ALCOHOL -- Cost to nation
Paul Harvey recently reported that Americans spend $28 billion annually on alcohol, and another $35 billion counteracting its effects: rehabilitation programs, crime, lost productivity, etc. The grain used in producing alcoholic beverages, if used in food, could eliminate a major portion of the world's hunger problem.
BITTERNESS -- Can destroy our effectiveness
Joel Gregory tells the story of the bizarre end of one of the great old castles of Ireland.
"It was the ancient home of the Castlereagh family, one of the most princely residences on the Emerald Isle. But the ancient home fell into decay and was no longer inhabited.
"The usual happened. When peasants wanted to repair a road, build a chimney or pig-sty, they would scavenge stone from the fine old castle. The stones were already craftily cut, finished and fit. Best of all, they were available without digging and carrying for miles.
"One day Lord Londonderry visited his castle. He was the surviving descendant and heir. When he saw the state of his ancestral home, he determined to end immediately the robbery of the building for its stones. The ruin itself reflected the earlier glories of his family and was one of the treasures of Ireland. He sent for his agent and gave orders for the castle to be enclosed with a wall six feet tall and well-coped. This would keep out the trespassers. He went on his way.
"Three or four years later he returned. To his astonishment, the castle was gone, completely disappeared, vanished into the air. In its place there was a huge wall enclosing nothing. He sent for his agent and demanded to know why his orders had not been carried out. The agent insisted they had been. 'But where is the castle?' asked the Lord. The castle, is it? I built the wall with it, my Lord! Is it for me to be going miles for materials with the finest stones in Ireland beside me?'
"Lord Londonderry had his wall -- but the castle, without which the wall meant nothing, had disappeared." (Gregory is Pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, TX)
CALVARY -- Only way to life
A drunken man staggered up to a New York policeman and asked how to find a night club called "Hell's Gate."
"See that steeple over there?" asked the policeman. "That's the steeple of Calvary Church. Just keep going past Calvary and you'll come to Hell's Gate."
CHURCH -- TV no substitute
Drew J. Gunnells recently offered these thought-provoking comments in his church newsletter:
Have you seen the commercial in which a man appears on the screen clad in a physician's white jacket and says, 'I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV? Most people recognized the actor immediately as a regular on an afternoon soap opera ...
"With the antics of some TV preachers up for exposure these days, perhaps an amended version of that commercial is in order: Tm not a pastor, but I play one on TV.' Surely one of the biggest scams of our time is the impression that these flamboyant performers represent a church. They do have a constituency but when they imply that folks who write in and make a pledge become part of a meaningful New Testament fellowship, they miss the mark a sea mile ...
"To tell the truth, I'm still partial to the hometown physician who knows me and helps me when I need him. And I'm still partial to the preacher who calls his people by name when they leave the service and is available to minister to their spiritual and physical needs. I don't play a pastor on TV, but I do try to be one in real life." (Gunnells is Pastor of Spring Hill Baptist Church, Mobile, AL)
COMMUNICATION -- Can be confused
Gerald W. Griffin shares an experience in which he disabled a perfectly good word.
"As is the experience of many congregations, we were losing many of our new members shortly after they joined. I concluded that at least part of the problem was the fact that we were not incorporating them well enough into our small groups. We were failing to help them establish meaningful friendships within our congregation. So, my sermon of the day was on 'fellowship.'
"It was necessary that I establish the fact that Christian fellowship is something deeper than a 'Hi, how are you?' over a cup of coffee. So I pointed out that in the first century the Greek word for 'fellowship' was even used of the husband-wife partnership of marriage, naturally including the sexual relationship. Having said that, with just a hint of cuteness I added, 'I love fellowship. Don't you?'
"As far as I was concerned the joke was over. I forgot a very important principle of communication, however. Listeners are not always as ready as the speaker to move on to the next thought. I honestly had no idea why, with each additional statement, I was losing my congregation that morning.
"Why are we losing so many new members?" I asked. "Because we are not offering them enough fellowship." I noticed a slight tremor of chuckles moving across the auditorium and several people looking intently at their shoes.
"If we are going to keep people we are simply going to have to give them more fellowship." The tremor is now becoming an obvious upheaval. And I still have no idea why. It is at times like this that a preacher begins to suspect that his zipper may be down. Yet what could I do but continue?
"Fellowship is best in small groups of from five to ten." Had I heard what the congregation was hearing I probably would have stopped here and dismissed everyone. I might as well have.
"I had the distinct impression throughout that sermon that something was terribly wrong. It was not, however, until a still-laughing elder recited a few lines of my sermon for me at the back door that I discovered two valuable lessons. First, one can be too cute. Second, a perfectly good word can be ruined for a very long time." (Griffin is Minister of Racine Christian Church, Racine, MO)
DESTINATION -- We each must decide
A clerk at the ticket office of Grand Central Station was waiting on a young man. The man asked for a round-trip ticket. After a long pause, the clerk asked, with some impatience, "To where? To where?"
After a few moments of thought, the customer responded, "To here! To here!"
It is essential that each of us decide what we want our ultimate destination to be -- both in this life and beyond.
FAITH -- Must be personal
"There is a Zen parable about a certain master who was asked to define the meaning of Zen. The master, in the absurd fashion of a true roshi, merely lifted his index finger against the sky. Later, a report came to the master that one of his disciples, whenever a villager asked him to define the meaning of Zen, was imitating the master and holding up his index finger. The master ordered this disciple to him. Laying the disciple's hand on a chopping block, he lopped off the index finger. 'Now,' he demanded of the terrified disciple, 'tell me the meaning of Zen'." (John Killinger, Fundamentals of Preaching)
HOPE -- Christ brings
In one edition of the comic strip Peanuts, Linus commented to Charlie Brown: "I guess it's wrong always to be worrying about tomorrow. Maybe we should think only about today." To that, Charlie Brown responded: "No, that's giving up. I'm still hoping that yesterday will get better."
As Donald B. Strobe observes, "Jesus says 'Yes' even to our yesterdays. He accepts us as we are, forgives us and renews us, and 'washes behind the years.' Because of Jesus Christ, we have healing for the past, help for the present and hope for the future." (Strobe is Senior Minister of First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI)
JUDGING - Difficult task
How difficult it is to judge another person's potential, David W. Richardson reminds us.
Paul "Bear" Bryant of the University of Alabama was one of the great coaches in the history of the game. One of Bryant's young players became the starting quarterback in his sophomore and junior years, but was benched his senior year because Bryant believed a sophomore had greater potential.
Because he played little his senior year, the older quarterback was not selected in the 1957 NFL draft until the 17th round. After two ineffective seasons on that mediocre team, a new coach arrived. The new coach judged the young player and said "This is my quarterback."
That coach was Vince Lombardi and the player was Bart Starr. Starr would go on to twice become the NFL's most valuable player. He led the Green Bay Packers to five league titles and the first two Super Bowl championships. Even a great coach like Bryant had underestimated Starr's potential -- his replacement at Alabama never approached Starr's accomplishments. We ought to be humble when judging another person's potential. (Richardson is Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Dexter, MO)
LAUGHTER
"Should we not see that lines of laughter about the eyes are just as much marks of faith as are the lines of care and seriousness? Is it only earnestness that is baptized? Is laughter pagan? We have already allowed too much that is good to be lost to the church and cast many pearls before swine. A church is in a bad way when it banishes laughter from the sanctuary and leaves it to the cabaret, the nightclub and the toastmasters." (Helmut Thielecke, Encounter With Spurgeon)
LIGHT -- Christ brings
A poor little boy once heard his Sunday School teacher say Jesus was the light of the world. He took her remark quite literally. After class, the boy said to his teacher, "If Jesus really is the light of the world, I wish He'd come hang out in my alley. It's awful dark where I live."
It's our mission to carry the light to those who live in the darkest places of our world. (Gary C. Redding is Pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church, Lakeland, FL)
MARRIAGE
The pastor was visiting the fourth-grade Sunday School class to talk about marriage as part of the lesson. He asked the class, "What does God say about marriage?" Immediately, one boy replied, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
OPTIMISM
During the football season, the college bookstore at Iowa State puts a big sign in the window saying "Kill Kansas" or "Whip Washington" or something like that, depending on the name of the upcoming foe. In 1983, just before Iowa State was devastated 72-29 by the nation's top-ranked team, the wording was altered a bit. The sign read: "Maintain Dignity Against Nebraska."
POSSESSIONS -- Can own us
Steven Brown tells the story of a Polish king who was out hunting with friends when he disappeared. They looked for him four days without success. Then, shopping in the marketplace, one of them spotted the king -- working as a mere servant, a porter in the market.
They reprimanded him for serving in such a demeaning way, but the king responded: "Gentlemen, the load I have quitted is far heavier than the one you see me now carry. I have slept more in the last four nights than I have in all my reign. Elect whom you choose; for me it would be madness to return to court." (Brown is Pastor of Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church, Key Biscayne, FL)
PRIDE
A Rabbi and a New England minister were getting to know one another. Proudly, the minister exclaimed, "One of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence."
"I understand your pride," responded the rabbi. "One of my ancestors signed the Ten Commandments."
STEWARDSHIP
According to the parable, the treasurer of a certain church resigned. The church asked the manager of the local grain elevator to take his place. He agreed under two conditions: first, that no report be required for the first year; second, that no one ask any questions during that year.
Though the people were anxious about those demands, since he was such a trusted man, they agreed to his conditions. After all, almost all of them did business with him at the grain elevator.
At the end of the year, the treasurer finally presented his report. He announced that the $25,000 indebtedness of the church had been paid, the minister's salary increased, mission gifts dramatically increased, and a large balance remained in the bank.
How was this possible, the church wondered. The treasurer answered: "Most of you bring your grain to my elevator. As we did business, I simply held back 10 percent on your behalf and gave it to the church in your name. You never even missed it. Now do you see what we could do for the Lord if we gave Him the tithe that rightfully belongs to Him?" (adapted from A Sourcebook for Stewardship Sermons by James E. Carter)
TELEVISION -- Impact of
In a speech on "The Trouble with Television/' Robert MacNeil (of the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour on PBS) said:
"It is difficult to escape the influence of television. If you fit the statistical averages, by the age of 20 you will have been exposed to at least 20,000 hours of television. You can add 10,000 hours for each decade you have lived after the age of 20. The only thing Americans do more than watch television are work and sleep.
"Calculate for a moment what could be done with even a part of those hours. Five thousand hours, I am told, are what a typical college undergraduate spends working on a bachelor's degree. In 10,000 hours you could have learned enough to become an astronomer or engineer. You could have learned several languages fluently. If it appealed to you, you could be reading Homer in the original Greek or Dostoyevsky in Russian. If it didn't, you could have walked around the world and written a book about it."
WORK -- Source of pride
David Ben Gurion, an early leader of the state of Israel, pointed out: "We don't consider manual work as a curse, or a bitter necessity, not even as a means of making a living. We consider it as a high human function. As a basis of human life. The most dignified thing in the life of a human being and which ought to be free, creative. Man ought to be proud of it.