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One of the most disturbing trends in the early twenty-first century has been the rapid growth of moral relativism –that is, the belief that there are no fixed standards of right and wrong. As in ancient Israel, the moral standard by which many people live today is to only do “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 212:25).

This is precisely what led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It will lead to a bad end for any nation – including our own. Multitudes of people do not realize, as William Penn once said, “Right is right even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong even if everyone is for it.”

Moral relativism – the belief that nothing is wrong and right is whatever you want it to be – is sometimes referred to as “the new morality.” It would be more accurate to call it “the absence of morality” or “the old immorality.” The belief that you are free to live by whatever standard you choose for yourself, in effect, makes you your own god. Worshiping yourself is the worst and most dangerous form of idol worship.

The Bible says that God “created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). If this is true, and I believe it is, the true standard of human belief and behavior should be established by our Creator, not by any human creature. Having been created by God, everything we do should be done for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31). But how can any person determine which actions truly glorify God and obey His will?”

Obviously, since God is our Creator, the only way we can know what is true and is right is for Him to tell us. And that is exactly what He has done in giving us the Bible. The Bible, simply stated, is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. It is His communication, His Law, His Word, His standard for living. The written Word points us to the living Word, Jesus Christ.

The most basic of all sins, and the root of all other sins, is rebellion against God’s Word. The establishment of any other criterion of truth or morality in preference to the revealed Word of God is sin it its most fundamental and deadly form. The three greatest sins are indifference to, neglect of, and disrespect for the Word of God. To disbelieve God’s Word is to reject Him.

This was the sin of Satan himself in his primordial rebellion against God in heaven. Having rejected God’s truth, he said, “I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14). And it was with the sin of unbelief and self-idolatry that Satan tempted Eve, saying to her: “Yes, God has said . . .”, but he followed these four words with a blatant denial of God’s Word by saying: “You will certainly not die . . . you will be as gods” (Genesis 3:1, 4-5).

There needs to be a renewed commitment in our nation to the truth found in God’s Word. It is the only way our nation can experience spiritual renewal. Romans 15:4 tells us that “everything that was written in the past was given to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And Paul’s message to Timothy reminds us that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).

The preeminent role of God’s Word as the absolute standard of right and wrong is demonstrated by its role in the future judgment. Jesus said, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:48).

If you have not done so already, please believe and accept this truth today!

 

Thomas Carlyle, born in Scotland on December 4, 1795, became a biographer, historian, philosopher, and prolific writer. He married his secretary, and following their marriage she continued to work with him in the course of his writing. Not long after their marriage she became ill. In fact, she continued to work long after she should have stopped.

Carlyle, however, was not totally aware of how seriously ill she was. The disease was slowly but surely sapping the energy from her body, and finally she died. Following her death he, along with several of his friends, made the lonely trek to the cemetery to deposit the earthly remains of the woman who has stood by his side so faithfully. It was raining that day, and the mud was deep.

On the way back to his home Carlyle reviewed in his mind how faithfully she had aided him in his work, and how much he was going to miss her help. He began to realize that when she had needed his presence and care the most, he was too preoccupied to meet her need. He would never be able to change that fact.

When he arrived back home, he climbed the stairs, went into her former bedroom at the top of the stairs, and sat down beside the bed where she had spent her last hours of life. His awareness of how faithful she had been, and how miserably he had failed her in her last days and hours of life, burdened him with guilt.

At this point he reached over to a small bedside table and picked up a little book, which he recognized to be her diary, and opened it and began to read. On the page to which he had by chance opened he read these words, “Today he spent an hour with me. It was like heaven. I love him so.”

Flipping to a second page he read, “I have listened all day to hear his footsteps in the hall. But it is now late, and I know that he will not come today.” Reading on through approximately two weeks of daily entries, his heart began to break. Tears began to flow down his cheeks. He laid the book down, ran down the stairs, and out into the rain. In fact, he ran all the way to the cemetery where he had just left the body of the woman who had loved him so much. His friends found him a short time later lying face down in the mud and crying, “If I had only known! If I had only known!”

Why did he not know? He could have known, and he should have known! How can any man get so busy with things of secondary importance, and become so lacking in appreciation for his wife who had worked at his side so faithfully to aid him in his work, and who loved him dearly, that he could let her spend her last hours on earth at the top of the stairs day after day in a room by herself?

Carlyle was a man of great skill. His writings have touched and blessed people for well over two centuries. However, as great as his contributions to the world have been, he would have been glad to give all of them in exchange for the kind of sensitivity he needed but did not have at such a crucial hour. He waited until he would never have another opportunity on this earth to show his wife how much he loved her.

If you have a mate who stands faithfully by your side, who loves you, and who needs your love in return, please do not wait until he or she is gone to demonstrate the sincerity of your love. If you wait until then, the opportunity you will have lost will be lost forever. “Be very careful how you live – not as unwise but as wise. Making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15).

 

 

The massive Henry W. Grady Memorial Hospital is located in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. The man whose name it bears was a leader in the New South following the Civil War. His father, who had been a successful merchant in Athens, Georgia, fought in the Confederate army and was killed in battle. Following his father’s death, Grady was raised by his mother.

Following graduation from college, Grady rose to national prominence as a correspondent and editor of The Atlanta Constitution. He also earned a reputation as a much in demand, admired public speaker. The Dictionary of Literary Biography describes him as a resourceful reporter, a vivid writer, a pioneer of the interview technique, an astute editor, and a successful salesman of his newspaper and his community. He was nationally recognized following the Civil War as the symbol of the new South.

Grady probably would not have achieved all that he did had there not been a tremendous turning point in his life. That turning point began while he was attending the International Convention of the YMCA meeting in Atlanta. He was moved by their closing ceremony, but he refused to clasp hands with others and sing the closing hymn. His reason for doing so: He did not feel worthy.

He knew that the young men who sang the closing hymn at that international YMCA meeting had something in their lives that he did not have. He wanted to feel once again the wholesome, clean feeling he had known when he was a child living with his mother in Athens, Georgia.

One young man at the YMCA Convention shared with him what Jesus Christ had done to cleanse his life. This stirred an interest within Grady. The following day he checked out of his office, told his friends that he would be gone for a week, and caught the first train back to the home of this childhood.

When he arrived in Athens he was happily greeted by his mother. He asked her to treat him just as she had done when he was a boy. Pie-dough cakes, apple turnovers, ginger horses with raisin eyes, and other goodies were spread before him once again.

In the quiet afternoons, he would recline on the couch and ask his mother to retell the stories of his youth. He requested such narratives as Joseph and his many-colored coat, David and his sling, and Daniel in the lion’s den. He often brought his Bible to the table and asked her to read the story of the birth of Jesus. He requested her to read about Jesus’ life of service, suffering, and death.

When he went to bed at night, he asked his mother to hear his prayers again as she had years before when he was a boy. Kneeling beside his bed, he prayed once again the child’s prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul will take.”

Grady stayed for two weeks, not just one, in his boyhood home with his mother. He emerged a new and renewed man. Something powerful had happened in his life. His spirit, mind, and body were cleansed and refreshed. He was now ready for all that God had in store for his life.

When he arrived back in Atlanta, he found an invitation on his desk. The New England Society of New York City had requested him to be their featured speaker at their annual meeting.

At the dinner, he was seated next to General William Tecumseh Sherman, the man who had burned the city of Atlanta on his ill-fated march to the sea. He observed that General Sherman was a fine man – but, he said, “a bit careless with matches perhaps.”

In his address, Grady stirred the nation powerfully. He spoke of rebuilding Atlanta with “sunshine and love in every brick.” It was the first time a southern voice had spoken eloquently in the north since the Civil War. His message of love, peace, hope, and reconciliation came from a cleansed heart. It had a tremendous impact on those who heard it.

Does your heart need cleansing in the way Henry Grady’s heart needed cleansing? External reform will do no lasting good without an internal cleansing. Only Jesus Christ can do that for you. He won’t enter your heart without your permission. You must open the door from the inside. Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

It is following the moment when you open your heart to the Savior of the world that you will realize, like the prodigal son whose story is found in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, that you have found your way home.

 

Nearly fifty years ago I went to visit a member of the church I was serving at the time whom I knew to be depressed due to serious health concerns. I walked up on the front porch and knocked on his door. When he didn’t answer, I walked back to my car, got in, and started to crank up. But I felt a compulsion to go back to the door and knock again. Again there was no answer, and I returned to the car. I had a strong feeling that he was home, so I went back to the door and knocked for the third time.

The window to the left of the porch opened six inches or so, and the man said, “Preacher, I’m home. I’ll open the door in a minute.” When he opened the door to let me in, he was crying. I waited for two or three minutes, letting him cry, and then I began to converse with him. His health had degenerated to the point that he believed his life was not worth living.

It is the kind of situation which ministers are called upon to face occasionally. How would you handle it? What would you say to him? Needless to say, I did the best I could to get him to move from focusing upon his troubles to focusing on the God who loved him. I told him that God never promised we would be immune to difficulties in life, but that He walks with us through them. I opened my New Testament and read to him this promise God makes to every believer: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Now this is just a meaningless sentence, or it is 24 carat gold dug from God’s gold mine, the Bible. There are three words in that one verse – never . . . leave . . . and . . . forsake — which makes it, in my estimation, the most encouraging verse in the Bible. The word never is what grammarians call a synergistic compounding negative. It is a “forever never” that has no exceptions. The word leave gives us the assurance that God will never leave us behind. The word forsake assures us that He will never forsake us.

A full, more amplified translation of Hebrews 13:5 can be literally translated to say, “I WILL NEVER, NO NOT EVER, GIVE UP ON YOU, LEAVE YOU BEHIND, CAUSE YOU NOT TO SURVIVE, LEAVE YOU HELPLESS; NOR SHALL I EVER CEASE TO KEEP MY PRESENCE WITH YOU.” We can cash a promissory note only once. Here is a promissory note from God that you can cash as many times as you need.

God’s omnipotence (all powerful) answers when you say, “I don’t have any strength left.” God’s omnipresence (everywhere present) answers when you say, “I am so alone and depressed.” God’s omniscience (all knowing) answers when you say, “I don’t know what to do.” The God who did not leave Israel in the wilderness will not leave you. He did not forsake Elijah on Mt. Carmel and He will not forsake you.

If you ever feel lonely or depressed, or do not have the strength to face the heavy load you carry, or do not know what to do, remember that you can practice the presence behind the promise found in Hebrews 13:5. It is, as I said earlier, the most encouraging verse in the Bible. Notice that God begins the verse with “I” and ends it with “you.” The good news is that God genuinely cares for you and loves you.

The man who was so depressed that he did not open the door to my visit until I returned to his front door for the third time joined me in prayer during my visit. He said, “Pastor, I had my gun loaded, and I was just before killing myself. But you kept insisting that I open the door!” He stopped focusing on his problems and began to focus on the problem solver, Jesus Christ. He put his gun away and continued his life.

If you are ever faced with great difficulty don’t forget to claim God’s promise found in Hebrews 13:5.

 

 

Very early in life I strongly felt God’s call upon my life to become a pastor. I preached my first sermon when I was sixteen years of age. In December, 1949, at the age of eighteen years plus three months, I was called to become pastor of the Bethsaida Baptist Church just outside Dublin, Georgia. For a little more than seventy years I have had absolutely no doubt concerning what God called me to do in life. I have gotten up more than 25,000 consecutive mornings knowing the purpose for my life. Many people struggle throughout life because they do not have that sense of purpose and satisfaction.

The famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy once asked himself this question: “What is life for? To die? To kill myself at once? No, I am afraid. To wait for death till it comes? I fear that even more. Then I must live. But what for? In order to die? And I could not escape from that circle?”

The Old Testament character Job even said, “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’ That day – may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it” (Job 3:3-4 NIV). It was at a time when he was struggling in the midst of excruciating sufferings. He was viewing life through dark colored glasses.

Job was discovering, as multitudes of people do in today’s troubled world, that the most atrocious and destructive type of difficulty is that in which the victim can see absolutely no meaning or purpose to his or her existence. Job’s faith enabled him to ultimately triumph over his trials, but many people do not.

I cannot think of anything sadder than to get up every morning day after day, year after year, and decade after decade, and not have a reason for living that provides joy and happiness. Life lived on the highest level, and as God originally designed it to be, should include having a sense of purpose. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why was I born? How can I live in such a way that life has genuine meaning?”

The primary purpose for our Lord’s sojourn on planet earth was to point out the meaning of life as God originally designed it to be lived. He came to reveal order and purpose in life’s activity. He came to direct human beings, inextricably entangled on dead-end streets dealing with problems of their own making, to the orbit and destiny for which God created them.

Jesus first had to break through the thick crust of materialism that keeps most of God’s creatures from committing themselves to the truths that are eternal. “Do not labor for the food which perishes,” He exhorted. In saying this, He was not condoning lethargy and indolence. Rather, He was rebuking the excessive attention we place on labor that is designed to tear down our barns in order to build bigger barns. He knew that those whose main goal in life is to accumulate wealth would miss out on the values that are spiritual and eternal. As has been wisely said, “No one is as poor as he or she who has only money.”

The young man who came to Jesus whom we call “the rich young ruler” illustrates this truth extremely well. He was an outstanding young man, for he had kept the commandments from the days of his youth. He also asked the right question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is doubtful that he would have asked this question if he had not had a genuine interest in spiritual things.

Like so many before him and after him, his priorities were skewed. His life lacked genuine meaning and purpose. Jesus, perceiving what was in his heart, said, “First, you must go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and then come to follow me.”

“What?” he must have thought to himself. “I can’t do that!” That which claimed his interest and energy left him unfulfilled. He went away sorrowfully because he thought that life revolves primarily around material possessions and what they make possible. Like so many in our world today he was living his life on the cafeteria plan – self-service only.

Jesus was not saying that the only way any person can have eternal life is to become a pauper. He was simply saying that this young man had to choose to give top priority to the kind of life that gave God glory rather than to the things he owned. He made the wrong decision, and eternal life came out second best.

“What does this have to do with me?” you may ask. Simply this: Go stand before a mirror and ask the person looking back at you this question: “What is the one thing in life that you consider to be more important than anything else?” The answer to that question will reveal whether or not you are guided by a sense of purpose that reaches beyond the day you breathe your last breath.

 

Rev. John Rainey served as pastor of my home church in in Georgia in the early 1940’s. Severely afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, he had great difficulty walking. His wife drove him everywhere he went in order for him to fulfill his pastoral duties. He sat on a kitchen stool behind the pulpit during the entire length of each sermon. He was one of the most sincere and effective Bible preachers I ever knew.

Some years later when he was serving the Bluewater Baptist Church near Dublin, Georgia, he became very ill and came very close to dying. It was during this time that he had what is called “a near death experience.” He later described himself as consciously moving from earth into a world with celestial beauty. He was taken inside a room filled with brilliant light where he did not see Jesus, but heard him say, “John, I’m not ready for you yet. There is still work for you to do on earth.” He opened his eyes and began to recover.

On his first Sunday back in the pulpit he shared his near death experience. At the end of his sermon when the invitation was given for people to respond to the call of Jesus upon their lives, several people, all of whom were adults, walked the aisle and made a public profession of their faith in Christ. One of them was a man for whom his family and friends had prayed for many years to become a Christian. I believe this was a part of the unfinished work the Lord wanted him to complete before finally going home.

Pastor Rainey only saw briefly what lies beyond the door of death and was able to remain on the earth. Many others in the course of human history bore witness to what they saw as they were leaving for their heavenly home. For example, the first Christian martyr, Stephen, said as he was being stoned to death, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

Dwight L. Moody, American evangelist of another generation, said not long before he died, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Earth recedes! Heaven opens before me! If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling and I must go!”

“No,” said his son who was standing at his bedside. “You are dreaming, father.” Moody replied, “I am not dreaming. I have been within the gates, and I have seen the children’s faces. This is my triumph! This is my coronation day! It is glorious!” J.W. Macaulay captured the joy Moody was experiencing in these words:

Here we labor, here we pray,

  Here we wrestle night and day,

  Here the battle rages sore

  Here the tempter ne’er gives oer;

  There we rest from toil and pain,

  There all losses turn to gain,

  There we lay our burdens down,

  There we wear the victor’s crown.”

 

Mrs. Myrtle Raye Glass, a member of Sanford’s First Baptist Church, celebrated her 100th birthday on December 17th in the church’s Fellowship Hall. Members of her family and a large number of friends, including me, were present. Her husband, now deceased, was a member of the church’s Pastor Search Committee that asked me to become their pastor in 1981. I wouldn’t have missed Myrtle Raye’s happy event for anything.

One of the many attendees of Myrtle Raye’s birthday bash was Mrs. Virginia Hester, also a longtime First Baptist member. Her next birthday will be number one hundred. Yet note this: she told me that she had renewed her driver’s license the previous week for five more years. Imagine meeting a car on the road driven by a woman driver who is 104 years old! Would that scare you? Both Myrtle Raye and Virginia are still trucking on down the road. They have proven that the best way to grow old is not to be in a hurry about it.

Most people run out of gas before they celebrate a hundred birthdays. I heard Bones McKinney, former basketball coach at Wake Forest University, say at a Chamber of Commerce banquet several years ago, “I realized I was getting old when my wife decided to go somewhere after dark and I didn’t have to go with her.” And he was only in his seventies – more than two decades younger than Myrtle Raye and Virginia. They prove every day that you don’t have to act like an old person just because you have seen ten decades come and go.

Psalm 91:6 speaks of “the plague that destroys at midday” (NIV). The Hebrew poet who wrote this sublime psalm may have been thinking of the fierce heat of the midday sun that constantly beat down on those who were living in Israel at the time. However, the basic idea he expresses can also apply to people in middle-age. The destruction, the corrosive influences that impact us negatively in our middle years, can be and often are the result of cynicism, or disillusionment, or depression.

If you are currently in the middle years of life and believe your happiest and most productive days are in the past and cannot be repeated, I have good news for you! God in His love and renewing power can work a dynamic miracle in your personality. In the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostles there is the account of the miraculous healing of a severely crippled man achieved by the Spirit of God through the Apostles Peter and John. The healed man was very likely no more than forty years of age

No matter how old you happen to be – young, middle age, or senior citizen — God’s Spirit can also give you newness of life. All you have to do is to believe the promise found in Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday” (verses 1-1-6 NIV).

Dr. Jack Ellis, retired Vice President of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, is a friend of mine. His mother will be 110 on March 14th. She, like Myrtle Raye Glass and Virginia Hester, will tell you that to enjoy life all the way to your hundredth birthday you must keep taking on new thoughts and throwing off old habits.

On September 27, 2031 I will be one hundred years old. On that day I am planning to have a big birthday party, and every person who is reading these words is cordially invited to attend.