First a disclaimer: I’m a retired pastor, I have no deacons (and no church members), I love deacons, and I’m loving the continuing ministry God gives me as a retiree. However, there was a time when life was tough, demands seemed never-ending, encouragement was rare, and each day brought a crisis of one kind or the other.
That’s what this is about.
I was having trouble with a few deacons. From the day I became their pastor, these men and their families had dedicated themselves to not liking me and being non-supportive in anything I suggested. In the church fellowship, they were toxic.
Eight years later, we did something.
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Revelation 5:9).
John must have been fascinated by the sights and the sounds of that heavenly vision.
They started small.
At first, he was treated to a heavenly quartet. The four angelic beings–were they seraphim?–of Revelation 4:7-8 burst into song, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. Who was and is and is to come!”
This was no little chorus they dropped into the Lord’s throneroom. We read, “They do not rest day or night, saying (this)” (verse 8).
Imagine that. An endless song.
These long-winded, six-winged angels with angelic voices take us back to Isaiah 6 where similar creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. The whole earth is filled with His glory.”
I heard a preacher say that two huge lessons are given here: One, the holiness of the Lord (His “otherness”) is a bigtime truth, and two, the Lord has no trouble hearing the same words of praise coming at Him continuously.
When our church was about to welcome a new pastor, I contacted him to ask what we could do for him. “Tell me the top three things you want from this church.” He had an immediate answer, as though he’d been expecting the call.
“I would love to come to a unified, loving, praying church,” he said. As a retired pastor of six churches, I knew exactly how he felt. So, let’s look at those three gifts the new pastor would love to receive.
Mickey Crane, longtime pastor of a Free Will Baptist Church in Walker County, Alabama, and now in Heaven, was telling a group something they needed to hear.
The churches in the area were having a community meeting at a ballfield. I attended with my mother and sister and wrote down his statement:
I understand people who don’t like the preacher. I don’t much like him either and I know him better than you! That’s why I can love and minister to people who don’t like me. I understand.
How refreshing is that!
And how rare is it. Listen to some of us preachers poor-mouth about church members who do not like us and you’d think it was our right to receive adulation from the world.
The pastor had better figure out in a hurry for whom he’s preaching and whom he wants to satisfy before he approaches the pulpit.
If he’s preaching for his audiences–if their response is everything to him–I can assure him there are church members out there ready to pop that little bubble and bring his ego down to earth and send his self-confidence packing.
Here’s my story….
When the husband died, his wife of nearly 60 years was instructing me on how she wanted things done in the funeral.
She mentioned our associate pastor.”I don’t care for his funerals. He talks about himself too much.”
Okay. I had never heard his funeral sermons since he did these only when I was not available.
I said, “What do you think of mine?”
Dumb question. But I asked for it.
It was mid-way through December and I was telling a minister friend 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.
Joseph gives us a powerful lesson, and he deserves more than the short shrift he is usually given.
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.
I’m trying hard to answer this question with a straight face.
Short answer: No.
Longer answer: Absolutely not! Whatever are you thinking??
On the interstate I passed a billboard advertising some ministry that is focusing on biblical prophecy. Big letters: “THE USA IN BIBLE PROPHECY!” And a website.
My opinion–and that’s all this is; this is my website and I can freely post it; thank you very much–is that the people involved in this kind of “find the USA in the Bible ministry” fall into two groups:
–1) well-intentioned unthinking believers who love Jesus but were never grounded in the essentials of the Christian life, and are now being led seriously off-track;
–2) clones of Harold Camping (the guy who was in all the news some years back for predicting the end of the world) who spend all their time trying to unlock the Rubik’s cube of the Bible so they can know more than anyone else as to what the Lord is up to.
Both groups are in bad trouble.
This week I’ve been watching the Women’s College World Series, which is all about softball games. Oklahoma and Florida State played a best-of-three, which the Sooners took 2-1. Game two on Wednesday was unforgettable, not so much for the hits and fielding but for the all-out joy and enthusiasm of fans and players alike. Perhaps because their championship calibre team had dropped the first game, but the fans seemed unusually pumped and volatile.
Since Oklahoma City hosts this annual series and since the University of Oklahoma’s team was in the playoff, this was like a home game to them, which means the stands will teeming with Sooners. Not an empty seat in the house, perhaps 15 thousand strong, and they were over-the-top excited. Every victory from their team, no matter how small–a strikeout, a single, anything–and the fans went crazy. Furthermore, the team itself was constantly cheering one another, even coming out of the dugout onto the field for some kind of cheer/dance. It was fun to watch.
Contrast that with the men’s game, which is scheduled for two weekends away. I’m a big fan and will watch all I can. Hey, I’m retired and housebound for a while due to a medical thing. The players will be excited and hollering, but nothing like the women. In fact, in men’s college football, referees will penalize them for “excessive celebration.” How crazy is that. The women are out-of-sight enthusiastic in their celebrating, and the men get penalized.
I’m thinking the men’s rules were set by some Scrooge somewhere, someone who hates the very idea of joy and excitement.
In the Lord’s work as in anything else in life, there are essentials and non-essentials. There are the loadbearing features and cosmetic for-appearance-only aspects.
If we don’t know which is which, we’re in big trouble.
In the late 16th century, the City of Windsor engaged architect Sir Christopher Wren to design and oversee the building of a town hall. When it was completed, the mayor refused to pay the bill, insisting that it needed more than the few columns Wren had designed. No matter that the columns were holding up the building just fine. He wanted more columns and would not pay until they were installed.
Christopher Wren had four more columns added to the building, each identical to the first but with one exception: they lacked one inch reaching the ceiling. They were not holding up anything!
We say that some of those columns were load-bearing and the others cosmetic. (The building stands today. It’s called Guild Hall, I read somewhere.)
It’s a wise church leader who knows which structures in the Lord’s work are loadbearing and which are cosmetic and not structural.
When you come into the Promised Land and move into houses you did not build, take over crops you did not plant, and eat victuals you did not grow, then beware lest you forget the Lord. (Deuteronomy 6:12)
Don’t forget. Unless you need to.
The theme of half the sermons from Old Testament prophets is “Remember, O Israel.” The Hebrew word is zakar and it’s justifiably a big deal in God’s Word.
But there is a lot to be said for forgetting, too. Much in our lives does not need to be retained.
I heard of Jill Price, a California woman who remembers everything. Not that she wants to. Ever since she was 8 years old, beginning in 1974, her mind appears to have switched on some feature the rest of us do not have and wouldn’t want in a thousand years. From 1980 forward, she has “near perfect” recall on everything.
By “everything,” we mean what she had for dinner, what she watched on television, the news that night, the temperature, conversations, everything.
Jill Price’s story is told in a book some have called “the weirdest book of the year” with the title The Woman Who Can’t Forget.