How’s your joy?

This week I’ve been watching the Women’s College World Series, which is all about softball games.  Oklahoma and Florida State played a best-of-three, which the Sooners took 2-1.  Game two on Wednesday was unforgettable, not so much for the hits and fielding but for the all-out joy and enthusiasm of fans and players alike. Perhaps because their championship calibre team had dropped the first game, but the fans seemed unusually pumped and volatile.

Since Oklahoma City hosts this annual series and since the University of Oklahoma’s team was in the playoff, this was like a home game to them, which means the stands will teeming with Sooners. Not an empty seat in the house, perhaps 15 thousand strong, and they were over-the-top excited.  Every victory from their team, no matter how small–a strikeout, a single, anything–and the fans went crazy.  Furthermore, the team itself was constantly cheering one another, even coming out of the dugout onto the field for some kind of cheer/dance.  It was fun to watch.

Contrast that with the men’s game, which is scheduled for two weekends away.  I’m a big fan and will watch all I can.  Hey, I’m retired and housebound for a while due to a medical thing.  The players will be excited and hollering, but nothing like the women.  In fact, in men’s college football, referees will penalize them for “excessive celebration.”  How crazy is that.  The women are out-of-sight enthusiastic in their celebrating, and the men get penalized.

I’m thinking the men’s rules were set by some Scrooge somewhere, someone who hates the very idea of joy and excitement.

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The church where joy goes to die

“Joy is the business of Heaven.”  –C. S. Lewis 

What started me thinking of this was a line from former FBI Director James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty.

“Although I have had a different idea of ‘fun’ than most, there were some parts of the Justice Department that had become black holes, where joy went to die.” 

He explained about his days at the Justice Department: “Places where morale had gotten so low and the battle scars from bureaucratic wrangling with other departments and the White House so deep, I worried that we were on the verge of losing some of our best, most capable lawyers.”

Sound familiar, pastor?

“Where joy goes to die.”  A fit description for a place–a business, a family, a team, a congregation–characterized by low morale, battle fatigue and discouragement.

I’ve worked in places like that. I’ve pastored a church or two like that.  And I’ve known several such congregations.

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Elevating boasting to an art form

He must increase, but I must decrease.  –John the Baptist.  (John 3:30) 

The speaker said, “As you know, I urge people to walk by the Spirit, to obey Him.  But I need you to know I am not anti-intellectual, not against education.  In fact, I am so much pro-education that I have my bachelor’s degree from a college, I have my master’s, and I also own a doctorate.  In fact, when I was working on my doctorate, the dean said to me that my dissertation was so profound that I should turn it into a book.  That book, you’ll want to know, is on the market right now and you can purchase it in the foyer at the end of this meeting.”

Another time, the visiting preacher, an older fellow, wanted our church to know that he was somebody, I suppose.  Early in the service he told how he had started a church many years ago and stayed with it through the years until his retirement, that during this time he had baptized so many, and had enjoyed seeing the membership climb to (whatever).  He showed a photo of the huge plant on the screen.  He must have talked about his former church for five minutes.  We never did know why.  We did not need to know of his successes to hear him.  In fact, his scars probably made him a better preacher than his awards.

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Our pastor is not very friendly. What to do?

A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  –Proverbs 18:24

When someone told me she belonged to the First Baptist Church in a certain city, I said, “I know your pastor very well.  Great guy.”

That’s what started it.

“Great guy?  I guess so.  Yes, I’m sure he is,” said the new friend.  “However…”

I did not like the way this was going.  This pastor is pure gold, I was certain, and surely there were no glaring negatives.

“However, he’s not very friendly.”

I said, “What do you mean?  I always thought he was.”

“I’m sure he is to you and other preachers.  But he is reluctant to walk up to someone and greet them, never seems to know anyone’s name, and will sometimes pass you on the street without speaking.”

Oh my.  Not good.

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Gluttony: My favorite sin

Let all things be done in moderation.  –Philippians 4:5 

I read somewhere that Diamond Jim Brady, a character in American life a few generations ago, loved food so much, his stomach was 6 times the size of a normal belly.

Now, that, we think, is a glutton!

Can we talk?

How ironic that the season during which we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus provides us the perfect excuse to over-indulge.

Like the megalopolis that now stretches from Washington to Boston or from Dallas to Fort Worth, this eating holiday dominates our calendar from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

Walk through any modern large-box store, and study the edibles they’re offering during this season. It’s not just turkey and dressing and yams and egg nog any longer. It’s chocolates like you would not believe, in every kind of assortment and combination. It’s cookies and cakes and pies coming out your ears. Books pour off the shelves telling homemakers of new recipes for the latest taste sensations for these holidays. Restaurants offer special smorgasbords for the holidays with prices approaching $100 per person.

The wonder is that Americans are not all 400 pounds.

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Gentleness: The Christlikeness God is trying to produce in us

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness…. (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Would the gentleman from North Carolina please yield the floor?”

“The gentle lady from California makes a good point.”

The U.S. Senate may be the last place in this country where people are recognized as being gentle. It’s a nice trait. “Gentle” means you are not bombastic, not mean-spirited, not rude or unkind or harsh.

My goal is to become more gentle in this life.

Various translations make this “kindness” and “goodness.” Same difference, I suppose, although there is something about “gentleness” that weighs heavily on my mind.

Did you hear about the preacher who was protesting a “gay and lesbian pride” march winding its way through the French Quarter? According to the reports, the minister was preaching to the participants in harsh and condemning tones. At one point, a woman decided that this angry man of God (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) needed a hug. So, she stepped out of the crowd, walked over to him, and kissed him.

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Rescuing ourselves from bondage to our emotions

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. ” (Galatians 5:16)

Brothers and sisters. If you would be spiritually mature and successful in the Christian life, you must rescue your spiritual life from bondage to your emotions. –J. Sidlow Baxter, speaking to Mississippi Baptists in the mid-1970s.

The church lady said to me. “If I don’t feel like doing something, my heart would not be in it, and the Lord said we are to serve Him with all our heart. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

I said, “So, if you don’t feel like reading your Bible or going to church or apologizing to a neighbor, you don’t do it. Right?”

She: “Right. It would be hypocritical.”

Me: “Well. May I ask you, do you ever wake up on Monday morning and not feel like going to work? Or, when you were a teen, were there early mornings when you did not feel like getting up and going to school?”

She: “That’s different.”

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Those blessed frustrations: How God matures us!

I don’t handle frustrations well. A story or two to make that point…

When we lived in the New Orleans area, a few blocks from my house was a diner which had received rave reviews from the Times-Picayune. The owner, a master chef from some New Orleans restaurant, knows his business, we read. So,  when a pastor friend suggested we meet for lunch, we decided on that cafe.  When he had to cancel at the last minute, I went alone.

I entered, saw the place was fairly crowded, and took a stool at the counter. After maybe two or three minutes, I hailed a woman busing tables and asked for a soft drink. She brought it, I studied the menu, and I waited for a waiter or waitress. Ten minutes later, I dropped a couple of bucks on the counter and walked out. With service like that–okay, a lack of service–they’ll not be in business long. If that is indeed indicative of how things are there.

As Yogi Berra said of a certain restaurant, “Nobody goes there any more; it’s too crowded.”

So….

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Why I could never “Love Lucy” and what that says about me as a pastor

“I have spoken openly to the world.  I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together.  I spoke nothing in secret” (John 18:20).

Something happened the other day to remind me of why, as a young teen, I hated the typical television sitcom.  I could never say “I Love Lucy.”  And here’s why.

I was listening to the replay of a 1950’s radio program “The Life of Riley.”  William Bendix’ character, the husband and father of the Riley household and namesake of the program, was a bumbling, stumbling embarrassment to the males in the audience, always jumping to conclusions and misunderstanding what the normal people around him were up to.  He needed a good whupping, I always thought.  As a nine-year-old as well as today, that kind of program is really hard to listen to.

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Be patient: You never know what that fellow has gone through

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 hoped the shame I felt did not register on my face.

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