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Archive for May, 2017

A woman was asked why she was so faithful in going to hear a certain pastor preach every Sunday. Her reply is thought-provoking. “He cleans out the gutters of my mind,” she said. Now that is what I call a compliment to preaching! What kind of preaching does it take to clean out the gutters in the minds of those who hear it? Different people will perhaps have different answers, but let me suggest six things:

First, preaching must contain revelation. Otherwise, it is not true preaching. By revelation, I mean that it must have behind it the authority of God’s Word and that authority and power must communicate itself in the preaching event. If such dynamics are not present in what the preacher has to say, the communication could possibly qualify more as a lecture or speech, but hardly as a sermon.

Second, preaching must be relevant. Its content must contain truth that relates to the things that are faced every day by those who listen. The sermons you have heard which you remember as being effective are undoubtedly those that have addressed the issues you face in your daily living. Preaching that is not relevant will soon not have hearers. The person in the pew wants to know what God has to say about the challenges and problems he or she faces daily – the hurts, heartaches, and challenges. The preacher who addresses those issues effectively will always have hearers.

Third, preaching must be realistic. People want and need something to hang their hopes on, not some fantasy to tempt or to entertain them. The sermon must not offer more than God Himself promises. Parishioners are caught in the crossfire between good and evil. Sermons that meet their need must be realistic, and address their problems, pains, and predicaments with eternal truths, not just contain words that sound good. I have heard radio preachers say things like, “If you double your tithe to my ministry this week, God will give you a two-fold blessing within the next week. This is not true! It is not taught in the Bible. It is not a legitimate reason for giving. It misses being realistic by a country mile.

Fourth, preaching must be redemptive. It must offer hope in the midst of despair, insight in the midst of confusion, encouragement in the midst of discouragement, light in the midst of darkness, love in the midst of hate, and life for those dead-end moments. Effective preaching brings grace and the power of God onto center stage. It gives listeners the opportunity to bring the weight of their sin under the influence of a love that will lift, and a Redeemer who will help. There is so much bad news in the world that people are thirsty to hear good news. They are desperate to hear a word that will liberate and set their lives on a new course.

Fifth, preaching that cleans out the gutters of the mind must invite a response. Effective preaching, the kind that accomplishes what God would have it to accomplish must lead hearers to ask, “What must I do with this truth? People need not only to hear the good news, they need to receive it. They need not only to hear relevant, realistic truths, but those truths need to be taken into the stream of their lives and change them in a Godward direction. The most effective preaching will always demand a verdict.

Finally, preaching that cleans out the gutters of the mind of worshipers must be undergirded and empowered by prayer. How often do you pray for your pastor? A praying congregation in the pews of your church will go a long way toward guaranteeing that it will have an effective preacher in the pulpit.

 

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Several years ago, a fellow pastor called me on the phone to ask if he might come to my office to talk with me. He said, “I’ve got problems, and I desperately need to talk to somebody.” When he arrived about fifteen or twenty minutes later, he reminded me of a steam boiler about to explode.

He began to unload his problems one by one – and there were many. I won’t go into detail, but it soon became obvious that he was not dealing with his problems in a constructive way. He was obviously suffering what is called “burnout.” The clouds on his horizon were dark and threatening.

After he left my office, I began to reflect on my life as a minister. My view of the work God called me to do moved quickly to the opposite end of the attitude spectrum when compared to the view given by this hot-tempered and emotionally upset young pastor. That God would call me to the Christian ministry fills me with a sense of gratitude. Here are the things about being a minister for which I am deeply grateful:

First of all, I am called to a great cause. I guess the bottom line is whether you primarily want to have material things or to be on mission. I would rather be on mission – in other words, to serve and advance a cause that is both worthy and eternal in nature.

Second, I am called to serve and share with a wide variety of people. No other vocation – and there are many excellent ones – gives the opportunity to work with people quite like the ministry does. By being involved with others — working with them, serving them, loving them, caring for them, suffering with them, rejoicing with them — my life is made enormously meaningful.

Third, it brings variety to my life. What other profession or vocation provides the variety of experiences that being a pastor does? None that I can imagine! The experiences I have had and the places I have been are worth far more than money. At any moment I can stop and call up memories of past experiences and relationships that I wouldn’t exchange for all the gold in Ft. Knox. I am a better person because of them.

Fourth, it meant that my wife could be closely involved with me in my labors. In most other occupations the job is primarily an outside interest with only occasional social opportunities for the wife to touch the working part of her husband’s life. Not so in the ministry. The wife labors by his side as a partner. No minister ever had a finer partner than I had. She went home to be with the Lord on Aril 5, 2016.

Fifth, I have some benefits other vocations do not provide. While it is true that the financial benefits are not comparable with lots of other vocations, there are many other factors on the plus side of the equation. For example, to be recipient of the love and care of a church family is a blessing other vocations do not provide.

Now let me hasten to say that I am not naïve. I realize that there will always be difficult challenges to accept and perplexing problems for ministers to face. When they are handled in the right spirt and with God’s help, the perspective will change, the horizon will brighten, and a minister will be filled with gratitude.

Unfortunately, the pastor who came into my office burdened with problems didn’t have either the right spirit or the proper amount of patience to have any room in his heart for gratitude.

 

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There is not a more influential or powerful role on earth than the one God has given to mothers. As significant as the influence of religious, political, military, and educational public figures may be, none come close to having as much impact on society as that made by mothers. Their deeds are never fully forgotten, nor are the truths they taught us to believe and practice.

If you have (or had) a godly mother, you will reap tremendous benefits as long as you live. On the other hand, if your mother neglected your needs and never showed you any love, you have missed some of life’s greatest blessings. For good or ill, a mother’s mark upon her children is permanent. “As is the mother, so is her daughter” (Ezekiel 16:44).

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said: “No one is poor who had a godly mother.” I know this to be true because my two brothers and I had a godly mother. She, of course, was not perfect, but no one is. Jesus Christ was her Savior, and she lived her faith in the context of our home. She knew that her greatest responsibility and challenge was to influence her three sons to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and faithfully serve Him. She lived to be ninety-two before the Lord called her home.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminds us of the high regard that Jesus had for His mother in these words: “Even He who died for us upon the cross, in His last hour on the cross, in the unutterable agony of death, was mindful of His mother, as if to teach us that this holy love should be our last worldly thought, — the last point of earth from which the soul should take its flight for heaven.”

As we approach Mother’s Day I throw out a challenge to every mother who reads these words. Ladies, this is your hour . . . your distinct opportunity to soar . . . your chance to make your mark upon the world! A harmonious marital partnership and a solid, unselfish commitment to motherhood have never been of greater importance to you or, for that matter, to the health and security of our nation than now. Give it the best you have, for there is no challenge more worthy.

God’s Word provides excellent guidance and strength to every mother who would seek to build a godly home. No finer words have ever been written than those in Proverbs 24:3-4 – “By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”

Every godly home should have a generous supply of these three very important ingredients: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Wisdom is the ability to see with discernment, to view life as God perceives it.

Understanding is the skill to respond with insight.

Knowledge is the rare trait of learning with perception – discovering and growing.

Both fathers and mothers are responsible for passing on to their children the truths that will equip them to live life well and with a sense of purpose. Mothers, however, have traditionally been the primary nurturer. I challenge every mother with these words written by Dorothy Nolte:

“If a child lives with:
CRITICISM, he learns to condemn.
HOSTILITY, he learns to fight.
RIDICULE, he learns to be shy.
SHAME, he learns to feel guilty.
TOLERANCE, he learns to be patient.
ENCOURAGEMENT, he learns confidence.
PRAISE, he learns to appreciate.
FAIRNESS, he learns justice.
SECURITY, he learns to have faith.
APPROVAL, he learns to like himself.
ACCEPTANCE and FRIENDSHIP,
he learns to find love in the world.”

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I recently read an interesting story of a mama skunk that was constantly worried because her two four-legged kitty cat children were constantly getting into trouble. She had originally given them the odd names of In and Out. Whenever In was in, Out was out. And if Out was in, In was out.

One day Mama Skunk called Out in from out on a limb and told him to go out into the forest and bring In in. So, Out went out as he was told and in no time at all brought In in.

“Wonderful!” said Mama Skunk. “How, in all that great forest, could you find In in such a short time?”

“That was easy,” replied Out, “In-stinct!”

The moral of this odorous story? A skunk, even a young skunk, is going to do his thing. Sooner or later he is going to do what he was designed to do and for which he has earned a considerable amount of publicity and respect. You can count on it. Given the right circumstances it is going to happen. It is his nature. Even if you were to find two skunks in church one Sunday morning they would probably be sitting on the front spew with their heads bowed, as if to say, “Let us spray!”

The actions of people, like those of skunks, depend on what they have on the inside. The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). In other words, the thoughts which occupy our minds automatically find expression through our actions. Thoughts are seeds which, when full grown, determine what we do. If we love people it will show; if we do not love them that will also show.

Returning to our original story, when In was out, it could have been because he was on the outs with In. They did not lose their individuality. But they had one tremendous thing in common going for them. When the chips were down, when there was a job to be done, they worked together. Their unity of effort gave off a certain air. They definitely altered their surroundings. All the other animals around them took notice of their presence. What they lacked in size, they made up “in-stinct!” They definitely alter their surroundings.

If there is any sense (not “scents”) or any application to be drawn from this “polecat tail” – I mean “polecat tale”, it is that those of us who are Christians have been given the responsibility and challenge to alter our surroundings. We adopt the standard of the world around us far too often. By letting the world squeeze us into its mold, we forget that Christ has given us the responsibility to be salt and light and leaven.

Mama Skunk asked Out to go out into the forest to find In and bring him in. Some of the last words Christ spoke to His disciples included a similar mission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Christian missionaries have been sent throughout the world to carry out this mission. Perhaps you have given funds to support them in their work. It may not be possible or practical for you to go to some faraway place to share the good news of the gospel. But you can go across or down the street to talk to a neighbor who does not know Christ as Savior and Lord. You can share your faith with a friend or coworker.

Have you done that? In the last year? In the last ten years? In your entire life? If not, why not?

 

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