I began pastoring Unity Baptist Church of Kimberly, Alabama, in November of 1962 and was ordained the next December 2. So, we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of this (ahem) significant milepost.
I expect the Today Show to call any day now.
The normal thing is for a minister to look back and tell of his regrets, what he wishes he had done, had done better, or wishes he had not done at all. And who doesn’t have some of those? I confess to wondering about people who say, “If I had it to do over, I’d live my life exactly the same way.” We would, of course, if we were as ignorant as we were the first time through. But you’d like to think you’ve learned something on the first loop that would restrain you from the foolishness that marked the earlier passage.
Therefore, I’d like to begin this series–which I expect to add to throughout the rest of 2012 as things occur–with Three Things I do not regret from a half-century of ministry.
I love to suggest Psalm 92:12-15 to senior saints. I tell them it’s easy to remember that psalm. After all, if you’re 92, you’re old!
The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree;
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the Lord,
they shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be full of sap and very green,
To declare that the Lord is upright,
He is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
It took me a while to get this figured out, but over the years, eventually this pastor began to notice something quite remarkable the living God does in people’s lives: the longer they serve Him, the more like Christ they become.
It’s enough to make us conclude that the process does not end with death, but continues right on into the next life where what the Bible calls “glorification”–the process of becoming Christlike–is fulfilled and completed.
From this passage (a remarkable four verses, don’t you think?), here is a four-fold description of God’s people who have walked faithfully with Him through the years.
…and in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
The best thing that ever happened to my Bible study was that I decided to start thinking about it.
That might require a little explanation.
Scripture says people who hear the word but do not act on it are like a fellow looking in a mirror, then walking away and forgetting what he has seen (James 1:24).
That’s pretty close to the way I was for a long time. I would read a Bible passage and study it, but make no effort to take it with me when finished. One day I began memorizing Scripture in order to reflect on it while walking or driving or lying awake at night.
That began to make a great difference.
The Word of God does not yield its richest fruits to the casual, occasional visitor to the orchard, but only to those who come regularly and practice patience and diligence.
This, I suspect, is a major failure of many who teach and preach the Word, but who confine their inquiries to the study room. Then they wonder why others find more in passages than they.
“These words I command you today shall be in your heart. And you shall…talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
The best kind of Bible study may well take place while you are stopped at a traffic light, lying awake in the middle of the night thinking, sitting at the breakfast table with your newspaper or chatting with your spouse. Because a passage of God’s Word has been near the forefront of your mind (as opposed to filed away in the back somewhere), your subconscious works on it, your active mind begins to see parallels in everyday life, and something your wife said speaks to it.
It’s a wonderful thing.
Here’s an example.
There was a time I had the answer to everyone’s depression.
“You’re down in the dumps? Your spirit is so low you wish you were dead? The answer is simple. Just memorize scripture and quote it to yourself.”
The simplest response to that is that it was well-meaning but truly stupid. A dead giveaway that I’d never been depressed.
The day came when I was depressed–by then I had logged more than four decades on Planet Earth and thought I was home free; bad mistake–and found just how ineffective and even insulting my little home remedy could be to those in its death-grip.
In my defense, I did not think that up by myself. Somewhere along the way, someone smarter than me–there are so many of those!–had said it, and it sounded logical. (My one wish is that all to whom I spouted that well-meaning nonsense have forgiven me and forgotten it.)
The Bible has great powers, and Scripture can do many things. In some cases, no doubt, memorizing or quoting or meditating upon God’s Word does indeed banish the “blues.” But to make it a panacea, a cure-all, for all kinds of depressions is not wise.
So, where is wisdom concerning depression? Herewith my little contribution to the subject.
The March 2012 National Geographic has a fascinating photographic essay on rocks and boulders that were brought south by ancient glaciers and deposited where they now adorn playgrounds, city parks, and roadsides. Fritz Hoffman is the guy behind the camera.
These randomly strewn boulders are called errata officially. But the biggest ones go by another and better name: Leaverites. As in, “that rock is so big, we’ll leave ‘er right there.”
The preacher in me saw that and kicked into overdrive. In our lives, your and mine, there are “leaverites,” massive realities that we have to work around and aren’t able to displace, hide, or control.
One’s family members fall into this category. Your brother-in-law. Maybe your boss or a next door neighbor. One’s physical limitations might be a leaverite, particularly one’s height or some types of features.
We can say that this sinful, fallen world is a “given,” a “leaverite.” It’s there, it’s been this way since Eden and will be such until Christ’s return, and we only frustrate ourselves when we expect it to act in any other way.
People are flawed, are sinners, even the best of us. There is no room for perfectionism. As Psalm 103 puts it, “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”
Whle all of these could be called rock-solid realities that we cannot ignore and must deal with, there is one greater Rock on our landscape, one that dominates everything and deserves a category all by “Itself.”
God is our Rock.
This morning, Today Show’s Matt Lauer interviewed a movie starlet who has struggled with personal issues for most of her young life. She was unrecognizable.
Her hair, normally a mousy brown, was gleamingly yellow and long, the makeup was heavy, and the dress made certain that no one paid attention to any feature other than her long legs.
“Who is she?” I found myself wondering. There was no way to tell by looking at her. She was in camouflage, wearing a mask every bit as effective as the riders on a Mardi Gras float.
We can say the same thing about several older celebs. Joan Rivers and Dolly Parton come to mind. Underneath all that camouflage is someone, and we assume, someone worth knowing. But as for “who is at home” underneath the disguise, only a privileged few ever find out.
Someone once said about Los Angeles as a city: There’s no ‘there’ there.
Looking at the young person who has turned herself into a mannikin to display the work of cosmetologists and clothes designers, we wonder, “Who is there?”
When your makeup, coiffure, and clothing dazzle everyone around to the point that no one notices “you,” it’s time to cut back on the accessories and start peeling back the layers of adornment to the real person underneath.
Do you remember what workers discovered in painting the stacks on the Queen Mary?