Pastors, someone else is always “on deck.” Do your job, then get off.

“He must increase; I must decrease” (said by a very powerful preacher about the One who took his place in the minds and imaginations of the crowds).  –John 3:30

Watch how Barnabas acted when Saul of Tarsus gradually moved ahead of him so that their team became Paul and Barnabas.  Acts 13.

When I said we would be writing about retired pastors who stay on to make life miserable for their successors, people began sending me their horror stories.

You don’t want to hear them.  They are too painful.

One old guy refused to vacate the pastor’s office, so the new pastor was given a house trailer as his office until the old fellow died.  Solution: The lay leadership developing a spine.

Another old guy made sure to elevate himself in the minds and hearts of the church members so that his successor would not be able to live up to the standard he had set.  Then, he sat back smiling while people tore the young pastor apart for not doing that very thing.  Remedy:  The lay leadership rising up and speaking the hard truth both to the former pastor (and encouraging him to move his membership) and to the congregation (get your eyes off men and onto the Lord!).  That did not happen.  The younger pastor carries scars to this day.

I am a pastor.  I love pastors and pray for a long list of them often.  I am a friend of pastors and sometimes their counselor/advisor/mentor.  I believe in the role of the God-called shepherd, and I encourage church members to honor their minister and obey Hebrews 13:17.

But that is not to say all preachers get this right.

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Some necessary things about prayer

I had led a family to Christ.  They soon joined our church and were baptized the following Sunday.  My notes remind me of something the grandfather said.  He was chairman of deacons in a church 3 hours away, and of course, they were excited about what had happened.  He said to me, “We’ve been praying for this family, but one by one.  We had no idea they’d all get saved at the same time!”

Expectations.  Dale Caston told me something that took place in a high school class when he was a teen.  The teacher asked the students, “What do you expect to get out of this class?”  She looked at one student: “Eddie, what do you expect?”  Eddie said, “Well, I’ve had you before–and I don’t expect nothing!”  —  What do you expect when you pray?  The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect little from the Lord, too much from the church, and nothing from ourselves.

“Thou art coming to a King; Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.” –John Newton

Okay.  Now, some quick thoughts on what the Lord has taught and is teaching me on prayer….

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Expectations all out of kilter

The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect–

–little of the Lord

–too much of the church

–and nothing of ourselves

And because we expect LITTLE FROM THE LORD, we are powerless, prayerless, weak, ineffective, and defeated.

Because we expect TOO MUCH FROM THE CHURCH we are frustrated, demanding, self-centered, and end up church-hopping or pastor-terminating.

Because we expect NOTHING FROM OURSELVES, we are lazy and spoiled, passive and shallow, and get offended when asked to do anything outside our comfort zone.

Luke 7:18-35 deals with expectations in three areas: What we expect of Jesus, what we expect of the preacher, and what we expect of ourselves.

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Pastors’ No-No: Overuse of the first person singular

The fellow who developed something called “My Pillow” wants everyone to know “I did it.”  “When I invented My Pillow,” he says, and goes from there.  You get the impression he locked himself in a garage and didn’t come out until he’d figured out all by his lonesome how to make this new kind of pillow.  He comes across as a solo act.

In the TV ad, he says, “I do all my own manufacturing in my home state….”

The man is in love with the first person singular pronoun.  I, me, my.  A four-year-old saying “I can do it by myself” comes to mind.

And yet, the ads show a lot of people working in the man’s factories.  He is not doing this by himself, whether he realizes it or not.

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How the pastor can participate in community services and make it work.

“Work for the welfare (shalom) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray on its behalf, for as it prospers (“in its shalom”) you will prosper (“you will have shalom”). –Jeremiah 29:7

“Pastor, we’re asking all the churches in town to join together for a prayer rally for the election coming up soon.  Can we count on First Church to participate?  And by the way, we’d like you to be the featured speaker.”

Or, “We’d like you to extend the welcome, and set the direction for the service.”

Or “lead the invocation.”

What to do, what to do.  Accepting this will require time that I do not have.  This will be outside my comfort zone.  This will not have any immediate benefit to my church.

Sound familiar?

My two suggestions are: 1) When you possibly can, accept.  It’s good for churches and pastors to work together.  And, 2) whatever you agree to do, work to make it excellent.  You are representing the Lord, your church, and your family.

After being in the ministry for over 55 years, with most of it spent in pastoring six churches, I cannot count the number of community Thanksgivings services, Easter sunrise services, and citywide prayer rallies I have attended.  Today I had a small reminder about the importance of those time-consuming events about which we sometimes wonder whether they’re worth the trouble…

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Speak up for your pastor.

Lord, let these people know there is a God in Israel.  And while you’re at it, let them know that I’m your servant” (My paraphrase of I Kings 18:36).

A friend said to me, “Whenever I heard someone running the pastor down, I tell them to pray for him.”   I said, “May I make a suggestion?  While I appreciate your telling them that, a better thing would be to tell them strongly that you disagree, and say why you love your pastor.  They need to hear this.”

Yesterday, when my wife returned from her annual doctor’s appointment, she told me something fascinating.

On her way out of the office, two assistants spoke to her. “Isn’t he wonderful?”  “We have the best doctor in the building.” Bertha agreed.  We love Dr. Paul Vanlandingham.

I found myself wondering what if the church staff did that when people come into the office?  “Don’t we have a wonderful minister?”  “We’re so blessed to have such a godly pastor.”  “The Lord has blessed us by giving us such a spirit-filled leader.”

That sort of thing.

What if the ministerial staff said something similar as they interact with church members and others during the week?

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I said, “Open your Bibles,” and got two incredible reactions

It was a typical church service.  When time came for the sermon, I suggested that everyone turn in their Bibles to the text we would be considering.

That was all.

You will not believe the two completely opposite responses I received.

First, that week I received a letter from a Rosemary Warner, someone I did not know.  Here is the letter in its entirety, unedited…

Yesterday I had the occasion to visit in your church.  I didn’t know why I chose to do that.  It just seemed like it was the thing for me to do, but now I know it was the will of someone much higher.  He sent me there for a reason.  I will not be back.

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The surprises of the prodigal

“A certain man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’  And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, where he squandered his estate with loose living….” (Luke 15:11ff.)

The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is iconic. That means it is typical, well-known, an accurate depiction of a thousand things about this life.  Understand that story and you know a great deal about how life works and what God does.

If you knew nothing more about God than how He is depicted in this parable, you would love him with all your heart.

You and I are represented by the foolish, younger son.

That son, the subject of a few million sermons and the inspiration of almost as many conversions, received a lot of surprises in this story…

One. He was surprised that the father granted his selfish request. Some lessons we just have to learn for ourselves, and the Father was a good teacher.

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Unwise prayers you hope God never answers

Dear Lord, even if I pray in faith and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, but am praying something which I will regret forever and which is not what You have planned, please ignore me. Thank you for hearing this prayer!  

Three men in the Bible–really godly men, the best of the bunch–prayed at one time or other for the Lord to end their lives.

–Moses in Numbers 11:15 “If I’ve found favor in Thy sight, please kill me.”

–Elijah in I Kings 19:4 “That’s enough now, Lord. Take my life.  I’m no better than my fathers (and they’re all dead).”  My paraphrase.

–Jonah in Jonah 4:3 “Death is better to me than life, so please take my life from me, O Lord.”

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Advice to a young mother. Dad too.

From my journal of Wednesday, December 31, 1997.

In my morning radio program “Phone Call from the Pastor” (Lifesongs 89.1 New Orleans), I told this:

This is a message to a young mother of two boys I saw at McDonald’s on Airline Highway yesterday.  Your boys are perhaps 2 and 3-1/2.  You say they were born 18 months apart.  “They’re killing you,” I told you facetiously. “I hope you survive until they’re grown.”  But what I thought was, “I hope they survive.”

Their behavior is suicidal. They are well on their way to becoming society’s worst nightmare.  They are out of control.

You kept giving orders to the older one–sit down, be quiet, turn around, eat your lunch–and he kept ignoring and defying you.  There was fire in the little guy’s eyes.  He really did look like a miniature devil.

My heart went out to you.  My wife and I raised two little boys who were three years apart.  I know they can be very trying, especially on Mom.  So, what I’m about to suggest to you comes from some experience with this subject.

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