Foretastes of Heaven divine

I’m at the age now where this happens almost weekly.   A little foretaste of Heaven. 

In Glory, they’ll be coming up saying to you, “Do you remember that lesson you taught?” That prayer you prayed. That offering you gave.  That note you wrote.  That sermon you preached.  That witness you shared.

“Well, that’s why I’m here. God used it in my life.”

And you will be stunned. 

Makes you want to be more faithful today, doesn’t it?  More generous, more prayerful, more loving.  

Here are five foretastes of glory I’ve had recently…

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10 quirky things I do–and don’t apologize for

One man’s quirks is another fellow’s norms. I get that.  But from all I know and the world I’m a part of, these things I do fall outside the boundaries of normal and customary, particularly for a Baptist preacher of a certain age.

One. I read a lot of western novels.  Sometimes three or more a week.  I was never a cowboy, but growing up on the farm with animals–pigs, cows, a horse or a mule–you have no trouble envisioning yourself as a cowboy.

Two. I have a collection of comic books.  I’m not adding to it, as the books they’re turning out these days are not my cup of tea and the old ones I can no longer afford. — The Golden Era of comics was in the late 1940s and the 1950s. That’s also the time of my childhood, so the only comics I’m interested in come from that period.  I have hundreds of Disneys, and several cowboys, etc.

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During his years as pastor of this church….

The state denominational paper announces the retirement of Pastor Dental Bridges with the usual numbers:  During his twelve years as pastor of Center’s Big Ol’ Church, Preacher Bridges baptized 112 people, received 325 by transfer of letter, and constructed a new educational building.  Everyone was happy to see him come and happy to see him go.

I read the report on one pastor whose church was on the far side of rural route fourteen.  “During his ministry, a new fence was built around the cemetery.”  Well, it was something.

We used to hear of reports that went like this: “During his years at Emmanuel Church, the attendance grew from 36 to 2,100.”  If you dug beneath the surface, it came out that 36 was the lowest number the church had during its interim period when they were pastorless and 18 inches of snow shut down the area one weekend.  And the 2,100 attendance came the Sunday the church brought in the star quarterback from the college football team after they had won the national championship and they gave away autographed jerseys and free kisses from the cheerleaders.

You think I’m kidding.  (Okay, maybe I am. A little.)

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Private things about any pastor no church needs to know

“…inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:4).

Although the Lord makes the pastor the overseer of the church (Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2), he is not the Lord of the church. It is not about him.

The pastor is the messenger, the Lord’s servant. He is important, but not all-important.

Preachers should constantly say to themselves, “This is not about me.” And they should act like they believe it.

Believing “this is all about me” drives some preachers to post their photos on billboards around town inviting people to their services, to spend outrageous sums of God’s money to broadcast their sermons on television–as though no one else is doing the same thing as well as they— and either to puff with pride when the church does well or sink into despair when it doesn’t. I daresay there is not a pastor in ten who truly believes that “this ministry isn’t about me.”

We will save a further discussion on that for another time. At the moment, our focus is on the other side of that coin…

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I just bought a book of childhood delights

The kid in me is romping and playing today.

Oaky Doaks was my favorite cartoon as a child.  It’s the reason I’m a cartoonist today.

Cartoonist R. B. Fuller was an accomplished artist. His work is so perfectly executed, unlike the hastily done stuff of at least half the stuff on the comics pages these days.  As a child in West Virginia in the late 1940s, I came across the daily strip “Oaky Doaks” and fell in love with it.  In the strip, Oaky was a farm boy who, using some equipment from the barn, hammered himself some armor and went off riding his plow-horse Nellie to do battle with dragons, rescue damsels in distress, and confront evil everywhere.  I loved everything about this strip.

When I would read the strip each day–remember, I was 8 or 9 years old at the time–my mind went into overdrive.  I seriously entered that tiny world of the medieval knight with his silly sidekick King Cedric.  It was delightful in every way.  And, may I say, Mr. Fuller sure could draw beautiful women!

Then, when I was 11, we moved back to the Alabama farm where our newspapers did not carry that strip.  I hardly noticed, I realize now, as I was involved in a hundred things.  Only years later did I look back and remember my old friend Oaky and find that something inside me was treasuring him and missing him. 

So, I went online.

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When the preacher digs himself into a hole at the start of the sermon

The preacher begins his sermon with several minutes of foolishness. He sees a friend in the congregation, remembers a silly story about the two of them, and goofs off for five minutes.

Five golden minutes wasted. An opportunity he will never get back.

It’s a holiday weekend and the attendance is down. The pastor fusses at those who went to the trouble of being in their place, complaining about how people today don’t love the Lord as much as they used to.

What is he thinking, punishing those who come for the sins of those who don’t.

The guest preacher walked up to the pulpit. Every eye and a few TV cameras were on him. The congregation has been conditioned to expect the sermon from the first, without a lot of chit-chat.

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Go Ye Therefore and Serve!

(My commence address at William Carey University. Saturday, August 10, 2019)

“He who would be great among you, let him be a servant.” “I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22)

When I was a freshman in college, I learned a sad lesson about myself. It was the second week of the fall semester and the dean brought all the freshmen–several hundred of us–into the school auditorium. He announced we were going to elect class officers. No advanced notice, no campaigning. I thought, “Maybe I’ll be elected president.” I had been on campus all summer, working, and I knew almost everyone in this class. But no one nominated me. “Well, I’d take vice-president,” I said. Again, no one nominated me.

Next, the floor was open for nominations for secretary. A guy named Randy Scott nominated me. I won in a runoff. “Well, it’s something,” I said.

Better than nothing.

One month later, our class met in the same auditorium. Our newly elected class president called us to order, then looked in my direction. “We will dispense with the reading of the minutes of the last meeting.”

My heart stopped.

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You’re reading this old book and suddenly life intrudes!

I was reading The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough.  The people in mind,  these adventurous settlers who are the focus of this latest book by our favorite historian, were taking civilization into far-off…Ohio.  In 1787, this was the edge of civilization.  It was “The West.”

Some snippets are worth pointing out…

–One character in the book, the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, once visited with Benjamin Franklin and left us a description of the man.  It appears he was expecting a little more than what he got….

…a short, fat, trenched old man in a plain Quaker dress, bald pate, and short white locks, sitting without his hat under the tree…. (pp.20-21)

But as they talked, Franklin became animated and Cutler was drawn in and captivated by the man’s charm in the same way  countless others had been before him.

So much for first appearances!

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When criticizing sermons, tread softly.

They criticized Paul’s preaching, if you can believe that.

They said, “He writes these fearsome letters, but his preaching is terrible.”

Well, okay, what they said was: His letters are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible. (2 Corinthians 10:10)

And how did Paul feel about that?  The same way you and I do  when we learn what some are saying about our preaching.

He didn’t care for it much.

He thought it was unfair.

Pastor, if they didn’t like Paul’s preaching, it’s a lead-pipe cinch they’re going to criticize your sermonizing and mine.

It goes with the territory.

I find that comforting.  A little.

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How to listen to sermons better

A friend left this question on our website…

What advice do you give people in the pews to be better listeners? I admit I have listened to a wonderful sermon and by mid afternoon may have trouble with recall of the major points. I have found jotting some notes can help. Your thoughts? We have a gifted pastor and I want to honor him and our Lord by my listening and learning.

My first thought is to say to my friend, “This isn’t rocket science.  It all boils down to pay attention, take notes, stay focused.”  That sort of thing.

Those who listen to sermons regularly have noticed that a successful listening experience usually involves a number of factors:

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