Still Working On My Faith

As a preacher, I want to speak for one minute on behalf of all preachers. We are still working on our faith too. 

That means we have not perfected our theology completely. We still have questions and issues, perhaps more than you can imagine. 

That is why I continue to read through the Bible again every year. I know the stories, but I am still figuring out how it all fits together. 

That is why I am always reading something. Books fill my shelves, magazines come to my mailbox, emails fill my inbox, and hundreds of blogs come to my reader. I put something into my mind every single day. 

That is why I listen to sermons, lessons, and lectures. In addition, I have audiobooks, podcasts, and teachings that fill my phone, so I am always able to access more and new information. 

I am not the same preacher I was just five years ago. Hopefully, I am better than I was just a few months ago. My continual education is changing me. I long to become more like Christ. 

Faith is essential to following Jesus, but growth is optional. I hope that your preacher, as I strive to be, is out in front leading the way as a disciple of Jesus. 

Where Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word

The song was initially written in the 1870s, although there is some debate about the exact date. A man named Brewster M. Higley wrote a poem from a small cabin in Smith County, Kansas, near Beaver Creek. It was entitled “My Western Home” and published in the Smith County Pioneer (KS) newspaper. Through the years, the poem was edited and made into a song that we now know as “Home on the Range.” It is called a classic cowboy song and is considered the theme song of the American West. 

Its words begin with a plea, “Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and antelope play …” The following words say, “Where never is heard a discouraging word.” Mr. Higley’s poem actually says, “Where never is heard a discouraging word.” Finally, the words “And the sky is not clouded all day.”

The writer is clearly taking artistic liberties with his picture. Obviously, some days have clouds, or there would be no rain, which is needed for life. But the idea of never hearing a discouraging word is equally unbelievable. So editors changed the lyrics to reflect a joyful yet honest hope for life. “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word” became the new version. 

What a dream to be in a beautiful location with wildlife nearby, blue skies, and the people around you are not discouraging. Rarely is someone is trying to convince people what they are doing is wrong, prevent them from possible positive action, or say things to make other people lose confidence. What a wonderful place. It is no wonder that so many people love the idea of the American West.

I really wish someone would write a similar song for the Church. That the Church is a place where God’s grace overflows, children play, and seldom is heard a discouraging word. After all, the people who follow Jesus are called not to be discouraging but encouraging. They are not to rob each other of their enthusiasm for the faith; instead, they empower them for more remarkable ministry. 

What would happen if the Church truly was a place “where seldom is heard a discouraging word?” I know people dream of such places because of the popularity of that song. A home like that is built not only by good intention but also by your words and mine. 


The religious world is full of them. 

The other day I was doing research for a sermon illustration. While reading the details of a man’s life, I finally saw a picture of him. I took out my notebook and wrote a simple line:

“Never trust a faith healer who wears eyeglasses.”

I remember reading that somewhere.

The application is simple:  If anyone ever tells you that you can have anything you want if only you believe. They are a fraud. Sometimes their own life betrays their message. 

But before I throw stones, I have to ask, is there anything in my life that doesn’t align with what I am teaching? “Physician, heal thyself” is often excellent advice. 

Preachers, School Teachers, and Tree Planters

Many jobs never see their work reach maturity. The fruit of their efforts will not be fully known for thirty or forty years or more.

It is hard to tell if you are making an impact. You don’t start a project like building a house and then see it finished, and a family moves into it one day. Instead, you labor day in and day out with very few visible signs that your work is accomplishing anything. 

Today the encouragement is that whatever good work you do – never give up. Even when you do not see any results for your labor, keep working hard. You are doing far more good than you will ever realize. Forests are being planted, people are being educated, and the gospel is changing lives.

Whoever is trying to change the world and help people live better lives, you need to know that your work is essential. Stay to the task even when you want to give up. 

Immediate results are seldom seen when the work is significant. You have to keep doing the right thing and let someone else enjoy the fruit of your labor. Just know today; you are making a difference. 

When the Preacher says, “Amen?”

A preacher I know will often stop while preaching and say, “Amen?” 

It is not a shout of exclamation, rather a question of, “Do you think what I just said is true?”

What that preacher wants is a response to the words he is using. He wants people to affirm that he is saying the right things, and it is resonating with the congregation. He longs for feedback that his sermon is effective. 

I have never been one to say, “Amen?” This may be because of my upbringing or possibly my college training. But I am also convinced that the best “Amen” you can give me is going out and doing what I said. If I preach the truth and touch your soul, the best response is action.

It is nice to get positive feedback on Sunday, but the biggest compliment you can give me is to live my teaching on a weekday. 

Preparing for What You Know Lies Ahead

My youngest son and I recently went to watch the new Batman movie. Before going, I checked the runtime, and it was almost three whole hours. When you add in all the previews, our theater experience lasted for nearly three and a half hours. I knew this before ever paying over $20 for both of us to watch it on the big screen. 

Apparently, most of the people in the theater had no idea what they were in for with this movie. Throughout the entire time it was running, people were getting up and down to go to the bathroom, get refills on popcorn and soda, and back to the bathroom again. In a theater with about 75 people, I estimated that over half got up at least once. As a result, some of them missed large sections of the movie, which they paid to watch. 

If you knew it was that long and wanted to watch the entire movie (like I did), then should you not have been prepared for what you knew would happen. 

For example, before I left home, I ate some food. Then at the movie, I went to the bathroom right before it started. And I never had to leave my seat once. I enjoyed all the previews and the entire movie with my son. 

While sitting there pondering the people’s behavior in the cinema that day, I began to make a connection to faith. The Bible teaches in Hebrews 9:27 that all people are destined to die once and then face judgment. If you do not believe the Bible, you at least know we will all die, and something will happen after that. And yet, most people are not preparing for it. They are walking around as if they were going to live forever, entirely unprepared for the end, especially not God’s judgment. 

The Apostles were once asked they would quit following Jesus along with the crowds. Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” One reason I am a person who follows Jesus is because I am trying to prepare for what I know lies ahead. 

Read the Scriptures FIRST

If I had one wish for every Christian, it would be that they would read their Bible before developing their convictions. 

Unfortunately, the structure of our faith communities usually works against this. We invite people to listen to a sermon or teacher before knowing what the Bible says. Granted, a preacher should walk us through what the Bible teaches first and foremost, but I know that is not always the case. The result is people having preconceived ideas before investigating what the Bible teaches. 

Before developing your ideas about the end time, please read your Bible first. 

Before you discuss creation and evolution, please read your Bible first.

Before you make statements about the necessity of the Church, read your Bible first.

Before you pronounce your convictions about faith – please, please read your Bible first. 

I am not saying that reading the Bible will eliminate all our differences. There have been great people of faith who disagreed about what the Bible said.

If you have read it, then at least we can have an intelligent conversation about what the scriptures teach. I will gladly dialog with anyone who starts with the Bible as the authority for life. However, I cannot tolerate people who want to argue with me about something they heard another preacher or teacher say and have never read it for themselves. 

Read your Bible first. Then draw some conclusions. Finally, listen to sermons, lessons, lectures, and podcasts. Read books, magazines, articles, and blogs. Good teachers are vital for the life of faith, but they are no replacement for actually reading your Bible. 

Continually Working On It

It is the time of year when everything is starting to turn green. Spring is in the air with warmer temperatures and beautiful sunny afternoons. This is also the time of year that the outdoor work begins at my house. 

The flower garden needs weeds pulled, old plants trimmed, mulch replaced, and new plants inserted. The yard needs raked to gather all these awful prickly balls that fall from a sweet gum tree planted out front. This tall decorative grass grows on the northeast side of the yard that needs to be cut down and burned. The bushes scattered around the house will need to be trimmed and cleaned for another year. Finally, we plant tomatoes in pots behind the house, and those need to be purchased, planted, caged, and fertilized. 

There is much to do around our house to get the garden going and look lovely again. But it will not end after just a month of work. This will be a summer-long project. Pulling weeds, trimming growth, replacing mulch, getting rid of moles, and watering. This simple garden located around my house will require hours and hours of work.

This principle is true of all gardens. It might be the spiritual garden of your soul or the relationship garden of your heart. Each one needs continual maintenance. Your walk with God and your marriage needs your careful attention to keep them growing. This will require time, work, and sometimes sheer determination. 

Like every beautiful garden, you only see results from people continually working on it. The same is true with people who have a mature life of faith or deeply connected marriage. You never move beyond taking time to work on things. The moment you do is when things start to go wrong. So much of life is maintaining things so that the natural beauty will show forth in all its glory. Great gardens do not just happen.   

The Trouble With MY Marriage

Is me. 

And that is humbling to write or say. 

Because my spouse has flaws and issues too. I could probably list them and make myself feel better. 

Because I am a better spouse than many people I know. Compared to others, I am doing well. 

But the truth is that I am the trouble with my marriage, and it is okay. 

I can fix myself. I have the power to change my behavior, my words, my attitudes, and my actions. 

I cannot fix my spouse. 

The first step toward a better marriage is admitting that I am the problem, and I can do better.

Misstatements in Sermons

One problem with preaching without notes is that sometimes I make an error in my sermon. These mistakes are not theological blunders that alter people’s views of God. Instead, at least once a month, I will get some small fact wrong, misuse a word or make a misstatement that I never intended to make. 

For example, recently, I said that the pool of Siloam was about 1600 yards away. Then in my mind, I wanted to say that is 16 football fields. Instead, I said that it is more than three football fields away. Another time I said Jesus went to Nicodemus at night. When the Bible story clearly states that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night. I had it backward. Both times I knew I was wrong the moment I said it, but I also knew that neither was of major significance, so I kept talking. 

Statements like these always bother me. I thought I should post on my blog Sunday afternoons about the clarifications, corrections, and controversy from the morning sermon. These things haunt me and can keep me up at night, even when they are seemingly insignificant.   

I want to remind you not to be shocked when preachers make mistakes. Also, please show us grace and kindness in our blunders. If we are misinterpreting the Bible, we should be confronted and corrected. But when we make minor errors in our words – be kind – or next time, I might mistakenly say your name in error in a way you would not like. (I’m kidding, of course … well …)