Thanking God for the pain. It can be a great friend.

This morning, as we were sitting at the breakfast table discussing memories good and bad, my Bertha said something I wrote down so I’d get it just right.

We have a wagonload of memories of God’s people who have loved us and cared for us. But we also have painful memories that we wish we could edit out of our lives.  But the Holy Spirit has shown me that if He took out the pain and strife, He would also be removing the lovely things that happened during that same time. Or, that happened as a direct result of the bad event. 

It brought up a painful memory from my junior high days.  A teacher said something really harsh that forever left its mark on me. Over the years as I have sometimes reflected on that incident, my primary focus has been on the offense. I’ve wondered about that teacher, why he did what he did, what it meant, and so forth.  But I realized something from what Bertha said today.

The teacher who scarred the kid 

Early in the semester of the 7th grade, all the students–perhaps a hundred of us–were  herded into the gymnasium. The band director, a Mr. Keating, called everyone to order and announced that today we would be electing class officers.

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There are no independent churches and no self-sufficient Christians.

“I planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase” (I Corinthians 3:6). 

“Even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities” (Philippians 4:16). 

I have no patience with signs in front of church buildings that read “Independent (whatever) Church.” There is no such thing as an independent church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we need each other.

Some more than others.

The believer or the church that believes he/she/it is independent and has no need of all those others is going against everything Scripture teaches and contradicting what they see happening all around them every day.

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“Compromise: Only the strongest can manage it!”

“I implore Euodia and I implore Eyntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2).

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12-13).

The First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana is bordered on the western side by Williams Boulevard and on the east by Clay Street.  In between, intersecting the church property is the wonderfully named Compromise Street.  I have no idea why the city planners gave it that name, but I love it.  When I pastored that church (1990-2004), I sometimes called the attention of the congregation to this asphalted reminder of how intelligent people are supposed to work with each other.

God’s people are to agree. We are to live in harmony.  We are to represent Christ in the world and do His work.  By the very nature of who we are and what we are charged to do, we are required to compromise.

God’s people are to compromise. Constantly.

Don’t miss that.

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Pastor: A note from your guest preacher

I had the privilege of preaching in your church recently.  As a retired pastor, not far from my 80th year on the planet, I’m honored when a pastor invites me to fill his pulpit. Sometimes, as was the case last Sunday, the pastor is on vacation.  At other times, I’m leading a Friday/Saturday event for a specific group–leadership, deacons, seniors–and the pastor asks me to stay and preach for the Sunday morning service.  I’m always delighted to do so.

First, just so you’ll know….

I’m not coming with my own agenda for your people.  My entire aim is to honor Christ and bless His church.  From the time you first call inviting me to preach, I begin praying for the Father to lead me on what to do and how to do it.

Even if I preach something I’ve used in other churches, this is no so-called “sugar stick.”  I’m endeavoring to be obedient to the Lord with what He has given me.

As your guest, I will not be critical of how you are doing things in your church.  I will leave no suggestions on your desk on how to improve your worship service or ways to deal with certain problems in your church. You didn’t invite me as a “mystery shopper” and I’m grateful not to have that burden.  That said, however…

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A slanderous lie: “The church in America is dying.”

“…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Have you come across that line yet? “The church in America is dying”?

We hear it from some pollsters and from people all over social media.  They count heads and conclude that if membership numbers are down or if fewer Baptists are serving in Congress or the Catholic church is having internal problems, the church must be dying.

We get the impression that the speaker–the one with the harsh pronouncement–wishes it were so.

Not so fast.

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Is there another side to this issue?

“The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

A friend posted the campaign video from a lady in Round Rock Texas who is running for Congress.  He said, “She’s got my vote just from the video.” So I clicked it open to see what MJ Hegan was saying.

According to the video, MJ Hegan, an attractive brunette perhaps in her late 30s, served three terms flying helicopters for the Air Force in Afghanistan.  During the last assignment, her helicopter was shot down and she was injured.  Doctors refused to let her fly again.  That’s when she found that the military, which had been so welcoming to her, now closed the door on further assignments.  When she worked to get Congress to address this, she found Washington’s doors closed.  Politicians refused to talk to her, she says, because she was not a contributor.  Her own congressman refused to meet with her. And that’s why she decided to run against him.  She is beating the pavement and knocking on doors determined to unseat the incumbent and take his place.

The video was sharp and witty and clever.  With nothing further to go on, it’s easy to see how someone viewing it could want to stand up for this lady.

But wait just a minute.

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When you suddenly realize the pastor’s sermon is missing something

My wife was commenting on a sermon she heard recently.  “It was a fine sermon in many respects.  It called for the right kind of actions and spoke of the Holy Spirit.  And then it hit me.  Nowhere does this person’s preaching deal with the gospel, mention Calvary, or call for repentance.”

She said, “I suppose the sermon works if everyone is saved and obedient and has a sincere desire to serve God.  But what if they aren’t?  What if we are rebels, what if our hearts are in rebellion against God? What then?”

“Preaching like this sneaks up on you,” she said, referring to what that sermon was missing.

Much has been said about the sermon delivered by the Episcopal bishop at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19.  Most of us enjoyed hearing the sermon, particularly because it was so American and so typical of the African-American tradition we’re familiar with but which presumably the British elite crowd is not.

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Pastor, try not to sound so much like a preacher! (This is about communication.)

“Your words have helped the tottering to stand; you have strengthened feeble knees”  (Job 4:4). 

Speak clearly.  Enunciate. Use simple, active language.  Avoid wordiness. Never try to impress the audience with large, unfamiliar words.

Encourage people with your speech.  “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

“Take with you words,” said the prophet to God’s people, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).

Words.  They matter so much.  You’re reading a compilation of them right now.  Ideally, I have so arranged them as to make sense and convey a message.

The major reason writers edit their writings is to find the culprits that would hinder communication.

It’s essential not to use a word that would impede, stun, or burden the message. .

In today’s newspaper, the food section carried a huge article on how a good salad can improve a meal.  The headline said: “Ameliorate any meal with a simple pasta salad.”

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Put a smile on your face. Here’s why. And how.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

A smile is outward evidence that everything inside is in good shape.  A smile is visible evidence of the joy of the Lord.

Anyone can smile. And everyone should.  But those who put faith and trust in the Lord Jesus have more right to smile than anyone.  They can number a hundred blessings in their lives as a result of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ:  They’ve been forgiven, cleansed by the blood, and born into the family of God.  They are indwelt by the Spirit, overshadowed and undergirded by Him, and surrounded by like-minded disciples.  They have the Word of God, the love of God, and the power of God. And so forth.

The unsmiling Christian is a contradiction.

Why aren’t you smiling?

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The mixed multitude in your church–and what to do with them

“And a mixed multitude went up with them.”   Exodus 12:38

“And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?'” — Numbers 11:4

The world is attending your church.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is sometimes we turn it over to them.  Not good.

When the Israelites left Egypt under Moses, they were not alone.  Exodus 12 says a large company of riff-raff seized the opportunity to flee the Pharaoh’s harsh rule also.  (Various translations call them “a mixed multitude,” “a motley mob,” “a mingled array of other folk,” “a crowd of mixed ancestry,” and “a great rabble.”)

Did we think the Hebrews were the only slaves in Egypt?  Doubtless there were slaves from many countries.  So, in the same way a jailbreak might free all the prisoners, many of the Pharaoh’s “inmates” decided they had had enough, that anything was better than the slavery of Egypt, and they threw their lot in with the Hebrews and the fellow named Moses.

Before long, the wisdom of that decision would be put to the test.

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