To anyone mystery-shopping my sermon

Over the years I have benefited from the occasional helpful criticism of my preaching.  And, may I add, my preaching was not helped at all by the sniping from another segment of the audience.

Smiley-face here.

Mystery-shoppers are people who, with the pastor’s full acceptance, visit your church as first-timers and later file complete reports on a hundred aspects: Their impression on arriving at your campus, whether the signage was adequate, if someone greeted them in the parking lot, whether they spotted trash or clutter on sidewalks, the friendliness of your people, condition of the bathrooms, and of course the service itself: the choice of music, the flow of the service, the arrangement of the platform, and the sermon.

Ah, the sermon.

It’s a rare pastor who wants you to unload on him about his preaching.

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Lies the enemy whispers during worship

“We have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).

The devil’s first plan of attack is to get us to worship him.  He tried that with our Lord, as recorded in Luke 4:7. “All these things will be yours if you will worship me.”  He soon found the futility of that.  Not then and hardly at all since has anyone wanted to bow down and worship this foolish fallen angel.

But such a persistent enemy always has a backup plan. Plan B is to interfere with our worship of the living God.  Satan will do anything to throw a wrench into the works and shut down or hinder our daily submission to the Lord Jesus and all that involves (prayer, commitment, study of the Word, service, etc).

Not long ago, while sitting in church listening to a friend preach, I began a list of the lies Satan whispers to God’s people who gather to worship Him….

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The pastor is the worship leader

“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1).

(Note: I write as a Southern Baptist with little familiarity with how other denominations do their worship services.  Therefore, what follows may be of limited value to some of our readers.)

Some tasks we cannot shunt off to someone else. Some key responsibilities we cannot hire others to perform for us.  Leading the worship service is one of the pastoral essentials. The pastor is the leader.

This is not to say the minister will physically lead the hymns.  (In some churches, he does, but in most someone else does this.)  He will not pray every prayer or be the only one reading the Scripture or promoting upcoming events.  But ultimately, it all goes back to him.  The pastor is like the stagecoach driver.  He does not pull the coach but holds the reins to the six horses that do.

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What audience feedback means—especially to preachers

Billy Joel gets it.

This veteran entertainer does something I find fascinating.

According to The New Yorker (October 27, 2014), Joel “grew tired of having to look out at the fat cats in the two front rows, the guys who’d bought the best seats, and then sat there projecting a look of boredom that (says)…’Entertain me, Piano Man.'”

It was dampening his own enthusiasm, and that of his band, to have the non-responsive on the front rows. He wanted the fans nearest him to be enthusiastic participants in the evening’s activities.

That’s why “Joel’s people stopped selling the two front rows and instead send the crew into the cheap seats before the show to hand out tickets to people of their choosing.”

“Joel believes it helps buck up the band.”

I can believe that.

Every preacher knows.

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The clue that tells the story on you

“Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12)

We are reading through the gospels, watching the interaction between the religious bigshots as they bully the Lord Jesus Christ–imagine that!–and are brought up short by noticing the prominent role fear played in the lives of these people. Consider…

–“Herod feared the multitude” (Matthew 14:5).  Ah, a good reminder that tyrants always fear their subjects. Always.

–“The Pharisees feared the multitude” (Matthew 21:46). And so do religious bigshots fear their people.

–King Herod feared John the Baptist (Mark 6:20).  Wickedness fears righteousness because it cannot understand it, cannot control it, can’t intimidate it, and cannot silence it.  God’s faithful people must never forget this for one minute.

–The chief priests and scribes wanted to destroy Jesus, but “they were afraid of him, for all the multitude was astonished at His teaching” (Mark 11:18).

–The Lord Jesus said to the disciples, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).  Even the Lord’s closest friends were filled with fear.

 Nothing speaks so eloquently about who you are as what you fear. And whom you fear.

We are literally defined by our fears.

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Answering questions no one is asking; curing illnesses no one has

The first thing a salesperson seeks to do, whether standing at your front door or staring out of your television screen, is to convince you that you are in trouble without this product.

The opening lines of all those fund-raising letters we receive through the mail are phrased to alarm us. Something is bad wrong and here is the solution and you should do something about it. The recommended solution is to buy this product, subscribe to this service, or hire this attorney. Or, of course, send your money!

Sound familiar?

The September 22, 2014, issue of TIME features on its cover an arm with a computer display giving the number of calories consumed that day, one’s pulse,  conversations since climbing out of bed, and even how many steps the individual has taken.  And that’s just for starters.

The issue celebrates (and worries about) the new “Apple Watch,” the latest thing from those people who gave us the smartphone in my pocket at this moment.  This latest high-tech doodad hits the stores early in 2015 and will be all the rage, no doubt.

The text beside the cover picture reads: “Never Offline.  The Apple Watch is just the start. How wearable tech will change your life–like it or not.”

One paragraph in particular has stayed with me ever since reading the issue.

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Neckties and drum sets: Things we should get over

“Concerning Him we have much to say… (but) you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God….” (Hebrews 5:11-12).

If we do not settle what are the basic principles and doctrines constituting faithfulness to God, we will argue over silly things, unworthy issues, secondary matters.

I’m 74 years old and the playbook says I should be a defender of the status quo, reacting against modern innovations and speaking with reverence of the glorious days of old when I was a young minister just starting out.

I’ll not be doing any of that.

The status quo is nowhere I want to camp out.  The past is nowhere I want to live. Nostalgia, as they say, is not what it used to be. The past is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Modern innovations are what we make of them, good or bad. And the glorious days of yore were anything but glorious.  They were amazingly like today and a lot like tomorrow.

Personally, I like laptops and smartphones.  I love Facebook and enjoy blogging.  I like having 150 channels on my television (since there’s rarely anything worth watching on 140 of them!). I love the SiriusXM radio on my car; it sure makes those long drives easier.

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The thing to bear in mind about that first Palm Sunday

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know….” (Ephesians 1:18).

When they welcomed Jesus into the city on that Sunday, they did not know what they were doing.

In praising Him as the Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord, they said more than they knew. They professed more than they believed.

“Most of the multitude spread their garments in the road and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’  (Matthew 21)

When they crucified Him on Friday, these people were still in the dark….

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No one spoke to you at church? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

“We’re not going back to that church. We attended once and not a soul spoke to us.”

This may be the most common complaint offered by church visitors.

Our people have come to expect that churches will be welcoming to strangers, open to newcomers, receptive to inquirers, and alert to first-timers.

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What the carnal mind will never “get” about worship

Can we talk about worship?

Here are a few quotes to get us started. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of any of them, having found them in that motherlode of fascinating quotes, real and imagined, solid and made-up-on-the spot, the internet.  Smiley-face goes here….

1) From actor Brad Pitt:  “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.”

There is a reason this makes no sense to you, Mr. Pitt.  The Apostle Paul put it this way: “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.  Nor can he understand them, for they are spiritually appraised” (I Corinthians 2:14).

Don’t mean to be harsh in that assessment, but it explains why so many on the outside look at Christian worship and shake their heads. They just don’t get it.

Let me repeat that: They. Do. Not. Get. It.

2) From a blog in which this guy talks about religion. Someone asked him why God wants us to worship Him.  He answered,  “Everyone likes being praised. It’s a huge ego bump, after all. But why does God need it? I mean, what kind of egomaniac needs millions of people all over the world praising his name? Isn’t that a little arrogant?

Short answer: Yes.”

He went on to make a case for God being egotistical.  Oh, and he thought he was being pro-God.

He should spare God the compliment.

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