What the church might say after the tempest

“So the brethren brought Saul down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace….”  (Acts 9:30-31).

After they slipped the new disciple, Saul of Tarsus, out of the city, the Jerusalem disciples had peace.  The work flourished.

Some people bless the Lord’s work more by leaving than by arriving and working.

That’s what started me thinking about this….

The church building was relieved when the last pastor resigned.  It sighed with relief.  The sanctuary knew quietness and peace again.  Its ulcers eased and started healing. The church office grew calm and the pastor’s study went into a fast.

The conference room had more meetings than before, since more committees are required to run a program when one man is not calling all the shots. A dictatorship is the most efficient form of government, we read.  But the Lord’s church was never intended as a one-person rule.

These, however, were purposeful meetings. The walls breathed easily as the voices within prayed and affirmed.

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And the Lord said to Gabriel, “This guy has me cornered.”

In 1990, during a 12-month break between two pastorates–what most call unemployment–I kept a journal recording what was happening, what I prayed would happen, and what I feared might happen.  Below is a little reverie from that time when I was praying for the next pastorate, worrying whether there would be a next one, and anxious to get on with it.  In this piece, I imagined the Lord stepping in to answer our prayers.

God said to Gabriel, “This guy has me cornered.”

“He came when I called him to the last church and served where I sent him.  He turned down a bigger opportunity and a hundred thousand dollar bribe to see a difficult situation to its conclusion.  In the process, I showed him the 66th psalm.”

Background: One night in the middle of our firestorm, Margaret and I had sat on the back porch reading Scripture and talking.  I began to read Psalm 67. Quickly, everything inside me said, “No.  Psalm 66.”  Now, I could not have told you the difference. One psalm was the same as the other. But I read Psalm 66 out loud, and we were amazed. We saw the Lord was sending us a message.  In verses 10-12, He perfectly described our situation. 

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Special delivery to church staff members

“Only Luke is with me.  Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11).

From time to time, pastors invite me to spend an hour or two with their leadership team, primarily the church staff, at their weekly meeting.  It’s informal and conversational and takes place around the office conference table with the coffee pot going and a rapidly diminishing plate of donuts before us.

Some thoughts I share with the team include the following…

One.  Nothing is more important than that you keep yourself close to the Lord.

He is your source. “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Jesus Christ is the Giver of everything that concerns you.  He called you into this work (after saving you!) and He sent you to this church.  If either of those is not the case, you would do well to get alone with Him for an hour and clear everything up, then do as His Spirit instructs.

Keeping yourself close to Jesus means exactly what you think it does:  daily quiet time with Him, with your Bible open and your heart in constant prayer, bringing every thought and act under His lordship.  We should begin and end the day in prayer, and offer up prayers throughout the day.  “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).  We should know God’s word and meditate upon it.  A church staffer should never say knowing the Word is the preacher’s job;  it’s every believer’s privilege and duty.

From time to time, your pastor is going to exasperate you; Jesus will give you patience and understanding.  Your income is not going to be sufficient; Jesus will hear your prayers and send what He wants you to have.  Your job conditions are going to change, and sometimes the assignment dearest to your heart and matching perfectly your spiritual gifts and talents will be taken from you;  Jesus will be your counselor, guide, and protector, or you will be in trouble.

The Holy Spirit will be your Human Resources Director.  He is your Lord.

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“…you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold…” (Revelation 3:16)

Mediocrity is a warm blanket.

Mediocrity is remaining with the bunch that finishes neither early or late, that turns in work much like everyone else’s, that is satisfied with pretty good.

Mediocrity is the head in the sand when the storm is raging around us.

Close your eyes until it all blows over.

Mediocrity is the coward’s way out when life-or-death decisions are being made.  “Well, let’s give this some more thought.”  “Let’s not be too hasty here.”  “We don’t want people to think we’re extremists.”

There’s safety in mediocrity.  We’re like everyone around us.  We don’t stand out.  No one criticizes us. They don’t even see us.  We blend into the landscape.

Our English word mediocre comes from two Latin words, medi meaning “halfway,” and ocris meaning “mountain.”  Somewhere there is a list of everyone climbing to the crest of Mount Everest.  But no one ever bothered to note those who got half way up and turned around for home.

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I don’t have to understand it all in order to believe

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How  unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord….”  (Romans 11:33-34) 

I do not understand all the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation.

Nor do you.

Nor is it necessary that we do.

Sorry if you find that offensive, friend.  After a half-century of considering these things–what has been written and preached and declared as “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” from pulpits far and wide–I feel confident in saying that so far, no one expositor has gotten it all right.

That’s my opinion.  You’re welcome to yours.  But we will go on loving each other in Christ.

The list of other things we do not understand (or agree on!) is extensive.

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One word for a new year

A pastor I know has a practice I now find myself adopting.

Dr. David Uth said at Ridgecrest a few years back that at the start of each new year, the Lord gives him a single word as the focus of his ministry that year.  One time the word was “One,” as in unity and oneness. Another time, it was “Mission.”

He had an interesting story on that.  He was pastoring the dynamic First Baptist Church of West Monroe, LA.  It was the first Sunday of the new year, and two men from a church in Florida had come to hear him preach, representing the pastor search team from FBC Orlando.

David had no idea they were in town.

That Saturday night, the two men drove around West Monroe.  They were unimpressed.  “I don’t think there’s anything for us here,” said one.  The other said, “Let’s stay and hear him preach tomorrow.  We’re already here.”

Then, one said, “I want to do a little test.  If he says the word ‘mission’ in the sermon tomorrow, that’s a sign the Lord wants us to continue with him.”

David smiled in telling this story.

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If I were a pastor again at Christmastime…

I’ve not pastored since the Spring of 2004, and so have the perspective of a good many years on this subject.

I have, of course, been in church all that time–for five years as director of missions for the SBC churches in the New Orleans area, retiring in 2009–and probably two-thirds of the Sundays have been preaching in churches far and wide, big and small, contemporary and traditional, impressive and otherwise.

I have always loved the Christmas season.  I enjoy the constant carols in the department stores (although I confess that Brenda Lee’s “Rock Around the Christmas Tree” and a couple other seasonal things have outlived their usefulness with me!) and browsing the stores and the displays some stores still make.  I’m good with Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings as well as Merry Christmas.  One is as scriptural as the other.

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Shrinking God: Why that’s not a good idea

“O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).

“These things you have done, and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you” (Psalm 50:21).

For some reason, at the very time we need God’s great love and power, we keep trying to make Him less than He is.

Which is laughable, when you stop to think about it.

This is the God who created the far reaches of this universe with its distances and complexities and components.  And we’re going to reduce Him and make Him like one of us?  Truly laughable.

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The most startling news ever, straight from Heaven: Luke 2:10-12

We interrupt this program to bring you the following news….

“I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people!  Today in the City of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”

We return you now to your regularly scheduled program.

Wonder how Heaven decided who would deliver the news of Jesus’ birth that night?  Was there a competition among the angels? Did they draw straws? Was the announcer chosen by merit?  Did anyone say, “Gabriel got to tell Mary and Joseph; it’s my turn”?  What were the requirements?  A good speaking voice? Fluency in Aramaic?  And was the announcing angel disappointed when Heaven’s light was switched on and the audience for this event-for-the-ages was revealed to be a few rag-tag shepherds?

H. V. Kaltenborn, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite, eat your heart out!  This was the best announcing job of all time.

Let’s break this wonderful announcement down into its ten components…

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Christmas: Not a time for inventing new twists on the age-old story

“Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Just tell the story.

Tell the story with faithfulness and respect.  Tell it accurately and fully, bringing in the accounts of Matthew and Luke, drawing from the prophecies of old.

Tell it with gusto and love. Tell the story of the birth of Jesus with all the excitement of someone hearing it for the first time.  Tell the story without detouring into theories and guesses and myths and controversies.

Your Christmas sermon is no time to conjecture on how planets aligned themselves into creating that wandering star which led the Magi to Bethlehem.  Keep in mind that it “went before them until it came and stood over where the child was” (Matthew 2:9).  Try doing that with planets.  Stay on the subject, pastor, and don’t waste your time.

Your Christmas sermon should not waste everyone’s valuable time on the pagan origin of Christmas or the history of Augustus’ census, unless you’ve found something worthwhile, pastor.

Stay on the subject.

Tell the story with imagination and appreciation.

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