Something happened to me today that brings back the absolutely most painful memory in my 42 years of pastoring churches.
That morning a long time ago, the phone rang at 4 a.m. Instantly awake, I grabbed it and heard a local doctor’s wife say, “Joe, Carlos just called from the hospital. He said, ‘Honey, pray for me. I’ve lost Rebecca’s baby and I’m losing Rebecca.'” I said, “I’m on my way.”
Rebecca’s husband Arlen was the lone tenant of the waiting room. He was pacing, crying, praying. We hugged and prayed and I sat down with him to wait and share his suffering.
Arlen and Rebecca had easily been the most popular junior high school teachers in our town, until he quit to take a job with a local plant in order to earn a better living for his family. Rebecca stayed home and started having babies. This would be their third child. The others, perhaps 2 and 4, were the most beautiful little girls anyone had ever seen.
For some reason, Rebecca had had a premonition about this birth. Even though the pregnancy seemed normal in every respect, she told Dr. Carlos, “When I go into the hospital to have this baby, I want you to stay with me until it’s over. Do not leave the hospital.” He gave her his word and kept it.
32 cartoons to illustrate the “2005 Winter Bible Study” for Southern Baptists. These are free for your use in teaching (for use with ‘powerpoint’, overhead projectors, etc), but there is a small charge for magazines and books wishing to use them. for info.
You’re Going To Be Needing The Holy Spirit More Than You Ever Imagined
The church I served for nearly 14 years and left last Easter is in the process of calling a new pastor. To the utter surprise and delight of almost everyone in the church, the committee has recommended a 27-year-old doctoral student at the local seminary who has incredible gifts in a hundred directions–but absolutely no pastoral experience. Sound scary to you? Does to me. For him more than for us.
I heard him preach Sunday night and could see why everyone who hears him comes away impressed by a depth of maturity far beyond his years. The pastor search committee did not play it safe, but–choose your metaphor here–was willing to think outside the box, color outside the lines, take some risks to do what they perceived the Lord commanded.
If I were the devil and wanted to damage the cause of Jesus Christ on earth, I would set myself to dividing Christians–separating believers from their congregations and erecting barriers between churches. Make them all independent. Convince them they don’t need others, that they are able to go it alone. Sow seeds of mistrust, play on their fears that they lose something when they cooperate.
If I were the devil and wanted to separate believers, I could chalk it up as ‘done’ and go on home. We are separate already. But the devil did not do it; we did this to ourselves.
We prize our independence. We prefer the solitary life. No one tells me what to do. I am in control. I don’t like the give and take of working with others. This way there’s no yielding, no submission, no humbling before others because there are no others in our little world. Each of us becomes a cosmos unto ourselves.
I am immensely burdened for weak Christians and weak churches I see all around.
The other morning as I was dressing for work, an old 1940s movie was showing on the classics channel. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck were meeting on the sly in the local grocery store, standing near a display of cereal, pretending to be shopping while carrying on their illicit conversation. What struck me about that was the cigarette smoke that could be seen curling up from off screen, presumably from their hands, toward their faces.
It occurred to me that I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen someone smoking in a store. I love the change.
Not long after I came to the New Orleans area as pastor in 1990, Ochsner Hospital began posting signs announcing that “this is a smoke-free zone.” I thought how strange to have no one smoking anywhere inside the hospital.
These days, no hospital allows smoking inside its buildings. The very idea is repugnant to us.
If I heard it once while watching the Olympics, I must have heard it a dozen times. The champion runner from Jamaica, the one so admired and feared by our best runners, is actually a student at the University of South Carolina. The Puerto Rican basketballer who led his team to dominate the USA Dream Team in the first game–his name is Arroyo–actually plays for the Denver Nuggets. The giant who led in China’s athletes during the opening ceremonies plays for the Houston Rockets. Another nation’s champion will be a senior at LSU this year. And so on. Again and again.
The old categories just aren’t holding like they used to. Borders and nationalities mean less and less. And did you notice that you cannot tell who is American by their names? Our people–and our names–come from all over the planet.
I recall when purchasers of automobiles were urged to “buy American” to save jobs here at home. There is a reason we don’t hear that any more. First, the plants assembling “American” cars began using parts manufactured all over the world and brought together at a plant somewhere in the states. Then, foreign countries began relocating their automobile plants to the states. Nissan, Mercedes, Toyota and others have built billion dollar plants in states not far from where I live.