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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How I preach….most of the time.

A woman came up to me last Saturday night after I’d spoken for 25 minutes at a leadership banquet.  “I love the way you speak out of the overflow.”

Any preacher would love hearing that.

What exactly does that mean, I wondered.

I’ll tell you what I hope it means.  When I preach, my subject is so important to me, I could have gone on another hour without repeating the material or boring the listeners.

I hope that’s true.

I think it is.

A few weeks earlier, Mike McGuffee, a leader with the California Baptist Convention, after hearing me address his pastors several times over three days, had said on the drive to the airport, “Let’s see if I’ve figured out your preaching technique.”

“You build your sermon on one main point.  You back it up by various scriptures, each one with a story to illustrate it.”

I was complimented. Until that moment, I guess I’d never thought of having an actual “technique” to my preaching.  Mostly, it feels like they are slap-dash, a little of this and a lot of that, a good story here and a scriptural illustration there, whatever is necessary to drive home the point the Lord has burdened me with.

The sermon I preached last Sunday morning was made up of 5 points, not one.

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Boredom: How to drive a stake through its heart forever

Scrambled eggs.

I had scrambled eggs for breakfast  yesterday morning and did not enjoy them at all. Having survived cancer of the mouth and then radiation for the head and neck area some years ago, my present reality is simply that some foods are to be eaten for their nutritional value, not for their taste.

But lying in bed this morning early and reflecting on having to determine my own menu for the rest of my days and the necessity of learning to cook a few things since the Lord took my wife to Heaven recently, it occurred to me that I should learn how to make scrambled eggs more interesting.

And I will.

Now, I’m not entirely opposed to a little boredom now and then.  It can actually assist in the creative process. But for the most part I hate it.  Of all the people in the world who should despise boredom in their personal lives, preachers and pastors should lead the parade.

Boring sermons is certainly a matter of widespread concern, true, but I’m not talking about that.

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The most frightening thing about preaching

It’s actually several facets of the same thing:  I’m speaking for God.

Imagine such a thing.

Lives hang in the balance.

People are making decisions about God based on something I say.

People are making choices about their eternal destiny based on something I say.

Is this frightening or what?

What if I get it wrong?

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Times the Lord tests the preacher

“For You, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver….” (Psalm 66:10).

I have no memory where the impetus for that particular Bible study came from that Wednesday night.  But my topic was “serving God faithfully even when fatigued.”  Perhaps it was John 4 where a very tired Lord rests at Jacob’s well, then encounters the Samaritan woman to whom He delivers a strong witness, and later the disciples remark that someone must have given Him food (4:33).

Anyway, what happened was this.

No sooner had I stepped off the platform to greet a few church members before they scattered for home than Carolyn approached me.  She and her small children had begun coming to our church after we gave them some financial assistance, and they seemed to be genuinely appreciative.  Carolyn was humble and not demanding, and we wanted to do anything for her we could.

“Brother Joe, I need to move tonight.”

How’s that?

She said, “I live in an apartment that is terrible. And I’ve lined up a new apartment that will be so much better for my children and me. But if I don’t move out of the old apartment tonight, I will lose my deposit.”

How much is your deposit, Carolyn?

Several hundred dollars.

About what she made in two weeks of work. A significant amount.

I asked where she lived now and where the new apartment was, and how much “stuff” she had.

It’s a good thing I did not know the full answers to these questions.

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What pastors do that cause their members to cringe

“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 died last week. This founder of the Crystal Cathedral in California and founder/host of television’s “Hour of Power” broadcast was 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.

When I read of his passing, I posted this on my Facebook page:

My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano lessons.  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. “Honey, any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, always end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.”  Schuller would say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life.  But my friend, you can end with a flourish if you start now.”


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

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Church leader, be the kid brother in the room.

“He who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves” (Luke 22:26).

Raise your hand if you’re the kid brother in a large family.

If so, you have been given an insight into this teaching of the Lord that most people miss altogether.

Now, in our family Mom and Dad had four sons and two daughters.  I was the number three son, born between sisters Patricia and Carolyn.  Ron was (still is) the eldest and Charlie was the youngest.  (Charlie died in 2006 and Glenn in 2014.)

Growing up, since he was the eldest in our large household, Ron took the role of the assistant father.  Whether Dad established that rule or not and whether the rest of us liked it or not, when Dad was not around, Ron called the shots.  Once when we were small, some relative came to our house and gave each of us a nickel. By nightfall, Ron had all the nickels. He’d traded or cajoled or something to corner the market on McKeever nickels.

As the baby of the family, little Charlie caught the brunt of everything.  He wore the hand-me-downs and had little say in family decisions.

I still smile at this exchange between Ron and Charlie when they were something like 15 and 6, respectively.  Ron called out, “Charlie! Come here.”  The little kid reluctantly came near.

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What to do, pastor, when you are the victim of a rumor

“Why would you rather not be wronged?…..For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:7,20).

In 1990, after a preacher had served only seven months and tore the church up twice, I arrived as the new pastor.

I  was not the excited new kid on the block as with my previous moves. This was different.

I had endured a brutal three years in my former pastorate and thought perhaps the Lord wanted this broken church (to which I was coming) and this bruised pastor (moi!) to help one another heal.

Some years later, I learned a preacher in our area was telling people that I had torn up this church because of some serious immorality.

I sought him out and asked if he were really saying this.

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Let the pastor respect his people.

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

Has the Lord ever spoken to you through your own words?

One morning recently, I posted the following on Facebook: Pastors, do not ever say that your people do not like change.  There are no 1947 Packards on your church parking lot. Even your seniors drive late-model cars, own flat-screen televisions, and are on the computer.  They do not mind change, so long as it’s not abrupt, not all at once, and not forced on them.  Pastor, respect your people and they may surprise you.

Where did that last sentence come from, I wondered as it flew off my fingers through the keyboard onto the screen.

That was a new thought.

“Pastors, respect your people.”

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