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Archive for August, 2021

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a young Puritan pastor becomes sexually involved with a woman in his congregation. He goes to great lengths to keep the affair from being known by the public and, for the most part, is able to do so.

The guilt he carries deep within his heart, however, diminishes his ability to preach with passion. The fear of being exposed makes him a captive to mediocrity. The brilliance that once marked his powerful sermons all but disappears. He loses his concentration and his inability to sleep at night renders him listless. It is not until he confesses his sin that he is able to recover the passion and zeal for God that had formerly marked his ministry.

There are basically two kinds of guilt: conscious and unconscious. Psychologists tell us that awareness of sin and guilt is a prerequisite to mental health. Unfortunately, we often try to handle our guilt by repressing it. We push the awareness of what we have done into our subconscious mind.

In other words, we try to forget it. We attempt to move forward with our lives as though nothing happened, especially if we believe we have gotten away with it. We try to put it out of our conscious thoughts, but it keeps reappearing again and again in our conscious mind. We would like to think it is gone, but it isn’t gone. There are basically three improper ways we often try to deal with our guilt: we refuse it, we abuse it, and we try to excuse it. None of these deals with the guilt that we have as a result of sins we have committed.

Repressed sin causes us to be less than we should be and can be. It causes the cup of joy to spring a leak and this generates sadness. It dampens our spirit, and frequently leads to depression. A pall of despondency hangs over us because of the repressed memories of the sins we have committed. And what makes matters worse is that we do not even know why we are depressed.

It needs to be said at this point that all depression is not caused by the repression of the consciousness of sin. Modern scientific research provides ample evidence that clinical depression is often the result of other factors such as chemical imbalances in the body which can be treated by prescription drugs.

This does not change the fact, however, that what the Bible calls sin, when pushed into the far recesses of our memories, can come back to haunt us. How often have you heard someone say? “I don’t know what is wrong with me. I have everything I ever wanted – a wonderful marriage, lovely children, a good job, and more material blessings than I have ever dreamed I would have. And I am still unhappy!”

Have you ever made such a statement? If so, it is possible that you have pushed the guilt of some past sin so deep into your unconscious mind that all the vitality you once knew has been sucked out of your life. What you have tried to forget keeps reappearing in your conscious thoughts to rob you of the joy of living.

You need to know that you can be set free from the guilt of any and all sin you have committed in your past. The good news is that both the sin of which you are conscious and the sin which you have pushed into your subconscious mind can be taken away. There is definitely a cure! You will never be able to free yourself from the guilt of your sins – not by suppressing it into your subconscious mind, or by blaming it on somebody else. Rather, the guilt must be acknowledged, and the sin that produced it must be confessed (Psalm 32:1-7). Only God can cleanse you of the sins you have committed.

God’s Word gives this assurance: “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9 KJV). Notice that it says: “ALL unrighteousness,” not just “SOME unrighteousness.”

In other words, you can get out of jail! Deliverance comes from “CONFESSION”, not “REPRESSION!”

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The Texas Rangers baseball team several years ago had just gone through a 13-game losing streak. One afternoon their manager, Whitey Herzog, slipped away to a little league practice field. From a distance, he sat and watched the coaches teaching boys the fundamentals of the game.

Suddenly he realized why his team had lost 13 consecutive games – they needed to get back to the basics. He took a fresh approach in his management, and after a few days the team began a turnaround that resulted in a 10-game winning streak.

Famed football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Excellence begins with perfection of the basics.” His emphasis on the importance of the basics enabled him to become a successful coach. The basics are as important in our Christian walk, if not more so, than in athletics. So, what are they?

BIBLE STUDY: A careful and regular study of God’s Word is essential to the development of a person’s spiritual life. Growth in any area depends on what is true, on what works. Departure from truth always leads in wrong or counter-productive directions. A Bible that is known is worth more than a dozen merely owned. Those who do not read the Bible have no advantage over those who cannot read it.

Other books contain information; the Bible was given for our transformation. This is undoubtedly why Henry Ward Beecher said, “The Bible is God’s chart for you to steer by, to keep you from the bottom of the sea, and to show you where the harbor is, and how to reach it without running on rocks and bars.”

PRAYER: The natural result of studying the Bible is a desire to enjoy fellowship with God through prayer. Prayer is much more than talking to God; it is also listening to what God has to say to us. Talking is always easier than listening, but listening is much more productive – especially if we are listening to God. This is undoubtedly why Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” He listened to what God had to say.

Most of our troubles in life come from the fact that we have so much time on our hands and spend so little time on our knees. Wonderful things happen to us when we live expectantly, believe confidently, and pray affirmatively. If you will hem in both ends of a day with prayer, it will be less likely to unravel in the middle.

WORSHIP: Worship can be either (or both) private and corporate. So, what is worship? Dwight Bradley, in Leaves from a Spiritual Notebook, gives us an excellent definition:

“Worship is a thirsty land crying out for rain,
It is a candle in the act of being kindled,
It is a drop in quest of the ocean,
It is a voice in the night calling for help,
It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the universe,
It is time flowing into eternity . . . a person climbing the altar stairs to God.”

Bible study, Prayer and Worship — the three basics of the Christian life. Don’t neglect them!

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Southern Baptist churches choose their pastors by electing what is called a “Pulpit Committee.” This committee then gathers the names of potential candidates from many sources, hears each one preach, and enters into serious discussion and prayer with the candidate they are convinced that God would have them select. They then recommend him to their congregation for its vote of approval. To show you the magnitude of this committee’s task, the following is an imaginary sample of the prospective pastors who might be available for their consideration:

ADAM – A good man, but had problems with his wife. Also, one reference told us that he and his wife enjoy walking nude in the woods.

NOAH – He served a former pastorate for 100 years with not even one convert. And he was prone to push unrealistic building projects.

ABRAHAM – An able man, but one reference said he once offered to share his wife with another man.

JOSEPH – Thinks big, believes in dream interpretation, and has a prison record.

MOSES – A modest and meek man, but a poor communicator – even stutters at times. Sometimes blows his stack and acts rashly, and he once murdered a man.

DAVID – A most promising leader – that is, until we discovered the affair he had with his neighbor’s wife, then had her husband killed so he could take her as his own wife.

ELIJAH – Has a strong reputation, but is prone to depression.

ELISHA – Reported to have lived with a single widow while in his former church.

HOSEA – A loving and tender pastor, but our church could never handle his wife’s occupation.

JEREMIAH – Emotionally unstable, alarmist, always lamenting things. He also once took a long trip to bury his underwear on the bank of a foreign river. Strange! Very strange!

ISAIAH – Claims to have seen angels in church. Has trouble with his language.

JONAH – He refused God’s call into the ministry until he was forced to obey. And, if you can believe it, he claims to have been swallowed by a fish.

AMOS – Too backward and unpolished! With some seminary training he might have promise, but he has a hang-up against wealthy people. And his preaching is too blunt.

JOHN – Claims to be a Baptist, but is a very shabby dresser. He has slept outdoors for months on end, and has a weird diet – eating grasshoppers, if you can believe that!

JOHN MARK – Went on a mission trip with Paul as a young preacher, but when the going got tough he threw up his hands, chickened out, and went home.

PETER – Has great ability, but has a bad temper, and has been known to curse.

PAUL – Powerful CEO type leader. However, he is short on tact, unforgiving with young ministers, harsh and has been known to preach all night.

TIMOTHY – Too young!

METHUSELAH – Too old . . . WAY too old!

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I knew that God was calling me to become a pastor when I was 14 or 15 years old. I preached my first sermon on the second Sunday of April 1948, five months before my 17th birthday. Needless to say, I knew even at that early age that preparing and delivering two sermons every week would not be easy. But I knew that God would guide me every mile of the way as I launched out on the mission I had been assigned.

Four or five weeks ago the title for my weekly column was “How to Become a Successful Pastor.” It focused on the pastor’s primary mission which is preaching. I said in that article that for sermons to be effective they should focus on: (1) REVELATION (truth based on God’s Word); (2) be RELEVANT; (3) be REALISTIC; (4) be REDEMPTIVE; and (5) invite a RESPONSE.

Choosing at least two sermon topics every single week of the year is a challenge. Some sermons will hit the middle of the bullseye in meeting spiritual needs. Other sermons will be considered to be average – or perhaps less than that. I remember one particular occasion when a sermon on which I had worked hard simply (to use a familiar expression) “didn’t cut the mustard.” I’m sure it was not the only one.

It was in the 1960’s when our nation put our first astronaut into space. I, like every citizen in the United States, was excited. The thought of conquering outer space gave me what I thought was an excellent idea on which I could capitalize. I prepared a sermon with the title: “Conquering Inner Space.” My basic idea was to emphasize the importance of yielding our thoughts, plans, and dreams to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I was impressed with the idea. In fact, I was proud of it, and that was the problem – the sermon blew up on the launching pad. I was focusing too much on my creativity and not enough on God’s leadership.

I suspect that every preacher has chosen at least one sermon topic he wished he had not chosen. Several years ago an edition of The Pulpit Digest contained the story of just such a sermon topic chosen for a particular Sunday by the Rev. Floyd S. Turlington, pastor of Porter’s Chapel Church in Erwin, N.C. He thought he would do something different and use reverse psychology on his parishioners. So, he covered his face with a red mask and dressed in a red suit complete with a forked tail trailing behind. He marched around in the church parking lot with a pitchfork in his hand as he urged each arriving member to skip church that Sunday.

But alas, something went wrong. While some of the members were sharp enough to recognize him and his subtle sermon, others did not. They called the sheriff. At that time in North Carolina it was unlawful for masked persons over sixteen to parade in public. This law was aimed at the Ku Klux Klan and other hate organizations. The Harnett County Sheriff’s Department personnel arrived on the scene in full force. One deputy later said: “People were frightened to death. Little kids were crying, and even some grown-ups I saw didn’t look very comfortable.” The deputies immediately surrounded the Devil and removed his mask. They were surprised to find a sheepish looking preacher underneath. After a brief conference, they decided not to arrest Rev. Turlington. After all, he was a pastor on church property.

I have always tried to select a title for the sermons I preached that would fit the content I planned to deliver. But I have never walked out on Sunday morning in a red devil suit wearing a mask and carrying a pitchfork in one hand. Even so, it would have been interesting to have been present at Porters Chapel Church in Erwin, N.C. on that Sunday when the Devil attended church.

By the way, that was not the first time the Devil attended church on Sunday – and it won’t be the last!

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