Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God…. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. (Hebrews 11:16,37-38)
It’s commonplace these days for the older generation–let’s say those of retirement age and beyond–to point something out: This generation of young people mistakenly think things have always been this way. Always this affluent. Ever this easy. Always this prosperous.
This generation has no way of knowing, other than being told or reading about it in histories, how recent are smart phones, laptops, rear-view cameras, airbags, and GPS. We not only got along without them for most of my lifetime, we didn’t even give it a thought. We thought we were doing very well, in fact.
I was born in 1940. I was a teen in the 1950s, the “Happy Days” generation, when a decent new car could be purchased for $2,000. When a relative once drove his new Lincoln Continental to a family get-together, we were stunned to see it had air-conditioning: Two plastic tubes coming up over the back seats blowing cold air into the interior. The car, someone said, cost $5,000. More than a year’s salary.
This is not going to be a “back in my day” retrospective, but give me a moment here please.
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.
Do you want the schools to teach the Bible? Do you want prayer returned to the schools? Would you like stores and movies to shut down on Sundays? Taverns too?
If so, you would have loved life in the South in the 1940s.
Jerry Clower–the wonderful Mississippi comedian and Baptist deacon whom I was honored to call friend–used to say, “My mama wants prayer in the schools. But what she means is she wants a Southern Baptist prayer. She does not want anyone and everyone leading the children in prayer.”
When the city council or state legislature decides to open each session with prayer and they start inviting outsiders to lead those prayers, they are duty-bound to respect all denominations and all religions in their area. It’s the fair thing to do.
They will get every conceivable prayer and pray-er. It’s a given, and there is not a cotton-picking thing anyone can do about it. It’s the price they pay for wanting to begin with prayer.
Believest thou this? (John 11:26) — Where is your faith? (Mark 4:40). — These things are written that you may believe. (John 20:31). — Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24).
“I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26)
I’m asking you to believe that. And rejoice because you are going to live forever.
“For we know that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
I’m asking you to believe that. And to look up with hope because the best is yet to be.
I was reading The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough. The people in mind, these adventurous settlers who are the focus of this latest book by our favorite historian, were taking civilization into far-off…Ohio. In 1787, this was the edge of civilization. It was “The West.”
Some snippets are worth pointing out…
–One character in the book, the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, once visited with Benjamin Franklin and left us a description of the man. It appears he was expecting a little more than what he got….
…a short, fat, trenched old man in a plain Quaker dress, bald pate, and short white locks, sitting without his hat under the tree…. (pp.20-21)
But as they talked, Franklin became animated and Cutler was drawn in and captivated by the man’s charm in the same way countless others had been before him.
So much for first appearances!
I’ve known of pastors who were basically ignorant of Holy Scriptures for one reason or the other, and who fed their sheep little to nothing from the pulpit. In this day, however, there is no excuse for a pastor not knowing his Bible. Resources literally bombard him from all sides, offering numerous ways to get help in learning this most precious of all Books.
When a pastor does not know the Word of God, he will….
One. Preach his pet scriptures over and over again.
Two. Surf the internet for catchy sermon titles and messages which he can recycle.
Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you shall prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. –Deuteronomy 32:46-47.
God’s people are a Bible-focused people. Have you noticed that?
They love God’s Word, the Holy Bible. Most have multiple copies in various translations and they make a big deal of reading Scriptures daily, some for an hour or more. They commit large portions of it to memory, and love to quote its key insights when appropriate.
They do not do this out of a slavish, dull-spirited sense of obligation. As Moses told Israel, “Indeed, it is your life.”
Everything we know of Jesus Christ and God’s revelation from Heaven, for now and forever, comes from these pages.
What specifically do you love about God’s Word? Ask a hundred serious followers of Jesus and you may get a hundred answers. Here are my top ten reasons for loving the Word of God….
“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?
“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Your life verse is not just a cute, catchy line that looks good on a bumper sticker.
Your life verse understands you. It sums up a lot about your life. It has your number.
Your life verse knows your deep, dark secrets.
When you were young, you were still finding out who you were and had yet to encounter life’s bruises and hurts. You could not have found a verse that “fit” since you didn’t know “what size you were,” to stay with the metaphor. But by this time, you have lived enough to carry scars from disappointments and battles. You have failed and sometimes failed bigtime. You have hurt and cried and cried out to God. And now you are ready to find your life verse.
Your life verse won’t necessarily make you happy. It may be a reminder of the scars you wear and a few you have inflicted.
(15th article on the “Seven Churches of Asia Minor” — Revelation 2-3)
Let’s consider the Lord’s response to some of the more foolish statements heard around church from time to time.
There are those who say….
One. “Love does not matter. Obedience is everything. Love is syrupy and weakness. Sentimentality! Show me your deeds.”
The letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) proves them wrong. Without love, no amount of good works is enough. Reference the opening of I Corinthians 13.
“Love one another,” says our Lord to the Ephesian church, “or I will pull the plug on you. Cut off your life support. Cancel your franchise.” Remove the lampstand.
God is love.
Two. There are those who say “God will not let His faithful ones suffer. If there is pain or suffering, someone is being disobedient.”
The letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) proves them wrong. He knows, He sees, He cares–and still He allows it. God has His purposes.