The high cost of disobedience

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?  Or, what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

What do you have to give up to serve the Lord?  Well, for starters, you give up your sin and guilt, your anguish and your lostness.  You give up your waywardness and fears, your selfishness and your pride.  You give up being lord of your own life and master of all your own choices.

Paul called this “presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

It’s a daily exercise, by the way.  While we wish we could do a one-time-works-forever thing, it’s not to be.  “I die daily,” said the apostle (I Corinthians 15:31).  And so do we, if we get this right.

Before long, as we grow in Christ, we begin to realize that not only did we give up a lot of bad things to come to Him and to serve HIm, now, He is asking us to give up some good things which happen to be outside His will for us.

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Church leader, be the kid brother in the room.

“He who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves” (Luke 22:26).

Raise your hand if you’re the kid brother in a large family.

If so, you have been given an insight into this teaching of the Lord that most people miss altogether.

Now, in our family Mom and Dad had four sons and two daughters.  I was the number three son, born between sisters Patricia and Carolyn.  Ron was (still is) the eldest and Charlie was the youngest.  (Charlie died in 2006 and Glenn in 2014.)

Growing up, since he was the eldest in our large household, Ron took the role of the assistant father.  Whether Dad established that rule or not and whether the rest of us liked it or not, when Dad was not around, Ron called the shots.  Once when we were small, some relative came to our house and gave each of us a nickel. By nightfall, Ron had all the nickels. He’d traded or cajoled or something to corner the market on McKeever nickels.

As the baby of the family, little Charlie caught the brunt of everything.  He wore the hand-me-downs and had little say in family decisions.

I still smile at this exchange between Ron and Charlie when they were something like 15 and 6, respectively.  Ron called out, “Charlie! Come here.”  The little kid reluctantly came near.

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What hatred does to a soul

“Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6).

The Pharisees were not normally murderers.

They were highly religious, faithful keepers of the flame, staunch defenders of orthodoxy, and determined champions of conservatism.  If there had been a Tea Party of their day, they were it.  They hated modernism, treasured the heroes of their past, and wanted to return the nation to the glory days of centuries past.

But their hatred for Jesus trumped their devotion to God.

Hatred is a toxin, which when introduced into the soft, vulnerable and defenseless soul of mankind, wreaks havoc, destroys everything it touches, and sends its host spiraling ever downward toward the lowest pit of hell.  Hatred corrupts and perverts, sabotages and undermines.

Saddest of all is watching good people fall into its grasps and never come up for air.

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What hypocrisy looks like and why the Lord hates it with a passion

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29).  “Woe to you, blind guides!” (Matthew 23:16,24,26).  “You serpents, you brood of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33).

The Lord has this thing about hypocrites.

He doesn’t care for them much.

You and I have learned something God hasn’t managed to do: to accommodate ourselves to those who say one thing and do another.

Take the beer company of St Louis, for instance. We read this and it sounds normal to us. It took a secular writer to point out the hypocrisy in their moralizing.

“We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.” –Anheuser Busch, responding to recent scandals in the National Football League (TIME magazine, September 29, 2014)

Humor writer Ian Frazier nails the famous beer company for its duplicitous moralizing in the same issue of TIME magazine.

In recent weeks the NFL has been under attack for its mishandling of the serious misbehavior of players who, among other things, knocked out a wife in the elevator and was caught on tape doing it, and beat a four-year-old child leaving whelps and open wounds on his skin.

The famous beer company, known for its massive advertising throughout every sporting event available, takes the NFL to task for its pitiful reaction.  Such behavior is against Anheuser-Busch’s moral code and culture.

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Things that conspire to keep you humble–and why that’s good.

“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5)

You and I resist the proud, too, don’t we?  The braggart who takes all the credit for work the whole team accomplished is deserting his friends, turning them into enemies and setting himself up as a target for their animosity.

Not very smart.

The next time he seeks our help or invites us to join his team, we think hard about accepting.  We know how he works and it’s not good. We resist him.

Pride looks good on no one, least of all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in particular ministers of the Gospel. Pride is one adornment we should all reject.

I wish I could stand before you this morning and say all the Lord’s people have this down pat, that pride (or egotism, however we want to say it) is something we do not have to struggle with. But the evidence to the contrary is all around us. Christians sometime are the world’s worst prigs, pharisees, egomaniacs.  And some preachers are the chief offenders.

Lord, help your people.

Humility, let us say, means not to think down on yourself, to put yourself down, to crawl and cower and, in the memorable words of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9:8, refer to yourself as a dead dog.

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The subtle sin of judgmentalism and how it works

“Do not judge, lest you be judged…. Why  do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1ff.)

If you are prone to criticism and judging others, chances are you will be the last to know it.

It’s that kind of sin. I see it in you; it’s just part of who I am.

I find it fascinating that after issuing the warning about not judging others, our Lord followed with the caution about specks and logs in people’s eyes.

This is precisely how it works.

My judgmentalism of you appears so normal and natural that it never occurs to me that I am actually condemning you.  So, while your rush to judgment is a log in your eye–one you really should do something about!–my human tendency to speak out on (ahem) convictions is merely a speck in mine and nothing to be concerned about.

Ain’t that the way?

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How to stay youthful all the way home

“They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:14).

It occurs to me that there is one article I can write which Rick Warren cannot (not yet anyway), which Thom Rainer is not ready to write, and which some people couldn’t come up with if their lives depended on it.

“How to be young in old age.”

I’m in that “old age” period, I suppose. Man, it hurts to admit that. But then again, as they say, considering the alternative, I’m good with being 74.

And, I remind myself, I have done funerals for a lot of good people who would have given everything to live this long and see their children married and their grandchildren grow up. So, I am blessed and I thank the Lord.

If you are, thirty, let’s say, and reading this, then I suggest you stop and consider how you are feeling at this very moment. Well, that’s how I feel. I feel great, clear-headed, alert, alive, joyful, without a pain or ache in my body.  Believe me, I am thankful.

That’s not the youthful part, though. When senior adults talk about being youthful, in most cases they’re not speaking of their libido or their athletic prowess. They’re talking about their spirit, their attitude.

And, from the reports of those who know me, I qualify.

So, therefore, let’s give it a try.  How to stay youthful in old age. My top 10 ways….

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Get the love out: Sometimes only words will do

“My little children, let us not love in word or tongue (only), but in deed and in truth”(I John 3:18).

In our effort to encourage people to “love one another,” we must not leave the impression that words do not count.  While deeds of love and other expressions are vital, a lot of people need to hear the actual words.

“I love you.”  “You have no idea how much you mean to me.” “Thank you for being such a precious friend.” “I treasure you.”

Speaking love is a good thing to do.

First, something inside me needs to speak words of love.  It’s good for me.

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Smile. C’mon, you can do this.

I have accidentally become an evangelist for smiling.

I want to see God’s people smiling, and do not understand why many refuse to do so until their natural reluctance is overpowered by something really hilarious.  If anyone on the planet has cause to smile, it’s us.  We’re saved, our names are written in glory, there is no condemnation either here or in the future waiting to ambush us, and from here on in, it’s all good!  That sure brings a smile to this country boy’s face.

Now, the Scriptures say very little about smiling, if at all. However, the references to joy leak out from every page. And what is a smile, after all, but “joy made visible.”

So, the old saw holds true here: “If you’re saved, tell your face about it.”

Now, I sketch people wherever I go, sometimes as many as 500 in one week. And since everyone on the planet looks better smiling and they will like the finished product more if it shows them in the best light, I tell people, “Look at me–not down at the sketchbook–and smile please. I want to see your teeth.”  Or, I might just say, “Say cheese.” Or if it’s a child, after learning he is 5 or 6 years old, to get a smile, I’ll say, “And are you married?”

You  would be surprised, and probably distressed, to know how often the subject replies, “I don’t smile.” Or, “I don’t like my smile.”

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7 things I learned in choir rehearsal

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).

During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.

Rehearsing songs–whether for church or school assembly or for the juke joint down the street–is hard work.

Gradually, I began to see some patterns forming. Eventually, those shapes merged to form life-lessons that have remained with me all these years.

1) I do not like new songs.

The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clothes-lines of blackbirds.  The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it.  This is no fun.  It’s work.

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