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…

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

Why I decided to start writing books

Friends–particularly pastor friends–tell me they’re planning to write a book.  Or numerous books.  I tell them, “Well, get started.”

I thought it might be helpful to make a few comments on my own book-writing venture.  For what it’s worth.

One. It was perhaps ten years ago.  I was browsing inside the seminary bookstore in New Orleans–aka, Lifeway Christian Store–and a fellow I did not know stopped me.  He said, “You don’t need to be buying books; you need to be writing them.”

He walked away.

I never saw him again.

It was a word from God.

Continue reading

Overconfidence: A recipe for disaster

Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (I Kings 20:11).

I heard this guy brag, “When I stand before the Lord at Judgment, I’m going to tell him I did it my way!”

Oh yeah. Sure you are.

I’ve known of funerals where the Frank Sinatra/Paul Anka song “My Way” was played.  Whether we should call this overconfidence, presumption, or just sheer stupidity is another question.

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said this.  Asked if he was ready to meet his Maker, he replied, “I am.  Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”  As a Churchill admirer–I own shelves of books on and from him–I find this incredibly insulting.  Frankly, I hope he didn’t say it.  Although I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m under no illusion about the man.

I’ve been reading The Johnstown Flood, the first book from David McCullough, the wonderful historical author. (I recommend anything from  McCullough. His books are all eminently readable. His biography of Harry Truman won the Pulitzer.  In truth, everything he wrote should have won that prize, but I expect the committee  would have been embarrassed to keep naming him.) )

What’s stunning about the account of the 1889 flood that destroyed this lovely village in the mountains of Pennsylvania is how blase’ the owners of the South Fork Dam were. A secretive group of wealthy families had formed themselves into “The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and built the earthen dam.

Continue reading

On July 4, while waving your flags, give thanks for this…

A fellow interrupted our Facebook discussion on apostasy/faithfulness in my denomination to slam various denominational leaders and then veered a half-mile off-subject onto his lasting loyalty to the Confederate cause.   Each year, he said, he travels to the Confederate cemetery back at home and honors the people, the cause, the flag, etc.

I don’t know the guy, so this is not so much to him  as it is to all those unreconstructed Southerners who still cannot get past the CSA, who idolize Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, and who would die for the Stars-and-Bars before they would the Stars and Stripes.

We have no argument with honoring the dead.  I’ve stood at the gravesites in Columbus Mississippi’s Friendship Cemetery and shed more than one tear for those on both sides buried there.

But no matter your position on the Southern Cause, my friend, there is something you should give thanks for.

Continue reading

If you are lonely in Kingdom work, you have only yourself to blame

And He sent them out two by two. (Mark 6:7)

When the Apostle Paul gave us his list of burdens and hardships in the service of the gospel, loneliness was not one of them.  2 Corinthians 11 speaks of beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and hardships galore.  At the end, he adds one more all-inclusive category: “my deep concern for all the churches.”

But not loneliness.

Paul was not lonely.

We rarely see Paul by himself.  In Antioch, he was one of five leaders. On his first missionary journey, he was accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark and possibly others.  On his second journey, Silas was his companion, along with Timothy, Luke, and others.  The last chapter of his letter to the church at Rome lists twenty-five saints by name to whom he was sending greetings, along with “his mother and mine” and “his sister” and “all the saints who are with them.”  Then, he names eight brethren who are with him at that moment: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus.

Paul was no loner.  Nor was our Lord.

Jesus chose twelve “that they might be with Him” (Mark 3:14). (The exception, we need to add, would be Gethsemane when He said, “Could you not pray with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) )

Then, why, someone please tell us, are so many pastors loners, trying to lead the church, prepare life-changing sermons, and bear the burden of a thousand responsibilities all by themselves?

It was not meant to be this way.

Continue reading

The one question we are not allowed to ask

“You do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”  (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

“Of what use is this?”

What fruit will this bear for the Kingdom of God?

We never know.

It’s the question we should never ask.  First, we’ll not get an answer until we get to Heaven.  And second, to insist on knowing what God will do with our effort, our gift, our witness, before we act is to remove all faith from it.  And without faith, pleasing God is impossible (Hebrews 11:6).

You drop your offering into the plate at church.  There it goes.  Where it will end up, what it will accomplish, God alone knows.  Your church has a budget, you know how the money will be added together and which causes it will fund.  But your particular gift, you have no way of telling.

You’re distributing flyers for your church.  Some, you know, will end up in the garbage.  Some will never be read. But what if one or two become instruments for the Holy Spirit and someone’s life is forever changed?  Wouldn’t that be worth all the effort?

Continue reading