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…
“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.
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.
“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.
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)
“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.
“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.”
“And when He comes, He will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13)
A publisher once sent me a book to review for unknown reasons. The writer at one time had belonged to a church I had pastored, so maybe that was it. (Later, I was to learn that publishers ask authors to give them a list of people they want to review their book and comment. So, clearly, it was the writer’s idea.)
My review was not what they had wanted. I said, “He had a great idea. He makes some excellent points. But he desperately needed an editor.”
They never replied and never again asked me to review anything.
An editor can be a writer’s best friend. It is not politeness that prompts authors to praise their editor in the preface of their books. A good editor can cut through the verbiage, point out flaws in reasoning, find inaccuracies, and question claims. A good editor can spot a weakness in the plot and suggest a dozen ways to make the book better.
Most of us who try to write and then self-publish (which is what we are doing on the internet) serve as our own editors.
The result is often embarrassingly bad. I will read something from this blog written weeks earlier and spot typos or awkward sentences (the result of my attempts at self-editing, when I tried to cut out excess verbiage or redundancies by combining sentences and made a mess of it).
I read those and think, “I wrote that? Man, I need an editor. Or a wife.” (Please smile.)
“…I know not; God knows.” (2 Corinthians 12:2)
Some things you will never figure out in this life.
Some mysteries you will eventually see–or the Spirit will reveal them to you or someone much smarter than you will explain it to you–but you haven’t so far.
Until then, humility is the order of the day. (And, yes, afterwards, humility is still in order.)
Here’s one that has me going.
In Romans 8:26, one of my favorite “prayer” verses, after informing us that “we do not know how to pray as we should”–I knew it; I’m just surprised that Paul admits it!–and after saying “The Spirit also helps us in (that) weakness”–we read that “the Spirit Himself also intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
Okay. That sentence carries mystery enough to occupy me for the next few years.
“Convince, rebuke, exhort….” (2 Timothy 4:2).
“Winston Churchill’s wife told him that loosing the election may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened.”
That statement from an online preacher’s magazine set off my inner alarm. The proper word is not “loosing,” but “losing.”
As an old high school English teacher, I know a little about these things. And I know that these things matter. (That is not to say I don’t slip up occasionally. I definitely do.
A couple of days ago, someone wrote to Smiley Anders’ column in our paper to bemoan the wrong placement of the word “only” in conversation and print. Someone may say, “There were five boys, but I only gave quarters to two of them.” See the problem? “Only” belongs before “two of them.” It should say, “There were five boys but I gave quarters to only two of them.”
Two days later, Smiley says the language maven wrote a followup note to say that the very day her gripe ran in his column, the editorial cartoon violated the “only rule,” with that word in the wrong place.
And I’m thinking, “Get over this, lady. If you go through life correcting everyone’s English, you have taken on a thankless job and unachievable task.”