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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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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God loves you everlastingly

“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying, ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

What part of ‘everlasting’ do we not get?

These days, we are learning through science a little of what unending and infinite look like. Space seems to be continuous, going on and on.  The lineup of galaxies across the heavens staggers our imaginations, considering their size, makeup, and number.

The Psalmist who said “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord” had no clue just how much they say about the majesty and might of our Creator. That’s not to imply we do, only that we have far more information on the complexities and delights of the universe which the Father has wrought with His own hands than biblical writers ever imagined.

“From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2)

From everlasting in the past to everlasting in the future, God is God.  There never was a time when God did not exist; there will never be a time when God does not reign.

I cannot get my mind around that. To my puny intellect, infinity of any kind is fearful.  To think of being snuffed out upon death, that after our last breath, we are extinguished forever, is frightening and painful beyond belief.  I think of loved ones whose passing took with them a huge hunk of my heart and soul. The thought that I would never see them again strikes me with a sadness that is incalculable.

But infinity of the other kind–living forever and ever, world without end–is just as mind-boggling. How could that work? How could we exist knowing that nothing would ever end?

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Reading the fine print in the gospel

Getting ready to face the day, I happened to notice an ad for “hair club for women” playing on the television.  Photos flew by of before and after shots of women. Most had been afflicted with bare spots or thinning mane and the “after” photos showed them with gloriously full tresses.

Then I saw it.  Down in the corner the small print said, “Results may vary.”

Ahh.  Yes, indeed.  Results may vary.  The old “caveat emptor.”  Let the buyer beware.

The ad might as well say “these are not typical,” as advertisers are forced to do by truth-in-advertising laws.

Sadly, you and I are used to such come-ons and slick sales spiels. No one expects the used car salesman to tell you why we should be cautious in buying this particular car.  We’ve learned to turn a suspicious eye toward the seller of the house who cannot quit raving about all its fine points.  What, we wonder, is he not saying?

Which brings me to my point…

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Seven of the most amazing things Jesus ever said–all in one chapter

Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).

Somewhere around the house I have an old book with the wonderful title of “657 of the Best Things Ever Said.”  It’s just one person’s opinion, of course, and it might not surprise you to know most of the quotes are silly.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, doubtless it’s true that  the “best things ever said” is also arbitrary.

With one exception.

Literally hundreds of millions of people across this world agree with the judgement of those early Galileans that “No one ever spoke like Jesus.”

Our Lord spoke a solid one thousand mind boggling things never heard before on Planet Earth, all of them surprising and wonderful and memorable. And, let’s be honest, many who heard Jesus also found His words provocative, offensive, and even blasphemous.

When Jesus stood to preach, no one was bored.

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Perfectionism: The cruelest burden

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect….” (Matthew 5:48)

First, let’s get the theological argument out of the way.

Let’s make this perfectly clear: God knows you are not perfect and will never be this side of Glory.

And even clearer: “God does not expect sinlessness out of you and me. He is under no illusion about us.”  See Psalm 103:14 “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” And Romans 3:10 “There is none righteous, no, not one.”  Or how about, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).

Got that?  The illusion of sinless perfection is all ours, my friend.

However.

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Things God enjoys most

I do always do the things that are pleasing to Him. –John 8:29

“Well, I know there’s a lot of big preachers that know a lot more than I do, but it could be that the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too.”  –Tom T. Hall, “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died”

Yogi Berra watched as the batter approached the plate.  The Yankee catcher had seen it all, and this guy was like so many: eager to get a hit, but needing all the help he could find.  The batter stood at the plate and made the sign of the cross, then pointed toward the skies, both symbols of prayer as he summoned the Almighty to his aid.

“Hey buddy,” said Yogi from behind his mask, “Why don’t we just let the Lord enjoy the game?”

I’m with Yogi.

That begs the question of course.  We wonder if the Lord enjoys a baseball game occasionally.

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Burned biscuits and grace

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

My friend Chet Griffin passed this on to me some time ago. My notes do not indicate whether this was his personal story.

When I was a kid, my mom liked to make breakfast for dinner every now and then. I remember one night in particular when she had had a long hard day at work, then did the breakfast thing for us.  Dad and I were seated at the table when she brought in plates of scrambled eggs, sausage patties, and some extremely burnt biscuits.

This was so unlike my mom.

I sat there waiting to see if Dad noticed or would say anything.  Yet, all he did was to reach for his biscuits, smile at my mom, and ask how my day went at school.  I don’t recall what I told him, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that biscuit and eat every bite!

Later, I heard Mom apologize to Dad for burning the biscuits.  I’ll never forget what he said.

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Something inside us hates the idea of grace

For by grace are you saved through faith…. (Ephesians 2:8)

Anything that puts us down, we automatically shy away from. For many, grace does that.

Oh, we don’t mind singing about it, but the concept of grace itself is repulsive to our natures and offensive to our pride.

Something in me wants to be self-sufficient, to believe that whatever comes up, I’m able to handle, that as the poem says, “I am the captain of my soul.”

The cry of a four-year-old–“I can do it myself!”–is the insistence of the stubborn will of the adult child.

That’s why, even though we sing about it and say we love it, something inside us resists the idea of grace. That same something insists that I am sufficient for my needs, that my good works will accomplish everything necessary to land me in Heaven, that the rest is just so much religious talk.

The sinful heart of man is an atheist, an egotist, an idolator.

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Those little things you do when you think no one is watching

“God is Watching.”  –sign over the door of Gwen Williams’ home in Picayune, Mississippi.

John Ed Mathiston told his congregation in Montgomery, Alabama a story about kindness.

“Not long ago, a man from the Middle East walked into a new car showroom and asked to speak with a particular salesperson.  The receptionist called for him, the fellow walked to the front, and they greeted each other.

The foreigner said, “I’d like to buy some trucks.”

Some trucks. That caught the sales guy’s attention.

“What did you have in mind, sir?”

“I want to buy 750 heavy duty trucks and 250 pickups.”

The salesman is stunned.  Surely someone is pulling a prank.  This cannot be happening.

The Middle Easterner pulls out a letter of credit with a huge American bank.  It is legitimate. This is the real deal.

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