The hard sayings of our Lord

“This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60)

Let’s not be foolish or naïve.  While we celebrate the magnificent sayings of our Lord–“No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)–let us admit He  said some other things that befuddled His hearers then and provoke modern disciples to scratch their heads.

Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53), which was what drove  His disciples to ask the question above in the first place.  Jesus went on to explain that He was speaking spiritually.  “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (6:63).  Whatever else that means, it means those words should be interpreted “spiritually” and not literally.  We recall that Scripture also says, “The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Does that help?

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12 things pastors should make a habit of doing promptly–and 5 they shouldn’t!

Do these things promptly…

  1. Confess sins.  “Keep short accounts with God,” it’s called.
  2. Write thank you notes.
  3. Write notes of appreciation.  “Great song Sunday.”  “I hear great things about your class.”
  4. When inspiration for a sermon or an article  comes in the middle of the night, it must be recorded then or, count on it, you’ll never remember it.  Keep a pad by the bedside.
  5. When you agree to do a friend  a favor–write a letter of recommendation, call on a patient in a hospital, whatever–do it immediately or you will never do it.
  6. Jot down a story, illustration, or thought for a sermon that occurs to you.  If you’re in the car alone, look for an exit and get off the highway so you can write this down.  I’ve sometimes asked my wife to make a note for me as we drove.
  7. Pray for someone when prompted by the Spirit.  When I spot someone who reminds me of a person I knew years ago, I take that as an impulse to pray for them.
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Proud of our ignorance

“Though by this time you ought to be teachers,  you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).

Warren Wiersbe once heard a preacher announce, “I didn’t never go to school!  I’m just a igerant Christian, and I’m glad I is.”

Dr. Wiersbe countered, “A man does not have to go to school to gain spiritual intelligence; but neither should he magnify his ‘igerance.'”

Spiritual knowledge is available to all who will open God’s word and sit before the feet of the Savior.  But, we hasten to add, it does not happen in a few minutes.  We do not take a pill for spiritual maturity and godly knowledge.  It’s more the result of what has been called “a long obedience in the same direction.”

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Do people tell you not to read those books?

“Take up and read; take up and read.”  (from Confessions of Saint Augustine, chapter XII)

Read widely, pastor.

Read novels, how-to books, histories, biographies, and theological commentaries.

You don’t necessarily have to read the entire book to benefit.  You have only so much time and energy, and you want to put the emphasis on the more important readings.

What are the teens in your church reading?  Ask around, then give it a try.

By all means, read the Word of God.  Read some every day, and have a plan for your reading.  If you’ve never read through the Bible in a year, do it.  Do it several times in a row.  Thereafter, choose books of the Bible you’re unfamiliar with and fill in that gap of your education.

It used to bother me that my oldest son and my wife loved to read Stephen King novels.  Since King loves to get bizarre and even scary–think “Christine” and “Carrie”–in his plots, I felt that this was unhealthy reading for my wife and son.

I still think that.  Mostly.

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Some things that continue to bother me

I wrote on this website an article titled “Things that no longer bother me.” Among them were the interpretation of certain Bible prophecies, the wasted energies of denominational politics, and the need to have an answer for every question.

But there’s another side to that coin.

Some things do bother me and keep me prayerful, studying, engaged, worrying (a little), and always concerned.

It bothers me that my grandchildren do not read as much as they should.  Blame computers?  It bothers me that the standards for television broadcasting keep getting looser and looser.  Nothing is off limits, considered too dangerous or obscene.  It bothers me that other people don’t seem to be bothered.

Bothered?  How does that old song go? Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.  Well, for me personally not so much bewitched or bewildered.  Just bothered.

For instance…

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Have you considered how special you are to God?

“Go tell His disciples–and Peter….” (Mark 16:7)

How special Peter must have felt, to have been singled out by the angel.

This is a question followed by a story…..

Question:  What has God done that forever makes you know how special you are to Him?

Was it a healing? A close call with a near-accident?  Something you read in Scripture?  A sermon that perfectly fit your need of the moment?  Your salvation?

What did He do?

Why do you feel so special to Him?

I have a friend who says she feels like God’s favorite child.  There has to be a reason.  I’m asking you to search out that reason.

Now, the story.

I was preaching a revival in East Fork Baptist Church, halfway between McComb and Liberty, MS.  Fans of Jerry Clower will remember he talked of this church and the community often.  Jerry Clower sat on the front row at every service.  I stayed in his camp house that week.

The organist for the little church had only one arm.  Clyde Whittington was a sweet-spirited, friendly fellow.  One day when we were having lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Whittington, Jerry Clower said, “Clyde, you have to tell Brother Joe what happened to you.”

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Things that no longer bother me

“Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty.  Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me” (Psalm 131:1).

At least, I hope that’s true of me.

A young minister texted to say he was studying the various explanations and interpretations about the day of the Lord’s actual crucifixion, the number of days/nights He was in the tomb, etc.  “What is your theory?” he wanted to know.

I replied that I don’t have a theory, that for a lot of reasons such questions do not bother me.

He did not say whether that was a satisfactory answer.  But it’s the truth.

A lot of things I used to obsess about and study and address in sermons no longer bother me.  Part of it–I would hope all of it–results from a mature perspective of the world and the call of God.  Some things just do not matter to me that much.  If you the reader disagree, that’s fine and it’s your privilege.  I’m not saying the Lord makes all His disciples the same. The variety of His gifts and calls seems endless.

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Servanthood: A different kind of leadership

“…your servant, for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). 

God wants you to be a leader, Christian.  But not your garden variety kind of leader, where you have lots of followers who obey your commands, groupies surrounding you to anticipate your whims.

God calls you and me to be servant-leaders.  A servant leader is the kind the world knows little of, the type that is counter-intuitive, we might say.  That is, it doesn’t look or feel like a leader but it is.

Once again, the way of the Lord is upside down compared to the world’s way.  (You’ve noticed that, have you?)

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“Oh, how long it’s been since I’ve seen you!”

Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16). 

Songwriter Robert Sherman was attending the birthday party for Will Durant, the 85-year-old who with his wife Ariel had recently produced the enormous set of volumes on The History of Civilization.  It was a feat of incredible magnitude for which they had won all kinds of awards.

One month earlier, Sherman had spent several hours with Dr. Durant during which they discussed literature and film.  But now, in the crowded reception, Durant just cannot place Sherman.  He knows he’s supposed to know him, but cannot get beyond that.

Know the feeling? I sure do.

Bob Sherman said Will Durant would stare, smile, and try to make the connection. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head.

Finally, Durant said, “It’s good of you to come.  It’s been a long time since I have seen you.  Too long.”

Sherman, relating this story in Moose: Chapters from my Life, called Durant’s words  “an all purpose statement.”

And Sherman understands the problem.  The older we get, the more prone we are to forgetfulness.

Do you have a similar story?  Here is one of mine.

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If I were to preach a sermon on homosexuality

“And such were some of you.”  (I Corinthians 6:11).

On a social-media platform the other day, pastors admitted their reluctance to address homosexuality for the obvious reasons: it is such a hot-button issue, good people differ, and the historic Christian position is becoming more and more a lightning rod.

I’m a Southern Baptist.  I’m a Bible-believing conservative follower of Jesus Christ.  I find nothing in Scripture to support homosexuality or a lifestyle consistent with that practice.  Not a word.  (I need to say that up front because some might question this from what follows.)

Pastors need to address such issues as homosexuality, transgender, and same sex marriage in their sermons.  No church wants or needs a steady diet of it, to be sure, but neither should we shy away from these hot potato issues.

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