“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).
Robert Schuller founded the Crystal Cathedral in California and hosted television’s “Hour of Power” broadcast, making him the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church. He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable, and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.
My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano. Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation. Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.” Schuller would look at his congregation and say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life. But my friend, you can still end with a flourish if you start now.”
It’s a great story and makes a fine sermon illustration.
“If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47).
I believe in God because I believe in butterflies.
I believe in God because I’ve seen a baby and held one and watched it grow into adulthood. And I have seen him hold babies of his own in his arms.
I believe in God because I watched the sunrise this morning.
I believe in God because of a lack of turbulence. As the earth spins around its axis, as the earth speeds around its orbit, as our solar system zooms through the galaxy, and as the galaxy tears across the heavens at enormous speeds, you and I don’t feel a thing. We can lay a ball on the ground today and it’s still there tomorrow morning, unmoved. I find that truly amazing.
I believe in God because of Jesus.
I believe in God because of the character of Jesus. He told Nicodemus, “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there,” pointing to Himself (John 3:13).
Winston Churchill was the ultimate dinner guest.
He was, that is, unless you wanted to get a word in edgewise.
Churchill monopolized the conversation, we are told. He did this particularly if the setting was his home in Chartwell and you were the guest. Even one guest was an audience and the man most assuredly did love an audience.
I suspect most preachers have that in common with him.
Now, if we have to sit there and listen to someone go on for an hour or more, most of us would prefer the speaker be a Winston Churchill. Or Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin.
But Churchill did something which made his conversation so unforgettable and his speeches so noteworthy: He planned in advance his little set speeches. Which is to say, he prepared his spontaneous remarks.
Sitting on my back deck Sunday morning with my coffee, I was watching the birds flying in to enjoy the seeds and suet cake at my feeders a few feet away. Cardinals, doves, sparrows, and a chickadee. And it hit me that we’re almost out of seeds. The storage bin on the deck has no more supplies for our feathered friends. And then….
My wife Bertha walked out and said, “Amy (our next door neighbor) called. She’s at Kroger’s. Do we need anything.”
“See if they have any birdseed.” Kroger’s seems to have some of everything. Maybe they’ll have this too.
(Do not miss the personal testimony of a pastor friend at the end.)
Someone asked, “Why do pastors not weep at funerals? My pastor didn’t even weep at his own mother’s services.”
Interesting question. I think we know the answer.
In my case, by the time we laid my wonderful mama to rest, I was in my early 70s and she was nearly 96. She was so ready to go. If it’s possible to prepare to give one’s beloved mother back to Jesus, I think we were that. And yes, we still miss her every day, and it’s been almost eight years.
But there’s another reason for the lack of tears. Starting early–my mid-20s–I began doing heart-breaking funerals, one after another, the kind that will tear your heart out and stomp it and leave it writhing on the pavement. Do enough of these, and eventually you run out of tears.
It’s not that you do not care, do not love, or cannot feel. It’s just that you care and love and feel without tears.
A neighbor who had been out of town for a week or two with her elderly mother has returned. She brought to us a huge package of toilet tissue and several rolls of paper towels. Do we have a nice neighbor or what?
A friend who goes to Alcoholics Anonymous tells me that in his large city there are now 40 chapters meeting online each evening. (Do they call them chapters?) He added, “A lot of people are learning technology who never thought they would.”
I’m one of them. Now, I have done this website for nearly 20 years, so I know a couple of things. On Facebook I can post cartoons and photos and such. But there is so much that is foreign to me.
How many churches have stopped growing in this country, in your denomination, of your church-type, in your county or parish or town?
Depends on who you ask.
Go on line and you’ll soon have statistics coming out your ears on this subject.
In our denomination–the Southern Baptist Convention–the most significant number, one that seems to have held steady for over three decades, is that some 70 percent of our churches are either in decline or have plateaued.
Plateau. Funny word to use for a church. One wonders how that came to be. Why didn’t they say “mesa,” “plain,” “delta” (ask anyone who lives in the Mississippi Delta–flat, flat, flat!), or even “flatline.”
In the emergency room, of course, to “flatline” is to be dead. No one, to my knowledge, is saying a non-growing church is dead, only that some things are not right.
Healthy churches grow. Non-growing churches are not healthy, at least in some significant ways.
If it’s true that 7 out of 10 pastors in our family of churches serve congregations that are either in decline or in stagnation, this is a situation that ought to be addressed.
Everyone is addressing it. Everyone has an opinion.
“For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
“Did I fail?”
Every man or woman who ministers in the Kingdom of God is immediately struck by two great realities: The perfection of God (and thus the desire to present to Him worthy offerings of worship and service) and the imperfection of mankind (meaning anything we offer Him will be flawed, even at its best).
As a result, we are often tormented with feelings of inadequacy and hounded by the knowledge that our efforts have not been enough, our devotion has been too weak, and our ministries a far cry from what we had hoped.
“I feel like a failure.”
Those words and that feeling are voiced not just by those who literally are failures. Some of the (outwardly) most successful pastors and spiritual leaders on the planet deal with the same sense of futility.