Something for everyone in the Christmas story

“Now, the birth of Jesus came about in this way….” (Matthew 1:18).

Do you like a true-life adventure story?  This one is the best. It’s found in only four chapters in the Bible: Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.

You like genealogies?  Then check out the birth narratives about our Lord Jesus. See Matthew 1:1-14 and also Luke 3:21-38.

You like mysteries?  Try to figure out how those two lists of ancestors works out for the lineage of Jesus.  If you finally give up, then (and only then) go to a commentary written by a Bible-believing scholar. Your church library probably has several.

You are a history student?  Then check out Luke 2:1-3 where “the beloved physician” gives the historical setting for the birth of our Lord. Then, move up one chapter and see how Luke does the same thing for the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry some three decades later.

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6 things I want my grandchildren to know about highway driving

I was 17 when the State of Alabama decided to take a chance and issue me a driver’s license. The trooper giving the test admitted he was not too sure about me at the time.

Over these 57 years of driving, I have logged more than a  million miles on the streets and highways.  And I keep learning some things about safety.  Frankly, I worry about my three children and their families because some of these lessons are learned only on the road and not in textbooks or classrooms.

Whether they can be taught by a grandfather on the internet is a valid question.

So, for Leah and Jessica and Grant, for Abby and Erin, and for Darilyn and JoAnne, and within a few short years, for Jack also–the only one of our eight grands without a driver’s license–here are some urgent considerations Grandpa Joe wants to bring to your attention.

I would love for you to print this out and read it several times and even discuss it among yourselves.

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I’ve been thinking about fictions lately

“For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ….” (2 Peter 1:16).

In the public library this week, it occurred to me that this vast collection of writings is divided into two primary sections: fiction and non-fiction. And that started me thinking. Wonder why the basic section is fiction and the “reality” section, if we want to call it that, is labeled “non-fiction”?  Wonder why it’s not the other way around, that the primary part is “Real” or “True” and the secondary part is “fiction” or even “contrived?”

I’m not anti-fiction, incidentally.

I love novels, and read many each year.

My favorites are westerns.  Before dismissing this as shallow and unworthy, the reader might be interested in knowing that a lot of important people have loved a good western (in addition to moi–lol).  General Dwight Eisenhower, busily planning the invasion of Europe to drive the Nazis out of power, read western novels at night (and later in the White House) before retiring.  I expect Ike did it for the same reason I do, as a little escape. Sort of a two hour vacation for the brain.

Westerns are fictions.  People sat down and made up these stories.  And even though Louis L’Amour boasted that his novels were all fact-based (“if I say there is a creek there and a cave next to it, you can find a creek there with a cave next to it”), it’s been proven that he was embellishing the truth.  If anyone cares, I’ve not found them. Yet L’Amour sold over 200 million copies of his novels and they continue to fly off the bookstore shelves.

A German guy named Karl May wrote a ton of western novels without ever having visited the United States.  All he knew was what he had read, yet he concocted characters and plots and scenes and convinced a lot of people.  His books sold over 50 million copies, became the basis for a number of Hollywood movies, and are still available.  May did visit the U.S. once in his life, toward the end.  A reviewer said much of what Karl May wrote was interesting and believable, although in more than one story, he spoke of his characters coming up against an “impenetrable cactus forest,” something no one ever found.

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Lies the enemy whispers during worship

“We have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).

The devil’s first plan of attack is to get us to worship him.  He tried that with our Lord, as recorded in Luke 4:7. “All these things will be yours if you will worship me.”  He soon found the futility of that.  Not then and hardly at all since has anyone wanted to bow down and worship this foolish fallen angel.

But such a persistent enemy always has a backup plan. Plan B is to interfere with our worship of the living God.  Satan will do anything to throw a wrench into the works and shut down or hinder our daily submission to the Lord Jesus and all that involves (prayer, commitment, study of the Word, service, etc).

Not long ago, while sitting in church listening to a friend preach, I began a list of the lies Satan whispers to God’s people who gather to worship Him….

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What we told the nervous singer

“Sing unto the Lord a new song” (Psalm 96:1; 98:1; etc).

She has a marvelous voice, one anybody this side of Juillard would be proud to own.  When she sang in church with her musician husband, they blended wonderfully and blessed the congregation.  But she undermined her own effectiveness by her timidity, that paralyzing self-consciousness which froze her in place and refused to let her enjoy the moment.

Stage fright, we call it.

Who among us is unacquainted with that monster?

Most of us know precisely how she feels.

That’s why, on the final night of our meeting, as I expressed appreciation in private to this couple, I spoke to her quietly. “Can I tell you one thing about your presentation?”

She smiled shyly. “I know what you’re going to say.”

And she did, to a point.

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Sloppiness in ministry: Not allowed

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord–you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23).

Last night, sometime along about 3 or 4 am, unable to sleep, I did something I rarely do: turned on the television. Usually, I’ll read or just lie there thinking until sleep returns. But last night, I channel-surfed and ended up watching one of those true-crime re-enactments.

Law enforcement investigators had painstakingly built their case against this fellow in Jacksonville, Florida, who reported his wife missing on a trip to Miami. Facts eventually indicated he had murdered her and buried her body in an abandoned golf course near home, then driven south. His plan had been for the police to focus on south Florida rather than his hometown.

The man told investigators they had checked into a Miami hotel and he went to a fast-food place for take-out. Police were able to check that out.  He had indeed bought a sandwich and fries at that restaurant, they found, but only one order.  Nothing for his wife.

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Compounding our mistakes: Lying and denying

“If I had decided to say these things aloud, I would have betrayed Your people” (Psalm 73:15).

I fear for the souls of those who write and speak of their hostility to the Christian faith, to declare their atheism, and to denounce Scripture.

What if they change their minds?

It has happened.

And yet, that “thing” they wrote is out there, wreaking its havoc, doing its damage, spreading its slander.  Meanwhile, the author would give anything to have not written it and to get it back.

What some do, I fear is, rather than going public with their regret and asking for forgiveness, they compound the error.

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Delegating upward: Why we should not let it happen

“Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:7).  “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13).  “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:43).

Sometimes when we say “He must increase; I must decrease,” it’s not Jesus we’re referring to, but a brother or sister of ours.

Early in my seminary pastorate, I looked around for quick ways to make a difference in our little bayou church.  Since I had been a secretary for several years and typing and running printing machines were second nature to me, I decided the church bulletin would receive my attention.

I asked Mrs. Porter, the lovely senior lady who had the weekly responsibility of gathering the information, typing it into the form, and printing it as a handout bulletin for Sunday services, if I could take it over.  To her credit, she was not offended, but delighted to get rid of that task. (She had plenty of other responsibilities. As I say, it was a small church.)

The bulletin I produced was sharper than hers.  The typing was clearer, the English was classier, and the overall appearance was better.

I had made a serious mistake.

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Disaster in the making: The worst advice ever for young ministers

“Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity…” (I Timothy 4:12)

People love to give advice to young adults just entering the ministry.  I’m sure they think they’re helping.

I was a senior in college when the Lord fingered me for the ministry.  When my coal miner Dad got the news, even though his experience with church leadership was minimal, he had advice for his number three son. “Start off pastoring small churches.  That way you learn how to do it before moving on to the bigger places.”

As if I had a choice.

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Claustrophobics and the gospel

“He brought me out to a wide-open space; He rescued me because He delighted in me” (2 Samuel 22:20).

Wedged into the middle seat on a flight from Nashville to New Orleans recently, the thought occurred to me that if a person were claustrophobic, he would run screaming from this plane.

The Southwest flight was completely sold-out and several times the flight attendant announced that all the overhead bins were filled and other passengers would have to check their baggage.  I managed to squeeze in between two full grown men, which meant our shoulders were practically bumping.  The one hour ten minute flight ends up taking another half-hour because we board early in order to wedge everyone into this sardine can.

Tight spaces.  It’s a way of life these days.

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