When God’s people shoot one another

On last night’s news, the Israeli army admits that in the war with Hamas, many of their deaths are self-inflicted, resulting from “friendly fire” as they say.

I know the feeling.

Two hundred years or more ago, the British Navy arrived in the Canadian waters near what is now Quebec. They were instructed to wait for reinforcements before attacking the city, then held by the French.

When the commanding officer saw his men growing bored with the waiting, he decided it would be worthwhile for them to get in a little target practice. In the distance, he could see numerous statues of saints atop the cathedral. “Let’s see you hit those,” he ordered.

By the time reinforcements arrived, the British had used up most of their ammunition, and they were found to have insufficient military resources to defeat the French.

Two hundred years later, Quebec is still a French city, because the British decided to fire on the saints instead of the enemy.

In military parlance, “friendly fire” is when soldiers fire on their own buddies by mistake.

It happens in churches far too often.

Continue reading

Discovered: The secret to a great marriage

God brought her to Adam.  And Adam said, “At last!”  –Genesis 2:22-23, pretty much.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.  — Romans 12:10

In lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.  –Philippians 2:3

My wife and I each think we got the better part of the deal.

That’s it.  That’s our “secret.”

After 52 years of marriage–she to Gary and I to Margaret–Bertha Pepper Fagan and I met on February 15, 2016. And we knew that week that the Lord had put us together. We were married the following January 11.  Next anniversary is number seven for us.

Everyone on my side of the family delights in my bride. And, as far as I can tell, Bertha’s side all seem okay with her pick of a hubby. So, we’re doing great.

We could wish every couple felt this way.

Have you ever known anyone who felt they married beneath themselves? That they could have done better?  I have. See below.

Not good.  That’s a relationship killer, to be sure.

Over the years I’ve seen that attitude ruin several promising marriages. And when it happens to a couple in ministry, it can destroy their ministry.

I’m thinking of one such couple. The husband told me this story after the wife abandoned him and their children for another man.

Continue reading

What if your cross happens to be the one you married?

And so it came to pass in the morning, that, behold, it was Leah.  (Genesis 29:25)

Jacob was neither the first nor the last to find that the person he married was far different from the one he had proposed to and thought he was getting!

I’ve known a few pastors over the years whose marriages were crosses they had to bear.  I thought of that while reading Heirs of the Founders by H. W. Brands, as he commented on the marriage of John and Floride Calhoun.

John C. Calhoun was a prominent political figure in America the first-half of the 19th Century.  A senator from South Carolina, he served as Vice-President under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. His home, Fort Hill Plantation, is located in Clemson, SC, and is open for visitors.  Calhoun was a fascinating character about whom no one back then (or now!) was neutral. His son-in-law founded Clemson University.

To say the Calhouns had a difficult marriage would be an understatement.  And yet, it had a romantic beginning, as most probably do.

Calhoun was some years older than Floride. While she was growing up, he cultivated her mother, who had been widowed when her daughter was only ten.   Calhoun wrote long letters to the mother on topics ranging from family matters to politics. Gradually, as the daughter matured he inserted references to Floride.  In time, he directed his correspondence to the daughter who was only too happy to return his affection.  His letters were flowery and affectionate.  “…I shall behold the dearest object of my hopes and desires.”  “To be united in mutual virtuous love is the first and best bliss that God has permitted to our natures.”

In time, they were wed.  Now, we fast forward a few years.  Dr. Brands writes…

The marriage of John and Floride Calhoun had unfolded without surprises but not without difficulty.  She bore one child after another, to a sum of ten.  Three died early, leaving painful memories but still a full house at the upcountry plantation…

Calhoun was busy in the affairs of state and had little time for the little things that wives often appreciate.  He paid dearly for the omission.

Continue reading

Your marriage is similar to all the others, I betcha!

“They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35).

No marriage is perfect.

The union of two godly well-intentioned disciples of Jesus Christ does not guarantee a successful marriage.

And even the successful ones–however we define that!–in almost every case had their ups and downs.

So, if you’ve been feeling like a failure because a) your husband spends more time at the church than at home, b) your wife isn’t nearly the cook or housekeeper your mom was, c) you and your spouse argue, d) you have each lost your temper and said/done some things you regretted later, or e) all of the above, then….

Welcome to the human race.

Let me refer you to William J. Petersen’s book 25 Surprising Marriages: Faith-building Stories from the Lives of Famous Christians. It’s worth the price, friend.

Petersen has chapters on the marriages of Martin and Katie Luther, of C. S. and Joy Lewis, and of Billy and Nell Sunday.  He writes about Charles and Susie Spurgeon, Dwight and Emma Moody, John and Molly Wesley, and Billy and Ruth Graham.  He has chapters titled “Grace Livingston Hill and her two husbands,” and “John Bunyan and his two wives.”

Personally, I wish he had included a chapter on Elisabeth Elliot and her three husbands.  But he didn’t.

I wish we had discovered this wonderful volume (written in 1997) when Margaret and I were in the thick of pastoring and she was chafing under the demands of the ministry, the expectations of the church members, and the absenteeism and/or distraction of her husband. (We married in 1962 and God called her to Heaven in 2015.)

These days, I tell young pastors’ wives that they have so much in common with one another, even across denominational lines.  The wife of the Church of God pastor, the wife of the Holiness pastor, the wife of the Presbyterian pastor, the wife of the Christian Church pastor, and the wife of the Southern Baptist pastor–to name a few–all fight the same battles.

What battles?

I’m glad you asked.  See if any of this sounds familiar….

Continue reading

What true love looks like

This is a special edition of this blog for my granddaughter Erin and her guy Ken as they become husband and wife in a couple of days.  This is a reprint from a couple of years back and I thought a nearlywed/newlywed couple would appreciate it. 

No one will ever convince me Solomon wrote the “Song” attributed to him in the Old Testament.

No one with hundreds of wives and a gymnasiumful of ready-made girlfriends can focus on one woman the way the writer of that poetic rhapsody did.  (If you love the Song of Solomon, good. I’m only saying there is no way it’s from the pen and heart of this Israeli king. See my note at the end.)

True love is not about being enamored by the sheen in her hair or the gleam in her brown eyes.  It’s far deeper than that.

I was preaching a revival in Elberta, Alabama, a sweet little community near the coastal resort town of Gulf Shores.  One morning, host pastor Mike Keech and I met for breakfast at a quaint little cafe called Grits ‘n Gravy. I’d brought along my sketch pad, so over the next hour we table-hopped and I drew all the diners, a dozen or more, as well as Patrick the owner and Megan the counter lady.  Everyone was friendly and the chatter was delightful, but no one was more memorable than the senior couple sitting in a corner booth.

The man had a long white beard. I walked over and said, “Folks, I’m a cartoonist and I draw people. And you, sir, are just crying to be drawn.”  “Oh?” he said. “Yes sir. You look like a character and I do love to draw characters.”

“I’m not a character,” he said solemnly.

His wife said with a smile, “He is most definitely a character.”

I sat down beside them and sketched both.

Continue reading

Have you considered how special you are to God?

“Go tell His disciples–and Peter….” (Mark 16:7)

How special Peter must have felt, to have been singled out by the angel.

This is a question followed by a story…..

Question:  What has God done that forever makes you know how special you are to Him?

Was it a healing? A close call with a near-accident?  Something you read in Scripture?  A sermon that perfectly fit your need of the moment?  Your salvation?

What did He do?

Why do you feel so special to Him?

I have a friend who says she feels like God’s favorite child.  There has to be a reason.  I’m asking you to search out that reason.

Now, the story.

I was preaching a revival in East Fork Baptist Church, halfway between McComb and Liberty, MS.  Fans of Jerry Clower will remember he talked of this church and the community often.  Jerry Clower sat on the front row at every service.  I stayed in his camp house that week.

The organist for the little church had only one arm.  Clyde Whittington was a sweet-spirited, friendly fellow.  One day when we were having lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Whittington, Jerry Clower said, “Clyde, you have to tell Brother Joe what happened to you.”

Clyde was only too ready to tell how he had lost that arm and why he would forever feel special to God.

One day, some years earlier, he had taken the tractor out to bale some hay.  Normally, one person would have the dickens of a time working all the machinery, but Clyde figured he could handle it alone if he was careful.

Continue reading

Some people we have to work at loving

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  The unsaved do that…. But love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…. –Luke 6:32-35

I was a freshman in college, with everything that implies:  I was green, scared, eager, excited, learning, stupid, silly, self-centered, and a hundred other things.

Among the employees on our campus was Mrs. Grigsby.  I can see her to this day: stern, tight-lipped, unfriendly, and unloving. We thought she looked more like a man than a woman. She was all business, never a ‘good morning,’ and generally unpleasant, we all thought.

Among her other duties, Mrs. Grigsby cleaned the hallways and bathrooms of our dormitory.  (Students were expected to keep our own rooms clean. What a joke.)

The guys in our dorm would make nasty jokes about Mrs. Grigsby behind her back.  She was a convenient target and no one spoke up in her defense.  Boys being boys.

One day my girlfriend back home in Alabama told me something unsettling.  “I have a relative who works at the college where you go.”  She had never met her, but was told this by her mother.  A day or two later, she broke the news to me.

“Her name is Grigsby.”

Yikes.  My girlfriend was related to the campus nightmare.

Continue reading

What the bride and groom cannot promise each other

Now, everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner til death…. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises…. And of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love.  –C. S. Lewis, “Christian Marriage” in his book Mere Christianity.

In the wedding vow, we promise to be true to our beloved “so long as we both shall live.”

But what we do not promise and probably could not keep even if we did is to always be “in love” with the other.

Say what? How’s that?

C. S. Lewis says, “A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.  He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.”

But shouldn’t we always be in love?  Isn’t that the goal?

And what does that mean?  How do we define that blissful state?

And how do we nurture the feelings of romantic love so that our honeymoon never ends?

These are questions worthy of hours of discussion between us and our beloved.

Lewis asks, facetiously, “What is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love?”  That question lies in back of our culture’s addiction to divorces and devotion to relationships-that-look-like-marriage-but-without-the-formalities.  If we are no longer “in love,” the thinking goes, then we can put the relationship out of its misery.

Millions of people “put the relationship out of its misery” every year.  And then, far too many find the misery continues, even after the relationship was aborted.

The ways of a husband and wife are mysterious, I give you that.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

Mankind: Made of a different sort by the Creator Himself

People are different from all other animals God made.

We sit in front of the television watching nature shows and swoon at the images of baby tigers, baby baboons, baby anythings.

We are wired that way, to love the creation around us.

I walk the path in our little neighborhood and breathe in the fresh air and delight in all the hues of the leaves in a hundred trees.  They cover the trees and carpet the ground and they are enchanting.

The two mallards in the pond seem to see nothing but each other and the water around them.  They never seem to look around at the glorious landscape and praise God, but simply go their merry way as though the world was built just for them.

We see an animal in distress and our hearts go out to it.  No one exemplifies this quality of mercy more than my wife whose heart is touched by every cute puppy, every cuddly kitten, ever shivering animal in need of warmth and food.

This is a Godlike quality.  He does this.  We do.  And no other part of His creation that we have found does it.

The gorilla is tender toward its own baby but not toward anyone else’s.  The mare is protective of her foal but not of the kid of the goat born the same morning.  The mama bear is legendary in her protection of the babies in her den, but not of anyone else’s. Only we love them all.

God made us this way.  It was this way from the beginning.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’…. And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food….’ (Genesis 1:26-30)

It’s the natural order of things.  God did it.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.  (Genesis 2:15).

The conclusion of the matter, according to the Psalmist, is this:  The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; But the earth He has given to the sons of men.  (Psalm 115:16).

Don’t hurry past that, as I fear most people do.  In His Bible commentary, John MacArthur says of this verse, “Strong implications that planet earth alone is the dwelling place of life.”

While that is an interesting observation, I suspect it misses the point.  The point is that mankind is the custodian of all that is on the earth.  Scripture teaches that God made man “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5) but superior to everything else on the earth.  We know that mankind is possessed by a wisdom and creativity that is light years above that of any other creature on this planet.

I sat on my back deck giving thanks to our wonderful Lord for the trees and for man’s ability to turn the wood from those trees into this deck.  I thanked Him for the minerals in the earth and for man’s ability to transform those fascinating elements into the car I  drive.  For the air I breathe and the way it will purify itself if not overloaded by impurities, and the same with the waters in the ocean.

The sparrows and cardinals came to my feeder while I sat there.  They have no thoughts of where the seeds in those holders originated, only that they are there and edible.  They partake and fly away.  My heart is thankful, for they have graced my morning.

I pray for the birds and the fish and turtles in my pond, asking the Father to nurture them and protect them and show me what to do to help them.

No other part of creation does this as far as can be seen.  Only humans seem to care for all of creation.

We are responsible for this earth.  That is a sobering, almost frightening, thought.  We will give account.  And when I see that our President appoints someone to monitor the climate and recommend policies and changes to benefit all humanity, I do not see this as another useless bureaucracy but something with great possibilities for good.  I pray so.

We have littered the heavens surrounding Planet Earth with untold thousands of bits and pieces of space junk, leftover from previous flights and satellites and rocketships.  And now we are considering sending people to Mars, where eventually we will leave behind trash and garbage and debris.

It is Godly to care.  It is God-like to act to work to keep the oceans pure, the air clean, the earth safe.  It is God-like to love the critters, as Ellie Mae called them.

“Father, Thy will be done on earth–all of earth, every aspect of earth–as it is in Heaven.  Amen.”