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 used to enjoy telling 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, 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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“Well, shut my mouth!”

“I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee; Therefore, I humble myself and repent in sackcloth and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

Some things are so overwhelming and all-consuming that when they occur, they suck all the air out of the room and leave everyone stunned into silence.

Job received his comeuppance from the living God of whom he had spoken so freely as though he knew more about Him than he did.

As he ranted on and on, defending himself before friends acting as God’s prosecuting attorneys, at times Job became belligerent in declaring his innocence of any wrong which would have brought down divine judgement in the form of the various trials he was enduring.

Then God showed up and took over. In chapter 38, God begins asking questions like, “Joe, you seem to know everything; where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Finally, in the opening of chapter 40, Job interrupts to say, “I lay my hand on my mouth!  Once I have spoken and I will not answer; even twice and I will add no more.”

But God was not through. “Now, Job, gird up your loins like a man and instruct me!”  (40:7) Oh my.

On and on the Lord went, blowing through like a storm (40:6), down through chapter 41.

Finally, He was through.

Whew, Job thought.  This was no fun.

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When a leader is a non-leader

“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13). 

Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders.

That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his work was done and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.

For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.

What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?

Throughout his life, Joshua had never taken the initiative in anything, but had followed orders.  In Exodus 17:9, the first mention of Joshua in Scripture, he leads a rag-tag army of ex-slaves against the Amalekites. However, on a distant hill, Moses was overseeing everything and giving guidance.

No one wants to follow a non-leader.  Readers will want to check out the final chapters of Deuteronomy and the early chapters of Joshua and count the number of times Moses, God, and the Israelites urged this surprised newly chosen leader to “be strong and of good courage.”

A leader must be strong to forge a path and take the heat and must be of good courage to endure the problems, headaches, and backstabbings.

It goes with the territory. As the saying goes, it’s why they pay the leader the big bucks.

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Burned biscuits always go well with a little grace

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

My friend Chet Griffin passed this on to me. My notes do not indicate whether he was the speaker, or this was something he was forwarding.

“When I was a kid, my mom liked to make breakfast for dinner every now and then. I remember one night in particular when she had had a long hard day at work, then did the breakfast thing for us.  Dad and I were seated at the table when she brought in plates of scrambled eggs, sausage patties, and some extremely burnt biscuits.”

“This was so unlike my mom.”

“I sat there waiting to see if Dad noticed or would say anything.  Yet, all he did was to reach for his biscuits, smile at my mom, and ask how my day went at school.  I don’t recall what I told him, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that biscuit and eat every bite!

“Later, I heard Mom apologize to Dad for burning the biscuits.  I’ll never forget what he said.

“‘Honey, I love burned biscuits.’

“That night when I went in to kiss Daddy good night, I asked him if he really liked his biscuits burned.  He wrapped me in his arms and said, ‘Your mama put in a hard day at work today and she’s real tired.’

“‘Besides,’ he said, ‘a little burnt biscuit never hurt anyone.’”

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