My fiancée and I sat in the Sunday School class that morning. An hour later, I would be bringing my first sermon since God called me to preach. My very first one. I was excited.
And more than a little nervous.
It was December 1961, the Christmas season. Margaret Henderson and I would be married five months later and then spend 52 years together serving the Lord. We had no idea all the Lord had in store for us, of course. The one thing we knew and wanted with all our hearts was that God was leading us and would use us.
I was a senior in college and had been called into the ministry eight months earlier.
That holiday week, I had logged 72 hours selling men’s clothing in the National Shirt Shop on Second Avenue North in downtown Birmingham. Each evening, when I dragged back to the apartment I shared with Joel Davis, devoted friend and soon to become our best man, I was too tired to study for a sermon.
Continue reading “The first lesson the Lord taught me as a minister” »
Those of us who love the Christmas season–I plead guilty!–often are in the market for ways to make it more meaningful.
I polled some friends and would like to share some of the results.
Give more. Give yourself. Give the unexpected. Give ten times as much as they expect. Give more than ever before.
Shop less. Buy fewer. Spend less. Stress less.
Quit giving to the adults; give only to the children.
Give no more than 3 presents per child.
Emphasize the personal aspect.
Write more notes. If you send Christmas cards, write personal notes on them. Don’t be afraid to tell people you love them, even if you need to vary the verb and make it “I treasure you.” (Or, cherish, adore, appreciate, or thank God for you)
Okay. Now, our ten ways to transform your Christmas season….
Continue reading “Christmas Giving: 10 ways to transform your Christmas” »
“Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me” (Psalms 19:13).
The latest non-issue was Starbuck’s red cups, said to be a substitute for anything Christmas-y. As I heard it, some of the Lord’s people were enraged.
When we posted a note regarding the silliness of such (ahem) courageous convictions, several people pointed out there was no issue, that no one had actually slammed Starbucks over this.
Good. They sell coffee, not Christianity.
Any day now–we’re posting this on November 20–we may expect to see Facebook pages devoted to supporting only commercial establishments that allow their employees to wish people a “Merry Christmas” as opposed to the generic “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings.”
The things God’s people make issues of.
Continue reading “Non-issues for God’s people” »
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!”
Continue reading “Your Christmas Eve message” »
(With tongue firmly planted in cheek, let us rethink this greatest of all stories.)
What was the Lord thinking, doing Christmas the way He did?
A Baby is born to an unwed couple after a long, arduous journey. The cradle is a feeding trough in a stable in Bethlehem. Welcoming committees of shepherds and foreigners show up. A murderous king sends his soldiers to slaughter babies. The young family flees to Egypt.
And thus Jesus arrives on the scene.
Admit it. You would not have done Christmas that way. It’s not just me.
Continue reading “Now, take Christmas. That’s certainly not how I would have done it.” »
“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before them….” (Luke 2:8ff.)
I wonder a lot about that first Christmas.
I wonder about the shepherds Luke told us about, the men tending their sheep throughout the night in the field outside Bethlehem.
What a magical moment this must have been for them. I wonder what that was like.
As a farm boy, I can imagine myself outside in that field with them. I’ve kept the calves and cattle, the pigs and the mules and horses. I could keep sheep. It’s basically unskilled labor, we’re told. My pastor said last Sunday that shepherds in Judea ranked on the social scale one notch above lepers. I could be a shepherd. What would that have been like that night?
Continue reading “Christmas Wondering” »
“Now there were in the same country shepherds abiding in their fields by night….” (Luke 2)
(Herewith we present a report from the youngest shepherd of that fateful night in the field outside Bethlehem, with the occasional editor’s remark in italics.)
I was not supposed to work that night, it being a school night. My friend Elihu asked me to fill in for him. Now, my father is not real thrilled with me hanging out with some of these characters who work night shifts with the sheep. Shepherding is the ultimate unskilled labor and only those who can’t do anything else–or hesitate to show their faces in public in the day–need apply.
But Father knows I’m a good student and agreed that we could use the money.
Anyway, that’s how it happened that I had the most amazing experience of my young life.
Continue reading “The report from Bethlehem: A shepherd signs in” »
“Now, the birth of Jesus came about in this way….” (Matthew 1:18).
Do you like a true-life adventure story? This one is the best. It’s found in only four chapters in the Bible: Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.
You like genealogies? Then check out the birth narratives about our Lord Jesus. See Matthew 1:1-14 and also Luke 3:21-38.
You like mysteries? Try to figure out how those two lists of ancestors works out for the lineage of Jesus. If you finally give up, then (and only then) go to a commentary written by a Bible-believing scholar. Your church library probably has several.
You are a history student? Then check out Luke 2:1-3 where “the beloved physician” gives the historical setting for the birth of our Lord. Then, move up one chapter and see how Luke does the same thing for the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry some three decades later.
Continue reading “Something for everyone in the Christmas story” »
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him'” (Matthew 2:1-2).
Only men would have done what the Magi did. Only a group of buddies, men friends all on the same page, all of them sharing the same drives and curiosities and interests, only such a band of brothers would have gone to such lengths simply to see a Baby.
It’s a man thing.
If that sounds condescending to the women in the audience, I apologize, but it’s the truth. Women talk about this all the time, how men do crazy things, disregarding the risk, seemingly not caring about the trouble they are causing everyone around them.
Women laugh about the typical male-epitaph which reads, “Hey, what do we have to lose?” or “Hey, guys–watch this.”
First, why did they do it?
The greatest puzzle of the Magi story to me is not the star they followed (was it a comet or an unusual alignment of stars or something never seen before?), not their origin (were they from Persia? or somewhere else?), and not even the religious significance (did this really fulfill Numbers 24:17? were they astrologers? what does it mean?), but simply why they did what they did.
Continue reading “The Christmas some guys got together and did a man-thing.” »
I was 21, a college senior, engaged, and had been called into the ministry. But so far, no opportunities to preach had opened up. After all, I was attending a Methodist college and planning to be a Baptist pastor. Not exactly standard preparation.
Then, Rock Creek Baptist Church outside Double Springs, Alabama, called. Well, actually, Pastor Everett Wilson called. My brother Ron was his Sunday School superintendent and no doubt had put a bug in his ear.
After Margaret and I spent the night at my folks’ farmhouse, on Sunday morning we drove to Rock Creek, arriving in time for Sunday School. (Hey, no one had told me the preacher did not have to attend Sunday School!)
We sat in with the young people, which was our custom at West End Church in Birmingham and it seemed the thing to do. What I did not count on, however, was my presence intimidating the teacher. So, she took the easy way out.
She asked me to teach.
Continue reading “My worst Christmas sermon” »