How should we address God in prayer?

When you pray, say, “Father.”  –Luke 11:2

We hear people praying, “O God, do this…and God, do that…please God….”

We do not criticize one another’s prayers.  Any prayer is better than none.  And yet, I wonder about addressing the Heavenly Father as “God.”

It certainly makes sense. God is who He is.  There is one God and no other.  When we say “God,” we are referring to no other Being in the universe because deity is a category occupied by Him alone.  He is the only one in that class.  So, it’s not wrong to address God as God, I suppose.

But it feels a little like addressing my earthly father as “Coal miner.” Or “Farmer.”  Because that’s what he was.  Only he was so much more than that.

Our Lord Jesus had something to say on this matter.  When you pray, say ‘Father.’

Say “Father.”

That certainly reads like a command, and not a suggestion.

One wonders why we take that so lightly.

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Five of the last gifts you should ever give your pastor

Not being into psychoanalysis–or for that matter, not being into picking up on subliminal vibes from people even a little–I do not know all the reasons why good people do some of the dumb things they do.

Take church people and how they relate to their preachers, for instance.

Sometimes members of the flock do nice things for their shepherd in cruel ways. They offer good gifts but on looking closely, you can see the hooks attached. They offer sweet praise with barbs on the end.

Do they know what they are doing? Are they aware that in doing these things they only add to the burdens of their spiritual leaders? Do they know they’re being cruel?

I expect most of us would disagree with our answers on that. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Here are several “gifts” no pastor wants or needs or should ever receive from those who value his ministry and wish to encourage him.


1. Anonymous criticism.

“Pastor, could I have a word with you? Pastor, you need to know that some members of the congregation are upset about that sermon you preached last Sunday.” Or, that program you started. Or that staff member you are bringing in. Or that family you singled out for praise.

Some members of the congregation. Or even worse, a lot of church members. Translation: “My wife and I.”

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The “church conflict” question that will get you laughed out of church

“Why do you not rather suffer wrong?” (I Corinthians 6:7)

A dog can whip a polecat, the saying goes, but it’s not worth it.

Some fights you need to walk away from.

We’ve told here of the time in 2004 when a small group of members of a local Baptist church was taking the pastor and trustees to court over what they perceived as breaches of scripture, ethics, and good sense.  As their new associational leader, I was invited to sit in with them one evening and hear the reasons they were taking such serious action. Toward the end of the evening, the leader said, “So, what do you think?”

I said, “I think you should walk away from this. No one is going to win on this thing except the lawyers. Everything about this is wrong and bad.”

He said quietly, “We can’t. It’s gone too far for that now.”

He was wrong. They could have stopped that train in its tracks by a phone call to the lawyers. In doing so, they would have saved a church from going out of existence (within a year, the church “gave” itself away to another church that would take over its indebtedness), saved themselves and the church a ton of money (both sides hired teams of lawyers from high-priced New Orleans firms), and saved the cause of Christ a lot of bad press (the media jumps all over these things).

It’s never too late to back away from a fight.

It’s just hard. And takes more strength than most people can muster.

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How the preacher can sound really smart

“I speak as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:23).

Now, the solid born-again, God-called messenger of the Lord has no wish to sound particularly smart.  True, he does not want to come across as ignorant, but he is not insecure, has nothing to prove, and is not there to impress.  He is a messenger, delivering the word of God, then getting out of the way.*

However, a less than solid preacher just might want to impress his hearers.  An insecure, insincere preacher–one working for the paycheck and seeking the prestige some people bestow on a pastor–might want to bolster his image by dressing up his presentation in some way, and could use some assistance. That’s where we come in.  We can help.

Herewith then is our list of tricks which a poor preacher might want to employ.

Tongue in cheek, of course.

One. Insert the occasional Hebrew or Greek word into your sermon.  This is not hard to do, now that we have the internet.  If you really want to sound smart, after saying, “Now, in the original, the Greek word is” whatever, then you will want to say something like “in the pluperfect aorist tense, of course.”  No one will know you have no clue what you’ve just said, but it doesn’t matter. It sounds good, and that’s the point.

Two. At least once in every sermon, say “As my seminary professor used to say…”  You’ll find great quotes on the internet to attribute to the anonymous teacher.

Three. Google Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, and find something good he said.  (He said a lot of quotable stuff, so this won’t be hard.)  In quoting him, be sure to pronounce his name correctly, otherwise the one person in the congregation who knows who he was will badmouth you and your efforts will be for nothing.

This also works for the German preachers Helmut Thelicke and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Unfortunately, it does not work for Joel Osteen or John Hagee.

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Rethinking divorce: What if we started believing Scripture?

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).

Many churches have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a member from being considered as a pastor or a deacon.

I’m suggesting we need to start believing God’s word and quit making divorce the unpardonable sin.

In the qualifications for deacons (I Timothy 3:8-13), verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.”  That “one wife” business has been interpreted in a dozen ways–everything from a deacon must be married (no unmarried person, whether single or widowed, can be a deacon), to no divorced person at all (no matter how many years ago and what kind of record of faithfulness you have achieved over the decades), to no one in a polygamous relationship, and so forth.

Likewise, some churches have women deacons because, while verse 11 says “the women also”–traditionally interpreted to mean wives of deacons–no similar statement is given in I Timothy 3:1-7 which gives qualifications for pastors.  If this refers to the deacons’ wives, shouldn’t there be something about pastors’ wives? But there isn’t. So, many have decided verse 11 refers not to wives of deacons, but to women deacons.  (Argue if you wish, but Paul is not here to tell us what he had in mind.)

The point is: Since these verses are not clear, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ interpret them in various ways.

Why then do our churches insist that I Timothy 3:12 prohibits a divorced person from becoming a deacon?

I suggest the answer is found in Matthew 19:9. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  This seems to state very clearly that unless a person has “grounds” for divorce, remarriage amounts to adultery.

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My Thanksgiving blog from 2008

(Since my family members read this, I thought they might appreciate this blast from the past…)

I’m sporting a red bruise high in the middle of my forehead that Mikhail Gorbachev would envy. Friday, after throwing a log on a fire in the middle of the field, I raised up and whacked my head on a low-hanging limb. More about that below.

Wednesday, at Alpha Cottingham’s funeral, evangelistic singer (and her husband W.O’s cousin) Ronnie Cottingham provided special music and told a story about this wonderful pastor’s wife. “Miss Alpha called to ask if I could come and do a full one-hour concert. I told her I could if the preacher invited me. He did and we worked it out. The night of the concert, I came in and got set up and started singing — but Alpha wasn’t in the crowd. I checked and discovered she was keeping the nursery. No one else was available, so she took care of the little ones so others could attend the concert.”

The pastor’s wife has a servant heart.

Early in the week, Margaret suggested I ought to go see my Mom for Thanksgiviing. I’d thought about it. I’ve not been home in several months and it’s a seven hour drive, but at Mom’s age (nearing 93), I need to get there when I can. So, Thursday morning, I left the city early and drove to north Alabama (the family farm is five miles north of Nauvoo, AL). I’d asked the family to save some leftovers for my supper. Leftovers where my Mom and sisters are concerned would be a feast anywhere.

After supper, we did something we’ve not done in a couple of years: played rummy. This card game has been our family’s pastime since Dad taught us to play when we were children. My brother Ron and I played sister Patricia and her husband James. How the game turned out is never the point; the fellowship and camaraderie is. And that’s how it came about that we received the best laugh of the week from our Mom.

We were in the midst of the card game and enjoying the fellowship. James happened to mention that one of his co-workers for the phone company, many years ago, was a part-time preacher. They were working out of town and one night, James walked into the man’s hotel room and found two Playboy magazines laying on the bed. The man recovered quickly and said, “James, look what was laying on the floor when I checked into this room today!” Um hummm. Sure.

I had my own contribution to the story. “When our younger son Marty was four years old, we were living in an apartment complex in Jackson, Mississippi. One day, he found a Playboy out behind the building. When Margaret tried to take it from him, he wouldn’t let her have it. ‘It’s mine,’ he kept insisting.”

They all smiled. Then from the kitchen, Mom said, “Why? He was only four. He couldn’t read.”

A pure heart.

(Everyone around the table agreed that Mom has probably never even seen that magazine.)

Now, about that tree burning.

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Word studies can bless those who study God’s Word

What made me want to study Greek and Hebrew in seminary was faithful preachers during my college years who sometimes gave us the meaning of a word in their sermons.  Not too much, of course.  It’s easy to overdo this.  And nothing very technical.  The guy in the pew does not care a whit about the aorist tense or pluperfect whatever, or that Josephus used this in one way and Herodotus another.

Pastors should do this sparingly, but when they do it wisely and well, a word study can enrich Bible study and inspire the hearers.  (I suggest no more than one word meaning from the Greek or Hebrew per sermon.  The average worshiper can absorb only so much, and we must not presume upon their kindnesses.)

Here are a few from Pau’s Letter to the Philippians…

“…so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).

The word “sincere” here is rich in meaning.  Our English word comes from the Latin “sin” meaning “without” and “ceres” meaning “wax.”  Without wax.  We’re told this refers to the shoddy practice of sculptors in the past.  While working on a piece of art, the marble might develop a crack.  Rather than discard the piece or try to repair it, the unscrupulous artist might fill it with wax.  It looked great and fooled the buyer….until he built a fire in the room where the piece was being displayed.  The heat melted the wax, and the fraud was discovered.  A truly sincere person is someone without wax, we would say.  Someone who can take the heat.

We used to speak of certain people being “plastic,” meaning a cheap imitation of the real thing.

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What we wish for the preacher-killers among us

They asked Andrew Murray the greatest thought that had ever entered his mind.  “My accountability to God,” he said.

My pastor friend Albert was facing a crisis in his church.

Twice the treasurer has threatened to cut my pay if I announce plans to stay on.  He tells everyone that our church cannot afford a pastor.  A couple in the church is spreading gossip about me.  A recent survey of the congregation assessed me and my ministry–which is fine–but the board chairman plans to discuss it at the upcoming annual meeting without clueing me in on the results ahead of time.

Nothing about this bodes well for Albert.   I’ve seen too many of these disasters-in-the-making to be optimistic.  Some people are determined to have their way and run “their” church as they please.

My friend concluded, “Pray for wisdom, shrewdness, strength and peace for my wife and me.”

Ask any pastor.  The stresses from these forces are preacher-killers.

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Truths which Satan uses to stop us from praying

The forces of hell will do anything to keep us from praying.

Satan tells lies to keep us from praying.  He uses pleasures and misinformation and our laziness to keep us from praying.  He uses false teachers and busy schedules and great television to keep us from praying.

He also has been known to use truth.

As odd as it seems, the dark prince does not hesitate to speak the truth if it will make us think we shouldn’t pray.

Here are eight true statements Satan uses to put a stop to the most powerful force in the world, the prayers of God’s people…

1–God already knows what you need. No point in asking.

2–You are unworthy.

3–You are weak.

4–Your faith is small.

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The preacher said something I disagree with. Horrors!

“…they received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

When I asked where he went to church, the man working on my house said, “I used to go to church across the river.  But the preacher said something I disagreed with.”

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.

But he was serious.

After giving him a moment to elaborate, which he did not do, I said, “Man, I would hope so.”

He seemed interested.

I said, “Wouldn’t it be terrible to have a preacher who said only the things that I know and taught only what I believe? What would be the point of going to hear him if I already knew what he was going to say? There’s so much more to God than what little I already know!”

Lord, make us teachable.

It’s a mark of maturity to welcome correction, to recognize and appreciate constructive insights to make our lives better. The godliest person comes to church hoping to hear something that blesses, something that corrects him, something that inspires her, whether they had previously known it or agreed with it or not. 

A quick scan of Scripture produces a long lineup of people who heard God calling their name, who made themselves available to Him, and then were told something they didn’t want to hear!

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