7 laws of service in the Kingdom

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).   “A disciple is not above his teacher or a slave above his master” (Luke 6:24). 

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Rudy and Rose traveled to New Orleans to help.  Unable to find a place to plug in, Rudy walked into the kitchen of Williams Boulevard Baptist Church and volunteered.  That church was strategically situated next to the Highway Patrol headquarters which was hosting hundreds of troopers from the nation, as they protected the darkened city. The church had become a hotel for the troopers and the women of the congregation were serving three meals a day.  They welcomed Rudy and assigned him to the garbage detail.

Not exactly what he had in mind.

Rudy had been pastoring a church in southern Canada.  When he saw the suffering of our people on television–entire neighborhoods flooded, thousands homeless, people being rescued off rooftops–he resigned his church, sold his gun collection to fund the move, and he and Rose came to help.

Now, he ends up emptying garbage cans.  By his own admission, Rudy was developing an attitude problem.

One day he was lifting a large bag of garbage into the dumpster.  The kitchen workers had been told not to put liquid garbage into the bags, but evidently they didn’t get the message. Suddenly, as Rudy was lifting it up, the bag ripped and all kinds of kitchen leftovers poured down over him–gumbo, red beans and rice, gravy, grease, whatever.  

Rudy stood there drenched in garbage, crying like a baby.

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Interview yourself. Discover how interesting (or dull) you are!

“Let every man examine himself….” (I Corinthians 11:28).  The women too. 

Toward the end of each issue, Vanity Fair magazine interviews some celebrity.  The questions they pose are good ones.  Consider answering them for yourself.

Here are the questions in the September 2017 issue–

–What is your idea of perfect happiness?

–What is your favorite journey?

–What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

–On what occasion do you lie?

–What do you dislike most about your appearance?

–Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

–What do you consider your greatest achievement?

–What is your greatest regret?

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The kind of preaching we like; the type of preacher we want

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah.  And there eat bread and there do your prophesying!  But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.” (Amos 7:12-13).

My journal from a number of years back has this:

Got a letter today from a sweet, humble (really), godly lady who criticized the preaching of our Thanksgiving guest preacher.  She said, ‘Notice what he did last Tuesday night.  He told of the 9 thankless lepers and suggested reasons why they did not give thanks. Many people left our church when he was here because of this kind of preaching.”

Our speaker had been the interim pastor before I arrived. For some 18 months he had ministered to our troubled congregation as they tried to recover from a devastating split.  He had been the essence of faithfulness.

She continued, “Our people want line upon line, precept upon precept.”

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Radio spots for your church? Here’s what we did.

Do churches still buy radio spots?  If you do, here are a few thoughts on the subject.

In a small to medium sized town, your church can probably afford an ongoing promotion of radio spots or a regular daily program.  Not so much in a metropolitan area.

In one sense, I guess I’ve done it all (or most of it!), everything from television broadcasting of our weekly services each Sunday to making 10-second TV spots promoting those broadcasts, to having a daily morning “live” call-in program on a Christian radio station.  I’ve hosted panel discussions on television, been interviewed on other people’s programs, some of them national. Was even on Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” once.

When I pastored in Charlotte, NC, a major city with many radio stations and high costs for air time, our church came up with a budget for a series of 30-second spots which I would be recording.  Our committee did the background work and decided on three stations to run the ads.  I drove to each station and recorded the spots once a month.

Here’s what happened at one of those recording sessions.

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An illustration you may not wish to use in a sermon

Coolidge Winesett was an older gentleman who lived in rural Wythe County, Virginia.  His house was old and the toilet was at the end of a long trail. I told you it was rural.

One Saturday a few years back, according to the Danville, Virginia, paper, Coolidge was sitting on the toilet when the rotten floor gave way.  He was plunged into the 15 foot deep pit which was half filled with the muck and mire (I’m bending over backwards here to keep it nice) of decades of use.  He was injured and in pain, and unable to get out.  He yelled and yelled, but because of the isolation of his place, no one heard him.  Soon he was hoarse and gave up yelling.

On Sunday, it rained.  Big rats came into the toilet along with all kinds of creepy-crawly things.

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Is there any encouragement? Then, let’s hear it.

“This hope we have as an anchor for our souls” (Hebrews 6:19).

Richard John Neuhaus, a Christian social critic, was picked up at the Pittsburgh airport and driven to his speaking engagement.  The entire drive, his host lamented about the disintegration of the American social fabric and the absence of Christian values in our culture.  Cases in point were too numerous to mention, but the man did anyway.  On and on, he railed against every known failure of humans, particularly his favorite sins.  Finally, as they neared their destination, Neuhaus offered these words of advice:  “Friend, the times may be bad, but they are the only times we are given. Never forget, hope is a Christian virtue and despair a mortal sin.”

Hope is a virtue.  Despair a mortal sin.

If there is one group of people on the planet who should be forever hopeful and expectant, it’s the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you want to see hope in the flesh, find a dedicated fisherman.  Someone asked one of those guys, “How can you stand it to stay out here in the hot sun all day without catching anything?”  The fisherman said, “Hold it–I think I feel something.”  When the line went slack, he said, “He’ll be back.”  Then, he turned to his friend and said, “What were you saying?”

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Pastoring: Giving it the personal touch

“I just called to say I love you…” –Stevie Wonder

My journal for the 1990s records something I never want to forget.

We were trying to line up 15 freezers of homemade ice cream for a church fellowship the following Sunday evening.  My assistant always had trouble getting enough freezers because he tried to do it from the pulpit.   A mass appeal like that makes it far too easy for people to ignore.

The best way to do this is by asking the people personally.

Profound, huh?

So, in order to make a point with my assistant, I made the phone calls.  In the process, I ended up making a huge discovery.  Or possibly a re-discovery.

Here is the Journal notation from a couple of days later, awkward syntax and all.

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What I told the embattled pastor

Some friend reading this may think I’m revealing a confidence.  But the fact is I have much of the same conversation almost weekly.  Pastors call or visit to tell of the stresses they are facing, the opposition threatening their ministry, and various crises their church is dealing with, each one more than they can bear.  One said, “The strain is killing me.”    That is the background to this piece….

You’re the pastor of the church.  Things have gone well for the first couple of years (or longer) in this ministry.  You have loved a hundred things about serving here.  But lately, things have slowed down and you’re now hearing a rumbling in the congregation.  It’s like footsteps in the night.

They’re after you.

A few people have lurked around the edges of the fellowship since you arrived as pastor.  They seemed to be searching for something to use against you.  They spoke pleasant words but the sinister reports you heard made you guard yourself around them. And then, something occurred in the church to ignite the opposition against you.  The “something” could have been trouble with a staff member, a moral problem with a leader, a heavy contributor dying or moving away causing financial hardships, anything.  It doesn’t take much of a spark to ignite a fuel dump.

Members who had been on the fence about your leadership now jump onto the bandwagon opposing you.  Finally, they found something they could use against you.  The nay-sayers come out of the woodwork.  Some withhold their offerings and then they say, “The church finances are hurting, proving the pastor is failing.”

Nothing about this is fun.

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The noise of wolves in the night…and a few church members

You’re getting scared.  Your enemies are making fierce noises.  There are so many of them. You  are shaking in your boots, your time may be up, the end may be near, and as pastor, you have nowhere to go.  Whatever will you do? This is so awful.

Or, maybe not.

In the mid-1840s, Ulysses S. Grant was a Second Lieutenant in the war between the U.S. and Mexico, with the prize being Texas.  Grant’s “Memoirs” make fascinating reading.  We’re told that Grant was the first former president to write his memoirs, and these are generally conceded to be the best of the lot.  (Before reading the Memoirs, I read “Grant’s Final Victory,” an account of the last year of his life when he penned his story to earn enough money to provide for his wife after his impending death.  Great story.  He was a far better man than he is often given credit for. )

At one point, Grant and some troopers were in west Texas, which was sparsely settled except by the Indians and plenty of varmints. One night, they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.”  The tall grass hid the wolves but they were definitely close by.  “To my ear, it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all at a single meal.”

The part of Ohio where Grant had been brought up had no wolves, but his friend Lt. Calvin Benjamin came from rural Indiana where they were still in abundance.  “He understood the nature of the animal and the capacity of a few to make believe there was an unlimited number of them.”

Benjamin began moving straight toward the wolves, seemingly unafraid.  “I followed in his trail, lacking moral courage to turn back….”

After a bit, Benjamin spoke. “Grant, how many wolves do you think are in that pack?’

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How to change the world without ever leaving town

“Go home to your friends and tell them what the Lord has done for you, how He has had compassion on you.”  (Mark 5:19).

Start with the children.

Frank Pollard used to enjoy telling about a friend named Claude Hedges of Ollie, Texas.  Mr. Hedges taught a class of 10-year-old boys in the local Baptist church.  Frank said, “He didn’t just teach the ones who showed up.  He thought every 10-year-old boy in Ollie, Texas belonged to him.”

Frank said, “I knew he was coming.  Because I was boy number seven in our house.  Mr. Hedges had led all my brothers to Christ, and three of us became preachers.”

Now, Frank is the only one of the brothers I knew, but let me pause to tell you this about him.  For over 25 years, he pastored the great First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS.  At one time, he served the FBC of San Antonio and then was president of our Baptist seminary in the San Francisco area.  Sometime around 1980, TIME magazine named Frank one of the 10 outstanding preachers in America. And, for a number of years, Dr. Frank Pollard was the featured preacher on the Baptist Hour, a television production that was literally beamed across the entire world.

Anyway…

Frank said, “I used to go back and visit with Claude Hedges.  I would say, ‘Thank you for doing the best thing anyone ever did for me.'”

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