A cup of cold water to a disciple (a Billy Graham memory)

“And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).

My friend Barbara was waxing nostalgic about the Coke commercials through the years.  “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” was the best song at the time (find it on youtube).  And the “Mean Joe Greene” commercial was the absolute best TV ad.

In that commercial, a kid comes up to this an all-pro Pittsburgh Steeler named “Mean Joe Greene” for his toughness and also because Joe Greene is his name and the prefix “Mean” gives it a certain something–and hands him a Coke. Greene has just played his heart out on the field and is clearly exhausted. He swigs down the soft drink. Then, as they are departing, the giant athlete calls out, “Hey kid.” The boy turns around and Greene pitches him the jersey in which he has just played the game.  Ask any fan. It was a great swap and a magic moment.

I thought about the business of giving a cup of cold water–or a Coke–to a great champion and remembered a time when I did something remotely akin to that.

It was November of 1986.

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Love and the law: Best friends?

I sat in a hospital waiting room and heard the strangest thing.

Two women were arguing religion.  They were strangers to each other and soft-spoken and incredibly gracious.

It was like watching a slow-motion pillow fight.

The first must have been reading something, for she spoke out into the air a comment about the Ten Commandments. The second, on the other side of the room, looked up from her magazine and said, “Christ is the end of the law for those who believe.”

The first said, “Excuse me?”

The second woman repeated what she had said, and added, “It’s what the New Testament says now that Jesus has died for our sins.”

The first politely responded that, “Well, this list of commandments is so important, the classrooms of our schools ought to post them on their walls and every courtroom should display them.”

She said, “I try to keep them every day.”

The second woman said, “The just shall live by faith.”

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Be patient; you never know what that one has been through

Not long ago, while attending a conference on the campus of a Christian college, I sat in the auditorium with several hundred other ministers and their families.  The pre-session music was provided by a man playing a violin, and doing it rather poorly, I felt.

I am not a musician nor the son of a musician, but I can usually tell when a violin is being played well, and particularly when it isn’t.

As the music ended, our host stepped to the microphone. “We want to thank Mr. Hoskins for playing the violin for us tonight. One month ago, he was in an automobile accident in which his car was totaled. In fact, for a while it appeared that he had lost the use of his hands. So, the music tonight was special for a lot of reasons.”

As the congregation applauded, I slumped down in my seat and felt a sense of shame.

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The church’s dirty little secret

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there…” (Ephesians 4:14).

“Church is the only place on earth where people can throw hissy fits and get away with it.”  –a friend serving his first church after seminary.

I told my minister friend I was sorry he had to learn this dirty little secret about church life.

I asked for his story.  He had two.

A church member attending his class complained because she could not find her workbook. The pastor told her he had borrowed it for another class, and she was welcome to use his.  She said, “Okay. I’ll go home then.”

And she stalked out.

The minister said, “Would she have done that at work?  At the doctor’s office? I think not.”

But she had no problem with putting her immaturity on full display at church.

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How I preach….most of the time.

A woman came up to me last Saturday night after I’d spoken for 25 minutes at a leadership banquet.  “I love the way you speak out of the overflow.”

Any preacher would love hearing that.

What exactly does that mean, I wondered.

I’ll tell you what I hope it means.  When I preach, my subject is so important to me, I could have gone on another hour without repeating the material or boring the listeners.

I hope that’s true.

I think it is.

A few weeks earlier, Mike McGuffee, a leader with the California Baptist Convention, after hearing me address his pastors several times over three days, had said on the drive to the airport, “Let’s see if I’ve figured out your preaching technique.”

“You build your sermon on one main point.  You back it up by various scriptures, each one with a story to illustrate it.”

I was complimented. Until that moment, I guess I’d never thought of having an actual “technique” to my preaching.  Mostly, it feels like they are slap-dash, a little of this and a lot of that, a good story here and a scriptural illustration there, whatever is necessary to drive home the point the Lord has burdened me with.

The sermon I preached last Sunday morning was made up of 5 points, not one.

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How I gave my wife her new best friend–and helped myself at the time

Dottie came to me for counsel.

I was her pastor and she was battling depression, she said, and had dealt with it for years.

I listened and realized something vital.

My wife and Dottie had a lot in common.

So, after the visit had gone on for a half-hour, I said, “Dottie, there is someone I want you to know.  I’d like you and my wife to talk.  Now, Margaret is not a trained therapist, although she’s a far better counselor than I.  But she knows what you are going through because she’s battled depression, too.”

She assured me she would be willing to meet with her.

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Boredom: How to drive a stake through its heart forever

Scrambled eggs.

I had scrambled eggs for breakfast  yesterday morning and did not enjoy them at all. Having survived cancer of the mouth and then radiation for the head and neck area some years ago, my present reality is simply that some foods are to be eaten for their nutritional value, not for their taste.

But lying in bed this morning early and reflecting on having to determine my own menu for the rest of my days and the necessity of learning to cook a few things since the Lord took my wife to Heaven recently, it occurred to me that I should learn how to make scrambled eggs more interesting.

And I will.

Now, I’m not entirely opposed to a little boredom now and then.  It can actually assist in the creative process. But for the most part I hate it.  Of all the people in the world who should despise boredom in their personal lives, preachers and pastors should lead the parade.

Boring sermons is certainly a matter of widespread concern, true, but I’m not talking about that.

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Memorable texts. (7th segment. Nos. 31-35)

(This is a continuation of a series begun back in February. To find the others, scroll down the page to “Archives” and then click on February 2015 and scroll down to the first one.  The plan is to do one hundred, adding to the list from time to time.)

These are brief but memorable scriptures, often overlooked but essential to the health and well-being of the Lord’s church and Jesus’ disciples.

31. Love is something we do. Luke 6:27ff.

Our Lord was not like some of His children who delight in issuing commands to the Lord’s flock but failing to tell them how to achieve it.  I cannot count the sermons I heard growing up about the need to reach the world with the gospel, starting with my neighbors, but without a word as to how we might do that. We were accused of not praying and not knowing our Bibles, but never given ways to improve.

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The world is always listening and watching.

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16). 

“And all the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). 

You’ve been put on the spot.

Someone is challenging you, daring you, cursing you, or slandering you.  You squirm. Nothing about this is pleasant.  You try to think of an appropriate response.

Before you act, I have a suggestion.

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The most frightening thing about preaching

It’s actually several facets of the same thing:  I’m speaking for God.

Imagine such a thing.

Lives hang in the balance.

People are making decisions about God based on something I say.

People are making choices about their eternal destiny based on something I say.

Is this frightening or what?

What if I get it wrong?

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