Those of whom the Lord is not ashamed

“Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16).

Sometimes a verse of Scripture gets under our skin and burrows itself deep inside and will not leave us alone.  This is such a text for me.

It comes right in the middle of a tribute to some Old Testament citizens who nailed the faith thing.  By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Abraham left home without a clue where he would end up. By faith Moses walked away from the palace and threw his lot in with the Hebrew slaves.

By faith.

Faith means a) I have evidence but b) still have questions.

Faith means a) I believe in the Lord God but b) there are still some parts of the puzzle missing.

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Mediocrity: Not how you want to live

“…you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold…” (Revelation 3:16)

Mediocrity is a warm blanket.

Mediocrity is remaining with the bunch that finishes neither early or late, that turns in work much like everyone else’s, that is satisfied with pretty good.

Mediocrity is the head in the sand when the storm is raging around us.

Close your eyes until it all blows over.

Mediocrity is the coward’s way out when life-or-death decisions are being made.  “Well, let’s give this some more thought.”  “Let’s not be too hasty here.”  “We don’t want people to think we’re extremists.”

There’s the appearance of safety in mediocrity.  We’re like everyone around us.  We don’t stand out.  No one criticizes us. They don’t even see us.  We blend into the landscape.

Our English word mediocre comes from two Latin words, medi meaning “halfway,” and ocris meaning “mountain.”  Somewhere there is a list of everyone climbing to the crest of Mount Everest.  But no one ever bothered to note those who got half way up and turned around for home.

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The room in your home no one knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1960s and 1970s.

A man I know once wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

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Getting rid of some statues is biblical

The Bible endorses monuments of some kinds and condemns others.

They erected a pile of stones a day’s journey from the Jordan as a reminder of God’s leadership during the Exodus.  In fact, they even set up a similar pile in the middle of the Jordan so that, in times of drouth when the water level dropped, everyone would see that as a reminder that God led them through those dark days.

They set up a stone memorial and called it Ebenezer, “stone of help,” as a testimony to God’s provisions.  They had no “graven images,” of course, but they had plenty of other memorials.

They tore down altars to false gods, statues of false gods, and relics used in worshiping those gods.

And they sometimes destroyed something that had been good and noble and holy.  Yep.  Sometimes, they destroyed a good thing.

Please read on.

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The leader who has never learned discipline is big trouble

Now, no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:11)

You will know the name Jimmy Doolittle.

He flew bi-planes in World War I for the United States, and then barn-stormed throughout the 1920’s, thrilling auiences by taking risks you would not believe. He led the retaliatory bombing of Tokyo in early 1942, a few months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He played a major role in the Allied victory over the Axis, eventually becoming a General. His autobiography is titled I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.  It’s well worth reading.

Doolittle and his wife Joe (that’s how they spelled her name) had two sons, Jim and John, both of whom served in the Second World War.

The general wrote about the younger son:

John was in his plebe year at West Point and the upperclassmen were harassing him no end…. While the value of demeaning first-year cadets is debatable, I was sure “Peanut” could survive whatever they dreamed up. (p. 284)

Later, General Doolittle analyzes his own strengths and weaknesses and makes a fascinating observation:

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Some of our heroes never fired a shot at the enemy

These are days when heroes abound.  Doctors and nurses and support staff wage war against an invisible enemy taking the lives of thousands worldwide.  Equally heroic are the men and women who run the risks of infection in order to drive the trucks and stock the stores, serve the public, and keep us safe. Each is a hero.

“As his share who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage: they shall share alike” (I Samuel 30:24).

When Roland Q. Leavell returned home from the “Great War” in Europe–-i.e.,  the First World War–he had a problem.  People wanted to hear stories of the war, of battles, of heroism. He had none.

Roland Q. Leavell was in his 20s, single, and with a bachelor’s degree from seminary.  He had pastored small churches and had been sent to “the front” as a representative of the YMCA.  In those days, there was no USO to take care of American troops overseas, and fledgling organizations and ministries were still trying to figure these things out.

According to Dottie L. Hudson’s book “He Still Stands Tall: The Life of Roland Q. Leavell,” based on her father’s diaries, Roland did a hundred small things in that war:  He led Bible studies, he counseled soldiers, he ran a canteen, he taught French to a few soldiers, and he drove an ambulance.  At one point, he inhaled poisonous gas the Germans sprayed into the air. The one time he shot a gun was as a joke, pointed into the air across no-man’s-land.  “I guess I didn’t kill over 50,” he remarked in his diary.

And when he got home, people wanted to hear his stories.

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Should the pastor confess his doubts?

“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children” (Psalm 73:15).

Some questions need to be handled in private and not made public.

A friend who had not been to church in a while ventured back recently only to be slapped in the face by the sermon.

The guest preacher chose the Noah story from Genesis 6-8 for his sermon.  My friend said, “He informed the church that he does not believe that story.  He said it was impossible for Noah to have carried food on the ark for all those animals for a period of 90 days. And imagine the waste those animals would have produced!”

“He said the story was made up by old men to teach people that God punishes those who do not obey Him.”

One wonders what conditions prompted the leadership of that church to invite the enemy to fill the pulpit.  That is precisely what they did and it’s who he was.  Anyone undermining the faith of the Lord’s people in the Holy Scriptures is no friend.

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Why the Lord may be tougher on you than others

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a strict judgment….  (James 3:1)

To whom much is given, much is expected.  (Luke 12:48)

When the pastor said God doesn’t put more on us than we can bear, some fellow said, “I know. I just wish He didn’t have such confidence in me!”

God’s best students are held to a higher standard and graded more strictly.

The ones with greater potential are dealt with more severely.

Ask any coach.  The mediocre player gets a mild reprimand and slivers of the coach’s attention.  Although he does poorly,  the expectations on him were low.  The star athlete, however, regularly gets reamed out by the coach and is constantly held to higher standards, stricter disciplines, and greater expectations.

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Needed: A certain amount of legalism (for myself, at least)

“He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much….” (Luke 16:10)

“Let him deny himself and take up his cross….” (Luke 9:23) 

Legalism is a bad term.  It implies someone is living by a list of rules even though violating the spirit and intent of those rules.

Years ago, a lady in my church told of a conversation she had with her sister-in-law.  They were Baptist (my member) and a Pentecostal of some type (the SIL).

The kids were off to school and they were sharing a morning coffee in one of their homes.  The Baptist lit up a cigarette.  The Pentecostal said, “Did you know that one cigarette will send your soul to hell?”

The Baptist: “Are you serious?”

She was.

The Baptist said to her Pentecostal SIL, “Then explain something to me.  How is it you can hate your mother–I’ve heard you say it!–and you’re all right, but smoking one cigarette is going to send me to hell forever?”

She had no answer.  (Note: We do not intend to imply all Pentecostals are this way, or that all Baptists approve of cigarettes. We do, however, approve of morning coffee with friends.)

I suppose it’s safe to say we all need some rules. And, the first of those rules should be, “While obeying the rules, don’t forget to love, stay humble, and walk faithfully with your God.”

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Let the pastor take charge of his own education

Ruth Bell Graham once said many wives are frustrated from expecting their husbands to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be.

That same principle works on so many directions.

Many a pastor is disappointed in his Bible college or seminary education as a result of unrealistic expectations.  Those theological schools buy into this error by periodic polling of their alums to ask, “What do you wish we had taught you?  What subjects should we have included? What skills did you need for which you were unprepared?”  Soon, the provosts and deans assemble a new package of courses and give it its own name–“Masters of Divinity with Specialty in Whatever”–and life goes on.

I guarantee you that the next generation of preachers will also produce a list of subjects their school should have taught.  It’s the nature of the beast since life is always moving forward, cultures change, people are never static, and one more big reason. Maybe the biggest of all.

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