Let the pastor take charge of his own education

Ruth Bell Graham once said many wives are frustrated from expecting their husbands to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be.

That same principle works on so many directions.

Many a pastor is disappointed in his Bible college or seminary education as a result of unrealistic expectations.  Those theological schools buy into this error by periodic polling of their alums to ask, “What do you wish we had taught you?  What subjects should we have included? What skills did you need for which you were unprepared?”  Soon, the provosts and deans assemble a new package of courses and give it its own name–“Masters of Divinity with Specialty in Whatever”–and life goes on.

I guarantee you that the next generation of preachers will also produce a list of subjects their school should have taught.  It’s the nature of the beast since life is always moving forward, cultures change, people are never static, and one more big reason. Maybe the biggest of all.

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The subtle way we preachers brag

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; let not the mighty man glory in his might;  nor let the rich glory in his riches.  But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these I delight, says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

I am a preacher, bear in mind. So, I know how it’s done.  After all–pay attention now–I pastored six churches for forty-two years, some of them large, influential churches.  Why, in one of my churches, I had a deacon who was a commissioner of the F.D.I.C., appointed by President Reagan.  And the sister of Dr. Billy Graham was a member.  In fact….

Okay.  See what I’m doing here?

Bragging in a subtle, indirect way is  an art not taught in seminary, but picked up along the way, believe me.

Yes, friends, you too can learn how to brag on yourself in an indirect, humble way!!

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God told me I was to come to your church staff–and other crazy stuff like that.

“Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string….” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Emerson meant well.  But boy, did he ever miss it by a country mile.

Your heart can do crazy things to your guidance system.  Giving it free rein to set the direction of one’s life can be risky.

“Trust yourself” is good advice for some people in some situations.  As a blanket rule for all people in all situations, no sir.  Not even close.

The letter came from a minister of music in the next state.

I see that your church is looking for a minister of music/worship leader.  I serve (name) church in (town, state) and am enclosing my resume.  Not long ago as I was in your city, the Lord told me I was to become your next minister of music.  I look forward to hearing from you.”

That hit me like some woman saying God told her she was to be my next wife.

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Proud of our ignorance

“Though by this time you ought to be teachers,  you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).

Warren Wiersbe once heard a preacher announce, “I didn’t never go to school!  I’m just a igerant Christian, and I’m glad I is.”

Dr. Wiersbe countered, “A man does not have to go to school to gain spiritual intelligence; but neither should he magnify his ‘igerance.'”

Spiritual knowledge is available to all who will open God’s word and sit before the feet of the Savior.  But, we hasten to add, it does not happen in a few minutes.  We do not take a pill for spiritual maturity and godly knowledge.  It’s more the result of what has been called “a long obedience in the same direction.”

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Why I hate arguing about religion

“An overseer (pastor) then must be…gentle, not quarrelsome….” (I Timothy 3:3).

Friends think I love to stir the pot and incite people to argue. I do not.

What I am trying to do with the days the Father has left for me on this rotating ball of sod is to take a public stand for things I believe to be scriptural, right, and good.  And needed.

Invariably, that will stir up some folks.

Always has; always will.

I wrote an article a few years ago that is still circling the planet and daily doing two big things:  blessing all who believe Scripture and take God at His word, and enraging those who are wed to their denomination’s warped/dwarfed doctrine and want to argue.

I know that sounds egotistical, but if I thought otherwise I would delete the article and be quiet.

I’m turning 79 years old in a few short weeks and believe I’ve finally learned a few things about God, about the Lord Jesus, about His Word–and about His people.

Now….

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What to do with the problem of immature church members

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

“By this time you ought to be teachers, (but) you need someone to teach you the first principles of God, and have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).

A church leader was venting.  “We have so many immature members.  And the problem is, they want to stay that way!”

The leader said, “How do we deal with our discouragement?  How can we keep from becoming Pharisees who constantly see their faults and not their potential?  And how do we love those who cause so much trouble in the church by their immature actions?”

The letter concluded, “I feel like I’m in danger of becoming like the Ephesus church, the one which had lost its first love.”  A reference to Revelation 2:1-7.

My first thought upon reading the question was: “You’re not alone, my friend.  Every spiritual leader fights that same battle, although not to the same extent.”

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The single piece of advice this generation cannot handle

Recently on a college campus where I spent four hours sketching students in the dining area, I noticed posters up and down the hall with the college logo and this message:

DREAM BIG;  PLAN WELL;  BE ANYTHING

Since I kept running into the message, it kept hammering at me. Finally, I realized what was wrong.

It was missing something.  Something vital.

The posters should say:  DREAM BIG; PLAN WELL; WORK HARD; BE ANYTHING.

They left out the crucial step of implementing the plans.  What we call “old fashioned work.”

That’s a most unpopular concept, I am aware.  This generation, much like the one before it, thinks that positive thinking and “dreaming big” will accomplish anything.

Today, while studying Philip Nation’s book on “Revelation 1-3,” a preparation for the January Bible Study on the “7 churches of Asia Minor,” I came across this.  Referencing the word “labor” in Revelation 2:2, Nation said, “The Greek word for ‘labor’ originally meant a beating and the grief that accompanied it.”  I read that and thought, “Then it’s not just this generation.  People have always hated work!”

In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve are confronted with their sin, God tells the man, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field.  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread….” (Genesis 3:17-19).

When asked if work is a curse upon mankind because of the original sin, it helps if we remember that before all of this, when God created man and woman, we are told, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (2:15).  John MacArthur says, “Work was an important and dignified part of representing the image of God and serving Him, even before the Fall.”

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Reality and Fantasy: If we don’t know the difference, we’re in trouble!

In his book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, actor Michael J. Fox points out that some people take far too seriously what they see on the screen:

No matter how fantastic a move’s premise is, there are always a special few who buy in and accept the (craziness) at face value, like the hoverboard (seen in his 1985 movie Back to the Future). I’ve fielded more questions about hoverboards than any other aspect of the trilogy.  Otherwise sane people were convinced that these devices actually existed, especially after (Director) Bob Zemeckis made tongue-in-cheek comments to the press about parent groups preventing toy manufacturers from putting them on the market (this resulted in hundreds of kids calling Mattel, demanding hoverboards for Christmas).  Believe me, if someone had actually devised and manufactured a flying skateboard capable of propelling a surfer on an invisible wave of air, he didn’t let me in on the secret.  It could have spared me from hours of dangling like a flesh-and-blood Pinocchio.  Alternately strapped into every manner of harness, hinged leg brace, and flying apparatus the most sadistic special-effects engineers could devise, my foot stapled to that pink piece of plastic, I spent hours attached to metal cables, swinging from sixty-foot cranes, back and forth across the Courthouse Square set.

People believed those things existed?  Apparently there is no boundary outside which some people will not stray when it comes to gullibility.  If it’s on the big screen, it must be true.  This is a variation of a greater truth: If it’s on the internet, it’s automatically true.

This is where we all roll our eyes.

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Young people, young Christians, young pastors: “Read! Read! Read some more!”

“Write this down,” said God to Moses and various prophets, as recorded in Holy Scripture.  If He wanted His story written, God surely intended it to be read.

I’m a reader.  I’m sure my mind exaggerates, but as a preteen, I recall feeling that I had read all the books in the Winston County Library in Double Springs, AL.  Furthermore, in those days, public libraries had bookmobiles–trucks equipped with small libraries, which made the rounds of the rural countryside.  It was a great arrangement.

Both my sons are avid readers; my daughter not so much. The reason:  We read constantly to our boys when they were little, but our daughter came to us from Korea when she was five. Sadly we missed those most influential years.

The sharpest people you know are readers; the dullest never crack a book.  My parents both read constantly. There was never a time in my growing up years when we did not take the newspaper, and sometimes more than one. In 2007, when God took our Dad the family had to cancel a half dozen subscriptions to magazines he was taking.  He was nearly 96.

At the moment, my bedside table holds books on Herbert Hoover, Leadership in Turbulent Times, The Battle of Britain, and the history of the Natchez Trace.  Six months ago, the list would have been composed of all westerns, and a week or two later several crime or mystery novels.  In my “office” (which looks a lot like our breakfast room!) to the left of the laptop are three study books on Revelation.  We are running over with books around here.  And I love it.

In her book, Leadership In Turbulent Times, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells how several presidents came to develop their gifts for influencing others and leading the nation.  Early on, with Abraham Lincoln, there was a love for books. She writes:

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About the time you start feeling good about your humility….

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).

Humility is a strange bird.  If you think you have it, it’s a pretty good indication you don’t.  If you think you do not have it, it’s possible you do or that you do not.  Hard to tell.

Humility is known more by what it does and refuses to do, how it works and serves, and what it talks about and refuses to mention.  You can see it better in someone else than in yourself.

I said to 78-year-old Marguerite Briscoe, “You are the most Christ-like person I know.”  She said, “Oh honey, if you just knew.”  I was 45 years her junior at that moment, but am now the same age as she. And I do know.

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