On Regrets

A mentor when I was younger insisted Monday was a good day for pastors since the pressure of the upcoming Sunday hadn’t yet settled in. He was in the minority because many pastors joke about Mondays being “resignation day.” They feel badly about the day before and drag in on Monday with discouragement. Another pastor I knew did reverse psychology. He had staff meetings at 8 a.m. on Monday morning so his compatriots wouldn’t drag in!

I drug in a few Mondays ago distraught over my sermon the day before. It didn’t flow like I’d planned, so I took time to re-do it before filing notes away. Of course, I won’t get to reuse it in my present ministry station, since some people write these things in their Bibles, but I couldn’t bear to save it without reorganization.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught principles of rhetoric--the “Aristotelian proofs”--and we still use these to teach public speaking. One of his three key principles was “logos.” He meant that a speaker’s research, organization and word choice in large measure made one effective or not. A presentation needs to be easy to “track,” as millennials say.

I thought about recalling our congregation for a sermon re-do. However, another Greek, Heraclitus, famously said “no man steps into the same river twice.” Life moves on and we’ll never have the same moment again. By the way, this is one of the primary motivations for making good use of every opportunity since opportunities are temporary.

I began to think about how many times I wish I might stage a personal intervention and re-do something.

I’ve said things I shouldn’t have said. Most often when I’ve given someone a piece of my mind, I regretted it later.

I had an office assistant once who dared ask if I really wanted to mail a letter of reprimand to a neighboring pastor who had insulted our church. I did mail it, but I should’ve listened to her superior wisdom and refused to get in the mud with him.

And I’ve done things I shouldn’t have done. As TV’s Jesse Stone said, “You know, you live long enough, you have regrets. And the ones that nag at you the most are the ones where you knew you had a choice. The ones where you knew you could have stopped yourself. The ones where you looked into the mirror and everything good inside you said, 'Don't do this.'"

 None of us can completely undo the wrong we’ve done in the past. But it’s possible to grow in wisdom and in relationships. We can humbly repent before God, and we can make peace with those we hurt along the way.

The Joy Of Stuff

I read the story in "The Christian Century" some time ago. The author and her husband held three teacups in their hands after the husband's mother downsized and moved to a smaller apartment. The couple talked about which items to keep or to discard in a home that was already full of things. The question they asked about each item was, "Does this item spark joy?"

The writer said she got this concept from Marie Kondo who's written extensively about de-cluttering one's life. Kondo says that if an item doesn't “spark joy” it should be sold or given to another person for whom it would bring pleasure. An interesting corollary to this philosophy is that Kondo even suggests we talk to the item we're about to discard, thank it for the joy it brought and wish it well in its new place!

I'm not sure our friends would consider us sane if they came to our home and found us talking to the drapery and the silverware, but the basic premise is a good one. We express thanks for the things that bring joy to our lives.

I read the Apostle Paul's words with new appreciation this week: "Let [us] place confidence in God, who lavishly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Timothy 6:17).

The above-cited verse is addressed to "the rich." Though some might deny this descriptor, all of us are rich. By the grace of God we're Americans living in a land of plenty. The Global Village at Habitat for Humanity's International Headquarters in Americus, Ga. has actual housing from the third world--housing we wouldn't use for our dogs or lawnmowers in America. We are all blessed.

And scripture affirms the concept that God is a lavish giver of things. He's not a killjoy; he wants us to enjoy possessions. Accordingly, some find joy in coins or stamps, salt shakers or ceramic frogs, political items or books. These things spark joy. And part of our reason for worship is to thank God for the joy we find in things.

But scripture also affirms that we should handle things responsibly by remembering the needs of others around us. The Bible pointedly asserts that if we have goods and see a brother without goods and don't share, the love of God doesn’t live in our hearts (1 John 3:17).

Ultimately we'll stand before God to give account of our use of every opportunity and every possession. John the revelator said both "small and great" will stand before the Lord of the universe. The small is you and me. The great is the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, Bezos and Gates.

God will hold us accountable for how we handled things.

Call Your Mother

An ABC tribute to Gilda Radner some time ago reminded me of the number of people we’ve lost in the last few years who made us laugh: John Belushi, John Candy, Phil Hartman, Bob Hope, Grady Nutt, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Clower and others.

Humor has great value. Solomon said laughter is medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22), and sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is to have a good laugh.

Lincoln, a man who suffered depression or "melancholia" as it was called in those days, talked about the value of humor in the stressful days of the Civil War.

“With the fearful strain that is on me," he said, "if I did not laugh, I would die.”

Lewis Grizzard was a great Southern humorist. But, occasionally, he stepped aside from humor and made some pretty astute observations about life. He did this, I believe, in one of his books entitled, “Call Your Mama—I Wish I Could Call Mine.”

Me too, Lewis.

I guess I thought my mother would live forever. She was a constant in the changes of my life.  But there came that terrible December in 1993 when our family had gathered for Christmas and she was so sick she couldn’t function. I thought maybe she'd worked too hard preparing the house and the meal, but she lay down on the couch and didn't have energy to get up. My wife and sister forcibly took her to the local hospital. An X-ray turned up something ominous, and the doctor thought she needed to go to a larger hospital for tests.

The Monday following Christmas the doctors at Birmingham’s St. Vincent’s Hospital confirmed the dread diagnosis: cancer. In seven weeks she was gone. 

Those were weeks of trial as my siblings and I scheduled time to be with her and take care of things. One of the most stressful rites of passage is caring for aging and dying parents. In addition to the shock of impending loss there's the demands of everyday tasks that must be done.

I read something recently about the trauma we experience when our mothers die. Mothers, the article stated, represent unconditional love, and we're often unprepared for a world in which no one else seems to fill that significant role.

God knew what he was doing when he invented the family and put mothers in them. She is the family's heart, civilizing us and teaching us to care. Mothers fill a niche no one else can. They love us and are proud of us no matter what.

May 12 is Mother’s Day. 

Be sure to call your mother. 

I wish I could call mine.


Pray For America

May 2 is the National Day of Prayer when we pause to thank God for our nation, seek forgiveness for our sins and ask his guidance in the future.

There were at least two major proclamations before the event was formalized. The Continental Congress called the colonies to pray in 1775, and President Lincoln asked the nation to pray in 1863. Our modern observance was created in 1952 under President Truman and amended under President Reagan in 1988 to fall on the first Thursday in May. Every president since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.

Some Christians have expressed their unease when the government calls for prayer, but, in reality, Christians asked the government only to recognize this day, not to mandate it.

It’s true that religion and politics have a testy relationship. Jon Ward wrote “Camelot’s End,”  a book about the Kennedy challenge to the Carter reelection campaign in 1980. The book reminded me of the John and Robert Kennedy tragedies, how Sen. Ted Kennedy wrestled with the lingering questions from the Chappaquiddick episode of 1969 and how America reacted to the former governor of Georgia, a Baptist deacon, declaring he’d been “born again.” A majority of evangelical voters supported Gov. Carter in ’76 but turned to Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1980.

We had another uneasy time in the ’90s when President Clinton was embroiled in moral crisis. I told our church at the time that Christians condemn this conduct while we pray for our president. I recall a member of our church taking me to task for “mixing politics and religion”! I never could get him to understand we were speaking about different issues.

We all have political opinions, But whether one is Democrat or Republican, we’re exhorted to pray for “kings and all those in authority over us” (1 Timothy 2:2).

For what should we pray?

First, we pray for peace. The most demanding role of the president is commander-in-chief. The nuclear codes are always nearby in a briefcase euphemistically called “the football.” Armageddon can begin in half an hour. Perhaps this is the reason our presidents seem to age so markedly in office.

Chaos prevents the church from evangelizing and serving in an optimal manner. A society of peace is the best environment for the church to do her work.

Second, we pray for wisdom for those who lead. We ask that all our elected officials seek God’s leadership, turn from graft and serve the people who elected them.

And we pray wisdom for all citizens as we approach a significant election in 2020. We need God’s direction as we vote.

I hope everyone will schedule time this week to pray for America.