My single biggest problem in crisis ministry

Take last evening for instance.

A friend who is on the staff of a large church in the northern part of our state emailed about a family basically living in the ICU ward of a local hospital in our city. Doctors have told the parents nothing more can be done for the daughter. So they are standing by, waiting for God to take her.

My friend had planned to drive down to see them, but because of a cold decided it was best if he canceled and asked me to call on them.

An hour later, I was in the hospital room with the family.

The patient was either sleeping or heavily sedated and several family members and friends were seated around the room, talking softly.  They greeted me warmly, having already been informed that I was coming.

Now, two things about this family I found amazing.  They have lived in the intensive care units of their hospital back home and the one here for over 40 days.  And yet, they have such a steady peace and beautiful joy about them.

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Let me (ahem) repeat myself. Again.

Having done this blog for over 10 years, I find myself going back
and repeating some of my favorite stories.     

It has nothing to do with getting old and forgetful.

Although I am getting old and forgetful.

Nearly a lifetime ago, as a new student at New Orleans
Baptist Theological Seminary, I signed up to preach on the streets
of the French Quarter.  Of all the "field mission" choices available
to students--working with inner city children, hospital and nursing 
home ministry, jail ministry, etc.--this one, preaching on 
the streets, was the scariest. 

Therefore, it would be perfect for me.

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The best thing a boss can do for his worker

If I work for you, I expect you to protect me when I’m attacked unfairly and defend me when I am accused unjustly.  Your failure to do this means I lose confidence in you and the quality of my work begins to suffer immediately. In most cases, I begin looking for a better environment in which to work.

Let a good supervisor–the manager of a business, principal of a school, or pastor of a church– learn this most valuable lesson. 

I was a year or two out of college, newly married, and pastoring a tiny church up the highway 25 miles.  During the week, however, I was the secretary to the production manager of a cast iron pipe plant on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama.

My boss was 65-year-old Clyde Hooper, a cigar-chewing Methodist layman who could teach sailors a few things about plain speaking.  He had paid his dues in coming up the hard way, and was so tightly bonded with the 300 men working in the foundry that they would have died–or killed–for one another.  Mr. Hooper wore a crisp, starched white shirt and beautiful tie to work every day.  I adored the man.

I also emptied his spittoon in the corner of the office.

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The day you started to die

I was reading the short wikipedia bio of a British entertainer whom you might know (but who will remain anonymous here simply because his name does not matter).

The writer told how the celebrity was a regular on British television for over three decades.  Finally, the network decided his work was declining along with his audience and so canceled him.  Within three years, the man was dead, even though he was still in his 60s.  This sentence remains with me: “The day they canceled his contract is the day he began to die.”

We’ve all known of individuals who died shortly after retiring from their life work.  Whether retirement caused the death, hastened the death, or was completely irrelevant is something no one can know. But we each have our own suspicions.

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Joe’s next 10 rules for success in ministry, slightly more spiritual than the first 10.

(These follow an earlier article on “Joe’s 10 ironclad rules for success,” which were mostly silly and intended to provoke a hearty laugh.  Now, we get just a tad more serious. But, not to worry, not much more serious.)

11.  If you study hard for your sermons and eventually get to a big church, you can hire research assistants to do your studying for you. Success brings its privileges.

12. If you look at the ceiling while you preach, you may overcome your shyness but you will end up preaching over the heads of your people.

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Remedial studies in the work of the Lord

“By this time you ought to be teachers (but) you need someone to teach you again the first principles…” (Hebrews 5:12).

Sherrie Waller, a member of our church and wife of one of our deacons, teaches math at the local Baptist seminary.

She’s training the next generation of preachers and missionaries how to count the offering, I suppose.

One “school” in our seminary is Leavell College, where people can get a four-year bacculaureate degree.  And one aspect of that, as with any college in the land I expect, is that students/graduates have to have a certain amount of proficiency in a wide range of disciplines, math being among them.

I can appreciate that.

Most of what Sherrie covers is taught in high school, had these future preachers and missionaries been paying attention.

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On finding yourself in a burning building (or on a sinking ship)

“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be…” (2 Peter 3:11)

The issue of faith, whether or not to believe, says John Ortberg, “is never just a question of calculating the odds for the existence of God.  We are not just probability calculators. We live in a burning building.  It’s called a body. The clock is ticking.”  (“Know Doubt,” p.32)

Ortberg doesn’t mind mixing metaphors.  We live in a burning building; the clock is ticking.

So true.

Yes, and the Titanic which we call Earth is sinking (with too many of us spending our days re-arranging deck chairs). The universe is winding down.  The sun which supports life on earth and is the center of our solar system has an expiration date, scientists say.

The physical creation has a known shelf life. (Note: “Known” refers to the shelf life, not to the expiration date.)

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Your sermon offended? Good. It was supposed to.

“Lord, do you know the Pharisees were offended by your sermon?” –Matthew 15:12

Let me say up front that no church can long endure a steady diet of negative preaching.  No Christian, no matter how faithful, can withstand an unending barrage of sermons directed toward straightening them out. On a regular basis, we need messages reminding us we are loved, God is faithful, Heaven awaits, and there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

But sometimes the minister enters the pulpit with a burdensome task: to attempt a diagnosis, surgery, and amputation all in a 25 minute message.  At those times, the sermon must cut deeply.

At those times, the message hurts.

How the Lord’s people ever came to expect their pastors to declare the riches of His Word without offending wrong-doers is beyond me.

It cannot be done.

“Offenders will take offense.” Remember that. As columnist Dear Abby put it, “You throw a rock in among a bunch of dogs. The one that hollers got hit.”

Delivering the commands of Scripture on how to live and think, how to re-prioritize our lives and change our behavior, and bring every detail of our existence under the Lordship of Jesus Christ without treading on anyone’s toes is expecting a little much of the preacher.

George Whitefield, the great British preacher of the 18th century, gave us an unforgettable line on this….

“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.”

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Setting new records in the ministry

What follows is a blend of the funny and the serious, what some call “peanut butter and jelly,” the PB for nourishment and the J for delight.  Please bring a sense of whimsy and expect to receive no sermon ideas from this! Thank you. –Joe

In the January/February 2015 issue of Preaching, executive editor Michael Duduit (and my longtime friend) tells of a fellow in Florida who carved out a slot in the Guinness Book of World Records with a sermon that lasted 53 hours and 18 minutes.  Well, actually, it was 45 of his old sermons stitched together, not just one.  Michael says the guy used 600 PowerPoint slides and basically covered the entire Bible, from Genesis to the concordance.

All of that tickled Editor Michael’s funny bone, as oddities in the ministry usually do.  This started him thinking, “What other record-breaking attempts could be made by preachers?” After relaying his suggestions–with some parenthetical notes from moi–we will have an idea or two of our own.

Okay.  Michael suggests the Guinness people might want to look at:

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Playing our little preacher-games with Holy Scripture

“I did not send these prophets, yet they ran with a message; I did not speak to them, but they prophesied” (Jeremiah 23:21).

What if we sliced off a bit of scripture here, pasted it in there, omitted a reference over yonder, and pretended the result is what Jesus actually said?

That happens.  (Fortunately, it happens rarely.  But it is done often enough to make it a concern to those who value God’s word and our integrity.)

Here’s my story….

At a preachers conference, we heard a stem-winding brother drive the several hundred of us to our feet in a shouting, hand-clapping final eruption of praise and joy.  He was good, I’ll give him that.

His text was Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  His theme was that God’s people today have no trouble with Jesus Christ being “the same yesterday”–His birth in Bethlehem, His miracle-working ministry across Galilee and Judea, followed by His sacrificial death and His divine resurrection–and no trouble with Jesus Christ being “the same forever”–as we proclaim His return to earth, the judgment, and His forever reign.

The problem present-day Christians have, said the preacher, is with “Jesus Christ today.”

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