Pastor, what to do when your competition is another preacher

Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church.  He’s a media star.  He’s pulling people out of the other churches. Is all the rage.

“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.”  (Acts 18:24)

Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul.  (Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.)

What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot.  A real hunk.  Articulate in the pulpit.  Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.

Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist.   He made an impact wherever he went.

What’s more, he was good.  He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.

Which just made it harder on his competition, the pastors of nearby churches.  They could not in good faith dismiss the guy as unworthy or a superficial rock star.

“Being fervent in the spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord…” (18:25).  “He vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (18:28). 

So, they couldn’t fault his preaching.  Apollos was a good preacher and what he said was dead on. Christians were impressed and his opponents distressed. But still….

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Seven prayers of a lazy pastor

I know a lot about lazy preachers, at times being one myself. Every “prayer of a lazy preacher” below I have probably prayed in one way or another, to one degree or other.

It’s easy to point at do-nothing pastors as being the anomaly and call for them to leave the ministry and stop being a blight on the name of the Lord. But in truth, many of us who work hard and long in serving Him are basically lazy and have to fight the urge to vegetate all the time. And, don’t be surprised if some of the real over-achievers found in the Lord’s work fight the same battles and are always working to compensate for those Beetle Baileyish desires to rest and then rest some more.

Consider these prayers of a lazy preacher....

1) “Lord, give me a great text for tomorrow’s sermon, one no one else has ever noticed before and a clever interpretation of it, one no one else would have ever seen.  No rush. Just in the next hour since we leave for the ball game at six. Amen.”

2) “Lord, I pray for Mrs. Jackson there in the ICU. Please let her live just a little longer so I can enjoy the ball game tonight. I promise to (ahem) try to see her tomorrow sometime so the family won’t feel I’ve failed them. Thank you.”

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On finding yourself in a burning building. Or sinking ship.

“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be…” (2 Peter 3:11)

The issue of faith–to believe or not to believe–says John Ortberg, “is never just a question of calculating the odds for the existence of God.  We are not just probability calculators. We live in a burning building.  It’s called a body. The clock is ticking.”  (“Know Doubt,” p.32)

Ortberg doesn’t mind mixing metaphors.  We live in a burning building; the clock is ticking.

So true.

Yes, and the Titanic which we call Earth is sinking (with too many people occupied with re-arranging deck chairs). The universe is winding down.  The sun which supports life on earth and is the center of our solar system has an expiration date, scientists say.

The physical creation has a shelf life expiration date.

A plethora of metaphors come to mind, all directed toward establishing one giant fact: You and I should not be planning to live forever, in this body or on this earth.

These abodes are temporary.

It is true that these are all we know. I’ve never lived outside this body or anywhere but on this planet. And that’s where faith comes in. There is something else out there, something better, something higher, more solid, more lasting, awaiting the redeemed in Jesus Christ.

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Prayers we hope God does not answer

Dear Lord, even if I pray in faith and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, but am praying something which I will regret forever and which is not what You have planned, please ignore me. Thank you for hearing this prayer!

Three men in the Bible–really godly men, the best of the bunch–prayed at one time or other for the Lord to end their lives.

–Moses in Numbers 11:15 “If I’ve found favor in Thy sight, please kill me.”

–Elijah in I Kings 19:4 “That’s enough now, Lord. Take my life.  I’m no better than my fathers (and they’re all dead).”  My paraphrase.

–Jonah in Jonah 4:3 “Death is better to me than life, so please take my life from me, O Lord.”

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Ten reasons for ministers not to resign abruptly

“Therefore, we do not lose heart.” (II Corinthians 4:1,16)

From time to time I receive notes like this:

“I resigned my church tonight. Just couldn’t take it any more. The bullying from a few strong men (or one family in particular) finally wore me out. So, I got good and fed up, and tonight I tossed in the towel and told them I was through. It feels good to walk away and leave all this stress behind. But now, I will be needing a place to move to, a way to support my family, and when the Lord is ready, a new church to pastor. Please keep me in mind if you know of a church in need of my services.”

Nothing about that feels right. I want to call to my friend, “You resigned in a fit of temper or or a moment of discouragement? You walked away from the place God sent you? You quit a well-paying job without knowing where you will move your family or how you will support them? Have you lost your everloving mind?!”

I guarantee you the pastor’s wife is thinking these thoughts, no matter how loyally she supports her man and aches to see him struggling under such a heavy load.

I would like to say to every minister I know that unless you are sure the Holy Spirit inside you is saying, “This is the time. Walk away now,” don’t do it. Do not resign abruptly or impulsively.

Here are 10 reasons not to quit and walk away even when to remain there is killing you….

1) God sent you. Stay until He says otherwise or until you are fired.

You may not be able to keep a church from firing you–some of the finest ministers on the planet have been terminated at one time or other–but if it’s up to you, stay until He tells you to leave.

So, pastor, you found the going to be tough, some of the leaders resistant, and a few members to be criminal in their behavior? You grew tired of fighting them and fed up with the way they treated you?

I have something to say to you, my friend.

Grow up.

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What the carnal mind will never get about worship

Can we talk about worship?

Here are a few quotes to get us started. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of any of them, having found them in that motherlode of fascinating quotes, real and imagined, solid and made-up-on-the spot, the internet.  Smiley-face goes here….

–1) From actor Brad Pitt:  “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.”

First, you have misrepresented the Heavenly Father, Mr. Pitt.  And secondly, there is a reason this makes no sense to you.  The Apostle Paul put it this way: “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.  Nor can he understand them, for they are spiritually appraised” (I Corinthians 2:14).

I don’t mean to be harsh in that assessment, but this is the reason so many on the outside look at Christian worship and shake their heads. They just don’t get it.

Let me repeat that: They. Do. Not. Get. It.

–2) From a blog in which some guy talks about religion. When asked why God wants us to worship Him, the man answered,  Everyone likes being praised. It’s a huge ego bump, after all. But why does God need it? I mean, what kind of egomaniac needs millions of people all over the world praising his name? Isn’t that a little arrogant? Short answer: Yes.

He went on to make a case for God being egotistical.  Oh, really further, it turns out he thought he was being pro-God.

He should spare God the compliment.

Without knowing this fellow, from the evidence I would say he’s another one who just doesn’t get Christian worship.

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How to take criticism well

Let me say up front that I do not have a formula for enabling anyone to enjoy criticism. No one finds pleasure in being told he is wrong, that she needs to change the way she does something, that an apology is in order. Even the most accurate and helpful criticism can be painful when it arrives. How much more an unfair accusation flung our way.

Simply stated, there are two kinds of criticisms: the fair and the unfair. The truthful and the slanderous. The well-intentioned and the mean-spirited.

If you live long enough, you will encounter both kinds. How you deal with them will determine a thousand things about your character and your happiness.

Chuck Swindoll has something to say that fits here:

Anybody can accept a reward graciously, and many people can even take their punishment patiently when they have done something wrong. But how many people are equipped to handle mistreatment after they’ve done right? Only Christians are equipped to do that. This is what makes believers stand out. That’s our uniqueness. (from “Bedside Blessings,” a daily devotional)

I’m recalling an early news talk program (a few years back) that was dealing with this very thing. The talkers were wondering something about Sarah Palin.

A shooting had occurred at a political rally in Tucson, Arizona. The shooter, clearly unbalanced, left blogs and notes to express his fear about the way politicians were leading this country. No sooner had this become known than liberal spokespeople began attacking and blaming right-wing conservatives for excessive rhetoric which inflamed the passions of deranged and unstable citizens.

Sarah Palin was in their crosshairs.

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Now, take the 23rd Psalm for instance…

The Lord is my Shepherd.  I shall not want…

Oh? You already know that Psalm?

These days, one of my missions in life is to urge God’s people to get into the Psalms, the beloved “songbook of Israel,” and to live there. The older we get, the more this wonderful collection of hymns seems to speak our language, to understand us, and to know where we live and how to touch us in the deepest, most personal places.

In addressing a seniors group when I recite the six verses of this beloved Psalm, I can hear some thinking, “We all know that Psalm.  It’s old news.”  My response is: No, you do not know it.  You may know the words and may be able to recite it. But no way do you “know it.”  I’ve been preaching over six decades and I still make discoveries in that psalm–as well as the rest of them!  That, incidentally, is one of the lies Satan uses to keep you and me out of God’s Word.  He says “you already know that scripture; there’s nothing new there” and tells us “no one can understand that scripture; it was written thousands of years ago in another language; only scholars can do this.”  Both are lies.

We can understand much of it, and more of it as we live in it.  And no, you will never plumb its depths.  The word of God is a bottomless well.  We never reach its end.

Take the 23rd Psalm for example….

Now, I personally am convinced a teenage David did not write this while keeping his father’s sheep.  There are too many deep references in this Psalm for a teenager to have penned it.  One has to have lived a long time to know how that having “the Lord (as) my Shepherd” satisfies, provides, leads, and gives victories.

When I was a kid, I would read the Psalms and once in a while stumble across a nugget.  But most of these 150 songs of Israel were closed to me.  I had not lived long enough, suffered enough, experienced enough betrayal and disappointments to see life as the Psalmist saw it.  But in time, that all changed.

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The worst kind of Christianity

I know what it is to bore myself with my own preaching.

It’s not putting words into His mouth to say that one thing the Living God utterly despises is limp, weak-as-tea ministry rendered by insipid, bored disciples who would rather be doing anything in the world than that.

I have been guilty of this. And if you have been in the ministry for any length of time, my guess is you know about this kind of failure also.

You possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My Name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:3-4)

The church at Ephesus was doing a hundred things right and one big thing wrong: they had lost the heart for God they had at first. They preached and taught, they ministered and served, they prayed and witnessed. But their heart was not in it any longer.

And to God, that negated the entire thing.

Remember how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)

If you think that sounds like what the Lord said to another church down the road a few miles, you would be correct.

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

Lukewarm religion. Passionless Christianity.

The worst kind.

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The biggest problem with prayer

This is an issue about prayer that almost never gets addressed. It was put to me by my friend Nancy. Her note, almost verbatim:

Someday I need you to help me understand why we are told when we pray and believe our prayers will be answered. Then people die in spite of our pleas for health. I know it is within God’s will but why ask if His will is what is going to occur anyway? I know thousands of prayers were said for (a friend who died some years back) and for my friend I saw buried today. Thousands are being said for (a friend with cancer) yet she is in a battle for her life.

We are told “you have not because you ask not.” Maybe this would be a good blog topic. I can’t be the only one who struggles with these thoughts.

If you only knew, Nancy.

Let’s start by this upfront admission: When it comes to prayer, things are not as simple as they may seem at first.

Frankly, as one who likes things simple and cut-and-dried, this is painful to admit.

True, the Bible actually does say things like: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives….” (Matthew 6:7-8) And it says: “Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

There are plenty more similar texts, but those two are sufficient to establish that the blanket promises are out there.

What are serious disciples of the Lord Jesus to make of such prayer promises? Here are some aspects of the subject that should help…

1. The disciples clearly did not understand these as blank checks.

Had they interpreted such promises as “get-out-of-jail-free” cards, they would have cashed them in. At the first sign of trouble, they would have “named it and claimed it” and poof! all is well.

That is not what we see happening in the early church.

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