Preparing for the gospel ministry? Bring a strong curiosity.

I came by it honestly. My dad, a coal miner with a 7th grade education, was interested in everything. He read and learned and talked to us of all kinds of subjects.

In college, I changed my major from science (physics) to history because the professors in the science building were focusing more and more on tinier and tinier segments of the universe, whereas history deals with the entire sweep of life, every person who ever lived, every civilization, every lesson learned. Nothing is off limits to history.

That did it for me.

I’m remembering a life-changing trip to Southern Italy in 2012.  After several days of ministering to pastors and spouses from churches of many countries, I was among a busload who spent several hours touring the ruins of Pompeii, the Italian city devastated by the eruption of Vesuvius in August of A.D. 79. It was truly unforgettable. So much so, that….

After my arrival home in New Orleans, the next afternoon I was in our public library reading up on Pompeii. I checked out a Robert Harris novel titled “Pompeii,” and finished it the next night.

I felt like I’ve been living in Pompeii all week.

On my next trip to the library, I read up on the Roman aqueducts, which was a major theme of the novel.

Why? Of what possible use is this in my ministry?

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Changing standards for changing times? Not so fast.

Gail was still laughing about it, some fifty years later.

Fresh from college and seminary, Gail had arrived in Columbus, Mississippi, to be interviewed for the position of director of the Baptists’ college ministry. She would be the BSU director for the local campus of Mississippi State College for Women, now called Mississippi University for Women, or MUW. Since the position was paid by the First Baptist Church, Pastor S. R. Woodson was interviewing her and would be her primary supervisor.

After the interview, Dr. Woodson wanted to show Gail the nice center on College Street, some half-dozen blocks away.

The question was how to get her there without the two having to sharing the automobile.  A man alone in a car with a woman not his wife was unthinkable.

“I walked the entire six blocks,” Gail laughs. “With him driving his car alongside to make sure I was safe.”

Changing times? You bet. These days, almost every pastor I know would have said, “Come on and get in, and I’ll run you over there,” and not given it a second thought.

Changing standards? That’s another question altogether.

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A case of the simples: Beware

We do like things simple, to be sure.  K.I.S.S. has long been the rule for a thousand disciplines.  But some things are simply not simple and to imply otherwise is to mislead.  Let’s talk about that.

Watching our nation’s politicians as they propose, dispose, impose, expose, compose and, of course, suppose regarding the economic crises our country seems to be forever facing, we wonder how many actually know what they are talking about.

Listening to pastors and denominational leaders arguing over something called “critical race theory” and other divisive issues raises the same question:  How many know what they are talking about?

I hate to be skeptical about Congress, but common sense — forged by six decades of dealing with churches, finance people, and my own situations — informs me that most people do not relate to budgets, debts, and deals in the millions of dollars, much less billions and even trillions. The economy of such a large nation is composed of complexities and ramifications and intricacies that baffle even the greatest minds.

That, however, does not prevent the lowliest politician from sounding forth on the matter, usually to tell the world all that is wrong with whatever the nation’s leaders are proposing at the moment. That’s how he got elected and what keeps him in office.

A long time ago, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) said, “The worst disease afflicting my constituents is a thing called ‘the simples.’ The folks back home want me to come up with simple solutions to their complex problems, answers that resolve all their difficulties without it costing them anything.”

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Adultery’s Lies: The unspoken heartaches

A friend in another state emailed that the membership of her church is being plundered and savaged by adulterous affairs. She is asking for prayer.

Let’s talk about how the enemy sabotages the Lord’s people through the lies of adultery.

I recommend J. Allan Petersen’s 1984 book “The Myth of the Greener Grass.” It should be bought and devoured and kept by every married person, particularly those in the Lord’s work. (See the note from this book below, at the end of this piece.)

Here is my own personal list of the devil’s lies concerning adultery. See if any have been dangled before your eyes.

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Anybody can love good folks; our business is tougher than that!

Fred Harvey was a name almost every American knew in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This son of Britain had come to America and made his mark in the food industry. Working with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, he built a chain of restaurants across the great Southwest which became legendary for their commitment to quality and their devotion to the customer.

In his book, Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West, Stephen Fried says Harvey originated the first national chain of restaurants, of hotels, of newsstands, and of bookstores–“in fact, the first national chain of anything–in America.”

You may be familiar with the Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls (1946), which illustrated another innovation of Fred Harvey’s. He recruited single young women in the East, then sent them to work in his restaurants from Kansas City to California. In doing so, he inadvertently provided wives for countless westerners and helped to populate a great segment of the USA.

All of this is just so we can relate one story from the book.

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Dear Young Pastor

From Brother Joe, veteran shepherd of six pastorates, to Brother Timothy as he begins what we trust will be a long and fruit ministry of leading churches.

Greetings!

I hear you’re having a tough time of it.

Good. Glad to hear it.

As I got it, a group in the church doesn’t care for your leadership. They find fault with your sermons. They probably don’t like the color of your tie (or worse, the fact that you don’t wear one).

What makes their opposition ominous is that they are the leaders of the church. Not a good thing.

Unity is always better than division.

You came close to resigning, I was told. You probably felt, “If I don’t have the support of these elected leaders of the church, then I’ll not be able to do anything here.”

Perhaps you wrote out a resignation to see what it would feel like.

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God is making plans for you.

“…the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

We don’t begin to have a clue.

God is doing a zillion things He has not deigned to reveal to us mortals.

It’s not our business to know, for one thing.  Most of what goes on in the universe He is keeping to Himself.  “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…”  (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Everything we know about the operation of the created world is but a sliver of the full story. (And yes, isn’t it fun to make these discoveries. Scientists get to see what God has done before the rest of us!)

How can it be that before the world as we know it was formed, the Heavenly Father was already at work making plans for us to arrive and dwell with Him forever?

I do not know. Neither do you.

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10 big things Jesus said which we keep forgetting

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things I tell you” (Luke 6:46).

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

I apologize for the title. Everything our Lord said was “big.”  It’s just that some of His statements in particular seem to have been muted in recent years.  See what you think.

1) We keep forgetting the second commandment is a command.

We want our religion to be private, just “me and the Lord.”

Jesus refuses to play that game. After being asked to identify the “greatest” command, He said, “And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). We must note that this is a command, not an option, an opinion, a wish, a Facebook “like,” or a good idea. To love one’s neighbor strongly is a key component of the kind of witness Jesus envisioned His people extending to the world.

So, why don’t we obey it? Answer: We have found it inconvenient, difficult, and demanding. When we love people–truly care for them to the point that they know it–they might need us and that would interfere with our schedule. It’s much easier to love the lovely, to care for the appreciative, to give to the deserving, and to reach out to those who need little or nothing.

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Is it okay not to “enjoy” the sermon?

Can you think of any place in Scripture where someone compliments another on his message?

I can’t think of a one.

Nowhere, to my knowledge, in the Word does anyone say “Peter preached a powerful sermon” or “Paul’s message was well received” or “The Macedonian crowd got a lot out of Titus’ sermon on the Lord’s Day.”

Now, some in the audience did pick up rocks to throw at the preacher on more than one occasion, but those were the rabble, the wicked, the hostile outsiders and not the congregation of the faithful.

I have a suggestion.

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The last lesson of Ravi Zacharias

By this deed, you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme….  (2 Samuel 12:14).

I loved the writings and messages of the late Ravi Zacharias.  In 2009, when I discovered that a longtime friend, whose wife had at one time been my secretary, was working for Dr. Zacharias, I contacted him and we had a great phone visit.  Since I had none of the books RZ had written, my friend sent me several.  I loved them and quoted from them often.

Ravi Zacharias was a powerful voice for theism, a effective apologist for the Christian faith, and a comfort to believers everywhere.  He was, that is, until he wasn’t.

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