There Are Some Things I Don’t Have To Pray About


It surely was the ultimate irony.

It all started when the church built a new house for Marian’s family. Marian worked in the church kitchen, and her daughter Brenda did custodial work in the offices and educational building. Marian’s husband, whom they all called “Mr. Bill,” was disabled, so when their small house burned to the ground, everyone was concerned. That’s why one Sunday morning when the men of the congregation were having their monthly breakfast and someone suggested they pray for Marian and Mr. Bill’s situation, they began talking and soon decided to just build them a new house. No sense praying about something they could do something about. Within a few weeks, they had taken up $10,000 throughout the church to buy the materials. These were generous, kind-hearted people.

The project took about three months, and afterward, the women of the church furnished the house. At the dedication, they all felt pretty good about themselves, and well they should.

What happened next took the wind out of their sails. The associate pastor fired Marian from her job. “Well, she just wasn’t doing her work,” he must have explained to a hundred people, one at a time. “It looks like she felt like a privileged person the way we had done all these things for her and Mr. Bill, and we just couldn’t get anything out of her.”

After that, no one ever again talked about “the wonderful time we had putting up a new house for Mr. Bill and Miss Marian,” since she was now out looking for a job and basically embarrassing them all by her neediness.

Continue reading

What Every Pastor Needs #6: Personal Purity

The people on the cruise still talk about the time a vacationing surgeon ended up doing an emergency appendectomy on the ship’s steward on a table in the galley. The odd thing was he used the cutlery from the kitchen. Later, the doctor said, “A surgeon can use almost any kind of cutting implement to do surgery. However, it must be clean.”

It must be clean. By “clean,” the surgeon meant germ-free, purged from all kinds of impurities that may cause infection. If you’ve ever seen a doctor scrub up for surgery, you know what this means. After a long time of fiercely brushing the soap and water into his hands, he rinses and then encases those pristine hands in latex gloves. The poor bacteria don’t stand a chance!

There is a wonderful line from Psalm 24 that fits here. Someone asked, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?” The answer came back: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not set his mind on what is false, and has not sworn deceitfully.”

I wonder sometimes if modern farm children know just what life was like in the old days, before mechanization and modernization took over. Take baling hay, for instance. Our baler was a long monster pulled behind the tractor. Once it was in place, you unhooked the tractor and turned it around, then connected the belt from the tractor to the baler. Now, using a pitchfork someone feeds hay into the baler from above. But you–being the kid and therefore inheriting the dirtiest jobs–crouch down below the action waiting for the time to “throw the block,” which separates the bales. Then you push strands of wire through the holes in that block, and retrieve them when the person on the other side pushes them back. Now, pull them tight and twist into a knot tight enough to hold the bale together. All the time you were doing this, the noisy baling action went on over your head while the dust and grit of falling hay filtered down all over you. In five minutes of work, you are layered with tiny bits of hay and the dust and grime from the field. You are filthier than you have ever been in your life.

Or did you ever clean out a hog pen? That is positively the worst. The stench, the muck, the sheer filthy is beyond description.

When you finish, all you want is a bath. You’ve never ever wanted to take a bath like you do today. A long, hot, deep bath. You want to be clean again. In fact you feel a lot like King David.

Continue reading

How To Lose A Marriage–And How To Make One Work


Ken and Barbie first, and now Jennifer and Brad have called off their marriage. At least, Mr. and Mrs. Potato-Head are still together.

The post-breakup experts have taken over the cable outlets informing us that Brad wanted a baby and Jen wanted a career, that their movie-making jobs have often separated them for months at a time, and that the pressure of celebrity-hood was just too much. It’s an old story, one we have not heard for the last time. Part of it we understand.

What I do not comprehend are the statements from their publicist that Brad and Jennifer still hold each other in high esteem and will continue to enjoy a wonderful friendship together. For most of us, that should be enough to make them continue working at the marriage.

The other day I was thinking about how marriages break down, and remembered an old book gathering dust on my shelf. “Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight Eisenhower” by Kay Summersby answered a question that celebrity-hounds were asking during the Second World War: was General Eisenhower in love with the British lady assigned to him as his personal driver? Were the rumors correct about them? Did Ike try to leave Mamie for Kay?

Continue reading

How To Solve A Lot Of Problems In Advance


Charlie showed up for work that day out of uniform, if you could call it that. He and a half-dozen men were a well-drilling team, a difficult job that is always dirty and eventually turns muddy. Charlie had plans after he got off work, and since he would not have time to return home, he had come dressed for his date. So, while the other men were grappling with pipes and drills and generators and muck, Charlie stood back and did what he could while protecting his white shirt, pressed trousers, and silk tie. The men were aware of what he was doing, but no one said anything for a while. Then, up in the morning, one of the men decided to solve what he saw as “Charlie’s problem.” He walked over to a 5 gallon bucket of mud and slush, picked it up, and dumped the contents all over Charlie. “Charlie, my friend,” he said, “as my pastor likes to say, ‘A man can work better after he’s been baptized!'”

I thought of Charlie today when something came up about people who think of themselves as genuine Christians and still have problems with minor matters such as giving and tithing and stewardship and generosity. It’s a matter of first being “baptized,” that is, going under in total submersion of our live and possessions to the Lord Jesus.

People who have never given their all to the Lord will always be having turf wars with the Holy Spirit. “This is mine, that is yours, I’ll give you this, but I want to keep that.” It’s a miserable way to live the Christian life and certainly not what the Lord had in mind.

Continue reading

It’s Called Cancer And It’s The Scourge Of Our Time


Okay, here’s my story.

A year ago, during my regular semi-annual checkup, my dentist said, “What is this whitish stuff under your tongue?” I had no idea what he was talking about. I mean, who checks under his tongue. Even looking in the mirror, all I could see was a glistening, somewhat like saliva, and aren’t we supposed to have saliva there. “You’re seeing things, Doc,” I said. “We’ll keep an eye on it,” he said.

Six months later. “It’s a little more pronounced,” he said. He had to remind me what he was talking about.

A few weeks ago, even I could see it. Again, it was just a silvery film, surely nothing to be concerned about. The dentist prescribed an antifungal mouthwash, thinking it could be a yeast infection. When it did not respond, he sent me to an oral surgeon.

The doctor put me to sleep and sliced off a sliver of the offending flesh. For a week, I carried around a swollen tongue and drank only juices before it began to return to normal. Then, Margaret and I went in for the pathology report.

Carcinoma in-situ. Squamous cells. In other words, cancer. The kind that usually smokers and drinkers get.

Continue reading

Potpourri From My Notebook For A New Year

In going through some bookcases the other night, tossing out and giving away things someone else might have a use for and clearing up space for the treasured books now in stacks across the carpet, I ran across a little wireless notebook from years ago containing several treasures I had jotted down. The local cajun culture would call this a “potpourri,” meaning a collection of odds and ends. See if you can use anything here.

The word “wallop” comes from a British general by that name who served Queen Elizabeth I in a reprisal raid on France. He and his men destroyed 29 French villages. On his return to England, he was hailed for “walloping” the French, and people have been walloping one another ever since.

Here’s a poem for the flu season–

“I sneezed a sneeze into the air;

It fell to earth I know not where.

But hard and froze were the looks of those

Into whose vicinity I snoze.”

(Quoted from but not written by Bennett Cerf)

The word “balderdash” actually refers to a silly mixture of liquids such as ale and milk.

Throughout the gospels, when we are told that Jesus was “moved with compassion,” the Greek word is the fascinating “splanknizomai.” It’s a verb derived from the noun “splangchna” meaning intestines, bowels, entrails. To the people of that culture, the strongest emotions came from–where else?–the gut.

Continue reading