“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
On the farm, after we killed the hog, someone had to make cracklings, known otherwise as “cooking the lard.”
A fire was built under a black iron pot into which cut-up portions of the less-desirable fatty hog meat was thrown. As a worker stood by stirring, the contents boiled and bubbled and gradually released the lard, leaving behind a crisp rind (called the cracklin’), sometimes carrying a streak of lean. The lard went into gallon containers for household cooking throughout the year. Cracklins became snack-foods for relaxing times, and can be bought commercially today. They’re usually called “pork skins.”
Similarly, the messages I have preached over a half-century have been boiled down to their essence. (No greasy rinds left, however!) Mostly, the result–that is, the gist of my preaching these days–ends up looking something like this….
Any pastor can tell you that even when you do your best to minister to His people, some church members are not going to let you. If you didn’t do things their way, were not there when they called, did not jump at their bark, you are a failure and they will never forgive you.
Such people are the exceptions, I hasten to say to those who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty. Our answer–
–It’s the 2 percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else.
–It’s the 2 percent of society who require us to maintain a standing police force to enforce laws.
–Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal. But that two percent is deadly.
Robert Caro had a problem.
He was researching and writing an in-depth biography of Robert Moses, the highly acclaimed “master builder” of New York City, who lived 1888 to 1981. Originally, Caro thought the book might take a year.
He was wrong. Bad wrong.
After a couple of years working on the book, his income ran out and he had to find a way to support his family. They sold the house.
After a couple of years, that money ran out.
He kept working.
In time, he was embarrassed when friends would say, “What are you working on?” and he would tell them he was still on the same book. “How long have you been working on that book?” He would mutter, “Five years.”
Five years. Caro felt like a failure.
The original publisher, the one that had advanced him $2,500 with the warning that no one would want to read a book on Robert Moses, finally cut him loose. He signed on with another agent, a good one, and in time ended up with a 1300 page book that won the Pulitzer.
A 1300 page book. It won the Pulitzer. Don’t miss that.
But long before that, while Caro was in the throes of writing and researching and feeling alone…
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was reading comments on a friend’s Facebook page below something she had written about the Bible’s authenticity.
I suppose her critic was a friend, because after each of his statements, each one shallow and several insulting, she patiently responded with kindness and reason.
But nothing worked.
When one is determined not to believe, no amount of truth or reason or logic can penetrate the protective armor of alibis, arguments, excuses, and slander in which he clothes himself.
What was his “contradiction”?
“(The devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
If I were the devil, I would do everything in my power to keep you from the Word of God. I would say anything I could think of, anything I thought you would believe, anything that works, to get you to read other things.
As Paul said, “We are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). We know how he works. And here are some of the lies we have noticed pouring out of his factory, all geared toward destroying confidence in God’s Word.
One. “You already know it, so don’t read it.”
He’s lying to you. You do not know it. I’ve studied the Bible all my life and in no way could I say I “know” it. I know a great deal about it, but there is so much more. For the typical church member to shun the Bible because “I’ve been there and done that” is laughable.
Two: “No one can understand it, so don’t read it.”
He’s lying. Even a child can understand a great deal of Scripture. Meanwhile, the Ph.D. will find plenty to challenge his thinking. Only a book from the Almighty could touch so much at every level of their existence.
“Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him….” (Colossians 3:9-10).
I hate to admit this, but it needs to be done.
Preachers sometimes misrepresent themselves.
Some claim to have degrees that sound authentic but were bought on the sly somewhere for the simple reason that they have learned laypeople in our churches are unsophisticated about that sort of thing but are impressed by high-sounding degrees. Some ministers claim to have been places they merely flew over, to know people they shook hands with, and to be more than they are. Some give the appearance that they know the original languages when they are merely quoting something they picked up in a book.
There is no substitute for integrity in those called to preach the Word and lead the Lord’s flock.
A surgeon must have cleanliness in all he does; a teacher must have a love for the students at the heart of all she does; a carpenter must have the blueprint at the heart of all he does; and a pastor must have integrity at the heart of all he does.
Integrity. Truth. Honesty. No deception. No embellishment. No twisting of the fact. No irresponsible reporting. No claiming what is not so, no declaring what we do not know, and no using what belongs to another.
The temptation is ever with us to do otherwise.
“Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).
In the months leading up to the U.S. involvement in the Second World War, our country broke the Japanese secret code. This means that Army and Navy personnel were reading Japan’s messages. We actually knew where their forces were most of the time and what they were planning.
All signs indicated they were going to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.
And yet, when they did just that–December 7, 1941, that day of infamy–we were completely unprepared. Our battleships were parked side by side close up and made a great target for the Japanese torpedo bombers. Our planes were parked in rows, as though for the sharpshooters at the county fair.
The Japanese had a field day. A turkey shoot.
How had this happened? How had they managed to catch us so completely off guard when we were reading their coded messages and knew what they were up to?
We did not believe what we were reading. This could not possibly happen.
One brief incident in the day of Jesus’ early ministry reveals so much about Him to our jaded eyes. Everything we see, we like.
The story is found in Mark 3:1-6.
And He entered again into a synagogue (in Capernaum); and a man was there with a withered hand. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they have accuse Him.
And He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Rise and come forward!’ And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm? to save a life or to kill?’ But they kept silent.
And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians (their enemies) against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
I love that story. It’s a brief encounter that tells us a world of things about our Savior….
I’ve been thinking about cartoonists, abortion, and theological liberals lately.
My friend Diane was sitting in a doctor’s office when a young woman came in to ask about an appointment. She wanted an abortion, she said, because she had plans for Labor Day weekend and wanted to get this done.
After a quick conversation with the receptionist, she left. My friend sat there in shock and then began to weep.
Diane and her husband Mitch are in line to adopt a baby due soon. To say they are excited and prayerful does not begin to describe them. Seeing the callousness with which that young woman wanted to be rid of her baby because “I have plans for the weekend” left Diane broken-hearted.
At this point, some in our audience will quit reading. They already “know” where it’s going and know they do not wish to go there.
That’s why there is little authentic conversation about abortions today.
And, may I say, I understand that.
81. Just as no one knows you better than your spouse, your co-workers on the church staff will see you as no one else does. Make sure they respect you as a person of integrity and compassion who keeps his word, has a sincere heart for God, and treasures each of them.
82. Watch for certain scriptures–a verse here, a verse there–that impress themselves upon you in a special way. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, a personal gift even. He is inviting you to study this area more, to seek His insights and receive His teaching.
83. Humility. Do not hesitate to apologize. If you made a mistake and everyone knows it, to stonewall and refuse to admit it will end up enraging a few and disappointing everyone else. By humbling yourself and asking for forgiveness, you endear yourself to everyone who matters. (I’ve known of pastors who gained so much love by publicly apologizing, they started looking for some other dumb mistake to make just so they could apologize.)
84. When you require the approval of a committee, if the chairperson tells you, “Oh, just go ahead and do that, pastor,” don’t do it. Instead, you should respond, “Thank you, my friend. But I’d really like the entire committee’s input on this.” Never allow the chair to act as if he/she is the committee. (Just so subtly are church tyrants created.)
85. Always err on the side of conservativism in finances and of grace in relationships.