No place for sarcasm in the Lord’s work

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Mary Todd Lincoln was gifted in the dark art of sarcasm. Her sister Elizabeth said of her, “She was also impulsive and made no attempt to conceal her feelings; indeed, it would have been an impossibility had she desired to do so, for her face was an index to every passing emotion.  Without desiring to wound, she occasionally indulged in sarcastic, witty remarks, that cut like a Damascus blade, but there was no malice behind them.”  Lincoln’s biographer notes, “A young woman who could wound by words without intending to was presumably even more dangerous when angry or aroused.”  (Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson).

Woe to the person bound in marriage to one gifted in sarcasm.  Lincoln bore many a scar from the blade his wife wielded.

Pity the church member sitting under the teachings of a sarcastic pastor week after week.  Such ministry will bear bitter fruit.

These days, Christian leaders are finding themselves apologizing for public pronouncements–in the media, on cyberspace, in print, on radio or TV–in which they were sarcastic toward someone who criticized them or opposed them or questioned them.

We even have websites given to satire and sarcasm. And some claim to be Christian.

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Sixteen lies Satan feeds us about worship

“God is Spirit. And they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before Him all the earth” (Psalm 96:9).

If worship is powerful–that is, if kneeling before Almighty God in humility and rising to praise Him in gratitude and going forth to obey Him in faithfulness has power in the world to change lives and redirect society–then the enemy will be working to put a stop to it.

Count on that.

If God uses our worship to transform sinners, starting with us, then the enemy will do all in his power to neutralize it.

So–how is your worship these days?

Are you working at worship, at learning to humble yourself and praise Him more effectively?  Are you giving yourself anew to the Savior throughout the day, every day?

Notice the one question we did not ask: Are you getting anything out of your worship? Scripture does not allow us to ask that.  We are promised nothing from worship.  In worship, we do the giving. We give Him praise and prayers, offerings and love, our time and our attention, and ultimately ourselves.

Warren Wiersbe used to say, “Worship pays. But if you worship for the pay, it won’t pay.”

What has the evil advisor told you in the secret recesses of your mind and heart to dissuade you from worship?

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Learning to receive graciously

Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8)

Is there a Scripture telling us to “freely receive”? I can’t think of one.

The giver is in the power position.  While it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), many of God’s children have also found it easier to do so.

A friend suggested an article on “how to receive graciously.”  So, when someone suggests an article, I asked for their back story.  (There is always a reason behind these requests.)  Thank you, Pastor Doug Warren of Brandon, Mississippi.

In 1969 while a student at Mississippi College, I served a church as associate pastor/music. One day the pastor and I were calling on seniors in their homes.  Mr. and Mrs. Thom were an elderly couple, she was an invalid, and they were poor.  As this was the Christmas season when our churches promote the “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions,” at one point Mrs. Thom asked her husband to “get my purse.”

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What “be strong in the Lord” really means

“Now consider how great this man was…. Now, beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.”(Hebrews 7:4,7)

I’m going to make a series of statements here about “who is greater” or stronger or whatever.  The subject is still a work in progress in my mind, but I hope to get it started in yours.

First:  The one who blesses is greater than the one blessed.

According to the anonymous writer of Hebrews, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham since it was he who blessed the patriarch and not vice versa.  The blessor is greater than the blessee, to paraphrase 7:7.

Thomas Beckett was the archbishop of Canterbury martyred in the 12th century. One issue that kept resurfacing in those days was whether the king of a country had the right to “invest” the new archbishop with the symbols of his position, implying that the king himself was granting powers to the spiritual leader.  The symbolism meant a great deal. The pope, to no one’s surprise, wanted to end this practice, insisting that the church is autonomous and beholden to no earthly power. Kings fought to keep all evidence in place that the church existed under their authority and its leaders should obey them above the pope.

The dispute illustrates Hebrews 7:7 perfectly. If the one giving the blessing is greater than the one receiving it, he is then the top dog. Such symbolism meant everything in medieval times.

Scripture informs us of numerous other such truisms worth our consideration. Let’s try these on for size.

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Moderately important Christianity

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.  –C. S. Lewis

How important is the Christian faith? Listen to the Lord Jesus in just two of hundreds of similar statements from Him:

–“I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5)

–“Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is a life or death proposition.

Of the 100,000 excellent things C. S. Lewis said in his writings, and of the hundreds of memorable quotations we pass along from this brilliant British brother, perhaps nothing is of more lasting significance or greater benefit than the way he sharpened the line between faith and unbelief, between weak allegiance to Jesus and the real thing.

“(People say) ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Mr. Lewis would be amazed and more than a little disgusted by the lukewarmness of modern Christianity.

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A loving God would not let anyone suffer. Say what?

Some guy in Alabama ticked me off.

I was driving back home from two weeks of ministry in Tennessee and Kentucky when I bought a Birmingham News in Tuscaloosa. At a rest stop in Mississippi, I scanned it and was snagged by a letter to the editor from an outspoken agnostic.

After reading it and fuming a little, I tossed the paper in the trash. Later, wished I’d kept it just for reference here. So I’m going by memory.

The writer wanted the world to know that recent tornadoes in Alabama proved beyond doubt either that there is no God or if there is, He is a tyrant who delights in doing cruel things.

He was clearly proud of his great letter. I’m betting he clipped it and displayed it somewhere prominent in his house.

I have no idea whether anyone responded to his letter. Probably not. The Bible cautions against answering fools, and this guy surely fits that category.

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The subtle sin of judgmentalism and how it works

“Do not judge, lest you be judged…. Why  do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1ff.)

If you are prone to criticism and judging others, chances are you will be the last to know it.

It’s that kind of sin. I see it in you; but it’s just part of who I am.

I find it fascinating that after issuing the warning about not judging others, our Lord followed with the caution about specks and logs in people’s eyes.

This is precisely how it works.

My judgmentalism of you appears so normal and natural that it never occurs to me that I am actually condemning you.  So, while your rush to judgment is a log in your eye–one you really should do something about!–my human tendency to speak out on (ahem) convictions is merely a speck in mine and nothing to be concerned about.

One thing about me, I’m no hypocrite, right?  I call it like I see it, right?  You know what you’re getting with me, right?  (yuck!)

Consider this conversation….

You: “What did I have for lunch? Well, I was in a hurry, so I ate a banana, a handful of nuts, and a soft drink.”

Your co-worker: “The banana and the nuts are okay, but the soft drink is fattening and poisonous.  It is suicidal.”

You say nothing in response, but sit there wondering, “Who asked you? You wanted to know what I had for lunch and I told you. Does that give you a right to sit in judgment on my actions?”

It happens all the time, and just that subtly.

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Joe’s notes on the First Epistle of John

That which was from the beginning….we declare to you….  (I John 1:1ff)

(For my suggestions on introducing this Bible study for your people, see #7 below.) 

I confess.  I read scriptures looking for gold.  Some of it is found in nuggets on top of the ground, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated. Others are in veins which need to be mined and worked and treated carefully and faithfully.

The opening of the First Epistle of John is pure gold and for good reason….

That which was from the beginning…which we have heard… which we have seen with our eyes…which we have looked upon and our hands have handled…. And we have seen and bear witness and declare to you…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you….

Get the point?  John, the old apostle–the last one standing–is saying, “I was there.  I know.  This is not hearsay.  This is not something I thought up.  This is the Truth; it’s what I know.”

There is no substitute for a personal experience.  “The person with an experience is never at the mercy of someone with an argument.”  Consider…

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Some things the New Testament does not tell us

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable….that the man of God may be complete” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Those who demand a Scripture verse for everything they do place an intolerable burden on the Christian life never intended by the Heavenly Father.

Some among us have all the answers about the Christian life and have solved all the mysteries of doctrine and theology.

Is there a verse of Scripture on that?

Stay tuned.

These “super-apostles” write me, taking issue with many of the positions we hold in these articles.  They have it all worked out and find it incredulous that we do not see matters their way. The only explanation, they conclude, is that I must be a) unsaved or b) willfully blind.

I wrote something about tithing for this website.

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No team wants a fan like me. But my church does!

I’ve never meant much to any team I’ve rooted for.

I grew up in Alabama and went to quite a few Bama games during the Bear Bryant era.  When I moved to Mississippi, I learned to love Ole Miss and State. Later, living in the New Orleans area, I became a fan of LSU and Tulane.

Those schools make no money from me. They do not know I exist. I’m on no mailing list for alumni or anyone else.  I just watch them on TV. I cheer when they win and hurt (a little) when they lose.

On one occasion, LSU was playing Alabama and it was a huge game.  I cut off the television and went to bed at halftime.  Sunday morning, I got up and drove to the church where I ministered all morning, and did not learn the outcome of the game until the afternoon.  Some fan, right?

Personally, I’m good with that. It does not bother me one iota that I no longer live and die by the fortunes of any team.

Sports are not reality . They are called games for good reason. Granted, the fortunes of teams affect the livelihood of a lot of people and the economies of their host cities.  But that would be true of t-shirt factories or ice cream parlors if the city invested its hopes in them.

I know preachers who are delighted no longer to be pastoring in the heart of football-land where a large segment of their church members have lost sight of the dividing line between fantasy and reality and bring their school loyalties and animosities into the fellowship.  I know pastors who need to take down all the fan stuff hanging on the walls of their offices and replace it with something about Jesus.

There are church members with deeper loyalties to a college team than to the Lord Jesus Christ.

If that does not concern you, well…it should.

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