Sometimes the opposition of the world works for the best

“And they went and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:66)

For good reason, God’s people learn to rejoice in adversity and to thrive under persecution.

Fire burns brighter under pressure.  Ask any ninth grade physics student.

Sometimes those intent on stamping out Christianity end up assisting it.

Scripture teaches  that the opponents of the Lord remembered that He had predicted He would rise from the dead. (Matthew 27:62-63)  It appears the wrong guys were taking literally the things Jesus had said! The poor disciples, forgetting the Lord’s promises, were mired down in their sadness and grief, all  of it the direct result of not understanding and believing Jesus’ promises..

When the opponents of the Lord went to such lengths to secure His tomb, they inadvertently provided additional evidence for His bodily resurrection.  Note their three actions: they made the grave secure, they put a Roman guard in place, and they set a seal on the stone.

Continue reading

How the large church can help the small church, whether it wants help or not

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  — Romans 15:1  (Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. –From The Message, a paraphrase)

I wrote on Facebook something like this:

Sometimes one of our churches is bigger than all the others in their town or county combined.  When that happens, the church leadership has to make a decision.  One, they can say, “We don’t need you small churches.  We’re number one.”  Or, two, they can turn around and help the smaller churches.  One of these choices is Christlike and the other carnal.

The comments came in, in a predictable manner, opting for the obvious second choice.  Someone said, ” Yes, but sometimes the small churches do not want your help and resist any attempt to encourage them.”  True enough.

So, the question is what to do when a large church is willing to assist and encourage the smaller churches but are rebuffed in the attempt? Are there ways for them to show Christlike care and compassion even when the smaller churches are not receptive?

Continue reading

Church boss Diotrephes is alive and well

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.  Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words.  And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to do so, putting them out of the church.  III John 9-10.

In his book of 1,502 stories and illustrations (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart), Chuck Swindoll has this:

A. T. Robertson, a fine, reliable Baptist scholar of years ago, taught for many years at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  When he began to write on books of the Bible, he chose on one occasion the Book of 3 John, which talks about Diotrephes.  Diotrephes was a man who became a self-appointed boss of a church. And over a period of time, he was the one that excommunicated certain people and he screened whatever was done in the church.  As the self-appointed leader, he wouldn’t even let John come to speak as a representative of Christ.  So, John wrote a letter and reproved him.

Continue reading

The new pastor is changing things quickly. Someone do something!

The new pastor  announced they were changing the name of the church.

The new pastor decided the worship music of  the last umpteen years needed updating and has brought in another director and more musicians.  The organist and pianist who have served so faithfully for many years are still being included but they never know what’s going on and wonder if they are unwanted.

The new pastor decided they should go to two morning services.

The new pastor decided they should go to one morning service.

The new pastor decided.

Anyone see a problem here?  The new pastor comes in and starts rearranging the furniture.  Restructuring God’s church.  Moving people around like chess pieceds.

The new pastor is ruling. Or so it seems to many.

Ever been there?  You should read my mail.  It’s happening all around you.

Continue reading

When the criticism of the pastor is unfair, what to do

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  –President Harry Truman

Everyone who does anything will be criticized.  As a rule the critics are the do-nothings, the nay-sayers and spectators who sit in the grandstand and feed off each other’s negativism.

The man in the arena is the achiever.  As Theodore Roosevelt said, It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.  

Here is how the great apostle put it–

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

That is your manifesto, Christian worker.  Take those words to heart.

Now….

Continue reading

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

Collateral damage: Hurting the little ones

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea…. Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that in heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.  (Matthew 18:6,10)

A friend texted this with an all-too familiar story.

The church has just run off a good pastor for no apparent reason other than the so-called powers wanted him gone.  When a little senior lady stood to protest and declare love for her pastor, she was ordered to sit down and be quiet.  Off to the side sat a young couple who did not stand up and protest, but who were grieving.  Their story, I was told, involves the pastor reaching her for Christ when she was  about to give birth out of wedlock.  In time, as a member of the church,  she married a fine young man and they had a child of their own.  They’ve been growing in the Lord, and they love their pastor devotedly.  Then suddenly–with no warning–they had the privilege of seeing him  brutally mistreated by a few church members who refuse to be accountable. Their beloved pastor was gone and no reasons were given.

No one cared about the senior lady and no one cares for the young family.  They are merely collateral damage.

Thus the Lord’s church gets mauled by the bullies and the “little ones who believe in Me,” as our Lord called them, are despised and abandoned.

There will be a reckoning, friend.  Mark it down in big letters.  The end of this story has yet to be written.

Continue reading

Too toxic to keep, too popular to fire: What to do about that difficult staff member

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

I once asked a pastor friend, “Are you afraid of (a certain member of his staff who was causing him grief)?”  He said, “No, I’m not afraid of him.  But I fear  the damage he could do if I were to fire him.”

Therein lies the dilemma:  What to do about a team member  too powerful to fire but too difficult to keep.

Read on.

I’ve been reading H. W. Brands’ The General vs. The President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. Dr. Brands is a highly respected professor of history at the University of Texas. Back when Brands taught at Texas A&M, Stephen Ambrose brought him to New Orleans for the 1998 conference on the Spanish-American War. My son Neil and I took in the conference and have been big fans of Professor Brands ever since.

In April 1951, Truman fired the most popular general in American history, becoming in one act the most reviled President in memory. During this period of his presidency, historians agree that Truman had become  one of the most unpopular presidents in history.  Interestingly, however, history vindicates Truman in his decision to dismiss the egotistical and out of control general.  You will search long and hard to find a military historian who thinks that MacArthur should not have been fired.

Someone asked Dwight D. Eisenhower once, “Didn’t you serve under General MacArthur?” (Ike had been his right-hand man in the Philippines in the 1930s.)  He answered, “I studied dramatics under him for eight years.” He is quoted as saying, “MacArthur could never see another sun, or even a moon for that matter, as long as he was the sun.”

Continue reading

The consistent, historic malady afflicting the people of God

“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but  their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).

I suspect some of us are marginal Christians,  just around the edges.

The Lord Jesus knew His Bible.  He was quoting Isaiah.

In the 8th century B.C., the prophet said: “Therefore the Lord said, ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore I will again do a marvelous work among this people….'” (Isaiah 29:13-14).

Look out at the typical congregation most any Sunday morning.  It isn’t hard at all–nor, in my opinion is it judgmental–to see on display this very thing: people honoring God with their lips while their hearts roam across some foreign country somewhere.

It’s not a new thing.  While Isaiah preached in the 8th century B.C. and our Lord eight centuries later,  you and I witness the same two thousand years afterwards.  It seems to be a human affliction.

Continue reading

When’s the last time your church was broken-hearted?

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

My preacher friend was rendering  his opinion on a certain large church with which we are both familiar.

“The people are like the fans of (a certain college football team).  Individually, great people. Salt of the earth. But put them all together, and they are horrible. Prideful, boasting, irritating.”

That’s an analysis I’ve not been able to shrug off.  If it’s true–and I’m in no position to judge–it’s a devastating assessment.

The Ascended Christ said to the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing–but you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

The reality is often far different from what we want to believe, from what we aspire to, from what we advertise.

Dare we ask the Heavenly Father to tell us the truth about our own church?

Continue reading