Prayers we hope God does not answer

Dear Lord, even if I pray in faith and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, but am praying something which I will regret forever and which is not what You have planned, please ignore me. Thank you for hearing this prayer!

Three men in the Bible–really godly men, the best of the bunch–prayed at one time or other for the Lord to end their lives.

–Moses in Numbers 11:15 “If I’ve found favor in Thy sight, please kill me.”

–Elijah in I Kings 19:4 “That’s enough now, Lord. Take my life.  I’m no better than my fathers (and they’re all dead).”  My paraphrase.

–Jonah in Jonah 4:3 “Death is better to me than life, so please take my life from me, O Lord.”

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When the pastor search committee asks a killer question

Josh Woo, a friend from my last pastorate, is a veteran of game shows and quiz programs. When Josh was 11, he was a contestant on Jeopardy.  As a student at the University of Southern California, he hosted his own television program on the campus station.  At one point, Josh was a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” In between, he’s done the Wheel and several other shows.

The question that tripped him up on “Millionaire” went something like this: “At 7’7″, So-and-so is the tallest player in the NBA.  But he is slightly shorter than what portion of the Statue of Liberty?”  The choices were her right arm, her eye, the tablet she is holding, and her finger.  Using his final lifeline, Josh asked a buddy to help him, and they missed it.  Anyway….

Josh said veteran contestants (like himself) have a name for that kind of question, but perhaps he shouldn’t tell his pastor.  I said, “Come on. Give.”

“We call that a Go To Hell question.”

“A ‘Go To Hell’ Question,” he explained, “is one relying on such fine detail that no reasonable person should be expected to know it.”

Ah yes.  Who among us is not familiar with such.

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Wasting time in church

“When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…. I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.  I hate your…appointed feasts; they have become a burden to me….  Even when you multiply prayers, I will not listen.”  (Isaiah 1)

Often while preparing a sermon, I pray, “Lord, help me not to squander Thy blessing, waste their time, or miss this opportunity!”

Today, we’re talking about the second of these: Wasting time.

We do a lot of that in church, I fear.

We waste time in church every time we find ourselves:

–praising the God whose word you are flouting, pretending to adore the God whose will is the last thing you want.

–voicing hymns which express truths you do not believe and adoration you do not share.

–bringing pitiful offerings in place of something meaningful.  Or even worse, bringing an offering while griping about pastors preaching on money.

–saying prayers by rote when your mind is a thousand miles away.

Our Lord said, “This people honors me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8).

Such worshipers are wasting their time.

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What if the Lord should ever forget me?

“The righteous will be remembered forever” (Psalm 112:6).

What do you suppose would happen if the Father in Heaven ever got Alzheimer’s?

After all, He’s really, really old, right?

Okay. Not going to happen, of course. My whimsy gene is just asserting itself today.  Scripture makes it plain that “He knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).

But it did start me to thinking….

What if the Lord really ever were in danger of forgetting me?

Well, the good news is He has these memory aids, mnemonic devices they are called, to guarantee that He doesn’t lose track of any of us.  And no, I do not mean God ties a string around His finger.  Something far better.

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Why I could never “love Lucy.” And what that says about me.

“I have spoken openly to the world.  I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together.  I spoke nothing in secret” (John 18:20).

Something happened this week to remind me of why, as a young teen, I hated the typical television sitcom.  I could never say “I Love Lucy.”  And here’s why.

I was listening to the replay of a 1950’s radio program “The Life of Riley.”  William Bendix’ character, the husband and father of the Riley household and namesake of the program, was a bumbling, stumbling embarrassment to the males in the audience, always jumping to conclusions and misunderstanding what the normal people around him were up to.  He needed a good whupping, I always thought.  As a nine-year-old as well as today, I find that hard to listen to.

In the early 1950s, we had no television.  To watch anything, we had to walk down the country road either to my grandmother’s or to Uncle Cecil’s.  Now, Granny would watch whatever you wished–she was just glad to have the company–but at my uncle’s, you sat there and watched whatever they chose.  And the one program they loved above all others was “I Love Lucy.”  They even named their youngest child after the baby in the show.

The plot was almost always based on a misunderstanding or deceit, something Lucy was keeping from her husband Rick.  She might take a job to earn money to buy Rick an anniversary present, but for some unknown reason did not want him to know about it.  Then, he phones to say he’s bringing the boss home for dinner tonight.  The problem is she’s on her way out the door headed to her afternoon job.  But does she tell her husband?   No.  Doing so would be the normal thing, of course, but there would be no program.  The deceit may have formed the basis of the plot, but it also made the story contrived and unreal.

“Normal people do not act this way,” I would mutter to no one but myself, and would often leave the house and walk home.

The few times I made myself sit there and watch a complete “I Love Lucy,” I recall feeling actual pain.  It was terrible. Why do people watch this stuff, I wondered.

“Why doesn’t she just tell her husband she is taking a part-time job?” I would say.  And someone in the  darkened room would answer, although in a nice tone, “Shut up and watch the program.”

Tell the truth.

Some of my longtime friends would say to you, “Joe has just told you a great deal about himself.”

I hate subterfuge.  Deceit.  Hiding things from those you love, people you should trust.  I hate dishonesty.

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My favorite sin: Gluttony

Diamond Jim Brady, a character in American life a few generations ago, was said to have loved food so much, his stomach was six times the size of a normal belly.

Now, that, is a glutton!

How ironic that the season during which we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus provides us the perfect excuse to over-indulge.

Like the megalopolis that now stretches from Washington to Boston or from Dallas to Fort Worth, this eating holiday dominates our calendar from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

Walk through any modern large-box store, and study the edibles they’re offering during this season. It’s not just turkey and dressing and yams and egg nog any longer. It’s chocolates like you would not believe, in every kind of assortment and combination. It’s cookies and cakes and pies coming out your ears. Books pour off the shelves telling homemakers of new recipes for the latest taste sensations for these holidays. Restaurants offer special smorgasbords for the holidays with prices approaching $100 per person.

The wonder is that Americans are not all 400 pounds.

What’s that? We are? Well, far too many of us are overweight.

What position should the disciple of the Lord Jesus take regarding this little crime-against-one’s-body we call gluttony?

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A note of sanity about Halloween

“See that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

In a seminary class I was teaching, a young man preparing for the ministry wrote on a paper, “The only thing I really fear is zombies.”

I wrote back, “You fear zombies? Zombies??”

Hey friend, I have a message for you: Zombies. Do. Not. Exist.

Someone made them up. The nonsense about “the walking dead” might make for interesting story lines for books and movies–I said “might”–but they are the figment of someone’s imagination, and nothing else.

Neither do wooden puppets take on human personalities and kill the people around them. On full moons, certain men do not become werewolves. And old Plymouths do not suddenly come alive, leave the junkyard, and run over everyone in their path.

Stephen King and others like him are toying with their readers. They are doing one thing and it’s such a big thing, I’m surprised that all theists (God-believers) haven’t figured it out yet and been complimented: They are imagining how things would be in this world if God were not alive, on the throne, and in control, and evil was allowed to run amok.

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Finding a contradiction in Scripture, this guy says he disproves God

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was reading comments on a friend’s Facebook page below something she had written about the Bible’s authenticity.

I suppose her critic was a friend, because after each of his statements, each one shallow and several insulting, she patiently responded with kindness and reason.

But nothing worked.

When one is determined not to believe, no amount of truth or reason or logic can penetrate the protective armor of alibis, arguments, excuses, and slander in which he clothes himself.

What was his “contradiction”?

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What Jesus was like: A Bible story with many insights

One brief incident in the day of Jesus’ early ministry reveals so much about Him to our jaded eyes.  Everything we see, we like.

The story is found in Mark 3:1-6.

And He entered again into a synagogue (in Capernaum); and a man was there with a withered hand. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they have accuse Him.

And He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Rise and come forward!’ And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm? to save a life or to kill?’ But they kept silent.

And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians (their enemies) against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

I love that story.  It’s a brief encounter that tells us a world of things about our Savior….

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Something preachers keep forgetting

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you…. (2 Timothy 1:6). 

I was sitting on the platform, ten feet to the left and rear of the pulpit, studying the 300 people in the congregation. In five minutes, I would walk to the podium and, as the guest preacher, bring the sermon. The thoughts running through my mind were not helpful.

“They know all these things. My sermon is about the church. And these people are at church on a Sunday night, of all things. I might as well go into a diner and speak on the joys of eating. Or to a gym and talk about the need for exercise.”

Then, sanity returned. I knew this was not the case at all.

I thought about the times when I sat where they sit.  I often needed a strong reminder of the proper value to be placed on the church, of how solidly God feels about it, of the price Christ paid for it, of the assignments He has given it, and yes, reminders of the sorry way the church is being treated by some of its friends.

There was a genuine need for this message, and on this night I would deliver it as strongly as I knew how.

I gave it my all. The response at invitation time–not always the best barometer, I know–indicated the sermon had hit its target.

The best barometer, and one I’m not privy to, would be the behavior of the members of that congregation over the next few weeks and months.

It’s easy for preachers to fall into that little sinkhole which had opened up just in front of me, and think, “These people do not need this; they already know it.”

In such situations, it’s good for the man of God to remind himself of three facts:

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