(At the request of the editor of a magazine we referenced in this article, we are removing all references to a recent event concerning them.)
Imagine this scenario.
I get a letter from the Honda Financial Services each month. That part is not imaginary. At the end of 2012, I purchased a Honda CR-V for my wife and me. We paid most of the price in cash, and financed the balance for two years. So, even though the Honda people receive my payment by a bank draft without my having to do anything, they still send me a receipt each month. At this point, I still have about four months to go on this contract.
But suppose I received a letter from Honda saying something like this:
“Dear Customer: It has been our pleasure to receive your bank draft for $428.51 each month over the past year and a half. We here in the corporate offices of Honda Financial Services have come to a decision and want to inform you that we wish to continue receiving this amount from you after the contract has expired. We know that you are enjoying your Honda automobile and therefore will want to do your part to maintain this wonderful relationship. However, our legal department informs us that we should alert you to the reality that if you discontinue making these monthly payments, we will be forced to repossess the car. Have a nice day.”
Even after it’s paid for, I must keep making the payments if I wish to continue owning their car. Miss a payment and they take it back.
I knew Lawrence well and spent a lot of time with him. He pastored some sizeable churches and was often in demand as a guest speaker.
I must have heard him give his testimony a dozen times or more.
Lawrence did not come from a Christian family. He was around 10 years old when his family moved into that neighborhood in some east Texas town. As the family was still unloading the truck and setting things up, a man knocked at the door.
Introducing himself as a deacon in the local Baptist church, the man told Lawrence’s mother that he taught a Sunday School class of boys. “Did I see a tow-headed boy running around here somewhere?”
“That would be Lawrence,” she said as she called for him. “This man wants you to go to Sunday School with him.”
As the deacon extended his invitation, Lawrence listened and nodded. He would say later, “I had already learned the way to deal with church people was to agree with them.”
He had no intention of going to that or anybody else’s Sunday School class.
The three stories (below) illustrate great lessons about stewardship and our accountability to the Master. We share them for your edification as well as for the benefit of pastors needing sermon illustrations. You are free to use them in any uplifting, Christ-honoring way you find.
First story: Grant, my grandson, was 7 years old.
In the armoire in my bedroom, Grant had noticed the small plastic cup into which I dumped the coins from my pocket each night. At the moment, that cup was running over.
“Grandpa, what is that?” The dollar signs were dancing in his pupils.
I told him this was where I dropped my change each night while emptying my pockets.
He said, “How much is in there?”
“Usually it comes out to be around 30 dollars.”
“What are you going to do with it?” There was no mistaking the excitement in his voice.
I said, “I do various things with it. Sometimes I give it away. Sometimes I buy something with it. And occasionally, I put it in the missions offering at church.” Then an idea hit me. “Grant, would you like to have that money?”
Lily has been in Heaven for some 15 years or more. She left no children, so there’s no one left of her family to read this and no good reason not to tell it.
Lily was a classy lady, about the age of my father and the widow of an executive who left her fairly well off, although not rich. Before retiring, she had put in a full career as a public school librarian. Because she had no children she was generous with her two nieces, with her church, her college, and her pastors.
When I announced I was leaving and would no longer be her pastor, she invited me to lunch and handed me a check for $1,000. “I want you to come back and do my funeral.” I forget my exact promise to her, but it was probably along the lines of “If I possibly can, I will be here.” Pastors are unable to make long-range open-ended promises because of the nature of their responsibilities. (Complicating the matter was that I had taken a leave of absence from that church with no knowledge of where the Lord would be sending me next. Distance could be an issue on returning for her funeral, as well as unforeseeable circumstances.)
Over the next few years, she would repeat the “agreement” we had, that I was expected to do her funeral.
“In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
“Cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).
If the atmosphere of heaven is joy and praise, then the noxious fumes of hell must be composed of equal parts anger, complaining, bitterness and blaming.
If your heart is in heaven, your head should be in the clouds.
Okay, I’m playing with metaphors here and admit it. But I am overwhelmed by all the scriptures which keep telling us that the atmosphere around the throne of Heaven is praise and joy and gratitude. Worship, in other words.
There is Psalm 16:11 (above) which is just about as good as you could ask for.
In John’s vision of Heaven which we call Revelation (or more often “Revelations”), he tells us that near the throne stood “four living creatures, each having six wings…. Day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, The Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come'” (Revelation 4:8). Around the throne, the praise is continuous.
(I hope you will read all the way through to the comments at the end, and a couple of add-on notes we felt were necessary to add.–Joe)
The preacher friend sent me a note to say that the virus had spread to his church too. He’ll soon be moving back to his home state and trying to start over.
I asked for a favor. “Sometimes when you feel up to it, write me about what happened to you. What did the committee say, what were their reasons? What did you do and what do you wish you had done?”
I hate this.
It’s like divorce. Nothing about it is good. Sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils and you do it for your own survival but it’s still awful.
But a divorce is a defeat. A divorce sends a message to the world, the kind of message we don’t want to be sending.
When churches elect to terminate a pastor forcibly, they’d better have some good reasons, is all I can say.
From all I know of Scripture, the Lord does not take kindly to those who mess with His messengers and those who tamper with the unity of His body. Both issues are on the table when a church decides to oust a pastor.
Technically, I suppose, my friend was not fired. But the little group of members brought considerable pressure for him to resign. “If we take it to the church and the congregation terminates you, there won’t be any severance.”
“…and they shall never perish….” (John 10:28)
Can you unfry an egg? Then, after being saved–genuinely forgiven and accepted and transformed by the Holy Spirit of God into something far different from what you were, more than any hen’s egg ever dreamed possible–you cannot undo it.
Once saved, always safe.
To say otherwise, and to preach it, might be something akin to insulting the Holy Spirit.
It might be. Certainly, it’s worth giving this some serious thought.
My friend and her husband have been visiting around, trying to find the church where the Lord wants them. She sent me a message.
“We found a great church that we really like in a lot of ways. But we found out they believe a person can lose his salvation. That troubles us.”
She asked me to remind her what Scripture says on this subject. I was glad to do so.
Question 1. What are some primary scriptures teaching the security of believers?
John 10:28-29 is as solid as one could ever ask for. For that matter, so is John 3:16. In fact, every scripture that calls our salvation “eternal” or “everlasting” is making this claim, that salvation is forever and cannot be undone. (For us to say, “Well, it’s eternal so long as I keep up my end of the bargain” is insulting to the Lord.)
But there are plenty of others which speak of the eternal and lasting nature of the salvation we have in Christ. Some of these are….
It was mid-way through December and I was telling my friend in denominational service how I had preached on Joseph, the father of Jesus, the Sunday before. The message was all about obedience and carrying out the will of the Lord, even when it didn’t jive with what you’d always been taught and believed.
It’s a powerful lesson Joseph gives us, and he deserves more than the short shrift we usually give the man.
My friend said, “Let me tell you a little story I sometimes use when I’m preaching on Joseph.”
“As you know, scholars believe Joseph died before Jesus began His earthly ministry because he is never mentioned again after the incident when Jesus was 12.” (That would be Luke chapter 2.)
“Anyway, I was thinking about what God said to Joseph when he died and arrived in Heaven.”
“Back when I was in college, I worked one summer on the wheat harvest. Do you know what that is?”
I said, “College boys working from Texas to the Dakotas driving combines.”
“Right. It’s all day, seven days a week. One of our neighbors had recruited me and was our crew chief. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life.”
“At the end of the summer when I got home, all I wanted to do was sleep. But the second day, my father came into my room and said, ‘Get dressed, son. I want you to go with me somewhere.'”
“We got in the pickup truck and drove about 20 miles. I had no idea where we were going.”
Now, trouble and me are no strangers to one another.
As a student in elementary and also in high school, I sometimes earned the reproach of teachers and principals. As a 7th grader, I was paddled by the principal for something crude a teacher thought I’d said to her. (It was close enough to being crude for her to think I said something worse than what I’d actually said, so I took the paddling without protest.)
In the 8th grade, a substitute teacher broke a pencil over my head, she was so frustrated.
As a high schooler, I was known to pop off to any authority figure if I thought it would bring a laugh. (Getting laughs was always big in my book and worth any risk.)
Principal Andy Davis stood before our senior class at Winston County High School. “There is entirely too much commotion going on in the hallways during the lunch period. And you seniors are the worst. If this keeps on, we’re going to cancel lunch break altogether and march you to the cafeteria and back to the classroom.”
He went on like that for a bit, making sure we knew how angry he was and how serious we should take this.
Then he paused. “Are there any questions?”
“With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3).
You are somebody. But you’re not everybody.
You are someone special. But you’re not more special than anyone else.
Coming to terms with these realities is one of life’s biggest challenges.
While team-teaching a seminary class of master’s level students, the professor and I had a mild disagreement. To explain, the “professor” is a career educator while I am only an adjunct professor. This means I teach once in a while and am not a bona fide member of the faculty. When coupled with a lifer, I usually yield to him/her regarding the nuts and bolts of classroom work. But not necessarily pertaining to the content of the class.
Here’s what happened.