Thursday, December 27, 2012

Simple Counsel for a New Year

As we close one year and prepare to begin a new one, I’m thinking about time.  Some anonymous wag reflected on life and time:

Life is tough.  It takes up a lot of your time, all your weekends, and what do you get at the end of it?  I think that life is all backward.  You should die first and get it out of the way.  Then you live twenty years in an old-age home.  You get kicked out when you’re too young.  You get a gold watch, you go to work.  You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement.  You go to college; you party until you’re ready for high school; you go to grade school; you become a little kid; you play.  You have no responsibilities.  You become a little baby; you go back into the womb; you spend your last nine months floating; and you finish up as a gleam in somebody’s eye.

Of course, things don’t work that way, do they?  Life moves forward, not backward.  And instead of finishing as a gleam in somebody’s eye, some finish burdened down with baggage from years misspent, relationships un-reconciled, and opportunities un-seized.  Many people finish life with a lot of what-ifs and if-onlys and a bucketful of regrets.  But this need not be.

God is into fresh starts and new beginnings.  You can’t change the past, but you can make a better future.  You can draw nearer to God through personal spiritual disciplines and involvement in the life of His church.  As far as it depends on you, you can live in peace with others, dropping old grudges and treating others with kindness and understanding.  You can commit to seize the God-offered opportunities that come your way in 2013.  You can set some goals that will get you where you want to go.  God gives us January for such things as this.

What helps me as the years transition are these three truths: God can redeem my past; God is with me in the present; and God holds the future—my future—in His good hands.

As Carl Bard once said, “Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”  That “anyone” means you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Yikes! December 21, 2012, Is Almost Here

So, what if the Mayans are right?  What if December 21—that’s Friday, you know—is doomsday, the last day for planet earth?  Are you ready?

Well, relax.  There’s a good deal of disagreement about whether the Mayans predicted the end of the world or just a new cycle for the world.  The Mayans believed history was cyclical, not linear.  Cyclical history doesn’t lend itself to definite endings but to new beginnings.  And even if the Mayans have predicted a definite end to the world on Friday, fear not.  The Mayans won’t be any more correct on their guess than have the hundreds of others across the centuries who have named this date or that date as the end of the world as we know it.  How many misled Christians have prognosticated the second coming of Jesus on a particular date, only to be proven wrong every time?  I suspect more than we can count.

The Scripture says in more than one place that no one knows the date of the end except God.  Period.  Not a prophet.  Not preacher.  Not a Mayan.  Not even the smartest man or woman in the world.  Only God.  And I can’t imagine that God would ever honor anyone’s prediction by drawing things to close on that date.  Such a person would be insufferable in eternity: “It was me!  I’m the one!  I got it right!  I got it right!”  Please.

But just because we don’t know an exact date doesn’t mean we can’t live in light of that day in this day.  According to Stephen Covey, one of the seven habits of highly effective people is to “begin with the end in mind.”  That’s a good idea for Christ-followers too.  Live today in the light the last day.  Do you remember how you felt when you put off studying for that test or preparing that paper until the last minute?  It’s called “cramming.”  You didn’t feel so confident about outcomes, did you?  Well, if you want to feel confident about being prepared for the last day, live this day in light of that last day.  Prepare now.

If the end is this week, are you prepared?  National Geographic recently did a national survey about doomsday scenarios.  Among the results, 62% believed we’re likely to experience a “major disaster” in the next twenty years, and 85% admit that they are not ready for it should it come.  An even more interesting question asked respondents what they would do the night before they thought the world would end.  Here are the three highest answers: 27% would resolve a family feud; 24% would have sex; and 20% would stock up on resources (although I imagine the shelves might be empty if they wait till the night before the end to do their shopping).

What would you do if the end was this Friday?  Could I encourage you to live every day as if the end was the next day: live in peace with God today; work for harmony in your relationships today; share the love of Christ with people today; spend time with God today; do your best on the job today; enjoy life today; glorify God today.  Every one of those things is a good thing.  Why wait till the very end to put such things into practice?  Live this day in light of the last day.  Don’t try to cram it all in at the end.  Who needs the angst?

I heard about a devoted follower of Jesus who was tending his garden one day when a friend asked him what he’d do if this was his last day on earth.  “Well,” he said, “the first thing I’d do is finish my gardening.”  There’s a man who’s prepared, a man who lives each day in light of the last day.  I want to be that man.  Do you?


By the way, NASA has even weighed in on this craziness.  You can find a story about that here:

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Dark Side of Christmas

Is there anyone who hasn't heard of the events last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut?  And many have taken opportunity to put their two cents into the conversation.  It's no surprise that many immediately jumped on the political bandwagon to make points about gun control, school security, God in schools, etc.  I understand how this event can spawn such discussion.  But for now, we need to just shut up and mourn.  We can hash out these other issues soon enough.

As I was reflecting on this event—and especially with it happening here at Christmastime and all—I couldn't help but remember Herod's slaughter of Bethlehem's toddlers a year or two after Jesus' birth.  I posted on that story back in December of 2009.  While the post doesn't specifically address the Connecticut issue, it does offer some insight into where God is in all of that.

My lack of computer skills means that I don't know how to just copy and paste that blog into this spot, but I do know how to paste and link.  If you're interested in reading that post, drag the cursor over the link below, copy it, and then paste it into the address line.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Case You Missed It

I don’t know how I missed such an important occasion.  You may have missed it too.  Text-messaging is 20 years old.  According to an Eric Limer report in, on December 3rd 1992, a 22-year-old Canadian test engineer sat down and typed out a very simple message, "Merry Christmas." It flew over the Vodafone network to the phone of one Richard Jarvis, and since then, we just haven't been able to stop texting.

Texting is all the deal these days.  In fact, numerous people send more text messages than actually make phone calls.  I discovered a few years ago that if I called one of my kids, I’d usually have to leave a voice mail.  If I texted them, they texted me right back.  It’s a big deal all right, but it didn’t start that way.  In the very beginning, texts were just a way to send network notifications, namely to let you know you had a voice-mail.  In 1993, Nokia introduced GSM handsets capable of person-to-person texting.  Even then, it still didn’t take off.  In 1995, people were only sending an average of 4 text messages a month.

But what a difference a few years make.  In 2010, the world sent over 6.1 trillion messages, or roughly 193,000 per second. And that's just good old-fashioned SMS, not the dozens upon dozens of services it's inspired.  Texting has even spawned its own vocabulary: lol, bff, tnx, and though there are a jillion more, a dinosaur like me is pretty clueless as to any ones but these.  I suspect it’s not far from accurate to state that texting is right near the top of the way people communicate with one another anymore.

It’s ironic that that texting’s birthday comes in the same month that we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  God had been sending the world His messages through prophets and through those who wrote down the words and ideas God had inspired in their hearts.  But on that day in Bethlehem, God sent His Son.  God came in person.  No text.  No prophet announcement.  No voice out of a cloud.  God sent His Son—"born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those that are under the law that we might receive the full rights of sons" (Gal. 4:4).  Could a message be any more intimate or personal or powerful?  In effect, God was saying, “I’m not sending you a word or a prophet or a text; I’m coming down myself.”  Isaiah said it would happen and Matthew confirmed it: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us.’”

So Happy Birthday, Texting, and Happy Birthday, Jesus.  Texting has changed a lot of things in its 20 years.  But it has a long way to go to catch up to the kind of changes Jesus has made in millions of lives, in numerous cultures, and in history itself.  If you missed texting’s birthday, no big deal.  But please, please, please, don’t miss Jesus’ birthday.  That is a big deal. Christmas got the ball rolling toward the cross and the resurrection and the securing of the life that is really life for all who believe.

You know, I'm so grateful I think I’ll send a text message to God: Tku 4 sending ur son.  Hppy bday, JC :)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pulpit, Meet Brick Wall

There’s a cartoon in my files.  The caption reads “Preaching 101.”  The image is of a preacher standing behind a pulpit situated directly in front of a brick wall.  Every preacher feels like that from time to time.  I learned on Sunday that not only preachers feel this way.

I was greeting people in the foyer of the church after the early service.  The sermon was the last of a series I’ve been doing on David’s life and faith.  I felt like I had offered a stirring and challenging call to “a deep and abiding relationship with the Lord God Almighty in our best moments and in our worst moments too.  It’s about relationship—whole-hearted, sold out, give and take, listen, pray, and respond, day in and day out relationship with this mysterious, sovereign, large, unpredictable God of the Bible whose love makes the sea look shallow and whose grace makes the world’s greatest philanthropist look like a cheapskate.”  It was stirring and challenging to me anyway.  So one of our most committed followers of Jesus shook my hand and said, “Good sermon … but it probably won’t do any good.”  Pulpit, meet brick wall. 

What’s a preacher to do?  We can’t just give up—even if it feels like we’re making all the progress of using an ice pick to sculpt a granite statue.  God called us preachers to this, right?  “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).  This is our job—in my mind anyway, our most important job.  So I guess we just keep at it, trusting that God’s word always gets something done whether we can see immediate evidence or not, trusting that some of the seed will fall on fertile soil and produce an abundant crop in God’s good time.  No wonder Paul threw the word “patience” in his admonition to us preachers.

We rarely see quick results, but I’ve been at this well over 30 years, and the crop does come in.  Sometimes in people and places you’d least expect.  So, let’s keep at it, brothers and sisters.  Even if it’s not doing anybody any good that we can see, it’s at least doing more good in us than we may realize.  There’s a story attributed to the Jewish author, Elie Wiesel.  The story came to mind when our church member offered his commentary on my sermon.

A just man comes to Sodom hoping to save the city.  He pickets.  What else can he do?  He goes from street to street, from marketplace to marketplace, shouting, “Men and women, repent.  What you are doing is wrong.  It will kill you; it will destroy you.”  They laugh, but he goes on shouting, until one day a child stops him.  “Poor stranger, don’t you see it’s useless?”

“Yes,” the just man replies. 

“Then why do you go on?” the child asks.

“In the beginning,” he says, “I was convinced that I would change them.  Now I go on shouting because I don’t want them to change me.”

Preach the word, brothers and sisters, in season and out of season.  God is doing more in others than you can see just now.  And just as important, God is working that word into you.


By the way, if you’re interested in reading the sermon that “probably won’t do any good,” you can find it here: By the way, if you’re interested in reading the sermon that “probably won’t do any good,” you can find it here:  Click on media > Sermon Archives > Nov 25, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pilgrim Faith

A few years ago, with a desire to learn more about the original Pilgrims, I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, Mayflower (New York: Viking, 2006).  What a great, great book!  It read more like a novel than a history.  Philbrick treats the Pilgrims with respect and honesty—as real people in a harsh, dangerous, and deadly world.  And he documents their Puritan faith with respect and honesty too.

Here at Thanksgiving 2012, I thought some of you might enjoy three brief vignettes from the book that express the Pilgrims’ theology and faith.  It’s a bit of window into how they understood God and His work amid the sorrows and joys of their lives.  Here goes:


In the fall of 1620, the Mayflower’s ability to steady herself in a gale produced a most deceptive tranquility for a young indentured servant named John Howland.  As the Mayflower lay ahull, Howland apparently grew restless down below.  He saw no reason why he could not venture out of the fetid depths of the ‘tween decks for just a moment.  After more than a month as a passenger ship, the Mayflower was no longer a sweet ship, and Howland wanted some air.  So he climbed a ladder to one of the hatches and stepped onto the deck.

Howland was from the inland town of Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, and he quickly discovered that the deck of a tempest-tossed ship was no place for a landsman.  Even if the ship had found her own still point, the gale continued to rage with astonishing violence around her.  The shriek of the wind through rope rigging was terrifying, as was the sight of all those towering spume-flecked waves.  The Mayflower lurched suddenly leeward.  Howland staggered to the ship’s rail and tumbled into the sea.

This should have been the end of him.  But dangling over the side and trailing behind the ship was the topsail halyard, the rope used to raise and lower the upper sail.  Howland was in his mid-twenties and strong, and when his hand found the halyard, he gripped the rope with such feral desperation that even though he was pulled down more than ten feet below the ocean’s surface, he never let go.  Several sailors took up the halyard and hauled Howland back in, finally snagging him with a boat and dragging him up onto the deck.

When Bradford wrote about this incident more than a decade later, John Howland was not only alive and well, but he and his wife, Elizabeth, were on their way to raising ten children, who would, in turn, produce an astounding eighty-eight grandchildren.  A Puritan believed that everything happened for a reason.  Whether it was the salvation of John Howland or the death of the young sailor, it occurred because God had made it so.  If something good happened to the Saints, it was inevitably interpreted as a sign of divine sanction.  But if something bad happened, it didn’t necessarily mean that God disapproved; it might mean that he was testing them for a higher purpose (pp. 32-33).

Not everyone fared as well as John Howland.  One of the leaders, William Bradford had to bury his wife (p. 77):

William Bradford’s wife died when she fell from a moored ship in the harbor.  Some conjecture the death and loneliness she experienced may indicate that her death was a suicide.  No one knows for sure.

Even if his wife’s death had been unintentional, Bradford believed that God controlled what happened on earth.  As a consequence, every occurrence meant something.  John Howland had been rescued in the midst of a gale at sea, but Dorothy, his “dearest consort,” had drowned in the placid waters of Provincetown Harbor.

The only clue Bradford left us about his own feelings is in a poem he wrote toward the end of his life.

Faint not, poor soul, in God still trust,
Fear not the things thou suffer must;
For, whom he loves he doth chastise,
And then all tears wipes from their eyes.


And then this from Philbrick’s description of the unfortunate Indian wars which the Pilgrims fought some years after they had settled (p. 300):

Two days after slaughtering Pierce and his company, Canonchet and as many as 1,500 Indians attacked Rehoboth.  As the inhabitants watched from their garrisons, forty houses, thirty barns, and two mills went up in flames.  Only one person was killed – a man who believed that as long as he continued to read the Bible, no harm would come to him.  Refusing to abandon his home, he was found shot to death in his chair—the Bible still in his hands.


So there you have it: three brief stories from Pilgrim life that express something of their theology and faith.  And in the midst of all the hardship and struggle, all the sickness and death, one thing stood out: they were thankful people.  They took seriously the Bible’s admonition from 1 Thessalonians 5:16 — “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in all things give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  If we’re going to learn something from them, let’s learn that.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful for Jesus

In this season of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for Jesus—Savior, Lord, Friend, Refuge, Strength, Peace, Joy, and the Lover of my soul.  I’m thankful for Jesus.

I’m thankful for His incarnation—that the Word would become flesh and dwell among us; that Jesus would leave the glory and safety of heaven to walk this broken earth with sinful people like me; that Jesus would condescend to us and enter our world through a virgin’s womb; that Jesus would obey the Father and enter this world when he knew His mission would take Him to the cross; that Jesus would subject himself to the same temptations we face and yet never sin even once.  I’m thankful for the incarnation.

I’m thankful for His cross—that Jesus would endure the beatings, the insults, and the nails for the likes of me; that Jesus would be humiliated before the world that He might save the very world that put Him on the cross; that Jesus would bear the sins of the world in His body (were not my sins alone too much to bear?); that Jesus would die so that I could live.  I’m thankful for the cross.

I’m thankful for His resurrection—that on the third day Jesus came forth from the grave alive and well; that death and the grave could not hold Him for long; that Jesus is a living Lord who can hear our prayers, intercede in our behalf, and continue His work in the world through His Holy Spirit and His church; that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that if I believe in him, I keep on living with him in heaven even when I die; and that because He was raised, He will also raise my body on the last day.  I’m thankful for the resurrection.

I’m thankful for His friendship—that He never leaves me or forsakes me; that He forgives me when I sin, finds me when I lose my way, and restores me when I fail Him; that He walks with me and talks with me; that He counsels me and convicts me and encourages me; and that His love will never let me go.   I’m thankful for His friendship.

I’m thankful for Jesus.  I want to love Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.  And while I can never be Him, I want to be like him.  In her book, My Hearts Cry, Anne Graham Lotz titles the chapters in her book with the very qualities of Jesus I want to be evident in my life: more of His voice in my ear, more of His tears on my face, more of His praise on my lips,  more of His death in my life, more of His dirt on my hands, more of His hope in my grief, more of His fruit in my service, more of His love in my home, more of his nearness in my loneliness, more of His courage in my convictions, more of his answers to my prayers, more of His glory on my knees, more of His grace in my relationships.  And perhaps when such qualities show up in me, my thankfulness for Jesus will be more than words.

I’m thankful for Jesus: who He is, what He’s done for me; what He does for me; and what He will do for me forever—for me!  Who am I that He would take notice of me?  Who am I that He would love me and care for me and save me and walk with me and want me to spend eternity with Him?  I don’t understand it, but I believe it.

 And at Thanksgiving and all year long, may I never cease to be amazed by it all!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankful for My Oldest Grandchild

It was a 15-hour nightmare that began on a January Sunday afternoon in 2002.  The phone rang.  It was our son, Nathan.  “We’re on our way to Children’s Hospital,” he said in a bit of panic.  “Noah’s been sick, having a hard time breathing.  The doctor took an X-ray of his chest and thinks he sees a tumor up against his windpipe.  He’s sending us right now to Children’s.  Will you meet us there?”  They had a two hour drive from Jonesboro, so we waited about an hour before we headed that way.

It was a quiet drive to Little Rock—not much talking, just a few tears and lot of quiet praying.  Noah was born in August.  He had been conceived out of wedlock.  When I first heard of the pregnancy, I wondered if adoption would be the best route for two unmarried kids.  Would it be the most loving thing for the baby?  I thought it might.  But they elected to keep the baby and even though at this point Noah had only been in our lives for about five months, we couldn’t imagine life without him.  But keeping Noah was no easy thing for his parents.  I don’t know how many late night calls we received from our son: “Noah’s crying and we can’t get him to stop.”  It was a tough time.  My son was trying to finish college and hold down pretty close to a full-time job.  Nathan and his wife were kids trying to raise a kid.  Everybody in the house was exhausted, and when Noah kept them up at night, it was just almost too much to take.

So as if there wasn’t enough stress in the family, now this tumor.  We met at the hospital.  The doctors put Noah in the ICU immediately, looking at surgery the next morning.  We took turns through the night staying in ICU with Noah.  I remember standing over that little kid in that ICU bed.  He looked so helpless, so lifeless, a tube here and a tube there.  “Please, God,” I pleaded.  “Give him a break.  There’s been so much trial and trouble with his mom and dad already, please don’t add to the burden.  I don’t know how much more they can take.  You can fix this, God.  Please, please, fix this.  Heal this little boy.”  And I wasn’t the only one praying.

There wasn’t much sleep to be had that night for any of us.  And by the time the sun began to stream through the waiting room windows, we had all kind of steeled ourselves for what we anticipated would be a long day.  We were waiting for the doctor to come in and tell us the plan.  About 9:30 or so, a couple of doctors entered the waiting room: “McCallum family?”  We circled around the doctors.  “Good news,” they announced.  “After studying the X-rays we believe your son has no tumor.”  They went on to explain why the doctor in Jonesboro thought he did.  So they answered our questions, left the room, and we collapsed in gratitude.  If we’d have had the energy to jump for joy, we would have.  We were certainly jumping on the inside.

I was struck in those moments about how hard it is to be to effusive in gratitude in a room where others would not be getting good news that day.  Though this wasn’t a miracle healing—there never was a tumor in the first place—we still believed that God had been kind to us that day.  And though one’s thanksgiving is tempered by the hardships of others whose children may not even leave that hospital alive, we were thankful, thankful to the bone.

And after contemplating through the night what it might be like to never see Noah grow up, our gratitude was deepened all the more.  It’s a gratitude we’ve carried across these eleven years of his life.  It’s a gift to throw the football with him, a pleasure to watch him play whatever sport is in season, a joy when the phone rings and his name is on the caller ID, and a lot of fun to talk Razorback and Cowboys football with him.  It was a thrill to baptize him when he gave his life to Jesus.  And to think that such wonderful things might never have been … well, I’m just thankful to God that they have been.

God has since blessed Dayna and me with five grandchildren.  We love them all.  We can’t imagine life without a single one of them.  But for a few hours in January of 2002, we did think about life without Noah, and it was a bitter thing to contemplate.  So in this season of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for my oldest grandchild, Noah Scott McCallum.  May his years be many and meaningful.  May he make much of Jesus in however many years God gives him.  And whether those years be many or few, I will be thankful for every one.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thankful for My Calling

I guess there’s some kind of a plan somewhere.  If you are a Facebooker then you’ve probably noticed a number of people posting something like this: “Day 3—I’m thankful for my family who loves me no matter what.”  “Day 7—I’m thankful for my job and the people with whom I work.”  I must have missed the “give thanks memo.”  Really, it’s a great idea.  This day by day sifting through your life for nuggets of gratitude brighten your day, stir a bit of wonder, and deepen your faith.  It’s all good.

I don’t know whether it’s Day 12 or Day 20, but on this day I want to give thanks for my calling.  On a June morning in 1974, I was sitting in a worship service at Baptist Hill, near Mt. Vernon, Missouri.  Just out of high school, I was working hard trying to earn money for college, so I couldn’t get the whole week off to go to camp.  I did drive up on my day off.  Am I ever glad I did!  Jack Scott was the preacher in the morning service.  I have no idea what his text or topic was that morning.  But I distinctly remember the invitation time at the conclusion of his sermon.  Well, I remember one line of it anyway.  After inviting young people to put their faith in Jesus, Preacher Scott said, “For some reason, I feel compelled to say that I think the Lord is calling someone to the ministry today.”  And no sooner were those words out of his mouth than I felt the Lord’s hand on my shoulder and His whisper in my heart, “He’s talking about you.  I am calling you.”

I wish I could say that this was the culmination of a long process of God wooing me to ministry, but it was not.  I wish I could say I was prepared for this kind of encounter with God, but I was not.  I wish I could say that I had heard God’s whispers plenty of times in my young life, but I cannot.

All I can say is that I just knew it was God’s voice.  I just knew it.  And from that moment forward, while there have been a few occasions over the decades when I had a few doubts about whether I wanted to be in ministry I have never doubted for a minute that God wants me in ministry.   What’s odd about it is that as I was headed off to college two months later, I had done a lot of thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and ministry never crossed my mind.  And it probably wouldn’t have were it not for God’s whisper to my heart that bright June day.  My calling was a God-thing.  It wasn’t a mama-thing or a church-thing or a fallback-thing because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  It was a God-thing.  The only person who was ever in my ear about ministry was God, and He didn’t have to tell me twice.

In Baptist circles one often hears people talk about “surrendering” to the ministry, as if ministry is the last thing they’d ever want to do but God finally twisted their arm hard enough to make them say “Uncle!”  It wasn’t like that with me.  It didn’t feel like “surrendering.”  It felt like “call.”  It felt like “opportunity.”  It felt like “joy.”  I guess I wasn’t smart enough to contemplate how unworthy I was and am of such a calling.  Maybe the whisper was just so much stronger than the voices within me and from others that would have tried to talk me out of it.

Anyway, the rest is history.  Serving God in ministry has put me in the path of some wonderful people who have added so much to my life.  It has put me in the church of the living God.  It has put me at the side of deathbeds and graves.  It’s put me at the wedding altar and the maternity ward and in the baptism waters.  It’s put me with people at serious crossroads in their lives where what I said made a difference in the path they chose.  It’s put me in the study and behind pulpits and lecterns.  It’s put me on mission fields around the world.  It’s put me in circumstances that had me whooping it up with joy, and it’s put me in circumstances that have had me in tears and fussing with God on behalf of others why He does some of the things He does.  It’s been quite a trip.

There have been seasons, especially of late, when I wondered if there could possibly be anything else I could do for a living.  After over 30 years of facing weekly deadlines, being up to my neck in death and grief, feeling pressure to manage growing churches, dealing with things that are way over my head, and never managing myself all that well in terms of getting out from under it enough along the way, a fellow gets tired—not just tired in ministry but tired of ministry.    

And I race to the Lord and say, “Haven’t I done enough? I’m tired, Lord.  I don’t know how much more of these pressures I can take.   Can’t I please do something else for a change?”  I am tempted in such times to mope a bit, feel sorry for myself, and be a little irritable and resentful about the next demand that comes my way.  I would be dishonest if I didn’t say that in these later years of my ministry there are times when I just want to quit. 

But then it comes once again: that same voice, that same whisper I heard at Baptist Hill on that June day in 1974: “I am calling you.”  Only now there’s an additional word or two: “Now get back to work.  And remember, we’re in this together and I am with you always.”

Thank you, Lord, for my calling.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Post-Election Prayer

Since I posted an election eve prayer, I thought it would be the symmetrical thing to do to post a post-election prayer as well.  On the morning after, half the country is ecstatic; half the country is something of a combination of shocked, distressed, sad, and/or downright bitter.  It's important that Christians keep perspective, don't you think?  Whether your candidate won or lost, it's important to keep God and His word in view.  I hope this prayer does that.


We praise you, our Father, that you are the God of the universe: Creator, Sustainer, King, the One who was and is and is to come.  Holy!  Holy!  Holy!  The whole earth is full of your glory!  That was true yesterday.  That is true today.  That will be true in every tomorrow and for all eternity.

We praise you that you put rulers in their places, sometimes for blessing and sometimes for judgment, and that you blow them down when they have served your purpose.  We praise you that you can turn the heart of kings to this way or that whether they want it or not, whether they realize it or not.

We praise you that we live in a country where we can vote for our leaders.  America’s people have spoken.  But even more, you have spoken.  Help those of your people who are disappointed today to remember that.

There is much about your sovereignty we don’t understand.  But we can understand this: you call us to pray for our leaders and those in authority.  You call us to prayer whether we like our rulers or not, whether we support our rulers or not.  Make of your church a people of prayer.  We pray that our president and congress will be large people with large character who will address large issues.  Help them to seek your direction, make wise decisions, and work in a bipartisan way to solve America’s many problems.

In the meantime, help your church to be about your business: loving our neighbors and our enemies; proclaiming the crucified, resurrected Christ; serving those in need; acting as seasoning, preserving salt that creates in our neighbors a thirst for you, and as the light that gives our world a glimpse of your glory.  Help us to be large disciples with large character and large hearts who worship a large God.

And as we seek to be your church in nation that doesn’t much like us anymore, remind us of our greatest hope: no matter how things look from day to day and year to year, in the end, you win and your people from every nation, tribe, and tongue will sing your praise around your throne forever.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Election Eve Prayer

This is a prayer (slightly tweaked) that I prayed in worship on Sunday.  Though I find nothing remarkable about this prayer, some of our church family wanted a copy of it and expressed a desire that I post it on my blog.  Prayers like this were doubtless prayed in all kinds of church across our country on Sunday.  But if this prayer stirs you to add your prayers alongside it, then that's a good thing.


 We come before you on this Sunday before a national election, our Father, and seek your face.  Between the tragic events in 2001, the two wars that followed, the economic collapse in 2008, and storms like Katrina and Sandy, we have yet to recover our bearings.  But the truth is we lost our bearings long before 2001.  We need you.  We need your favor.

Perhaps we are presumptuous to ask for your favor when we continue to take the life of children in the womb in the name of reproductive freedom.  Perhaps we are presumptuous to ask your favor when we seek to redefine marriage rather than reaffirm marriage as you intended it to be.  Perhaps we are presumptuous to ask your favor when instead of pulling together to solve our problems we continue to press divisions of race and class, ethnicity and political party.  Perhaps we are presumptuous to ask your favor when our culture seems to try to put as much distance between us and you as we can: ashamed to mention your name, embarrassed to call upon you for help, afraid to say the name of Jesus on public property lest someone take us to court.  Perhaps we are presumptuous to ask your favor when your church looks more like the world than it does like Christ, when your church is selfish toward those in need and hateful toward those who disagree with us.  Perhaps we are presumptuous to ask your favor.

And yet we ask for it anyway, not on the basis of who we are but on the basis of who you are—Almighty God, Lord of the nations, lover of our souls, slow to anger, full of mercy, quick to forgive when we own our sin and repent of it.  Please forgive our nation for our sins.  Please forgive your church for our sins.  Stir your church to a deeper faith, a robust commitment, and a broader love.  Remember your pledge to Abraham that you would spare even Sodom had you found ten righteous people in the city.  Please help your church in America to be righteous without being self-righteous and bold without being brash.  Help us, as your prophet Micah declared, to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with you.  Revive us, Lord.

Give us wisdom as we elect our leaders and vote on issues this week.  Thank you for the privilege of casting our ballot.  Thank you for these freedoms.  Thank you for those who have paid the highest price to make this so.  And give us peace no matter who wins on Tuesday.  Remind us that no ruler comes to power without your sovereign say so.  Remind us that our nation and our world are in your hands and that your hands are good, that you have a plan and are working your plan.  Your will be done this week.  Our hope is in you, Lord, not our government.  We trust you.

But whatever happens and whomever is elected, may our soldiers be able to come home soon from Afghanistan, may the unemployed find new opportunities for work so they can be self-sufficient again, may the poor receive the assistance they need, may Hurricane Sandy’s victims find relief, and may our government leaders work together for the common good of us all.  We need your favor, Lord, because without you, we're sunk.  

In Jesus' name, Amen.


That's the prayer.  In retrospect I wish I had added one more thing—especially with all the rancor this election has stirred: Lord, when the ballots are counted and the results are in, please help the candidates to win with grace or lose with grace.  And help their supporters be good sports about it all and prayerful for the victor.  Amen.

Maybe this added brief petition is really the test of our faith.  You think?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Happy Congregation Appreciation Month!

Okay, so some years ago, a former pastor decided to designate October as “Pastor Appreciation Month.”  He got the word to the churches and a number of churches jumped on the bandwagon.  So in many churches during October pastors are honored for their service.  They receive cards of appreciation and gifts from the congregation.  It’s a nice gesture, but I’ve never been very comfortable with it.  It just seems a little self-serving for pastors to tell their congregations that it’s “Pastor Appreciation Month.”  Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good thing to show appreciation to your pastor.  But I’m partial to the more uninvited spontaneous acts of appreciation over the course of the year rather than some orchestrated “get out the appreciation” campaign.  To each his own.

So can I turn the tables a little bit and declare October as “Congregation Appreciation Month”?  We pastors can be quick to complain about our congregations.  What if we decided to express our appreciation instead.  In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God.  A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God."  How about we pastors show appreciation instead?

You need to know that this is easier for me than for some pastors I know.  God has blessed me with good churches to serve.  Some pastors serve churches with demanding people.  Not me.  I’ve been blessed to serve churches with demanding challenges and opportunities and open doors that God placed before us.  That’s a good thing, a faith-building thing—and so much better than churches that squabble over little things and find any excuse to take pot shots at their pastors.  God has spared me from such congregations, so my view Is skewed.  And could I suggest that these “difficult” churches skip the Pastor Appreciation Month and just give their pastor the month off from their bickering and their sniping and their griping?  He or she would appreciate that a lot more than a nice card. 

But I digress—back to “Congregation Appreciation Month.”  I’ve been working in the church since the summer of 1975.  Here’s a tip of the hat of appreciation to all the churches I’ve had the privilege to serve.

Thank you, First Baptist Church, Branson, MO, for allowing me to do campground ministry and assist the staff in the summers of ’75, ’76, and ’77.  This is where I cut my teeth in ministry, learned about the inner workings of the church, and the discipline of every Sunday preaching.  Your people loved me well.

Thank you, First Baptist, Fayetteville, AR, for giving me my first opportunity to serve on the regular staff of a church.  You called me to be your Youth and University Minister.  You were my college church and became my first staff church.  You loved me well and taught me much.

Thank you, First Baptist, Lee’s Summit, MO.  You called me as Associate Pastor and Youth Minister while I was a seminary student.  You gave me my first taste of hospital and funeral ministry.  You even allowed me to preach every Sunday morning after the pastor had resigned.  You believed in me and gave me the kind of challenges that snowballed my growth as a minister of the gospel.  You loved us well. 

Thank you, First Baptist, Greenwood, MO.  Though I was only 25 years old, you gave me my first opportunity as a senior pastor.  You loved me and trusted me and followed me into some God-sized things—building programs and fund-raising and calling staff.  You taught me how to be a pastor.  You helped us raise our kids.  You were family to us for almost fourteen years.

And thank you, First Baptist, Hot Springs, AR.  I had a hard time leaving Greenwood to come to you, but it sure appears that God has been in it.  You have loved and trusted me, and you followed my lead as we’ve tried to do new and bold things across the years.  You forgive my screw-ups.  You have prayed for my family and stood by us in some hard times.  You have given me opportunities to grow in my pastoral identity and skills.  You have watched me age from that 38 year old father of two teenagers into the 56 year old grandfather of five that I am now.  Listening to the same preacher for more than 17 years seems a little much for God to ask anyone to do, but you hang in there with me and even stay awake through most of my sermons.  You pay me far more than I’m worth.  And you allow Dayna and me to be who and what God called us to be rather than trying to force us into some mold of what a pastor and wife should be and do.  I don’t know how many times one of you has said to me, “We just don’t show our appreciation enough for you and what you do.”  So let me say now what I say every time I hear that: “Yes you do.  I’ve never felt more appreciated and loved in my life.”  Here’s the way things really are: I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you.  So I’m telling you now.

I declare October to be “Congregation Appreciation Month.”  And I want the congregation of which I’m a part to know how much I appreciate them.  Thank you, First Baptist Church of Hot Springs, Arkansas!  No pastor on the earth has a better post of service.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Presidential Debates and Sharing Christ

Have you been watching the debates?  These are some of the most intriguing I remember.  In the first debate, Romney grabbed Obama by the neck, jerked him out of his shoes, put him on a stick and mopped the floor with him for about 90 minutes.  Obama admitted as much.  In the VP debate, Joe Biden spent most of the time smirking, laughing, and patronizing his younger opponent, Paul Ryan.  Most considered that debate a draw.  In debate #3, the President came out swinging and scored his share of points in a town hall format that looked almost like a WWF Grudge Match without the cage.  They invaded one another’s space and each delivered verbal body blows and head shots.  It reminded me of the old hockey joke: “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.”  A debate broke out in the town hall meeting, but it felt more like a fight.  It appears to me that Obama and Romney just don’t like one another, maybe even hate each other.  No matter which candidate is your man, it’s been interesting.

And as I was driving home for lunch, thinking about tonight’s debate, wondering what might unfold in this third and final rematch, an idea came to mind.  I got to thinking about presidential debates and sharing Christ.  My mind raced back to the mid-70s when Evangelist Bob Harrington (“the Chaplain of Bourbon Street”) debated famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair about the Christian faith on the University of Arkansas campus.  It struck me then that sharing Christian faith is not really designed for debate.  Sharing Christ is not about making points; it’s not about winners and losers.  It’s not about playing to the crowd either. 

So with all that in mind, what can we learn from these debates about sharing Christ?  It’s kind of a mixed bag of dos and don’ts.  What do you think of these observations?

1)      Be prepared.  Peter encouraged us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 3:15).  Know who and what you believe, and be ready to share it when asked.  This doesn’t mean you have to have every answer to every question, but at least be ready to share who Christ is and what Christ has done for us all.

2)      Value the person with whom you’re sharing—not just in flattering word either, but in heart and in deed.  Not only will this open ears, it will communicate in non-verbal ways the love of which you speak.

3)      Sharing Christ is not a “talking point” dump.  Sooner or later all of these debates descend into talking point blather that the candidates’ surrogates have been spewing every chance they get.  Sharing Christ involves the sharing of information, but don’t just back up the truck and dump the whole load on person.  Maybe that person is ready for just a piece right now.  Trust the Holy Spirit with that.  Be content with that.

4)      Answer the question you’re asked, not the question you wish had been asked.  Have you noticed that no matter whether a moderator or Jane Q. Public asks the question, the candidates essentially answer whatever question they want to answer?  They just want to push their own agenda on the questioner.  In sharing Christ, don’t you think it’s best if we limit our answers to the questions that are raised?  That way the discussion stays more focused and more other-centered than self-centered.  It makes our sharing Christ an act of service.

5)      Don’t interrupt to make your points.  That says, “I’m not listening.”  That says, “What you have to say is not as important as what I want to say.”  Interrupting is rude in any conversation, and all the more rude when we represent our Lord Jesus.

6)      Don’t patronize the person with whom you’re sharing.  Does it advance the love of Jesus to treat people as if they are unimportant, uninformed, or less important than oneself?  Does talking down to someone open their ears to the Gospel?

I don’t share these ideas as a means of being overly critical if you share your faith in a more aggressive fashion.  Evangelist D. L. Moody once said to a harsh critic of his evangelism methods, “I may not always get it right, but I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”  Touché!  If you’re a faithful witness for Jesus, more power to you.

But these things I’ve learned about sharing Christ from these presidential debates just seems like common sense to me.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10).  Let’s join him in that journey.  And let’s do it in such a way that when we tell a person Jesus loves them, they will find it easier to believe because they experience His love through us.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Benjamin Is Here

Benjamin made landfall on October 10, 2012, in New Braunfels, Texas.  No, I’m not talking about a hurricane; I’m talking about my new grandson.  (Whether or not he becomes a hurricane remains to be seen.)  Benjamin Robert Parrish was born to Robert and Kristen Parrish and sisters, Hallie and Macey Jo.  He weighed in at 8’13” and was 21.5 inches long—a big ‘un. 

The name Benjamin means “son of my right hand.”  If you recall your Old Testament history, you’ll remember that Benjamin was Jacob’s twelfth and last son.  He was the second of only two sons (Joseph being the other) born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel.  Sadly, Rachel died after childbirth.  Just before she breathed her last Rachel named the boy Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow.”  Jacob didn’t want the boy growing up with a name like that.  Think about about it: how many times in one’s life does someone call you by name?  And every time that happened, the boy would have been reminded that his birth led to his mother’s death.  And every time Jacob called the boy by name, he would have been reminded of Rachel’s death yet again.  So Jacob did a wise thing.  He changed the boy’s name from Benoni (son of my sorrow) to Benjamin (son of my right hand).  And I guess if you called him Ben for short both mom and dad would have had their way.  Benjamin—son of my right hand.

Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  I know there are a number of southpaws in our world.  My little brother is one of them.  Most estimate that 10% of the population is left-handed.  So nothing against left-handers here, but most of us are right-handers.  So think about just how important our right hand is to us.  Most of us write, eat, and throw with our right hand.  If you use a weapon, you generally hold it in your right hand.  And if you swear allegiance or take an oath you put your right hand in the air or over your heart.  Also, the right hand side is usually our stronger side and usually the side with which we have the best balance and flexibility.  And in the Bible, the right hand symbolizes wisdom, victory, power, strength, and the place of honor.  Benjamin—son of my right hand.

There are a few famous people past and present who carry the name Benjamin or Ben:

·         Benjamin bar Jacob: passive, baby of the family, much loved, father of the tribe from which Israel’s first king was chosen, son of Jacob’s right hand.

·         Benjamin Franklin: scholar, writer, inventor, patriot, scientist, journalist, kite-flyer.

·         Benjamin Henry Harrison: the 23rd President of the United States.

·         Ben Bradlee: journalist, longtime editor of the Washington Post who gave Woodward and Bernstein a free hand in their Watergate reporting.

·         Benji: the cute little dog who appeared first on Petticoat Junction and then went on to star in a few movies in his own name.

·         Ben Stein: economist, presidential speech-writer, author, actor, funny guy

·         Ben Affleck—pop actor; Ben Kingsley—classic actor; Ben Stiller—comic actor

·         Ben Hogan and Ben Crenshaw—golfers; Ben Rothlisberger: football player and Super Bowl champion.

·         Ben Vereen: dancer extraordinaire.

I don’t know what our Benjamin will become in the years ahead.  A golfer who can help America finally win the Ryder Cup again?  A writer who stirs people with poetry and prose?  A politician who’ll serve his nation the best he can?  A man who invents some kind of widget that changes the world?  A wise old sage and a renaissance man?  An Oscar-caliber actor capable of performing, romantic comedies, gripping drama, and Shakespeare?  Or maybe he’ll be the big winner on Dancing with the Stars?  I don’t know what our Benjamin will become.

But I know what he is now: a loved and welcome addition to our family; a child knit together in his mother’s womb by the loving hands of God; a boy planted in a home where Christ is loved and adored and the Bible is treasured, read, memorized, and believed; an infant in the nursery of a church he visited in the womb and that has loved him before he was even born; a youngster who will love Jesus from the moment he hears His name and who will one day trust Jesus for salvation from his sins and for real life now and forever; a child who will learn to thank God when times are good and trust God when times are hard.  Already Benjamin’s life is in God’s good hands.  Already God is shaping and forming Benjamin for the plans God has for his life.  God, who knows the end from the beginning, sees exactly what Benjamin will become in the years ahead. 

Though we may have our dreams, all we can really see of Benjamin is what we see today.  But we love what we see.  And we’re grateful God has given us a ringside seat to watch his life unfold.

So welcome to the world and welcome to the family, Benjamin: child of God, son of your father’s right hand, grandchild of a Grammy and a Papa who couldn’t be more grateful, more happy, and more proud.   

Monday, October 8, 2012

Today Makes 35

On October 8, 1977, I had the good sense to marry Dayna Vanderpool.  Whether she exercised the same good sense is worthy of debate.  But either way, on that day we both said, “I do.”  And we have “done” now for 35 years.  I was visiting a lady in the hospital last week and she told me that she and her husband will celebrate their 70th anniversary this year.  Compared to that, 35 ain’t much.  But 35 is still a pretty long time.  I was 21, Dayna was 19, and now we’re 56 and 54.  Our children are in their 30s, and we have four (soon to be five) grandchildren.  So 35 years is no 70, but it’s no blink either; it’s a pretty long time.

Do you remember what was going on in 1977?

·    Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in Utah as the death penalty was reinstituted in the United States.  (While it may seem ironic to some that the death penalty was instituted the year I got married, I assure you that there is no direct correlation.)

·         Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States.

·         Elvis Presley died a young man; Groucho Marx and Bing Crosby died as old men.

·         The Food Stamp program began.

·    The World Trade Center opened in New York City.  (Yes, that’s the same one the terrorists knocked down on September 11, 2001.)

·       Star Wars was the big movie that year; Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life was the big song, and TV was loaded with shows like The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, The Dukes of Hazard, Dallas, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Kojak.  (Yes, it was a different day in television).

·         Cable television was just starting to get its feet on the ground but most Americans still only got three channels and used an outdoor antenna to receive those.

·         The first Apple II Computers went on sale.

·       The Oakland Raiders won Super Bowl XI and the Yankees won yet another World Series.

·         And consider these prices: a gallon of gas cost .65 a gallon, the average cost of new house was $49,300, and the average annual income for Americans was $15,000.

·         You could buy a brand new Camaro for just over $6,000, a BMW for just over 12 grand, and a Chevette (our first car) for just over 3,000 bucks.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1977—35 years worth to be exact.  As you can see from my little trip down memory lane, a lot has changed.  And that includes my love for Dayna.  I haven’t always loved her well, and I could have loved her better, but in spite of the ups and downs of a lifetime marriage, my love for her has grown deeper and richer and more mature along the way.  Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?  Isn’t that what God was shooting for since Adam and Eve?  I think so. 

So Happy 35th Anniversary, Dayna!  I love you.  Unlike the lady I mentioned earlier, I doubt we’ll ever make it to 70 years.  Very, very few ever do.  But this I know and can say with confidence: however many more years God gives, I’ll be grateful for every one.

Christmas 2011