Imagine this. The children of Israel wandering about in the wilderness, thinking back to the Egyptian food they missed. “We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Numbers 11:5). What if someone had delivered this bit of news to them — “University researchers have discovered that eating Egyptian food, especially leeks and onions, may cause cancer!” Nothing they could do about it now. All those years of enjoying Egyptian food may have put cancer cells in their bodies. Life in the promised land would now be cancer ridden. If you can imagine this, you can know how I felt when I read the following headline in last week’s newspaper – “Eating out may raise your risk of cancer.” Oh no! Say it isn’t so. All those years of double meat & cheese burgers, pizza buffets, all-you-can-eat breakfast bars, Bar B. Q. and beans, Chinese take-out? From fast food places to sit-down restaurants, I was doomed. The article went on to explain that it was the “potentially harmful chemicals called phthalate … which are often used as plastics . . . in packaging, takeout boxes, and gloves.” I’ve been so careful – no lung cancer from smoking; no stomach cancer from alcohol consumption, but now it’s restaurant plastic that gives me cancer, not to mention all those plastic bags in which my mother wrapped my school sandwiches. I can envision my arrival in heaven. “And how did you get here, Mr. Crawford?” Well, I was eating at Smokey Joe’s Café when . . .”
I don’t remember laughing so hard and so long as I did last week in the Vanderbilt Medical Center Cardio Vascular ICU. My brother Breakfast Bob had endured triple bypass surgery and was in the recovery area, still very much under the influence of multiple medications. It was time to move him from the bed to the chair and he was still mostly asleep. It took three nurses to accomplish this fete, with the male nurse, Isaac, taking the lead and barking commands at Bob – Stand up! Pivot on your left foot! Don’t fall back! Now sit down! Etc. After much effort Bob was finally seated in the chair and Isaac said, “I’ll be back in an hour Buddy, to check on you.” As Isaac was leaving, Bob, with eyes still closed, and half awake, said sarcastically, “I can hardly wait!” Under the circumstances, it struck me as funny, and I continued laughing for a long time, even mixed with tears. Laughter is good, and godly. I’m not sure what caused God to laugh at the nations in Psalm 4:2, but that verse says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.” Humorist and best-selling author Allen Klein said, “Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.” I was in a stressful situation and laughter helped me cope with it. Comedian Red Skelton said, “No matter what your heartache may be, laughing helps you forget it for a few seconds.” Find something to help you laugh this week. It sure beats crying.
We’ve just celebrated Resurrection Sunday, so what do we do now? One of the first things Jesus said to His followers after His resurrection was in the form of a command. He told them to go and tell others what had happened and what they had experienced (Matthew 28:10, 19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 20:17; Acts 1:8). So now we go and tell, not because of need or desire, but because we were told to do so. When my daughter was a teenager, her room often looked like a straight-line wind had hit it. I could tell her to clean it because in needed cleaning, but that never worked. I could try convincing her to clean her room because I knew she desired to have a clean room. Nothing. But when I said, “Danna Ruth Crawford, clean your room!” The room got cleaned. Same thing with my son. When he was young he begged to mow the yard on the riding mower, but he was to young. A few weeks after he got old enough to mow, he decided he was too old to mow. I could tell him the yard needed mowing, or that he desired to mow and have a nice yard for his dog to live in. Nothing. “James Edwin Crawford, mow the yard!” Worked. Jesus did not say go and tell because the world needed to know, although it did and does, nor did He say to go and tell because we desire to do so. He commanded that resurrection be followed with mission – go and tell. So, who will you tell this week?
I once had a person who disliked me very much and tried to discredit my every action. In fact, at times, they were quite proactive in their attacks on my family and on me. How should I have prayed for such a person? The human side of me wanted to pray evil on them, to ask God to just remove them from my life. In fact, David, in his psalms of judgement, often called “the imprecatory psalms,” repeatedly asked God to punish his enemies. As an example, David once prayed to God about, “those who hate me without a cause” (Psalm 69:4). After much thought, I decided to go with Paul, who wrote, “Repay no one evil for evil” (Romans 12:17), but rather leave vengeance for God to repay (Romans 12:19). While I never got to the friendship point of Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote – “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” – I did find some comfort in the thought of Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher who said, “If God listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished: for they are forever praying for evil against one another.” So how will you pray for those who tend to bring harm on you? “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32) and let God handle it.
Why do I repeat the same frustrating experience every March? Sixty-four college basketball games lure me (and thousands of others), to predict the winner. I’m not sure exactly what temptation faced Amos when he replied to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14), but I should repeat the same line and resist the peer pressure of picking the “final four.” Basketball itself is a puzzling challenge. James Naismith, the inventor of the game, once said, “The invention of basketball was not an accident. It was developed to meet a need. Those boys simply would not play ‘Drop the Handkerchief’.” So, we play, and when we get older, we watch, cheer, and predict. It’s a bit crazy, but it’s a lot like life itself. Aristotle, who never saw a basketball game, said, “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” So, I will study the brackets, and I will prophecy winners and losers. Then I will get on with living life in what Simon Peter called, “the madness of the prophet’ (2 Peter 2:16).
It is Spring Break time in Texas. It may freeze again on Easter weekend, but this week the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and the grass is turning green again. What to do with such a time when you are too old to go to the beach, and too broke to go to Spring Training? You figure your income tax to see how much you owe the government! This agonizing process often reminds me of the experience of Jesus, related to paying the Temple tax. Peter was asked if Jesus believed in paying such tax. This led to a conversation between Jesus and Peter, after which, Jesus told Peter to go catch a fish – no big task for a former professional fisherman. So, Peter went fishing with the words of Jesus as his guide – “Lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you” (Matthew 17:27). Some translations call that “piece of money” a “stater” and others call it a “shekel.” Either way, it was enough money to pay the Temple tax for two persons – Jesus and Peter. Come to think of it, perhaps I should go fishing during Spring Break.
In the spring of 1952, Billy Graham preached a crusade in Rice Stadium, on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. I was eleven years old and lived only blocks away from that 70,000 seat football stadium. My father was on one of the committees that served the crusade, and I attended the meetings. I was impressed with the fact that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were on the stage, but more impressed with Graham’s style of preaching the Gospel. Seven years later I would respond to a call from God to preach the same Gospel, and would preach my first sermon. I tried hard to imitate Billy Graham – a soft covered, floppy Bible in one hand, one foot behind the other, and index finger of the other hand pointing toward heaven. I even worked on a North Carolina accent. Somehow phrases like, “from all over this vast crowd, people are going to come to the altar” and “the buses will wait” never seemed to fit the small groups to which I preached. By my senior year in college I had become pastor of my first church, and had decided that God called one Billy Graham, and one Dan Crawford, each unique, each gifted, each with a special ministry. But he remained a hero, and the past few days have been mixed with grief over his death and joy over his heavenly arrival. He and my father were the same age. I hope by now they have has an opportunity to re-new their acquaintance in heaven. Engraved in Billy Graham’s tombstone are the words of Jesus, recorded in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I will continue to proclaim that truth, minus one more earthly hero.
“Sending thoughts and prayers your way.” How many times did we hear some politician or dignitary say these very words in the days following the recent school shooting in Florida (or any previous mass shooting). I suppose it is an attempt to comfort those who are hurting. In fact, one politician said in a T.V. interview, “I have sent my prayers to comfort them.” Since prayer is to be addressed to God, not to persons, I have my doubts about how much these folks know about prayer, and how much they actually pray. But that’s beside my point for today. First, I understand the intent behind such comments. “Thoughts and prayers” are good, right and appropriate, and at least prayer should come first. In fact, it may well be God alone who can solve this problem. A. J. Gordon, American Baptist pastor, writer, and composer, wrote, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” So, keep praying. Florida student survivors and their parents, reacted with, “We don’t need your thoughts and prayers. Send us help.” Second, I understand their frustration. They want gun control, or at least a ban on assault weapons that get in the hands of unstable persons, or perhaps more assistance for the mentally ill. Whatever it is, they want more than sentiment. And, although it may sound strange, coming from one who taught prayer in a theological seminary for many years, I’m with them 100%. I don’t know what to do, but I know it is past time to do something more then send “thoughts and prayers.” As a member of a church that endured one of the early church shootings (Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, 1999), I feel some of their pain. There comes a time when we have to do more than pray. It is that time. I’m not in a position to make any decisions, but if those who are, can’t agree on a solution, it’s time they are removed and replaced with someone who can do more than send “thoughts and prayers.” Now I need a text for this little sermonette. How about James 4:17, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
I was a college student when on a family vacation, we made a stop in El Paso, Texas, and for the first time in my life, I crossed the U.S. border into a foreign country, Mexico. A few years later I went with my Dad to a meeting in Detroit, Michigan and crossed over the U.S. border again, this time into Canada. Little did I know that in the years to follow I would cross fifty-nine foreign borders (and I’m not through yet). Every country, every culture, has made its contribution to my life. I’ve been more comfortable in some than others, very uncomfortable in a few, and even scared in a few others; but I am a better person for each visit, and I feel sorry for people who have not had the opportunity to travel outside of their culture. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” But there is more. Travel is a part of the plan of God, a part of missions. God’s map includes the entire world. Those who don’t believe in global missions have not carefully read the New Testament. From the beginning Jesus said, “the field is the world” (Matthew 13:38). The early church took Him at His word and went across every border, in every direction. God’s command is to “Go!” but most have stayed, busying themselves in their homeland, never lifting their eyes to other fields that are “white for harvest” (John 4:35). In a day when so many countries are open, and travel is relatively inexpensive, it may be a sin not to go, or in the case of one who absolutely cannot go, a sin not to assist others who do go. Perhaps because of my traveling, I resonate with missionary William Carry who said, “To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.”
When I was in college, all my friends were Democrats, except for one roommate, who was a member of the Young Republicans club on campus. But we were still friends, and in fact he was in my wedding. For the past four decades I have worked in a religious environment described as a “Conservative Resurgence” where friends were fired or pressured to resign, in fact, some of my best friends, disappeared almost overnight. But they were still my friends and continue to be so today. Over the years I have had philosophical differences with friends, but we remain friends. In all these areas, I never thought differences were big enough to cost me a friendship. Let me state it another way – to me friendships are more valuable than agreements. Thomas Jefferson said it best, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Part of the secret comes in “bearing with one another” (Colossians 3:13). So, put down your cell phones, sign out of your social networks, and look for friendship. It may be closer than you think.