“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
On the farm, after we killed the hog, someone had to make cracklings, known otherwise as “cooking the lard.”
A fire was built under a black iron pot into which cut-up portions of the less-desirable fatty hog meat was thrown. As a worker stood by stirring, the contents boiled and bubbled and gradually released the lard, leaving behind a crisp rind (called the cracklin’), sometimes carrying a streak of lean. The lard went into gallon containers for household cooking throughout the year. Cracklins became snack-foods for relaxing times, and can be bought commercially today. They’re usually called “pork skins.”
Similarly, the messages I have preached over a half-century have been boiled down to their essence. (No greasy rinds left, however!) Mostly, the result–that is, the gist of my preaching these days–ends up looking something like this….
Standing with a group of pastors, chatting and fellowshiping and shooting the (sacred) bull, I was interested to hear one say, “I told him I’m the pastor of the church, that God made the overseer, and if he doesn’t like it, he can find another church.”
He pulled rank on his unhappy church member.
That brought nods of approval, even from a couple who knew they would never have the gumption to say such a thing. Even if they feel like doing it sometimes.
But that pastor is wrong.
If anyone on earth had the right to pull rank on other people, it was our Lord Himself.
Yet, He never did.
Now, the Heavenly Father didn’t mind doing it. The Old Testament is rife with commands backed up by reminders that “I am the Lord!” The idea is that “Since I am God, I have a right to say this. Disobey at your own peril.”
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. That they may rest from their labors…. (Revelation 14:13)
My friend Bob was dealing with a difficult family situation. Bob was getting up in years and his health was poor.
At one point he said to me, “I can’t wait for heaven.”
I agreed and said, “They don’t call it ‘rest’ for no reason.”
I’m remembering when I was a kid, we would sometimes hear a ditty called The Big Rock Candy Mountain. We enjoyed its silliness and thought nothing more of it.
It turns out that during the Great Depression, that was the hobo’s national anthem, of a sort. And it gives us his own unique picture of paradise.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…. (Isaiah 40:31)
I waited on the Lord and He inclined to me and heard my cry…. (Psalm 40:1)
So, wait on the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait on the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)
Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? (Mark 14:37).
It takes time.
God has all the time in the universe.
Throw away your watch and your calendar, follower of Jesus. You’re on heavenly time now and nothing happens on your schedule.
I suspect most of us are like the fellow who prayed, “Lord, give me patience–and give it to me right now!”
You’ve been praying for a loved one. And you don’t see an answer. You keep praying. For years, you pray and wait and hope. Then the one you were praying for is in a traffic accident and killed. Clearly, God never answered your prayer. You are devastated. So disappointed. Your faith in God wavers. You’re so unsure any more. What is the point in praying and in trusting?
And then one day, years later, something happens.
“Joe,” Walt Grayson messaged me, “you need to get to know Gordon Cotton, retired curator of the Old Capitol Museum, Vicksburg.”
Walt Grayson, a friend of fifty years or more, is an institution in Mississippi television, as he covers the state with reports on fascinating people and unforgettable places. Amazon will tell you how to purchase his books. Anyway…
“You remember Daniel Pearl? Reporter for the Wall Street Journal who was killed in Pakistan following 9/11.”
I said I do indeed.
Pearl was researching something and he and Gordon spent a lot of time talking on the phone. They talked about everything, not just history. Including religion. And one day, Daniel Pearl told Gordon he did not believe in hell.
Gordon Cotton said, “If you don’t believe in hell, then where is Sherman?”
That became the headline for Pearl’s article in the Wall Street Journal the next day.
That is a reference to General William Tecumseh Sherman whose “March to the Sea” helped to bring the Civil War to a close by killing untold numbers of southerners and destroying their property. When he said, “War is hell,” Sherman spoke as a practitioner of the art.
Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
“Whosoever surely meaneth me.” — Gospel song by James E. McConnell, 1910.
“He included me.” — Gospel song by Johnson Oatman. 1909.
Every Christian I know does this and I do it too. And yet there seems to be no easy explanation for it.
In Scripture, we will be reading where God is telling Israel how much He loves them, how He has loved them from the first, how His love is endless and that He has big plans for them, and what do we do? We copy off those words and plaster them around the house, memorize them, and write them into songs of inspiration. We put them on bumper stickers and coffee mugs and t-shirts, and we build sermons around them.
We revel in those words.
We do this not because we are so impressed by God’s love of Israel nor touched by their closeness. We do it for another overwhelming reason.
>“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7).
Fears crop up from time to time.
They co-exist right alongside my faith, like tares among the wheat (referencing Matthew 13:30).
My faith and my fears are not friends, you understand, nor are they unknown to one another. They have fairly well existed alongside one another from the beginning, so they are well-acquainted, in the sense that competitors on the gridiron who do battle in repeated contests come to know one another intimately.
I identify with the fellow who, when told that all things are possible if he could believe, answered, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).
What do I fear? Let me count the ways. (I do this knowing full well that fears love to be given room and attention and energies, all of which serve to feed this cancer, causing it to mushroom.)
A 10-year-old girl said something that has had me thinking about passion ever since.
That word “passion” gives us compassion, passive, dispassionate, and a host of related concepts. At its core, from the Latin, “passion” means “to suffer.” It’s opposite, passive, or impassive, means “unfeeling.”
I was teaching cartooning to children in the afternoons following vacation Bible school. At one point, I had to take a phone call and turned the class over to my teenage grand-daughter who was assisting me. Ten minutes later, I told the children about the call.
“One of the editors of a weekly Baptist paper in another state called about using a certain cartoon. I found the drawing in a file and scanned it into the computer and emailed it to her. Next week, that cartoon–which is still in that file cabinet in my office–will be seen in 50,000 newspapers in homes all over that state.”
Then I asked the question on their minds but which none dared to raise.
“Now, how much money do you think I made doing that?”
Some kid said, “Thousands.” The rest had no idea.
When my pastor friend’s grandchild died in a drowning accident, we were all shocked and saddened. I wrote this for him and his family. (That was a number of years ago, and my heart hurts for these good people yet.)
If our grief could ease just a sliver of your grief, you would have none left because so many friends are sorrowing for you today.
If our tears could dry your tears, you would weep no more, because so many are heartbroken for you today.
If our pain could erase yours, you would never against experience a moment’s discomfort the rest of your life, because so many are hurting for you today.
“Men’s hearts will be failing them from fear” (Luke 21:26).
“Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:18).
When I was a kid–sometime in the early 1950s–I recall attending a revival meeting with my grandmother in Birmingham. The preacher scared the living daylights out of everyone with his prophecies about the future, his warnings about Russia and Communism, and his forecasts about what was about to happen. Later, as Grandma and I walked down those dark streets to her apartment, every plane going over seemed to be carrying an atomic bomb with our address on it.
Scary preaching is foreign to the New Testament.
The great apostle actually thought teachings of the Lord’s return and the believers’ victory over and escape from this world should comfort us.
But listen to the typical prophecy preacher. So many will use passages about the Lord’s return and the end times to strike terror into the hearts of the faithful. They speak of the martyrdom of millions of the faithful, of the havoc to be wreaked throughout the world by the Lord’s death angels, of the Beast and the Antichrist and the desolation of abomination.
Matters of which they understand little.