Things the church forgot to remember

This notice appeared on the front page of the July 4, 2004, issue of the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader:

It has come to the editor’s attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.

When that newspaper’s staff decided to prepare a special edition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act, they began combing through their archives looking for local material. That’s when they discovered a complete lack of such information. The newspaper had simply not covered the civil rights movement, period.

A local African-American leader said, “The white community just prayed that rumors and reports (of the civil rights movement) would be swept under the rug and just go away.”

As odd as that is, it will not come as a surprise to many that a lot of churches lived through the same revolution in this country without the first mention of it from the pulpit. (And we wonder why outsiders found our sermons irrelevant.)

Churches are prone to forget the things they do not want to acknowledge.

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Compromise: Only the strong can do it

“I implore Euodia and I implore Eyntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2).   You ladies, get together!

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12-13). 

Christians, we of all people should know how to love the unlovely and to be gentle and fair with those with whom we disagree.

The First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana is bordered on one side by Williams Boulevard and on the other by Clay Street.  In between, intersecting the church property is the wonderfully named Compromise Street.  I have no idea why the city fathers gave it that name, but I love it.  I served that church from 1990 to 2004 and enjoyed calling the attention of the congregation to this asphalted reminder of how intelligent people are supposed to work together.

God’s people are expected to be of one mind, to live in harmony.  As we represent Christ in the world and do His work, by the very nature of who we are and what we are charged to do, we will often be required to compromise.

Don’t miss that…

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10 things the young or inexperienced speaker does not know–but needs to learn fast!

Let no man despise thy youth (or thy inexperience–Joe).   (I Timothy 4:12)

As one who has a great deal of respect for godly laymen and laywomen, I’m always glad when one rises in church to deliver a sermon or a testimony or a report. As a retiree and guest preacher, I get to see a good bit of this. And sometimes….

Sometimes I want to applaud them. “Good job. Well done.” (In fact, I often say it to them following the service.)

But at other times, I want to shake them. “Pay attention to what you are doing! You can do better than this!”

I say this fully aware that we all had to start out somewhere, sometime, someway, and no beginner came to the speaking craft full-grown. We crawl before we walk and walk before we run.

However, sometimes the lay speaker or preacher is mature in years and should know better and still will act like a novice.

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The “as for me” element in preaching

But as for me and my house…. (Joshua 24:15).

As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness…. (Psalm 17:15). 

While reading my way through the Psalms, I was tripped by a little comment I’d read right past the previous hundred times I’ve traveled this landscape. Right in the middle of a discussion of some theological point, the Psalmist will say, “But as for me.”

When he does that, you know you’re getting something personal. This is not theoretical, not philosophical, and not “out there” somewhere. If you are like the rest of us, you perk up at this and get ready for something you can identify with.

Case in point. In the remarkable 73rd Psalm (there’s nothing else like it in all the Bible; if you’re unfamiliar with it, we encourage you to check it out), the writer brackets his discussion with that phrase.

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The eternal difference your prayers make

“So, you were the one praying for me!  Thank you!”

In Heaven, two things will happen, I predict–

–1.  People will be coming up thanking you for praying for them.  You barely remember calling out their names to the Father, but He heard and used your prayer and they are living forever because you were faithful.  Sure makes you want to be faithful, doesn’t it?  (See Luke 18:8)

–2. People will be coming up telling you they had prayed for you. And that will answer a question that had bugged you for years:  Was it someone’s prayers that caused those wonderful things to happen in your life?  And now you know. Sure makes you want to be grateful, doesn’t it?

This was brought home to me by a testimony in Christianity Today for July/August 2014.  (I wrote about it then and still treasure it.)

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

“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 the Hagar comic strip, our favorite Viking plunderer had scaled the mountain and said 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.  One day, a fellow in an African country telephoned me. That was unusual.

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21 ministry lessons learned the hard way, with scars to prove it

I began serving the Lord when I was 11 years old, began preaching the Word when I was 21, and began pastoring a year later. At the moment, I’m a solid 80 years old.  These are a few lessons this life of ministry has taught me….

One. Never tell anyone anything you don’t want repeated.  The single exceptions are the Lord in prayer or your wife in the bedroom.

Two. Never put anything negative in a letter.  It will still be circulating and driving the case against you long after you’re in the grave.

Three.  Never fail to check all the references of a prospective staff member.  And then check a few more.

Four. Differences of opinion–in a church or on a staff–can be healthy, but dissension should be nipped in the bud.  Anyone who cannot sit in a staff meeting and disagree lovingly does not belong there.

Five.  Neglect your family and you will have a lifetime to regret it.

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Scripture’s description of your pastor

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the work of a bishop (literally ‘overseer,’ meaning the pastor or chief undershepherd of the church), he desires a good work.  A bishop (pastor/overseer) then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well….”  (I Timothy 3:1-7 is the full text.)

Dr. Gary Fagan was pastoring a church in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.  It was Wednesday night and time for the monthly business meeting of the congregation, usually an uneventful period for hearing reports on finances and membership and voting on recommendations concerning programs.  For reasons long forgotten, a man in the church-–Dick was an engineer and a deacon–-chose to stand and berate the pastor.  When he finished, he sat down and there was silence.

He was not used to being contradicted and the regulars were not foolhardy enough to take him on.

It took a new believer to do the job.

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Anyone can love a crowd; loving individuals is another story

While a battle is raging one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure;  but after the battle, these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as a friend.  –Ulysses S. Grant, “Personal Memoirs”

“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”  –Joseph Stalin

“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”  –Lucy, in “Peanuts”

Pastors, young ones in particular, have to conquer this challenge or forever pay a huge price.  It’s one thing to love a crowd, but another entirely to love that quarrelsome family, the cranky old curmudgeon, the gossip in the congregation, the unwashed homeless guy who wandered into your service, and the deacon who is dead-set on making you unemployed.

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