Things a pastor does not tell

I had a phone call from my insurance man the other day.

Jim lives in another city and we never see each other, but his company is national and I saw no reason to switch homeowners insurance when he moved away.  He’s a solid Christian and I like him.

When Jim believes something, he can be tenacious.

He called urging me to vote for a certain candidate for the U.S. Senate.  I listened to him and when he insisted that I go to a certain website and watch a video, I made no promises.  That did not please him. Frankly, listening to claims and arguments and promises from political candidates is not on my list of favorite things to do.  The attacks and disclaimers are so arbitary and voters are rarely treated as though they have a lick of sense and the judgment of an adult that I try to skip them as much as possible.

Jim called later to see if I had listened to the tape.  I forget what I told him, but I tried to say gently that he had done quite enough.

A couple of days later, I went to the courthouse and voted absentee since I’ll be in another state in revival on election day.

I did not say and would not if asked, how I voted.

It’s no one’s business.

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Today’s headline: Teachers are arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old student

“Now Eli was very old, and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (I Samuel 2:22).

(From time to time on this website, we post warnings to ministers about the dangers of sexual transgressions and urge great care in relationships with everyone, male or female. Invariably, some people reply that the fault belongs completely with the lecherous ministers, or they wonder why I’m always blaming the women.  Nevertheless, the news today reminds us to keep trying to get this across. The battle is never-ending.)

There is nothing new under the sun. Unfortunately.

In a high school not far from where I live, two women teachers–both of them gorgeous and young, by the front-page photos–were arrested yesterday for inviting a 16-year-old male student to an apartment and having three-way sex with him.  Both women are English teachers, and one is exactly twice the age of the student.

The fall-out from this tragic event is enormous.  Lives are disrupted, the school is in turmoil, and families are torn up.

We have laws against this for good reason.

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How to study a Scripture all by yourself–and find it life-changing

“If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was” (James 1:23-24).

I’m going to suggest that you find a scripture–a story, a teaching, or a scene–and live in it for a few days.

Doing so might change forever how you study the Word.

A certain text has snagged your attention and you wonder why.  Perhaps it puzzled you or intrigued you, angered you even or delighted you.  Whatever your reaction, the fact that your attention was directed there is often the Holy Spirit indicating He has something rich for you here, something He is sending just for you.

That’s pretty wonderful when that happens.

Before zeroing in on one of those stories for this study–an example of a parable that is far richer than I ever imagined at first–let me mention some favorite scenes in the Gospels which I have found to be rich and “loaded.”  You may find one of them to be just your size and one you will want to live with for the next few days.

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What’s in a name? Apparently a great deal.

“I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

“When the shepherd puts forth his sheep, he calls them by name” (John 10:3).

The sweetest sound in all the world, we’re told, is our own name.

We can be dozing through the roll call, but the sound of our own name being spoken penetrates the mist and wakes us up.

We can be reading a report or newspaper and hardly paying attention. Our own name in black and white jumps out at us. It may as well have been in letters three inches high.

My name is who I am.

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The wimp in me hates to be criticized.

“Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite?  Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him” (2 Samuel 16:11).

There’s something about us preachers that loves compliments and runs from criticism.

We preachers can be the biggest wimps on the planet.

Maybe it’s that way with everyone, I don’t know.

Let a preacher receive an anonymous note outlining what he’s doing wrong or a phone call dissecting last Sunday’s sermon and he is done for the week. He will be needing the attention of a good therapist.

We could learn a lot from politicians and others in the public arena. I’ve read that President Eisenhower enjoyed something like a 65 percent approval rating all eight years of his presidency, the highest of anyone since.  This means 35 percent of the America public thought he was a failure.  And yet, he is lauded as a winner.

Let 35 percent of the typical church give their preacher a vote of no-confidence and he’s enduring sleepless nights, unable to focus on anything, and scheduling himself for career counseling at his denominational headquarters.

All of this was prompted by two things.

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The easiest texts are often the hardest to preach

“Be ye kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).

For good reason, young beginning pastors do not take the standard old texts for their first sermons.  Few feel qualified to produce a full sermon on such subjects as:

John 3:16.  The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Salvation by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Love one another (John 13:34-35). Forgiveness. The home. Kindness (see above).

That’s why beginning preachers almost always gravitate to the exotic texts.  They find those strange little metaphors, unusual verses, and unfamiliar images and light on them.

Perhaps it’s easier to get their minds around such, I don’t know.  One of my first sermons was suggested by “a house in a cucumber patch,” from Isaiah 1:8.  That image had brought to mind an old bungalow where some relatives of ours used to live far out in the country, but which was later abandoned and soon completely covered by kudzu vines.  Eventually, a massive mound of green vines stood there, hiding what used to be a house. What point my sermon made from that has long been forgotten.

Why didn’t I preach on grander (and safer?) subjects like the incarnation of Jesus, His miracles, His amazing teachings and sinless life, and of course, His death, burial, and resurrection?  Answer: Any of those subjects would be so huge and I felt so small.

I could no more preach a full-length sermon on John 3:16 than swim the Atlantic.

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Why preachers bang their heads against the wall and some counselors quit

Michelle Singletary writes a financial advice column for the Washington Post.  Our New Orleans Advocate runs it a day or two later.

Ten years ago, a fellow wrote Ms. Singletary for advice. He was planning to marry his fiancee of 18 months as soon as they dealt with her spending habits which were clearly out of control. Her closet contained 400 pairs of shoes, many still new, and was overflowing with clothing. She justified her spendthrift ways by saying she works two jobs and looks for bargains.

The man asked Michelle Singletary, “What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?”

Ms. Singletary urged him to postpone this marriage. They were not close to being ready until this was solved. She suggested pulling credit reports, seeing what that revealed and then finding a credit counselor.

That was ten years ago.

The other day, Michelle Singletary received an email from that guy telling her what happened.  The news is not good.

He did none of the things Ms. Singletary had suggested.

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Living for God without reading your Bible? Don’t even try it!

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).

You cannot do this on your own.

Don’t try this by yourself.

The Christian life should come with a warning label.

“Try this without the Scriptures as your constant guide and you will fail.”

Many a well-intentioned child of God has gotten off on a detour in life by denying themselves the guidance of a daily time with an open Bible. Some have strayed into wickedness because they lost their spiritual compass. Millions have lapsed into a religion of feelings and opinions and hunches due to their ignorance of God’s Word.

–I met some women who told me they no longer worship with other Christians. One said, “God showed me that I am the church.”  Because they did not know their Bible (or had rejected what they did know), they turned their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We cannot say this too strongly: he who rejects the Lord’s people is rejecting the Lord Himself.  See Luke 10:16.

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More about “Once Saved Always”

(At the request of the editor of a magazine we referenced in this article, we are removing all references to a recent event concerning them.)

Imagine this scenario.

I get a letter from the Honda Financial Services each month. That part is not imaginary.  At the end of 2012, I purchased a Honda CR-V for my wife and me.  We paid most of the price in cash, and financed the balance for two years.  So, even though the Honda people receive my payment by a bank draft without my having to do anything, they still send me a receipt each month. At this point, I still have about four months to go on this contract.

But suppose I received a letter from Honda saying something like this:

“Dear Customer: It has been our pleasure to receive your  bank draft for $428.51 each month over the past year and a half. We here in the corporate offices of Honda Financial Services have come to a decision and want to inform you that we wish to continue receiving this amount from you after the contract has expired.  We know that you are enjoying your Honda automobile and therefore will want to do your part to maintain this wonderful relationship.  However, our legal department informs us that we should alert you to the reality that if you discontinue making these monthly payments, we will be forced to repossess the car.  Have a nice day.”

Even after it’s paid for, I must keep making the payments if I wish to continue owning their car.  Miss a payment and they take it back.

Yikes.

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“Lily”

Lily has been in Heaven for some 15 years or more. She left no children, so there’s no one left of her family to read this and no good reason not to tell it.

Lily was a classy lady, about the age of my father and the widow of an executive who left her fairly well off, although not rich. Before retiring, she had put in a full career as a public school librarian.  Because she had no children she was generous with her two nieces, with her church, her college, and her pastors.

When I announced I was leaving and would no longer be her pastor, she invited me to lunch and handed me a check for $1,000. “I want you to come back and do my funeral.”  I forget my exact promise to her, but it was probably along the lines of “If I possibly can, I will be here.”  Pastors are unable to make long-range open-ended promises because of the nature of their responsibilities. (Complicating the matter was that I had taken a leave of absence from that church with no knowledge of where the Lord would be sending me next. Distance could be an issue on returning for her funeral, as well as unforeseeable circumstances.)

Over the next few years, she would repeat the “agreement” we had, that I was expected to do her funeral.

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