What true love looks like

This is a special edition of this blog for my granddaughter Erin and her guy Ken as they become husband and wife in a couple of days.  This is a reprint from a couple of years back and I thought a nearlywed/newlywed couple would appreciate it. 

No one will ever convince me Solomon wrote the “Song” attributed to him in the Old Testament.

No one with hundreds of wives and a gymnasiumful of ready-made girlfriends can focus on one woman the way the writer of that poetic rhapsody did.  (If you love the Song of Solomon, good. I’m only saying there is no way it’s from the pen and heart of this Israeli king. See my note at the end.)

True love is not about being enamored by the sheen in her hair or the gleam in her brown eyes.  It’s far deeper than that.

I was preaching a revival in Elberta, Alabama, a sweet little community near the coastal resort town of Gulf Shores.  One morning, host pastor Mike Keech and I met for breakfast at a quaint little cafe called Grits ‘n Gravy. I’d brought along my sketch pad, so over the next hour we table-hopped and I drew all the diners, a dozen or more, as well as Patrick the owner and Megan the counter lady.  Everyone was friendly and the chatter was delightful, but no one was more memorable than the senior couple sitting in a corner booth.

The man had a long white beard. I walked over and said, “Folks, I’m a cartoonist and I draw people. And you, sir, are just crying to be drawn.”  “Oh?” he said. “Yes sir. You look like a character and I do love to draw characters.”

“I’m not a character,” he said solemnly.

His wife said with a smile, “He is most definitely a character.”

I sat down beside them and sketched both.

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When the pastor feels the sermon bombed

My friend’s story could be told by every preacher in the land.

“When I stepped off the platform Sunday morning, I knew I had laid an egg. The sermon seemed to have been still-born. It just didn’t work. I felt awful.”

“But the most amazing thing. People were down at the altar praying, and ever since a number of people have come up to me saying how it ministered to them.”

Just goes to show, I said.

Goes to show what?

I raised that question on Facebook, asking pastors who have felt that they bombed and then heard that the sermon had special meaning to many, what they learned from the experience. The answers were all of one theme: “That God can use anything.” “God can speak through a donkey.” “How unimportant the messenger is.” “Christ is everything.”

A friend who was visiting in our home wanted to hear a certain pastor in the city.  I was happy to accompany her there. That day, the minister’s sermon was not up to his usual standards. He is normally one of the finest expositors anywhere.

In the car afterwards, my friend said, “That was a wonderful sermon. Just what I needed to hear today.”

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Lord, deliver us from our word-congestion!

“Let thy words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

We preachers know how to “multiply words without end.”

Preaching is our occupation and wordiness is our occupational hazard.

Well-meaning friends call on us for a few words before a gathering of some type and half an hour later, they wish we would sit down and shut up.

When one preacher asked why his hosts had not called on him to say grace throughout the entire week they’d been together, the man replied, “Because we want to eat tonight!”  (I was there and I heard it.)

“Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him…. Yet the fool multiplies words” (Ecclesiastes 10:12-13)

We fill the silence with words, fill the air with our thoughts, try the patience of everyone around us with our wordiness.  Long prayers, wordy introductions, repetitive announcements, the list is unending.

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Why Mark 13 is so hard for me

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened.  These things must take place, but that is not yet the end (Mark 13:7).

I used to know a lot more about Bible prophecy than I do now.  –Warren Wiersbe in his mature years

They canceled Sunday School at my church for tomorrow morning. Some kind of issue with a busted water pipe in the fellowship hall area where construction people were doing something. So, we’ll be having church in the auditorium of a private school at 10:30 am.  And I am not unhappy at all about it.

The Sunday School lesson–which I was scheduled to teach–was really difficult to get my mind around.  Mark 13 is our Lord’s Olivet Discourse, with its counterparts in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.  Each of the three has its own uniqueness but for the most part they’re much alike.

Prophecy is hard for me.  And I don’t mind admitting it.  There is a little history to this.

As a college student, I worked for a preacher in downtown Birmingham. Reverend Jim Irwin owned the Upper Room Bookstore which I operated the summer between my freshman and sophomore years.  Brother Jim pastored a small church and had a radio program called “The Radio Bible School.” One night a week he held a Bible class in the bookstore for anyone wishing to attend. It was my job to type up his handouts, which is how I learned his views on prophecy.  On paper at least, he seemed to have it all figured out: The Lord was on the verge of returning and all the prophetic signs were being fulfilled even as we speak. Jesus was due to set foot on Planet Earth at any moment.

That was 1959.  Sixty-four years ago.

A big thing back in the day was the year 1948, the establishment of the nation Israel.  After all, taught the prophecy experts, didn’t our Lord say that “this generation would not pass away before all these things came to be”? That’s Mark 13:30. This clearly means, so they would teach, that within one generation of the establishment of Israel all these prophetic signs would be fulfilled. And how long is a generation?  Most said 25 years.  Some said thirty or thirty-five.

It’s been seventy-five years.

I learned early on that expounding on Bible prophecy was easy and easy to get wrong. As someone has said, “The graveyards are littered with the bones of prophecy experts.”

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The two sides of every resume

“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God:  in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of the truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report, as deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying and behold we live; as chastened and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).

I can imagine picking up this guy’s resume’ and having it say: “In one of the two churches I served as pastor, I endured a four-hour deacons meeting in which some wanted to lynch me for preaching the gospel.  Not only did I frequently preach revivals in some outstanding churches and baptized hundreds of converts, but my wife became the target of a gossip campaign because she wore a pants-suit to church one night.  So, I think I’m qualified for anything now.”

A full resume’ would tell both sides of our story.

When we hand our resume’ across to a prospective employer, we want them to learn who we are and the ways in which we are qualified to fill the position for which we’re being considered.

This is who I am.  These are my credentials. Read this and even though you won’t know everything about me, you’ll know a great deal.

My accomplishmentsI served these churches over these years, built these buildings, developed these programs, and achieved these things. I served on this board, led this organization, and participated in these works.

A prospective employer would want to know this.  Now, I would not–as many do–go into great detail tooting my own horn. Let those running their references on me hear someone say that “he didn’t tell the half of it.”  Best for my friends to brag on me than to do it myself.

My scars. Fully as much as my accomplishment, what confirms my identity as a minister of God is what I endured: persecution, hardship, suffering, and trouble. If all who live godly shall experience persecution as the Apostle Peter said, then that’s an essential part of my story.

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My love affair with the church

As much as anyone you’ve ever met, I’m a product of the Church.

For some reason, the churches in my life revolve around the number three. I served six churches as pastor–three smaller ones and three larger ones–and in between, I logged three years as a staff member of a great church.

And, to carry out the theme, the churches that nurtured me from childhood through adolescence were three in number. Oddly, they were of different denominations, which may be one reason I’m more of a generic Christian than a denominational one.

The New Oak Grove Free Will Baptist Church of Nauvoo, Alabama has been our family’s church since the late 1800s. My grandparents joined that church in 1903, and my mother, in her 96th year now, is its senior member. Although “Oak Grove,” as we call it, sits 15 miles from any sizeable town, it will run a couple of hundred in attendance on Sundays and the buildings are all new and lovely. Mickey Crane has been its pastor for over 30 years. My mother thinks he’s one of her sons.

Remember how Paul remarked to Timothy that he had been nurtured in the faith by his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois (II Timothy 1:5)? My mother is Lois and my first Sunday School teacher was Eunice.

I have good underpinnings.

That church loved its children. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

As her mother before her had done with a houseful of children, Lois got her six young ones ready on Saturday night. Then, on Sunday, we walked across the field and through the woods, a mile to the church. Among the blessings from that investment, God gave this good woman two sons for the ministry. Ron and I have logged nearly a hundred years of preaching between us.

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The most important person in the church office

The receptionist–the one who greets the public–is in many ways your most important staffer.

She is the first person most people see when they walk in, the voice they talk with on the phone, and the only one a lot of outsiders will deal with from your church.

Pastor, she can make you or break you.

She can be a light to someone coming in from the dark, lift the spirits of a visitor who ran out of hope miles up the road, defrost the spirit of Jack Frost himself, and protect the beleaguered pastor who desperately needs an hour of study time without interruptions.

She can do all these things and more. But she can also run people off faster than Sunday’s lousy sermon or Wednesday night’s cold ham and peas.

Where does one find a receptionist sent from Heaven?

Answer: Heaven.

Ask God. He knows them all, has full resumes on each person on the planet, and runs the best placement service ever. Pray.

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How Christians insult Jesus

Sally had been a teenager in a church I once pastored, and her parents were dear friends. Her father, a former Marine, is in Heaven now, and her mother, then in the care of Hospice, was having a little trouble coming to terms with her own impending departure.

I sent the mom a note by Sally, suggesting that she read it to her.

The note to her mother and my Facebook note said: “If we could interview a baby in the mother’s womb about to be born, we might find that he/she is frightened by what lies ahead. It’s about to leave the only world it has known–warm, soft, safe–and emerge into a strange unfamiliar world with people it doesn’t know, who all speak an unintelligible language. To the baby, it would be death. But to everyone else, it’s a birth. When you get to Heaven, you will look back and say, ‘I was afraid of THAT?!’”

Had there been room on Facebook, I would have added something more. So, two hours later, we tacked on the following:

The Apostle Paul literally taunts death. ‘O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?’ (I Corinthians 15:55) In college football, he would be flagged for showboating. Followers of Jesus Christ, you are not allowed to fear death. To do so insults the One who went to the cross and experienced the grave for you. Laugh at death. Like a honeybee that has lost its stinger, death still flies around scaring people, but it can’t do you any permanent damage.

For a Christian to fear death is to insult the Lord Jesus Christ.

I suppose the biblical word for this would be “blasphemy.” But since that word is used almost exclusively in theological realms and associated with falling from grace and incurring God’s wrath, and not a term we use in our everyday life, I’d just as soon not conjure up images of the Inquisition.

We are not talking about apostasy here. Just poor discipleship.

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10 bad things that happen when pastors commit adultery and 2 good ones.

A minister falls into adultery and it becomes public knowledge. This becomes a sad, sad day for everyone who knows him.

And yes, I am aware it takes two people to commit this sin.  However, this blog is directed toward pastors and other church leaders, so the minister is the focus of our comments here.

“I think we all should consider this a wakeup call,” said a colleague of a friend who had fallen into sin and lost his ministry.  The other ministers nodded in agreement.

It can happen to any of us. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Will anyone tell you “otherwise”? Oh yes.  He is called by various names such as Satan, the devil, Lucifer, that old serpent, and the slanderer.  Remember, friend–he’s not called the “accuser of the brethren” for nothing (Revelation 12:10).

Jesus called him a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

“Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).  Beware of feeling this sin or any other sin could not happen to you, friend.

“If Thou O Lord should mark iniquities, who would stand?” (Psalm 130:3)
You know that you are just as bad a sinner as the adulterer, don’t you?  If you do not, if you believe that your sins are of a nicer variety and deserve less severe treatment from God, you have more problems than we can deal with here.

If anyone should be above the law and able to come and go sexually as he pleases, it ought to be the king, right?

One king of Israel seems to have bought into that myth.

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When God calls you into His service, He wants you, not your imitation of someone else!

Pastor, you have not been called by the Lord to be Abraham or Moses, David or Jeremiah. Not Joseph, Samuel, and not Elijah.

Nor did He call you to be David Jeremiah.

Not Charles Stanley, or Warren Wiersbe.  Not Mark Driscoll, Stephen Furtick, Andy Stanley, or Louie Giglio–and not their clone.

Speaking of Louie, he says, “You are not a reprint or a lithograph. You’re a one-of-a-kind, original creation of God.”

What a marvelous creative inventive (someone get Roget’s Thesaurus down and finish this list!) God we have.  Billions and billions of human beings, no two alike, each one an original! Each one known by Him, and each loved, with a unique place in His divine plan.

Mull on that a while.

God has called you to be you.

God has a place for you, a plan for you, and hope for you.  In order to fill that role and fulfil that purpose in the universe, you must be the “you” He created you to be.  And if you are not, something in the universe is never quite right.

Be yourself. That’s His plan.

It sounds so simple. But that, I submit, is what drives you to distraction.

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