Walking our dog this morning at dawn, the breeze was just right and the air so refreshing. I thought, “How could the feel of Heaven be any better than this?” So sweet, so satisfying.
In truth, I’ve not seen anything yet. Heaven’s blessings, of which we have just a foretaste here on Earth, are going to be indescribable.
His sweet peace is one of those foretastes.
Jesus said, “My peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives.” –John 14:27
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!'” –Mark 1:3
Last night as I write, at a dinner hosted by our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for alum and supporters in central Mississippi, our distinguished President, Dr. Chuck Kelley, was introduced by Dr. Ken Weathersby. Weathersby is officially “vice president for convention advancement of the SBC’s Executive Committee.” He’s distinguished, a great preacher and former professor, and someone you’d love to know.
As he finished and Chuck was rising to speak, I thought, “I want Dr. Weathersby to introduce me!!” The friend to my left said, “What a great introduction!”
The privilege of introducing is not to be taken for granted.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Anyone doubting that should stand outside a typical church on a Sunday morning and listen. “I like the way he preaches.” “He makes me feel good.” “I don’t like what I hear.” “I’m not sure what it is about that preacher, but I don’t like him.” I like, I don’t like, I feel, I don’t feel.
What I want in a church. What we’re looking for. Why we’re considering leaving.
I was in a congregation of ministers at FUMC in Birmingham once in the early 70s when Billy Graham entered. A shock wave moved across the auditorium. It was amazing, and I had no explanation for it.
He was God’s man. No question about it.
During the last years of the 1980s, I pastored Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and visited with Billy and Ruth Graham on several occasions. His sister Catherine was in my church, along with her family. Mostly, we shared a hospital waiting room while their friend and my congregant Dr. Grady Wilson was in surgery. Once I handed them a notepad and asked them to write their favorite scripture verse and sign it. That this was a presumptuous thing to do never entered my mind.
Billy jotted down “Psalm 16:11” and signed that familiar name. I said, “I’m glad you wrote that because I’ve quoted that verse for years as Billy Graham’s favorite.” Ruth Bell Graham laughed and said, “My favorite keeps changing!” As I recall, she wrote Proverbs 3:8-13 and signed it. My secretary had those two notes framed and they hung in my office for years, until I donated them to a fundraiser for a New Orleans ministry.
One: It’s not wrong to hate death; our Lord hated it also.
He broke up every funeral procession He came to by raising the dead. Scripture calls death an enemy (I Corinthians 15).
Two: Scripture says death is out of business.
“Shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Jesus promised that. “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
“As the Father hath sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21).
How are you going to grow your church, pastor?
If your church is not growing–i.e., reaching new people and discipling those God sends–your church is on the decline. People die, people move away, some will grow lax and drop out. No church is static. The pastor who sees his role as maintaining the status quo, keeping those who pay his salary happy and placated, is on a mission to disaster.
Every pastor needs a plan or strategy–a prayer, a personal program, a scheme or something!–for reaching outsiders and bringing them into the congregation and growing this church.
“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.
“To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1).
“Now, students, as I was saying….”
“Some of you in the congregation have heard me tell of the time….”
“We’re in a series on “Steps to Finding the Perfect Church.” Let’s begin by reviewing the first 153 principles which we covered last week….”
We all repeat ourselves, whether by intention or omission. We seniors get accused of repeating the same stories over and over. (I tell people I’m a pastor, and “Hey–it’s what we do!”)
The effective pastor-teacher not only may repeat himself, but must. Good teaching involves something called spaced repetition. After saying something essential, the teacher goes on to something else or tells a story, then returns and repeats it, often making an additional point.
“Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33)
“My husband is always confident–and sometimes right.” –What Mrs. Mark Devers says about her pastor-husband
My wife Margaret–a pastor’s wife for 52 years–was watching a panel discussion of some type or other in which four pastors’ wives were discussing their lives, their homes, and their husbands. One said, “My job is to keep him grounded. I tell him all those people at church see you as some kind of saint, but I saw you this morning in your underwear.”
The audience laughed; Margaret was offended.
She was embarrassed for that husband/pastor. “It was unbecoming to him,” she said. “She could say that sort of thing to him in private, as a tease, but should not say it in public. It was wrong.”
Wish we could take a poll at this point, and ask every spouse of a minister to register whether they agree or not.
“I was amazed that some words on a page could change your life.” –Testimony of a woman in rehab last Monday night. She had been in and out of jail more times than she could count, and in prison three times. These days, she is a solid Christian woman with a strong testimony and a peace that passes understanding.
“I felt I had jewels in my mouth.” –Frank McCourt, writing about his youth in Belfast. When a teacher introduced the teenager to Shakespeare, a new world opened for him. The movie “Angela’s Ashes,” based on McCourt’s book of the same name, showed him lying in the bathtub reading Shakespeare out loud.
In the last week, I have read five books. Hey, I’m retired and some weeks the calendar is blessedly empty. Those are great days for grabbing a book and disappearing into another world.
What’s funny about reading all those books last week–my wife thinks it’s more than a little bizarre–is that I read them all at the same time. Which is to say, I would read one for an hour, then switch to another. Some nights my bedtime reading was two of the books. Friends ask if I mix up the story lines. The answer is that about two sentences into the reading and I’m back in the world created by that author.