That room in your house no one else knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1950s and 1960s, with a few attempts to revive it in later years

A man I know wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

“Everyone has them,” he said.

One of our deacon families was hosting a gathering of church members. Their home was so neat and orderly.  I was amazed at the lack of clutter.  They ought to see my house, I thought.  But they had no stack of newspapers, no unread magazines lying around, no stack of books to be donated to the library or returned there.

When I asked our hostess about this, she surprised me.

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10 ways a pastor can know he’s lazy

My friend and mentor Dr. James Richardson used to tell of a neighboring pastor who constantly griped about how busy he was.  “That was the laziest preacher on the planet,” said James.

In reflecting on over sixty years of service in the Kingdom, I suspect that what sometimes comes across as laziness is more a lack of focus.  When a minister goes through his days without a clear purpose other than reacting to everything that comes up, he will accomplish so little that he and others may see him as lazy.

Here are a few ways a minister can tell he is lazy.  (Synonyms would include apathetic, lethargic, sluggish, slothfulness.  But “lazy” communicates, doesn’t it?)

1. Procrastination. You cannot bring yourself to do the unpleasant tasks, but keep putting off the difficult tasks.

I’ve read that successful people in the business world determine to tackle the hardest, most unpleasant jobs first. They get them out of the way so they can enjoy the rest of their day.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

That would take a self-discipline many of us lack.

2. Impatience. You will not do any ministry that is not easy or does not have an immediate payoff.

If that family down the street says they want to join my church, okay, I’ll go see them. However, if they do not go to church and show no signs of ever wanting to, and a friend suggests we call on them, the lazy pastor will beg off. He just cannot bring himself to do it.

When my daughter lived in a small New Hampshire town, one day I walked with my granddaughters to the Baptist church two blocks down the street.  I informed a staff member that the daddy had no interest in church and the mother, my daughter, was working and going to school all the time, but these children would love church. And they needed a loving congregation.  When I returned home to New Orleans, I wrote that pastor two letters.  Not only did I never get a response, no one ever reached out to my family.  I confess I find it hard to imagine how these people thought they were serving God.  In my mind, they were working for a paycheck and little else. Am I being too harsh?  Maybe so.

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Reasons not to fear zombies and such

I was grading tests for a seminary course I was teaching.  In his essay one student wrote, “The only thing I fear is zombies.”  I wrote back, “Zombies? You fear zombies?  There is no such thing. They are the figment of someone’s imagination!”

I’ve laughed about that ever since.  This guy is going to be a minister of the gospel and he fears zombies.

“No fear allowed.”  That should be the sign across every believer’s doorway.  Anyone doing even a cursory reading of Scripture has encountered text after text informing God’s children–reminding them, teaching them, again and again–that we are not to fear.

God is insulted when His children fear.  It’s as though we believe the enemy and not Him.

Here are some of our favorite texts on “No Fear Allowed” that come to mind…

“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16).  Elisha’s words to his panicky servant who had just seen the enemy encircling the city are good for us today.  Don’t be afraid: We outnumber them. 

“Do not be afraid of (those to whom I send you), for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:8).  Later, same chapter, God said, “Do not be dismayed before them, lest I dismay you before them.  For behold, I have made you today as a fortified city, as a pillar of iron, as walls of bronze against the whole land….” (1:17-18).  Don’t be afraid: The Lord is with you.  And, do not fear because you are invincible.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you; surely I will uphold you by my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).  Don’t be afraid: Your Heavenly Father is on the job!

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How Christians may insult the Lord Jesus

Sally had been a teenager in a church I once pastored, and her parents were dear friends. Her father, a former Marine, is in Heaven now, and her mother, now in the care of Hospice, is having a little trouble coming to terms with her own impending departure.

I sent the mom a note by Sally, suggesting that she read it to her.

The note to her mother and my Facebook note said: “If we could interview a baby in the mother’s womb about to be born, we might find that he/she is frightened by what lies ahead. It’s about to leave the only world it has known–warm, soft, safe–and emerge into a strange unfamiliar world with people it doesn’t know, who all speak an unintelligible language. To the baby, it would be death. But to everyone else, it’s a birth. When you get to Heaven, you will look back and say, ‘I was afraid of THAT?!’”

Had there been room on Facebook, I would have added something more. So, two hours later, we tacked on the following:

“The Apostle Paul literally taunts death. ‘O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?’ (I Corinthians 15:55) In college football, he would be flagged for showboating. Followers of Jesus Christ, you are not allowed to fear death. To do so insults the One who went to the cross and experienced the grave for you. Laugh at death. Like a honeybee that has lost its stinger, death still flies around scaring people, but it can’t do you any permanent damage.”

For a Christian to fear death is to insult the Lord Jesus Christ.

I suppose the biblical word for this would be “blasphemy.” But since that word is used almost exclusively in theological realms and associated with falling from grace and incurring God’s wrath, and not something we speak of in our everyday life, I’d just as soon not conjure up images of the Inquisition.

We are not talking about apostasy here. Just poor discipleship.

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The question is not “where is God?” but rather, “Where are you?”

In her World War Two novel, His Majesty’s Hope, Susan Elia MacNeal tells of a German nurse, Elise, who learns that a Down syndrome child in her care was abruptly discharged and bused to some distant hospital where she was later reported to have died of pneumonia. Elise decided to look further into this suspicious matter.

Donning her nurse’s uniform, Elise boarded the next bus carting children to the hospital in question. All the children on board, she noticed, were blind, deaf, epileptic, retarded, and similarly handicapped. The nurse in charge seemed callous and uncaring, and administered a sedative to “help the children rest.”

At its destination, the bus was met by authorities who instructed the children to disrobe for a shower. Doctors examined the children, marking those with gold fillings in their mouths with a large X on their bodies. As they entered the shower room, a large metal door slammed behind them and latches were thrown. That’s when Elise realized what was happening.

The children were being gassed. Exterminated.

“You’ll get used to it,” said an orderly to the stunned Elise.

She ran outside the building and vomited on the grass.

Later, on the bus ride back into Berlin, Elisa asked the other nurse, the hardened one, “But what about the fifth commandment? ‘Thou shalt not kill’?”

“That’s no commandment of God’s–just a Jewish lie, meant to keep us weak,” she said. “We don’t need to follow it any more. Besides, it’s not killing, it’s euthanasia.”

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Lord, make me a silken Christian.

“The silk we love for its softness and beauty is also one of the strongest and toughest fibers in the world. It has a strength of around five grams per denier compared with three grams per denier for a drawn wire of soft steel.” (From “The History of Silk,” by Harold Verner, quoted by Liz Trenow in her novel “The Last Telegram.”)

Soft and beautiful; strong and tough. What a combination.

Some in our day call this “a velvet-brick” or “a steel magnolia.” Soft and beautiful on the outside, strong and tough on the inside.

A pretty apt description of our Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t it?  We see His softness and beauty in a hundred things He did: the time He took to receive the little children and bless them, respond to the cries of the leper who had touched him, restore a dead son to his grieving mother, forgive an adulterous woman who had been publicly humiliated by religious bullies, and save a five-times married woman of Samaria.  He invited the dying thief on the cross to spend eternity with Him in Paradise, and prayed for His executioners.

Our Lord said, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

No wonder people have been so enamored by this Lord Jesus Christ from day one.

He was a beautiful man.

But the Lord’s strength and toughness are also visible–on full display, even–throughout the Gospels. 

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Why Christians need traffic cops, umpires, authorities

Someone has to be in charge.  Don’t they?

On the highway, in the classroom, at the factory, during the ball game, and in the Christian life, nothing works without someone present being empowered to say, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).  Right?  Or not?

Let’s think about the subject of authority….

In “The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published,” David Skinner describes the hostile reaction that greeted the release of “Webster’s Third Edition” in 1961.  The incident makes a great point for church folk.

First, a few words about the book.

Skinner’s book traces the development of dictionaries in this country and their struggles to determine what goes in and what stays out. Secondly, it chronicles the work of G. and C. Merriam Company to produce a new kind of dictionary this time around.  (The book is not easy reading and I admit to having read it off and on over several months.)

What made “Webster’s Third” different is that the editors came to the interesting conclusion that no one had made them the authority over the English language.  No one had put them in charge of English as spoken and written in America.  In fact, they decided there is no authority.

No authority on the English language.  Imagine that.

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No place for sarcasm in the Lord’s work

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Mary Todd Lincoln was gifted in the dark art of sarcasm. Her sister Elizabeth said of her, “She was also impulsive and made no attempt to conceal her feelings; indeed, it would have been an impossibility had she desired to do so, for her face was an index to every passing emotion.  Without desiring to wound, she occasionally indulged in sarcastic, witty remarks, that cut like a Damascus blade, but there was no malice behind them.”  Lincoln’s biographer notes, “A young woman who could wound by words without intending to was presumably even more dangerous when angry or aroused.”  (Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson).

Woe to the person bound in marriage to one gifted in sarcasm.  Lincoln bore many a scar from the blade his wife wielded.

Pity the church member sitting under the teachings of a sarcastic pastor week after week.  Such ministry will bear bitter fruit.

These days, Christian leaders are finding themselves apologizing for public pronouncements–in the media, on cyberspace, in print, on radio or TV–in which they were sarcastic toward someone who criticized them or opposed them or questioned them.

We even have websites given to satire and sarcasm. And some claim to be Christian.

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What a resounding testimony will do for you

A resounding testimony of faith in Jesus Christ will get you into more trouble than you’ve ever been in, in your life.

You thought we were going to say how good life would be if you went “all in” for the Lord and told everyone about Him?

Let’s say it again…

A strong outspoken witness for the Lord Jesus Christ will box you into a corner and make you put up or shut up.

That’s why you ought to do it. That’s why you ought to erect a neon sign in your front yard declaring that “Jesus is Lord at 203 Garden Cove” or wherever you live. You ought to put a Bible on your desk and wear t-shirts that celebrate Jesus and put Him in your conversation.

Pray in restaurants before meals, speak to waitresses about their spiritual welfare, and witness to your colleagues at work.

So live and speak that when someone wants to attack the Lord Jesus Christ and can’t lay hands on Him, they start looking for you. (Acts 5:41 comes to mind.)

In declaring yourself for Jesus, you ought to remove your safety harness and throw yourself totally into God’s hands.

Quit being so cotton-picking careful.

What are you afraid of?

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What you left out of your sermon, pastor

“Preach on sin, Pastor!”  When the old gentleman urged that bit of counsel upon me, I assumed he wanted me to harp on the ways of drug addicts and murderers and terrorists, sins no one in our congregation was committing.  But I think I know now what he meant.

And I think he was right.

Preachers who love the Word and are committed to the Lord’s people–well, a goodly number of them–have found that it is pleasant to the hearers and strengthening to his job security to leave out the sin business.

I’ve noticed this a lot.  And it’s not just one or two preachers.

Here’s what happens.

You preach a great text and share some wonderful insights you’ve gleaned. And they are good.  You end your sermon, satisfied that you have fulfilled your assignment from the Lord.   Little old ladies–God bless ’em!–brag on you at the exit, and you go home pleased with yourself.

But not so fast.

You left us wanting, Pastor.

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