Pastoral Baggage

7, 200.That’s a rough calculation for how many sermons the pulpit in my church has seen.Over the last seventy years that accounts for two sermons a week, Sunday morning and night.There’s a been a few closures for weather, but not many.And that doesn’t even count the Wednesday night lessons, and the revival meetings, or the funerals.
No one has been there for all of those sermons, of course, except for the pulpit. Imagine the stories it could tell about the good, bad, and ugly over the years of the church.No one has been there for all of them, but there are few who have been there for a large majority of them!When I step into that pulpit on Sundays I’m reminded that as I stand there, I don’t stand alone.Surrounding the pulpit I stand in on Sundays is all the baggage left from 70 years of church life. Every pastor who has filled that pulpit has left a little piece of himself with the hearers, and aspastor I need to be aware of the baggage that I carry with me in the pulpit.
As members si…

Where are the answers?

My family kept them on the top shelf in the dining room.It was also an office, at times a nursery, and where the piano was. I don’t know where we got them from, but I remember them seeing them as a child sitting up on the top shelf, all neatly arranged.Sometimes I would get them down just to flip through and see what I could learn.The encyclopedias were source of knowledge, wisdom, and entertainment for an introverted kid like me.I don’t know if they were a particularly good set, but they were ours.My siblings and I used them for homework sometimes, or just as heavy books to press leaves in.If there was a question that we didn’t know the answer to, we could find it in there.
It’s helpful to know where the answers are.As a child we believe our parents have most of the answers.As we grow up we learn they don’t, and so we begin to look elsewhere.Somewhere along the way my family traded our encyclopedias for a computer.More likely we traded them for an encyclopedia on the computer, (Encar…

Captain of the Team: M. Theron Rankin

I recently had the chance to read a short little story about the life of M. Theron Rankin.  He served as a missionary to China for many years before becoming president of the International Mission Board from 1945-53, before dying of leukemia at a young age. This sketch of his life was written by his brother, and contains a few details and anecdotes about his life and ministry.  Although  it's very brief it was greatly encouraging to me.

While serving in China in the late 1930's he lived under the threat of war with Japan and the rising threat of communist China.  When Japan was threatening to invade China, he was ordered home by the Foreign Mission Board three times before he finally replied "It may be that some of us will have to die for Christ in this generation. My place is in China."

Rankin paid the price for that, and spent several weeks pinned under enemy fire in the mountains before being captured by Japan and spending more than a year in an internment camp.  U…

How a small town pastor can have a larger impact

“3740”That’s what a student told me when I asked for his number. My wife and I had been married for only two months, and we had left the large metroplex where I had always lived so I could be youth pastor in this town of less than 600.I was stumped by his answer, because I didn’t think that was enough numbers.My new wife, who did grow up in a small town, gently informed me that meant everyone in the town had the same first three numbers to their phone.That sounded like the craziest thing in the world to me, that there was so few people that you didn’t even need to say the first part of your phone number.It was then I realize just how small this town was, but also how connected it all was.
Growing up in a large metropolitan city, we were only sort of friendly with our neighbors.I went to school in one part of town where my dad was a principal and went to church in another part of the city.There were plenty of people that we knew through the school and through church.My dad knew everyon…

Simeon Monologue

Tonight at church I read this monologue I wrote from the perspective of Simeon from the book of Luke.  I hope it's a blessing to you.

I remember everything about that day.It was just any other day.It’s one that I had experienced many times before, but this time was different.You would think at my age I would have done and seen it all, but never had I seen this.I entered the temple, just like I had hundreds or thousands of times before.Some would say I spent most of my time there, but where else should an old man wait for the Messiah?
It had been been a long time since I had heard that word from the Lord.The word that I would live long enough to see the Messiah.It had been long enough that I had was wondering if I was maybe beginning to doubt. But nevertheless I went to the temple like I had so many times before.
There was a large strapping Jewish man, with a smile as wide as the Eastern Gates.He seemed to be a friend to everyone he saw, and everyone was glad to see him.“Surely this m…

The Painful Pruning

It had been a beautiful day!  I was sad to see it go.  In fact it had been a really beautiful year.  As long as I could remember it had been sunny and bright. There was always plenty of food, and I was well taken care of.  Granted, I was only a year or so old so I can't remember that much, but my life at the vineyard was a good one.  I had grown a lot during this year, that's for sure.  I started off as a little seedling, but I grew quickly up the trellis along with the other vines around me.  We all had grown, though I think my leaves were a little more fuller and my branches a bit thicker, if I do say so myself.

I had noticed something though. The sun was still shining, but not as long it seemed. The days were getting shorter, and the vine dresser seemed to be pre occupied with other tasks these days.  I could tell he was getting ready for something but I couldn't tell what. The other young vines around me didn't know either, though some had heard whispers of somethi…

Another Ordinary Sunday

I remember it like it was last week.The Sunday started just like any other Sunday I went up early to turn on the lights and make sure the heat was on, like I always do.As the morning moved along, we had a great time of worship through song.As someone prayed I moved towards the pulpit and looked out over the congregation I was eager to see how God was going to move that day. The sermon was from Matthew 12, about the dangers of an empty heart.If we don't fill our hearts with Jesus, they will be filled with something else.After the sermon I gave an invitation and a few people came down to pray.I gave a few closing announcements, and the service was over.Some people hung around to talk about Christmas decorations, or plans for lunch, or whatever was on their mind. There was no tears of repentance, there was no great movement of God. People worshipped God through song, through the study of His Word, and through fellowship with other believers.That Sunday, in every sense of the word, wa…

How Should Christians Respond to the Death of the Wicked?

This morning the news of the death of Charles Manson might have caught some by surprise.  In the late 1960's Manson and his followers gained national notoriety after several murders, most notably the actress Sharon Tate.  Manson believed in something he called "Helter Skelter," and was attempting to start an apocalyptic race war.  His beliefs were cobbled together from all over, places as different as Beatles Songs and the biblical book of Revelation.  Manson was convicted of several first degree murders, among other things, and was sentenced to death. After California ended the death penalty his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Over the years Manson gave several wild interviews on television, sometimes appearing with a swastika carved in his forehead.  He never expressed remorse for his actions, and was caught several times with drugs or contraband in prison.Suffice it to say, he was not a good man.
How are Christians supposed to think about the death of a man wh…

Strangers in the small church

Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and [a]the alien who is in your [b]town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law." Deuteronomy 31:12
The people of FBC Sutherland Springs gathered yesterday for church just like they had for decades and decades.  By now you know how the story ended.  In a terrible, tragic, act of evil that is beyond words a man walked into the church and killed over 20 people there to worship.  Those who died ranged in age from 5 to 72. It’s the deadliest mass shooting at a church in history.  It’s crazy that there is even a category for “mass shootings at a church.”  
If you go to FBC Sutherland Springs Youtube page you can watch the services over the past several weeks.  The church looks just like dozens of churches that I have been over the years.  Churches this size make up the majority of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the majority of churches in America.  Chanc…