Letting others do our thinking

“My wife handles the religion in our family.  Talk to her.”  –A man in Luling, LA giving his young pastor the brushoff when I tried to introduce the matter of his relationship to Christ

Who handles the big things in your family?

The old joke goes: “When my wife and I got married, we decided I would handle the big things in life and she would take care of the little things, like where we lived, the house we would buy, the car we drive, and such.  It’s worked well. And, so far, over these 40 years, there have not been any big things.”

I told a group of Facebook friends I was reading James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty,” about his years in government, first as a U.S.Attorney and then Director of the F.B.I.  It’s a fascinating book and contains much worth retaining. (Although, admittedly, it can be boring in places.)

Because the man is controversial, the book has been attacked and disputed from the Trump team and his supporters.

The reaction of Facebookers was along party lines.

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A reservoir of trust–and a hole in the dam

This is one somewhat lengthy paragraph from James Comey, taken from his book “A Higher Loyalty,” concerning his years as a U.S. Attorney, in the Attorney General’s office, and as director of the F.B.I.

It was now my responsibility to build my own culture within the U.S.Attorney’s office, one that would get the best out of our team and drawing, in different ways, on the lessons of Giuliana and Fahey.  I tried to attend to this task from the very first day. I hired about fifty new prosecutors during my time as U.S. Attorney and sat with each of them as they took the oath of office.  I invited them to bring their families.  I told them that something remarkable was going to happen when they stood up (in court) and said they represented the United States of America–total strangers were going to believe what they said next.  I explained to them that although I didn’t want to burst their bubbles, this would not happen because of them.  It would happen because of those who had gone before them and, through hundreds of promises made and kept, and hundreds of truths told and errors instantly corrected, built something for them.  I called it a reservoir.  I told them it was a reservoir of trust and credibility built for you and filled for you by people you never knew, by those who are long gone.  A reservoir that makes possible so much of the good that is done by the institution you serve.  A remarkable gift.  I would explain to these bright young lawyers that, like all great gifts, this one comes with a responsibility, a solemn obligation to guard and protect that reservoir and pass it on to those who follow as full as you received it, or maybe even fuller.  I would explain that the problem with reservoirs is that they take a very long time to fill but they can be drained by one hole in the dam.  The actions of one person can destroy what ti took hundreds of people years to build.

The credibility of an institution.  Like a government, a college, a school, a church.  Even the credibility of one person–a leader, a president, a senator, a law enforcer, a pastor.

Plenty of people are saying that Mr. Comey himself blew a hole in the dam of the FBI during his time as its leader.  Which, if so, makes his words above even more poignant.

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What did you do in the war, Daddy?

“As his share who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage: they shall share alike” (I Samuel 30:24).

When Roland Q. Leavell returned home to the States from the “Great War” in Europe–what would come to be called the First World War–he had a problem.  People wanted to hear stories of the war, of battles, of heroism. The problem was he didn’t have any.

Roland Q. Leavell was in his 20s, single, and with a bachelor’s degree from seminary.  He had pastored small churches and had been sent to “the front” as a representative of the YMCA.  In those days, there was no USO to take care of American troops overseas, and fledgling organizations and ministries were still trying to figure these things out.

According to Dottie L. Hudson’s book “He Still Stands Tall: The Life of Roland Q. Leavell,” based on her father’s diaries, Roland did a hundred small things in his efforts for the Y:  He led Bible studies, he counseled soldiers, he ran a canteen, he taught French to a few soldiers, and he drove an ambulance.  At one point, he inhaled poisonous gas the Boches sprayed into the air. The one time he shot a gun was as a joke, pointed into the air across no-man’s-land.  “I guess I didn’t kill over 50,” he remarked in his diary.

And when he got home, people wanted to hear his stories.

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Baptismal regeneration? The controversy continues on how to be saved.

“And some men came down (to Antioch) from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according tot he custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’  And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren (there) determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.”  (Acts 15:1-2)

And so we have what is called the First Church Council, convened by the early church fathers to answer the question ‘How are we saved?’  Is it by faith alone or are works of the law required?  Must a Gentile become a Jew to be saved?

The reason this is on my mind today is that I’ve been in a dialogue with a preacher in the Church of Christ denomination (although he and their leaders insist they are not a denomination!).  He gave me a packet of pamphlets written by one of their elders which he is distributing.  I took it home with me, read through them, and was answering them.  When I concluded he was more interested in defending their narrow (and erroneous) interpretation of the truth than in finding and doing the truth as taught in Scriptures, I shut the discussion down.

One of the pamphlets addresses the question “What must I do to be saved?” from Acts 16:30.  But instead of giving the answer Paul gave–“Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved, you and your household”–the writer proceeded to attack the very answer Paul gave.  In one paragraph, he writes:

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Stripping the Christian faith of its hard edges

“Master, are you aware the Pharisees were offended by (what you preached)?”  (Matthew 15:12)

The truth has a way of offending.

Those who preach the Word must keep a sharp edge on their message.

The typical “liberal” church in modern America has no problem offending traditionalists.  What it cannot do–will not dare do, not for all the world!–is to go against the conventional wisdom of the day.  If the culture decides a thing is wrong, the accommodating church finds a way to adapt its doctrine and practices to the prevailing whims.  And so we have churches that call themselves Christian and Bible-believing ignoring or twisting Scripture in order to justify abortions, euthanasia, legalization of drugs, and the LGBTQ agenda, while erasing from their beliefs and practices anything having to do with the necessity of being born again, the role of the blood of Christ in our salvation, or the reality of hell.

What’s going on here?

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The test of an honest person (when discussing religion)

“In all things, love.”  –I Corinthians 16:14

That’s one test of a believer and a mighty important one it is.  Our Lord said it is the mark of a disciple.  (John 13:34-35)

Look for the love.  Otherwise, you know this one with whom you are discussing scriptures and doctrines is no follower of Jesus.

The cultist you’re talking religion to across the table or across the continent feels no need to love you since he/she has decided you are not a follower of Jesus since you disagree with their doctrine.  I’ve sat at a table with a Jehovah’s Witness who was brutal and mean-spirited and who may as well have thought of me as a child-molester by the scoffing and belittling he was dishing out.  (I was a younger pastor, and had not learned that there comes a time when it’s all right to say, “This meeting is over,” and walk out.)

But while love is the first mark of the believer, there’s another test for determining whether the person across the table is an honest seeker.

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Teaching the clueless: a quick study of Matthew 16

“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him; neither can he understand them for they are spiritually appraised” (I Corinthians 2:14).

“Are you getting this?”

“Am I getting through to you?”

Ask any teacher. Trying to convey a lesson to the clueless is the toughest part of their job.  The students sit there and stare at you as though you are speaking Swahili.  They just don’t get it.

Matthew 16 has three groups that do not get what the Lord Jesus is doing and teaching.

The Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-4). They wanted a sign.  The Pharisees were the ultra-conservatives of that day and the Sadducees the ultra-liberals.  The only thing they had in common was an animosity to Jesus.

These so-called religions authorities had no time or energy to consider what Jesus was doing and saying and what it meant.  By asking for a sign, they were saying: “If you want us, you’ll have to overwhelm us with your miracles so we have no choice but to believe.”   But without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; quoted in Romans 1:17, Colossians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38).

No one enters the Kingdom who is unwilling to come by faith in Jesus Christ.

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Reasons not to fear zombies–and other phantoms

I was grading tests turned in for a seminary course I was teaching.  In his essay a student wrote, “The only thing I fear is zombies.”  I wrote back, “Zombies? You fear zombies?  There is no such thing. They are the figment of someone’s imagination!”

I’ve laughed about that ever since.  This guy is going to be a minister of the gospel and he fears zombies.

“No fear allowed.”  That should be the sign across every believer’s doorway.  Anyone doing even a cursory reading of Scripture has stumbled across text after text informing God’s children–reminding them, teaching them, again and again–that we are not to fear.

God is insulted by His children fearing.  It’s as though we believe the enemy and not Him.

Here are some of our favorite texts on “No Fear Allowed” that come to mind…

“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16).  Elisha’s words to his panicky servant who had just seen the enemy encircling the city are good for us today.  Don’t be afraid: We outnumber them. 

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How legalism betrays Christ, violates the gospel, and destroys people

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?….And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?'” (Matthew 15:1-3)

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Historians tell us the Pharisees started off well, as revivalists in a way, calling the nation back to faithfulness.  Eventually, however, their insistence on righteousness settled down into a code of laws and rules.  They went from being encouragers to harassers, from lovers of God to bullies and legalists.

The legalist is someone who says, “I know the Lord didn’t say this, but He would have if He’d thought of it!”

The legalist is smarter than God.  He helps the Lord by completing His Word, by filling in the gaps where the Lord clearly forgot to say something, explain something, or require a thing.

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How I’d vote in the Alabama senatorial election

I’m completely aware that the title is presumputous!  I don’t live or vote in Alabama–although it is my native state–and in some ways might as well be chiming in on the alderman’s race in Jasper, Alabama.

But a pastor friend in that state sent the question: “How would you vote if you lived here?”

The quandary–for those who live outside the western hemisphere or in some distant future–is that the two primary candidates are Judge Roy Moore, Republican, who has been accused by a number of women of sexual overtures of one kind or other years ago when they were minors and he was an adult of 30 or so, and Doug Jones, Democrat, who espouses the party line in support of abortion and the usual liberal politics.  There are a thousand details, but these two matters cause the ethical dilemma of my friend and many others like him.

The charges and counter charges, accusations and denials, have been swift and many concerning Judge Moore.  Proving something that was merely verbal and occurred forty years ago is next to impossible. This means–unless I’m missing something–Judge Moore can do what Supreme Court nominee (and later Justice) Clarence Thomas did: deny, deny, and deny.  It was Thomas’ word against Anita Hill.  In this case, it’s Moore’s word against a half-dozen women.

The voters become the jury.

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