Trouble in the pulpit: The angry pastor

“Now, in the last days, difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self…boastful, arrogant, revilers…ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited…. Avoid such men as these.” (II Timothy 3:1-5)

Veteran Christian workers get this a lot. People tell you of a conversation with you from years ago in which you spoke words that changed their lives.  You were God’s gift to them that day, or, just as likely you infuriated them and they have not been able to get past it.

The problem is you don’t remember any of it.

My daily e-mail brought two such messages, one of each kind. A young minister was thanking me and an older pastor was venting. The conversations had occurred some ten years earlier.  I remembered neither.

The older pastor told of the time he sat in my office, seeking guidance for entering the ministry. According to him, I had asked what kind of church position he was interested in.  That was the harmless little question that had ticked him off and fueled his anger for a full decade.

“I was morally outraged by the question,” he said.

Continue reading

Ten insights about the fellowship in your church

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers…. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:42-47).

When a church of 120 members set out to assimilate 3,000 new additions into the life of the congregation, they ranked “fellowship” toward the top of the list as a critical step in accomplishing the task.

Fellowship is a nebulous term in our churches.  No one seems to know exactly what it is.

Koinonia is the Greek word. It refers to a sharing of life, or a partnership. Of course, that doesn’t tell us what it meant in the follow-up program in the early church. So, in the absence of anything definitive from Scripture on the precise meaning of the term, I submit for your consideration my own definition: Hanging out.

Continue reading

Lose the naivete, Christian!

On a state or secular college campus, the atheistic professor has complete freedom to spout religious views and opinions without protest from the students or interference from the dean. However, let a Christian instructor relate his personal story to inform the students of his worldview so they can better understand where he’s coming from, and he’s harassed and soon out of a job.

At a convocation of students on the average secular campus, freedom of speech and the First Amendment are championed. However, let a student stand and own up to being a follower of Jesus Christ who attempts to live by the Bible, and he/she is hooted down.

Ironic, isn’t it, the hostility those of a secular bent have toward belief in Jesus Christ. And they call themselves open-minded champions of free speech.

It’s more than just a prejudice, however. It’s a full-blown hatred.

That hatred is born of a fear of Jesus.

If in reading the gospels you have wondered how in the world things in that remote day came to the point where reasonably-minded people moved to arrest and crucify the Lord Jesus Christ, He who never lifted a finger against a human on the planet, the Prince of Peace, then take a look around you.

Human nature has not changed in the last 2,000 years.

Continue reading

Some people are so refreshing to us

I urge you, brethren–you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints–that you also submit to such and to everyone who works and labors with us.  I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied.  For they refreshed my spirit and yours.  Therefore, acknowledge such men.  (I Corinthians 16:15-18).

Refreshing others.  What a wonderful ministry.  As opposed to wearing them out and using them up.  Leaving them stronger than how we found them.

I’m struck by Paul’s tribute to Stephanas at the end of his epistle to the Corinthians. Along with his family and friends, this brother in the Lord did three things which earned him an “honorable mention” in Holy Scripture—

1.  They were addicted to ministry. That’s quite a tribute. In our day, when people see needs, they frequently imitate the Lord’s disciples in the early part of John 9 and get into debates over who is to blame. But there are among us a few who have no time for such pointless dilly-dallying. They jump in to see what they can do to alleviate the situation.

There are so many kinds of addictions, but surely this is the best.

Continue reading

The worst part of being a pastor

“What’s the worst thing about being a pastor?” she asked. “What is your worst nightmare?”

She and I were Facebooking back and forth about the ministry when she broadsided me with this one.

She suggested possible answers. “People writing nasty letters complaining? giving you advice? criticizing what you wear?”

I laughed and thought, “Oh, if it were that simple. No one enjoys getting anonymous mail trying to undermine your confidence in whatever you’re doing, but sooner or later most of us find ways of dealing with that.”

“It’s worse than that,” I typed. Then I paused to reflect.

Hers was such a simple question, one would think I had a stock answer which had been delivered again and again. But I don’t remember ever being asked it before.

Continue reading

Let’s hear from those women!

Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.  And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.  –Luke 24:9-11

It was a cultural thing, we are told.  Women were not considered reliable witnesses.  The Jewish writer Josephus said, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”  I’m not sure what precisely he meant, but I know what the effect was meant to be:  Keep women in their place.

Thank God for the women.  One of many reasons I love the Gospel According to Luke is the place it gives to women.  Consider…

Luke 8:1-2 The women supported Jesus.   Now, it came to pass afterward that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God.  And the twelve were with Him and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities–Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.

Ask any traveling preacher.  Someone has to support them financially.  Thank God for these women who believed in Jesus and supported Him.

Continue reading

Favorite scriptures on Christ’s resurrection

As a college student, I doubted the resurrection of Jesus in a sense.  I believed it in a spiritual sense–whatever that means–but “just knew” that there was no real evidence for this historically and that Christians had to take this doctrine, this “truth,” by faith.  Which means of course that I had a lousy foundation for my faith in Christ.

And then when I was 25 years old and a seminary student, I opened the latest issue of Christianity Today magazine–they gave free subscriptions to seminarians–and read a life-changing article by a British law professor named J. N. D. Anderson on “Evidences for the resurrection.”  I was stunned, and blessed out of my socks to learn there is genuine, I-can-prove-it-to-you evidence for the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My faith grew by a mile in one hour.

Later, when Professor Anderson enlarged the article into a book, I bought it and reveled in it.  Since then, I have been delighted to see many have written such helpful books.  See below for a couple.

Here are some favorite Scriptural texts on the resurrection of our Lord….

Continue reading

How to clean out a garage–and unclutter your life

(This was first posted in 2009 as I was preparing to retire from the active, paid ministry. I’ve tweaked it a little. –JM)

Margaret and I were talking about my upcoming retirement from this position with our association. I said, “What do you want me to do when I retire?” She said, “Clean out the garage.”

And then? “The attic,” she said.

My wife has learned to lower her expectations concerning tasks around the house by her spouse of nearly 47 years.

The other day, our oldest son Neil was over. He’s being ordained as a deacon in our church on Sunday night, April 5.  We’re all excited; if ever a man had a servant heart, he does.  He said, “I decided that being ordained deserves a new suit, so I’m going to treat myself.” After suggesting a good men’s store, I said, “I’ll give you some financial assistance on that suit if you will help me clean out the garage.”

Sneaky, huh.

Continue reading

The mixed multitude in your church and what to do about them

“And a mixed multitude went up with them.”   Exodus 12:38

“And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’” — Numbers 11:4

The unbelieving world is attending your church.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is sometimes we turn it over to them.  Not good.

When the Israelites left Egypt under Moses, they were not alone.  Exodus 12 says a large company of riff-raff seized the opportunity to flee the Pharaoh’s harsh rule also.  (Various translations refer to them as “a mixed multitude,” “a motley mob,” “a mingled array of other folk,” “a crowd of mixed ancestry,” and “a great rabble.”)

Did we think the Hebrews were the only slaves in Egypt?  Doubtless there were slaves from many countries.  So, in the same way a jailbreak might free all the prisoners, many of the Pharaoh’s “inmates” decided they had had enough, that anything was better than the slavery of Egypt, and they threw their lot in with the Hebrews and the fellow named Moses.

Before long, the wisdom of that decision would be put to the test.

Bear in mind that these people, being outsiders, had no idea who Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were.  They had no inkling that the great I AM was doing something mighty in their midst.  They had no knowledge of Moses and no loyalty to him.  Their thoughts were of themselves and their wants.

Don’t miss that.

Continue reading

“Why are you so angry?” I asked. “I’m not angry!” he bellowed.

“And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things….” (Luke 4:28).

“These things they will do because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:21).

My notes from that church business meeting a quarter-century ago are fascinating to read from this distance, but nothing about that event was enjoyable at the time.

Our church was trying to clarify its vision for the late 1990s and into the 21st century.  What did the Lord want us to be doing, where should we put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to confer with our leadership.  For reasons never clear to me, the seniors in the church became defensive and then combative.  No assurance from any of us would convince them we were not trying to shove them out the door and turn over the church to the immature, untrained, illiterate, and badly dressed.  To their credit, the church’s leadership, both lay and ministerial, kept their cool and worked to answer each complaint and every question.

My journal records a late Sunday night gathering in my home with 30 young marrieds from a Sunday School class.  They were a delightful group.  They wanted my testimony and had questions about the operation of the church.  Then someone asked the question of the day.

Continue reading