Contagion: Things we catch from one another

Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.  –Mark 5:19

I suspect this piece will be weeks in the writing.  I plan to return to it from time to time.

In Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis has a disaffected preacher of some sort giving reasons he is leaving the ministry and turning away from God.  “If there is a God of love, why didn’t He make good health contagious instead of disease?”

An interesting question.

It is certainly true that diseases–many of them at any rate–are contagious, meaning they are spread by human proximity or physical contact, direct or indirect.

In his book None of These Diseases, missionary doctor S. I. McMillen tells how the Black Plague was eventually ended in Europe.   After exhausting all the known remedies and researching everything they knew, medical people asked the priests if the Holy Scriptures had anything on the subject of the transmission of disease.  “Quarantine,” they answered.  And they showed scriptures such as…

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What if Jesus had not died?

If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  –I Corinthians 15:17

“What If?” is a series of best-selling books put together by Robert Cowley, in which historians look at key events in history and try to imagine what if things had not happened that way.

What if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus?

That is the title of the chapter by Carlos M. N. Eire, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. The subtitle reads, Christianity without the Crucifixion.

Eire imagines Pontius Pilate heeding the warning of his wife whose sleep had been disturbed that night by thoughts of “that righteous man.” Her message to the governor said, “Have nothing to do with him.”

So, he asks, what if Pilate had done the right thing and resisted the religious leaders and the rabble who were crying for Jesus’ execution; what if he had released Him?

On one page, underneath a 13th century painting of Pilate with the Jewish leaders is the caption: “The Decision That Made a Religion.”  (We can insist that it was the resurrection that “made” the Christian faith, but we won’t quibble over the importance of the crucifixion.)

Eire asks, “What if Jesus hadn’t been nailed to a cross at Pilate’s orders? What if he had lived a long, long life? Or even just ten more years? Or one? What if his person and message had been interpreted differently, as they surely would have been?”

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Tell people the truth about God. Even when it’s hard.

For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.  –Acts 20:27

A friend going through a difficult time sent a message concerning a situation she was facing. Toward the end of the letter, making a case for straight-shooting from my direction, she said something I will not soon forget.

Pray for me if you like. Send me scripture if you like. Put me on a prayer chain if you want. But please don’t lie to me about God.

She was not trying to be dramatic, only to convey how strongly she wanted the truth. Even if it hurt, even if it went contrary to everything she was doing and believed, she wanted to know.

You have to respect that.

My impression is that so many doctrinal inquiries we preachers get are merely asking us to confirm what the questioners are already doing, to endorse all they have previously believed.

God help us not to lie to others about God.

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Think God can’t use a nobody like you? Bite your tongue!

“And Moses said, ‘Who me, Lord? In the first place, I’m way past retirement age.  I’ve not been to seminary. I didn’t even finish college. The other preachers won’t respect me. Pulpit committees won’t have anything to do with me. There’s a bounty on me back in Egypt. I stutter a lot, and tend to freeze up in front of groups. You’ve clearly dialed a wrong number, Lord.”

“And God said, ‘Hush.  Now,  listen.’” (My rather free version of Exodus 3-4.)

The Lord can’t use a nothing nobody like me.

Ever heard that? Ever said it?

Repent, sinner.  You underestimate God! And, you might just be overestimating your own importance in the equation.

The Lord delights in taking nobodies and doing great things with them.

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Things even a lost man knows

The natural man does not comprehend spiritual things.  I Corinthians 2:14

An unsaved guy misses a great deal.  He’s on the outside looking in and so he will not value some of the things Jesus said or God did.

However…

Some unbelievers have a sharp sense as to what is right and what’s utterly stupid. Case in point…

A friend messaged to say the last line at the end of chapter 3 in our book “Pastoring” deserves its own treatment.

We were talking about a pastor goofing off when he should have been studying, fooling around in the pulpit when he should have been feeding the flock, and glorifying himself instead of Jesus.  An unsaved fellow who was in the congregation one day when the preacher did some dumb stuff told his family afterwards, “That pastor is a joke.”

And we said, “Some things even a lost man knows.”

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Can you make an exception for me?

“Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12)

My wife is a career schoolteacher.  Either in high school or college, she has taught English all her adult life.  (She has a bachelor’s degree from Bob Jones and a Master’s from Rhode Island College.)  And I hear the tales…

Toward the end of the semester, at the time when term papers are due and tests are scheduled, invariably some student wants to be late or to be allowed to skip something or have a deadline rescheduled.  And they always have excuses.

When the student has shown himself/herself to be conscientious and serious about their work, the teacher is disposed to want to help them.  But in the case of a lazy student for whom this is a pattern, a loving, faithful teacher will refuse to make allowances.  Give in to the lazy, self-indulgent student on this and all you do is reinforce that ugly pattern.

“Can you make an exception for me?”

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No one to blame but ourselves

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…. (from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  Act I, Scene 3.)

We did it and we are to blame.

Christians are forever complaining about the increasing secularization of America.  To listen to them in the year 2019 one would think the “old days”–say, some fifty years back–were the golden time of perennial revival.

The only problem is I lived through those days of the ’50s and 60s.   I can tell you the preachers were constantly railing against the decline in religion, the weakening of the churches, the surrendering to the world.

There has never been a golden age of faith in this country or any other that I have heard of.  Men have always loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  The narrow way is always trod by the few while “broad is the way that leads to destruction.”

Don’t be overly impressed–or too discouraged–by statistics and percentages showing the swings of church attendance, the number of Christians in Congress, and such.

The greatest mistake of the past generations of Christians in this country  was trying to Christianize the culture without evangelizing the people.  We put prayer in the schools, made the church the social life of the community, instituted blue laws so that no liquor could be sold on Sundays, and basically shut down secular life on the Lord’s Day.  We protected the morality of the cities and towns.  The citizens were no more Christian than previously, but we were making them behave like it.

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Something important you should know about Matthew 10

Matthew 10 and Luke 10 are joined in the same yoke.  They may well refer to the same incident in which our Lord sent the disciples out to practice preaching while He was still with them.  The main difference is that  Matthew says the Lord sent out the 12 apostles and Luke says He sent out seventy.  Same event? There’s no way to know. The similarities are many, although Matthew devotes the entire chapter to the instruction Jesus gave them, for which we can be eternally grateful.

Luke, while abbreviating the instructions, does something Matthew does not do: He tells what happened on their return.  That is Luke 10:17-24.

Now, pastors in particular should find the following helpful…

The first 15 verses of Matthew 10 do not apply to us today. After naming the twelve apostles, our Lord gives them  specific instructions on what to do on this mission.  Those instructions were for them, not for us.

–To repeat, the first 15 verses of Matthew 10 were directed only to the original twelve apostles about to go on a preaching mission.

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How to manipulate people to do big things

“….not grudgingly or of compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver…” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Have you ever done something big, then the next day had “buyer’s remorse”?

Welcome to the club.

The important thing is that we who lead the Lord’s churches not be guilty of perpetrating that kind of thing on people.  We were not sent to coerce or con anyone into anything.  We are messengers of the King and are all about integrity and love.  What Scripture calls “grace and truth” in the Lord Jesus (John 1:14).

They called him Tommy the Cork.  Thomas Corcoran was a political fixer, fund-raiser, and go-to guy for many politicians of the post-War years.  Robert Caro interviewed Corcoran for his books on Lyndon Johnson.

He had once told me one of his most effective fund-raising techniques.  When the man he was asking for money wrote a check and handed it across the desk to him, Mr. Corcoran, no matter what the amount–no matter if it was more than he had hoped for–would look at it with an expression of disdain, drop it back on the man’s desk, and, without saying a word, walk toward the door.  He had never once, he told me–exaggerating, I’m sure, but how much?–he had never once been allowed to reach the door without the man calling him back, tearing up the check, and writing one for a larger amount.  

Manipulation means getting people to do your bidding whether they want to or not.

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The Jehovah’s Witnesses and me

I don’t have a good track record of my dealings with members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion.

First story. During my seminary years, while pastoring a small church on a Louisiana bayou, a man in my congregation asked me to accompany him on a visit with a neighbor who used to be a member of the JWs and was not going to  church. I was green, eager, and clueless. Even though that man was no longer a member in good standing of the JWs–for reasons I have long since forgotten–he knew all their arguments, bought into their philosophy, and was a master of their combative attacks on what we might call traditional Christianity. He was brutal in the way he mauled me.

I was savaged.

As we left, my companion, a fellow who was to put a few grey hairs in my head over the decades for other reasons, tossed it all in my lap. “You have to answer him, Joe. If you don’t answer him, I’m never going to believe in you again.” Something like that.

Thanks a lot, friend.

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