Envy: The sneakiest sin of all

Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:26)

I find it funny how the Old Testament’s references to envy focus on God’s people looking outward to the world (“sinners”). They were not to envy wrongdoers, those on the outside.

However, the New Testament directs its instructions inwardly, warning believers against envying each other. For those of us who know the inner workings of church life, we fully understand the change.

Now, a confession first.

I have decided this “deadly sin” is not my problem, that envy is not a problem in my part of the world. I honestly don’t know anyone sitting around stewing over the neighbors having a car and wishing it was in their own driveway. I know of no preachers fuming because another pastor received a doctorate which he should have rightfully received. So, maybe envy is no longer a problem to moderns.

But hold on.  Not so fast.

Perhaps I’ve been defining envy too narrowly.

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Pride: The sin that looks most like me

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (I Peter 5:5)

When a British newspaper invited readers to submit their answers to the question “What’s Wrong With the World?” the inimitable G. K. Chesterton wrote: “Editors: I am. Sincerely, G. K. Chesterton.”

Whenever the so-called seven deadly sins are listed, pride invariably leads the parade. It’s the granddaddy of them all, the source of the other six. Consider how this is so—

–Lust is pride expressing itself sexually, as well as in other ways. It takes what it wants, uses it, and tosses it in the trash.

–Avarice is pride in the marketplace and in our culture. It wants more and more and is never satisfied.

–Anger is pride on the highway and in relationships. It didn’t get what it wants and wants revenge.

–Envy is pride casting an evil eye at its neighbor, wishing for what he has and that he had a wart on his nose. (An old childhood curse we would inflict in jest)

–Sloth is pride expressing its selfishness concerning work. None for him, thanks. He’ll sit this one out. Everyone owes him.

–Gluttony is pride at the dinner table.

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Humility: It looks so good on you!

“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit therefore to God” (James 4:6).

“Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).  

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time….” (5:6).

A Facebook friend said, “I’m very proud of my humility.”

I think he was teasing.

Humility is not a subject most of us would claim to know much about.  In fact, we would shy away from anyone claiming to be humble.  The very claim contradicts itself.

In fact, a truly humble person would probably be the last to know it.   So, when told that “You are a genuinely humble person,” the appropriate response might be something like “Who, me? I wish!”

Now, there are few traits more attractive in a leader than humility.  The Lord of Heaven and earth stooped to wash the feet of His disciples, in so doing forever disallowing His preachers from playing the royalty card (John 13).  “The Son of Man did not come to be ministered unto,” He said, “but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Biblically.  Anecdotally.  And personally. The evidences of a truly humble person are no secret.

Seven traits of a humble person….

One.  An overwhelming sense of the blessings of God.  His generosity. His grace.  “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for HIs wonderful works to the children of men!” (That praise eruption of praise comes from Psalm 107 where it is repeated in verses 8, 15, 21, and 31.)

God is so good to me.  Far better than I deserve. “I feel like I’m God’s favorite child,” a friend says.  “My cup runneth over,” said King David (Psalm 23:5).

Words you will hear a lot from the truly humble: “Thank you!”

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How to set new records in ministry

What follows is a blend of the funny and the serious, what some call “peanut butter and jelly,” the PB for nourishment and the J for delight.  Please bring a sense of whimsy and expect to receive no sermon ideas from this! Thank you. –Joe

In the January/February 2015 issue of Preaching, executive editor Michael Duduit (and my longtime friend) tells of a fellow in Florida who carved out a slot in the Guinness Book of World Records with a sermon that lasted 53 hours and 18 minutes.  Well, actually, it was 45 of his old sermons stitched together, not just one.  Michael says the guy used 600 PowerPoint slides and basically covered the entire Bible, from Genesis to the concordance.

All of that tickled Editor Michael’s funny bone, as oddities in the ministry usually do.  This started him thinking, “What other record-breaking attempts could be made by preachers?” After relaying his suggestions–with some parenthetical notes from moi–we will have an idea or two of our own.

Okay.  Michael suggests the Guinness people might want to look at:

–The most fried chicken consumed at a church supper. (As a growing teen, I was perturbed by the way the church women would put the food away before I finished eating. So, determining to eat nothing but fried chicken–true story–I consumed 14 pieces by the time they were closing up shop.  We never did learn my actual capacity.)

– The most irrelevant stories packed into a single sermon.  (I’ve done this. Once I used a story from a granddaughter who is a twin.  Then, I said, “As you all know, Abby and Erin are sitting here listening to this. I’ve told a story about Abby, and now need to tell a story about her sister Erin. So the following story has nothing to do with this sermon…..”)

–The most “and finally” references included in a message before actually stopping. (I plead not guilty on this one.)

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Why Christians need traffic cops, umpires, authorities

Someone has to be in charge.  Don’t they?

On the highway, in the classroom, at the factory, during the ball game, and in the Christian life, nothing works without someone present being empowered to say, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).  Right?  Or not?

Let’s think about the subject of authority….

In “The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published,” David Skinner describes the hostile reaction that greeted the release of “Webster’s Third Edition” in 1961.  The incident makes a great point for church folk.

First, a few words about the book.

Skinner’s book traces the development of dictionaries in this country and their struggles to determine what goes in and what stays out. Secondly, it chronicles the work of G. and C. Merriam Company to produce a new kind of dictionary this time around.  (The book is not easy reading and I admit to having read it off and on over several months.)

What made “Webster’s Third” different is that the editors came to the interesting conclusion that no one had made them the authority over the English language.  No one had put them in charge of English as spoken and written in America.  In fact, they decided there is no authority.

No authority on the English language.  Imagine that.

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What the carnal mind will never get about worship

Can we talk about worship?

I’d like to start each section with a fascinating quote.  I can’t vouch for the integrity of any of the quotes since they were lifted from the internet.  But they are good discussion starters…

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.”

There is a reason this makes no sense to you, Mr. Pitt.  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 it explains why 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 this guy talks about religion. Someone asked him why God wants us to worship Him.  He 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, it is.

He then proceeded to make a case for God being egotistical.  The funny thing is he thought he was being supportive of God.

He should spare God the compliment.

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Help, I’m a pastor!

“In a multitude of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14 and 24:6)

I said to Pastor Marion, “I’m glad to exchange notes with you like this. But you need a couple of mentors–older guys with long histories in the ministry–whom you can sit across the table from and talk about these things.”

He named two such, a seminary professor and a retired pastor.

Pastors often find themselves in tough situations.  At the moment, Pastor Marion is leading his church in a massive building campaign, while working night and day to minister to his growing flock.  In the five years he has been there, his church has doubled or more in attendance. And then, this happens….

A deacon who is used to getting his way in the church called a meeting of the key leadership. He was upset about some of what Marion has been preaching, he says. Furthermore–it will not surprise you if you have ever been the target of this kind of abuse–-“many others in the church feel the same way.”

He threatened that steps may be taken to remove the pastor from the pulpit.

What is a pastor to do?

I mentioned a few possibilities, but with the caveat that “these are just some thoughts.” No way do I want to take responsibility for whatever he decides.

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Seven prayers of a lazy pastor

I know a lot about lazy preachers, basically being one myself. Every “prayer of a lazy preacher” below I have probably prayed in one way or another, to one degree or the 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. Furthermore, we should not 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.”

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It’s all right to let some people leave your church

“As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” (John 6:66)

“They went out from us because they were not of us.” (I John 2:19)

Sometimes the best thing to happen to your church is for a few people to leave.

Not long ago I ministered in a church where a few longtime leaders had just left. From what I was told, these were the ones who had controlled that church for decades, who dominated pastors and drove them away whenever it suited them, and who resisted anything remotely looking like change. The pastor’s greatest surprise was that they had left. He was one happy camper.

My seminary professor used to say, “People measure the effectiveness of a revival by the additions to the church. Sometimes, a better gauge is the subtractions.”

I unfriended a certain person on Facebook.  This troubled individual latches on to the Lord’s workers and devotes herself to controlling their lives, playing on their guilt, and making demands on their time. I don’t need this. After we unfriended her, she began leaving critical messages on this blog–two one day and four the next morning.

Don’t bother looking for them.

One of the luxuries of having your own blog is the ability to manage it. We went into the program and erased her comments.

“It’s pastors like you,” she said on one of the now-erased comments, “who cause people to quit going to church.”

Interesting logic. According to that, pastors who refuse to let strangers manipulate them are responsible if that person leaves the church.

I don’t think I’ll buy any of that today, thank you.

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10 reasons not to quit abruptly, Pastor

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

From time to time I receive notes like this one:

“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 say to my friend, “You resigned in a fit of temper or in 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 ever-loving 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….

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