The best thing in the Bible….and the worst.

The best thing in the Bible might be Exodus 34:6-7.

And the Lord passed before (Moses) and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. “

It’s the best because it’s God’s self-revelation and it reveals Him to be pure love.  Exodus 34:6-7 is the Old Testament corollary to I John 3:8,16 which say “God is love.”

Exodus 34:6-7 is the best because it’s quoted all through the Old Testament.  Moses prayed it in Numbers 14:18.  Nehemiah sang it in Neh. 9:17.  Joel held it out as the reason God’s people could expect revival, in Joel 2:13.  David sang it in Psalms 86:15, in  103:8, and in 145:8.    Jonah complained about it in Jonah 4:2.  And we find fleeting quotes from it throughout Jeremiah, such as in 32:18.

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The God-moment when you realize who you are talking to

“‘I know that Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.'” (John 4:25-26)

You were discussing God to someone casually,  in theory, having a nice little conversation.  Then all of a sudden you realize the Person you are talking with is the Lord Himself.

Nothing prepares you for such a moment.

1st instance in Scripture.  John 4 where Jesus informs the “woman at the well” of His true identity.  Give her credit, because she hastened back into her village and told everyone.  “Is not this the Christ?”  The Lord and HIs disciples ended up conducting a two day crusade (of a sort) there, with many more people believing on Jesus.

I imagine she never talked to a stranger in the same way again.

You never know.  Hebrews 13:2 tells us not to forget to entertain strangers since some who did  ended up giving hospitality to angels.  That may be  a reference to Genesis 18-19.  But who’s to say it couldn’t happen to us, today, right here?

2nd instance in Scripture.  Matthew 26 where our Lord is on trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest, Pilate, Herod, and Pilate again.

The high priest was irritable at having been called out of bed so early.  He lost his patience with this Man who stood before him  refusing to answer even the first question.

The religious leader bellowed at Jesus standing there in silence.   “Do you answer nothing? Aren’t you going to respond to what these men are saying against you?”

And once again, Jesus kept silent.

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The one question we would have for Jesus

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him…. And he questioned Him with many words…. (Luke 23:8-9).

Someone asked Larry King, the legendary television interviewer, if he could sit across the table and interview one person in all of history, who would it be.  “Jesus Christ,” said this man who is Jewish.

“And what would you ask him?”

“I would like to ask Him  if He was indeed virgin-born.  The answer to that question would define history for me.”

To be sure. That answer could change everything.  As it  has for many a person.

So with the resurrection.  Answer that in the affirmative and everything else falls into place.

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What it means to love Jesus

“If you love me….” (John 14:15)

We do love the Lord, right?  We would love to express our love to Him in His own love-language, right?

We love Him because He first loved us, right? (That’s I John 4:19).

The question then is “How exactly do we express our love to Him?”  With flowers and candy?  With huge gifts?  Quick prayers before bedtime?  Maybe if I’m baptized and join the right church?  Should I tithe?  Should I read the Bible through? Go to Sunday School?

What does He want?  What would make Jesus feel loved?

The Old Testament answer to the question…

The prophet Micah was wrestling with this very question when he asked, “With what shall I come before the Lord?  And bow myself before the High God?”

That is to say, “What possible thing could I do on earth that would please God in Heaven?”

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The hard sayings of our Lord

“This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60)

Let’s not be foolish or naïve.  While we celebrate the magnificent sayings of our Lord–“No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)–let us admit He  said some other things that befuddled His hearers then and provoke modern disciples to scratch their heads.

Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53), which was what drove  His disciples to ask the question above in the first place.  Jesus went on to explain that He was speaking spiritually.  “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (6:63).  Whatever else that means, it means those words should be interpreted “spiritually” and not literally.  We recall that Scripture also says, “The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Does that help?

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Have you considered how special you are to God?

“Go tell His disciples–and Peter….” (Mark 16:7)

How special Peter must have felt, to have been singled out by the angel.

This is a question followed by a story…..

Question:  What has God done that forever makes you know how special you are to Him?

Was it a healing? A close call with a near-accident?  Something you read in Scripture?  A sermon that perfectly fit your need of the moment?  Your salvation?

What did He do?

Why do you feel so special to Him?

I have a friend who says she feels like God’s favorite child.  There has to be a reason.  I’m asking you to search out that reason.

Now, the story.

I was preaching a revival in East Fork Baptist Church, halfway between McComb and Liberty, MS.  Fans of Jerry Clower will remember he talked of this church and the community often.  Jerry Clower sat on the front row at every service.  I stayed in his camp house that week.

The organist for the little church had only one arm.  Clyde Whittington was a sweet-spirited, friendly fellow.  One day when we were having lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Whittington, Jerry Clower said, “Clyde, you have to tell Brother Joe what happened to you.”

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If there is a God and God is like Jesus, then, what’s the problem?

“Come now and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). 

“Why should it be thought incredible by you that God should raise the dead?”  (Acts 26:8).

If there is a God, and if this God is the omnipotent Creator of the universe, then a thousand questions are settled.

–If God is God, then raising the dead should be no big deal.  After all, He made the universe of nothing and made humans from the dust of the earth, so anything after that should be a piece of cake.

–If this God exists, then the Person of Jesus Christ with all that Scripture affirms about Him is completely logical.  Jesus said, “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, even the Son of Man,” referring to Himself (John 3:13).

–If God is God, then a Virgin Birth is no more miraculous than any other birth, which is to say, every birth is a miracle of the highest order.  Ask any new parent holding their treasure for the first time.

–If God is God, then the miracles Jesus worked during His earthly years were little more than child’s play.  Turn water to wine, feed thousands with a child’s lunch, heal the blind, raise the dead.  This is the God who spoke the worlds into being (Hebrews 11:3). What’s the problem?

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“Who does Jesus think He is?” (First of several articles on Revelation 1-2-3, the “Seven Churches of Asia Minor.”)

(The Seven Churches of Asia Minor, based on Revelation 1-3, is the subject of the Winter Bible Study in SBC churches. )

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ…. the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:1-5).

An  Episcopal church or a United Methodist church receives a letter from the bishop which is read to the congregation the following Sunday.  The letter scalds the church for its failure to live up to its obligations, keep its pledges, or honor certain commitments.  Following the reading, a discussion breaks out within the membership.  Several people, who may have joined the fellowship only recently, are concerned and want to know, “Who does the bishop think he is? What gives him the right to rebuke us?”

The minister is glad to answer the question.  “We are not on our own out here. We are a member of this denomination. The denomination owns this church.  The bishop is the local ruling authority for the denomination. We may or may not like his assessments and rulings, but there they are.”

Those of us whose churches observe congregational forms of government never receive letters from the bishop for the simple reason that we don’t have them.  Our churches are autonomous (self-governing, independent) and cooperate to whatever extent we can, feel led, or choose to.

So, here are the seven churches of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey):  Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.  They receive this circular letter which is to be read, no doubt copied, and then sent on its way to the next church.

Five of the seven churches are told to “shape up or ship out.”  That is, they’re told to “Repent or else.”  Only two of the churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, get off without a rebuke.

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Reality and Fantasy: If we don’t know the difference, we’re in trouble!

In his book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, actor Michael J. Fox points out that some people take far too seriously what they see on the screen:

No matter how fantastic a move’s premise is, there are always a special few who buy in and accept the (craziness) at face value, like the hoverboard (seen in his 1985 movie Back to the Future). I’ve fielded more questions about hoverboards than any other aspect of the trilogy.  Otherwise sane people were convinced that these devices actually existed, especially after (Director) Bob Zemeckis made tongue-in-cheek comments to the press about parent groups preventing toy manufacturers from putting them on the market (this resulted in hundreds of kids calling Mattel, demanding hoverboards for Christmas).  Believe me, if someone had actually devised and manufactured a flying skateboard capable of propelling a surfer on an invisible wave of air, he didn’t let me in on the secret.  It could have spared me from hours of dangling like a flesh-and-blood Pinocchio.  Alternately strapped into every manner of harness, hinged leg brace, and flying apparatus the most sadistic special-effects engineers could devise, my foot stapled to that pink piece of plastic, I spent hours attached to metal cables, swinging from sixty-foot cranes, back and forth across the Courthouse Square set.

People believed those things existed?  Apparently there is no boundary outside which some people will not stray when it comes to gullibility.  If it’s on the big screen, it must be true.  This is a variation of a greater truth: If it’s on the internet, it’s automatically true.

This is where we all roll our eyes.

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Friends of the Cross

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:  whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things.  For our citizenship is in Heaven….  (Philippians 3:17-21).

There is a reason each of the four gospels devotes at least a fourth of its chapters to the final week of Jesus’ life on earth.  His death-burial-resurrection is the heart of the story.

The cross is not just the heart of the story; it is the story!

In Philippians 3, Paul weeps over church members who claim to be authentic and present themselves as leaders and teachers but are actually “enemies of the cross of Christ.”  He does not say specifically what these trouble-makers are doing.  Often, when Scripture is silent on something crucial like that, I suspect it means the Holy Spirit does not want us to camp out on what these offenders did, lest we become too narrow in our focus.  Enemies of the cross of Jesus can be found across Christendom today and their emphasis may be entirely different from the shenanigans of the First Century.

Scholars think that in context, because of Paul’s indictment of them (their god is their belly, etc) these “enemies of the cross” were probably libertines, forerunners of the Gnostics, or Judaizers. Or both.  The first group taught that since they were saved anything they did afterwards did not matter, which brings great shame to the cause of Christ. The second group held that they were saved by their works.  In each case, the result was  to undermine and nullify the work of Jesus on the cross.

After all, if we go right on in the same wickedness and debauchery after being saved as before, what was the point of the cross?  And if we are saved by our good works, why did Jesus go to all the trouble of dying for our sins?

The good-time charlies and the rigid Pharisees are both enemies of the cross and have no place in church leadership.  (Let the church pay attention to this!  Everyone may enter the church without changing their lives; but only the faithful and godly should be given leadership positions.)

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