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 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 all the tasks we must do in order to please God, they do it for Him.

How kind of them to help God out.  Someone said of a legalist, he knows God didn’t require this rule 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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Full-bodied, three-dimensional preaching

I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  (Galatians 5:21)

Grady Cook, a wonderful Mississippi artist, told me how he had improved his technique. “The picture you bought from me last time,” he said, “was all right. But I still had a lot to learn.” I assured him Margaret and I thought it was fine and that it was hanging in our living room.

“Since then, I’ve studied under a wonderful teacher,” he explained, “and have learned how to add darkness to my work.” He said, “Here. Look at this.” Pointing at the picture I would buy from him a few minutes later, he showed the shadows and the blackness of the undergrowth of the forest. It made the picture far more three-dimensional than the earlier one. The trees stood out. It looked like someplace I’d like to explore.

We still have both pieces of art on display in our home, but since he explained the difference, I’ve enjoyed the last one far more.

“There’s something missing in this sermon,” I said to myself. On the surface, it seemed to work just fine. The “fruit of the Spirit” passage of Galatians 5:22-23 is a familiar and well-loved one. I’d studied it numerous times over the years and had preached it on several occasions. I like what it says about the effect of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer who abides in the Lord, that as he/she grows in Christ, they will grow all nine qualities of this “fruit” in his life. The nine qualities are the “fruit,” not “fruits,” and we do not specialize on one or two, but the indwelling Spirit will be producing all of them. Full-bodied believers, I suppose we could say.

And yet, trying to put myself in the place of my people and listen to my own delivery of the message, it felt rather blah. It just lay there, boring me–and if I was bored, how much more the poor hearers would be.  Something was wrong.

Then I realized what it was.

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Waiting on the Lord may be the hardest thing we are asked to do

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength….  (Isaiah 40:31)

I waited on the Lord and He inclined to me and heard my cry…. (Psalm 40:1)

So, wait on the Lord.  Be strong. Let your heart take courage.  Yes, wait on the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  (Mark 14:37).

It takes time.

God has all the time in the universe.

Throw away your watch and your calendar, follower of Jesus.  You’re on heavenly time now and nothing happens on your schedule.

I suspect most of us are like the fellow who prayed, “Lord, give me patience–and give it to me right now!”

You’ve been praying for a loved one. And you don’t see an answer.  You keep praying.  For years, you pray and wait and hope.  Then the one you were praying for is in a traffic accident and killed.  Clearly, God never answered your prayer.  You are devastated. So disappointed.  Your faith in God wavers.  You’re so unsure any more.  What is the point in praying and in trusting?

And then one day, years later, something happens.

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The remedy for “ain’t it awful” preaching

“We preach Christ….God’s power and God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).

Rick Warren says a lot of what pastors are feeding their people is “ain’t it awful” preaching.

Couple of years back, guest preaching in a church, before I rose to speak, a member of the flock with “a gift for continuance,” as a friend put it, addressed the congregation on the latest Supreme Court ruling concerning marriage.  The lady was upset, and she had a bad combination: strong convictions and the gift of gab. She went on and on about the sad state of affairs in this country.

Ain’t it awful.

To hear her tell it, the country is going down the tubes, the Supreme Court is out of hand, our freedoms are all in peril, the end is near, and God’s people are in huge trouble.

She said that and then sat down.

I had to follow it.  Moments like that, you do not envy the preacher.

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A doubting pastor needs a good friend

Question: Pastor, is there anyone you can go to with a serious doubt about the Christian faith?

Let’s say you are struck by “contradictions” you’ve located in the Bible. But if you preached these from the pulpit, you would have caused great harm. Psalm 73:15 comes to mind.  If I had said, “I will speak thus,” behold, I would have been untrue to the children of your generation.

But you need answers. Where do you turn?

Or, let’s say you are burdened by the suffering in the world. “How,” you wonder, “could a powerful and loving God allow such?” Perhaps you say, as some have, if God is almighty and allows this suffering, He is not all-loving. If He is loving and does nothing to stop it, it must be because He is not able. But, you reason, since suffering exists, we cannot have it both ways.

Who can you talk to about your questions?

If you have no friend to whom you can turn, there is a serious gap in your life. You are in need of another friend or two or three.

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And now, I’d like to say a few words to my fears

>“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.)

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Lose the naivete, Christian!

On a state or secular college campus, the atheistic professor has complete freedom to spout religious views and opinions without protest from the students or interference from the dean. However, let a Christian instructor relate his personal story to inform the students of his worldview so they can better understand where he’s coming from, and he’s harassed and soon out of a job.

At a convocation of students on the average secular campus, freedom of speech and the First Amendment are championed. However, let a student stand and own up to being a follower of Jesus Christ who attempts to live by the Bible, and he/she is hooted down.

Ironic, isn’t it, the hostility those of a secular bent have toward belief in Jesus Christ. And they call themselves open-minded champions of free speech.

It’s more than just a prejudice, however. It’s a full-blown hatred.

That hatred is born of a fear of Jesus.

If in reading the gospels you have wondered how in the world things in that remote day came to the point where reasonably-minded people moved to arrest and crucify the Lord Jesus Christ, He who never lifted a finger against a human on the planet, the Prince of Peace, then take a look around you.

Human nature has not changed in the last 2,000 years.

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How to clean out a garage–and unclutter your life

(This was first posted in 2009 as I was preparing to retire from the active, paid ministry. I’ve tweaked it a little. –JM)

Margaret and I were talking about my upcoming retirement from this position with our association. I said, “What do you want me to do when I retire?” She said, “Clean out the garage.”

And then? “The attic,” she said.

My wife has learned to lower her expectations concerning tasks around the house by her spouse of nearly 47 years.

The other day, our oldest son Neil was over. He’s being ordained as a deacon in our church on Sunday night, April 5.  We’re all excited; if ever a man had a servant heart, he does.  He said, “I decided that being ordained deserves a new suit, so I’m going to treat myself.” After suggesting a good men’s store, I said, “I’ll give you some financial assistance on that suit if you will help me clean out the garage.”

Sneaky, huh.

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Jericho’s blind beggar: Responding to the Bible’s critics

Critics of the Scriptures want to have it both ways.

If they find an inconsistency in Scriptures–the numbers seem not to agree, or a story is told in two or more different ways–it proves the Bible is man-made, filled with errors, and not to be trusted.  If however they could find no inconsistencies this would prove the church authorities in the distant past conspired to remove all the troublesome aspects of the Bible in order to claim it to be inspired of God.

Either it is or it is not.

When one is determined not to believe a thing, nothing gets in his way. He can always find a reason not to believe.

Take the matter of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho.  His account is told in three of the gospels, but he is named in only one (Mark 10:46).

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Changing standards for changing times? Not so fast.

Gail was still laughing about it, some fifty years later.

Fresh from college and seminary, Gail had arrived in Columbus, Mississippi, to be interviewed for the position of director of the Baptists’ college ministry. She would be the BSU director for the local campus of Mississippi State College for Women, now called Mississippi University for Women, or MUW. Since the position was paid by the First Baptist Church, Pastor S. R. Woodson was interviewing her and would be her primary supervisor.

After the interview, Dr. Woodson wanted to show Gail the nice center on College Street, some half-dozen blocks away.

The question was how to get her there without the two having to sharing the automobile.  A man alone in a car with a woman not his wife was unthinkable.

“I walked the entire six blocks,” Gail laughs. “With him driving his car alongside to make sure I was safe.”

Changing times? You bet. These days, almost every pastor I know would have said, “Come on and get in, and I’ll run you over there,” and not given it a second thought.

Changing standards? That’s another question altogether.

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