Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
“Whosoever surely meaneth me.” — Gospel song by James E. McConnell, 1910.
“He included me.” — Gospel song by Johnson Oatman. 1909.
Every Christian I know does this and I do it too. And yet there seems to be no easy explanation for it.
In Scripture, we will be reading where God is telling Israel how much He loves them, how He has loved them from the first, how His love is endless and that He has big plans for them, and what do we do? We copy off those words and plaster them around the house, memorize them, and write them into songs of inspiration. We put them on bumper stickers and coffee mugs and t-shirts, and we build sermons around them.
We revel in those words.
We do this not because we are so impressed by God’s love of Israel nor touched by their closeness. We do it for another overwhelming reason.
Leslie said to me, “Pastor Joe, when you performed Mom’s wedding to John, are you aware that Sandra Bullock was in the audience?” Wow. No, I was not. Sandra Bullock is one of the great stars of Hollywood. I do recall hearing that Leslie’s mom Anne was related to Sandra Bullock, and maybe her godmother.
I said, “I wish I had known.”
Leslie answered, “Well, she was only ten years old at the time.”
I still laugh at that.
When a pastor stands to preach, he never knows who is listening. If his sermon is being recorded or broadcast, he has no clue who will be hearing his words. He will do well to make sure he knows what he’s talking about.
“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. ” (Galatians 5:16)
Brothers and sisters. If you would be spiritually mature and successful in the Christian life, you must rescue your spiritual life from bondage to your emotions.” –J. Sidlow Baxter, speaking to Mississippi Baptists in the mid-1970s.
She said to me. “If I don’t feel like doing something, my heart would not be in it, and the Lord said we are to serve Him with all our heart. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”
I said, “So, if you don’t feel like reading your Bible or going to church or apologizing to a neighbor, you don’t do it. Right?”
She: “Right. It would be hypocritical.”
Me: “Well. May I ask you, do you ever wake up on Monday morning and not feel like going to work? Or, when you were a teen, were there early mornings when you did not feel like getting up and going to school?”
She: “That’s different.”
Me: “How is it different?”
She: “It just is.”
Watch this. This is how it’s done.
Some years ago, Robert Mueller was giving a commencement address at the College of William and Mary. This former director of the FBI in the first Bush administration is the epitome of dignity and class. He is anything but a comic or comedian. That day, speaking on “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity,” the motto of the Bureau, he demonstrated a great way to use humor in a serious talk.
In one of my first positions with the Department of Justice, more than thirty years ago, I found myself head of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. I soon realized that lawyers would come into my office for one of two reasons: either to ‘see and be seen’ on the one hand, or to obtain a decision on some aspect of their work, on the other hand. I quickly fell into the habit of asking one question whenever someone walked in the door, and that question was ‘What is the issue?’
One evening I came home to my wife, who had had a long day teaching and then coping with our two young daughters. She began to describe her day to me. After just a few minutes, I interrupted, and rather peremptorily asked, ‘What is the issue?’
The response, as I should have anticipated, was immediate. ‘I am your wife,’ she said. ‘I am not one of your attorneys. Do not ever ask me ‘What is the issue?’ You will sit there and you will listen until I am finished.’ And of course, I did just that.
Last evening and today, I’ve been texting with a friend of 60+ years as we set up the reunion for the church in Birmingham that ministered to me so thoroughly when I was a student at nearby Birmingham-Southern Baptist Church. Everything that follows below is relevant to that.
I’m 81 years old. Not decrepit or senile, thank you very much. And, not ancient or feeble by any means, you understand. But the calendar is what it is and the white hair belies my protestations. Honestly, l feel like I’m 15. Okay, sort of.
The time is here when it’s perfectly acceptable to look back and remember and give thanks to God for what He has done.
Thinking of all the blessings of people and incidents, of words and books and jobs and churches, I constantly thank God that He did “this” and not “that” or something else entirely.
You are looking at one blest man. (Okay, to the extent you are actually “looking” at me, that is.)
Hey, I’m only 81. But common sense and regular observation assures me my time is coming. Anyway, here’s what happened…
The old man stood at the checker’s station in my grocery store. The line behind him stretched out for a half-dozen people.
He’d bought a few things, but the process of paying for it was taking forever. He fumbled around in his pocket for his wallet, then struggled with it in search of his debit card. Only with the checker’s help was he able to insert it into the machine and complete the transaction. In the process, the old guy flirted with the lady behind him, the one just ahead of me, and made friendly comments to anyone else who might be overhearing this.
I was interested to see that both the checker and the woman customer were patient with him.
When he finished, the man seemed in no hurry to pick up his purchase and move out of the way for the next customer. He looked at the line forming behind him and muttered something about being 82 years old, as though this were an achievement for which he was being honored.
You will not believe this since I’m writing about it, but I was not impatient with him, and said nothing to anyone. I did not roll my eyes, did not even react, but sent up a quick prayer for the old gentleman.
But I was warned.
Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod in 1749. Yet because of opposition from local clergymen–man should not dare ‘avert the stroke of heaven’–the lighthouse did not receive protection from God’s thunderbolts for more than two decades. –The New York Review, May 26, 2016
Imagine the thinking of some people: We shouldn’t protect ourselves from lightning, lest we interfere with God’s judgment.
Abandoning their responsibility, criticizing those trying to help, and blaming their warped thinking on God.
“This is how God set things up.”
Interesting theology, I think we can agree.
If we carried that reasoning to its natural lengths, no one should wear seat belts or repair the brakes on cars just in case the Father in Heaven had planned to kill us that morning.
God should always be given a free hand in these things.
>“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7).
Fears crop up from time to time.
They co-exist right alongside my faith, like tares among the wheat (referencing Matthew 13:30).
My faith and my fears are not friends, you understand, nor are they unknown to one another. They have fairly well existed alongside one another from the beginning, so they are well-acquainted, in the sense that competitors on the gridiron who do battle in repeated contests come to know one another intimately.
I identify with the fellow who, when told that all things are possible if he could believe, answered, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).
What do I fear? Let me count the ways. (I do this knowing full well that fears love to be given room and attention and energies, all of which serve to feed this cancer, causing it to mushroom.)
First a disclaimer: I’m a retired pastor, I have no deacons (and no church members), I love deacons, and I’m loving the continuing ministry God gives me as a retiree. However, there was a time when life was tough, demands seemed never-ending, encouragement was rare, and each day brought a crisis of one kind or the other.
That’s what this is about.
I was having trouble with a few deacons. From the day I became their pastor, these men and their families had dedicated themselves to not liking me and being non-supportive in anything I suggested. In the church fellowship, they were toxic.
Eight years later, we did something.
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…” (Revelation 5:9).
John must have been fascinated by the sights and the sounds of that heavenly vision.
They started small.
At first, he was treated to a heavenly quartet. The four angelic beings–were they seraphim?–of Revelation 4:7-8 burst into song, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. Who was and is and is to come!”
This was no little chorus they dropped into the Lord’s throneroom. We read, “They do not rest day or night, saying (this)” (verse 8).
Imagine that. An endless song.
These long-winded, six-winged angels with angelic voices take us back to Isaiah 6 where similar creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. The whole earth is filled with His glory.”
I heard a preacher say that two huge lessons are given here: One, the holiness of the Lord (His “otherness”) is a bigtime truth, and two, the Lord has no trouble hearing the same words of praise coming at Him continuously.