Archive for February, 2019

One of the ways Jesus conveyed truth to others was through the use of parables. One of His most instructive parables was about a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) who went into the temple in Jerusalem to pray. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about his own goodness: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, and adulterers – or even like this scoundrel tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all that I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up toward heaven, but beat upon his breast and said, “God have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.”

Jesus said that the hated tax collector, not the ultra-religious Pharisee who had an inflated opinion of himself and of his righteousness, went home that day justified before God. As I was examining this parable recently I became aware of how easy it is for Christians, including me, to have a Mickey Mouse level prayer life. I began wondering what a modern version of this parable would sound like. The wheels between my ears began spinning into action. I decided that I would try to translate this parable into today’s language and culture to see how it would sound.

In the modern version of the parable I choose to call the Pharisee Baptist Bob. On a given Sunday morning he walked into his church with his head held high and his chest out. As he walked into the sanctuary he spotted the town drug pusher and troublemaker sitting on one of the back pews. He had been tried, found guilty, spent time in prison, and was recently paroled. Bob was disgusted to see such a man in his church, so he told the head usher to keep a close watch on the man. We will call him Larry Lowlife. Larry had finally realized that he needed to change the road on which he had been traveling. He desperately needed God’s help – and he was in church

At the beginning of his pastoral prayer time the pastor always gave at least thirty seconds for the congregation to quietly pray before he began his prayer. Baptist Bob’s silent prayer was more about his own goodness than about his spiritual need: “Heavenly Father, I thank You that I’ve been a deacon of this church for more than 20 years. You have blessed my business so much that I am able to give even more than a tithe to church. I haven’t missed Sunday School in over ten years — even when I was sick. And you know that I used to sing in the choir. I don’t smoke unfiltered cigarettes, drink alcohol, or cuss on Sundays. And I don’t use or sell drugs – like the drug-pushing punk on one of our back pews who has the audacity after getting out of prison to attend our church today. And please help our softball team clobber the First Presbyterian team in church softball league Tuesday night. Amen!”

Baptist Bob was so full of pride he could strut while he was sitting down. Meanwhile, Larry Lowlife on one of the back pews was praying, “God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner. I desperately need your help to get my life turned around so I can go in the right direction. Lord, please forgive me, and cleanse me. I open my life to You!”

Hopefully this modern parable of Baptist Bob and Larry Lowlife will help you to enter the worship services in your church every Sunday with a desire to focus primarily upon three things: (1) the goodness and greatness of God, (2) to genuinely worship Him by focusing primarily upon your spiritual needs, and (3) to offer your life to serve Him in the ways that will bear witness of His love to others in specific ways.

In the original parable of the Pharisee and tax collector Jesus said there are two attitudes people generally display in worship: (1) “I’m proud of my goodness.” Pride loves to use the personal pronouns “I” and “me.” It seldom admits a need. It does not focus upon the needs of others. (2), “I desperately need God’s mercy”. Which of these two attitudes best describes your spirit as you enter church each Sunday morning?

If you will enter God’s presence aware of your own sins, not the sins of others, He can and will use you in powerful ways to serve others. Why is this true? You will know that service is simply love in work clothes.



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Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist, in one of his stories gives us a picture of the ideal ruler. He represents him as keeping open house and feeding the finest food to the citizens in his kingdom who have labored diligently, while he gives crusts and crumbs to those who are lazy. The way the ruler distinguishes between these is that when they enter the palace they are asked to show him their hands. The hands that are rough and calloused are working hands. Those with no sign of callouses are the hands of the slothful.

Picture yourself, using Tolstoy’s analogy, as you enter church next Sunday morning to be spiritually fed by the King of Kings. However, before you are allowed to enter into His presence, imagine that He says to you “Show me your hands!” Would your hands show any marks of labor for the Lord? Too many church members today lift their hands toward heaven with no callouses on them.

In my sixty plus years of service as a Christian minister I have been amazed at the number of church members who depend on the church for a Christian wedding and a Christian funeral, but who will do very little to make the Kingdom of God come on the earth in between those two dates. Christianity is a roll-up-your-sleeves religion. Christians should think twice before they sing, “Standing on the Promises” if all they are doing is “sitting on the premises.” Those who are merely sitting on the premises are like the little boy who fell out of bed one night, and when asked why, replied, “I guess I went to sleep too close to where I got in bed.”

Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). And the apostle Paul said, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58). In the New Testament the idea of service is second in importance only to the idea of salvation.

There is at least one task that every single Christian can do – pray! No church member can rightly say, “I would like to do something in the service of the Lord, but there is nothing for me to do.” If you believe there is absolutely nothing you can do in the work of God’s kingdom in your community, go to your pastor and volunteer your services. If he faints, it will be because pastors don’t get volunteers all that often.

The postmaster in my home town way back in the 1940’s loved poetry. He periodically placed poems on the post office bulletin board for patrons to read and enjoy. One poem in particular still sticks in my mind:

“Often when I pass the church,

I stop in for a visit,

So that when I’m finally carried in,

The Lord won’t ask, ‘Who is it?’”

The King of Kings wants those who serve Him to have willing hands, clean hands, and praying hands. As you enter church next Sunday and you hear Christ saying to you, “Show me your hands,” don’t be surprised. But before you show Him your hands, ask Him to show you His hands. The Bible tells us that they were healing hands, protecting hands, and serving hands. But of vastly more importance, they are also nail-scarred hands. They reveal just how far God was willing to go to prove how much He loves you.

What do your hands reveal?


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Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught His disciples to pray to God, the Father, and to close each prayer by saying, “In Jesus’ name”? Here is why: we have no claims upon God because of any goodness or service of our own, but Jesus has infinite claims upon Him. It is because Jesus loves us that He has given us the right to approach the Father using His name. Therefore, we should pray boldly, not timidly.

When we pray in Christ’s name we pray on the ground of His atoning death when He took our sins upon Himself. Who among us can say, “Lord, because of the way I live, I have earned the right to be both heard and answered in the way I ask? None of us have earned that right. It is only as we approach God the Father in the name of His Son. The reason for this is that prayer in Jesus’ name is based on His relationship with the Father. God delights in answering prayers that are prayed in His Son’s name.

R.A. Torrey, in The Power of Prayer, told the story of a father and mother who lived in Columbus, Ohio during the early 1860’s. They had only one child, a son, who was the joy of their hearts. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, the son came home one day and said to his parents, “I have enlisted in the Union Army.” They felt badly, of course, to see their son leave home, but they loved their country and were willing to make the sacrifice of giving their son to save the Union.

After their son had gone to the front, he wrote home regularly, telling his father and mother about his experiences in camp and elsewhere. His letters were full of brightness and good cheer, and they brought joy to his parent’s lonely hearts. But one day, at the regular time, no letter came.

Days passed, and no letter came from the front. Weeks passed, and they wondered what might have happened to their son. One day a letter came from the United States government, and in it they were told that there had been a great battle, and that their son, among many others, had been killed. The light went out in their hearts and in their home.

Days, weeks, and months passed by and they still had not heard anything further concerning their son. Finally the war came to an end. One morning as they were sitting at the breakfast table, the maid came in and said, “There is a poor, ragged fellow at the door, and he wants to speak to you. But I knew you did not wish to speak to a man like him. He handed me this note and asked me to put it in your hand.”

She handed to the father a soiled and crumpled piece of paper. When the father opened the note and began to read it, he quickly realized that the handwriting belonged to his son who had been killed in battle. The note said:

“Dear Father and Mother:

I have been shot and have only a short time to live, and I am writing you this last farewell note. As I write, there is kneeling beside me my most intimate friend in the company, and when the war is over he will bring you this note. When he does, be kind to him for Charlie’s sake.

Your son, Charles”

You can be certain that there was absolutely nothing in that father and mother’s house they would have considered too good for the man at their door whom they had assumed to be poor tramp. Why is this true? It would have been “for Charlie’s sake.”

Likewise, there is absolutely no resource or blessing in heaven or on the earth that is too good or too great that God will not supply for the meeting of our needs when it is in the framework of His will for us, and if we have sincerely prayed in Jesus’ name. Therefore, when your outlook is bad, you would be wise to try the up-look. God is never more than a prayer away.

An anonymous author penned these beautiful words:

“When God inclines the heart to pray,
He hath an ear to hear:
To Him there’s music in a groan,
And beauty in a tear.”

Days that are hemmed in on both ends by prayer they are not likely to come unraveled in the middle. And why is this true? Prayer provides power, poise, peace and purpose.

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If I were to ask you to name your favorite Bible verse, what would be your answer? Many Christians would say that it is John 3:16, for it is the best known and most memorized verse in the entire Bible. It is, in essence, “The Gospel in a Nutshell.” This is true because it contains everything a person needs to know in order to become a genuine Christian. Let us divide John 3:16 into ten phrases and use additional short phrases rather than whole sentences to describe the truth that this marvelous verse contains:

For God: Eternal God! Holy God! God the Father! Creator of the universe, including every human! Giver of breath! Sustainer of life! God of reconciliation! Author of salvation! God of redemption!

So Loved: Not will one day love — but has always loved, now loves, and will always love! Divine love! Perfect love! Love demonstrated! Active love! Not just feeling love but action love! Love that wants the best, does the best, and gives the best! Holy love! Sacrificial love! Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things! Love that has never failed and will never fail!

The world: Those who are near and those who are far away! People of every color, every race, every language, every tribe, and every nation! The lost, the needy, the hungry, the devastated, the crushed, the bruised, and the broken! Those in darkness, desperation, and despair! The condemned sinner! Those who are sick and need a physician! The guilty sinner who needs pardon! The prodigal who is far from God’s eternal home that Jesus, according to John 14:2, called “My Father’s House!”

That He Gave: Freely bestowing! Giving grace! Giving mercy! Giving life! Not small portions! Not just enough to get by! Giving in abundance! Outpouring! Overflowing! Overwhelming!

His only begotten Son: Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of man! King of kings and Lord of Lords! The Word made flesh! Emmanuel, God with us! Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace! God giving all that He could give! God holding nothing back! The Creator coming to rescue His creation! The Lamb of God coming to willingly offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin! The Redeemer shedding His blood on Calvary’s cross to bring lost sinners back to God!

That whoever: An open door! An open invitation to anyone, anywhere, any time! Large or small, rich or poor, famous or unknown, old or young, male or female, educated or uneducated — including you and me!

Believes on Him: Not work for, not try hard, and not earn! By faith! Believing with the heart! Not a reward to earn, but a gift to receive! Trusting in His mercy! Counting on His provision! Receiving the eternal life He offers! Leaning upon His grace! Yielding to and accepting His Lordship!

Should not perish: Not lost! Not condemned! Not regarded as worthless! Not destroyed! Not cast into eternal darkness! Not separated from God! Not left alone! To live with God and the redeemed forever!

But have: Blessed assurance! Being absolutely certain! Not guessing, or wishing, or pretending! Not I hope so, but I know so! Without a doubt! I am His and He is mine!

Everlasting life: Forgiven! Saved! Redeemed! Cleansed! Possessing eternal life, Kingdom life! A glorious new beginning! Never-ending joy as the result of His amazing grace! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!


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