A loving God would not let anyone suffer. Say what?

Some guy in Alabama ticked me off.

I was driving back home from two weeks of ministry in Tennessee and Kentucky when I bought a Birmingham News in Tuscaloosa. At a rest stop in Mississippi, I scanned it and was snagged by a letter to the editor from an outspoken agnostic.

After reading it and fuming a little, I tossed the paper in the trash. Later, wished I’d kept it just for reference here. So I’m going by memory.

The writer wanted the world to know that recent tornadoes in Alabama proved beyond doubt either that there is no God or if there is, He is a tyrant who delights in doing cruel things.

He was clearly proud of his great letter. I’m betting he clipped it and displayed it somewhere prominent in his house.

I have no idea whether anyone responded to his letter. Probably not. The Bible cautions against answering fools, and this guy surely fits that category.

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Little things that delight a weary preacher

Humor refreshes me.  You too? 

I like finding signs with misprints. The sign in front of a local neighborhood center announced: “A DULT DANCE — Thursday 7 pm.” It was repeated just like that on the other side.

I read that and wondered, “What is a dult? And why are they invited to the dance and no one else?”

In a book, this misprint gave me a chuckle: “They are up there hugging one anther.” Someone had written underneath, “I’ll hug an anther. Show me one.”

This brings to mind a bit of graffiti observed on a New York subway. Someone had scrawled on a poster, “I love grils.” Underneath, another had written: “I love girls.” And beneath that, a third person had penned: “What about us grils?”

In Reform, Alabama, after the Sunday morning church service, we were in line for lunch in the fellowship hall when a man gave me one of the best cartoon lines ever. He remarked to a friend, “I told my wife, ‘I’m coming back this afternoon and see if I want to sleep on this pew as bad as I think I do!’”

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Odds and ends from a hoarding preacher

Pastor, scan through these offerings and see if you find anything of use as illustrations for sermons. Or, just as good, perhaps they will spark an idea inside you.

UNREQUITED LOVE

Want a great love story, one that will inspire every heart listening to you?  This ain’t it!

In 1964, a hitchhiker was picked up on the highway and given a ride by an 18- year-old woman. They chatted, she dropped him off, and they each went on their way. Within minutes, the man decided that he was in love with her. I mean, seriously, head over heels, a real goner.

The problem was that he had no way to contact her. She was gone. But he never forgot her.

Thirty-one years later, he came across her name in the newspaper in the obituary of her mother. So he sent her 5 dozen roses–alongwith all the letters he had written her over 31 years.

Thirty-one years of letters.

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The little epistle of Jude: Three different takes

Wellington, a pastor friend, and I were having lunch.  I asked what he was preaching the following Sunday.

“Jude,” he said, “and it’s worrying me to death!”

I laughed. “Why?”

He said, “I’m doing a series through some of the shortest–and most overlooked–books of the Bible. I’ve done Philemon and II and III John, and so, locked myself in to do Jude this Sunday. I’m really having trouble finding a hold on it.”

Since I had not read Jude lately, my memory of what that book-of-one-chapter contained was fuzzy, so I had little assistance to offer him. What I said was, “As I recall, Jude quotes from the Apocrypha.”

Wellington said, “That’s what’s got me. I don’t know what to do with that.”

The Apocrypha is the name given to the books between the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Catholic Bible.  Protestants do not consider these writings as authoritative primarily because the Jews didn’t either.

In vs. 9, Jude refers to a small book titled “The Assumption of Moses.” In vs. 14 he does the same from the apocryphal book of I Enoch.

Now, referring to these books is not the same as endorsing them. The Protestant world agrees that these do not belong in the New Testament.

I said to him, “When I get back to the office, I’ll read through Jude and let you know if I have anything worth sharing.”

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Rescuing the sermon from dead outlines

Skeletons in the pulpit and cadavers in the pews.  –Warren Wiersbe

Have you ever read something and all the bells went off inside you? The author has been reading your thoughts.

That happened to me.

Dr. Warren Wiersbe’s  book Preaching and Teaching with Imagination is autographed to me, but I have no memory of the occasion when that happened. Mostly, I wonder why I delayed reading this incredible book.

Briefly, what he told was this:

Grandma Thatcher sits in church with a number of hurts and spiritual needs. Although she’s lovingly known throughout the congregation as a saint, she gets nothing but harassment and trials at home for her faith. When she gets to church, she needs a word from God.

On this particular morning, the pastor stood at the pulpit and preached from Genesis chapter 9, the main thrust of which was his outline, with all the points beginning with the same letters. The outline — pastors take note! — was excellent, as those things go:

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Got time for a good story? How about a silly one? Good. Here goes…

A story about people who refuse to grow up

Robert Smith, a writer with the Minneapolis Tribune, told about his daughter who was approaching her third birthday. As they were planning a birthday party for her, she began to rebel. “I’m not through being two yet!”

Dad went through the calendar with her, explaining how life works. “When we get to that day,” he said, “you will be three.”

She stood there with arms crossed and said, “I don’t care what that calendar says. I’m not through being two yet.”

So, the Smith family canceled the party and went on treating their daughter as a two-year-old.

Like this child, some people refuse to go into the future. The Israelites under Moses (Numbers 14) recoiled from the future because they were fearful, forgetful, and fretful.

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Star-trekking for the Lord

Star Trek started this trend. Then it was Star Wars and we were off.  There seems to be no end to the fascination we earthlings have with space travel, exploration, and all things extraterrestrial.

Most of our astronauts say their interest in space exploration was whetted by the television show “Star Trek,” either the original with William Shatner (Captain Kirk) or the “next generation” bunch.

A writer for a more recent televised version of these explorers who “go where no one has ever gone before” has let us in on inside information which I find fascinating.

Over forty years, the six TV series of Star Trek comprise 726 episodes. For the 198 episodes in the series this writer was part of, they employed a total of 155 writers, a staggering number when you stop to think about it.  So much for continuity, uniformity, theme development, character consistency.

The fact that some people soak up episode after episode and live and die by this stuff I find amazing. And more than a little depressing.

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What churches can learn from good restaurants

My wife Margaret and I had been discussing various restaurants. We enjoyed the food in each place and found the staff sufficiently friendly. But several aspects loomed large in our conversation, provoking me–ever the preacher–to reflect on the way churches could benefit from studying what these eating establishments are doing and are not doing.

1. I wish churches put as much emphasis on friendly greeters at the front door as great restaurants do.

Often they are teenagers, perhaps college students. The kids are fresh-faced, sweet-spirited, well-dressed, and friendly. The graciousness appears genuine.

However…

Have you ever walked up to an unfamiliar church and saw no one at the doors, no greeters or welcoming team anywhere on the premises? It happens to me frequently (and I’m the guest preacher!).

Are restaurants more interested in welcoming paying customers than churches are interested in showing hospitality to people arriving to worship the living Christ?

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Why retired pastors hang on to become a problem

The longtime pastor was given a great send-off.  Lots of honors and festivities, a nice gift, and a couple of plaques for his wall.  Great things were said of him and spoken to him. Only one thing was wrong.

He didn’t leave.

He held on.  He stayed in his house, kept running by the church office, continued inviting church members to his home, kept his ear to the ground to learn what was going on with the new pastor, accepted lots of funerals and weddings, and in general, made a nuisance of himself.

Meanwhile, the new pastor is having the dickens of a time settling into his proper role in the church.  It’s not the ghost of the old preacher that haunts him, but the man himself.  The old guy is everywhere.

Then, as church members called or dropped by to complain about the new preacher, the oldster listened sympathetically.  Their unhappiness confirmed his suspicions that the new pastor would not be as loving, as dedicated, as gifted, as attentive, as compassionate, blah blah blah, as he.

Lord help us.

Question: Why would a retired pastor want to hang on and stick around and become a problem for the new preacher?

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A slice of my journal: October 18-20, 1993

“When you take time to journal each day, it’s like snipping out 30 minutes of your life now and sending it ahead far into the future.”  –Joe McKeever  (Hey, if I don’t quote myself, who do you think will?)

“When was your daughter born?” I asked the mother of the bride.

“October 18, 1993.”

I said, “Was I there?”  “Yes, you were,” she said. “We still have the cartoon you drew for us when you came by the hospital.”

Then it hit me: I have that day in my journal.

Back in the decade of the 1990s, I kept a hand-written, daily journal, requiring a full half-hour of writing each night.  In time, it filled 56 volumes. For reasons long forgotten, I gave it up after the year 2000 arrived.  (Probably because it took up so much space.)

The journal says I did indeed go to the hospital when her daughter was born.  I photocopied the two pages and sent to her.  And decided someone might appreciate reading about that time in my ministry.

So, here goes….

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