The Scripture’s description of your pastor

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the work of a bishop (literally ‘overseer,’ meaning the pastor or chief undershepherd of the church), he desires a good work.  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well….”  (I Timothy 3:1-7 is the full text.)

Dr. Gary Fagan was pastoring a church in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.  It was Wednesday night and time for the monthly business meeting of the congregation, usually an uneventful period for hearing reports on finances and membership and voting on recommendations concerning programs.  For reasons long forgotten, a man in the church–Dick was an engineer and a deacon–chose to stand and berate the pastor.  When he finished, he sat down and there was silence.

He was not used to being contradicted and the regulars were not foolhardy enough to take him on.

It took a new believer to do the job.

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Wondering what exactly “freedom of the pulpit” means

“Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). 

Marshall Ramsey, editorial cartoonist for our Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, told recently of his conversation with a colleague on another newspaper.  They were lamenting the rapidly dwindling number of editorial cartoonists. Marshall said, “When I got into this profession, there were less than 200 full-time editorial cartoonists. I’m not sure what an accurate count is today, but I’ve heard it’s a couple dozen.”

As newspapers go the way of dinosaurs–my friends say we who still depend on them for our news are the real dinosaurs!–they keep cutting back on staff.  Editorial cartoonists seem to have been some of the first to go.

Anyway, the two cartoonists were concerned over something that had just happened to a buddy on the staff of the Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette.  He’d been fired because his cartoons were “too critical of the President of the United States,” according to his publisher.

Marshall notes, “Saying an editorial cartoonist is too critical of a politician is the worst reason to fire an editorial cartoonist ever.  Critical editorial cartoons are as American as mom, apple pie, and Ben Franklin (he is credited with the first American one).”

So, how are things in Jackson between Marshall and the Clarion-Ledger, we wonder.  In his 21 years here, he says, “I’ve never taken an idea from an editor (or anyone else).  I have taken suggestions that might make the cartoon better or might make me realize I’ve done something really stupid.  That’s how editors edit.  The ideas are mine.”

His editors at the C-L, he says, do not want a cartoon they agreed with.  “They wanted the best cartoon I could draw.”  (see addendum)

Okay, fine. That started me thinking.

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Responding to Sabbath-worshipers

“The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

It often comes as a surprise to believers new to the faith that there are among us, in the Lord’s family, a small but vocal contingent who insist that true Christians should be worshiping on the seventh day of the week and not the first day, “The Lord’s Day,” as we call it.

Recently, on this page I told of a recent full-page ad in our local paper–and presumably in newspapers across the land–warning of the imminent fulfillment of the “seven trumpets” prophecies in Revelation.  The world’s population would soon be divided into two groups, said these doomsdayers. But whereas we would have expected the groups to be the faithful and the unfaithful, the sheep and the goats as Matthew 25 puts it, or something such, it turns out the single thing differentiating the two groups is one worships on the Sabbath, the seventh day, and the others on the first day of the week.  That’s it.

Truly amazing how much emphasis they put on a single command.  And they’re not alone.  Many who belong to denominations with “seventh day” or “Adventist” in their names promote seventh-day worship and rest and are constantly after the rest of the Christian family to get with the program.

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Deceived and being deceived: Trumpets sometimes blow wrong notes

“If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8). 

A woman in a friend’s Sunday School class took exception to his reading a passage from The Message, the paraphrase of Scripture from the highly esteemed Eugene Peterson.  “It’s evil,” she said.  She will not be back to that church.

And if you think she’ll be spreading the word that that church is liberal and has gone over to the dark side, I’m betting you’ll be right.

An evangelist asked a man what translation of Scriptures he was reading from. “The NASB,” he said.  “The MacArthur Study Bible.”  “That’s a terrible translation,” he said. “It’s wrong.  And wicked.” Just so easily does he dismiss the work of hundreds of biblical scholars who know far more about Hebrew and Greek and the ancient manuscripts than that evangelist (or this preacher!) can learn in several lifetimes.

One of two things is true.  Either the attacker is correct and the overwhelming majority of God’s redeemed are deceived.  Or, the attacker has been deceived, is seriously misguided, and is now slandering a huge part of the family of God.  The latter, I believe, is the case.

Speaking of deceiving and being deceived…

The Friday June 22, 2018, issue of our Clarion-Ledger carried a full page advertisement from some end-of-the-world people who did not name themselves other than to give their website– www.worldslastchance.com.

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“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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The test of an honest person (when discussing religion)

“In all things, love.”  –I Corinthians 16:14

That’s one test of a believer and a mighty important one it is.  Our Lord said it is the mark of a disciple.  (John 13:34-35)

Look for the love.  Otherwise, you know this one with whom you are discussing scriptures and doctrines is no follower of Jesus.

The cultist you’re talking religion to across the table or across the continent feels no need to love you since he/she has decided you are not a follower of Jesus since you disagree with their doctrine.  I’ve sat at a table with a Jehovah’s Witness who was brutal and mean-spirited and who may as well have thought of me as a child-molester by the scoffing and belittling he was dishing out.  (I was a younger pastor, and had not learned that there comes a time when it’s all right to say, “This meeting is over,” and walk out.)

But while love is the first mark of the believer, there’s another test for determining whether the person across the table is an honest seeker.

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Why a good pastor-teacher keeps repeating himself. Or herself.

“To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1).

“Now, students, as I was saying….”

“Some of you in the congregation have heard me tell of the time….”

“To reiterate….”

“We’re in a series on “Steps to Finding the Perfect Church.”  Let’s begin by reviewing the first 153 principles which we covered last week….”

We all repeat ourselves, whether by intention or omission.  We seniors get accused of repeating the same stories over and over.  (I tell people I’m a pastor, and “Hey–it’s what we do!”)

The effective pastor-teacher not only may repeat himself, but must.  Good teaching involves something called  spaced repetition.  After saying something essential, the teacher goes on to something else or tells a story, then returns and repeats it, often making an additional point.

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Germ warfare and Scripture

“Hear and understand.  Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Matthew 15:11).

How’s that again, Lord?

It would be easy here to say the Lord Jesus did not understand microscopic things like bacteria, viruses, and germ warfare.  Louis Pasteur was still eighteen centuries in the future.

Surely what we put into our mouths matters.

If Jesus were Who He claimed to be, and the One Scripture declares Him to have been, He knew the importance of cleanliness and purity.

It’s little things like this that trip up some modern readers.  Reading the Bible, they get hung up on terms like  “the four corners of the world,” “the sun rising,” and heaven being “up there somewhere”–all colloquialisms which we understand and use every day, but which cause problems for those looking for some reason to disbelieve the Holy Word.

But that’s not the entire story.

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The single best preparation you can do for preaching and teaching a text

“Upon that law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2). 

“Abide in me and let my word abide in you.”    John 15:1-10 (spoken or implied throughout these verses)

“Eat this book.”  (Ezekiel 3:1)

Get God’s Word inside you.

The best thing you can do to prepare to preach or teach a text is to live in it for many days prior to the moment.  This means reading it again and again until you know what it’s saying. After that, read it again until you see even more.

Then, you think about it, reflect on it, meditate on it.  You go to bed thinking about it, you mull it over while driving, and you talk to the Lord about it while praying.

Read it slowly.  Read it aloud.  Read from various translations and paraphrases.

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How legalism betrays Christ, violates the gospel, and destroys people

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?….And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?'” (Matthew 15:1-3)

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Historians tell us the Pharisees started off well, as revivalists in a way, calling the nation back to faithfulness.  Eventually, however, their insistence on righteousness settled down into a code of laws and rules.  They went from being encouragers to harassers, from lovers of God to bullies and legalists.

The legalist is someone who says, “I know the Lord didn’t say this, but He would have if He’d thought of it!”

The legalist is smarter than God.  He helps the Lord by completing His Word, by filling in the gaps where the Lord clearly forgot to say something, explain something, or require a thing.

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