How much do you charge to come to our church?

“Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyared and does not eat the fruit of it?” (I Corinthians 9:7)

“We’d like to invite you to speak to our church (or our seniors group or whatever).  But we’re small and I’m not sure we could afford you.  How much do you charge?”

I get this a lot.

In the first place, I’m excited (and more than a little relieved!) that any church would invite me to do anything–preach a sermon, teach a class, speak at a banquet, or sit in a room and sketch the children.  So, I’m always honored. Always, no matter the size of the church.

God knows my heart.

But I’m always a little flummoxed when people ask about the fee.  I reply, “I don’t charge anything.”  But that is not the entire story.

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One thing we must never do in ministry

A number of my friends are going to think this was written just for them.  They will be right.

They’ve just lost their ministry positions which had been their existence for the last year or many years.  They loved that church and delighted in serving Christ there.  And now, they’ve been cut loose and told their services are no longer needed. They are hurting as though a death had occurred.  They grieve, they fear for their future, and they deal with anger over how they were treated. 

The termination of ministers is reaching the epidemic level.  And shows no signs of abating.

So, this is a word to ministry friends who have suddenly found themselves cut loose.  Flockless shepherds.  Ministers without portfolio.  Called by God, trained for the ministry, employed by a church, and then suddenly made redundant.  Pink-slipped.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

God bless you.  May He comfort you with His nearness. Hold your head up high.  No moping allowed (except in private, maybe on your back porch).

May He speak to you in your pain and minister to you through a few of His most faithful servants.  Those who have been there/done that will be of most comfort to you.

In one sense, this is a word to you five years ago.  Something we wish we could turn back the clock and say to you back then when things were going well.

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People who need to tremble

“The devils believe and tremble.”  –James 2:19

The devils shudder, my NASB says.

I know some people who need to be shuddering and shaking in their boots.  They are going to stand before the Lord and give account–as we all are–for the deeds and words they have used as weapons. They’re going to be called to account for the disrupted churches and destroyed lives in their wake.  Harvey and Irma have nothing on these people.

The prospect of that ought to leave them trembling and shivering in their boots.

I think I know why they don’t.

“By God’s Word at last my sin I learned; Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned, Till my guilty soul imploring turned, to Calvary.” (Hymn by William Newell, 1895)

Asked for the greatest thought he’d ever had, Andrew Murray is said to have answered, “My accountability to God.”

That’s what is missing in the minds and hearts and lives of some of the fiercest of troublemakers who wreak havoc in the Lord’s churches.

They do not believe in God.

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Five good, strong biblical reasons not to fear

The Lord Jesus Christ took it personally when those closest to Him ordered their lives according to fear.  A cowering believer is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

Faith in the Heavenly Father should banish all fears, He thought.

Scripture brims with injunctions not to fear but to show faith.  Here are five of what may be five hundred such reminders…

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How to dismiss a scripture that nails you to the wall

On our website, we welcome comments from friends who disagree, so long as they do so graciously.  But from time to time, we receive tirades from the angry, onslaughts from the dark side, hurling slanderous accusations at us for daring to suggest that (take your pick) Christians should go to church, the faithful should tithe their income, or the Lord’s salvation is for all time.  Such heretical positions, to be sure. (Not!)  I’ve noticed a trend in some of these mean-spirited commenters, which provoked the following little essay…. 

“I know I’m right! I’m not going to change!”

When you are wedded to your position, you tend to a) become angry at anyone taking a contrary position, particularly if their point of view is the historically orthodox view with Scriptural support.  In that case, you will need to b)  justify your position and c) deal with scriptures that say something different.

a) You become angry with contrary views. 

Each of us could learn a lot about ourselves by noticing what views on Facebook or in blogs pluck our strings.  There has to be a trend, and that trend will reveal great insights about us.

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Greater is He who is in you. Therefore….

“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”  I John 4:4

I was a 20-year-old college sophomore and still 15 months shy of receiving a call into the ministry when our church selected me as “pastor” for the annual Youth Week. Basically, that meant I was to preach a sermon that Sunday night. Yikes.  That was excitingly scary.

The text was this verse. I’ve never forgotten it, primarily because I never quite got the significance of its meaning.  It sounded wonderful and encouraging, even motivating. But what little I was able to glean from its riches is thankfully gone and erased from the minds and memories of those present that night in the Spring of 1960.

I love the promise.  “Greater is He who is in you than the one in the world.”

The Lord is with you, He is in you, and He is for you.  Scripture declares each one in no uncertain terms..  Need some verses for those?

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Two of my best ideas for ministry

I’m tempted to say, “Some of my best ideas for ministry came from other people.”  Which is true, of course. Ask any pastor or staffer.   And, just as equally true, some of my best ideas bombed and I wouldn’t want to tell you about them.  Smiley-face here.

But here are a couple of things the Lord gave me (I know, I know. We should say that cautiously, lest we join the Name Above All Other Names to something unworthy) that not only worked out, but turned out to be some of the best things we did in my last pastorate…

First idea.  An idea for stewardship.   Purpose: To motivate people to tithe their incomes to the church over the difficult summer months

Summer is hard on churches which live from month to month financially.  And yes, sometimes from week to week. People go on vacations or find distractions to take them away on weekends. A large segment of the Lord’s flock give only when they are in church.  Sundays when they are out, the church goes lacking.

Once when our church was hurting financially–which seemed to be a constant for that congregation–the Lord gave me the idea which we were to name “SUMMER BLESSED.”  (I have no memory of the moment the idea arrived or whether it was sparked by something another church was doing.)

In naming it “Summer Blessed,” the idea was to “make this a summer blessed of the Lord.”  With the full support of the church leadership, I threw out this challenge to our congregation:  “Tithe your income for the three months of the summer and do so faithfully.  Then, at the end of August if you do not feel your life has been immeasurably blessed as a result, if you will request a refund, we will return all the money you gave to the church.”

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Ten words to the victims (and veterans!) of the hurricanes

Sunday, preaching in Biloxi, Mississippi, I asked the congregation, “How many of you were living here in 1969 when Hurricane Camille changed this coastline forever?”  A lot of hands went up.

Then, “How many of you lived here in 2005 when Katrina destroyed so much of the area?”  Many more hands.

I said, “So when you think of neighbors dealing with hurricanes, such as Harvey and Irma, you know.  You’ve been there.  You can pray for them with a genuine compassion and a deeper understanding.”

Before they left the building, those people made generous contributions to their neighbors impacted by the hurricanes.

Each hurricane is different. Each takes its own path and blows at its own speed. And each one is similar.  They destroy and uproot and flood.  Those who experience even one such storm forever identifies with the victims and veterans of all those which follow.

With that in mind, it might be in order for those of us with scars from past hurricanes (for my family, it was Betsy in 1965 and Katrina 40 years later) to offer a word or two of encouragement to friends caught in the path of the latest of these monster storms.

Ten words, actually…

(We will try not to insult you with platitudes such as “work hard” or “try not to cry.”  You will work hard and you will cry, and God bless you as you do.)

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Why a lot of professing Christians never attend church

“Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together”–unless, of course, the Lord reveals to you that you are the church, as one lady said to me.  Or, that you are smarter than the preacher, the deacons are trying to run the church, or no one in the congregation will speak to you.  Hebrews 10:25, sort of.

When you don’t want to do something, you shouldn’t have to have an excuse.

If you do not want to go to church, for instance, if you can skip church for a whole year and never miss it, you should “man up” and admit, “I’m not a Christian and don’t believe all that Bible stuff.  Church is for people who take the Lord seriously. Not me. So, I don’t go.”

Hmm. That felt ‘mean,’ didn’t it?  But it’s dead on accurate.

Please read on.

By “go to church,” we don’t necessarily mean a building with a steeple on it.  It could be a group of God’s people gathered in a living room to sing and pray and study the Word.  Or,  fifty people in a storefront.  The point is not the location or the structure but God’s people meeting on a regular basis for the work and worship of the Lord.

The redeemed of the Lord will be drawn to one another.  They love each other.  Jesus said so.

I heard of a pastor somewhere who collected excuses on “why people who call themselves Christians don’t go to church.”   He did not make these up…

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Letter to pastors in the hurricane zones

At this moment, Texas is in full recovery mode from Hurricane Harvey while Florida awaits Irma.  These are scary times.

For those of us who came through Katrina in 2005, nothing about this is fun.  We recall all too well the hundreds of deaths, flooded neighborhoods, destroyed churches, and uprooted lives.  God bless our friends who are in the wake of Harvey and the path of Irma.

I was the director of missions for the SBC churches of the New Orleans Association, which gave me a front row seat to all that had happened and what the Lord was doing.  With that in mind, I would like to offer a few thoughts for the pastors and other church leaders in these war zones…

You are about to see what God can do with thousands of His faithful people.

You already know His power; that has been amply demonstrated.  But the power of His people flocking into your area to help neighbors rebuild their lives may be more inspiring than anything you have ever imagined.  They will feed the hungry and knock themselves out ministering and giving, and your neighbors will be amazed that they ask nothing in return.  As a result, most will be more open to the gospel of Jesus Christ than at any time in their lives.

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