“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
While attending a conference on the campus of a Christian college, I sat in the auditorium with several hundred other ministers and their families. The pre-session music was provided by a man playing a violin, and doing it rather poorly, I felt.
I am not a musician nor the son of a musician, but I can usually tell when a violin is being played well. And particularly when it isn’t.
As the music ended, our host stepped to the microphone. “We want to thank Mr. Hoskins for playing the violin for us tonight. One month ago, he was in an automobile accident in which his car was totaled. In fact, for a while it appeared that he had lost the use of his hands. So, the music tonight was special for a lot of reasons.”
As the congregation applauded, I slumped down in my seat and hoped the shame I felt did not register on my face.
“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).
Robert Schuller founded the Crystal Cathedral in California and hosted television’s “Hour of Power” broadcast, making him the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church. He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable, and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.
My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano. Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation. Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.” Schuller would look at his congregation and say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life. But my friend, you can still end with a flourish if you start now.”
It’s a great story and makes a fine sermon illustration.
For by grace are you saved through faith… Ephesians 2:8
Behold, I stand at your door and knock. If any man…. Revelation 3:20
As many as received Him…. John 1:12
The country singer had a number at the top of the charts. She was the guest that morning on a talk show that entertained millions of people across America. Because she was outspoken in her Christian faith, she talked about the Lord on the program. That’s when the host asked her to sing.
“Give us a little of Amazing Grace.”
She sweetly went into the first verse of the wonderful old John Newton song. “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…” That’s when the host stopped her.
“That’s the problem I have with your religion,” he said. “I’m not a wretch.”
I’ve long since forgotten how she answered. But I know what the best answer is.