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.
As I was reading through a stack of pastoral resumes at a church where I was Interim Pastor, I was reminded that Pastors do get tired, but often they are working so hard, they fail to realize it. So perhaps it is time to share a list of some collected ways to know how a pastor is tired. (Not sure where I got all of these. Some might even be original with me.) Pastor-types will recognize a few of these and might even add a few more. Non-pastors need to realize some of these, to help them better relate to their pastor. Pastors are tired when: 1) The threat of being fired sounds good; 2) When standing in a hospital room, envy for the patient sets in; 3) The goal for today is to get through it without serious damage; 4) While still basking in the glow of surviving last Sunday, it occurs that another Sunday is on its way and today is Wednesday; 5) People ask if a pastor has been sick and the reply is, “Not yet;” 6) A senior who adores the pastor runs by the office to bring a cherry pie and she is avoided; 7) The personnel committee offers a six-week sabbatical and it is turned down because a decision is too difficult to make on what to do with all that free time; 8) The words to ‘”Jesus Loves Me” don’t come so quickly anymore; 9) An extra effort is made to go to that denominational meeting because it will be so boring, some rest will be available; 10) The nighttime prayer has become, “Lord, I’m tired. Amen.” Note that pastors will not admit to most of these. Love them anyway, and by all means, pray for them, and remind them of Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Those who believe that helping others is a priority over helping self, have a hard time on airplane flights when the flight attendant says, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before assisting others.” While there is much that is commendable about helping others, the truth is that helping others, will be short lived if you do not take care of yourself. This truth goes well beyond airplane flights and oxygen masks. If you don’t take care of yourself physically, you will not be physically able to care for others. If you do not take care of yourself emotionally, you will not be emotionally capable of caring for others. If you don’t take care of yourself spiritually, you won’t be able to spiritually care for others. Should we care for others? Absolutely, but caring for others at the expense of self is ill advised. Jesus said that we are to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31), quoted from Leviticus 19:18, and repeated by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:9. The key word is “as,” meaning “not more than,” and implying love of self “as much as” others. So, try starting the day by giving yourself a big hug. Then start looking for ways to serve others.
For the first ten years of my life, I was an only child. I guess my parents didn’t believe in baby-sitters or perhaps couldn’t afford them, I just remember accompanying my parents to a lot of adult events. At each, I was told to “be seen and not heard.” So, I grew up being rather quiet, and reserved. That lifestyle carried over into my prayer life. In fact, I remember wondering in church, why some people prayed such long, wordy prayers, and why in the worship service, we spent so much time talking and singing about God, and so little time listening to God. Much of my early instruction related to prayer dealt with speaking to God, rather than listening to God. Along the way, I was influenced by statements like that of American financier, statesman, and adviser to U.S. presidents, Bernard Baruch, who said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Someone had me memorize James 1:19, “brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak . . .” A famous poster said, “Listen and Silent have the same letters.” So, thanks to my parents and my culture, I spend a considerable amount of time listening to God and my prayers are usually brief, and to the point. Let me clarify, I don’t listen to God with my ears, nor does God speak to me with His mouth. But if I am still, and quiet, and meditative, I don’t need human ears or a divine mouth to hear from God. So, next time your prayer life is lacking, try listening.
Eleven years ago, my Granddaughter put me on Facebook, saying I was getting too “old foggie” and I needed Facebook. I love Facebook. It is my life-connection to literally thousands of friends – friends from my teen-age years (although age is taking its toll on this group); friends from college student days; friends from Seminary student days (I really think the Southern Baptist Controversy may have stated in our carpool); friend from my days as a Baptist Student Minister on three University campuses; friends from my consultant days with the North American Mission Board; student and faculty friends from my 22 years on the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Seminary; friends from my missionary-related visits in fifty-nine countries, all fifty states, and every Canadian province, friends from twenty-six interim pastorates; friends from too-many-to-count conferences, seminars, revival meetings that I led; friends from neighborhoods where I have lived (24 addresses in 11 cities since 1st grade); friends on social media; and then those friends that fit no category, except being in my life at just the right time. During several recent crises, including the current time of my wife’s COVID experience, friends from all areas of my life have responded with encouragement, counsel, and prayer support. You never know how much you need friends, until you have a need for friends. Mine have always been there when needed. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, NLT). Thanks friends.