Free Information: Random observations from the old folks’ home

At the end of this piece, I want to point out how Sandra Bullock’s character learned to pray in the new movie “Gravity.” If you’ve not seen it and think this might interfere with your enjoyment, be forewarned and skip it. Or come back later.

One of the fun things about having online pastors’ magazines reproduce our stuff is reading the comments from God’s people far and wide.  I did that just now with an article lifted from this blog recently and sent to perhaps 50,000 subscribers far and wide.

I have no trouble when people take issue with some point we tried to make.  What’s fun is when one reader rips me apart and another one responds to straighten him out.  One said I need to stick to cartooning and leave preacher stuff alone. Ouch.

Sometimes readers take seriously something I said tongue-in-cheek and go off on a rant about it. One said today, “I had a hard time listening to anything more he had to say because I couldn’t get past those introductory statements.”  I had said no preacher should preach longer than 45 minutes.  He started listing preachers, most of them famous, who preach an hour or more and do it well.  I replied that  I had meant it half-seriously and had even said (in the article) that it was just my thought and I might be wrong.

He just wanted to fight. I pity his wife today. Or his church staff, if he’s a preacher.

Incidentally, I’ve heard sermons from some of those guys he mentioned and even though they may preach an hour, after 25 or 30 minutes, they are through. They just don’t know it.

A pastor will pad his sermon?  Of course.

Two mega-church pastors in particular come to mind. (No names. Sorry.  It would make for more interesting reading to name them, but this is not a supermarket tabloid.)  I sat in their congregations, with thousands of worshipers filling the pews. Television cameras were recording every word spoken. Later, the pastor and his team would edit those tapes down and broadcast to the world by satellite.  Even though both men preached a full 45 minutes, I could tell when they began padding their sermons, adding a little “sermon-helper” to extend them.

I know what happened. Because he was the (ahem) star of this show, the pastor had informed his staff that a full 45 minutes of the broadcast was reserved for his preaching. The complete service, of course, lasted perhaps 90 minutes, but the television broadcast was trimmed to something under an hour.

One pastor commenting on my article said the suggestions were “outdated.”  He used that word twice in one little paragraph. That smarted, I will admit.  (I had said that 1) the pastor cannot effectively teach that members should submit to him; 2) the pastor should not use his achievements as sermon illustrations because it sounds like bragging, and 3) the pastor should not be the one to handle divisive people in the congregation because when they attack him, for him to respond and deal with it may look self-serving)

I said to the writer that as soon as I could locate my teeth and hearing aid and as soon as the nurse brings my walker in, I’ll come over to his place and we can discuss this.

I’m betting he doesn’t know that’s tongue-in-cheek either.

Now, about Sandra Bullock in “Gravity,” the new movie.  We saw it Tuesday evening and found it extremely intense, completely captivating, and inspiring in places.

As Sandra and George Clooney’s characters work outside their space shuttle–they’re astronauts–the blue orb you and I dwell on slowly moves below them. Filling these giant screens, you the viewer lose all sense of your own location and even become dizzy.  Watch it in 3-D and don’t be surprised if you float toward the ceiling of the theater. (That’s hyperbole, Ginger.)

Anyway, things go wrong. (Otherwise, there’s no story.)  And in the depths of her fear and panic, Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) thinks of praying. But she says she has never prayed and wouldn’t know how to go about it. So she doesn’t.

At the end of the movie, she has returned to earth in the Chinese Soyuz space capsule ending up in a lagoon off some island perhaps in the south Pacific.  She has defied death numerous times and now is safe at home. As she struggles onto the beach, she falls on the shore and clutches handsful of sand.  “Thank you,” she manages to get out.

“Thank you.”

She’s praying.  And what a great prayer it is.  Maybe the best prayer anyone can ever offer.

When I saw that, I thought of a story the great Samuel Shoemaker told many years ago in one of his books. A man in his church was a successful businessman with no time for God or spiritual things. He was in church only to accompany his wife and children. But when cancer laid him low, the congregation prayed him through as the doctors did their thing. At the last, he’s well now and one night late, he knocks at the pastor’s (Shoemaker’s) home.  Sam opens the door and is pleasantly surprised to see who’s standing there.  He said, “I just need to thank someone.”

That night, Sam Shoemaker introduced the businessman to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One to whom all thanks is due.


4 thoughts on “Free Information: Random observations from the old folks’ home

  1. Great article Joe. It is always good to thank someone. While Pastoring I always tried to thank people for doing those everyday things and also those other things that help the church.

    Pastors need to realize that their congregations are faced with many problems, harassments and tough times just to get through the day. When they come to church they are needing to know that somebody cares. That is where the Pastor should thank them and encourage them for whatever they do to help the growth of God’s Kingdom.

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