WHICH IS BETTER?

Driving home earlier this summer from a Men’s Retreat I was listening to a CD of some old songs and hymns. One of our seniors had loaned it to me and wanted me to listen to it. I was on something of a spiritual high from the retreat and thought it would be a good time to listen. While I didn’t enjoy all of the selections, there were a few that inspired me as well as caused me to think. One song in particular got my attention and I have been thinking about it on and off since that Sunday morning.

Here are the words of one of the verses and the chorus:

I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus,
Since I found in Him a friend so strong and true.
I would tell you how He changed my life completely;
He did something no other friend could do.

Chorus

No one ever cared for me like Jesus;
There’s no other friend so kind as He.
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me;
O how much He cared for me.

All my life was full of sin when Jesus found me;
All my heart was full of misery and woe,
Jesus placed His strong arms about me
And He led me in the way I ought to go.

As beautiful and powerful as the words are, it is not my story. I became a Christian and was baptized a few months short of becoming a teenager. Stay with me on this, but my life was not completely changed that day (as the song writer meant it). At that point my life was not full of sin, my heart was not full of misery and woe, and I don’t recall the sin and darkness being taken from me as the song notes. All I knew was that my older brother was going forward that Sunday morning to be baptized and I was going to do it too.

I had started attending the church at the invitation of my best friend. It was a small church with no children’s or youth ministry beyond Sundays, but it was a warm and welcoming church. My brother and I were accepted and loved without either of our parents accompanying us. The people rejoiced in our decision and congratulated us like we were their own. And we were.

The small church we began attending grew in every way eventually bringing on staff a part time youth minister God greatly used in my life. I stayed an active member of Forest Dale Church of Christ until I left following high school graduation to attend Cincinnati Bible College.

Here’s what sometimes troubles me when I hear songs like No One Ever Cared for Me like Jesus, Amazing Grace, and many others: I don’t have a testimony that matches those words. In my life I have committed my worst sins since I became a Christian. We wouldn’t describe too many 12 year olds as wretches, would we?

Not to be presumptuous, but isn’t my story similar to many Christians who are reading this? Churches, parents, pastors, and children’s ministry leaders have done and do a great job of leading young people to accept Jesus and make a faith commitment to him.

I was baptized at the age of 12, but my father came to Christ in his forties a few years after my brother and I did. If I could talk with him about what I am writing, I’m confident he would identify with Amazing Grace and No one Ever Cared for Me like Jesus far greater than I can.

So let’s ask the question that is the title of this post: which is better? Some may disagree with me, but I don’t have an answer. Regardless of when we came or come to Christ, what is most important is that we have done so or do come to Christ.

Going back to the song, in my case Jesus did change my life completely. He changed it from what it would have been had I not started going to that little church. In my dad’s case, the Lord changed his life completely as a father with two teenage sons from that moment forward.

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IS OLD BAD?

In answer to a question from an interviewer, author John Goldingay responded, “When we talk about something being ‘old’ in our culture, we typically mean that it’s out of date. It goes along with the idea that what’s new is what counts.” The context of the exchange was about a new translation of the Old Testament by Goldingay entitled The First Testament and Glenn Paauw was asking about the title. Goldingay thinks Old Testament “inhibits people from reading it” and he hopes “that changing the name can get people’s attention.”

I don’t know if he is right or not about the Old Testament versus The First Testament, but I am interested in his general observation about old and new in our culture. And I think most of us would agree with his assessment about our culture (even if we don’t agree with our culture).

When I take cheese out of our refrigerator when making a sandwich I check the expiration date. I no longer can play 8-track or cassette tapes in my car. Very few people wear bell bottom pants like we did when I was in high school and college. And don’t you want to laugh when you see the short pants on basketball players when watching videos from years ago?

There is much that is old and out of date in our culture. However, just because something is old does not make it out of date. Neither is something bad just because it is old.

Flipping through the channels on our TV a few weeks ago I discovered we had the MeTV channel. They were advertising a summer series of John Wayne movies and since then I have watched and enjoyed four old movies. I’ve also been watching and enjoying old Andy Griffith, Bonanza, and Columbo shows. (Most of us would say the same thing about music.)

What about the idea that in our culture “what’s new is what counts?” With some things it’s true, especially with regard to technology and medical advancements; but it’s not always true with everything for everyone. In my experience, understandably and in general, the older among us are less enthusiastic about the new and the younger among us are more enthusiastic.

A lot of what is new is what counts. Yet, just because something is new does not necessarily make it better or good.

I hope it is obvious why I take interest in Goldingay’s stimulating comment about something being old in our culture and what’s new. It opens the door for a lot of meaningful and passionate discussion about many things–especially with Christians and the church. I encourage such discussion, but challenge those who engage in it to keep in mind that there is much more to it than just something being old or new. I also hope the discussion would be carried out with openness and mutual respect.

By the way, I like the idea of calling the Old Testament the First Testament, but I don’t need another translation, nor do I think the new name will gain a great deal of traction.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

KNOW THE DIFFERENCE

A couple of weeks ago I read an article based upon the Apostle Paul’s instruction to his protégé in II Timothy 4:2 to “Preach the word.” Even though the New Testament was not finalized at the time Paul wrote this letter, his intent was clear: preachers are to get the foundation of their teaching from the Bible.

A couple of weeks later I finished reading a short book entitled Practicing His Presence (Volume I of The Library of Spiritual Classics). I was instructed and motivated by what Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach wrote about maintaining an awareness of the presence of Christ throughout one’s day. As good as the book was, I reminded myself that what it contained was not on par with the Bible.

Recently in a Bible class I was leading, an attendee participated in our discussion by reading from a study Bible. Remembering what I had been thinking about the last month or so I reminded the entire class that the notes in any study Bible are not on par with the actual Bible. (I also reminded them that what I say in my teaching is not on par with the Bible.)

Now there is nothing wrong with study Bibles, devotional books, commentaries, and the many Christian books available to us today. I have two study Bibles, many commentaries, theological dictionaries, books of sermons, and books on specific topics about the Bible, the Christian life, the church, and a variety of theological subjects. I consult them regularly in my teaching and preaching.

Preachers, pastors, professors, Christian authors, theologians, and others have much to offer the Christian community as well as those exploring the Bible, the Christian life, the church, and theology. All of us can greatly benefit from the thinking and writing of others about these important topics. But none of these resources are on par with the Bible.

My point in this brief article is to remind readers of what I recently reminded myself of as well as my Bible class: sermons, Bible studies, Christian books, Bible commentaries, and study Bibles are not on the same level as the Bible itself. Most of them are helpful and we need them to help us understand and apply what the Bible teaches. We need those who have studied long and hard and given themselves to teaching the Bible.

At the same time, periodically we need to be reminded that what people think the Bible says and means is not always exactly what it means and says. And my sense is that there are parts of the Bible that no one can say definitively this is what it means. On the other hand, there is much in the Bible that we can definitively say this is what it means.

We need to know the difference between what the Bible says and what different people think and believe it says. They are not always the same.

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IMPRESSED, CONVICTED, AND CHALLENGED

A couple of weeks ago I read an introduction to the writings of the 16th century Catholic Francois Fenelon and a few of his writings. While I appreciated the samples I read, I was impressed, convicted, and challenged by the observation made by Robert J. Edmonson that “Fenelon won the hearts of the Protestants with his gentleness and moderation.”

I don’t know of too many leaders, writers, politicians, and other public figures in our day who would be described by the words gentle and moderate. But shouldn’t all Christians be noted for showing moderation and gentleness in their discourse?

As I thought about the idea of gentleness a couple of Bible references came to mind. I looked the word up on BibleGateway.com and think these three are especially pertinent:

Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Matthew 11:29, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

The basic idea of moderation is prevalent in the Bible for followers of Jesus. An explanation of moderation is the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior or political opinions and in a way that is reasonable and not excessive. It may not be exactly the same thing as self-control, but it is close. I find it interesting that the final two fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23 are gentleness and self-control.

Impressed by how Edmonson said Fenelon won the hearts of Protestants, I was also convicted. Edmonson’s characterization of how Fenelon won people’s hearts “with his gentleness and moderation” reminded me that those two words would probably not be used to describe me by those who have heard me discuss and debate a variety of issues.

I was not just impressed and convicted by Edmonson’s insight, I was also challenged to be more gentle and moderate in my teaching, discussions, and disagreements. Reflecting on both Jesus’ self-description in Matthew 11:29, and the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:2, I’m thinking a key to being gentler and more moderate is cultivating humility. My sense is that pride is the engine that drives a lot of us to be lacking in gentleness and moderation in our conversations.

Having written what I have so far, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting being gentle and moderate requires people to compromise their convictions. I think it means we do what Paul urges in Ephesians 4:15 in terms of “speaking the truth in love.”

One more observation from Edmonson sheds light on the risk of showing gentleness and moderation. Defining gentleness and moderation with a new word, he notes “Fenelon’s restraint did not pass unnoticed among more extreme Catholic factions, who blocked his nomination as bishop.” Does that mean that those who are gentle and moderate and show restraint will pay a price from those are contentious? Possibly.

Again, I am impressed, convicted, and challenged. And I hope you are as well.

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WHAT’S ON YOUR DESK?

So much of our reading and writing is serious I wanted to write something today that was more fun. I’m borrowing from the TV commercial question “What’s In Your Wallet?” for the title.

Even though I am no longer working full time, I do have two part time jobs – Pastor of Senior Adults at our church and Bible Teacher at Amarillo High School. Therefore, I have an office in the smallest bedroom in our home with a computer, printer, bookshelves, and desk.

On my desk I have three items that our male cat knocks off once or twice a day. He doesn’t hurt them, he just knocks them to floor so I can put them back. I don’t think he realizes they are important to me or he wouldn’t knock them off. All three meaningful reminders to me.

For many years the Disney character Goofy has been my favorite. I don’t collect Goofy figures, but my favorite sweatshirt of many years has his picture on the front. Goofy reminds me that we are not perfect and that we make mistakes, but also that we can and should have fun. Goofy is also the nickname I gave to one of our most loved staff members at Discovery Christian Church and who is still a great friend of mine – Bryan Sands. I didn’t give Bryan the nickname because he made mistakes or was incompetent; I gave him the nickname because he was and still is fun and loves life.

The little gold chest was given to me secretly by someone in my Sunday School Class at the end of our study “Treasures in the Bible.” We looked at seven passages in the Bible that used the word treasure to remind ourselves of some things we should value. The treasure chest reminds me that the Bible (Job 23:12), memories, people (Luke 2:19 and51), and the Gospel (II Corinthians 4:7) are all treasures. It also reminds me that some treasures are ill-gotten (Proverbs 10:2) and that there will be treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19).

The Lego lion on my desk was a gift from my seven year old grandson who was and is really into Legos. One night he made three Lego figures and showed them to me. I asked him if I could have one for my desk. I told him that every time I saw it I would be reminded of him. He asked me which one I wanted and I immediately said the lion. Surprising to me, he smiled and gladly gave it to me. When he and his little brother come over I show it to him and he seems pleased.

I have a lot of others things on my desk and a lot of stuff in my office. I need my calendar, tissues, and scissors; and I use many of my files and books; but my goofy, my treasure chest, and my Lego lion are special!

What’s on your desk? Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook.

ONE NAME – MANY DESIGNATIONS

While some understandably think Jesus has two names, the reality is he has only one – Jesus. Christ is not his last name, but it is one of the most used of many designations the Bible gives to him. If we were to write down all the designations for Jesus in the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) it would be a long list.

Two of the more prominent designations for Jesus in the New Testament are Son of God and Son of Man. In going to church as a youngster I learned that Son of God underscored the divinity of Jesus and Son of Man his humanity. While one of the basic Christian teachings about  Jesus is that he was fully God and fully man at the same time, Son of Man does not necessarily point to his humanity.

In the Gospels Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. At that time Son of Man was not automatically thought of as a term of divinity, but was rather open to interpretation. Jesus used the term so that through his teaching and actions he could fill it with meaning. By the end of his ministry is was clear that his usage of the term was a claim to a special relationship with God similar to Son of God.

As important as Son of God and Son of Man are as designations for Jesus in the New Testament in terms of his identity, there are three other designations that have become my favorites. To me these three need to be held together in one’s personal understanding of who Jesus is.

The least used in the New Testament of these three is friend. And it is interesting that the label was first given to Jesus by his critics. Reflecting on their dissatisfaction with both John the Baptist and himself Jesus said, “For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds” (Matthew 11:18 and 19).

In John 15:13-15 Jesus uses the word friends to describe his followers. In verse 13 he declares, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In verse 14 he adds a condition: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” The fullest explanation is in verse 15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

In addition to friend, savior is also one of my favorite three designations for Jesus. While the term is used elsewhere as well, savior is prominent in the Christmas story as told by both Matthew and Luke. Savior speaks to the mission and work Jesus came to accomplish by going to the cross. Our friend is also our savior, and our savior is also our friend.

The third of my favorite designations for Jesus is lord. As a title lord suggests respect, but also authority. In many respects lord is synonymous with master. What is unique about lord as a title for Jesus is that we choose and accept him as Lord, he does not force it on us. Not only that, as our lord he does not use or take advantage of us; he wants only what is best for us.

Is it possible to hold these three designations together in our understanding of Jesus? I think so. All three are important and each contributes much to our relationship with him.

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DESERVE?

Reading through the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy last week, a couple of Moses’ comments to the children of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land struck me.

The first was in 7:7 and 8 where he said, “The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you.” Two chapters later, in looking forward to their entering the land, Moses cautioned them, “After the LORD your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ’The LORD has given us this land because we are such good people!’ It is not because you are so good” (9:4 and 5).

Even though the word deserve isn’t used by Moses, I was reminded of a memorable exchange between the Sheriff Little Bill and Will Munny in the movie “Unforgiven.” As Munny gets ready to shoot him, Little Bill says, “I don’t deserve this . . . to die like this. I was building a house.” To which Munny responds, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

Obviously it isn’t always the case, but Munny’s comment “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it” is true with regard to a lot of both the good and bad in life.

Intrigued by the word deserve, I looked up its usage in the Bible and was surprised by the number of times it occurs.

In Ecclesiastes 8:14 the teacher makes a similar observation to what Will Munny said: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve.” Those familiar with the book of Job know he certainly would agree with that.

Both Mathew’s Gospel as well as Luke’s report the account of a Centurion asking Jesus to heal his sick servant. Matthew 8:9 reports the centurion telling Jesus, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” (and his faith is strong enough to affirm Jesus can heal his servant without doing so). Luke 7:4 and 5 tells about the same incident and how some of the elders of the Jews pleaded with Jesus, “This man [the centurion] deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

In our own experiences, and contrary to Will Munny’s take on it, I think we all would agree that sometimes – but not all the time — deserve does have something to do with it.

One of the two thieves crucified with Jesus seemed to get the most important point about Jesus’ death on the cross without fully understanding what he was saying. Speaking to the other thief who had insulted Jesus, he affirmed, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

One of the best known verses, as well as one we are most grateful for, is Psalm 103:10 where David tells us God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” And the reason God is able to do that is because of what Jesus did for us. It’s called grace.

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