Plans for my funeral. Yep, here is my program.

We were gathered around the bed where my wife of 52 years lay. We had signed the papers to unplug her from life support.  Everyone was in tears.  She would take her last breath the next morning.

After a time, I said to my family, “Now listen. One of these days it will be Grandpa lying here. And I don’t want all this crying.”  Granddaughter Abby said, “Why not?”  I said, “Well, good night, I’ll be 98 years old and I will have preached the previous Sunday! What’s to cry about?” They all laughed.

I say a lot of things just to get a laugh.  It goes back to childhood so it’s who I am, I suppose.  But this one is dead on.  I want to live a long time and stay active serving the Lord and loving the special people around me.  Ideally, the only people attending my funeral will be friends of my grandchildren since I will have outlived all my contemporaries. (Note: The first time I wrote the above was 8 years ago.  I’m now 84 and going strong, thank the Lord!)

I may or may not do that.

My times are in God’s hands.  I know that and I’m good with it.

I go to a lot of funerals.  Yesterday, in fact, I went to two.  For the first I occupied a pew and at the second I was the officiator.

From time to time I give thought to my own memorial service.  And in planning it–if that’s what I’m doing here–I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I deserve a service befitting the King of England or something.  I’ll not be needing twelve preachers and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Simple is good.  And brief is not bad.

Here are my thoughts on the subject…

During the visitation time when people are entering the sanctuary to greet one another and speak to my family, the screens could be showing some of my cartoons through the years. Laughter is great–joy made audible!–and I’d love some at my service. (A favorite quote: Joy is the flag flown from the castle of your heart to show the King is in residence.)  I’m all in for joy.

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Five church members who are practicing atheists

We have said on this website that the problem with “preacher-eaters and trouble-makers” in the church is that they do not believe in God. I stand by that statement, although it requires a little clarification.

Theoretically, they do.

Those members who are determined to have their way regardless of the cost to the fellowship of the church, the unity of the congregation, the continuance of the pastor’s ministry, or the sacrifice of programs of the church are not without religious convictions.

They have even had religious experiences.

The problem is they are now living godless existences. Their work in the church is being conducted in the flesh and for their own purposes.

The shame of it is they are almost always unaware of these conditions. They have fallen into a shameless pattern of seeing nothing but what is in their own field of vision, of wanting only what they see as important, and advocating nothing but their own program. They are not knowingly mean-spirited people. They are self-deluded.

They are atheists in the strictest sense.

Whatever belief in God they possess is theoretical. God was in Christ, yes. He was in the past. And He will be in the future, they believe, when He takes them and others like them to Heaven.

As for the present, alas, they are on their own.

What, you ask, would lead me to say such outrageous things about some people who are members of good Christian churches and who frequently get elected to high positions of leadership in those churches?

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Why our Lord requires that we “love one another”

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another  (John 13:34-35).

For good reason the Lord Jesus instructed His followers to take good care of one another.

No one else was going to do it.

Unless they loved one another, following Jesus was going to be a mighty lonely proposition.

The followers of our Lord were hounded, persecuted, ridiculed, harassed, and even martyred.  If they looked to the world to appreciate their efforts to bring the gospel of peace and love their way, they would be sadly disappointed.

The fellow believers were all they had. They were family.

The only family some had.

This is what I want you to do, said the Lord Jesus.  Love each other.

This is what proves your identity as my disciples, He said. My people love one another.

This is what discipleship looks like.

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This is not about you, pastor. Here’s what that means.

“We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

The expression “This is not about you, pastor” is not something you and I need ever to say to another human being. Rather, it is something we ministers should say to ourselves occasionally.

Think of it as a mental adjustment, a refocusing.

It’s easy to think the ministry is about me.  The search committee wants a preacher with impressive credentials, a glowing record of accomplishments in previous churches, and strong abilities.  Good teeth and a pretty wife will help.

The congregation welcomes you, applauds you, “pounds” you (ask any preacher), and compliments you.  They pay you fairly well, and when the church does well, they brag on you. When it does poorly, they blame you.

It’s easy to conclude it’s all about me.

And that would be wrong.

Bad wrong.

Let’s talk about it….

A pastor I know is being honored upon his umpteenth anniversary in that church.  He’ll be inundated with gifts.

Another pastor friend is bothered that his church members ignored his recent anniversary.  It came and went without a mention.

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The most frightening thing about preaching

t’s actually several facets of the same thing:  I’m speaking for God.

Imagine such a thing.

Lives hang in the balance.

People are making decisions about God based on something I say.

People are making choices about their eternal destiny based on something I say.

Is this frightening or what?

What if I get it wrong?

What if I misrepresent God?

What if I leave out an important aspect, something that changes everything?

What if people draw nigh unto me and love me and think that’s the same as loving God?

What if I stupidly think because they love me that all is well with their soul and so ease up once I find they like me?

What if I manipulate those who trust in me into doing things for me, instead of for God?

What if I forget my place, that I’m only a messenger, and begin to believe this is all about me?

God help me.

God help all pastors.  Not all, we begrudgingly admit, are called of God or are spiritually mature or know their Bibles. Not all, we sadly confess, love the Lord nor His people nor His gospel.

Pray for your pastor.  When he does his work well, people live forever in the sunshine of God’s love and in the joy of His presence.  When he does it poorly, everyone suffers.

Your pastor knows something you may not realize: He is not adequate for the assignment God has called him to and for which your church has employed him.  Scripture says, “We are not adequate for these things; but our adequacy is of God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Unless he stays close to the Lord and the Heavenly Father safeguard him, instruct him from the Word, and guide him in the ministry of that word, his work will be carnal and infinitely flawed.

I have observed some ministers offering “infinitely flawed” service to the Lord, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Pray for your minister. Pray for the Lord to protect the pastor, give him wisdom and discernment, strengthen him to say ‘no’ to lesser things and ‘yes’ to righteousness, and to empower him in the study and in the pulpit.

After praying, do one thing more, a real biggie.  Leave the answer to your prayer with the Father. That is to say, do not look at what the pastor is doing to decide to what extent God is hearing and answering your requests.  Ask the Father, then leave it with Him.

Pray for the pastor, then trust the Lord.

Thousands will thank you in eternity.  I promise.

The young pastor is not yet ready to lead a bigger church. Here’s why.

“We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

For good reason the Lord sends new, young pastors to the tiniest congregations. There’s so much to learn.

God bless all those little flocks which have to endure the green, inexperienced shepherds, many of whom go right on making the same mistakes as every pastor before them.

Their patience is amazing. (Sometimes I feel like going to the first three churches I served and saying, “Would you please forgive me?”)

Perhaps the biggest lesson which pastors have to learn before they’re able to do their best work for the Lord is this: You’re not ready to pastor a church until you get over yourself.

Being the God-sent leader of a congregation can be a heady feeling.  Suddenly people are looking to you for guidance, deferring to you as though you were somebody, insisting you take the honored place at the table.  You even find Scriptural justification for your occupying the pulpit and speaking for the Almighty God.  Truly amazing.

All for nothing you have done.

And therein lies the trap for the unwary.

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Mediocrity: Be anything other than this!

“…you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold…” (Revelation 3:16)

Mediocrity is a warm blanket.

Mediocrity is a C+.

Mediocrity is “pretty good, but not great.”

Mediocrity is remaining with the bunch that finishes neither early or late, that turns in work much like everyone else’s, that is satisfied with “okay.”

Mediocrity is the head in the sand when the storm is raging around us. Just close your eyes and it will all blow over.

Mediocrity is being overly cautious when life-or-death decisions are being made.  “Well, let’s give this some more thought.”  “Let’s not be too hasty here.”  “We don’t want people to think we’re extremists.”

There’s safety in mediocrity.  We’re like everyone around us.  We don’t stand out.  No one criticizes us. They don’t even see us.  We blend into the landscape.

Our English word mediocre comes from two Latin words, medi meaning “halfway,” and ocris meaning “mountain.”  Somewhere there is a list of everyone who has scaled to the crest of Mount Everest.  No one ever bothered to note those who got halfway up and turned around for home.

A constant temptation 

As a pastor, I’m tempted to criticize those who choose mediocrity rather than daring, who play safe and avoid risks.  Yet I am very familiar with that way too.  As a pastor, I have been known to choose the conservative, safe way.  The outcome I feared was not so much failure as criticism.  I have refrained from taking a stand on a controversial issue for fear of becoming the focus of criticism.  Or, I have wondered, is this caution actually maturity warning me not to squander hard-earned trust on some cause not worth the price?  We’ve all seen foolhardy people who rush in where angels fear to tread, when they should have been quiet and stayed at home. Hard to know.

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Sloppiness in ministry is not allowed

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord–you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23).

That night, sometime along about 3 or 4 am, unable to sleep, I did something I rarely do: went into the den and turned on the television. After channel-surfing a bit, I ended up watching one of those true-crime re-enactments.

Law enforcement investigators had painstakingly built their case against this fellow in Jacksonville, Florida, who reported his wife missing on a trip to Miami.

The man told investigators they had checked into a Miami hotel and he went to a fast-food place for take-out. Police were able to check that out.  He had indeed bought a sandwich and fries at that restaurant, they found, but only one order.  Nothing for his wife.

His credit card showed he had stopped at a convenience store on his trip south.  Police searched until they found the store’s video of him at the cash register.  They wondered where was the wife? On a long trip, wouldn’t she have gone into the rest room and perhaps bought a drink? Even though the man had testified that his wife had accompanied him on the trip, she was not in the video.

Next, police scanned through hours of video from an interstate toll booth.  Eventually, when they spotted his car, the photograph shows no one in the passenger’s seat.  The man is alone.  So, in the interview room, they asked, “Where does your wife sit when you are driving?” He answered, “In the passenger’s seat.”  “Does she ever sit in the back or lie down back there?”  “No. Never.”

He was a dead duck.

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What hypocrisy looks like and why the Lord hates it with a passion

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29). 

“Woe to you, blind guides!” (Matthew 23:16,24,26). 

“You serpents, you brood of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33).

The Lord doesn’t care for hypocrites much.

You and I, however, seem to have learned to do something God has not managed yet: to accommodate ourselves to those who say one thing and do another.

Take the beer company of St Louis, for instance. We read this from a few years back and it sounds normal to us. It took a secular writer to point out the hypocrisy in their moralizing.

“We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.” –Anheuser Busch, responding to scandals in the National Football League (TIME magazine, September 29, 2014)

Humor writer Ian Frazier nails the famous beer company for its duplicitous moralizing in the same issue of TIME magazine.

The NFL had been under attack for its mishandling of the serious misbehavior of players who, among other things, knocked out a wife in the elevator and was caught on tape doing it, then beat a four-year-old child leaving whelps and open wounds on his skin.

The famous beer company, known for its massive advertising throughout every sporting event available, took the NFL to task for its pitiful reaction.  Such behavior is against Anheuser-Busch’s moral code and culture, they said.

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Why Mark 13 is so hard for me

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened.  These things must take place, but that is not yet the end (Mark 13:7).

I used to know a lot more about Bible prophecy than I do now.  –Warren Wiersbe in his mature years

They canceled Sunday School at my church for tomorrow morning. Some kind of issue with a busted water pipe in the fellowship hall area where construction people were doing something. So, we’ll be having church in the auditorium of a private school at 10:30 am.  And I am not unhappy at all about it.

The Sunday School lesson–which I was scheduled to teach–was really difficult to get my mind around.  Mark 13 is our Lord’s Olivet Discourse, with its counterparts in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.  Each of the three has its own uniqueness but for the most part they’re much alike.

Prophecy is hard for me.  And I don’t mind admitting it.  There is a little history to this.

As a college student, I worked for a preacher in downtown Birmingham. Reverend Jim Irwin owned the Upper Room Bookstore which I operated the summer between my freshman and sophomore years.  Brother Jim pastored a small church and had a radio program called “The Radio Bible School.” One night a week he held a Bible class in the bookstore for anyone wishing to attend. It was my job to type up his handouts, which is how I learned his views on prophecy.  On paper at least, he seemed to have it all figured out: The Lord was on the verge of returning and all the prophetic signs were being fulfilled even as we speak. Jesus was due to set foot on Planet Earth at any moment.

That was 1959.  Sixty-four years ago.

A big thing back in the day was the year 1948, the establishment of the nation Israel.  After all, taught the prophecy experts, didn’t our Lord say that “this generation would not pass away before all these things came to be”? That’s Mark 13:30. This clearly means, so they would teach, that within one generation of the establishment of Israel all these prophetic signs would be fulfilled. And how long is a generation?  Most said 25 years.  Some said thirty or thirty-five.

It’s been seventy-five years.

I learned early on that expounding on Bible prophecy was easy and easy to get wrong. As someone has said, “The graveyards are littered with the bones of prophecy experts.”

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