The most surprising thing about the Apostle Paul’s ministry

“I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:17-18).

As amazing as he was and as capable in ministry, as brilliant in theology, and as bold in his witness, the Apostle Paul needed people.

Does that surprise you as much as it does me?

Continue reading “The most surprising thing about the Apostle Paul’s ministry” »

Life’s intersections: What if that person had not shown up that day?

I’m 75 years old. Not old or decrepit, thank you very much. And, not ancient or senile by any means, you understand.  But the calendar is what it is and the white hair belies my protestations.  Honestly, l feel like I’m 15.

However.

The time has arrived when it’s perfectly acceptable to look back and remember and give thanks to God for what He has done.

Thinking of all the blessings of people and incidents, of words and books and jobs and churches, I constantly thank God that He did “this” and not “that” or something else entirely.

You are looking at one blest man. (Okay, to the extent you are actually “looking” at me, that is.)

Recently, when members of the old (read that, “now defunct”) West End Baptist Church of Birmingham held a reunion and then the next day, a joint service of worship with Mount Calvary Baptist Church, the congregation now occupying the buildings and campus of our beloved WEBC, it kicked my thinking about these things into overdrive.

Continue reading “Life’s intersections: What if that person had not shown up that day?” »

Some weddings you never forget. As much as you’d like to.

I’ll take a funeral over a wedding any day.

You don’t have to rehearse a funeral. And there are no formal meals or receptions involved. You stand up in front of the honored guest, and do your thing, say your prayers, enjoy a couple of great songs, and go your way.

But with weddings,  you have these rehearsals where a thousand things can go wrong, where the bride and her mother argue, where bridesmaids sometimes see how risque’ they can dress, and the groomsmen how rambunctious they can behave.  You have a wedding director who may or may not be capable. (I’ll take a drill sergeant from Parris Island any day over a lazy director who has no idea all the awful things that can happen the next day.)

Weddings have a hundred moments where slipups can occur and trouble can happen.  Brides are late to church, grooms forget the rings, someone has been drinking, the flower girl is crying, photographers are arguing, the wedding director is pulling her hair out, and the caterer is trying to get paid. The candles either did not arrive, will not light, or are dripping wax on the carpet. The limo is late bringing the maids and the bride because, this being his third wedding of the day, each one took more time than he had allowed, so instead of arriving at the church at 6:30 for a 7:00 wedding, the limousine pulls in at 7:45.

Charles and I were standing outside the sanctuary waiting for the musical cue from the organist signaling time for us to enter. He was marrying a lovely young lass whose father was an Air Force officer. We had done the obligatory pre-marital counseling sessions, although they both seemed reluctant and uninvolved, like this was something they wanted to get over.  My watch said “Two o’clock,” but the organist kept playing.  He and I had done a hundred weddings before, so I knew to listen for the Trumpet Voluntare and not to enter until he sounded it out.

Something was amiss.

Continue reading “Some weddings you never forget. As much as you’d like to.” »

How to stimulate the creative juices and possibly even write humorously

He who would write humorously should spend an hour at Walmart people-watching. She who would write creatively might wish to do the same thing, preferably with laptop or phone in hand for note-taking.

Anyone hoping to write creatively and freshly should take the advice of movie-maker Harold Ramis. “I tell students (on arriving at a party or similar type gathering) to identify the most talented person in the room. And if it isn’t you, go stand next to him.”

Absorb.  Listen.  Remember. (And above all, be quiet.  You’re there to observe.)

I’ve heard of a workshop for creative thinking among executives where the participants play paintball for an hour, then brainstorm on some topic.  They are given a stack of magazines of any and all kinds and given 30 minutes to find every creative slogan or motto, and to jot it down. At the conclusion, they are thrown into small groups and told to adapt the best of those mottos to their own industry.

Creativity can be manipulated. The juices can be made to flow.

Continue reading “How to stimulate the creative juices and possibly even write humorously” »

The enlarging work of the Holy Spirit: My personal story

“Thou hast enlarged me” (Psalm 4:1). The way I heard it, the mother of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the 19th century’s greatest preacher, said to him, “I prayed that God would make you a preacher. But I had no idea He would make you a Baptist.”  (I think she was a Methodist.) “Mother,” said Charles, “it’s just as the Word says. He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask or think.” Spurgeon was quoting Ephesians 3:20,  a truth that should be engraved on the flesh of our hearts if not tattooed on our brains. Our Heavenly Father loves to do big things with unlikely prospects. If God’s plans for you and me are to come to fruition, He has to enlarge us. Continue reading “The enlarging work of the Holy Spirit: My personal story” »

How not to write humor.

Don’t try too hard to be funny.

Don’t announce that you are now being funny.

Do not force it if this does not come naturally to you.

Find your own way of expressing the humor you feel in life.

Remembering that the best laugh comes from the surprise at the end of a good story, therefore, experiment with the best way to say that.

That’s also how to remember a good joke or story you’ve heard: Remember the punch line.  If you remember that exactly right, you can recall the rest of the story by working backward in it.  But the greatest single thing about telling a joke is getting the punch line right.

Again, though, surprise your hearers with it.

My granddaughter was six and we were at the swing in her front yard, doing what grandpas and little darlings do. We were singing and laughing and cutting up. At one point she said, “We’re being silly, aren’t we, grandpa.”  I said, “Yes, we are. Why do we like to be so silly?”

Continue reading “How not to write humor.” »

How to write humor. (An actual class for an actual writers conference)

In an effort to learn something beneficial to share with my class in 10 days at the Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa, I’ve been working and reading and thinking and worrying.

Mostly worrying.

Here is what I have figured out so far.

I do not know how to write humor.

But I’m not telling that to Dr. David and Mrs. Joanne Sloan who invited me. I plan to stand up straight and act like I know what I’m doing, and hopefully fool them.  Hey, it has happened before. I pastored six churches for 42 years. I know a lot about sucking it up and acting like I’m capable.

By now you’re wondering why I was invited to teach this class when so many “real” writers with impressive resumes are available.  You’re not alone.  I’m wondering the same thing.

The short answer is that I come cheap. The longer answer is that I come really, really cheap. Like, I’d do it for nothing, you know?

Erma Bombeck and Art Buchwald couldn’t come, tied up as they are teaching similar classes on a much higher level. In heaven, actually.

I assume.

Continue reading “How to write humor. (An actual class for an actual writers conference)” »

Ten reasons to rejoice. But mostly, just one really big reason.

The coach walks up and down the sideline in front of his players.

“Get your heads up! All of you!  Take those stupid towels off your head!  Let’s show some courage around here!  The game is not over yet.  You’re not defeated until you quit fighting.  Lift up your heads!  Look like champions!”

The disciples had returned from a trial run in which they had practiced preaching the gospel of Jesus.  Since the time would come when Jesus would be absent and they would be doing this “for real,” the Lord wanted them to get a taste of what to expect.

They returned sky high.  “Lord! It was wonderful!  We saw miracles.  Lives changed.  People healed. It was great!”

Jesus agreed.  “You’re right.  In fact, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

“However,” He said, “I do not want you rejoicing because of such.”

Continue reading “Ten reasons to rejoice. But mostly, just one really big reason.” »

Things scripture does not allow

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds, who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:1-4).

Whew.  What a sentence.

The Lord Jesus Christ was God’s last word to Planet Earth.  Everything He had to say.  Man’s last and greatest hope.

Man’s only hope.

Jesus spoke of a landowner who leased out a property to some renters who refused to be accountable.  When his servants arrived to collect his rents, the unscrupulous tenants “beat one, killed one, and stoned another.”  Showing more patience than perhaps he ought, the owner “sent other servants, more than the first.”  These were given the same treatment as the first.  Then our Lord said, “Last of all, he sent his son.”  (Matthew 21:33ff.).

Last of all, God sent His Son.

Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of the promises and types and stories of the Old Testament.  He was the culmination of the Abraham story, the Moses saga, the David chronicle.

It’s all about Jesus.

Continue reading “Things scripture does not allow” »

Why I would never debate an unbeliever

The main reason I shy away from debating anyone about the Christian faith is that if I did a poor job–and knowing my limitations, I can almost guarantee that would be the case–I’d hate for spectators to believe Jesus was no more than my poor representation of Him.

The Truth is far greater than my understanding of it or my ability to articulate it.

It’s possible to lose a debate and still be right.

As a young pastor, I was sandbagged into a debate.  A young man in his late teens told me how he had been dallying with the Jehovah Witnesses and that his parents were concerned.  He wondered if he and his father could meet me in my office one evening to talk.  I agreed.

They showed up that night,  accompanied by two Jehovah Witnesses, men loaded for bear.  They were itching for a fight and mistakenly thought I was ready to take them on.

Continue reading “Why I would never debate an unbeliever” »