“And Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took (Mary) as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son, and he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).
“Papa,” the little girl said,”How do we know when it’s God speaking to us and when it’s just us talking to ourselves?”
Her grandfather, a longtime pastor friend of mine, said, “Honey, that’s one of the great questions we have to struggle with throughout our whole lives.”
I’m confident the family asked Joseph that question and a hundred more.
“What do you mean you’re going ahead with the marriage, Joseph? Can’t you see Mary is pregnant and not by you? Doesn’t it matter to you what people are saying and how this looks? You say you heard from God? What does that mean?”
They thought Joseph was being “used,” that his “hearing from God” was his own wish fulfillment, that he wanted to marry Mary so badly he was willing to put up with anything, that the voice he was hearing originated in his own libido.
Poor Joseph. He did two of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do who is determined to follow the Lord…
Continue reading “Christmas Epiphanies: How we know we’re hearing from God” »
“If you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).
Theodore Roosevelt was asked by a newsman if he could not control his then 17-year-old daughter Alice, who was gifted with a penchant for stirring up matters.
He said, “I can control Alice or I can be president of the United States. But I cannot do both.”
He was making a joke, but he was making a point.
He had to make a choice and he opted to run the country rather than his daughter.
The business section of your local bookseller will offer plenty of selections on how to become a multi-millionaire, rise to the top of one’s profession, or “make your mark before you are 40.” But almost all will point out that in order to achieve such a lofty goal, one must sacrifice a lot of other things in life, including recreation, hobbies, and quality family time.
We make our choices.
Continue reading “Choices we have to make in life” »
“So amid the conflict, whether great or small, do not be discouraged God is over all…”
It’s a conflict, storm, nightmare, or maybe just a small flareup. To anyone else, it might be nothing, but to you it is serious business. Anything could happen, and you want to be very careful and to handle this well. See if any of this helps….
Someone came up to me Tuesday evening at the conclusion of my fifth and final Christmas dinner/banquet where I had tried to draw everyone present and deliver a message on living by faith.
“You have no idea how appropriate your message was for us tonight. It was sent from God.”
That’s what keeps preachers going. It’s better than any tonic.
How does that line go? Everyone is either just coming out of a battle, in the middle of a battle, or about to go into one.
Continue reading “What to do in the midst of your storm” »
Ever have one of those days?
Ever have one of those Sundays and you’re the preacher?
I sat in church last Sunday wondering if my pastor was struggling in his sermon. He’d chosen a difficult subject, one I’d had trouble with during my years in the pulpit, although Pastor Mike on a sub-par day is like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees when they’re less than a hundred percent: still very good.
Every pastor has those times, Sundays when they don’t feel good physically, maybe they had trouble sleeping, perhaps something in the church is troubling them, they’re worried about a relative, or it’s nothing they can identify. We’ve all been there.
What is a pastor to do then?
Answer: You preach.
Continue reading “It’s Sunday, you’re the preacher, and you feel out of sync” »
I sat in the congregation listening to the Christmas sermon. Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
The minister selected one aspect of the Christmas story and read the text, then brought his sermon from it. His points were properly related to the text and no doubt most people in the worship center felt satisfied that they had been spiritually fed. It was only later that something occurred to me, what was the missing ingredient in that morning’s service.
The worship leader and musicians and the pastor all drew our attention back to that night in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and they did a fair job of opening the text, explaining its message, and praising the Lord. But they omitted one major element as far as I could tell.
They forgot to give us the “so what” of the Christmas message.
Continue reading “The ongoing, ever-living Christmas” »
“On the first day of the week, let every one of you….” (I Corinthians 16:2)
A heavy snowfall had paralyzed the city. By church time only the janitor and the preacher had shown up. As they stood there, trying to decide what to do, the pastor said, “People today just aren’t as dedicated as they should be.” The janitor said, “No sir, and we wouldn’t be here either if they didn’t pay us!”
Today, the second Sunday of December, I’m at the halfway point of five banquets in a six-day period.
Thursday night, it was the “President’s Christmas Dinner” at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.” I wasn’t the speaker or anything, but they set me up a table and I sketched a lot of people. Then, the next night, after driving nearly 400 miles, I did the annual “pastors and wives Christmas banquet” for two associations around Minden, Louisiana where my buddy Randy Hales is the director of missions. I sketched nonstop for a couple of hours and did my stories for 30 minutes and drew some more, then drove over two hours back to Vicksburg, Mississippi where I’d reserved a room. Came home Saturday. Then, that night, I did the “Christmas family dinner” a few blocks from my house for Grace Community Bible Church, drawing everyone and sharing my stories.
I slept like a baby last night.
Two more to go.
Continue reading “I went to church today, but didn’t have to” »
“That is one of the reasons I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed.” –C. S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity”
Nothing about the Christian faith is as we might have expected. Get into the business of a virgin birth, a sinless life, a vicarious death, and a resurrection, and have it happen to a Jew in First Century Roman-dominated Judea and all bets are off.
Consider just the unexpectedness of the Christmas event itself, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1) Matthew 1
–The lineage of Jesus contains an interesting lineup of characters, including several women of questionable character: Tamar who seduced her father-in-law, Rahab the prostitute of Jericho, Ruth who was the subject of gossip in Bethlehem, Bathsheba who was the “other woman” of David’s fall from grace, and of course, Mary herself, the target of malicious gossips throughout Nazareth.
Continue reading “The Unexpected Christmas” »
There were three people in front of me at the Walmart checkout. I was on my way to a drawing assignment and stopped to pick up a large sketchbook. Walmart has them cheaper than the art store, although David Art of Metairie is a great place with wonderful people and I keep them in business.
In front of me was a Hispanic lady with a toddler in her shopping basket. I opened the sketchbook and did a hasty drawing of the child. I signed it and handed it to her. She was thrilled and said, “Merry Christmas.” That was around November first, and she was the first one to greet me in this way this season. A Spanish pastor friend heard this and laughed, “We Latinos love to celebrate our Lord’s birth for months!”
Driving the interstate that day was no fun. We were returning from visiting our son and his family (I’m working hard not to say the truth here, that we were visiting our grandchildren!) and all day long the highway had been beset with rain, fog, mist, at times so heavy we turned on the blinkers and leaned forward to see the lines on the pavement. But finally, we arrived and checked into the hotel and drove down the street to the Cracker Barrel restaurant.
“You have a 15 minute wait,” the hostess said. That was fine. Margaret began browsing and I hung around close to the line.
Behind me stood a young mother with her daughter about 5 years old. Now, I’m the grandfather of six little girls (little, ha! They range in age now from 16 to 24.) and love children. So, I struck up a conversation with the child.
Continue reading “Speaking to strangers and spreading Christmas” »
The title of this piece came from my buddy Jim Graham of Atlanta in a recent email. We’re close to the same age and appreciate so many of the same things–our Lord, our families, our country, our friends, and retirement living. We both love stimulating conversation, to spend an evening with a good book, to take a walk in the park as the sun is setting, and to listen to a good symphony or the harmony of the Everly Brothers.
Jim and I are both enjoying our Autumns.
Everyone knows about autumn as a time of the year. And who doesn’t love that?
Many people agree with Jim and me that autumn is also the best time of life. Consider some ways in which these days–Jim and I are in our early to mid 70s, just spring chickens!–are the very best….
1) We don’t have to go to work. (I am well aware that many seniors do have to work because of a thousand factors, and my heart goes out to them. But most people our ages are fully retired, and if they work, it’s only to do what they love.)
And yes, I am working. I preach every opportunity I get, blog every day, sketch at events to which I’m invited, do a cartoon each weekday for the Baptist Press, and such. But these are labors of pure love.
Continue reading “Autumn: My favorite time of the year and of life” »
“…and if necessary, use words.”
St. Francis of Assisi said we should preach the gospel, and if necessary, with words.
Or did he?
The online source called Wikiquotes has a dozen or more variations of the “preach the gospel; if necessary use words” line. But they say, there is no indication St. Francis ever said anything of the sort.
I suspect the reason that line appeals to many of us is that we tire of all the wordiness of God’s people, frequently as a substitute for action. The danger is we may react too far in the opposite direction.
Words are a big, big deal to the Lord God–the One who spoke the world into being!–as well as to believers. We hold in our hands a book we call “The Word,” and the pastor brings God’s message from it every Sunday.
“Take with you words and turn to the Lord,” the prophet Hosea told Israel (14:2).
Words are so important that the Lord Jesus Himself is called The Word (John 1:1ff.).
And yet, there are times when words get in the way, and quietness is called for.
Continue reading “Sometimes saying less is more; but rarely.” »