Book Review: “Evidence That Demands a Verdict,” 2017 edition

“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15). 

Apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing.  The Greek word apologia in the New Testament means to reply or make a defense as to why we believe such a thing as the gospel of Jesus Christ, the integrity of Scriptures, or the existence of God. 

In the early 1970s, the publication of Josh McDowell’s “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” caused a sensation.  The thick book was eagerly devoured by pastors and laity, college students and campus ministers, housewives and college professors, seekers and skeptics, all searching to know more about the logical and historical basis of the Christian faith.

In 1972, I was 32 years old when that book appeared on the scene, and was ministering to college students by the hundreds.  The book was a Godsend. Heaven alone knows its full impact.

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Humility. Wow, it looks so good on you!

“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit therefore to God” (James 4:6).

“Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).   “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time….” (5:6).

A Facebook friend said, “I’m very proud of my humility.”

Humility is not a subject most of us would claim to know much about.  In fact, we would shy away from anyone claiming to be humble.  The very claim contradicts itself.

In fact, by the paradoxical nature of this trait, a truly humble person would be the last to know it.   So, when told that “You are a genuinely humble person,” the appropriate response might be something like “Who, me? Thank you.  I wish!”

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The humble pastor brags on himself in the sermon

I’m a pastor. I know the trade secrets.

I hope none of the brethren get upset by my letting the rest of the world in on our little quirks here.

When we want the audience to know of our (ahem) advanced degrees and superior education, we tell stories.  They sound a lot like this…

….When I was working on my doctor’s degree–I mean the first one, not the second one–I was having a hard time with my dissertation…. (When the truth is, he got that degree from a mail-order institution for reading three books and writing two short papers.)

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The biggest mistake preachers make concerning huge churches

This sounds like a given, but pastors would do well to tell themselves repeatedly, “I will never go anywhere without a strong indication the Lord is sending me there.”  To do otherwise is to invite major trouble.

You can hardly believe it.

You’re a pastor and the search committee from Megaville has arrived at your church.  It’s about time you were getting the notice you deserve, you cautiously (and humbly) think.  After all, you logged the requisite years in seminary and struggled through several pastorates, all of them challenging to one degree or other.  And now, something good seems to be happening.

The committee attends several Sundays in a row, and then you get a phone call.  They want to  take you and your wife to dinner next time they visit.

You’re both excited.  You line up a baby sitter, wear your newest clothes and use your best manners.  All goes well and you both begin to dream.  How would it be to live there, to adjust to that huge place, to deal with such successful people, to administer such a large staff, to manage a budget in the millions?  What do you suppose your salary will be? and what will you do with all that money?  And could the Lord really be giving you such an opportunity?

Also, you begin to think how nice it would be to leave behind this present church with its problems: difficulty in meeting the budget, a staff member who is a constant headache, and a few high-maintenance lay leaders.  Poof! Gone in one fell swoop.

We move to Megaville and start afresh.

A few days later, the committee calls again.

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“Hello. I’m the pastor of Crock Pot Baptist Church!”

Wait upon the Lord.  Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait upon the Lord.  –Psalm 27:14 

God’s times are not yours.  He doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar.  His alarm clock is broken.  He doesn’t keep regular hours.

Lose the stop watch.  Take a hammer to the timer.  God is not going to order His actions by your schedule.  Forget about showing Him your day-planner.  He’s not impressed.

God in Heaven has His own plans, His own schedule, and His own purposes.

Got that?

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What I look for in a book

I love books.  At this moment, there are 12 beside my bed.  A western novel is on the table, and the others–dealing with Churchill, the Civil War, the presidential election of 1940, and a novel or two which I started but will probably not finish–await my further attention.

Over the past 15 years, as I moved from pastoring to denominational service, and then into retirement, I have given away thousands of books.  Most went to other pastors and friends, some to family, and a great many were donated to local libraries.

But I keep buying books.

My wife understands my need for books and never mentions it. For which I am grateful.

I bought two books yesterday at the store on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, here in Jackson, MS.

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What a pastor is to do when his competition is another preacher

Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church.  He’s a media star.  He’s pulling people out of the other churches. Is all the rage.

“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.”  (Acts 18:24)

Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul.  (Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.)

What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot.  A real hunk.  Articulate in the pulpit.  Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.

Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist.   He made an impact wherever he went.

What’s more, he was good.  He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.

Which just made it harder on his competition, the pastors of nearby churches.  They could not in good faith dismiss the guy as unworthy or a superficial rock star.

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Germ warfare and Scripture

“Hear and understand.  Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Matthew 15:11).

How’s that again, Lord?

It would be easy here to say the Lord Jesus did not understand microscopic things like bacteria, viruses, and germ warfare.  Louis Pasteur was still eighteen centuries in the future.

Surely what we put into our mouths matters.

If Jesus were Who He claimed to be, and the One Scripture declares Him to have been, He knew the importance of cleanliness and purity.

It’s little things like this that trip up some modern readers.  Reading the Bible, they get hung up on terms like  “the four corners of the world,” “the sun rising,” and heaven being “up there somewhere”–all colloquialisms which we understand and use every day, but which cause problems for those looking for some reason to disbelieve the Holy Word.

But that’s not the entire story.

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The single best preparation you can do for preaching and teaching a text

“Upon that law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2). 

“Abide in me and let my word abide in you.”    John 15:1-10 (spoken or implied throughout these verses)

“Eat this book.”  (Ezekiel 3:1)

Get God’s Word inside you.

The best thing you can do to prepare to preach or teach a text is to live in it for many days prior to the moment.  This means reading it again and again until you know what it’s saying. After that, read it again until you see even more.

Then, you think about it, reflect on it, meditate on it.  You go to bed thinking about it, you mull it over while driving, and you talk to the Lord about it while praying.

Read it slowly.  Read it aloud.  Read from various translations and paraphrases.

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How legalism betrays Christ, violates the gospel, and destroys people

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?….And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?'” (Matthew 15:1-3)

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Historians tell us the Pharisees started off well, as revivalists in a way, calling the nation back to faithfulness.  Eventually, however, their insistence on righteousness settled down into a code of laws and rules.  They went from being encouragers to harassers, from lovers of God to bullies and legalists.

The legalist is someone who says, “I know the Lord didn’t say this, but He would have if He’d thought of it!”

The legalist is smarter than God.  He helps the Lord by completing His Word, by filling in the gaps where the Lord clearly forgot to say something, explain something, or require a thing.

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