12 things pastors should make a habit of doing promptly–and 5 they shouldn’t!

Do these things promptly…

  1. Confess sins.  “Keep short accounts with God,” it’s called.
  2. Write thank you notes.
  3. Write notes of appreciation.  “Great song Sunday.”  “I hear great things about your class.”
  4. When inspiration for a sermon or an article  comes in the middle of the night, it must be recorded then or, count on it, you’ll never remember it.  Keep a pad by the bedside.
  5. When you agree to do a friend  a favor–write a letter of recommendation, call on a patient in a hospital, whatever–do it immediately or you will never do it.
  6. Jot down a story, illustration, or thought for a sermon that occurs to you.  If you’re in the car alone, look for an exit and get off the highway so you can write this down.  I’ve sometimes asked my wife to make a note for me as we drove.
  7. Pray for someone when prompted by the Spirit.  When I spot someone who reminds me of a person I knew years ago, I take that as an impulse to pray for them.
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The pastor’s heart: Reservoir or cesspool?

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).  “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). 

This is one of those lessons almost no pastor learns except by personal experience.

Someone told you a joke years ago.  In my case, it was an older cousin and I was a young teen.  The joke was dirty by any measurement and some would say it was funny.  But it was filthy and has stayed with me all these years.  The joke is still in my mind and I am unable to get rid of it.

I wish I’d known.

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Things I wish I’d said (and done) differently

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves….” I John 1:8

Looking back.

I do a lot of that these days.  I suppose it’s human, seeing as how I’m about to hit birthday number 79 in a few days. There are a lot of days back there to look at! I’m so grateful to be active and energetic and still in the Lord’s field working alongside younger men and women called to His work.

The days behind me far outnumber those in front.

I do not sit around wallowing in regrets, let me make plain.  But sometimes before rising in the morning, I lie there reflecting on times gone by, experiences in churches I served, remembering when my family was young, calling to mind conversations and decisions.

I have many a regret.

I wish I’d said ‘no’ to a lot of requests.  As a young husband and father and ambitious pastor, I accepted many an invitation to speak or travel or serve on a board because it felt like the very opportunity for which the Lord had called me and for which I’d been prepared.  But it took me away from my young children and my over-wrought wife.

Did I really need to serve as a trustee of that denominational board? It required me to travel out of state a half dozen times a year, two or three days at a whack.  Over a four-year term, that adds up to a lot of time away.

I think about the two weeks I spent in Singapore helping the missionaries conceive an evangelistic comic book at the time my three children were 10, 13, and 16.  Such critical ages, so formative, so needy of their father to be hands-on.  Poor Margaret, looking after them, doing all the things a faithful mother does, chauffeuring them to everything, and all the while working on her degree from the local university.  What was I thinking?

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You came to mind again today; I prayed for you.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” –Philippians 1:3

I remember you…from time to time.

Some people I think of often and reflect frequently on what they mean to me. Other people, I have a completely bizarre remembrance.

I’ll be somewhere and see an old friend of forty or fifty years ago and think, “I always loved him (or her) so much. Why have I not thought of them in all these years?”

I’ve been in a cemetery for a funeral and spotted the gravestone of a friend of bygone times and had the same thought.  “They were so precious. I would love to see them! Why have I lost them in memory?”

Recently, I read a novel about a character with perfect memory.  When something happened that required him to revisit a past experience, he had no trouble.  He would activate his memory and return to that moment in time, recallingl every detail, every word spoken, every nuance.  He could read the license plate of a car, could tell you the temperature, and give you as accurate a rendering of that moment as though he were standing there at that moment.  In the book, this was a special gift.

But it’s not.

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Why step one to the Christian life is humility

At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:1-4)

There is a reason the Lord makes humility step one to living for Him.

He is going to be asking a lot from you, more in fact that you will think you can humanly give.  Unless you have humbled yourself before Him and received what He has for you, you will balk at the demands, insist on your own rights, and insert your own methodology.  In so doing, you will mess it all up.

Be humble or go home.

Only the humble can pull this off.

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“Who, me?” “Not me! I would never do such a thing.”

For those who come across this piece in some distant future, it would be helpful to state what’s happening in the U.S.A. at this moment, November/December 2017.  An outbreak of accusations against well-known men by women who accuse them of sexual offenses (harassments, manipulation, pressure, molestation, and such) is a daily occurrence.  Prominent men are resigning their positions or being fired by their boards.  No one thinks we’ve seen the worst of it, but everyone expects this to be the leading edge. 

A woman friend tells me she’d love to see a movement of men stepping up to say, “Me, too,” in some kind of admission that they are partly at fault for the climate of sexual harassment in our culture.  “Either they have done the things we’re talking about–the sexual innuendos, the flirtatiousness, the manipulation–or they have been complicit by their silence,” she says.

I’m still thinking about that one.

It’s a minefield walking out in front of the world to say, “I’m to blame.”  Particularly if you feel you aren’t.

And that’s what prompted what follows.

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The scriptures I often pray

In no particular order, here are several prayers that I find myself offering to the Father repeatedly….

I pray for my mouth: I have a tendency to say the wrong things.

My mouth has gotten me in trouble for my entire life.  It has been known to write checks I could not cash, to blurt out exactly what I was thinking but should not have been, and to cut people down just to get a laugh from the spectators.  God has let me learn the hard way to discipline my tongue.  So, over the years, I have often found myself praying Psalm 141:3 alongside Psalm 19:14.

Set a guard upon my mouth, O Lord.  Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

(Someone reading this wondered how the Lord let me learn to discipline my tongue.  The best thing to happen is that when I was young in the ministry, more than once a church member called me on the carpet for the cruel thing I’d said just for laughs.  When I apologized profusely–and on one occasion, even apologized before the entire church–it left a lasting impression.  I didn’t ever want to do that again!)

I pray for forgiveness:  I am so often negligent, disobedient, and rebellious.

Who among us does not feel the need for forgiveness every day of our lives? (The single exception might be my wife.  Last night as we chatted with a couple who stopped by to visit, Bertha mentioned something about confessing her sins each day.  Everything inside me wanted to shout, “What sins?  You are about as sinless as anyone I’ve ever known.”  I didn’t say it, of course, but I thought it.)

However, my wonderful wife is married to an accomplished sinner.  So very often, I find myself praying these words of Psalm 51, followed by the confession of the publican in Luke 18:13….

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When a private apology is not enough

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”  “Why are you telling me this?  Get out there and confess to those you hurt.”

Some repentance is cheap, some apologies all too easy.

A deacon pitched a royal fit in a church business meeting.  I’ve long since forgotten the issue.  Afterward, a visitor came to me and said, “I belong to Such-and-such church.  If one of our members spoke to the pastor the way that man did you, the church would have risen up in arms.  But your people sat there and took it.  That is alarming.”

I suppose they sat there quietly because they’d seen it happen so often. Anyway…

A few days later that deacon came to my office and apologized.

Don’t miss this: The damage he did was very public; his apology was in private.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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A cloud over my head all week

The popular comic strip “L’il Abner” used to feature a character who lived under a constant, tiny storm cloud.  It followed him around wherever he went, maybe 12 inches above his head, always pouring rain down upon him. (The character’s name was an unpronounceable “Btfsplk.”  When asked, cartoonist Al Capp said “It’s a rude sound.”  Maybe what’s called a raspberry or Bronx cheer. Google Btfsplk and see the cartoon.)

I’ve felt like Joe Btfsplk all this week.

Analyzing that me-sized stormcloud–“why am I feeling so sad?”–I can identify several forces that are raining on my parade, if you will.

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Forgive you your sins as you forgive others theirs

 indeed (third article on the incident of Mark 2:1-12)

“Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

Look how eager the Lord Jesus was to forgive sins. The man hadn’t even asked for such.  No one had asked for forgiveness, for themselves or for the paralytic.

The Lord Jesus brought the subject up and unilaterally announced the man’s sins were gone. And the man lay there and took it.

It’s amazing, is what it is.

Forgiveness is in God’s DNA.

It’s the nature of God to forgive sins, much to the consternation of the enemy who keeps trying to brand God as a sin-inspector/catcher/treasurer.  Moses had asked the Lord to “show me your glory.”  God said, “I’ll show you my goodness.” (Exodus 33:18-19)  We take this to mean that God’s goodness is one element of His glory, although far less than the full measure.  In truth, Moses could no more stand to be shown the fullness of God’s glory than a housefly could hope to stand a half-mile from the sun and take it all its radiance without being fried to a crisp in the process.

“The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name:  ‘The Lord, the Lord God.  Compassionate and gracious.  Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.  Maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations.  Forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sins…’ ” (Exodus 34:6-7)

I enjoy pointing out that there is nothing else like this self-revelation from God except for all the places where it is quoted, throughout the Old Testament.  The prophetic writers correctly judged this to be one of the most important insights in all history.

We do well to keep in mind that the very nature of God means that He is compassionate and gracious and delights in forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sins.

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