Ramifications: It has nothing to do with sheep

“We who are many are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5)

We are all interconnected and are in this thing together.

The sooner we realize that, the better.

In the introduction to their book “One Anothering,” Dan Crawford and Al Meredith wonder if you have heard “the goose lesson”.

Geese flying south for the winter usually fly in a V-formation.  This formation adds at least seventy-one percent greater flying range, because the flapping of one bird’s wings creates uplift for the bird immediately following.  When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the flock, and another goose flies point.  Geese honk from behind to encourage the lead goose.  If a goose gets sick or injured and falls out, two geese follow it down to help protect it.  They stay until the fallen goose is able to fly or is dead, and then they join another formation and continue their journey. Should a goose fall out of formation, it quickly feels the difficulty of flying alone and returns immediately to the formation.

You and I are so interconnected, we might as well have slots and tabs.

No man is an island.

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Pastor, you’ve been invited to preach in an unfamiliar setting (and you’re trying not to panic)

A preacher friend whom I know only from Facebook sent out a panicky plea. He’s been invited to preach in a church known to be rather loose regarding some basic Christian doctrines.  The friend is a Bible-preaching conservative.

Uh oh.

He is anxious and eager at the same time.

He asked a number of us:  “What should I preach? What text should I use?  Suggest some good ones! Some of the people in that church are probably unsaved.”

The answers piled in. One minister urged him to preach the entire story of redemption beginning with Creation and the fall and going forward.

That advice strikes me as highly questionable, although I’m confident it was well-intended.

I said: “My brother, do not try to reverse the history of this church in one 25-minute sermon. Just preach a text the Holy Spirit gives you and leave the results to Him.”

Then, I sent this personal, private note.  “This is no time to reinvent the wheel and attempt something you’ve never preached before. Take a lesson from grandma in the kitchen. When guests are coming, you do not test new recipes. Serve something you’ve prepared before and know your way around.  Ask the Lord to lay on your heart one of the time-tested messages He has taught you in the crucible of life.”

Preach what you know.

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Preaching about America in the worst way

Preacher Driftwater told me, “I want to preach about America in the worst way.”

I told him it’s been done.

What he said is not what he meant, of course.

The worst way to preach about America is negatively.

“The world is going to hell.” “America is decaying from within.”  “The country is becoming socialist.”  “The president is our worst enemy.”  “The Supreme Court is ruining America.”  “The home is breaking down. Marriage is a thing of the past. You can’t get a good two-dollar steak any more.”

Okay, strike that last one.

The U. S. Supreme Court has just ruled that homosexuals can marry in any state in the union, forever changing the character of this country.

We are justifiably concerned. And we are stuck with their decision.

Does this mean the United States is through? Will God write ‘Ichabod’ over what used to be a great country?  Should we preachers deliver its eulogy from our pulpits?

Not so fast.

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Back into the pastorate: What I would do differently

“Keep a clear head about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The editor’s last question was “What would you do differently if you were going back into the pastorate today?”

After responding to his other seven questions at length (see the previous article on our website), I felt this one needed more reflection and its own space.  So, this is my attempt to answer that good question….

Well, first,  I’m highly tempted to say….

–I would wonder about that church.  Why in the world does it want a 75-year-old has-been as its shepherd?  They must be really hard up.

–I would have my head examined.  (If Margaret were still living, she might say, “And you’d have to find yourself another wife!” lol)

But seriously.

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“Looking Back” — Joe is interviewed by an editor

“…that the generation to come might know….” (Psalm 78:6)

It was baseball great Satchel Paige who said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

At the age of 75, it’s probably safe for me to look back, at least for a few moments. I’m not racing anyone any more, if I ever was. And the only thing gaining on me is Father Time. (He can afford to pace himself, not having lost a race yet.)

Perhaps now is a good time to pull over into a rest area for a brief retrospective.

The editor of a Christian magazine posed eight questions to jog my thinking.  He mostly wondered if I see the pastoral ministry any differently now from “way back when.”

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The pastor who needs a new role model

That preacher does not know me from Adam.

I’m glad, because he would probably not be pleased with anything that follows.

I sat in the church recently where he was filling in for the regular pastor.  It was a small church and the service was poorly done, I regret to say, from beginning to end.  I know that sounds harsh, and I am no judge of anyone’s worship.

But some things are obvious to everyone.

No one involved in that church service–I’m hesitant to call it a worship service–seemed to have a clue of this being a time of worship, of reverence and holiness.  No advance thought had been given to the songs to sing, prayers to be offered, or comments made. Everything was off the cuff. The welcome and hymn-introductions were silly and went on and on.

My opinion is that when those leading a service see it as a community fun time, the failure lies at the feet of the pastor. He sets the standard. But since I do not know the man, this is neither about him or his leadership team.

I wanted to tell you what the guest preacher did.

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How to use humor in your sermon even if you’re not a comic

Watch this.  This is how it’s done.

Robert Mueller was giving a commencement address at the College of William and Mary.  This former director of the FBI in the first Bush administration is the epitome of dignity and class.  He is anything but a comic or comedian.  That day, speaking on “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity,” which he called the motto of the Bureau, he showed us a great way to use humor in a serious talk.

“In one of my first positions with the Department of Justice, more than thirty years ago, I found myself head of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.  I soon realized that lawyers would come into my office for one of two reasons: either to ‘see and be seen’ on the one hand, or to obtain a decision on some aspect of their work, on the other hand.  I quickly fell into the habit of asking one question whenever someone walked in the door, and that question was ‘What is the issue?’

“One evening I came home to my wife, who had had a long day teaching and then coping with our two young daughters.  She began to describe her day to me.  After just a few minutes, I interrupted, and rather peremptorily asked, ‘What is the issue?’

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The most surprising thing about the Apostle Paul’s ministry

“I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:17-18).

As amazing as he was and as capable in ministry, as brilliant in theology, and as bold in his witness, the Apostle Paul needed people.

Does that surprise you as much as it does me?

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False guilt: How to inflict it; How to safeguard against it

“When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home.  So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the door way, and He was speaking the Word to them” (Mark 2:1-2).

The pastor walks to the pulpit, opens the Word, and reads that text. Closing the Bible, he peers over his spectacles at his congregation–filling perhaps half the pews in the auditorium–and begins.

“Did you see what happened here?  The word got out that Jesus was in town and people rushed to hear Him.  You don’t read anywhere about them being told to come. There are no commands given here for those people to assemble together.  And yet, they came. They overflowed the house, so eager were they to meet Jesus and hear His Word for them.”

“Now, contrast that with people today.  They just don’t come to church like that.  If they did, we would not have room in this building to hold all the people.”

From there, this man of God who holds a black belt in guilt, slams the people who did get up and come to church today because some did not.

This is the cheapest kind of preaching.  And the easiest.

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The church’s dirty little secret

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there…” (Ephesians 4:14).

“Church is the only place on earth where people can throw hissy fits and get away with it.”  –a friend serving his first church after seminary.

I told my minister friend I was sorry he had to learn this dirty little secret about church life.

I asked for his story.  He had two.

A church member attending his class complained because she could not find her workbook. The pastor told her he had borrowed it for another class, and she was welcome to use his.  She said, “Okay. I’ll go home then.”

And she stalked out.

The minister said, “Would she have done that at work?  At the doctor’s office? I think not.”

But she had no problem with putting her immaturity on full display at church.

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