How to be a Christian who never offends anyone

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with immoral people.  Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous or extortioners or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  (I Corinthians 5:10)

They accuse me of stirring the pot, of introducing subjects sure to draw fire, of intentionally being controversial.  Nothing I say convinces them otherwise, even when all I did was to state something God’s people hold dear.

Almost all the key doctrines of the Christian faith someone will find objectionable and some will take offense at.

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Things I wonder about Holy Scripture

I love God’s Word.  Love to read it, think about it, talk about it, and preach it.  Oh, and yes, I love to “do” it.  Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”  That’s John 13:17.

Even so, I wonder some things about God’s Word.

This might be a good time to pass along something given me a generation ago from a New Orleans lady who had a lapful of questions: “The Lord knows I’m only a wondering child, not a wandering one.”  There is a huge difference.

One: I wonder if the Lord ever wants to put beside particular scriptures the Facebook line: “Just saying.”

I sometimes wonder when to take a teaching literally and when the statement in Scripture was intended to be less than a command, or even simply a side remark.

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When God says ‘no’

Now, when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.  Acts 16:6-7

I was 33 years old and minister of evangelism at the largest, most prestigious church (of our denomination at least)  in the state.  A few months earlier, our pastor had left and the leadership had handed me the assignment of preaching every three Sundays, every Wednesday night, and doing the Tuesday men’s Bible study for 150 fellows. All of that in addition to my regular duties.

I loved it.

One day, the chairman of the pastor search committee visited my cubby-hole of an office.  “Joe,” said Paul Moak.  “Do you believe God wants you to be pastor of this church?”  What a question.  Definitely a stunner that caught me off guard.  But I knew the answer.

“No, sir,” I said without hesitation.

“Neither do we,” he said.  (That seems funnier now than it did at the time.)

“But there’s a movement to make you the pastor of the church,” he said.

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The heart-cry of every child of God

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find…. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God…. (Romans 7:18,24-25).

Any of us can undo all the good we have done at any moment.

No believer is incapable of messing up and doing so royally.

Even though we are saved and saved forever, nothing about that prevents us from doing something truly stupid and harmful.

It’s that knowledge that keeps the faithful man and woman of God ever alert, constantly watching, forever on their knees.

Each believer struggles with our limitations, our humanity, our fallen nature, with what Scripture calls “the old man.”  Scripture says…

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God told me I was to come to your church staff–and other crazy stuff like that.

“Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string….” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Emerson meant well.  But boy, did he ever miss it by a country mile.

Your heart can do crazy things to your guidance system.  Giving it free rein to set the direction of one’s life can be risky.

“Trust yourself” is good advice for some people in some situations.  As a blanket rule for all people in all situations, no sir.  Not even close.

The letter came from a minister of music in the next state.

I see that your church is looking for a minister of music/worship leader.  I serve (name) church in (town, state) and am enclosing my resume.  Not long ago as I was in your city, the Lord told me I was to become your next minister of music.  I look forward to hearing from you.”

That hit me like some woman saying God told her she was to be my next wife.

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“Now, the Greek word used here means….”

The pastor says “Now, in the original Greek, this word means….” and church members roll their eyes.  Oh brother, some are thinking.

Or, he might say,  “In the original Hebrew, that word is…..and it means…..”

To the pastors among us, I ask: Is this necessary?

I find a great many church members are completely turned off by this little one-upsmanship of the preacher.  It feels to many like he’s showing off, bragging that he knows some Greek.

I’m not one to say the preacher is showing off.  After all, if he studied the language for a few years, clearly learning the Bible in its original forms is important to him, he is now capable of bringing in some of the finer insights from the Word.

But he must not overdo it by trying too hard or expecting too much.

I fear I’ve done this so many times in the past. Forgive me, members of the six churches I’ve served.

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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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Divine appointments: God is on the job

Have you ever walked out of a church service knowing today’s sermon had your name all over it?  You should feel so honored that the God of the universe maneuvered everything to minister to your need.  Does He do that as a regular thing?  My experience says He does.  Every day.  God is at work.

What a mighty God we serve!

This is from my journal from May 3, 1999—

“Every once in a while something happens that lets you know God is really active in what you are doing.  Sunday a week ago, I preached about young people.  I called it “the 5 cries of youth.”  Today’s young people are crying to Belong, crying for Unconditional love, asking for Instruction, needing and will someday appreciate Limits, and finally, for Time.  (Resulting in the acrostic B.U.I.L.T.)

Two solos were featured in the service–both by young women, one in her teens.  And we had visitors in the service.  Now, that’s not unusual.  Often we’ll have folks who are in New Orleans temporarily and staying at a hotel near the airport and drop into our services.  But on that day, we had 55 visitors–all teenagers (with a few adults) from two high schools in Wisconsin.  They were part of two high school bands in some kind of competition at the University of New Orleans.  That morning the leaders had asked, “Who wants to go to church?”  and 55 (about half) had responded.

Most of the youths indicated they had never been in a Baptist church before.  Since this was just after the Littleton, Colorado tragedy, I talked about it in the sermon.  Later, the leader came up with tears in her eyes.  She said, “Pastor, you have no idea how appropriate your message was for some of the kids in our group.  Some of them are dealing with the very issues you touched on.”  She gave me a hug.

As far as I know, the next time we all see each other will be in Heaven.

I can go for days on that kind of encouragement.”  (end of journal)

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“You’re going to be needing this,” said the Holy Spirit.

“Do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you.  Surely, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Sometime around 1996, our minister of education installed a desktop computer in my office.  “You’ll be needing this,” he said.

He was more right than either of us could have ever imagined.

Then, sometime around the year 2002, my son Marty, knowledgeable about computers in ways and depths that elude and astonish me, emailed me. “I have reserved www.joemckeever.com for you.”  He added, “You’re going to be needing it in the future.”

I scarcely knew what a domain was.  But I thanked him.

The website sat there unused for 2 years.

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Be ready for anything: A theology of surprises

“Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Anyone deciding to start following Jesus should buckle his seat-belt and prepare to be surprised. Nothing is as you expect it to be.

Consider such statements as…

–“Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

–“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

–“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

When I asked my wife for the scripture that comes to mind on this subject, she said, “When Naomi returned from Moab widowed and childless, she said to Ruth, ‘I went out full but the Lord has brought me back empty.’ (Ruth 1:21.)  She had no idea the Lord was about to put her in the lineage of the Messiah, something far better than she could ever have asked or planned or imagined.”

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