A new pastor had been called to a "preacher-eater" church that ran through pastors frequently. As he searched the desk drawers in his new study, he found a large manila envelope containing a note from the former pastor along with three sealed envelopes.
The note said: "So that you can have a longer ministry here than I did, I have prepared these envelopes for you. When things get tough and you aren't sure you can make it, open one of these envelopes."
Within six months the honeymoon was about over. One particularly bad week, he went to the desk and opened envelope #1. Inside was a note which said: "Blame the last pastor." So he did just that. Whatever seemed wrong about the church, he blamed on the last preacher. Sure enough, that seemed to satisfy folks for awhile, since they generally agreed that the last pastor was a scoundrel anyway.
But within a few months this tactic got old and members were again growing restless. So he turned to envelope #2 and found a note which read: "Blame the denomination." That one worked, too, as people were happy to blame their problems on the denomination.
Finally that emphasis ran its course, and things were worse than ever. So the new pastor, faced with tremendous pressure, went to his desk, pulled out envelope #3 and opened it. Inside was a note which read: "Prepare three envelopes."
CHURCH -- Future of
Denton Lotz, deputy general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, visited a small Russian Orthodox chapel during a visit to Moscow. There he met a young deacon -- he wore a long black robe, had a long beard, and "his face was filled with a saintly look of deep joy." As he gave a tour of the chapel, Lotz asked the young man how he had become a Christian, and heard an amazing story.
Just three years before he had been a professor of Marxism at the Lenin Institute. A philosopher, he told Lotz, "one day, whether you are an atheist or not, you have to make a decision whether there is a God."
One night he had a dream in which he experienced Christ as Lord. The next day he read the gospels and committed himself to Christ. As a result, he was dismissed from his faculty post and from the Party, and his family disowned him. Yet he was tremendously joyful because he had found meaning for his life.
Lotz asked him about the church's future in the Soviet Union, and the young man replied, "The future belongs to us. In the 19th century we had the peasants and lost the intellectuals. But in the 20th century we have lost the peasants and regained the intellectuals, and one day all of Russia will again be Christian!"
Lotz then notes sadly: "It became obvious to me that precisely the opposite had happened in the United States. In the 20th century we have lost the intellectuals and have the peasants. The consequences of this spell a dreary future for the Christian faith if we cannot reverse it!" (The Southern Baptist Educator, September 1987)
The Wimbledon semi-final on July 2, 1981, was a particularly hard-fought match. Bjorn Borg held a slight edge over Jimmy Connors, and the crowds were involved. Some yelled, "Come on, Borg!" while others yelled, "Come on, Connors!" The noise became so great that the umpire stopped the action and demanded silence. As the next player prepared to serve, the silence was broken by a single voice that cried out, "Come on, everybody!"
In sharing this story, John Killinger comments: "That's the word I would like to leave you with as I go. Pitch in and do your part. Join with everyone else in making this the best year in this church's life ... Come on everybody! Let God bless you the way He wants to."
CRITICISM -- Can grow from misunderstanding
When Leo Durocher was manager of the Dodgers, he was once booed for removing a popular pitcher in the eighth inning of a close baseball game. After the game, a reporter asked Durocher how he responded to such vocal criticism, and the manager replied, "You know, baseball is like church. Many attend, but few understand."
That is often the case with criticism -- it grows out of incomplete or inaccurate understanding of a situation.
CROSS -- Symbol of victory
"There is not one of us today who believes that in the presence of the cross of Christ we are in the presence of defeat. We know we are in the presence of victory. Here is the cross, history's blackest crime -- and history's brightest hope. Here is the most atrocious tragedy ever enacted -- and it is precisely this which has become the supreme assurance of the sovereignty of God. They gave Him a cross, and He made it a throne." (James S. Stewart, River of Life)
DEATH -- Faith overcomes fear
In 1756, John Wesley received a letter from a father whose son had been converted at a York revival meeting. The son was then in prison awaiting execution. The father shared with Wesley that God had allowed his son enough time to repent and place his faith in Christ.
The older man wrote about the time of his son's execution: "His peace increased daily, till on Saturday, the day he was to die, he came out of the condemned-room, clothed in a shroud, and went into the cart. As he went on, the cheerfulness and composure of his countenance were amazing to all the spectators."
As J. B. Fowler, Jr., observed, "The boy had found a joy which not even the scaffold could take away. He was no longer afraid to die because he had come to know the One who has conquered death." (Award Winning Sermons, Vol. 3)
Barry Beames relates his family's recent adventure in purchasing a new car. Over several weeks of reading ads, doing test drives and price comparisons, once-distant options were becoming absolute necessities. Suddenly he felt it impossible to go through life without power seats, windows and door locks, plus tilt wheel, cruise control, rear window defoggers and wire wheel covers.
Finally, Barry recalls, "I realized my wants and my funds were incompatible. I simply was not willing to pay the price of all of the options."
Some people do the same thing with their lives. They live a double-standard lifestyle, turning unnecessary behavior into a necessity. Yet they rarely realize the price of such options. As Beames notes, "The price of a double-standard life is God's judgment. The options all have a price." (Beames is pastor of First Baptist Church, Blue Ridge, TX)
Rick Shannon, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Greenville, KY, recently participated in an evangelistic effort in Venezuela. Upon arriving, the pastor with whom he was to work greeted the group with this phrase: "We not only welcome you with our hands but with our heart in our hands."
Rick comments: "What a graphic way to express the fellowship of believers! As we meet together in our churches, we should greet each other with our heart in our hands."
MONEY -- Quotations
"Mammon holds the one outpost Christianity has not been able to conquer." (Anonymous)
"No man is really consecrated until his money is dedicated." (Roy L. Smith)
"Nothing that is God's is obtainable by money." (Tertullian)
NEW YEAR -- Use time well
At the beginning of a new year we face the tremendous opportunity of days, weeks, months yet to be shaped. Many years ago, G. B. F. Hallock noted the value, at the start of a new year, of committing oneself to a wiser use of time.
"Elihu Burritt attributed his first success in self-improvement, not to genius, which he disclaimed, but simply to the careful employment of those invaluable fragments of time called 'odd moments.' While working and earning his living as a blacksmith, he mastered some eighteen ancient and modern languages, and twenty-two European dialects. Is not this suggestive of a valuable new year lesson? Corner your new year time.
"Chilo, one of the seven sages, was asked to say what is the hardest thing for a man to do. He replied: 'To use and employ a man's time well'." (100 Best Sermons for Special Days)
Before Columbus made his famous voyage, it was popularly believed that the world ended somewhere in the Atlantic, just past Gibraltar. The Spanish were proud that their nation was the westernmost part of the earth; they were, they felt, literally on the edge of the world. Thus, the ancient coat of arms of the Spanish royal family contained the words, Ne Plus Ultra, meaning "there is no more beyond here."
After Columbus' voyage it was clear that there was far more beyond Spain's borders, thus rendering the royal motto meaningless. One thrifty adviser suggested --and Queen Isabella agreed -- to simply drop the Ne from the coat of arms. Thus, the coat of arms read Plus Ultra -- "there is more beyond here."
That should be the motto of every church where Christ is truly Lord. "There is more beyond here!" The opportunities are tremendous! Let's move forward!
PRAYER -- Can reach heaven
The elderly church member had called on a local pastor for guidance in the search for a new minister. The pastor asked him, "How big a man do you want?" The church member answered, "We're not too concerned about his size, but we want him to be big enough to reach heaven when he's on his knees."
Truth is, there's no better way to reach up toward heaven than when we get down to our knees in prayer.
PREACHING -- May need help
The preacher was well into his sermon when, with amazement, he noticed his own son standing at the edge of the balcony and riddling the congregants below with chestnuts. As the preacher prepared to scold the boy, the youngster cried out, "You just keep preaching, dad; 111 keep 'em awake!"
Amos Alonzo Stagg was one of the great football coaches in the sport's history. As a coach, he kept his substitutes on the bench constantly alert by suddenly popping questions at them while the game was underway.
One afternoon he turned to a fourth-string player who hadn't seen a single minute of game time all season. Stagg barked, "You! Cartmell! What would you do if we had possession of the ball with one minute to play, the score tied, and we had only four yards to go for a touchdown?"
"Well, coach," the young man stammered. "I believe I'd slide down to the end of the bench so I could see better."
A man drove by and saw a late-model Mercedes sitting in a yard with a $100 sign in the window. He stopped, thinking it must be a mistake, but went to the door and asked. A woman came to the door and confirmed that the sign was, indeed, correct. The Mercedes was on sale for $100.
As he whipped out his wallet and handed her $100, the man asked, "Why are you selling it so cheap?" she replied, "My husband just ran away with his secretary, and he called and told me to sell his car and send him a check."
SIN -- Can't cling to
Robert G. Lee told of an Arkansas man who had a pet rattle-snake. He found the snake as a child, fed it, and made a pet of it. The snake would come when he whistled, and would eat from his fingers. It would coil around his arm.
One day he took it to town for his friends to see. They were all amazed to see how gentle the snake seemed, how easily their friend controlled the reptile. Yet later that day, back at home, the snake suddenly turned on him, sinking its fangs into his arm. The poison soon brought death.
"This is the ill fate of every man and woman who makes a pet of sin." (R. G. Lee, Whirlwinds of God)
Every hour-and-a-half, one young person in the United States commits suicide. More than 600,000 persons try to take their own lives each year, and about 6,000 succeed. On average, there is one suicide attempt for every minute of the day. (USA Today)
WORK -- Value of
Still a practicing attorney in his 80's, Louis Nizer was asked if there was such a thing as luck in trial law. He indicated there was, but added "it only comes in the library at three o'clock in the morning. That holds true for me to this day. You'll still find me in the library looking for luck at three o'clock in the morning." (Psychology Today)