Is it possible to manipulate people into the Kingdom?

“…and make disciples of all the nations….” (Matthew 28:18-20)

In my opinion, the deacon was brow-beating people into praying the sinner’s prayer with him, then accompanying him to church the following Sunday to make public this “commitment” and be baptized.  The whipped look on their face told all one would ever need to know.

So, one Sunday I asked this lady, “Do you really want to do this?  You know, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”  She said quietly that this was her choice. So, we baptized her and never saw her again.

Eventually, we changed the way we received church members to make certain we were not baptizing someone’s converts but were making disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Continue reading

Overlooked Scriptures No. 3: “Jesus baptized no one.”

“The Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)….” (John 4:1-2)

Baptism has bumfuzzled God’s people from the first.

Where did the practice originate?  Answer: Evidently from the Old Testament practice of drenching a newly ordained priest (Leviticus 8:6). Later, some say, the “pouring” was given to proselytes coming into the Jewish faith from the world.  So, when John the Baptist arrived and began calling people to wade into the Jordan for a dip (which is the literal meaning of “baptize”), while people thought he was strange, no one seems to have questioned the practice.  Oddly, he was baptizing Jews, not Gentiles and not proselytes.

When our Lord was baptized, it signaled His coming out, His going public, His announcing to the world His identity.  That moment, in my thinking, was the first time Satan knew beyond a doubt who the Messiah was. He knew the Lord was there somewhere, for he could read Scripture. But Jesus had done no miracles and singled Himself out in no way that would cause the enemy to identify Him.  But Satan was on the alert.  He listened to John preach and knew to be expecting the Christ.  And then one day, Jesus of Nazareth walked into the water and the heavens opened and a voice from the sky shook the landscape.

And that’s when Satan knew.

Continue reading

Overlooked Scriptures No. 2: “Why Jesus is the authority on Heaven”

“No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13).

Jesus knows about Heaven.

He should. He’s a native.

When He speaks of Heavenly things, everyone else on the field should retire and every mouth be closed.  No one else carries the credentials Jesus does regarding the divine.

I wonder if people have ever considered the width and breadth and depth of this statement, given by our Lord to Nicodemus.

Continue reading

My “Super Bowl” sermon 20 years ago

(My journal for January 1996 records this message as the one I preached on Super Bowl Sunday, January 28.  After reading these notes, you may be interested in the post scripts.  Every pastor will understand the final one…and will shake his head in amazement at the littleness of some people in church…in every church, let us emphasize.)


Text: Hebrews 12:1-2  “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, national day of worship for a country crazy about sports. I’m a sports fan too, altho’ a bigger baseball fan than anything else.  For one thing, you can carry on a nice conversation with your neighbor and they don’t have cheerleaders and there is very little rowdiness.

Margaret and I have been amazed to see that the second word our grandson (Grant) learned was ‘ball.’ I’ve said to his mother Julie that if he grows up to be involved in all kinds of sports, don’t be surprised, that apparently he came to us that way.

It will interest you to know that much of the world has always been sports-crazy. We know about the Olympic Games–which were started in 776 B.C.! The rest, as they say, is history.

The Apostle Paul knew about sports and apparently loved them as most men do.  Tonight we will look at I Corinthians 9 where he talks about sports as illustrating some spiritual points.

Here in Hebrews 12:1-2, a great sporting event is going on.  This one is the Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls. And you and I are playing in it.  I want you to see 5 things….

Continue reading

Overlooked Scriptures No. 1: “Does Jesus believe in me?”

(It’s not that certain scriptures are lost, misplaced, or denied.  Rather, they’re usually surrounded by other better-known texts that tend to suck all the air out of the room.  We’re going to present a few articles on some of those overlooked scriptures. No particular order.)

“Now, when Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).

Is it possible that for some to believe in Jesus and still not be saved?

Doesn’t Scripture make belief in Him the essence of salvation?  Immediately after our text, we have the Lord’s encounter with Nicodemus with the iconic John 3:16 which states that “whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Earlier, John 1:12 had said “…to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”

And yet, our text makes it clear that some who “believed” in Jesus were not born again.  The reason given is a fascinating one:  Jesus did not believe in them.

When have we ever given thought to whether Jesus believes in us?

Continue reading

What to do about the labor shortage in the Lord’s work

“But when He saw the multitudes, (Jesus) was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to the disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38).

Little of this is what we would have expected.

The newly baptized Savior was moving in and around Galilee preaching and ministering.  Was this the first time He had “gotten out” and seen the crowds, growing up as He did in the small town of Nazareth where He worked alongside His father in the carpentry business?  Was this a surprise to Him, seeing the crowds in this way?

The people seemed as sheep with no shepherd.  Think of what that means….

Continue reading

The best reason to believe in God

“Always be ready to give a defense (answer) to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear, having a good conscience….” (I Peter 3:15-16).

Knowing you believe is not enough.

You should be able to state why you believe.

(And, it’s not enough to say, as a Mormon did to me once, “This is true because it gives me a warm feeling inside.”)

Most of us would require more reason than that to stake our lives on a teaching or doctrine.

I’ve been loving the last chapter or two of John Ortberg’s 2008 book “Know Doubt.”  And I’ve been doing something I rarely do: Reading the final chapter of a book I never actually finished.

I have hundreds of books I never finished.

In most cases, life intervened and something came up and I just never got around to finishing that book.  At any given time, I’ll have a half-dozen books going.  (At this moment, there are 10 books on the table beside my bed. Ten. I’m embarrassed to admit this.) And some books just get lost in the shuffle and I never finish them, although I enjoyed them and had good intentions.

While searching for comments and insights from Christian writers on the Trinity for a recent article, I found myself absorbed in Ortberg’s chapter on “Why I believe.” I read a page or two and stopped. I would read more and stop.  I found myself wondering: How does Ortberg do this? How can he know these things? How can he read those books he talks about and understand them? (Some I started on, but could not understand and abandoned, but here he is quoting some profundity I had missed.) How can Ortberg fill one page with so many delicious quotations?

Continue reading

Is the Trinity a man-made doctrine?

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

People with no use for the doctrine of the Trinity give as their reasons:

  1. It’s too hard to understand.
  2. It’s not specifically taught in Scripture.
  3. The word Trinity is nowhere in the Bible.
  4. Some people turn it into three separate deities.

We will grant all these factors.  Not only is it “hard” to understand, it’s impossible.  So, let’s concede that up front.  But that does not stop a thing from being true. We are unable to figure out how we are body, soul, and spirit, a tri-unity of its own on a far simpler level. So, nothing about the complexity of the nature of the Creator should stop us from believing it.

Continue reading

Things they never taught me in seminary.

A pastor friend wrote a book by the title “What They Never Taught Me in Seminary.”  I even drew the cover and inside cartoons for him, which suggests he didn’t learn as much about discernment in school as he might have.

Preachers are always going on about what they didn’t learn in school, and what they should have.  Some of the courses divinity schools now offer resulted from those very graduates mentioning subjects they felt they needed. One required of all masters level grads of my seminary, the direct result of alums’ wishes, is called “Interpersonal Relationships.”  I’ve taught it a few times myself.

Now, let’s point out up front that it is impossible for seminaries to teach their students everything they need to know for future ministry. What they are trying to do is prepare them with enough basic skills that they’ll be ready to face whatever comes.  After all, the Holy Spirit is alongside each one to teach and instruct and guide.

All right. That said, like most pastors I do have my list. Here are the ones that come to mind today….

Continue reading

“I wasn’t lying exactly, just misrepresenting the facts.”

“Do not lie to one another, seeing you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9).

The current issue of Vanity Fair magazine (February 2016) carries a story to keep you thinking for a week or two. You read it and think, “What? How could this happen?”

One of the producers of Meredith Viera’s NBC program fell in love with the famous heart-transplant surgeon on whom they were doing a feature.  Paolo Macchiarini was amazingly accomplished, stunningly successful, and fabulously rich.  He was handsome, suave, and a charmer.

The producer, Benita Alexander, on her second marriage at the time, promptly forgot her altar vows and fell head over heels for this surgeon, who wined her and dined her. Soon, they were flying all over the world, living a life of luxury, and making plans for a wedding of their own.

Meredith Viera said about the surgeon, “He’s the doctor who does the seemingly impossible, going where no other has yet dared.”  The New York Times had done a front page feature on the man.  He was clearly somebody.

So you’ll know, the narrator talks about the conflict of a producer having a relationship with the subject of their feature, but I’ll leave that for other people. There was something else about the story more fascinating.

Continue reading