Young people, young Christians, young pastors: “Read! Read! Read some more!”

“Write this down,” said God to Moses and various prophets, as recorded in Holy Scripture.  If He wanted His story written, God surely intended it to be read.

I’m a reader.  I’m sure my mind exaggerates, but as a preteen, I recall feeling that I had read all the books in the Winston County Library in Double Springs, AL.  Furthermore, in those days, public libraries had bookmobiles–trucks equipped with small libraries, which made the rounds of the rural countryside.  It was a great arrangement.

Both my sons are avid readers; my daughter not so much. The reason:  We read constantly to our boys when they were little, but our daughter came to us from Korea when she was five. Sadly we missed those most influential years.

The sharpest people you know are readers; the dullest never crack a book.  My parents both read constantly. There was never a time in my growing up years when we did not take the newspaper, and sometimes more than one. In 2007, when God took our Dad the family had to cancel a half dozen subscriptions to magazines he was taking.  He was nearly 96.

At the moment, my bedside table holds books on Herbert Hoover, Leadership in Turbulent Times, The Battle of Britain, and the history of the Natchez Trace.  Six months ago, the list would have been composed of all westerns, and a week or two later several crime or mystery novels.  In my “office” (which looks a lot like our breakfast room!) to the left of the laptop are three study books on Revelation.  We are running over with books around here.  And I love it.

In her book, Leadership In Turbulent Times, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells how several presidents came to develop their gifts for influencing others and leading the nation.  Early on, with Abraham Lincoln, there was a love for books. She writes:

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About the time you start feeling good about your humility….

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).

Humility is a strange bird.  If you think you have it, it’s a pretty good indication you don’t.  If you think you do not have it, it’s possible you do or that you do not.  Hard to tell.

Humility is known more by what it does and refuses to do, how it works and serves, and what it talks about and refuses to mention.  You can see it better in someone else than in yourself.

I said to 78-year-old Marguerite Briscoe, “You are the most Christ-like person I know.”  She said, “Oh honey, if you just knew.”  I was 45 years her junior at that moment, but am now the same age as she. And I do know.

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What to do with those wayward thoughts

“We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

The thought that flitted through my brain that night scares me to this day.

It had rained heavily the previous day, the kind of West Texas downpour they write books about.  Next morning, very early–4 am or something–I was leaving the Alto Frio Baptist Campground for a very long drive home (to central Mississippi).  Anyone familiar with that remote retreat facility knows that the main route calls for you to drive down a highway and then cross over to the primary highway.  Oddly, that crossover is a humble, one-lane road of perhaps half a mile.  The thing to bear in mind is that it crosses a small creek, and oddly, the bridge curves as it passes over the creek.  I made this drive several times during my few days at the camp speaking to senior adults, mostly to drive into the town of Leakey, Texas.

So, now it is pitch black out there, and as I am about to turn off the first highway and drive the small trail over to the main highway, I notice the entire area is flooded.  The whole area around the little road was completely submerged. Assuming the bridge was still there, it would be flooded also.

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“Compromise: Only the strongest can manage it!”

“I implore Euodia and I implore Eyntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2).

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12-13).

The First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana is bordered on the western side by Williams Boulevard and on the east by Clay Street.  In between, intersecting the church property is the wonderfully named Compromise Street.  I have no idea why the city planners gave it that name, but I love it.  When I pastored that church (1990-2004), I sometimes called the attention of the congregation to this asphalted reminder of how intelligent people are supposed to work with each other.

God’s people are to agree. We are to live in harmony.  We are to represent Christ in the world and do His work.  By the very nature of who we are and what we are charged to do, we are required to compromise.

God’s people are to compromise. Constantly.

Don’t miss that.

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Interview yourself. Discover how interesting (or dull) you are!

“Let every man examine himself….” (I Corinthians 11:28).  The women too. 

Toward the end of each issue, Vanity Fair magazine interviews some celebrity.  The questions they pose are good ones.  Consider answering them for yourself.

Here are the questions in the September 2017 issue–

–What is your idea of perfect happiness?

–What is your favorite journey?

–What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

–On what occasion do you lie?

–What do you dislike most about your appearance?

–Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

–What do you consider your greatest achievement?

–What is your greatest regret?

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Destroyed for lack of knowledge–and loving it

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.  Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6).

There is a reason people reject information that is new or different;  they love to be left alone in their comfortable deceit than to have to deal with all the changes required by the light.

Ignorance is bliss, they say.

The problem–whether with mankind or the redeemed–isn’t exactly a lack of knowledge.  If that were the case, we could remedy the situation by sending everyone back to school.

God would send educators to the church.  Instead, He sent prophets and shepherds.  He sent light-bringers. He sent a Savior.

Neither is the problem that people do not know the truth. Nor that no one has come to tell them the truth.  The problem is not that they have never heard the truth.  The problem is that they have rejected truth when it did come.

They are ignorant because they rejected true knowledge.   This is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil.  (John 3:19).

Not knowing something and rejecting the knowledge of something are two different animals.

Over here is someone in darkness who yearns for the light. It comes and he awakens and all is well.  The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live (John 5:25).

Stumbling in the darkness, they spurn the light offered.

The speaker of Truth comes and they run him out of town.  Or scoff and jeer and mock him.

They crucify Him.

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The kind of preaching we like; the type of preacher we want

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah.  And there eat bread and there do your prophesying!  But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.” (Amos 7:12-13).

My journal from a number of years back has this:

Got a letter today from a sweet, humble (really), godly lady who criticized the preaching of our Thanksgiving guest preacher.  She said, ‘Notice what he did last Tuesday night.  He told of the 9 thankless lepers and suggested reasons why they did not give thanks. Many people left our church when he was here because of this kind of preaching.”

Our speaker had been the interim pastor before I arrived. For some 18 months he had ministered to our troubled congregation as they tried to recover from a devastating split.  He had been the essence of faithfulness.

She continued, “Our people want line upon line, precept upon precept.”

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Something kind of wonderful in Mark 12

“After that, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “Now, that is the real deal right there!”  (Okay, that’s not exactly how He phrased Mark 12:43, but it’s the point.)

We who take God’s word seriously sometimes get caught up in the minutiae of word study.  As we isolate a parable or story for our Bible study, teaching lesson, or sermon subject, we often end up missing the larger context.  Mark 12 is a great case in point.

The chapter is a chronicle of one frustration after another for the Lord, starting with the chief priests, scribes and elders confronting and questioning Him at the end of chapter 11. Chapter 12 begins with Jesus’ parable to them, putting in context precisely what they were doing and the danger they were risking.

These however were people of power and influence. They weren’t interested in learning about God from a carpenter of Galilee.  God was their domain.  Teaching was what they did.  Receiving truth and wisdom from a common laborer was something they would not be doing today or any other day.

Mark 12:12 says, “And they were seeking to seize Him.  Yet they feared the multitude…. So they left Him and went away.”

Next came the Pharisees and Herodians, a motley merging of political enemies.  The Pharisees were the “moral majority” of their day, the religious right, while the Herodians were compromisers, Jews who supported the tyrant in the palace for the gain that would flow to them.  They are “sent” by the previous group (see 12:13), thus embodying the line about politics making strange bedfellows. What they have in common is a dislike for Jesus.  They asked their question and got their answer.

“Well!” they must have said to one another. “That didn’t go too well.”

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When a private apology is not enough

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”  “Why are you telling me this?  Get out there and confess to those you hurt.”

Some repentance is cheap, some apologies all too easy.

A deacon pitched a royal fit in a church business meeting.  I’ve long since forgotten the issue.  Afterward, a visitor came to me and said, “I belong to Such-and-such church.  If one of our members spoke to the pastor the way that man did you, the church would have risen up in arms.  But your people sat there and took it.  That is alarming.”

I suppose they sat there quietly because they’d seen it happen so often. Anyway…

A few days later that deacon came to my office and apologized.

Don’t miss this: The damage he did was very public; his apology was in private.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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“I’m very good at what I do,” she said.

This is all about excellence.  Not perfection, but giving your best, leaving nothing in the locker room, cutting no corners.  Whether we are the janitor in the school, the yardman at the church, or serving the President of the United States. 

She was telling me how she came to make the hard decision to change jobs.

“I was working in the fraud division of a financial company,” she said. “They trained me for the position and I was working hard at it.  But for some reason, I just wasn’t getting it.  And that felt bad.”

“I’m very good at what I do,” she explained.

“So this was a new thing for me.  I went to work feeling uncomfortable, like I was not doing what they had brought me there for.”

“Then, a former co-worker who knew me and worked for a bank, recommended me to her boss.  I interviewed and felt quickly this was where I needed to be.”

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