Claustrophobics and the gospel

“He brought me out to a wide-open space; He rescued me because He delighted in me” (2 Samuel 22:20).

Wedged into the middle seat on a flight from Nashville to New Orleans recently, the thought occurred to me that if a person were claustrophobic, he would run screaming from this plane.

The Southwest flight was completely sold-out and several times the flight attendant announced that all the overhead bins were filled and other passengers would have to check their baggage.  I managed to squeeze in between two full grown men, which meant our shoulders were practically bumping.  The one hour ten minute flight ends up taking another half-hour because we board early in order to wedge everyone into this sardine can.

Tight spaces.  It’s a way of life these days.

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Feeding the monster: Why you do not want to be pastor of “that” church

(If you read this and come away thinking I’m against big churches, then you missed the point. When I read this to my wife, she said, “You’re talking about yourself.” No doubt.) 

You’re walking down the street enjoying the day. Suddenly , you become aware that a celebrity car–one of those Lamborghinis, let’s say–is slowly cruising down the avenue.  It is a head-turner.  You’ve never seen anything like this.  What must it cost, you wonder.  A fortune.

And can you imagine the upkeep on such a thing?  To replace a part would mean importing something from Mars.

You cannot afford it, and don’t even want it.  You just look at it in fascination the way you would if the Space Challenger were passing overhead.  “Gol-lee.”

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When the leadership wimps out, what’s a pastor to do?

“But as for you, keep a clear head about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The deacons in Church A promised the new pastor that if he would come, they would deal with a difficult situation they had been condoning and which was destroying the witness of the church.

A man and woman in leadership positions were co-habiting as husband and wife, though unmarried.  The deacons agreed that it was unscriptural and could not be condoned and that they would address it.

Six months later, the pastor resigned.

He was informed that the deacon leadership had no intention of acting. “We’re cowards,” the chairman said.

That’s when the pastor tried to deal with it himself.

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Life after death: Not just in the New Testament

“As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness.  I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake” (Psalm 17:15).

The next time you hear someone say the Old Testament knows nothing about eternal life or Heaven, I’d like to suggest what your response should be.

Tell them, “It would be good for you to read your Bible before making such a statement.”

Job asked the question of the ages when he said, “If  a man die, will he live again?” (Job 14:14)  Every generation of every culture in every civilization before and since has asked that, and each has answered it in its own way.

Five chapters later, Job answered his own question.

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Why I rejected sound advice

“Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).  “Victory comes with many counselors” (Proverbs 24:6).

Sometimes the poor relationship we have with someone may color our reaction to something wise they share.

The challenge is to listen to everyone, even our severest critics.  Taking their counsel on something of worth may end up being the first step in building a bridge of reconciliation.

This particular church member had rejected my ministry and was working behind the scenes to oust me from that church.

So when he made a suggestion that actually made sense, I was not in the mood to accept it.  Had he suggested we buy giant-sized blizzards at the Dairy Queen, his treat, I’d probably have scoffed.

Here’s what happened..

He said, “Joe, look at old Mr. Mossback.  He has no business being a greeter in this church.  The man could star in a horror flick.”

He was right.

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A cup of water theology

“And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple–I assure you, He will never lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).

I’m the only person I know who picks up stray pennies.

I add them to my coil cup which will eventually be given to missions.

Every little bit counts.

The gospel song goes….

“If just a cup of water I place within your hand

Then just a cup of water is all that I command….”

What could be smaller than a cup of water? What gift could be less costly when given or more appreciated when received?  What more insignificant act could the Heavenly Father possibly take note of and enter into His records for Judgment? And yet, there it is, from the mouth of the Savior Himself.

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The most stressful part of pastoring, and why it doesn’t have to be

“Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).  But three times a week?

My wife and I had this conversation an hour ago.

I was remarking on the demanding weekend looming before me this Friday morning.  Tomorrow morning, I drive 400 miles to North Alabama for the funeral of my oldest friend and former classmate.  Later, following the funeral and after visiting with family for an hour or two, I drive to Meridian, Mississippi to spend the night. On Sunday, I will drive to Bryam, Mississippi to preach (and sketch, as always) in the morning and to Louisville to preach/sketch for a afternoon-evening missionary event  On Monday, I will drive home and teach at the seminary all that afternoon (a four-hour class, filling in for a professor friend).  In all, probably 1200 miles.

I said to her, “I’m so glad I’m preaching familiar sermons.  If I had to invent new sermons, the stress would be enormous.”

Margaret observed, “Most people don’t realize that’s one of the greatest stresses of the pastorate–having to come up with three new sermons every week.”

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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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Things a pastor does not tell

I had a phone call from my insurance man the other day.

Jim lives in another city and we never see each other, but his company is national and I saw no reason to switch homeowners insurance when he moved away.  He’s a solid Christian and I like him.

When Jim believes something, he can be tenacious.

He called urging me to vote for a certain candidate for the U.S. Senate.  I listened to him and when he insisted that I go to a certain website and watch a video, I made no promises.  That did not please him. Frankly, listening to claims and arguments and promises from political candidates is not on my list of favorite things to do.  The attacks and disclaimers are so arbitary and voters are rarely treated as though they have a lick of sense and the judgment of an adult that I try to skip them as much as possible.

Jim called later to see if I had listened to the tape.  I forget what I told him, but I tried to say gently that he had done quite enough.

A couple of days later, I went to the courthouse and voted absentee since I’ll be in another state in revival on election day.

I did not say and would not if asked, how I voted.

It’s no one’s business.

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The Christmas some guys got together and did a man-thing.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him'” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Only men would have done what the Magi did. Only a group of buddies, men friends all on the same page, all of them sharing the same drives and curiosities and interests, only such a band of brothers would have gone to such lengths simply to see a Baby.

It’s a man thing.

If that sounds condescending to the women in the audience, I apologize, but it’s the truth.  Women talk about this all the time, how men do crazy things, disregarding the risk, seemingly not caring about the trouble they are causing everyone around them.

Women laugh about the typical male-epitaph which reads, “Hey, what do we have to lose?” or “Hey, guys–watch this.”

First, why did they do it?

The greatest puzzle of the Magi story to me is not the star they followed (was it a comet or an unusual alignment of stars or something never seen before?), not their origin (were they from Persia? or somewhere else?), and not even the religious significance (did this really fulfill Numbers 24:17? were they astrologers? what does it mean?), but simply why they did what they did.

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