Ten ways pastors can enlarge their minds and grow in unexpected ways

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press forward….” (Philippians 3:12)

Are we correct, servant of God, in assuming you see areas of your life needing growth?

You’re like the rest of us and still have a long way to go?

I have no snake oil remedies to sell, no self-improvement program for you, no quick fixes.  Just some ideas that God has used in my own life, that might be helpful in yours.

One.  Attend lectures.

Find out if anyone in your area–a college, the chamber of commerce–has a lecture series in which outstanding personalities speak on various subjects, and buy a season pass.  You’ll not be able to attend every session, nor will you want to, I predict, but you’ll end up hearing some fascinating people and have your mind stretched in unexpected ways.

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On July 4, while waving your flags, give thanks for this…

A fellow interrupted our Facebook discussion on apostasy/faithfulness in my denomination to slam various denominational leaders and then veered a half-mile off-subject onto his lasting loyalty to the Confederate cause.   Each year, he said, he travels to the Confederate cemetery back at home and honors the people, the cause, the flag, etc.

I don’t know the guy, so this is not so much to him  as it is to all those unreconstructed Southerners who still cannot get past the CSA, who idolize Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, and who would die for the Stars-and-Bars before they would the Stars and Stripes.

We have no argument with honoring the dead.  I’ve stood at the gravesites in Columbus Mississippi’s Friendship Cemetery and shed more than one tear for those on both sides buried there.

But no matter your position on the Southern Cause, my friend, there is something you should give thanks for.

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Lasting images from the Birmingham SBC (June 11-12, 2019)

This is just for the record.

Bertha and I attended the SBC in Birmingham, arriving Sunday afternoon, June 9, and departing Thursday morning, June 13.  I was one of 10 messengers from our church, the First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS where Chip Stevens is pastor.

I did not, however, attend any sessions of the SBC. (Had a controversy erupted which required my vote, I would have stepped into the auditorium and taken a part. But all was well.)

I had another function altogether.

For a number of years in a row, I attend the convention as the guest of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary,  a constant influence in my life since arriving on the campus in the summer of 1964.  I have two degrees from there, have been president of the national alumni association, and have received a couple of distinguished recognitions from the seminary.  For a number of years, I was a member of the adjunct faculty, teaching in the pastoral ministry division.  I love this seminary.  Bertha and I are presently active on the NOBTS Foundation Board.  I send  a monthly contribution to the Providence Fund for student support.

Anyway…

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It turns out that God is a micro-manager

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26).  “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29-30).

Ask any scientist.

Nothing is too small for God to take notice.  If the atom obeys set laws and the microscopic universe is predictable to us humans, if the computer can be reduced to an astonishingly tiny entity, if hummingbirds and honeybees can do all they do, surely the Creator God has charge of the details.

The details are pretty impressive, I think you’ll have to agree.

Every baby in the womb.  Every child.  Every widow.  Every elderly.  Every prisoner.  Everyone.

Every word. Every act. Every leaf of every tree. Every flower of every meadow.

God is big enough to handle the little things.

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The subtle way we preachers brag

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; let not the mighty man glory in his might;  nor let the rich glory in his riches.  But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these I delight, says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

I am a preacher, bear in mind. So, I know how it’s done.  After all–pay attention now–I pastored six churches for forty-two years, some of them large, influential churches.  Why, in one of my churches, I had a deacon who was a commissioner of the F.D.I.C., appointed by President Reagan.  And the sister of Dr. Billy Graham was a member.  In fact….

Okay.  See what I’m doing here?

Bragging in a subtle, indirect way is  an art not taught in seminary, but picked up along the way, believe me.

Yes, friends, you too can learn how to brag on yourself in an indirect, humble way!!

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If you are lonely in Kingdom work, you have only yourself to blame

And He sent them out two by two. (Mark 6:7)

When the Apostle Paul gave us his list of burdens and hardships in the service of the gospel, loneliness was not one of them.  2 Corinthians 11 speaks of beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and hardships galore.  At the end, he adds one more all-inclusive category: “my deep concern for all the churches.”

But not loneliness.

Paul was not lonely.

We rarely see Paul by himself.  In Antioch, he was one of five leaders. On his first missionary journey, he was accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark and possibly others.  On his second journey, Silas was his companion, along with Timothy, Luke, and others.  The last chapter of his letter to the church at Rome lists twenty-five saints by name to whom he was sending greetings, along with “his mother and mine” and “his sister” and “all the saints who are with them.”  Then, he names eight brethren who are with him at that moment: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus.

Paul was no loner.  Nor was our Lord.

Jesus chose twelve “that they might be with Him” (Mark 3:14). (The exception, we need to add, would be Gethsemane when He said, “Could you not pray with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) )

Then, why, someone please tell us, are so many pastors loners, trying to lead the church, prepare life-changing sermons, and bear the burden of a thousand responsibilities all by themselves?

It was not meant to be this way.

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Too toxic to keep, too popular to fire: What to do about that difficult staff member

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

I once asked a pastor friend, “Are you afraid of (a certain member of his staff who was causing him grief)?”  He said, “No, I’m not afraid of him.  But I fear  the damage he could do if I were to fire him.”

Therein lies the dilemma:  What to do about a team member  too powerful to fire but too difficult to keep.

Read on.

I’ve been reading H. W. Brands’ The General vs. The President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. Dr. Brands is a highly respected professor of history at the University of Texas. Back when Brands taught at Texas A&M, Stephen Ambrose brought him to New Orleans for the 1998 conference on the Spanish-American War. My son Neil and I took in the conference and have been big fans of Professor Brands ever since.

In April 1951, Truman fired the most popular general in American history, becoming in one act the most reviled President in memory. During this period of his presidency, historians agree that Truman had become  one of the most unpopular presidents in history.  Interestingly, however, history vindicates Truman in his decision to dismiss the egotistical and out of control general.  You will search long and hard to find a military historian who thinks that MacArthur should not have been fired.

Someone asked Dwight D. Eisenhower once, “Didn’t you serve under General MacArthur?” (Ike had been his right-hand man in the Philippines in the 1930s.)  He answered, “I studied dramatics under him for eight years.” He is quoted as saying, “MacArthur could never see another sun, or even a moon for that matter, as long as he was the sun.”

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The consistent, historic malady afflicting the people of God

“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but  their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).

I suspect some of us are marginal Christians,  just around the edges.

The Lord Jesus knew His Bible.  He was quoting Isaiah.

In the 8th century B.C., the prophet said: “Therefore the Lord said, ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore I will again do a marvelous work among this people….'” (Isaiah 29:13-14).

Look out at the typical congregation most any Sunday morning.  It isn’t hard at all–nor, in my opinion is it judgmental–to see on display this very thing: people honoring God with their lips while their hearts roam across some foreign country somewhere.

It’s not a new thing.  While Isaiah preached in the 8th century B.C. and our Lord eight centuries later,  you and I witness the same two thousand years afterwards.  It seems to be a human affliction.

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The wrong people are being blamed

“How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling….” (Matthew 23:37).

You were unwilling.

I would, but you would not, God says.

As a result, Jerusalem was reaping what she had sown.  Getting the consequences of her neglect.

The resources of Heaven are standing by;  we neglect this to our detriment.

See what the Lord Jesus said to the leper in Mark 1.  This fellow violated every convention, every standard, and instead of calling out “Unclean! Unclean!” and avoiding Him, he ran to Jesus.  “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  The wonderful Lord Jesus did the unthinkable and touched the untouchable.  “I am willing,” He said.  “Be cleansed.”

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Uncomplicating your prayers: Just do it!

“When you pray, say , ‘Our Father….'”   (Luke 11:2)

I used to have around fifty books on prayer.  C. S. Lewis said he would never write one, but that’s been done for him  posthumously.  Someone took articles he wrote in various books and insights from his letters and assembled them into How to Pray, which Bertha and I are reading with enormous pleasure.  (Most of my collection I gave away over the years as I down-sized my library twice.)

I fear with all the books on the subject that beginners may be scared away from serious praying, thinking it’s harder than it is, more complicated than it should be, and reserved just for the most religious among us.  And what a tragedy that would be.

Prayer is for every child of God.

I love to find insights and encouragements in Scripture about prayer.  One of the best is on display in the amazing and rich 8th chapter of Romans, everyone’s “mother lode” of treasures.  It’s this…

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