Plans for my funeral. Yep, here is my program.

We were gathered around the bed where my wife of 52 years lay. We had signed the papers to unplug her from life support.  Everyone was in tears.  She would take her last breath the next morning.

After a time, I said to my family, “Now listen. One of these days it will be Grandpa lying here. And I don’t want all this crying.”  Granddaughter Abby said, “Why not?”  I said, “Well, good night, I’ll be 98 years old and I will have preached the previous Sunday! What’s to cry about?” They all laughed.

I say a lot of things just to get a laugh.  It goes back to childhood so it’s who I am, I suppose.  But this one is dead on.  I want to live a long time and stay active serving the Lord and loving the special people around me.  Ideally, the only people attending my funeral will be friends of my grandchildren since I will have outlived all my contemporaries. (Note: The first time I wrote the above was 8 years ago.  I’m now 84 and going strong, thank the Lord!)

I may or may not do that.

My times are in God’s hands.  I know that and I’m good with it.

I go to a lot of funerals.  Yesterday, in fact, I went to two.  For the first I occupied a pew and at the second I was the officiator.

From time to time I give thought to my own memorial service.  And in planning it–if that’s what I’m doing here–I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I deserve a service befitting the King of England or something.  I’ll not be needing twelve preachers and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Simple is good.  And brief is not bad.

Here are my thoughts on the subject…

During the visitation time when people are entering the sanctuary to greet one another and speak to my family, the screens could be showing some of my cartoons through the years. Laughter is great–joy made audible!–and I’d love some at my service. (A favorite quote: Joy is the flag flown from the castle of your heart to show the King is in residence.)  I’m all in for joy.

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My sin is such a little thing

A fellow in Haiti wanted to sell his house for $2,000. He found a buyer, but the man could scrape together only half the asking price. So, the owner agreed to sell for that amount but with one reservation: he would continue to own one nail above the front door.

A couple of years later, the first guy decided he wanted to repurchase the house. The new owner declined, saying, “I like this house; I don’t want to sell.”

The previous owner found the carcass of a dead dog on the street and hung it from the nail he still owned above the front door. Soon the stench became so strong no one could go in or out of the house, and the family had to leave. They sold the house to the former owner.

A Haitian pastor told that story and then said, “If we leave the devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making our lives unfit for Christ’s habitation.”

Well, you and I think that was a cute little story, but surely it has no application to our lives. Right?

–I sure am enjoying my new life in Christ. Bible study is great, my new friends at church are wonderful, and I’m loving the new relationships. I wish I’d done this years ago. Some nights I’m down at the church til 10 o’clock with my friends there. Sometimes we are praying, studying the Bible, or working on various projects. I hope no one finds out what I’m watching on the internet at home. I know it’s called pornography, but it’s such a little thing and as long as no one knows, what can be wrong with it?

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The coach is toughest on his best players

“O you of little faith!  Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The teacher is hardest on the best pupils.

The Master Teacher is hardest on the Star Pupil.

The coach is in the face of the player with the greatest potential, on his back, never letting up.

Check out these words from the Lord Jesus.  Get behind me, Satan.  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s (Matthew 16:23).

He said those harsh, cutting words, not to the Pharisees, but to Simon Peter, His “star apostle.”

Simon Peter–the disciple with the most potential, the one Jesus renamed as “Rock.”  He called Peter a satan (adversary) soon after commending him for his confession that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  When Peter said that, the Lord said, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Called him blessed one moment and turns right around and calls him a devil. Wow.

What’s going on here?

Jesus had great hopes for Peter. And a great need for him.  To Peter alone, Jesus said, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.  And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren  (Luke 22:31-32).

With the star student, your hopes are great, your concern strong and constant, and your methods more severe than with anyone else in the room.

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Some people have forgotten they are forgiven. How weird is that!

If you had nearly died from a strange illness and the doctors had given up hope, then suddenly you recovered and were able to get on with your life, could you ever ever forget that?

If you had suffered on death’s row at Angola Prison, and the prison chaplain was preparing a final prayer and the chef had laid out your last meal, when suddenly the governor pardoned you and you walked outside a free man, and then got on with your life, could you ever forget it?

Apparently some people can forget the most momentuous events in their lives.

Consider this line: For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten that he was forgiven from his past sins. (II Peter 1:9)

It appears that some calling themselves Christians no longer remember that they have been forgiven of their sins. How strange is that? And how does it happen?

I think we know.

The Apostle Peter saw professing Christians around him living as though they had no past, as though they had dropped full-grown into the Christian life out of heaven.

It was a bizarre thought to him, as it is to us.

Peter identifies qualities which make for fruitfulness and usefulness in a believer’s life: Applying all diligence, add to your faith moral excellence, and to your moral excellence knowledge, and to your knowledge, self-control…. perseverance….godliness….brotherly kindness….love. (II Peter 1:5-7)

Believers exhibiting such godly traits have great influence for the Lord in this world. However, some who call themselves believers show no evidence of moral excellence (virtue), have no knowledge, little or no self-control, a complete lack of perseverance, and so forth (vs. 8). That is, they are living in sin, are ignorant of God’s word, indulge every passion, cannot stay with anything they start, show no signs of Christlikeness or simple kindness or a love for other believers. And yet they call themselves Christians. How could this be?

Barren, unproductive, lifeless believers–could there be such a thing?–are either blind or short-sighted, and have clearly forgotten they were ever forgiven for their sins in the first place.

Truly amazing.

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How to know you were called into the Lord’s work. (Or if you were not)

My pastor friend was about to conduct the most difficult funeral of his nearly-twenty year ministry. He and I had discussed it and I had prayed for him. His heart was breaking for the young family that was laying to rest two close loved ones.

In a private moment, I said to him, “Pastor to pastor, I want to ask you something. Even though this is tearing your heart out, do you find yourself thinking, ‘I’d rather be here doing this than anywhere else in the world’?”

He said, “I do! I really do.”

I said, “That’s how you know you are really called to this work.”

He was quiet a moment, then added, “I tell my wife–pastors’ wives understand these things–that my favorite part of pastoring, what I do best, is the funeral of a Christian. It’s hard, it can be gut-wrenching, but this is our moment to shine, the event which brings together all the great stuff we believe so strongly.”

God-called pastors understand.

I have stood at the graveside of a two-year-old who had fought a valiant fight against leukemia, my heart almost as torn as the parents’, and thought, “Thank you, dear Lord, for calling me into this work. I’d rather be here than anyplace else on earth.”

Only the called will understand.

A friend and I were having a lengthy discussion about a pastor who had almost ruined his last two churches and in both cases, left under a cloud. My friend said, “The guy was in the ministry, he has seminary degrees, but honestly, I do not think God called him into this work.”

In a meeting with leaders of our denomination, one subject we discussed out of great concern but for which we had no solution, was “helping pastors know if they are called (or not) into the ministry.”

There ought to be a way to help uncalled ministers recognize their situation, so they can step away from this work and find something else to do.

Some will ask why, what difference it makes.

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On the shore, waiting to cross over to the other side

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6).

These days, to ride the Fort Morgan ferry across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island, the cost for one car and two passengers is $27. That’s up considerably since the last time my wife and I rode it with our grandson.  Grant was about six, as I recall.

We had arrived at the ferry landing and took our place in line with other cars. I bought the ticket and we were milling around waiting for the ferry to arrive from the north shore.  Grant was apprehensive.

“Grandpa, are we going to cross that river?” I assured him we were.

“But there’s no bridge. Are we going to drive out in the water?”

I explained about the ferry boat.

“Grandpa, I’m afraid.”

I said, “Grant, you are with grandpa and grandma.  Do you know how much we love you? We are going to take care of you.  You have nothing to worry about.”

A half hour later, in the middle of Mobile Bay and standing on the deck of the ferry, my beloved grandson looked up, beaming. “Grandpa, this is fun.”

I smile at the memory.  It was indeed fun.

The story makes a point…

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Questionable things we pastors do–for which we shall give account

“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).

Robert Schuller died in April of 2015. This founder of the Crystal Cathedral in California and founder/host of television’s Hour of Power broadcast was the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church.  He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable, and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.

A few days after Schuller’s passing, I posted this on my Facebook page:

My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano lessons.  Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation.  Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Honey, any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, always end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.”  Schuller would look at his congregation and say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life.  But my friend, you can end with a flourish if you start now.”

It’s a great story, one I often use when speaking to senior adults.  It fits perfectly.

In 2015 when I posted the story, I suggested Facebook readers restrain from giving us their judgments of the man.  “He has One who will judge him, One far more qualified than you or I.  And since we will be needing mercy when we stand before Him, we want to show mercy toward everyone.”

The comments poured in quickly.

Most expressed appreciation for something Dr. Schuller had done or said, a few remembered visiting the Crystal Cathedral and gave us their lasting impressions, and several thanked me for the tone of my note.

None judged.

But the first time I told that story–I was the new pastor of that church–the reaction was entirely different.

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The most frightening thing about preaching

It’s actually several facets of the same thing:  I’m speaking for God.

Imagine such a thing.

The God of the universe.  The Creator. Lord of every planet, every galaxy, every star.  And He makes me His spokesperson.

The Lord of eternity.  God of Heaven and earth.  And He calls me to be His personal representative.  Oh my.

From everlasting to everlasting, He is God.  He is in charge.  He holds us all in His hands.  He owns it all.  “If I were hungry, I would not ask you,” He says in Psalm 50.

And He calls a few of us to the assignment of opening His word and declaring His message, of speaking to people individually on HIs behalf, of being a priest, a spokesperson, a teacher, a preacher, an evangelist.  Oh my.

Whatever was He thinking???

I didn’t volunteer for this. I was drafted.  In my case, twenty-one years old and a college senior preparing to be a history professor, and I’m standing in the choir in Birmingham singing “Jesus Paid It All” while people are being saved during the Tuesday night service of a two week revival.  The pastor, Bill Burkett, was preaching that night.  Jim Carraway, billed as “the singing engineer” from Shreveport, was the singer.  I recall it as clearly as though it happened last night: The living God invaded my thoughts and said, I want you in the ministry.  That’s all.  Just, “I want you in the ministry.”

The call was not “to preach,” as many of my friends say theirs was.  To me, “in the ministry” ended up meaning a lot more than preaching.  I’ve been pastor of six churches, a staff member of two churches, the director of missions for 130 churches of metro New Orleans for five years, an evangelist, a writer, cartoonist, counselor, and a teacher/encourager of preachers.  And a few other things, seen only by the Father–and, if I’m any judge, important to Him.  And that is so encouraging.  And in all of these things, I was obeying the call.  As Paul said, “I was not disobedient to the Heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

That call came in April of 1961.  At this point, that was over 63 years ago, and I’m still at it.

You are looking at one blessed dude.

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How to be miserable in the ministry

I don’t know anyone who wants to be miserable in anything, much less in serving the Lord, but some people give the appearance of working hard to achieve it.

Here are three self-destructive things (you’ll think of a hundred) we ministry-persons do which undermine our effectiveness in the work and fuel the angst of frustration which many people live with on a daily basis….

1) Expect to be paid what you think you’re worth.

Figure out what you are being paid, then total up the number of hours you put in, and divide the second into the first.  The result is your wages per hour.  Disgusting, ain’t it? (smiley-face here)

There is perhaps no more certain path to misery in the ministry than to estimate your own personal value based on such factors as years of training, the degrees you hold, and the tenure you have logged in the Lord’s work, and expect to be paid appropriately.  If this misery is not enough for you, then figure in the number of children you have, the hours your spouse invests in the ministry too (all of it unpaid), and the errands your children run for church members.  You will not, of course, ask to be recompensed for any of that, but dwelling on it makes you feel worse, and after all, that was the point in the first place.

In retirement, the math for certain misery gets easier.  You were invited for a specific event–a retreat for which you were the speaker, a banquet you did, a revival you preached for a church–and when it was over they handed you a check.  You have no trouble at all counting the miles you traveled, the hours you spent in your car, and the costs associated with your trip: meals, tips, dry cleaning bill, and other incidentals.  Then, you figure out the actual number of hours/days at that church, and compare to the numbers on the check you were paid.

Depressing, ain’t it?  (Answer: sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.  I’m amazed that after a check that barely covers your mileage, the next event will result in a check three times what you were expecting.  Anyway, back to the subject….)

Everyone starting out in ministry should be clear up front that the Lord Himself is their Source.  He is their portion, and they should look to Him.

The Lord is my Employer; I shall not want.

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How I want to be when I get old. If I do.

This little incident popped up in my “Memories” today.  It was eight years back, but still valid….

The old man stood at the checker’s station in my grocery store. The line behind him stretched out for a half-dozen people.

He’d bought a few things, but the process of paying for it was taking forever.  He fumbled around in his pocket for his wallet, then struggled with it in search of his debit card, and only with the checker’s help was he able to insert it into the machine and complete the transaction.  In the process, he flirted with the lady behind him, the one just ahead of me, and made friendly comments to anyone else who might be overhearing this.

I was pleased to see both the checker and the customer were patient with him.

When he finished, the man seemed in no hurry to pick up his purchase and move out of the way for the next customer.  He looked at the line forming behind him and muttered something about being 82 years old, as though this were an achievement for which he was being honored.

You will not believe this since I’m writing about it, but I was not impatient with him, and said nothing to anyone.  I did not roll my eyes, did not react, but sent up a quick prayer for the man.

But I was warned.

“There,” everything inside me shouted, “is how you do not want to be when you get old.”

I smile at that.  “When I get old.” I’m only six years behind that fellow. So, am I old yet? And when will I know?  (As I say, it was eight years ago.  I’m now 84, two years past that guy.  Wonder how I’m doing?)

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