If you are lonely in Kingdom work, you have only yourself to blame

And He sent them out two by two. (Mark 6:7)

When the Apostle Paul gave us his list of burdens and hardships in the service of the gospel, loneliness was not one of them.  2 Corinthians 11 speaks of beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and hardships galore.  At the end, he adds one more all-inclusive category: “my deep concern for all the churches.”

But not loneliness.

Paul was not lonely.

We rarely see Paul by himself.  In Antioch, he was one of five leaders. On his first missionary journey, he was accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark and possibly others.  On his second journey, Silas was his companion, along with Timothy, Luke, and others.  The last chapter of his letter to the church at Rome lists twenty-five saints by name to whom he was sending greetings, along with “his mother and mine” and “his sister” and “all the saints who are with them.”  Then, he names eight brethren who are with him at that moment: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus.

Paul was no loner.  Nor was our Lord.

Jesus chose twelve “that they might be with Him” (Mark 3:14). (The exception, we need to add, would be Gethsemane when He said, “Could you not pray with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) )

Then, why, someone please tell us, are so many pastors loners, trying to lead the church, prepare life-changing sermons, and bear the burden of a thousand responsibilities all by themselves?

It was not meant to be this way.

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The one question we are not allowed to ask

“You do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”  (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

“Of what use is this?”

What fruit will this bear for the Kingdom of God?

We never know.

It’s the question we should never ask.  First, we’ll not get an answer until we get to Heaven.  And second, to insist on knowing what God will do with our effort, our gift, our witness, before we act is to remove all faith from it.  And without faith, pleasing God is impossible (Hebrews 11:6).

You drop your offering into the plate at church.  There it goes.  Where it will end up, what it will accomplish, God alone knows.  Your church has a budget, you know how the money will be added together and which causes it will fund.  But your particular gift, you have no way of telling.

You’re distributing flyers for your church.  Some, you know, will end up in the garbage.  Some will never be read. But what if one or two become instruments for the Holy Spirit and someone’s life is forever changed?  Wouldn’t that be worth all the effort?

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Why we appreciated Warren Wiersbe so much

Dr. Warren Wiersbe, Bible teacher/pastor par excellence.  (1929-2019)  

Some years ago, when Dr. Wiersbe and I were swapping correspondence, I did him a cartoon which he put on his office wall.  Now, most of the Bible study books he had published–one for every New Testament book and a lot of the Old–were part of the “Be” series.  Be Real.  Be Joyful.  Be Faithful.   His autobiography was titled “Be Myself.” So, my cartoon showed his tombstone.  Under his name, it read: “Be Dead.”

At the time I thought it was funny, and he must have also. (That was at least 30 years ago, when you’re still young enough to joke about these matters. I hope someone has thrown that thing away.)

I’m not sure how or when I first heard of Dr. Wiersbe’s teachings on cassette tape.  It would have been in the mid-1970s.  I was serving the First Baptist Church of Columbus, MS and always searching for good resources for preaching material.  His sermon tapes were a pure delight.  Once I took a two-day retreat to a lake house and did nothing but listen to his tapes. At the time he was pastoring Moody Church in Chicago.

One day, sitting around talking with a couple of neighboring pastors, I was amused to hear one of them say, “I’ve found the most wonderful source of sermon material.  I’m reluctant to mention it to anyone because I’m enjoying it so much.”

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Do people tell you not to read those books?

“Take up and read; take up and read.”  (from Confessions of Saint Augustine, chapter XII)

Read widely, pastor.

Read novels, how-to books, histories, biographies, and theological commentaries.

You don’t necessarily have to read the entire book to benefit.  You have only so much time and energy, and you want to put the emphasis on the more important readings.

What are the teens in your church reading?  Ask around, then give it a try.

By all means, read the Word of God.  Read some every day, and have a plan for your reading.  If you’ve never read through the Bible in a year, do it.  Do it several times in a row.  Thereafter, choose books of the Bible you’re unfamiliar with and fill in that gap of your education.

It used to bother me that my oldest son and my wife loved to read Stephen King novels.  Since King loves to get bizarre and even scary–think “Christine” and “Carrie”–in his plots, I felt that this was unhealthy reading for my wife and son.

I still think that.  Mostly.

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Have you considered how special you are to God?

“Go tell His disciples–and Peter….” (Mark 16:7)

How special Peter must have felt, to have been singled out by the angel.

This is a question followed by a story…..

Question:  What has God done that forever makes you know how special you are to Him?

Was it a healing? A close call with a near-accident?  Something you read in Scripture?  A sermon that perfectly fit your need of the moment?  Your salvation?

What did He do?

Why do you feel so special to Him?

I have a friend who says she feels like God’s favorite child.  There has to be a reason.  I’m asking you to search out that reason.

Now, the story.

I was preaching a revival in East Fork Baptist Church, halfway between McComb and Liberty, MS.  Fans of Jerry Clower will remember he talked of this church and the community often.  Jerry Clower sat on the front row at every service.  I stayed in his camp house that week.

The organist for the little church had only one arm.  Clyde Whittington was a sweet-spirited, friendly fellow.  One day when we were having lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Whittington, Jerry Clower said, “Clyde, you have to tell Brother Joe what happened to you.”

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Some things I got out of my system….

“Those that were gain to me I counted loss….” (Philippians 3:7)

First. 

I wondered how things would be in that church of another denomination.  They had a good reputation and were growing while the small church I pastored was struggling.  So I visited their revival service one night.

One time was enough.

The preacher was delivering some shallow, hardly biblical at all, message and was whooping up the excitement to keep the people dancing in the aisles.  When the furor died down, he would step up the microphone and continue his tirade.  When the people returned to the uproar, he took a break and walked over to the piano player–who had not slowed down the constant banging at any point–and carried on a conversation.

I could not take any more of that and never envied that church or its pastor again.

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The “poor me” pastor with the inferiority complex

“Why is everybody always picking on me?”  –1950s song by The Coasters

The biggest egotist in the room may be the wallflower who sits alone, absorbed in killer thoughts about his isolation.  “Why does no one talk to me?”  “They’re all snobs.”  “Why did I bother coming to this thing anyway?” I, I, I, me, me, my, my.

Over the years I’ve met quite a few pastors who were being victimized and brutalized by their own low self-esteem and their inferiority complex.  It’s tempting to say here that “it’s not a complex if you’re really inferior,” but that would be cruel.  This person afflicts enough mental cruelty upon himself/herself without outside aid.

The poor-me pastor is usually in one of three situations…

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Random observations on The Seven Churches of Asia minor

(14th article on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

FALSE REPUTATION.  Back then as now, people fake their credentials in order to fool the gullible.  

I’ve known of people to create Christian testimonies and pass themselves off as having had a sordid past.  Why? To manufacture empathy, perhaps, or to impress the more timid souls in church who would never venture to live such a ragged, rugged life.

There were a lot of impostors in these seven churches.  Consider…

In the church at Ephesus, they had people who called themselves apostles and they were not. (Revelation 2:2).  Who were they fooling?  They were trying to fool the membership of the church. God’s people are known to give great honors and generous gifts to those they esteem highly.  These impostors wanted the reward they were not entitled to.

In Smyrna, they had people who called themselves Jews and were not, but were actually a synagogue of Satan.  (2:9).  (Who would know this better than the Lord of Heaven and earth, who knows the secrets of everyone’s hearts!)  Who were they fooling?  Themselves and no one else.

Thyatira had a woman whom Jesus calls a Jezebel.  She called herself a prophetess, but was a deceiver.  (2:20)  Who was she deceiving?  Perhaps herself,  but clearly a good number of people who were in big trouble if they did not wake up and repent.

The Sardis church had a reputation that they were alive, but they were dead.  (3:1)  Who were they fooling?  The chamber of commerce, probably.

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The people of God are special: Handle with care

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Before the mediator delivered his decision in a church lawsuit which had been kicked into his domain, the adjudicator said, “I am well aware that in rendering my decision, I am dealing with the fine china of people’s lives.”

We interpret that to mean he was taking great care to get it right, knowing that people could be hurt, lives could be shattered.

We appreciate those who exercise such caution and wish the crazy driver on the highway would be as thoughtful.

Every pastor who stands in the pulpit on the Lord’s Day to proclaim God’s word would do well to keep that in mind.  You are dealing with people destined for eternity, souls for whom Christ died, those who were loved from the foundation of the world.  People indwelt by the Holy Spirit, redeemed by the blood of Christ, commissioned by God to do His work in the world.

They are His children and we are to be careful.

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Bad things happen when a church terminates a minister

I should state up front that not everyone calling himself/herself a minister of the gospel is telling the truth.  Charlatans and hypocrites can be found in every field of endeavor, including the ministry.  Those who go from church to church preaching corrupted gospels, bullying the congregation in the name of Jesus, tearing up fellowships and ruining lives–such people need to be put out of business.

Once pastors and denominational leaders see the destructive pattern in a minister’s history, they should quit passing his name along to other churches.  And someone should speak the truth to him and say why.  Then “unfriend” the guy.

But unless a church has good cause, it should never fire a minister.  If there are reasons for dismissing the minister and vacating the pulpit, faithful and mature leaders can find ways to make it happen without ruining that person’s future opportunities for service.  But outright firing a minister forever brands him and may ruin his ministry prospects.

I hear this all the time.  “He’s outlived his usefulness here.”  “We need new leadership.”  “He’s not a good match for our church.”  “He’s offended the key leaders and no one trusts him anymore.”

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