My ministry in that church was uphill all the way. Everything was hard, it seemed. There were few rest stops, places where we could take a breather and enjoy a sense that we are accomplishing something significant for the Lord.
The church had few financial resources due to a heavy debt load, made worse by a major split in the congregation 18 months before I arrived as pastor. The ministerial staff had little money for the outreach and educational programs they wanted to do.
It was a tough time in the life of that church.
Perhaps I was tired. Or discouraged. Or needed a boost of some kind.
Anyway, one day, on the way back to the church office from lunch I prayed a prayer unlike any I’d ever prayed before.
I’m a couple months short of hitting the birthday some have named Eighty. Oh, my goodness. That’s a huge number. As one who was often the youngest in the room or the youngest to do a lot of things, reaching this age comes as a mild surprise. It happened so quickly–and effortlessly. All I did to achieve it was to keep on breathing. (I’ve gotten rather good at that, and hope to keep it up for a while longer.)
April of 2021 will mark sixty years since God called me into the ministry. So, you’d think I would have learned a few things by now. I sure hope so.
Here are some of the lessons the Lord has been trying to teach me over these decades…
Your sermon was too long, too short, had too many stories, not enough stories, too deep, and too shallow.
Ask any pastor.
They’re criticized because their wives do not play the piano, but if she does “it looks like she is running the show.” Pastors are criticized for wearing the same suits but if they have a variety, they get slammed for spending too much money on clothes. Their kids are either too unruly or too something. The critics will always think of something to focus on.
Anyone who cannot handle unfair criticism should find another calling.
Recently, Dr. Thom Rainer invited ministers to post unfair or ridiculous criticism they had received in their ministries. The responses flew in, and when I reposted it on Facebook my friends chimed in with theirs. It made me think of a few of my own.
When I became a man, I put away childish things. Paul in I Corinthians 13:11.
Maybe Paul did, but I didn’t.
Well, some I did.
Paul was referring to childish understandings and utterances, of course. We do indeed put those away as we mature and grow in understanding, just as we laid aside the diapers and toddler’s costumes we needed as infants. As a five-year-old, I wore the army jacket with the flyer’s wings to school for picture-taking day. It’s still a favorite photo. However, I can still recall the tears when it became obvious I had outgrown that coat. I wanted to wear it forever.
A lot of things we outgrow. If we are wise and strong, the things we outgrow will be aspects of our lives we should indeed leave behind. Pity the adult who is still harboring his/her childish understandings, prejudices, pleasures.
But some wonderful things of childhood never leave us. Here are some that are still with me today…
And He sent them out two by two. And He added to the church those who were being saved. It is not good for man to be alone. And a lot of scriptures like that.
Sometimes when I look back–hey, it’s what you do when you get as many years behind you as some of us have accumulated!–I think of several instances when I suffered or my work was weak because I insisted on being a lone ranger.
People would have been glad to help me. But I didn’t ask.
I’m reading the most amazing book. I Wanted To Write is the autobiography, of a sort, from Pulitzer-Prize winning author Kenneth Roberts. Whom you never heard of. Pam Stewart of Colorado Springs was visiting with us over the Thanksgiving holidays and introduced me to him. I am so hooked. (He lived 1885 to 1957.) The book’s subtitle is: An Intimate, Entertaining Account of How An Author Lives and Works. Every would-be novelist, of which I’m not one, would benefit from reading it.
When Roberts was deep in the throes of trying to write his historical novels–not the potboilers, bodice-ripping fake histories, but genuine history with fleshed-out stories of the actual persons–he struggled mightily. That’s when a friend stepped in. Novelist Booth Tarkington was some 20 years older than Roberts and a neighbor in Kennebunkport, Maine (later the home of President George Bush the first). Tarkington would come over and say, “Read me a few chapters of your book.”
Now, what makes that special is that Booth Tarkington, remembered by few today, was as popular as Mark Twain in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. His book The Magnificent Ambersons was made into a movie and is considered one of the best all-time by people who rate these things. Anyway…
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God…. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. (Hebrews 11:16,37-38)
It’s commonplace these days for the older generation–let’s say those of retirement age and beyond–to point something out: This generation of young people mistakenly think things have always been this way. Always this affluent. Ever this easy. Always this prosperous.
This generation has no way of knowing, other than being told or reading about it in histories, how recent are smart phones, laptops, rear-view cameras, airbags, and GPS. We not only got along without them for most of my lifetime, we didn’t even give it a thought. We thought we were doing very well, in fact.
I was born in 1940. I was a teen in the 1950s, the “Happy Days” generation, when a decent new car could be purchased for $2,000. When a relative once drove his new Lincoln Continental to a family get-together, we were stunned to see it had air-conditioning: Two plastic tubes coming up over the back seats blowing cold air into the interior. The car, someone said, cost $5,000. More than a year’s salary.
This is not going to be a “back in my day” retrospective, but give me a moment here please.
Saturday night in North Mississippi as I sketched couples attending the church banquet where I would soon speak, the woman said, “You are from Alabama?”
She said, “We’re from Alabama. Winston County.”
I said, “I’m from Winston County. Graduate of Winston County High School at Double Springs.”
She said, “We’re from Haleyville.” A much bigger town at the edge of the county.
We chatted about that, making connections. Afew minutes later, she was back.
“Your Facebook profile says you are from Nauvoo, Alabama.” A small town to the south in Walker County.
I said, “We lived five miles out of Nauvoo on a rural route. But I never lived in Nauvoo itself. We lived just inside Winston County, which meant we went to high school in Double Springs instead of Carbon Hill.”
Later, I changed the note on Facebook to say my hometown is Double Springs. Which it isn’t, of course. In one sense, I have no home town, having grown up in the open country, some 13 miles from Jasper, AL and 10 miles from Double Springs. And not only that….
Baseball used to be called the National Pastime. Whether it qualifies for that accolade now is a good question.
My opinion is the level of excitement generated in the typical game of football is twice that of baseball. And that leads many to conclude that baseball is boring. It is not.
On the other hand, the baseball season is six months long and involves 162 games. Whew. The NFL’s regular season lasts from September to January and has only 16 games. That means baseball has ten games for every one football game.
Baseball is not boring. It’s quiet and relaxing much of the time, and downright exciting the rest of the time. (Reminds me of how an airline pilot described flying: hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.)
My wife Margaret would accompany me to games, but not to watch. She did not understand or care for the game, but she would take along a novel she was reading. And she was a people-watcher. Meanwhile, I was totally into the game. And she was fine with that.
God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (Second Corinthians 9:8)
Over the years I’ve been doing this website–some 15 years now–I have occasionally written about tithing our income to the Lord through His church. Invariably, among the responses will come some hostile attacks, accusing us of preaching Old Testament doctrine, being legalists, misleading God’s people into a salvation by works, and other such foolishness. They could not be more wrong. Some people–like Judas–just cannot stand to see someone expressing love to Jesus by giving generously to honor Him.
“Why this waste?” said Judas (Matthew 26:8).
I decided I would tell you what I’m doing. I’ll save this draft and come back to it later and decide if I have permission from the Lord to post it or if I should delete it. (Later note: I removed most of the dollar amounts, but left everything else in.)
“How much are you all giving?” I asked that of my sister tonight.