Thursday, July 24, 2014


    I wish preachers were more like Peyton Manning.  What, you mean lose a Super Bowl?   No, I mean learn from your mistakes.   One of the things that impresses me about Peyton Manning is how he studies his job, and  how he has learned from his mistakes.  I have watched him as a Tennessee Vols fan since he was at UT, and I have seen him make mistakes.  We are not very forgiving of mistakes by UT quarterbacks in Tennessee.  Sarcastic and caustic comments start getting posted in very odd places.

   Yet, one of the things that I think has propelled Mr. Manning beyond many of his contemporaries is his refusal to let his mistakes be lost to him as a resource.  In an age of television with special effects we don't seem to teach our people very well that most of life is not perfect, that we aren't all born with a super arm, super legs, gifted and spontaneous moves.  We want to be stars that make our effort look easy, but not as if we had to study, to work at something, to improve even while a whole lot of the world watched us fail a time or two.

    Preachers are in public usually every week, in a pulpit, proclaiming the Word of God (at least we hope so.)   Several things combine to prevent them from revealing their inadequacies.  One is that they are preaching God's Word and they stand for God to deliver his will and pronouncements to the rest of us.  This gives them an authority most believers need and want.  To think that the preacher's knowledge is faulty, his delivery and techniques distracting, that his applications are like mis-thrown passes in football deprives us of the mystery and majesty of hearing from God.

    It would be terrible if a preacher got up one Sunday and apologized for how badly he interpreted the Scripture the previous Sunday, or that he was completely in error in understanding the text, or that he had failed to study or practice adequately so he could hold our attention and actually communicate with us.  Terrible, but maybe really great too.  We sure don't want someone to be inept and stumbling every week, but honesty might be really life changing for the whole congregation.

    The second thing that prevents preachers from being up front about their own inadequacy is their ego and pride.  Most preachers I know are competitive.  Sometimes it is a competition for the respect of their people, sometimes a competition against every other preacher in the world so they can give a respectful answer when someone asks, 'how big is your church?"  Sometimes that pride is mixed with the fear of men and the fear of failing.

    Maybe a third reason that preachers don't own up to the fact the make mistakes, or that they need to learn from them, is the lack of forgiveness of their people.  Some congregations want perfection, so they delude themselves that they have it when they get a gifted preacher.

    So here is just a little advice to preachers.  Make it a discipline of your calling to realize what mistakes you are actually making.  Most preachers have to throw off depression and despair pretty quickly after a sermon that seems to have fallen into the carpet or else they can't function very well.  Yet, if you allow yourself no reflection, and no request for loving and helpful criticism, no inquiry into what might have gone wrong then you stop learning and  you don't getter better at your craft.

    Most preachers have critics, and so they develop skills at how to interpret them and quite often this is bad for the preacher since he sometimes dismisses critics as simply personal opponents, or political factions, or servants of the Devil.  Every once in while our crtitics have it exactly right, even if they don't have the wisdom or grace to say it so we might graciously receive it.

    Sometimes preachers are afraid that if they admit to their mistakes their critics will use it against them and move to get rid of them.  Certainly my admissions have been used by those who I realized were my opponents in the congregation.  Thankfully I had an overwhelmingly supportive group of Elders and congregation, but more importantly I knew God has always had my back in trying to be transparent.

    So if people are telling you that you preach too long, listen!  If they say you are boring, listen!  If they say they are not "being fed," listen!  If they say they feel they are being beaten down with guilt, listen!  If they say they can't understand you, that you are preaching over their heads, listen!  If they say you sound angry, or that you seem to be attacking someone, listen!

   I am not saying they are correct or right in their evaluation; often people aren't quite sure what is bothering them about your performance and they sometimes say anything they can think of to make a noise of complaint.  Sometimes they are "under conviction" and their discomfort looks for someone else to blame.  Just start examining your previous preaching performance, ask people you trust to give you some honest and gentle feed-back, ask for their prayers.  Every once in a while get up in the pulpit and  let the people know what you have learned and how you are trying to improve.

    Since I have had so many deficiencies I have had to lead with my humility, confessions, and requests for forgiveness.  Believe me, I am one of the proudest most ego-centric people I know, and I hate criticism.  I just want to get better at what God has called me to do, since what I do makes such a great difference in the lives of men and women, boys and girls.  I believe lives are at stake, not the score of a football game.

Monday, July 21, 2014



1.     Mercy ministry will be required in your church no matter what socio-economic group makes up your church or community.

2.    It would be wise to plan for it ahead of time so that you will have some wisdom, mechanism, or personnel to rise to the situation.

3.    Loving your neighbor or “doing good to all men especially to the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10) is not something you can put off until the 2nd, 3rd, or 5th year of the church plant.

4.    It is not just the poor that have dysfunctional families, addictions, legal, medical, and death issues.

5.    If you minister among the poor you will have more obvious dysfunctionality problems to deal with, with fewer resources.

6.    The pastor and Elders must protect their time of prayer and the Word, so they must delegate ministry to others so they can be free to do their primary work.  Pastors should never be the “sugar daddy.”

7.    It is the pastor’s job to “enable the saints to do the work of the ministry.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)  This means the pastor must teach, train, and target his workers for ministry.  To preach the “weightier matters of the Law” you must preach on mercy and justice, and if you preach on them you must show your congregation how to practice them.

8.    In Acts 6:3 we believe the first Deacons chosen were men “full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom.”  Mercy is a spiritual work and it must be spiritually pursued.

9.    To effectively change the lives of the poor mercy must be “accountable, returnable, developmental, and ecclesiastical.” The local church is the community in which people can be discipled out of poverty.

10. To help your church be effective in mercy ministry the church must develop policies, priorities and process so they will know how to show mercy regularly, routinely and resourcefully without damaging the poor or the church (officers, members, and staff.)

11. Stop sending the poor away to other agencies and bring them into the Body of Christ.

12. Pray, plan and pursue an increase in the funds and personnel you will need to show and do mercy in ways that make a positive impact in your community.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


    Recently I went to visit a couple of church start ups in the cities of Grand Rapids, MI and Detroit, MI.  I imagine most people have heard of those cities.  Grand Rapids is associated with Dutch people, Reformed people, and lots of churches.  Did anyone know that black people live there, or Hispanics?   Did anyone know they have poor people, did anyone know there are a lot of people in that city?

    Then we have Detroit.  We all know there must be nothing left of Detroit except black people, and they are all poor, and they don't pay their water bills, and pretty soon the Federal Government will just come and repossess everything and sell it for scrap metal, and send all the municipal government officials to jail.

    I think of the perceptions of the city I grew up in, Newark, New Jersey.  Most of the country just thinks of the airport, but those who know about it don't think of great cities, they think of crime, and poverty, and corruption, .  I imagine folks think the same way about Camden, NJ.  Recently, while on the way to Camden, someone asked us if we knew what we were doing, what we were getting into.

   I think of the perceptions about the city where I presently live, Chattanooga, TN.  An outdoor city, an environmental city, the city with the fastest internet speeds, one of the fastest gentrifying zip codes in the nation, the most Biblical knowledge in the country, one of the most generous.

    I have some bad news and some good news.  The bad news is that every city has sinful, broken, and hurting people in it.  The bad news is that the cities that seem great also have a side to them that is not just a shame, but shameful.  Poverty, violence, bad schools, racial bitterness, and despair right in the face of urban prosperity and progress.  The bad news is that some churches in some of these "great" cities talk about "transforming the city," and  "loving the city," have almost no contact with the poor and no real impact (spiritually, socially, economically, educationally, etc.) on the actual lives of the city's most desperate people.

    Ah, but the good news.  This is something to which I bear witness and experience it on my visits.  In the worst of cities, as far as the public and the media are concerned, the Church of Jesus Christ, in some of its best representatives not only survives but thrives.  There is actual racial reconciliation happening, there is mercy in both relief and development happening, there is justice happening, there is a coalition and determination for progress in even the poorest of districts.  Love is going on, worship is going on, and joy is a reality.

    Maybe one of the advantages churches and Christians have in places which so many have written off is that they know the challenge, they know their backs are against the wall, and they rise to meet that challenge.  Maybe the disadvantage in places that seem to have all the advantages is that misery is missed right in our midst.

    As long as the curse from the Fall of man persists the challenge and opportunity of mercy, justice, love, rescue, restoration, rehabilitation, and reconciliation will persist.  I think this will be true in all our cities, no matter what they look like on the surface.

      I am thankful for cities of beauty, I am thankful for art, for green spaces, and play places, for the availability of good, nutritious, and plentiful food in accessible markets, for culture, and pleasing architecture, for jobs and employment for both the skilled and unskilled, the over educated and the illiterate.  I am thankful for growing churches and powerful preachers.  I am thankful for governments that work, and utilities that deliver, and municipal employees who actually give good and honest service.

   I am thankful that in cities where many of these wonderful amenities and blessings don't exist that there are still wonderful, intelligent, creative, loving, determined, and committed followers of Jesus  who love each other, love those around them, and love the place where they are planted.  I praise God for the salt of the earth, that hasn't lost it's savor.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


  I have been reading some horrendous newspaper articles recently about sex abuse, and murder.  It is not pleasant reading.  In fact it is very disturbing.  One man hung himself in his prison cell recently and now the investigation finds that he used to take girls from their   trusting and ambitious parents telling them he was from a modeling agency.  Carrying the girls to a hotel he drugged them, abused them, and filmed the whole thing.  

    Another man deliberately left his child in a hot car so the child would die while he was exchanging sex pictures over the internet with someone.  He didn't want his own child but he did want more virtual sex.  Out of revenge another man shot a child in front of the child's father so it would be the last thing the father would see before he himself was shot.  The child died but the father is still alive, though wounded.   Yes, I would agree that these are some sick puppies, not to insult puppies.

    Crimes against children are especially sad and infuriating.  How could anyone do such things, why would anyone do such a thing?    I am sorry to recount these stories but I have a point and they illustrate the point they drive me to make.  My point is that there is a very old fashioned idea to explain all of it, and it is depravity. 

 One might say, "yes, those men were depraved."  Or, "those were acts of depravity."  No, that is not what I mean.  I am saying that all human beings are depraved and sometimes that depravity breaks through in horrible and public displays of evil.

    This is an idea many people do not like, and of course it may feel like a personal insult.  Yes, I just called you the reader depraved, and I am confessing myself to be so as well.  No, I am not saying all of us will do such things as the news stories recite, but it takes no prophet to say that such things will happen again, and again, and again.

    Educated, civilized, and living in a country with clear laws against such behavior doesn't seem to stop it.  Understanding the background of abusers, or criminals. or sexual and homicidal perversions hasn't yet been able to help us prevent it.  

   The military has striven over the last decade or so to prevent sexual harassment and abuse, especially as its culture and population has changed to include many more women and now openly homosexual service members.  It has stressed professionalism, it has tightened regulations, it has had briefings after briefing, seminar after seminar, focus groups, and public investigation. 

     From generals on down the ranks continue to give way to sexual lust, and people use their power to leverage sex from subordinates.  How could such things keep happening?  How could such a worldly wise organization be so naive about people?

    My comments do not reflect despair or hopelessness.  I am glad we are all more than our depravity, but we are that and we need to own up to it.  I do think this is a realistic appraisal.  The only thing I despair over is our persistent run to denial in the face of human nature.  It is silly and stupid in my opinion to think that Law stops sin or crime. Obviously we budget for prisons because we know that just saying "no" or "don't do that" does not prevent people from "breaking bad."    

    The current wave of Islamic wars, Sunni versus Shia, Islamic radicals versus everyone, and most war in general tends to expose how evil people can get in attempting to strike terror in the hearts of their enemies, or simply the desire to hurt and dehumanize them.

    For those who are more theologically astute the idea of depravity is usually associated with Calvinism.  It has to do with the inability of human beings to believe in God unless God has mercifully chosen them to believe and then gives them the ability to believe through his Spirit.  Those who don't like the idea of God choosing who gets saved can have a hard time accepting the idea of a spiritual depravity that makes them essentially "dead" to God and "dead" in sin.

    Depravity is more than the tragedy of human inability to will themselves to God, which is pretty terrible I agree.  It is also about the pervasiveness of wickedness in each human, and the potential for disaster in that sinfulness.  No matter how professional, no matter how scientific, no matter how aware, we carry the problem inside us.

    We have several ways of dealing with human depravity. As I have mentioned there is denial, which is quite prevalent, but usually is laid as a foundation disconnected from harsh newspaper stories.  It is more closely associated with human achievement, human kindness, the sweetness of family, the innocence (we think) of children, the noble aspirations of achievers and benefactors.  We think the best of ourselves, and we lay this down as a working assumption about people.

   If people are depraved how could goodness exist?  This is one reason I am not in despair about it.  I do accept the reality of goodness in the world, certainly beauty, and an amazing proliferation of God's common grace coming through and from all kinds of people.  Sometimes even the worst of people does something good, on a given day, and hopefully it's  your day when you meet them.  Generally we all act in public as if other folks will obey the law, tell us the truth, not be cruel or predatory to us.

   We buttress ourselves against depravity.  We try education, we try sociological and psychological analysis, we try law, we try police, we try prisons, and we try to train ourselves and our children to be "street smart," and some of us go armed. The danger comes when we make too many assumptions about how that education, our historical and statistical summations, the threat of judicial punishment, the current political correctness against bullying and abusive behavior will all actually protect us from the monsters who turn out to be people who look an awful lot like us.

    Sometimes those "monsters" think they have a good reason for what they do (such as in politics, war, or ethnic and class conflict,) and sometimes their perversions, their lust and greed, hatreds, and addictions drive them.  

   As a Christian I have realized the grace of God enables me to be more than my depraved nature, and even more than the generally positive personality I might have inherited.  That possibility drives me to share the Gospel even with really evil and bad people, which in my mind includes everyone and not just felons and known public enemies.  I am not paranoid about people, but I am careful.  I love myself, but I am careful about myself, for I know that in my sinful nature there dwells no good thing.

    I want my children to be trusting, and absolutely wise and careful.  I want my daughter to be free to drive at night, and not wear a veil, and enjoy the freedom of an American woman.  I also want her to know that no matter what the society says women should be free to do there is enough evil in the world, in men and in all people, that she is condemned to be careful.  So are we all, ever since the sin came, and hasn't left.

Friday, June 27, 2014



Where is the cry of the poor?
Where do you hear it?
How does that sound travel,
How far can their voice carry,
How loud must it be?

Where is the cry of the poor?
When does their articulation
Resolve in recognition?
Where do you know it?
Will you discern its need,
Will you receive its truth,
Will you own its claim?

Where is the cry of the poor?
Where do you feel it?
When you see its clothes
When you meet its face
When you touch its pain?

One man is running
To outdistance that sound
One man makes noises
So it cannot be heard
Another wears dark glasses
So what he sees we cannot know
And gloves so he will not feel
While many wear hardness for hearts
And apathy for souls.

We posit some supposition
A caveat of inquisition:
Does it take
A walk past Lazarus,
Or a separation from Abraham’s bosom?

Some can see another’s sores
That the dogs lick
Those that won’t will only feel the heat
And wish those they used to command
Would assuage them.
Sound waves of the poor
Which elicit compassion
Come not through the ears
But through the heart!

Is it days of hunger
You need
Lean stomach
And your belly distended
Rags and disassembled shoes
Shopping carts with plastic sheeting
For your home and bed?

Does it require a disease
Which could be cured
Except for the fee
You cannot afford?

Is it the loss of a job
Or eviction
Impoundment or prison
Some circumstantial wrench
To get your attention?

They cry now
And you aren’t disturbed
You’ll cry then
But you won’t be heard.

Randy Nabors, June 27, 2014

Sunday, June 15, 2014


  I had the privilege of being at a wedding this last weekend.  It was a wedding toward a marriage of a young white man and a young lady who is racially mixed.  I had the opportunity to say something to them at the wedding rehearsal as I felt I should speak to the issue of their impending inter-racial marriage.

   Now it may be in this "post-racial" society that everyone thought I shouldn't have brought it up.  Certainly they won't have to put up with many of the things such couples put up with years and years ago.  For their sake, and for the peace of our society I certainly hope not.

    Yet even as I spoke I realized that one of the things that has happened to my wife and I over the years has actually turned out to be something in which I take pride.  One of the little irritations of being married inter-racially is to be at a counter of a store, a hotel, the airlines, etc and to be standing together, (and here I speak of the marriage distance together, that  physical proximity that gives a pretty strong clue of a relationship) and to hear the inevitable question.

    It goes something like this, after serving one or the other of us first, "And may I help you sir,"  or "May I help you maam?"  Now I realize of course that this sometimes happens to every married couple as the clerk or server may not realize you are actually standing together.  For those of us in these mixed relationships it happens all the time.

    There are of course those times when people have known we were together and my wife has been openly flirted with, this especially in inner city neighborhoods when we were young.  I mean, I'm standing right there, or walking in lock step with her.  Usually that was a typical flirtation of fun, with bantering and laughter.  I mean, I couldn't fight everybody all the time.

    There have been other annoyances, some more threatening.  The stares we used to get on entering a place of business, a rude remark here or there when you could almost feel the animosity in the air.  There are lots of prejudices people used to have about such couples (as us) while actually knowing nothing about us.  We used to really get it in high school going to school on a bus filled with guys wanting to become Black Muslims.  

    Without a doubt our married life has been filled with blessing, the support of friends and family, the same respect and kindness shown to other married folks.  The warnings and suspicions of disaster for our children have not come to pass, as far as I can see, but rather a great pride in our family, our faith, and love.

    I get a kick out of telling people how many years we have been married when they ask, as that seems to be a cause of national significance these days (43 years at this writing).  But back to my point, and that is what I told this newly wedded couple the other night.  When people have asked, incessantly, "may I help you?" assuming we were seperate customers or individuals one of us or both always say, "we're together!"  Or, my wife might say, "he's with me!"  Yes, I am!

    So enjoy it and take pride in it, all your life long.  It is what marriage means, so don't be weary of the affirmation.  "We're together!"  So blessed that this be so, and so proud to say it.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


   I think we need to get ready for the next president of the United States, the one that comes after the one we have now.  Let  us suppose that the next president will be a Republican, just maybe.  I think it would be good right now to agree on some rules about how we will write about him (or her) and talk about him (or her).  

    I will have to admit that these rules would be for Christians as it is hard to put anything binding on non-Christians.  They might talk about the need for "civility" but who decides what that might be?   

   We Christians have the Bible, which is supposed to govern and guide everything we do or say, if we actually believe it to be true and the Word of God.  So, this concept of "rules" guiding our behavior when it comes to political figures should actually have some Sovereign, Divine, Revelatory weight behind it, one might think.  

    Here is one verse quoting another verse, so we get to hear it twice, "Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people."  (Acts 23:5, Paul quoting Exodus 22:28).  NIV  I am not sure if a New Testament apostle quoting the Old Testament law is actually binding but just so you know.
    Here is another text, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men; whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.  Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.  Show proper respect to everyone:  Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the King."  (I Peter 2:13-17) NIV

    So, for the next president, if he or she is a Republican, maybe we can start using the Bible as some kind of guide as to how we should treat them.  Here are some suggestions:

1.  If they confess Christ and say they are a Christians we should accept that and believe it.  If they do not confess Christ, though they use religious language we should not just assume they are Christians.  I think it is fair to watch their actions, life-style, and wonder if they are true to their statements.  I think it is fair to look at their policies and wonder if they are consistent with Biblical teaching.  Just like people look at us and wonder, but hopefully still show us some personal respect.
2.  We should never ascribe motives to them unless they have told us what they are and we have the evidence.  Our negative assumptions of the worst kind of motives for all their decisions just wouldn't be fair.
3.  If they make a decision we don't like, or institute a policy we don't agree with we should argue with the policy but keep ourselves from ad hominem arguments (calling them names and mocking them) as to bolster our case.
4.  It would be fair to look ahead and see what we think some of the  ramifications of their policies might be and we have a right to voice that concern.
5.  We should possibly treat them as we would like to be treated if we held that office, this is just a suggestion.  We probably want to give our next Republican president the benefit of the doubt.
6.  If someone is slandering them, ascribing the worst kind of motives to them personally, but has no evidence such as direct quotes from them but simply impugns their integrity we should not agree with them, we should not repeat it, and in fact rebuke those who do it.
7.  If other people give him (or her) too much honor, too much glory, we should not assume this is the way they think of themselves.  If they call themselves God, King, or Messiah then we have a right to boldy speak against any such aggrandizement.
8.  Even if we think they might be lying, we are still to honor the office by showing respect and honor to them especially in their presence, even if it makes us sad to think they might not be perfect.
9.  I think we have a right to wonder if all the opposition that might come to him, for every one of his policies and legislative initiatives, is based on actual principle or simply opposition politics to make him look weak and ineffective.  I think we have a right to look at the opposition and wonder if they are really for the country or for themselves.

    Again, these are suggestions for how to treat the next president, possibly a Republican, based on some Biblical concepts.  I would hate for anyone to think I am suggesting this is the way to treat the present incumbent Democrat since he is not our guy and it might be hard to see how these things could apply to him.  We just need to get ready to have new rules that can be applied to our guy, for the sake of his protection, ours, and maybe the country's.