The “church conflict” question that will get you laughed out of church

“Why do you not rather suffer wrong?” (I Corinthians 6:7)

A dog can whip a polecat, the saying goes, but it’s not worth it.

Some fights you need to walk away from.

We’ve told here of the time in 2004 when a small group of members of a local Baptist church was taking the pastor and trustees to court over what they perceived as breaches of scripture, ethics, and good sense.  As their new associational leader, I was invited to sit in with them one evening and hear the reasons they were taking such serious action. Toward the end of the evening, the leader said, “So, what do you think?”

I said, “I think you should walk away from this. No one is going to win on this thing except the lawyers. Everything about this is wrong and bad.”

He said quietly, “We can’t. It’s gone too far for that now.”

He was wrong. They could have stopped that train in its tracks by a phone call to the lawyers. In doing so, they would have saved a church from going out of existence (within a year, the church “gave” itself away to another church that would take over its indebtedness), saved themselves and the church a ton of money (both sides hired teams of lawyers from high-priced New Orleans firms), and saved the cause of Christ a lot of bad press (the media jumps all over these things).

It’s never too late to back away from a fight.

It’s just hard. And takes more strength than most people can muster.

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Everyone ought to have grandchildren. Eight, if possible.

“Grandchildren are the crown of old men….” (Proverbs 17:6 KJV)

A friend asked that I write a blog about grandchildren.

As one who needs no prompting to talk about these eight wonderful humans who have so enriched my life, that’s all it took.

So, let’s see how this goes.

Margaret and I have two sons, Joe Neil, Jr., called “Neil” and John Marshall, called “Marty.” When they were11 and 8, we adopted Carla Jinoke from Korea. She was 5. Her Korean name was Kim Jin Ok. We named her “Carla” for my father Carl, and kept the “Jinoke” (pronounced “jin-OH-kee”) because that first day, she pronounced her name for us in that way.

All three are children of the 1960s.

Back then, when someone asked if we had children, I would answer, “We have three–two domestic and one imported.”

In May of 1974 when we received our daughter at the Kansas City airport, I stood at the window that Tuesday afternoon watching the United plane pull up to the gate with a surprising thought filling my mind: “There is a child on this plane who will someday give me grandchildren.”  I was 34 years old and Margaret was 32. Grandchildren were the farthest thing from our minds. At that moment, I teared up at that wonderful thought.

Before they were born, they were in my heart.

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Joseph writes home from Bethlehem’s stable

(Joseph’s letter to his parents is in bold print. His thoughts to himself are in italics.)

Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Davidson

c/o Davidson Carpentry Shop

Nazareth of Galilee

Dear Mother and Father,

I promised I would write just as soon as we arrived in Bethlehem and got settled.

We’re here, but not quite settled yet.

There’s so much I want to tell you but can’t.  For one thing, I don’t dare tell you we’re in a stable where barnyard animals have been staying. We put in clean hay, but other than that, it’s not the most sanitary place in the world. Mother would freak out if she knew.

Here’s what happened.

As you predicted, Dad, the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was arduous. Whether she was walking or atop the donkey, poor Mary had a hard time of it. But you know my sweet wife. No way was she going to complain. After all, she’s the one who insisted that I bring her along.

In future years, people will look back at this event and wonder why in the world we brought Mary all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and her almost due to give birth.  The answer is this is one strong young woman. She was bound and determined to be with her husband when the Child was born. And since I was required to make this trip, we just threw ourselves on the care of the Lord and started out.

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What a Resounding Testimony Will Do For You

A resounding testimony of faith in Jesus Christ will get you into more trouble than you’ve ever been in your life.

You thought we were going to say how good life would be if you went “all in” for the Lord and told everyone about Him?

Let’s say it again…

A strong outspoken witness for the Lord Jesus Christ will box you into a corner and make you put up or shut up.

That’s why you ought to do it. That’s why you ought to erect a neon sign in your front yard declaring that “Jesus is Lord at 601 Park Ridge Drive” or wherever you live. You ought to put a Bible on your desk and wear t-shirts that celebrate Jesus and put Him in your conversation.

Pray in restaurants before meals, speak to waitresses about their spiritual welfare, and witness to your colleagues at work.

So live and speak that when someone wants to attack the Lord Jesus Christ and can’t lay hands on Him, they start looking for you. (Acts 5:41 comes to mind.)

In declaring yourself for Jesus, you ought to remove your safety harness and throw yourself totally into God’s hands.

Quit being so cotton-picking careful.

What are you afraid of?

Tell people you’re a Christian and that it’s the best decision you ever made and that to know Jesus is the best thing on the planet.

Keep doing it and then watch what happens.  It might be painful, so be strong.

We have a couple of stories, one from a longtime friend and the second from God’s Word.

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Pastor, What Your People Want From You at Christmastime

“Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word; tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.”

I love Christmas. I love the songs and the pageantry, the spirit in the air, the foods and decorations and joy, and most of all, being a minister of the Gospel, I love the opportunity to tell the old, old story all over again.

No matter how much we love the Christmas story, this season seems to return with increasing regularity.

As for ministers, after a few cycles of preaching every aspect of it you can think of–the angel’s appearance to Mary, the shepherds, Joseph’s story, the Magi and Herod, even Simeon and Anna–you run out of soap.

Now, you get into recycling. You ransack your collection of Christmas books (sermons, Guidepost stories, those sentimental collections publishers cough out each year, and anything you can find online) in a search for some angle you’ve not used before, some insight that will excite you. The sermon machine has a never-ending appetite for fodder.

You do this not so much for your people as for yourself. You feel a need to get excited about the story all over again; new insights will do that for you.

There’s a better way.

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Pastor, To Serve Well, Lose the Perfectionism

“He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14

God is under no illusions about you and me.

We’re not perfect and never will be in this life.

Get used to the idea.

So, whether you set out simply to live the Christian life as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ or you have been called into His service as a minister (pastor, missionary, whatever), you will do well to shed all pretenses and aspirations of perfection in this life.

This means that you will…

–give your best and feel it is never enough. It’s not, but the Lord can feed a multitude with a child’s lunch, so get over it.

–feel good about something you did and find out later some people were disappointed in you. You will not go to pieces over it.

–make some people angry at you for no reason you can think of. You will accept it as how things are.

–have enemies you never wanted, face opposition you never bargained for, and deal with crises not of your making. You will constantly check to see if it was something you did or failed to do. At the end, you will not take it personally.

Even when (or if) you have done everything flawlessly in your service for the Lord, you will be criticized.  Someone will find fault with what you did, write you off as a failure, reject you for whatever they were considering, and you will not be given an opportunity to respond.

Get used to it. It’s the way of life in this fallen world.

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The Birmingham Baptist Youth Rally….Still At Work

In 1959, I transferred to Birmingham-Southern College from a school in Georgia. For a brief time, I lived with my sister Patricia and her husband James, and we all joined West End Baptist Church. It was my introduction to Southern Baptists.

No sooner had we joined the church than I discovered the Baptists of Birmingham held a thriving twice-a-month gathering for their teens. On the first and third Saturday nights, upwards of 500 young people would gather in some Southern Baptist church for an inspirational program, followed by a fellowship time with refreshments.

I had grown up in rural Walker and Winston Counties of Alabama and although our little Free Will Baptist Church loved its young people, we had nothing like this.

I ate it up.

Soon, I was promoting the gathering among West End’s youth, encouraging ours to be the biggest group present. Some nights we would have 50 or more on the city buses which the church hired to transport us. (It was on one of those buses where I told the lovely Margaret Ann Henderson for the first time that I loved her. The date was December 3, 1960. She was 18 and I was 20.)

One evening, I was approached by Larry Andrews, our church’s music minister (and the father of best-selling inspirational author Andy Andrews). “Joe, I was talking to Bob Ford. He’s the associate pastor at Ensley Baptist and pastor advisor for the youth rally. Would you be interested in becoming program director for the rally?”

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When Resolving Conflicts, Try Not To Start New Ones.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

There is no problem-solving section of the Bible.

Sorry if that disappoints you.

What we do find across the New Testament are large servings of healthy food of the spiritual kind, instructions on how to serve God and live well and relate to one another in the close confines of the forever family. Imbedded throughout are insights on resolving collisions between the Lord’s children.

Hold on.

Do you mean to say that from the beginning Jesus expected clashes and collisions within His family? That His disciples would be torn apart by jealousies and competitions and divisions?

Not only did He anticipate such conflicts, He observed them firsthand among the twelve. Here are a couple of instances…

–A disciple said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to hinder him because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38). How modern is that? Our denomination is best; the rest of you are failing God.

Jesus was tolerant of a lot of things, but not this kind of spiritual snobbery.

–“And hearing (that the sons of Zebedee had tried to gain the advantage over the other apostles by asking for the best places in the Kingdom), the ten began to feel indignant with James and John” (Mark 10:41). The genes of competitiveness have been among us from the beginning.  “We shall now give our ranking of the top ten churches in our denomination.” “My church is better than your church.” “We may not be the biggest church in town, but we’re the best.”

Sometimes idealistic Christians want to drop out of church altogether because the congregations they’ve found all have problems of one kind or another. “Whatever happened to New Testament churches?” they ask.

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The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes

“…seal up the book until the end of time; many will run to and fro, and knowledge will increase.” (Daniel 12:4)

The only constant, they say, is change.

I remember this so vividly. I was seated in a meeting alongside the president of the local college.  Jim Strobel was always perfectly dressed, and today I noticed how sharp and crisp were the cuffs on his white dress shirts.

I said, “How do you get your cuffs like that?”

He said, “Like what?”

I pointed out the starched stiffness and white brilliance of his cuffs. And then showed him mine.

My cuffs were soft and looked as though they had hardly seen an iron.

Jim said, “I don’t know. They come back from the cleaners this way.”

The cleaners! Of course. He sends his shirts to the cleaners!

For years–ever since Margaret had started back to college and everyone had to pitch in on household chores–I had done my own dress shirts. Not that it was that big a deal: spray something around the necks, toss them in the washer with detergent, move them to the dryer, and run an iron over them later and put them on hangers in the closet.

Anyone could do that.

For the past quarter-century, I have sent my shirts to the cleaners. Even the ones I wear around town have those stiff cuffs I once admired so much.

These days, I rarely give the cuffs a thought.

In just so tiny ways, life changes.

I’m 72 years old. That’s hard to say and harder to believe.  Last year I hit 30.  And the week before that, I was in college.

Life moves on.

I bought a car last week–a Honda CR-V, which is some kind of an SUV or hatchback or something.  Nothing about it was intended to be lavish or luxurious but something occurred to me.

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Young Pastors, 7 “Outside Women” to Watch Out For

A few weeks ago, we posted an article here on 7 women inside the church which pastors should be wary of. With the scandal in the news involving a couple of prominent generals and a Florida socialite, we recently followed that up with an article saying “if it can happen there, it can happen to you.”

Here is what will probably be the third and final segment on this trilogy in which we are cautioning pastors–of all ages, but particularly young ones who could be blind-sided–to watch out for certain types of women.  I am very aware of the sexist nature of these writings. And, as we have noted, sometimes the predator is the man in the pulpit and the victim the unsuspecting one who comes to him seeking pastoral counsel and guidance.

That said, here is my list of seven “types” of women outside the pastor’s own immediate congregation of whom he must be careful.

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