Pettiness in church leaders: It happens

Each day that week, the Baptist Press website posted five of our cartoons on the theme of “Pastor Search Committee humor.” The drawing was basically the same for the week but with a little tweaking on each day. The captions were different for each.  A committee member is speaking:

–“This guy lives in Hawaii. I think we should visit his church.” 

–“This pastor is unemployed. So we could get him cheap.”

–“This resume’ is from our former pastor. Wonder if he has gotten smarter.” 

–“This one’s wife has a job, so he could use her health insurance and save the church money.”

–“This guy says he’s a lot like our former pastor. Yes, but nothing like our next one!”

Among the comments was this one from a lady somewhere: “This is why I am no longer a Southern Baptist. I despise this kind of littleness.”

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What true love looks like

No one will ever convince me Solomon wrote the “Song” attributed to him in the Old Testament.

No one with hundreds of wives and a gymnasiumful of ready-made girlfriends can focus on one woman the way the writer of that poetic rhapsody did.  (If you love the Song of Solomon, good. I’m only saying there is no way it’s from the pen and heart of this Israeli king. See my note at the end.)

True love is not about being enamored by the sheen in her hair or the gleam in her brown eyes.  It’s far deeper than that.

I was preaching a revival in Elberta, Alabama, a sweet little community near the coastal resort town of Gulf Shores.  One morning, host pastor Mike Keech and I met for breakfast at a quaint little cafe called Grits ‘n Gravy. I’d brought along my sketch pad, so over the next hour we table-hopped and I drew all the diners, a dozen or more, as well as Patrick the owner and Megan the counter lady.  Everyone was friendly and the chatter was delightful, but no one was more memorable than the senior couple sitting in a corner booth.

The man had a long white beard. I walked over and said, “Folks, I’m a cartoonist and I draw people. And you, sir, are just crying to be drawn.”  “Oh?” he said. “Yes sir. You look like a character and I do love to draw characters.”

“I’m not a character,” he said solemnly.

His wife said with a smile, “He is most definitely a character.”

I sat down beside them and sketched both.

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Anybody can love good folks; our business is tougher than that!

Fred Harvey was a name almost every American knew in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This son of Britain had come to America and made his mark in the food industry. Working with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, he built a chain of restaurants across the great Southwest which became legendary for their commitment to quality and their devotion to the customer.

In his book, Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West, Stephen Fried says Harvey originated the first national chain of restaurants, of hotels, of newsstands, and of bookstores–“in fact, the first national chain of anything–in America.”

You may be familiar with the Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls (1946), which illustrated another innovation of Fred Harvey’s. He recruited single young women in the East, then sent them to work in his restaurants from Kansas City to California. In doing so, he inadvertently provided wives for countless westerners and helped to populate a great segment of the USA.

All of this is just so we can relate one story from the book.

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Anyone can love a crowd; loving individuals is another story

While a battle is raging one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure;  but after the battle, these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as a friend.  –Ulysses S. Grant, “Personal Memoirs”

“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”  –Joseph Stalin

“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”  –Lucy, in “Peanuts”

Pastors, young ones in particular, have to conquer this challenge or forever pay a huge price.  It’s one thing to love a crowd, but another entirely to love that quarrelsome family, the cranky old curmudgeon, the gossip in the congregation, the unwashed homeless guy who wandered into your service, and the deacon who is dead-set on making you unemployed.

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How to pastor emphatically

“The disciples went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

“Nobody ever enjoyed the presidency as I did…. While president I have been president emphatically.”  –Theodore Roosevelt, quoted by David McCullough in “The American Spirit”

The Lord does not want your spare time and loose change.”  –Pastor Brent Thompson, Heflin (AL) Baptist Church.

The Lord wants His people to live life emphatically.  “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,”says Ecclesiastes 9:10.

We are to seize the day, live each moment, and to delight ourselves in Him.

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Those little things you do when you think no one is watching

“God is Watching.”  –sign over the door of Gwen Williams’ home in Picayune, Mississippi.

John Ed Mathiston told his congregation in Montgomery, Alabama a story about kindness.

“Not long ago, a man from the Middle East walked into a new car showroom and asked to speak with a particular salesperson.  The receptionist called for him, the fellow walked to the front, and they greeted each other.

The foreigner said, “I’d like to buy some trucks.”

Some trucks. That caught the sales guy’s attention.

“What did you have in mind, sir?”

“I want to buy 750 heavy duty trucks and 250 pickups.”

The salesman is stunned.  Surely someone is pulling a prank.  This cannot be happening.

The Middle Easterner pulls out a letter of credit with a huge American bank.  It is legitimate. This is the real deal.

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Quoting preachers and naming scoundrels

“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).

Robert Schuller founded the Crystal Cathedral in California and hosted television’s “Hour of Power” broadcast, making him the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church. He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable, and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.

My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano. Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation. Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.” Schuller would look at his congregation and say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life. But my friend, you can still end with a flourish if you start now.”

It’s a great story and makes a fine sermon illustration.

However….

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The Father’s will: You never know where He will lead

“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Luke 22:42

God sends no road map to His obedient; we walk by faith.  He gives no GPS to the faithful so they will always know where they are and what’s going on.  They will see “through a glass darkly,” but walk on.

Thy will be done will be their guide.

Those four words.

Take the Lord Jesus, for instance…

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The best thing in the Bible….and the worst.

The best thing in the Bible might be Exodus 34:6-7.

And the Lord passed before (Moses) and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. “

It’s the best because it’s God’s self-revelation and it reveals Him to be pure love.  Exodus 34:6-7 is the Old Testament corollary to I John 3:8,16 which say “God is love.”

Exodus 34:6-7 is the best because it’s quoted all through the Old Testament.  Moses prayed it in Numbers 14:18.  Nehemiah sang it in Neh. 9:17.  Joel held it out as the reason God’s people could expect revival, in Joel 2:13.  David sang it in Psalms 86:15, in  103:8, and in 145:8.    Jonah complained about it in Jonah 4:2.  And we find fleeting quotes from it throughout Jeremiah, such as in 32:18.

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Thoughts on taking care of the poor among us

“He honors (God) who has mercy on the needy” (Proverbs 14:31). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what He has given” (Proverbs 19:17).  “The poor you always have with you, but Me you do not have always” (Matthew 26:11).

Scripture has a lot to say about God’s people caring for the needy.  But it can be twisted and made to say something other than was intended.

A friend sent me a letter from a disgruntled church member who was complaining that after he lost his job the church did not pay his bills and support him.  The friend says the church gave him a great deal of help and “I personally gave him money.” But it wasn’t enough for the guy, who is now slamming the Lord’s church and wondering “Where is Jesus after 2,000 years?”

I suggested my friend ask the guy how many needy people he assisted when he had a job.

I think we know the answer.

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