Show us how it’s done, church leader!

“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12).

In attempting something I’ve never seen done, I need to look over the shoulder of someone doing it.  I don’t learn how to do hard things just by reading plans.

The Air Force has instructor pilots.  They sit beside the student in the cockpit, showing how it’s done, then giving hands-on instruction when the pupil takes the stick.

The educational system has interns who sit in the classrooms of veterans and learn from them. Other occupations have apprentices, associates, and trainees.

Show me.

A word to the pastors and other church leaders among us:  Show us how it’s done. Be Exhibit A.

Give the young believers coming after you a pattern to follow, for some look in vain for instances of believers living what they are hearing.  Give the old crusty veterans a close example of one living out the Christ-life, for some have given up hope of ever seeing that.

Do you want us to go door to door, sharing the gospel or inviting neighbors to a church event?  Then, the week before, you get out there and knock on a hundred doors.  In doing so, not only will you be able to help your people later when instructing them, but it will free up your spirit more than ten hours of prayer.  Honestly. There is no substitute for just getting out there and doing it.

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Misrepresenting things

“Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him….” (Colossians 3:9-10).

I hate to admit this, but it needs to be done.

Preachers sometimes misrepresent themselves. 

Some claim to have degrees that sound authentic but were bought on the sly somewhere because they know that laypeople in our churches are unsophisticated about that sort of thing but are impressed by high-sounding degrees. Some claim to have been places they merely flew over, to know people they shook hands with, and to be more than they are.  Some give the appearance that they know the original languages when they are merely quoting something they picked up in a book.

There is no substitute for integrity in those called to preach the Word and lead the Lord’s flock.

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What Jesus was like. (A Bible story with many insights.)

One brief incident in the day of Jesus’ early ministry reveals so much about Him to our jaded eyes.  Everything we see, we like.

The story is found in Mark 3:1-6.

And He entered again into a synagogue (in Capernaum); and a man was there with a withered hand. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they have accuse Him.

And He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Rise and come forward!’ And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm? to save a life or to kill?’ But they kept silent.

And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians (their enemies) against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

I love that story.  It’s a brief encounter that tells us a world of things about our Savior….

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Things That Could Not Possibly Happen

“Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).

In the months leading up to the U.S. involvement in the Second World War, we had broken the Japanese secret code.  Army and Navy personnel were reading their messages. We actually knew where they were most of the time and what they were planning.

All signs indicated they were going to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.

And yet, when they did just that–December 7, 1941, that day of infamy–they caught us completely unprepared. All our battleships were parked side by side close up and made a great target for the Japanese torpedo bombers.  All our planes were parked in rows, as though for the sharpshooters at the county fair.

The Japanese had a field day.

How had this happened?  How had they managed to catch us so completely off guard when we were reading their coded messages and knew what they were up to?

The short answer is we did not believe what we were reading.  It was unthinkable that their aircraft carriers could get close enough to attack Pearl Harbor. So, we stupidly walked into that ambush.

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Jesus claimed to be God. Why that matters.

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in my Father’s name, these bear witness of me.  But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me….” (John 10:24-27).

If Jesus Christ is not the God-man, then we’re out of business and the universe is in the dark.

Nothing is more basic to the Christian faith and everyone’s hope than His deity.

Theological liberals like to say Jesus never claimed to be God, that this claim was put in HIs mouth by Christians who came later.

What fun they have with the story of Jesus.

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Just before you head out to minister

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

This is a brief Bible study.  (Just so you’ll know. Smiley-face here.)

For Christian workers, one of the most significant Scripture passages is the commission the Lord gave His disciples just before sending them out on a short-term assignment.  This is found in Matthew 10 and Luke 10.  In Luke’s account, the commissioning takes 16 verses, but in Matthew’s, it’s a full 42 verses–so therefore, my favorite, since it’s far more helpful.

At that point the 12 apostles were something like seminary students, preachers in training with diverse backgrounds and limited experience.  (Some of us used to stand on the street corners in the French Quarter preaching. And, we roamed up and down the sidewalks with handfuls of tracts talking to strangers. We were in boot camp, learning how to talk to people about Jesus.)  That’s what was happening with these disciples.

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Cartoonists, abortion, liberals, and me

I’ve been thinking about cartoonists, abortion, and theological liberals lately.

My friend Annie was sitting in a doctor’s office the other day when a young woman came in to ask about an appointment.  She wanted an abortion, she said, because she had plans for Labor Day weekend and wanted to get this done.

After a quick conversation with the receptionist, she left.  Annie sat there in shock and then the tears began to flow.

Annie and her husband Mike are in line to adopt a baby due to be born in a month or two.  To say they are excited and prayerful does not begin to describe them. Seeing the callousness with which that young woman wanted to be rid of her baby because “I have plans for the weekend” left Annie broken-hearted.

At this point, some in our audience will quit reading.  They already “know” where it’s going and know they do not wish to go there.

That’s why there is little authentic conversation about abortions today.

And, may I say, I understand that.

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If you can believe in Earth, everything else should be a cinch.

“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

I don’t know what you think about when lying awake at night unable to sleep, but recently my mind has dwelt on the wonders of there being a planet Earth in the first place, and all that this means for the children of God.

The Psalmist said “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). I read that and think, “If you only knew, King David. You spoke those words three thousand years ago. What if you knew what we know now!  The human body is truly the marvel of the ages.”

And yet, the earth is also just as fearfully and wonderfully made.  Just as awe-inspiring, with as much the signature of the Divine on it as any human carries.

Consider this one thing:  HOW MANY FACTORS ARE REQUIRED FOR EARTH TO SUSTAIN LIFE?

Any one of the following not being in place could kill the whole deal. And yet, they’re all there, in place, doing their job, while I sit here at a laptop in my dining room, with a cup of Dunkin Donut coffee to my right and earth all around me, requiring absolutely nothing from me.  I am completely in awe of this.

What makes life on Earth work?  Some factors include….

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Venturing into Boringland: How preachers can steer clear of the dreaded dead zone.

“Then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25)

Holly, a 7-year-old in a church I pastored, once turned to her mother in the middle of my sermon and said, “Mother, why does Doctor Joe think we need this information?”

Every preacher should have such a child listening to every sermon and giving such feedback.

What boring preaching does–universally, no exceptions–is answer questions no one is asking.

It may do more things than this–dead oratory violates a thousand sound principles–but put it down in huge letters, pastor: the sermon which is sedating your congregation is seen as completely irrelevant to them.

Whether it is or not is another matter.

My job as the pastor may mean making my audience see that this subject is one they should be dealing with and asking questions about.

On a typical airline flight, passengers ignore the instructions of the attendant as she talks about the use of the seat cushion as flotation device or how to inflate the life vests. However, if, at 30,000 feet the pilot announces the loss of an engine and the attendant begins to give instructions, she will have the clear and undivided attention of her audience.

One reason I suggest previewing the sermon with one’s spouse and children is that invariably one among them can be counted on to ask, “What is your point?”  “What is this about?”  Or, as Holly put it, “Why do we need to know this?”

In Scripture, we are left with the impression that Jesus’ best preaching was done on the spur of the moment as a result of questions.

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Watch out for the bad guys…and also the good ones.

“And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds in thine hands?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends’” (Zechariah 13:6).

Recently I was guest speaker at a men’s meeting held 70 miles away from the host church at a retreat center owned and run by the Baptists of that part of the state.  My drive there required 115 miles–up the interstate, onto the U.S. highway, followed by a state road, county road, and finally something resembling a pigtrail.

That night, as we left the large room where we had held our evening session, I asked one of the leaders, “Will someone lock up?”  Our materials still lay on the tables.

He said, “This place is so remote that thieves would never find it if they were trying.”  We laughed.

He was right, except for one thing.

Sometimes, the thieves are among us.  We bring them in with us.

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