Where exactly are you from? I mean, really!

Saturday night in North Mississippi as I sketched couples attending the church banquet where I would soon speak, the woman  said, “You are from Alabama?”

She said, “We’re from Alabama.  Winston County.”

I said, “I’m from Winston County.  Graduate of Winston County High School at Double Springs.”

She said, “We’re from Haleyville.”  A much bigger town at the edge of the county.

We chatted about that, making connections.   Afew minutes later, she was back.

“Your Facebook profile says you are from Nauvoo, Alabama.” A small town to the south  in Walker County.

I said, “We lived five miles out of Nauvoo on a rural route.  But I never lived in Nauvoo itself. We lived just inside Winston County, which meant we went to high school in Double Springs instead of Carbon Hill.”

Later, I changed the note on Facebook to say my hometown is Double Springs.  Which it isn’t, of course.  In one sense, I have no home town, having grown up in the open country, some 13 miles from Jasper, AL and 10 miles from Double Springs.  And not only that….

Continue reading

Five skills a mega-church pastor must have

Someone once said a mega-church pastor must be willing to live on $300,000 a year, be considered a celebrity in the community, and put up with an all-paid country club membership.

I’ll pass, thank you.

The skills a mega-church pastor actually does need will depend on the congregation, I expect, but would include:

  1. Strong preaching strength. This will be the pastor’s sole contact with most of his people. So, he’d better get this right.
  2. Administrative ability. In most cases, there will be an executive leadership team represented by four or five heads of ministerial teams. They meet with the pastor once a week to set directions for the church and make important decisions, then each one gathers his own team to plan their work.

Continue reading

The best thing in the Bible….and the worst.

The best thing in the Bible might be Exodus 34:6-7.

And the Lord passed before (Moses) and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. “

It’s the best because it’s God’s self-revelation and it reveals Him to be pure love.  Exodus 34:6-7 is the Old Testament corollary to I John 3:8,16 which say “God is love.”

Exodus 34:6-7 is the best because it’s quoted all through the Old Testament.  Moses prayed it in Numbers 14:18.  Nehemiah sang it in Neh. 9:17.  Joel held it out as the reason God’s people could expect revival, in Joel 2:13.  David sang it in Psalms 86:15, in  103:8, and in 145:8.    Jonah complained about it in Jonah 4:2.  And we find fleeting quotes from it throughout Jeremiah, such as in 32:18.

Continue reading

The “Depart from me, O Lord; I am a sinful man” syndrome

The goodness of the Lord leads to repentance.  (Romans 2:4)

I sit on my back deck in the early mornings with my coffee and I worship the Lord.  Some fifteen years before I bought it, the Lord had someone build this house for me.  It is so right, everything about it–including the wonderful lady who shares it with me.  She’s a gift from Him too.

I am so blessed that Heaven may take some getting used-to.

I sit out there taking in the birdsong, the sweet air moving gently across the pond, the ever-changing colors of the sunrise, and I think.  I think of the Lord who made this.  I see that clump of reeds at the edge of the pond and think, “If just that was found on Mars today, it would be front page news across the world tomorrow.”  And yet we rarely think of the richness of Earth and the legion of gifts that are ours as a result. God is so good.

Continue reading

She said, “There are some people I need to apologize to.”

The lady is on her deathbed, it would appear.  Her mind comes and goes, according to family members. Sometimes she is lucid, at other times not.

They called me.  Would I come by the hospital to see her?  The daughter said, “Sometimes when she is ‘with us,’ she seems troubled.  Today she said, ‘There are some people I need to apologize to.'”

“We were hoping you could give her some peace.”

Since I was the family’s pastor many years ago, I knew some of the history.  My feeling was that the lady was a genuine Christian although I sensed she had not progressed in spiritual maturity as she should.

In her hospital room I greeted her and we chatted.  I said, “You have given your life to Jesus Christ, is that right?”  The voice was weak, but she was nodding her head.  She had.  “And you love Him?”  Again, yes.

“But you have not always been faithful.”  She shook her head, indicating it was so true.

I said, “Neither have I.  None of us have.  We have all done a poor job of living for Him.  That’s why we appreciate so much His faithfulness.”

Continue reading

Let’s stop asking the world to do our work for us

Do you want the schools to teach the Bible?  Do you want prayer returned to the schools?  Would you like stores and movies to shut down on Sundays?  Taverns too?

If so, you would have loved life in the South in the 1940s.

Jerry Clower–the wonderful Mississippi comedian and Baptist deacon whom I was honored to call friend–used to say, “My mama wants prayer in the schools. But what she means is she wants a Southern Baptist prayer. She does not want anyone and everyone leading the children in prayer.”

When the city council or state legislature decides to open each session with prayer and they start inviting outsiders to lead those prayers, they are duty-bound to respect all denominations and all religions in their area.  It’s the fair thing to do.

They will get every conceivable prayer and pray-er.  It’s a given, and there is not a cotton-picking thing anyone can do about it.  It’s the price they pay for wanting to begin with prayer.

Continue reading

The heart-cry of every child of God

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find…. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God…. (Romans 7:18,24-25).

Any of us can undo all the good we have done at any moment.

No believer is incapable of messing up and doing so royally.

Even though we are saved and saved forever, nothing about that prevents us from doing something truly stupid and harmful.

It’s that knowledge that keeps the faithful man and woman of God ever alert, constantly watching, forever on their knees.

Each believer struggles with our limitations, our humanity, our fallen nature, with what Scripture calls “the old man.”  Scripture says…

Continue reading

No one to blame but ourselves

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…. (from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  Act I, Scene 3.)

We did it and we are to blame.

Christians are forever complaining about the increasing secularization of America.  To listen to them in the year 2019 one would think the “old days”–say, some fifty years back–were the golden time of perennial revival.

The only problem is I lived through those days of the ’50s and 60s.   I can tell you the preachers were constantly railing against the decline in religion, the weakening of the churches, the surrendering to the world.

There has never been a golden age of faith in this country or any other that I have heard of.  Men have always loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  The narrow way is always trod by the few while “broad is the way that leads to destruction.”

Don’t be overly impressed–or too discouraged–by statistics and percentages showing the swings of church attendance, the number of Christians in Congress, and such.

The greatest mistake of the past generations of Christians in this country  was trying to Christianize the culture without evangelizing the people.  We put prayer in the schools, made the church the social life of the community, instituted blue laws so that no liquor could be sold on Sundays, and basically shut down secular life on the Lord’s Day.  We protected the morality of the cities and towns.  The citizens were no more Christian than previously, but we were making them behave like it.

Continue reading

Let the pastor take charge of his own education

Ruth Bell Graham once said many wives are frustrated from expecting their husbands to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be.

That same principle works on so many directions.

Many a pastor is disappointed in his Bible college or seminary education as a result of unrealistic expectations.  Those theological schools buy into this error by periodic polling of their alums to ask, “What do you wish we had taught you?  What subjects should we have included? What skills did you need for which you were unprepared?”  Soon, the provosts and deans assemble a new package of courses and give it its own name–“Masters of Divinity with Specialty in Whatever”–and life goes on.

I guarantee you that the next generation of preachers will also produce a list of subjects their school should have taught.  It’s the nature of the beast since life is always moving forward, cultures change, people are never static, and one more big reason. Maybe the biggest of all.

Continue reading

What if your cross is the person you married?

And so it came to pass in the morning, that, behold, it was Leah.  (Genesis 29:25)

Jacob was neither the first nor the last to find that the person he married was far different from the one he had proposed to and thought he was getting!

I’ve known a few pastors over the years whose marriages were crosses they had to bear.  I thought of that while reading Heirs of the Founders by H. W. Brands this week, as he commented on the marriage of John and Floride Calhoun.

John C. Calhoun was a prominent political figure in America the first-half of the 19th Century.  A senator from South Carolina, he served as Vice-President under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. His home, Fort Hill Plantation, is located in Clemson, SC, and is open for visitors.  Calhoun was a fascinating character about whom no one back then (or now)  was neutral. His son-in-law founded Clemson University.

To say the Calhouns’ was a difficult marriage would be an understatement.  And yet, it had a romantic beginning, as most probably do.

Continue reading