Every church has issues, every pastor a situation

“We who are in this body do groan….” (2 Corinthians 5:4)

“Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on….” (Philippians 3:12).

A young pastor sent me a question.  Two churches have contacted him about their search for a new shepherd.  Both are in the same general area, both about the same size, and, in his words, “both have issues.”

I told him, “Every church has issues.”

They all do.  Of the six congregations I pastored, none was completely filled with mature, loving, solid Christians.  All had issues.

The first one, Unity of Kimberly, AL lacked a group of mature leaders to work with their green pastor (moi!).

The second, Paradis of Paradis, LA, was asleep and needed awakening.

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What if your cross is the person you married?

And so it came to pass in the morning, that, behold, it was Leah.  (Genesis 29:25)

Jacob was neither the first nor the last to find that the person he married was far different from the one he had proposed to and thought he was getting!

I’ve known a few pastors over the years whose marriages were crosses they had to bear.  I thought of that while reading Heirs of the Founders by H. W. Brands this week, as he commented on the marriage of John and Floride Calhoun.

John C. Calhoun was a prominent political figure in America the first-half of the 19th Century.  A senator from South Carolina, he served as Vice-President under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. His home, Fort Hill Plantation, is located in Clemson, SC, and is open for visitors.  Calhoun was a fascinating character about whom no one back then (or now)  was neutral. His son-in-law founded Clemson University.

To say the Calhouns’ was a difficult marriage would be an understatement.  And yet, it had a romantic beginning, as most probably do.

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Foretastes of Heaven divine

I’m at the age now where this happens almost weekly.   A little foretaste of Heaven. 

In Glory, they’ll be coming up saying to you, “Do you remember that lesson you taught?” That prayer you prayed. That offering you gave.  That note you wrote.  That sermon you preached.  That witness you shared.

“Well, that’s why I’m here. God used it in my life.”

And you will be stunned. 

Makes you want to be more faithful today, doesn’t it?  More generous, more prayerful, more loving.  

Here are five foretastes of glory I’ve had recently…

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10 quirky things I do–and don’t apologize for

One man’s quirks is another fellow’s norms. I get that.  But from all I know and the world I’m a part of, these things I do fall outside the boundaries of normal and customary, particularly for a Baptist preacher of a certain age.

One. I read a lot of western novels.  Sometimes three or more a week.  I was never a cowboy, but growing up on the farm with animals–pigs, cows, a horse or a mule–you have no trouble envisioning yourself as a cowboy.

Two. I have a collection of comic books.  I’m not adding to it, as the books they’re turning out these days are not my cup of tea and the old ones I can no longer afford. — The Golden Era of comics was in the late 1940s and the 1950s. That’s also the time of my childhood, so the only comics I’m interested in come from that period.  I have hundreds of Disneys, and several cowboys, etc.

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Private things about any pastor no church needs to know

“…inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:4).

Although the Lord makes the pastor the overseer of the church (Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2), he is not the Lord of the church. It is not about him.

The pastor is the messenger, the Lord’s servant. He is important, but not all-important.

Preachers should constantly say to themselves, “This is not about me.” And they should act like they believe it.

Believing “this is all about me” drives some preachers to post their photos on billboards around town inviting people to their services, to spend outrageous sums of God’s money to broadcast their sermons on television–as though no one else is doing the same thing as well as they— and either to puff with pride when the church does well or sink into despair when it doesn’t. I daresay there is not a pastor in ten who truly believes that “this ministry isn’t about me.”

We will save a further discussion on that for another time. At the moment, our focus is on the other side of that coin…

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When the preacher digs himself into a hole at the start of the sermon

The preacher begins his sermon with several minutes of foolishness. He sees a friend in the congregation, remembers a silly story about the two of them, and goofs off for five minutes.

Five golden minutes wasted. An opportunity he will never get back.

It’s a holiday weekend and the attendance is down. The pastor fusses at those who went to the trouble of being in their place, complaining about how people today don’t love the Lord as much as they used to.

What is he thinking, punishing those who come for the sins of those who don’t.

The guest preacher walked up to the pulpit. Every eye and a few TV cameras were on him. The congregation has been conditioned to expect the sermon from the first, without a lot of chit-chat.

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For those who think “People are naturally good”—Are you serious?

There is none righteous.  No, not one.”  –Romans 3:10

A basic tenet of the liberal philosophy–at least with liberals I’ve encountered–holds that people are naturally good, and all things considered can be counted on to do the right thing.

You wonder what planet they live on.

In last night’s news, a man bought up a hundred nursing/rehab facilities across the country, then neglected maintenance and upkeep, drained their finances of millions of dollars, and holds that he did nothing wrong.

After the news, Bertha and I watched the 1939 James Stewart movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” an indictment on corruption in the highest levels of government.  I’m recalling that when a preview was given in the nation’s capital, everyone came expecting something good. Instead, they were highly offended. The very idea that they would be so depicted.  And then…

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Why I decided to start writing books

Friends–particularly pastor friends–tell me they’re planning to write a book.  Or numerous books.  I tell them, “Well, get started.”

I thought it might be helpful to make a few comments on my own book-writing venture.  For what it’s worth.

One. It was perhaps ten years ago.  I was browsing inside the seminary bookstore in New Orleans–aka, Lifeway Christian Store–and a fellow I did not know stopped me.  He said, “You don’t need to be buying books; you need to be writing them.”

He walked away.

I never saw him again.

It was a word from God.

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Overconfidence: A recipe for disaster

Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (I Kings 20:11).

I heard this guy brag, “When I stand before the Lord at Judgment, I’m going to tell him I did it my way!”

Oh yeah. Sure you are.

I’ve known of funerals where the Frank Sinatra/Paul Anka song “My Way” was played.  Whether we should call this overconfidence, presumption, or just sheer stupidity is another question.

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said this.  Asked if he was ready to meet his Maker, he replied, “I am.  Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”  As a Churchill admirer–I own shelves of books on and from him–I find this incredibly insulting.  Frankly, I hope he didn’t say it.  Although I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m under no illusion about the man.

I’ve been reading The Johnstown Flood, the first book from David McCullough, the wonderful historical author. (I recommend anything from  McCullough. His books are all eminently readable. His biography of Harry Truman won the Pulitzer.  In truth, everything he wrote should have won that prize, but I expect the committee  would have been embarrassed to keep naming him.) )

What’s stunning about the account of the 1889 flood that destroyed this lovely village in the mountains of Pennsylvania is how blase’ the owners of the South Fork Dam were. A secretive group of wealthy families had formed themselves into “The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and built the earthen dam.

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On July 4, while waving your flags, give thanks for this…

A fellow interrupted our Facebook discussion on apostasy/faithfulness in my denomination to slam various denominational leaders and then veered a half-mile off-subject onto his lasting loyalty to the Confederate cause.   Each year, he said, he travels to the Confederate cemetery back at home and honors the people, the cause, the flag, etc.

I don’t know the guy, so this is not so much to him  as it is to all those unreconstructed Southerners who still cannot get past the CSA, who idolize Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, and who would die for the Stars-and-Bars before they would the Stars and Stripes.

We have no argument with honoring the dead.  I’ve stood at the gravesites in Columbus Mississippi’s Friendship Cemetery and shed more than one tear for those on both sides buried there.

But no matter your position on the Southern Cause, my friend, there is something you should give thanks for.

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