Man is basically good. (Try saying that with a straight face.)

Checking into a company’s website, a pastor friend noticed their statement of values:  “We believe in the basic goodness of all people.”

He came away wondering what a person would have to do to convince himself of that misguided philosophy.

True, there is something inside us that wants to believe in the basic goodness of people. I suspect that’s part of our sinful nature, believing against all evidence to the contrary that we are all right and not in need of forgiveness or salvation. It’s a major strain in our sinful system to hold that all we need to do is release everyone from restraints and for preachers to quit laying guilt trips on us and all will be well.  “Imagine there’s no religion,” said John Lennon.  As though that were the problem.

Have you seen the news this morning? How many people were killed in your city last night by people who were resisting restraints and determining to have their own way?

Our Lord said, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children….” (Luke 11:13).  You are evil, but you still get some things right.  That’s what He said.

We are a mixture.  Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that 2 percent changes everything.

Insights on this subject popped up in two unlikely places:  a western novel and a biography of a longshoreman philosophy from over a half-century ago.

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Joe’s notes on the First Epistle of John

That which was from the beginning….we declare to you….  (I John 1:1ff)

(For my suggestions on introducing this Bible study for your people, see #7 below.) 

I confess.  I read scriptures looking for gold.  Some of it is found in nuggets on top of the ground, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated. Others are in veins which need to be mined and worked and treated carefully and faithfully.

The opening of the First Epistle of John is pure gold and for good reason….

That which was from the beginning…which we have heard… which we have seen with our eyes…which we have looked upon and our hands have handled…. And we have seen and bear witness and declare to you…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you….

Get the point?  John, the old apostle–the last one standing–is saying, “I was there.  I know.  This is not hearsay.  This is not something I thought up.  This is the Truth; it’s what I know.”

There is no substitute for a personal experience.  “The person with an experience is never at the mercy of someone with an argument.”  Consider…

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Now, take Christmas. That’s certainly not how I would have done it.

(With tongue firmly planted in cheek, let us rethink this greatest of all stories.)

What was the Lord thinking, doing Christmas the way He did?

A Baby is born to an unwed couple after a long, arduous journey.  The cradle is a feeding trough in a stable in Bethlehem.  Welcoming committees of shepherds and foreigners show up. A murderous king sends his soldiers to slaughter babies. The young family flees to Egypt.

And thus the Son of God arrives on the scene.

Admit it.  You would not have done Christmas that way.  It’s not just us.

As the God of the universe, the infinite and omnipotent Heavenly Father, you could do anything you please, right?  In the beginning, You created the Heavens and the earth, right?  The opening statement of Scripture certainly establishes who is in charge.  So everything is on the table.  Nothing off limits.

“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” It says that right there in Psalm 115:3.

Now, all I’m saying is that had I been God and in charge, with no one to tell me ‘no’ and no supervisory authority to question my actions, I think I might have done things differently.

Take that stable.

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The unexpected Christmas

“That is one of the reasons I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed.” –C. S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity”

Nothing about the Christian faith is as we might have expected. Get into the business of a virgin birth, a sinless life, a vicarious death, and a resurrection, and have it happen to a Jew in First Century Roman-dominated Judea, and all bets are off.

Consider just the unexpectedness of the Christmas event itself, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1) Surprises from Matthew 1

–The lineage of Jesus contains an interesting lineup of characters, including several women of questionable character: Tamar who seduced her father-in-law, Rahab the prostitute of Jericho, Ruth who was the subject of gossip in Bethlehem, Bathsheba who was the “other woman” of David’s fall from grace, and of course, Mary herself, the target of malicious gossips throughout Nazareth.  Consider…

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Ten reasons I believe in Heaven

“Heaven is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”  –Stephen Hawking

I’m afraid of the dark.

If we’re talking about the endless kind of darkness that offers no light anywhere, no hope ever, and nothing but nothingness, who among us would not panic at the thought of that?

I expect people like Mr. Hawking simply find the idea of Heaven too good to be true, and thus conclude that it must be a product of man’s delusional yearning for “pie in the sky by and by.”

And yet, there are solid reasons for reasonable people to believe in the concept of a Heavenly home after this earthly life.  Here are some that mean a lot to me.  By no means is this list exhaustive.  It’s simply my thinking on the subject.

I can hear someone protest that I am merely a Baptist preacher and no authority on anything.  You wonder by what right I do this.  Good question and it deserves a good answer.  Here is the one Jesus gave.  “Father, I thank Thee, Lord of Heaven and of earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25).  I’m a babe, spiritually speaking.  He shown them to me.

One.  Jesus believed in Heaven.   In fact, He claimed to be a native.

The Lord said to Nicodemus, “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, even the Son of Man.” (John 3:13).  No one knows a place like a native.

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The burning eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ

“His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14)

In a Harry Bosch detective story, best-selling author Michael Connelly tells of a murder victim who, while being hanged, had a bucket placed over his head. Connelly explains to the reader that killers who want to dehumanize their victims often hide their faces, perhaps blindfold them or in this case, cover their head with a bucket.

Rapists, he says, will often blindfold their victims or place a pillow over their face.  They cannot stand the pain of looking into the eyes of one whom they are destroying.

The eyes tell so much of what the soul experiences.

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Where are my old, forgiven sins?

“Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 10:17).

In the former days of computer technology, back when we preachers were finding what a help it could be to our writing, Pastor Frank Pollard retreated to the mountains to work on sermons and a book.  At one point, as he told later, in the midst of a chapter he was laboring over, he accidentally stroked a certain key and the entire piece disappeared.  Nothing he did retrieved it.  We all know that experience and identify with the frustration he felt.

So, later, he asked a computer-savvy friend to explain this.  “Where did my writing go?”

“It didn’t go anywhere,” said the friend.  “It just disappeared.”

Frank insisted, “It had to have gone somewhere.”

“Nope,” said the computer friend.  “It did not go anywhere; it went nowhere.”

Now, being the preacher constantly in search of illustrations and metaphors to make the Christian life understandable and the gospel applicable, Frank decided that this is how it is when “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sins.”  Where are those sins now? They’re just gone.

I can think of three scriptures that pretty much voice the same reality.

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The clue that gives you away every time

“Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12)

Reading through the gospels, watching the interaction between the religious bigshots as they bully the Lord Jesus Christ–imagine that!–and suddenly, we are brought up short by noticing the prominent role fear played in the lives of these people. Consider…

–“Herod feared the multitude” (Matthew 14:5).  Ah, a good reminder that tyrants always fear their subjects. Always.

–“The Pharisees feared the multitude” (Matthew 21:46). And so do religious bigshots fear their people.

–King Herod feared John the Baptist (Mark 6:20).  Wickedness fears righteousness because it cannot understand it, cannot control it, can’t intimidate it, and cannot silence it.  God’s faithful people must never lose sight of this for one minute.

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Jesus and only Jesus: Why is that so difficult?

Him we preach.  –Colossians 1:28

–No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there.  John 3:13.  How clear is that?  He is the One who knows.

–No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus.  John 14:6.  How clear is that?  He is our Mediator.

–No one can know God unless Jesus reveals Him to them.  Matthew 11:27.  How clear is that?  He is the Revealer.

–There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Only Jesus.  Acts 4:12.  How clear is that?  He is our Savior.

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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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