Why the Lord is so rough with some of His best people

“O you of little faith!  Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The teacher is hardest on the best pupils.

The Master Teacher is hardest on the Star Pupil.

The coach is in the face of the player with the greatest potential, on his back, never letting up.

Check out these words from the Lord Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan.  You are a stumbling block to me;  for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23).

He said those harsh, cutting words, not to the Pharisees, but to Simon Peter, His “star apostle.”

Simon Peter–the disciple with the most potential, the one Jesus renamed as “Rock.”  He called Peter a “satan” (adversary) soon after commending him for his confession that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  When Peter said that, the Lord said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Called him blessed one moment and turns right around and calls him a devil.

What’s going on here?

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Your great preaching is not going to build your church!

This is the burden of my heart.

Get out of the office, pastor, and knock on some doors.  Later, you can get your people to doing it.  But first, you do it.

Do it by yourself, if you must.  Or take someone with you.  Do it by appointment or cold-turkey.  But do it.

That is as profound a way as I know to build a great church.

Visit your church members, visit your leaders, visit them in their places of business.  Visit your neighbors, the homes around your church.  Visit people who visit your church.

Write letters to them.  The personal kind.  Handwritten, maybe two sentences.  Just to say you’re thinking about them, praying for them, thankful for them.

Get out of the office and get with the people.

Pastor Bobby Welch, longtime shepherd of the great First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, was teaching a soulwinning program to several hundred in the chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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Stepping out of the boat: Something Simon Peter did a hundred times

Sometimes it’s scary obeying Jesus.

The incident recorded in Matthew 14–in the darkest part of the night,  the Lord came walking across the wind-tossed sea to the disciples and Peter is allowed, nay encouraged, to leave the boat and walk to Him, managing to take a few tentative steps over the sea before his fears got the best of him–turns out to have been the story of the rest of Peter’s life.

In a manner of speaking.

Leaving his comfort zone to come to Jesus, stepping out of the metaphorical boat and onto the watery surface where no visible means of support presented themselves, thus risking everything, is what Peter did–or was called on to do–again and again for the rest of his life.

One.  Peter, will you confess Jesus?  “Well, normally I would–but today it’s scary!”

He was warming himself at the fire in the courtyard while, not far away, the Lord was on trial. Three times Peter has the opportunity to confess Jesus.  The problem is that was a most scary thing to do.  He would have been hanging himself out there for all to see, he would have made a target of himself, and it would have been uncomfortable.  Luke tells us what happened at the end….

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I’m so glad Peter didn’t walk on water for a half hour. Here’s why.

“But seeing the wind, Peter became afraid and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Save me, Lord!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him….” (Matthew 14:30-31).

It’s like a video of the Boston Red Sox guy letting that World Series game-winning single run through his legs.  Had he caught it and stepped on first base, the game would have ended and the Red Sox would have ended that so-called curse a full fifteen or twenty years earlier than they did.  Ask that player and his family.  It has run a zillion times on youtube and in the minds of the fans.  They have enshrined his failure.  They think of him and they forget all the thousands of put-outs he made at first base, the hits he got, the runs he produced.  That is how Peter must feel.

Think of Simon Peter walking on the water to Jesus that night when the winds howled and the sea raged and far from being impressed–as one would think we should be!–we see only that “he took his eyes off Jesus and put them on the wave,” and began to sink.  As though we would not have!

I’m so glad Peter did that.  Yes, I’m happy he walked those few steps on the Galilee, of course, and really really impressed.  But everything inside me gives thanks that he then had a problem with what he was doing and messed it up.

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Deciding what kind of man you want to become

Every male coming into the world will become a man, if he lasts long enough.  But sometime along the way he should stop and ask, “What kind of man do I want to become?”

“Quit you like men” is how the old version of I Corinthians 16:13 reads.  Modern translations has it saying: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong….”

Be a real man.

Be a man like Jesus.

He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone (Matthew 14:23). 

Our text is the 14th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.  In this passage, we have several stark contrasts in manhood.  We have King Herod Agrippa, we have the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have a disciple named Simon Peter.

Take a look at them…

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What the pastor prays for himself

“Pray for me–that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth….” (Ephesians 6:19). (Also Colossians 4:3 and I Thessalonians 5:25)

Everyone prays, we’re told.  And, doubtless, every follower of Jesus Christ prays for other people.  But we must be faithful in praying for ourselves.

Here are three prayers of mine from key times in my life…

The first:  I prayed for balance in my ministry and personal life.

This prayer is from an old journal of mine.  It’s undated, so I have no idea what was going on, what prompted it, and when it occurred.  It seems timeless, and knowing my own heart, this has been something I have longed for since the beginning…

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The pastor needs a sabbatical: How to tell and how to get one

In the academic world, professors receive sabbaticals every so often–the word implies seven years, so that’s probably the norm–during which they pursue some program of continuing study approved by their superiors.  The idea is for them to be continually growing in their effectiveness as educators.

In the ministry, a sabbatical might be for six weeks up to a few months.  Most churches are set up to be pastor-dependent and need their main guy at home to keep the program on track and the people focused.

But if they plan well, this can be a win-win thing for everyone.

In 42 years of pastoring six churches, I received two sabbaticals, each for six weeks.  The first, in the late 1970s, was spent in continuing education.  I began by driving to Chicago for the Moody Bible Institute’s annual Pastors Conference, a full week.  I remember a hundred things about that wonderful week to this day. This was followed by four weeks on a college campus in Kentucky during which outstanding Christian leaders spent a week each with us (Carl F. H. Henry, Ray Steadman, etc). The first weekend–confession coming up!–I drove to Cincinnati for two Reds baseball games, heard a debate between Madalyn Murray-O’Hair and a Church of Christ minister, and visited Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace.  (I was getting my money’s worth!)

The second sabbatical came twenty years later, in another church, another state, and involved visiting churches across the land.  I sat in the services of seventeen churches and interviewed a bunch of pastors, then returned home to make some long overdue changes in how we were doing church.

I strongly recommend sabbaticals, both for the ministers as well as for the churches.  It gives the preacher a time to rest and grow and learn and listen. Any church will reap excellent benefits from that happening to their minister.

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Pastors and Deacons: The first 25 lessons of Acts 6:1-7

Every pastor and every deacon knows well the story in Acts 6:1-7 where the Jerusalem church encountered their first internal dissension.  We hear it at every deacon ordination and often in deacons meetings.

In leading retreats and training sessions for deacons, I ask them to read this passage slowly and to meditate on it.   Then, we discuss it.  At the conclusion, I give them this assignment.

In the days to come, read this passage again and again until you know it thoroughly.   Then, when you are driving the car or walking alone or lying awake at night, meditate on it.  My friends, there are more truths and insights in these few verses than any of us have ever discovered.  See how many you can find.

Here are twenty-five such insights to get us started.  There may be a hundred more.  As you reflect on this passage, see how many more insights and lessons come to mind…

One. People are going to have problems.  Even the godliest among us.

Two:  The fact that a church is experiencing a problem is no indication they are in sin, are doing something wrong, or are flawed.

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What a seminary degree will not do

Consider this a love note to some unemployed preachers.

Not all, mind you (I’m trying to stave off a ton of irate letters).  Just some.

I have all this education and training.  Why won’t churches call me as pastor?”

He was angry at God, at all churches, and at the system.  He sported a college degree and two diplomas from seminary, the last entitling him to call himself “Doctor.”

And yet he was unemployed.

His resume’ shows two years each at several churches.  Not a good record.

“The old churches are blackballing me,” he said. “I’m thinking of suing them.”

At one point he said, “I’m giving up on the organized church.”

Now, a casual observer may think I’m betraying a confidence here.  I might be, except for one overriding thing:  I’ve heard this same complaint, in one form or other, at least a half-dozen times over the years.

There’s a lot of this going around.

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How to pastor emphatically

“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops” (Matthew 10:27).

“The disciples went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

“Nobody ever enjoyed the presidency as I did…. While president I have been president emphatically.”  –Theodore Roosevelt, quoted by David McCullough in “The American Spirit”

The Lord does not want your spare time and loose change.”  –Pastor Brent Thompson, last Sunday at Heflin (AL) Baptist Church.

The Lord wants His people to live life emphatically.  “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,”says Ecclesiastes 9:10.

We are to seize the day, live each moment, and to delight ourselves in Him.

Listen to Paul as he seeks to motivate and energize young Pastor Timothy:

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