“Now, the Greek word used here means….”

The pastor says “Now, in the original Greek, this word means….” and church members roll their eyes.  Oh brother, some are thinking.

Or, he might say,  “In the original Hebrew, that word is…..and it means…..”

To the pastors among us, I ask: Is this necessary?

I find a great many church members are completely turned off by this little one-upsmanship of the preacher.  It feels to many like he’s showing off, bragging that he knows some Greek.

I’m not one to say the preacher is showing off.  After all, if he studied the language for a few years, clearly learning the Bible in its original forms is important to him, he is now capable of bringing in some of the finer insights from the Word.

But he must not overdo it by trying too hard or expecting too much.

I fear I’ve done this so many times in the past. Forgive me, members of the six churches I’ve served.

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What makes prayer so difficult. And why we keep at it.

In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know how to pray as we should.  But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  (Romans 8:26)

Tomorrow is the National Day of Prayer.  That’s a good thing.  It keeps us focused on the importance of prayer, and probably dumps a load of guilt on all of us for not praying more or better.

Three aspects of prayer make it difficult, and probably even unreasonable.  And then, one overwhelming reality keeps us at it with the strong confidence that praying is the best thing we can ever do.

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Someone’s been praying for me. Thank you!

Meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers, I shall be granted to you.  (Philemon 22)

Paul wanted prayer that he would arrive safely and on time at his appointed destination.

I ask for that all the time.

More things are wrought by prayer, said Alfred Lord Tennyson, than this world dreams of. Surely, he was right.

We never know when someone is praying, never know when something good resulted from the prayers of our intercessor, and never know when their prayers protected us.

As a preacher supposedly retired, I log some 30 to 35,000 miles a year up and down the highways, primarily to preach and serve the Lord.  Last week, ministering in west Texas and in two churches here in Mississippi, I added another couple of thousand miles to the odometer.

Twice in recent history, I have come within a hair’s breadth of buying the farm (cashing in my chips, calling it a day, giving up the ghost; choose your metaphor.).  Both times, I was at fault, which is a sobering thought.

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How to pray like a Pharisee

“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites… Therefore, do not be like them…” (Matthew 6:8).

All right, class, listen up.  If you expect to be the next generation of hypocrites, you need to give me your full attention.  The old Pharisees will be passing off the scene before long, and we’ll need a new class of the double-minded–you know, the play-actors–ready to step up and fill their ranks.

Tongue firmly planted in cheek now, everyone?  All right. Let us proceed….

It’s not easy being a hypocrite.  You’re always working on two levels, keeping things to yourself while presenting another image to the world.  And that’s hard.  It takes a pretty smart person to pull this off.  Shallow lazy people can be a lot of things, but not a successful Pharisee.

Scripture says “a double-minded person is unstable in all his ways;  he should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” That’s James 1:7-8.  We cite it here for two reasons. First, to say how tough our calling is, and second, to remind ourselves that being hypocrites we’re not expecting to receive anything from the Lord for our prayers.  That’s not the point.

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How to tell you’ve lost the joy of salvation

“Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” –Psalm 51:12.

Just because salvation is for eternity, anchored forever in the faithfulness of God, does not mean you cannot lose the closeness and fellowship with our wonderful Lord.  A married couple can lose their joy and intimacy for a season, although the marriage is still valid and intact.

God’s faithfulness does not wax hot and cold depending on what we do or how we felt when we woke up this morning.  He does not undo our salvation when we weaken and falter.  The blessings upon us are conditional to our faithfulness and may dry up, but the relationship never varies.  Forever, we are His and He is ours.

My children may be in or out of my favor at given times, but they are still mine.

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10 pet peeves about church from one who loves The Church

By “pet peeve,” we mean only a minor disagreement.  An annoyance. We find certain things irritating, but they are not deal-breakers.  No federal case, no mountains from a molehill.  Okay to disagree.  A personal thing is all.

One.  The pastor rises to begin his sermon, and says to the congregation, “Will you stand in honor of the Word of God?”

It sounds noble.  It is meant to inspire honor for Holy Scripture.

My question is: So, preacher, do you have them jump up every time you quote a verse of Scripture? Then, why do it at the first?  And if you say this practice is scriptural, which it is (Nehemiah 8:5), then why don’t you have them stand up throughout the entire sermon? The Bible says Jesus sat down to preach (Luke 4:20).  And somewhere it says the people stood up while he preached.

What it feels like–to me at least–is the preacher is trying to come across as holier than those who do not ask people to stand for the reading of the Word.  He saw some other preacher do it and thought it was a good idea.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, only that it’s unnecessary and may be motivated by less-than-noble motives.  But it’s not a deal-breaker. Do it if you feel strongly about it.  (Ask them to stand every time you quote a verse, however, and this will go south quickly! Smile, please.)

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The most difficult aspect of praying

“We do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26).

I know some things my  pet does not.

My dog thinks he wants to fight that pesky cat next door. By his barking and straining at the leash, Albie gives every indication that chasing that cat would be the high point of his day.  It wouldn’t.  It would be his greatest nightmare.

That little cat sits on the driveway, completely unmoving when my dog walks within 10 feet, barking and snarling and threatening.  The cat hardly blinks an eye.  Another day at the office.  Another house dog who thinks he wants a piece of me but has no idea the trouble he’s asking for.

I know what a fierce cat can do to a sweet little house-broken dog that has never been in a real fight in his life.  I know his instincts tell him to chase the cat–that this is what he was put here on Earth for–but I know better.

I hold the leash and lead this lovely little canine on to other things, and as far away from that fierce little feline as we can get.

And just so does our Lord lead His children.

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Two of my best ideas for ministry

I’m tempted to say, “Some of my best ideas for ministry came from other people.”  Which is true, of course. Ask any pastor or staffer.   And, just as equally true, some of my best ideas bombed and I wouldn’t want to tell you about them.  Smiley-face here.

But here are a couple of things the Lord gave me (I know, I know. We should say that cautiously, lest we join the Name Above All Other Names to something unworthy) that not only worked out, but turned out to be some of the best things we did in my last pastorate…

First idea.  An idea for stewardship.   Purpose: To motivate people to tithe their incomes to the church over the difficult summer months

Summer is hard on churches which live from month to month financially.  And yes, sometimes from week to week. People go on vacations or find distractions to take them away on weekends. A large segment of the Lord’s flock give only when they are in church.  Sundays when they are out, the church goes lacking.

Once when our church was hurting financially–which seemed to be a constant for that congregation–the Lord gave me the idea which we were to name “SUMMER BLESSED.”  (I have no memory of the moment the idea arrived or whether it was sparked by something another church was doing.)

In naming it “Summer Blessed,” the idea was to “make this a summer blessed of the Lord.”  With the full support of the church leadership, I threw out this challenge to our congregation:  “Tithe your income for the three months of the summer and do so faithfully.  Then, at the end of August if you do not feel your life has been immeasurably blessed as a result, if you will request a refund, we will return all the money you gave to the church.”

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Someone is praying for the preacher: Thank you!

I could tell the day I was no longer president of our denomination.  People across the nation had been praying for me, and now they were praying for the new guy.  I could feel the slackening off of the prayers.  It’s a terrible feeling. –From one of our past denominational leaders 

Her name was Mary Ann Adlar.  (Not sure about the spelling of her name.)  An invalid, her life was devoted to praying from her small cottage in the southern part of England. Sometime in the 1860s Miss Adlar heard of a man in America whom God was using mightily.  She began praying for Dwight L. Moody, that God would send him to her church in England.  Her beloved country was desperately in need of a Heaven-sent revival, she felt.

In 1872, an exhausted Dwight L. Moody came to England on a vacation.  He met the pastor of Miss Adlar’s church, and was invited to preach there.  There was such power in the service, Moody was invited to stay for a series of meetings.  Four hundred people came to Christ that week.  Moody asked the pastor whether someone had been praying. Surely they had, he reasoned.

The pastor asked around and found Mary Ann Adlar, the woman whose prayers brought a preacher across an ocean and brought revival to her church.

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Pastor, you’ve been asked to pray at a convention of some kind

Every pastor gets invited to offer invocations at public gatherings.  It goes with the territory.

I once prayed at the grand opening of a big box home-and-hardware store.  As a thank-you, they gave me an electric Stihl saw.  Not being a woodworker, I passed it on to a neighbor.

Once in a pastor’s office I noticed the wall covered with plaques and degrees and framed certificates.  Not only was his high school diploma on display, but when the local supermarket thanked him for praying at their grand opening, he framed that letter too.

Okay.  Here’s what happens.  The secretary of the city council or school board or state legislature calls.  “Pastor, would you say the opening prayer at next Wednesday’s session?”  Before the call ends, you may expect them to say something like, “And pastor, please make the prayer inclusive.”  Or interdenominational.  Or non-sectarian.  What she means is a) don’t preach to us and try to convert people in your prayer and b) if you must include Jesus, try to be gentle about it.

In other words, be nice.

You would think no one would have to tell a preacher to be considerate of others when he prays.  But these public prayers have been abused by so many preachers, it’s necessary.

Now, if they tell me to leave Jesus out of it–in just so many words–I tell them I will not be able to help them, but “thank you so much for asking.”

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