The disciplined life: So rare, so valuable

I’m confident you have heard the name Jimmy Doolittle.

Jimmy Doolittle flew those bi-planes in World War I for the United States, and then barn-stormed throughout the 1920’s, taking risks you would not believe. He led our country’s retaliatory bombing of Tokyo in early 1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor. He played a major role in the Allied victory over the Axis, eventually becoming a General. His autobiography is titled I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.

Doolittle and his wife Joe (that’s how they spelled her name) had two sons, Jim and John, both of whom served in the Second World War.

The general wrote about his younger son:

John was in his plebe year at West Point and the upperclassmen were harassing him no end…. While the value of demeaning first-year cadets is debatable, I was sure “Peanut” could survive whatever they dreamed up. (p. 284)

Later, General Doolittle analyzes his own strengths and weaknesses and makes a fascinating observation:

(I) have finally come to realize what a good thing the plebe year at West Point is. The principle is that a man must learn to accept discipline before he can dish it out. I have never been properly disciplined. Would have gotten along better with my superiors if I had. (p. 339)

“I have never been properly disciplined.” What an admission. It takes a mature person to say that.

To put it another way, he had never learned to say no to himself. That is the essence of self-discipline.

He was not exaggerating. Doolittle was a man with a thousand strengths, but his few weaknesses kept creeping up and blindsiding him. Numerous times, even after he became a national hero, the officers in charge of his current assignment would ground him because of crazy stunts like buzzing airfields upside down and flying under bridges and endangering his passengers.

Prior to the Allied invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944), the actual place and time were the biggest secrets on the planet. Everyone was sworn to silence. Doolittle tells of a general who shot his mouth off in a bar, talking freely about the invasion, speculating on when and where, even though he personally had not been briefed.

General Eisenhower had no patience with such foolishness.

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Why our Lord requires that we “love one another”

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another  (John 13:34-35).

For good reason the Lord Jesus instructed His followers to take good care of one another.

No one else was going to do it.

Unless they loved one another, following Jesus was going to be a mighty lonely proposition.

The followers of our Lord were hounded, persecuted, ridiculed, harassed, and even martyred.  If they looked to the world to appreciate their efforts to bring the gospel of peace and love their way, they would be sadly disappointed.

The fellow believers were all they had. They were family.

The only family some had.

This is what I want you to do, said the Lord Jesus.  Love each other.

This is what proves your identity as my disciples, He said. My people love one another.

This is what discipleship looks like.

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Think God cannot use you? Think again.

“And Moses said, ‘Who me, Lord? I’ve not been to seminary. I didn’t even finish college. The other preachers won’t respect me. Pulpit committees won’t have anything to do with me. There’s a bounty on me back in Egypt. I stutter a lot, and tend to freeze up in front of groups. You’ve clearly dialed a wrong number, Lord.”

“And God said, ‘Shut up and listen.’” (My rather free version of Exodus 3-4.)

“The Lord can’t use a nothing nobody like me.”

Ever heard that? Ever said it?

Repent, sinner.  You underestimate God!

And, truth be known, you’re also overestimating your own importance in the equation.

The Lord delights in taking nobodies and doing great things with them.

I love the line in Romans 4 which goes, God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

How’s that for doing something with very little.  Or with nothing.

Sometime in 1934, this fellow was working on the Graham dairy farm in Charlotte, NC. When I lived there a half century later, I heard him on the radio talking about the time he took Billy Graham to the Mordecai Ham crusade where he gave his heart to Christ.  He said, “Now, you think Billy Graham must have been an usual teenager for God to have done such great things with him in his long ministry. But you’d be wrong.  In fact, if I had lined up a hundred teenagers and told you one was going to be used of God to touch millions for Christ, you could not have picked him out. Billy Graham was a normal, typical teenager.”

As a 16-year-old working on the dairy farm, he said, Billy Graham was interested in one thing and one thing only. “He wanted to drive the farm truck.” And that’s how he got Billy to the crusade. “I told him, if you’ll go with me tonight, you can drive the truck tomorrow.”

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Why I’m angry at some preachers

You’ve heard them, I’m sure. Some well-intentioned but thoughtless man of God will stand before a gathering of the Lord’s people and in urging us to evangelize our communities will overstate the case.

“Jesus told us to become fishers of men! He did not tell us to be keepers of the aquarium!”

And, almost invariably, the statement will be met with a chorus of ‘amen’s.’

The only problem with that is it is not so.

In fact, it’s totally wrong.

Jesus did not send His disciples just to reach lost sheep–He certainly did that–but commanded that we are to “feed my sheep.” In John 20, He gave that command to Simon Peter three times.

In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the pastors of Ephesus that they are to “shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.”

And here’s another one, the one that set me off this morning.

In trying to motivate church members to get into the community with the gospel, the WIBT preacher* will say, “The Bible in no places commands the people of the world to come to church. It does, however, command us to go into all the world with the gospel.” (*Well-intentioned but thoughtless)

That’s so true, it’s almost totally true. But it’s missing something critical.

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When you feel like an outsider, remember He intends you to be one!

We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him…. (Hebrews 13:10-13)

Have you ever felt like an outsider?

Good. You need to.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are not only walking in the footsteps of the Ultimate Outsider but you have been called to a similar way of life.

The Lord Jesus came unto His own and His own received Him not (John 1:12). He was an Outsider even in His own place, among His own people, attending His own party.

He came to His world and it did not recognize Him.

He walked into His house, found it to be the haven of thieves and con-men, and proceeded to cleanse it, only to be confronted with demands of “by what authority do you do this?”

You’ve got to love His answer: “It’s my house.”

He came to His people and they crucified Him.

No one taking up his cross and coming after Jesus should be surprised when the world turns its back on him and writes him off as a loser and irrelevant. In following Jesus Christ, one should expect the path to be uphill, the company few, and the flow all in the opposite direction.

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That room in your house no one else knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1950s and 1960s, with a few attempts to revive it in later years

A man I know wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

“Everyone has them,” he said.

One of our deacon families was hosting a gathering of church members. Their home was so neat and orderly.  I was amazed at the lack of clutter.  They ought to see my house, I thought.  But they had no stack of newspapers, no unread magazines lying around, no stack of books to be donated to the library or returned there.

When I asked our hostess about this, she surprised me.

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10 ways a pastor can know he’s lazy

My friend and mentor Dr. James Richardson used to tell of a neighboring pastor who constantly griped about how busy he was.  “That was the laziest preacher on the planet,” said James.

In reflecting on over sixty years of service in the Kingdom, I suspect that what sometimes comes across as laziness is more a lack of focus.  When a minister goes through his days without a clear purpose other than reacting to everything that comes up, he will accomplish so little that he and others may see him as lazy.

Here are a few ways a minister can tell he is lazy.  (Synonyms would include apathetic, lethargic, sluggish, slothfulness.  But “lazy” communicates, doesn’t it?)

1. Procrastination. You cannot bring yourself to do the unpleasant tasks, but keep putting off the difficult tasks.

I’ve read that successful people in the business world determine to tackle the hardest, most unpleasant jobs first. They get them out of the way so they can enjoy the rest of their day.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

That would take a self-discipline many of us lack.

2. Impatience. You will not do any ministry that is not easy or does not have an immediate payoff.

If that family down the street says they want to join my church, okay, I’ll go see them. However, if they do not go to church and show no signs of ever wanting to, and a friend suggests we call on them, the lazy pastor will beg off. He just cannot bring himself to do it.

When my daughter lived in a small New Hampshire town, one day I walked with my granddaughters to the Baptist church two blocks down the street.  I informed a staff member that the daddy had no interest in church and the mother, my daughter, was working and going to school all the time, but these children would love church. And they needed a loving congregation.  When I returned home to New Orleans, I wrote that pastor two letters.  Not only did I never get a response, no one ever reached out to my family.  I confess I find it hard to imagine how these people thought they were serving God.  In my mind, they were working for a paycheck and little else. Am I being too harsh?  Maybe so.

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What ‘seeing through a glass darkly’ means

The epitaph for this generation could read: They Didn’t Know.

Nothing new about that, however. Reading the New Testament, one is struck by how often significant players in the Lord’s drama were said not to have a clue.

On the cross, the Savior summed it up when He prayed, “Father, forgive them. They do not know….”

Here are instances throughout the New Testament where that can be said.


Prayer. Matthew 20:22

The disciples did not know what they were asking for.

Ever pray that way? I have. I’ve asked the Lord to grant me success in this venture or that without ever checking to see if it was His will in the first place.

The brothers James and John wanted the places of honor in the Kingdom. And, who knows, they reasoned–perhaps it will be given to the ones with the moxie to ask. After all, isn’t it true that “you have not because you ask not”? And, they further reasoned, the worst that could happen was that the Lord would say, “No.”

He said, “No.” And more. That it was reserved for those whom the Father chose. And that they did not know what they were asking.

One wonders if a few weeks later when they saw the two thieves dying on crosses–one on the Savior’s right hand, the other His left–if they remembered this sad conversation.

The Apostle Paul said, We do not know how to pray as we should. Boy, is that ever the truth.

Help us, Father. We say as the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

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Biblical truths many of the Lord’s people do not believe

From the beginning, the Lord’s people have always talked a better game than we live.

So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them.  And yet, judging by the way we live, here are some biblical truths which it would appear many of the Lord’s people do not believe….

One.  God sends the pastor to the church. 

Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy.  People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t.  And they vote on the recommendation of their committee.  And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.

Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches?  They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).

Some years back, as I was moving my family to a church in North Carolina, I found out later that some were already holding meetings to agree on ways to get me to leave.  Why? Even though we had never met, they had decided I was too conservative for them.  In the next church, some began meeting to oust me because they decided I was too liberal.  Neither group believed God sends pastors.

Two.  God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.

In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?  Nothing tells the story on our faith like our prayer life.

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Turning putdowns into motivation

Jesus said, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” No prophet is welcome in his own hometown (Luke 4:24).

John Fogerty’s group Creedence Clearwater Revival is unforgettable to anyone who has owned a radio in the last 50 years.  A few years back, in an interview with newsman Dan Rather, Fogerty was remembering a key moment in the 1960s.

The group was one of many bands to perform at a particular event.  As the final group to warm up, and thus the first band to appear on stage, suddenly CCR found they had been unplugged.  John Fogerty yelled to the sound man to plug them back up, that they weren’t through.  The technician did so reluctantly, then added, “You not going anywhere anyway, man.”  Fogerty said, “Okay.  Give me one year.  I’ll show you.”

One year later, the group was so hot with hit record after hit record (“Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising”) that “we were too big to play in that place any more!”

Turning a sarcastic putdown into a healthy sic ’em!

I’m remembering the first day I began pastoring a church on Alligator Bayou some 25 miles west of New Orleans.  In April of 1965 I was in my first year of seminary.  The church was running 40 in attendance, and had done so for the two decades of its existence.

After the service, I’m shaking hands with worshipers as they exit the building.  Behind me, coming through the doors, two men were talking.  They had no idea I could hear them.  One said, “Well, this little church is doing about all it’s ever going to do.”

The other fellow agreed.  But it was like a spark to my powder keg.  Everything inside me went on full alert and I said, “We’ll show you!”

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