Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Several years ago, a fellow pastor called me on the phone to ask if he might come to my office to talk with me. He said, “I’ve got problems, and I desperately need to talk to somebody.” When he arrived about fifteen or twenty minutes later, he reminded me of a steam boiler about to explode.

He began to unload his problems one by one – and there were many. I won’t go into detail, but it soon became obvious that he was not dealing with his problems in a constructive way. He was obviously suffering what is called “burnout.” The clouds on his horizon were dark and threatening.

After he left my office, I began to reflect on my life as a minister. My view of the work God called me to do moved quickly to the opposite end of the attitude spectrum when compared to the view given by this hot-tempered and emotionally upset young pastor. That God would call me to the Christian ministry fills me with a sense of gratitude. Here are the things about being a minister for which I am deeply grateful:

First of all, I am called to a great cause. I guess the bottom line is whether you primarily want to have material things or to be on mission. I would rather be on mission – in other words, to serve and advance a cause that is both worthy and eternal in nature.

Second, I am called to serve and share with a wide variety of people. No other vocation – and there are many excellent ones – gives the opportunity to work with people quite like the ministry does. By being involved with others — working with them, serving them, loving them, caring for them, suffering with them, rejoicing with them — my life is made enormously meaningful.

Third, it brings variety to my life. What other profession or vocation provides the variety of experiences that being a pastor does? None that I can imagine! The experiences I have had and the places I have been are worth far more than money. At any moment I can stop and call up memories of past experiences and relationships that I wouldn’t exchange for all the gold in Ft. Knox. I am a better person because of them.

Fourth, it meant that my wife could be closely involved with me in my labors. In most other occupations the job is primarily an outside interest with only occasional social opportunities for the wife to touch the working part of her husband’s life. Not so in the ministry. The wife labors by his side as a partner. No minister ever had a finer partner than I had. She went home to be with the Lord on Aril 5, 2016.

Fifth, I have some benefits other vocations do not provide. While it is true that the financial benefits are not comparable with lots of other vocations, there are many other factors on the plus side of the equation. For example, to be recipient of the love and care of a church family is a blessing other vocations do not provide.

Now let me hasten to say that I am not naïve. I realize that there will always be difficult challenges to accept and perplexing problems for ministers to face. When they are handled in the right spirt and with God’s help, the perspective will change, the horizon will brighten, and a minister will be filled with gratitude.

Unfortunately, the pastor who came into my office burdened with problems didn’t have either the right spirit or the proper amount of patience to have any room in his heart for gratitude.

 

There is not a more influential or powerful role on earth than the one God has given to mothers. As significant as the influence of religious, political, military, and educational public figures may be, none come close to having as much impact on society as that made by mothers. Their deeds are never fully forgotten, nor are the truths they taught us to believe and practice.

If you have (or had) a godly mother, you will reap tremendous benefits as long as you live. On the other hand, if your mother neglected your needs and never showed you any love, you have missed some of life’s greatest blessings. For good or ill, a mother’s mark upon her children is permanent. “As is the mother, so is her daughter” (Ezekiel 16:44).

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said: “No one is poor who had a godly mother.” I know this to be true because my two brothers and I had a godly mother. She, of course, was not perfect, but no one is. Jesus Christ was her Savior, and she lived her faith in the context of our home. She knew that her greatest responsibility and challenge was to influence her three sons to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and faithfully serve Him. She lived to be ninety-two before the Lord called her home.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminds us of the high regard that Jesus had for His mother in these words: “Even He who died for us upon the cross, in His last hour on the cross, in the unutterable agony of death, was mindful of His mother, as if to teach us that this holy love should be our last worldly thought, — the last point of earth from which the soul should take its flight for heaven.”

As we approach Mother’s Day I throw out a challenge to every mother who reads these words. Ladies, this is your hour . . . your distinct opportunity to soar . . . your chance to make your mark upon the world! A harmonious marital partnership and a solid, unselfish commitment to motherhood have never been of greater importance to you or, for that matter, to the health and security of our nation than now. Give it the best you have, for there is no challenge more worthy.

God’s Word provides excellent guidance and strength to every mother who would seek to build a godly home. No finer words have ever been written than those in Proverbs 24:3-4 – “By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”

Every godly home should have a generous supply of these three very important ingredients: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Wisdom is the ability to see with discernment, to view life as God perceives it.

Understanding is the skill to respond with insight.

Knowledge is the rare trait of learning with perception – discovering and growing.

Both fathers and mothers are responsible for passing on to their children the truths that will equip them to live life well and with a sense of purpose. Mothers, however, have traditionally been the primary nurturer. I challenge every mother with these words written by Dorothy Nolte:

“If a child lives with:
CRITICISM, he learns to condemn.
HOSTILITY, he learns to fight.
RIDICULE, he learns to be shy.
SHAME, he learns to feel guilty.
TOLERANCE, he learns to be patient.
ENCOURAGEMENT, he learns confidence.
PRAISE, he learns to appreciate.
FAIRNESS, he learns justice.
SECURITY, he learns to have faith.
APPROVAL, he learns to like himself.
ACCEPTANCE and FRIENDSHIP,
he learns to find love in the world.”

I recently read an interesting story of a mama skunk that was constantly worried because her two four-legged kitty cat children were constantly getting into trouble. She had originally given them the odd names of In and Out. Whenever In was in, Out was out. And if Out was in, In was out.

One day Mama Skunk called Out in from out on a limb and told him to go out into the forest and bring In in. So, Out went out as he was told and in no time at all brought In in.

“Wonderful!” said Mama Skunk. “How, in all that great forest, could you find In in such a short time?”

“That was easy,” replied Out, “In-stinct!”

The moral of this odorous story? A skunk, even a young skunk, is going to do his thing. Sooner or later he is going to do what he was designed to do and for which he has earned a considerable amount of publicity and respect. You can count on it. Given the right circumstances it is going to happen. It is his nature. Even if you were to find two skunks in church one Sunday morning they would probably be sitting on the front spew with their heads bowed, as if to say, “Let us spray!”

The actions of people, like those of skunks, depend on what they have on the inside. The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). In other words, the thoughts which occupy our minds automatically find expression through our actions. Thoughts are seeds which, when full grown, determine what we do. If we love people it will show; if we do not love them that will also show.

Returning to our original story, when In was out, it could have been because he was on the outs with In. They did not lose their individuality. But they had one tremendous thing in common going for them. When the chips were down, when there was a job to be done, they worked together. Their unity of effort gave off a certain air. They definitely altered their surroundings. All the other animals around them took notice of their presence. What they lacked in size, they made up “in-stinct!” They definitely alter their surroundings.

If there is any sense (not “scents”) or any application to be drawn from this “polecat tail” – I mean “polecat tale”, it is that those of us who are Christians have been given the responsibility and challenge to alter our surroundings. We adopt the standard of the world around us far too often. By letting the world squeeze us into its mold, we forget that Christ has given us the responsibility to be salt and light and leaven.

Mama Skunk asked Out to go out into the forest to find In and bring him in. Some of the last words Christ spoke to His disciples included a similar mission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Christian missionaries have been sent throughout the world to carry out this mission. Perhaps you have given funds to support them in their work. It may not be possible or practical for you to go to some faraway place to share the good news of the gospel. But you can go across or down the street to talk to a neighbor who does not know Christ as Savior and Lord. You can share your faith with a friend or coworker.

Have you done that? In the last year? In the last ten years? In your entire life? If not, why not?

 

Dr. James Dobson in his book, “What wives wish their husbands knew about women,” shares a class theme written by a third grade girl entitled: “What is a grandmother?” It is a classic for sheer wisdom and utter simplicity:

“A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own. She likes other people’s little girls and boys. A grandfather is a man grandmother. He goes for walks with the boys and they talk about fishing and stuff like that.

“Grandmothers don’t have anything to do except to be there. They’re old so they shouldn’t play hard or run. It is enough if they drive us to the market where the pretend horse is, and have a lot of dimes ready. Or if they take us for walks, they should slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars. They should never say ‘Hurry up.’

“Usually grandmothers are fat, but not too fat to tie your shoes. They wear glasses and funny underwear. They can take their teeth and gums off. They don’t have to be smart, only answer questions like, ‘Why isn’t God married?’ and ‘How come dogs chase cats?’

“Grandmothers don’t talk baby talk like visitors do, because it is hard to understand. When they read to us they don’t skip or mind if it is the same story over again. Everybody should try to have a grandmother, especially if you don’t have television, because they are the only grown-ups who have time.”

Children tend to see others without all the veneer adults build into and around human relationships. The third grade girl’s theme about grandmothers gives us the opportunity to express our appreciation for this very special group of people and the role they play. Any woman who endures the training period of being a mother long enough to have grandchildren has earned the right to be a card carrying grandmother.

Though God has given to grandmothers a special sphere of influence within families, the word “grandmother” is mentioned only once in the Bible. Paul, in writing to Timothy, said, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy’s grandmother was the first member of his family won to Christ. She shared her faith with her daughter, Eunice. Eunice passed it on down the line to her son, Timothy. It is the way God wants Christian families to function.

Perhaps you have (or had) a grandmother like Lois who has (or had) the kind of impact on your family that Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, had on her family. Your grandmother perhaps wears (or wore) glasses and funny underwear and takes (or took) her teeth and gums out at night. But to a significant degree you are the person you are because your grandmother started the ball of positive influence rolling in your family.

A grandmother has been described as a person who comes to your house, spoils your children, and goes home. They have a lot of fun doing it. One grandmother several years ago said to me, “If I had known having grandchildren would be so much fun, I would have had them before I had my children.” God’s plan of growing grandmothers up through the joys, challenges, and hazards of motherhood is a vastly better idea.

Only a woman whom God has trained to become a good mother has the experience and ability to be an effective grandmother. Please join me in thanking God for all dedicated grandmothers!

 

Ivan the Great was the emperor who welded together the Great Russian Empire back in the 15th century. He was so busy conquering new territory and bringing tribes under subjection that he had no time for social affairs. He had never married, and his advisors urged him to take a wife. He said to them, “Find me an acceptable wife and I will marry her.” They went bride-hunting all over Europe and finally found a beautiful woman named Sophia, the daughter of the king of Greece, whom they thought worthy of recommending.

So, Ivan the Great went to Athens to call on the king of Greece to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He carried with him five hundred of his crack troops, the best soldiers he had – the elite guard. The king of Greece agreed for his daughter to marry Ivan, but with one stipulation – Ivan the Great must join the Greek Orthodox Church. The emperor agreed, was accepted into the church and was baptized – three times, face forward by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Ivan’s five hundred well-trained and dedicated soldiers, seeing the example of their leader, decided they also wanted to join the Greek Orthodox Church. Five hundred priests were secured so that each soldier would have a priest to teach him the catechisms. The time arrived for the soldiers to be baptized, but there was one problem – professional soldiers who kill people were not permitted to become members.

This proved to be a serious problem for both the soldiers and for Ivan, and this is how the problem was solved. Five hundred priests led the five hundred soldier candidates into the water. At the moment when each soldier was to be immersed, he quickly pulled his sword from its scabbard and thrust his fighting arm and sword into the air. Their bodies – with the exception of their fighting arm and sword, of course – were baptized. Their bodies were received into the Greek Orthodox Church, but their fighting arm and sword belonged to the state. It has to be the strangest baptism in history.

Is this not a graphic description of what happens in far too many churches today? Many individuals, who at some time in the past committed themselves to become followers of Jesus Christ, joined the church and were baptized, have dropped by the wayside. They have forgotten the importance of worship. They seldom, if ever, attend church. Those who expect to answer when the roll is called up yonder should make an honest effort to be present for worship each time the roll is called down here – not just on Easter Sunday.

Every Christian church has been given a divinely assigned mission. This mission cannot be carried out successfully by any church if it has too many partially committed members – those who have unbaptized tongues, unbaptized talents, and unbaptized arms. Genuinely dedicated Christians will not say to Christ, “Lord, I will give you my life – well, part of it, anyway. There are certain things I want to reserve for myself.”

Apostle Paul said to the church in Rome, “I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2 NIV).

You do realize that the church is a workshop and not a dormitory, don’t you? Boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina prepares marines for battle. Joining fellow Christians on a regular basis to worship God is one way God prepares you for the work He has for you to do in the community where you live and work.

 

What gave the early church such power? There is only one answer: Their Lord, whom they had seen die on a Roman cross and be buried, was alive again, and they had seen Him. This gave them the power they needed to walk the earth with grace and fearlessness – even in the presence of death – to preach the Word of God in its purity.

No wonder the apostle Paul concluded his great resurrection chapter with these words, “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). Christ, whom the Roman authorities had crucified, was not dead! In fact, He was very much alive! And they were alive in Him! Alleluia!

Put yourself in the sandals of the disciples. Suppose you had spent three years traveling with the greatest teacher who ever lived. Suppose you had listened to His words, saw Him perform miracles, watched His every act, and knew Him intimately. This is how you would likely tell the story:

“Jesus tried to prepare us, but how could we be prepared for all that we have had to face? Then He was crucified. We saw Him on the cross. We saw the Roman Centurion drive the nails through His hands and feet and thrust the spear into His side. We saw His limp body taken down from the cross and buried in the sepulcher. We saw the stone rolled into place. With tears streaming down our faces we departed. He is gone forever! We will never see Him again!

“At this point we went into hiding. Under the same circumstances you would have done the same. It seems cowardly now, but don’t forget, the Jewish leaders were out to break up this new religious movement, and it was entirely possible that they would be looking for us next. That is why we hid. In our hiding place we cried and talked, each recalling some special occasion in the life of Him whom John the Baptist had called ‘The Lamb of God.’ The dawn that had seemed so bright had faded into the darkness of night.

“When Easter morning came with its startling news that His tomb was empty, we didn’t know what to think. Finding it hard to believe, we immediately went to see for ourselves. We saw that His grave clothes were neatly folded. Not knowing what this meant, we shook our heads in wonderment. We questioned the gardener and all others in the neighborhood. Finally, we looked at the women, and especially at Mary, and said, ‘It is too bad! Some prankster must have come to take His body away.’

“When the evening came we sat down to our meal. Our hearts were heavy and our minds were clouded by the dark grief that hung over us and filled us with indescribable sorrow. So many dreams had come crashing down between our feet. Then, suddenly, we heard a voice, ‘Peace be unto you,’ and there He was! Jesus was standing in our midst! Had you been there, you would not have slept very well that night. Like us, you would have asked yourself, ‘Did we really see Him? Or was it just a dream?’ No, it was not a dream! He was there! We touched the nail prints in His hand! After that He came again, and again and again – not just to us, but to many others as well.”

Having imagined ourselves there, let us go back to our initial question: “Why did the early church have such power?” And how can churches today have the power of God poured out upon them? An empty grave explains it all! Christ is alive! We serve a risen living Lord! One day He is coming again to earth to claim His bride, the church.

 

 

Jesus made seven statements while hanging on the cross that are recorded in the New Testament. They are known as “the seven last words from the cross.”

First, He thought of others: those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34), the believing thief (Luke 23:39-43), and His mother (John 19:25-27). The central word of the seven had to do with His relationship with the Father (Matthew 27:45-49). The last three statements focused on Himself: His body (John 19:28-29), His soul (John 19:30), and His spirit (Luke 23:46).

The drink of vinegar the soldiers gave Him did not fully quench His thirst, but it did enable Him to shout this word of triumph in a loud voice, “It is finished!” The Greek word used here is tetelestai. It literally means, “It is finished, it stands finished, and it will always be finished!”

The word tetelestai is unfamiliar to us, of course, but it was used in various ways in everyday life in Jesus’ day. Merchants used it to say, “The debt is paid in full.” A servant would use it when reporting to his or her master, “I have completed the work assigned to me” (see John 17:4). When Jesus shouted tetelestai from the cross it meant, “The debt caused by sin is paid in full.” The Old Testament sacrifices only covered sin; the Lamb of God shed His blood, and that blood has the power to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

When Jesus shouted the word tetelestai in a loud voice, His hours of extreme distress were over. The terrible agony was now behind Him. He would no longer endure the pangs of crucifixion, nor hear the taunts of the bloodthirsty mob. No longer would He experience the pain inflicted by the crown of thorns on His brow, the stripes on His back, or the nails driven through His flesh. He would no longer feel separation from His and our heavenly Father. He had accomplished what He came to do. His heart ceased to beat. Silence prevailed.

In the stifling silence following the death of Jesus, however, other sounds could be heard: the sound of bursting fetters, breaking chains, crumbling prison walls, the rending of veils, the overthrowing of barriers, the opening of gates. The last words of Christ on the cross were not words of defeat, but the cry of victory. He had finished the redemptive mission assigned to Him. “Finished” was the terrible ban of judgment upon the ages, the power of darkness and desolation, the curse of sin upon humanity. The debt was paid in full!

What Christ had finished, however, has scarcely begun for us. He accomplished what we cannot. He closed the unbridgeable gap between a holy God and sinful humankind. His daily visible teaching of His disciples was now behind Him. The work of His invisible presence would continue through them on the day of Pentecost and beyond. Forgiven by Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, every single Christian to this very day is assigned the mission of spreading the good news of God’s love to the entire world.

What is the message that we as Christians are commissioned to share? No longer does any person have to live under the power of sin. Every person who believes is by God’s grace forgiven of his or her sin and given the opportunity to become a worshiping and serving member of the body of Christ known as the church. Christ’s redemptive mission was completed successfully; our mission as Christians is still ongoing.

The barrier standing between a sinful mankind and a holy God has forever been removed. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, bore our sins in His own body. Earlier in His ministry He had said, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save the lost.” The eternal life He came to give to those who believe is now forever guaranteed. It became a certainty the very moment on that fateful day when from the cross He said, “It is finished!”