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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When a friend grieves, we all hurt.

This was written some years back after the drowning death of little Haylee Mazzella, the granddaughter of my dear friends Dr. Buford and Bonnie Easley.  I came across it this week, handwritten hastily, in an old file.  I have no idea whether I ever shared it with the family or not. The grandfather is now in Heaven, alongside our wonderful Lord Jesus and Buford’s precious granddaughter.  My heart still hurts from the memory.

If our grief could ease just a sliver of your grief, you would have none left because so many friends are sorrowing for you today.

If our tears could dry your tears, you would weep no more, because so many are heartbroken for you today.

If our pain could erase yours, you would never against experience a moment’s discomfort the rest of your life, because so many are hurting for you today.

If our prayers could bring your child back, she would be with us this very moment because so many are interceding for you today.

If our grief could ease your grief, our tears dry your tears, our pain erase your pain, and our prayers undo this tragedy, it would be done in a heartbeat.

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Where joy goes to die

“Joy is the business of Heaven.”  –C. S. Lewis 

What started me thinking of this was a line from James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty.”

“Although I have had a different idea of ‘fun’ than most, there were some parts of the Justice Department that had become black holes, where joy went to die.” 

James Comey explains further about his days at the Justice Department: “Places where morale had gotten so low and the battle scars from bureaucratic wrangling with other departments and the White House so deep, I worried that we were on the verge of losing some of our best, most capable lawyers.”

Sound familiar, pastor?

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A reservoir of trust–and a hole in the dam

This is one somewhat lengthy paragraph from James Comey, taken from his book “A Higher Loyalty,” concerning his years as a U.S. Attorney, in the Attorney General’s office, and as director of the F.B.I.

It was now my responsibility to build my own culture within the U.S.Attorney’s office, one that would get the best out of our team and drawing, in different ways, on the lessons of Giuliana and Fahey.  I tried to attend to this task from the very first day. I hired about fifty new prosecutors during my time as U.S. Attorney and sat with each of them as they took the oath of office.  I invited them to bring their families.  I told them that something remarkable was going to happen when they stood up (in court) and said they represented the United States of America–total strangers were going to believe what they said next.  I explained to them that although I didn’t want to burst their bubbles, this would not happen because of them.  It would happen because of those who had gone before them and, through hundreds of promises made and kept, and hundreds of truths told and errors instantly corrected, built something for them.  I called it a reservoir.  I told them it was a reservoir of trust and credibility built for you and filled for you by people you never knew, by those who are long gone.  A reservoir that makes possible so much of the good that is done by the institution you serve.  A remarkable gift.  I would explain to these bright young lawyers that, like all great gifts, this one comes with a responsibility, a solemn obligation to guard and protect that reservoir and pass it on to those who follow as full as you received it, or maybe even fuller.  I would explain that the problem with reservoirs is that they take a very long time to fill but they can be drained by one hole in the dam.  The actions of one person can destroy what ti took hundreds of people years to build.

The credibility of an institution.  Like a government, a college, a school, a church.  Even the credibility of one person–a leader, a president, a senator, a law enforcer, a pastor.

Plenty of people are saying that Mr. Comey himself blew a hole in the dam of the FBI during his time as its leader.  Which, if so, makes his words above even more poignant.

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Does your church need an ethics commission?

Many a pastor and/or staff member would still be in ministry today had they sought the counsel of church leaders on some practice they were contemplating.

Can the pastor start a business on the side and still receive full pay from the church? Is it all right if he markets something to the church?  Or to the members?

May the pastor’s wife be paid for all the hard work she’s doing?  How much should the pastor be reimbursed when the allotted money did not cover his expenses for a church mission trip?  What if a company doing business with the church offers to build the pastor a swimming pool (or garage or bird house!) in appreciation?

Get advice, pastor.

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The test of an honest person (when discussing religion)

“In all things, love.”  –I Corinthians 16:14

That’s one test of a believer and a mighty important one it is.  Our Lord said it is the mark of a disciple.  (John 13:34-35)

Look for the love.  Otherwise, you know this one with whom you are discussing scriptures and doctrines is no follower of Jesus.

The cultist you’re talking religion to across the table or across the continent feels no need to love you since he/she has decided you are not a follower of Jesus since you disagree with their doctrine.  I’ve sat at a table with a Jehovah’s Witness who was brutal and mean-spirited and who may as well have thought of me as a child-molester by the scoffing and belittling he was dishing out.  (I was a younger pastor, and had not learned that there comes a time when it’s all right to say, “This meeting is over,” and walk out.)

But while love is the first mark of the believer, there’s another test for determining whether the person across the table is an honest seeker.

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When the search committees say no: The question to ask

The brethren brought (Saul) down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus (his home town).  Acts 9:30.

So, the great soon-to-be Apostle Pau, but presently still Saul of Tarsus, went home and made tents.  Perhaps he moved back into his old room.  We can hear his parents saying, “For this we sacrificed for him to attend the rabbinic school in Jerusalem?  Why isn’t he working?”

Saul was waiting on the call from the Lord.  Hadn’t the Father called him?  Hadn’t he prepared himself?  Wasn’t he effective in preaching?  So, what’s going on here?

Saul had no idea what the Lord was up to.  Later, he would write a lesson learned by hard experience: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

“Is this normal?”

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