What a good church does for a lonely Christian: An illustration

Robert Caro had a problem.

He was researching and writing an in-depth biography of Robert Moses, the highly acclaimed “master builder” of New York City, who lived 1888 to 1981.  Originally, Caro thought the book might take a year.

He was wrong. Bad wrong.

After a couple of years working on the book and with no income to support his family, his wife sold the house to raise money to keep them going.

That money ran out.

He kept working.

In time, he was embarrassed when friends would say, “What are you working on?” and he would tell them he was still on the same book.  “How long have you been working on that book?”  He would mutter, “Five years.”

Five years.  Caro felt like a failure.

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Lazy writing, uninspired preaching

Earlier today, I posted a note on Facebook concerning a Ralph Compton western novel I’m in the midst of.  Apparently the protagonist, a fellow named Nathan Stone, is riding a super horse.

The novelist has Stone leaving New Orleans heading toward “Indian Territory”–which must mean Oklahoma–and at the end of the first night, he beds down below Shreveport at Winnfield, Louisiana.  “Wait just a cotton-picking minute,” I thought and checked the google map.

From New Orleans to Winnfield is 250 miles.  Can a horse carrying a rider do that in one day?

The author had them arriving at their destination in two more days.

A few friends opined that this is a novel, it’s fiction, and the author can do anything he pleases. It’s called artistic license.  But not so fast…

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To get the creative juices going

(Confession: This subject is never far from my mind, and this article was months in the writing.  I send it forth not because it’s finished or has “truth,” but in order to light a match under someone else’s thinking.)

I slipped out of the house this afternoon with no particular destination in mind.

I drove to the mall, a mile from my house.  I’d not been inside Dillard’s Men’s Store in six months, and I’m always on the lookout for their sales.  The “Gold Label” dress shirts are the best anywhere, but I buy them only when they’re half price or less.  Today, I bought two shirts that had originally sold for $115 for $9.95 each.  Even if they don’t work out–always a possibility with me–I’ll pass them along to nice people at Goodwill.

Then, I stopped at McDonald’s which is a few blocks  from home.  Inside I ordered a small caramel mocha and sat in  the back reading a “business” book I’d bought on sale in Office Depot several weeks ago.  That book and one other, bought for 3 dollars each, had been waiting in the trunk of my car for the right moment .  Today was that moment.

Note: I love to read outside my field.  I’ll find an insight that works for a sermon or has an application for pastoral ministry, and feel confident no one else is using it.

Tracey Kidder’s “Truckload of Money” tells about an entrepreneur who made a billion dollars with his computer savvy, then went out and started over.  The insights on every page about how he dealt with people are easily worth the price of the book.

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When you write a book

This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.  Psalm 102:18

People who write books are paragons of faith. They have no proof anyone will ever read what they write or if they will recoup the investment of their time and money.  And yet, they write on.

Aren’t we thankful for people who write books!

After all…

When you write a book, you give away a piece of yourself.  You have spent countless hours secreted away laboring over a pad with a pen or typing away on the laptop.  If you’re like me, you have wept and fussed, stopped to look something up, asked your spouse if this is the right word, and sent up periodic prayers that this would work and make a difference in someone’s life.

When they hold the book in their hands, they’re holding a piece of you.

When you write a book, you touch parts of the world you will never travel to, people you will never see, and make a difference you will not learn of in this lifetime.  This is a faith venture of the first sort.

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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.

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Why we appreciated Warren Wiersbe so much

Dr. Warren Wiersbe, Bible teacher/pastor par excellence.  (1929-2019)  

Some years ago, when Dr. Wiersbe and I were swapping correspondence, I did him a cartoon which he put on his office wall.  Now, most of the Bible study books he had published–one for every New Testament book and a lot of the Old–were part of the “Be” series.  Be Real.  Be Joyful.  Be Faithful.   His autobiography was titled “Be Myself.” So, my cartoon showed his tombstone.  Under his name, it read: “Be Dead.”

At the time I thought it was funny, and he must have also. (That was at least 30 years ago, when you’re still young enough to joke about these matters. I hope someone has thrown that thing away.)

I’m not sure how or when I first heard of Dr. Wiersbe’s teachings on cassette tape.  It would have been in the mid-1970s.  I was serving the First Baptist Church of Columbus, MS and always searching for good resources for preaching material.  His sermon tapes were a pure delight.  Once I took a two-day retreat to a lake house and did nothing but listen to his tapes. At the time he was pastoring Moody Church in Chicago.

One day, sitting around talking with a couple of neighboring pastors, I was amused to hear one of them say, “I’ve found the most wonderful source of sermon material.  I’m reluctant to mention it to anyone because I’m enjoying it so much.”

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Do people tell you not to read those books?

“Take up and read; take up and read.”  (from Confessions of Saint Augustine, chapter XII)

Read widely, pastor.

Read novels, how-to books, histories, biographies, and theological commentaries.

You don’t necessarily have to read the entire book to benefit.  You have only so much time and energy, and you want to put the emphasis on the more important readings.

What are the teens in your church reading?  Ask around, then give it a try.

By all means, read the Word of God.  Read some every day, and have a plan for your reading.  If you’ve never read through the Bible in a year, do it.  Do it several times in a row.  Thereafter, choose books of the Bible you’re unfamiliar with and fill in that gap of your education.

It used to bother me that my oldest son and my wife loved to read Stephen King novels.  Since King loves to get bizarre and even scary–think “Christine” and “Carrie”–in his plots, I felt that this was unhealthy reading for my wife and son.

I still think that.  Mostly.

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Ten things seniors need to be writing for future generations

“This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).

“A posterity shall serve Him.  It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation;  they will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has done this” (Psalm 22:31).

The piece of paper will outlive you.

Papers exist which Abraham Lincoln wrote on, even letters from George Washington.  It’s amazing how long a simple piece of paper may hang around.

If you and I will take the trouble to handwrite a message and leave it in a somewhat permanent spot, it may be there to speak its truth long after we have arrived in Heaven.

Here are ten suggestions for seniors–or those in training to become such!–on what to write and where:

One.  Write your testimony in your Bible.

That’s what those white pages in the front and back are for.   And it’s why the Bible on your phone isn’t remotely in the same class as that thick, black-bound, leathery Bible you can write it and hold and touch and drop a tear or two on.

Two.  Read through the entire Bible and mark it up good.

I suggest you then pass that Bible on to a child or grandchild.  Then, buy another and spend a year reading it through and marking it up, and pass it to another.

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Let the pastor create aphorisms…briefly. Memorably.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”  –Anonymous

You may not be what you think you are.  But what you think, you are.”  –Someone very clever.

What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues are yet to be discovered.” –Emerson

“A weed is any plant that is out of place.” –Jerry Clower

An aphorism is a short pithy and memorable statement of some truth or lesson.  It may or may not be funny, clever, witty, or cute.  But it encapsulates a truth and someone thought it worth remembering.

Adrian Rogers loved a great aphorism and used many.  This legendary pastor of Memphis’ Bellevue Baptist Church received as much acclaim for his preaching ability as it’s possible for this denomination to bestow.  If you were in his audience, you felt the need to grab a pen and jot down some of his great lines.  To my knowledge, he never claimed credit for creating them but rarely did he give credit.  I’ve heard him say many times, “I got this from someone who got it from someone who got it from God!”

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Start writing, pastor: The three most important steps are also the hardest!

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in a book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua…'” (Exodus 17:14).

Pastors say, “When I retire, I’m going to write a book.”

It’s like a mantra.  What are you going to do in your retirement, pastor?  “Write a book.”

And he thinks he will.  A book of his best sermons.  A book of his most memorable stories.  A book recounting the headaches, heartaches, and blessings from all the churches he has served.

That’s the plan.

Most never will write that book.  And the big reason is inertia.  It’s so hard to make ourselves do something we’ve never done before.

So, the best advice is: Get started now.

Step one: Do it.  This is the hardest.   

Make yourself take the first baby steps. Open your computer.

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