The need for a traffic cop

Someone has to be in charge.  Don’t they?

On the highway, in the classroom, at the factory, during the ball game, and in the Christian life, nothing works without someone present being empowered to say, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).  Right?  Or not?

Here are a few thoughts to begin a conversation around your dinner table on the subject of authority….

In “The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published,” David Skinner describes the hostile reaction that greeted the release of “Webster’s Third Edition” in 1961.  The incident makes a great point for all of us, particularly church folk.

But first, the context.

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Revelation, fabrication, and making it up as you go.

“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses….”  “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16,21).

I’ve been reading books again.

That explains a lot of things.  It explains where my mind is these days, what’s been bugging me, and where I’ve been searching the Word.

I’ve been reading “The Story of Ain’t.”  This is mostly the story of struggles to decide what goes into dictionaries, culminating in Webster’s Third Edition.  Author David Skinner brings us into the inner offices of G. and C. Merriam Company and tells how decisions are made concerning the English language.  If you like that, you’d love watching sausage being made.  (It’s a difficult book to read and only the wordsmiths among us should “rush out and buy this book.”)

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The best of Deuteronomy (Part 5. Final)

(The final installment covers 21-25  of the ‘best’ things in Deuteronomy.)

21) NOT EVERY ABLE-BODIED MALE IS ALLOWED INTO BATTLE.  (Chapter 20)

“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you….” (20:1)  “Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them….” (20:3)

Fear is contagious.

One of the oddest aspects about Israel’s armies is that certain people were exempt from conscription.

–A man with a new house that has not been dedicated may stay home (20:5)

–A farmer with a new vineyard from which he has not eaten may stay home (20:6).

–A groom who has not finalized his marriage may stay home (20:7).

–And then, there is this one: “What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his home, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart” (20:8).  If you’re afraid, you may leave.

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The best of Deuteronomy (Part 4)

(Following are 16-20 of “the best things in Deuteronomy.” To see the earlier ones, go to www.joemckeever.com and scroll back a few days.)

16) THE LORD IS YOUR INHERITANCE. YOUR PORTION.  (10:9 and 18:1-2).

“The Levites will not be getting a portion or inheritance in Canaan; the Lord is his inheritance, just as the Lord your God promised him” (10:9).

In Numbers 18:20, the Lord told Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land (i.e., Canaan), nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.”

Members of the tribe of Levi (Numbers 18:2), Aaron’s descendants were the priests for all future generations.  All the other tribes of Israel received territorial allotments when Joshua led them to conquer Canaan. But not the Levites. The priests were to scatter throughout the countryside, live among the other tribes, and receive their living from the tithes and offerings.  (Sound familiar, preachers?)

Israel’s songwriters liked the concept of the Lord being our portion, and worked it into three psalms (Ps. 73:26; 119:57; 142:5).

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More of the best of Deuteronomy (Part 3)

(The earlier 10 “best things” can be found on our blog, www.joemckeever.com, by scrolling back a few days. Permission is given to use any of this in any Christ-honoring way you please.)

11) BLESSING AND CURSE SET BEFORE YOU.  YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE.

You get to choose; you have to choose.  Every generation lines up and repeats the process.

“Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse; the blessing, if you obey…and the curse, if you do not obey….” (Deuteronomy 11:26ff.)

When Israel came into the Promised Land, they drew near to Jacob’s Well and parked for a religious ritual.  One group of priests walked over to Mount Ebal while others walked over to nearby Mount Gerizim.  The mass of citizens stood around in the middle, close enough to hear both groups.  And the priests did a reading.

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The (next) best things in Deuteronomy (Part 2)

(Points 6-10 of the best things in Deuteronomy follow a short digression.  Feel free to skip the first part.)

Since Deuteronomy will be taught in Southern Baptist churches across the land this winter, this is a good time to talk about effective teaching…..

First: Get your people to read Deuteronomy.

I imagine the most common error of Bible teachers and pastors is to teach something no one has read.

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I’ve been thinking about fictions lately

“For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ….” (2 Peter 1:16).

In the public library this week, it occurred to me that this vast collection of writings is divided into two primary sections: fiction and non-fiction. And that started me thinking. Wonder why the basic section is fiction and the “reality” section, if we want to call it that, is labeled “non-fiction”?  Wonder why it’s not the other way around, that the primary part is “Real” or “True” and the secondary part is “fiction” or even “contrived?”

I’m not anti-fiction, incidentally.

I love novels, and read many each year.

My favorites are westerns.  Before dismissing this as shallow and unworthy, the reader might be interested in knowing that a lot of important people have loved a good western (in addition to moi–lol).  General Dwight Eisenhower, busily planning the invasion of Europe to drive the Nazis out of power, read western novels at night (and later in the White House) before retiring.  I expect Ike did it for the same reason I do, as a little escape. Sort of a two hour vacation for the brain.

Westerns are fictions.  People sat down and made up these stories.  And even though Louis L’Amour boasted that his novels were all fact-based (“if I say there is a creek there and a cave next to it, you can find a creek there with a cave next to it”), it’s been proven that he was embellishing the truth.  If anyone cares, I’ve not found them. Yet L’Amour sold over 200 million copies of his novels and they continue to fly off the bookstore shelves.

A German guy named Karl May wrote a ton of western novels without ever having visited the United States.  All he knew was what he had read, yet he concocted characters and plots and scenes and convinced a lot of people.  His books sold over 50 million copies, became the basis for a number of Hollywood movies, and are still available.  May did visit the U.S. once in his life, toward the end.  A reviewer said much of what Karl May wrote was interesting and believable, although in more than one story, he spoke of his characters coming up against an “impenetrable cactus forest,” something no one ever found.

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The pastor said, “No, we don’t believe the Bible.”

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)  and “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

Let’s see what you do and I’ll decide for myself whether you believe the Bible.

My buddy Kris was commenting on meaningless questions some of our Facebook friends suggested should be put before pastor search committees (our previous article). Most, she said, are useless because they presuppose the answer.

Asking a search committee “Does your church believe the Bible?” is meaningless, because they’re all going to answer in the affirmative, and you’re no better off than had you not asked it.

“Wait a minute,” Kris said, interrupting herself. “I just remembered a time when my pastor answered that differently.”

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I do not retain some things. Here’s why.

“For if anyone is a hearer of he word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:23-24).

I asked my friend Freddie Arnold what to do about the mildew on my concrete.

Our water heater had busted and water leaked everywhere in the garage.  After we mopped it up and replaced the heater, I noticed that the water had soaked into some things stored in the cluttered garage and we had a mildew problem.  Freddie would know what to do.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s flooding of metro New Orleans, the procedure for restoring many of the damaged homes was to throw away all the furnishings, mud out the floors, then strip out the sheetrock down to the studs.  At that point, you treated everything for mildew.  Only after you were certain there was no mildew would you start to rebuild.  Because Freddie Arnold was knowledgeable about these things, in his role as Disaster Relief foreman and NOBA assistant DOM, he led in the salvaging of hundreds of homes.

I called Freddie at the East Baton Rouge Baptist Association where he’s working these days in semi-retirement. (A joke. Freddie has never done half a job in his life. Pay him for half a day’s work and you will get far more than you expected.)  He told me what to buy to treat the mildew and I wrote it down.

And promptly forgot what he had said.

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Seven of the most amazing things Jesus ever said

Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).

Somewhere around the house I have an old book with the wonderful title of “657 of the Best Things Ever Said.”  It would not surprise you to know most of them are silly.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, doubtless it’s true that  the “best things ever said” is also arbitrary.

With one exception.

Literally hundreds of millions of people across this world agree with the judgement of those early Galileans that “No one ever spoke like Jesus.”

Our Lord spoke a solid one thousand mind boggling things never heard before on Planet Earth, all of them surprising and wonderful and memorable. And, let’s be honest, many who heard Jesus also found His words provocative, offensive, and even blasphemous.

When Jesus stood to preach, no one was bored.

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