(There is a scripture that goes “Enjoy your–something or other–and stay at home.” If I can find it, it goes here. So far, no luck.)
In 1994, Joel Gregory wrote a book about his short-tenure as pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church. He gave it the ominous title: “Too Great a Temptation: The Seductive Power of America’s Super Church.”
The title will make sense to many pastors reading this as it surely does to me. When that mega-church came calling, begging Joel to become their pastor and follow the likes of W. A. Criswell and George W. Truett, there was no way he could turn them down.
He could have, of course. But he just couldn’t. That’s because the temptation was too great.
I came close to taking the pastorate of a great church about 10 years earlier than Joel, one that would have ended just as disastrously for me. As it turned out, the former pastor had two spies on the search committee, men who reported every action and every interview, and he was the one who vetoed me. When I get to Heaven, I intend to seek him out and thank him.
Assuming he’s there.
My story of “too great a temptation,” however, is not about a church that came calling but a denominational opportunity that opened up and I could not resist.
Continue reading “When the pastor finds an opportunity too enticing, a temptation too overwhelming” »
“Felix became frightened and said (to Paul), ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25).
What are you putting off which you should have done today?
It happened to me again tonight.
A Facebook friend texted asking for a drawing of him for use in his ministry of speaking and entertaining. I said I’d give it a try.
A half-hour later, he had the drawing in hand, both in black and white and in color.
Two things come into play here. One, he caught me when I was not busy, and two, I hate to agree to do something and then have it weigh on my mind. Let’s get it done.
When I was pastoring, I hated to have something on my mind that I needed to do–a visit to make, an article to write, studying to do, a staff project to get underway–and kept pushing onto the back burner.
Continue reading “Staying on time and up to date” »
(Do not miss the post script at the end.)
Don’t let anyone tell you there is no retirement in the Bible.
Church people will say that, of course, mostly in fun. “Preacher, the Bible doesn’t know anything about retirement.”
But they’re dead wrong.
Numbers 8:25 says, “At the age of fifty, (priests) shall retire from service in the work and not work any more.”
There it is, in black and white. I have no idea why the Lord stopped the service of these men so early, unless to give others a chance to serve.
Not that any servant of the Lord I know today is trying to play that card. These days, fifty is just the far edge of youth. You’re just getting started at fifty.
However, we post it here as a good-natured response to the smarties who insist that “retirement is not in the Bible.” (Be sure to smile when quoting Numbers 8:25.)
At any rate, it is entirely possible to retire from pastoring a church but to remain in ministry. In fact, that’s how it’s done.
We are always on duty for the Lord, whether anyone employs us or pays us a salary or not.
Continue reading “7 things newly retired preachers need to do.” »
“Except you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
What’s lacking in the great majority of religious experts–of all tribes, all beliefs, all everything!–is a childlike humility.
I’ve sat across from the salespeople hawking Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon doctrine door to door and been amazed at the sheer gall and arrogance of these know-it-alls.
I’ve sat in the auditoriums and classrooms when prophecy teachers were spreading out their charts and telling far more than they could ever know, pronouncing their anathema upon anyone daring to believe otherwise and taking no prisoners in the process.
I’ve sat in massive conferences among thousands of my peers and heard ignorance spouted as truth but camouflaged with alliteration and pious phrases and encouraged and affirmed by thundering echoes of “amens” and “hallelujahs”.
In every case, I longed to hear someone say, “We see through a glass darkly….” (I Corinthians 13:12).
To hear someone say, “I have not arrived. I press toward the mark….” (Philippians 3:12-13).
To hear someone say, “We do not know how to pray as we should….” (Romans 8:26)
To hear someone say, “That which I am doing, I do not understand. I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
Where is the childlike spirit we hear so much of in the Word?
Continue reading “Perhaps the most profound thing our Lord ever said” »
“Be ye kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
For good reason, young beginning pastors do not take the standard old texts for their first sermons. Few feel qualified to produce a full sermon on such subjects as:
John 3:16. The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Salvation by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Love one another (John 13:34-35). Forgiveness. The home. Kindness (see above).
That’s why beginning preachers almost always gravitate to the exotic texts. They find those strange little metaphors, unusual verses, and unfamiliar images and light on them.
Perhaps it’s easier to get their minds around such, I don’t know. One of my first sermons was suggested by “a house in a cucumber patch,” from Isaiah 1:8. That image had brought to mind an old bungalow where some relatives of ours used to live far out in the country, but which was later abandoned and soon completely covered by kudzu vines. Eventually, a massive mound of green vines stood there, hiding what used to be a house. What point my sermon made from that has long been forgotten.
Why didn’t I preach on grander (and safer?) subjects like the incarnation of Jesus, His miracles, His amazing teachings and sinless life, and of course, His death, burial, and resurrection? Answer: Any of those subjects would be so huge and I felt so small.
I could no more preach a full-length sermon on John 3:16 than swim the Atlantic.
Continue reading “The easiest texts are often the hardest to preach” »
Among the recent tributes to the late comic genius Robin Williams was a story he told about the time he preceded Bob Hope on the Johnny Carson show.
For reasons unknown, Hope was late arriving. Instead of Robin Williams following him, which had been the plan, Williams went on stage first and did his hilarious knock-em-dead routine. People were beside themselves with laughter.
Bob Hope arrived and had to follow that.
Robin Williams said, “I don’t think he was angry, but he was not pleased.”
As Bob Hope was introduced and settled into the chair to the right of Carson, Johnny said, “Robin Williams. Isn’t he funny?” Hope said, “Yeah. He’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.”
No one in his right mind would voluntarily follow Robin Williams on the program.
Sometimes preachers find themselves on the agenda in a meeting where multiple speakers are doing their thing. Woe to the one who has to follow the most popular preacher in the land.
Continue reading “Preacher: You’re a speaker on a full program. Find out whom you are following.” »
“I said to him afterward, ‘Hey, are you O.K.?’ And he said something like, ‘It’s no fun getting old. And I am so (freaking) old.’ But he said it in one of his funny voices, like he was some ancient old guy. Like it was a joke.” –A story told by an unnamed colleague on the set of Robin Williams’ television series “The Crazy Ones.” During a break in the shooting, Williams had gone off and sat by himself. He looked exhausted and sad.
It’s no joke, this business of getting old.
The August 25, 2014 issue of TIME devotes the last half-dozen pages to the life and art of Robin Williams, the comic genius who ended his own life last week.
I thought when I first heard the news and before reading anything about his chronic depression and repeated addictions that he feared getting old and decided to abort that process. Nothing I’ve read or heard since has changed that opinion.
No one should interpret any of this as my attempt to psychoanalyze Mr. Williams. Obviously, his situation–the circumstances that led him to make the decision to end his life on his own terms–was complicated by a thousand factors, as would be true of any of the rest of us. Someone said he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s.
I understand about the fear of getting old.
Continue reading “Getting old: What Robin Williams feared, we all do” »
To the friend who thought she was good enough to go to Heaven, I asked, “If you can be good enough to get there on your own, what was the purpose of Jesus coming earth?”
She looked at me blankly.
To the one who said he hoped he just might possibly be good enough to slip into Heaven, I asked, “Then, what was the point of Jesus coming to earth if you can do this by yourself?”
He’d never thought of that.
So many people are confused about why Jesus came to earth. Even a great many of the most religious people, those who hang His image on their walls and bow before statues dedicated in His honor or who populate the kind of churches I’m in every weekend, seem not to be clear on why He came to earth.
One would think that would be of the highest priority, to know why Jesus came and thus to align one’s life with that.
What follows are three statements of Scripture, inspired by the same Holy Spirit but delivered by three different writers at various times, with all echoing the same life-altering truth. They state clearly and simply what Jesus accomplished by coming to earth, and thus should be known and treasured by every disciple of the Man of Galilee.
Continue reading “For this purpose Christ came” »
“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
My immediate concern is always with the Lord’s church, but this principles applies everywhere.
I am pro-pastor. Always and forever. Anyone who reads the blog and knows me will agree that I honor the pastor. God made me a pastor at the age of 22, and I’ve been one ever since.
However, we have a problem.
In churches across our land tyrants can be found who call themselves pastors and demand to be obeyed. Such men are unqualified to do anything in the kingdom and must be dealt with by courageous men and women in the pews.
Otherwise, they will corrupt the gospel, destroy the church, wound the weak, and drive away many who need Christ.
In the Kingdom of God, leaders are required to be servants.
Many a pastor misses this, and if he learns it at all, not before he has made many a bone-headed mistake and left a lot of good people bleeding in his wake.
We lead by serving.
We do not lead by dominating.
Scripture says the Holy Spirit has made the pastor the “overseer” (episcopos) of the church (Acts 20:28). Scripture says church members are to “obey their leaders” as those who will give account for their souls (Hebrews 13:17). However….
Continue reading “The irony of strong leadership” »
Sometime in the 1930s people who were hunting down chimpanzees in Africa contracted the HIV virus that led to the AIDS disease. Later, when those men consorted with prostitutes, the disease was on its way. Then, when airlines developed to the point of providing intercontinental connections, the disease crossed the world.
Worldwide, we’re told that 36 million people have died from AIDS.
“Patient Zero”–the person who transported the HIV virus to America–was a flight attendant for Air Canada.
We owe that man so much.
He was truly a person of great and far-reaching influence.
But all in the wrong way.
Continue reading “How contagion works and epidemics spread. And why isn’t anyone “catching” my faith?” »