The Sweet Time of Life

Last evening, I was listening to the NPR program “Fresh Air” in which host Terry Gross was interviewing the author of a book called “Winter Journal.”  The man explained that now that he’s in his 60’s, he is in the wintertime of life and it’s a great time to look back.

It’s a familiar metaphor: the Spring of life = youth, Summertime being the young adult years, Autumn standing for maturity, and Winter for all that follows.

Frankly, I’m not too crazy about the image of these last decades being wintertime.

Winter suggests a time of shutting down, of dormancy, of sitting inside by the fire, of barrenness and starkness and cold temperatures.

I’m 72 at the moment, but that’s subject to change.

And let it be known far and wide, I am not in the wintertime of anything. It’s still Springtime around here, ladies and gentlemen.

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Reforming the Deacons (21): “The Divorce Issue”

A safe course here would be to spend all our energies pursuing the multi-faceted question “Can a divorced person be a deacon?” and at the end, choose the safest and most reasonable exit without coming down on a firm position.  But where’s the fun in that?

“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (I Timothy 3:11).

There it is. One simple sentence that has divided and perplexed and frustrated the Lord’s faithful people for eons.

Let’s state our position up front so there can be no doubt. As a general rule, divorce disqualifies a man from service as either a pastor or deacon. However, there are exceptions.

And by “exceptions,” I most definitely do not mean we must convene an investigating committee to search out the reasons for the man’s divorce and establish a) that he was sinned against or b) that he was unsaved at the time and has since come to the Lord. This kind of scrutiny over a person’s ancient history is outside the capability of any preacher on the planet.  All we have to do is look at the Roman Catholic Church’s annulment processes to see a) how complex this can get and b) how hypocritical it all appears to the outside world.  We will grant that their intent is good, but the product is a disaster.

The exception–that is, the divorced men who can be considered as deacons–applies when the divorce occurred decades ago and the man has lived an exemplary and godly life since.

That’s where I am at the moment. Good people will agree and disagree, and I’m fine by that. We each have to come to our own conclusion as to the Lord’s will.

This is an emotional, volatile subject.

Yesterday, I posted this question on Facebook: “Can a divorced person be a deacon?” An hour later, we had over 40 responses. This morning, the number is approaching 150. And, as one might expect, the answers were all over the map.

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Reforming the Deacons (20): “What the Bible Does Not Tell Us–And We Wish It Would”

Writings about deacons tend to fall into two groups: the mind-numbingly boring and the scripture-exceeding authoritative.

The dull writings are well-intentioned, we will grant. The writers tended to be denominational servants assigned to this strata of church leadership. I imagine that someone above them felt that a book on this subject would be in order, would do some good, and would sell.  They proceeded to write the book which hundreds and thousands of churches bought and then taught to their people for generations. What such books refused to do, however, was to deal with practical questions, issues which bug us to this day. (For some of those questions, keep reading.)

The overly authoritative writings regarding deacons may be reactions against the boring publications, but more likely are responses of the writers to misguided deacon groups they have come up against.  In trying to correct the errors, the imbalance, or the tangents these deacons have veered upon, the writers cancel out all interpretations but their own.

Let’s try to avoid both those ditches and stay in the road here.

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Bad News for Pastors Who are Loners

From the 27th chapter of Proverbs….

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6)

Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend…. (27:10)

He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him. (27:14)

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (27:17)

Pastor Joe Wiggins posted a note on Facebook the other day: “I now have 800 Facebook friends, and I personally know every one of them.”

Impressive. He’s one smart man.

I can show you several preachers who cannot count on the fingers of one hand the number of true friends they have. They are loners, and, if I’m any judge, they have chosen to be that way.

They will live to regret it a hundred times in a thousand ways.

In our denominational system, the way a pastor moves from one church to another is not by appointment, whether by the bishop or another authority. We do something much less efficient, but (theoretically) more appropriate to each congregation. Each church selects a search committee of their finest members and commissions them to search out and recommend the next shepherd for their flock.

When the search committee meets for the first time, they have a full agenda. They elect officers, read the constitution and bylaws for the details of their assignment, pray, and begin sending out requests far and wide for recommendations.

They invite denominational agencies, pastors familiar with their church, friends far and near, and their own members to write letters suggesting this pastor or that pastor. They would like to have a resume’ of the minister and if possible, a CD or two of his best preaching.

That’s where the friendship thing becomes a matter of survival for pastors.

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Sibling Revelry

The best thing my parents did for me was to give me 3 brothers and 2 sisters.

It was hard on Mom, I guarantee you, and not a whole lot easier on Dad.

Mom birthed all of us–and another son who lived only two or three days and was never named–in a 9 year period.  Dad worked in the coal mines to put groceries on the table and shoes on our feet. Sometimes, he doubled back for another 8-hour shift because the money came in handy.

When Mom went to Heaven on June 2, as she approached her 96th birthday, she was surrounded by her remaining five children, all of us 70 years of age or above.  (One has to wonder how that would feel, seeing all your children live to be old!) (Note: Dad died in 2007, and our youngest brother Charlie died 18 months earlier.)

Last week, the five of us met back at the rural Alabama farmhouse for the first time since Mom’s departure. On Thursday night, we had a dinner to celebrate the birthdays of oldest brother Ron and next-to-oldest brother Glenn.  They were born 364 days apart.

I went up on Wednesday, taking Amtrak’s “The Crescent” from New Orleans to Birmingham. Youngest sister Carolyn and her husband Van met me there, and chauffeured me to the farmhouse, some 60 miles to the Northwest. (People sometimes ask, “So, what town did you grow up in?” I reply, “No town. Even though I tell people I’m from Nauvoo, Alabama, we lived 5 miles out from that. In the next county even.” It’s about as rural as it’s possible to get.)

Growing up, we thought of ourselves as far apart in age. But eventually, all six of us were in our 20s together, then our 30s, and so forth. When we were all in our 40s, I asked Mom if that made her feel old. “No, it’s not my problem,” she answered.

These days, we’re all peers. All but the girls are white-headed, and we know why they aren’t.

For the record, here is the “skinny” on each of the siblings….

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A Special Note to JASA Christians

“Just as soon as I get all my questions answered, I’m going to become a Christian.”

“Just as soon as I get on top of all my problems, I’m starting to church and live for the Lord.”

“Just as soon as we get the boat paid off, we’re going to start tithing.”

“Just as soon as I get the feeling, I’m going down the road and witness to my neighbor.”

“Just as soon as my mama dies, I’m joining that wonderful church we’ve been attending.”

Just as soon as.

But not today, of course. Why not today? Well, I don’t have the feeling, I still have some questions, money is still tight, and mama wouldn’t like it if we joined a church outside of the denomination we were raised in.

“Another man said to Him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.'” (Matthew 8:21-22)

Either Jesus is our Lord or He isn’t. But He will not stand idly by and watch us pile up obstacles that prevent us from obeying His will.

You can always find them.

As Roseanne Rosannadanna used to say, “It’s always something.”

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Knowing What is Worthy…and What Ain’t Even Close

This fellow stopped me after church the other evening. I was the guest preacher there and about to walk out the door and drive home, a good 90 minute task. I was tired and he had a joke to tell me and another preacher friend.

“You seem like a together person,” he said in my direction. “Comfortable in your own skin. Good sense of humor. So, I have a joke for you.”

He began, “Did you hear the one about Billy Graham, the Pope, and Oral Roberts all dying and going to Heaven at the same time?”

How do you say, “Yes, I’ve heard it a few dozen times and didn’t like it the first time?” You don’t. You stand there and try to look like you’re listening.

It took the poor guy forever to tell the story, of how God said they had arrived unexpectedly, that their mansions were not quite ready yet, and would they mind if He sent them to purgatory for a bit first. He told of a conversation between God and the devil, in which the Lord was asking permission from hell’s warden.

It went downhill from there.

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When Your Church Loses Its Franchise

The fast food place on the other side of town has this on their sign: “Lost our franchise.”

They are not going out of business, however. Simply, they can no longer market themselves as McDonald’s or Burger King or Whattaburger or whatever they were.

They can go on selling burgers and fries, and anything else they please. But not under the umbrella of the former company.

We understand this. It’s a law of the free enterprise system.

Oh, that it worked that way for churches.

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Getting Fresh With God

A friend wrote to me of his concern with his prayer life:

“One of my big problems with praying is when I get ready to pray in public–or even in private–I can’t think of something new to say. I sound so repetitive in my prayers. How do I increase my vocabulary?”

My immediate thought is that, while I certainly understand his desire for freshness in his prayers, vocabulary has little to do with it. The issue is not the word-choice but the heart-cry.

After receiving my friend’s note a few days ago, I decided to sit on it until inspiration provoked a proper response.

Sitting in church this week and worshiping along with the congregation for the first half of the services before walking to the pulpit and preaching, it occurred to me that staleness and dullness affect far more than our prayers. Our worship–meaning everything we do in worship services such as preaching, teaching, announcing, leading hymns, etc–could use a periodic infusion of freshness.

So, let’s get to it.

Here are five suggestions for freshening up your prayers, sermons, everything about your public worship leadership. Please do not miss the caution at the end.

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Does Your Church Have a Gospel Blimp?

In 1960, Joe Bayly wrote an entertaining little volume of 85 pages about a group of well-meaning church members who decide the way to reach their unsaved neighbors would be to float a Scripture-carrying blimp above the city and bombard the citizens with gospel tracts.

My copy of “The Gospel Blimp,” which I have kept all these years, was produced in the book’s 7th printing. I seem to remember a gospel film (the inexpensive kind made to be shown in churches back in the day) was made on the book.

I’ve not heard a thing of the book or the story in decades, but Dr. Bayly’s point was so timeless, it still applies today. The story (sort of a parable, I suppose) needs to be dusted off and retold.

See what you think.

The blimp idea got started when this little cluster of friends from a conservative evangelical church were enjoying a barbecue in George and Ethel’s back yard and began discussing their next-door neighbors. It was obvious they were unsaved because they were drinking beer and playing cards. Someone pointed out that they attend a liberal church, and this just a few times a year. As a plane went overhead, a fellow named Herm remarked that if that aircraft had been carrying a message such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” the lost neighbors would have received a witness since they also had glanced in its direction.

One thing led to another and the idea was birthed to buy a blimp and have it trail Scripture messages across the sky for citizens to read. They formed a non-profit, got themselves chartered, organized a board with officers, and made Herm, the fellow with the idea, its executive. Soon, Herm resigned his job and went full-time with International Gospel Blimps, Inc.

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