10 verses that forever make prayer available, God accessible and us responsible (to act in faith!)

We begin with four verses in Romans 8 that are stunners. In truth, we don’t need to go further to settle the matter of God’s availability and our blessedness…

1.–“The Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

2. –“It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).

3. –“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us (which is what he has been saying for 30 verses!), who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

4. –“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

In addition, there are incredible verses, promises, and insights scattered throughout the New Testament shining forth like beacons calling us to believe God and start obeying…

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10 lessons on church leadership, all learned the hard way

This is not the final list. I’m still learning.

Most of what follows about leading God’s church is counter-intuitive. Which is to say, not what I might have expected.

In no particular order….

One. Bigness is overrated.

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).

Most pastors, it would appear, have wanted to lead big churches, wanted to grow their church to be huge, or wanted to move to a large church.  Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than you would ever think.

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The mentality that will kill your church

Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers into the harvest.’  And the disciples said, ‘Why? What do we get out of it, Lord?’”   (Most of that is Matthew 9:37-38 but with a small insertion by moi to make the point.)

“Behold,” Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues, and you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”  And the disciples said, “Enough of the negative stuff, Lord! Let’s get to the part where you reward us.”  (Matthew 10:16ff with my insertion.  The promise of rewards comes in the last verse of the chapter.)

Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and report what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear.  The dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  And the Lord’s disciples said, “Okay, enough about these losers, already.  Tell us about the blessings you have for us.  Who gets to sit on your right and who on your left?” (Matthew 11:3ff, with my tongue-in-cheek foolishness.)

I was reading a church’s minutes from a century earlier. In a business meeting, the clerk read  a request for ten dollars from a church start-up in Texas. This was back when ten dollars was two hundred. After voting to send the money, the secretary noted in the minutes, “This spirit of generosity was put to the test when someone pointed out the church fellowship hall needed renovating.”  As I recall, they ended up spending $2,000 on that project.

“What’s in it for us? ” is the prevailing principle of decision-making for too many churches.  Denominational leaders and professional fund-raisers admit  that to be successful in their promotions, they have to convince churches that this project will reap great rewards for them personally.  It’s not enough to do something for the kingdom.

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What it means to fear God–and why we need to do it

Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your rightful due. For among all the wise of all the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. (Jeremiah 10:7)

Fear may be the greatest motivator in the world.

Fear makes the pilot do one more last-minute check before taking off. Fear makes the passengers buckle up and pay attention to the flight attendant’s instructions. Fear keeps the air controller attentive to the blips on her screen.

Fear restrains us from driving too fast or following too closely on the highways. Fear causes me to replace my tires before they get too bald, to slow down in school zones, and not violate that downed arm at the railroad crossing.

Fear drives us to take our vitamins, see our doctors, and keep making those insurance payments. Fear gets us out of bed and into our sneakers for our exercise.

Fear is a great motivator.

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How the pastor can worry himself into an early grave

Why do people do the things they do?

Try to figure that one out and soon your brain will explode from over-exertion.

Why did certain people leave your church? Why did that pastor search committee–that looked so promising, talked so excitedly, and seemed so certain–suddenly disappear without a word of explanation? Why did a friend turn on you and walk out of your life without a word?

People are going to leave your church, pastor.

You ministered to them faithfully, you thought you had a great relationship with them and they were happy under your ministry, then suddenly they were gone. Sometime later, you learn they joined another church a mile down the road. What happened?  Ideally, they will come by your office to explain their actions.

But don’t hold your breath, preacher. Not going to happen.  (This is not an ideal world.)

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Seven things I learned in choir rehearsal

“Sing unto the Lord a new song.”  (Psalm 96:1) 

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).

Rehearsals are work.

During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.

I sang in the choir during my college years, and eventually noticed some patterns forming. In time, those impressions coalesced into life-lessons that have remained with me through the years.

1) I do not like new songs.

The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clothes-lines of blackbirds.  The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it.  This is no fun.  It’s work.

But a funny thing happened.

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The Apostle Paul’s surprising gift to preachers

I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. (I Corinthians 2:3)

For reasons I cannot explain, this line from the great apostle has lodged itself in my heart over the past few days. The more I reflect on it, the more I appreciate Paul’s admitting it.

In this and every other case where Paul mentions some kind of physical infirmity, we wish we had more information. Was he sick? Ailing? Still healing from previous beatings?

John MacArthur writes: Paul came to Corinth after being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, run out of Thessalonica and Berea, and scoffed at in Athens, so he may have been physically weak. But in that weakness, he was most powerful. There were no theatrics or techniques to manipulate people’s response. His fear and shaking was because of the seriousness of his mission. (The MacArthur Study Bible)

I suppose we preachers are a lot like horses and mules and dogs: hit us often enough and we become “gun shy.” We want to stand and deliver with boldness and power, but we’re ready to duck.

Thank you, Paul, for telling us this. And if you will allow me, I will draw a few inferences from it that I find helpful to all of us who stand to proclaim God’s Word.

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A young preacher asks about dealing with search committees

As far as I know, no college or seminary has a course in how preachers are to deal with search committees. It’s a skill acquired by trial and error. Mostly trial, I can hear someone say.
A young preacher named David asked about search committees. He’s never been a pastor and is about to meet with a team from a church in search of a pastor. Worries and thoughts of that are keeping him awake at night. He asks,  How does a beginning preacher deal with a search committee?

Since the world has changed since I first sat in that boat, I asked David to jot down specific questions. He sent an even dozen.

1. How do we know we’re being sent to a particular church?

There is only one right answer to this, my friend: The Holy Spirit tells you and them the same thing.

Some would add that “it just feels right,” or “it’s exactly the kind of church you were praying for” or “the church vote was unanimous.” None of those do it for me.

If you have trouble deciphering the will of the Lord in this matter, seek out an older, more seasoned pastor to help you think this through.

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10 signs you’ve been at that church too long

This is about one thing: How to tell when the pastor or church staff member or the chairman of a committee or a church officer has overstayed his/her welcome.

There are always clues, if you look for them.

One church I pastored had a vivid illustration of what happens when a member holds a position so long they begin to “own” it. Behind the sanctuary, on the same block, sat the synagogue, a lovely brick building that serves the scattered Jewish congregation in monthly services.  Across the street from the synagogue sat the funeral home, owned by one of our church’s deacons. One day that deacon told me, “Preacher, we could have bought the land the synagogue is sitting on for a pittance 40 years ago.”

He said, “When the house that used to sit on that property came up for sale, the people wanted $30,000 for it. I was willing to raise the money and buy it. I knew we would be needing that property in the future.”

“The trouble was that old Mr. McDougal,  the church treasurer who had held that job for decades, vetoed it. He said that was just too much money for that piece of land and we would not pay it.”

The treasurer vetoed the purchase.

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When God says ‘no’

Now, when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.  Acts 16:6-7

I was 33 years old and minister of evangelism at the largest, most prestigious church (of our denomination at least)  in the state.  A few months earlier, our pastor had left and the leadership had handed me the assignment of preaching every three Sundays, every Wednesday night, and doing the Tuesday men’s Bible study for 150 fellows. All of that in addition to my regular duties.

I loved it.

One day, the chairman of the pastor search committee visited my cubby-hole of an office.  “Joe,” said Paul Moak.  “Do you believe God wants you to be pastor of this church?”  What a question.  Definitely a stunner that caught me off guard.  But I knew the answer.

“No, sir,” I said without hesitation.

“Neither do we,” he said.  (That seems funnier now than it did at the time.)

“But there’s a movement to make you the pastor of the church,” he said.

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