The “as for me” element in preaching

But as for me and my house…. (Joshua 24:15).

As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness…. (Psalm 17:15). 

While reading my way through the Psalms, I was tripped by a little comment I’d read right past the previous hundred times I’ve traveled this landscape. Right in the middle of a discussion of some theological point, the Psalmist will say, “But as for me.”

When he does that, you know you’re getting something personal. This is not theoretical, not philosophical, and not “out there” somewhere. If you are like the rest of us, you perk up at this and get ready for something you can identify with.

Case in point. In the remarkable 73rd Psalm (there’s nothing else like it in all the Bible; if you’re unfamiliar with it, we encourage you to check it out), the writer brackets his discussion with that phrase.

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The eternal difference your prayers make

“So, you were the one praying for me!  Thank you!”

In Heaven, two things will happen, I predict–

–1.  People will be coming up thanking you for praying for them.  You barely remember calling out their names to the Father, but He heard and used your prayer and they are living forever because you were faithful.  Sure makes you want to be faithful, doesn’t it?  (See Luke 18:8)

–2. People will be coming up telling you they had prayed for you. And that will answer a question that had bugged you for years:  Was it someone’s prayers that caused those wonderful things to happen in your life?  And now you know. Sure makes you want to be grateful, doesn’t it?

This was brought home to me by a testimony in Christianity Today for July/August 2014.  (I wrote about it then and still treasure it.)

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“I love you; give me money.” (The art and science of manipulating people)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses even while for a pretense you make long prayers….” (Matthew 23:14)

A stock cartoon situation that has set up punch lines for thousands of comics has someone climbing to the top of a mountain to consult a guru for his pearls of wisdom.  In the Hagar comic strip, our favorite Viking plunderer had scaled the mountain and said to the bearded seer: “O wise one, you are like a father to me.”

The old man answers, “I am honored. What is your question?”

Hagar says, “Lend me money.”

Thanks to the internet, those of us who write these articles frequently hear from the Lord’s people across the globe. That’s one of the great blessings of ministry in these days.  One day, a fellow in an African country telephoned me. That was unusual.

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21 ministry lessons learned the hard way, with scars to prove it

I began serving the Lord when I was 11 years old, began preaching the Word when I was 21, and began pastoring a year later. At the moment, I’m a solid 80 years old.  These are a few lessons this life of ministry has taught me….

One. Never tell anyone anything you don’t want repeated.  The single exceptions are the Lord in prayer or your wife in the bedroom.

Two. Never put anything negative in a letter.  It will still be circulating and driving the case against you long after you’re in the grave.

Three.  Never fail to check all the references of a prospective staff member.  And then check a few more.

Four. Differences of opinion–in a church or on a staff–can be healthy, but dissension should be nipped in the bud.  Anyone who cannot sit in a staff meeting and disagree lovingly does not belong there.

Five.  Neglect your family and you will have a lifetime to regret it.

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Scripture’s description of your pastor

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the work of a bishop (literally ‘overseer,’ meaning the pastor or chief undershepherd of the church), he desires a good work.  A bishop (pastor/overseer) then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well….”  (I Timothy 3:1-7 is the full text.)

Dr. Gary Fagan was pastoring a church in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.  It was Wednesday night and time for the monthly business meeting of the congregation, usually an uneventful period for hearing reports on finances and membership and voting on recommendations concerning programs.  For reasons long forgotten, a man in the church-–Dick was an engineer and a deacon–-chose to stand and berate the pastor.  When he finished, he sat down and there was silence.

He was not used to being contradicted and the regulars were not foolhardy enough to take him on.

It took a new believer to do the job.

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Anyone can love a crowd; loving individuals is another story

While a battle is raging one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure;  but after the battle, these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as a friend.  –Ulysses S. Grant, “Personal Memoirs”

“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”  –Joseph Stalin

“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”  –Lucy, in “Peanuts”

Pastors, young ones in particular, have to conquer this challenge or forever pay a huge price.  It’s one thing to love a crowd, but another entirely to love that quarrelsome family, the cranky old curmudgeon, the gossip in the congregation, the unwashed homeless guy who wandered into your service, and the deacon who is dead-set on making you unemployed.

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The noise of wolves in the night…and a few unhappy church members

I send you forth as sheep among the wolves… (Matthew 10:16)

After my departure, savage wolves will come…. (Acts 20:29) 

You’re getting scared.  Your enemies are making fierce noises.  There are so many of them. You  are shaking in your boots, your time may be up, the end may be near, and as pastor, you have nowhere to go.  Whatever will you do? This is so awful.

Or, maybe not.

In the mid-1840s, Ulysses S. Grant was a Second Lieutenant in the war between the U.S. and Mexico, with the prize being Texas.  Grant’s Memoirs make fascinating reading.  We’re told that Grant was the first former president to write his memoirs, and these are generally conceded to be the best of the lot.  (Note: Before reading Memoirs, I read Grant’s Final Victory, an account of the last year of his life when he penned his story to earn enough money to provide for his wife after his impending death.  Great story.  He was a far better man than he is often given credit for. )

At one point, Grant and some troopers were in west Texas, which was sparsely settled except by the Indians and varmints. One night, they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.”  The tall grass hid the wolves but they were definitely close by.  To my ear, it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all at a single meal.

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Divine appointments: God is on the job

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven! (Genesis 28:16-17)

Have you ever walked out of a church service knowing today’s sermon had your name all over it?  You should feel so honored that the God of the universe maneuvered everything to minister to your need.  Does He do that as a regular thing?  My experience says He does.  Every day.  God is at work.

What a mighty God we serve!

This is from my journal from May 3, 1999—

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Something wonderful in Mark chapter 12

“After that, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “Now, that is the real deal right there!”  (Okay, that’s not exactly how He phrased Mark 12:43, but it’s close.)

We who take God’s word seriously sometimes get caught up in the minutiae of word study.  As we isolate a parable or story for our Bible study, teaching lesson, or sermon subject, we often end up missing the larger context.  Mark 12 is a great case in point.

The chapter is a chronicle of one frustration after another for the Lord, starting with the chief priests, scribes and elders confronting and questioning Him at the end of chapter 11. Chapter 12 begins with Jesus’ parable to them, putting in context precisely what they were doing and the danger they were risking.

These however were people of power and influence. They weren’t interested in learning about God from a carpenter of Galilee.  God was their domain.  Teaching was what they did.  Receiving truth and wisdom from a common laborer was something they would not be doing today or any other day.

And they were seeking to seize Him.  Yet they feared the multitude…. So they left Him and went away. (Mark 12:12)

Next came the Pharisees and Herodians, a motley merging of political enemies.  The Pharisees were the “moral majority” of their day, the religious right, while the Herodians were compromisers, Jews who supported the tyrant in the palace for the gain that would flow to them.  They are “sent” by the previous group (see 12:13), thus embodying the line about politics making strange bedfellows. They have in common a dislike for Jesus.  Their mission was “to catch Him in His words” (12:13).

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