7 things newly retired preachers need to do.

(Do not miss the post script at the end.)

Don’t let anyone tell you there is no retirement in the Bible.

Church people will say that, of course, mostly in fun. “Preacher, the Bible doesn’t know anything about retirement.”

But they’re dead wrong.

Numbers 8:25 says, “At the age of fifty, (priests) shall retire from service in the work and not work any more.”

There it is, in black and white. I have no idea why the Lord stopped the service of these men so early, unless to give others a chance to serve.

Not that any servant of the Lord I know today is trying to play that card.  These days, fifty is just the far edge of youth. You’re just getting started at fifty.

However, we post it here as a good-natured response to the smarties who insist that “retirement is not in the Bible.”  (Be sure to smile when quoting Numbers 8:25.)

At any rate, it is entirely possible to retire from pastoring a church but to remain in ministry. In fact, that’s how it’s done.

We are always on duty for the Lord, whether anyone employs us or pays us a salary or not.

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Perhaps the most profound thing our Lord ever said

“Except you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

What’s lacking in the great majority of religious experts–of all tribes, all beliefs, all everything!–is a childlike humility.

I’ve sat across from the salespeople hawking Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon doctrine door to door and been amazed at the sheer gall and arrogance of these know-it-alls.

I’ve sat in the auditoriums and classrooms when prophecy teachers were spreading out their charts and telling far more than they could ever know, pronouncing their anathema upon anyone daring to believe otherwise and taking no prisoners in the process.

I’ve sat in massive conferences among thousands of my peers and heard ignorance spouted as truth but camouflaged with alliteration and pious phrases and encouraged and affirmed by thundering echoes of “amens” and “hallelujahs”.

In every case, I longed to hear someone say, “We see through a glass darkly….”  (I Corinthians 13:12).

To hear someone say, “I have not arrived. I press toward the mark….” (Philippians 3:12-13).

To hear someone say, “We do not know how to pray as we should….” (Romans 8:26)

To hear someone say, “That which I am doing, I do not understand.  I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

Where is the childlike spirit we hear so much of in the Word?

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The easiest texts are often the hardest to preach

“Be ye kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).

For good reason, young beginning pastors do not take the standard old texts for their first sermons.  Few feel qualified to produce a full sermon on such subjects as:

John 3:16.  The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Salvation by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Love one another (John 13:34-35). Forgiveness. The home. Kindness (see above).

That’s why beginning preachers almost always gravitate to the exotic texts.  They find those strange little metaphors, unusual verses, and unfamiliar images and light on them.

Perhaps it’s easier to get their minds around such, I don’t know.  One of my first sermons was suggested by “a house in a cucumber patch,” from Isaiah 1:8.  That image had brought to mind an old bungalow where some relatives of ours used to live far out in the country, but which was later abandoned and soon completely covered by kudzu vines.  Eventually, a massive mound of green vines stood there, hiding what used to be a house. What point my sermon made from that has long been forgotten.

Why didn’t I preach on grander (and safer?) subjects like the incarnation of Jesus, His miracles, His amazing teachings and sinless life, and of course, His death, burial, and resurrection?  Answer: Any of those subjects would be so huge and I felt so small.

I could no more preach a full-length sermon on John 3:16 than swim the Atlantic.

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Preacher: You’re a speaker on a full program. Find out whom you are following.

Among the recent tributes to the late comic genius Robin Williams was a story he told about the time he preceded Bob Hope on the Johnny Carson show.

For reasons unknown, Hope was late arriving. Instead of Robin Williams following him, which had been the plan, Williams went on stage first and did his hilarious knock-em-dead routine.  People were beside themselves with laughter.

Bob Hope arrived and had to follow that.

Robin Williams said, “I don’t think he was angry, but he was not pleased.”

As Bob Hope was introduced and settled into the chair to the right of Carson, Johnny said, “Robin Williams. Isn’t he funny?”  Hope said, “Yeah. He’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.”

No one in his right mind would voluntarily follow Robin Williams on the program.

Sometimes preachers find themselves on the agenda in a meeting where multiple speakers are doing their thing.  Woe to the one who has to follow the most popular preacher in the land.

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Getting old: What Robin Williams feared, we all do

“I said to him afterward, ‘Hey, are you O.K.?’ And he said something like, ‘It’s no fun getting old.  And I am so (freaking) old.’ But he said it in one of his funny voices, like he was some ancient old guy.  Like it was a joke.”  –A story told by an unnamed colleague on the set of Robin Williams’ television series “The Crazy Ones.” During a break in the shooting, Williams had gone off and sat by himself.  He looked exhausted and sad.

It’s no joke, this business of getting old.

The August 25, 2014 issue of TIME devotes the last half-dozen pages to the life and art of Robin Williams, the comic genius who ended his own life last week.

I thought when I first heard the news and before reading anything about his chronic depression and repeated addictions that he feared getting old and decided to abort that process.  Nothing I’ve read or heard since has changed that opinion.

No one should interpret any of this as my attempt to psychoanalyze Mr. Williams.  Obviously, his situation–the circumstances that led him to make the decision to end his life on his own terms–was complicated by a thousand factors, as would be true of any of the rest of us. Someone said he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s.

I understand about the fear of getting old.

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For this purpose Christ came

To the friend who thought she was good enough to go to Heaven, I asked, “If you can be good enough to get there on your own, what was the purpose of Jesus coming earth?”

She looked at me blankly.

To the one who said he hoped he just might possibly be good enough to slip into Heaven, I asked, “Then, what was the point of Jesus coming to earth if you can do this by yourself?”

He’d never thought of that.

So many people are confused about why Jesus came to earth.  Even a great many of the most religious people, those who hang His image on their walls and bow before statues dedicated in His honor or who populate the kind of churches I’m in every weekend, seem not to be clear on why He came to earth.

One would think that would be of the highest priority, to know why Jesus came and thus to align one’s life with that.

What follows are three statements of Scripture, inspired by the same Holy Spirit but delivered by three different writers at various times, with all echoing the same life-altering truth. They state clearly and simply what Jesus accomplished by coming to earth, and thus should be known and treasured by every disciple of the Man of Galilee.

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The irony of strong leadership

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

My immediate concern is always with the Lord’s church, but this principles applies everywhere.

I am pro-pastor. Always and forever. Anyone who reads the blog and knows me will agree that I honor the pastor.  God made me a pastor at the age of 22, and I’ve been one ever since.

However, we have a problem.

In churches across our land tyrants can be found who call themselves pastors and demand to be obeyed. Such men are unqualified to do anything in the kingdom and must be dealt with by courageous men and women in the pews.

Otherwise, they will corrupt the gospel, destroy the church, wound the weak, and drive away many who need Christ.

In the Kingdom of God, leaders are required to be servants.

Many a pastor misses this, and if he learns it at all, not before he has made many a bone-headed mistake and left a lot of good people bleeding in his wake.

We lead by serving.

We do not lead by dominating.

That’s it.

Scripture says the Holy Spirit has made the pastor the “overseer” (episcopos) of the church (Acts 20:28).  Scripture says church members are to “obey their leaders” as those who will give account for their souls (Hebrews 13:17).  However….

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How contagion works and epidemics spread. And why isn’t anyone “catching” my faith?

Sometime in the 1930s people who were hunting down chimpanzees in Africa contracted the HIV virus that led to the AIDS disease.  Later, when those men consorted with prostitutes, the disease was on its way.  Then, when airlines developed to the point of providing intercontinental connections, the disease crossed the world.

Worldwide, we’re told that 36 million people have died from AIDS.

“Patient Zero”–the person who transported the HIV virus to America–was a flight attendant for Air Canada.

We owe that man so much.

He was truly a person of great and far-reaching influence.

But all in the wrong way.

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The two times the pastor is most vulnerable

“Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14).

We’re all vulnerable.  Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (I Corinthians 10:12).  The brother who gave us that reminder was himself constantly being knocked down, but getting back up.  If anyone knew the subject of vulnerability, Paul did (see 2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

After telling young Pastor Timothy of a coming time when people would not stand for sound doctrine and strong preaching, but would “turn away their ears from the truth and will prefer myths,” Paul said, “But as for you, be sober in all things (that is, clear-thinking), endure hardship (expect it, and plan to get through it), do the work of an evangelist (keep telling Heaven’s good news), and fulfill your ministry (do not let any critic pull you off course).”  (With my interjections, that’s 2 Timothy 4:5).

I find it amazing and truly heart-warming how such reminders to a minister twenty centuries ago fit us so perfectly today.  That’s one more reason, out of ten thousand, why you and I live in this Word. There is nothing like it anywhere.

Now, returning to our subject of the minister’s vulnerability….

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Why preachers bang their heads against the wall and some counselors quit

Michelle Singletary writes a financial advice column for the Washington Post.  Our New Orleans Advocate runs it a day or two later.

Ten years ago, a fellow wrote Ms. Singletary for advice. He was planning to marry his fiancee of 18 months as soon as they dealt with her spending habits which were clearly out of control. Her closet contained 400 pairs of shoes, many still new, and was overflowing with clothing. She justified her spendthrift ways by saying she works two jobs and looks for bargains.

The man asked Michelle Singletary, “What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?”

Ms. Singletary urged him to postpone this marriage. They were not close to being ready until this was solved. She suggested pulling credit reports, seeing what that revealed and then finding a credit counselor.

That was ten years ago.

The other day, Michelle Singletary received an email from that guy telling her what happened.  The news is not good.

He did none of the things Ms. Singletary had suggested.

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