No one to blame but ourselves

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…. (from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  Act I, Scene 3.)

We did it and we are to blame.

Christians are forever complaining about the increasing secularization of America.  To listen to them in the year 2019 one would think the “old days”–say, some fifty years back–were the golden time of perennial revival.

The only problem is I lived through those days of the ’50s and 60s.   I can tell you the preachers were constantly railing against the decline in religion, the weakening of the churches, the surrendering to the world.

There has never been a golden age of faith in this country or any other that I have heard of.  Men have always loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  The narrow way is always trod by the few while “broad is the way that leads to destruction.”

Don’t be overly impressed–or too discouraged–by statistics and percentages showing the swings of church attendance, the number of Christians in Congress, and such.

The greatest mistake of the past generations of Christians in this country  was trying to Christianize the culture without evangelizing the people.  We put prayer in the schools, made the church the social life of the community, instituted blue laws so that no liquor could be sold on Sundays, and basically shut down secular life on the Lord’s Day.  We protected the morality of the cities and towns.  The citizens were no more Christian than previously, but we were making them behave like it.

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Something important you should know about Matthew 10

Matthew 10 and Luke 10 are joined in the same yoke.  They may well refer to the same incident in which our Lord sent the disciples out to practice preaching while He was still with them.  The main difference is that  Matthew says the Lord sent out the 12 apostles and Luke says He sent out seventy.  Same event? There’s no way to know. The similarities are many, although Matthew devotes the entire chapter to the instruction Jesus gave them, for which we can be eternally grateful.

Luke, while abbreviating the instructions, does something Matthew does not do: He tells what happened on their return.  That is Luke 10:17-24.

Now, pastors in particular should find the following helpful…

The first 15 verses of Matthew 10 do not apply to us today. After naming the twelve apostles, our Lord gives them  specific instructions on what to do on this mission.  Those instructions were for them, not for us.

–To repeat, the first 15 verses of Matthew 10 were directed only to the original twelve apostles about to go on a preaching mission.

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How to manipulate people to do big things

“….not grudgingly or of compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver…” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Have you ever done something big, then the next day had “buyer’s remorse”?

Welcome to the club.

The important thing is that we who lead the Lord’s churches not be guilty of perpetrating that kind of thing on people.  We were not sent to coerce or con anyone into anything.  We are messengers of the King and are all about integrity and love.  What Scripture calls “grace and truth” in the Lord Jesus (John 1:14).

They called him Tommy the Cork.  Thomas Corcoran was a political fixer, fund-raiser, and go-to guy for many politicians of the post-War years.  Robert Caro interviewed Corcoran for his books on Lyndon Johnson.

He had once told me one of his most effective fund-raising techniques.  When the man he was asking for money wrote a check and handed it across the desk to him, Mr. Corcoran, no matter what the amount–no matter if it was more than he had hoped for–would look at it with an expression of disdain, drop it back on the man’s desk, and, without saying a word, walk toward the door.  He had never once, he told me–exaggerating, I’m sure, but how much?–he had never once been allowed to reach the door without the man calling him back, tearing up the check, and writing one for a larger amount.  

Manipulation means getting people to do your bidding whether they want to or not.

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The Jehovah’s Witnesses and me

I don’t have a good track record of my dealings with members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion.

First story. During my seminary years, while pastoring a small church on a Louisiana bayou, a man in my congregation asked me to accompany him on a visit with a neighbor who used to be a member of the JWs and was not going to  church. I was green, eager, and clueless. Even though that man was no longer a member in good standing of the JWs–for reasons I have long since forgotten–he knew all their arguments, bought into their philosophy, and was a master of their combative attacks on what we might call traditional Christianity. He was brutal in the way he mauled me.

I was savaged.

As we left, my companion, a fellow who was to put a few grey hairs in my head over the decades for other reasons, tossed it all in my lap. “You have to answer him, Joe. If you don’t answer him, I’m never going to believe in you again.” Something like that.

Thanks a lot, friend.

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The Lord’s biggest competition

“My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and they have hewed out for themselves cisterns–broken cisterns, which can hold no water.”  Jeremiah 2:13

You make a very small god, friend.

An executive with Wal-mart  made an observation before a group of businesspeople recently  that has stuck with me.  “You know who our biggest competition is?”  People suggested Target, K-Mart, Best Buy, the, malls, and such.

“Dollar stores,” he said.  “That’s what Wal-mart started out to be and they are now eating our lunch.”

Well. Makes sense.  Those little stores are everywhere.

You know who God’s biggest competition is in this world?

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Why our churches are not using vocational evangelists–and why they should reconsider

“And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers….” (Ephesians 4:11)

An evangelist proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers.  While the commission for this was given to the whole church, and every Christian is charged with spreading the Word, some are called specifically for this purpose. Presumably, those called are specially gifted for the task.

For me personally, the names that come to mind include Angel Martinez, Eddie Martin, Homer Martinez, Vance Havner, J. Harold Smith, and E. J. Daniels.  Billy Graham and his colleagues Grady Wilson, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows.  Mordecai Ham, Billy Sunday, Dwight L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, George Whitefield.  Roy Fish, Jim Ponder and Joe Atkinson, Bob Harrington, Gray Allison, and John R. Rice.  Billy Smith, Richard Hogue, Wayne Bristow.

I suppose there was a “golden age of evangelism,” at least in our Southern Baptist Convention, when most churches scheduled annual revivals or evangelistic meetings and brought in a well-known evangelist.  If so, the sun has set on that day.  In our denomination, fewer and fewer churches schedule these meetings and the typical full-time evangelist has a hard time filling his calendar with meetings and then has a difficult time making a living from the offerings these meetings bring in.

“Why are pastors not scheduling vocational evangelists for meetings in their churches?”  

I tossed out that question on Facebook.  Answers flooded in.  Many pastors were only too happy to say why they were not inviting these preachers into their churches.  (Forty-eight hours later, that question has received two hundred responses.)

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Pastor, let no one rob you of Revelation 3:20!

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any one hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and will sup with him and him with me” (Revelation 3:20).

That verse, with its promise and visual image, has been a mainstay in my evangelistic presentations for as long as I can remember.  But lately, it’s been under attack.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard self-appointed critics insist, “That statement was made to a church! It’s not to be used for evangelism.”  “Jesus is not talking about coming into the sinner’s heart; He’s talking about coming into a cold, complacent church!”  “You’re taking it out of context to use in soulwinning.”   “Careful scholarship would prevent you from misusing this verse.”

A professor of Greek in a well known, conservative seminary calls it scripture twisting to use Revelation 3:20 in evangelism.

And so forth.

We respond….

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How to measure the effectiveness of your ministry

“Blessed is he who endures.” — James 1:12

Often, at the start of the first service for a protracted meeting –revival, prayer conference, deacons retreat, Bible study, whatever–I’ll say, “Now, everyone wonders at the end of a meeting, what was accomplished. Did we get our money’s worth?

“It’s a good question.  And I want you to know that there’s a way to tell.”

“I want to tell you how to measure the effectiveness of this meeting.  There are several principles. Some of you may want to write this down.”

“First principle: Wait a hundred years…..  And I don’t know what the other principles are.”

It’s a light-hearted way to make a valid point.  Please read on.

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10 things Christians do not ask the world

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the world, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful”  (Psalm 1:1). 

“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him…” I Corinthians 2:14

Around Easter or Christmastime polls, surveys, and magazine articles all indicate the world has given up on Jesus, on God, on Christians, on the church, or on preachers.  But let not your heart be troubled, Christ-follower.

We may as well ask a blind man what he thinks of the sunrise I enjoyed this morning, a deaf person how they appreciated the symphony, or my unbelieving neighbor what he thought of my sermon last Sunday.

The world is lost.  Never lose sight of that, follower of Jesus Christ. So, we should not be asking it for direction or seeking its counsel. When the disciples told Jesus the Pharisees were offended by Him, he said, “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind.”  (Matthew 15:12,14)

And yet, how often do we hear of people polling the neighborhood of a designated area to find out what people see as their greatest need, what they would like most from a church, or why they no longer go to church. Then, they build a church program around the results of their poll.  What’s wrong with this picture?

They are called ‘lost’ for a reason. (See Luke 15.)

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Letting others do our thinking

“My wife handles the religion in our family.  Talk to her.”  –A man in Luling, LA giving his young pastor the brushoff when I tried to introduce the matter of his relationship to Christ

Who handles the big things in your family?

The old joke goes: “When my wife and I got married, we decided I would handle the big things in life and she would take care of the little things, like where we lived, the house we would buy, the car we drive, and such.  It’s worked well. And, so far, over these 40 years, there have not been any big things.”

I told a group of Facebook friends I was reading James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty,” about his years in government, first as a U.S.Attorney and then Director of the F.B.I.  It’s a fascinating book and contains much worth retaining. (Although, admittedly, it can be boring in places.)

Because the man is controversial, the book has been attacked and disputed from the Trump team and his supporters.

The reaction of Facebookers was along party lines.

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