Waiting on the Lord may be the hardest thing we are asked to do

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength….  (Isaiah 40:31)

I waited on the Lord and He inclined to me and heard my cry…. (Psalm 40:1)

So, wait on the Lord.  Be strong. Let your heart take courage.  Yes, wait on the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  (Mark 14:37).

It takes time.

God has all the time in the universe.

Throw away your watch and your calendar, follower of Jesus.  You’re on heavenly time now and nothing happens on your schedule.

I suspect most of us are like the fellow who prayed, “Lord, give me patience–and give it to me right now!”

You’ve been praying for a loved one. And you don’t see an answer.  You keep praying.  For years, you pray and wait and hope.  Then the one you were praying for is in a traffic accident and killed.  Clearly, God never answered your prayer.  You are devastated. So disappointed.  Your faith in God wavers.  You’re so unsure any more.  What is the point in praying and in trusting?

And then one day, years later, something happens.

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The heart-cry of the embattled pastor

“You shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things, for this is not my doing” (Numbers 16:28).

“Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and I have done all these things at Your word” (I Kings 18:36).

What Moses and Elijah prayed, I pray.

It is entirely in order for the Lord’s messenger to pray that the people to whom he was sent will recognize that God is God and fully in charge, and that he himself is the Lord’s servant, on mission from Him.

During what was possibly the worst time of my life when a little group of self-righteous members clamored for my resignation and criticized every thing I did, that was my prayer. I was going through the fire, being tried as I rarely had.

The prayer felt like the dying gasp of the weakest child in God’s family.  “Lord, let these people know there is a God in this place.  And that I’m your servant, just doing your will.” 

Did God hear the prayer?  Did He answer?

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Why we must not quit when God’s people mistreat us

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

We hear of it too frequently.

–“He used to be a pastor. But the people in the churches were so mean–undercutting him, criticizing, backbiting, slandering, and then kicking him out–that it ruined him forever.  He vows he’ll never enter a church again.”

–“If this is how God’s churches are, I want nothing to do with any of them.”

–“Makes me wonder if the Lord even cares.”

The variations on that sad theme are endless.

But the result, while tragic, is needless.

No one should ever quit Jesus when God’s people mistreat him.

The Lord told us to expect this. The servant is not above his master. The pupil is not above his teacher.  If they called the Master a devil, how much more should His disciples expect it. (Matthew 10:24-25)

The Lord was crucified by the religious people, convinced they were doing God’s work.

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The noise of wolves in the night can be frightening. Right, pastor?

Preacher, a lot of people in the church are concerned.  I’m not at liberty to use names.  Even some who love you are not happy with the way things are going.  I think you’d be surprised to know how widespread the unrest is.  If you are the wise person I think you are, you will not want to jeopardize your family by risking a church vote and suddenly find yourself unemployed.  If I were you–and I’m just saying this as a friend–I think I’d be looking for another church to go to. 

The baying of wolves in the night can be disconcerting.  But it’s also misleading.  As this story from President U. S. Grant’s autobiography makes clear….

In the mid-1840s, Ulysses S. Grant was a Second Lieutenant in the war between the U.S. and Mexico, with the prize being Texas.  Grant’s Memoirs make fascinating reading.  The first former president to write his memoirs, Grant’s are generally conceded to be the best of the lot.  (Note: Before reading Memoirs, I read Grant’s Final Victory, an account of the last year of his life when he penned his story to earn enough money to provide for his wife after his impending death from cancer.  Great story.  He was a far better man than he is often given credit for. )

At one point, Grant and some troopers were in west Texas, which was sparsely settled except by the Indians and plenty of varmints. One night, they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.”  The tall grass hid the wolves but they were definitely close by.  “To my ear, it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all at a single meal.”

The part of Ohio where Grant had been brought up had no wolves, but his friend Lt. Calvin Benjamin came from rural Indiana where they were still in abundance.  He understood the nature of the animal and the capacity of a few to make believe there was an unlimited number of them.

Benjamin began moving straight toward the wolves, seemingly unafraid.  I followed in his trail, lacking moral courage to turn back….

After a bit, Benjamin spoke. ‘Grant, how many wolves do you think are in that pack?’

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The pain in pastors that never goes away

“…serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials…” (Acts 20:19)

Let a pastor go through one huge church fight that leaves God’s people bleeding and bitter and scattering and he will do everything in his power to avoid another one.

Let a pastor go through a termination in which he is forced out from the church where the Lord had sent Him, and the pain of that rejection will accompany him the rest of the way home.

Some pain never leaves.

The wound heals but the scar remains and the memory never fades.

Thoughts of that event will color his counsel to other pastors.  The pain of that event will pop up at the strangest of times.  The lessons of that event will demand to be shared with others going through their own bit of hades-on-earth.

As a result of all this, the wounded pastor will mention that event from time to time.

It’s not a choice he makes.

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The pastor’s pain which few ever see

“I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me….” (Isaiah 1:2)

Abandonment.  Desertion. Rejection.

The pastor loves that family and longs for them to do well. Their children are so fine and exhibit incredible potential. He knows their names.  He prays for them, encourages them, and goes out of his way to support them.  And they seem to respond. They flourish spiritually and seem to love the Lord, love their church, and love him. And then…

One day, they disappear.

When he inquires, someone tells the pastor, “Oh, they’ve joined that new startup church down the highway.  The one where the pastor is so critical of us and our denomination.”

He never hears a word. They just disappear from his radar and he never sees them again.

It’s not that they stabbed him in the back. They did not pull a Judas and betray him.  They just walked away without a word.

That hurts.

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The remedy for “ain’t it awful” preaching

“We preach Christ….God’s power and God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).

Rick Warren says a lot of what pastors are feeding their people is “ain’t it awful” preaching.

Couple of years back, guest preaching in a church, before I rose to speak, a member of the flock with “a gift for continuance,” as a friend put it, addressed the congregation on the latest Supreme Court ruling concerning marriage.  The lady was upset, and she had a bad combination: strong convictions and the gift of gab. She went on and on about the sad state of affairs in this country.

Ain’t it awful.

To hear her tell it, the country is going down the tubes, the Supreme Court is out of hand, our freedoms are all in peril, the end is near, and God’s people are in huge trouble.

She said that and then sat down.

I had to follow it.  Moments like that, you do not envy the preacher.

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Two huge things we will learn in Heaven

“So, you were the one praying for me!

Tara Edelschick was brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran.  She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy.  “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”

That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.

Oh, my.  Talk about a double whammy.  Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.

Many would never have recovered from such a blow.

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Three reasons for the pastor to tell stories

“Jesus never preached without telling stories.” (Mark 4:34)

Pastor, your people love a good story. Listeners who have gone on vacation during the first ten minutes of your sermon will return home in a heartbeat the moment you begin, “A man went into a store….” or  “I remember once when I was a child….”

Those who have died early in your message will suddenly spring to life when you say, “The other day, I saw something on the interstate…” or “Recently, when the governor and I were having lunch at a local cafe…”  (smiley-face goes here)

We all love a good story. We’re so addicted to stories, our television brings us hundreds a day. Even on talk shows, the host wants guests to tell a story! Drop in on your local cinema and no matter which screen you’re watching, it’s all stories.  And the book publishing business–well, you get the idea.

There are a thousand reasons for dropping the occasional story into your sermon, pastor.  Here are three….

1) It makes the hard truth tastier, a little more palatable.

A good story sugar-coats the bitter pill you’re asking your audience to swallow.

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Why we must have denominations (or fellowships or families of churches)

A pastor in New Hersheybar emails me. “Pastor McKeever, I read your articles. We need your help.  We are a struggling community of small churches trying to get established, trying to get financial support, trying to get our ministers educated. Can you come help us or send cash?”

Well, maybe it’s never worded exactly like that, but that’s the gist.

How to know.

Is this guy for real, and is this a genuine opportunity to make a difference for the Kingdom of God?  Or is this fellow preying on the (so-called) rich Americans who are burdened with lots of spare cash and zero discernment?

I tell him to contact our International Mission Board at www.imb.org.  If we do not have missionaries in his country, we surely have a department with responsibility for his part of the world and someone in that office will be delighted to hear from him.  Maybe someone there will know somebody who can assist him.  And once in a while, we have a “representative” or “consultant” (as they are frequently called these days) living right there in his village.

Usually, that’s the last I hear from this fellow. Whether I discouraged him or exposed him is impossible to know.

I’m thankful for this denominational agency for a thousand reasons.

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