Things prophets and angels do not know

To my knowledge, there’s nothing quite like Second Peter 1:10-12 anywhere else in the New Testament.  From this text, we learn that prophets and angels often did their work without understanding the big picture.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances in which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

One of the bedrock principles of many Bible scholars holds that in order to understand a prophecy, a student should go back and try to learn what the prophet who announced it understood it to mean.  What was in the mind of the one speaking?

As though the speaker was the ultimate authority on his prophecy.

This principle–clearly mistaken, according to the Apostle Peter–has led to the undermining of some of the great doctrines of the Christian faith (at least by some; not all, of course).

In fact, the prophets said more than they knew, says the Apostle Peter. They were the instruments of “the Spirit of Christ within them.”

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When a pastor’s biggest competition is another preacher

Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church.  He’s a media star.  He’s pulling people out of the other churches.

Sound familiar?  It’s not a new phenomenon.

“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.”  (Acts 18:24)

Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul.  Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.

What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot.  A real hunk.  Articulate in the pulpit.  Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.

Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist.   He made an impact wherever he went.

What’s more, he was good.  He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.

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“Hello. I’m the pastor of Crock Pot Church.”

Wait upon the Lord.  Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait upon the Lord.  –Psalm 27:14 

God’s times are not yours.  He doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar.  His alarm clock is broken.  He doesn’t keep regular hours.

Lose the stop watch.  Take a hammer to the timer.  God is not going to order His actions by your schedule.  Forget about showing Him your day-planner.  He’s not impressed.

God in Heaven has His own plans, His own schedule, and His own purposes.

Got that?

“Most great ministries are made in the crock-pot, not the microwave.” –Allan Taylor

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Is it possible to manipulate people into the kingdom?

“…and make disciples of all the nations….” (Matthew 28:18-20)

From where I sat as pastor, the deacon appeared to be brow-beating people into praying the sinner’s prayer with him, then accompanying him to church the following Sunday to make public this “commitment” and be baptized.  The whipped look on their faces told all one would ever need to know.

So, one Sunday I asked his most recent trophy, a sad-looking lady, “Do you really want to do this?  You know, you don’t have to be baptized if you don’t want to.”  She said quietly that this was her choice. So, we baptized her and never saw her again.

In time, we changed the way we received church members to make certain we were not simply baptizing someone’s converts but were actually making disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus did not send us to make converts or church members.  He did not command anyone to make decisions or pray a nice little prayer.  He did not commission us to talk people into walking an aisle or undergoing baptism or getting religious.

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My biggest challenge in crisis ministry

A friend on the staff of a large church emailed about a family basically living in the ICU ward of a local hospital in our city. Doctors had told the parents nothing more can be done for the daughter. So they were standing by, waiting for God to take her home.

The friend asked if I could visit this family.

An hour later, I was in their hospital room.

The patient lay there heavily sedated, while family members and friends were seated around the room, talking softly.  They greeted me warmly, having been informed that I was coming.

Two things about this family I found amazing.  They had lived in the intensive care units of their hospital back home and this one in my city for over 40 days.  And yet, there was such a steady peace and beautiful joy about them.

The question I face 

That brings me to my dilemma, one I have frequently encountered when calling on the families of Godly people going through various kinds of crises:  Do I enter into their joy or remain outside?

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Why so many Christians are powerless

“God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).  “Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof….” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Former U.S. Senator John W. Warner used to tell of an experience during his term as Undersecretary of the U.S. Navy (1969-72).  During a visit to an unnamed foreign country, he was impressed by the majestic World War II cruiser on display in the harbor of the capital city.  This major component of the country’s defense system looked to be everything one would expect with its gleaming brass gun mounts, its sparkling paint, its bright signal flags.

When Mr. Warner asked for permission to come aboard and inspect the ship, a routine request almost always granted, he was surprised.

The captain nervously informed him that this would not be possible.

Later, an aide told Warner the reason he was not invited aboard.

The ship was a sham.

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Thank you, Father, for trusting me with the pain

“No suffering for the present time seems joyful but grievous; nevertheless, afterward….it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

“And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12).

I hated the pain at the time, Lord.

It’s no fun hurting, lying awake at night hoping for sleep that will not come, wishing for relief and seeing none on the horizon.  At those times I knew why some turn to drink or drugs or worse, but that issue was settled decades ago, Lord, that I would not be bypassing, shortcutting, or tranquilizing whatever you send me in this life.

Remember that time back in the 1960s when a few unhappy people were stirring up matters in your church, saying that I was pushing integration and was going to destroy their church?  Remember that?  I do too.  Oh, how I do.  That was no fun.

As though it were their church. That’s a laugh.  They’re long off the scene and Your church is still there. And integrated, too, I imagine. (smiley-face goes here)

Remember the time they spread the rumor that my wife and I were divorced and that there was deceit in my background, and I didn’t find out about it until it had circled the earth for a solid year?  That was painful, too.

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Bridging the cultural gap: Big task for the preacher

I was going to Italy to be the featured speaker for a pastors-and-wives retreat.  Those attending are all English-speaking serving churches across Europe as well as a few other countries. I was excited.
My host, head of the International Baptist Convention, pointed out a few things to keep in mind.

While everyone at the retreat will speak English, they are not all Americans. Therefore, I must be careful not to use idioms and references that only those from the USA (or even worse, the Deep South) will understand.

So, I started thinking over some of my choice stories. I have tales of growing up in rural Alabama, of small church preachers and narrow-minded Baptists and Southern ways.  I could see I was going to have to revisit all my messages and stories and illustrations. Once we begin in Italy, there would still need to be some fine-tuning and tweaking.

When a preacher ignores the cultural divide between himself and his audience, he could mess up royally.

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Solve 90 percent of your church’s personnel problems before they happen

Nothing stresses a pastor like conflicts occurring on his staff. A secretary in the office, the minister of music, the organist, the head custodian–each of them was brought to the leadership team for good reason. Now, here they are threatening the unity of the church–not to say its mission and ministry–by a conflict with another team member.

In my four-plus decades pastoring six churches, I’ve seen the following (and plenty more, too, let me add) up close and personal….

–a senior staff member addicted to prescription drugs

–staffers using the computer for online porn.

–associate ministers who were protective of their turf, who resented anyone–including the pastor!–intruding to tell them what to do.

–Staffers who wanted to be left alone to do their work and not be asked to cooperate with anyone else

–Staffers who were angry at me about something and shared that little bit of gossip to laypeople in the church before telling me.

–Lazy staff members.

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Man is basically good. (Try saying that with a straight face.)

Checking into a company’s website, a pastor friend noticed their statement of values:  “We believe in the basic goodness of all people.”

He came away wondering what a person would have to do to convince himself of that misguided philosophy.

True, there is something inside us that wants to believe in the basic goodness of people. I suspect that’s part of our sinful nature, believing against all evidence to the contrary that we are all right and not in need of forgiveness or salvation. It’s a major strain in our sinful system to hold that all we need to do is release everyone from restraints and for preachers to quit laying guilt trips on us and all will be well.  “Imagine there’s no religion,” said John Lennon.  As though that were the problem.

Have you seen the news this morning? How many people were killed in your city last night by people who were resisting restraints and determining to have their own way?

Our Lord said, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children….” (Luke 11:13).  You are evil, but you still get some things right.  That’s what He said.

We are a mixture.  Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that 2 percent changes everything.

Insights on this subject popped up in two unlikely places:  a western novel and a biography of a longshoreman philosophy from over a half-century ago.

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