10 reasons I believe in Jesus Christ (i.e., in God)

“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

(I started this thinking these reasons would be easy to express and thus the article would be concise. But  it has not turned out that way. So, this is the first half.  The other 5 reasons should be posted here tomorrow.)

Driving hundreds of miles to (and from) two funerals of dear friends last week, I spent a lot of time reflecting on this thing of believing in God, serving in ministry, and going confidently into “the valley of the shadow of death.”  Deacon James Gatewood and Minister Bill Hardy showed us how it’s done, from their daily faithfulness in good times to the difficult and dark days of suffering.

Our Lord said, “You believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1).  The way I read Scripture, He was equating the two.

In my mind, to believe in Jesus is to believe in God, and vice versa.  After all, our Lord said, “No one knows me except the Father. And no one knows the Father except the Son (moi!) and they to whom I reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27, my paraphrase).

If you had asked ten years ago why I believe in Jesus, my answers would have been somewhat different.  But today, here are my top ten reasons for faith in the risen, living, ever-present, soon-coming Lord Jesus Christ….

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What to do when your church changes

These days in my retirement ministry, most of the churches where I’m invited to preach have these things in common….

–Almost no man wears a necktie or suit.

–On the platform you find all kinds of musical instruments.

–Huge screens are mounted on the front walls, where the words of songs and scripture are projected.

–Many people in the congregation read Scripture from their phones.

–Worship leaders are often wearing jeans and sneakers.

–In the announcements, you hear of mission trips to foreign countries, regardless of the size of the church.

–Fewer and fewer hymns are being sung, and when the old ones are brought out, they’re given new treatments. Mostly, though, what’s being sung in worship was written in the past 10 or 12 years.

–Churches announce on their outside signs “blended” services, “contemporary” services, and/or “traditional” services.

The times, they are a-changing, friend.  (And they are not through changing either. So you youngsters should not get too attached to the present innovations.)

If you cannot adapt, you may find yourself living in the 1950s.

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A tribute to my friend, Rev. Bill Hardy, Jr.

My dear brother in Christ William E. Hardy, Jr., went to Heaven this week.

Bill Hardy was the very definition of faithfulness, of integrity and character.  He was solid gold.

Our friendship dates back to May of 1974 when Bill and Barbara Hardy moved from Kosciusko, Mississippi, up the highway an hour or so to Columbus, Mississippi.  Bill was joining the staff of our First Baptist Church, coming from a similar position in Kosciusko.

It was to be the start of a lifelong friendship.

Bill remained with us in Columbus for nearly a decade before moving on to Casper, Wyoming, where he served as director of Christian education for the Southern Baptists of that state.  On retiring, perhaps 10 years later, they returned to the Magnolia State.

Bill died this week. His funeral is Saturday, September 13, 2014, at the First Baptist Church of Clinton, Mississippi.  11 a.m.

I will not have time in the service to say everything I’d like to about Bill, so this blog is a good place to deposit a few remembrances.

My greatest tribute to Bill Hardy is one he probably did not appreciate very much.

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Minimizing risk…in all of life

“Also, keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).

There are no guarantees in this life.

I can eat whole grain foods, take my vitamins and supplements, stay with organic and get plenty of exercise, and still get hit by a Volvo while crossing the road.

Almost every magazine that comes to my house will have the occasional article telling how to cut down on life-shortening factors.  After reading several of these, you learn to predict their advice: cut out tobacco and sweets, eat more fruits and veggies, walk some every day, and laugh a lot.  Take vitamins, especially this one or that one.

I’m for all that, incidentally.  I do all those things. Well, except for avoiding the sweets.

Soldiers in combat discuss whether there’s a bullet “out there” with one’s name on it.  If such a thing exists, some will say, there’s nothing you can do, so take risks and live life to the fullest.  On the other hand, many soldiers have survived their terms of combat and reported they they took steps to minimize the risks.  They kept their helmet on, kept their armor on, looked before they jumped, maintained their guns in great shape, stayed close to their buddies, and a thousand other things.

On the highway, minimizing risk is a big deal for me.

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Show us how it’s done, church leader!

“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12).

In attempting something I’ve never seen done, I need to look over the shoulder of someone doing it.  I don’t learn how to do hard things just by reading plans.

The Air Force has instructor pilots.  They sit beside the student in the cockpit, showing how it’s done, then giving hands-on instruction when the pupil takes the stick.

The educational system has interns who sit in the classrooms of veterans and learn from them. Other occupations have apprentices, associates, and trainees.

Show me.

A word to the pastors and other church leaders among us:  Show us how it’s done. Be Exhibit A.

Give the young believers coming after you a pattern to follow, for some look in vain for instances of believers living what they are hearing.  Give the old crusty veterans a close example of one living out the Christ-life, for some have given up hope of ever seeing that.

Do you want us to go door to door, sharing the gospel or inviting neighbors to a church event?  Then, the week before, you get out there and knock on a hundred doors.  In doing so, not only will you be able to help your people later when instructing them, but it will free up your spirit more than ten hours of prayer.  Honestly. There is no substitute for just getting out there and doing it.

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Misrepresenting things

“Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him….” (Colossians 3:9-10).

I hate to admit this, but it needs to be done.

Preachers sometimes misrepresent themselves. 

Some claim to have degrees that sound authentic but were bought on the sly somewhere because they know that laypeople in our churches are unsophisticated about that sort of thing but are impressed by high-sounding degrees. Some claim to have been places they merely flew over, to know people they shook hands with, and to be more than they are.  Some give the appearance that they know the original languages when they are merely quoting something they picked up in a book.

There is no substitute for integrity in those called to preach the Word and lead the Lord’s flock.

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What Jesus was like. (A Bible story with many insights.)

One brief incident in the day of Jesus’ early ministry reveals so much about Him to our jaded eyes.  Everything we see, we like.

The story is found in Mark 3:1-6.

And He entered again into a synagogue (in Capernaum); and a man was there with a withered hand. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they have accuse Him.

And He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Rise and come forward!’ And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm? to save a life or to kill?’ But they kept silent.

And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians (their enemies) against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

I love that story.  It’s a brief encounter that tells us a world of things about our Savior….

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Things That Could Not Possibly Happen

“Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).

In the months leading up to the U.S. involvement in the Second World War, we had broken the Japanese secret code.  Army and Navy personnel were reading their messages. We actually knew where they were most of the time and what they were planning.

All signs indicated they were going to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.

And yet, when they did just that–December 7, 1941, that day of infamy–they caught us completely unprepared. All our battleships were parked side by side close up and made a great target for the Japanese torpedo bombers.  All our planes were parked in rows, as though for the sharpshooters at the county fair.

The Japanese had a field day.

How had this happened?  How had they managed to catch us so completely off guard when we were reading their coded messages and knew what they were up to?

The short answer is we did not believe what we were reading.  It was unthinkable that their aircraft carriers could get close enough to attack Pearl Harbor. So, we stupidly walked into that ambush.

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Jesus claimed to be God. Why that matters.

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in my Father’s name, these bear witness of me.  But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me….” (John 10:24-27).

If Jesus Christ is not the God-man, then we’re out of business and the universe is in the dark.

Nothing is more basic to the Christian faith and everyone’s hope than His deity.

Theological liberals like to say Jesus never claimed to be God, that this claim was put in HIs mouth by Christians who came later.

What fun they have with the story of Jesus.

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Just before you head out to minister

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

This is a brief Bible study.  (Just so you’ll know. Smiley-face here.)

For Christian workers, one of the most significant Scripture passages is the commission the Lord gave His disciples just before sending them out on a short-term assignment.  This is found in Matthew 10 and Luke 10.  In Luke’s account, the commissioning takes 16 verses, but in Matthew’s, it’s a full 42 verses–so therefore, my favorite, since it’s far more helpful.

At that point the 12 apostles were something like seminary students, preachers in training with diverse backgrounds and limited experience.  (Some of us used to stand on the street corners in the French Quarter preaching. And, we roamed up and down the sidewalks with handfuls of tracts talking to strangers. We were in boot camp, learning how to talk to people about Jesus.)  That’s what was happening with these disciples.

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