Preaching

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October 9

Friday, October 9th, 2020

I turn 68 years old today. (Don’t applaud just throw money! 🙂 You can also throw in a shock emoji here). I was officially ordained on April 13, 1975, my late mother’s birthday. I could think of no better way to honor the one person more responsible for my faith walk (other than my grandfather) than her. So that means for 45 years I have been “officially” a pastor. But I have been preaching since the end of my Sophomore year in college (1972).  I’m not sure that little church in Irvine, KY ever fully recovered. Being a pastor has been all I have wanted to do (except play professional baseball or basketball.  But there was a huge roadblock to both. It’s called talent). 🙂

But it is time for a heart check. After reading 2 Cor. 2:17 I got reflective. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” That verse led me back to I Cor. 2:1-5. (I encourage you to look it up or click on the link). It’s time for a heart-to-heart check with myself. Here are some thoughts based on the Scriptures:

  1. The word peddle used in 2 Cor. 2:17 means “to corrupt” in the Greek. It came to refer to corrupt hucksters, or con men who by their cleverness and deception were able to sell as genuine an inferior product. We would call them “cheap knock-offs.” It reminds me of the street vendors who sell “cheapies” that look original. People think they are getting an original but…nope. Fooled you!! This is a picture of a false teacher who worms his/her way in only to spew rank heresy couched in spiritual language. 
  2. Good language, perfect speech, even high falootin’ words cannot resuce a wrong message. I was visiting a couple Wednesday and was told that she really appreciated my sermon from this past Sunday on “What about Doubt?” She explained why and I cried inside that she lived so many years with inside turmoil. Our conversation went on and I commented how someone had said he didn’t think they (as a couple) would stay at OVCF (they came from a very strict, traditional church) because of our music. They both said, “Well, we don’t know the songs…although we are learning them…and do miss the hymns, but we stay because of the Word.  We hear the Word being preached.”  Is a pastor allowed to feel good? Proud…but not the bad kind? At peace? A sense of “I-did-okay?” I sure hope so because, to be honest, I felt validated. I hope that’s not wrong. I suspect if it is then God will bring me down a peg or two. 🙂 In a time of questions and evaluation, it was good to hear God say through them, “Good job.” I am humbled and eternally grateful that God chose me to do this.

I have no idea how much time I have left (who does?) but I do know this: as long as God gives me breath and as long as He gives me good health, I want to be found guilty of preaching the foolishness of the cross. I want to point people to the cross. For as long as I can remember my brother, Rob, has always signed his letter using Gal.6:14- “May I never boast except in the cross of Christ.” May that tribe increase.

And those are my ending words to this devotion/reflection.

September 10

Thursday, September 10th, 2020

As a pastor one of the hardest things to do is to watch a person/family leave the church. Usually. Getting close to people is something I was told to never do. Unfortunately, that is not my personality. It’s just not me. So when people leave because they are moving away, it is hard, but understandable. Just about two years ago I had some very close friends move to another town that made it impossible for them to make the weekly trek here. I still miss them.

If someone leaves because they can no longer agree because of doctrine, it is time to leave. We had someone leave in the past several years-a family I had come to love and the church had loved well-because they wanted to follow Bethel and their wacky teachings.  People need to leave if the teachings of the church no longer “fit” them.

Then there are those I will call “blessed subtractions.” They are the kind that bless the church by leaving. They tend to be gossips, busybodies, cantankerous, opinionated, loud, obnoxious, “me first,” I-am-right people. Their beef is a personal thing, almost a vendetta against another. Now, if it is a doctrinal issue-like the Virgin Birth, or the nature of God, or who Jesus is-then that is a legitimate reason.  But because someone or someone(s) won’t agree with you…bye.

To all who are in a church that teaches false doctrine I say this: Get out! That is not without Scriptural precedent. In Matthew 15: 13-14 Jesus is talking about false teachers.  His advice? “Ignore them.” Get out of there! There are churches which dot the landscape that teach false doctrine…get out! Heresy is nothing to play around with. If a person is unhappy in a church over its teaching…get out! Heresy and cult often go hand in hand. Aberrant doctrine. Domineering leadership. Get out!! Avoid like the plague. That’s a scriptural reason to leave. Leaving because people won’t see things your way is not.

“Father, please give me discernment to know truth from error.”

August 27

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill has always been an interesting one to me. You can find it in Acts 17: 16-34. Paul is in Athens, the religious center of Greece. In fact, as you walk with Paul and listen to him, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Athens was the home of virtually every god known to man. In 17:16 it says, “Paul’s…spirit was provoked as he saw the city was full of idols.” In verse 22 it says he begins his sermon with “I perceive in every way you are very religious.” I’d say those are dead giveaways! 🙂

As Paul reasoned with the people, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were curious (they loved engaging with others for the purpose of learning and discourse), but some were hostile. Why? Because he preached Jesus and His resurrection.  He didn’t “preach” health and wealth. He didn’t “preach” a glory cloud will fall. He didn’t “preach” God wants to bring a miracle to your life. No. He preached Jesus and His resurrection.

They wanted to hear more, but it was more of a defense of what he believed. The Areopagus was a court named for the hill on which it once met. His defense is interesting.

  • He alludes to their multiple gods.  They were “very religious.”
  • He zeroes in on the altar To An Unknown God. They were “spiritual;” they believed in the supernatural. Sort of like many in our day. They believe in something; they just aren’t sure what or who.
  • He teaches with purpose.  Take note of it: The God who made the world (the one they classified as unknown); He doesn’t live in temples; He gives life, breath, and all things; He has made us all equal (one blood); He has put in all of us a need for Him and a desire to seek.
  • He presents the appeal. Now is the time. God has overlooked our rebellion but no more.

Such a far cry  from the mere pablum of our day. No hype. No promise of wealth. No “God wants His kingdom here now.” No “think better of yourself because you are worth it.” Just Jesus and our need for Him. Just Jesus and our need to repent. Just Jesus- and it was all cemented not by our agreement-but by His resurrection. And like today the response was mixed. Yes, as expected there was hostility. But that day Paul’s honesty in preaching brought some into the kingdom and raised the curiosity of others.   

“Father, my mandate is to preach Jesus and Him crucified and resurrected. Help me not to waver from that mandate.”

September 26

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Preaching Myself vs Preaching Christ.

If you have had a chance to read my other blog you can read between the lines and see I’ve been asking myself about my role, my purpose, as a pastor. Even though I am 66 and in less than two weeks will turn 67, I still love what I do and do not see retirement on the horizon any time soon. So I think its healthy to ask questions and do introspection upon occasion. Guilty as charged. You’ve caught me voicing my questions.

I’m reading Job right now, which can be a challenge on its own. 🙂  But I’m also reading Remaining Faithful in Ministry by John MacArthur. The following quote from his short little book caught my attention this morning. In the Introduction he wrote these words:

The gospel is a message about Jesus, and at all times He is to be the singular focus of the message we proclaim. False apostles and hirelings always seem to find a way to shift attention to the themselves. They make themselves the central character of every anecdote. They point themselves as the hero of every story they tell. Thus they make their preaching little more than a display of their own egos. Pulpits today are full of men who constantly preach themselves. (p.15)

Ouch! That is a rather sobering and scathing observation and rebuke. Sadly, it is true. I wish I could say I was innocent of that. I shudder when I think about how often I preached and it was more about my ego, my impressiveness, than it was Him and the fame of His Name. That’s enough to give even the most hardy person nightmares. I know I cringe when I reflect back over my years of ministry. Ugly.

But its not too late! With what remaining years I have left it needs to be all about Him. What about you?

“Father, my prayers this morning is for my life to be all about You. My preaching. My teaching. My talking. My laughing. All about You and the fame of Your Name.”

January 11/Weekend

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Several years ago I read a book by Stephen J. Lawson entitled Famine in the Land. It was a call to stop the type of preaching so prevalent, and restore expository preaching to its place in the pulpit. It was a good wake-up call for me to recommit myself to expository preaching. It seems almost “prophetic” that the words of Amos 8:11 and words of G.C.Morgan (written over 100 years ago) have come true. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land-not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”

“This famine of the lack of the Word of God…Not that God ceases to speak, but that man loses his power to hear. Not that God withholds His Word from men, but that men hear it, and never hear it…The church without the Word is a lamp without a light…Therefore the abiding need of the church is a knowledge of the Word of God, and an obedience to the Word of God.” (excerpt from pages 28-29)

This weekend I, and thousands of others, will stand in the pulpit and “preach.” Will I present God’s Word? Will I preach the Truth of God’s Word with man-made additions? Will I gloss over the Truth to tickle ears? Will I present the Truth as a meal to be enjoyed or cram it down their throat? Will I fudge on God’s Word to make it more palatable?

That is my challenge to me. My challenge to you is to go hungry and “demand” to be fed. Plead with God to be fed meat not candy. Insist on a full-course meal.

“Father, make me hungry for your Word. Make the deliverer of your Word respect it, love it, and present it with honesty and clarity.”

Your verse for the weekend: “Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  Ps.20:7

January 7

Monday, January 7th, 2019

I had what I consider to be the greatest privilege. Yesterday, I was privileged to stand before the people who came to worship and open the Word. What a privilege! What a responsibility! In the past I know there have been times when I have not taken it seriously. It comes easy to me to stand in front of people. And so I have stood in front of people-attempting to proclaim God’s truth-in my own power. I can sense though when I am done that there is/was an emptiness in my soul. I know it was done by me.

The Bible is plain: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim.2:15)  I failed on those occasions in two areas: 1) I failed in my own heart. The Word had not penetrated me; and 2) I failed to correctly handle the truth. More often than not it was what “I wanted to say” not “What does God want to say through me?”

I was prompted this morning to do this reflection, this inward look, because of something I read by G. Campbell Morgan: :

We (I) had better never handle than learn it by letter without being obedient to its call and claim so that our lives may be transformed by its message.” (p.26)

The sad fact is that while I may have stood in the pulpit and done an “adequate” job, I missed out. If God’s Word did not hit my heart first, if it did not transform me, I was/am a “noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.”

“Forgive me, Father, for my ‘windbag’ approach. I had no more business being in the pulpit than the empty blowhards I so often criticize who demolish the truth of Your Word. From this day forward, transform me with your message before I step into the pulpit.”