“And without parables (great stories!) Jesus did not teach” (Mark 4:34).
I once sat through a long session of a convention of realtors just to hear a motivational speaker. The story with which he opened quickly became a mainstay in my arsenal of great illustrations and sermon-helpers.
Time well spent.
I’ve read entire books and come away with one paragraph that became a staple in my preaching thereafter. It was time well invested and money well spent.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling Eat, Pray, Love (which I do not recommend), attended a party 20 years ago and heard something from a fellow whose name she has long forgotten. “Sometimes I think this man came into my life for the sole purpose of telling me this story, which has delighted and inspired me ever since.”
That’s how it works. One story; a whole lifetime of benefit.
Gilbert says the man told of his younger brother who was an aspiring artist. Living in Paris and struggling to get by, he seized every opportunity to get his name before people. One day, in a cafe’ some people invited him to a party that weekend at a castle in the Loire Valley. This was big stuff and he eagerly accepted the opportunity to hobnob with people of wealth and influence.
What happened this week.
Yesterday, Thursday, I drove 200 miles to New Orleans and to Covington, LA to do the funeral service of a dear lady who was a former member of the Kenner, LA church I pastored 1990-2004. She and her family remained our friends through the years, particularly as she battled cancer and left an amazing witness for Christ through it all.
The large church was packed yesterday–observing the distance protocols and masks, but still hundreds present–as friends far and near came to honor this beloved lady. Shannon Marvin Maisano was only 48.
What I wanted to tell you is this: In the service three other people spoke, all from that church: her best friend Dana, the Sunday School teacher for Shannon and her husband Billy, and the former associate pastor. What makes that special to me is this…
“Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 10:17).
In the former days of computer technology, back when we preachers were finding what a help it could be to our writing, Pastor Frank Pollard retreated to the mountains to work on sermons and a book. At one point, as he told later, in the midst of a chapter he was laboring over, he accidentally stroked a certain key and the entire piece disappeared. Nothing he did retrieved it. We all know that experience and identify with the frustration he felt.
So, later, he asked a computer-savvy friend to explain this. “Where did my writing go?”
“It didn’t go anywhere,” said the friend. “It just disappeared.”
Frank insisted, “It had to have gone somewhere.”
“Nope,” said the computer friend. “It did not go anywhere; it went nowhere.”
Now, being the preacher constantly in search of illustrations and metaphors to make the Christian life understandable and the gospel applicable, Frank decided that this is how it is when “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sins.” Where are those sins now? They’re just gone.
I can think of three scriptures that pretty much voice the same reality.
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 in the room.
“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.
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?
It would appear He did.
“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.
Some years ago a few members of a certain Baptist church took the pastor and trustees to court over what they perceived as breaches of scripture, ethics, and good sense. As the new leader of the SBC churches in that area, I was invited to sit in with them one evening and hear the reasons they were taking such serious action. At the conclusion of their presentation, the leader said, “So, what do you think?”
I said, “I think you should walk away from this. No one is going to win this thing except the lawyers. Everything about this is wrong and bad.”
He answered, “We can’t. It’s gone too far for that now.”
He was wrong. It hadn’t.
(Officially, October was Pastor Appreciation Month. But I don’t imagine it’ll hurt if we encourage our ministers at other times. Reckon?)
Don’t anyone tell the preacher we’re all going to encourage him.
Let him think it was spontaneous on your part.
What I want you to do is something you’ve almost quit doing. No, I’m not talking about praying for him, although there is that.
Write him a letter.
Handwrite it. Make it two pages, no more. Make it positive and uplifting.
And when you do, I can tell you several things about that letter once it arrives at the pastor’s desk….
“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
You’re the captain of a mighty airship–a 747, let’s say. It’s a huge job with great responsibility, but one you are doing well and feel confident about. Then, someone alerts you to another plane that is approaching and has a message for you.
You are to transfer to the other plane and become their pilot.
So, you push back the canopy–I know, I know, the huge planes don’t have canopies, but we’re imagining this–and crawl into the contraption the other plane has sent over. You are jettisoned from your old plane to the new one.
As you settle into the captain’s seat in your new plane, you find yourself surrounded by an unfamiliar crew and you notice the controls in front of you are not the same as in the old plane. This is going to take some getting used to. Meanwhile, you and your crew and passengers are zooming along at 35,000 feet.
Your new flight attendants send word, “Captain, welcome aboard. Everyone is asking what is our destination? Can you tell us your goals for this flight?”
And you think to yourself, “You’re asking me? I just got here!”
This is an apt parable for what happens to pastors.
This train got the disappearing railroad blues. –Arlo Guthrie, “City of New Orleans”
The cleaners I used for over two decades made a decision to go out of business.
They just didn’t know it.
It all started with a closed sign on the door one morning. I walked away carrying the clothes I had planned to drop off.
The next day, a sign announced they had relocated. Since the new site was closer to my house with more convenient parking, that did not make me unhappy.
Next, they began cutting back on the hours. The young man newly hired to run that branch informed me they were now opening at 11 am and closing at 7. No longer would people be able to drop off clothes on their way to work.
I asked him, “Shouldn’t you have a sign outside with the hours of operation? Since this is a big change.” Why I should care is another question, but I did.
He casually assured me that the small notice on the glass door would suffice.
He was wrong. To read that a customer would have to leave the car and walk to the door. This is an ideal recipe for frustrating one’s customers…and thus for losing them.
Thereafter, I never saw a car in front of the store indicating a customer inside.
Pretty soon, I was gone too.
“Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12)
Reading through the gospels, watching the interaction between the religious bigshots as they bully the Lord Jesus Christ–imagine that!–and suddenly, we are brought up short by noticing the prominent role fear played in the lives of these people. Consider…
–“Herod feared the multitude” (Matthew 14:5). Ah, a good reminder that tyrants always fear their subjects. Always.
–“The Pharisees feared the multitude” (Matthew 21:46). And so do religious bigshots fear their people.
–King Herod feared John the Baptist (Mark 6:20). Wickedness fears righteousness because it cannot understand it, cannot control it, can’t intimidate it, and cannot silence it. God’s faithful people must never lose sight of this for one minute.