more. Jesus said in Heaven there’s no marrying or giving in marriage. He said angels are rejoicing each time a new person comes into God’s eternal family. He told us the angels of certain “little ones” do always behold the face of the Father.

The thing to keep in mind is that Jesus Christ is the authority on Heaven. He’s a native. He told Nicodemus, No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, referring to Himself (John 3:13).

The old line goes, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven but no one wants to die.” And, according to polls we see published from time to time, most people expect to go to Heaven.

My contention is most people not only are not going to Heaven, they don’t even want to go. They just want not to go to the other place. And since Heaven seems to be the only alternative, it wins by default.

I’d like to interject a question or two into the next poll someone is taking on who expects to go to Heaven. After the interviewee attests that, “yes, I expect to go to Heaven,” I want to ask, “For what reason? What do you expect to happen in Heaven?”

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The pastor gets his comeuppance

Here’s the story as my friend told it to me.

Dave was pastoring a small church in a deep southern town while living in a city some miles away. Weekdays, Dave worked for the health department.

One day, his church leadership requested that Dave get ordained. He passed this on to his home church pastor in the city.

The pastor said, “Dave, anyone in particular you want to preach your ordination?” Dave couldn’t think of anyone. “I’ll leave that to you,” he said.

The night of the big event, Dave entered the church sanctuary and spotted a colleague from the health department. As they exchanged greetings, the friend said, “Uh, Dave. Have you seen who’s preaching your service tonight?” He hadn’t.

As soon as he laid eyes on the featured preacher, Dave stood there in shock.

That preacher was a retired pastor who lived in the city. Only a few weeks before, Dave had served him with official papers demanding that he take care of some health issues on his property or face legal action. The preacher had defiantly cursed David out, creating quite a spectacle.

“He did take the remedial action we demanded, however,” Dave says.

But even so.

The preacher who cursed David out is now about to preach his ordination service.

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Before we tell the world, we must show them

…so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).

Show and tell. Sounds simple enough.

Every kindergartner knows the process. You bring something to school and then tell the class what it is. What it means to you. How it works.

A few years ago, I sat at the head table when veteran lineman Frank Warren was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame. His agent paid tribute to his star player.

We live in Dallas. I’ll never forget the day my five-year-old son took Frank Warren to his school for show-and-tell. Frank flew to Dallas just to do that for my child.

I sat there not quite believing my ears. This football player went to all the trouble of flying from New Orleans to Dallas for no other purpose than accompanying a preschooler to kindergarten for show-and-tell.

No wonder the agent was still speaking of it, years later. Who would not remember that?

A few years back Henry Blackaby spoke to Louisiana Baptists about post-9/11 life for Christians in America.

After 9-11, business as usual would be an affront to God…. So far, we are not being the salt and light God intended…. We have had very little effect on this society.

It should matter to every Christian that the world around us ignores us, that it does not take us seriously, and even scoffs at our faith.

We have no one to blame but ourselves.

AMC-TV was running the movie “Shawshank Redemption” twice each night. I finally sat down and watched it, the first time since it appeared maybe 20 years earlier. It was easy to see why it’s so memorable and even loved. The roles played by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman wedge themselves in our consciousness and will not turn us loose without a struggle.

As a Christian, however, I was highly offended by the warden in that prison called Shawshank. He quoted the Bible, preached its platitudes, and then was guilty of the harshest brutality and greed. He even ordered murders to protect his criminal enterprise. All the while, Bible verses were displayed prominently and the man’s Bible was a major actor in the story.

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Don’t lie to me about God!

The Lord is upright. He is my Rock. There is no unrighteousness in Him. (Psalm 92:15)

Sometimes something in a letter jumps out and grabs you by the throat and won’t turn you loose. You have to do something quickly, otherwise it chokes the life out of you.

Here’s what happened.

A friend of years past sent a message concerning a difficult situation she was facing. Toward the end of the letter, as she made her case for straight-shooting from my direction, she said something I will not soon forget.

Pray for me if you like. Send me scripture if you like. Put me on a prayer chain if you want. But please don’t lie to me about God.”

She was not trying to be dramatic, only to convey how strongly she wanted to know the right answer. Even if it hurt, even if it went contrary to everything she was doing and believed. She wanted to know.

You have to respect that.

So many inquiries we preachers get about doctrinal issues want us to confirm what they are already doing and endorse all they have previously believed.

Don’t lie to me about God.

God help us not to do that.

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