Gentleness: The Christlikeness God is trying to produce in us

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness…. (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Would the gentleman from North Carolina please yield the floor?”

“The gentle lady from California makes a good point.”

The U.S. Senate may be the last place in this country where people are recognized as being gentle. It’s a nice trait. “Gentle” means you are not bombastic, not mean-spirited, not rude or unkind or harsh.

My goal is to become more gentle in this life.

Various translations make this “kindness” and “goodness.” Same difference, I suppose, although there is something about “gentleness” that weighs heavily on my mind.

Did you hear about the preacher who was protesting a “gay and lesbian pride” march winding its way through the French Quarter? According to the reports, the minister was preaching to the participants in harsh and condemning tones. At one point, a woman decided that this angry man of God (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) needed a hug. So, she stepped out of the crowd, walked over to him, and kissed him.

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Rescuing ourselves from bondage to our emotions

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. ” (Galatians 5:16)

Brothers and sisters. If you would be spiritually mature and successful in the Christian life, you must rescue your spiritual life from bondage to your emotions. –J. Sidlow Baxter, speaking to Mississippi Baptists in the mid-1970s.

The church lady said to me. “If I don’t feel like doing something, my heart would not be in it, and the Lord said we are to serve Him with all our heart. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

I said, “So, if you don’t feel like reading your Bible or going to church or apologizing to a neighbor, you don’t do it. Right?”

She: “Right. It would be hypocritical.”

Me: “Well. May I ask you, do you ever wake up on Monday morning and not feel like going to work? Or, when you were a teen, were there early mornings when you did not feel like getting up and going to school?”

She: “That’s different.”

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Those blessed frustrations: How God matures us!

I don’t handle frustrations well. A story or two to make that point…

When we lived in the New Orleans area, a few blocks from my house was a diner which had received rave reviews from the Times-Picayune. The owner, a master chef from some New Orleans restaurant, knows his business, we read. So,  when a pastor friend suggested we meet for lunch, we decided on that cafe.  When he had to cancel at the last minute, I went alone.

I entered, saw the place was fairly crowded, and took a stool at the counter. After maybe two or three minutes, I hailed a woman busing tables and asked for a soft drink. She brought it, I studied the menu, and I waited for a waiter or waitress. Ten minutes later, I dropped a couple of bucks on the counter and walked out. With service like that–okay, a lack of service–they’ll not be in business long. If that is indeed indicative of how things are there.

As Yogi Berra said of a certain restaurant, “Nobody goes there any more; it’s too crowded.”

So….

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Why I could never “Love Lucy” and what that says about me as a pastor

“I have spoken openly to the world.  I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together.  I spoke nothing in secret” (John 18:20).

Something happened the other day to remind me of why, as a young teen, I hated the typical television sitcom.  I could never say “I Love Lucy.”  And here’s why.

I was listening to the replay of a 1950’s radio program “The Life of Riley.”  William Bendix’ character, the husband and father of the Riley household and namesake of the program, was a bumbling, stumbling embarrassment to the males in the audience, always jumping to conclusions and misunderstanding what the normal people around him were up to.  He needed a good whupping, I always thought.  As a nine-year-old as well as today, that kind of program is really hard to listen to.

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Be patient: You never know what that fellow has gone through

While attending a conference on the campus of a Christian college, I sat in the auditorium with several hundred other ministers and their families.  The pre-session music was provided by a man playing a violin, and doing it rather poorly, I felt.

I am not a musician nor the son of a musician, but I can usually tell when a violin is being played well.  And particularly when it isn’t.

As the music ended, our host stepped to the microphone. “We want to thank Mr. Hoskins for playing the violin for us tonight. One month ago, he was in an automobile accident in which his car was totaled. In fact, for a while it appeared that he had lost the use of his hands. So, the music tonight was special for a lot of reasons.”

As the congregation applauded, I slumped down in my seat and hoped the shame I felt did not register on my face.

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The leader who has never learned discipline is big trouble

Now, no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:11)

You will know the name Jimmy Doolittle.

He flew bi-planes in World War I for the United States, and then barn-stormed throughout the 1920’s, thrilling auiences by taking risks you would not believe. He led the retaliatory bombing of Tokyo in early 1942, a few months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He played a major role in the Allied victory over the Axis, eventually becoming a General. His autobiography is titled I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.  It’s well worth reading.

Doolittle and his wife Joe (that’s how they spelled her name) had two sons, Jim and John, both of whom served in the Second World War.

The general wrote about the younger son:

John was in his plebe year at West Point and the upperclassmen were harassing him no end…. While the value of demeaning first-year cadets is debatable, I was sure “Peanut” could survive whatever they dreamed up. (p. 284)

Later, General Doolittle analyzes his own strengths and weaknesses and makes a fascinating observation:

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Church leader, you should be the kid brother

He who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves” (Luke 22:26).

Raise your hand if you’re the kid brother in a large family.

If so, you have been given an insight into this teaching of the Lord that most people miss altogether.

Now, in our family Mom and Dad had four sons and two daughters. I was the number three son, born between sisters Patricia and Carolyn. Ron was (still is) the eldest and Charlie was the youngest. (Charlie died in 2006 and Glenn in 2014.)

Growing up, since he was the eldest in our large household, Ron took the role of the assistant father. Whether Dad established that rule or not and whether the rest of us liked it or not, when Dad was not around, Ron called the shots. Once when we were small, some relative came to our house and gave each of us a nickel. By nightfall, Ron had all the nickels. He’d traded or cajoled or something to corner the market on McKeever nickels.

As the baby of the family, little Charlie caught the brunt of everything. He wore the hand-me-downs and had little say in family decisions.

I still smile at this exchange between Ron and Charlie when they were something like 15 and 6, respectively. Ron called out, “Charlie! Come here.” The little kid reluctantly came near.

“Charlie? You my buddy?” The child, wise to the ways of his big brother, said, “What you want me to do?” I recall laughing out loud at that. (I would have been 10 at the time and already appreciated a snappy comeback.)

Jesus said, “If you want to be greatest in the kingdom, be as the little brother.”

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The power of humility is amazing. Or so I hear.

In New Orleans, a local preacher of unknown (to me) background made a name for himself for his public protests against the gay-and-lesbian community. He would use a bullhorn–yep, you read that right–and blare out his preachings and condemnations upon the paraders and onlookers.

Not a very effective witness for the wonderful Lord Jesus Christ, if you ask me.

Then one day,  that preacher was arrested in a park where children go to play, and charged with a public act of indecency.

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Overconfidence: A recipe for disaster

Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (I Kings 20:11).

I heard this guy brag, “When I stand before the Lord at Judgment, I’m going to tell him I did it my way!”

Oh yeah. Sure you are.

I’ve known of funerals where the Frank Sinatra/Paul Anka song “My Way” was played.  Whether we should call this overconfidence, presumption, or just sheer stupidity is another question.

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said this.  Asked if he was ready to meet his Maker, he replied, “I am.  Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”  As a Churchill admirer–I own shelves of books on and from him–I find this incredibly insulting.  Frankly, I hope he didn’t say it.  Although I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m under no illusion about the man.

I’ve been reading The Johnstown Flood, the first book from David McCullough, the wonderful historical author. (I recommend anything from  McCullough. His books are all eminently readable. His biography of Harry Truman won the Pulitzer.  In truth, everything he wrote should have won that prize, but I expect the committee  would have been embarrassed to keep naming him.) )

What’s stunning about the account of the 1889 flood that destroyed this lovely village in the mountains of Pennsylvania is how blase’ the owners of the South Fork Dam were. A secretive group of wealthy families had formed themselves into “The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and built the earthen dam.

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The subtle way we preachers brag

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; let not the mighty man glory in his might;  nor let the rich glory in his riches.  But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these I delight, says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

I am a preacher, bear in mind. So, I know how it’s done.  After all–pay attention now–I pastored six churches for forty-two years, some of them large, influential churches.  Why, in one of my churches, I had a deacon who was a commissioner of the F.D.I.C., appointed by President Reagan.  And the sister of Dr. Billy Graham was a member.  In fact….

Okay.  See what I’m doing here?

Bragging in a subtle, indirect way is  an art not taught in seminary, but picked up along the way, believe me.

Yes, friends, you too can learn how to brag on yourself in an indirect, humble way!!

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