The singing evangelist

Crowds gathered in breathless expectation to hear the “Singing Evangelist.” In mostly small towns and congregations he would mix sermons, delivered with great fervor, and hymns, led with great skill. His name was Knowles Shaw (1834-1878), and he was one of the most effective evangelists of his day.

He was born in Ross Township, Ohio. His father, who died when he was 12, left him a violin, which he learned to play. Soon he was playing at parties and dances around the region. Oddly, it was at a dance while he was playing that he was struck by a thought from Amos 4:12: “Prepare to meet thy God.” This was the turning point of his life. He left the dance immediately and spent the rest of the night in anguish and prayer. He began attending the Flat Rock Church of Christ and was baptized on September 13, 1852. Continue reading “The singing evangelist”

I am a father who does not know everything

When I was little my father appeared to me to always be strong and wise. Of course, that was merely the perspective of a little boy. Now that I am a father, I know better. I am a father who does not know everything. I can relate very well to the biblical writer who said our fathers disciplined us “as it seemed best to them” (Hebrews 12:9-10). There were times I wondered if I should have been stronger. At other times I wondered if I should have been more lenient. Kids, give dad a break! When you were a kid he had to make decisions on the fly, decisions no one else was willing to make, and he did it out of the very best of intentions Continue reading “I am a father who does not know everything”

Love is blind

You have heard the expression “love is blind.” It usually refers to someone who falls in love but who seems not to see the (apparently obvious) flaws in the person he loves. Christians are likewise told not to love the world: “Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

It’s easy to become infatuated with the world. She is so alluring, in a fatally charming way. Beneath the beautiful exterior, she is hollow, feeding her followers a diet lacking in nourishment. She can be a harsh mistress, demanding and unreasonable, prepared to abandon those who love her at a whim. That’s why it is so hard to resist her demands. We are reluctant to displease her, for fear she will withhold the approval we crave. And, to put it simply, we don’t see that she is manipulative and controlling, because our love is blind! Continue reading “Love is blind”

Some thoughts on preaching

As a listener, you might wonder why you should know what it takes for preaching to be what it should be. You are, after all, the listener, not the speaker. Yet it is worth noting that when Paul warned about a falling away he placed some of the blame on those who listen: “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:4).

Observe the drift from faithfulness to faithlessness: “People will not endure sound teaching” (that’s you, the listener). “But having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their passions … and will turn away from listening to the truth.” At some point, the truth will no longer matter, only that which feeds our desires. And, finally, their drift will be complete: “And wander off into myths.” Continue reading “Some thoughts on preaching”

Are you a church member or a church customer?

So many people treat the precious, blood-bought church like a cheap discount store. “The church’s job is to serve me, and if it doesn’t, well, we’re out of here.” How often have I heard someone say, “That congregation did nothing for me.”

This attitude is the absolute opposite of the Lord’s will. He calls on us to serve, not be served: Continue reading “Are you a church member or a church customer?”

Don’t quit

I have often thought about Christians who left the faith. I’m certain they didn’t plan to leave. Circumstances, or the unexpected, simply overwhelmed them. But you, my dear reader, can probably name a score of people who left. Paul saw the danger and urged us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

When I see a Christian fall away I am anguished. How I wish I could have prevented it! How I wish I had known the right thing to say. Often, however, by the time they contemplate leaving, it is too late. Perhaps, I have often thought, I could tell them some things before the crisis sweeps in, so they will know what to expect: So, with that in mind, here are some things that I have always wanted to say: Continue reading “Don’t quit”

Target on the back

Sometimes I think there must be a target on the back of churches and their leaders. Whenever I see someone take a shot at the church in conversation, or on Facebook, or over dinner, I want to look at the back of church leaders’ shirts to see if there is the old familiar target everyone is shooting at.

The burden of elders and preachers and congregations, too, is they must be right one hundred percent of the time else people begin to take aim. Not only must they always be perfect, but they must be perfect with the right attitude. They can’t be smug or judgmental or harsh. And if they fail on any point, at any time, the command rings out: “Fire at will! Any church, any church leader, just take your free shots!” Continue reading “Target on the back”

Fantasy and reality

Have you ever watched a home renovation on HGTV and wondered how the spokesperson could look as crisp as the crease in a sergeant major’s uniform? If any of we mere mortals attempted the same thing we would be covered in sweat, sawdust, and grime. Yet there he is smiling into the camera, fresh as a daisy.

This is the difference between fantasy and reality. Preaching is distinctly an exercise in the latter. Continue reading “Fantasy and reality”


Tevye, the whimsical patriarch in the movie Fiddler on the Roof explains the definition of a tradition perfectly. Speaking of Jewish tradition in Tsarist Russia, he declares: “You may ask, how did his tradition get started?” Then he pauses before answering his own question: “I tell you why: I don’t know.”

Young people (I was young once, too) like to ask the question, “But why do we have to do it this way?” Those of us who are older have to do better than to simply say, “Tradition!” Continue reading “Traditions”