Someone’s been praying for me. Thank you!

Meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers, I shall be granted to you.  (Philemon 22)

Paul wanted prayer that he would arrive safely and on time at his appointed destination.

I ask for that all the time.

More things are wrought by prayer, said Alfred Lord Tennyson, than this world dreams of. Surely, he was right.

We never know when someone is praying, never know when something good resulted from the prayers of our intercessor, and never know when their prayers protected us.

As a preacher supposedly retired, I log some 30 to 35,000 miles a year up and down the highways, primarily to preach and serve the Lord.  Last week, ministering in west Texas and in two churches here in Mississippi, I added another couple of thousand miles to the odometer.

Twice in recent history, I have come within a hair’s breadth of buying the farm (cashing in my chips, calling it a day, giving up the ghost; choose your metaphor.).  Both times, I was at fault, which is a sobering thought.

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A reservoir of trust–and a hole in the dam

This is one somewhat lengthy paragraph from James Comey, taken from his book “A Higher Loyalty,” concerning his years as a U.S. Attorney, in the Attorney General’s office, and as director of the F.B.I.

It was now my responsibility to build my own culture within the U.S.Attorney’s office, one that would get the best out of our team and drawing, in different ways, on the lessons of Giuliana and Fahey.  I tried to attend to this task from the very first day. I hired about fifty new prosecutors during my time as U.S. Attorney and sat with each of them as they took the oath of office.  I invited them to bring their families.  I told them that something remarkable was going to happen when they stood up (in court) and said they represented the United States of America–total strangers were going to believe what they said next.  I explained to them that although I didn’t want to burst their bubbles, this would not happen because of them.  It would happen because of those who had gone before them and, through hundreds of promises made and kept, and hundreds of truths told and errors instantly corrected, built something for them.  I called it a reservoir.  I told them it was a reservoir of trust and credibility built for you and filled for you by people you never knew, by those who are long gone.  A reservoir that makes possible so much of the good that is done by the institution you serve.  A remarkable gift.  I would explain to these bright young lawyers that, like all great gifts, this one comes with a responsibility, a solemn obligation to guard and protect that reservoir and pass it on to those who follow as full as you received it, or maybe even fuller.  I would explain that the problem with reservoirs is that they take a very long time to fill but they can be drained by one hole in the dam.  The actions of one person can destroy what ti took hundreds of people years to build.

The credibility of an institution.  Like a government, a college, a school, a church.  Even the credibility of one person–a leader, a president, a senator, a law enforcer, a pastor.

Plenty of people are saying that Mr. Comey himself blew a hole in the dam of the FBI during his time as its leader.  Which, if so, makes his words above even more poignant.

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Top 10 reasons to give–along with appropriate scriptures

Someone once told his pastor, “Give, give, give! That’s all I ever hear from you!”  The preacher smiled and said, “Thank you for the best three-word description of the Christian life ever!”

Scripture does not simply command us to give.  It does that, of course, but over and over God’s Word gives us great reasons for being generous to everyone around us, contributing to the needy and poor, and generously supporting the work of the Lord.

I imagine there are 500 reasons for giving.  But here are ten of the best!

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What did you do in the war, Daddy?

“As his share who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage: they shall share alike” (I Samuel 30:24).

When Roland Q. Leavell returned home to the States from the “Great War” in Europe–what would come to be called the First World War–he had a problem.  People wanted to hear stories of the war, of battles, of heroism. The problem was he didn’t have any.

Roland Q. Leavell was in his 20s, single, and with a bachelor’s degree from seminary.  He had pastored small churches and had been sent to “the front” as a representative of the YMCA.  In those days, there was no USO to take care of American troops overseas, and fledgling organizations and ministries were still trying to figure these things out.

According to Dottie L. Hudson’s book “He Still Stands Tall: The Life of Roland Q. Leavell,” based on her father’s diaries, Roland did a hundred small things in his efforts for the Y:  He led Bible studies, he counseled soldiers, he ran a canteen, he taught French to a few soldiers, and he drove an ambulance.  At one point, he inhaled poisonous gas the Boches sprayed into the air. The one time he shot a gun was as a joke, pointed into the air across no-man’s-land.  “I guess I didn’t kill over 50,” he remarked in his diary.

And when he got home, people wanted to hear his stories.

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Does your church need an ethics commission?

Many a pastor and/or staff member would still be in ministry today had they sought the counsel of church leaders on some practice they were contemplating.

Can the pastor start a business on the side and still receive full pay from the church? Is it all right if he markets something to the church?  Or to the members?

May the pastor’s wife be paid for all the hard work she’s doing?  How much should the pastor be reimbursed when the allotted money did not cover his expenses for a church mission trip?  What if a company doing business with the church offers to build the pastor a swimming pool (or garage or bird house!) in appreciation?

Get advice, pastor.

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Pastor, at the funeral of an unbeliever…

Recently, when I sounded forth on how pastors should conduct funerals for saints, a friend pointed out that a harder assignment is officiating at the services for an outright unbeliever.  He looked forward to my points on that.

I was tempted to say, “Yeah. Me too!”

But, as always, I appreciate a good suggestion for an article in this blog, particularly something that would help pastors and other church leaders.

We will begin with questions which pastors frequently ask among themselves concerning the funerals of unbelievers…

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Pastor, try not to sound so much like a preacher! (This is about communication.)

“Your words have helped the tottering to stand; you have strengthened feeble knees”  (Job 4:4). 

Speak clearly.  Enunciate. Use simple, active language.  Avoid wordiness. Never try to impress the audience with large, unfamiliar words.

Encourage people with your speech.  “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

“Take with you words,” said the prophet to God’s people, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).

Words.  They matter so much.  You’re reading a compilation of them right now.  Ideally, I have so arranged them as to make sense and convey a message.

The major reason writers edit their writings is to find the culprits that would hinder communication.

It’s essential not to use a word that would impede, stun, or burden the message. .

In today’s newspaper, the food section carried a huge article on how a good salad can improve a meal.  The headline said: “Ameliorate any meal with a simple pasta salad.”

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Ten reasons for widowed seniors to marry again

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either falls, the other will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls when no one is there to lift him up…. And if two lie down together, they keep warm. But how can one be warm alone?” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11)

A friend whose wife died several years ago said to me recently, “I don’t ever plan to marry again.  If God has something different about this, He will let me know. But I’m a long way from anything remotely like that.”

His reason for telling me that? Probably so I’d quit trying to come up with a good match for him.

Bertha and I have been married 15 months.  We love this time of our lives so much–we were each wed for 52 years before the Lord took Gary and Margaret–we wish all our friends could share the joy!

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What a good sermon introduction looks like. And what it does.

I said to a pastor friend, “I wonder if you’d allow me to offer a tiny word of criticism on last Sunday’s sermon.”  He sat up straight and beamed. “I’d welcome a criticism!”

This good man is even excited to have someone do this.  Wow.  (He said later that everyone compliments his preaching, but sometimes he’d appreciate a helpful suggestion.  I had two thoughts: Any right-thinking pastor would do that, but at the same time, we don’t want a constant barrage of suggestions or criticisms.  Just one or two along the way at helpful intervals would be quite sufficient, thanks.)

I said, “You jumped off into the deep end of the pool with us.  Within two minutes after you began the sermon we were in over our heads.  That makes it hard on a congregation to keep up and follow you.”

He kept listening.

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Pastor, at the funeral of a believer…

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, that they may rest from their labors.  And their works do follow them”  (Revelation 14:13).

“I tell my students, when you’re standing at the graveside of a saint, make the message clear and plain. Because you’ve got the only message in town!” –Ken Chafin, longtime seminary professor, teacher of evangelism, pastor 

I’ve been going to funerals a lot lately.

Not conducting them, but going as a mourner.

I’ve reached the point in life where almost weekly I learn of the deaths of longtime friends and former parishioners.  This week, it was an 86-year-old member of a church I served in the 70s and 80s.  The week before, the deceased was the widow of a colleague I’d served on a church staff with in the early 1970s; she was 92.

I always pay attention to how the ministers do their funerals.  Always want to learn to do this better.

And that brings me to this.

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