A text the legalist cannot handle

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). 

Do everything you can to make sure your church does not put legalists in charge of anything. Doing so is a death sentence for all they touch.

“The letter of the law killeth; the Spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

The legalist is a self-proclaimed Christian who reduces our duties to God to a list of rules. Legalists delight in the Ten Commandments, of course, but since the New Testament does not codify a list of tasks we must do in order to please God, they do it for Him.

How kind of them to help God out.  (I’m recalling an old definition of a legalist. He says, “I know God didn’t require this in the Bible, but He would have if He’d thought of it.”)

The legalist has God figured out.

To the legalist, everything God does has to do with our grades, our performances.  And for us to insist, “He has not dealt with me according to my sins nor rewarded me according to my iniquities” just does not compute.  Such a teaching does not work in his system.

This is the text–and grace is the doctrine–which the legalist cannot abide.

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Moderately important Christianity

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.” –C. S. Lewis

How important is the Christian faith? Listen to the Lord Jesus in just two of hundreds of similar statements from Him:

–”I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5)

–”Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is a life or death proposition.

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What would it take to put you out of business for the Lord?

“Sirs, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21).

Nothing tells the story on you and me like what it takes to defeat us.

Some of us, like the Saints’ Jimmy Graham, have to be double- or triple-teamed to stop us from serving Christ. Others of us can be safely ignored because we’re no threat to the devil.

I am impressed in reading the gospels at the people who did whatever was necessary to get to Jesus.  Here is a partial list. You may think of others….

1) In Mark 2, four men brought their paralyzed buddy to Jesus. Unable to get into the house, they carried him onto the flat rooftop and tore open the tiles and lowered him into the room. I am impressed by their perseverance.

2) In Mark 5, the woman with a 12-year hemorrhage worked her way through the crowd to get to Jesus. “If I can touch but the hem of His garment, I will get well.” People with her affliction avoid crowds, but look at her.  I am impressed by her determination and pushiness, even.

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What I wonder about Heaven

“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

I think about Heaven a lot.  So many people whom I love with all my heart are there and I miss them every day.

I wonder what they are doing and if they think about us.  I wonder if my brothers are really playing rummy with our dad, the way we say they are.  Are they going fishing and is our mom visiting with her wonderful parents whom she had not seen in half a century?

What will Heaven be like? After all, in addition to loved ones in Heaven, there are also uncounted millions of brothers and sisters of all races and tribes whom we have yet to meet. There are “myriads” of angels, and best of all, our wonderful Lord and Savior Himself.

Who would not want to go to Heaven?

My friend Barbara Hardy used to say when she got to Heaven, she was going to ask for a size 10 body.

A pastor friend used to say that in Heaven, he would be able to eat all the lemon ice-box pie he wanted without gaining an ounce.

Joni Aereckson Tada has said that when she gets to Heaven, the first thing she plans to do is ask Jesus to dance. (She’s been a quadriplegic all her adult life.)

Some more serious things I wonder about Heaven include…

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Answering questions no one is asking; curing illnesses no one has

The first thing a salesperson seeks to do, whether standing at your front door or staring out of your television screen, is to convince you that you are in trouble without this product.

The opening lines of all those fund-raising letters we receive through the mail are phrased to alarm us. Something is bad wrong and here is the solution and you should do something about it. The recommended solution is to buy this product, subscribe to this service, or hire this attorney. Or, of course, send your money!

Sound familiar?

The September 22, 2014, issue of TIME features on its cover an arm with a computer display giving the number of calories consumed that day, one’s pulse,  conversations since climbing out of bed, and even how many steps the individual has taken.  And that’s just for starters.

The issue celebrates (and worries about) the new “Apple Watch,” the latest thing from those people who gave us the smartphone in my pocket at this moment.  This latest high-tech doodad hits the stores early in 2015 and will be all the rage, no doubt.

The text beside the cover picture reads: “Never Offline.  The Apple Watch is just the start. How wearable tech will change your life–like it or not.”

One paragraph in particular has stayed with me ever since reading the issue.

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How to study a Scripture all by yourself–and find it life-changing

“If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was” (James 1:23-24).

I’m going to suggest that you find a scripture–a story, a teaching, or a scene–and live in it for a few days.

Doing so might change forever how you study the Word.

A certain text has snagged your attention and you wonder why.  Perhaps it puzzled you or intrigued you, angered you even or delighted you.  Whatever your reaction, the fact that your attention was directed there is often the Holy Spirit indicating He has something rich for you here, something He is sending just for you.

That’s pretty wonderful when that happens.

Before zeroing in on one of those stories for this study–an example of a parable that is far richer than I ever imagined at first–let me mention some favorite scenes in the Gospels which I have found to be rich and “loaded.”  You may find one of them to be just your size and one you will want to live with for the next few days.

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What’s in a name? Apparently a great deal.

“I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

“When the shepherd puts forth his sheep, he calls them by name” (John 10:3).

The sweetest sound in all the world, we’re told, is our own name.

We can be dozing through the roll call, but the sound of our own name being spoken penetrates the mist and wakes us up.

We can be reading a report or newspaper and hardly paying attention. Our own name in black and white jumps out at us. It may as well have been in letters three inches high.

My name is who I am.

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How to repair a church in mid-flight

(Apology:  For the places where I have occasionally mixed my metaphors in this piece, readers may want to know that this is my spiritual gift . Thank you very much.)

Smiley Anders, humor columnist for the New Orleans Advocate, ran this story this week.

An automobile mechanic was removing the cylinder head from an engine when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in the customer area.  “Hey, doc,” he called. “Want to take a look at this?”

The eminent physician walked over. The mechanic said, “Look at this engine, Doc.  I opened its heart, removed the valves, repaired or replaced anything damaged, then put everything back in place. And when I finished, it worked like new.”

“So, how is it I make $64,000 a year and you make a million when we’re both doing the same work?”

The cardiologist said, “Try doing it with the engine running.”

Repairing a damaged church “with the engine running”–that is, in the midst of continuing operations–is much harder than starting afresh with a church plant and building it right and healthy from the ground up.  You’re making repairs “in flight,” so to speak.

By “repairing a damaged church,” we refer to any number of situations. Some we have encountered include these:

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Neckties and drum sets: Things we should get over

“Concerning Him we have much to say… (but) you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God….” (Hebrews 5:11-12).

If we do not settle what are the basic principles and doctrines constituting faithfulness to God, we will argue over silly things, unworthy issues, secondary matters.

I’m 74 years old and the playbook says I should be a defender of the status quo, reacting against modern innovations and speaking with reverence of the glorious days of old when I was a young minister just starting out.

I’ll not be doing any of that.

The status quo is nowhere I want to camp out.  The past is nowhere I want to live. Nostalgia, as they say, is not what it used to be. The past is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Modern innovations are what we make of them, good or bad. And the glorious days of yore were anything but glorious.  They were amazingly like today and a lot like tomorrow.

Personally, I like laptops and smartphones.  I love Facebook and enjoy blogging.  I like having 150 channels on my television (since there’s rarely anything worth watching on 140 of them!). I love the SiriusXM radio on my car; it sure makes those long drives easier.

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The 1950s: Are you sure you want to live there?

Recently when we posted an article about change in worship and noted that some people in our churches seem to want to return to the 1950s, one commenter who found absolutely nothing to like in the piece said, “I’d love to live in the 1950s.”

Happy Days. Chevrolet convertibles with the huge fins.  Malt shops and sock hops.  Mayberry was America and America was Mayberry.  Ike was in the White House.  Elvis was in his ascendancy.  And Andy Griffith was sheriff.

What’s not to like, right?

I smile at that.

No one loves the 1950s more than those who never lived them.

My wife said, “In the 1950s, every time a plane went overhead I thought it was possibly carrying an atomic bomb to drop on us.”

Such was the attitiude of fear pervading this land.

In the early 1950s, I recall walking home from church with my grandmother after one of those meetings in which the preacher scared the living whatever out of us, and hearing the planes overhead–hey, this was Birmingham and they had lots of planes!–and I was thinking the same thing as Margaret: “We’re goners.”

You want to return to that?

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