Bad things happen when a church terminates a minister

I should state up front that not everyone calling himself/herself a minister of the gospel is telling the truth.  Charlatans and hypocrites can be found in every field of endeavor, including the ministry.  Those who go from church to church preaching corrupted gospels, bullying the congregation in the name of Jesus, tearing up fellowships and ruining lives–such people need to be put out of business.

Once pastors and denominational leaders see the destructive pattern in a minister’s history, they should quit passing his name along to other churches.  And someone should speak the truth to him and say why.  Then “unfriend” the guy.

But unless a church has good cause, it should never fire a minister.  If there are reasons for dismissing the minister and vacating the pulpit, faithful and mature leaders can find ways to make it happen without ruining that person’s future opportunities for service.  But outright firing a minister forever brands him and may ruin his ministry prospects.

I hear this all the time.  “He’s outlived his usefulness here.”  “We need new leadership.”  “He’s not a good match for our church.”  “He’s offended the key leaders and no one trusts him anymore.”

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Jesus announces plainly who He is (2nd in series on Revelation 1-3; “Seven Churches of Asia Minor”)

What He said:  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). 

What the outsiders said:  “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

What the insiders said, eventually:  “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!  Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You.  By this we believe that You came forth from God!” (John 16:29-30)

Has it has ever occurred to you that the Lord Jesus did not begin His ministry claiming plainly and outspokenly that he was the Messiah?  We might have expected Him to walk out of the baptismal waters declaring, “Here I am–I am the Christ! The One you’ve been waiting for!”

Instead, He did the opposite.

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Rethinking the divorce issue: Let’s start believing the Scriptures

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).

Most SBC churches I know have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a church member from being considered as a pastor or a deacon.  I’m suggesting we need to start believing God’s word and quit making divorce the unpardonable sin.

The qualifications for deacons are found in I Timothy 3:8-13.  Verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.”  The “one wife” business, of course, has been interpreted in a dozen ways, everything from a deacon must be married (no unmarried person, whether single or widowed, can be a deacon), to no divorced person at all  (no matter how many years ago and what kind of record of faithfulness you have achieved over the decades; sorry, Charlie!), to no in a polygamous relationship, and so forth.  On a related subject, some churches have women deacons because, while verse 11 says “the women also”–traditionally interpreted to mean wives of deacons–no similar statement is given in I Timothy 3:1-7 where qualifications for pastors are found.  If verse 11 refers to the deacons’ wives there should be something earlier about pastors’ wives. But there isn’t. So many a church has decided verse 11 is referring to women deacons.  (Argue all you wish, but Paul is not here to tell us what he had in mind.)

The point is: Since these verses are not clear, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ interpret them in various ways.

So, why then do our churches so consistently insist that I Timothy 3:12 prohibits a divorced person from becoming a deacon?

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What really strong people do in critical times

“When I am weak, then am I strong.”  –2 Corinthians 12:10

Jackie called me the other day.  He and I were classmates in high school but we’ve not seen each other in forty years or more.  We soon picked up the conversation like we were together last week.

He said, “Joe, my wife died ten days ago.  I am having a hard time dealing with it.  I know you’ve been through this when your wife died.  Can you talk to me?”

Wow.  Such a courageous thing he did, to reach out and ask for help.  I do not have words to say how much I admire him for this. (We talked for 30 minutes and prayed together.  Then, I sent him the book on grief my wife Bertha and I wrote last year about the deaths of our spouses of 52 years.  I’ve prayed for Jackie ever since.)

Asking someone for help takes courage and strength.  I’m well aware it feels otherwise, like we’re at the end of our rope and cannot think of anything to do.  But only the truly strong person will ask for help.  Most people will suffer in silence and pay the consequences.

Only. The. Strong. Will.  Ask.  For.  Help.

It’s another one of those truths which people call counter-intuitive.  That is, it might appear to be a sign of weakness, but it’s something only the truly strong can do.  Like yielding to the bully on the highway.  A weaker person would give vent to his anger and try to teach that guy a lesson. But the strong person knows no one can teach that guy anything, it’s not worth risking one’s own life to do, and his goal is to arrive at his destination safely. So, he controls his anger and goes forward safely.

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Welcome to the Holy Spirit Beauty Shop

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

People my age do not ordinarily go around thinking about what makes others beautiful or handsome.  They certainly don’t obsess about it for themselves.

I must be the exception (about people in general, not myself!).

The reason the subject hangs around me is that I’m always sketching people. They sit before me, and I ask them to smile and look me in the eye. “How long do I have to hold the smile?” they will invariably ask.  “One minute.”  Anyone can do that.

I quickly study their facial features, the shape of their eyes, the location and direction and fullness of their eyebrows, and all the other details. I try to whip it out in a minute to 90 seconds, then go on to the next person.

Okay, it may not be great art, but I am often surprised at how close the likeness is.

At conventions and large events, I’ll sometimes sit for hour after hour, drawing nonstop. They’ll have me a table off to one side and provide a volunteer to herd people this way.  I bring all the paper and pens. (In answer to your question, yes, they often pay me nicely. But in many cases I volunteer my services.)

Last Friday night, I sketched for hours at a retirement dinner.  Thursday, I sketched all the attendees at a women’s luncheon where I was the speaker. And Saturday, I’ll sketch for four hours at a local church’s fall festival.  In all, in these three events, I’ll have probably drawn 500 people.

Okay.  Now….

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The absolute worst way to listen to a ball game (and why I have trouble with some church people)

“Why wasn’t this perfume sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” –Judas  (John 12:5)

We were on the highway returning from a ministry event in a nearby state.  This being Saturday afternoon, the airwaves were filled with football games. And since I subscribe to Sirius XM radio just for this purpose–to hear the games while traveling, no matter how isolated the highway!–I was going back and forth between two stations, keeping up with the two games.

One was a baseball game in which “my” team was in the playoffs, headed, we hope toward the World Series. The broadcast originated in the home city, the announcers were “our guys,” and the crowd was pulling for “my team.”  And, since the good guys won, it was all sweetness.

The other was a football game between my favorite college team and an arch rival. Our guys were the visitors and Sirius XM was airing the broadcast from the rival’s station. This meant the announcers were unknown to me and clearly partisan, just as they should have been.The crowd–all 90,000 of them–were really into the game.  The score was up and down, the fortunes of the teams waxed hot and cold, and the crowd alternately cheered and groaned.  Eventually, the host team won, handing our team its first loss of the season.

So, I’m switching back and forth between the stations. And yes, while driving.  (It’s not as bad as it sounds. Bertha will tell you I’m a safe driver.)

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10 things Christians do not ask the world

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the world, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful”  (Psalm 1:1). 

“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him…” I Corinthians 2:14

Around Easter or Christmastime polls, surveys, and magazine articles all indicate the world has given up on Jesus, on God, on Christians, on the church, or on preachers.  But let not your heart be troubled, Christ-follower.

We may as well ask a blind man what he thinks of the sunrise I enjoyed this morning, a deaf person how they appreciated the symphony, or my unbelieving neighbor what he thought of my sermon last Sunday.

The world is lost.  Never lose sight of that, follower of Jesus Christ. So, we should not be asking it for direction or seeking its counsel. When the disciples told Jesus the Pharisees were offended by Him, he said, “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind.”  (Matthew 15:12,14)

And yet, how often do we hear of people polling the neighborhood of a designated area to find out what people see as their greatest need, what they would like most from a church, or why they no longer go to church. Then, they build a church program around the results of their poll.  What’s wrong with this picture?

They are called ‘lost’ for a reason. (See Luke 15.)

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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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The hardest job you will ever love: Serving on a Pastor Search Committee

To those who insist Scripture knows nothing about pastor search committees–or any other kind of committee for that matter–we respond, “Scripture was never intended to be a strait jacket hampering the movements and flexibilities of God’s family, but a light to our feet, nourishment to our souls, and the basis for all that we believe.”  Anyone saying committees are not found in the Word might need to be reminded that neither are cushioned pews, stained glass windows, and toilet seats.  But we have them and are glad to do so.

To friends newly assigned to serve on a pastor search committee, we say, “You can influence the direction of your church for generations to come by doing this job well.  It’s a  wonderful, scary assignment. So accept it gladly and go into it humbly.”

First, my credentials for speaking on the subject: In over 55 years of ministry, I have talked with a minimum of 100 pastor search committees.  Some were in an advisory capacity but most were as the object of their inquiry at the moment.  During one three-year period, I counted exactly 36 committees I’d had contact with. (Okay. I was in my early 30’s, on the staff of the greatest church in the state, and most of these contacts consisted of my telling the committee “thank you, but I’m right where the Lord wants me.”)

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When you suddenly realize the pastor’s sermon is missing something

My wife was commenting on a sermon she heard recently.  “It was a fine sermon in many respects.  It called for the right kind of actions and spoke of the Holy Spirit.  And then it hit me.  Nowhere does this person’s preaching deal with the gospel, mention Calvary, or call for repentance.”

She said, “I suppose the sermon works if everyone is saved and obedient and has a sincere desire to serve God.  But what if they aren’t?  What if we are rebels, what if our hearts are in rebellion against God? What then?”

“Preaching like this sneaks up on you,” she said, referring to what that sermon was missing.

Much has been said about the sermon delivered by the Episcopal bishop at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19.  Most of us enjoyed hearing the sermon, particularly because it was so American and so typical of the African-American tradition we’re familiar with but which presumably the British elite crowd is not.

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