Let the pastor create aphorisms…briefly. Memorably.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”  –Anonymous

You may not be what you think you are.  But what you think, you are.”  –Someone very clever.

What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues are yet to be discovered.” –Emerson

“A weed is any plant that is out of place.” –Jerry Clower

An aphorism is a short pithy and memorable statement of some truth or lesson.  It may or may not be funny, clever, witty, or cute.  But it encapsulates a truth and someone thought it worth remembering.

Adrian Rogers loved a great aphorism and used many.  This legendary pastor of Memphis’ Bellevue Baptist Church received as much acclaim for his preaching ability as it’s possible for this denomination to bestow.  If you were in his audience, you felt the need to grab a pen and jot down some of his great lines.  To my knowledge, he never claimed credit for creating them but rarely did he give credit.  I’ve heard him say many times, “I got this from someone who got it from someone who got it from God!”

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Welcome to the Holy Spirit Beauty Shop

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

People my age do not ordinarily go around thinking about what makes others beautiful or handsome.  They certainly don’t obsess about it for themselves.

I must be the exception (about people in general, not myself!).

The reason the subject hangs around me is that I’m always sketching people. They sit before me, and I ask them to smile and look me in the eye. “How long do I have to hold the smile?” they will invariably ask.  “One minute.”  Anyone can do that.

I quickly study their facial features, the shape of their eyes, the location and direction and fullness of their eyebrows, and all the other details. I try to whip it out in a minute to 90 seconds, then go on to the next person.

Okay, it may not be great art, but I am often surprised at how close the likeness is.

At conventions and large events, I’ll sometimes sit for hour after hour, drawing nonstop. They’ll have me a table off to one side and provide a volunteer to herd people this way.  I bring all the paper and pens. (In answer to your question, yes, they often pay me nicely. But in many cases I volunteer my services.)

Last Friday night, I sketched for hours at a retirement dinner.  Thursday, I sketched all the attendees at a women’s luncheon where I was the speaker. And Saturday, I’ll sketch for four hours at a local church’s fall festival.  In all, in these three events, I’ll have probably drawn 500 people.

Okay.  Now….

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How to blend in at the new church

USA Today’s travel reporter, Christopher Elliott writes on how tourists can blend in while on vacation.  They want to do this for safety’s sake.  “This summer, four visitors cycling in Tajikistan were targeted and killed by terrorists.  The U.S. State Department is continuously warning Americans about travel abroad, sometimes advising them to stay away from touristy areas.”

So how does one go about not looking like a tourist, Elliott wonders.  “It’s a combination of wearing the right clothes, visiting the right places, and behaving in an un-touristy way, say experts.”

Nothing identifies you more as an American visitor than wearing white Nikes, they say.  Elliott writes, “Sometimes blending in means staying away from clothes marketed to travelers.” That means not wearing zip-off pants (whatever that is) and breathable mesh shorts.  “Cameras are also a dead giveaway.  As is walking around with a map in your hands.

I would add to that list: Saying y’all a lot, wearing a cowboy hat and western boots, and asking the policeman to direct you to the nearest McDonald’s.

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What to do when preparing to teach a Bible study at church

Somewhere I read that G. Campbell Morgan, the great British pastor and expositor, would read through a book of the Bible at least forty times before teaching it. Any less and he felt unprepared. 

We pastors often set aside a few days on the church calendar for an intensive Bible study on a particular theme or book of Scriptures.  Our denomination–the Southern Baptist Convention–has for many years promoted a “January Bible Study” or “Mid-winter Bible Study.” This time–January, 2019–it will be Revelation 2-3, “The Letters to the 7 Churches of Asia Minor.”

I’ll be teaching this for several days at a church near Birmingham, Alabama, and hopefully another place or two.  But months in advance, I’ve been working on it, trying to learn all I can in order to feel competent to teach it.  Never mind that I’ve taught through Revelation several times and preached sermons on these seven churches in the past.  None of that means much at the moment.  The challenge is not to dig out old notes and rehash ancient messages, but to listen anew for what the Holy Spirit is saying through His always-up-to-date Word.  The Word does not change, but its application to our daily lives is as fresh as it’s possible to get.

Furthermore, I’ve changed. I’m not the same person as decades ago when I pastored churches. So, I open the Scriptures and tackle this delightful project with excitement about what the Father has in store.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how this Bible study develops.

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The absolute worst way to listen to a ball game (and why I have trouble with some church people)

“Why wasn’t this perfume sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” –Judas  (John 12:5)

We were on the highway returning from a ministry event in a nearby state.  This being Saturday afternoon, the airwaves were filled with football games. And since I subscribe to Sirius XM radio just for this purpose–to hear the games while traveling, no matter how isolated the highway!–I was going back and forth between two stations, keeping up with the two games.

One was a baseball game in which “my” team was in the playoffs, headed, we hope toward the World Series. The broadcast originated in the home city, the announcers were “our guys,” and the crowd was pulling for “my team.”  And, since the good guys won, it was all sweetness.

The other was a football game between my favorite college team and an arch rival. Our guys were the visitors and Sirius XM was airing the broadcast from the rival’s station. This meant the announcers were unknown to me and clearly partisan, just as they should have been.The crowd–all 90,000 of them–were really into the game.  The score was up and down, the fortunes of the teams waxed hot and cold, and the crowd alternately cheered and groaned.  Eventually, the host team won, handing our team its first loss of the season.

So, I’m switching back and forth between the stations. And yes, while driving.  (It’s not as bad as it sounds. Bertha will tell you I’m a safe driver.)

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Taking a stand against wickedness: What to do?

Unrighteousness is being aggressive.  Evil is on the march.  The world, the flesh, and the devil are having a field day. What should God’s people do?

A lot of people who call themselves Christians disagree with Scripture’s answer to that question.

In most cases, this aggression takes very specific forms.  A new city ordinance discriminates against churches and makes it impossible to do ministry.  A perversion of sexuality has become acceptable and local authorities insist that it be taught as the norm in schools.  A decent public figure with traditional values is being targeted by wicked people and slandered.  The list is unending.

Many calling themselves followers of Jesus Christ would say, “Organize! Confront! No more Mister Nice Guy! Take the fight to the enemy!”  “Show them you can be as mean as they can!”  “We have the power of God on our side!”

“After all,” they will say, “Jesus took a rope and cleansed the temple!”  “Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.”

When God’s people begin name-calling, verbally attacking, and using the world’s methods, eventually someone will get a gun and go calling.  In recent years, we’ve had extremists in the pro-life movement shooting up abortion clinics and murdering doctors.

Never mind replying that “You and I are not Jesus” and “Neither are we Old Testament prophets.”  He has not sent us to do such things.

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Young people, young Christians, young pastors: “Read! Read! Read some more!”

“Write this down,” said God to Moses and various prophets, as recorded in Holy Scripture.  If He wanted His story written, God surely intended it to be read.

I’m a reader.  I’m sure my mind exaggerates, but as a preteen, I recall feeling that I had read all the books in the Winston County Library in Double Springs, AL.  Furthermore, in those days, public libraries had bookmobiles–trucks equipped with small libraries, which made the rounds of the rural countryside.  It was a great arrangement.

Both my sons are avid readers; my daughter not so much. The reason:  We read constantly to our boys when they were little, but our daughter came to us from Korea when she was five. Sadly we missed those most influential years.

The sharpest people you know are readers; the dullest never crack a book.  My parents both read constantly. There was never a time in my growing up years when we did not take the newspaper, and sometimes more than one. In 2007, when God took our Dad the family had to cancel a half dozen subscriptions to magazines he was taking.  He was nearly 96.

At the moment, my bedside table holds books on Herbert Hoover, Leadership in Turbulent Times, The Battle of Britain, and the history of the Natchez Trace.  Six months ago, the list would have been composed of all westerns, and a week or two later several crime or mystery novels.  In my “office” (which looks a lot like our breakfast room!) to the left of the laptop are three study books on Revelation.  We are running over with books around here.  And I love it.

In her book, Leadership In Turbulent Times, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells how several presidents came to develop their gifts for influencing others and leading the nation.  Early on, with Abraham Lincoln, there was a love for books. She writes:

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Make things easier for us to come to your church!

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13).

I walked up to the front of the church where I was to guest-preach in a half hour and tugged on the door.  It was locked.

After walking around to the back and entering, I asked an usher about that.  “No one comes in through that door,” he said.  I answered, “They certainly don’t.  You’ve got it locked.”

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Put yourself in the pastor’s place; what would you do?

I want to say a word about the pastor’s difficult situation. The hope is someone may decide to cut him a little slack when he does something you disagree with or does not come through the way you were counting on.  

You have no idea what tough calls pastors have to make.

As an example, take the Judge Brett Kavanaugh situation. This controversial appointment for the Supreme Court is sucking all the air out of newsrooms these days and dividing the nation. Few people are neutral.

Recognizing that this piece will still be on our website long after this crisis has been resolved and fades into history, I need to give a little background.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  Kavanaugh is a staunch conservative, we’re told, and his rulings over the years on the bench seem to bear that out.  He appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, endured a few days of their grilling, and seemed to be set for confirmation, albeit from a nearly evenly divided Senate.  Then, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor, came forward saying that when she was 15 and Kavanaugh two years older, he sexually assaulted her at a party when he was drunk. He denied the charge.

So, on Thursday, September 27, 2018, Ford and Kavanaugh each appeared before the Judiciary Committee to answer questions.  She was “100 percent sure” that Kavanaugh was her attacker.  He was just as adamant that he was not.

And that’s where the matter stands as I write.  The American people seem torn as to who is telling the truth and what it means.

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Believing Dr. Ford; Supporting Judge Kavanaugh

“He pled the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well.  Is not this what it means to know the Lord?” (Jeremiah 22:16).

People base their politics on their values, their beliefs.  What they truly believe.

In the current event taking over all the news–the crisis du jour of the Trump years–Dr. Christine Blasey Ford went before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday to charge Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh with sexual assault when she was 15 and he 17.  That was some 35 years ago.   She was “100 percent sure it was Kavanaugh.”  Speaking in his own defense later in the day, he was just as certain she was mistaken.  She may have been assaulted, said he, but not by him.

Shortly thereafter, I asked Facebook friends for a simple yes or no response to this: “Do you believe Dr. Ford?”  As of this moment, less than 24 hours later, I have received 464 answers.  The overwhelming majority say “No.”  Some go into detail on their answer, unable to render a simple yes or no.

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