Forget Your Good Deeds; Remember Others’ to You

I’m at the age where the Lord gives me small glimpses of Heaven.

The message on Facebook last evening came from a classmate of one of my sons. They graduated from high school nearly 30 years ago, so the event he refers to happened that long ago.

Matt said, “When I finished high school, I wanted to go to college but didn’t have the money. You paid for my first semester and bought my books.”

I have no memory of any of this.

He said, “But I goofed off and did poorly, and wasted your money.” He was apologizing.

Matt went on to say later he got his act together, went back to school, and received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and is doing well in life.

He said, “Squandering your gift has bothered me all these years.”

I assured him he had not squandered it, that it would appear the incident taught him lessons not available in classrooms, making it money well invested.

I added that I’m sorry he has felt poorly over this because in truth, I have no memory of it at all.

Later, I wondered if I should have told him that. Does he think he was unimportant to me? (I barely knew him even then. As I recall, Matt did not go to our church.)

A minister named Randy once told me something his father did. I said, “That is the most perfect recipe for misery I can imagine.” Here’s what he did….

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How To Tell The Senior Adult is Still Alive

Today, a nurse visited our house on behalf of an insurance company.

My wife and I are taking out what’s called “long term health insurance” in case either or both of us ever have to go to a nursing home. We’re realists about this, and the last thing we want is to be a burden on our children, who will have their own challenges.

The agent had said the nurse’s visit is to make sure we are real persons, still active, and not a few weeks away from needing to go into assisted living. Makes sense.

She was nice, asked the typical questions about our health histories, that sort of thing. Then, she threw me a curve.

“I’m going to give you a list of ten words,” she said. “Repeat each one after me. At the end, repeat back as many of the ten as you can.”

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What God Did For Me. You too?

Yesterday in the church where I was guest-preaching, the worship leader confessed to the church he had a sin problem. “A major one,” he emphasized.

And no one blinked an eye.

That minister was on safe ground, surrounded as he was by a hundred or so people who also had sin problems.

It was a typical church filled with normal Christians.

I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.

And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear, and will trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)

This is a unique scripture. To my knowledge, there is not another like it in all the Bible. No wonder since it’s as sweet and powerful as it’s possible to get. (Get the impression I like this text?)

Those of us who came to the Lord at an early age–I was 11–sometimes say we have no testimony to speak of, nothing dramatic about the change the Lord effected when He saved us. Maybe not, but I’ll tell you something we may be in danger of missing: In the life of any believer who has grown in Christ through the years, God has performed this very same feat, transitioning us from the bad to the good, the low to the high, the binding to the liberating, darkness to life. Life to death.

It’s a continual process for as long as we are in this body and in this world.

I have sinned far more as a Christian than I ever did before coming to Christ. And, if I may be permitted to say so, the Lord has forgiven me for far more since I was saved than He did at the time of my conversion.

Time and again over the 60+ years of my Christian walk, the Lord has heard my cry, lifted me up, set me on the solid rock, put a new song in my mouth.

The gospel hymnwriter clearly loved Psalm 40:1-3–

“I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore;

Very deeply stained with sin, sinking to rise no more.

Then the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry.

From the waters lifted me; now safe am I.

“Love lifted me. Love lifted me.

When nothing else could help, love lifted me.”

Three things strike me about this passage; three aspects to the treasure it contains, the radiance it beams forth.

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Open Sesame Scriptures

As a child, I was enthralled by the story of “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.”

This ancient Arabian story tells of an everyday working guy, Ali Baba, who happens to overhear thieves discussing their hidden treasure. He follows them to their cave, hears the magic words Open Sesame (our English version of what they said, no doubt) which opens the door, and follows them inside. There he discovers a king’s ransom in jewels and gold. Later, using the (ahem) password, Ali Baba returns and helps himself to the treasure.

You can see why a child would love that story. It contains so many of the elements we all like in a good story: free gold, easy living, the bad guys are conned, and simple words that do wondrous things.

I don’t know any magic words other than I love you, thank you, you’re beautiful/you’re important/you are smart, and please. However, in studying the Holy Scriptures, I have come across a few which seem to work like Ali Baba’s door. We open it and find all kinds of treasures inside.

Here are a few such scriptures. See what they open up for you.

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Reforming the Deacons (15): “Let the Veterans Teach the Rookies”

There were some 20 or 25 deacons in the room, men of all ages and backgrounds, some professional, some blue-collar. I was privileged to serve as their pastor and over a pastorate of nearly thirteen years, had only a great working relationship with them.

One night, a young deacon stood in the meeting. Something was bothering him.

“I’m wondering if anyone noticed what happened in the last church business meeting.”

Silence.

“One of the members–I won’t say who–made a motion that the landscaping committee be asked to spend up to $3,000 to redo the lawn in front of the children’s building.”

More silence.

“That’s not right. That should not have happened.”

The chairman said, “We’re not quite following you, Tommy.”

Tommy stood back up and said, “She should have brought that to the deacons before taking it to the church. That’s what deacons are for. She was out of order.”

In the stunned silence that followed, one of the older deacons, a storeowner downtown, a man with a heart as big as the state, said very quietly, “My brother. This is a Baptist church. The church can do anything it feels God wants it to do, and does not have to run anything by the deacons.”

That’s all he said. He said it sweetly and softly and solidly.

There were no more questions, and not one time in my remaining years in that church did a deacon try that little power play.

Older, wiser, veteran deacons have so much to offer the young, incoming men.

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Reforming the Deacons (14): These Men Have No Business Being Deacons

Larry expects to be elected a deacon of the church he and Eloise recently joined. After all, why shouldn’t he? He owns the paper mill at the edge of town and employs a third of the men in the church. His tithe is probably twice that of any other contributor. In any assembly of men, his voice is the strongest, his persona the firmest, and his authority unquestioned.

A word to Larry’s church: Do not elect this man to anything.

Nothing disqualifies a Christian from being chosen for service more than a sense of entitlement: “I deserve this. I expect it. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get it.”

I’m no prophet, but I know what will happen if Larry is made deacon. Five things will soon begin to occur:

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When the Pastor Becomes an Atheist

Jerry Dewitt says he is the most disliked person in DeRidder, Louisiana.

All he did was to renounce his Christian faith–he’d been pastor of the First Community Church there–and become an apostle for atheism. That’s all.

Last Monday’s Times-Picayune carried the story by Bruce Nolan (a good friend and longtime staff writer for the T-P). Apparently, the atheists and humanists (are these one and the same? or do they have trouble deciding?) were having a conference in New Orleans and Dewitt was in attendance, so Bruce caught up with him.

Jerry Dewitt was a Pentecostal preacher, he says. After struggling with his doubts for years, he went public with his unbelief (he calls it “nonbelief”) last fall and has been unemployed since December.

He described his journey to unfaith to Bruce Nolan as “lonely and stressful.” For years, he said, he kept a phony public identity, preaching doctrines he no longer believed, practicing a faith that did not work for him.

What were those doctrines he could not get past?

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12 More Scriptures–Verses that mean a great deal to me

Everyone has his choice verses of Scripture, texts that grabbed him and won’t turn him loose and have come to mean a great deal to him.

We posted 12 such texts from the Old Testament, 12 from the Gospels, and 12 more from the rest of the New Testament, and I thought that did it. Later, when another favorite verse would come to mind, I would think, “How could you have left that out? That’s one of the all-time great scriptures!”

So, here we will have the final (I expect) list of 12 verses that we skipped the first time but shouldn’t have!

1. Resurrection: Job 14:14 and 19:25-27.

In the middle of this philosophical/theological discussion between Job and his friends over Why-do-the-righteous-suffer, Job raises the eternal question: “If a man dies, will he live again?” It’s a great question, one everyone wonders about. Every culture has struggled with this issue through all the centuries.

Something inside the human mind takes conflicting positions on this question: we want it to be so, and yet we wonder, “How could it possibly be so?” That is, we hope and we fear at the same time.

It helps to see that Job ended up answering his own question in 19:25-27. “And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand upon the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God, whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes shall see and not another.”

Don’t ever let anyone tell you the Old Testament does not teach a hope of eternal life. We know better. The Jewish scriptures are saturated with insights and promises of Heaven and the afterlife.

2. Praise: Ezra 3:11-13.

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The Week I Drew 1,000 People

Once when I was 16, I picked 350 pounds of cotton in one day.

I did, if you let me define “one day.” Actually, I started at noon and picked until past dark. Next morning, I was in the field before sunrise and picked right up until 12 o’clock, weighed in, and went home.

What had happened was that Junior Romans’ cotton that year was crazy lush, the soft stuff just falling out of the bolls, and I knew this was my chance to set a new personal record. A few days later, in agriculture class at Winston County (Alabama) High School, when my friends began boasting about how much cotton they could pick in one day–for the best, it was 200 or 250 pounds–I casually let drop that my personal best was 350 pounds.

The things we do for bragging rights.

People ask me how many drawings do I think I’ve done over the years. Children will say, “Have you drawn a million people?”

Not even close. In fact, I’d be surprised if I’ve drawn 75,000.

Think of it. A million is one thousand times one thousand. There have been many years when I probably did not draw more than a hundred or two. The last quarter century, however, I’ve gone about it seriously, and may have done 50,000 in this time.

Next week, however, I expect to sketch one thousand people. Here’s how.

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12 New Testament Scriptures That Won’t Turn Me Loose

Having listed a dozen favorite mind-grabbing texts in the four gospels that define so much of my ministry, we come now to the rest of the New Testament.

Again, the challenge is choosing twelve. Why, I could get that many out of Romans 8 or Romans 12 alone.

But, here goes.

Twelve New Testament scriptures that have me in a hammer-lock, a death-grip, a loving embrace, and will not turn me loose.

1. Fellowship: Acts 2:42.

“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachng and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

One morning, the church in Jerusalem began the day with 120 members and ended it with 3,120. That was one revival God sent on the Day of Pentecost!

The challenge now for that small bunch of believers was discipling the new converts, grounding them in the faith, assimilating them into the congregation, and establishing them so solidly in godly living that they could live for Jesus no matter what circumstances the future might hold.

We get the impression the discipleship program the church launched was not a formal classroom situation, but was free-floating, fluid, and flexible. Their approach involved four activities:

–The apostles’ doctrine. They didn’t have the New Testament or even the Gospels, but they had the next best thing, the apostles. So, the men who had walked with Jesus for three years now began talking about Him to the new believers. Unbeknownst to them, they were preparing for writing the four gospels.

–Fellowship. Koinonia. The word means to share, to have things in common. Nowhere does scripture define or describe what they did that fell into this category, but I think we know: they hung out together. Sometimes formally–in ministry and classes and projects–and often informally–going for walks, meeting for pizza after church, visiting with each other.

–Breaking of bread. Does this refer to the observance of the Lord’s Supper or to meeting at someone’s house for potluck? Answer: yes. Both. A great way to get to know someone.

–And prayer. Nothing bonds people like praying together.

2. Conflict: Acts 6:1-7.

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