Needed: A certain amount of legalism (for myself, at least)

“He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much….” (Luke 16:10)

“Let him deny himself and take up his cross….” (Luke 9:23) 

Legalism is a bad term.  It implies someone is living by a list of rules even though violating the spirit and intent of those rules.

Years ago, a lady in my church told of a conversation she had with her sister-in-law.  They were Baptist (my member) and a Pentecostal of some type (the SIL).

The kids were off to school and they were sharing a morning coffee in one of their homes.  The Baptist lit up a cigarette.  The Pentecostal said, “Did you know that one cigarette will send your soul to hell?”

The Baptist: “Are you serious?”

She was.

The Baptist said to her Pentecostal SIL, “Then explain something to me.  How is it you can hate your mother–I’ve heard you say it!–and you’re all right, but smoking one cigarette is going to send me to hell forever?”

She had no answer.  (Note: We do not intend to imply all Pentecostals are this way, or that all Baptists approve of cigarettes. We do, however, approve of morning coffee with friends.)

I suppose it’s safe to say we all need some rules. And, the first of those rules should be, “While obeying the rules, don’t forget to love, stay humble, and walk faithfully with your God.”

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Let the pastor take charge of his own education

Ruth Bell Graham once said many wives are frustrated from expecting their husbands to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be.

That same principle works on so many directions.

Many a pastor is disappointed in his Bible college or seminary education as a result of unrealistic expectations.  Those theological schools buy into this error by periodic polling of their alums to ask, “What do you wish we had taught you?  What subjects should we have included? What skills did you need for which you were unprepared?”  Soon, the provosts and deans assemble a new package of courses and give it its own name–“Masters of Divinity with Specialty in Whatever”–and life goes on.

I guarantee you that the next generation of preachers will also produce a list of subjects their school should have taught.  It’s the nature of the beast since life is always moving forward, cultures change, people are never static, and one more big reason. Maybe the biggest of all.

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Thoughts on taking care of the poor among us

“He honors (God) who has mercy on the needy” (Proverbs 14:31). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what He has given” (Proverbs 19:17).  “The poor you always have with you, but Me you do not have always” (Matthew 26:11).

Scripture has a lot to say about God’s people caring for the needy.  But it can be twisted and made to say something other than was intended.

A friend sent me a letter from a disgruntled church member who was complaining that after he lost his job the church did not pay his bills and support him.  The friend says the church gave him a great deal of help and “I personally gave him money.” But it wasn’t enough for the guy, who is now slamming the Lord’s church and wondering “Where is Jesus after 2,000 years?”

I suggested my friend ask the guy how many needy people he assisted when he had a job.

I think we know the answer.

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Christians afflicted with the “Mamba Mentality “

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). 

No one said it would be easy.

A police lieutenant told me why he could never live the Christian life. “I have to be tough in this line of work. I have to use language that would peel the bark off a hickory tree in order to make myself understood to the people I deal with. I couldn’t do that as a Christian.”

Perhaps he needs to take a lesson from Kobe Bryant, the retired great of the L. A. Lakers, and Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints.

According to an article in USA Today (December 19, 2018), Demario Davis lives by the code found in Kobe Bryant’s book.  “The Mamba Mentality:  How I Play” explains how Bryant adopts an aggressive personality, one different from his normal self, when he walks onto the basketball court.

Get that?  Become someone else once you don the armor.  Become a warrior who takes no prisoners.  Then, later, showered and dressed, you return to the Clark Kent persona.

Most of us might have trouble pulling that off.

Demario Davis, who plays for the New Orleans Saints,  told the reporter how that works out for him.  “For me, it’s like, I have to ask for forgiveness for what I’m about to do on the field.  And then when I’m coming in off the field, I’m asking forgiveness for what I just did on the field, because you have to go to a killing mentality.  A Mamba Mentality.”

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What to do with the problem of immature church members

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

“By this time you ought to be teachers, (but) you need someone to teach you the first principles of God, and have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).

A church leader was venting.  “We have so many immature members.  And the problem is, they want to stay that way!”

The leader said, “How do we deal with our discouragement?  How can we keep from becoming Pharisees who constantly see their faults and not their potential?  And how do we love those who cause so much trouble in the church by their immature actions?”

The letter concluded, “I feel like I’m in danger of becoming like the Ephesus church, the one which had lost its first love.”  A reference to Revelation 2:1-7.

My first thought upon reading the question was: “You’re not alone, my friend.  Every spiritual leader fights that same battle, although not to the same extent.”

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Half right; totally wrong: Shallow things religious people say

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.  –Titus 2:1 

We hear them all the time.  Something about these oft-repeated claims just does not seem right, we think.  So–let’s look at a few of them.

One. “Christianity is not a religion;  it’s a relationship.”

Sounds right, but it’s wrong.  Ask yourself one question:  As a follower of Jesus, that is one in a (ahem) relationship with Him, would it be all right if I joined a religion and became a Buddhist or Taoist or a Jew or a Muslim? After all, as a Christian I’m not in a religion as such (according to this thinking) and there would be no reason not to.   Of course those religions are incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ.

“The way of Jesus Christ”?  What we call The Christian Religion.

Friend, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, well….

A religion may be defined as a systemized practice of worship involving a God, a place or places of worship, a system of beliefs, and in most cases exclusivity (that is, it claims to hold The truth).

Sure sounds like the Christian faith to me.

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Scripture’s cure for anxiety

“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7).

Want to see anxiety demonstrated?  Get on any highway in the country during morning rush hour traffic.  One out of every ten drivers is either running late, in a hurry, under the gun from the boss or the school kids, and taking it out on every other motorist on the road.  They’re not wicked, just stressed.

They’re anxious.

A friend wrote to thank me for an article on depression.  “I’m not really depressed,” he said, “but anxious.  I have a lot of problem with anxiety.”

I could write a book on that subject myself.  (A friend, Dr. Larry Kennedy–now in Heaven and a member of the great cloud of witnesses–did just that.  I told him he might have thought of a more uplifting title than Down With Anxiety, but he felt the play on words worked.)

I’ve been anxious.  It seems to go with the job of pastor.

Ask any pastor how well he sleeps on Saturday night.

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The magic pill for depression: It doesn’t exist.

“And the Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?’  And Jonah said, ‘I have good reason to be angry, even to death'” (Jonah 4:4,9). 

“And he came there to a cave and lodged there, and behold the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (I Kings 19:9).

Several friends have forwarded links concerning the suicide of the 30-year-old pastor in Southern California.  Andrew Stoecklein had it all–a beautiful, loving wife and three children, a successful and supportive congregation (Inland Hills Church, east of Los Angeles), all the opportunity and acclaim any of us could ever ask for–and it wasn’t enough.  He was clinically depressed.  He sought help, took a 4-month sabbatical, and preached sermons on depression.  He understood far more about his problem than most people ever will.  And he took his own life.

There are no easy answers, and I’ll not be having any in this piece.

Early in my ministry, I would have.  I “just knew” that the answer to all depression was to believe God.  I’d tell depressed people to read Scripture and start believing God.  “Memorize these verses.”  “Start every day by reading 10 Psalms.”

Then, something happened to put a stop to all my shallow answers.

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You’re going through a transition: What to do.

The Lord is my Rock.  Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.  Shelter me under the Rock.  (found all through the Psalms)

You’ve just been released from one job (position, place of service, ministry, etc) and you are preparing for the next one.  What to do in the meantime?

You’ve lost your spouse of many years, whether by death or divorce or something else.  What do you do until the way opens up before you?

You’ve moved from the only home you ever knew to a new city/country, and you’re finding it difficult.  What now?

Keep your eye on the Rock.

Changes can be hard.  But they can be lifegiving and life-altering.

Life is about change.  Anyone who does not like change is going to have a lot of trouble in this life.  Any Christian who cannot handle change is going to have trouble following the Lord Jesus.

Here are our top ten suggestions to you on how to make the most of the transition time…

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Won’t I be your neighbor? And won’t you be mine?

“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you….” (from Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Opening theme) 

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). This verse is quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 5:43 and 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8. 

Mr. Fred Rogers, who left us in 2003, is back in the news these days. Books and articles, television specials and a couple of movies remind us just how special this good man was.

Anyone who reads Mr. Rogers’ words or dwells on his life for even a few minutes comes away thinking more about being a good neighbor.

My wife and I saw the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Thursday of this week.  There were perhaps 25 or 30 others in the theater, most of them seniors.  This was not the Tom Hanks movie on Mr. Rogers which I had expected, but is more of a documentary or biopic, I think they call it.  The Hanks movie will be out soon, we’re told, and is not so much a biography as a story about Rogers’ interview with a magazine writer.

A couple of observations about Mr. Rogers from the movie we just saw.  One, the man truly was almost too good to be true.  As a result, during his lifetime some had tried to find dirt on him and made accusations against him. All to no avail.  He was “all that,” as the saying goes.  One of his sons said, “I was raised by the second Christ,” with a smile.

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