Never on automatic: The test of a champion

Itzhak Perlman is a champion violinist.  Disabled by polio in early childhood, he gets around on a scooter or with hand walkers and is arguably the world’s greatest violin virtuoso.

Hear him once and you are a fan for life.

In USA Today for Wednesday September 2, 2015, Perlman said, “If you are a golfer, you have to be reliable.  But you cannot do that as a musician.  The challenge, as I tell my students, is not how you play something the first time.  What about the 10th, or the 50th, or the 150th?  Am I going to play something the way I did last time? Maybe yes, maybe no, but the point is never to go on automatic.”

We preachers know about going on automatic.  It’s what actors call “phoning it in.”

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Looking back and assessing your ministry

“Remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears…. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel…. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’….” (Acts 20:31-35)

I wonder how it would be to stand before a group of elders and tell them of the 13+ years I served the Lord at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, or the 3+ years before that at the Church in Charlotte. Or the 12+ years prior to that at the Church in Columbus, Mississippi.

Could I get it right?  Would I be prone to brag or exaggerate? Or to omit and gloss over?

This Spring, I returned to Greenville, Mississippi, where we pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church as our first congregation after seminary.  We had never spent any time in Mississippi prior to this and knew absolutely nothing about life in the Delta, particularly in the late 1960s when racial unrest was at its height.  Greenville lies only a few miles west of the birthplace of the (white) Citizens Council.

We served in Greenville from November 1967 through December of 1970.  Three years and two months.  Not long by most standards. But looking back and reminiscing, I am amazed at all the things that took place in that brief time. Consider….

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For better or for worse: The power of a spouse

My friend Lydia was helping her 6-year-old daughter out of her Sunday clothes.

“Honey,” she said, “Did anyone tell you how pretty you look in your new dress?”

Little Holly said, “No. They thought it. They just forgot to tell me.”

I love the self-esteem that answer reveals.  Such parents–Terry and Lydia Martin of Columbus, Mississippi, my friends for over 40 years–surely did something right with this child.

Our task is to convey a healthy esteem not only to our children but to our spouses, our husband, our wife.

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A cloud over my head all week

The popular comic strip “L’il Abner” used to feature a character who lived under a constant, tiny storm cloud.  It followed him around wherever he went, maybe 12 inches above his head, always pouring rain down upon him. (The character’s name was an unpronounceable “Btfsplk.”  When asked, cartoonist Al Capp said “It’s a rude sound.”  Maybe what’s called a raspberry or Bronx cheer. Google Btfsplk and see the cartoon.)

I’ve felt like Joe Btfsplk all this week.

Analyzing that me-sized stormcloud–“why am I feeling so sad?”–I can identify several forces that are raining on my parade, if you will.

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Flirting with temptation; playing with fire.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Proverbs 27:6)

Perhaps the most dangerous place on the church campus is the pastor’s counseling office.

When the minister is shut up in a tight space with a vulnerable female who confides in him the most personal things of her life, often the two people do something completely natural and end up bonding emotionally.

The bonding process is simple: she opens up to him, he sympathizes with her, she reaches out to him, and there it goes.

Many a ministry and a great many marriages have been destroyed in the counseling room.

Can we talk about this?

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Why your good sermon was so boring

Pastor, if you are like the rest of us, you’ve had this happen….

You brought a sermon on an important scriptural passage which you knew beyond a doubt was from the Lord and inspired of God.  You had a great time studying and praying for this sermon, and you knew this was cutting edge stuff. So, why was the sermon itself so poorly received?  Halfway through, you could sense the congregation’s collective minds wandering.  How could this happen?

Clearly, the problem could be any of one thousand things. But if I may, I will share a strong conviction on the number one reason your excellent sermon was so poorly received.

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When God’s people do not live in the word, many things happen. All of them bad.

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in that law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

The Lord never intended for His Word to collect dust on a table in your back bedroom.

People paid for your right to own a Bible in your own language with their very lives.

What are you doing about that?

Christians who own numerous Bibles which they rarely open are thumbing their noses at the saints of old who paid the ultimate price.

This hard-won treasure lies buried under the dust and detritus of your life.

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So, how would you write your obituary?

My son Neil and I had a few days to work on Margaret’s obituary.  Understandably, he could not bring himself to think about it while she lingered in the hospital on life support.  It was hard, but I worked on the essentials.

Margaret and I used to talk about these things. But not seriously. Somehow, you think this could never happen to you.

Margaret’s sister, widowed perhaps four years ago, told how someone praised her husband Jim with a good line which she later used as an opener in his memorial.  So, we began thinking about that.

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Please write in your Bible

“This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people who shall be created shall praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).

Please go to the front of your Bible and write in it.

Start by putting your own name.

Often, when I pick up the Bibles of friends to see what they have written in them, I’m chagrined to see they don’t even have their names.

Write in your Bible, friend. Please.

At Christmas 1973, my aunt Eren gave to her mother, my wonderful grandmother Bessie Lowery McKeever, a Bible.  Grandma died in 1982, but not before marking up that Bible.
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