About the time you start feeling good about your humility….

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).

Humility is a strange bird.  If you think you have it, it’s a pretty good indication you don’t.  If you think you do not have it, it’s possible you do or that you do not.  Hard to tell.

Humility is known more by what it does and refuses to do, how it works and serves, and what it talks about and refuses to mention.  You can see it better in someone else than in yourself.

I said to 78-year-old Marguerite Briscoe, “You are the most Christ-like person I know.”  She said, “Oh honey, if you just knew.”  I was 45 years her junior at that moment, but am now the same age as she. And I do know.

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Why step one to the Christian life is humility

At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:1-4)

There is a reason the Lord makes humility step one to living for Him.

He is going to be asking a lot from you, more in fact that you will think you can humanly give.  Unless you have humbled yourself before Him and received what He has for you, you will balk at the demands, insist on your own rights, and insert your own methodology.  In so doing, you will mess it all up.

Be humble or go home.

Only the humble can pull this off.

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What to do with those wayward thoughts

“We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

The thought that flitted through my brain that night scares me to this day.

It had rained heavily the previous day, the kind of West Texas downpour they write books about.  Next morning, very early–4 am or something–I was leaving the Alto Frio Baptist Campground for a very long drive home (to central Mississippi).  Anyone familiar with that remote retreat facility knows that the main route calls for you to drive down a highway and then cross over to the primary highway.  Oddly, that crossover is a humble, one-lane road of perhaps half a mile.  The thing to bear in mind is that it crosses a small creek, and oddly, the bridge curves as it passes over the creek.  I made this drive several times during my few days at the camp speaking to senior adults, mostly to drive into the town of Leakey, Texas.

So, now it is pitch black out there, and as I am about to turn off the first highway and drive the small trail over to the main highway, I notice the entire area is flooded.  The whole area around the little road was completely submerged. Assuming the bridge was still there, it would be flooded also.

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How to measure the effectiveness of your ministry

“Blessed is he who endures.” — James 1:12

Often, at the start of the first service for a protracted meeting –revival, prayer conference, deacons retreat, Bible study, whatever–I’ll say, “Now, everyone wonders at the end of a meeting, what was accomplished. Did we get our money’s worth?

“It’s a good question.  And I want you to know that there’s a way to tell.”

“I want to tell you how to measure the effectiveness of this meeting.  There are several principles. Some of you may want to write this down.”

“First principle: Wait a hundred years…..  And I don’t know what the other principles are.”

It’s a light-hearted way to make a valid point.  Please read on.

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Scripture’s cure for anxiety

“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7).

Want to see anxiety demonstrated?  Get on any highway in the country during morning rush hour traffic.  One out of every ten drivers is either running late, in a hurry, under the gun from the boss or the school kids, and taking it out on every other motorist on the road.  They’re not wicked, just stressed.

They’re anxious.

A friend wrote to thank me for an article on depression.  “I’m not really depressed,” he said, “but anxious.  I have a lot of problem with anxiety.”

I could write a book on that subject myself.  (A friend, Dr. Larry Kennedy–now in Heaven and a member of the great cloud of witnesses–did just that.  I told him he might have thought of a more uplifting title than Down With Anxiety, but he felt the play on words worked.)

I’ve been anxious.  It seems to go with the job of pastor.

Ask any pastor how well he sleeps on Saturday night.

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Let’s not go beyond what the Lord said

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy City, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19). 

Someone says, “I’ve had a revelation from the Lord, something Scripture doesn’t address.”

Run, as fast as you can.

Scripture calls it “adding to the Word,” and it’s clearly verboten throughout the Bible, off limits to all who take seriously their devotion to the Lord and His Word. Deuteronomy 4:2 reads, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Need more?  Try these: Deuteronomy 12:32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 30:6. The Father is consistent on this point.)

Let’s not go beyond what the Lord says through His Word.  After all, Scripture teaches that Scripture is sufficient.  Some would call that circular reasoning.   That’s a possibility, but a better plan is that Scripture is Holy Spirit inspired. God knew what He was doing.

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Widowed seniors who remarry: 20 things we learned

My wife and I are still learning about marriage.

Bertha and I were both 76 years old when we married.  I’m five months older than she.

But don’t take that the wrong way. In no way are we old. We are not infirmed, crippled (thank the Lord!), or elderly.  We both still work.  She teaches English for a local community college and teaches online for a Christian university in Indiana.  I’m retired, but always on the go to preach and sketch people for events.  I write (blogs, books, articles for various publications) and watch a lot of sports on television (and she’s all right with that!).

We are loving our lives.

Bertha and I were each married 52 years, she to Pastor Gary Fagan, and I to Margaret Ann Henderson.  God took Gary to Heaven in May of 2014 and Margaret eight months later.  Bertha and I met in February of 2016, and were married a year later.

When Margaret and I married, she was just short of 20 and I was 22.  We were both children with hardly a clue what we were doing.  An accounting of the mistakes we made would fill an encyclopedia.  I’ve not asked Bertha about her and Gary who married about the same time.  But I’m confident she’s a different person now from the 22-year-old who stood beside Gary and took the vows.

Who wouldn’t be different?  We live and learn.

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The new pastor is a bachelor. Oh my.

“I could wish everyone were like me.” — Paul  (I Corinthians 7:7)

That the Apostle Paul was either a lifelong single or widowed seems to be the consensus of scholars.

There’s an old joke about a committee telling a young pastoral candidate why they would not consider him. “You’re not married.”  He responded, “The Apostle Paul was not married.”  A member of the team said, “Yes, but he couldn’t stay out of jail long enough to take care of a wife!”

It’s not that pastor search committees are against singleness. Every member of the search team either is now or has been single at some point.  It’s rather that they believe marriage has a good effect on a man, and they prefer a pastor who has the balance in his life which only a loving, faithful, dedicated female can provide.

Also–let’s admit the obvious here–they’re deathly afraid of what might happen if the preacher starts dating someone in the congregation!  Horrors.

Jimmy, a single pastor, tells me churches fear the notion of calling such a person as their shepherd for various reasons:

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The magic pill for depression: It doesn’t exist.

“And the Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?’  And Jonah said, ‘I have good reason to be angry, even to death'” (Jonah 4:4,9). 

“And he came there to a cave and lodged there, and behold the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (I Kings 19:9).

Several friends have forwarded links concerning the suicide of the 30-year-old pastor in Southern California.  Andrew Stoecklein had it all–a beautiful, loving wife and three children, a successful and supportive congregation (Inland Hills Church, east of Los Angeles), all the opportunity and acclaim any of us could ever ask for–and it wasn’t enough.  He was clinically depressed.  He sought help, took a 4-month sabbatical, and preached sermons on depression.  He understood far more about his problem than most people ever will.  And he took his own life.

There are no easy answers, and I’ll not be having any in this piece.

Early in my ministry, I would have.  I “just knew” that the answer to all depression was to believe God.  I’d tell depressed people to read Scripture and start believing God.  “Memorize these verses.”  “Start every day by reading 10 Psalms.”

Then, something happened to put a stop to all my shallow answers.

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Turning sarcasm into “sic ’em!”

“Jesus said, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” No prophet is welcome in his own hometown'” (Luke 4:24). 

John Fogerty’s group Creedence Clearwater Revival is unforgettable to anyone who has owned a radio in the last 50 years.  Two years ago, in an interview with Dan Rather, Fogerty was remembering a key moment in the 1960s.

The group was one of many bands to perform at a particular event.  As the final group to warm up, and thus the first band to appear on stage, suddenly CCR found they had been unplugged.  John Fogerty yelled to the sound man to plug them back up, that they weren’t through.  The technician did so reluctantly, then added, “You not going anywhere anyway, man.”  Fogerty said, “Okay.  Give me one year.  I’ll show you.”

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