A loving God would not let anyone suffer. Say what?

Some guy in Alabama ticked me off.

I was driving back home from two weeks of ministry in Tennessee and Kentucky when I bought a Birmingham News in Tuscaloosa. At a rest stop in Mississippi, I scanned it and was snagged by a letter to the editor from an outspoken agnostic.

After reading it and fuming a little, I tossed the paper in the trash. Later, wished I’d kept it just for reference here. So I’m going by memory.

The writer wanted the world to know that recent tornadoes in Alabama proved beyond doubt either that there is no God or if there is, He is a tyrant who delights in doing cruel things.

He was clearly proud of his great letter. I’m betting he clipped it and displayed it somewhere prominent in his house.

I have no idea whether anyone responded to his letter. Probably not. The Bible cautions against answering fools, and this guy surely fits that category.

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The subtle sin of judgmentalism and how it works

“Do not judge, lest you be judged…. Why  do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1ff.)

If you are prone to criticism and judging others, chances are you will be the last to know it.

It’s that kind of sin. I see it in you; but it’s just part of who I am.

I find it fascinating that after issuing the warning about not judging others, our Lord followed with the caution about specks and logs in people’s eyes.

This is precisely how it works.

My judgmentalism of you appears so normal and natural that it never occurs to me that I am actually condemning you.  So, while your rush to judgment is a log in your eye–one you really should do something about!–my human tendency to speak out on (ahem) convictions is merely a speck in mine and nothing to be concerned about.

One thing about me, I’m no hypocrite, right?  I call it like I see it, right?  You know what you’re getting with me, right?  (yuck!)

Consider this conversation….

You: “What did I have for lunch? Well, I was in a hurry, so I ate a banana, a handful of nuts, and a soft drink.”

Your co-worker: “The banana and the nuts are okay, but the soft drink is fattening and poisonous.  It is suicidal.”

You say nothing in response, but sit there wondering, “Who asked you? You wanted to know what I had for lunch and I told you. Does that give you a right to sit in judgment on my actions?”

It happens all the time, and just that subtly.

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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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Some things the New Testament does not tell us

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable….that the man of God may be complete” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Those who demand a Scripture verse for everything they do place an intolerable burden on the Christian life never intended by the Heavenly Father.

Some among us have all the answers about the Christian life and have solved all the mysteries of doctrine and theology.

Is there a verse of Scripture on that?

Stay tuned.

These “super-apostles” write me, taking issue with many of the positions we hold in these articles.  They have it all worked out and find it incredulous that we do not see matters their way. The only explanation, they conclude, is that I must be a) unsaved or b) willfully blind.

I wrote something about tithing for this website.

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No team wants a fan like me. But my church does!

I’ve never meant much to any team I’ve rooted for.

I grew up in Alabama and went to quite a few Bama games during the Bear Bryant era.  When I moved to Mississippi, I learned to love Ole Miss and State. Later, living in the New Orleans area, I became a fan of LSU and Tulane.

Those schools make no money from me. They do not know I exist. I’m on no mailing list for alumni or anyone else.  I just watch them on TV. I cheer when they win and hurt (a little) when they lose.

On one occasion, LSU was playing Alabama and it was a huge game.  I cut off the television and went to bed at halftime.  Sunday morning, I got up and drove to the church where I ministered all morning, and did not learn the outcome of the game until the afternoon.  Some fan, right?

Personally, I’m good with that. It does not bother me one iota that I no longer live and die by the fortunes of any team.

Sports are not reality . They are called games for good reason. Granted, the fortunes of teams affect the livelihood of a lot of people and the economies of their host cities.  But that would be true of t-shirt factories or ice cream parlors if the city invested its hopes in them.

I know preachers who are delighted no longer to be pastoring in the heart of football-land where a large segment of their church members have lost sight of the dividing line between fantasy and reality and bring their school loyalties and animosities into the fellowship.  I know pastors who need to take down all the fan stuff hanging on the walls of their offices and replace it with something about Jesus.

There are church members with deeper loyalties to a college team than to the Lord Jesus Christ.

If that does not concern you, well…it should.

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Our pastor is not very friendly. What to do?

A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  –Proverbs 18:24

When someone told me she belonged to the First Baptist Church in a certain city, I said, “I know your pastor very well.  Great guy.”

That’s what started it.

“Great guy?  I guess so.  Yes, I’m sure he is,” said the new friend.  “However…”

I did not like the way this was going.  This pastor is pure gold, I was certain, and surely there were no glaring negatives.

“However, he’s not very friendly.”

I said, “What do you mean?  I always thought he was.”

“I’m sure he is to you and other preachers.  But he is reluctant to walk up to someone and greet them, never seems to know anyone’s name, and will sometimes pass you on the street without speaking.”

Oh my.  Not good.

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Gluttony: My favorite sin

Let all things be done in moderation.  –Philippians 4:5 

I read somewhere that Diamond Jim Brady, a character in American life a few generations ago, loved food so much, his stomach was 6 times the size of a normal belly.

Now, that, we think, is a glutton!

Can we talk?

How ironic that the season during which we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus provides us the perfect excuse to over-indulge.

Like the megalopolis that now stretches from Washington to Boston or from Dallas to Fort Worth, this eating holiday dominates our calendar from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

Walk through any modern large-box store, and study the edibles they’re offering during this season. It’s not just turkey and dressing and yams and egg nog any longer. It’s chocolates like you would not believe, in every kind of assortment and combination. It’s cookies and cakes and pies coming out your ears. Books pour off the shelves telling homemakers of new recipes for the latest taste sensations for these holidays. Restaurants offer special smorgasbords for the holidays with prices approaching $100 per person.

The wonder is that Americans are not all 400 pounds.

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Word Wrangling: Not for this rodeo

Many of us pastors have trouble staying out of the ditches and onto the road.

A scholar friend says, “Truth is a ridge on either side of which are vast chasms to be avoided at all cost.”  One side is called liberalism, the other legalism.  Rigid fundamentalism on the right, worldly compromise on the left.  In between is the road.  The way.  It’s narrow.

Truth always is.

It’s one thing to love word-study and to delight in finding a particular word in Scripture that yields a well-spring of insights and applications, but a far different thing to fight over the meaning of some obscure Greek word.

Somewhere I encountered a translation of I Timothy 6:5 that warns God’s leaders about “word-wrangling.” This morning, looking that passage up in various translations and commentaries and other study helps, no one has it that way, but more as “constant striving” and “chronic disagreement.” (The Greek word—ahem, here we go now–is disparatribai, a double compound word which according to Thayer, means “constant contention, incessant wrangling or strife.”)

“Thayer” refers to a well-respected Greek-English lexicon used for generations. In the above quote, he used the word “wrangling”. Maybe I got it from him.

The image of wrangling suggests a cowboy roping a dogie, jumping off his horse, and wrestling the animal to the ground.

Some of us do that with words. We capture them, hogtie them, and put our own brand on them. The result may be to make the word mean something entirely different from the writer’s original intention.

And since our audiences–that would be the men and women of our congregations–are not knowledgeable about the Greek and Hebrew (most don’t have a clue what a lexicon is!), when we start parsing (ahem) these words in sermons, they either shift into neutral intending to catch up when we return to the main highway or they stand in awe, assured we must know what we’re talking about since we use phrases like “the original Greek says” and “my Hebrew professor used to say this word means.”

Why our people put up with this stuff is beyond me.

They shouldn’t.

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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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Self Esteem: Finding the balance is tough

I’m a sketch artist.

I’ll sometimes sit in a room for hours on end doing quick turnouts of subjects who are lined up.  I do this at conventions and church meetings, at schools and fairs and in people’s living rooms.  I love to draw people.  Takes about 90 seconds and in most cases, produces something people treasure.

But not always.  You’d be surprised how often people would rather be anywhere on the planet than in front of me posing.

I can see it coming a mile away. The person reluctantly slides into the chair opposite me, looks in every direction except mine, and when I manage to get his/her attention, refuses to look me in the eye. Asked to look this way and smile, the party mumbles, “I don’t smile.” Or, “I don’t like my smile.”

A few times I have said with  more than a little impatience, “Look, I could understand that if you were 13 years old. But you’re a grownup. Get over this. Everyone looks better with a smile, including me and definitely including you. Now, look me in the eye and show me a smile. You’ll like the picture a lot better.”

One day, when no one else was standing nearby to be drawn, I tried something with this depressingly shy young woman.

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