Why I’m angry at some preachers

You’ve heard them, I’m sure. Some well-intentioned but thoughtless man of God will stand before a gathering of the Lord’s people and in urging us to evangelize our communities will overstate the case.

“Jesus told us to become fishers of men! He did not tell us to be keepers of the aquarium!”

And, almost invariably, the statement will be met with a chorus of ‘amen’s.’

The only problem with that is it is not so.

In fact, it’s totally wrong.

Jesus did not send His disciples just to reach lost sheep–He certainly did that–but commanded that we are to “feed my sheep.” In John 20, He gave that command to Simon Peter three times.

In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the pastors of Ephesus that they are to “shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.”

And here’s another one, the one that set me off this morning.

In trying to motivate church members to get into the community with the gospel, the WIBT preacher* will say, “The Bible in no places commands the people of the world to come to church. It does, however, command us to go into all the world with the gospel.” (*Well-intentioned but thoughtless)

That’s so true, it’s almost totally true. But it’s missing something critical.

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When you feel like an outsider, remember He intends you to be one!

We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him…. (Hebrews 13:10-13)

Have you ever felt like an outsider?

Good. You need to.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are not only walking in the footsteps of the Ultimate Outsider but you have been called to a similar way of life.

The Lord Jesus came unto His own and His own received Him not (John 1:12). He was an Outsider even in His own place, among His own people, attending His own party.

He came to His world and it did not recognize Him.

He walked into His house, found it to be the haven of thieves and con-men, and proceeded to cleanse it, only to be confronted with demands of “by what authority do you do this?”

You’ve got to love His answer: “It’s my house.”

He came to His people and they crucified Him.

No one taking up his cross and coming after Jesus should be surprised when the world turns its back on him and writes him off as a loser and irrelevant. In following Jesus Christ, one should expect the path to be uphill, the company few, and the flow all in the opposite direction.

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That room in your house no one else knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1950s and 1960s, with a few attempts to revive it in later years

A man I know wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

“Everyone has them,” he said.

One of our deacon families was hosting a gathering of church members. Their home was so neat and orderly.  I was amazed at the lack of clutter.  They ought to see my house, I thought.  But they had no stack of newspapers, no unread magazines lying around, no stack of books to be donated to the library or returned there.

When I asked our hostess about this, she surprised me.

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10 ways a pastor can know he’s lazy

My friend and mentor Dr. James Richardson used to tell of a neighboring pastor who constantly griped about how busy he was.  “That was the laziest preacher on the planet,” said James.

In reflecting on over sixty years of service in the Kingdom, I suspect that what sometimes comes across as laziness is more a lack of focus.  When a minister goes through his days without a clear purpose other than reacting to everything that comes up, he will accomplish so little that he and others may see him as lazy.

Here are a few ways a minister can tell he is lazy.  (Synonyms would include apathetic, lethargic, sluggish, slothfulness.  But “lazy” communicates, doesn’t it?)

1. Procrastination. You cannot bring yourself to do the unpleasant tasks, but keep putting off the difficult tasks.

I’ve read that successful people in the business world determine to tackle the hardest, most unpleasant jobs first. They get them out of the way so they can enjoy the rest of their day.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

That would take a self-discipline many of us lack.

2. Impatience. You will not do any ministry that is not easy or does not have an immediate payoff.

If that family down the street says they want to join my church, okay, I’ll go see them. However, if they do not go to church and show no signs of ever wanting to, and a friend suggests we call on them, the lazy pastor will beg off. He just cannot bring himself to do it.

When my daughter lived in a small New Hampshire town, one day I walked with my granddaughters to the Baptist church two blocks down the street.  I informed a staff member that the daddy had no interest in church and the mother, my daughter, was working and going to school all the time, but these children would love church. And they needed a loving congregation.  When I returned home to New Orleans, I wrote that pastor two letters.  Not only did I never get a response, no one ever reached out to my family.  I confess I find it hard to imagine how these people thought they were serving God.  In my mind, they were working for a paycheck and little else. Am I being too harsh?  Maybe so.

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What ‘seeing through a glass darkly’ means

The epitaph for this generation could read: They Didn’t Know.

Nothing new about that, however. Reading the New Testament, one is struck by how often significant players in the Lord’s drama were said not to have a clue.

On the cross, the Savior summed it up when He prayed, “Father, forgive them. They do not know….”

Here are instances throughout the New Testament where that can be said.


Prayer. Matthew 20:22

The disciples did not know what they were asking for.

Ever pray that way? I have. I’ve asked the Lord to grant me success in this venture or that without ever checking to see if it was His will in the first place.

The brothers James and John wanted the places of honor in the Kingdom. And, who knows, they reasoned–perhaps it will be given to the ones with the moxie to ask. After all, isn’t it true that “you have not because you ask not”? And, they further reasoned, the worst that could happen was that the Lord would say, “No.”

He said, “No.” And more. That it was reserved for those whom the Father chose. And that they did not know what they were asking.

One wonders if a few weeks later when they saw the two thieves dying on crosses–one on the Savior’s right hand, the other His left–if they remembered this sad conversation.

The Apostle Paul said, We do not know how to pray as we should. Boy, is that ever the truth.

Help us, Father. We say as the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

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Biblical truths many of the Lord’s people do not believe

From the beginning, the Lord’s people have always talked a better game than we live.

So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them.  And yet, judging by the way we live, here are some biblical truths which it would appear many of the Lord’s people do not believe….

One.  God sends the pastor to the church. 

Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy.  People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t.  And they vote on the recommendation of their committee.  And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.

Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches?  They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).

Some years back, as I was moving my family to a church in North Carolina, I found out later that some were already holding meetings to agree on ways to get me to leave.  Why? Even though we had never met, they had decided I was too conservative for them.  In the next church, some began meeting to oust me because they decided I was too liberal.  Neither group believed God sends pastors.

Two.  God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.

In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?  Nothing tells the story on our faith like our prayer life.

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Turning putdowns into motivation

Jesus said, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” No prophet is welcome in his own hometown (Luke 4:24).

John Fogerty’s group Creedence Clearwater Revival is unforgettable to anyone who has owned a radio in the last 50 years.  A few years back, in an interview with newsman Dan Rather, Fogerty was remembering a key moment in the 1960s.

The group was one of many bands to perform at a particular event.  As the final group to warm up, and thus the first band to appear on stage, suddenly CCR found they had been unplugged.  John Fogerty yelled to the sound man to plug them back up, that they weren’t through.  The technician did so reluctantly, then added, “You not going anywhere anyway, man.”  Fogerty said, “Okay.  Give me one year.  I’ll show you.”

One year later, the group was so hot with hit record after hit record (“Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising”) that “we were too big to play in that place any more!”

Turning a sarcastic putdown into a healthy sic ’em!

I’m remembering the first day I began pastoring a church on Alligator Bayou some 25 miles west of New Orleans.  In April of 1965 I was in my first year of seminary.  The church was running 40 in attendance, and had done so for the two decades of its existence.

After the service, I’m shaking hands with worshipers as they exit the building.  Behind me, coming through the doors, two men were talking.  They had no idea I could hear them.  One said, “Well, this little church is doing about all it’s ever going to do.”

The other fellow agreed.  But it was like a spark to my powder keg.  Everything inside me went on full alert and I said, “We’ll show you!”

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Battle scars: They come from serving God and dealing with His people

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 did not notice the pickup truck coming from our right and running the stop sign. 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.

That happened nearly 40 years ago and I still carry the scars right between my eyebrows.  They look like frown marks, but they’re not.

They are scars from serving the Lord.

My wife Bertha, bride of over six years now, says her husband Gary had scars in the same place, also from the ministry.  “We were walking to our church in the French Quarter,” she said. “Suddenly, a woman screamed and ran toward us, yelling ‘Don’t let him get me!’  Someone, perhaps an angry husband, was chasing her in a car.  Gary handed me our child and told me to get back.  He positioned himself between the woman and one very angry man.  In the scuffle, the man hit Gary right between the eyes, causing a deep gash.”

Bertha said, “I don’t remember what happened next, and know nothing of the outcome of that couple.  But we had to go to a clinic quickly.  Gary carried the scar from that fight the rest of his life.”

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How to recognize God’s voice

“The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice” (John 10:4).

My friend, Pastor James Richardson, now in Heaven, told me his granddaughter Leanne, perhaps six or eight years old, put a great theological question to him.  “Papa,” she said, “How do I know when it’s God speaking to me and when it’s just me speaking to myself?”

James said, “Honey, that’s one of the hardest questions you’ll ever face in this life!”

The problem, says another friend, is that the Lord’s voice sounds a lot like mine.

Maybe for him.  Not for me.

In my experience, God has a tendency to say things I had never thought of, revealing insights new to me, calling me to tasks outside my comfort zone. Not once has He asked if i would “like” to do something or “find something convenient.”. He commands; I obey. It’s what servants do. His way is hardly the obvious, rarely the easiest and never the smoothest, but always the wisest and smartest. My constant prayer is “Not my will but Thine be done.”

I wrote that on Facebook one night. Then, next morning while on my pre-dawn walk, the Lord called it to my mind.

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Perfectionism: The cruel burden we place on each other

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect….” (Matthew 5:48)

First, let’s get the theological argument out of the way.

Let’s make this perfectly clear: God knows you are not perfect and will never be this side of Glory.

And even clearer: “God does not expect sinlessness out of you and me. He is under no illusion about us.”  See Psalm 103:14 “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” And Romans 3:10 “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

Got that?  The illusion of sinless perfection is all ours, my friend.

We read Matthew 5:48 and come away with the erroneous conclusion that God ordered us to be perfect, that perfect means sinlessness, and therefore we can be sinless.  But since we cannot achieve perfection–no one you know has ever pulled it off–then He has given us an impossible standard to live by, one that crushes us and frustrates us and forever disappoints Him.

The result would be that we forever live with a disgusted God and in fear of the celestial woodshed, the destiny of children who bring in failing grades.

Yuck. What kind of theology is this?  And yet, you and I know people who believe this and call themselves Bible students, serious disciples of Jesus, and even evangelists (“sharers of the good news”)..

Now, let’s drop the other shoe here… Continue reading