A lesson about worship from Arnold the pig and Tom Lester

This is from a conversation with a friend back in the year 2007.

Tom Lester played “Eb” on the wonderful old Green Acres television series. At the time of our conversation, Tom was semi-retired and living on his family farm in Laurel, Mississippi. He and I were sharing the program for First Baptist Church of Covington, Louisiana’s annual senior adult fling.  Over lunch he told me this story about another star of Green Acres, Arnold the pig.

“Pigs are smart,” Tom said, “but not like dogs. A dog can learn all sorts of tricks because they want to please you. But a pig is like a cat. It’s selfish. It thinks only of itself. So, people who work with pigs in movies and television have figured out that the way to get them to obey you is with food. First, they let them get hungry, and only then can they get them to obey.”

“But,” he continued, “as soon as the pig gets his belly full, he’s not good for anything the rest of the day. So, they bring in another pig that looks like the first one and use him.”

At any given time, Arnold was a half-dozen pigs.

We laughed about that, thinking how like humans pigs are. We see it in church a lot. People go to this church or that one because, “I get fed there.” Not: “I can serve the Lord there” or “God led me there.”

And how many times have we heard people remark after church that “I didn’t get fed.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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My candidate for hypocrite of the year

“Evil people and imposters will become worse (in the last days), deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Can we talk about imposters?

Specifically church-dropouts who say they love the Lord.

Nothing of what follows is intended to be mean-spirited. I will labor to make certain it doesn’t come across that way.

I’m not angry, just perturbed. I don’t want to banish anyone from heaven, from church, from “the island,” or even from this room.

I just want to say to certain ones, “C’mon, people. Get real.  You don’t mean that, so why do you keep saying it?”

I was in a group which was having a lively discussion about church leadership and whether divorced people–specifically someone with a whole cluster of divorces!–should be considered as deacon.

Most in the room were sweet-spirited, godly, well-informed scripturally and solid doctrinally.  But some were angry for reasons I doubt if even they know.  They want to banish all divorced people from anything.  But they are not the hypocrites I had in mind. It’s another group.

People like you are the reason I no longer go to church.

That’s what they say.

And they are my candidate for “hypocrites of the year.”

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7 laws of service in God’s 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 plug in, 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.

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, 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 evidently they didn’t get the message. Suddenly, as Rudy was hoisting it up, the bag ripped and all kinds of kitchen leftovers poured 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 woke him up.  “Rudy, our pastor is sick. They tell me you are a preacher.  Can you preach for us tomorrow morning?”

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When the pastor’s pride shows, it ain’t a pretty sight

“I alone am left” (I Kings 19:10,14)   

“I have 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (I Kings 19:18).

Lord, I’m the only one out here in the field doing anything worthwhile.

I’m your best hope, Lord. Mine is the best church. Our denomination is the last of the faithful.

Sheesh!

How does the Lord put up with the likes of us?

Usually I let it go, but this time I felt the pastor of that church–we’ll call him Silas–and I had sufficient history to withstand my telling him that his advertising slogan–his “church’s identity–was offensive.

“We’re going to reach Atlanta and the world for Jesus!”

In my email, I said, “I appreciate a challenging goal for your people, and it’s great to keep the mission of world evangelism before them. But imagine if you are pastoring a smaller church in your city (most churches in your city are smaller!) and you read that statement. It implies your church is going to do it all without any help from anyone else, and feels a little like a putdown.”

I suggested a more faithful slogan might say “We’re going to reach Atlanta and the world for Jesus by working with God’s people everywhere.”  Not as catchy or pithy, to be sure. But truer and far more responsible.

Silas was not gentle in his reply. “McKeever,” he began, always a clue that niceties are out the window. “Most of the churches around us are worshiping the status quo or struggling to keep their doors open. It does feel like we’ve got the task alone.”  He ended with a gentle reminder that I should take care of my own assignment before telling a brother how to do his.

No argument there.

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A good story doeth good like a medicine

First story.  Humility.

Toward the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln decided to visit Richmond to see what it had been like. A tugboat was found to carry him and his small party — including son Tad — up the river. Soon, they ran into barriers and obstructions placed to impede traffic, so they transferred to a smaller boat. Before long, a message arrived saying the army needed that boat. This time, the presidential party transferred to a rowboat. Lincoln uncomplainingly got into the rowboat and they slowly made their way toward Richmond.

“You know,” Lincoln said, “this reminds me of a little story.”

Everything reminded him of a story; one more reason we adore him.

“When I first came into office, there was a man who came to me applying for office from Illinois, I believe it was. He said, ‘I want to be secretary of state; won’t you appoint me?’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that, I’ve already appointed Secretary Seward.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘well, can’t you appoint me consul general to Paris?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘that post is already filled.’ ‘Well, could you appoint me collector of customs in Austin?’ ‘No, that post is already filled.’ ‘Well,’ said the man, ‘at least, at least could you give me an old pair of pants?’” Lincoln added, “It pays to be humble, and I’m not upset by coming to Richmond in a rowboat.”

President Lincoln must have known our Lord’s teaching in Luke 14.

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The humble pastor brags on himself

I’m a pastor. I know the trade secrets.

I hope none of the brethren get upset by my letting the rest of the world in on our little quirks here.

When we want the audience to know of our (ahem) advanced degrees and superior education, we tell stories.  They sound a lot like this…

….When I was working on my doctor’s degree–I mean the first one, not the second one–I was having a hard time with my dissertation…. (The fact is, he got that degree from a mail-order institution for reading three books and writing two short papers.)

–The other day I met a man at the grocery store.  He said to me, “Aren’t you DOCTOR Rogers?”  I said, “Yes, I am.”  And he said, “Well, Doctor Rogers….” (and the story goes on from there.  Throughout the story, that fellow calls him Doctor no fewer than a dozen times.  This is to alert the audience to the way he wishes to be addressed.)

When we want the audience to know what celebrated circles we run in, we drop names into the sermons….

–“As I was saying to Billy Graham recently, ‘I hate name-droppers, don’t you?”

–“The last time I attended the presidential prayer breakfast in Washington, this time I was seated beside a lowly congressman.  A far cry from the time they seated me beside the Secretary of State.  Anyway, he said to me….”

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Perhaps the most profound thing our Lord ever said

“Except you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

What’s lacking in the great majority of religious experts–of all tribes, all beliefs, all everything!–is a childlike humility.

I’ve sat across from the salespeople hawking Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon doctrine door to door and been amazed at the sheer gall and arrogance of these know-it-alls.

I’ve sat in the auditoriums and classrooms when prophecy teachers were spreading out their charts and telling far more than they could ever know, pronouncing their anathema upon anyone daring to believe otherwise and taking no prisoners in the process.

I’ve sat in massive conferences among thousands of my peers and heard ignorance spouted as truth but camouflaged with alliteration and pious phrases and encouraged and affirmed by thundering echoes of “amens” and “hallelujahs”.

In every case, I longed to hear someone say, “We see through a glass darkly….”  (I Corinthians 13:12).

To hear someone say, “I have not arrived. I press toward the mark….” (Philippians 3:12-13).

To hear someone say, “We do not know how to pray as we should….” (Romans 8:26)

To hear someone say, “That which I am doing, I do not understand.  I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

Where is the childlike spirit we hear so much of in the Word?

1) I can hear someone say, “Well, we enter the kingdom by that spirit, but thereafter, as we learn and grow, we become teachers and instructors and gain confidence and are allowed to become more bombastic.”

Rubbish.

We are expected to be of a childlike spirit all our lives.  We are to remain teachable all the way to the end. We are instructed to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, and that includes such traits as gentleness, humility, self-control, and faithfulness (Galatians 5:22-23).

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Ten things only the strong can do

Facebook “Memories” reminded me of this a few days ago, and I’ve not been able to forget it.

We had stopped on the interstate at a Pilot Truck Stop for a bathroom/coffee break.  After paying for the coffee, I realized I did not know which was my exit. I said to the clerk, “Do people get turned around in here?”  She laughed, “All the time.”

Then she said, “The exit to the truckers actually goes up a few steps, but the exit to the cars is at street level.  Last week we had an elderly woman on a walker in here.  I called to tell her she was headed to the wrong exit.  She turned around with fire in her eyes and said, ‘I may be old, but I’m not stupid!’ and went right on.  When she got to the door, she saw her mistake, and turned around and went toward the other exit.  But she never said a word as she passed me.”

I smiled. I know how that is.  There is a simple line that explains her rude behavior:  Only the strong can admit they’re wrong and apologize.  Everyone else will try to justify themselves, find excuses, or even place blame.  The strong will have no trouble admitting to the error and not try to hide it.

The more I learn of God’s word and human behavior, the more I see a number of activities which only the strong can do.  Here’s a partial list.  You’ll think of more…

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Sometimes the bully pastor gets a comeuppance

My friend Dave was pastoring a small church in a deep southern town while living some miles away in the city. During the week, he worked at the health department.

One day, his church leadership requested that Dave get ordained. He passed the request on to his home church pastor in the city.

The pastor said, “Dave, anyone in particular you want to preach your ordination?” Dave couldn’t think of anyone. “I’ll leave that to you,” he said.

The night of the big event, Dave entered the church sanctuary and spotted a colleague from the health department. As they exchanged greetings, the friend said, “Uh, Dave. Have you seen who’s preaching your service tonight?” He hadn’t.

As soon as he laid eyes on the featured preacher, Dave stood there in shock.

That preacher was a retired pastor who lived in the city. Only a few weeks before, Dave had served him with official papers demanding that he take care of some health issues on his property or face legal action. The preacher had defiantly cursed David out, creating quite a spectacle.

“He did take the remedial action we demanded, however,” Dave told me.

But even so. Such behavior from a man of God.

And now, the preacher who cursed David out is now about to preach his ordination service.

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Humility: It looks so good on you!

“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit therefore to God” (James 4:6).

“Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).  

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time….” (5:6).

A Facebook friend said, “I’m very proud of my humility.”

I think he was teasing.

Humility is not a subject most of us would claim to know much about.  In fact, we would shy away from anyone claiming to be humble.  The very claim contradicts itself.

In fact, a truly humble person would probably be the last to know it.   So, when told that “You are a genuinely humble person,” the appropriate response might be something like “Who, me? I wish!”

Now, there are few traits more attractive in a leader than humility.  The Lord of Heaven and earth stooped to wash the feet of His disciples, in so doing forever disallowing His preachers from playing the royalty card (John 13).  “The Son of Man did not come to be ministered unto,” He said, “but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Biblically.  Anecdotally.  And personally. The evidences of a truly humble person are no secret.

Seven traits of a humble person….

One.  An overwhelming sense of the blessings of God.  His generosity. His grace.  “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for HIs wonderful works to the children of men!” (That praise eruption of praise comes from Psalm 107 where it is repeated in verses 8, 15, 21, and 31.)

God is so good to me.  Far better than I deserve. “I feel like I’m God’s favorite child,” a friend says.  “My cup runneth over,” said King David (Psalm 23:5).

Words you will hear a lot from the truly humble: “Thank you!”

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