Celebrity Preachers

Perhaps you heard about the young pastor recently who preached a twenty-four hour sermon. This was not a case of the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher and inspiring him to keep at it. It was a planned event. He actually designed and advertised the sermon as a means of promoting his new book. By all accounts, he has been a successful pastor, starting and growing a rather large congregation. He had just finished writing the book and felt like the message would “change lives.” Speaking as a writer who has published a few books myself, I agree that if you do not have something important to say that needs to be heard, don’t bother writing a book. To be honest, when I heard about this twenty-four hour sermon, my first thought was that I am glad I have lived long enough that people have forgotten all the dumb stuff I did in my twenty’s. Hopefully this young man will live long enough as well.

The underlying issue of this whole business is preachers performing some kind of stunt in order to attract attention and draw a crowd. It raises the question of celebrity preachers. The basic definition of celebrity is quite simple. A celebrity is someone who is widely known. We have raised the idea of being a celebrity to new heights. There are magazines, websites, and television programs that exist for the sole purpose of revealing insights about celebrities. preacher

It is a viscous cycle–do something that get’s noticed, appear in a magazine or newspaper, other magazines notice, people follow you around, do something else, everyone notices, get on more magazine covers, do something stupid, one last burst of notoriety, loose all your friends. The amazing thing is that so many folks are striving to be celebrities it is almost like a chosen profession for some – What do you want to be when you grow up? A celebrity!

I do not have a problem with celebrity preachers. The issue that concerns me is preachers who strive to be celebrities without realizing the cost. I think it is safe to say that Billy Graham was a celebrity preacher. He is very well-known all around the world. However, he became famous by preaching. His celebrity was a by-product of his work. I don’t know him personally, but I never felt like he sought out the celebrity status, although he certainly knew how to utilize it. There have been many celebrity preachers throughout history – Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield. It might even be correct to say that Jesus was a celebrity preacher in his day.  Continue reading

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Falling In Love

I wrote the following words several years ago and included them in my book “Intermission.” I share them again on the occasion of my 42nd anniversary. As you read these words you will better understand how 42 years is possible. 

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.  (Proverbs 31:10-12)

Finding the right person to marry can be one of the most foreboding tasks in all of life.  In fact, it is such a difficult decision that many young people give up and settle for less than the best.  The acceptable approach to marriage today is to try it for a short time and if the relationship fails, bail out and try someone else.

Fortunately, I was spared the difficult process of striving to locate the perfect mate.  I sometimes wonder if God knew I did not have enough sense to make a good choice so He made it easy for me.  I share how I found a wife with some apprehension.  It is an experience that is not normative for most people.  In fact, I would discourage anyone who thinks they might have a similar experience.Wedding pic0001

Sharon and I met at church.  Although I was already a freshman in college, I still participated in the youth group.  The youth program was led by Sharon’s parents and was built around a musical group called the “Proclaimers.”  We traveled to churches around the state of Colorado and even a couple of trips to churches in Texas.

It was a grand experience for all of us involved.  I knew a little music and played a couple of instruments, but it was in this singing group that I learned how to harmonize.  Sharon’s mother played the piano in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis.  She developed the skill as a very young girl as she played for church.  Elva assigned everyone in the group a part to sing on each song.  During practice, if you could not find your note, she would beat it out extra loudly on the piano until everyone was back on key.  She could lead an entire congregation in singing without ever saying a word or leaving the piano bench.

We learned how to sing from the heart.  Although the music might not have been award winning caliber, the presentation was always meaningful and many people were moved by the sight and sound of committed young people singing about the love of God.  We all developed some great friendships within the group.

When Sharon graduated from High School she moved across the state to attend college.  Although we were friends, we did not date nor did we consider any type of long-term relationship.

In the providence of God, Sharon and I both transferred to Wayland Baptist College in Plainview, Texas, at the beginning of the spring semester in 1973.  We arrived at the Texas campus in the middle of January and neither of us knew anyone else.  Continue reading

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Don’t Worry, You Will Have Brian On Your Team

One of our authors at Austin Brothers Publishing, Dwight Short,  writes a weekly article, always with impactful words of wisdom. I was especially struck with what he sent this week and want to share it with you. 

Those words greeted me when my son signed up for a youth football team in Strongsville, Ohio back in the early 80’s. My son loved sports and I had coached some of his teams before so when the organizers of the league asked me to coach, I agreed. I was happy when a father of one of the boys alerted me that we would not only have Brian but his son and two other boys from the championship team of the year before. He even told me how they would be glad to help me call the plays and even knew at sign up which boys should be playing at each position.

When I told him that my philosophy for kids this age (10 and 11 year olds) would include having all the kids play all of the positions so they could appreciate what it takes to make a team, the idea was not met with very much appreciation. He quickly stomped off to find some other fathers who were also outraged at my idea before they even considered its merit. There was even discussion that these fathers would approach the league authorities to see if they could move their boys to another team that would accept all of their “advice” or remove this coach.Brian_Schottenheimer

As the season started, I could see in practice that the fathers were right about one thing.  Brian was a special athlete, and clearly could have carried our team. But I explained on the first day that it was important at this age to learn about playing all the positions because a team cannot be successful unless each player and each position is honored for what they do.

Brian’s father was an interesting and distant bystander thru all of this. He never came to watch us practice, and he always found a faraway spot to watch all of our games. We won our first three games with Brian playing different skill positions, and the rest of the team rotating as well. When we played our fourth game, Brian was scheduled to be a lineman and blocker. Kids and parents told me that Brian was thinking of skipping the game to teach ME a lesson. But he didn’t, and even though he was a lousy lineman and had never blocked for anyone before, he played hard that day. We lost in a close game and risked losing the championship because of this coach’s idea to play all of our players at ALL of the positions at least once. Continue reading

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Second Amendment or Second Commandment

If you did a survey among Americans who claim to be Christians, I’m confident more of them could identify the Second Amendment than could identify Jesus’ Second Commandment.

What, you didn’t realize Jesus had a list of commandments?

Jesus was quite persistent in resisting those who would make Him a legalist. They brought a woman to Him, directly from an adulterous bed, hoping to make Him choose legalism and obey the law. When asked why He allowed His disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath, He moved beyond the reading of the law to the meaning of the law. After being called out for not washing His hands before a meal according to the rule of law, Jesus reminded His host that cleanliness comes from the heart, not from the wash basin.

Finally, Jesus was cornered by a lawyer. If you want to find a true legalist look for the nearest lawyer—that is what they do. The lawyer asked Jesus to identify the greatest law of Moses. He wanted to know what Jesus thought was the most important law.2nd ammendment

Since this man was an expert on the law, he already had an opinion on this issue. He was either expecting Jesus to confirm his own opinion, or to offer an opposing position that they could argue.

Jesus provided an answer that would be quite agreeable to the lawyer—love God with all your being. But He didn’t stop there, saying there is a second commandment of equal value. The second commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

That’s tough!

I think it means when my neighbor is hungry I should be just as diligent in feeding him as I am in feeding myself when I’m hungry.

I think it means when my neighbor is cold I should make every effort to keep him as warm as I do myself on a winter night.

I think it means when my neighbor is hurting because of a loss (a death, injury, or relationship) I should sit down and grieve with him.

I think it means when my neighbor has screwed up something I should be helping to make things right just like I want others to help me make things right.

I think it means when my neighbor is mean and angry I should forgive him just like I want to be forgiven.

I think it means when my neighbor has stupid opinions I should be gentle and understanding like I need others to treat me when I have stupid opinions.

I think it means I want the best for my neighbor just like I want the best for myself.

Jesus’ second commandment is a hard one, but it actually makes His first commandment visible. In other words, how does anyone know if I actually love God? I can tell you that I do, but I might be lying, perhaps even lying to myself. But in tying these two commandments together, Jesus gave us a way to show that we truly love God by revealing how much we love our neighbor.

Do you understand what that means? It means I cannot claim to love God unless I love my neighbor. If I don’t care about my neighbor’s hunger, or his lack of clothing, or his hurting, or his need for help and forgiveness then I don’t really love God.

Jesus’ Second Commandment might be one of the most important things He said.

It is sad that so many will wrap themselves in the protection of the Second Amendment yet fail to comprehend the Second Commandment. If you read them carefully they are almost opposite in meaning.

The Second Amendment is designed to allow me to protect myself, while the Second Commandment is designed to allow me to give myself to others.

The Second Amendment gives me license to kill someone who wants to steal my stuff, and the Second Commandment gives me license to give my stuff to anyone who needs it.

The Second Amendment focuses on my need to take care of myself (and my family), but the Second Commandment focuses my attention on the needs of others.

It causes me to wonder what would happen if Christians (just those who actually follow Jesus) were as adamant about demanding their Second Commandment rights as they are about the Second Amendment rights. Perhaps we would stop hating and killing one another and start loving and taking care of one another. Or more importantly, at least for me anyway, what would it mean if I took Jesus’ Second Commandment more seriously? How would that change my life? Perhaps it’s time to find out.

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An Open Letter to Church Leaders

If you are interested in a potential church member, here I am. My wife and I are prime candidates to be a part of your congregation. We are ready to be welcomed and put to work.

Both of us are experienced and quite capable. We were both raised in families where church involvement was at the hub of family life, and the subject of most conversations around the dinner table. I have served as a pastor for more than 15 years, and a church consultant for nearly 20 years.

Yes, I know you can do the math–that puts us in our mid-60’s. We might not fit the target demographic of your church, but I can assure you the problem is not with us. We don’t especially want to be a part of a senior adult ministry, and I think I am correct in saying that younger folks are comfortable with us so our presence won’t torpedo your ministry plans.OpenLetter

I will confess up front that you might want to accuse me of being too selective when it comes to church. I like to think it is because I have high standards. Either way, what I’m trying to say is I’m not interested in what you are doing simply because you tack the word “church” onto your legal papers.

For the past few years I have felt like we were living on an island all by ourselves, but I recently discovered I actually belong to a labeled category of people. Church leaders have long talked about the “unchurched.” Apparently there is another group of people known as the “dechurched.”

This term is used to describe those who have left the historic Christian faith. This group consists primarily of young people who grew weary of the church’s message that if you obey God your life will be blessed. They dropped out of church once they saw the fallacy of this message and began to experience the natural pain and sorrow of life. They were once a part of the church, but because their experience didn’t ring true with the church’s message, they walked away. Continue reading

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How to Have a Happy Father’s Day

Father’s Day is just around the corner so it seems appropriate to say something about being a father. Most sentiments on this day are presented from the perspective of the child. In fact, I could write an entire book with nothing but positive things about my father. However, this time I want to view the holiday from the perspective of a father.

The experience of becoming a father is securely fastened in my memory; unless you ask Sharon, and she can clarify some of my mistaken memories. I was a seminary student at the time, living in meager student housing. The best thing I can say about our apartment is that the rent was affordable.

I was returning from class for lunch when I saw Sharon walking toward me as I was passing the library. She had been to the doctor so she greeted me with the news that we were going to be parents – I was going to be a father.Branson

To say I was excited would be an understatement, even though I typically don’t show excitement outwardly. However, the euphoria was quickly swallowed by thoughts of what do we do now. Seminary took every penny we had, and at the time, Sharon was our only source of income. She was doing social work on a government contract for a magnificent sum of $600 per month, more than enough for us to live on. If she had to stop working, or if the contract was not renewed, we would be in trouble.

However, I’ve always been a problem solver so the worry didn’t last long. The nine months went by quickly. We took the natural birth classes, all the rage at the time, and her pregnancy was uneventful.

When the morning arrived that the baby was ready to meet the world, I called our friend Bobby and asked him to take us to the hospital before class. We didn’t anticipate any issues. But things didn’t go as planned. Circumstances were that Sharon needed a cesarean, which we were unprepared to face.

That was back in the day when they were smart enough to keep the new father out of the delivery room, so they prepped her, and wheeled her off to surgery. I stood in the hallway, in a city a thousand miles away from any family, with not even a friend nearby. As tears rolled down my cheeks, a woman walked by, gave me a hug and said, “Everything’s going to be fine.” Continue reading

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Why You Should Not Vote in the Presidential Election

Many years ago, my father was driving in the mountains of Colorado. As he rounded a corner, he was confronted with a large truck coming toward him in his lane. Apparently the truck was trying to pass another vehicle and stayed in the oncoming lane too long. My father reported that he was forced to decide between the lesser of two terrible options. He could smash the oncoming truck head on, or he could steer off the road and plummet down the side of the mountain. If you have ever driven in the Colorado mountains you are aware it is not like driving into the bar ditch in west Texas.

He chose the lesser of the two, and fortunately his car was halted by the pine trees about a hundred feet down the cliff. He lived to tell the story.

Sometimes life forces us to make a choice between two bad things, and the result is going to be unpleasant no matter what choice we make.

Many people are feeling that way about the upcoming presidential election—there is not a good choice. Approval ratings for both candidates are at historic lows, and are destined to get worse after five more months of name calling, mudslinging, and third grade behavior that is characteristic of this year’s campaign.DontVoteButton

Each candidate has a small hard-core group of voters who wave their flag obnoxiously high, but for the most part, you hear people say, “I could never vote for..,.” and they name one of the candidates. More people are voting against someone this year than the number of people who are voting for someone.

Much of the campaign rhetoric consists of saying, “if this person is elected terrible things will happen to our country.” I get it. We have two bad choices. I feel like my father must have felt as he steered his Buick over the edge of the cliff—he didn’t have a better choice.

But, we do have options. I’m not talking about a miraculous final month by Bernie Sanders, or an out-of-nowhere Republican savior. There are some legitimate options that keep us from being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

The most obvious option is that when you go to vote you will find other candidate’s names on the ballot. As of the first of June, 1,751 folks had filed the paperwork necessary to be considered a candidate for President. Obviously, you will not have to read through hundreds of names while in the voting booth since most of those people will have long departed the race, but there will be other names for consideration. Continue reading

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