When a private apology is not enough

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”  “Why are you telling me this?  Get out there and confess to those you hurt.”

Some repentance is cheap, some apologies all too easy.

A deacon pitched a royal fit in a church business meeting.  I’ve long since forgotten the issue.  Afterward, a visitor came to me and said, “I belong to Such-and-such church.  If one of our members spoke to the pastor the way that man did you, the church would have risen up in arms.  But your people sat there and took it.  That is alarming.”

I suppose they sat there quietly because they’d seen it happen so often. Anyway…

A few days later that deacon came to my office and apologized.

Don’t miss this: The damage he did was very public; his apology was in private.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Continue reading

“I’m very good at what I do,” she said.

This is all about excellence.  Not perfection, but giving your best, leaving nothing in the locker room, cutting no corners.  Whether we are the janitor in the school, the yardman at the church, or serving the President of the United States. 

She was telling me how she came to make the hard decision to change jobs.

“I was working in the fraud division of a financial company,” she said. “They trained me for the position and I was working hard at it.  But for some reason, I just wasn’t getting it.  And that felt bad.”

“I’m very good at what I do,” she explained.

“So this was a new thing for me.  I went to work feeling uncomfortable, like I was not doing what they had brought me there for.”

“Then, a former co-worker who knew me and worked for a bank, recommended me to her boss.  I interviewed and felt quickly this was where I needed to be.”

Continue reading

Is God interested in making me happy?

“He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

“…And now I am happy all the day” (“At the Cross,” a gospel song in our hymnals).

It’s good to be happy.  I’m all in favor of it, and I think the Lord is also.

However.

God’s primary concern is not in making us happy.  He does not fret because someone is displeased with the job He is doing, someone else is .unhappy with the way a Scripture text is worded, and another is complaining about the weather today.

Pleasing us does not appear to be high on His agenda.  He seems not in the least concerned that some of us do not like His methods or the personnel He has sent in our direction as our teachers, pastors, comforters, companions.

I can just hear it now.  “Lord, are you aware that some of us are unhappy with you?  Doesn’t that concern you?”  He that sitteth in  the Heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2)

Scripture shows that God is far more interested in pleasing Himself and making Himself happy than in satisfying us.

Continue reading

Don’t give us your testimony; show us Jesus.

“For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

“I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

I’ve been looking back over twenty years of articles, notes, and journals where I recorded happenings in the churches I pastored.  Some of those events left scars, memories, and lessons enough for a lifetime.  Some people in those stories are forever unforgettable, either for their amazing examples of Christlikeness or for lesser reasons.

Recently on this website, I chronicled the doings of a few people who were angry over nothing, raging all the time, finding fault where none existed, then pinning blame when confronted.  I suggested the reason for this behavior: They are lost.  Unsaved.  “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” says I Corinthians 2:14, “for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he understand them for they are spiritually discerned.”

That says it as well as anything.

Today–a week after posting that piece–I was reflecting on some of those people, a few in particular. And, realizing that most are now passed to their heavenly reward (or lack thereof; not for me to say), I prayed the Lord would be merciful to them.  And at that point, the Lord explained something to me.

Continue reading

When life peels away everything that defines you, who are you?

“Take heed and beware of covetousness.  For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses”(Luke 12:15).

“What do you do?”  In our society, that’s often the first question people ask.  It implies…

–that you do something in the way of a career.  Woe to the unemployed and those who call themselves homemakers.

–that you are what you do.  That your identity is bound up in what you do to earn an income.  Too bad if you lose your job or retire.  You become a cipher, at least in the minds of some.

If you don’t have a job, who are you?  If, like my wife Bertha, you loved being married to a pastor, when God takes him home and you can no longer fill the role you loved so much–the wife of a pastor–then who are you?

In our world, people’s names were often given in accordance with what they did. They received names like Baker, Cook, Weaver, Smith, Taylor, Hunter, Fisher, Farmer, Shepherd, Miller, Marshall, Ward.

I want to call your attention to a little story found in Luke 12.  Then, I’ll be asking you to use your imagination with me…

Continue reading

You are somebody! Finding our identity in Christ

“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

We are loved. We are winners.

“I’m me and that’s good. Cause God don’t make no junk.” –from a poster by a child in a ghetto.  (source unknown)

The man said, “I think my wife’s health problems go back to something in her childhood, as to how she was treated.  She seems to have trouble accepting who she is in Christ.”

It’s always fascinating to consider what gives us our identity.  And what conditions robbed us of the same.

“Smart Aleck” is the biography of Alexander Woollcott, drama critic for the New York Times a long time ago.  Published in 1976, the book has been gathering dust in my library waiting for me to get to it.  I started a few days ago.  Woollcott is said to have been a master wordsmith, which is what made me order the book in the first place.

Continue reading

Irresponsibility and Bitterness: two sides of the same painful coin

Not responsible for broken windshields.”

We’ve all seen that sign on the back of large trucks on the highway.

But if the rock hitting my car flew out of that truck’s unsecured load, the driver is responsible, regardless of the sign.  The lawcourts have established this, and lawyers get rich making the point…again and again and again.

I write on this website for pastors and church leaders.  We try to encourage pastors to faithfulness and greater effectiveness, and to lift their spirits when circumstances crush them.  As a result, I sometimes receive critical notes from those who have been abused by pastors.

My pastor husband divorced me and ran off with the secretary.  The church supported him and kept him on.  The children sided with their dad and now will have nothing to do with me. Where is God when this happened?  I’ve quit going to church and question whether God really cares.

I hear from the adult children of ministers who were mistreated by their churches:

Continue reading

Mediocrity

“…you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold…” (Revelation 3:16)

Mediocrity is a warm blanket.

Mediocrity is remaining with the bunch that finishes neither early or late, that turns in work much like everyone else’s, that is satisfied with pretty good.

Mediocrity is the head in the sand when the storm is raging around us.

Close your eyes until it all blows over.

Mediocrity is the coward’s way out when life-or-death decisions are being made.  “Well, let’s give this some more thought.”  “Let’s not be too hasty here.”  “We don’t want people to think we’re extremists.”

There’s safety in mediocrity.  We’re like everyone around us.  We don’t stand out.  No one criticizes us. They don’t even see us.  We blend into the landscape.

Our English word mediocre comes from two Latin words, medi meaning “halfway,” and ocris meaning “mountain.”  Somewhere there is a list of everyone climbing to the crest of Mount Everest.  But no one ever bothered to note those who got half way up and turned around for home.

Continue reading

“Honor the king.” And other impossible commands.

“Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (I Peter 2:17)

The Lord seems to delight in calling His disciples to do impossible things, actions which the flesh rebels against, the world scoffs at, and we sometimes question.

I expect He’s trying to shock us out of our comfort zone and into the freedom of the Spirit where obedience to Him is as natural as breathing and where we do our best work.

His is a big job.  To our detriment, we find ourselves questioning most of our Lord’s commands and dragging our feet about obeying some in particular.

For most, the four brief commands of I Peter 2:17 rank among the least doable and most unpleasant.  Nor are we allowed to dismiss them as “not from Jesus but from Peter.” We either believe in the inspiration of Holy Scripture or we do not.

Continue reading

Things the devil knows about you…but prefers you don’t learn

“In order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Corinthians 2:11)

First, Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44).  He is a fallen angel who was banished to earth (Revelation 12:9).  He is one angry being (Revelation 12:12) since he knows that after his days here are ended, he goes straight into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).

Keep that in mind.

You don’t want to trust that fellow. He is without the faintest hope of any future, big-time angry at God, and a liar of the first order.  That’s a terrible combination. Don’t ever go into partnership with someone like that.

Trust nothing he says. Accept no promises from this liar.

However, he’s smart.  Giving the devil his due, Martin Luther said of him, “On earth is not his equal.”  You and I are no match for him by ourselves.

Continue reading