Close Call

16 Mar

If something crazy can happen, it will happen to me. Let me share an example of that with you. I was pastor of a church in Florida for eleven years. During that time one of my church members was waiting for a much needed liver transplant. Finally, a liver became available and I traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville Florida to offer support. God was good to us; the liver transplant was a success. I traveled to my wife’s parent’s home in Jacksonville Beach to get some much needed rest. This is where the story gets interesting.

I awoke early the next morning, before daybreak. As I approached my car I realized something wasn’t right. A broken pool stick was lying on the ground beside my car and my windshield was completely smashed. My father-in-law was now outside with me and he called the police. I expected when the policeman arrived a simple report would be made and I would be on my way. I was wrong.

The officer began asking me questions. It was pretty clear he assumed I had upset someone. The exchange went something like this:

“Where were you last night?” “I was at the hospital and then I came here to sleep.”

“Did you go to any bars last night?” “No sir I was at the hospital and I came here.”

“Did you get in any arguments with anyone last night?” I was getting aggravated by this time. “No sir, I am a pastor visiting a church member in the hospital.”

The officer asked for my license, took them to his car and sat for a few minutes. When he returned what he said blew me away. He said “Sir we have a warrant for your arrest.” I had only been married a few years so I’m sure my father in law was thinking “I knew it, I tried to warn everybody about him!”  I was completely confused. The officer went on to explain that I had warrants for my arrest out of Georgia for writing bad checks to a liquor store. On top of that I had been recently released from prison for involuntary manslaughter. He told me that the Sheriff’s office in Georgia did not want to come and get me but they expected me to turn myself in immediately.

I did my best to explain to the officer that I was a good person and none of that about me was true. He wasn’t convinced and I’m not sure my father in law was either. I understood why. In fact the county I was wanted out of was fourteen miles from where I grew up and was the hometown of my mother. I spent a lot of time in that county. After returning home I contacted the Sheriff’s department in Georgia.here’s what happened. Little did I know, I share the same first & last name, eye color and hair color with a pretty bad dude. His charges and crimes were somehow imputed to me. I don’t know exactly how that happened but the sheriff’s office told me it was a mistake on the computer. To say the least I was relieved and perturbed. I was not prepared to go to jail for something someone else did.

As awful as this situation was it makes for a great illustration. As I was studying the arrest of Jesus I was struck by His words “So if you seek me, let these men go” (John 18:8). Jesus was arrested so that the truly guilty people could go free. He willingly took the sentence for our crimes upon Himself. The prison door was opened to release us and receive Him. Our crimes were imputed to Christ and He didn’t try and argue His way out of it. Peter should have been arrested for attempted murder in John 18. Jesus said “Let him go.” Peter was free, Christ was arrested. You and I have our share of crimes against God and man. We are guilty. But Christ assumed the debt for us. Because of our faith in Him, Christ says to death and hell “Let them go.”  Thank God for that! What a Savior!

So Long Soloists

11 Dec

If we were as nice to the lost as we are to horrible soloists at church we might see a revival. That’s what I was thinking as I sat listening to the weekly “special” that preceded my sermon. It was an awful solo. The words to the song were doctrinally correct but the sound bordered on heresy. I knew what would happen when our resident William Hung finished. Everyone would applaud. They always do. They know not what they do.  With their applause they are inspiring a host of other tone deaf members to take the stage.  As I endured my musical purgatory, a visitor caught my eye. Judging from the look on his face, he either had serious indigestion or he agreed with me. This singer was awful, and everyone knew it. This was church, however, so we would never tell someone they can’t sing. That would be unChristlike, right? But for a moment I began to daydream of what it would be like if we were honest about our singing in church. I slipped out of reality and into my own little world….

The song ended. I stood to my feet and said, “Well, that was a horrible solo wasn’t it?” Silence fell like a blanket over the church. I looked at Mr. Hung and said “Seriously man, you stink. You can’t sing. You need to stop.” I explained to him that God could use him in a lot of ways, but singing solos wasn’t one of them. I looked over the shocked congregation and continued to shower them with the truth. “Every week one of you well-meaning wailers gets up here and butchers a song. The truth is we only have a few people in this church that can actually carry a note. It’s time we admit it. Everyone in this church should sing but only about three of you should do it into a microphone”.

“From now on we are going to have qualifications for our soloists at church. For instance, if you want to sing, you have to have some talent. And I don’t want to hear anything about a joyful noise. The noise I’m hearing lately is anything but joyful. We are going to hold our singers to the same standards as our musicians. We require our musicians to be able to hit the correct notes so we’re going to require our singers to do the same. It’s time we get honest with one another about our singing. Bill, you sound like Barney Fife. Mary Ellen, when you sing half the senior adults turnoff their hearing aids. Harry, when you sing How Great Thou Art, all I can think about is how great you ain’t.”

With everyone’s full attention I decided to offer a little advice: “Don’t ask your mom if you are a good singer. She thinks you’re the best at everything. Ask someone who will be honest with you. Church, we all need a little Simon Cowell in us. People need to hear the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts. But people who can’t sing need to know that they can’t. It’s up to us to tell them.” At that moment people began to look at one another and tell the truth. One by one horrible soloists began repenting of the torture they had inflicted upon countless eardrums. People brought their accompaniment tracks to the altar and left them there. Mothers came openly confessing they had misled their children into believing they were future American Idols. It was so beautiful. Never again would we hear “Is it rewound?” or “Tap, tap…is the microphone on?” Our worship leader trembled, weeping and overcome with joy.

The sound of applause woke me from my daydream. Startled, I realized the solo was over. I was back in reality. I made my way to the pulpit. I couldn’t help but notice our visitor looked as if his indigestion had turned into a kidney stone. With all the courage I could muster up, I looked over the crowd and said, “Let’s be honest, that was awful.” The congregation released a collective gasp. The people looked shocked, some even horrified. Except for the visitor, he was smiling ear to ear. I won’t bore you with the rest of the details of that day. They really don’t matter. But if you’re interested, I am available for pulpit supply.

Death

2 Oct

Black, cold, lonely, full of drear
A fate to us all that is growing near
Does it stop here? Does it go on?
A question that is often pondered upon.

In regret I racked my brain
Does death bring peace?
Does death bring pain?
Are grave stones mocking me?
Under chiseled stone, is that where I’ll be?

It is no doubt that I will die
But will I rot or will I rise?
Will I ascend to the skies
Or fall prey to the lord of flies?

Perhaps I’ll wither in a decorated box
Live forever six feet from the top
Like a plague thoughts punished me
For in my heart was eternity.

So much to embrace in this universe
In one hundred years you can’t see much
Then like a trumpet came a voice
It crossed the expanse from a distant shore.

Penned by prophet and common man
Like floods of water to a barren land
Good news for those threatened by Death
One has come to take his breath.

To put a sword ‘neath our enemies chin
To take his head and give us the win
Outside the city on Golgotha’s hill
Christ set the stage for the ultimate kill.

Judged in our place He was mighty to save
Giving us hope and digging Death’s grave
Without a doubt He died for our sins
Just as certain He rose again.
He needed a tomb only three days
Now every believer has a borrowed grave.

Oh I will die, but I will rise
My heart will stop but I’ll open my eyes
I’ve answered the questions in my head
I will die, but I won’t stay dead.

Responding to Insults

26 Jul

Insults. If you are in the ministry get ready for them. I’m not talking about insults from the community. It’s not the watching world that usually gets to us. Insults from those within your congregation are the ones that will bother you the most. I remember vividly my first insult. I had just started preaching. I think it was my third sermon. At my home church it was the custom of the preacher to stand at the front door and speak to folks as they left. A cute little girl walked up to me and said “My mom says you’ll learn to preach one day!” As Rose Mary’s baby departed I resisted the strong desire to remind her mother of what an awful job she was doing as a parent. I would be lying if I said that remark didn’t hurt. I quickly learned that if I was going to continue in ministry I had better be prepared for snarky comments, insults and unfriendly sarcasm. Responding to insulting people is something we must learn to do. Here are a few examples of insults and how you can respond.
1. The sermon insult. It’s too long, too short, too shallow, too deep, too funny, too serious, too convicting, too controversial, etc. I think you get the picture. It is likely that if you are getting insults you are also getting compliments. File those compliments away in your mind. When someone says your sermons are “too” something reach into your compliment file. Say something like “I know that was a controversial sermon but there was a sister here today who shared that God spoke right to her heart through the sermon.” You don’t have to use the person’s name but it is ok to share with others how God is speaking through your sermons.
2. The dream job insult. “It must be nice to only work two days a week!” I generally respond to that one with “Here’s five bucks. Go get a new joke book.” Well, that’s how it works in my fantasies. Or I want to say something like “I’ll tell you how it feels to work two days a week if you tell me how it feels to be a jerk seven days a week.” But that’s not kind. We can’t do that. I would encourage you to keep up with what you do. There are times that I work 17-18 days in a row without a day off. I tell my deacons when I do. When assaulted with snarky comments I explain how difficult it is to prepare messages, preach funerals, counsel the hurting, minister to the needy, etc. I use specific examples of things that have been going on in my life. I try and turn the insult into a conversation about all that we in the ministry do. Sometimes I say “Would you like to trade places for a week?” I have never had a person agree to do that.
3. The comparison insult. Ministry leaders are often compared to others in the ministry. It is often a person who held our position in the church before we arrived. Sometimes it is a high profile leader in the public eye. Regardless of who we are compared to, inevitably we will be compared to others. It isn’t fair and often the comparison isn’t accurate. I have found with a little bit of statistical study we often find we are doing a better job than those we are compared to. Numerically anyway. Don’t take the comparison insult too seriously. It is usually the result of an emotional connection a church member had/has with a ministry leader. If you are constantly being compared to a previous staff member momentarily embrace it. Speak with those who are constantly comparing you. If you’d like, you can connect with the former staff member. Start a friendship if possible. Find out what they did that worked/didn’t work. You may even discover that the previous staff member was also compared to a predecessor. And you will love the look on the faces of those comparing you when you ask for the phone number of the one you are being compared to!
It is my practice to call former pastors before I take a church. I ask them a list of questions and try and get their sincere opinion about the church. It’s fun to watch church members as you begin to discuss your lunch date or telephone call with the former pastor.
If I had to summarize this blog I would say this: Engage the insulter. It works. Don’t just let them insult you and walk away. Talk to them. Encourage them to elaborate. Reveal contradictions. Remind them of what God is doing in the lives of other people.
In conclusion I would like to add that criticism should be taken seriously. God uses others to reveal our weaknesses. It could be that our insulter is trying to injure us but God uses them to instruct us. When our insulters are right it is a good practice to let them know it. Once again, engage the insulter. You’ll be glad you did….but they may not.

The Baptists are Coming

5 Jun

The Baptists are coming- Don’t be scared

The Baptists are coming- I hope you’re prepared

The Baptists are coming- We won’t stay long

The Baptists are coming- You better hold on!

You’ve heard a lot about us, but now you get to see

The chicken fryin’, gospel cryin’, SBC

Led at the head by a man named Luter

He’s a fast preachin’ , people reachin’

Real straight shooter.

 

Who we are and what we do

Might come as a big surprise to you.

We don’t handle snakes, we don’t hate people

Our women wear pants & we count them equal.

 

We believe in the Scripture and the fall of man

We believe Christ died & He rose again

We believe everyone is in need of grace

We believe there is hope for the human race.

 

Just to keep it real, we’re stronger in the South

A church on every corner in some of our towns

But we’re doing our best to make a change

We’re sending missionaries to the northern states.

They may speak with a twang & drink sweet tea

But they’re compelled with a love for humanity.

 

So Baltimore, here we come

We got our wife, our kids and a few deacons

We’re gonna ride in your cabs, stay at your inns

Eat at your diners and leave big tips.

 

I hope when we’re gone and you think about us

You’ll be convinced that the way is through Jesus!

The Baptists are coming- Don’t be scared

The Baptists are coming- I hope you’re prepared

The Baptists are coming- We won’t stay long

The Baptists are coming- You better hold on!

 

What NOT to do on Mother’s Day

9 May

Churches do some pretty crazy things on special days. Some of the craziest things we do are on Mother’s Day. In our attempt to show mothers that we love them, sometimes we go overboard. Here is a list of things a church should not do on Mother’s Day.

Don’t give an award to the mother with the most children. What’s the point in that? Is there a baby having contest that goes on throughout the year? Are we saying to the other mothers, “You ladies better get busy or she’ll win it again next year!” And if you do give an award for this please don’t embarrass the mom by saying something like “Wow, that’s a lot of kids! Ya’ll know what causes that don’t you?”

Don’t give a flower to the mothers. I’m not a fan of that at all. There are many women who are barren. Mother’s day is tough for them. The message some ladies get at church on Mother’s day is “You can’t have a baby…or a flower.”  If you are going to give a flower, give one to all the ladies.

Don’t honor the oldest and youngest mother. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Eventually you are going to embarrass someone.  “Stand if you’re over 70…ok, over 80…ok, over 90…stand if you were on the Ark.” I know that wouldn’t embarrass many ladies but eventually someone will be hurt. As well, the youngest mother isn’t a good idea. Putting a spotlight on the 10th grade girl who just became a mother isn’t going to fare well.

Don’t make moms the focus of your sermon. Every Sunday is for Jesus. It’s ok to just preach the Bible on Mother’s Day. The majority of the people at your church did not come to hear stories about mom. They are going to celebrate their mom at home, restaurant, park etc. Most people come to church to celebrate Jesus. Celebrate the Lord with the people at your church on Mother’s Day.

Don’t make a media presentation highlighting certain women in your church. When a church makes a big deal over certain women in the church the message they are conveying is “These ladies are more special than the others.” Churches certainly don’t mean to convey that message, but nevertheless it is still communicated. Visitors and newcomers likely will not even know who those ladies are. And please do not hide behind “It’s not our fault, we asked everyone to submit their photos!” Many people do not feel comfortable having their face on a screen. As well, there is a good chance you will have first time visitors on Mother’s Day.

Alright, that’s enough serious stuff. I need to poke a little fun.

Awards NOT to give at church on Mother’s day

* Mom with the most kids in jail

* Mom with the ugliest baby

* Mom with most kids by different men

* Mom that dresses most like a teenager

* Mom least likely to be back at church next Sunday

What Not to say on Mother’s Day

What’s the boxing ring for? We’re going to settle the stay at home vs. working mom issue right now.

Did I get my WIFE a gift? I already gave her two kids.

What you cooking today, honey?

Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie-How should the church responding to Sterling?

29 Apr

If we were as outraged about racism in the church as we are about it in sports we might see a revival. That’s my thought on the situation surrounding Donald Sterling and the NBA right now. The LA Clippers owner has gotten himself into hot water over some ignorant and clearly racist comments.  People all over the nation, including the South, are disgusted at the mindset of Sterling. The aged NBA owner seemed to have a serious problem with his mistress associating with people of color in public. He justified himself by claiming that he was not a racist because he has helped so many black people. When his mistress encouraged him to change his obvious prejudice ways, he responded by saying “I don’t want to change.”  I wish this were the first time I’ve heard views like this espoused. But the reality is that the logic of Mr. Sterling has been alive and well in many churches for quite some time. I can attest to this because my ministry has been limited to leading smaller churches in the South.

Don’t misunderstand me. Not all the churches in the South have the Sterling mindset. Lots of churches have overcome this hurdle and are doing great in the area of race relations. But there are many in our Southern churches that have difficulty embracing people of color. I have experienced that personally in churches & communities in which I have served. As well, I have had many conversations with pastors struggling to overcome prejudice in their own churches. How can we overcome racism in the church? Let me offer some suggestions.

1. We need to reveal racism as a horrible sin. Sadly, many church leaders are silent on the issue. It bothers me that we blow up on social media over this issue but clam up behind the pulpit over it. There is a big movement today to plant multicultural churches. That’s fine, but I don’t think it’s the answer. In fact, sometimes it may be counterproductive. I can hear some saying, “Of course we’re not prejudice, we started a Hispanic church!” The answer to racism in the church is not to give everyone their own church. The reality is that some ethnic churches are started so that certain races will stop coming to a particular church. Racism is a sin that must be pointed out. It is a sin that many in our churches need to repent of. It is likely that the people in our churches will not repent of this sin unless we are willing to address it from the pulpit. Use the Bible to show God as the Creator and Redeemer of all nations. Be bold on the issue. Be clear on the issue. In a recent sermon I said “If you are prejudice you have either not read the Bible or you don’t care what it says.”  We must be that bold on the issue of racism. We must reveal it as a sin.

2. Point out the hypocrisies in missions. Normally it is not difficult to get a church in the south to support reaching a people group in another country. Often times our churches have ministries to help reach people in places such as Africa and Haiti. We will send our money and engage in short term mission trips to reach such people with the gospel.  We often have power point presentations and videos with whites and blacks working with one another for the sake of the gospel. We celebrate diversity in foreign missions; we hesitate diversity in home missions. Use this to teach your people about home missions. If we are going across the globe to reach people of a different skin color why would we not go across the street to do the same? Generally speaking, people are reasonable. No one wants to be a hypocrite. Revealing this hypocrisy could be something God uses to overcome prejudice in your church.

 

3. Model racial diversity in your life and ministry. It’s important that people see us model what we preach. I have made it a priority to minister and befriend people of color. I work at it. My church is 100% white. However, I have a weekly ministry that is 100% African American. I once had one of my older men approach me at church. He told me of an encounter he had with an African American gentlemen in the community. The subject of church came up. Amazingly, both men identified me as their pastor. One on Sunday, the other on Tuesday! The African American man told the old timer at my church “Your preacher is a black man trapped in a white man’s body!” I don’t know what that means, but I took it as a compliment. Our life speaks volumes. If we only address racial harmony from the pulpit I am not sure that we will get very far in overcoming the problem in our churches.

4. Be as bold in condemning prejudice as they are in promoting it. I have heard some really dumb things in church when it comes to the issue of prejudice. Remember this; prejudice is impossible to logically defend. The more a racist person talks the dumber they sound. Instead of overlooking the rude comments people make, engage them in conversation about them. Make them defend their position. I have heard some really dumb logic when it comes to this issue:

“You never see blue birds and red birds together!” I guess they forget about the rest of the animal kingdom. Cows, horses, cats, dogs, etc. all come in different colors.

“The Bible says you’re supposed to stay with your own tribe”. To which we must ask, “And to which tribe do you belong?”

“The Bible says not to be unequally yoked”. They usually don’t know the rest of the verse. It says “with unbelievers”. It’s important to let them know that Moses married outside of his race. Boaz married outside his race as well. There are other biblical examples  but that should be enough to make the point.

It takes boldness to engage church members on these issues. However, we can’t allow an unbiblical mindset to go unchecked in our churches. We must be bold enough to confront sin if we are going to be leaders.

5. Engage different races with the gospel. Include neighborhoods of all races in your visitation and outreach. Invite children of all colors to your church activities. Don’t simply have a Backyard Bible Club in a minority neighborhood. Involve children of all races in your weekly ministries. Start a transportation ministry if necessary. Even if you are a small church you can do this. It’s likely you could double your children’s ministry by including minorities.

6. Invite speakers of different races to your church. Have them preach for you. If possible, use local ministers. Let your people see and hear from men of God who are not the same color as you are. Allow them to bring a choir or special singer with them as well.

Those are six simple ways to start overcoming prejudice in our churches. I hope they help. But regardless, let’s get serious about overcoming this sin in our churches. Let’s not simply opine online. We are called to speak the truth from our pulpits to our people. I trust that God will honor His Word.

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