So Glad God Doesn’t Require a Smartphone
My cell phone contract is up. So, I am a candidate for a new Smartphone. A week of shopping has made me wonder: am I smart enough to buy a Smartphone?
HTC, iOS, WWDC, S3, Samung, G-U-L-P. How many models are there? How many options can one brain process? Carriers, updates, data plans, and sizes... someone help me! 3G, 4G, LTE, GSM, HSPA+. NFC, GPS, PPI. Dual-core, quad-core. Five megapixels, eight megapixels. Android 4.1, Android 4.2. iOS 6, iOS 7. Q10, Z10. Google Play, iTunes, iCloud. Windows Phone 8 (or is it Windows 8 Phone?). BlackBerry. iPhone 5, iPhone 5S. Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S4. HTC One. Nexus 4.
…leaves me longing for the day of wired telephones in the living room. I remember when my parents bought an extension for their bedroom. We thought we had moved ahead one century! Hang on to your hat, Alexander Bell.
Changes happen so fast these days, can anyone keep up? By one estimate, there are some 37,000 Smartphones on the market today. That was a month ago. Odds are the number is now 38,000…increasing at the rate of the national debt. Are you kidding me?
I am glad, really glad, that talking to God does not require a Smartphone. Jesus taught us to begin our prayers by saying, "Our Father in heaven..." (Matthew 6:9).
More specifically, our "Abba in heaven." Abba is an intimate, tender, folksy, pedestrian term, the warmest of the Aramaic words for "father." Formality stripped away. Proximity promised. Jesus invites us to approach God like a child approaches Daddy. No special training required. No monthly plan needed.
How gracious of God to keep it simple.
Stunning, don't you think, that the highest conversation in life requires nothing but an open heart and a "Dear Father?"
Even more gracious of Him not to require a Smartphone.
What America Really Needs Today
By Jack Graham
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
You’ve probably had it happen where you’re walking outside on a sunny day and then step into a dark restaurant or store; you can’t see anything. Your eyes need time to adjust. But before they do, you’re completely blind.
Then, after a while, your eyes begin to adjust and you start to be able to make out faces, read, and see other things you couldn’t before. The darkness, which was initially a shock to your eyes, is now something to which you’ve grown accustomed, even to the point that when you go back outside, the light is almost blinding!
When I look at our great nation today, I see a very similar phenomenon occurring. Moral depravity in our media and culture used to be a shock to us. But now, we’ve just grown accustomed to it, some even finding comfort in it.
But in the midst of this darkness, the people of God have a chance to shine brighter than ever. And while the light of Jesus is guaranteed to be rejected by some because of its brightness, others will be pulled out of the darkness and called to live in it.
Our nation needs the light… and we as the church have a chance to shine it. Shine the light of Jesus into our dark world and many in our nation will turn to it and be redeemed!
SHINE YOUR LIGHT INTO THE DARKNESS IN AMERICA TODAY AND SHOW OTHERS THE HOPE THEY HAVE IN JESUS!
By Rhonda Rhea
I've always heard that if you keep everything in your closet long enough, all the fashion trends will eventually come back around. What I wasn't told was that I probably wouldn't fit it into any of them by then. I also didn't realize that I wouldn't be so interested in looking "hip" the second time around.
Every once in awhile I have what I call a "bad closet" morning. I stand staring hypnotically into my closet waiting for a semi-trendy yet sophisticated outfit to jump out at me. I stare. Nothing jumps. What to wear?
Thankfully, my Heavenly Father has already determined what the best-dressed soul is wearing. You can't find this outfit on the shopping channel, and while operators are not standing by to take your order, the Father is always there, ready and waiting with the perfect fit for each of his children.
We're told what the well dressed child of God is sporting in Isaiah 61:10. "For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness." I never had to stand and stare for my garments of salvation and my robe of righteousness. As a matter of fact, they didn't even belong to me. My garments of salvation and my robe of righteousness came straight from God through the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ. It's Jesus' robe I wear. And I must say, I look mah-velous!
Colossians 3:12-14 says, "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Did you notice that over all (not to be confused with "overalls" - that's an entirely different look) we're instructed to put on love? Love is the ultimate accessory - our single most important piece of outerwear. It pulls the entire outfit together (binds the other virtues together in "perfect unity"). Now there's a great look - with or without bell bottoms.
Dealing With Debt
by Max Lucado
Doesn’t someone owe you an apology? A second chance? An explanation? A thank you? A childhood? A marriage? Your parents should have been more protective. Your children should have been more appreciative. Your spouse should be more sensitive. What are you going to do? Few questions are more important.
Dealing with debt is at the heart of your happiness. Jesus speaks of the grace we should share. He says: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matthew 6:14).
It reminds me of the story of a huge grizzly bear in the center of Yellowstone Park feeding on discarded camp food. No one dared draw near. Except a skunk who walked toward the food and took his place next to the grizzly. The bear didn’t object. He knew the high cost of getting even! We’d be wise to learn the same thing.
Watch Out For Flattery
by Pat Lofton
An elderly Methodist lady, who was very ill, requested a Baptist minister to please visit her and pray. After the Baptist pastor had finished reading the Bible and praying he said to the dear saint, “I must confess that I am honored and even flattered that you would invite me, a Baptist, to minister to you instead of your Methodist minister. Why did you not call your pastor?” To which the lady replied, “Well, my doctor said that my sickness was very contagious and I did not want my pastor to catch it.”
One big word I learned in college was "transitory" and it means fleeting-- short-lived--- of brief duration. Popularity and fame are very uncertain! You can be a king today in the minds of people and make one blunder and you become a pauper! One day the crowd will praise and the next day condemn. After the Gulf Desert war, the first President George Bush was counted the most popular man in the world and a short time later he was voted out of office. I still remember what the good old preachers in Mississippi used to say about being popular! It was good country vernacular and it went like this, ”If they pour molasses on you, just enjoy it, be grateful, and lick it up. But remember, it won’t last.” Jesus, in all areas of life, is our example in keeping a right perspective and these words in Hebrews 12:2 give us encouragement, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it. Because He never lost sight of where He was headed.” (The Message)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.
In April 1866, crates of nitroglycerin were shipped to California to aid in blasting through a mountain to create the Summit Tunnel. One of the crates exploded at the Wells Fargo office in San Francisco, killing fifteen people. Nitroglycerin is an effective explosive, but highly unstable. Yet in another form it's an effective treatment for heart disease and one of the oldest drugs used in the prevention of heart attacks. What power is unleashed when two elements -- nitric acid and glycerin -- come together!
When the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible combine in a believer's mind, there's an explosion of power, and the mixture somehow strengthens our hearts. Ephesians 5:18 tells us to "be filled with the Spirit." Colossians 3:16 says to "let the Word of Christ dwell in [us] richly." Both passages promise the same results -- singing, thanksgiving, and power in our relationships. These parallel Scriptures suggest there are two active agents working to help us achieve a renewed mind -- the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
Combine these dynamic agents in your life today.
The Bible without the Holy Spirit is a sundial by moonlight.
D. L. Moody
Where to Find Your True Worth
By Jack Graham
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 2 Peter 3:8
A story is told about a man who was talking with the Lord and said, “Lord, is it true that with You, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day?” And the Lord said, “Yes, that’s true.”
“Does that mean that a penny to you is like a million dollars and a million dollars like a penny?” And the Lord said, “Yes, a million dollars to you is like a penny to me.”
The man said, “Well, Lord, since a million dollars to you is like a penny to me, could I have a penny?” And the Lord said, “Yes… in a minute.”
When it comes to what you and I consider precious such as time, money, or anything else of value, in the grand scheme of things it’s really worthless. You can be the richest person in the world, but on the day you meet God, all your earthly possessions will count for nothing. It’s been said that that’s why you never see a hearse towing a U-Haul trailer!
Compared to everything God has, you really have very little. So when you count your real value, remember that God sees past material wealth and petty possessions into your very soul. And with Christ on your side, you can have the only kind of riches that really matter in His eyes!
DON’T BE DECEIVED INTO THINKING YOUR VALUE IS FOUND IN THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD. THE ONLY RICHES THAT MATTER ARE THOSE YOU HAVE IN CHRIST!
Take a Knee
By Joe Gibbs
Some football players, when they break away for a go-ahead score or cause a key third-down sack, want to be sure they get their full ESPN's worth—the dances, the struts, the jerky moves they've been saving up for just such an opportunity.
Then there's the other approach—the guy who rips off a long touchdown run, flips the ball back to the referee, and trots to the sideline without all the show and the secret handshakes. He lives by this code: Don't act like it's the first time you've ever seen the inside of the end zone. Look like you've been there . . . like you never expected to be anywhere else.
When Jesus returns, you can be sure there will be a lot of people doing a lot of tap dancing, trying hard to prove why their occasional big plays should be enough to earn them a spot on his team. But eventually, "every knee" will bow, "in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11). That's when the people who'd already humbled themselves before him on earth will have no hesitation taking a knee and giving him praise in heaven. It'll be like they've been there... like they never expected to be anywhere else. And where they'll be thankful now that there's no more penalty for excessive celebration.
How to Have Joy No Matter Your Circumstance
By Jack Graham
“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
A story is told about Martin Luther, the great reformer, who was walking around the house for several days moping and worrying over his problems. So he got up one morning and saw that his wife was dressed all in black—a black dress, black hat, and a black veil.
He asked her, “Katharine, who died?” And she told him, “Oh Martin, haven’t you heard? God is dead.” He stepped back and said, “Woman, that’s blasphemy!” And she said, “Oh I’m sorry, but the way you’ve been acting around here all this week, I presumed that God had died!"
In the Christian life, there is a difference between happiness and joy. You can be happy without joy, and you can be joyful without happiness. Happiness is circumstantial—it’s determined by what’s happening in your life. But godly joy transcends your circumstances and remains even when hard times hit.
Because we have God’s Spirit as Christians, we can have joy whatever circumstances we face. So instead of sulking your way through hard times, let the Holy Spirit control you and give you inexplicable joy no matter the situation!
GIVE GOD’S SPIRIT CONTROL OF YOUR EMOTIONS AND EXPERIENCE JOY NO MATTER YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES!
|Getting Through Another One of "Those Days"
by Tracie Miles
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
It had been another dramatic day in a house with “maturing” young women. While my teenage daughters sat upstairs dealing with their run-away emotions, I retreated to our front porch to deal with my own.
Both my daughters were going through difficult situations and pending decisions, and neither of them were happy with the motherly advice I’d given them.
I needed peace and quiet, and a place to process my overwhelming thoughts with God. Searching for the right words to pray, I secretly longing for the days when my girls were little and the hardest question was if they could have a snack before dinner.
Sitting there, I noticed something in the flower bed that seemed out of place. Partially tucked in the pine straw, underneath the holly tree, was a piece of the past — two faded plastic Easter eggs.
My thoughts went back years earlier, when my daughters were small, and I wondered if the eggs were from one of my favorite Easter Sundays. I closed my eyes, letting my mind return to what seemed like easier days.
I saw a mental picture of my two blond-headed little girls, playing in the thick grass, wearing pink Easter dresses. Little fingers wrapped tightly around wicker baskets, as they hid colored Easter eggs under the holly bushes. Bushes that were then twelve inches tall, yet now stood at twelve feet. As my mind replayed this sweet scene, I began to cry.
While I was reminiscing about the past and trying to breathe in the present, my daughters walked outside and plopped down beside me on the porch. As we sat on the steps together, Kaitlyn pointed out the eggs under the tree – and my eyes welled up with tears again.
They both looked at me like I was crazy, wondering why mom was crying over some old faded Easter eggs. And all of a sudden we all burst out in laughter, and started talking openly about our feelings and life. By the end of the conversation, we all felt thankful for the bond we have, even on the hardest of days.
Being a mom is an unfathomable blessing, but there are going to be “those days” when we feel like throwing in the towel and giving up. Days when we feel frustrated and emotionally exhausted as we face the never-ending challenge to raise children to honor God’s ways, in a society that does not respect His truths at all.
Today’s key verse encourages me to persevere on “those days.” The definition of perseverance is to adhere to a course of ‘action, belief, or purpose, in spite of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement.’
As parents, we are called by God to stay the course, adhere to our beliefs, and trust that God has a purpose for all things – even on “those days.” We can do that by talking to other Christian parents, participating in a prayer group for our children, and staying grounded in God’s Word.
On this particular day when my heart felt heavy, God used two faded Easter eggs as a reminder that despite the daily challenges of being a mom, He is with me and that gives me hope.
Hope gives us strength to persevere, and our perseverance helps us to build our own character, as we invest in the character of our children.
Even when the past seems easier than the present, God calls us as parents to be engaged in every moment and trust that He has a beautiful purpose, especially on one of “those days.”
|What Dad Says
by Joe Gibbs
If you’ve been a father for very long, you’ve heard one of your children say, “Dad, I remember you telling me...” And strangely, you may have no more than a dim memory of having said it. They were words that didn’t really register as they were coming out but, for whatever reason, they sure did register coming in.
Maybe it was a stray memory you shared while you were out fishing together or running weekend errands. Maybe it was a harsh critique of the way they were performing a task or treating a sibling. Maybe it wasn’t even something you were saying to them directly, but they were around, they heard it, they remember it.
Most dads don’t think of themselves as men of powerful, memorable words. But... we are. All of us.
So on this day of celebration, enjoy the cards and the phone calls, act surprised at the necktie and the nail care kit, doze in and out of the U.S. Open on television. But also take the chance to say some special things to your children, wherever they may be.
King Solomon wrote of his father, David, “When I was a boy in my father’s house... he taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart’” (Proverbs 4:3–4). Don’t let everything your children remember you saying be offhand and incidental. Make a point of telling them what your heart really wants to say.
Washed a Little Cleaner
A pastor that was new to the area was visiting with a man in line in the grocery store. He asked him which church he attended and the man told him he had given up on that kind of stuff.
The pastor was interested in what his reason was so he asked why. The man responded that he tried reading the Bible for a long time and he just couldn't seem to memorize any of the verses. It was just too hard to learn the words. He didn't see the point in reading if he couldn't memorize what he was reading.
The pastor asked him if he had 10 minutes to spare. The man’s answer was hesitant but said yes. "Would you please take a wicker basket and fill it up with water?" Laughingly he said "that's silly, the water would just run right through the basket. What would I want to do that for?"
The pastor got a little smile on his face as he answered "you are correct sir. The water would run right through the basket and it sure would be a lot cleaner, wouldn't it?"
Even if you don't remember what was said in a sermon or what you have read in the scripture, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit plants something within us that relates only to us. Sometimes folks don't even know they retained something till something occurs and it applies.
I read something so humorous the other day---things mothers said to their famous sons. Jonah’s mother, “That’s a wonderful story—now tell me where you've really been.” Edison’s mother, “Okay, so you invented the light bulb--- now turn off that light and go to sleep.” Columbus’s mother, “I am proud of what you have discovered—but you could have written.” George Washington’s mother, “If you don’t stop throwing money across that river I am cutting off your allowance.”
This Sunday is Mother's Day. All of us should make an effort to visit our mothers or if your mother has passed on, do something good to honor her memory. I had a godly Christian mother and she lives in my heart and mind day after day and I know I will see her again. I am sure you share that same feeling! One of the most touching things about Jesus was that, even as He was dying on the cross He made provision for His mother. Read about it in John 19:25-27. I love the statement I saw on a church sign: “No man is poor who has a godly mother.”
FLEE the PEA
by Greg Allen
Charles Spurgeon told the story of a preacher who was strolling through a village. As he walked along, he saw a man going down the road with a herd of pigs following in line behind him like sheep following behind a shepherd. This was a very unusual sight, because pigs, ordinarily, are very self-centered, independent creatures that never follow anyone. So the preacher asked, "Sir, how do you get those pigs to follow you like that?"
"Oh, it's easy," the farmer said. "I have a sack full of peas in my pocket; and I just keep walking, occasionally dropping a pea on the road behind me. The pigs follow along wherever I drop a pea and gobble it up, never caring where I'm leading them."
"That's very clever!" said the pastor. "By the way; where are you leading them?" And the man said, "To the butcher's shop, of course."
The devil often follows the same strategy. The Bible warns us, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8; NKJV). But he rarely carries a big sign that says, "Follow me, so I can devour you." He knows we wouldn't follow him if he was that obvious. Instead, he works subtly to draw us away from God's good will for our lives.
Just like the farmer in that story, the devil drops little, fleshly temptations in front of us through the elements of our culture: a suggestive movie or television show here; an off-color story or inappropriate joke there; a seductive advertisement or pop song here; a pornographic magazine or web page there. And if we aren't alert, we follow along behind, picking such things up and thinking, "I can handle this. This isn't so bad. It's just a little pea, after all. It tastes good. Who's it going to hurt? Who's going to care? Who's going to know?" We gobble these tempting little "peas" up, one after another; never realizing that they're forming a straight line that is leading us down a slippery slope to destruction and loss.
The answer that the Bible gives to such things is summed up in one word:
"Flee" (1 Corinthians 6:18).
As followers of Jesus Christ, let's remember the devil's strategy; and by His help, let's "FLEE THE PEA!"
On Your Side
By Ted Torkelson
Two Scottish schoolboys out for a hike one morning came to a cliff overlooking the sea. As they stood admiring the scenery and listening to the breakers below, they heard in the distance the blast of a hunter's horn, the baying of hounds, and the beat of horses' hooves. A hunting party on the trail of game, they thought. And they were right. Soon a deer rushed out of the underbrush panting with fear, obviously the object of the chase.
The boys watched the terrified animal pause at the edge of the cliff as if debating what to do, whether to jump for its life into the sea below or run to the left or the right. How the boys wished they could help it!
Suddenly, the deer turned sharply to one side and sped away along the edge of the cliff, quickly disappearing from sight. The boys knew that the hunters would soon arrive in hot pursuit. "What shall we say if they ask us which way the deer went?" the younger boy said.
"Oh, we'll just say we don't know," replied the older one. "But that would be lying," the younger objected. "We don't want to do that."
Then, just as the hunters arrived on the scene, an idea struck the older boy that solved the dilemma. When the hunters asked if the boys had seen the deer and which way it had gone, he said, "It's not fair to ask us. We're on his side."
A simple story, but how profoundly suggestive of Christ's care for His people here on earth! And how reassuring. He's on our side. The Bible says so, in just those words. Read Psalm 118:6, NKJV: "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"
God Is In The Church Nursery
Where is God on Sunday morning? Of course, God is everywhere. We know that God is enthroned in the praises of his people. (Psalm 22:3) When we gather to worship – God is with us.
We know that God is there when we pray. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20) When we pray – God is with us.
We know that God is there when his Word is read, preached, loved and obeyed. The Lord says, “I am watching over my word to perform it.” (Jeremiah 1:12) When the Bible speaks – God is with us.
We know that God is everywhere. “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:24) “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3) No matter where we go – God is with us.
But did you know that God is back in the church nursery?
“And Jesus took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37) When you welcome a child in the name of Jesus you welcome Jesus himself. When we minister to children – God is with us.
If you wonder why so many people are blessed by serving in the church nursery. Now you know – God is there.
A Preaching "genious" Faces His Toughest Convert
by John Blake
- A series of articles about Fred Craddock -
Telling his father's story
Craddock yearned to hear such praise from his father.
Yet his father never even came to hear him preach. Craddock says he sometimes overheard his father accept praise for his son's decision to enter the ministry, but he can't recall ever hearing his father admit to anyone that he was proud of his son's choice.
"He never said it. I looked for little signals. I finally decided that I was reading into things that were not there."
His father may not have acknowledged him, but Craddock affirmed his father. In the dedication in his book "As One without Authority," he wrote:
"To my mother, and in memory of my father: She taught me the Word. He taught me the words."
One Sunday, he did get a sign that maybe his father would have enjoyed hearing him preach. At his childhood church in Humboldt, Tennessee, a man approached after hearing him preach. The man was about his father's age.
"You sound like your daddy," he said.
The comment stirred strong emotions in Craddock. He had to compose himself before he shook the man's hand and thanked him. He says it was the grandest compliment he's ever had about a sermon.
"He was a good storyteller and a good man," Craddock says of his father. "For him to relate me to my father ... I spent a lot of time working through my relationship with my father."
Perhaps he still is.
When asked in one interview whether he became a minister to save his father, he says, "I'll never know."
Yet in his memoirs, "Reflections on My Call to Preach," he wrote:
"I was confident that my being a Christian minister would have a life-changing effect on my father. With a son, his own namesake, going into the ministry, would not Daddy toss the bottle forever and return to the pew beside my mother? Surely. But I was naïve, knowing nothing about the power of addiction."
Craddock's last visit with his father revealed to him the results of addiction. His father never stopped drinking or smoking and was hospitalized with throat cancer. He was 63.
That's when Craddock received the phone call from his mom: You need to go see your father.
When he entered his father's hospital room, he noticed that it was filled with flowers and a stack of get-well cards 20 inches deep besides his bed. Every card and every blossom came from Craddock's childhood church in Humboldt, the church his father scorned.
His father confessed that he was wrong about the church and the people in the pews. They didn't just want a name and a pledge. They wanted him.
His father's admission didn't provide relief. It deepened his grief.
"It was so late. It was at the end. With his personality and his education -- he was generous to a fault; give you the shirt off of his back. He could have been such a good person, helping people, talking to people, playing with children -- he could do all these things."
Would it have been better if his father had said he was also wrong about his son and his decision to become a minister?
Would it have been better if he had finally said, "I'm proud of you, son"?
Craddock doesn't dwell on those questions.
"In my tendency to choose between yes and no, I choose yes. I really think he would be proud of me because he loved a storyteller. He would have taken credit for it, though. He would have said, 'I taught you real good, son.' ''
What Craddock remembers of their last moments together is not just his father's confession but something his father did.
After he asked his son to "tell my story," Craddock reached out and clutched his gaunt hand.
"I just held his hand. ... He couldn't move. I couldn't move."
Craddock squeezed his father's hand, and both men cried.
A Preaching "genious" Faces His Toughest Convert
by John Blake
- A series of articles about Fred Craddock -
Changing the rules of preaching
Craddock had three books in his childhood home: his mother's King James Bible, his father's complete works of Shakespeare and "The Life and Times of Billy Sunday."
Sunday was a Major League Baseball player who became one of America's most famous preachers during the early 20th century by transforming preaching into an athletic event.
He'd smash chairs, throw parts of his clothing into the audience and run across the preaching platform as if he were sliding into home plate while proclaiming, "Safe at home -- by the blood of Jesus!"
Sunday was the type of pastor Craddock grew up admiring. They strode the pulpit like human firecrackers: booming voices, explosive movements, big men who radiated power.
Craddock had a problem. He couldn't bring the thunder. He was short, and his voice was weak. His high school counselor tried to talk him out of becoming a preacher because of his size. And his first church sermon landed with a thud. While preaching about three wise men visiting baby Jesus, an elderly man stood up in the back and blurted: "How do you know there were three?"
A flustered Craddock had no reply. But he eventually found a way to be heard and owed part of that breakthrough to his father.
When he started preaching in rural Tennessee during the 1950s, Craddock employed the traditional "deductive" preaching style. The sermon is structured like a term paper: thesis, three supporting points, restatement of thesis.
"Something in me said that's not the way to do it," he says.
Fred Craddock struggled as a young preacher to find an audience before experiencing a breakthrough.
Maybe it was the stories he heard growing up, but Craddock gradually stumbled onto his preaching style.
While serving as a young pastor at a church in Columbia, Tennessee, he noticed that people responded more to his informal talks outside church service than to his sermons.
He started experimenting. What if you didn't structure the sermon like a legal argument but more like an extended conversation? The listener -- not the preacher -- would be challenged to give the sermon its meaning.
Craddock never took to preachers who tried to bulldoze people into converting. He had seen plenty of preachers try to goad his father back to church. And his mother, by withholding the story of his near-death experience, had taught him that people's faith decisions must be genuine, not coerced.
So Craddock became a preacher who didn't preach. He once said that a "yes" is no good unless a "no" is possible.
"No one wants to listen to pulpit bullies, behaving as though they had walked all round God and taken pictures," he wrote in the introduction to his book "Craddock on the Craft of Preaching."
He is a preacher like no other.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor
Over the years, people have tried to describe Craddock's style. Some use the term "inductive," a word he resists because it sounds like a legal term. One of his prize students, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, offers one of the best descriptions of Craddock's preaching style.
In an introduction to "The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock," Taylor wrote:
"He assumes from the start that we are capable of attending to the text, handling some scholarship, dealing with open-ended stories, and drawing our own conclusions. He does not tell us what he is going to tell us, and then tell us what he told us. He sits down before we are ready. He lets us chew our own food."
Craddock's sermons, though, don't go down like broccoli. They are playful, inventive, filled with hyperbole. They sound like probing short stories or front-porch yarns.
In one sermon, Craddock recounts a conversation with an overweight sparrow that doesn't know it can fly. In another, he imagines bored teenagers who "sat out on the hoods of their camels" listening to a shaggy John the Baptist preach in the desert, and in another he pretends to emcee a debate at a dreary church committee meeting between early Christian leaders arguing over whether Gentiles should be included in the church.
Craddock didn't have to break chairs to get people's attention. His stories did the job. His reputation spread. He began writing influential preaching textbooks. When he became a preaching professor at Emory University in Atlanta, he spawned a new generation of preachers who took his style out into the pews. People started describing him as a pulpit genius.
In 1996, Craddock received one of his most celebrated honors. Baylor University in Texas polled 341 seminary professors and editors of religious periodicals and asked them to name the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. Newsweek magazine published the top 12.
Craddock was selected for the list. So were two pastors he heavily influenced: Taylor and the Rev. Thomas Long.
Long says Craddock tilted the homiletic world "on its axis" with his 1971 book on preaching, "As One without Authority." He calls it one of the most pivotal books on preaching to appear in the past century.
"There's a homespun nostalgic quality to his sermons," says Long, who now teaches at Emory. "He rarely preaches about the engineer with the complex ethical decision. It's more about the pot of beans served at the back door."
Taylor still remembers the first time she heard Craddock speak at Yale Divinity School in 1978. She was working as a secretary at a local church on the weekends, but listening to Craddock stirred her desire to preach.
"He simply spoke of the gospel so compellingly that I wanted know more -- about the way of life he was describing, about why his words struck me with such force and about how I could learn to use language that way, too."
Some preachers transform their eloquence into business ventures. They build megachurches, TV empires. Some even get entourages. Craddock wasn't driven to build a personal brand. He has no e-mail address, doesn't drive and refused to turn on a personal computer his son and daughter bought him several years ago.
"If Fred Craddock ever tweets, I'll know the world has come to an end," Taylor says.
Craddock used some of his renown to reach out to the region that nurtured him. He gave preaching workshops to itinerant pastors in the Appalachian Mountains and established the Craddock Center, a nonprofit group that offers free meals and storytelling to needy kids in three Southern states.
He built a family as he built a career. He married his high school sweetheart, Nettie, and they raised their two children, John and Laura, as he taught at various seminaries and accepted preaching invitations across the country.
Fred and Nettie Craddock were high school sweethearts and are still together more than 50 years later.
"Sometimes we felt like we were in competition with the church and God," says Laura, his daughter, who named her son after her father.
His son, John, never felt pressured to become a minister. He is the CEO of America's First Choice Warranty company in Atlanta. His father, he says, is the most remarkable person he has ever known.
"I don't care if it's a guy on the street asking for a dollar or the president of the United States, he makes you feel as if you're the most important person in the world when he's talking to you.
"I won the lottery as far as great fathers go."
A Preaching "genious" Faces His Toughest Convert
by John Blake
- A series of articles about Fred Craddock -
Saved by a miracle?
A winter night in 1928, Humboldt, Tennessee.
Ethel Craddock is sprawled in a barn on a bale of hay, crying and praying to God. Her 8-month-old son, Fred, is dying.
He has diphtheria, a highly infectious disease that forms blockages over the lungs, gradually suffocating a child.
The boy can barely draw breath. His father has run a mile to summon a doctor. But the doctor can't do much, and Craddock's breathing has grown more labored.
His mother couldn't watch him suffer any more. She has fled to the barn, where she prays:
"Dear God, if you will let him live, I will pray every day that he will serve you as a minister."
She falls asleep on the hay. When she awakens at daybreak, she runs to the house, where the doctor says her son is going to be fine. He leaves without asking for payment.
Ethel Craddock didn't reveal this story to her son until he came to her after turning 17 to tell her that he was thinking about becoming a minister.
She began to cry after hearing the news, quickly regained her composure and told Craddock the story.
He was bewildered. Why hadn't she told him before?
She didn't want him to feel pushed into becoming a minister, she said. She believed that a deed couldn't be good if the motive was wrong.
When Craddock told his father of his decision to join the ministry, he listened intently before finally saying it was a big decision. Then he simply said: "Good, son."
Craddock was deflated. No tears. No sober, fatherly advice. The only reaction his father would give to his calling in the days ahead would be to crack jokes. "Don't be like John the Baptist and lose your head."
"He might have been embarrassed that I became a preacher," Craddock says. "It was kind of the opposite of him. Maybe that created some discomfort.
"I wanted more."
His father seemed to rub away some of the luster from his calling again when Craddock went off to college.
Wanting to make sure his call to the ministry was genuine, Craddock sought out a counselor. Over several sessions, the young student ended up talking about his childhood. The counselor's verdict was devastating:
"I think I'm clear why you're in the ministry: to redeem your father."
The counselor didn't elaborate, and Craddock was too stunned to ask questions. He thought about what his mother had taught him -- and knew what he had to do.
"I thought I was disqualified," he says. "My mother had always told me nothing can be right if the reason is wrong."
He quit the ministry and started picking up odd jobs.
Dear God, if you will let him live, I will pray every day that he will serve you.
"It crushed me," he says of the conversation with the counselor. "I didn't have a Plan B in my life. I was kicking the can down the road every night, trying to figure it out."
The answer came while reading one of his favorite books in the Bible.
The book of Philippians, written by the Apostle Paul, is regarded by some as one of the most uplifting in the New Testament. Yet the backdrop for Paul's composition is grim. He is imprisoned, and the church is splintering into factions. Paul thinks he's about to be executed; his enemies are spreading division and preaching Christ out of selfish motives.
But Paul says that none of that matters. Whether he lives or dies, or whether his enemies preach Christ out of selfish gain, what ultimately matters is that Christ is proclaimed.
Something shifted inside of Craddock. What did it matter if he preached Christ to save his father or save souls? Christ is preached.
"They're preaching for the wrong reason, yet Paul said thanks God for that," he says.
The message was clear; living it would prove more difficult:
"I had to get to a point where I disagreed with my mother. That was tough."
Craddock returned to school and started preaching at rural churches. He had ignored his father and defied his mother's teaching to pursue the ministry.
Now he was about to revolutionize preaching.
A Preaching "genious" Faces His Toughest Convert
by John Blake
- A series of articles about Fred Craddock -
A father like no other
Fred Craddock Sr. had plenty to say about other subjects. He stood 5-foot-7, weighed 150 pounds and even in his 50s could do one-arm chin-ups. He liked to dance, race his horse at county fairs.
Most of all, he loved to tell stories.
Fred Craddock in grade school, where he struggled to hide his poverty from classmates.
His son and namesake, Fred Jr., was one of his most devoted fans. Father and son developed a storytelling ritual. At the end of the day, the elder Craddock would return to his home in the small town of Humboldt, Tennessee, roll a Bull Durham cigarette by the fireplace and say to no one in particular, "Boy, I never hope to see what I saw today."
Craddock, his three brothers and his sister flocked around their father.
"What'd you see today?"
"Oh, you kids still up? No, you go to bed. You don't want to have nightmares."
His children protested. Back and forth they'd go before Craddock Sr. finally said, "Well, sit down, but don't blame me if you have nightmares."
Craddock Sr. thrilled his children with adventure stories about Chief Loud Thunder, Civil War battles and, on occasion, stories from the Bible. The elder Craddock taught his son some of his first lessons in theology.
Each student in Craddock's first-grade class was required to answer morning roll call with a Bible verse. Craddock didn't know any, until his father taught him one. One morning, he stood up "like a bantam rooster" and repeated his father's scripture:
"Samson took the jawbone of an ass and killed 10,000 Filipinos."
The teacher sent Craddock home with a stern note to his parents for his use of profanity. Ethel Craddock chided her husband, but he chuckled, saying, "I bet the class enjoyed it."
Draw your breath in pain to tell my story.
Fred Craddock Sr., quoting "Hamlet"
The elder Craddock developed a following. Storytellers were admired in rural Tennessee during the first half of the 20th century. Television was nonexistent. Books were expensive. People spent their day around pot-bellied stoves, whittling wood and spitting tobacco while swapping stories.
When Craddock Sr. stopped on a corner to roll a cigarette, crowds gathered, because they knew a tall tale was coming. They rarely guessed how it would end. Craddock Sr. would uncork a story, lead his audience up to the edge, then suddenly announce that he had to go to work and walk away.
Says his son: "I'm convinced now that he didn't know where his stories were going when he started."
'Another name, another pledge'
Stories, however, don't feed hungry children.
Craddock's father had enough education to devour Shakespeare in his spare time. But he discovered, after inheriting 10 acres, that he couldn't farm. He wasn't good with his hands, either. Doors, fixtures and steps hung off-kilter in his house.
The elder Craddock had a bigger problem. He was an alcoholic.
When the Great Depression tore into rural Tennessee, Craddock Sr. drank to cushion the pain. His drinking, though, only magnified his self-loathing. His mood darkened. He yelled at his family, but Craddock says he never saw his father hit his mom. When visitors came by, though, everyone was embarrassed.
Sometimes, Craddock saw his father break down in tears.
"He wanted to do better by his family. He didn't know how."
At times, Craddock Sr. would sober up. He vowed never to drink again. He found an odd job. Once, he even arranged for a dentist to pull a gold crown from one of his molars so he could buy Christmas toys for his children.
"Sometimes, when something nice happened," Craddock says, "he would just go into the kitchen, take my mom away from the stove, and they would dance around the house."
His father's pluck, though, couldn't prevent the family's slide into poverty. They lost the farm and moved into a shack with a dirt floor and no electricity. A spigot in the yard was the only running water.
Craddock's family even struggled to clothe him. He still remembers walking to grade school on a cold day, hiding his donated sweater under a bridge and walking to school shivering in his shirtsleeves. He didn't want to risk any classmate recognizing that he was wearing a sweater that had once belonged to them.
"There's something worse than being poor," Craddock said. "It's being ashamed."
Ethel Craddock held the family together. By day, she worked in a factory, sticking labels on Buster Brown shoes. At night, she gathered her children around the fireplace to play word games: "If you can say it, you can spell it: omnivorous."
And faith held Ethel Craddock together. She took her children to church, sang hymns at home to the accompaniment of her harmonica and welcomed down-on-their luck strangers who needed a hot meal or a place to stay.
At first, Craddock's father shared the pews with his family. He was even named after a preacher. But he stopped attending as his drinking grew worse.
"He felt guilty," Craddock says. "He'd say, 'Every time I go to church, they preach against the drunks like they can't go to heaven.' "
Craddock Sr.'s hostility toward the church deepened when they decided to come to him. The church dispatched preachers to his home, hoping to draw him back to the pews. He belittled them so much that Craddock's mother worried a fight would erupt.
"I know what the church wants," he'd say. "Another name; another pledge. Right?"
Craddock, though, found acceptance in the church. It was the only place where he didn't feel different -- any less or any more than anybody else. Pastors told him he would be a good preacher one day; church ladies doted on him with new shoes and a picture book filled with stories about Jesus.
"We loved our dad, but we loved the church," Craddock says.
Fred Craddock Sr. battled his own demons during the Great Depression.
Home was a place filled with fantastic stories. But Ethel Craddock kept one story from him. It centered on the horrible night when she decided her son had been set apart by God.
A Preaching "genious" Faces His Toughest Convert
by John Blake
- A series of articles about Fred Craddock -
Blue Ridge, Georgia -- Fred Craddock was a young preacher trying to find his voice when he received a call from his mother one day.
"You need to go see your father," she said. "He may not live longer."
Craddock found his father in a VA hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Fred Craddock Sr. had whittled down to 73 pounds. Radiation treatments had