While her Son was dying, Mary was thinking…

“But there were standing by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)

Why am I here? And why is He there?

There seem to be no answers other than “God knows and we trust Him.”

Thy will be done. “I am the bond-slave of the Lord. Be it done to me according to Thy word.”

Sometimes you cry and cry until there are no more tears.

Your heart aches until it no longer feels anything.

Your mind grows exhausted from events happening all around, none of which you were prepared for.

If anyone had told me a year ago I could experience the suffering of this day and live through it, I would have thought it impossible.

There are no words to describe this kind of heart-break.

You are surrounded by people, yet more alone than at anytime in your life.

Friends come over, want to make sure I’m all right. They ask how I’m coping. No words come.

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Beware of wanting everything too simple

A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. –Everett Dirksen, Republican Senator from Illinois (1896-1969).

Watching our nation’s politicians as they propose, dispose, impose, expose, compose and, of course, suppose regarding the economic crisis this country seems to be constantly facing, I find myself wondering how many actually know what they are talking about.

I hate to be skeptical, but common sense — forged by a half-century of dealing with churches, finance people, and my own situations — informs me that most people do not relate to budgets, debts, and deals in the millions of dollars, much less billions and even trillions.

That, however, does not prevent the lowliest politician from sounding forth on the matter, usually to tell the world all that is wrong with whatever the nation’s leaders are proposing at the moment. And what is his own solution to the quandary we face? He never says.

A long time ago another senator, Missouri’s Thomas Hart Benton said, “The worst disease afflicting my constituents is a thing called ‘the simples.’ The folks back home want me to come up with simple solutions to their complex problems, answers that resolve all their difficulties without it costing them anything.”

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.

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The 5 best pieces of preaching advice I ever received

Not every advice given to preachers is sound or wise.  But from time to time, a godly layman or preacher friend has a great word.  Here are five I recall…

One.  From a deacon. 

“Be patient with the people.”

I was fresh from seminary and the brash new pastor of a church in the Mississippi Delta. This was in the late 1960s, one year before Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I was preaching on God’s love for all people of all races, that we are all equal before Him, created by a loving God and thus to be valued. Not a very inflammatory message to be sure.  But some of my people were reacting.  That’s when the chairman of deacons called his young pastor aside.

“What you are saying is right, pastor,” said businessman and deacon chairman Lawrence Bryant.  “But let me remind you that the preacher before you told these people for nine years that segregation was God’s way.”  He paused.  “You can change them, but you need to be patient with them.”

It was the perfect advice.

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Every church has issues, every pastor a situation

“We who are in this body do groan….” (2 Corinthians 5:4)

“Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on….” (Philippians 3:12).

A young pastor sent me a question.  Two churches have contacted him about their search for a new shepherd.  Both are in the same general area, both about the same size, and, in his words, “both have issues.”

I told him, “Every church has issues.”

They all do.  Of the six congregations I pastored, none was completely filled with mature, loving, solid Christians.  All had issues.

The first one, Unity of Kimberly, AL lacked a group of mature leaders to work with their green pastor (moi!).

The second, Paradis of Paradis, LA, was asleep and needed awakening.

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What if your cross is the person 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 this week, 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’ was a difficult marriage would be an understatement.  And yet, it had a romantic beginning, as most probably do.

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Foretastes of Heaven divine

I’m at the age now where this happens almost weekly.   A little foretaste of Heaven. 

In Glory, they’ll be coming up saying to you, “Do you remember that lesson you taught?” That prayer you prayed. That offering you gave.  That note you wrote.  That sermon you preached.  That witness you shared.

“Well, that’s why I’m here. God used it in my life.”

And you will be stunned. 

Makes you want to be more faithful today, doesn’t it?  More generous, more prayerful, more loving.  

Here are five foretastes of glory I’ve had recently…

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10 quirky things I do–and don’t apologize for

One man’s quirks is another fellow’s norms. I get that.  But from all I know and the world I’m a part of, these things I do fall outside the boundaries of normal and customary, particularly for a Baptist preacher of a certain age.

One. I read a lot of western novels.  Sometimes three or more a week.  I was never a cowboy, but growing up on the farm with animals–pigs, cows, a horse or a mule–you have no trouble envisioning yourself as a cowboy.

Two. I have a collection of comic books.  I’m not adding to it, as the books they’re turning out these days are not my cup of tea and the old ones I can no longer afford. — The Golden Era of comics was in the late 1940s and the 1950s. That’s also the time of my childhood, so the only comics I’m interested in come from that period.  I have hundreds of Disneys, and several cowboys, etc.

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Private things about any pastor no church needs to know

“…inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:4).

Although the Lord makes the pastor the overseer of the church (Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2), he is not the Lord of the church. It is not about him.

The pastor is the messenger, the Lord’s servant. He is important, but not all-important.

Preachers should constantly say to themselves, “This is not about me.” And they should act like they believe it.

Believing “this is all about me” drives some preachers to post their photos on billboards around town inviting people to their services, to spend outrageous sums of God’s money to broadcast their sermons on television–as though no one else is doing the same thing as well as they— and either to puff with pride when the church does well or sink into despair when it doesn’t. I daresay there is not a pastor in ten who truly believes that “this ministry isn’t about me.”

We will save a further discussion on that for another time. At the moment, our focus is on the other side of that coin…

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When the preacher digs himself into a hole at the start of the sermon

The preacher begins his sermon with several minutes of foolishness. He sees a friend in the congregation, remembers a silly story about the two of them, and goofs off for five minutes.

Five golden minutes wasted. An opportunity he will never get back.

It’s a holiday weekend and the attendance is down. The pastor fusses at those who went to the trouble of being in their place, complaining about how people today don’t love the Lord as much as they used to.

What is he thinking, punishing those who come for the sins of those who don’t.

The guest preacher walked up to the pulpit. Every eye and a few TV cameras were on him. The congregation has been conditioned to expect the sermon from the first, without a lot of chit-chat.

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For those who think “People are naturally good”—Are you serious?

There is none righteous.  No, not one.”  –Romans 3:10

A basic tenet of the liberal philosophy–at least with liberals I’ve encountered–holds that people are naturally good, and all things considered can be counted on to do the right thing.

You wonder what planet they live on.

In last night’s news, a man bought up a hundred nursing/rehab facilities across the country, then neglected maintenance and upkeep, drained their finances of millions of dollars, and holds that he did nothing wrong.

After the news, Bertha and I watched the 1939 James Stewart movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” an indictment on corruption in the highest levels of government.  I’m recalling that when a preview was given in the nation’s capital, everyone came expecting something good. Instead, they were highly offended. The very idea that they would be so depicted.  And then…

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