The young pastor is not yet ready to lead a bigger church. Here’s why.

“We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

For good reason the Lord sends new, young pastors to the tiniest congregations. There’s so much to learn.

God bless all those little flocks which have to endure the green, inexperienced shepherds, many of whom go right on making the same mistakes as every pastor before them.

Their patience is amazing. (Sometimes I feel like going to the first three churches I served and saying, “Would you please forgive me?”)

Perhaps the biggest lesson which pastors have to learn before they’re able to do their best work for the Lord is this: You’re not ready to pastor a church until you get over yourself.

Being the God-sent leader of a congregation can be a heady feeling.  Suddenly people are looking to you for guidance, deferring to you as though you were somebody, insisting you take the honored place at the table.  You even find Scriptural justification for your occupying the pulpit and speaking for the Almighty God.  Truly amazing.

All for nothing you have done.

And therein lies the trap for the unwary.

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Mediocrity: Be anything other than this!

“…you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold…” (Revelation 3:16)

Mediocrity is a warm blanket.

Mediocrity is a C+.

Mediocrity is “pretty good, but not great.”

Mediocrity is remaining with the bunch that finishes neither early or late, that turns in work much like everyone else’s, that is satisfied with “okay.”

Mediocrity is the head in the sand when the storm is raging around us. Just close your eyes and it will all blow over.

Mediocrity is being overly cautious when life-or-death decisions are being made.  “Well, let’s give this some more thought.”  “Let’s not be too hasty here.”  “We don’t want people to think we’re extremists.”

There’s safety in mediocrity.  We’re like everyone around us.  We don’t stand out.  No one criticizes us. They don’t even see us.  We blend into the landscape.

Our English word mediocre comes from two Latin words, medi meaning “halfway,” and ocris meaning “mountain.”  Somewhere there is a list of everyone who has scaled to the crest of Mount Everest.  No one ever bothered to note those who got halfway up and turned around for home.

A constant temptation 

As a pastor, I’m tempted to criticize those who choose mediocrity rather than daring, who play safe and avoid risks.  Yet I am very familiar with that way too.  As a pastor, I have been known to choose the conservative, safe way.  The outcome I feared was not so much failure as criticism.  I have refrained from taking a stand on a controversial issue for fear of becoming the focus of criticism.  Or, I have wondered, is this caution actually maturity warning me not to squander hard-earned trust on some cause not worth the price?  We’ve all seen foolhardy people who rush in where angels fear to tread, when they should have been quiet and stayed at home. Hard to know.

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Sloppiness in ministry is not allowed

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord–you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23).

That night, sometime along about 3 or 4 am, unable to sleep, I did something I rarely do: went into the den and turned on the television. After channel-surfing a bit, I ended up watching one of those true-crime re-enactments.

Law enforcement investigators had painstakingly built their case against this fellow in Jacksonville, Florida, who reported his wife missing on a trip to Miami.

The man told investigators they had checked into a Miami hotel and he went to a fast-food place for take-out. Police were able to check that out.  He had indeed bought a sandwich and fries at that restaurant, they found, but only one order.  Nothing for his wife.

His credit card showed he had stopped at a convenience store on his trip south.  Police searched until they found the store’s video of him at the cash register.  They wondered where was the wife? On a long trip, wouldn’t she have gone into the rest room and perhaps bought a drink? Even though the man had testified that his wife had accompanied him on the trip, she was not in the video.

Next, police scanned through hours of video from an interstate toll booth.  Eventually, when they spotted his car, the photograph shows no one in the passenger’s seat.  The man is alone.  So, in the interview room, they asked, “Where does your wife sit when you are driving?” He answered, “In the passenger’s seat.”  “Does she ever sit in the back or lie down back there?”  “No. Never.”

He was a dead duck.

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What hypocrisy looks like and why the Lord hates it with a passion

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29). 

“Woe to you, blind guides!” (Matthew 23:16,24,26). 

“You serpents, you brood of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33).

The Lord doesn’t care for hypocrites much.

You and I, however, seem to have learned to do something God has not managed yet: to accommodate ourselves to those who say one thing and do another.

Take the beer company of St Louis, for instance. We read this from a few years back and it sounds normal to us. It took a secular writer to point out the hypocrisy in their moralizing.

“We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.” –Anheuser Busch, responding to scandals in the National Football League (TIME magazine, September 29, 2014)

Humor writer Ian Frazier nails the famous beer company for its duplicitous moralizing in the same issue of TIME magazine.

The NFL had been under attack for its mishandling of the serious misbehavior of players who, among other things, knocked out a wife in the elevator and was caught on tape doing it, then beat a four-year-old child leaving whelps and open wounds on his skin.

The famous beer company, known for its massive advertising throughout every sporting event available, took the NFL to task for its pitiful reaction.  Such behavior is against Anheuser-Busch’s moral code and culture, they said.

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Why Mark 13 is so hard for me

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened.  These things must take place, but that is not yet the end (Mark 13:7).

I used to know a lot more about Bible prophecy than I do now.  –Warren Wiersbe in his mature years

They canceled Sunday School at my church for tomorrow morning. Some kind of issue with a busted water pipe in the fellowship hall area where construction people were doing something. So, we’ll be having church in the auditorium of a private school at 10:30 am.  And I am not unhappy at all about it.

The Sunday School lesson–which I was scheduled to teach–was really difficult to get my mind around.  Mark 13 is our Lord’s Olivet Discourse, with its counterparts in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.  Each of the three has its own uniqueness but for the most part they’re much alike.

Prophecy is hard for me.  And I don’t mind admitting it.  There is a little history to this.

As a college student, I worked for a preacher in downtown Birmingham. Reverend Jim Irwin owned the Upper Room Bookstore which I operated the summer between my freshman and sophomore years.  Brother Jim pastored a small church and had a radio program called “The Radio Bible School.” One night a week he held a Bible class in the bookstore for anyone wishing to attend. It was my job to type up his handouts, which is how I learned his views on prophecy.  On paper at least, he seemed to have it all figured out: The Lord was on the verge of returning and all the prophetic signs were being fulfilled even as we speak. Jesus was due to set foot on Planet Earth at any moment.

That was 1959.  Sixty-four years ago.

A big thing back in the day was the year 1948, the establishment of the nation Israel.  After all, taught the prophecy experts, didn’t our Lord say that “this generation would not pass away before all these things came to be”? That’s Mark 13:30. This clearly means, so they would teach, that within one generation of the establishment of Israel all these prophetic signs would be fulfilled. And how long is a generation?  Most said 25 years.  Some said thirty or thirty-five.

It’s been seventy-five years.

I learned early on that expounding on Bible prophecy was easy and easy to get wrong. As someone has said, “The graveyards are littered with the bones of prophecy experts.”

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This fellow found a contradiction in Scripture and thinks he can now disprove God

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was reading comments on a friend’s Facebook page below something she had written about the Bible’s authenticity.

I suppose her critic was a friend, because after each of his statements, each one shallow and several insulting, she patiently responded with kindness and reason.

But nothing worked.

When one is determined not to believe, no amount of truth or reason or logic can penetrate the protective armor of alibis, arguments, excuses, and slander in which he clothes himself.

What was his “contradiction”?

He said, “In one place the Bible says an eye for an eye and another place it says turn the other cheek.  What do you say about such a contradiction?”

I found myself wondering if this guy was serious.  Any 10-year-old could answer that.

Just so easily does this guy dismiss the living God, the Creator of the Universe.

Even if the Lord had such a fellow on His team, He wouldn’t have much.  HIs ignorance is shallow and whatever faith he could muster would be as worthless.

Before commenting on the subject of contradictions in the Word, let me respond to that guy, just in case any reader needs to know how those two scriptures line up.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was given to Israel as a principle for assessing punishment for crimes (Leviticus 24:20). This formula was a hundred times more compassionate than the standard used in pagan countries–and to this day, in some backward nations–that went like this: a life for an eye; a limb for a tooth.

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Where are the sins God has forgiven?

Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.  Micah 7:19

Gospel song of the 1950s…

You ask me why I’m happy, I’ll tell you the reason why: My sins are gone.

And when I meet the scoffers who ask me where they are, I say, My sins are gone.

They’re underneath the blood of the cross of Calvary, as far removed as darkness is from dawn.  In the sea of God’s forgetfulness, that’s good enough for me, praise God, my sins are gone.

(second verse)  When Satan comes to tempt me, and cause me to doubt, I say, my sins are gone.  You got me into trouble, but Jesus got me out. I’m glad, my sins are gone. (then the chorus)

It’s a good song, take my word for it!

Some lessons God’s children have to keep learning…

She was a faithful member of the church I had gone to right after seminary.  I was 27 years old with a lot to learn about ministry.  But I knew something about her she thought no one else did.

One day the church secretary had blurted out to me that a year earlier Gloria Mae had had an affair with a man she worked with.  “And she thinks no one knows it!”  Well, it’s impossible to unknow something once you hear it.  And I was sorry to know this.  But God used that…

One day sometime later, while making my morning hospital rounds, I noticed that Gloria Mae had been admitted as a patient. I went in to visit her.  “My ulcer is acting up,” she told me.  As we visited, she said, “Pastor, one of these days there is something I need to tell you. Something that bothers me.”

I said, “I’m available any time,” and continued to stand there by her bed talking and listening.  And because I was patient, she began pouring out the sad tale of her sin.  She wept and my heart broke for her.  Finally, I said, “Gloria, has God forgiven you?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, “He has, but I can’t forgive myself.”

I said, “So, you have a higher standard than God. Is that right?”

She was almost offended.  “Brother Joe! Whatever does that mean?”

I said, “Well, listen to you.  Sure, God forgave me.  It’s easy for Him.  But I’m harder on myself than He is.”  I paused to let that sink in and said, “Gloria, if God forgave you, why don’t you forgive yourself?”

We prayed together and left that sordid business at the cross, where it belonged.  One year later, I received a note from her saying, “It was a year ago today that you visited me in the hospital.  And you said exactly what I needed to hear. I am well today. Thank you.”

Her sins were gone.  And how good is that???

Question: Where were her sins?  What had God done with them? Continue reading

What did you do in the war, Daddy?

“As his share who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage: they shall share alike” (I Samuel 30:24).

When Roland Q. Leavell returned home to the States from the “Great War” in Europe–what would come to be called the First World War–he had a problem.  People wanted to hear stories of the war, of battles, of heroism. The problem was he didn’t have any.

Roland Q. Leavell was in his 20s, single, and with a bachelor’s degree from seminary.  He had pastored small churches and had been sent to “the front” as a representative of the YMCA.  In those days, there was no USO to take care of American troops overseas, and fledgling organizations and ministries were still trying to figure these things out.

According to Dottie L. Hudson’s book “He Still Stands Tall: The Life of Roland Q. Leavell,” based on her father’s diaries, Roland did a hundred small things in his efforts for the Y:  He led Bible studies, he counseled soldiers, he ran a canteen, he taught French to a few soldiers, and he drove an ambulance.  At one point, he inhaled poisonous gas the Boches sprayed into the air. The one time he shot a gun was as a joke, pointed into the air across no-man’s-land.  “I guess I didn’t kill over 50,” he remarked in his diary.

And when he got home, people wanted to hear his stories.

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