Don’t quit now; it’s just starting to get good.

It’s not enough to tell someone who is going through the worst experience of their lives to hang in there and not quit.

They need a reason for staying, and a good one at that.

The best reason I know for followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who are finding obedience to Him to be hard, costly, lonely, risky, dangerous, and/or illegal is this: Obeying Jesus in difficult circumstances, your faith is the purest, your Lord the most pleased, and your testimony most visible.

At the very time we are most tempted to hang it up and walk away, that’s the moment we are in a position to do our best work. At that moment, the battle line between Heaven and earth has found us. We are in place to do the finest, most Christ-honoring soul-satisfying devil-defeating work of our life.

You were doing well. You loved the Lord, you were worshiping Him, obeying Him, giving to His church and to others, you were praying and reading your Bible and life was good.

Then the bottom fell out.

Perhaps your beautiful family disintegrated. Or, maybe your income ended suddenly and you lost all your savings. Your friends scattered and your health deteriorated.

Or perhaps, like Job, all of the above happened to you at one time.

That, as you surely know, is when a lot of people check out of church. “What’s the use?” they ask. “My heart isn’t in it any more.” “Where is God when I need Him most?” “He didn’t answer any of my prayers.”

What a shame. The quarterback has the ball on the opponent’s one-yard line with a first-down and decides to punt.

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The Components of Thankfulness

Everyone agrees gratitude is a wonderful thing. We know it when we see it.We appreciate it when someone extends it in our direction. We miss it when it’s gone. We resent the absence of it in our children and co-workers.

What we have trouble with is nailing that sucker down.

What exactly is thankfulness (gratitude, an appreciative spirit, etc.)? Several sermons on the subject in my library dance all around the subject, blaming it on this, attributing it to that, everything but identifying what exactly it is.

What follows will not be the final word on this subject. You knew this, but I wanted to make sure everyone knows that I’m aware of it too.

As the expression goes about art, “I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.” Seems to me a justice once said that about pornography. No doubt, it applies to a wide assortment of subjects, including gratitude.

Here is one snapshot of thankfulness.

To be candid with you, I have drifted in and out of this attitude of gratitude in years past. But it’s all different now in my life. Every day is a gift. Every moment is a precious treasure. If you haven’t been through something like cancer, you can’t know what I’m talking about. –David Jeremiah, “God in You,” p. 105.

I’ve had cancer. Seven years ago this month, the tests came back positive. The carcinoma was under my tongue. (The tongue! If you want to hurt a Baptist preacher, that’s the place!) We did surgery, then daily radiation for several months, and I’m 6 years cancer-free. It’s a grand feeling.

I’m grateful.

Here are the four elements of my gratitude, and perhaps of yours.

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What Faith Looks Like Today

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”(Mark 2:5)

Jesus saw their faith.

We think of faith as an attitude, intangible and invisible, something we feel or we don’t.

We cannot see faith. But the Lord Jesus Christ does. He sees faith. He can tell in an instant whether faith is present and if it is the real thing.

Now, let’s clear up one thing right up front: Everyone lives by faith. Everyone. The fiercest agnostic and most confirmed atheist share this in common with believers: we all live by faith.

We demonstrate faith every time we board a plane. We do not know the designers or builders, the mechanics, pilots or air controllers. Yet, without checking their credentials, we hand our boarding pass to the agent and walk on and strap ourselves in, fully expecting to get to our destination. Faith.

We show faith every time we drive onto the highway. Cars whiz by us at high rates of speed, each one posing a hazard to all the rest. Yet, we hardly give it a thought, demonstrating incredible faith in people we don’t even know.

We go to a doctor who diagnoses something we never heard of, he writes a prescription we cannot read, and we take it to a pharmacist we don’t know who hands us pills we don’t recognize. We open wide and swallow.

When church is over Sunday, many of us will go to a restaurant. Dining out is a supreme act of faith. Where was the food grown and how? How was it prepared and by whom?

We live by faith.

The big questions, therefore, are not whether we have faith, but in whom we have faith and where is the evidence that we do?

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The Church Financial Seminar I Want to See: “How to Cook the Books”

(This article, first posted in November 2011, deals with an ongoing issue for our churches. Feel free to print and distribute or to forward.)

This week, an ex-con spoke to business students at Tulane University to tell them how to cook the books.

Okay, he warned them against cooking the books.

Aaron Beam served HealthSouth as chief financial officer until eight years ago when the shenanigans of CEO Richard Scrushy became public and that company dissolved into bankruptcy. For his part in the doings, Beam served three months in prison, a brief time to be sure, the result of assistance he gave the feds in their case against the boss.

Beam’s message should resonate with every pastor and leader of the Lord’s churches across our land. I have a strong suspicion that a large percentage of congregations do not know what their church’s actual financial situation is, the pastors do not know either, and the record-keepers–bookkeepers, treasurers, however they are known in the various churches–are either in over their heads or have developed their own system which only they understand.

What percentage of churches are being victimized by unscrupulous treasurers and bookkeepers? No one knows. But I venture to guess that the ones we hear about are merely the tip of the iceberg.

The culprit, if there is one, is poor leadership. The problem lies with those at the top.

In our denomination, and I expect most others, if state leadership organizes and promotes a conference dealing with church finances, it has one aim and one aim only: generating more money. “How to encourage our people to tithe.” “How to get our people to put the Lord’s work in their estate-planning.” That sort of thing. (See David Hankins’ welcome comment at the end where he corrects me. Dr. Hankins is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

The financial conference I would attend, one I’m betting every pastor in the land would fight to get in on, would be titled: “How to cook the church books: How to recognize when your church is being ripped off.”

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It’s a Matter of Trust

So much of what the Bible says about the Lord is given to strengthen our trust in Him.

Unless we trust Him, we will not turn to God from all those other ways, commit ourselves to Him instead of all those other choices, and, ask Jesus into our lives as our Savior, obey Him as our Lord, and begin to take His promises seriously.

This is simple, bedrock logic. Unless I trust you, I will not ask you to babysit my children. Unless I trust the FAA and the system in place to guarantee airline safety, I will not board a plane. Unless I trust the other drivers, I will not venture onto a two-lane highway where we whiz by one another at high speeds. I will go to no doctor or pharmacist I have reason to distrust.

Trust is everything.

When we begin looking for the culprit on why millions of God’s people are not following the basic commands of the Lord–not seriously praying, not sacrificially giving, not boldly witnessing, and not confidently facing the enemy or launching faith ventures for Him–we can lay it all to a failure to trust.

Lack of trust is everywhere.

You can see lack of trust in the Lord by the fright that seizes our hearts when we contemplate tithing our income to Him and decide against it.

You can see a lack of trust in Him by our inner struggle against walking down the road and ministering to our neighbor and our choice to stay inside by the fire and watch tonight’s ball game.

Our refusal to step forward inside a church building and confess Christ as Savior and Lord, our embarrassment over being baptized, our unwillingness to give up some immature habit or unneeded possession the Holy Spirit has fingered that needs to be jettisoned–are all evidence of a failure to trust God.

When the Lord Jesus began preaching in Galilee, trust was a major theme.

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When and How to Fire a Pastor

A followup to yesterday’s article on a church taking a vote on firing the pastor.

Among the responses that began to flow in from yesterday’s article “What the Pastor Said Before the Vote” was a private note from a woman I know from the internet. “All right then, Brother Joe, tell me: under what circumstances can a pastor be terminated?”

I was on my way out the door–friends were being appointed to the mission field in a service in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and I was headed that way–so my reply to her was: “Unethical, unbiblical, immoral, illegal.”

All of that is true.

But it’s not all that should be said on the subject. Those four areas are often complex, and deserve thoughtful consideration from mature and godly church leadership teams.

Anyone who regularly reads this website knows two things about me: 1) I am pro-pastor, 2) but not blind. I know there are people occupying the pastor’s office who need to be put out of the ministry, and I am in favor of that. We do the Lord no favor when we keep employing (or recommending) poor excuses for ministers of the gospel.

What I am not in favor of is impatient, worldly, or controlling church members making the decision whether a good and faithful brother continues at a church, regardless of what the Living God has to say about the matter.

Okay. With that having been said, let’s fire a pastor, shall we? Here is how it’s done.

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What the Pastor Said Before the Vote

They’re voting on the preacher at the end of today’s worship service. He may be looking for a job before noon. Or, it could work out well. Either way, the pastor and his wife have turned it all over to the Lord, and while it would be catastrophic in some ways to have their lives turned upside down this way, their focus is on the Lord and not man. Here is some of what he told the church before the vote.

I’m glad to see so many in Weak Sister Church today. A friend of mine says there are two ways to get a big crowd in church: welcome a new preacher or run the old one off.

Some of you haven’t been to Weak Sister in a while. I am sincerely glad to see you here. I do have a special word for you, but not yet. Please bear with me a few moments while I address the believers.

I need to say one big thing to the congregation this morning, no matter how you plan to vote: My friends, what we are doing today is not about me.

I know you’ve been told it was all about me, whether I’m to continue as your pastor. And that much is true. It’s very possible I could be fired this morning.

You need to know that either way this vote goes, my family and I are fine. We have never looked to the church–or any group in the church–as our resource, but to the Lord. He alone is our strength. He called us into this ministry and He sent us to this church. And even if you decide the Lord made a mistake and vote to terminate our employment, the Lord is faithful and we are held in the palm of His hand.

That said, there are much larger issues at stake here.

If this vote today is not about me, then what is it about?

I’m glad you asked.

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Five of the Last Gifts You Should Ever Give a Pastor

Not being into psychoanalysis–or for that matter, not being into picking up on subliminal vibes from people even a little–I do not know all the reasons why good people do some of the dumb things they do.

Take church people and how they relate to their preachers, for instance.

Sometimes members of the flock do nice things for their shepherd in cruel ways. They offer good gifts but on looking closely, you can see the hooks attached. They offer sweet praise with barbs on the end.

Do they know what they are doing? Are they aware that in doing these things they only add to the burdens of their spiritual leaders? Do they know they’re being cruel?

I expect most of us would disagree with our answers on that. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Here are several “gifts” no pastor wants or needs or should ever receive from those who value his ministry and wish to encourage him.

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The Day the Church Begins to Die

My preacher friend lives in a brand-spanking new home provided by the ministry he heads. “They had to tear down the old one,” he told me. “Mildew was everywhere and after years of trying to cure it, they gave up.”

A friend in that city told me the previous tenants–my friend’s predecessor and his family–were constantly sick for no reason anyone could find. Workers repainted the interior of the house every year.

“When they tore the house down, they found the culprit. There was a pipe underneath the house–not in any of the architect’s original drawings–that was constantly leaking water into the foundation.”

The minister said, “At one point, in an attempt to cure the problem, the ministry head had storm windows installed throughout the house. He was sealing the house, but it had the opposite effect of what he intended.”

“An architect told me, ‘That day the house began to die. With the windows sealed, it could no longer breathe.”

The day the house began to die.

An intriguing line.

Churches also begin to die when they can no longer breathe.

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Sitting on the Information

Coach Joe Paterno was fired this week because of information that he had and sat on.

The president of Penn State University was fired for the same reason.

Other members of the leadership team of that school will be receiving pink slips for the same reason.

In one sense, they did nothing wrong. It was that they did not do right. Their sin was of omission, not commission.

When they knew an assistant coach was molesting little boys in their athletic buildings and simply told him not to do that there anymore, they became enablers for his unspeakable crimes.

A coaching assistant told his father, the two of them told Coach Paterno, he told the athletic director, who told the president. But no one told the cops. What they said to the molester was, “Do not bring young boys into these buildings.” As has been pointed out in numerous sports talk programs this week, that is tantamount to saying, “It’s all right to molest them; just do it somewhere else.”

When the trustees of the university met Wednesday night of this week, they wielded a sharp axe. To them–as to any right-thinking individual–it’s not enough to warn the evildoer off. He has to be arrested and taken off the streets and dealt with in a court of justice. Even if a citizen cannot arrest him, he can report the crime.

PSU’s lawyers are scurrying around right now, it’s safe to say, wondering how much liability the college bears for all the children abused by that coach since Paterno and others found out what he was doing and did not do everything in their power to stop it. I’m thinking they have plenty of responsibility. The trustees did right in canning the coach and the president. One hopes the message goes out to other schools that “If you see someone abusing a child and do not report it to the police, you are guilty of aiding and abetting the crime.”

Sitting on the information. If it’s not a crime in itself, it’s nevertheless abandoning one’s responsibilities as a human being. And whatever happens as a result of your cowardly silence, you have to bear some responsibility.

–If I have information that could save your life and I keep it to myself, your death is on my hands.

–If I know the bridge is out ahead and do not try to warn off motorists, I am responsible for all that takes place.

–If you are deathly ill and I have the antidote which could save your life and keep it to myself, your death is on my hands.

“What did you know and when did you know it?” The answers–often asked in a court of law–help to establish culpability.

The spiritual implications of this are enormous.

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