Saturday, March 16, 2019

Don't Call Him A Cowboy Unitl You've Seen How He Wears His Hat.

For some reason I have been thinking about “COWBOY HATS” this morning. It may be because I
live in Texas where they are worn by the Department of Transportation Offices and the Texas Ranger and most of the Sheriff department in the state and have the civilians. It may be because I saw an announcement about George Straight appearing at the close of the Houston Rodeo or the fact that the YMBL’s South Texas State Fair starts soon. I don’t know, but that’s what I am thinking about . . . . that and how many people don’t wear them correctly.

Many years ago I officiated a large western (old west) wedding in our main sanctuary. The gals were all dressed in gingham and the guys had western style tuxedos including cowboy hates. Unfortunately, the groom didn’t understand the etiquette of wearing a cowboy hate. He wanted to keep the hat on all through the service. After myself, all his groomsmen, and the bride tried to convince him to take the hat of when he entered the sanctuary I had to finally tell him, “insist on wearing the hate and there will be no wedding here.” Reluctantly, he agreed.

Next day, as he entered the sanctuary he grudgingly removed his hat, handed to the best man to hold and got through the whole service without incident. It wasn’t until the processional and he passed out of the sanctuary he replaced the hat on his head with such force that in came down over his ears. The place erupted with laughter.

That brings me to my point. A cowboy hat is more than just one of the most beloved items of western wear. Here in Texas is a rite of passage for every who aspires to be a cowboy. This would be at events such as the Houston Rodeo and all rodeos in the state and any other western themed event.  However, for all you occasional “cowboys”  types and those who aspire to be a true Texan, garb and all there are actually some well established rule for wearing your cowboy hat.

As illustrated by the little story above the number one rule is knowing when to remove your hat. This rule applies not only to when to remove your “cowboy” hat but to any hat a man might be wearing. The except is people in uniform. Military, police and others whose hat (Cover) is part of their uniform. But then they when in uniform wouldn’t be wearing a cowboy hat or any other hat for that matter. For the rest, you should remove your hat on the following occasions:

1. During the National Anthem and hold it over your heart.
2. Pledge of Allegiance and hold it over your heart,
3. The passing of the flag,
4. In church . . . . . there is an exception as it relates to a new phenomenon called “Cowboy Church.” In this fast growing church, cowboys are allowed to wear their hats at an indoor service, but they must take it off for prayer or the Lord’s Prayer.
5. During a prayer,
6. During a funeral procession.
7. When introduced to a woman. You can hold the hat in one hand while you shake her hand in greeting with the other. If you are just passing a lady on a walkway just a “tip of the hat is needed.
8. When entering a building or private home,
9. When you begin a new conversation,
10. When dining in a restaurant or sitting down for a meal. . . . . You should remove your hat while eating for a couple of reasons:  First, it shows respect to the people that prepared the meal and second, it shows that you plan on staying a while and enjoying the conversation. My exception is, if there isn't any were to put the hat. Keep it on. No hooks or shelf, I refuse to put in on the floor or in another chair. Back in the day many of the old chairs had a hat shelf. It was the crossbars that stabilized the chair with another one or two joining it in the middle. This was invented so hats could go under the seat but not on the floor. Alas they are no more.
11. When speaking with  anyone who is considered your superior.
12. When at “Mommas” house.  There is little more disrespectful thing you can do than wearing your cowboy hat inside your mama’s house. This includes your friend’s mama’s house, as well. Moms are sacred and every cowboy knows it. Don’t do it.

The second rule has to do with what kind of cowboy hat you wear and for what occasions. As a
general rule a felt hat is for the Fall and winter and a straw hat is for Spring and Summer. This began as a practical matter, felt keeps the head warm in cold months and straw hats are cooler in hot months. So when the weather changes it is time to change hats. I’d add that you have a hat for special occasions and one for everyday use. Don’t wear you sweat stained hat to a fancy western ball and don’t wear your formal hat to a cattle auction.

Rule number three has to do with how to hold your western (cowboy) hat when it is not on your head. Don’t be seen doing it wrong because it will let everyone know you’re just a cowboy want-to-be dude (newbie). When carrying your hat in your hand always hold it by the crown so that the opening from the head is turned toward your body. The idea is to keep the hat lining concealed.

When not wearing your cowboy hat or holding it in your hand it should be properly stored in a travel hat box that will protect it from being crushed.  If setting the hat down on a flat surface it should be placed so as to rest on its crown.

Lastly and maybe most importantly NEVER mess with another cowboy's hat. Not only is it considered bad luck, but this is an extremely personal item that is often expensive. Let’s get this one right . . . . . .  a cowboy hat is not a toy. It is not okay to touch another cowboy’s hat, or put on a another cowboy’s hat that is lying around the house. It is not okay to grab it off a cowboy’s head, and it is absolutely forbidden to say, as you reach out, “Gee, what’s that made of?”

There are two exceptions to this rule . . . . . The first is a cowboy’s fiancĂ© may touch a cowboy’s hat once and that is on the honeymoon. The second is that a grandchild may do whatever they want to a cowboy hat, short of sleeping in it. It is, after all, just a hat. I know that doesn’t seem fair, but that’s just the deal.

So now you know . . . . wear those "Cowboy" hats (Western) correctly and don't let those who now the rules sinker behind your back. Go get'em cowboy! Oh yea . . . don't put your hat an the bed as it will bring bad luck and don't put it on its brim as that will empty out you good luck.

What's the rule for women and their cowboy hats . . . well, there ain't no rule. Most of the rules listed here just DO NOT apply to the ladies.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Wedding & Funerals: Honorarium or Fee

As a Baptist preacher I have officiated a lot of weddings and funerals since I first started back in the 1960's. As a now retired Baptist preacher I still officiate a lot of weddings and funerals. The difference is that now it is usually it is wedding of the grandchildren of former parishioners who want the guy that married Mom and Dad to do their wedding as well. Funerals are now largely for good friends.

One thing that is constant is the confusion people have over whether or not you should pay the preacher for these services. It was clear for me that when it came to members of the church where I preached these functions were a part on my ministry to the congregation. However, when a preacher is invited to participate in such things for people outside the congregation there should be some sort of financial consideration. 

Please take note that I said, “Clear for me.” I do not hold anyone else to my conscience on this matter.  I must, however, point out that when I was active in the pastorate I was frequently asked if I charged for things like weddings and funerals. Truth be told I still get that question from time to time.

I need to point out that there are two schools of thought on “paying the preacher.” There is the fee for service wherein people are paying a fixed fee for a specific service just like they would at the Justice of the Peace. Some churches even codify this in their operations and personnel manuals. Then there is the “honorarium” method. This is a gift of an amount given in appreciation and gratitude for the time and energy the minister puts into the service. The amount is chosen by the person doing the giving.  These are the two basic approaches to “paying the preacher” for officiating the service.

When I was asked about this I always replied, "I have no fee schedule for these things. I see them as a part of my ministry." People would usually then ask something like, "well what about people who are not members of your church?" The answer was the same, "I have no fee schedule for these things. I see them as a part of my ministry."

Then they would often ask, "Well, do you accept honorariums for wedding and funerals?" I always responded, "Well, if someone wants to give something I am thankful for the thoughtfulness and happy to accept it."  (Personally, I never even looked to see the amount until after everyone was gone.) 

This would usually be followed by the question they really wanted to ask, "How much do most people give as an honorarium?"  In the case of weddings I'd often look at the groom and jokingly say, "Well, what is she worth to you?"  The quick witted ones would always say, "I can't afford that much." Regarding funerals I unusually did not need to say anything because the funeral home personnel handling the service usually took the initiative on this with the family as a part of their service planning.

The truth is everyone who asks this question genuinely want to give an appropriate honorarium. On this I could always tell them that from time to time there have been unusually large and exceptionally small amounts but the average usually was within a range of . . . .

I know, I know, now your curious about the range of the honorarium. The truth is when it comes  to an honorarium the amounts ranged from a low of nothing to a high of in excess of $1000 and in every case the amount was always within the range of a persons ability to give.  You see, as an honorarium the amount is determined by the giver and therefore rarely arbitrary. As to an average amount of the wedding honorariums I’d guess the ran about $200 and for funerals about $100.

For me an honorarium, whether received or given, was never a matter of amount. I expected people to stay within their means and budget. For me it has always about thoughtfulness and appreciation.

Now, just because I did not have a fee schedule does not mean that people who do have set fees are somehow less honorable than those of us who do not. There is no moral rule on this subject and there are strong arguments for both.  For me the honorarium just fits better with my sense of ministry and was compatible with my conscience.  I do not impose my conscience on others in this matter.

Have I ever not received an honorarium for a wedding or funeral or some other service? Yep. It has happened. There have been a few cases where I drove hundreds of miles to do a funeral for the family of a former church member and all the cost came out of my pocket. But that, for me was OK. Like I said I see this as ministry. I must also quickly say this was the rare exception. It has happened for weddings as well. I have even been known to give the groom back his money because I knew his finances were very tight. Like I said, it is all about the thoughtfulness and the gratitude not the amount.

So what’s my advise? If there is no fee schedule I suggest that you consider all the elements involved in providing this service, whether it be a wedding or a funeral, and determine in your own mind the amount of an honorarium you can give with a cheerful heart. I can assure you it will be grateful received with equal joy.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

When They Say All Manner Of Evil

I recently read on a Facebook posting a comment about Chuck Lorre of the television show “The Big Bang Theory” Lorre, they said, is “the Producer is an anti-Christian Bigot and is known to put disgusting things after the show's ending” As I read through the comments I encountered statements like, “ He is a damn asshole liberal....”

Taken as a whole, the above got me to thinking about how we as Christians should be responding to the people who clearly are not only intellectually opposed to the Christian faith and Christians but who choose to engage in actively ridiculing the faith and those who hold to it.

Let me be clear, I am not critical of persons informing us of such people or even advising us to avoid or counter such persons as Chuck Lorre. I am not opposed to people personally choosing to avoid attending or watching their productions. In point of fact, I view such decisions as a kind of “Affirmative Action” designed to protect one self from being exposed to such anti-Christian material and a way of countering what one finds offensive.

I certainly believe that as Christians we need to oppose and offer alternatives to men such as Chuck Lorre and their anti-Christian actions. However, it was the response “He is a damn asshole liberal” that got me thinking about our responses to such people.

The first thing I thought was, “Was that an appropriate response? It seemed to me that a Christian would have chosen a different adjective to describe a Liberal. I will certainly acknowledge that it is graphic and serves to express a level detestation that runs pretty deep. It also, in my view, reveals something of the heart of the person speaking.

Secondly, it seems to foster confrontation and does not move us forward. You don’t win people by calling the, “assholes” and the like. That is a pejorative that puts people on the defensive and confirms their thinking about Christians.

Chuck Lorre is a sinner who has not been saved by the grace of God because he has steadfastly refused to put his faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ. That is what he is. That may not be the sum total of who he is but it is the reason for his actions and attitudes. Truth is, Everything else flows out of that.

In that sense he is no different that each of us before we placed our faith in Jesus Christ. He is exactly what Saul of Tarsus was before he met Jesus in a life changing way as he was making his way to Damascus to imprison and otherwise persecute Christians and became Paul the Apostle. My advice is, "Pray for his salvation."

My point is that we must look past the outward actions and activities of those who oppose us as Christians and recognize the fact that while they may attack our faith and all that we hold dear it is not truly us they are angry with or have hate toward. They really are angry with God and they hate the Lord Jesus. The problem is, we represent Him to them and so they attack us.

They only attack those believers who actually live out their faith seriously in the public square. They want to push the influence of Christ on our world into a closet. Once we understand that it is the fact that our beliefs produce a lifestyle that is in contradiction to us we will understand why they hate us. We do not have to say a word to them about their sin because the way we lives telegraphs to them that we do not accept or approve of their lifestyle.

Just living out the principles of the Word of God puts us at odds with those who don’t know Him. Because this serves as an irritant that makes them terribly uncomfortable they seek to destroy our voice by shutting our voice and behavior out of the public square. They hate Jesus  but they express that hatred toward His people.

In the words of Wisdom 2:12-21

 12 Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he
upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. 13 He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. 14 He was made to reprove our thoughts. 15 He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men's, his ways are of another fashion. 16 We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. 18 For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. 19 Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. 20 Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected. 21 Such things they did imagine, and were deceived: for their own wickedness hath blinded them.

Our response should be twofold. First we should recognize the cause of their opposition to Christians and Christianity . . . . namely, they are unsaved. Recognizing their alienation from God and His people and the things of God we should pray for their salvation. Not only should we pray we should actively and aggressively present the Gospel of redemption to them. Confront them with the fact that before God there are sinners; share that in spite of their sinful lives God loves them as sent Jesus to die for their sins; we need to make sure they know that this condition while fatal is not inevitable. They can be forgiven and transformed by the power of the Gospel.

Second, we are to be active in the public square. We must be actively involved in the political, social and economic mechanisms of out society.  If we are not we will with escalating speed so our religious and civil liberties taken from us by those who neither understand us or like us.

However, we cannot do that by stooping to their levels of action and expression. We must be, as they think we believe, better than that. Our actions must always reflect the love and grace of God. After all Jesus did not just die for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world.

The Bible tells us, “[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2 NIV).  Jesus died for the sins of every person who ever lived . . . . . including mine, yours and theirs. That’s how much He loves us. If you believe in Him as your Savior, full forgiveness and salvation in heaven is yours. You don’t receive those gifts by anything you do or don’t do. It’s a free gift, given by grace. Unfortunately not everyone will accept the gift He offers.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Measure of Success As A Preacher

Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. - Exodus 17:8-12 I was watching a tribute to the late Evangelist Billy Graham on the one year anniversary of his passing at the age of 99 when I once again began to recall the few times in my life when our paths crossed and our lives touched. The first, was when I was visiting Houston Baptist College in the mid 1960's; the second was a few years later when I was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the third was in Denver Colorado where I attended a Billy Graham School of Evangelism. Each of those encounters was pivotal in my life. They were short and informal conversations from which I drew great encouragement. I am certain that for him those three occasion became lost in the thousands of other brief moments in his life but for me they have loomed larger than life. During that first three or four sentence conversation in which he asked me, "What do you plan do with your life?" I replied, :To be a preacher." Now, 54 years later, his response still rings within my heart and soul. I hear it as clearly today as I did that day . . . . "Then preach the Cross - stay with the gospel." The truth is we preachers have a responsibility to encourage young men called to preach. We need to encourage them to be true to the gospel and preach Christ Jesus. We need to ingrain within their soul the eternal truth that what the world needs and really wants is to see Jesus and know that in Him they can have their sins forgiven and their destiny assured. The second time, at SWBTS, the takeaway was drawn from the fact that as he was walking past a line of students in which I was standing he stopped abruptly, looked at me and said, "We've met before." The mere fact that as he was leaving he recognized me in that crowd and remembered meeting me somewhere previously. Again, I was lifted up and encouraged. As an aside, I also remember once when I was a newly arrived preacher in Beaumont, Texas and attending the Golden Triangle Baptist Association's annual Evangelism Conference that only a few of my new colleagues every spoke to me beyond, "Good to see you brother," as they made their way to someone else. Well, as the Lord would have it a dear friend, who at the time happened to be the Director of Evangelism for the Home Mission Board, Darrell Robinson was the principle preacher for the event. After he spoke and while prayer was being offered he stepped down from the platform and quietly came and sat down beside me. By that simple act he raised my presence among my new colleagues. Not only so but a handful of my Deacons who were in attendance as well. At the end of that evening program nearly every colleague want to speak to and with me. This is what great leaders do. If they by a word or an action can encourage and lift others then they speak that word or take that action. Now, in Darrell's case it was intentional but in Graham's case it was habit. Both of these men were encourager's to me and I suspect neither long remembered the words spoken or actions taken. I could go on and on naming the people who the Lord used to touch my ministry and shaped my life but my point is that what we have received we are to "Go thou and do likewise." Each of us is to be an encourager. Whether by design or by habit of life we can do for others what these two men did for me. None of these words or actions were a big deal to them but these small actions were a big deal to my life, my preaching and ministry in general. That brings me to another thought that is closely related. I know a lot of people who in the Christian realm (applies elsewhere too) were strong leaders in and of their own rights but never achieved that greatness that makes one's name synonymous with some achievement. Of these people, I have heard some critically say things like, "Oh, how sad they never reached their full potential." Or, "Isn't it sad, they had so much potential but never realized it." To that I have a couple of things to say. First, a word about "achieving greatness." I am pretty sure that is not the goal of the God called preacher. There are no illusions of greatness only a desire to faithfully preach the Gospel in the place where God places us. The measure of greatness before God is faithfulness in service. We must always remember that every Christian leader, especially His preachers, serves at the pleasure of the Lord. He calls them, equips them and assigns them a realm of service. Every person who answers that call and faithfully serves where assigned is already successful. They may not achieve greatness but after all they are servants of the Lord. I always wonder when people come away with more praise for the earthly leader than the Lord he proclaims. Sadly for far too many success is measured in worldly terms. We have still not moved too far from the old three "B's" of success, that is, buildings, budget and baptisms. We look at the size of the building in which they preach and the crowd numbers to whom they preach and how much money comes into the church coffers. By these standards clearly some are faring better than others. But keep in mind many a secular leader has done the same. The 3 "B's"" has always been the wrong standard of greatness and success for the body of Christ, . . . the church. Fortunately it is the Lord, not his people, who decide the standards of success and greatness. We forget that Jesus stated the standard of success by saying, "He who is faithful over little  will be made ruler over much." I remember a day when among preachers there was no hierarchy of authority, success etc. We were brothers in Christ called by the Lord to preach the same gospel and to do so wherever the Lord chose to place us. Too be sure some were deeper thinkers and others better orators but all had the same call and same measure of the Holy Spirit to accomplish what God assigned them individually. I remember hearing a Fort Worth pastor's reply to a young theological student who was being critical of churches made up of largely "high society" types. He said, "God calls some to minister to the 'up and out' and others to the 'down and out'. . . . clearly He has called you to later." There is an old gospel song that says, Brighten the Corner Were You Are." We remember that we are to do that by remember that Jesus is the light of the world so as Bill Graham admonished me 54 years ago, just preach Jesus. By worldly standard William Carey was a failure but by divine determination he without doubt heard upon entering Heaven, "Well done thou good and faithful servant." We seem to forget that regardless of the level of success by the "3 B's" unless you are in the place where God wants you doing the things He assigned you, . . . . .you have not succeeded. As ministers of the Gospel we are part of a team and we are not the leader of that team. We are literally a "Band of Brothers." As such we endeavor to encourage one another; we take opportunities to lift one another in prayer; we counsel one another; and we respect each other as our equal. Moses was the great man God had called and assigned the task of leading Israel out of Egyptian bondage. As that God called leader endeavoring that God assigned take he made both good and bad choices and was judged not by his peers and not by his people but by the God who called him and assigned him his task. So for 40 years he wandered in the wilderness with a rebellious bunch of God's people. However, Moses was not the only leader among the throngs of people. There were many. These included men like Hur, Joshua and Aaron. They were pivotal to Moses being able to successfully complete the assignment God assigned him. They did this by being faithful to the task to which God called them. A powerful example of what they did to insure that Moses and with him Israel's success was assured was when the Amalekites, a group of nomadic raiders, attacked Israel. You remember that while Joshua led the Israel's troops into battle Mosses, Hur and Aaron watched from a nearby hill. As they watched they noticed that as long as Moses had his hands raised the battle went favorably but as he wearied and let his hand drop the battle went against them. Seeing this Hur and Aaron responded by helping Moses keep his arms lifted. The came alongside and strengthened him for his task. As each was faithful to their tasks the victory was theirs. Faithfull over little  . . . to ruler over much."  Moses was the senior guy with the call to deliver Israel from Egypt and bring them to the promised land. Joshua, Hur and Aaron's task was to support Moses. Interestingly enough Moses was permitted to see the Promised Land but God selected Joshua to lead Israel to possess the land. All of us who have been called of the Lord to preach the Gospel are of equal standing before the Lord. Hopefully we are in the place that the Lord wants us. Let us, who are called of God to preach, be faithful where he places us to preach the gospel and not fall into Satan's trap that has already consumed so many by thinking that big equals success. As brothers in calling we should not be jealous of each other nor disparaging of each other. Instead we should encourage and pray for one another. And as I mention in the beginning it is little things we do and say that are more often than not pivotal to our lives. Jesus has said,  "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

Friday, December 28, 2018

Should a Christian Leader’s Personal Salvation Story Be known?

Only this morning my wife and I were watching a religious broadcast in which a nationally prominent individual in the religious world was leading a throng of people in praise and worship. During the course of the broadcast, for some unknown reason, the thought occurred to me, “I have never heard that person’s salvation story.”  So I asked my wife, “Have you ever heard him tell how and when he became a Christian?”  After some thought she replied, “No, I can’t say that I have I have always just assumed he had one because of what he does.” I replied, “Well, I guess that is what I have done.”

It was this brief conversation that got me to thinking about the place of the personal salvation testimony in regard to our spiritual leaders. It is a given that we expect every person who seeks to lead the body of Christ in its every form to have a personal salvation experience that they can articulate as to the nature and occasion of that experience. However, what I found myself wondering was: How important is it that those who seek a place of leadership articulate that experience to those among whom they minister. Is doing that a part of the “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (I Peter 3:15)

As I started to seek an answer to that question I began to reminisce about my journey as a Christian and Baptist pastor/preacher.  That in turn brought me to my interaction over the years with all the “Pulpit Committees” (early ministry) and “Pastor Search Committees” (later ministry). I suspect nearly every pastor/preacher who ever served on a church staff will relate to what I want to share.

However, before I talk about my experiences I want to say just a word about the terms “Pastor Search Committee” and “Pulpit Committee.”  I know that many people who lived through the transition from churches using a “pulpit Committee” to seek and recommend a preacher to their church to “Pastor Search Committee” see this nomenclature as merely a change in terminology.  However, I see a little more than a name change. I see an emphasis shift.

When I first began the group that was charged with finding a pastor for the church, especially Baptist churches,  when the pulpit was vacant was called a “Pulpit Committee.” This sentence is key to understanding the term “Pulpit Committee.” In the 1950-70s, the period of time of my early ministry, the pulpit represented the primacy of the preaching of the “Word of God” and the centrality of the Bible in everything the church did. Pastor’s were more frequently than not referred to as “Preachers” not “Pastors.”  As Preachers their primary responsibility was to “Give themselves to prayer and the Word of God” (Acts 6:4 “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word”).  They were the sole arbiter of who would stand behind the pulpit, often called the “Sacred Desk.”

The pulpit carried the designation of a “Sacred Desk.” for several reasons. First it was where the preacher stood when he declared the Word of God to the people. That is the sacred nature of the gospel made the place where it was declared sacred as well. Perhaps not to the same degree but sacred none-the-less. This is drawn from the fact that at the return of Israel form bondage Ezra stood upon a “pulpit of wood” to read the Word of God to the people. The second reason was a reminder that it has been from behind this desk that the gospel has been preached and read since the foundation of a particular church. It represent s the continuity not of the preachers but the preaching of the Gospel in a church.

Baptists have traditionally placed it in the center of the platform to stress the centrality of the preaching of the Gospel. Others have what we sometimes call a split chancel to stress that the pulpit is for the reading of Scripture and preaching of the gospel and the other is lower in position and for the other speakers and singers in a service. The Pulpit here is the exclusive domain of the preaching and reading of the Word of God.

I have said all of this simply to give flesh to the phrase “Pulpit Committee.” The members of this
committee were primarily charged with seeking the individual they believed God had chosen to preach and teach the Word of God in their church. Hence they were calling not so much a pastor but a preacher.

So what happened to cause us to change the terminology. It is really quiet simple.  Churches were calling preachers when what they really wanted was a pastor. It was often expressed as “calling a preacher when what they wanted was a pastor. It was the recognition that churches generally want individuals who were adequate preachers but superb pastors.  Churches were moving ever so slowly away from the centrality of preaching and the Word of God to a Shepherd of the Flock emphasis. Hence the “Pulpit Committee” terminology has given way to the “Pastor Search Committee” terminology.

Now this has been happening for a long time. Both committees where seeking someone who could fulfill both rolls. Unfortunately no one person can fulfill both rolls at a high level. So the Pulpit Committee would seek someone who could preach well, i.e., a Preacher and was adequate as a Shepherd of the Flock. The Pastor Search Committee would seek someone who was a superb Pastor and an adequate Preacher.

This dichotomy has resulted in many a battle in the church when members begin to want more of one or the other emphasis and their preacher/pastor cannot provide but half the ticket. It is a rare individual who can excel at both. The real solution is to have a preacher to deliver the sermons and word of God and a pastor to care for the flock. This is often derailed by lack of funding.

Now, back to the Personal Salvation testimony. Whether it was a “Pulpit Committee” or a “Pastor Search Committee” every single one of those with whom I was involved started the same way. After a brief time of informal conversation and a prayer for the Lord’s leadership and the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Chairman of the committees would start with, “well preacher lets begin with you sharing your salvation experience with the committee.”

They assumed I was a Christian and they assumed I had experienced the new birth but they wanted to hear me tell about it. That was quickly followed by, “Tell us about your call to preach.” Later that would be broadened to “Tell us about your call to ministry.” I often asked this more contemporary question with, “Well, I can’t say I ever had a distinct call to ministry but I did have a definite call to preach and I am happy to tell you about that.” These two questions would invariably also be asked when I participated in an open question and answer session with the congregation prior to a vote on calling or not calling me to be the pastor of their church.

As I said in the opening paragraphs, I have never heard or read the salvation testimonies of many of our contemporary church leaders. I am not suggesting that they do not have one but I am suggesting that if they are going to lead us in our worship of the Lord we ought to at least know something about the conversion, new birth, becoming a Christian or salvation of those leading us. It would be encouraging; it would be inspiring; it would be instructional; and yes, it would be reassuring as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Sadness of Some During the Christmas Season

I have seen a lot of postings on FB about families facing Christmas having lost loved ones this year or after many years of marriage. Most are rather dark in nature speaking of the emptiness one feels as they remember Christmases past with those same loved ones and to be sure there is an emptiness that only those who have suffered such loss can know.

Let me begin by confessing that this past Monday morning for the first time in my life my brain was addled and I just couldn’t think. I found myself in that state because my wife of 52 years collapsed as a result of Hyponatremia and both she and I believed she was dying (later at the emergency room of Baptist Hospital) the doctor said in response to my telling him of that fear, “Well, she was.”  I mention this simply to say, it appeared to me that the end of our journey in this life was at hand and it was like a knife being plunged into my soul. She has been my greatest love since the day we met as teenagers in mid 1960's and it seemed as though my very reason for being was leaving.  I tell you this so that you will know why I believe I now have a better appreciation for what those who have lost loved ones experience during family oriented holiday like Christmas.

I am in no way suggesting that we deny those feelings but I do want to suggest that we turn them in a positive direction. To that end I want to offer a few suggestions that might help make the holidays a little brighter for those who miss their loved ones who now reside in heaven.

The first suggestion I learned from Dr. Charles Stanley as he spoke of a practice he adopted when he was spending his first Christmas alone after he and his wife of many years had separated. He spoke of how a wave of aloneness swept over him and he just didn’t want to celebrate what had long been his favorite holiday, Christmas. In response, he sort of shook himself and decided to take some kind of action. So, he sat at the phone and called a friend to wish them Merry Christmas. It felt so good he called another and then another and soon he was feeling better and the spirit of Christmas returned. By the way, this became an annual habit for him.

Here’s what he did. In the depth of his aloneness he turned his thoughts off of his own circumstances and feelings to those of other people. Some close friends and some just acquaintances.  The first call was hard but with each succeeding call it became easier and easier. You do not have to do this but I encourage you to find a way to turn your thoughts away from your own feelings of aloneness toward doing something for someone else.

I also would suggest that we remind ourselves that our loved one is not lost to us. As Christians we know where they are. They are with the Lord. Here is a thought for you to consider: We are both walking with the Lord . . . . we in this world as he holds our hand and walks with us and they in heaven as he does the same with them there. Both we and they are walking with the Lord and thus still walking with each other.  This is why I never speak of my parents in the past tense they are not lost nor have they ceased to be . . . .They just are not here physically.

There is a sense in which their presence is felt at every family gather, such as at Christmas. Oh we don’t save them a chair or set them a place at the table . . . . that would be morbid and maybe a little sick. But though unseen, I feel their presence and in my heart and mind I can see them laughing and singing and whatever along with us. Here is the point, as Christians we may not have all the answers but we do have the promise of the Lord that those who are in Christ never die. I know where they are and slowly but with certainty I am completing the journey God sent me on and making my way to them.

I think I mentioned that I never speak of my deceased loved ones in the past tense. The reason is that they have not passed they have just changed locations. I know where their body is and I know where they are. For that reason and others I try to bring them into the present celebration of Christmas. I do this by making them the topic of some of our conversation. I mention what they loved about the holiday and things they did during holidays. Try keeping a tradition they loved. Perhaps something as simple as reading the Christmas story at a family Christmas gathering. My point, bring them into today's celebration. They are not dead . . . . they have simply gone before you . . . . in God's time you'll see them again.

Finally, focus on the celebration. As the hymn famously says, “God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay, remember Christ your Savior was born on Christmas Day.”  Focus on the fact that the events celebrated during the Christmas season is what gives us hope for a happy reunion with that person for whom our heart aches today. What began on Christmas day with the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is what makes the pain we feel bearable.

This season, especially, should lift our spirits because it assures us that there will be a happy reunion day for those of us who love God and are called according to His purposes.  We need to stop seeking the living among the dead and look anew each day into the face of him who saved us by His grace . . . even our Lord Jesus.  Our loved ones may not be here but they are not lost to us. They live in our hearts, minds and one day again in our presence as we experience what they already know, namely, what it means to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I understand that the feelings of loss and aloneness will linger as they should. Those who have loved deeply and for a long time will always have moments when we feel that aloneness and loss acutely. But as time passes the hope of glory grows stronger and the intensity of the feelings of loss soften.

I learned early in life that happiness like so many other things in our lives is the product of a choice made. I can be freed by the grace of God or I can be a slave to my fears and feelings. . . . . . the choice is mine.  I choose to celebrate at Christmas because I know that one day . . . . .

There will be a happy meeting in Heaven, I know
When we see the many loved ones we've known here below
Gathered on that blessed hilltop with hearts all aglow
That will be a glad reunion day.

A glad day, a wonderful day
Glad day, a glorious day
There with all the holy angels and loved ones to stay
That will be a glad reunion day.

When we live a million years in that wonderful place
Basking in the love of Jesus, beholding His face
It will seem but just a moment of praising God's grace
That will be a glad reunion day.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Story Telling and Your Business

I recently was looking at a photo on Facebook posted by a friend attending a conference in Nevis dealing with the use of social media. I recognized the presenter as someone I knew and with whom I once worked. Wondering about their presentation I notice in the photo that they were using an overhead and the slide on the screen  had a quote that read: "Good content isn't about good story telling. It is about telling a true story well."

Though I do not have any context for the statement it did spark my thinking about the value of good content versus good storytelling. I believe that no matter how good your content if you do not communicate it well then what does the content matter.  It seems to me to be a bit like the chicken and the egg and which came first riddle. I rather suspect that in business the content is developed first and then incorporated in the story that will best communicate it to a particular office.

Truth is, we have been telling stories since the beginning of time. In fact we began to be enamored with stories and telling stories since the day we were born. Who doesn't remember the little jingle, "Tel me a story, tell be a story so I can go to sleep." I always wondered if that meant tell me a story to "put" me to sleep or a lament to the fact that without a story being told I cannot go to sleep.  I suppose both have been true at one time or another . . .  but I digress.

We have all sat through workshops, seminars, webinars, general sessions where we found ourselves counting the holes in the acoustical tiles on the ceiling or fighting off sleep.  It is a laborious thing to try and absorb even the best information if it is not communicated well. So good story telling just that telling your story, whatever it is, well. This applies to your 30 second elevator speech, to small group presentations and large gathered audiences.

Ever heard it said of someone, "He could sell a used car to a used car salesman?" That is just another way of saying they tell their story well.  Not everyone is a "Natural" when it comes to telling their story but anyone can learn to tell their story well.

So what does storytelling have to do with your business? Everything! If you can’t properly convey a story then your products are not going to appeal to your audience. Story telling is perhaps the most powerful elements in good communication. After all, even Jesus spoke to his disciples in parables (a kind of story telling). You must sell your vision or product and to do that it must be presented in a way that someone who has no idea what that vision or product is will come to embrace it.

So, the question is not whether to use storytelling as a sales tool but what kind of story are you going to use. I hope a good one. However, I have been around long enough to know that very few people know how to tell a good story . . . .  An effective story.

I have been digitizing sermons the I preached in the early years of my ministry. As I listened to these long forgotten sermons I thought, “Wow, did people actually listened to these or did they just endure or sleep through them. I told my wife, “You know I believe I am a much better preacher now than I was then.” She replied, "I know you are.”

I have been using storytelling for many years to communicate with my audiences and along the way I have learned through training and "trial and error" what makes for a good and effective story.  For every story told well there are a dozen upon which it stands that were not so well told.

So,  what makes a good story? What are the common elements of good storytelling? Here are a few things I believe you will find in every good presentation (story).

First and foremost . . . . keep it simple.  Good stories are easy to understand. Good stories are told in a style and language that matches the way the intended audience communicates. This keeps them from using their time interpreting what you say before they absorb your message, i.e., what you said.

Simplicity also aides in memorability. Your overall message needs to be easily grasped in summary not details. I suggest that in telling your story you utilize what have been called the “5 C’s.” These 5 C’s will go a long way to helping you create a fascinating story that will hold your audience’s interest.  They are: Circumstance (Set the scene for the story), Curiosity (create a hunger to hear more), Characters (Put people in your story), Conversation (have your characters speaking) and Conflict (No story is very compelling without conflict).

Second, appeal to the emotions of your audience.  If you did not cry when in the movie “The Notebook” Noah and Allie die holding hands, I have one question, what’s wrong with you? Every good story involves the whole brain not just the cognitive side of the brain. Good stories always include the emotive side of the brain as well as the cognitive.Good storytelling requires an emotional component. Most of the memorable ones have humor, pain or joy (sometimes all three). You can do this by using the senses. Help your listener feel, hear, and tastes the sights and sounds of your story. Use what I call the Big Four: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Olfactory. With these four elements in your story, you’re likely to draw in and lock down your audience.

But don’t over use the emotional component. Be sure to include the facts Truth is, however, if every story were simply facts stated, one after another, most of us wouldn't listen or remember any of it.  None of the facts and figures matter until you have some sort of emotional connection with your audience. Always save the facts for after an emotional connection has been made.

Third, be authentic and real . . . . insofar as you believe in what you're saying and are honest with yourself and your audience. This doesn’t mean that every element of your story has to your own experience but it does mean that when you use a created story or someone else’s experience you introduce that fact to your audience.

Another technique I like is to start my story in the middle of the story. Far too often storytellers/marketers give way too much detail up-front by putting everything in chronological order.  They leave the exciting stuff to later only to find that their audience has gone to sleep and cannot be awakened.  Don’t put the “AH-HA” moment so deep into your story that your audience gets synced into their Twitter or Facebook feeds. Worse yet, some may already be in the dreamland of their REM sleep.

If you are anything like me your attention span is about as long as an inch-worm. So, snap out of it and get your audience into your story by starting in the middle, where things are exciting and the story is much more interesting.”

The best stories are first-hand experiences that the storyteller actually witnessed. Even if it's a story that's passed on generationally, an effective one still has an element of how that story relates directly to the teller, told in the teller's own words. But be careful not to go into braggadocio mode. It is alright to mention your many accomplishment and successes but honestly not many people in your audience will relate. So minimize the bragging and instead talk about what you tried that didn’t work. As John Bates says, “People don’t connect with your successes, they connect with your messes,. . . . .Your message is in your mess.” Remember, as humans we relate to failures because we are all flawed.

Finally, regardless of the audience size, a good story works for any audience.  I have preached the same sermon to a handful of people and to a large auditorium filled with people and in both cases watched them hang on every word.  One to one-million . . . the concern is not how many people can hear it but that someone, somewhere is listened to it and actually hard it.