Scars from the ministry: They come with the territory.

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

“…I bear branded on my body the owner’s stamp of the Lord Jesus” –the Moffett translation.

“…I bear on my body the scars that mark me as a slave of Jesus” –Goodspeed.

At Mississippi State University, the Kenyan student carried horizontal scars across his face.  “Identification marks for my tribe,” he explained to me.  Wow.  Tough clan.

We were returning from the cemetery in the mortuary’s station wagon.  The director and I were chatting and perhaps could have been more observant.  We did not notice the pickup truck coming from our right and running the stop sign at 30 or 40 mph. We broadsided the truck.

My forehead broke the dashboard.

I bled and bled.  And got a ride to the hospital in the EMS van.

The emergency room people decided I had suffered no serious injuries and taped up the two gashes in my face.  At the wedding rehearsal that night, I sported a large white bandage on my forehead, just above the eyebrows. It made for some memorable wedding photos the next day.

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In the church you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer….

“In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We were expecting hostility from the world.  But certainly not from the Lord’s people.

Church is where we get blindsided.

The Lord wanted His people to know what to expect.  The road ahead would be rough.  They should prepare for turbulence.

The Lord would not be bringing His children around the storms but through them.  We will not miss out on the tempest, but will ride it out with Jesus in our boat, at times standing at the helm and at other times, seemingly asleep and unconcerned.

The lengthy passage of Matthew 10:16ff is the holy grail on this subject, as the Lord instructs His children on what lies ahead and what to expect.  His disciples should expect to encounter opposition, persecution, slander, defamation, and for some, even death.  So, when it comes–as it does daily to millions of His children throughout the world–no one can say they weren’t warned.

But what about the church?  Should we expect opposition and persecution there also?

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When church members insist on their rights.

“Why not rather be wronged?” (I Corinthians 6:7).

Ask any pastor.

We hear it all the time.  Variations on this theme are endless…

–“All these years we have belonged to this church and given our money to support these preachers, and now when we need him, he’s in Israel on a holy land tour!”

–“I went by the church.  I needed to see the preacher then, not the next day.  And you’re not going to believe this, but he was on his way out the door, headed to his son’s little league game!  And me a member of his flock.  What kind of preachers are we getting these days?”

–“The preacher needs to apologize to me for what he implied in that sermon on Sunday.  I know he was talking about me, even though he used someone else’s name.”

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“Why are you so angry?” I asked. “I”M NOT ANGRY!” he bellowed.

“And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things….” (Luke 4:28).

“These things they will do because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:21).

My notes from that church business meeting some 20 years ago are fascinating to read from this distance, but nothing about that event was enjoyable at the time.

Our church was trying to clarify its vision for the late 1990s and into the 21st century.  What did the Lord want us to be doing, where to put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to work with our leadership.  For reasons never clear to me, the seniors in the church became defensive and then combative.  No assurance from any of us would convince them we were not trying to shove them out the door and turn over the church to the immature, untrained, illiterate, and badly dressed.  To their credit, the church’s leadership, both lay and ministerial, kept their cool and worked to answer each complaint and every question.

My journal records a late Sunday night gathering in my home with 30 young marrieds from a Sunday School class.  They were a delightful group.  They wanted my testimony and had questions about the operation of the church.  Then someone asked the question of the day.

A young woman said, “I can understand someone not liking a pastor’s style.  But why are these people so angry?”

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10 scriptures that keep drawing me back again and again.

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.

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What the church might say after the tempest

“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.

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What every pastor needs and cannot live without

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.”

“Nothing more?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

I find this incredulous.

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How churches deal with the crime problem

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

Why we must not quit when God’s people mistreat us

“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.

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The temptation to misuse the Lord’s congregation

“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. 

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