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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Speaking in my defense….

“Oh that you would bear with me in a little folly–and indeed you do bear with me…. I say again, let no one think me a fool.  If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:1,16).

Even the great Apostle Paul thought it was all right once in a rare while to indulge his need for self-defense. So, I have good scriptural precedent.

When one of the on-line magazines called Church Leaders.com posted an article of mine, a critic accused me of doing anything to get an article on that website.

I replied that I write only for my blog and never know when one of several online mags will be picking up something from it.  The first I know is when it shows up in my email inbox.

When you cannot find fault with someone’s reasoning, attack their motive. Ask any trial lawyer.

When an online magazine called Charisma posted our article on a doctrine we call “security of the believer”–which others refer to as ‘Once saved always saved’–you should have read the comments.  Or, maybe you shouldn’t have. They were as mean-spirited as anything I’ve ever seen.

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Why reading a book will always be golden

“I was amazed that some words on a page could change your life.” –Testimony of a woman in rehab last Monday night.  She had been in and out of jail more times than she could count, and in prison three times.  These days, she is a solid Christian woman with a strong testimony and a peace that passes understanding.

“I felt I had jewels in my mouth.”  –Frank McCourt, writing about his youth in Belfast.  When a teacher introduced the teenager to Shakespeare, a new world opened for him.  The movie “Angela’s Ashes,” based on McCourt’s book of the same name, showed him lying in the bathtub reading Shakespeare out loud.

In the last week, I have read five books.  Hey, I’m retired and some weeks the calendar is blessedly empty.  Those are great days for grabbing a book and disappearing into another world.

What’s funny about reading all those books last week–my wife thinks it’s more than a little bizarre–is that I read them all at the same time.  Which is to say, I would read one for an hour, then switch to another.  Some nights my bedtime reading was two of the books.  Friends ask if I mix up the story lines.  The answer is that about two sentences into the reading and I’m back in the world created by that author.

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What I look for in a book

I love books.  At this moment, there are 12 beside my bed.  A western novel is on the table, and the others–dealing with Churchill, the Civil War, the presidential election of 1940, and a novel or two which I started but will probably not finish–await my further attention.

Over the past 15 years, as I moved from pastoring to denominational service, and then into retirement, I have given away thousands of books.  Most went to other pastors and friends, some to family, and a great many were donated to local libraries.

But I keep buying books.

My wife understands my need for books and never mentions it. For which I am grateful.

I bought two books yesterday at the store on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, here in Jackson, MS.

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How to read well and fast, and hopefully smart

Or, if you don’t like the title above, try this one: How to read a 500 page book in 30 minutes! And retain 90 percent of what you read!

That’s the come-on which led some of us to pay for the Evelyn Wood speed-reading course some years back.  It was not money well spent in my judgement, although I did discover how a few people in this world manage to pull that off.  (If your experience with that course was better than mine, congratulations.)

A friend who is an editor for a Christian news service suggested that, since I’m a constant reader, I should write a blog on the subject of reading and how to do it faster and better.  As a trained editor, she tends to read critically and thus slower than she’d like.

That hit me like the time another editor asked me for an article on gluttony.  I had consumed three large meals that day.  But I thought, “Who better than me, who knows the subject so well?”  I wrote the article and it’s still circulating the globe in cyberspace.

So, I opened the laptop with that intention.  But first, I decided to put the question to my friends on Facebook.  How to read faster and more effectively.  The answers were many, some helpful and several silly.  For instance, the latter…

–Bob recommended the Jeff Foxworthy method of “reading more gooder fastly.”

–Ken suggested, “Rd onl fw ltrs, dnt dwl on evy wd.  Dnt gv u!”   Someone needs to buy Ken a vowel.

–Luther learned to cut his reading time in one-half, he says, by turning two pages at a time.

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Writing about those painful personal experiences

“If you have known pain, you have a story.  Tell it.”

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

Humanity is indebted beyond calculation that in the distant past God told some people to write about their pain.

–Job went through the death of all his children, the loss of all his possessions, and a skin affliction that tormented him.  We have no way of measuring the grief and misery he knew.  On top of that, he was left with a nagging wife and given three burdensome friends.  Eventually, he or someone wrote the story. And we are forever in their debt.

–The story of Joseph in Genesis is a favorite of many.  Sold into slavery by his brothers, he was betrayed and framed and thrown into prison where he was essentially forgotten.  And yet, God brought him out with a mighty hand.  We are so glad someone wrote this.  Moses, we are told (see Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27).

–Someone wrote about Moses’ temper, the Israelites’ shenanigans, and David’s unfaithfulness.  They wrote about Jeremiah’s hardships, Thomas’ doubt, and Paul’s sufferings.  And yes, they recorded Moses’ faithfulness, David’s songs, and Jeremiah’s courage.  Thankfully!

We’re glad they thought to record the dark side.  Think how much poorer we would be had the writers of history chosen to record only the pleasant, “uplifting” events and experiences and left out what Oliver Cromwell called the “warts and all.”

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Something I tell students about writing

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

What qualifies me to teach writing is not that I’m all that great of a writer myself.  But I love good writing, I work at learning to do it better, and I know some things on the subject worth passing along.

Consequently, I sometimes get invited to speak at writers’ conferences.  As I did this past weekend in Tuscaloosa. (The Southern Christian Writers Conference, the child of Dr. David and Mrs. Joanne Sloane, has been around for nearly 30 years and each June, the first weekend, enrolls nearly 200 students.  Meeting at Tuscaloosa’s First Baptist Church, the SCWC brings in editors and publishers and all sorts of successful writers to teach.  Oh, and they also bring me in.  Just goes to show, I suppose.)

The text from Psalm 102:18 is the Scripture that fuels their writings, the Sloanes say.  After all, we’re told, more people of the future will read our stuff than will our contemporaries.  In a sense, we’re writing history.

Writing a journal is like taking a 30-minute slice of your today and sending it ahead into the future.  I’m big on journaling.  Journals, we are told, are not so much for our children–who presumably are living the same life we are and have little curiosity about how we view today–as for our grandchildren and theirs.  In time, my journal will be looked upon as something of a record of “the life of an ordinary Baptist preacher in the 1990s.”  I’ll not be around to know it, but in doing those journals–I’m through with journal-keeping except on this blog, something that I wouldn’t exactly call journaling–it has often been with a view toward the future.  There’s a strong witness for Christ throughout all 56 volumes.

Anyone can write; you don’t even have to know good English.  However, if you want people to read what you’ve written, knowing how to make subjects and verbs agree and the difference in they’re, there, and their will come in handy.  Most of us cannot long abide poor writing, so while we may read a few pages, we soon lay it aside because of the assault on our brains.

Therefore, however (I love to put those two words together!), you can get on with writing, without waiting on a certification in proper English usage or the muse to inspire you.  Just do it.

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How cartooning figures into my larger ministry (an assignment)

I was speaking to the medical staff at our Southern Baptist International Mission Board at the request of one of their physicians.  She asked that I talk about how cartooning figures into the ministry to which God called me..

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them accordingly….” (Romans 12:6).

As  a young pastor I drew a sharp line to distinguish between natural talents and spiritual gifts.  The first you are born with; the second reborn with.  The first might involve talents for music, art, science, math, etc.  But spiritual gifts–those strengths in our heavenly DNA–would be more along the lines of preaching, teaching, service, prayer, witnessing, and such.

I’ve altered that a little….

It’s all His.  And whatever natural talents and gifts He gave us can be given back to Him and used for His glory.

I began drawing at the age of 5 when Mom put me and my 3-year-old sister at the table with pencil and paper and told us to draw.  I learned immediately that I loved to draw.  The next year, the first graders at Nauvoo (AL) Elementary School would gather around and watch as I sketched.

As a 16-year-old, I took a correspondence course in cartooning.  But mostly I was self-taught.

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The Holy Spirit, my editor

“And when He comes, He will guide you into all truth…”  (John 16:13)

A publisher once sent me a book to review for unknown reasons.  The writer at one time had belonged to a church I had pastored, so maybe that was it. (Later, I was to learn that publishers ask authors to give them a list of people they want to review their book and comment.  So, clearly, it was the writer’s idea.)

My review was not what they had wanted. I said, “He had a great idea.  He makes some excellent points. But he desperately needed an editor.”

They never replied and never again asked me to review anything.

An editor can be a writer’s best friend.  It is not politeness that prompts authors to praise their editor in the preface of their books.  A good editor can cut through the verbiage, point out flaws in reasoning, find inaccuracies, and question claims. A good editor can spot a weakness in the plot and suggest a dozen ways to make the book better.

Most of us who try to write and then self-publish (which is what we are doing on the internet) serve as our own editors.

The result is often embarrassingly bad. I will read something from this blog written weeks earlier and spot typos or awkward sentences (the result of my attempts at self-editing, when I tried to cut out excess verbiage or redundancies by combining sentences and made a mess of it).

I read those and think, “I wrote that? Man, I need an editor.  Or a wife.”  (Please smile.)

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