Sometimes saying less is more; but rarely.

“…and if necessary, use words.”

St. Francis of Assisi said we should preach the gospel, and if necessary, with words.

Or did he?

The online source called Wikiquotes has a dozen or more variations of the “preach the gospel; if necessary use words” line.  But they say, there is no indication St. Francis ever said anything of the sort.

I suspect the reason that line appeals to many of us is that we tire of all the wordiness of God’s people, frequently as a substitute for action. The danger is we may react too far in the opposite direction.

Words are a big, big deal to the Lord God–the One who spoke the world into being!–as well as to believers.  We hold in our hands a book we call “The Word,” and the pastor brings God’s message from it every Sunday.

“Take with you words and turn to the Lord,” the prophet Hosea told Israel (14:2).

Words are so important that the Lord Jesus Himself is called The Word (John 1:1ff.).

And yet, there are times when words get in the way, and quietness is called for.

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To those of us who love money

“Now, the Pharisees who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him” (Luke 16:14).

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money….” (II Timothy 3:1-2).

We are conditioned from infancy to love money.

In childhood: Family and friends come to the house and they give the kids money. You go into the hospital for a tonsillectomy and people give you money. You go to church and they ask for money. Your dad takes a job in a distant state and the family relocates there, all for money.  A few years later, the business shuts down and dad is jobless and the family moves back South and you say goodbye to your friends, because there is no money.

And later: You go to college and they ask for money. You take a part-time job to make spending money. You are walking along the sidewalk and you find money. You take a job working in a church and to your surprise, they pay you. You go to a larger church and they pay you more, which is a good thing since you now have to buy a house and send kids to school.

And so goes life.

When you are as rich as Donald Trump, the actual money no longer matters.  One can only eat so much food, wear so many clothes, drive so many automobiles, and live in so many houses.  “Money is how you keep score,” Mr. Trump says.

It turns out money is the smoking gun.  The Pharisees who were the Tea Party of their day–and by that we mean the diehard conservatives, the only true traditionalists, they felt–could be almost excused for their opposition to Jesus on the grounds that He was reinterpreting all the scriptures as they understood them.  Except that their motives were not quite that pure. They lived for money, in the same way untold generations before and after have done.

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God did not call me to preach

“Fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

“I want to say a word to my pastor friends who say their passion is preaching.  May I suggest a better way to say this is that preaching is the expression of your passion for Jesus.  Keep the focus on Him.”

I posted that on Facebook earlier today and was surprised at the reaction, all of it positive. Several pastors indicated that coming to this position represented a maturing in their ministry. One said the Lord showed him that he was making preaching his idol. “He delivered me from that idolatry,” he said.

As a senior in college, majoring in history and political science and hoping to teach history on a college level one day, God called me into the ministry.

He did not call me to preach. Not specifically.

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Why this generation is so lost

“…holding to a form of godliness, althought they have denied its power….always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:5,7).

Anyone looking for the smoking gun which will explain this generation’s gradual, casual descent into despair and darkness need look no further.

In Second Timothy chapter 3, the Apostle Paul, facing a second trial before Caesar which would end in his beheading, is alerting God’s people to the dangers awaiting them. He says, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, althought they have denied its power, and avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

And that’s just the church people! (see note at the end)

Two things in particular stand out about this generation–if indeed we apply the term “the last days” to our own generation–and qualify as “the smoking gun,” referred to above.

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Let’s build a Christmas sermon!

Let’s pretend.

Pretend you’ve never done a Christmas sermon before. Pretend you don’t know where to start or how to proceed.

What to do first. Read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 over and over until their message is as familiar to you as your name. Listen for the Holy Spirit to draw your attention to something.  You will know by how you are intrigued by a verse or blessed by some insight or puzzled by another.When the Spirit wants you to focus on a text, He often pulls it out and plasters it across your eyes.  Your mind keeps coming back to it.

Stay with Him now.  This could be good.

Do not be in a rush. If you give the Holy Spirit a quarter hour to get through to you–before kickoff or worse, during commercials–He will refuse to play that little game and will leave you to your own devices.

Wait on the Lord.  Seek His will.

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Options the Lord did not leave open to us

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)


Over the years, in theological debates between liberals and conservatives, I recall hearing some say, “The Bible is not a book of science and never was meant to be.  It is not a history book, in the same way it’s not a cook book or a travel guide.  It is reliable in terms of spiritual matters, but should not be expected to get the other things right.”

On the surface, that sounds reasonable enough. Anyone who has read the Bible with discernment admits there are places in Scripture that challenge our understanding as we try to reconcile its teaching with other things we (ahem) “know to be true.”  (This would include the Creation, Noah’s Flood, miracles of one type or the other, and of course, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.)

Is it possible to accept Scripture when it speaks of salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life but reject it on lesser matters?

The Lord Jesus, in His conversation with Nicodemus, closes that door and removes that option. He tells this “ruler of the Jews” three things:

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Why so few give thanks

“And Jesus said, ‘Were there not ten (lepers) cleansed? But the nine–where are they?  Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:11-19)

A friend doing a study on the healing of the ten lepers wondered why only one returned to give thanks to Jesus.  When he posted his question on Facebook, he received a myriad of answers.

I’ve thought about the question ever since and have come to a conclusion. Each man had his own reason for not returning to Jesus to say ‘thank you.’

1) One did not return to give thanks because he wanted to wait and see if this miracle was lasting. There would be plenty of time for that later.

2) One was so excited to go tell his family and friends, he did not have time to stop and worship.

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Confidence: What it is and where to get the best kind

“Now, as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were  uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

The religious authorities–rulers, elders, scribes, Annas the godfather of high priests, Caiaphas, his son-in-law and present high priest, and others of high priestly lineage–were stunned. They had not seen this before.

A small group of nobodies, untrained and unlettered rough fishermen-types, stood before them, resisting them and speaking up as eloquently and boldly as though they themselves were in charge.

Who did they think they were?

The authorities were used to people cowering in their presence.  They spoke and no one dared to say otherwise. They decreed, and it was so. No one dared defy them.

And yet, that’s what was happening today.

“Where did they get this confidence?” the rulers asked each other.

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The cure for the common sermon

“Now when they heard the preaching of Peter and John, they were marveling and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”  (A free paraphrase of Acts 4:13)

Hey, pastor, next Sunday let’s hit one out of the park.

Let’s preach a sermon that will thrill your own soul, knock the dozing member out of his lethargy and onto his feet, and bless the hearts of your sweetest, finest people.  Let’s have a sermon that will stun your critics, surprise your mama, gladden the heart of God, and grab the undivided attention of the unsaved.

Let’s put an end to the common sermon.

You know what a common sermon is, I’m sure.

It’s uninspired in its conception, boring in its plan, and dull in its delivery.  In preparing it, you have to force yourself to stay awake.  When you preach it, the congregation takes a holiday. When it’s over, you wonder if you shouldn’t find some other line of work.

When common sermons follow common sermons like rail cars behind the locomotive, the preacher is probably in a rut.  And we all remember what a rut is–a grave with the ends knocked out.

In a “common sermon,” the outline is often uninspired and may look something like this: 1) The Power, 2) The Point, and 3) the Product.  Or, pehaps 1) The Application, 2) the Attraction, and 3) the Adoration. The introduction, the message, the conclusion.

Bo-ring.  But then, you knew that.

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Christmas Curmudgeons

“I bring you good news of great joy!” (Luke 2:10)

I love almost everything about Christmas. I love the Nativity scenes, the displays of lights, the cool weather, the festive clothing, the songs (well, most of them), the carols, the special foods, the candies and pastries, the church services, the pageants, the gift-giving, and even the crowded malls. I love the high-flying decorations downtowns attach to street lamps, and the happy songs about snow-falling and sleigh-riding even though I live in the too-warm South, and I even enjoy stories about Santa Claus. I love the Christmas specials on television, including the cartoons about Peanuts and Frosty and Rudolph (not that I actually watch them; but I like knowing they’re there).

If you feel called to point out all that is wrong about this happiest of all seasons, you will probably want to find another audience, because I love Christmas.


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