(My commencement message to the 2016 graduating class of William Carey University. Delivered Saturday afternoon, August 6, 2016.)
Dr. Larry Kennedy was President of this institution for the last decade of his life. In the 1960s, Larry and I were seminary classmates, and then we pastored several churches in Mississippi near one another. He told me this story.
“My son Steve was 7 years old when he went to his first big-church wedding. He sat in the sanctuary beside his mother and watched as the door in front opened and his dad walked out and took his place. Behind him came six or seven good-looking young men dressed in tuxedos. Spread across the front of the church, they were a handsome lot. The bridesmaids entered and took their places. Finally, everyone stood as the bride entered on the arm of her father and moved slowly down the aisle. At this point, Steve tugged on his mother’s arm.
“Mother, does she already know which one of those men she’s going to marry? Or is she going to decide when she gets down there?”
Continue reading “Choosing: The precious, the load-bearing, the unseen” »
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open the seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood….” (Revelation 5:9).
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing….” (Revelation 5:12).
“And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).
Up in Heaven, they’re singing about Jesus.
And the Father, far from being displeased, threatened, or jealous, loves it.
Continue reading “What they’re singing in Heaven, and what that means for us now” »
“That’s not in question.”
“That’s not the issue here.” This is not about deserving.
“You are unworthy and will always be unworthy.”
“Get past this.”
“It’s all about grace.”
“Now, get on with what you’re supposed to be doing.”
It was sometime in the early hours past midnight, and I was hoping to get back to sleep. Sometime in that vague area that blends wakefulness and sleep, the Lord and I were having this conversation about my burdens and His sufficiency. That’s when I pulled out the unworthy card and began playing it, as I am wont to do.
“Ah, Lord. I am so unworthy. I am not righteous enough. Not holy enough. Much too carnal. Weak beyond description. Flawed and marred and inept. I am unworthy.”
When He answered, I knew by long experience to get out of bed and write down what He said.
Continue reading “I said, “I’m so unworthy.” And He said….” »
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord….” (Isaiah 6:1)
Have the Lord show up, and your worship will come alive like never before.
Ask Isaiah. Ask the two Emaus-road disciples (Luke 24). Ask the disciples who had retreated into the safety of the Upper Room when suddenly the risen Christ appeared (John 20:19ff).
Isaiah left the temple that day with a new calling upon his life. The two disciples reversed their paths and rushed back to the city to tell everyone that Jesus was alive and had appeared to them. As for the disciples, soon they removed the locks from the door of the Upper Room and lived in the streets and countryside–not to say the jails–as they told the world of Jesus.
A few moments in HIs presence will do that to a fellow.
No one is ever bored in the Lord’s presence. No one has ever fallen asleep under His voice. No one emerges unchanged.
If Jesus is present, something is going to happen.
Continue reading “How to liven up a dull worship service” »
I’m preaching on worship today at a church in Southwest Mississippi. A few weeks ago when the pastor asked for my subject, I quickly said “Worship is a verb” for a title of the message. Hardly without a thought. This is a big deal with me, I thought. God is working on this in me. I’ve preached and written on it before. I know some basic texts and have one huge burden on the subject, namely, that most Christians I know have it backward and think worship is all about “me.” Then, as often happens, when I began preparing and praying for the message, I realized just how little I actually know on the subject. God help me.
1) God wants His children to worship. In fact, He wants “everything, everywhere” to worship Him.
In Revelation, at the climax of all history, the praise chorus will include “every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them” (Revelation 5:13). No wonder Scripture says “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).
I wouldn’t be surprised if finally “the rocks cry out” (Luke 19:40).
Continue reading “10 things about worship on a Sunday morning” »
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Revelation 5:9).
John must have been fascinated by the sights and the sounds of that heavenly vision.
At first, he was treated to a heavenly quartet. The four angelic beings–were they seraphim?–of Revelation 4:7-8 burst into song, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. Who was and is and is to come!”
This was no little chorus they dropped into the Lord’s throneroom. We read, “They do not rest day or night, saying (this)” (verse 8).
Imagine that. An endless song.
Either seraphim are amazing singers or the Lord’s patience with the same song over and over knows no limits.
Continue reading “Why Heaven requires new songs” »
I can worship anywhere, and often have. A creekbank, a busy sidewalk, a shopping mall, or anywhere in my house.
I can worship alone or with one or two or with a crowd.
My opinion is that I worship best in a crowd of God’s people. I sing better and louder, am inspired by the devotion of others, and enjoy hearing God’s preaching more while I’m with the family.
Our Lord Jesus knew we worship better with our brethren than alone. He said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
I cannot explain how the Lord is more present when I’m with the family of believers than otherwise, but there it is. I’ve found that to be the reality.
I love to worship with the Lord’s family.
And that’s the problem.
Continue reading “My biggest problem in worship” »
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there…” (Ephesians 4:14).
“Church is the only place on earth where people can throw hissy fits and get away with it.” –a friend serving his first church after seminary.
I told my minister friend I was sorry he had to learn this dirty little secret about church life.
I asked for his story. He had two.
A church member attending his class complained because she could not find her workbook. The pastor told her he had borrowed it for another class, and she was welcome to use his. She said, “Okay. I’ll go home then.”
And she stalked out.
The minister said, “Would she have done that at work? At the doctor’s office? I think not.”
But she had no problem with putting her immaturity on full display at church.
Continue reading “The church’s dirty little secret” »
A number of years ago, a college classmate contacted me to see if I would be willing to serve as a mystery-shopper for Seiko watches. His marketing firm had with a contract to see that salespeople in jewelry stores put Seiko ahead of the competition. So, I would enter a store and tell the clerk “I’m looking for a man’s watch in a medium price range.” If I was taken immediately to the Seiko display, I’d say, “Congratulations. I’m the Seiko mystery shopper and you just won 10 dollars.” (This was back with 10 dollars was maybe 25.) Then, I’d get their signature and fill out a report. For each store, I was paid 5 dollars.
Mostly I did it for the fun of it.
A few weeks ago, when we mentioned mystery worshipers on this website, a number of readers wondered if I had a list of questions for people enlisted for this role. I didn’t.
But now I do.
Continue reading “When someone mystery-worships your church” »
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.
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.
Continue reading “To anyone mystery-shopping my sermon” »