12 Gospel Scriptures That Have Branded Me

This is tough, trying to pare down the scriptures that have nurtured me most faithfully over the years from childhood to an even dozen. I was able to pull it off in the Old Testament, but not the New.

The New Testament is the heavy weight, the major force, in the believer’s life–in his study, meditation, doctrine, instruction.

A young pastor friend told me recently he majors on the Old Testament, he loves it best, and that this is where his sermons come from. I told him I was horrified (maybe overdoing it just a tad for effect).

For a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, the New Testament is “where it’s at.” The Old Testament is all about roots and background, preparation and anticipation. The Old Testament is filled with stories of God preparing His people, of symbols and prophecies and rituals all of which would be fulfilled in Jesus.

How odd to prefer the rituals and symbols to the reality and substance that is in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must never choose the Old Testament over the New. They are essential, priceless, and complementary, but the New is dominant.

I gladly own up to being a New Testament Christian. Nowhere else on earth do we find the story of Jesus. It’s the only place where we are given His teaching and the doctrines of our faith. It’s where we are given instructions for godly living and directions for faithful ministry during this period between Jesus’ two visitations.

Focusing on the New Testament is not optional for a disciple of Jesus. This is our life. It’s what we are all about. We must become students of the New Testament (and only then, a student of the Old Testament secondarily and indirectly).

Originally, I had thought to post 12 texts from the Old and 12 texts from the New Testaments that mean the most to me, that identify me, that have “branded me.” Bearing out what we’ve just said about the New being more essential for the Lord’s disciple, I’ve found I can’t do that. So, what we will do is post 12 scriptures from the Four Gospels, followed by 12 from the rest of the New Testament.

Here then are twelve Gospel texts that mean a great deal to me. They are part of my DNA, essential aspects of my faith. Anyone running a spiritual autopsy on me would find that these are responsible for my backbone, my heart, and my vision. This I believe.

1. Persecution: Matthew 10:24-26a.

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more members of his household? Therefore, do not fear them….”

I wish I had kept every note from preachers and/or their wives who reported to me over the years on the mistreatment they had been dealt in churches they pastored. “Where is God?” some asked. “Why does the Lord let this happen?” “All we wanted to do was serve Him, and now look at what happened.”

My usual response is to give them Matthew 10:24 and say, “The Lord told you when He called you that this was going to happen.”

They say they’d forgotten it. Some say they had expected persecution and trouble, but not from believers. Once again, if they had read–really read, I mean–the Word, they would have seen it, expected it, and prepared for it.

After all, the one who betrayed the Lord Jesus was not an unbeliever, but a disciple who had walked closely with the Lord for three full years.

2. Disciple-making: Matthew 28:18-20.

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12 Old Testament Scriptures With My Name All Over Them

You probably have your list.

If you have been a follower of Jesus for years and have read the Bible through several times, some scriptures more than others have grabbed your attention and held your heart and occupied your mind.

These are mine.

Why twelve? I’m not sure. This Saturday morning, lying awake in the pre-dawn hour before walking on the Mississippi River levee, this was on my mind. Twelve such scriptures in the Old Testament and an equal number in the New. (Note: That was the plan originally. But, once we got into the Gospels, it became apparent that it would be impossible to limit the list that severely. So, we are giving 12 favorites–texts that have branded us!–from the Gospels and 12 more from the rest of the New Testament.)

What follows are texts that identify me, define me, explain and motivate and direct me. They fascinate and instruct me. A hundred other scriptures have spoken to me directly and powerfully, but these are the ones I’ve returned to repeatedly and find myself, in the eighth decade of life, clutching as my own. They have my name on them, so to speak. They are God’s word to me.

We’ll list them in the order in which they’re found in the Bible, followed by a brief commentary as to why we treasure each so highly.

1. Laughter: Genesis 21:6.

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.'”

In fulfilment of God’s long-awaited and oft-repeated promise, Abraham and Sarah had finally received their son. The 90-year-old mother had given birth to Isaac. The Hebrews pronounced his name as “Yitzhak.” My Old Testament professor, Dr. George Harrison, would tell say, “Sarah named him ‘Laughing Boy.'”

I love to laugh. I like being around laughing people. And, I love Sarah’s statement, “God has made laughter for me.”

God has made laughter for each of us. I love to remind audiences (particularly senior adults), “Some of you have not been getting your daily share!”

It is good to laugh. Laughter is healthy (Proverbs 17:22). The Father in Heaven loves the sound of His children laughing. Laughter is a vote of confidence in God, demonstrating that He is in charge, His promises are sure, and the future is bright, no matter what the circumstances of the moment are threatening.

2. Grace: Exodus 20.

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How to Justify Slavery

On television the other night, I saw something that baffled me.

A New Orleans native (who is also a national celebrity) was being informed by a historian that, after researching his background and lineage, he had uncovered evidence of a relative who had fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War. The celebrity was aghast. “I find it humiliating,” he said, “that a relative of mine would fight to defend slavery.”

The professor, an African-American, told the local fellow, as white as they come, “Well, it’s not you. He lived in the South and almost every male between the ages of 16 and 45 had to go fight in the war.”

Had they asked, I would have added, “There were so many dimensions to that war and so many reasons soldiers took up arms. As one-dimensional as we want to make it now–“They fought to defend slavery!”–it was also about doctrines of States Rights, economics, fear, family, sectional prejudice, peer pressure, and a hundred other things.”

But yes, the bottom line is that whether this nation would be slave or free hung in the balance. We cannot escape that reality.

“America’s Great Debate” has taken over my nighttime reading the past couple of weeks. Subtitled “Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union,” this book, written by Fergus M. Bordewich, shows how slavery dominated politics in this country in the years before the Civil War. In 1849-50, Congress had to figure out what to do with California, Texas, New Mexico, and Utah. As they enter the Union, will they be slave or free? Should all new territories brought into the Union be free, as the Wilmot Proviso of 1846 instructed? Where should the borders of these states be? Isn’t California large enough for several states? But if we divide California, what of Texas, which is larger? Texas claimed portions of New Mexico right up to and including Santa Fe. Utah was being called Deseret and might as well have been located on Mars.

Running throughout every discussion, but unspoken–like the 600 pound elephant in the living room which no one wants to mention–was the issue of slavery. This practice was calling the shots on every issue, influencing the votes on every new state entering the Union, and driving the Southerners to insist that each state has the right to override federal laws if they conflict with the state law.  It was coloring every conversation, dictating every vote, poisoning every speech.

Reading of this on-going struggle that brought the U.S. Congress to a virtual standstill in 1849-50, over a century and a half later when slavery is universally acknowledged as the absolute worst idea humans ever concocted and entirely without any defense or justification, we are aghast at the way national leaders spoke of their fellow humans of dark skin, how they justified keeping them in bondage, and the legal maneuvering to protect that most terrible of institutions.

I am a child of the South. Even though all our historical research (what there was of it) shows every relative of ours on both sides of the family to have been poor and owning no slaves whatsoever, some of our relatives fought for the Confederacy. In no way were they fighting to preserve slavery in their minds, although that was the effect of it. They were, as simply as I know how to put it, on the wrong side of that war. It is good that the South lost that war.

Just reading the speeches, writings, and reports of conversation of slavery’s proponents back then horrifies us now. “What were you thinking?” we want to ask them. “What were you using for brains?” “Where was your heart?” “And you called yourselves Christians?” Some of them did.

We are amazed at the way they justified slavery–the way they played with words, twisted history, quoted authorities, cited statistics, claimed the high ground, and assailed those wishing to set the prisoners free.

Here are 10 ways to justify slavery, based on the activities of politicians in the years leading up to the Civil War. In citing these, we hope to hold up a mirror to our own times and the way political leaders would circumnavigate Truth in the name of expediency and furthering their own careers.

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Funeral Lessons: Things You Learn or Relearn When a Close Loved One Dies

Monday and Tuesday nights of this week, I slept in our family farmhouse alone. It’s the first time in my long life I’ve done that. That house was built early in 1954, and ever since my parents have lived in it, never venturing away for more than a day or so. They were the ultimate homebodies. Over the years, whenever I visited them, I never needed to call ahead to see if they would be at home.

They were always home. Always.

Now, the house is empty.

Dad died in November of 2007; Mom died last Saturday, June 2, 2012.

Mom and Pop are united in Heaven. They each lived past their 95th birthday, and Mom almost made it to 96. Longevity is a good thing if you get the living part right. They aced it.

Tuesday, we had Mom’s funeral. Her casket sat at the foot of the church altar just as her youngest son Charlie’s had in April 2006 and Pop’s did 18 months after that.

The same three preachers did Mom’s funeral as did Pop’s (Pastor Mickey Crane, my brother Ron, and I). The songs were different, and maybe the scriptures. But the congregation was much the same.

It felt like the second verse of the same song.

This Thursday morning, lying awake in bed when I wish I could have been sleeping, I thought of lessons you learn or get reinforced in family funerals that you might otherwise miss. I came up with 12; there are probably 500.

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What I Owe to This Lady

My mother went to Heaven yesterday.

Lois Jane Kilgore started life on this earth just on the next ridge from where she ended it. She came and went in the very same bed (when Granny Kilgore died in 1963, mom got the ancient high-poster bed, dresser, etc). This was Route 3, Nauvoo, Alabama. (There are no more “routes,” due to the 911 emergency system needing every street and road to have a name.)

Mom was born July 14, 1916. She died June 2, 2012. Almost 96 years. Of her siblings, she was the last to go.

For most of her life, Mom mistakenly celebrated July 21 as her birthday. I’m not sure why, but no doubt it had to do with their being very rural, her being the sixth child in a family of nine children, and the way doctors kept records back then (meaning: haphazardly).

When she received a copy of her birthday certificate from Montgomery and discovered her birthday to be July 14, my dad feigned shock. “That’s grounds for divorce,” Pop teased. “She was an older woman than I knew.” Her being only 17 and he 21 when they wed–March 3, 1934–she could actually have used a little aging before taking on all she did.

She was the farmer’s daughter. She married a coal miner. Theirs was a hard life together for many years, due to a number of factors: he was no church-goer, he was a hard-worker but also undisciplined in his personal habits, and poverty was a constant companion. But Mom made the most of the life she had chosen.

She was a champion.

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Reforming the Deacons (13b): Old Testament Pictures 7-12

(The second part of article 13.)

7. God’s Old Testament deacons may speak to the congregation on behalf of the shepherd.

As Joshua was readying himself to lead God’s people across the Jordan into the Promised Land, he instructed “the officers of the people” to visit everyone.

Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you, to possess it.’

The men identified as “officers” fan out to meet with smaller groups of the Lord’s people. They personalize Joshua’s word. They deal with questions that may arise. They adapt it, as necessary, for each tribe.

A church is doing a financial campaign or a building campaign. Every church member needs information, involvement, understanding, and opportunities to participate. Often, the deacons will be enlisted to visit in the homes of the members for this purpose.

On one occasion when I had been at a church for five years, I asked the deacons to help with a pastoral evaluation survey. At my request–this is crucial–they worked up a questionnaire of several pages, and then on their own, they took the membership rolls in hand and selected every seventh family and paid them a personal visit. In a membership of 2,000 people, this was a sizeable undertaking but they did it well. At the conclusion, they took the hundreds of questionnaires and collated the information, turning the results into a graph. Then, they presented me with a composite picture of how the congregation felt about their pastor and his ministry. All in all, it was a wonderful report and performed as thoroughly as anything I’ve ever seen before or since.

8. God’s Old Testament deacons may serve as the eyes and ears of the shepherd.

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Reforming the Deacons (13): 12 Old Testament Pictures of Deacons

(The first six pictures)

Our problem in deciding what deacons are to be doing in the local church results from a paucity of references in the Bible.

We have the account of the seven men chosen by the Jerusalem church to serve groceries to the widows (Acts 6:1-7) and little else.

In the absence of Scriptural instructions on what deacons should do, unwise counselors have stepped into the void and done their dead-level best to make them church managers, business administrators, and preacher bosses. The results have almost always been disastrous.

I suggest that scripture has not been as silent on this subject as we have thought. In fact, throughout the Old Testament we find examples of men–godly, mature, adult men–who have stood by the Lord’s shepherd as his right hand, his strong arm, his defenders, his helpers and his extension.

Think of what follows as photographs of deacons at work among God’s Old Testament people. Think of these as metaphors for what deacons should do today. Think of them as plants set in place by the Holy Spirit for our instruction and edification.

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