Last one standing

In September 1939, Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty for the second time.  A quarter of a century earlier, during the First World War, he held the same position.  To assume the leadership of the greatest navy of the world twice was an amazing thing.  To do so 25 years apart was even more remarkable.

Churchill thought of all the great officers he had worked with the first time.  They were all gone now. He alone was still living and serving. In one of his books on the Second World War, Churchill quotes this little piece from the Irish poet Thomas Moore….

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Thoughts about remarriage: Nothing changes; everything changes

In an article on this website, I told how Bertha Fagan and I met last February 15 and quickly came to see, in the words of Psalm 118:23 that “this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight.”

Making plans for marriage–at some point; we’re still undecided as to when–is certainly exciting and more than a little scary.  A relative said, “I admire your courage.”  I thought to myself, “Courage is the right word. It takes courage to uproot your lives, sell your homes, downsize your possessions, and merge your existence with another person for the last years of your life.”

It takes faith.

There are so many issues, questions to be settled, matters to be determined before we take that step.

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After 26 years, my final week in New Orleans

“Hitherto the Lord hath been our help” (I Samuel 7:12).

We’ve come this far by faith; I can almost see the lights of home from here.

Meanwhile, we who are in this body do groan (2 Corinthians 5:2).

This morning I thought, “I’m going to miss this neighborhood.  I’m going to miss my early morning walks down these wide, empty streets.”

Today was the last Thursday I’ll be doing this.  The movers come on Tuesday.

I don’t actually live in New Orleans proper.  River Ridge–my home since May 1994–is a western suburb, an unincorporated barnacle on the underbelly of metro N.O. I pastored First Baptist Church of Kenner, across the street from the airport, from 1990 into 2004 before becoming director of missions for the SBC churches.  Since 2009, my retirement ministry has kept me running.  Meanwhile, I have continued living in this house and worshiping at the same church.  Now, that is all about to change.  Margaret, my wife of 52+ years, died in January 2015. Twelve months later my son Neil moved his family to Mobile to be closer to his job.  In February of this year, I met Bertha.  The widow of a seminary classmate of mine was teaching English in a community college just outside Jackson, MS. Within a day or two, we both knew that “this” was the Lord’s doing.  We’ve chosen a house in metro Jackson MS (the northern suburb of Ridgeland) and as I sell here, I’m buying that one.

I’m moving to Jackson in a few days.

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Pastor, grow your church…as God enables.

“Over ____% of churches in America have plateau’ed.”  (The percentage depends on who’s talking.)

Let the pastor dedicate himself to growing the church as much as possible.

Let growing the church be important to the shepherd.

But let the growth be the real thing, not something hyped up.  Solid growth, not inflated numbers.

A generation or two ago, pastors in our denomination took it for granted that if they wanted to (ahem) move up to a larger church, they needed to show numerical growth where they were presently serving.

Before long, some less trustworthy preachers decided to play that game to the hilt and ruined it for everyone. They grew creative in their counting, they schemed and plotted and even lied about numbers, and doctored the records to make it appear they were experiencing greater growth than they were.

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“This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight”

“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23 NASB).

It’s time to “spill the beans,” say my friends.

Bertha Fagan is her name.  She is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and lives nearby in the community of Pearl where she teaches English at the Rankin Center of Hinds Community College.

Bertha is the widow of Dr. Gary Fagan, a seminary classmate of mine.  But even though Gary and I knew each other for fifty years, and at one time we all belonged to First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, we did not know one another’s families.  Gary went to Heaven in May of 2014.

My wife Margaret died the following January.

Bertha and I met for the first time on February 15 of this year (2016).  Within days, we both knew the Lord had done something special here.

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How cartooning figures into my larger ministry (an assignment)

I was speaking to the medical staff at our Southern Baptist International Mission Board at the request of one of their physicians.  She asked that I talk about how cartooning figures into the ministry to which God called me..

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them accordingly….” (Romans 12:6).

As  a young pastor I drew a sharp line to distinguish between natural talents and spiritual gifts.  The first you are born with; the second reborn with.  The first might involve talents for music, art, science, math, etc.  But spiritual gifts–those strengths in our heavenly DNA–would be more along the lines of preaching, teaching, service, prayer, witnessing, and such.

I’ve altered that a little….

It’s all His.  And whatever natural talents and gifts He gave us can be given back to Him and used for His glory.

I began drawing at the age of 5 when Mom put me and my 3-year-old sister at the table with pencil and paper and told us to draw.  I learned immediately that I loved to draw.  The next year, the first graders at Nauvoo (AL) Elementary School would gather around and watch as I sketched.

As a 16-year-old, I took a correspondence course in cartooning.  But mostly I was self-taught.

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I am a senior adult. Finally.

“They will still bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:14).

For reasons unknown to me, I have never looked upon myself as a senior.

I’ve smiled when host pastors would welcome everyone to our senior adult emphasis, then say something as outlandish as “If you’re 50 and above, you’re a senior.”  Why, I have children who would qualify by that standard, but they’re barely out of their teens.

I’m smiling.  This is serious but with a wink.

The other day, while riding the train from Concourse D to Concourse B in the Atlanta airport, I entered the crowded car and spotted an empty seat toward the rear.  As I settled into it, I noticed the sign read “for handicapped and seniors.”  My spirit smiled at that.  “I’m a senior.”

It felt good, actually.

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The three vows I made

“I will pay You my vows, Which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble….” (Psalm 66:13-14).

My wife and I sat on the back porch talking about the disastrous happenings at the church we were serving.  A committee we had asked to be formed to help me figure out some things was now meeting without my knowledge and had jumped the rails concerning their assignment.  The little group that had been on my case the entire length of my tenure in that church appeared to hold the winning hand, and their shenanigans were still hidden from most of the congregation.  One thing after another.

One night, as we began to read Psalm 67, the Lord suddenly directed me away from that chapter. “Psalm 66.”  Now, I could not have told one from the other.  But obeying the inner voice of the Spirit, I opened to Psalm 66 and began reading.  Soon, we saw why.  In the middle of the Psalm, David describes the very thing happening to us…

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My “Super Bowl” sermon 20 years ago

(My journal for January 1996 records this message as the one I preached on Super Bowl Sunday, January 28.  After reading these notes, you may be interested in the post scripts.  Every pastor will understand the final one…and will shake his head in amazement at the littleness of some people in church…in every church, let us emphasize.)

Title:  THE GOSPEL FOR SPORTS-AHOLICS

Text: Hebrews 12:1-2  “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, national day of worship for a country crazy about sports. I’m a sports fan too, altho’ a bigger baseball fan than anything else.  For one thing, you can carry on a nice conversation with your neighbor and they don’t have cheerleaders and there is very little rowdiness.

Margaret and I have been amazed to see that the second word our grandson (Grant) learned was ‘ball.’ I’ve said to his mother Julie that if he grows up to be involved in all kinds of sports, don’t be surprised, that apparently he came to us that way.

It will interest you to know that much of the world has always been sports-crazy. We know about the Olympic Games–which were started in 776 B.C.! The rest, as they say, is history.

The Apostle Paul knew about sports and apparently loved them as most men do.  Tonight we will look at I Corinthians 9 where he talks about sports as illustrating some spiritual points.

Here in Hebrews 12:1-2, a great sporting event is going on.  This one is the Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls. And you and I are playing in it.  I want you to see 5 things….

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Five things for Joe

(I started this piece toward the end of October, in the 9th month of widowhood.  And finished it today.)

My sister and several friends are saying I have to do something for Joe.

Like we’re talking about a third-person here.

I replied to one, “I’m not sure what that means.  I do my job. I draw cartoons for editors, I work on my blog, I travel to cities where I preach the Gospel and sketch people, and then I come home. When I get home, I dump stuff in the washer, take things to the cleaners, buy groceries, deposit checks in the bank, and have the car washed.  Then, a week or so later, I do it all over again. It’s my life.”

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