This is semi-funny. In my retirement ministry–preaching in various churches–I naturally preach the passages that mean a great deal to me. And, since I know them so well, in many cases I quote the verses from memory. Often I don’t even carry a Bible to the pulpit with me. To read, I need cumbersome reading glasses, and if I already know the Scripture, what is the point? Just recite the passage and preach it. If someone asks–as they often do, probably not seriously– whether I have memorized all the Bible (try to imagine that!), I say, “No, I just preach the parts I’ve memorized.” That’s flippant, I suppose, but pretty much how it is.
I do love the Word of God. I love all of it, not just the parts I’ve preached again and again. And I love how those well-known familiar passages keep yielding insights and blessings. Here are a few thoughts on ten passages that I dearly love…
One. Romans 8 is the mother lode of spiritual insight.
In my sermon on prayer last Sunday morning, Romans 8:26 played a huge part. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…”
We are poor pray-ers. If the Apostle Paul did not know how to pray, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that you and I don’t!
But, we’re not to despair.
“So the brethren brought Saul down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace….” (Acts 9:30-31).
After they slipped the new disciple, Saul of Tarsus, out of the city, the Jerusalem disciples had peace. The work flourished.
Some people bless the Lord’s work more by leaving than by arriving and working.
That’s what started me thinking about this….
The church building was relieved when the last pastor resigned. It sighed with relief. The sanctuary knew quietness and peace again. Its ulcers eased and started healing. The church office grew calm and the pastor’s study went into a fast.
The conference room had more meetings than before, since more committees are required to run a program when one man is not calling all the shots. A dictatorship is the most efficient form of government, we read. But the Lord’s church was never intended as a one-person rule.
These, however, were purposeful meetings. The walls breathed easily as the voices within prayed and affirmed.
My friend was telling me about the woes of a church in the next town.
“They got a new pastor. He moved in and took over. When he got wind of something going on in the church weekday school he didn’t like, he called the principal and teachers in and fired them. He sent the students home and told them the church didn’t have a school any more.”
I said, “He closed the school?”
“Just like that. Did it on his own authority.”
“Was the school in trouble or anything?”
“Not to my knowledge. We know people who sent their children there. It seemed to be a fine school.”
“So what happened?”
“Everyone is upset. Some of the members left and went to other churches, and attendance is down in that church.”
“Not to my knowledge.”
I find this incredulous.
One evening recently a news program dealt with the increasing crime problem which Wal-Mart stores are facing. In one medium-sized city with six Wal-Marts, police were called to incidents at those stores 2,000 times in a one-year period. The same city has six Target stores. They called the cops 300 times over the same 12 months.
The problem, said the speaker, is Wal-Mart is cutting back on personnel and no one is policing the aisles, all of which makes shoplifting easier.
I imagine that’s right. I cannot recall seeing a security guard at a Walmart or Sams Club in ages. In a sense, they are inviting trouble.
Churches are facing this also. It’s not so much pilfering or stealing, sins that have ever been with us, as it is the more serious varieties of crime: shootings, terrorism, gang warfare, and similar type violence.
Recently, I preached in a church that is trying to anticipate trouble before it happens. The pastor showed me what they are doing. Continue reading
“Even though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
We hear of it too frequently.
“He used to be a pastor. But the people in the churches were so mean–undercutting him, criticizing, backbiting, slandering, and then kicking him out–that it ruined him forever. He vows he’ll never enter a church again.”
“If this is how God’s churches are, I want nothing to do with any of them.”
“Makes me wonder if the Lord even cares.”
The variations on that sad theme are endless.
“Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her…. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:25,30).
It’s His church.
It’s important for pastors to keep reminding themselves there were good reasons why God did not give them ownership of the flocks which they are tending.
“…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church” is how Paul puts it (Ephesians 5:27).
“…that we might show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” is how Peter put it (I Peter 2:9).
“…as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” is how John put it (Revelation 14:4).
The congregation belongs to Christ. Not to its pastors.
The pastor must keep reminding himself. “They belong to the Lord. Not to me.”
–They were not given you as an audience for your preaching. They are that, but this is not their primary purpose. So, when they come to hear you and then get up and leave, you may be tempted to see this as God’s plan. It isn’t. They are to be far more than an audience.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. (Men) will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake…. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…. Do not think that I am come to bring peace on earth…” (Matthew 10:16ff)
(Note: Invariably, when I write something in support of the Lord’s servants who have been mistreated by the Lord’s congregations, someone will reply calling my attention to the sins of preachers. As if I did not know. I will readily admit there are some men in the ministry who need to be out, who are bringing reproach on the name of Christ and shame to His church. But most of the pastors I’m acquainted with who have been driven from their pulpits were guilty only of crossing the wrong people.)
Suddenly, that great church which the pastor was enjoying and had been bragging about to his colleagues turned on him and wanted him gone.
Without warning it seems, those precious people who had welcomed him so warmly just a couple of years back have now joined the vicious mob clamoring for the pastor’s head.
That wonderful deacon fellowship which had devoted themselves to serving God’s people and ministering to the needy suddenly arose and announced their intention to oust the pastor.
That sweet family to whom the pastor ministered again and again misinterpreted something he did (or believed something they heard) and began to devote themselves to seeing that he was fired.
Why, Lord? Pastors and their families wonder that.
“Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and I have done all these things at Your word” (I Kings 18:36).
What Elijah prayed on Carmel, I pray.
It is entirely in order for the Lord’s messenger to pray that the people to whom he was sent will recognize that God is God and fully in charge, and that he himself is the Lord’s servant, on mission from Him.
I prayed that prayer during the worst time of my life when a little group of self-righteous and mean-spirited members clamored for my resignation. I was going through the fire, being tried as I rarely had.
The prayer felt like the dying gasp of the weakest child in God’s family.
Did God hear the prayer? Did He answer?
“…serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials…” (Acts 20:19)
Let a pastor go through one huge church fight that leaves God’s people bleeding and bitter and scattering and he will do everything in his power to avoid another one.
Let a pastor go through a termination in which he is forced out from the church where the Lord sent Him, and the pain of that rejection will accompany him the rest of the way home.
Some pain never leaves.
The wound heals but the scar remains and the memory never fades.
Thoughts of that event will color his counsel to other pastors. The pain of that event will pop up at the strangest of times. The lessons of that event will demand to be shared with others going through their own little foretaste of hades.
So, the wounded pastor will mention that event from time to time.
It’s not even a choice he makes.
“Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).
When Paul was naming his burdens and enumerating his scars, after speaking of imprisonments and beatings, shipwrecks and nakedness, he adds one that surprises some people: the daily care of the Lord’s churches.
It’s every bit as burdensome as the others, believe me.
Most of us do one church at a time; Paul had them all on his heart.
A pastor can have 500 wonderful members who appreciate his efforts and who pray for him daily, but be worn to a nub by a few people with axes to grind but with neither scruples nor accountability.
A pastor friend at the end of his rope told me, “I feel like I’m being stoned to death with popcorn. I’m being eaten alive by a school of minnows.”
All those little nagging things that we laugh at have a way of accumulating, until eventually, they become more than you can bear.
This is from my journal some years back….