Some necessary things about prayer

I had led a family to Christ.  They soon joined our church and were baptized the following Sunday.  My notes remind me of something the grandfather said.  He was chairman of deacons in a church 3 hours away, and of course, they were excited about what had happened.  He said to me, “We’ve been praying for this family, but one by one.  We had no idea they’d all get saved at the same time!”

Dale Caston, deacon in my last pastorate, told me something that took place in a high school class when he was a teen.  The teacher asked the students, “What do you expect to get out of this class?”  She looked at one student: “Eddie, what do you expect?”  Eddie said, “Well, I’ve had you before–and I don’t expect nothing!”  Dale tells it with a laugh because he knows the part expectations play in a thousand aspects of life.

What do you expect when you pray?  The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect little from the Lord, too much from the pastor, and nothing from ourselves.

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Fearmongering: The cheapest kind of preaching

“Men’s hearts will be failing them from fear” (Luke 21:26).

“Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:18).

When I was a kid–sometime in the early 1950s–I recall attending a revival meeting with my grandmother in Birmingham.  The preacher scared the living daylights out of everyone with his prophecies about the future, his warnings about Russia and Communism, and his forecasts about what was about to happen.  Later, as Grandma and I walked down those dark streets to her apartment, every plane going over seemed to be carrying an atomic bomb with our address on it.

Scary preaching is foreign to the New Testament.

The great apostle actually thought teachings of the Lord’s return and the believers’ victory over and escape from this world should comfort us.

But listen to the typical prophecy preacher.   So many will use passages about the Lord’s return and the end times to strike terror into the hearts of the faithful.  They speak of the martyrdom of millions of the faithful, of the havoc to be wreaked throughout the world by the Lord’s death angels, of the Beast and the Antichrist and the desolation of abomination.

Matters of which they understand little.

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Rescuing the sick church: Five Principles

Sometimes we have to enroll the entire school in the first grade and start all over.

Once when I had trouble in one of my ears, the E-N-T doctor prescribed, among other things, a bottle of pills with unusual directions: “Take 6 a day for the first 4 days, 5 on the 5th day, 4 on the 6th day, 3 on the 7th day, 2 on the 8th day, and 1 on the 9th day.”

Apparently, some meds must not be curtailed abruptly.

While some illnesses respond to simple, one-step treatments, others require weeks, months, even years of medications and applications. In those, regular repetition over extended periods is needed for healing.

Now, take the sick church…

The ailing church did not get that way overnight. Often, anemic, struggling churches result from the unhealthy teachings of warped leaders. In many cases, teachers have gone to seed on a pet doctrine and omitted altogether the basic principles of solid Christian living as unworthy of them.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the ABCs of the Christian faith…. (Hebrews 5:12 paraphrase).

The elementary principles. Basic Christianity. The kind of stuff we should have been taught in a new members’ class.

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What laypeople need to know about speaking in church

By laypeople, we mean non-preachers.

Speaking in church refers to addressing large groups of the Lord’s people.

Many non-preacher types are outstanding on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers come to mind. They are experienced and at ease. But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, may feel out of his element when asked to deliver a talk in front of the congregation.

Marlene said to me, “I’m sorry I took the entire service, Pastor. But the Lord was leading me.” Translation: She was unprepared, really got into her talk and couldn’t control it.  As a young pastor, I was inviting church members to share testimonies in the morning worship service, something along the lines of 5-7 minutes.  (Later, I learned to interview the individual and keep hold of the microphone the entire time!)

Once Marlene got going, she could not find a convenient stopping place. She kept on for a full 40 minutes. (I could have pointed out a half-dozen great places to stop!)

Now personally, I would not blame my failure to prepare for a speech on the Lord.

I see it happen all the time.  It can be almost embarrassing.

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Grandparenting by faith

The just shall live by faith. —Habakkuk 2:4, and quoted in the New Testament in Romans 1:17;  Colossians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38.  That truth formed the basis of the Apostle Paul’s theology, and his Epistle to the Romans (on that subject) fueled the theology of Martin Luther and the Reformation, and two centuries later of John Wesley.  

I tell friends who are about to become grandparents for the first time, “You are about to be more in love than you have ever been in your life!”  I tell them, “Right now, you don’t even know that child.  But pretty soon, you will not want to live without them.”

It’s a marvelous thing the hold that the child of my child can have on my heart.  In many respects, my eight grands have given me more joy than my three did.  Perhaps it’s because we had our children when we were young–in our twenties–and our grands when we were in late middle-aged and were far different, even better, people.

We want to cherish these little ones and to do all we can to make a lasting difference in their lives, for now and for eternity.  So, let’s talk about that.  Let’s talk about grandparenting by faith.

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What the pastor should say in the wedding

“…the  two shall become one….” (Matthew 19:5)

The wedding ceremony is a great time–once in a lifetime for most people–for the pastor to get something across to two people in particular while hundreds are eavesdropping.

Not that they will remember a thing you say.

Friday, April 13, 1962, when Margaret and I stood at the altar, our pastor said some wonderful things that I found fascinating and inspiring.  Alas, my mind retained his insightful words for exactly half an hour, so whatever he said is gone forever.

These days, someone is recording your wedding service. So, you’ll be able to listen later when life returns to normal.

Presumably, that’s when the minister’s words are finally heard and begin to sink in.

So, what do you tell them, pastor? What words of lasting value and incredible help can you utter during the ceremony which will make a huge difference down the road a year or two or ten?  Now, you have only so much time, and this is not the time nor place for a full sermon. Still, choose a few great points you wish to lodge in their hearts forever and give it a shot.

Here are my suggestions on what you want to tell the couple….

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The subtle sin of judgmentalism and how it works

“Do not judge, lest you be judged…. Why  do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1ff.)

If you are prone to criticism and judging others, chances are you will be the last to know it.

It’s that kind of sin. I see it in you; but it’s just part of who I am.

I find it fascinating that after issuing the warning about not judging others, our Lord followed with the caution about specks and logs in people’s eyes.

This is precisely how it works.

My judgmentalism of you appears so normal and natural that it never occurs to me that I am actually condemning you.  So, while your rush to judgment is a log in your eye–one you really should do something about!–my human tendency to speak out on (ahem) convictions is merely a speck in mine and nothing to be concerned about.

One thing about me, I’m no hypocrite, right?  I call it like I see it, right?  You know what you’re getting with me, right?  (yuck!)

Consider this conversation….

You: “What did I have for lunch? Well, I was in a hurry, so I ate a banana, a handful of nuts, and a soft drink.”

Your co-worker: “The banana and the nuts are okay, but the soft drink is fattening and poisonous.  It is suicidal.”

You say nothing in response, but sit there wondering, “Who asked you? You wanted to know what I had for lunch and I told you. Does that give you a right to sit in judgment on my actions?”

It happens all the time, and just that subtly.

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Seven things the pastor cannot do from the pulpit

“…so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God….” (I Timothy 3:15).

You can’t chew gum in the pulpit, smoke a cigarette, or bring your coffee in with you. You can’t preach in your pajamas or lead a worship service in your swimsuit.

But you knew that.

However, sometimes we pastors do things every bit as silly as this, and as counter-productive.

True, a pastor can do anything from the pulpit.  Once.

But we’re talking about things no right-thinking godly pastor should attempt to do from the Lord’s sacred place of leadership in His church.

1. He cannot recommend a book which has questionable material in it nor condemn a book he has not read.

Okay. He can, but he shouldn’t.

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When reading Scripture, slow down and savor it.

So, you’re reading the Bible through in a year?  Or, like a few people I’ve known, you read it through every year for the umpteenth time.

Fine. But after you have done it two or three times, that’s probably enough. I have a suggestion for what you will want to do next.

Reading the entire Bible in a year is like seeing Europe in a week: You will notice a lot of things you don’t see from ground level, but it’s no way to get to know a country.

After a few flyovers–two days in Genesis and one day in Romans, for instance–you will want to land the plane and get out and make yourself at home in Ephesians or Second Timothy.  Move in with the locals and live with them a few weeks.

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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.

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