Things I wish I’d said (and done) differently

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves….” I John 1:8

Looking back.

I do a lot of that these days.  I suppose it’s human, seeing as how I’m about to hit birthday number 79 in a few days. There are a lot of days back there to look at! I’m so grateful to be active and energetic and still in the Lord’s field working alongside younger men and women called to His work.

The days behind me far outnumber those in front.

I do not sit around wallowing in regrets, let me make plain.  But sometimes before rising in the morning, I lie there reflecting on times gone by, experiences in churches I served, remembering when my family was young, calling to mind conversations and decisions.

I have many a regret.

I wish I’d said ‘no’ to a lot of requests.  As a young husband and father and ambitious pastor, I accepted many an invitation to speak or travel or serve on a board because it felt like the very opportunity for which the Lord had called me and for which I’d been prepared.  But it took me away from my young children and my over-wrought wife.

Did I really need to serve as a trustee of that denominational board? It required me to travel out of state a half dozen times a year, two or three days at a whack.  Over a four-year term, that adds up to a lot of time away.

I think about the two weeks I spent in Singapore helping the missionaries conceive an evangelistic comic book at the time my three children were 10, 13, and 16.  Such critical ages, so formative, so needy of their father to be hands-on.  Poor Margaret, looking after them, doing all the things a faithful mother does, chauffeuring them to everything, and all the while working on her degree from the local university.  What was I thinking?

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If there is a God and God is like Jesus, then, what’s the problem?

“Come now and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). 

“Why should it be thought incredible by you that God should raise the dead?”  (Acts 26:8).

If there is a God, and if this God is the omnipotent Creator of the universe, then a thousand questions are settled.

–If God is God, then raising the dead should be no big deal.  After all, He made the universe of nothing and made humans from the dust of the earth, so anything after that should be a piece of cake.

–If this God exists, then the Person of Jesus Christ with all that Scripture affirms about Him is completely logical.  Jesus said, “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, even the Son of Man,” referring to Himself (John 3:13).

–If God is God, then a Virgin Birth is no more miraculous than any other birth, which is to say, every birth is a miracle of the highest order.  Ask any new parent holding their treasure for the first time.

–If God is God, then the miracles Jesus worked during His earthly years were little more than child’s play.  Turn water to wine, feed thousands with a child’s lunch, heal the blind, raise the dead.  This is the God who spoke the worlds into being (Hebrews 11:3). What’s the problem?

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Christians afflicted with the “Mamba Mentality “

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). 

No one said it would be easy.

A police lieutenant told me why he could never live the Christian life. “I have to be tough in this line of work. I have to use language that would peel the bark off a hickory tree in order to make myself understood to the people I deal with. I couldn’t do that as a Christian.”

Perhaps he needs to take a lesson from Kobe Bryant, the retired great of the L. A. Lakers, and Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints.

According to an article in USA Today (December 19, 2018), Demario Davis lives by the code found in Kobe Bryant’s book.  “The Mamba Mentality:  How I Play” explains how Bryant adopts an aggressive personality, one different from his normal self, when he walks onto the basketball court.

Get that?  Become someone else once you don the armor.  Become a warrior who takes no prisoners.  Then, later, showered and dressed, you return to the Clark Kent persona.

Most of us might have trouble pulling that off.

Demario Davis, who plays for the New Orleans Saints,  told the reporter how that works out for him.  “For me, it’s like, I have to ask for forgiveness for what I’m about to do on the field.  And then when I’m coming in off the field, I’m asking forgiveness for what I just did on the field, because you have to go to a killing mentality.  A Mamba Mentality.”

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What counts most when rivals suit up for the big game

As I write–early Tuesday morning after staying up to watch the Monday Night Football game between our beloved New Orleans Saints and their division rival the Carolina Panthers–I’m still thinking about the lessons of last night’s football game.  As always in a close fought duel, and this was that, there are many lessons.  But for me personally, there is one big lesson.

How badly you want this game has little to do with anything.

The air waves were filled yesterday with reports of Carolina players carrying grudges over how they felt the Saints players treated and mistreated them following last year’s battles.  Since the teams are in the NFC South division–along with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers–they have to play each other twice each season.  (This year, the Saints lost the opener to Tampa and won the second game from them last week.  The Saints swept Atlanta both games.  And last night was the first of two games with Carolina.  They’ll play in New Orleans in two weeks, the final game of the year for both.)

Last year, a couple of Saints players sent little mementos, we’re told, to key Carolina players.  One was a broom.  No message, just a broom.  But it communicated very well:  “We swept you.”  That is, our team won both games against you.

The Carolina players did not take that very well.  They interpreted it correctly as the winners rubbing salt in their wounds.

Coaches urge their players not to do that, not to give opponents any reason to hate them any more, to motivate them highly to win next time.

But apparently it had worked.  Cam Newton, quarterback of the Panthers, carried an image of a broken broom on his shoes.  “Not this time,” it seemed to communicate.

One of the announcers for the game said, “I played in this division.  These teams all hate each other.”

Not what we would call “biblical hate,” I would hasten to say.  In fact, at the conclusion of a game you’ll often see them chatting with each other on the field.  When a Saints guy was knocked down last night, more than once I saw a Panther player lend him a hand to get back up.

Okay.  As the game was about to begin, I told some of this to my wife.  She asked, “Does a grudge help them play better?”  I said, “We’ll see.”

But I knew it doesn’t.  Sometimes a deep animosity can interfere with a player’s concentration and force him to make mistakes some of which will get his team penalized.

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What pastors worry about most

“Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6).

“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?”  (Mark 4:40)

Worry, they say, is spending energy and resources on needless situations.  Crossing bridges we may never come to.  Paying bills that never come due.

Worry is a waste of the imagination, someone said.  And almost everyone agrees that, for a believer, worry is sin.

But that doesn’t help, does it?  Telling someone not to worry is the equivalent of instructing passengers not to be afraid when the plane is in a nosedive.   A lot of good that would do.

Now, what one person calls “worry” another may call “being concerned” or “caring deeply.”  When a husband tells his wife he does not worry about some upcoming crisis, almost always she interprets that as his not caring.  When the church treasurer said he lies awake at night worrying about our finances, I replied, “Not me.  The Lord is going to be up all night anyway; I let him worry about it.  I sleep like a baby.”  He was thereafter convinced I didn’t love the church as much as he did.

That said, my experience is that some issues do indeed occupy space front and center in the minds and hearts of God’s ministers.

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When planning, reading the instructions is a good place to start.

“Our company asks prospective employees to fill out a written application,” a man wrote in the Readers Digest.  “One question said: In one word, describe your greatest strength. This woman applicant wrote: I’m always faithful to read the directions first.”

Recently, Bertha and I voted at the church a few blocks from our house.  As you sign in, the poll workers give you a paper ballot.  Since only two races were left for the runoff, the page was mostly empty.  At the top were these instructions:  “Using black ink, fill in the oval circle beside the name of the candidate for whom you are voting.”  You were given a closed space to mark your ballot, which you then handed to a clerk who fed the paper into the voting tabulator.  Mine went through fine.  Bertha’s was spit back out.  The clerk looked at it, smiled at her, and said, “Ma’am, you put a checkmark by the candidate’s name.  You’re supposed to fill in the oval.”  She laughed, was slightly embarrassed, they gave her another ballot, and she got it right this time.

On the way to the car, I said to my schoolteacher/wife: “Honey, do you tell the students to read the directions before they take their test?”  She gave me that look.

On the drive home I said to her, “I’ve not changed the clock in this car since we went on Daylight Savings Time.  The truth is I’ve forgotten how to do it.  I’ve had the car a whole year now, so I know I’ve done it before. But I don’t recall how.”

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Why you need a little resistance in your life

“Where there’s no friction, there’s no traction!”  –Overheard from an elderly Baptist preacher in North Carolina 30 years ago

Tim Patterson, executive of Michigan Baptists, had a great insight about catfish and codfish–natural enemies–on Baptist Press the other day..

In the northeastern part of our country, codfish is a big deal. However, shippers discovered that freezing the fish to ship destroyed the flavor.  So, they tried shipping them alive in tanks of seawater.  In addition to that being too expensive, for some reason the cod still lost their flavor and arrived soft and mushy.  Something had to be done.

Eventually, someone hit on a solution. After the codfish were placed in the seawater tanks, one more thing was added:  catfish.  Their natural enemies.

“From the time the cod left the East Coast until they arrived at their destinations, those ornery catfish chased the cod all over the tank…. When they arrived at the market, the cod were as fresh as the day they were caught.  There was no loss of flavor and the texture was possibly better than before.”

There’s a lesson there.

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Reality and Fantasy: If we don’t know the difference, we’re in trouble!

In his book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, actor Michael J. Fox points out that some people take far too seriously what they see on the screen:

No matter how fantastic a move’s premise is, there are always a special few who buy in and accept the (craziness) at face value, like the hoverboard (seen in his 1985 movie Back to the Future). I’ve fielded more questions about hoverboards than any other aspect of the trilogy.  Otherwise sane people were convinced that these devices actually existed, especially after (Director) Bob Zemeckis made tongue-in-cheek comments to the press about parent groups preventing toy manufacturers from putting them on the market (this resulted in hundreds of kids calling Mattel, demanding hoverboards for Christmas).  Believe me, if someone had actually devised and manufactured a flying skateboard capable of propelling a surfer on an invisible wave of air, he didn’t let me in on the secret.  It could have spared me from hours of dangling like a flesh-and-blood Pinocchio.  Alternately strapped into every manner of harness, hinged leg brace, and flying apparatus the most sadistic special-effects engineers could devise, my foot stapled to that pink piece of plastic, I spent hours attached to metal cables, swinging from sixty-foot cranes, back and forth across the Courthouse Square set.

People believed those things existed?  Apparently there is no boundary outside which some people will not stray when it comes to gullibility.  If it’s on the big screen, it must be true.  This is a variation of a greater truth: If it’s on the internet, it’s automatically true.

This is where we all roll our eyes.

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What really strong people do in critical times

“When I am weak, then am I strong.”  –2 Corinthians 12:10

Jackie called me the other day.  He and I were classmates in high school but we’ve not seen each other in forty years or more.  We soon picked up the conversation like we were together last week.

He said, “Joe, my wife died ten days ago.  I am having a hard time dealing with it.  I know you’ve been through this when your wife died.  Can you talk to me?”

Wow.  Such a courageous thing he did, to reach out and ask for help.  I do not have words to say how much I admire him for this. (We talked for 30 minutes and prayed together.  Then, I sent him the book on grief my wife Bertha and I wrote last year about the deaths of our spouses of 52 years.  I’ve prayed for Jackie ever since.)

Asking someone for help takes courage and strength.  I’m well aware it feels otherwise, like we’re at the end of our rope and cannot think of anything to do.  But only the truly strong person will ask for help.  Most people will suffer in silence and pay the consequences.

Only. The. Strong. Will.  Ask.  For.  Help.

It’s another one of those truths which people call counter-intuitive.  That is, it might appear to be a sign of weakness, but it’s something only the truly strong can do.  Like yielding to the bully on the highway.  A weaker person would give vent to his anger and try to teach that guy a lesson. But the strong person knows no one can teach that guy anything, it’s not worth risking one’s own life to do, and his goal is to arrive at his destination safely. So, he controls his anger and goes forward safely.

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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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