The best church in every state

You see these come-ons all the time—

The best restaurants in every state.  The best small towns in every state.  The best town for retirees in every state.  The best beaches, best whatever.

So, don’t be surprised if you look up one day and someone has compiled a list of the best churches–best small churches, best mega-churches, whatever–in every state.  People are so shallow as to think such a list could be compiled and many will buy into it.

I’m by that the way I am the college football rankings.  Today, as I was driving back from a ministry assignment, for an hour or more I listed to the Sirius XM station where spots guys discussed last night’s college football rankings. LSU was one, Ohio State two, and so forth.  Back and forth they went: Shouldn’t Alabama be lower than 5th? Shouldn’t Baylor be higher than they are? Wisconsin too?  People called in and for an hour or more they argued.

For absolutely nothing.  Next week there will be a new ranking, based on this weekend’s games, and they’ll start all over again.  It’s what these sports-talk guys get paid to do.

But it’s so much foolishness.

Continue reading

The ever-present drift toward Pharisaism

“But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

It’s so easy to become a modern Pharisee.

We start out with good intentions, desiring only to encourage people to serve God faithfully.  We end up setting in stone our requirements and holding people responsible for disobeying God when they violate them.

That has happened in our denomination.  When Southern Baptists decided to update their “creedal statement,” a document we call  The Baptist Faith and Message, it was said loud and clear that these were not to be tools by which we were to judge the doctrinal faithfulness of our people.  That soon went by the wayside. These days, if professors and pastors do not subscribe to that document, they are not considered for that open position or vacant pulpit.

The sons and daughters of the Pharisees are alive and well and active inside your congregation, too, friend.

Continue reading

Does “touch not my anointed” refer to preachers?

Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.  –I Chronicles 16:22. (Psalm 105:15) 

A pastor who wants a free hand to come and go as he pleases chafes when told he is accountable to the membership or must report to a certain committee. The very idea!  He pulls out Psalm 105:15 and I Chronicles 16:22 and uses these as a battering ram on his people.

He bellows, “God’s Word says, ‘Touch not Mine anointed!’  It says, ‘Do My prophets no harm.'”

Then, he gives his twisted interpretation to his misconstrued favorite passage.

“This means no one in the church and no group is allowed to criticize the pastor.  God’s messengers answer only to God!”

The only problem with that is it just isn’t so.

Continue reading

Why the Lord put you in a church

Comfort one another.  I Thessalonians 4:18

A lady who read our blog commented that when she was widowed, her church did not minister to her.  And no, she said, “I did not seek counsel from my pastor.  I sought help from the Bible and the Lord alone.”

I’m thinking she was saying that somewhat pridefully.  I may be reading it wrong.

I replied, “God never intended you and me to handle life’s burdens ‘from the Bible and the Lord alone.’ That’s why He put us in a church when He saved us.”

We have to give the pastors and leaders a chance to help us.  We should let them know we are in crisis.  Then, it’s their responsibility to respond appropriately.  But if they do not know, they will do nothing and you will suffer needlessly.

I repeat:  The Lord intends us to help each other handle these critical passages in life.  He does not intend us to life our lives in isolation, just reading our Bible and trying to get sustenance from the Lord.  He gives help through His people as well as by the Holy Spirit.  And often, it’s through His people that the Holy Spirit ministers best.

“Love one another.”  “Comfort one another.”  “Encourage one another.”

Have you read that in Scripture?  It’s all through the New Testament.

Continue reading

What wears pastors down, ages them prematurely, and uses them up too quickly

Betrayals.  Disappointments.  Constant conflict.  Second-guessing everything you say.  Griping.  Negativism. 

Like herding cats.

It takes a toll.

Most church members have no clue that the constant murmuring (the KJV’s favorite word for it) among the flock is offensive to the Heavenly Father and burdensome to the shepherd He has sent. 

Moses is a great case study for us.  For forty years–think of it!–he gave faithful leadership to the people of God who, far from appreciating him,  were relentless in their eroding, grinding, burdening undermining, questioning, and outright opposition.  Scripture gives a reason for this:  Among the flock was a group of strangers, aliens to the faith. 

They were the main problem. 

Scripture says when they left Egypt’s slavery, “A mixed multitude went up with them” (Exodus 12:38).  Some translations call them “rabble.” Since the Hebrews were not the only slaves of Pharaoh, when God threw off the shackles it must have been like a massive jailbreak.  All who could flee the country did so.  And since this Moses fellow seemed to have a glorious destination in mind, with no other place to go, many of the “mixed multitude” decided to accompany the Hebrews..

This bunch became the source of a thousand problems for Moses. 

Continue reading

How to listen to sermons better

A friend left this question on our website…

What advice do you give people in the pews to be better listeners? I admit I have listened to a wonderful sermon and by mid afternoon may have trouble with recall of the major points. I have found jotting some notes can help. Your thoughts? We have a gifted pastor and I want to honor him and our Lord by my listening and learning.

My first thought is to say to my friend, “This isn’t rocket science.  It all boils down to pay attention, take notes, stay focused.”  That sort of thing.

Those who listen to sermons regularly have noticed that a successful listening experience usually involves a number of factors:

Continue reading

Preacher, be careful about deceptive come-ons!

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock….  (I Peter 5:2-3)

If anyone on the planet should hold to the highest standards in dealing with people, it should be those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Alas.  The Elmer Gantrys have always been among us. Those who are in the work for the basest of reasons: money, recognition, other kinds of gratification.

Unto whom much is given, much will be required.  A warning if there ever was a warning to those who occupy the pulpits. (Luke 12:48)

Lack of integrity permeates our culture.

I had to cancel a credit card this week. The monthly statement showed six or eight fraudulent charges.  Where did that come from and how did it happen? I don’t know, but no one is surprised anymore.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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?)

Continue reading

Churchfails: Scoundrels in the Lord’s family

“There must be heresies among you” –I Corinthians 11:19.

The complete text of that verse goes: “There must be heresies (or divisions) among you that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”

How will we know what we believe if we don’t know what we don’t?

“Churchfails” is a book edited by David Stabnow and written by several seminary professors.  Subtitle: “100 blunders in church history (and what we can learn from them).”

I predict you’re going to love this book.

You know immediately that much of this is tongue-in-cheek when you read the introductions to the seven learned authors of these short, pithy chapters.  For instance…

–“Rex Butler was a shoe salesman in his former life, then God called him to teach when he was 40 years old.  He went from selling soles to schooling souls…..following in the footsteps of William Carey and D. L. Moody!”  (Joe’s note:  Carey was a cobbler and Moody sold shoes.)

–Ken “Deep Dish” Cleaver grew up in the Windy City, a land flowing with cheese and sausage…… We actually invited him to be on our team of authors because he’s an avid unicyclist and we needed the balance.”

–Rodrick K. Durst was “raised and trained in California, moving between campuses of Golden Gate Seminary to catch all the earthquakes…..”

–Lloyd A. Harsch is a “parent, professor, pastor, political pundit, and punster…..He has a captive audience that is pressured to applaud his puns because he submits their grades!”

–James Lutzweiler is “a part-time mushroom picker…..” Stephen O. Presley “hails from (Texas) but ventured out to study theology among the brave-hearted kilt-wearers of the far northern territory….” David K. Stabnow (editor of the book) “gave up a dead-end career digging graves in the frozen soil of Minnesota in favor of herding cats and shepherding words as Bible and Reference Book Editor at B&H.  He lives in Nashville but doesn’t listen to country music.”

Whew.  And the book hasn’t even gotten underway yet.

Continue reading