What I wouldn’t do for a great story!!

“And without parables (great stories!) Jesus did not teach” (Mark 4:34).

I once sat through a long session of a convention of realtors just to hear a motivational speaker.  The story with which he opened quickly became a mainstay in my arsenal of great illustrations and sermon-helpers.

Time well spent.

I’ve read entire books and come away with one paragraph that became a staple in my preaching thereafter.  It was time well invested and money well spent.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling Eat, Pray, Love (which I do not recommend), attended a party 20 years ago and heard something from a fellow whose name she has long forgotten.  “Sometimes I think this man came into my life for the sole purpose of telling me this story, which has delighted and inspired me ever since.”

That’s how it works.  One story; a whole lifetime of benefit.

Gilbert says the man told of his younger brother who was an aspiring artist.  Living in Paris and struggling to get by, he seized every opportunity to get his name before people.  One day, in a cafe’ some people invited him to a party that weekend at a castle in the Loire Valley.  This was big stuff and he eagerly accepted the opportunity to hobnob with people of wealth and influence.

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Be a teacher. No matter what else you choose to do.

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2)

Every teacher who is truly effective became a teacher because of the influence of a highly effective teacher.

You can’t say that about preachers. Preachers are called by God. (Teachers can be also, but it’s not a requirement as it is with preaching.)

Brad Meltzer is a highly successful, best-selling author. In a Parade magazine article, he paid tribute to Sheila Spicer, his ninth grade teacher, who is responsible for making him a writer.

Meltzer writes, “The teacher who changed my life didn’t do it by encouraging her students to stand on their desks, like John Keating in Dead Poets Society.  Or by toting a baseball bat through the halls, like Principal Clark in Lean on Me. She did it in a much simpler way: by telling me I was good at something.”

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Looking back: I wish I had asked for help

And He sent them out two by two.  And He added to the church those who were being saved. It is not good for man to be alone.  And a lot of scriptures like that.

Sometimes when I look back–hey, it’s what you do when you get as many years behind you as some of us have accumulated!–I think of several instances when I suffered or my work was weak because I insisted on being a lone ranger.

People would have been glad to help me. But I didn’t ask.

I’m reading the most amazing book. I Wanted To Write is the autobiography, of a sort, from Pulitzer-Prize winning author Kenneth Roberts. Whom you never heard of.  Pam Stewart of Colorado Springs was visiting with us over the Thanksgiving holidays and introduced me to him.  I am so hooked. (He lived 1885 to 1957.)  The book’s subtitle is: An Intimate, Entertaining Account of How An Author Lives and Works.  Every would-be novelist, of which I’m not one, would benefit from reading it.

When  Roberts was deep in the throes of trying to write his historical novels–not the potboilers, bodice-ripping fake histories, but genuine history with fleshed-out stories of the actual persons–he struggled mightily.  That’s when a friend stepped in.  Novelist Booth Tarkington was some 20 years older than Roberts and a neighbor in Kennebunkport, Maine (later the home of President George Bush the first).  Tarkington would come over and say, “Read me a few chapters of your book.”

Now, what makes that special is that Booth Tarkington, remembered by few today, was as popular as Mark Twain in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. His book The Magnificent Ambersons was made into a movie and is considered one of the best all-time by people who rate these things.  Anyway…

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What you and I do with words

“Take words with you,” said the 8th century prophet Hosea, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).

Does the Lord want to hear words?  Evidently.

Words are mighty important.

The Psalmist prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Before Job’s friends launched into the attack against him, one set him up for the fall.  You used to be something special, said friend Eliphaz.  But look at you now.

Surely you have instructed many, and you have strengthened weak hands.  Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have strengthened the feeble knees. (Job 4:3-4)

Imagine that, having the power to stand someone on their feet by the power of words.

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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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