The best thing to do this or any Christmas

In a moment, I’ll tell you what the Lord did to me this week–and warn you it’s something He delights in doing to us!

The reason some of God’s children find the Christmas season endlessly boring and monotonous is they have forgotten one huge fact:  It’s not about you.

We need to get out of our hour or God’s house and share His love with others.

Consider writing something…

–Write a check–a big one, larger than anyone expects–for a ministry that is touching the world for Jesus.

–Write a check–a small check if that’s all you can do–for a ministry that is touching someone for the Lord you couldn’t.

–Write a note to someone who could use a word of thanks or encouragement or cheer.  Tell them how special they are to you, or remind them of something they once did or said that lingers with you to this day.  Hand write it, don’t type it.

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Why every pastor should teach a Sunday School class….once in a while

From time to time, my deacon friend and neighbor Earl invites me to teach his “old men’s Sunday School class.”  There must be 20 or 25 gentlemen–many of them friends of mine since the early 1970s, all of them retirement age or better–sitting around a conference table and along the wall.  This time, I’ll be teaching the lesson the Sunday before Christmas.  I’m excited.

It’s good for a pastor to sit in a room with a small group of people who listen to his Scriptural explanations, then ask questions. Some will challenge you, others will interject a story.  One thing leads to another and you, the pastor, find yourself exhilarated when the class period ends and everyone is departing for the worship service.

This did you good.

In one church I served, the teacher of the older men’s class would periodically invite me to substitute for him.  He always had this bit of advice/preparation:  Joe, all you need is one question;  they’ll take it from there.

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The 5 best pieces of preaching advice I ever received

Not every advice given to preachers is sound or wise.  But from time to time, a godly layman or preacher friend has a great word.  Here are five I recall…

One.  From a deacon. 

“Be patient with the people.”

I was fresh from seminary and the brash new pastor of a church in the Mississippi Delta. This was in the late 1960s, one year before Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I was preaching on God’s love for all people of all races, that we are all equal before Him, created by a loving God and thus to be valued. Not a very inflammatory message to be sure.  But some of my people were reacting.  That’s when the chairman of deacons called his young pastor aside.

“What you are saying is right, pastor,” said businessman and deacon chairman Lawrence Bryant.  “But let me remind you that the preacher before you told these people for nine years that segregation was God’s way.”  He paused.  “You can change them, but you need to be patient with them.”

It was the perfect advice.

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The two sides of grace

For by grace are you saved through faith… Ephesians 2:8

Behold, I stand at your door and knock.  If any man…. Revelation 3:20

As many as received Him…. John 1:12

The country singer had a number at the top of the charts.  She was the guest that morning on a talk show that entertained millions of people across America.  Because she was outspoken in her Christian faith, she talked about the Lord on the program. That’s when the host asked her to sing.

“Give us a little of Amazing Grace.”

She sweetly went into the first verse of the wonderful old John Newton song.  “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…”  That’s when the host stopped her.

“That’s the problem I have with your religion,” he said. “I’m not a wretch.”

I’ve long since forgotten how she answered.  But I know what the best answer is.

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When the criticism of the pastor is unfair, what to do

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  –President Harry Truman

Everyone who does anything will be criticized.  As a rule the critics are the do-nothings, the nay-sayers and spectators who sit in the grandstand and feed off each other’s negativism.

The man in the arena is the achiever.  As Theodore Roosevelt said, It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.  

Here is how the great apostle put it–

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

That is your manifesto, Christian worker.  Take those words to heart.

Now….

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The narrowness of the Lord Jesus Christ

All truth is narrow.  I heard that somewhere, and have not scientifically tested it to see if it’s always true, but  believe it to be the case.

People say of us Christians, “You are so narrow.”  And one said to me, “The Christ I know is not nearly so narrow-minded as you.”

I reply, “Where did you find this Christ? The only one I know of is found in Holy Scripture and He is nothing if not narrow.”

Consider these statements….

“No one has ascended to Heaven but He who came down from Heaven, even the Son of Man…””  John 3:13  Jesus is our authority on things celestial since He Himself is a native of that land.  Heaven is His hometown.

“No one knows the Son except the Father.  Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son reveals Him.”   Matthew 11:27 and Luke 10:22. Had we claimed that Jesus is the sole revealer of God, people of all the other religions would have complained.  But Jesus said it.

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Christmas: Not the way we would have done it, Lord!

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. –C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”

God rarely does anything as we would have done it or expected it.

In the 8th century B.C., God told Israel, “Your thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

So, when God got ready to put His earth-saving plan into effect, we may expect it to be different.  Vastly different from how we would have done it.

The problem is spelled out in Psalm 50:21.  God says the people lied and cheated and did a hundred bad things.  Then, “These things you have done and I kept silent.  And you thought I was just like you.”

We think God is like us.  The ultimate folly.  We expect Him to do what we would do.  It just seems reasonable.

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The cultural accommodation crowd has a lot to answer for

Do not marvel, my  brethren, if the world hates you…. They are of the world.  Therefore, they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God…. (I John 3:13 and 4:5-6),

First, they told us our language was too churchified and we would need to jettison such terms as justification, sanctification, and washed in the blood.

I remember Arthur Blessit. The hippie-looking, jive-talking, cross-carrying brother in Christ took the young churches by storm.  We stayed most of the night with Arthur at the local youth hangout witnessing for Christ, trying to look and sound cooler than the teens, picking up the drug culture’s language in an attempt to bring the gospel into a foreign land.  Heaven alone knows whether we did good. 

Then, they came at our music. Away with organs and pianos, and in with drum sets and keyboards and guitars.  Amplification on steroids and heavy metal, ear-assaulting, nerve-rattling instrumentations were not far behind.

No one is insisting that pipe organs and upright pianos are scriptural. But when ushers have to hand out ear plugs at the door, something is bad wrong. 

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Why the righteous suffer

…and the prisoners were listening to them.  (Acts 16:25)

They’re always listening.

The world is constantly watching when God’s people go through disasters, experience heartaches, and deal with bankruptcies and setbacks.  How will the so-called “God people” handle these trials?  Will they grow angry and curse, lose their temper and drown their sorrows in the bottle? Or will they live up to this heavenly rhetoric they’ve been spouting?

The world wants to know whether our faith in Jesus Christ is just so much talk, just another religious alternative, or the real deal.

God is going to give us the opportunity  to convince them.

This might not be pleasant.  But it will be worthwhile.

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The most difficult person in your church: The ungrateful one.

Why should I be grateful when things aren’t going to suit me? 

The woman “stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil” (Luke 7:38).

There is the picture of a grateful person.  She is worshiping, humble, thankful, fully yielded to the Master.

Want to see a photo of an ungrateful individual?  Find any reference to a Pharisee and you have it. For instance…

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12).

Without knowing any more, you find your spirit recoiling from this guy.  He’s proud of his righteousness and will be harsh and judgmental toward anyone less committed.  He addresses God as an equal.  He is unteachable, unleadable, incorrigible.

Pity the pastor with Pharisaical leaders.  They are ungrateful, self-righteous, demanding, and a pain to live with.

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