Living emphatically: God does not want your spare time or loose change

“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, 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:

“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also…”

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth….”

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Grieving and laughing at the same time

“There is….a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

The doctors at Houston’s M. D. Anderson Medical Center confirmed to Ted that the lung cancer had indeed metastasized to his brain.  “Perhaps six months, more or less,” said the doctor when Ted asked how long he had.  The worst news imaginable.

However, that night the doctor called his room.

“I’ve been studying the brain scans,” he said. “And I believe yours is Primary Lung Cancer which has moved to the brain.”  He went on to say that Primary Brain Cancer is not treatable, but a metastasized Primary Lung Cancer behaves differently in the brain and is often treatable.

There was hope, after all.

When he got off the phone, Ted explained this to his family. He was quiet a minute, then said, “Well, you know it’s your basic bad situation when you’re praying for lung cancer!”

And they laughed.

Question: Is it possible to weep and laugh at the same time?

Evidently it is, because many of us have done it.

My weeping, a rarity for most of my years, was kicked into overdrive in 2015 when the Lord suddenly took my wife home.  I am not normally a “man of sorrows,” but soaked many a hankie after Margaret left so abruptly.  That was some years back, obviously, but one never forgets the pain.  And never stops loving.

Weeping endureth for the night; but joy cometh in the morning (Psalm 30:5). God’s children learn that by experience.

I believe in joy.

Jesus believed in joy. Even though He is called the consummate “Man of Sorrows,” He spoke of “my joy” (see John 17:13).  Jesus was a joyful person.

Joy visible is a smile.  Joy audible is laughter and singing.  Joy palpable is a hug, a friendly touch.

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Preaching about America in the worst possible way

Preacher Driftwater told me, “I want to preach about America in the worst way.”

I told him it’s been done.

What he said is not what he meant, of course.

The worst way to preach about America is negatively.

“The world is going to hell.” “America is decaying from within.”  “The country is becoming socialist.”  “The president is our worst enemy.”  “The Supreme Court is ruining America.”  “The home is breaking down. Marriage is a thing of the past. You can’t get a good two-dollar steak any more.”

Okay, strike that last one.

The U. S. Supreme Court regularly hands down some strange rulings, most  of which generate a backlash.

However, this being a constitutional government, we are stuck with their decision.

Does their weird ruling mean the United States is through? Will God write ‘Ichabod’ over what used to be a great country?  Should we preachers deliver its eulogy from our pulpits?

Stay with me here…

When a friend sent his sermon outline for the July 4th message he planned to preach–it was mostly a litany of what’s wrong with America–he was not asking for my opinion. He said, “What do you think is the future of America?”

I mulled that over a few hours before replying. Then I did something he had not asked for.

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How the preacher feels on his way home from church

“Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20).

I feel like I have a delivery to make.

I will drive a hundred miles up the interstate to the church where I’m to preach that morning. Sometimes Bertha is with me, sometimes she isn’t. I’ll greet some of the people and check with the worship leader to make sure we’re on the same page. At the appointed time, I will rise and ask everyone to turn to Romans 8.

All week long, I have lived in Romans 8.  I’ve read it, thought about it, written about it, read about it some more, and talked to the Lord about it.  I feel I have a load to deliver.

An hour later, driving home, I will feel spent.  Empty. Unburdened.  Drained.

I hope I will feel pleased, but that’s not always a sure thing. Sometimes I return from preaching feeling, as the basketball players put it, that I have left it in the locker room (instead of on the floor, in the game itself).  Sometimes we preachers are disgusted that such a glorious message has to be filtered through such an imperfect vessel. As though we had tried to depict a sunset with crayons.  Tried to explain calculus with the understanding of a six-year-old.

The wonder is that God can use such a pitiful attempt.

And yet, we did not volunteer for this.  We did not presumptuously present ourselves to the Lord as capable, eager spokespeople.

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The most surprising thing about the Apostle Paul’s ministry

He needed people.  I find that surprising.

“I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:17-18).

As amazing as the great apostle was, as capable in ministry, as brilliant in theology, and as bold in his witness, Paul needed people.

Does that surprise you as much as it does me?

Paul readily admitted his need for people in his life, complimented them for ministering to him, and credited them with acts of sacrifice and generosity to him.

Paul grew lonely when no friends were nearby, appreciated good company, and was quick to pay tribute to those who went the extra mile to find him and offer their assistance in His labors.

I find that most delightful.

We would have expected such a man–a trailblazer in ministry, a pioneer in spreading the gospel, the first international missionary, and the theologian of all theologians–to be a loner, a one-man show, needing nothing from anyone and making sure we all knew it.

Paul was anything but a loner.

Check out this sampling of his statements….

–“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Likewise, greet the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:3-5).

–“That you may know my affairs and how I am doing, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make all things known to you; whom I have sent to you for this very purpose, that you may know our affairs and that he may comfort your hearts” (Ephesians 6:21-22).

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How to tell when you’re growing in Christ. And when you’re not.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 3:18). 

Early coal miners carried canaries into the deep pits to alert them when they were in the presence of methane gas. Being more sensitive to these deadly fumes than humans, the bird would die long before the gas posed a problem for the miners. If the bird was dead, they ran for their lives.

We could all use a few canaries in our spiritual lives, to warn us when we were on dangerous ground as well as assure us when we were doing well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Colossians 3:1-17.  Those who will study it deeply, read it often and think about it regularly will learn a great deal about themselves and what it means to live for Christ. Before long, they will see patterns emerging in this text.

One evidence of many that Scripture is God-breathed and Spirit-powered is the multi-layers it possesses and the multi-dimensions in which it functions. A child will read this passage and find it fits his life perfectly, while his grandfather will see something entirely different but every bit as beneficial.

This passage deserves our attention today.  Please take a moment to read it.  Thank you.

Signs of growth

Here are four harbingers–four canaries, or measurements, signs, indicators–that alert the child of God who is growing in Christ that he actually is growing in the Lord. At the end we’ll turn it around and see how the opposite of these serve as warnings.

Four things begin to be prominent in your life as you grow in Christ.

And, we should look for all four to hold true at the same time.

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Two questions about Jesus’ amazing teachings

Here’s an interesting little assignment:  Go through the four Gospels and note every time people who heard our Lord Jesus teaching were amazed.  Or astonished.

I did that.  It looks like this…

Matthew 8:27-29; 9:8; 9:33; 12:23; 13:54; 15:31; 22:22,33.

Mark 1:22,27; 2:12; 5:20,42; 6:51; 7:37; 11:18

Luke 4:32,36; 5:9,26; 8:25,56; 9:43; 13:17; 18:43; 20:26.

John 7:15,46.  Apparently John chose to say whether the people believed in Jesus after hearing Him speak, rather than that they were amazed.

Just so you will know, I did not use a concordance or other help, but read through the four gospels with a high-lighter in hand. Twice, in fact.  But it is possible I may have missed one or two references.

Now, I have two questions about this.

One:  Why were the people amazed when they heard Jesus?

Two: Why aren’t we?

Why are we not as amazed and astonished as those who heard Jesus in the first century? In truth, we’re often bored with Scripture’s teachings! Why?

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Let’s encourage our pastors. Here’s how.

There was a time when it was easier to pastor a church than it is today. There was a time when churches running 1,000 on Sunday were considered mega. There was a time when churches took what they had in the way of pastoral leadership and pretty much went with it without a lot of complaints.

Those days are no more. It’s a different world we live in.

People demand strengths and excellence and results from their leaders. They look for power in the pulpit and skills in relationships. They want degrees and winsomeness and it wouldn’t hurt if you looked sharp either.

They want good sermons and effective leadership from a pastor who has earned their respect and whom they like.

Just don’t bother them too much in accomplishing this.

Poor preacher. Someone ought to encourage him. Lord knows there are enough forces out there threatening to disarm and disable him.

Today, let’s encourage him. Let’s “give him heart,” as the word “encourage” actually means. Here are three thoughts on that subject…

1) First, let’s pray for the pastor.

“Father, take notice of this one You called into your work. See what he’s up against. He wants to please You more than anything, yet he knows if he displeases enough of the congregation, he’s out of a job and loses the opportunity to make a difference for Thy sake.

“Lift up his heart, O Lord. Encourage him. Give him a strong backbone, a gentle heart, a sharp mind, and deep sleep when he lies down at night.

“Give him a wise and loving wife, one who knows when to rub his back and when to administer a sharp elbow or a gentle kick. Give him faithful children who will be an emotional comfort, a delightful diversion, and the source of terrific sermon illustrations.

“Give him a heart for Thee and a love for Thy people. In Jesus’ name.”

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The greatest failure is the failure to encourage

Encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day approaching.”  .-Hebrews 10:25

“They have refreshed my spirit and yours.  Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:18).

My journal records a painful episode in the most difficult of my six pastorates.

Because of internal dissension that was directed at me and undermined all we were trying to do in that church, I had asked the deacon leadership to help me deal with the dissenters.  They met, talked it out, then tossed the ball back into my lap.

“We want you to visit in the homes of every deacon (all 24 of them!).  Find out what’s going on in their lives.  Ask them for their personal goals, their hopes and dreams.” Then, at some point I was to ask, “Have I ever failed you in any way?”  The idea was to give the disgruntled the opportunity to tell me to my face what they had against me.  Thereafter, the leadership felt, when anyone start stirring up trouble, it could be dealt with more easily.

So, even though it felt like I was being punished for the sins of the troublemakers, I made the visits, usually three a night.

Most of the deacons and their wives were nice people, even though they had stood by passively while a few did all in their power to destroy their church.  In the visits, not a one could think of any way I had let them down.  One deacon’s wife said she was in the hospital and I did not come to see her.  Another said I had not attended the senior recital of their daughter. I had no memory of either of these events, but asked for their forgiveness.

Not exactly major stuff.  Certainly nothing worth tearing up the church over.

During the eighth visit, however, my journal records a conversation with one of the deacons and his wife.  I told them that throughout all these visits, I was yet to hear the first word of encouragement.  Not one word of encouragement.  My journal says: “The deacon sat there staring, as though he had not heard a word I had said or was speaking some language unknown to him.”

The concept of encouraging a pastor was foreign to them. And please notice, not one person told how I had failed them in some serious way.  Not one.

Which makes you wonder why they were so dead-set on interfering with the ministry God brought me there to do.  And if that mattered to them.

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A lesson about worship from Arnold the pig and Tom Lester

This is from a conversation with a friend back in the year 2007.

Tom Lester played “Eb” on the wonderful old Green Acres television series. At the time of our conversation, Tom was semi-retired and living on his family farm in Laurel, Mississippi. He and I were sharing the program for First Baptist Church of Covington, Louisiana’s annual senior adult fling.  Over lunch he told me this story about another star of Green Acres, Arnold the pig.

“Pigs are smart,” Tom said, “but not like dogs. A dog can learn all sorts of tricks because they want to please you. But a pig is like a cat. It’s selfish. It thinks only of itself. So, people who work with pigs in movies and television have figured out that the way to get them to obey you is with food. First, they let them get hungry, and only then can they get them to obey.”

“But,” he continued, “as soon as the pig gets his belly full, he’s not good for anything the rest of the day. So, they bring in another pig that looks like the first one and use him.”

At any given time, Arnold was a half-dozen pigs.

We laughed about that, thinking how like humans pigs are. We see it in church a lot. People go to this church or that one because, “I get fed there.” Not: “I can serve the Lord there” or “God led me there.”

And how many times have we heard people remark after church that “I didn’t get fed.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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