There’s one of these in (almost) every church

Young pastors enter the ministry expecting the people of the Lord to be healthy, sane, balanced, spiritual, biblically informed, and Holy Spirit guided.

And then they run into reality.

The image of “running into a buzz-saw” comes to mind.

Some of them do not survive the experience, bless their hearts. But we remind them–when we have the opportunity–that our Lord said those who are whole do not need a physician (Matthew 9:12).  If they were all healthy, sane, balanced, etc etc., they would not need a pastor.

You are there for those who are the unhealthy, unbalanced, spiritually immature, and so forth.

Sometimes, it’s a leader in the church who blindsides you.

Here’s my story (see my two notes at the end)….

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The one question we ask all the time not found in the Bible

“How are you feeling?”

That may be the most asked question in our culture today. If so, it’s also the most irrelevant one.

It’s never the first thing said. That’s always a greeting, something akin to “Good morning” or “Hey, how’s it going?”  Then, as soon as that is accomplished, out comes the “feeling” question.

Whether the questioner really wants or is expecting an answer is debatable. But we ask it all the time.

I was speaking to an important gathering in the state capital and had been invited to bring a few family members. My 90-year-old dad had traveled nearly 200 miles with my brother Ron that morning. They walked into our hotel room around 10:30.  My wife greeted my dad and hugged him.

“How are you feeling, Pop?” she asked.

Dad smiled and said, “Well, when I got up this morning I decided not to ask myself that question because I might not like the answer.”

Ah, wisdom.

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Living for God without reading your Bible? Don’t even try it!

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).

You cannot do this on your own.

Don’t try this by yourself.

The Christian life should come with a warning label.

“Try this without the Scriptures as your constant guide and you will fail.”

Many a well-intentioned child of God has gotten off on a detour in life by denying themselves the guidance of a daily time with an open Bible. Some have strayed into wickedness because they lost their spiritual compass. Millions have lapsed into a religion of feelings and opinions and hunches due to their ignorance of God’s Word.

–I met some women who told me they no longer worship with other Christians. One said, “God showed me that I am the church.”  Because they did not know their Bible (or had rejected what they did know), they turned their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We cannot say this too strongly: he who rejects the Lord’s people is rejecting the Lord Himself.  See Luke 10:16.

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Making ourselves learn new things

“It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27)

When I was in high school, someone taught me to type.  Just after college, they taught me to run the teletype and then to work a mimeograph machine.  Eventually, someone installed a computer in my office. I said, “Where do you turn it on? It has no on/off switch.”

In the 1990s when teaching (occasionally) at our seminary, I entered the classroom carrying books and a Bible. Everything about the class was hand-written or typed.  In recent years, everyone brought laptops into the classroom, and much of the work was paperless, posted on academic websites set up just for this purpose.  I graded “papers” without leaving my desk, without taking my eyes off the computer, without lifting a pencil.

Recently, I’ve been writing a series of devotions for a quarterly magazine in our denomination.  The process was anything but simple.  The editor emailed me an attachment containing instructions, a contract, samples of past devotionals, and most puzzling of all, templates for the ten articles.  Think of a template as a mold into which one pours his writings. A little goes here (the title and date), a little goes there (the text, and one verse in particular that is typed out), and so forth.  One template for each day, making ten in all.  When these are all complete, I send them in via the internet, my cover letter with ten attachments.

The thought occurred to me today….

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Into this world the gospel came

I just finished another of the novels of Robert Harris dealing with ancient Rome.  Harris is the best, surely one of the most effective historical novelists on the scene. Everything he writes is so readable.

“Conspirata” is a sequel to Harris’ novel “Imperium,” which chronicles the rise of Cicero.  He sticks to the facts and to the actual speeches of Cicero as much as possible, which is what make this so valuable.  You feel you know these people afterwards.

“Conspirata”  tells of Cicero’s consulship in which he ruled over the Roman Empire for a brief period, his work as a senator, and his brilliance as a lawyer and orator.  It’s impossible to recommend this novel too highly; I loved it.

I was struck by the conditions in Rome at this time (the story begins in 63 B.C.). This was the most civilized and progressive society known to western man at the time.  We still speak of “the glory that was Rome.”  It was glorious, to a point and depending on the strata of society you occupied.

Into this world, Jesus Christ was born. Into this culture the gospel came.  To these people, God sent a Savior.

Read what follows and ask yourself, “Did these people need a Savior?”

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It’s always the 100th anniversary of something or other

On the 28th of this month, people across the world will celebrate–if that’s the word for it–the centennial of the start of the Great War. The First World War.

We commemorate it.  We acknowledge the anniversary and mark it as a significant event.

This was a defining event in the lives of untold millions worldwide.  That war gave us the one which followed it a generation later.

We owe a lot to the First World War.  Tongue firmly planted in cheek.

That date was June 28, 1914.  The United States came to that party late, joining the Allies for the final two years, 1917-18.

A hundred years ago seems like forever to most people today. It wasn’t.

Not by a long shot.

A little background.

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Pretend you are omniscient. Here’s how it looks.

First a story.

General George Patton (of World War 2 fame) lived in the grip of a strong sense of destiny.  At times, he felt he might be the reincarnation of some ancient Roman general.  There was a daring and innovative spirit about him, a combination, some said, of past generals such as the Confederacy’s Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jeb Stuart, and the Union’s George Custer.

Patton knew he was special and felt “the gods” had ordained him for something dramatic in life.

According to LIFE magazine for November 30, 1942, he expected his death to be spectacular.

He has a date with history, but the date, he thinks, will be brief.  He expects to be killed in battle, not bombed out of headquarters somewhere to the rear, but blown up, bit by bit, in a tank advancing at the head of a victorious attack through the enemy’s strongest lines.

This premonition that he will be killed in battle is not something new. He had it in 1917; he had it during all the years between World War I and World War II, when even the Army seemed to believe there would be no more wars. He often described his premonition to his wife, until today she too believes it.  Of course, it may not come in the present desert campaign, but Patton’s friends now take his word for it: it will come sometime and it will be glorious. (p.116)

That’s what he  expected about his death.  It was not to be.

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Two things we will find out in Heaven.

 ”So, you were the one praying for me!

Something about heaven was brought home to me by a testimony in the latest issue of Christianity Today (July/August 2014).

In “A Grief Transformed,” Tara Edelschick tells of being brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran.  She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy.  “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”

“That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.”

Oh, my.  Talk about a double whammy.  Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.

Many would never have recovered from such a blow.

However, within a year, Tara had become a Christian.  She writes, “Nothing miraculous happened–no defining moments, blinding visions, or irrefutable arguments. But slowly, imperceptibly at first, I was drawn into a life of faith.”

Mostly, what happened, from her perspective, at least, is that friends witnessed to her. One friend in particular got her reading the Word.

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“I love you; give me money.” (The art and science of manipulation)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses even while for a pretense you make long prayers….” (Matthew 23:14)

A stock cartoon situation that has set up punch lines for thousands of comics has someone climbing to the top of a mountain to consult a guru for his pearls of wisdom.  In today’s Hagar comic strip, our favorite Viking plunderer has scaled the mountain. He says to the bearded seer: “O wise one, you are like a father to me.”

The old man answers, “I am honored. What is your question?”  Hagar says, “Lend me money.”

Thanks to the internet, those of us who write these articles frequently hear from the Lord’s people across the globe. That’s one of the great blessings of ministry in these days.  The other day, a fellow in an African country telephoned me. That was unusual.

Our connection was difficult, so I suggested he use email.  Within the hour, there was his message.  He wanted me to know what good work he was doing for the Lord and how difficult it was.  I responded in a typical way, thanking him and saying I was praying Heaven’s blessings upon his work.  (And yes, I stopped at that moment and prayed.)

He didn’t waste any time. His next email hit me up for money.

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“We dropped the ball!”

I find myself wondering when pastors and churches stand before the Lord and are asked what they did with the resources given them, whether they will say, “We dropped the ball.”

And wondering how that will fly.

In the city where I live, the local Children’s Hospital–a hero to untold thousands for many years–is under attack and the focus of a number of lawsuits.

Over the past couple of years, the hospital had at least five patients (all children) to die of a fungal infection which was the result of infected bed clothing.

As bad as that is, the hospital leadership did something even worse: They did not report it.

They were protecting themselves, they thought, by not following the law and informing the appropriate agencies about this. Consequently, they are in a mess of trouble.

Sound familiar?

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