Forgiveness: Shortcut to healing

I walked into the hospital room just as the doctor was leaving. “He said I could go home,” the patient beamed. “And just think–after seven months!”

She had entered the hospital on March 6, and today was October 9. Through every day of the Spring, all through the hot Summer, and into the Fall, she had lain in that hospital room as sick as anyone I had ever seen. Even two weeks earlier, I wondered why she didn’t just give up. And here she was leaving.

I pulled up a chair and asked the question on my mind:  How had she gotten better so fast?

Something radical had happened.

“It was two things,” she said, and she gave me permission to tell her story. “They found out how to cure my infection and then a man came into my room. He stood right there and told me he sensed that I had a spirit of unforgiveness deep within me.” She smiled at me, then added, “Now, imagine someone coming into your room and telling you you’re carrying a grudge and it’s keeping you ill! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.”

And what did you do, I asked.

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What if Jesus had not died?

If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  –I Corinthians 15:17

“What If?” is a series of best-selling books put together by Robert Cowley, in which historians look at key events in history and try to imagine what if things had not happened that way.

What if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus?

That is the title of the chapter by Carlos M. N. Eire, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. The subtitle reads, Christianity without the Crucifixion.

Eire imagines Pontius Pilate heeding the warning of his wife whose sleep had been disturbed that night by thoughts of “that righteous man.” Her message to the governor said, “Have nothing to do with him.”

So, he asks, what if Pilate had done the right thing and resisted the religious leaders and the rabble who were crying for Jesus’ execution; what if he had released Him?

On one page, underneath a 13th century painting of Pilate with the Jewish leaders is the caption: “The Decision That Made a Religion.”  (We can insist that it was the resurrection that “made” the Christian faith, but we won’t quibble over the importance of the crucifixion.)

Eire asks, “What if Jesus hadn’t been nailed to a cross at Pilate’s orders? What if he had lived a long, long life? Or even just ten more years? Or one? What if his person and message had been interpreted differently, as they surely would have been?”

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Forgive? Of course! It’s what I do.

Freely you have received; freely give.  –Matthew 10:8

Dr. Watson was complimenting Sherlock Holmes on a brilliant observation no one else had noticed.

“Of course,” Holmes remarked. “It’s what I do.”

Forgiveness and grace—that’s what we believers do.

Here is one page from Ruth Bell Graham’s 1989 book, “Legacy of a Pack Rat,” with a parenthetical, explanatory remark of my own.

“Someone has said, ‘If there had not been a Stephen, there might never have been a Paul.’” (Paul watched Stephen being stoned to death for nothing more than preaching Jesus. As the stones beat the life from him, with his dying breath, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” –Acts 7:60 Paul never recovered from seeing this good man die.)

“A tribal war was raging in Uganda. The soldiers led a line of prisoners to a bridge over a crocodile-infested river where they could shoot them and dump their bodies into the water for the crocodiles to dispose of.

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12 things pastors should make a habit of doing promptly–and 5 they shouldn’t!

Do these things promptly…

  1. Confess sins.  “Keep short accounts with God,” it’s called.
  2. Write thank you notes.
  3. Write notes of appreciation.  “Great song Sunday.”  “I hear great things about your class.”
  4. When inspiration for a sermon or an article  comes in the middle of the night, it must be recorded then or, count on it, you’ll never remember it.  Keep a pad by the bedside.
  5. When you agree to do a friend  a favor–write a letter of recommendation, call on a patient in a hospital, whatever–do it immediately or you will never do it.
  6. Jot down a story, illustration, or thought for a sermon that occurs to you.  If you’re in the car alone, look for an exit and get off the highway so you can write this down.  I’ve sometimes asked my wife to make a note for me as we drove.
  7. Pray for someone when prompted by the Spirit.  When I spot someone who reminds me of a person I knew years ago, I take that as an impulse to pray for them.
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The pastor’s heart: Reservoir or cesspool?

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).  “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). 

This is one of those lessons almost no pastor learns except by personal experience.

Someone told you a joke years ago.  In my case, it was an older cousin and I was a young teen.  The joke was dirty by any measurement and some would say it was funny.  But it was filthy and has stayed with me all these years.  The joke is still in my mind and I am unable to get rid of it.

I wish I’d known.

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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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You came to mind again today; I prayed for you.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” –Philippians 1:3

I remember you…from time to time.

Some people I think of often and reflect frequently on what they mean to me. Other people, I have a completely bizarre remembrance.

I’ll be somewhere and see an old friend of forty or fifty years ago and think, “I always loved him (or her) so much. Why have I not thought of them in all these years?”

I’ve been in a cemetery for a funeral and spotted the gravestone of a friend of bygone times and had the same thought.  “They were so precious. I would love to see them! Why have I lost them in memory?”

Recently, I read a novel about a character with perfect memory.  When something happened that required him to revisit a past experience, he had no trouble.  He would activate his memory and return to that moment in time, recallingl every detail, every word spoken, every nuance.  He could read the license plate of a car, could tell you the temperature, and give you as accurate a rendering of that moment as though he were standing there at that moment.  In the book, this was a special gift.

But it’s not.

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Why step one to the Christian life is humility

At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:1-4)

There is a reason the Lord makes humility step one to living for Him.

He is going to be asking a lot from you, more in fact that you will think you can humanly give.  Unless you have humbled yourself before Him and received what He has for you, you will balk at the demands, insist on your own rights, and insert your own methodology.  In so doing, you will mess it all up.

Be humble or go home.

Only the humble can pull this off.

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“Who, me?” “Not me! I would never do such a thing.”

For those who come across this piece in some distant future, it would be helpful to state what’s happening in the U.S.A. at this moment, November/December 2017.  An outbreak of accusations against well-known men by women who accuse them of sexual offenses (harassments, manipulation, pressure, molestation, and such) is a daily occurrence.  Prominent men are resigning their positions or being fired by their boards.  No one thinks we’ve seen the worst of it, but everyone expects this to be the leading edge. 

A woman friend tells me she’d love to see a movement of men stepping up to say, “Me, too,” in some kind of admission that they are partly at fault for the climate of sexual harassment in our culture.  “Either they have done the things we’re talking about–the sexual innuendos, the flirtatiousness, the manipulation–or they have been complicit by their silence,” she says.

I’m still thinking about that one.

It’s a minefield walking out in front of the world to say, “I’m to blame.”  Particularly if you feel you aren’t.

And that’s what prompted what follows.

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The scriptures I often pray

In no particular order, here are several prayers that I find myself offering to the Father repeatedly….

I pray for my mouth: I have a tendency to say the wrong things.

My mouth has gotten me in trouble for my entire life.  It has been known to write checks I could not cash, to blurt out exactly what I was thinking but should not have been, and to cut people down just to get a laugh from the spectators.  God has let me learn the hard way to discipline my tongue.  So, over the years, I have often found myself praying Psalm 141:3 alongside Psalm 19:14.

Set a guard upon my mouth, O Lord.  Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

(Someone reading this wondered how the Lord let me learn to discipline my tongue.  The best thing to happen is that when I was young in the ministry, more than once a church member called me on the carpet for the cruel thing I’d said just for laughs.  When I apologized profusely–and on one occasion, even apologized before the entire church–it left a lasting impression.  I didn’t ever want to do that again!)

I pray for forgiveness:  I am so often negligent, disobedient, and rebellious.

Who among us does not feel the need for forgiveness every day of our lives? (The single exception might be my wife.  Last night as we chatted with a couple who stopped by to visit, Bertha mentioned something about confessing her sins each day.  Everything inside me wanted to shout, “What sins?  You are about as sinless as anyone I’ve ever known.”  I didn’t say it, of course, but I thought it.)

However, my wonderful wife is married to an accomplished sinner.  So very often, I find myself praying these words of Psalm 51, followed by the confession of the publican in Luke 18:13….

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