A text the legalist cannot handle

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). 

Do everything you can to make sure your church does not put legalists in charge of anything. Doing so is a death sentence for all they touch.

“The letter of the law killeth; the Spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

The legalist is a self-proclaimed Christian who reduces our duties to God to a list of rules. Legalists delight in the Ten Commandments, of course, but since the New Testament does not codify a list of tasks we must do in order to please God, they do it for Him.

How kind of them to help God out.  (I’m recalling an old definition of a legalist. He says, “I know God didn’t require this in the Bible, but He would have if He’d thought of it.”)

The legalist has God figured out.

To the legalist, everything God does has to do with our grades, our performances.  And for us to insist, “He has not dealt with me according to my sins nor rewarded me according to my iniquities” just does not compute.  Such a teaching does not work in his system.

This is the text–and grace is the doctrine–which the legalist cannot abide.

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What Jesus was like. (A Bible story with many insights.)

One brief incident in the day of Jesus’ early ministry reveals so much about Him to our jaded eyes.  Everything we see, we like.

The story is found in Mark 3:1-6.

And He entered again into a synagogue (in Capernaum); and a man was there with a withered hand. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they have accuse Him.

And He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Rise and come forward!’ And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm? to save a life or to kill?’ But they kept silent.

And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians (their enemies) against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

I love that story.  It’s a brief encounter that tells us a world of things about our Savior….

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Just before you head out to minister

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

This is a brief Bible study.  (Just so you’ll know. Smiley-face here.)

For Christian workers, one of the most significant Scripture passages is the commission the Lord gave His disciples just before sending them out on a short-term assignment.  This is found in Matthew 10 and Luke 10.  In Luke’s account, the commissioning takes 16 verses, but in Matthew’s, it’s a full 42 verses–so therefore, my favorite, since it’s far more helpful.

At that point the 12 apostles were something like seminary students, preachers in training with diverse backgrounds and limited experience.  (Some of us used to stand on the street corners in the French Quarter preaching. And, we roamed up and down the sidewalks with handfuls of tracts talking to strangers. We were in boot camp, learning how to talk to people about Jesus.)  That’s what was happening with these disciples.

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Living for God without reading your Bible? Don’t even try it!

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).

You cannot do this on your own.

Don’t try this by yourself.

The Christian life should come with a warning label.

“Try this without the Scriptures as your constant guide and you will fail.”

Many a well-intentioned child of God has gotten off on a detour in life by denying themselves the guidance of a daily time with an open Bible. Some have strayed into wickedness because they lost their spiritual compass. Millions have lapsed into a religion of feelings and opinions and hunches due to their ignorance of God’s Word.

–I met some women who told me they no longer worship with other Christians. One said, “God showed me that I am the church.”  Because they did not know their Bible (or had rejected what they did know), they turned their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We cannot say this too strongly: he who rejects the Lord’s people is rejecting the Lord Himself.  See Luke 10:16.

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One “God” story–of which there are thousands like it

In the days of Communist Russia, when Christians were an oppressed minority, those who risked their lives for Jesus and the gospel often found God at work in amazing ways.

This is one of those stories.  It comes from my journal from January 5, 1992.  No one who believes in the living God will be surprised; all who believe in Him will be blessed.

Missionary Ralph Bethea was giving out Bibles in Russia. He went to one home where an old gentleman spoke of abandoning Communism and returning to the faith of his mother.  He had no Bible, so Ralph gave him one.

The old gentleman clutched it to his chest, then invited in his neighbors and read it to them for four hours.

One man in the audience was a former KGB agent.  Ralph led him to faith in Christ.

When Ralph ran out of Bibles and many people were disappointed, the ex-KGB man said, “I know where there are 40,000 Bibles.”

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The mess we make because we like our doctrine soft and easy

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

A fellow arguing for a cult religion scoffed at my statement that some doctrines are difficult and sincere Christian people differ on their interpretation.

“If it’s difficult,” he said, almost yelling with delight, “it’s because you are getting it wrong!”

I knew enough about his religion to be wary of anything he said.  The leaders of that religion grew tired of having to explain away the obvious teachings of Scripture and so they came out with their own translation.  Bible scholars scoff at what they did and Greek/Hebrew linguists assure us that no one involved in that translation–if we want to call it that–was trained and capable of such a mammoth task.

What these people did with Scripture in order to get it simple and make it say what they wanted was akin to a fellow trying to close an overstuffed suitcase by taking the scissors to anything that didn’t fit and snipping it off.  At the end, it closed easily. The only problem is that everything inside was injured.

Beware of anyone telling you there is nothing in the Bible difficult to understand.  (In the same way you want to be wary of those who say nothing in it is understandable. Both are erroneous.)

Something inside us wants doctrines to be simple.

Those people will reject doctrines that are difficult to get their minds around.

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Stop reading scripture so fast. Slow down and savor it.

So, you’re reading the Bible through in a year?  Or, like a few people I’ve known, you read it through every year for the umpteenth time.

Fine. But after you have done it two or three times, that’s enough. Don’t ever do it again.

Just my suggestion.

Reading the entire Bible in a year is like seeing Europe in a week: You will notice a lot of things you don’t see from ground level, but it’s no way to get to know a country.

After a few flyovers–two days in Genesis and one day in Romans, for instance–land the plane and get out and make yourself at home in Ephesians or Second Timothy.  Move in with the locals and live with them a few weeks.

That’s the only way to learn a country. It’s the only way to really learn a book of the Bible.

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I suppose this guy thought he was doing the Bible a favor

One of our Louisiana state legislators, who shall go unnamed here, had a bright idea a few weeks ago. Since our state, like all the others, has an official state bird (the brown pelican), an official flower (the Louisiana iris), an official fossil (the petrified palmwood, whatever that is) and so forth, why not have an official book and make it the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

Great idea, huh?

He must have thought so.

The (presumably) well-intentioned lawmaker introduced the bill to make this official and promptly announced it to the world. Most everyone seemed to react in surprise and some with a good deal of negativity.  “This is the last thing we need,” many felt.

And they were right.

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Seven Easter declarations people are dying to hear

“God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for HIm to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).

It’s Easter, preacher. What are you preaching?

Don’t preach about Springtime, as much as we all love it. This is not the day for that.

Don’t make the analogy about how Easter eggs speak to us about new birth and all that foolishness.

Stay on track.

You have the greatest message on the planet; try not to weaken it with trivialities.

Tell your people–and all those whom the Holy Spirit will send this Sunday, not yet “your people,” but potentially so–that death could not hold Jesus Christ, that He is risen from the dead, and what that means to them.  (Never forget that every sermon has two parts: What? and So what? The “what” is the message of Easter; the “so what” is the application.)

So, what exactly does the Easter event mean? I’m glad you asked.

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What one minute can do

A hundred years ago* when I was just out of seminary and trying to pastor a neighborhood church in the Mississippi Delta, a radio executive taught me something I have never forgotten. (* Well, okay, 47 years ago to be exact.)

Benny Gresham said, “Each day at 9:15, we lose half our audience.”

Local pastors were given time for a daily 15 minute devotional. Pastors in the local ministerial association would be assigned a week at a time.  Some would show up each day and do the program live, while most would record them all at one sitting.

Gresham explained, “Most people don’t want to sit through a 15 minute preaching service on the radio. But they’ll listen to anything for a minute.  Even a test signal.”

He said, “If I were a pastor, I’d spend my money buying one minute spots and sprinkle them throughout the day.  And I’d try not to sound too preachery.”

Good advice, they say, is where you find it.

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