What causes God to laugh

“But Thou, O Lord, dost laugh at them; Thou dost scoff at all the nations” (Psalm 59:8).

Was it Erma Bombeck who once said, “Know how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.”

Or was that Joan Rivers?

Anyway.  It’s right on the mark.

The writer for Our Daily Bread tells this:  I was washing my car one evening as the sun was preparing to kiss the earth goodnight.  Glancing up, I impulsively pointed the hose at it as if to extinguish its flames.  The absurdity of my action hit me, and I laughed.

I get a kick out of seeing how prophecy experts bend over backward trying to locate the United States–as well as whatever country happens to be giving us headaches at the moment–in Scripture.  As though our moment in history is so huge and our place in God’s plan so essential, how dare anyone suggest He could have planned the grand sweep of history without our being given a starring role.

As if.

Isaiah 40 has a good word on this.

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How to grow a small church

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many” (I Samuel 14:6).

Depending on a number of factors, growing a small church is one of the more do-able things pastors can achieve.

Those variable factors include…

–the health of the church (you don’t want a sick church to grow; you want it to get well first!).  I once told my congregation, “There’s a good reason no one is joining this church.  I wouldn’t join it either!” Believe it or not, those words were inspired and they received them well, and repented.

–the attitude of the congregation (if the people are satisfied with the status quo, they would not welcome newcomers).  I’ve known Sunday School classes composed of a small cluster of best friends who felt imposed on by visitors and new members.  No one wants to go where they’re not wanted.

–and the location of the facility (a church situated five miles down an isolated road, at the end of the dead end trail, can almost certainly forget about growing).

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Pastor, grow your church…as God enables.

“Over ____% of churches in America have plateau’ed.”  (The percentage depends on who’s talking.)

Let the pastor dedicate himself to growing the church as much as possible.

Let growing the church be important to the shepherd.

But let the growth be the real thing, not something hyped up.  Solid growth, not inflated numbers.

A generation or two ago, pastors in our denomination took it for granted that if they wanted to (ahem) move up to a larger church, they needed to show numerical growth where they were presently serving.

Before long, some less trustworthy preachers decided to play that game to the hilt and ruined it for everyone. They grew creative in their counting, they schemed and plotted and even lied about numbers, and doctored the records to make it appear they were experiencing greater growth than they were.

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What to do for an unemployed preacher

Now, preachers and ministers come in all stripes and varieties, I understand that.

In the denomination I serve, there are some who are called “jack-leg preachers,” and it is not a compliment.  No dictionary defines that term, but mostly it means they are self-taught, self-designated, and probably self-called.

I’m not talking about these.

I’m referring to solid God-called well-established servants of the Lord who have been cut off from the church they were serving for one reason or the other and now find themselves unemployable.

I’m referring to faithful preachers of the Word who should be out there leading a congregation, but have not been able to find one willing to give them a try.

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The light-hearted pastor is an oxymoron

“…the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

After pastoring three churches for nearly nine years, I joined the staff of a large Southern Baptist church in our state and suddenly found myself attending Sunday services without having to preach.

Now, I loved to preach, don’t get me wrong. But for almost a decade, I hardly knew what it was like to attend church the way normal people do.

I recall sitting on the platform during the early part of the service feeling as light as a bird, carrying none of the burden I had grown accustomed to when I was pastoring.  I would sing the hymns and enjoy the worship, and then at the appointed time in the service, get up and make my announcement or extend the welcome or offer a prayer.  When I finished, I walked off the platform and joined my family in a pew.  It was a wonderful feeling.

One day something occurred to me. Before long, I will be re-entering the pastorate.  I’ll be the person bringing the sermon each Sunday.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could be as free and light-hearted, as burden-free, as I feel now?

Not going to happen.

I knew that.  But I longed for it, nevertheless.

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The pastor goes before the search committee

There is no established manual for search committees.

There are no laws on how these things are to be done.

The Bible has no search committees and thus no guidelines for them.

So, the result is often a mess. A hodge-podge of arrangements and a plethora of assortments.

So, lower your expectations, pastor.  And buckle your seat belt.

Some committees are well-organized and infused with a strong sense of purpose, convinced they are engaged in a holy mission, doing the Lord’s work and honoring all the Lord’s servants they encounter.  They represent their church well and every pastor they interview falls in love with them.

Oh, that they were all that way.

Allow me to say that few are that way, but without citing examples of the other kind.  Let’s just say pastors should expect anything and be flexible.  They will want to keep their eyes on the Lord and not on people.

As a veteran pastor with a half-century of dealing with search committees–I’ve been interviewed by a hundred, have counseled scores, and have served on two or three–perhaps what follows here will be helpful to someone.

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How churches deal with the crime problem

One evening recently a news program dealt with the increasing crime problem which Wal-Mart stores are facing.  In one medium-sized city with six Wal-Marts, police were called to incidents at those stores 2,000 times in a one-year period.  The same city has six Target stores. They called the cops 300 times over the same 12 months.

The problem, said the speaker, is Wal-Mart is cutting back on personnel and no one is policing the aisles, all of which makes shoplifting easier.

I imagine that’s right.  I cannot recall seeing a security guard at a Walmart or Sams Club in ages. In a sense, they are inviting trouble.

Churches are facing this also.  It’s not so much pilfering or stealing, sins that have ever been with us, as it is the more serious varieties of crime: shootings, terrorism, gang warfare, and similar type violence.

Recently, I preached in a church that is trying to anticipate trouble before it happens.  The pastor showed me what they are doing. Continue reading “How churches deal with the crime problem” »

Things God enjoys most

“Well, I know there’s a lot of big preachers that know a lot more than I do, but it could be that the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too.”  –Tom T. Hall, “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died”

Yogi Berra watched as the batter approached the plate.  The Yankee catcher had seen it all, and this guy was like so many: eager to get a hit, but needing all the help he could find.  The batter stood at the plate and made the sign of the cross, then pointed toward the skies, both symbols of prayer as he summoned the Almighty to his aid.

“Hey buddy,” said Yogi from behind his mask, “Why don’t we just let the Lord enjoy the game?”

I’m with Yogi.

That begs the question of course.  We wonder if the Lord enjoys a baseball game occasionally.

Does God smile at the antics of a small child?  Revel at the cuteness of puppies?  Does He ever sit back and enjoy the music of an orchestra or choir?  Did God like that rainbow I saw yesterday?

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Your first discoveries in Heaven

“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so, amen” (Revelation 1:7).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a few predictions about Heaven.

As with every religious charlatan who ever came down the pike, there’s no way to prove me wrong for the time being. But unlike the con men, I’m just thinking out loud here. After all, who among us does not like thinking about Heaven, our abode forever and forever?

The first surprise, I have no doubt, will be to find yourself awake.  “Wow,” you think. “I died.  I really did.  I remember everyone gathering around the hospital bed and them all crying.  And I recall that last surge of pain and then everything went black.  And lo and behold, I wake up.  How wonderful is that?”

“As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness.  I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awaken.” (Psalm 17:15)

When I awaken.  A given fact. It’s going to happen.  But as much as we say we believe that, I’m confident the first sensation we will have on the other side of that curtain is to find our eyes open and the new realities of our situation setting in.

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Everyone’s least favorite preacher: The cocky kind

“Be thou humble, preacher.”  (Stated and repeated and reinforced one way or the other in a hundred scriptures such as Isaiah 57:15, Micah 6:8, and I Peter 5:7.)

It’s a personality type, I suppose.  If Mr. Hotshot were not a preacher, but were a bus driver or school principal or insurance agent, he would still be full of himself and cocky.  But as unpleasant as that trait is in any profession, it’s ugliest and deadliest in a man of God.

You’re sitting in his church listening to him preach. He’s not five minutes into the message before you realize Mr. Hotshot is appearing before you in the flesh.  His words and mannerisms give him away.  Listen to him:

— “I told my…I want my…My convictions are…I believe…I insist that my staff….”  All church employees are “my staff” and the new program is “something God told me to do.” It’s all about him.

–Listen to his Bible expositions: “The translators have this wrong.  Any first year Greek student knows this word always means….” and “Scholars say otherwise, but they can be wrong if they want to. What this verse really means is….”

–He alone has the truth.  He alone knows how to lead the church. He wants lots of time in the worship service because what he has to say is more important than things like actual worship and praise.

How the Lord ever got things done before he came along is the mystery of the ages.

Now…

Every disciple of Jesus has to have become humble at some point. It’s how you enter the Kingdom: “as a little child.”  (Matthew 18:3)

It’s not a stretch, therefore to expect those called as role models and examples (I Peter 5:3) to be shining exhibits of the grace of humility.

And some are. Some of the greatest preachers I know, some of the finest pastors and best success stories, are genuinely humble.

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