Monday, December 1, 2008

Coffee, Memory Loss and Christmas

I was glad to read recently that drinking coffee can help your short-term memory loss. You see, I'm a forgetful, coffee-drinking preacher.

Having a bad memory is not good when you are a minister. When I was pastor of Union Baptist Church in Roxie, Mississippi, our treasurer had a car wreck. I went to see her, and before leaving, I offered to pray for her. As I began the prayer, I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten her name! The church only had about 35 people attend each Sunday, so it wasn't like I had a lot of names to recall. Anyway, being the sophisticated young professional that I was, I blurted out, "What's your name?" She told me with a sad voice it was "Jean," and then I prayed aloud for God to heal Jean, and silently I prayed for God to get me out of there alive.

Another embarrassing moment of forgetfulness happened to me in New Orleans, where I went to seminary. My wife and I had left church, and I was driving home through a residential area. To my surprise, a New Orleans cop turned on his blue lights and pulled me over. As soon as I stopped, he got on his loudspeaker and announced loudly enough for the whole city to hear, "There's a book on your car." I got out, and saw that my black leather Bible was sitting on the roof of the car, just above the driver's seat. Apparently I left it there after church when I was talking to somebody. The Bible was open and its pages were in disarray, and the Sunday bulletin was gone, but at least my Bible didn't fall off the car. It would be hard to explain to my Bible professor why I trampled the Word of God with my tires. Red-faced, I retrieved the Bible, and the policeman smiled and drove away.

All of this reminds me (you see, the coffee-drinking is helping my memory already!) of how many people get forgetful at Christmas. Folks put up their holiday decorations and do their holiday shopping and send holiday cards with "Season's Greetings," and attend holiday parties and holiday parades. But they forget what the holiday is about.

This Christmas, don't forget to Whom we pray. His name is Jesus. This Christmas, don't forget the Book. It's called the Bible, and it has good news for you, that a Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in Bethlehem. May I make a suggestion? This Christmas, before you open any presents, curl up with a hot cup of coffee, open the Good Book to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, and read the story to your family. You may find yourself saying, "Ah, I remember."

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Divided vote eventually unites church

I heard about a church that called a pastor with a vote of 200-3. The pastor spent his first six months trying to find out the names of the three who voted against him. Then he spent the next six months trying to please those three. At the end of the year, the church voted to fire the pastor. The vote was three to keep him, and 200 to get rid of him!

There's an old saying that you can't please everybody, and that is certainly true in church, which is why we need to try to please the Lord first. However, if the church is evenly divided, it is wise to back off a decision and seek to bring spiritual unity before proceeding, especially when voting on a pastor.

A pastor told me an interesting story about a close vote to call a pastor in a rural Baptist church near Claxton, Georgia. The church voted 51% in favor and 49% against calling a man as their pastor. Ignoring conventional wisdom, the preacher accepted the call, and came to the church as their pastor. After a couple of years, however, he resigned. Upon his resignation, he said, "I have unified the church. When I came, half of them were against me. Now all of them are against me."

Elections can either unite people or divide people. Unfortunately, our country is pretty divided over politics. But as Christians, God calls us to be uniters, not dividers. In fact, however we voted, we are called upon to pray for those in leadership. Scripture says, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV). Someone might say, "Yeah, but our politicians are so bad these days." I would remind that person that in New Testament days, the politicians threw the Christians to the lions, but the Christians still prayed for them.

We can do no less.

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Keeping your dark secret from your preacher

Preachers are often called upon to keep confidential their counseling conversations with the congregation. Many pastors who have been in the ministry for years have come to learn some deep, dark secrets of members that we must take to our graves. But thanks to HIPAA, one of the secrets we used to find out about has been hidden. I'm talking about the real first names of church members.

You see, hospitals list patients by the name that is on their insurance, not by the name their family and friends call them. In the old days, the preacher could look at the list of patients at the information desk, and find out, for example, that John Smith was actually Orville J. Smith. Of course, John didn't like to use the name "Orville" and would beg the preacher to keep it a secret. Going to visit "Bubba"? No problem, you could just ask for his last name and find him. But then along came HIPAA.

HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a law that protects the privacy of hospital patients and wreaks havoc on the hospital visitation ministry of pastors. Under HIPAA, patients have the right to refuse the release of any information to anybody, including their own pastors. And under HIPAA, anybody inquiring about a patient must give the correct name of the patient-- even if the patient doesn't go by that name.

So now when the preacher goes to the hospital and asks for John Smith, the lady at the information desk looks down at "Orville J. Smith" on her computer screen, and then looks up at the preacher with a smirk and says, "I'm sorry, we don't have anybody by that name." The preacher can beg and plead and promise to do a wedding for her son for free, but she will just say, "Have you ever heard of HIPAA? I can't release that information unless you can give me the correct name."

I must admit, we preachers had it coming. After all, for years we have abused that privileged information, barging into the hospital room and loudly asking, "How are you feeling Orville?" as John (a.k.a. Orville) hides under his sheets in embarrassment. But no more. Now, only God and your doctor have to know your real first name.

So now Beatrice and Herman can keep their secrets, if they so desire. (No offense if you like those names, it's just that Beatrice fell from #44 to #982 among popular baby names in the past century, while Herman fell from #45 to #974). The preacher never has to know. That is, unless they want him to come pray before their next knee surgery.

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The pastor and the miser

I once had a church member who was a miser. To protect the guilty, I'll call him L.B.

Years ago, I was pastor a little rural church in southwest Mississippi. Soon after I came to the church, I began to hear tall tales about L.B., who was a long-time inactive church member. They said he caught rides to work 20 miles away, and would walk home rather than pay for a ride. L.B. lived simply, but he was not poor. "He's got so much money in the bank that they had to put him on the board," one of my deacons claimed. They said he was so miserly that he drove his old pickup truck at night with the lights off to save his battery. (I didn't believe that story.) L.B. owned the land around our church. It had been so long since he nailed his barbed-wire fence to the trees that the trees had grown around the wire several inches. The wire was so old and rusty that it often broke, and his cows wandered onto our church lawn.

Being the good pastor that I was, one Sunday afternoon I took my wife and went to visit L.B. Mary and I could barely get to the door for all the junk piled on the porch. We were greeted by L.B., his parents and dozens of cats. Mary sad down on the couch and noticed a live chicken in a bucket next to the couch, with chicken wire on top. L.B. and his parents rolled their own cigarettes and smoked as we talked. I talked to them about the Lord. They said they believed. I encouraged them to attend church; they made a few excuses, and we left.

I didn't see or hear from L.B. for a long time. He never came to church, and he never gave any offering. Then one Wednesday, we had the church windows raised during prayer meeting, since it was a mild autumn evening. Suddenly I heard a man's voice calling, "Ooo! Ooo!" We looked outside, and there was L.B. with his truck parked in the middle of the road, throwing a bale of hay on the road and calling up his cows from all around our church to feed. We were so far in the woods that he had time to finish feeding them in the road and leave before another car came by that way.

Although it was rare to see a vehicle on the road in front of our church, one night as I was driving near the church, I suddenly saw a pickup in the shadows turn on his lights. As we drove by, I saw the silhouette of L.B. in the cab of the truck. Then as he passed, the lights went off again.

Jesus warned, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven...For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)

Not many Christians are as extreme as L.B., but are you, like L.B., so consumed with making money here on earth that you ignore the church and the Lord right next to you? Don't wait until you meet the Lord head-on to turn on your lights. It may be too late.

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dads, Dead Squirrels and Teachable Moments

A father and son were riding home from church, and the boy was filling out a crossword puzzle. The boy said, "How do you spell God?" The father was excited to help in his spiritual development, and gladly replied: "G-O-D," and asked, "Anything else?" The boy said, "Yes, how do you spell "Zilla?"
Brian Harbour tells about a little boy who told his dad that he saw a squirrel flattened in the road. The father saw it as a teachable moment about safety, and said, "That's what can happen to you when you play in the road."
Later, the boy was playing with his friends, and he said, "My Dad told me what happens to you when you die." His friends got wide-eyed, and asked, "What?" He answered: "You become a squirrel."
Sometimes our kids don't understand us, but we fathers have an awesome opportunity to influence the values of our children. Research shows that fathers have more influence than mothers in values development of children, especially spiritual values. A recent study found that when Mom attends but Dad does not, only 2 percent of the children grow up to be regular churchgoers. But if Dad attends and Mom does not, 44 percent of the children grow up to attend church regularly!
No wonder the Bible specifically tells fathers to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Hey men, this Father's Day, set the spiritual tone in your household, and take your family to church with you. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Top 10 Gifts NOT To Give on Mother's Day

Like many men, I am not a very good gift-giver. I wait until the last minute and run out to Wal-Mart. Or I get a gift that I think she wants, instead of what she really wants. When I was a young husband, I got my wife an iron for her birthday. It's due to God's grace and my wife's patience that we're still married. Some men reading this just asked, "What's so bad about giving her an iron?" So for you guys who don't know any better, here is a list of the Top Ten Things NOT to give your mother on Mother's Day:
10. A plaque from Kroger that says "World's Greatest Mom."
9. A "God Loves Mothers" ballpoint pen that they give out at church on Mother's Day.
8. A membership at the YMCA.
7. A toaster.
6. A mop and a broom.
5. Exercise equipment.
4. A new shotgun.
3. Ammunition for the new shotgun.
2. Taking her to a wrestling match.
1. An Extra Large white T-shirt from Wal-Mart that says "World's Greatest Mom."
My Dad is a wise man. Over the years, he learned his lesson, and started asking Mom what she wanted. So I called a few women in my church, as well as my wife and my mother and mother-in-law, and came up with a list of good gifts for Mother's Day. Here are the Top Ten GOOD Gifts for Mother's Day:
10. Flowers
9. A new Bible
8. A gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure.
7. Take her out to eat.
6. If you can't see her on Mother's Day, call her and talk to her a long time and let her know you love her.
5. Take her on a surprise trip to see her mother.
4. A handmade gift from her children.
3. Dress the kids, take them to get their picture, and then frame the photo and give it to Mom.
2. Have Dad and all the children go to church with Mom and sit with her in church.
1. Clean the house, have Dad and the kids cook at home, and let Mom relax with all the family there.
Probably the best gifts are the thoughtful, personal ones, even if they don't cost much money. It's kind of like God's gift to us, when He gave us His Son. Since God also gave us our mothers, let's be sure and give her a good gift, too.
Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How do you put a red-letter Bible on an audio cassette?

The Wittenburg Door has gathered a strange collection of classified ads for religious products that can take some weird turns.

Bible lovers can buy the Red-Letter Edition Bible on audio cassette (maybe it's also available on CD). How do you do that? you ask. According to the manufacturer, "Christ's words are emphasized in heavenly sounds." Download that in your ipod and certainly you'll be filled with the Spirit. For the spirit-filled golfer, there's the praying hands golf tees. For the woman who wants her legs to send the right message to those watching, there's the gold cross fragrant pantyhose, with a gold cross stitched on the calf of every pair. There's a salon that wants to hire a spirit-filled hairstylist to "stand in the gap" and a spirit-filled manicurist for "laying on of hands."

The daffy and dumb don't discriminate against denominations. There are products for all kinds of churches. For those who baptize infants, there's the baby tuxedo for stylish christening. For those who immerse believers later, there is the "Baptistry Couch" that lowers you into the water "quietly, beautifully and easily." Either way, for only $7.00 you might want to pick up the Jordan River baptismal set, complete with certificate for framing that you've used holy water from the Jordan River.

In Missouri, a company advertises Christian Book and Gift Parties by saying, "If you walked into 90% of America's homes you couldn't tell whether they were Christians are not-- but you can change that." Their solution is to sell Christian books and gifts. This last ad represents the reason most of these ads are ridiculous. The sign that a home is Christian is not what products they have on their coffee tables, but what proceeds from their mouths as you share a cup of coffee. You can tell the driver in the lane ahead of you is Christian not from what his bumper sticker says but from how he drives. While there is nothing wrong with buying Christian products, it's our lifestyle, not hyped up products, that best witness to our faith.

The apostle John said it well: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:18, NIV). No red letters are needed for that verse. It's clear in black and white.

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Worship now; beat the Easter rush!

When I was growing up, my father was a chaplain in the U.S. Army. Each Sunday after my Dad preached, I proudly stood by his side at the door as he shook hands with people who were leaving. I would count how many people came out the door, and then give him a report when we got home. I'll never forget the count one Easter at an Army post in Germany. On Palm Sunday I counted 175, but on Easter Sunday I counted 500! Dad said, "the regular folks were lost amongst the visitors." Then the Sunday after Easter, I counted 175 again. I didn't understand it then, and even today as a 50-year-old preacher I still don't understand it-- if people really believe Jesus arose from the dead, then why don't they rise from the bed on more Sundays than just Easter to come to church?
A church had on its marquee the week before Palm Sunday: "Beat the Easter rush. Come to church this Sunday!"
I heard a story that makes the same point. It was Palm Sunday and, because of a sore throat, 5-year-old Johnny stayed home from church with a sitter. When the family returned home, they were carrying several palm branches. The boy asked what the branches were for.
"People held them over Jesus' head as He walked by," they explained.
"Wouldn't you know it," the boy fumed. "The one Sunday I don't go, He shows up!"
While this story is fictional, it teaches a truth. Jesus might just show up some Sunday when you least expect Him. Don't you want to be there when His presence is felt in power at your church?
The Bible says that one of the disciples, Thomas, was absent when Christ appeared to them on the evening of that first Easter, and Thomas missed seeing Jesus. Thankfully, he was there the next week when Christ appeared again, and he saw the Lord (John 20:19-29). So don't wait until Easter to worship; you never know who might show up this Sunday!
Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Song of Solomon good for Valentine's, but quote the right verse!

It's Valentine's Day, when everybody talks about love. However, some of us fail to communicate.

A cake decorator in New Zealand was asked to include the reference to a Bible verse on the couple’s wedding cake. They requested 1 John 4:18 because it states, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” Unfortunately, the cake decorator wasn’t a Bible scholar so the cake ended up with a reference to John’s gospel instead of his epistle. In beautiful print was “John 4:18.” Had the decorator taken time to look up the verse this error would have been detected before the wedding. “You have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.”

I heard about a man who was feeling bad that he had not been romantic. So he decided to show up at his door with a coat and tie and give his wife flowers. He rang the doorbell, and when she answered, there he was in all his glory, as he handed her a dozen roses. To his surprise, she sat down in the doorway and just cried.

"What's wrong, honey?" he asked.

She replied, "This has been a terrible day. Rachel came home from school sick, Daniel broke a window with his baseball, the microwave won't work, and now you come home drunk!"

Even though our attempts are communicating love can sometimes be misunderstood, we should still make every effort to express our love. The Bible has an entire book, Song of Solomon, that is dedicated to the celebration of romance between a husband and wife. I know a fellow who often reads verses from the Song of Solomon to his wife. Not a bad idea. Just make sure that you read the right verse. Song of Solomon 4:9 would work: "You have captured my heart with one glance of your eyes." But you don't want to read to her from Song of Solomon 7:4: "Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus."

Make sure you communicate your love clearly.

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Why Bubba was on his knees in front of the choir

The Bible teaches that in worship services, there is a proper place for a prayer, a song, or a sermon, but it should be done in an orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). Disorder can invite disaster. Just as Bubba.

“Bubba” (not his real name) loved to pray loud prayers at his church in north Georgia. Whenever he was called upon to pray, his voice rang out with authority and passion as he called upon the Lord.

However, Bubba also had a problem. If he turned his head a certain way, he went to sleep. Instantly.

One Sunday, Bubba was seated on the front pew of church, listening to the choir sing. The music was beautiful, but Bubba got his head in the wrong position, and out he went.

A mischievous youth seated behind Bubba decided to play a trick on him. He tapped Bubba on the shoulder, then he shook him, waking him enough to hear the words, “Bubba, they just called on you to pray.”

Without noticing that the choir was still singing, Bubba hit the floor on his knees, and began to cry out to the Lord. “Oh, Lord, we come before you this morning...” The poor choir had to stop singing so Bubba could pray.

If we are honest with ourselves, we all have had times when we were in the wrong frame of mind during worship. Maybe you’ve been singing “Oh Happy Day” while paying no attention to the frown on your face. Or perhaps your mind wandered to the heroes of the ball field while the pastor was preaching on the heroes of the Bible. When it hits you that your mind is not in sync with the worship around you, why not refocus on God. And be glad that at least you’re not Bubba on his knees in front of a silent choir.

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers.