Beyond providing a ministry to churches in an interim time as they search for a new pastor, I enjoy serving as an interim pastor because of the new friends I make at each stop along the way. In fact, as I think back through recent interims, I can name friends in each with whom I still communicate. New friends are great friends. However, this past weekend, I spoke at the dedication of the new Baptist Student Center at the University of Texas. Following the dedication ceremony, I had lunch with twenty old friends – former students who were active in the Baptist Student ministry when they were UT students, four decades ago. I was their Baptist Student Minister. Old friends are great friends. Poet Joseph Parry wrote, “Make new friends, but keep the old; Those are silver, these are gold.” My old friends help me grow old, while my new friends help me stay young. The writer of Proverbs said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). I am sharper because of my friends – new and old. Give thanks for friendships today.
Not long ago, someone posted the following quote on social media – “Try to never be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people . . . or find a different room.” In my research I discovered that the quote, or variations of it, has been attributed to numerous people and often used in leadership strategies. While I have seldom been the smartest person in a room, I suggest there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t act like it. Allow others to be smart as well, and in fact, help them be smart. I could cite numerous examples. One will suffice. When my Dad was pastor of a rather large east Texas church, he realized that older women were no longer attending. The reason was they had difficulty negotiating the high, steep steps at the front of the sanctuary. Likewise, every other entrance, had high steps. While my Dad knew the church needed an elevator, he never suggested it in church meetings . Rather, he brought it up with church leaders over coffee and in similar non-formal situations. One night in a deacon meeting, a man said, “I’ve been noticing the absence of some of our elderly members, due to the high steps, and I propose we install an elevator.” My Dad’s response was, “Good idea.” While he was the smartest in the group, he allowed others to have the smart ideas. Jesus said, “he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves” (Luke 22:26). Be smart. Encourage smartness in others.
“Carpe Diem” is the famous Latin phrase used by the Roman poet Horace to express the idea that one should enjoy life while one can. It literally means “seize the day.” A few years before, the Psalmist spoke of the brevity of time, “Man is like a breath; His days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4) and a few years later the Apostle Paul would twice write, “Redeem the time,” (Ephesians 5:15; Colossians 4:5), or as one translation says, “make the most of every opportunity.” My granddaughter and grandson-in-law will only be able to enjoy my great-grandson’s “terrible twos” once. My grandson, will only be a teen-anger once. Come to think of it, I will only be a Senior Adult once. If we miss any of life’s stages, we miss it forever. This is not a rehearsal, nor a practice. This is the real thing. One and done. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” What we should do with it is to happily enjoy our current circumstances, whatever they may be. The Russian writer, Anton Chekhov wrote, “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” Seize today and be happy!
I know of people who don’t pray because they say they don’t know how. They fear saying the wrong things to God. While I do not have that specific problem in prayer, I do understand, and I have some advice. It comes from the minor prophet, Zephaniah. “Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; for the day of the Lord is at hand” (Zephaniah 1:7). Rather than say you can’t pray, why not simply acknowledge God’s presence and then listen. Admit that prayer is not just you talking to God, but rather it is a two-way communication. Don’t just take my word for it. Missionary Frank Laubach said, “Prayer at its highest is a two-way conversation. Then again, “For me the most important part is listening to God’s replies. . . The trouble with nearly everybody who prays is that he says ‘Amen’ and runs away before God has a chance to reply. Listening to God is far more important than giving Him our ideas.” Devotional writer Oswald Chambers asked, “Are you learning to say things after listening to God, or are you saying things and trying to make God’s word fit in?” Mother Teresa said, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” So, with that biblical passage and these quotes, I rest my case. Prayer is two-way communication. If you think you can’t talk with God, just listen.
I was preaching in a church where I knew no one, not even members of the ministerial staff. No one had contacted me prior to the service to inquire as to my subject or scripture. It so happened that I was preaching on “The Fullness of Joy” from Psalm 16:11 – “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” To my shock, just prior to my sermon, a soloist sang, “Come, Ye Disconsolate.” That is a wonderful old hymn, with lyrics by Thomas Moore, with powerful lines like, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” It was sung beautifully by the soloist, but the overall message of the song did nothing to prepare the audience for the sermon on “Joy,” nor did the sermon do anything to follow-up the message of the solo. While I was not sure how much joy was felt by the audience, I got a real joy out of the experience. Swiss author Victor Cherbuliez wrote, “Half the joy of life is in little things taken on the run.” So, when things don’t seem to fit together in sync, discover the joyful side.
Yesterday was Time Change Sunday. As a Seminary student, I was Pastor of a small church in East Texas in 1966 when the Unified Time Act was implemented. The church’s two deacons decided to not observe the time change. “The Guv-ment has no business messin’ with God’s time,” they exclaimed. The quote did not come from one of my two deacons, but it could have – “Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.” The deacons eventually gave in, but they were right about one thing. It was God’s time. God created time as we know it (Genesis 1:14), sent Jesus in the ‘fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4-5), will someday call time (Revelation 10:5-6), but in the meantime, wants us to “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Redemption is what happens when you trade in something of value for something of greater value. Our spiritual assignment is to trade in what we do with our time for a greater use of our time. So now that we have lost an hour, let us make the most of the time remaining.
I first saw one in a friend’s “Prayer Room” (a middle bedroom of his house), then I saw another one in a colleague’s office. How unique, I thought. So, I searched until I found my own Prayer Bench and fit it into my Seminary office. I had long believed, and then taught, the discipline of place, in private prayer. After all, Jesus repeatedly went to specific places to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 22:39-40). Among other subjects, I kept my class seating charts on the bench, and knelt there to pray for my students before each class, firmly believing that it is best to talk to God about people before talking to people about God. It was a private place that saw only private times of prayer – or so I thought. I recently spoke in a church pastored by a former student and was amazed and touched to see him stand before his people and emotionally share what it had meant to him to know that one of his professors had a prayer bench on which he prayed for his students. Then he told of making his own such prayer bench for his office. I always expected to teach when standing in front of students in a classroom. I had not thought about teaching through a simple prayer bench, placed in my office. Be careful this week, for you know not when, where, or how you teach.
I’ve spent much of my life in a hurry: in a hurry to achieve; in a hurry to arrive; in a hurry to finish. I attribute much of that to the deadly combination of being both a workaholic and a perfectionist. Even in retirement, I’ve failed to slow down much. I fear I’ve been in such a hurry, I’ve run past some significant life experiences. Too late I discovered the Yiddish Proverb, “No good comes from hurrying.” By the time I discovered the quote from Robert Louis Stevenson – “He who sows hurry reaps indigestion” – I already had indigestion. On the other hand, one who hurries, experiences more than the one who moves through life with a slower pace. While I should have slowed down occasionally, I’m glad I didn’t miss anything I’ve experienced. This is where you do as I say, and not as I do: the key to a meaningful life is learning how to pace oneself. There are times to hurry and times to slow down. After all, God, our example of perfect balance, thunders from the heavens (2 Samuel 22:14) and speaks and the earth shakes (Psalm 46:6), but He can also be heard in the sounds of silence. The Psalmist encouraged, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:6), and Isaiah reported God saying, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). What do you need to do this week – slow down or hurry up?
I once led a Bible Study entitled “A Day of Interruptions” from Mark 5. Jesus was interrupted by a haunted person – Legion – in Mark 5:1-20, He was interrupted by a hurting person – Jairus – in Mark 5:21-24. The Lord was interrupted by a hopeless person – a nameless woman – in Mark 5:25-34, and finally, He was interrupted by a helpless person – a nameless girl – in Mark 5:35-43. As if this was not enough, all four of these interruptions happened on the same day. So last week my schedule had me reaching the two-week mark following my second COVID vaccine, meaning I was good to go – on the road again – 95% immune. I planned to attend the Globe Life Field Collegiate Baseball Showdown on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (since the church had a guest preacher scheduled, I was free to attend all three Sunday games), and finally travel to Louisiana to lead a conference on Monday evening. Then came an interruption. With several inches of snow, mixed with ice, and temperatures down to two below zero, power losses all over the city, water lines breaking, I spent seven days in my house, unable to get out of my driveway. The baseball tournament was postponed, the Sunday guest speaker cancelled, meaning I was back on for preaching Sunday morning, and the Louisiana conference was move to next Monday. Multiple days of interruptions. In the midst of my private pity party, I remembered the initiatives Jesus took in the midst of His interruptions: (1) To the haunted person, Jesus offered release. (2) To the hurting person Jesus offered relief. (3) To the hopeless person Jesus offered healing. (4) To the helpless person Jesus offered food. The next time your life is marked by interruptions, remember the initiatives Jesus took with His.
I awoke yesterday morning and looked out of my window to see a beautiful white blanket of snow. If I lived further north, this would be a common occurrence, but I live in Texas where we seldom get to see this beauty. There are few references to snow in the Bible and rightly so, since much of it was written in a land of rare snow fall. However, there was the spectacle of two mountain tops, Mount Lebanon and Mount Hermon, where snow remained on the tops year around. When I do see snow, it reminds me of a sermon by one of my favorite preachers, Dr. R.G. Lee, entitled “The Treasures of the Snow” based on Job 38:22. As I remember it, he spoke of the purity of the snow, the uniqueness of each snowflake, as well as the silence in which is falls. However, the point I remember most is the power of the snowflake when united with other snowflakes. A single snowflake has almost no power, but when it gathers in agreement with many other snowflakes, it can bring down large tree limbs, divert traffic, cause closures of schools and places of business, and even in large gatherings, cause an avalanche. On the positive side, gathered snow becomes the subject of beautiful pictures, and lovely paintings, and provides places where children play. To quote Dr. Lee, snow, “with gracious generosity, hides the grimy slime of the mudhole, drives away the raven of uncleanness, transforms the unsightly into the beautiful, the ghastly into the gorgeous, the gruesome into the glimmeringly lovely.” Snow provides a powerful lesson when applied to people. Because this is Texas, the snow will not be with us long, but when it’s snow time in Texas, let’s enjoy it’s treasures.