Turning sarcasm into “sic ’em!”

“Jesus said, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” No prophet is welcome in his own hometown’” (Luke 4:24). 

John Fogerty’s group Creedence Clearwater Revival is unforgettable to anyone who has owned a radio in the last 50 years.  Several years ago, in an interview with newsman Dan Rather, Fogerty was remembering a key moment in the 1960s.

The group was one of many bands to perform at a particular event.  As the final group to warm up, and thus the first band to appear on stage, suddenly CCR found they had been unplugged.  John Fogerty yelled to the sound man to plug them back up, that they weren’t through.  The technician did so reluctantly, then added, “You not going anywhere anyway, man.”  Fogerty said, “Okay.  Give me one year.  I’ll show you.”

One year later, the group was so hot with hit record after hit record (“Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising”) that “we were too big to play in that place any more!”

Turning sarcasm into a healthy sic ’em!  Something to spur you onward instead of allowing it to crush your spirit and keep you down.

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What if the Lord should ever forget me?

“The righteous will be remembered forever” (Psalm 112:6).

What do you suppose would happen if the Father in Heaven ever got Alzheimer’s?

After all, He’s really, really old, right?

Okay. Not going to happen, of course. My whimsy gene is just asserting itself today.  Scripture makes it plain that “He knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).

But it did start me to thinking….

What if the Lord really ever were in danger of forgetting me?

Well, the good news is He has these memory aids, mnemonic devices they are called, to guarantee that He doesn’t lose track of any of us.  And no, I do not mean God ties a string around His finger.  Something far better.

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20 reasons why I pray

“And He was giving them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not faint” (Luke 18:1).

At all times we ought to pray.

She knew I was praying for a certain family member who seems forever in some kind of predicament.  She asked, “Why do you pray?  I don’t see it doing any good.”

When I caught my breath–I could not believe a Christian asking such a question–I said, “Ask me why I breathe air.  It’s what I do to live.”

She did not let me off that easily. “Do you really think God is going to do what you ask? Is that why you pray?”

By now, I had settled down enough to try to verbalize a reasonable answer.

“That’s not up to me. How He chooses to answer my prayer is His business.”

“My job is to pray. To ask, intercede, to speak in faith what someone else needs. And so I ask for it.”

“How He answers is strictly up to Him. Or whether He even answers at all.”

Her question will not leave me alone. I imagine everyone who prays regularly–and keeps it up over the years, through good times and bad–has to answer this for themselves repeatedly, as well as for friends and skeptics alike.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. “Why pray?”

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The world into which the gospel came

Robert Harris is surely one of the most effective historical novelists on the scene. Everything he writes is so readable.

Conspirata is a sequel to Harris’ novel Imperium, which chronicles the rise of Cicero in ancient Rome.  He sticks to the facts and to the actual speeches of Cicero as much as possible, which is what make this so valuable.  You feel you know these people afterwards.

Conspirata  tells of Cicero’s consulship in which he ruled over the Roman Empire for a brief period, his work as a senator, and his brilliance as a lawyer and orator.  It’s impossible to recommend this novel too highly; I loved it.

I was struck by the conditions in Rome at this time (the story begins in 63 B.C.). This was the most civilized and progressive society known to western man at the time.  We still speak of “the glory that was Rome.”  It was glorious, to a point and depending on the strata of society you occupied.

Into this world, Jesus Christ was born. Into this culture the gospel came.  To these people, God sent a Savior.

Read what follows and ask yourself, “Man, did these people ever need a Savior?”

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Pretend you are omniscient. Here’s how that looks.

General George Patton of World War 2 fame lived in the grip of a strong sense of destiny.  At times, he felt he might be the reincarnation of some ancient Roman general.  There was a daring and innovative spirit about him, a combination, some said, of past generals such as the Confederacy’s Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jeb Stuart, and the Union’s George Custer.

Patton knew he was special and felt “the gods” had ordained him for something dramatic in life.

According to LIFE magazine for November 30, 1942, he expected his death to be spectacular.

He has a date with history, but the date, he thinks, will be brief.  He expects to be killed in battle, not bombed out of headquarters somewhere to the rear, but blown up, bit by bit, in a tank advancing at the head of a victorious attack through the enemy’s strongest lines.

This premonition that he will be killed in battle is not something new. He had it in 1917; he had it during all the years between World War I and World War II, when even the Army seemed to believe there would be no more wars. He often described his premonition to his wife, until today she too believes it.  Of course, it may not come in the present desert campaign, but Patton’s friends now take his word for it: it will come sometime and it will be glorious. (p.116)

That’s what he expected about his death.  It was not to be.

Four months after the war ended he was killed in an automobile accident.

He must have been so disappointed.

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How religious cults operate

After a few days of trying in vain to get Russians to talk with her, Cowles found out why they were afraid. Stalin had just killed untold millions of his own people for what he called anti-Communistic actions. Some of those actions were nothing more than studying a foreign language or befriending a foreigner. Consequently, people were afraid to speak to any stranger.

Cowles then gives us her analysis of life in that sad country:

The chief distinction between man and animal is the critical faculty of the human mind. In the Soviet Union–just as in Germany–the critical faculty was carefully exterminated, so that the mass might sweat out their existence as uncomplainingly as oxen, obedient to the tyranny of the day. Truth was a lost word. Minds were doped with distorted information until they became so sluggish they had not even the power to protest against their miserable conditions. The ‘Pravda’ never tired of revealing to its readers the iniquities of the outside world, always pointing (out) how blessed were the people of the Soviet Union.

This is precisely how religous cults operate. They cannot stand for their people to think for themselves, have independent opinions, or ask troublesome questions. Dissension is treated as rebellion and rebellion gets you ousted.


By the word “cult,” I do not mean bad people. In fact, personally, in using the word I don’t mean all those off-beat groups that appear on the religious landscape from time to time. By “cult,” I mean variations of Christianity that claim they and they alone have the truth and all the rest of us are either deceived or deceitful.

The two groups that qualify more than any others in my mind are the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

Watchman Fellowship is an outstanding organization which seeks to inform people about modern cults. Their website is www.watchman.org. I recommend them highly.

Watchman Fellowship says on their blog, “Cults have shifted their theological point of authority away from God’s full and final written word, the Bible, to their own unique, self-promoting opinions about the Bible.”

These groups take one of three positions regarding the Bible, according to WF.

–1) The Bible is merely a good book. Groups taking this line include Hare Krishna and Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

–2) The Bible is the Word of God but has mistakes. The Mormons (Church of Latter-Day Saints or LDS) and Christian Science take this position.

–3) The Bible is completely true and accurate, but only our group has the correct interpretation. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unity School of Christianity fall into this group.

The primary thing to bear in mind about cults is this: each one has a central authority that sets all the rules, interprets the Bible, and allows no deviation from its “revelations.”

No independent thought. No criticism of its leadership. No dissent, no questioning, and therefore no sense of humor.

I’m old enough to recall when the Brooklyn headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses handed down a new rule prohibiting the open-book studying and teaching of the Bible. Until that time, members could gather in Kingdom Halls and study the Bible for themselves. But from that moment on, only official materials could be read with the Scriptures and counted on for the proper interpretation.

I’ve had more than a few run-ins with both groups–Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons–over the years. Nothing about it was fun. I’ve read the books of Christian writers with their insights and principles for witnessing to members of these movements, but I always came away feeling I had failed the members of the sects and done a poor job of representing the Truth of Christ.

As a seminary student and part-time pastor of a small church on a Louisiana bayou, I learned that two children who had started attending our church lived in that house on the highway. So one evening, a deacon and I called on the family. The father welcomed us in and proceeded to inform us he was a backslidden Jehovah’s Witness. For reasons long forgotten, he had fallen out of favor and had been ousted. But he could argue circles around me. I was so green and completely unacquainted with his religion.

That sent me to the library to start learning. The next time, I determined, I would be ready.

I was far from ready.

Several years later, a man in our town told me his teenage son was being pulled into the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He asked if I would talk to the boy. We set up a meeting for the next Monday night at my church.

It was a set-up all right. And I was the bait.

The man and his son were accompanied by the leader of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses hall and an apprentice or two. In no way was I expecting or prepared for this. I know now, I should have ended it right there and called off the meeting.

But I was young and this had never happened before.

The JW leader put on a show before his understudies. He gloated like a young Mussolini whenever he spotted an area where I had to say “I don’t know,” flaunted his arrogance with a smirk, and left me speechless.

One does not forget such an experience.

I have no further memory of anything coming out of that little confrontation other than a complete revulsion in my soul ever since for such people. Looking back, I wonder whether the man and his son were more revolted by my ignorance or by their leader’s arrogance. Both were pretty overwhelming.

Over the years since, I have made an in-depth study of both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism. I’m no expert on either. I have found, however, that they share a disdain for one another. And no wonder, since they use so many of the same tactics: door-to-door work, we-alone-have-the-truth, the Bible-is-true-only-as-we-interpret-it, and policies are set by a small group of men who alone receive revelations from the Almighty. Everyone else is expected to tow the party line and leave their eternal destinies in the hands of the authorities.

As with Communist Russia, these groups exist only by squelching dissent. Raise embarrassing questions and you’ll get a come-to-Jesus (as we say) visit from your superiors. Question the authority and your standing is quickly in trouble.

There is a certain security in belonging to such a religion. It keeps you from having to think. Your salvation and eternal destiny are in the hands of other people.

If you like that sort of thing, that those are the religions for you, I suppose.

But mark it down in big letters: such cults will always have mass defections from people who were sucked in and then found out that they were expected to leave their critical faculties (their brains!) at the door.

The bad thing about those who leave such cults, I have sometimes found, is that many have been forever poisoned against belonging to a normal Christian church.

There is going to be some hard accountabilities at Judgment, friend. It’s not only the Hitlers and Stalins who have a lot to account for when they stand before the Almighty. The leaders of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are in deep trouble.

Remember you heard it here.

Kate has given me permission to tell of her experience with the Mormons. She grew up in a town where I pastored for many years, and we’ve reconnected on Facebook recently.

She grew up Episcopalian. “I had no idea who Jesus was.” In college, “I went the Methodist route, but still didn’t connect.” She married Brad, they moved to another city, and one day the LDS missionaries knocked on the door. “At the time, they were a nice diversion for me.”

Brad was violent and abusive and Kate felt safe with the elders. “We became close friends, which is actually frowned on between male missionaries and female investigators.” She says, “When they were teaching the lessons, I thought they were crazy.”

“Even thought I did not have a connection with God at the time,” Kate explains, “I did have enough biblical foundation to know their teachings were out of line with that.”

So why did she join the Mormon church? “I felt pressured and I felt guilty because they were friends and needed this to happen. I remember being offended when they put me with other women to learn from. I wanted to hang out with the two elders and no one else. So joining was not about the doctrine at all.”

Kate was baptized in the Mormon ward on Mother’s Day of 1990. “I just never could accept the LDS faith, though. It was bizarre to me. I thought they were wonderful and delightful people, but doctrinally off the wall.”

“As strange as this seems, even though I wasn’t saved and did not have a relationship with Christ, I knew they were wrong. But I was so desperate to escape my bad marriage to Brad. The violence at home escalated over time. I cannot tell you how many times the missionaries would take me to the emergency room or comfort me when I went to their apartment with black eyes, cuts, bruises, or bloody lips.”

“Brad left me in 1990 over a private conversation I had with the LDS missionaries. I told them something about my marriage and they called him. He was humilated I had discussed our life with them, so he beat me again. He left me for dead this time, he cleaned out the house, and he moved out. I felt completely betrayed by the missionaries.”

“After I was released from the hospital, we set up a meeting with the Mormon bishop. He warned me to have a sweet spirit when I came in. He said if I had a spirit of dissension, Satan would enter the room with me.”

“The young missionaries told the bishop that they knew what was best for me and that God had told them to call my husband.”

Kate says, “That might have worked had Brad been a member of the church and not a sadistic lunatic.”

Eventually, Kate moved back home. Her mother rejected her. “You made your own bed, now lie in it.” From there, she moved to Florida.

There, Kate re-connected with the Mormon church. It was all she knew.

Eventually, a member of the ward who was a psychiatrist had her committed to a padded cell in a strait jacket. That’s when she moved once more.

In her new town, she met a guy. He said, “I’d love to date you but there’s something you need to know. I’m a Christian.”

“He brought over a Bible, some tacos, and a Keith Green CD (still my fav). He said, ‘Start reading in Matthew and call me after you get through John.’”

Long story short–and there is much more to Kate’s saga–the Lord used the witness of this friend to penetrate her heart and get her straight.

At a particularly low point when she thought about jumping off a bridge, God reminded her of Psalm 68:5 (A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation). “It just blew my mind.”

“I said out loud to the Lord, ‘I will be your child if you will be my Father, but if you aren’t real, then I’m coming back to this bridge and I will jump off it and I don’t want you to stop me.’”

That did it.

“I had an overwhelming sense of peace right then, went home, burned all my ac/dc, black sabbath, secular music and said, ‘I trust you to provide what will help me grow as a Christian.’”

Two days later, at a get-together of Christians, Kate heard the testimony of a young woman who told how Jesus saved her from a life of drugs and partying.

Kate says, “I prayed the sinners prayer right then on their deck and started going to church.”

She wrote the LDS church, demanding that they remove her name from their rolls. “It only took them 8 years. I just got the letter that I have been officially removed. As for how I feel about the church right now, I still think they are lovely wonderful people. I live in a western city which is nothing short of little Salt Lake. I have many friends still in the church, but their doctrine is absolutely and totally incorrect and I don’t mind being quite vocal about it.”

“Their doctrine is dangerous,” Kate says, “I don’t allow them to pray with me or to pray anywhere in front of me or on my property. They are not praying to the same God I am. I know Mormon doctrine well. I have the Book of Mormon here, the pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants and I know them well.”

Kate says, “A Mormon will tell you in a heartbeat if you try and quote that last verse of the Bible (not to add to the Word of God) that Revelation was not meant to be the last book in the Bible. However, they don’t have much to say when I tell them that the God of Creation, the One who spoke this world into existence, He would know what order His Holy Word was supposed to be in.”

“I am extremely opinionated about the Mormon church, even angry about it sometimes. I pray every day for this deception to fall like a house of cards.”

I’m asking our readers to pray for Kate. She’s a precious young woman and even though she has joined a good church, she needs to be in a small group of believers who will encourage her.

She does not need anyone to dominate her life, however. She’s been there and done that. The Lord Jesus Christ has set her free. We give Him praise and glory for the peace and salvation she knows right now.

Kate is one of the Lord’s jewels. We rejoice in what the Lord has done in her and for the person she is in the process of becoming.

The delights that constantly come from our surprising Lord!

It’s great to be able to say with Paul of Timothy, “From a child you have known the Holy Scriptures” (II Tim. 3:15), as some of us can.

But it has its downside.

Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. However, for those of us raised in church, I suspect it’s more boredom than outright contempt.

The amazing story loses its edge.

One of the works of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to continually sharpen our commitment to Christ and our enjoyment of Him. He alone keeps putting the edge on our faith.

When we drift from faithfulness to the Lord, that is, when we backslide, well, the Holy Spirit, who can take a hint and know when He is not wanted, turns to others who want His help. You and I are hardly aware that He has moved away. We are the last to see that something else has happened….

We have lost something special. We have become bored with our faith and boring in our proclamation of it.

When the Holy Spirit is in the driver’s seat in our lives, many things happen. And one of the best is this: We see the Scriptures through fresh eyes.

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Some people sound heavenly; others sound like hell.

“In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

“Cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

If the atmosphere of heaven is joy and praise, then the noxious fumes of hell must be composed of equal parts anger, complaining, bitterness and blaming.

If your heart is in heaven, your head should be in the clouds.

Okay, I’m playing with metaphors here and admit it. But I am overwhelmed by all the scriptures which keep telling us that the atmosphere around the throne of Heaven is praise and joy and gratitude. Worship, in other words.

There is Psalm 16:11 (above) which is just about as good as you could ask for.

In John’s vision of Heaven which we call Revelation (or more often “Revelations”), he tells us that near the throne stood “four living creatures, each having six wings…. Day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, The Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come’” (Revelation 4:8).  Around the throne, the praise is continuous.

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Why the Lord is so rough on some of His choice servants

“O you of little faith!  Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The teacher is hardest on the best pupils.

The Master Teacher is hardest on the Star Pupil.

The coach is in the face of the player with the greatest potential, on his back, never letting up.

Check out these words from the Lord Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan.  You are a stumbling block to me;  for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23).

He said those harsh, cutting words, not to the Pharisees, but to Simon Peter, His “star apostle.”

Simon Peter–the disciple with the most potential, the one Jesus renamed as “Rock.”  He called Peter a “satan” (adversary) soon after commending him for his confession that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  When Peter said that, the Lord said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Called him blessed one moment and turns right around and calls him a devil.

What’s going on here?

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The scars tell the story on us

My son was trying to find a good used car for his daughters. Since their big brother had just graduated, Abby and Erin would be driving themselves to school in the fall.  Twice Neil found possibilities, but wisely took the cars to a trusted mechanic for his appraisal.

It fell to me to drive the second of these cars to the repair shop. Our mechanic friend studied the car, drove it a bit, then recommended we not buy it for a number of reasons. Then, he said, “Come here, Reverend. I want to show you something.”

“See those dirty stains on the seats?”

Each seat carried rust-colored stains in wavy lines.

“This car has been flooded,” said Rick.  “And here is something else.”

There were scratches–horizontal, odd-looking lines–on the hood and the trunk. “This is where things scraped over the car,” he said.

I thought of the 100,000 automobiles that were ruined in 2005 Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. In many cases, the water was six to ten feet deep, and lingered for weeks. I’ve seen photos and heard stories from friends who drove boats over parking lots where all you could see were the tops of cars. It’s easy to imagine something being dragged across a flooded car.

Eventually, the cars were towed and left under bridges and interstates for months before being disposed of.

Later, we learned that some people were doing hasty repair jobs on the flooded cars and passing them off as normal. “Buyer beware” became the mantra.

I said, “Thank you, Rick. I would not have known what to look for.”

Our mechanic friend saved us a lot of headaches and heartaches, and doubtless a good deal of money in repair jobs.

People who go through storms in this life, like that car often carry the scars and stains for the rest of their days.

Some of those stains and scars are visible, if you know what you are looking for….

anger that seems to have no basis in reality. A floating hostility will attach itself to whatever target (or victim) is handy.

I once pastored a church following a huge split where people had fought verbal battles and took no prisoners. Years later, a few members still carried deep anger over what had been done or said. The stains of that church storm were imbedded so deeply inside them only the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ was sufficient to remove it.

–a sense of entitlement, the feeling that “the world owes me big time after all I’ve been through.”

Such a church member can be a major pain to everyone around him. Pity the new pastor who walks into a congregation without knowing the human traps laying in wait. For members who feel they are owed a great deal in life, nothing the pastor does will ever be enough. They are chronically dissatisfied and will spread their poisonous infection to the rest of the church.

–an all-encompassing fear of conflict and trouble.  After the nightmares they have been through, they will do anything to avoid similar crises in the future.

I experienced this syndrome personally. The church I left had been embattled from the first day I arrived, and the one to which I came was trying to recover from a stormy pastorate which had decimated the congregation. If it had been up to me, I would never have led a church business meeting or attended a deacons meeting again.  A few of the really ragged ones were enough for a lifetime. And yet, every church deserves a healthy pastor and a solid program. So, I had to face my fear of conflict. Eventually, I recovered and was later able to assist other churches going through their own storms.

–a distrust of the Almighty.  “Where was God when my house was destroyed?” “If Jesus loves the church, why did He let them run off our wonderful pastor?” “If God is good, then why did my mother die in that flood?” “Why did God let that church mistreat my father the way they did?”

There are answers for these questions. However, just voicing their distrust is for many war-veterans the beginning and end of their theological musings.

On the other hand, many of the stains and scars of life’s storms are not so obvious and can be unearthed only by those willing to look beneath the surface or who are skilled at people-helping….

–A church I pastored had a leader who criticized everything and was satisfied with nothing. Only when I called on him at home did I learn of the daily physical pain the man lived with. Something in his past had scarred him for a lifetime.

–A deacon with enormous influence and leadership skills built a strong following in every church and then fought his pastor for control. His poor pastors were no match for the man’s tactics and were frequently left bleeding in the road.  Someone who had known the deacon most of his life told me his father had been a pastor and he suspects that God had called that deacon to preach early in life, but that he resisted.  Whatever went on inside him back then seemed to be continuing, with his relationships paying a huge price.

I quickly admit that I’m no psychiatrist. I’m not one of these people who can see beneath the surface and tell what’s going on with people. I tend to take them at face value, and often turn out to be wrong about them.

Here is what I know…

–Scars on our bodies tend to fix forever in our minds the history that was occurring at that moment. A V-shaped scar on my left index finger is the result of this 5-year-old reaching up to the hot stove to take hold of a pot. How that melted my skin into a “V,” I’ll never know, but there it is.  About the same time, I received the scar at the corner of an eye, the result of being chased by a big brother and falling onto the broken rim of a galvanized wash tub. And one more. What appear to be frown-marks between my eyebrows are scars from the time I was riding in the funeral home car and a fellow in a pickup truck ran a stop sign. We broad-sided him and my forehead broke the dashboard.

–When law enforcement agencies are seeking a missing person or a criminal, in giving the description they will frequently refer to the identifying scars.  They brand us, you might say.

–Our own scars are records of events and people and times in our lives when something happened.

Marijohn Wilkin wrote an unforgettable gospel song about Heaven that carries this profound line: The only thing there that’s been made by a man are the scars in the hands of Jesus.