When God’s people do not live in the Word, bad things happen

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in that law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

The Lord never intended for His Word to collect dust on a table in your back bedroom.

Courageous people paid for your right to own a Bible in your own language with their very lives.

What are you doing about that?

Christians who own numerous Bibles which they rarely open are thumbing their noses at the saints of old who paid the ultimate price.

This hard-won treasure lies buried under the dust and detritus of your life.

The Lord’s plan calls for His people to live and breathe His word, to read it and receive it inwardly and to think about it regularly and practice it. He intended it to become part of the very marrow of their bones.

Digest it. Assimilate it. Live it. And meditate upon it continually.

He even told people to “Eat this book.”

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If you plan to write, you will need an editor. Even if it’s only yourself.

“And when He comes, He will guide you into all truth…”  (John 16:13)

A publisher once sent me a book to review for unknown reasons.  The writer at one time had belonged to a church I had pastored, so maybe that was it. (Later, I was to learn that publishers ask authors to give them a list of people they want to review their book and comment.  So, clearly, it was the writer’s idea.)

My review was not what they had wanted. I said, “The writer had a great idea.  He makes some excellent points. But he desperately needed an editor to help him.”

They never replied and never again asked me to review anything.

An editor can be a writer’s best friend.  It is not politeness that prompts authors to praise their editor in the preface of their books.  A good editor can cut through the verbiage, point out flaws in reasoning, find inaccuracies, and question claims. A good editor can spot a weakness in the plot and suggest a dozen ways to make the book better.

Most of us who try to write and then self-publish usually serve as our own editors.

The result can be embarrassingly bad. I will read an article on this blog written weeks earlier and spot typos or awkward sentences (the result of my attempts at self-editing, when I tried to cut out excess verbiage or redundancies by combining sentences and ended up making a mess of it).

I read those and think, “I wrote that? Man, I need an editor.”

I sat in a hospital room reading a book while the patient, a family member, was napping.  Gradually I became aware that the author of this book desperately needed an editor to have gone over his manuscript.  I was struck by one sentence in particular:

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What I wish for the Lord’s church

“That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

The Lord wants the best for His Bride. And so does every right-thinking child of His.

Here is my wish list for the church of the 21st century….

One. I wish the church were less of a business and more like a family.

Our Lord looked around at His disciples and followers and said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brothers and sisters and my mother” (Mark 3:33-35).  The obedient are His family.

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.  The local church should be a smaller expression of that larger, forever family.  I wish more of them were.

A real family nurtures its members, is always there, makes a big deal of each one’s special moments, and puts each other ahead of anyone else or anything else.  To paraphrase Robert Frost, “A family is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Families are not about numbers, divisions, classes, and groups.  Family members are related by blood and joined at the heart.  The weep when one of their numbers weeps, rejoice when they rejoice.  They don’t compete, except in a fun way, and are proud when one gets an award or honor.

People looking for a new church often will hesitate before joining one for the simple reason that they are in effect joining a family.  Their unasked question is “Do I want to be family with these people?”

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7 laws of servanthood in the Kingdom

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).   “A disciple is not above his teacher or a slave above his master” (Luke 6:24). 

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Rudy and Rose traveled to New Orleans to help.  Unable to find a place to serve, Rudy walked into the kitchen of Williams Boulevard Baptist Church and volunteered.  That church was strategically situated next to the Highway Patrol headquarters which was hosting hundreds of troopers from the nation, as they protected the darkened city. The church had become a hotel for the troopers and the women of the congregation were serving three meals a day.  They welcomed Rudy and assigned him to the garbage detail.

Not exactly what he had in mind.

Prior to this, Rudy had been pastoring a church in southern Canada.  When he saw the suffering of our people on television–entire neighborhoods flooded, thousands homeless, people being rescued off rooftops–he resigned his church, sold his gun collection to fund the move, and he and Rose came to help.

Now, after all that sacrifice, he ends up emptying garbage cans.  By his own admission, Rudy was developing an attitude problem.

One day he was lifting a large bag of garbage into the dumpster.  The kitchen workers had been told not to put liquid garbage into the bags, but someone didn’t get the message. As Rudy was hoisting it up, the bag ripped and all kinds of kitchen leftovers showered down over him–gumbo, red beans and rice, gravy, grease, whatever.  

Drenched in garbage from head to foot, Rudy stood there crying like a baby.

“That’s when the Lord broke me,” he said later.  “I told the Lord, ‘If you just want me to empty garbage cans for Jesus, I’ll do it.’”  

That was a Thursday.  That Saturday night late, a minister from that church phoned.  “Rudy, our pastor is sick. They tell me you are a preacher.  Can you preach for us tomorrow morning?”

That turned the corner.

In time, Rudy became pastor of one of our churches.  He turned his congregation into a center for training teams to go into the devastated areas sharing the love of Christ and the message of salvation.

The Lord gave Rudy and Rose French an unforgettable ministry to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  But it all began with his “baptism of garbage.”

You will be a servant.

You have no choice if you are to follow the Lord Jesus.

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The part of salvation most people overlook

It’s risky talking about the typical anything in church–people are as varied as their fingerprints, voice patterns, and DNA–but once in a while, it’s safe to draw a few general conclusions. Here’s one:

The average Christian who goes forth to witness for the Lord leaves out fully one-half of the equation between God and man.

Here’s what that means.

Let’s suppose I decide to join my favorites, the New Orleans Saints football team. For many years I lived about two miles from their facilities, and pastored some of the players.  But, let’s say one morning, I drive down, park my car and walk inside. A guard meets me.

“I’m here,” I tell him. “It took some doing, but I finally relented. I’m ready to give myself to this team.”

Being of a suspicious bent, the guard looks me up and down and says, “What are you talking about, mister? Why are you here?”

“I’m joining the Saints,” I say. “I’ve heard by the commercials that you need the support of the community. So, I have studied up on everything–talked to people, read the books, watched some games on tape–and I am now ready to join the team.”

“Oh, you are, are you?” he says.

“Yes sir,” I announce confidently. “In fact, I want Gayle Benson (she’s the owner) to know that I trust her. I believe she has the good of the community at heart. And the coaches and players? Well, they are the best. This is a big day for me.”

“There is only one problem, mister,” says the security guard.

“How could there be a problem?” I ask. “I think I’ve got everything figured out.”

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Church: The power of working together

“Don’t try this alone.”  –advice on a thousand exercise devices.

Years ago, the Readers Digest ran an article titled “What good is a tree?” Here’s a quote–

When the roots of a tree touch, a substance present reduces the competition.  An unknown fungus links together roots of different trees, even of dissimilar species.  A whole forest may be linked together.  If one tree has access to water, another to nutrients, a third to sunlight, the trees find a way to share.

Wow.  Who knew that?  I certainly didn’t.

We could all take a lesson from the forest.

When I was a teen, someone set out a small longleaf pine in my grandmother’s yard.  Year after year, it remained a dwarf, refusing to grow. After her death, an uncle who owned the property set out hundreds of trees across the front yard. Suddenly, that lone, dwarfed pine had company and began to prosper.

The Lord knew you and I would be needing help in living for Him in this fallen world. So, when He saved us, He “added us to the body” (see Acts 2:41).

God never intended any of us to live this life in isolation.

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Biblical truths many of the Lord’s people do not believe

From the beginning, the Lord’s people have always talked a better game than we live.

So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them.  And yet, judging by the way we live, here are some biblical truths which it would appear many of the Lord’s people do not believe….

One.  God sends the pastor to the church. 

Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy.  People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t.  And they vote on the recommendation of their committee.  And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.

Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches?  They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).

Some years back, as I was moving my family to a church in North Carolina, I found out later that some were already holding meetings to agree on ways to get me to leave.  Why? Even though we had never met, they had decided I was too conservative for them.  In the next church, some began meeting to oust me because they decided I was too liberal.  Neither group believed God sends pastors.

Two.  God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.

In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?  Nothing tells the story on our faith like our prayer life.

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18 ways to shorten your sermon preparation time

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and have also enlisted a few friends to assist.  Here are the results, ways in which the minister can abbreviate the time he spends preparing sermons for God’s people.

1) Borrow.

In the secular world, this is called plagiarism. But we pastors know “God richly gives us all good things to share” or something like that. Fortunately, your people don’t read other preachers’ sermon books anyway, so they’ll never know. (Disadvantage: if the written sermon bombed, chances are yours will, too.)

2) Repeat.

Everyone knows repetition is a proven learning technique. Warning: do not call these sermons ‘repeats’ or ‘re-runs.’ “Previously preached’ is also verboten. If you have to put a label on them, try ‘Back by popular demand.’ It sounds better.(Disadvantage: some little sister in the church writes in the margins of her Bible every time you have preached a particular text, so you’ll need to vary your Scripture even if it’s the same sermon.)

3) Confess.

Tell a story out of your childhood and turn it into a microcosm of the universe, or at least of the gospel. Didn’t Phillips Brooks call preaching ‘truth through personality’? The advantages are that you are the authority on yourself, no one can contradict you, and very little study time is required. (Disadvantage: if nothing dramatic has happened to you, this can get boring quickly.)

4) Obvious.

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The Lord’s Prayer shows us how to have balance in our prayer life

In my early morning walk once I saw a man jogging on the levee beside the Mississippi River. As he approached, he seemed to be tilted slightly, running just a tad off balance. Then I realized one sleeve was hanging limply at his side. The absence of his left arm threw his body off balance.

Veteran Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe used to say there ought to be one more beatitude: “Blessed are the balanced.”

When Rick Warren of Saddleback Church said the key issue of the 21st century church would be not church growth but church health, someone asked his secret of church health. “In a word, balance,” he said.

Rick Warren explained, “Your body has nine different systems (circulatory, respiratory, digestive, skeletal, etc). When these systems are all in balance, it produces health. But when your body gets out of balance, we call that ‘disease.’”

He added, “Likewise when the body of Christ becomes unbalanced, disease occurs. Health and growth can only occur when everything is brought into balance.”

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What is your idea of Heaven?

My friend Bob was dealing with a difficult family situation. Now, in my opinion, he did not need the grief, because Bob was getting up in years and his health was poor.

He said to me, “I can’t wait for heaven.”

I said, “They don’t call it ‘rest’ without reason.”

That’s a reference to Revelation 14:13. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on….that they may rest from their labors.

When I was a kid, a song we’d hear occasionally was called The Big Rock Candy Mountain. We heard it, smiled at its silliness, hummed along with the catchy tune and thought nothing more of it.

One day I discovered this song was the hobo’s national anthem during the Depression. And it gives us his idealized picture of paradise.

Harry McClintock (aka “Haywire Mac”) wrote the song, we’re told, in 1928. Here’s a little of it….

“In the Big Rock Candy Mountain

You never change your socks

And the little streams of alcohol

Come trickling down the rocks.

The brakemen have to tip their hats

And the railway bulls are blind.

There’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too

You can paddle all around in a big canoe

In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

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