Those of us who have read (or tried to read) the book of Revelation would agree that we don’t completely understand it. The last book of the Bible is unique to the New Testament and presents a real challenge to readers.

When it comes to Revelation many Christians seem to take one of two extremes: they either obsess with it trying to use it to predict what is going to happen or totally ignore it.

As I have prepared to lead a Bible study overview of the book of Revelation I have come to better understand why some Christians avoid the book. Here are some selected quotes from a few New Testament scholars and authors that probably contribute to avoiding it:

For most church members, the book of Revelation is a closed book. They avoid it, thinking it too mysterious for them to understand” (BREAKING THE CODE: UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF REVELATION by Bruce Metzger, p. 9).

“The average Christian fights shy of the book of Revelation. It seems to him well-nigh incomprehensible. He is perhaps skeptical of some fanciful interpretations he has heard, and he cannot easily accustom himself to the bizarre imagery” (WHAT CHRIST THINKS OF THE CHURCH by John R.W. Stott, p. 11).

 “. . . a great deal of what has been written about it, especially at the popular level, tends to obscure its meaning rather than to help the reader understand it” (REVELATION by Gordon Fee, p. ix).

“When turning to the book of Revelation from the rest of the New Testament, one feels as if he or she were entering a foreign country” (HOW TO READ THE BIBLE FOR ALL ITS WORTH by Fee and Stuart, p. 231).

“People are endlessly curious about the biblical book of Revelation. Yet when they actually sit down to read Revelation they often feel it intimidating and difficult” (THE RAPTURE EXPOSED by Barbara Rossing, p. 81).

Author Chuck Colclasure makes a gentle and important observation that softens these discouraging quotes, “Rather than being intended to frighten and horrify us with its startling imagery, the true purpose of the Book of Revelation is to provide hope, comfort, and encouragement to those who continue to trust in God, even during the most difficult of times—perhaps especially during the most difficult times” (THE OVERCOMERS: Discovering Hope in the Book of Revelation, Preface to the Second Edition).

I hope we all can agree that the book of Revelation is not an easy read. Yet as followers of Jesus and those who want to understand Revelation, let’s read it without obsessing over it. And as we do I hope we all will keep in mind this crucial advice from Fee and Stuart (HOW TO READ THE BIBLE FOR ALL ITS WORTH, p.231), “It seems necessary to say at the outset that no one should approach the Revelation without a proper degree of humility!”

For those who are interested in reading a solid and thoughtful basic book about Revelation I recommend BREAKING THE CODE: UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF REVELATION by Bruce Metzger.

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The last few weeks I’ve been leading a study of the letters from Jesus to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Revelation. The next five weeks I will be leading a basic overview of the entire book. In my reading for this flyover of the book I came across a simple declaration I found encouraging.

Towards the end of his book about the seven letters author Stanley D. Gayle reminds his readers that “Jesus is the risen, reigning, and returning KING.” All three of those descriptive words of Jesus give comfort, hope, joy, and anticipation to his followers.

We are almost a month past our Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, but we never tire of having our attention called to his victory over death. Calling our attention to Jesus’ resurrection also reminds us of his death on the cross through which he paid the penalty for our sin and provided for our forgiveness.

Gayle not only reminds us that Jesus rose from the dead, but also that following his resurrection (and a variety of appearances) Jesus ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And it is from there, of course, that Jesus reigns as king. The Apostle Peter made it clear in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:32 and 33, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” The writer of Hebrews makes the same point: “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3b).

The third of Gayle’s reminders is the one for which we are still waiting and looking forward to. One of the best known statements from Jesus himself about his return is in John 14:2 and 3, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” One of Paul’s best known teachings about Jesus’ return is in I Thessalonians 4: 16 and 17, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”  

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This coming week I will conclude a Bible study of the seven letters of Jesus to the seven churches in Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3. It has been an interesting and rewarding study even though we have not been able to understand as much as we would have liked. That, of course, is true of all the book of Revelation.

What has especially grabbed my attention the last several weeks is the inclusion of a specific promise to the readers in each of the letters who overcome. I repeatedly asked myself the question, “What does the verb overcome mean?” Various renderings used in a variety of translations give us some help:

Revelation 2:7b, “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (NIV).

Revelation 2:11, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit sayeth unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (King James Version).

Revelation 2:17b, “I will give some of the hidden manna to everyone who wins the victory. I will also give to each one who wins the victory a white stone with a new name written on it. No one knows this new name except the one who receives it” (New Century Version).

Revelation 2:26, “To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, to them I will give authority over all the nations” (New Living Translation).

Revelation 3:5, “All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine” (New Revised Standard Version).

Revelation 3:12, “I’ll make each conqueror a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, a permanent position of honor. Then I’ll write names on you, the pillars: the Name of my God, the Name of God’s City—the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven—and my new Name” (The Message).

Revelation 3:21, ”To him who overcomes will I grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Modern English Version).

Even though I don’t totally understand them, those are some wonderful promises Jesus gives to those to whom he writes (including us!) if they overcome.

To give you a little more to think about, I close with some selected quotes from a few Bible scholars I find helpful and informative:

John Stott, “the one who conquers is the one who keeps my (Jesus’) works until the end” (Revelation 2:26).

Robert Mounce, “The overcomer in Revelation is not one who has conquered an earthly foe by force, but one who has remained faithful to Christ to the very end.”

Bruce Metzger, “The word conquer is a military term. It suggests that the Christian life, so far from being a bed of roses, involves a struggle against anyone and everything that saps the Christian life of all that gives it strength and power.”

Stanley Gayle, “To overcome is to remain faithful to Jesus.”

Robert Mounce notes the phrase “to the one who is victorious” in Revelation 2:7 and 3:12 “conveys the idea of stability and permanence.”

Craig Keener observes the phrase “the one who is victorious” in Revelation 2:11 “suggests withstanding persecution.”

Robert Mounce comments on the phrase in Revelation 3:5 “The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white” “that the white garments promised . . . represent an attire appropriate to the heavenly state.”

Leon Morris explains the promise of Revelation 3:21, “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,” “the throne signifies royal honour, and a place with Christ is the highest honour conceivable for a Christian.”

Perhaps sharing as much as I have gives you insight into why these letters of Jesus to the churches grabbed my attention. Regardless of the different translations, it is obvious that Christians are to be overcomers or victorious. And I hope you have been reminded of Jesus’ call, challenge, and encouragement to overcome.

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The Bible has a lot to say about fear. It tells us not to fear a variety of things as well what we are to fear. The most repeated instruction and discussion about fear is that as his children and followers of Jesus we are to fear the Lord. I have often been confused about this specific admonition because a surface and casual reading of “fear the Lord” seems contradictory to what the Bible teaches about our relationship with God.

A few years ago I came up with an acrostic that I thought was helpful in getting a handle on what it means to fear the Lord. (For those who may be interested, here is the link to that blog post from December, 2017:

I just finished a book published earlier this year that gave me significant additional insight into the challenge to Fear God. The title of the book is REJOICE & TREMBLE: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord and was written by Michael Reeves.

I especially like Reeves clarification that the fear of God “really does not mean being afraid of God” (p. 16). Reeves quotes Exodus 20:18-20 and explains, “Moses here sets out a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God: those who have the fear of him will not be afraid of him” (p. 30).

In the 168 pages of the book Reeves says far more about this matter than I can include in this post. He suggests that properly understood our fear of the Lord “not only defines our love for God and our joy in God. It also prompts us to trust in God” (p. 66, emphasis added). On the next page he rang the bell for me when he notes “the fear which pleases him is not a groveling, shrinking, fear. He is no tyrant. It is an ecstasy of love and joy that senses how overwhelmingly kind and magnificent, good and true God is, and that therefore leans on him in staggered praise and faith” (p. 67).

Reeves highlights three aspects of our relationship with God as the foundation of our fear of God. “The first sort of right fear is the weak-kneed and trembling response to the fact that God is the Creator” (p. 70). Second, “Our wonder at the Creator’s magnificence—and our enjoyment of it—increases when we know it as the perfect magnificence of the kindest Savior” (p.75). And the third aspect is grasping God as our Heavenly Father. The fear of the Lord “leads us from knowing God as the Creator to knowing him as our Redeemer and our Father” (p.95).

I was especially comforted by Reeves discussion of God as our Father, what he calls our “filial fear.” He defines filial fear: “It is not the dread of sinners before a holy Judge. It is not the awe of creatures before their tremendous Creator. It is the overwhelmed devotion of children marveling at the kindness and righteousness and glory and complete magnificence of the Father” (p.101).

Hopefully these selections from Michael Reeves about the fear of the Lord will give you something to think about. Keep in mind the well-known wisdom from Solomon in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

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I’m confident everyone who would answer the question in the title of this post would say “yes.” And if the yes answers were explained, there would be a variety of things that have disappointed all of us.

Reading a sermon entitled The Giant of Disappointment by Pastor Joel Sutton a few days ago got me thinking about disappointment. I reread the written sermon and was surprised to read that “Author John Cheever writes that the main emotion the average American feels is disappointment.” Yes, we all experience disappointment, but I have to question that it is the main emotion of the average American.

Everyone deals with disappointment; some disappointments are smaller than others and some are larger than others. Sometimes others disappoint us and often we disappoint ourselves. A brief definition of disappointment explains that it is sadness or displeasure resulting from nonfulfillment of our hopes and expectations. When things don’t go according to our plans, we often feel disappointment.

Pastor Sutton reminds us, “Sometimes promising opportunities are not as appealing as they looked when we first decided to step through the door.” In other words, dreams can turn into nightmares. We may wish it were different, but Pastor Sutton is right when he tells us, “Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you are immune to disappointments.

Two paragraphs above I noted that sometimes others disappoint us and that we sometimes disappoint ourselves, but we should also keep in mind that we disappoint others. Think of some of the people we sometimes disappoint: our parents, our friends, our teachers, and many others.

In thinking about all of this, it occurred to me that we also disappoint God. I don’t think it surprises Him, and He certainly doesn’t quit loving us, but knowing we have disappointed Him may be helpful to us. During our Easter celebration I could not help but wonder if both Peter and Thomas had disappointed Jesus to some degree by their actions: denial and unbelief.

After I reviewed Sutton’s sermon a few times I found two articles with the same title: Dealing with Disappointment by two different authors: Tara Wells and Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries.

Wells explains that “when we believe that there’s something we must have to be happy and fulfilled, we can set ourselves up for disappointment.” She notes that when we believe something is going to make us happy, and when it doesn’t, we’re disappointed.

Some people avoid disappointment by lowering their expectations. They have decided that the best strategy is to exchange high expectations for realistic expectations. The problem for these people, however, is that there is no guarantee that their realistic expectations can or will be met.

Disappointments are not pleasant, but they can teach and strengthen us if we are open to it. Kets de Vries points out that “Many people successfully work through their disappointments. Somehow they have the strength to take stock of what has happened to them, learn from the incident, and move on. They come out of such disappointments stronger.” He makes it sound easier that it is for most of us, but he does give us some help for moving forward. He suggests that “constructively dealing with disappointment can contribute to personal growth and make for greater resilience.” He points out that many people, when faced with disappointment, wrongly tend to blame themselves.

I want to wrap this post up with what I think are four vital truths from Kets de Vries for dealing with disappointment from:

  1. To manage disappointment, we need to differentiate between situations that fall within our control and factors that are beyond it.
  2. We also need to check whether our expectations are reasonable. Are we setting our goals too low or setting our expectations too high?
  3. In spite of whatever disappointing experiences come our way, our challenge will be to not let bitterness take root.
  4. Disappointment is not meant to destroy us. If taken in stride, it can strengthen us and make us better.

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By the way, I hope this post has not disappointed anyone!

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What Did Jesus mean “It is Finished”?

The four Gospels tell us of seven sayings of Jesus from the cross when he was crucified on what we call Good Friday. Each of Jesus’ seven sayings are important, but my favorite is the sixth one, “It is Finished.” The question we ask ourselves in considering this saying is, “What was Jesus referring to with the “It” in his saying “It is Finished?”

I’m confident it’s not what at least a couple of authors suggest. One observer suggests “some may hear in Jesus’ words disappointment.” But as we’ll affirm later, even in the face of pain and pending death on the cross, Jesus certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Was Jesus referring to the reason for his coming? Are things coming to a sad ending in terms of his purpose? Do the words “It is Finished” mean that Jesus had failed or that his mission wasn’t accomplished?

Please note that Jesus did not say, “I am finished,” but rather “It is Finished.” Nor did anyone else who was there declare while Jesus was dying on the cross, or after he died, “He is finished.”

New Testament scholar Leon Morris explains, “It could mean that Jesus’ earthly life was over, he was about to die. But, while that was true, the more important truth is that the death of Jesus meant the completion of the work of salvation for which he had come to earth.”

The “it” in Jesus’ words “It is finished” refers to the reason for and purpose in his coming. The “it” in Jesus’ words “It is finished” points to the perfect plan of God the Father and the mission for which Jesus came. “It is finished” underscored the fulfillment of the Father’s will. It was a clear announcement that in dying on the cross Jesus completed what he came to do. In his book The Cross of Christ John Stott tells us the verb finished is in the perfect sense and it means “it has been and will for ever remain finished” (p.82).

The saying reminds us of what Jesus said early in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” It’s as if Jesus was saying, “I have done the task the Father asked me to do.” Jesus accomplished what he came into the world to do.

The words from the cross “It is finished” is a statement of triumph. His death finished the ransom payment for the sins of those – including us today – who accept him as our Savior. But Jesus’ statement “It is finished” cannot mean there is nothing else that he would do. The primary purpose of his coming was complete.

After Jesus died they took his body from the cross and buried it in an unused grave. But even though Jesus had finished what he came to do, on Easter Sunday morning he rose from the dead. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, “Jesus was proved and attested to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection.”

Forty days after his resurrection Jesus returned to His Father, and multiple times the New Testament reminds us that Jesus was exalted and sits at the right hand of God. Not only that, we know that someday Jesus will come again to welcome and receive us to return with him to the Father and live forever in heaven. And we will do that because in his first coming he finished what he came to do.

On this Good Friday we are reminded and remember again that it was a Friday, and just before he died on the cross he declared, “It is finished.” And for that we thank and praise him who is both our Savior and our Lord.

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While driving home last week I heard a song on the radio that grabbed my attention. The writer and singer of the song was voicing a prayer that I thought would be good for me to pray. When I got home I found the lyrics on the internet and as I read them thought others might also be interested in praying the prayer.

I was concerned about copyright restrictions and sent the following email to author and singer Brandon Holt requesting his permission:

Brandon, I heard your song “Less of Me, More of You” on The Message yesterday and was challenged and moved by it. I am writing to request your permission to use the lyrics in a blog post suggesting believers use your lyrics as a prayer. I do not generate any income on my blog posts. I understand if you cannot give me permission, but I do believe my readers would love it and possibly get your album. Let me know asap as I would like to share the lyrics during Holy Week. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Within about 15 minutes I received the following email from Brandon:

Hey Sir!

Thanks for reaching out. I truly appreciate that. I’m honored to hear the song touched you. Please FEEL FREE to use it however you’d like. I pray it will bless all who are connected to you! 

Be blessed!! 

Enjoy the lyrics below, consider praying them, and find a way to listen to Brandon sing them.

Brandon Holt – Less of Me, More of You Lyrics

My heart desire is to be close to you
Nothing more to say, noting more left to do
So quench this thirsty soul
And take complete control
Until there’s less of me and more of you

More of your power, more of your glory
More of your righteousness
and holiness in my life
More of your kindness
more of your spirit lord
My heart desire is less of me more of you
My heart desire is to be close to you
Nothing more to say, noting more left to do
So quench this thirsty soul
And take complete control
Until there’s less of me and more of you

More of your power, more of your glory
More of your righteousness
and holiness in my life
More of your kindness
more of your spirit Lord
My heart desire is less of me more of you

I give my life
I give my soul
I am yours
Take control
Fully I surrender

Everything that I am
I place my life in your hands
fully I surrender for more of your power
More of your glory
More of your righteousness
And holiness in my life
More of kindness
More of your spirit lord
My heart desire is less of me and more of your power
More of your glory, more of your righteousness and holiness in my life
More of your kindness more of your spirit lord
My heart desire is less of me and more of you
My heart desire is less of me and more of you

I hope you enjoy the next few days of Holy Week and find Brandon’s music and words as challenging and inspirational as I did.

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I think all of us agree that there are times when we disagree. And we disagree on many things ranging from our favorite place to eat to our political preferences to what we believe about religion. There’s nothing out of the ordinary or wrong with disagreeing. The challenge for us is how we disagree and our attitude when doing so.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been reading a book about Catholics and Evangelicals–what they have in common and their differences (Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic by Chris Castaldo). Chapters 10 and 11 have been especially encouraging to me not just in discussing differences between Catholics and Evangelicals, but in all kinds of differences.

One of the most important things the author relates concerns a ride to the airport he gave to a well-known leading Catholic. It took just over an hour to get to the airport and Castaldo writes that they talked about a wide range of issues. I was personally convicted by Castaldo’s words, “We disagreed seriously on a lot of things; however, we could still speak with mutual respect” (p. 148). I asked myself, why can’t all of us treat those with whom we disagree with respect?

Later in the chapter Castaldo hit me with three other observations that gave me a lot more to think about. He confessed, “It makes me uncomfortable when people assert their beliefs in an absolute sort of way” (p. 151). He went on to suggest, “The problem is when we insist that others believe just as we do” (p. 151). Are there any two people you know who believe exactly the same about anything that can be controversial? His conclusion also forced me to do some thinking: “it’s just not right to impose your view on everyone else” (p. 151).

It was also somewhat refreshing to me to read Castaldo’s affirmation in chapter 11, “While there are many important doctrines that divide Catholics and Evangelicals, there is also much on which we agree” (p.163). I fear that too often in many of our disagreements we ignore what we agree on and focus too much on those things we disagree on. Although I know I’ve been guilty myself, I love his wisdom: “While we must agree to disagree in some places, courteous dialogue is a much more Christian approach than throwing polemical hand grenades over the ecclesial fence” (p. 168).

Some of our harsh demeaning disagreement in a variety of discussions is an indicator of pride. I know I need to show more humility in disagreements. Castaldo again shares some wisdom when he notes, “Being humble doesn’t mean that we have compromised our conviction of what constitutes truth any more than being meek suggests that one is devoid of strength” (p. 168).

For those who may be interested, Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic is a very readable and helpful book about Catholics and Evangelicals. Remember also that the wisdom of author Chris Castaldo is not just about the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals. I’ve tried to highlight some principles and ideas that seem helpful for dealing with our disagreements with others if we will apply them.

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All of us, of course, know some complainers. Every morning when I look into the mirror I see a complainer. And if you are honest with yourself, you probably also see someone who complains from time to time when you look into the mirror.

What prompted my thinking about this matter of complaining was an episode of Gunsmoke I recently watched on TV.  You may or may not know the characters of this old TV series that those of us who are older watched as children, but I chuckled when Doc observed that “Chester is never happy unless he has something to complain about.” It was an overstatement for sure, but most of us know people who do seem to be happy only when they have something to complain about.

To complain is to “express dissatisfaction or annoyance about something” and a complainer is “a person given to excessive complaints and crying and whining.” Another word often used for complain is to grumble. One definition of to grumble is “to complain about something in a bad-tempered way.”

In the Old Testament books of Exodus and Numbers the writer repeatedly tells of the Children of Israel’s grumbling. They grumbled against Moses (Exodus 15:24 and 17:3), against Moses and Aaron (Exodus 16:2 and Numbers14:2), and against God (Exodus 16:7 and Numbers 14:27). Clearly their grumbling prevented them from realizing how blessed they were and from expressing gratitude.

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul instructs and challenges the Christians in Philippi, “Do everything without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14). The New Living Translation substitutes arguing for grumbling. One observer notes about the verse, “The immediate context is work within the local church and the body of believers. However, the intent is clearly meant to include all of a Christian’s life.”

I don’t think complaining and grumbling is always out of place or inappropriate, but it certainly can be. You can request that your order in a restaurant be corrected without really complaining. But when grumbling is excessive it not only robs us of enjoyment and pleasure, it also robs others who are with us.

One writer I read suggests, “It does no one any good to be a complainer.” The key word in this suggestion is the word complainer; I think we all would agree that there are clearly times when a complaint does do some good – especially if it is done in an appropriate way. I confess, my problem is that there are times when I overdo it when I complain.

The unknown writer I just quoted also makes three other statements about complaining that are worth hearing and considering: “Constant complaining wears thin quickly. If you have an ax to grind, don’t bore others with it. It is far better to go to the source of your problem and seek to resolve things personally.”

I think Doc was wrong when he said, “Chester is never happy unless he has something to complain about.” As a matter of fact, I think he was complaining about Chester. What do you think?

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I’m fairly certain all of us at one time or another have said something we soon realized we shouldn’t have said. We wish we could take it back, but it can’t be undone. We can apologize and say we didn’t mean it, and that may help, but similar to what card players often say: “a card laid is a card played.”

Soon after we say something we regret someone who heard it often asks, “What in the world were you thinking?” And the most common answer is, “That’s the problem – I wasn’t thinking.”

Last week I read two statements that immediately prompted me to ask, “What was this person thinking?” And I concluded, “They could not have been thinking.”

The first thing that caused me to ask the question was a summary of a Missouri pastor’s suggestion in his sermon last week. His suggestion was trending on social media and made the national news as well. He suggested that wives who “let themselves go is the reason husbands stray sexually.” My first thought was what in the world was this man thinking? My conclusion: he could not have been thinking!

As a husband and pastor I was stunned and disappointed to read this pastor’s inappropriate observation. I’m not interested in giving an opinion on why men stray, but I think it is far more complicated than the pastor’s shallow thought.

The second thing that caused me to ask the question was a piece we received in the mail from a church. There was no invitation to the church, but six passages from the Bible that all spoke about judgement. The front of the piece was in red, orange, and yellow with one verse, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” –Psalm 9:17

Having just read about the mailer we received from a church, I think you too are probably asking the question, “What in the world were the leaders of this church thinking?” Perhaps they were thinking they could scare some people to come to church, but I don’t think it is going to create much interest or bring many people. As a pastor I was surprised and disappointed by the mailer.

The question “what were you thinking?” usually implies you weren’t thinking. In reflecting on all of this I’ve realized that there are times when we are more likely to say something without thinking: when we’re angry, when we’re trying to be funny, when we want to impress someone, when we’re tired, or when we are frustrated. The challenge, of course, is to think about what we say all the time, but especially during those times when we may not be thinking. Perhaps we all should echo David’s prayer, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

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