Your first discoveries in Heaven

“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so, amen” (Revelation 1:7).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a few predictions about Heaven.

As with every religious charlatan who ever came down the pike, there’s no way to prove me wrong for the time being. But unlike the con men, I’m just thinking out loud here. After all, who among us does not like thinking about Heaven, our abode forever and forever?

The first surprise, I have no doubt, will be to find yourself awake.  “Wow,” you think. “I died.  I really did.  I remember everyone gathering around the hospital bed and them all crying.  And I recall that last surge of pain and then everything went black.  And lo and behold, I wake up.  How wonderful is that?”

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

When I awaken.  A given fact. It’s going to happen.  But as much as we say we believe that, I’m confident the first sensation we will have on the other side of that curtain is to find our eyes open and the new realities of our situation setting in.

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Everyone’s least favorite preacher: The cocky kind

“Be thou humble, preacher.”  (Stated and repeated and reinforced one way or the other in a hundred scriptures such as Isaiah 57:15, Micah 6:8, and I Peter 5:7.)

It’s a personality type, I suppose.  If Mr. Hotshot were not a preacher, but were a bus driver or school principal or insurance agent, he would still be full of himself and cocky.  But as unpleasant as that trait is in any profession, it’s ugliest and deadliest in a man of God.

You’re sitting in his church listening to him preach. He’s not five minutes into the message before you realize Mr. Hotshot is appearing before you in the flesh.  His words and mannerisms give him away.  Listen to him:

— “I told my…I want my…My convictions are…I believe…I insist that my staff….”  All church employees are “my staff” and the new program is “something God told me to do.” It’s all about him.

–Listen to his Bible expositions: “The translators have this wrong.  Any first year Greek student knows this word always means….” and “Scholars say otherwise, but they can be wrong if they want to. What this verse really means is….”

–He alone has the truth.  He alone knows how to lead the church. He wants lots of time in the worship service because what he has to say is more important than things like actual worship and praise.

How the Lord ever got things done before he came along is the mystery of the ages.

Now…

Every disciple of Jesus has to have become humble at some point. It’s how you enter the Kingdom: “as a little child.”  (Matthew 18:3)

It’s not a stretch, therefore to expect those called as role models and examples (I Peter 5:3) to be shining exhibits of the grace of humility.

And some are. Some of the greatest preachers I know, some of the finest pastors and best success stories, are genuinely humble.

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Fifteen lies Satan tells you about Scripture

“(The devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

If I were the devil, I would do everything in my power to keep you from the Word of God.  I would say anything I could think of, anything I thought you would believe, anything that works, to get you to read other things.

As Paul said, “We are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).  We know how he works.  And here are some of the lies we have noticed pouring out of his factory, all geared toward destroying confidence in God’s Word.

One.You already know it, so don’t read it.”

He’s lying to you. You do not know it. I’ve studied the Bible all my life and in no way could I say I “know” it. I know a great deal about it, but there is so much more.  For the typical church member to shun the Bible because “I’ve been there and done that” is laughable.

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Off key: Religions so close, yet so far away

“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles…and you have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.  But I have this against you….” (Revelation 2:2-4).

The Lord has “something” against certain ones calling themselves true believers while perverting the gospel and slandering His disciples.

When I heard of Florence Foster Jenkins, I thought of these who are both deceived and deceivers….

This woman who lived from 1868 to 1944 was a patron of the arts in New York City. She was rich and generous and in a hundred ways kind and gracious.  Her one over-riding fault was that she thought of herself as a gifted singer.  She was not.  In fact, she was comically bad.  And yet, her husband and those around her conspired to keep the truth from her.  When she learned the truth, she was devastated and died soon afterward.

In The New Yorker’s review of the new movie–the title is her name–the opening paragraph is wonderful and poignant and lends itself to our application.

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“Another lazy preacher: The last thing we need!”

I awakened the other morning with this scenario playing in my head.

A young friend was being called into the ministry.  He was trying to get his bearings. In my dream–if that’s what it was–I was saying to him, “Please learn to study.  Learn to discipline yourself.  Because we don’t need another lazy preacher.”

So, as I come to full consciousness, I’m concerned about lazy preachers?

Wonder where that came from.

Do we have lazy preachers?  Of course.  Always have had and always will have.  You see laziness in ministers in a hundred ways, including some of these…

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“This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight”

“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23 NASB).

It’s time to “spill the beans,” say my friends.

Bertha Fagan is her name.  She is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and lives nearby in the community of Pearl where she teaches English at the Rankin Center of Hinds Community College.

Bertha is the widow of Dr. Gary Fagan, a seminary classmate of mine.  But even though Gary and I knew each other for fifty years, and at one time we all belonged to First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, we did not know one another’s families.  Gary went to Heaven in May of 2014.

My wife Margaret died the following January.

Bertha and I met for the first time on February 15 of this year (2016).  Within days, we both knew the Lord had done something special here.

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Shellbound: Why churches tend to be unfriendly and cliquish

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

I stood before the congregation holding two letters in my hands.  “Both came to my office this week.  I thought you’d like to hear what they say.”

“The first letter is from a member who moved several hundred miles away last year. She is missing this church.  She wrote, ‘The churches here are not friendly like our church back home.  No one speaks to visitors.  I miss our loving, friendly congregation.”

I said, “Do we have a friendly church?”  Heads nodded all over the building.

“Well, then, listen to this.”

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What pastor search committees fear most

“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40)

“For we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

You should read my mail.

Well, maybe you shouldn’t.  You would come away disgusted with the notion that our churches operate in faith, trust God supremely, and always want to do the honorable thing.  Some do; many do not.

A young minister I know is well-trained and very capable, he is called of God and has a heart for ministry.  Some church is going to love having him as pastor.  If they ever decide to call him.

Search committees are deathly afraid of him.

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If I were a deacon just starting out

If I were a newly ordained deacon, I would be eager to learn my craft, to honor my Lord, and to serve my church.  So, here are some of the things I would do:

–I would stay on my knees, asking the Father to purify me, make my motives holy, and to give me a heart to serve.

–I would read Luke 17:7-10 again and again until it became part of my DNA.  I would resolve never to seek appreciation or expect honors.  We are servants.

–I would find the godliest, most effective deacons now serving our church and latch onto them.  I would pick their brains, and ask if I could work with them until I learned all they could teach me.

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The power of a good life-altering crisis

“No chastening for the moment seems enjoyable, but painful. But afterwards, to those who have been trained by it,  it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

In the middle of the pain, no one enjoys the experience. Only in looking back–at some distant day–do you see how God  used it.

Life is understood only in looking backward, the saying goes. But it must be lived going forward.

It doesn’t work that way for everyone, Hebrews 12:11 is implying. For some, the trials are fatal.  It just depends.  “To those who have been trained by it” surely means “the people who have learned to give their woes to the Lord for His purposes.”

We can wallow in our defeat, be chained in despair by our sorrows and troubles, or we can rise above them by putting our trust in the Savior and finding His purposes.

In her book Character, Gail Sheehan tells of the lengthy rehabilitation Bob Dole endured after his World War II injury. (German machine gunfire hit him in the upper back and right arm. Medics gave him the largest possible dose of morphine, then wrote “M” (for morphine) on his forehead with his own blood, so no one who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.)   Dole went through multiple surgeries and experienced recurring blood clots, life-threatening infections, and long periods of recuperation and therapy.

An interviewer once asked Senator Dole, “How did this delay your career plans?”

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