The question is not “where is God?” but rather, “Where are you?”

In her World War Two novel, His Majesty’s Hope, Susan Elia MacNeal tells of a German nurse, Elise, who learns that a Down syndrome child in her care was abruptly discharged and bused to some distant hospital where she was later reported to have died of pneumonia. Elise decided to look further into this suspicious matter.

Donning her nurse’s uniform, Elise boarded the next bus carting children to the hospital in question. All the children on board, she noticed, were blind, deaf, epileptic, retarded, and similarly handicapped. The nurse in charge seemed callous and uncaring, and administered a sedative to “help the children rest.”

At its destination, the bus was met by authorities who instructed the children to disrobe for a shower. Doctors examined the children, marking those with gold fillings in their mouths with a large X on their bodies. As they entered the shower room, a large metal door slammed behind them and latches were thrown. That’s when Elise realized what was happening.

The children were being gassed. Exterminated.

“You’ll get used to it,” said an orderly to the stunned Elise.

She ran outside the building and vomited on the grass.

Later, on the bus ride back into Berlin, Elisa asked the other nurse, the hardened one, “But what about the fifth commandment? ‘Thou shalt not kill’?”

“That’s no commandment of God’s–just a Jewish lie, meant to keep us weak,” she said. “We don’t need to follow it any more. Besides, it’s not killing, it’s euthanasia.”

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A good story will make my day. And your sermon.

The only thing I love more than hearing a great story is to be the one telling it.

I have good company in my devotion to the story. It forms the outline of every television soap opera, sitcom and cop show and most of the movies. It fells forests to supply paper for an unending outpouring of novels, all with a story to tell. It connects with people as nothing else does.

In My Reading Life, novelist Pat Conroy drops story upon story upon the reader, more than any single book I’ve read in a year.

Conroy tells of the time an agent for his publisher took him as a young, up-and-coming author to call on booksellers and attempt to market their latest line. The publisher wanted the budding author to see how difficult it is to get bookstores to take their publications and display them prominently. On the third day out, the agent suddenly turned to Pat and said, “You’ve seen me do this. Now, let’s see if you’ve got what it takes…. We know you can write a book; now let’s see if you can sell one.”

Conroy was game. He gave it a try. Addressing the bookseller, he launched into the chatter he’d heard from the agent, making the case for each of the new works coming from the publisher. Then he came to his own book, The Water is Wide. He described it.

The store owner said, “Who gives a d–n?”

Conroy was stunned. The man said, “What should my readers care what happened to a bunch of black kids on an island no one’s ever heard of?”

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The pastor’s Christmas Eve message?

A pastor’s Christmas Eve message will have a flavor all its own. Because of the relaxed nature of the evening, the sermon is often directed toward the child in all of us. Hence, the following….

My friend Annette loves to pass along to me her assignments.  Her Mississippi church frequently invites her to give a talk on this or that, and she messages for my take on that subject. She uses nothing I do verbatim, but I suspect some of my responses provokes creative ideas in her.

Some of the most interesting pieces on our website were instigated by Annette.

The other day her message said, “I have to explain the Christmas story to children ages 4-11 in my church. Help!”

I began by assuring her that I am not the best one to ask about this.  I’m fast approaching birthday number 75 and my youngest grandchild becomes a teenager in February.  Furthermore, women explain things to children better than men do.  But always eager to assist, I jotted down a few thoughts for her.  And that’s when something occurred to me.

All the people sitting before the pastor on Christmas Eve will be children.

Some will be old children, with white heads (or bald ones), while others will be younger parents and adult singles. And there will be “children children” by which we mean toddlers, preschoolers, the whole bunch.  But the thing to keep in mind is that everyone sitting before the pastor is either a child now or has been at one time.

Childhood is one thing we all have in common.

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Cartoonists, liberals, abortion, and me

I’ve been thinking about cartoonists, abortion, and theological liberals lately.

My friend Diane was sitting in a doctor’s office when a young woman came in to ask about an appointment.  She wanted an abortion, she said, because she had plans for Labor Day weekend and wanted to get this done.

After a quick conversation with the receptionist, she left.  My friend sat there in shock and then began to weep.

Diane and her husband Mitch are in line to adopt a baby due soon.  To say they are excited and prayerful does not begin to describe them. Seeing the callousness with which that young woman wanted to be rid of her baby because “I have plans for the weekend” left Diane broken-hearted.

At this point, some in our audience will quit reading.  They already “know” where it’s going and know they do not wish to go there.

That’s why there is little authentic conversation about abortions today.

And, may I say, I understand that.

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Perhaps the most profound thing our Lord ever said

“Except you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

What’s lacking in the great majority of religious experts–of all tribes, all beliefs, all everything!–is a childlike humility.

–I’ve sat across from the salespeople hawking Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon doctrine door to door and been amazed at the sheer gall and arrogance of these know-it-alls.

–I’ve sat in the auditoriums and classrooms when prophecy teachers were spreading out their charts and telling far more than they could ever know, pronouncing their anathema upon anyone daring to believe otherwise and taking no prisoners in the process.

–I’ve sat in massive conferences among thousands of my peers and heard ignorance spouted as truth but camouflaged with alliteration and pious phrases and encouraged and affirmed by thundering echoes of “amens” and “hallelujahs”.

In every case, I longed to hear someone say, “We see through a glass darkly….”  (I Corinthians 13:12).

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Through no fault of their own: The preacher’s kids, caught in the crosshairs

The little boy was 7 years old and loved the church where his dad served as pastor.  So, he was not prepared for the bully who decided to take out his frustrations with the preacher on him.

Each week during the Sunday School assembly, the director of the children’s department would ask, “Has anyone had a birthday this week?” Since the church bulletin carried this information, he already knew the answer. But, the birthday children would speak up and everyone would sing to them.

That week, little David had celebrated his 7th birthday and was eagerly anticipating the tiny bit of recognition from his friends in Sunday School. However, that Sunday the director chose not to ask if anyone had had a birthday.  David came home in tears.

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