Seven lessons I keep having to learn again and again and….

“…you need again for someone to teach you….” (Hebrews 5:12).

It was a Saturday morning and because I was a pastor, it was a work day.  Sometime around 8:30 am, I left the house.  As I drove away, the cassette tape in the player began talking.  I’d been listening to some self-improvement program and had left the tape in place.  I got caught up in what the speaker was saying, which is why…

Not three blocks later, I was pulled over for speeding. Something like 40 in a 25 mph zone.  It was a sickening feeling.  I’ve had more than one speeding ticket in my life and I hate them.  They’re the result of not paying attention, and they cost money which I don’t have.

As the policeman drove off, I started the car up and pulled away.   That’s when the fellow on the cassette tape rebuked me.  “Have you ever noticed,” he said, “that some people just never seem to learn?”

I laughed out loud. “Yes, I have.  And I’m one of them!”

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The God-moment when you realize who you are talking to

“‘I know that Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.'” (John 4:25-26)

You were discussing God to someone casually,  in theory, having a nice little conversation.  Then all of a sudden you realize the Person you are talking with is the Lord Himself.

Nothing prepares you for such a moment.

1st instance in Scripture.  John 4 where Jesus informs the “woman at the well” of His true identity.  Give her credit, because she hastened back into her village and told everyone.  “Is not this the Christ?”  The Lord and HIs disciples ended up conducting a two day crusade (of a sort) there, with many more people believing on Jesus.

I imagine she never talked to a stranger in the same way again.

You never know.  Hebrews 13:2 tells us not to forget to entertain strangers since some who did  ended up giving hospitality to angels.  That may be  a reference to Genesis 18-19.  But who’s to say it couldn’t happen to us, today, right here?

2nd instance in Scripture.  Matthew 26 where our Lord is on trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest, Pilate, Herod, and Pilate again.

The high priest was irritable at having been called out of bed so early.  He lost his patience with this Man who stood before him  refusing to answer even the first question.

The religious leader bellowed at Jesus standing there in silence.   “Do you answer nothing? Aren’t you going to respond to what these men are saying against you?”

And once again, Jesus kept silent.

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Young minister in search of an older, veteran pastor. Object: Mentoring.

A friend called me out on something I had said, and he was right.

“Joe,” he said, “you tell young pastors to find themselves an older pastor as a mentor.  But my experience is that many older guys are less committed to Christ than the younger ones.  And some of them will scoff at the notion of pastors protecting themselves from temptation with the women, not riding in a car with a woman alone, that sort of thing.”

He wondered if I didn’t want to revise my advice.

I told him I have been blessed by having some godly older pastors in my life, and some of them have made invaluable contributions.  But I’m sure he’s right.  Just because a man has seniority does not make him a role model, endow him with wisdom, or gift him with a heart of compassion or a headful of sense.

So, let’s focus on how to choose an older pastor as your advisor, mentor, counselor, and most of all, friend.

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Why I decided to start writing books

Friends–particularly pastor friends–tell me they’re planning to write a book.  Or numerous books.  I tell them, “Well, get started.”

I thought it might be helpful to make a few comments on my own book-writing venture.  For what it’s worth.

One. It was perhaps ten years ago.  I was browsing inside the seminary bookstore in New Orleans–aka, Lifeway Christian Store–and a fellow I did not know stopped me.  He said, “You don’t need to be buying books; you need to be writing them.”

He walked away.

I never saw him again.

It was a word from God.

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Valuable lessons for every pastor

From time to time I think back on the first really difficult lesson about preaching the Lord gave me.  I was 21, newly called into the Lord’s service, a college senior, and engaged.  At Christmastime, a country church invited me to preach in the Sunday morning service. I was elated.  And it was Christmas, right? This should be simple.

The problem was that I worked 72 hours that week selling men’s clothing in downtown Birmingham, my college job. When I got back to the apartment each night, I was so exhausted I did not feel like thinking about the sermon.  Finally, I decided to wing it in the sermon.  (Now, if you are a pastor, you can imagine me–a first timer!–trying to ‘wing it’ when I’ve never preached before.  You know the impossibility of that.)

I would simply tell the Christmas story and preach the various aspects of it.

The other problem is that Margaret  and I arrived in time for Sunday School and were sent to the young people’s class.  The teacher was apparently intimidated by my presence–the very idea is ridiculous, but since I was the preacher that day, she assumed I knew more than I did–so she asked if I would teach the lesson.  And foolishly, I agreed.

Preachers in the audience will recall how eager you were to do anything when you were first starting out.

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How an experienced preacher can improve his speaking

Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’  But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am a youth.  For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 1:6-8)

Short answer:  Work at it.

Longer answer:  Read, listen, attend, ask, study, change, improve.

I used to have a professional speaker in my church.  When I asked her for advice, she declined.  I was disappointed. I would loved to have had some helpful pointers from her.  (Many years later, we are still in contact and to my pleasant surprise, she remembers only how effective I was.  I’m thankful for her poor memory!)

I bought a magazine at Barnes & Noble the other day.  OnPoint costs like a hardbound but is a slick quarterly from the Harvard Business Review.  The entire Summer 2019 issue is devoted to  “How to Become a Fearless Speaker.”

I paid $20 bucks for it.

If I get one or two great ideas, it’ll be an excellent investment.

And that’s another point worth remembering, pastor:  Always be open to improving your technique.

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Overconfidence: A recipe for disaster

Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (I Kings 20:11).

I heard this guy brag, “When I stand before the Lord at Judgment, I’m going to tell him I did it my way!”

Oh yeah. Sure you are.

I’ve known of funerals where the Frank Sinatra/Paul Anka song “My Way” was played.  Whether we should call this overconfidence, presumption, or just sheer stupidity is another question.

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said this.  Asked if he was ready to meet his Maker, he replied, “I am.  Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”  As a Churchill admirer–I own shelves of books on and from him–I find this incredibly insulting.  Frankly, I hope he didn’t say it.  Although I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m under no illusion about the man.

I’ve been reading The Johnstown Flood, the first book from David McCullough, the wonderful historical author. (I recommend anything from  McCullough. His books are all eminently readable. His biography of Harry Truman won the Pulitzer.  In truth, everything he wrote should have won that prize, but I expect the committee  would have been embarrassed to keep naming him.) )

What’s stunning about the account of the 1889 flood that destroyed this lovely village in the mountains of Pennsylvania is how blase’ the owners of the South Fork Dam were. A secretive group of wealthy families had formed themselves into “The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and built the earthen dam.

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Cruisin’ for a bruisin’: Ministers who are asking for trouble

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty;  only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  (Galatians 5:13)

When you rescue an endangered brother, “consider yourself, lest you be tempted,” said the Apostle.  He knew the danger of going into “those places.” (Galatians 6:1)  Therefore, we are to “make no occasion for the flesh,” which is the KJV reading of our text.

To “make occasion for the flesh” is to plan to fail.  The fellow who has been sober for months keeps a six-pack handy “just in case.”  The dieter has lost 50 pounds and is so proud of herself, but “just in case,” she keeps a stash of Twinkies in the back of the pantry.  The godly young man who has recommitted his life to Christ rejoices that he is finally free of the lust that drove him so long.  But “just in case,” he keeps some DVDs hidden where only he can find them.

Planning to fail.  Sound familiar to anyone?

“We are not ignorant of (the devil’s) devices,” said the Apostle.  (2 Corinthians 2:11)

There are so many snares out there, set by the enemy to trap the faithful.  The object is to put him/her out of business.  “To steal, to kill, and to destroy,” said our Lord in John 10:10).

A trap never looks like a trap.  It is baited, whether the object is to catch a mouse, snare a grizzly or humiliate a servant of God.

The middle-aged couple sitting before me to be sketched drew up closer.  “May we give you a prayer request?”  I quit drawing and said, “Sure.  What’s up?”

They told me their adult children were serving a church in the area.  That congregation is going through a major crisis right now.  “Last Sunday the pastor resigned.”

But he didn’t resign to go to another church.

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Ten ways pastors can enlarge their minds and grow in unexpected ways

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press forward….” (Philippians 3:12)

Are we correct, servant of God, in assuming you see areas of your life needing growth?

You’re like the rest of us and still have a long way to go?

I have no snake oil remedies to sell, no self-improvement program for you, no quick fixes.  Just some ideas that God has used in my own life, that might be helpful in yours.

One.  Attend lectures.

Find out if anyone in your area–a college, the chamber of commerce–has a lecture series in which outstanding personalities speak on various subjects, and buy a season pass.  You’ll not be able to attend every session, nor will you want to, I predict, but you’ll end up hearing some fascinating people and have your mind stretched in unexpected ways.

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On July 4, while waving your flags, give thanks for this…

A fellow interrupted our Facebook discussion on apostasy/faithfulness in my denomination to slam various denominational leaders and then veered a half-mile off-subject onto his lasting loyalty to the Confederate cause.   Each year, he said, he travels to the Confederate cemetery back at home and honors the people, the cause, the flag, etc.

I don’t know the guy, so this is not so much to him  as it is to all those unreconstructed Southerners who still cannot get past the CSA, who idolize Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, and who would die for the Stars-and-Bars before they would the Stars and Stripes.

We have no argument with honoring the dead.  I’ve stood at the gravesites in Columbus Mississippi’s Friendship Cemetery and shed more than one tear for those on both sides buried there.

But no matter your position on the Southern Cause, my friend, there is something you should give thanks for.

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