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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10 reasons I believe in Jesus Christ (the second 5)

(To see the first 5 reasons, please visit our website www.joemckeever.com and scroll to the article for September 16, 2014. Permission is given to anyone wishing to reprint these or pass them along in any Christ-honoring way.)

I believe in Jesus Christ–to my mind that is synonymous with “I believe in God”–for so many reasons, these among them….

6) THIS WORLD. Planet earth is uniquely adapted for life, unlike any other place our greatest scientists have yet discovered in the universe.  Factors that make earth different from any other place ever found include….

The  life-giving atmosphere…the abundance of water….the distance of the earth from the sun…the rotation of the earth…the tilt on its axis…the symbiotic balance of plants and animals…the riches in the soil…the seasons. These and hundreds more factors, known mostly to the scientifically minded, have combined to pull off the greatest miracle of the universe so far discovered: Earth.

To date, scientists have seen nothing in the vast heavens which even remotely approaches this wonderful planet on which we live.  Earth is a miracle.  As it zooms around our sun at 67,000 mph–while our solar system moves throughout our galaxy and the galaxy itself spins across the heavens at supersonic speeds–my coffee cup sits steadily beside my laptop with nary a ripple in the liquid.  No turbulence.  How does the Almighty God manage this?  I am in awe.

If you can believe in earth, Heaven should be a cinch for you!  I believe in God because of earth.

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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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