I used to wonder why my father went home for lunch every day. The food was good, but not that much better than anywhere else he could have gone for a meal. He went home to take an after-lunch nap. When we moved to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, one of my culture shocks was that many business places were closed in the early afternoon – siesta time. In his book, “Don’t Miss it if You Can” Jess Moody wrote, “People should sleep during the mid- afternoon. Absolutely nothing of any value has happened then.” That comment might need to be fact-checked, but it’s a good point. American lawyer, educator and politician, Barbara Jordan, once said, “Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.” Great idea. According to “The Message” afternoon naps are even biblical. As the writer of Proverbs shares advice with a good friend, he says, “You’ll take afternoon naps without a worry” Proverbs 3:21-26 (The Message). So, on most days, when my schedule allows, I take a nap. In fact, I’m headed there right now. Think about it. Perhaps you need to go and do likewise.
This is Pastor Appreciation Month. I will take my Pastor to lunch this week. It is a small, but meaningful gift. We will talk as we eat – about the church, about sports, about theology, about families, about common friends (and a few uncommon friends). Mostly, I will come away from the time together with more specific ways to pray for him. It is the best gift I can offer to him during this pastor appreciation month. After Jesus ascended back to heaven, He gave spiritual gifts to the church. One of those gifts was the gift of pastor. Ephesians 4:11 states, “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” My Pastor is a gift from God to my family, my church and my community. The best gift I can offer to him during this appreciation month, is “effective, fervent prayer” (James 5:16). Max Lucado wrote, “Prayer pushes us through life’s slumps, propels us over the humps, and pulls us out of the dumps.” As my Pastor and I have our table talk, I become aware of the specifics of his humps, slumps, and dumps, and I pray for him. How do you pray for your Pastor? This is a good time to intensify and clarify your gift of pastoral prayer support, but hurry – appreciation month is almost over.
I am old enough to remember when politicians campaigned on their record instead of campaigning against the record of their opponent. Repeatedly during this election, I have been forced to watch TV commercials from candidates on both sides, telling me why I should not vote for their opponents. There is a difference is recognizing the record of an opponent, and posturing one’s self against that record vs. spewing half-truths, mistrust, venom, accusations, and pure unjustified hatred. I don’t remember who wrote it, but a few years ago I remember reading an editorial that prophesied that the day would come when we would vote against candidates rather than voting for candidates. That day may have arrived. I think if a candidate came along who campaigned on the basis of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, I would vote for him or her, regardless of their party affiliation. “ You have heard that it was said . . . ‘hate your enemy.’ but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). It may be time for Uncle Sam to kneel at the mourner’s bench.
What a year this has been! In January I participated in the semi-annual meeting of America’s National Prayer Committee. No one packed a facemask for the meeting. In February, I conducted my Disciple All Nations. Inc, Board of Directors annual meeting with no concerns about social distancing. In March, I had a steroid procedure on my neck without a second thought about the safety of the Surgicare Center. My spring and summer calendar looked comfortably full. Life was good. Retirement was rewarding. In April, I accepted an Interim Pastorate with great excitement. Then came COVID, and the first seven Sundays I preached in an empty worship center to an online congregation. Meetings got replaced with Zoom calls. The few remaining engagements on my calendar got cancelled when I suffered a pancreatitis attack, followed by a colonoscopy, then the surgical removal of my gallbladder, with more worries about being exposed to the virus than thoughts of the effectiveness of the medical procedures. On the positive side, my Wite-Out covered calendar allowed time for one book to be written, another to be co-authored, and a third to be in the works. I’m just glad I didn’t waste my money on a fancy 2020 Daily Planner. I have re-learned the truth of Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should” (TLB). So, how’s your year been so far?
I had major surgery last week. I am blessed with a lot of friends, and social media has kept us in contact, but never did I expect the response from long-time friends, as what I received. There were prayers offered and thoughts shared by new friends of only a few months, but friends that I had not heard from in a long time, called and prayed with me over the phone. Others prayed via text message or e-mail. Some just called to check on me and see how I was doing. Strangely enough, it brought song lyrics to mind. Initially, it reminded me of an old camp song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” Then I could hear myself singing along on Roger’s Miller’s song, “Old friends, Lord, when all my work is done bless my life and grant me one, old friend, at least one, old friend.” Finally, it was Bill and Gloria Gather’s chorus that came to mind, “Old friends. You’ve always been there, my old friends. We’ve had more than our share, old friends. We’re all millionaires in old friends.” The idea of being a millionaire led me to Proverbs 14:20, “The rich has many friends.” Keep making new friends, but I hope you have some faithful, long-time friends who still care about you, and communicate with you. More than that – I hope you are one of those to your long-time friends and are becoming that to your new friends.
I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I wake up in the night and am unable to get back to sleep. I’m sure it is partly due to the physical, since I am facing major surgery in the next few days. I am also sure it is partly spiritual, since this was happening, to a lesser extent, long before the need for surgery. Sometimes, when I wake up, I do so with scripture on my mind. Often the scripture comes in the form of a song or hymn. I remember many years ago, confessing this rather unusual habit to my mother, who replied, “My prayers have been answered. God has given you my song.” Then she confessed to likewise awakening with music on her mind. Both of us felt OK with this, since we were in good company – with each other, as well as with the Psalmist, who said, “My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word” (Psalm 119:148). Other times I awake with people on my mind. Since this is frequently former students or friends who are serving as missionaries on foreign fields, I assume they are in need of prayer in the middle of their day, even though it is the middle of my night. Even when the image is not of missionaries, I begin to pray for members of my family and then on to friends as they come to mind. Even though I eventually go back to sleep, I guess for a time, I become somewhat of a watchman of the night (Isaiah 21:11). I share this to challenge you – when you awake in the night, consider that it might be in order to pray for someone in need.
I was busy enjoying my meal in a local restaurant, when I was distracted. A family of four, seated nearby me, caught my attention. Mom and Dad were not having one of their best days, plus the two small children were expressing their unhappiness in rather loud volume. The family anger seemed to escalate as the meal progressed. At the end of their meal and close to the end of their patience, Dad threw several dollars on the table for a tip, grabbed both kids and headed to check out. Left behind, Mom gathered the tip dollars, stuffed them in her purse, and hurried to catch up with her family. In this case anger led to greed. The actions of the Mom made me think of a verse in Proverbs, “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house” (Proverbs 15:27), and I wondered if the verse could be reversed and paraphrased – “She who troubles her own house, becomes greedy.” Either way, these two emotions are a deadly mix. Don’t let your anger lead to greed. Don’t let your greed, cause anger.
I learned a new word last week. When I received my pathology results on my medical portal, it stated that the polyps removed from my colon, via colonoscopy, were “adenomatous.” Just before my pulse began to race, I read the next line of the results – “by definition, premalignant.” My first thought was that all my body parts were premalignant. In fact, I prefer premalignant over malignant. Then I realized how often we get anxious over big words we don’t understand. In other words, if it has a lot of letters in an unknown word, it might be bad. I almost panicked over “adenomatous” before I understood it to mean precancerous. We whose profession involves using theological words like justification, propitiation, millennial, transubstantiation, apologetics, pneumatology, eschatology, ecclesiology, dispensation, hermeneutics, transfiguration, etc. should ask ourselves if those to whom we communicate, understand our words, or do our big words, frighten and confuse them. My theology professor once said in class, “Never use a one syllable word, when a three syllable word is available.” I remember writing this statement in my class notes, then writing in the margin – “not sure I agree.” My calling is to communicate, not to impress, and certainly not to overwhelm. Unless, I am speaking to a group of post-graduate seminarians, I need to choose my words carefully. When Jesus spoke, the Bible records that those who heard Him, “marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth” (Luke 4:22). I want my words to be gracious, whoever is in the audience, but I also them to be understandable. I’m glad that, in addition to the big medical word, I received some gracious words that informed me that I don’t have cancer. That’s all I really needed to know.
There was a second page turned down in the green back Broadman Hymnal of my youth. While the first page that was turned down, was the hymn “Ready” which greatly influenced my call to ministry, the second page turned down was for a hymn that equally influenced my life. It was also a favorite of my mother’s. The words to the first verse are still lodged in my memory, and I think I can still hear Mama singing the alto part as I sat next to her in church services. “Hear ye the Master’s call, ‘Give Me thy best!’ For, be it great or small, that is His test. Do then the best you can, not for reward, not for the praise of men, but for the Lord.” It fit well with the motto that my mother repeated for me every morning as I left the house for school, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” I’m fairly confident that my Southern Baptist mother did not know that this was a quote from the Catholic Priest and Theologian, Saint Jerome. All that really matter to her was that the hymn was from The Broadman Hymnal, second only in importance to the King James Bible, with her notes on almost every page. I’m not sure if this hymn, “Our Best” was based on any specific passage of scripture, but it could have been influenced by Numbers 18:29, “You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.” I wonder if there is a song being sung by today’s youth that will impact them decades later, as powerfully, as the hymns of my youth have directed me across the years.
While moving my office recently, I came to the music bookshelves – hymnals and song books, collected over the years. There it was – the green-back Broadman Hymnal, and the inscription on the front cover – “West End Baptist Church, Houston, Texas.” Significance? Not only was my father the pastor of this church, but this was the hymn book of my teenage years, from the church that licensed me to the gospel ministry. The corner of two pages were turned down. Not only was one page a hymn that was sung often, it was a personal favorite, whose words would mark my ministry for decades to come. The words of a British hymn, based on 2 Samuel 15:15 (“We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands”), were set to new music by Charlie Tillman, another Baptist PK (Preacher’s Kid). The chorus said, “Ready to go, ready to stay, ready my place to fill; ready for service, lowly or great, ready to do His will.” The hymn was no doubt instrumental in my understanding of God’s call on my life – to spend a lifetime serving, wherever God led. This causes me to wonder what music, currently being sung by today’s teenagers, will mark lives for ministry in years to come.