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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Easter Foolishness

Here are twelve things we church leaders do on Easter Sunday that undermine our own effectiveness in reaching people for the Lord Jesus….

1) We fuss at those who come.

“Well, good morning! We would like to welcome those of you we’ve not seen since Christmas!  Hope you had a good winter!”

2) We put on a “dog and pony show” instead of preaching the gospel.

Never forget that what we use to attract people to our church will be required to keep them. So, if we put on a spectacular to get people in but follow it with our normal run-of-the-mill uninspired preaching/singing/etc., we are doing no one any good.

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When to fire a preacher and change the locks on the door.

It never fails.

We’ll write something about pastors who are under pressure from wrong-headed church members and how they should stand tall and be strong, and someone will respond with a “Yes, but” scenario.

Their preacher is a terror, they’ll say. Or an embezzler or adulterer or a bully of the first rank.  Several have told me how their pastors have serious illnesses which have incapacitated them for ministry, but who insist on clinging to their pastoral jobs (along with the paycheck) to the detriment of the church. “People are leaving in droves,” they say.

What to do?

You get the impression that people think this is a new thing. Or that being as pro-pastor as I am (unabashedly!), I do not see that some preachers should be sent to pasture and immediately. (My cartooning mind wants to make a remark about sending a pastor to pasture, but I think I’ll pass.)

Nothing about any of this is new.

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Seven of my eight grandchildren now have drivers licenses. Oh my.

On my birthday last week, granddaughter Darilyn sent a message from her home in North Carolina. “I have gotten my drivers license today.”  I said, “For my birthday you sent me another worry?”

What I found out later was that the same week, Darilyn’s cousin (and our second granddaughter) Jessica had gotten her drivers license. The next Monday, our youngest granddaughter JoAnne got hers.

Yikes.

Only 12-year-old Jack is still unable to drive. The rest of our eight grands–Leah, Jessica, Grant, Abby, Erin, Darilyn, and JoAnne–are all qualified (by the state at least!) to slip behind the wheel of an automobile and drive it anywhere.

Nothing moves one’s prayer life to warp speed like seeing his child or grandchild pull away in the family automobile.  The prayer is usually a constant repetition of the same panicky words: “Oh, Lord, protect her!!”

It’s time for Grandpa Joe to put in writing what he would like to say to each of the grands, if we could sit down for a session on the subject of “your new drivers license.”  Here goes….

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Why we do not like to live by faith

“Without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). And then there is this: “And those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

Faith is not natural to earthlings.

We want to see, to know, to be certain. We shy away from struggling with nebulous concepts such as belief and doubts, convictions and educated guesses and worrying about whether we have enough faith.

Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer of a generation ago, whose television program “Cosmos” riveted the nation, was firm and outspoken in his atheism. However, his numerous Christian friends witnessed to him and tried to reason with him.  One asked his wife, “Doesn’t Carl want to believe?” She answered, “No! He wants to know!”

Reading that many years ago, I remember thinking, “Of course he does. We all do. But God has not set things up that conveniently for us.” Scripture says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” and “We walk by faith, not by sight” (Hebrews 11:6 and 2 Corinthians 5:7).

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