Have you ever been arrested? Did anyone pray for you?

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them…. (Hebrews 13:3) 

This was my morning radio program (“Phone Call from the Pastor,” Lifesongs 89.1 FM.  Christian radio station in New Orleans)….

Have you ever been arrested? Imagine the devastating impact on your family.

Last night the television news showed the arrest of a fellow on the Northshore for the murder of a convenience store clerk several years ago.  In handcuffs, he was being escorted into jail by a couple of sheriff’s deputies.

As he passed the camera, the man paused, stared into it and said, “Pray for me.  And pray for my family.”  I confess to being shocked. I mean, he was a fairly rough-looking man–the word ‘burly’ comes to mind–and I was expecting anything but that.

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10 verses that forever make prayer available, God accessible and us responsible (to act in faith!)

We begin with four verses in Romans 8 that are stunners. In truth, we don’t need to go further to settle the matter of God’s availability and our blessedness…

1.–“The Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

2. –“It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).

3. –“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us (which is what he has been saying for 30 verses!), who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

4. –“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

In addition, there are incredible verses, promises, and insights scattered throughout the New Testament shining forth like beacons calling us to believe God and start obeying…

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When God says ‘no’

Now, when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.  Acts 16:6-7

I was 33 years old and minister of evangelism at the largest, most prestigious church (of our denomination at least)  in the state.  A few months earlier, our pastor had left and the leadership had handed me the assignment of preaching every three Sundays, every Wednesday night, and doing the Tuesday men’s Bible study for 150 fellows. All of that in addition to my regular duties.

I loved it.

One day, the chairman of the pastor search committee visited my cubby-hole of an office.  “Joe,” said Paul Moak.  “Do you believe God wants you to be pastor of this church?”  What a question.  Definitely a stunner that caught me off guard.  But I knew the answer.

“No, sir,” I said without hesitation.

“Neither do we,” he said.  (That seems funnier now than it did at the time.)

“But there’s a movement to make you the pastor of the church,” he said.

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To a friend going into denominational work

In a sense, I could be writing this to myself some 15 years ago as I transitioned from pastoring (for 42 years!) into the office of the Director of Missions for the SBC churches of Metro New Orleans.  These days, it applies to friends such as Louisiana’s Dr. Steve Horn, who left the pastorate of FBC Lafayette to become Executive of that state’s SBC churches or Dr. Shawn Parker, who left FBC Columbus MS for the Executive office in Mississippi. 

You’ve been pastoring churches all your adult life.  And now the Lord–with the assistance of an executive search committee–is moving you out of the pastorate into a denominational office where your constituency will be churches and pastors instead of deacons and Sunday School teachers and the WMU.

I have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt.  And maybe a scar or two.

Eighteen months into my five-year tenure with the New Orleans Baptist Association, Hurricane Katrina flooded our city, ruining  vast neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents while destroying many of our churches.  Every day was a challenge. The blessings came in waves, the frustrations never left.

I came by these grey hairs honestly.

Ideally, in your new position you will have just enough difficulties to challenge your strengths without crushing you, and enough encouragement and prayer support to compensate for your weaknesses without making you self-satisfied or complacent.

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Ten things you will never hear me say

One. “Back in my day.”  I’m actually living in my day.  Today. 

This is my day.  I am as alive and active as I have ever been. I vote, I read the paper every day, I blog several times a week, and I’m often on Facebook.  I still work–traveling to cities far and near to preach and minister.

I married Bertha three years ago.  She still teaches English at a community college across town.  Much of her day is spent at the laptop grading papers and communicating with students.  She is very much in the present; neither of us is living in the past.

Earlier this month I drove to northern Kentucky (495 miles) to minister and drove back the next day, arriving home in time to sketch for two hours at our church’s Christmas program that evening.

I’m still here.

Two.  I’m going to ‘unpack’ this message.  Ugh! 

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Uncomplicating your prayers: Just do it!

“When you pray, say , ‘Our Father….'”   (Luke 11:2)

I used to have around fifty books on prayer.  C. S. Lewis said he would never write one, but that’s been done for him  posthumously.  Someone took articles he wrote in various books and insights from his letters and assembled them into How to Pray, which Bertha and I are reading with enormous pleasure.  (Most of my collection I gave away over the years as I down-sized my library twice.)

I fear with all the books on the subject that beginners may be scared away from serious praying, thinking it’s harder than it is, more complicated than it should be, and reserved just for the most religious among us.  And what a tragedy that would be.

Prayer is for every child of God.

I love to find insights and encouragements in Scripture about prayer.  One of the best is on display in the amazing and rich 8th chapter of Romans, everyone’s “mother lode” of treasures.  It’s this…

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Lessons in prayer from a blind beggar

A blind man sat by the roadside begging.  When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he began to call out, “Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:35fff)

The blind beggar of Jericho had a name, at least in a way he did.  Bartimaeus they called him, according to the account in Mark 10.  However, Bar-Timaeus means “Son of Timaeus.”  This tells us no one really knew his name, only that his father was a man known to some.

Bartimaeus was blind.  In that culture, no options existed for a blind adult other than to beg.  Perhaps someone helped him to his begging place each day, we don’t know.  We may assume that he was unwashed, that he needed a haircut last year and had not had a bath in memory.  By any standards of the day, his situation was clearly hopeless.

Maybe so, but….

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I answered your email, but you never received it.

This happens too often, and it’s frustrating.

A fellow who reads this blog emailed to say, “I’ve been asked to serve on an ordination council.”  He asked a couple of questions, then said, “What would be some good questions for me to ask the candidate?”  I replied at length, then hit “send.”  A few minutes later, my email was returned to me.  “Undeliverable,” said the message.

I resent the message.  Same thing happened.

Arghhh.  What to do now?

Mostly, when this happens–and as I say, it occurs more often than one might expect–I keep trying to resend it or I might put a message on our website in hope the person will see it.

If he doesn’t, what will he think?  Either that I did not get his email or  received it but did not reply, both of which are wrong.

Is this like unanswered prayer, I wonder?

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Twelve things about prayer you may not know (or may have overlooked)

“Pray without ceasing.”  — I Thessalonians 5:17.

I do not imply that I know more about prayer than you.  I hate to hear anyone celebrated as “an expert in prayer,” for the simple reason that no child should be called an expert in talking to his/her parent.  What’s so hard about that?

Granted, we make it harder than it should be, with our rules, our religions, our legalism, our opinions, our blindness, and our sinfulness.  But in its essence, prayer is talking to the Father through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Period.

What I do imply however (for this article) is that there are insights in Scripture on the subject of prayer many of us may have missed.  Here are a few……

One. Scripture says you do not know how to pray as you should.  That’s Romans 8:26. So, let’s not let that stop us.  God’s not looking for eloquence but faith.

Two.  Scripture says both the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus are interceding for us.  That is Romans 8:26 and 8:34.  Now, personally, I have no idea how this works, particularly when Romans 8:31 says “God is for us!”  So, it appears the Triune God is on our side!

Three. Scripture says the best pray-ers were Moses and Samuel.  That’s Jeremiah 15:1.

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The most overlooked part of funerals and church services

“Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).

Not long ago, my wife and I attended the funeral of a distant in-law kind of relative.  We enjoyed meeting friends and making new ones, and were blessed by the service.  It was all great except for one thing.

Something big was missing.

Not a single prayer was uttered.  Not the first one.

One wonders if the leaders remembered later and said something like, “Oh my–I forgot to pray.”

It would appear that a lot of people are forgetting to pray these days.  We should find that extremely disturbing.  And more than a little revealing.

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