I’m asking you to believe

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.

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You’re reading this old book and suddenly life intrudes!

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!

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When a pastor does not know his Bible

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.

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Why we love God’s Word (and we do! Never doubt that.)

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….

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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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How to select your “life verse”

“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.

Here’s mine.

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“There are those who say…” but God says otherwise

(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.

Trust Him.

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Why study the “seven churches of Asia Minor” in the first place

(6th in a series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“Now, all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

When I asked on Facebook why we should study the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, a professor friend gave what must be the simplest, clearest and best answer:  “Because it’s easier than anything else in Revelation.”  I laughed out loud, realizing that he had expressed precisely what I have felt over the years in turning to that book.

My New Orleans buddy Jim Smith came up with he most creative answer: “Because the churches of Asia Major weren’t so interesting?”

But, back to the question:  Why should we study letters to seven churches we would never have heard of otherwise?

Maybe the Lord is using it for discipline? Like putting us through boot camp, giving us something really hard–and it is that–to toughen us up for whatever lies ahead.

Maybe He wants us to be historians?

Does the Lord somehow need His children to know what went on two thousand years ago?  Are we to be trivia buffs regarding the first century of believers?  History experts?  Why does this stuff matter?

It’s a legitimate question, one every generation asks.

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Playing these little games with God’s Word

(Third in a series on John’s Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“John to the seven churches which are in Asia….” (Revelation 1:4).

Did you know if you take the seventh letter from the 7th chapter of each book of the Bible, it forms a secret message?  I didn’t either.  But it’s no weirder than some of the schemes people come up with to make Scripture say more than it was intended.

The cults are notorious for finding secret messages in Scripture.

God’s faithful children must be careful not to fall for such schemes and not to try to read hidden messages into God’s Word.

His Word is sufficient.

I’m deep into studying the first three chapters of Revelation, for the umpteenth time in my life.  There is so much here.

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When planning, reading the instructions is a good place to start.

“Our company asks prospective employees to fill out a written application,” a man wrote in the Readers Digest.  “One question said: In one word, describe your greatest strength. This woman applicant wrote: I’m always faithful to read the directions first.”

Recently, Bertha and I voted at the church a few blocks from our house.  As you sign in, the poll workers give you a paper ballot.  Since only two races were left for the runoff, the page was mostly empty.  At the top were these instructions:  “Using black ink, fill in the oval circle beside the name of the candidate for whom you are voting.”  You were given a closed space to mark your ballot, which you then handed to a clerk who fed the paper into the voting tabulator.  Mine went through fine.  Bertha’s was spit back out.  The clerk looked at it, smiled at her, and said, “Ma’am, you put a checkmark by the candidate’s name.  You’re supposed to fill in the oval.”  She laughed, was slightly embarrassed, they gave her another ballot, and she got it right this time.

On the way to the car, I said to my schoolteacher/wife: “Honey, do you tell the students to read the directions before they take their test?”  She gave me that look.

On the drive home I said to her, “I’ve not changed the clock in this car since we went on Daylight Savings Time.  The truth is I’ve forgotten how to do it.  I’ve had the car a whole year now, so I know I’ve done it before. But I don’t recall how.”

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