This is the story of Dr. Joe Bailey of Tupelo, Mississippi. He told it in 2004 as a tribute to his mentor. I hope you love it as much as I do.
His family were farmers, says Dr. Joe Bailey, but since his mother refused to live anywhere but in town, they lived in Coffeeville, population 600. That was precisely across the street from the town doctor, H. O. Leonard.
As far back as Joe Bailey remembers, he wanted to be a medical doctor. In fact, when he was 10, his father suggested that it was time for him to begin helping out on the farm. Young Joe took a deep breath and told him that “if I was going to be a doctor, it would be better if I had a job that would teach me about people.”
The truth is, I really enjoyed the farm, but at age 10 I went to work in the local grocery store for 25 cents an hour (in 1957). I kept the job until I finished high school in 1965. By then I was making $1 an hour and the experiences of dealing with people those eight years have proven invaluable to me.
In the middle of that vocational experience, however, little Joe Bailey began his medical training. Here’s how it happened.
They invite you to bring a talk, a lesson, or a sermon on prayer. Your first thought, if you are normal, is, “Who me? What little I know about prayer you could put in a thimble.”
We all believe in prayer. We try to do it. We do not look upon ourselves as role models.
Truly godly men and women who are known as prayer warriors will tell you they feel they have just enrolled in kindergarten.
I doubt if our Heavenly Father is happy with any of His children claiming to have the inside track on how to approach Him, how to “get things from God,” “how to make prayer work for your benefit,” and how to get on His good side.
–Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for us to enter the Throne Room of Heaven. See Hebrews 4:16.
–Jesus Christ has opened the divider between man and God and we have an open invitation to “come on in.” See Hebrews 10:19-22.
If you and I are not entering God’s presence and lifting up our needs and petitions and interceding for those on our hearts, it’s not God’s fault. It’s not the fault of Jesus, who did everything necessary to make it possible for us to pray effectively.
Question: Pastor, is there anyone you can go to with a serious doubt about the Christian faith?
Let’s say you are struck by “contradictions” you’ve located in the Bible. But if you preached these from the pulpit, you would have caused great harm. Psalm 73:15 comes to mind. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” behold, I would have been untrue to the children of your generation.
But you need answers. Where do you turn?
Or, let’s say you are burdened by the suffering in the world. “How,” you wonder, “could a powerful and loving God allow such?” Perhaps you say, as some have, if God is almighty and allows this suffering, He is not all-loving. If He is loving and does nothing to stop it, it must be because He is not able. But, you reason, since suffering exists, we cannot have it both ways.
Who can you talk to about your questions?
If you have no friend to whom you can turn, there is a serious gap in your life. You are in need of another friend or two or three.
Someone has said that good music is music which is written better than it can be played.
I’m on a Turandot kick right now. I love all the Puccini operas, but this one has been special after I found how different it is from all the others. I’m not a musician, cannot read music or play an instrument. But I do love good music. I swoon at certain kinds of music, however, and this is one of them.
For years Turandot was not as well known as Puccini’s other more popular operas (La Boheme, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly). In fact, few people had even heard of it. One day I found out why.
This was a New Yorker article in July 2010. Writer Anthony Gottlieb was reviewing a book with the intriguing title “Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present.” Something he told I found fascinating.
In old Italy, when the time came for the city of Venice to elect a new doge (think of a mayor with royal powers), the process by which the city officials conducted this election was something to behold. Tprocess involved seven steps. Here was the procedure….
–An official went to pray in St. Mark’s Basilica. Along the way, he grabbed the first kid off the streets he could find and took back to the palace to pull out ballots from a box. Inside were the names of all the grand families of Venice. The child was selecting people for an electoral college.
–Thirty electors were chosen that way. Then, a second drawing reduced the number to nine.
–Those nine nominated forty candidates, each of whom had to be approved by at least seven electors to make it to the next stage. The forty were then whittled down to 12.
In 1939, American journalist Virginia Cowles went to Russia. Two years later, she wrote about what she saw in Looking For Trouble.
After a few days of trying in vain to get Russians to talk with her, Cowles found out why they were afraid. Stalin had just killed untold millions of his own people for what he called anti-Communistic actions. Some of those actions were nothing more than studying a foreign language or befriending a foreigner. Consequently, people were afraid to speak to any stranger.
Cowles then gives us her analysis of life in that sad country:
The chief distinction between man and animal is the critical faculty of the human mind. In the Soviet Union–just as in Germany–the critical faculty was carefully exterminated, so that the mass might sweat out their existence as uncomplainingly as oxen, obedient to the tyranny of the day. Truth was a lost word. Minds were doped with distorted information until they became so sluggish they had not even the power to protest against their miserable conditions. The ‘Pravda’ never tired of revealing to its readers the iniquities of the outside world, always pointing (out) how blessed were the people of the Soviet Union.
This is precisely how religous cults operate. They cannot stand for their people to think for themselves, have independent opinions, or ask troublesome questions. Dissension is treated as rebellion and rebellion gets you ousted.
By the word “cult,” I do not mean bad people. In fact, personally, in using the word I don’t mean all those off-beat groups that appear on the religious landscape from time to time. By “cult,” I mean variations of Christianity that claim they and they alone have the truth and all the rest of us are either deceived or deceitful.
“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.
Preacher Driftwater told me, “I want to preach about America in the worst way.”
I told him it’s been done.
What he said is not what he meant, of course.
The worst way to preach about America is negatively.
“The world is going to hell.” “America is decaying from within.” “The country is becoming socialist.” “The president is our worst enemy.” “The Supreme Court is ruining America.” “The home is breaking down. Marriage is a thing of the past. You can’t get a good two-dollar steak any more.”
Okay, strike that last one.
After the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that homosexuals can marry in any state in the union, we all agree that this has forever changed this country. For better or for worse depends on who’s talking.
Christians I know are justifiably concerned. But once the SCOTUS rules, we are stuck with their decision.
Since then, things have continued to go south. I’ll spare you the list.
So! Does all this mean the United States is through? Will God write ‘Ichabod’ over what used to be a great country? Should we preachers deliver its eulogy from our pulpits?
Not so fast.
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.
Leslie said to me, “Pastor Joe, when you performed Mom’s wedding to John, are you aware that Sandra Bullock was in the audience?” Wow. No, I was not. Sandra Bullock is one of the great stars of Hollywood. I do recall hearing that Leslie’s mom Anne was related to Sandra Bullock, and maybe her godmother.
I said, “I wish I had known.”
Leslie answered, “Well, she was only ten years old at the time.”
I still laugh at that.
When a pastor stands to preach, he never knows who is listening. If his sermon is being recorded or broadcast, he has no clue who will be hearing his words. He will do well to make sure he knows what he’s talking about.