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I recently read the story of a young woman who took her car to an automatic car wash facility to have its dirt and grime removed. Sitting on the front seat beside her was her pint-sized poodle. When the mechanical monster began to make its march around the car spewing soap, water, and wax, the poodle switched on his bulldog DNA and (in his own mind) was instantly transformed into Superdog.

When the soapy water had covered the entire windshield, he became totally agitated. He lunged at what he perceived to be a dangerous enemy, barking as loudly as he could. Round and round inside the car he chased the encircling monster until he had scared the invader off.

Triumphantly he looked at his mistress as if to say, “If I had not been here to protect you from this fire-breathing and soap-spitting dragon, it would probably have opened the car door, grabbed you, and carried you away to its secret lair somewhere. Aren’t you proud of me?”

As the young lady drove her car out of the carwash and onto the street the self-imagined hero turned toward his owner and shook himself, as if to dislodge the heavy fall of water from his well-combed hairy coat. He had protected his friend in a time of grave danger. The truth, however, is that it had not taken much courage at all to challenge the threat happening outside the car while he remained on the inside.

Why do I share this shaggy dog story? It reminds me of what often happens in our churches. We gather in church from separate directions on Sunday morning to join fellow church members in worshiping God. We sing lustily hymns like “Amazing Grace,” “Washed in the Blood,” and “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in this Place.” But we fail to work up a sweat over the world around us that is bleeding and dying.

It is why Dr. Elton Trueblood, Quaker theologian, described the modern church as “a stained-glass foxhole.” His analogy, in reality, describes the church as being like the poodle challenging the carwash monster. Inside our church walls on Sunday we bark vociferously at the monsters a safe distance from where we are. Then, after the benediction is spoken, we get in our cars and go home. Not one frill or piece of fluffed lace is out of place.

The poodle could demonstrate lots of courage to his master because he was on the inside and the mad mechanical monster was on the outside. One wonders how much fight he would have had in him if he had been standing on the hood of the car when the spraying dragon passed directly in front of the car’s grill.

It is not difficult for us to say to the world that we are Christians while we are on the inside of a church building. It costs little or nothing and sounds courageous to bark at the monstrous evils on the outside. It gives the impression that we have taken seriously the challenge Christ gives to every follower to take up His cross daily and follow Him. Giving an impression is worthless unless it is backed up by follow-through.

The poodle, once he was driven outside the carwash, shook himself as if he had had a bath. A church fulfills its divinely assigned mission only when its’ members demonstrate to the world that their lives have been genuinely cleansed by the power of God’s forgiving love – not just on Sunday inside the church building, but in between Sundays through everything we say and do.

There is a difference between playing church and being a church – a big difference!

The route that my wife, Jessie, and I traveled to our parent’s home in Georgia until they died goes through Louisville, Georgia, some 35 miles west of Augusta. On several of our trips through Louisville we noticed a sign pointing down a lane to the left that says, “PRE-REVOLUTIONARY WAR CEMETERY.”

I have always had a deep interest in anything to do with history – especially American history. I had never been in a cemetery before where people were buried more than two and one half centuries ago. Eventually, on one of our trips to Georgia to visit our families I could not pass that sign another single time without turning down that lane to see this historical plot of ground. I have always been very glad we did.

As the name of the cemetery indicates, many of the people buried there had died prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Other tombstones bear dates well into the 1800’s. One family plot, encircled by a very nice wrought iron fence, caught our attention. On the seven foot high marble monument above a grave is found the following information:

MARY WRIGHT

Born 1825

Married 1843

Died 1854

 

Engraved into the granite tombstone below the monument are some especially beautiful words that were written by a man as a tribute to his wife who is buried there:

 “A Christian Woman”

 “A Christian woman is the highest best gift of God to earth, and here lies one of its brightest exemplifications. Christianity was with her a sentiment deeply enwoven in all her thoughts, feelings, and affections.

Kind and benevolent; unexacting and charitable; brilliant, but humble; vigorous in intellect; sweet and lovely in person; meek and gentle in disposition; her life and character have left their impress indelibly fixed in the hearts of those whose wise counselor and devoted partner she was through all the vicissitudes of an eventful, though brief career.

Though married when young, ardent, and hopeful, in the midday splendor of youthful hopes and aspirations—–she entered upon her domestic duties with an energy and devotion which could feel no decline. By the purity and vigor of her own character, she won, from the most slavish passions, him whose welfare was her highest happiness, and whose character was her own handwork.

Her earthly mission accomplished, she laid down her cross, took up her crown, and now sweetly rests in the bosom of her Savior.”

            I have never read a more beautiful tribute given by a husband to honor his wife. Mary Wright only lived twenty-nine brief years, but she undoubtedly made the most of them. She both served her Lord and blessed mankind in a superlative way. She continues to bless others to this day who visit the historic cemetery in Louisville, Georgia and read the words of her husband’s tribute.

His recognition of her influence reminds me of the words of a poem written by an anonymous author:

“Like the vase in which roses

Have once been distilled,

You may break, you may shatter

The vase if you will,

But the scent of the roses

Will cling to it still.”

 

The three saddest words in the New Testament are found in Mark 10:22. They were spoken by the man called “the Rich Young Ruler.” This young man, standing in the presence of Jesus Christ, holding his destiny in his own hands, having the power to say “yes” or “no” to the gift of eternal life, turned his back on the wooing and winsome Christ and refused to follow Him. The Scripture says simply: “HE WENT AWAY.”

The story of the Rich Young Ruler is one of the most disappointing to be found in the entire New Testament. This is true because very likely no one who came into contact with Jesus during His earthly ministry was richer in possibilities. No story began more hopefully than his. Therefore, it is all the more sad when we see his bright morning turn into the gloom of night. How disappointing!

Look at the tremendous assets the Rich Young Ruler brought to his interview with Jesus. He was very wealthy, which probably meant he exercised power and influence. But wealth, if consecrated to God, is an instrument of much good. He had two other assets: he is described as a ruler and as being young. Most of his life was ahead of him. In spite of his assets, he was restless and discontented – not because of what he had, but because of what he did not have.

Dissatisfaction with your circumstances often leads to meaningful change. For example, in the 1960’s two Marines on the way back from a weekend visit with their families in Tennessee listened to a sermon by Dr. Billy Graham on the radio. An hour or so later they heard the same sermon on another radio station. At the end of hearing the sermon the second time they were traveling through Warsaw, N.C. Dr. Graham’s sermon had convicted them. They stopped at a telephone booth, looked in the phone book for the name of a minister, saw my name, and called for me to come where they were. I sat in the front seat of their car, opened my Bible, and witnessed to them. Both of them accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Like those two Marines, the Rich Young Ruler had a tremendous void in his life. He came to the only One who could fill that void. He was a man of courage. He had kept the 10 Commandments from his youth up. He was reverent and morally clean. But he did not have a personal faith relationship with God. He had numerous good qualities – but he was empty on the inside! He was religious – but he was lost!

Jesus said to him: “Go and sell all that you have, and give what it brings to the poor. Then come and follow me.” He was not saying: “In order to follow Me you must become penniless.” What He was saying is this: “If owning material things is the most important thing in your life, your priorities need to be changed.” Jesus could read this young man’s heart. He knew what was most important in his life.

If Jesus could read the Rich Young Ruler’s heart, don’t you think He can also read your heart? If you are not a Christian He knows what stands in your way of becoming one. It could be a trifle, or something very worthwhile and valuable, or perhaps some sin that has a grip on your life. Whatever it is that stands in your way, if it keeps you from saying “yes” to Christ, then it could well cause you to miss out on heaven.

The Rich Young Ruler wanted to follow Jesus. He really did! But he didn’t want to follow Him strongly enough to pay the price of putting Him first in his life. If you are not a Christian I urge you to not make the same tragic decision he made. Why do I say this? It takes the three saddest words in the New Testament to describe the mistake he made. He could have had eternal life — but “HE WENT AWAY!”

 

I have a confession to make. Ever since I was a child I have loved old people. Now that I am closer to ninety than I am to eighty, I am glad there are still a lot of young whippersnappers around who love old people. Old age is that time of life when you learn what the statute of limitations is all about.

Just because I have always loved old people doesn’t mean that I like everything that is old – old furniture, for example. I have friends who have spent a lifetime (and a lot of money) collecting old furniture. Excuse me, I mean antiques. Furniture old enough to be labeled antique will cost you a lot more.

I admire antique furniture in your home. In some homes nothing else would look or be appropriate. It is just that my preference for the furniture in my home be more contemporary. But people who have seen a lot of sunrises and sunsets are a different story. I say this because many of the people who have blessed my life most have lived and loved and served their fellow human beings for a long time. And I love them.

Most churches have an organized group of senior adults. The senior group at First Baptist Church in Sanford is called the Triple L Club. The three L’s are for Live Longer and Love it. I always called them The Wild Bunch. Its members are the backbone of the church. Senior adults are the backbone in most churches. Just because they have been drawing Social Security for a decade or two doesn’t mean they have folded their tents and ambled off into the sunset. They are among the most faithful members who attend worship, and they participate in various church ministries. They don’t just hang around. They are plugged in and productive.

Though these things are true, most churches have elderly members who are not able to attend church because they are either homebound or confined in nursing homes. They should be visited periodically and not forgotten. Churches that give attention to their spiritual needs are not only recognizing and showing appreciation for their faithfulness in past years but also meeting their current needs. Pastors and other church staff members who give this ministry little or no attention need to reexamine their priorities.

In addition to meeting the spiritual needs of the aged members of your church, why not organize a ministry to others confined in nursing homes in the vicinity of your church? In every retirement facility are elderly persons who are lonely and receive few visits from members of their own family or church. Each adult class in your Sunday School could adopt one of these, and visit him or her monthly or more often – especially on his or her birthday and at other times. What a blessing the members of your class would receive.

I read some time ago the story of a lady in a nursing home who was ninety-eight who was visited by a member of her church. “How are you feeling?” the member asked.

“Oh,” said the lady, “I’m just worried sick!”

“What are you worried about, my dear? They are taking good care of you here, aren’t they?”

“Oh yes, I’m getting excellent care.”

“Well, then, why are you worried?”

She leaned back in her chair and slowly explained: “All of my closest friends have already died and gone to heaven. And I’m afraid they’re wondering where I went!”

 

Conflict between the North American colonies and England was already a year old when a Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. In a June 7th session in the Pennsylvania State House (later named Independence Hall), Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a resolution with the famous words: “Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Lee’s words were the impetus for the drafting of a formal Declaration of Independence. On June 11th, consideration of the resolution was postponed by a vote of the colonies seven to five, with New York abstaining. However, a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the case of the colonies for independence. The task of drafting the actual document fell on Thomas Jefferson, and on July 4th the Declaration was adopted. Today the original copy of this historic document is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The principles on which our nation was founded are unique. The goal of those early colonial leaders was to establish a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The long term preservation of those principles has required, and continues to require, the vigilant dedication of our citizens, and especially of our elected leaders. Otherwise, they could easily be ignored, drastically changed, or lost.

Originally our leaders were citizen legislators; today we have lifetime politicians. Promises made often become promises forgotten. Leaders in both political parties share the blame for this. Elected legislators determined to have their own way are numerous; statesmen willing to work with others to solve our nation’s problems are becoming less numerous. Listening to others who have a different point of view has become a lost art. Lobbyists outnumber legislators by many to one. Money and power are on the throne.

For 241 years our nation’s greatness has rested upon our faith in God and our fervor to do His will. The important questions for Americans now are these: Will we continue to remember and honor our heritage? Will we forget that we were founded as a nation under God? What must we do to keep this from happening?

In 1829 a prayer room was established in the U.S. Capitol building. This non-denominational room is a place where members of Congress can pray and meditate. It is located off the rotunda under the great dome. The room is dominated by a stained glass window of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. Beneath it is an altar of white oak on which stands an open Bible. It is off limits to the public.

In 1921 the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier was established. On it is inscribed, “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known Only to God.” The House and Senate have a full-time chaplain. Each session of Congress is opened with prayer. One wonders if that will one day cease.

Dark clouds currently loom on the world’s horizon. It is not a time for mindless divisions to exist among our citizenship and elected leaders that can easily cause widespread anarchy. Join me in praying for our nation – and especially for our elected leaders. May we as a people never forget or cease to believe the truth found in Proverbs 14:34 – “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”

 

Humor has long been a time-honored way to deal with conflict between husbands and wives. Dr. I.E. Gates, former president of Wayland Baptist College, tells the story of a blackmailer who sent a letter to a man which said, “If you do not place $50,000 in a hollow stump (naming the location of the stump) by 6 o’clock tomorrow afternoon, I am going to kidnap your wife.”

The husband was not able to raise $50,000 that quickly, so he wrote on the bottom of the ransom note a message and put it in the stump where the kidnapper told him to put the money. It said, “Dear kidnapper: I haven’t been able to raise the $50,000 as you requested, but your proposition interests me.” He apparently didn’t have an idyllic marriage.

A different kind of story involves a young bride and groom who visited an older couple as they were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. “Fifty years!” one of them exclaimed. “That is a long time to be married to one person.” The old gentleman looked over at his wife with love showing in his eyes and said, “It would have been a lot longer without her.” What a tremendous testimony! It describes what God designed a marriage to be.

The goal of every husband and wife should be to have a happy marriage. We were not created by God to be alone. Biologically, emotionally, and spiritually we were created to reach out to one another. God’s design for the marriage relationship is that we experience ecstasy, not agony. This is clearly taught in the Genesis account of creation when God saw that Adam was lonely and created Eve to become his companion.

According to the Bible, marriage is for a man the permanent union with one woman involving the procreation and education of children, the provision of a home, and the constant care for the spiritual and material welfare of his household. For the woman, marriage is ideally an indissoluble union with one man involving the birth and education of children, homemaking, and housekeeping (and many today choose a career outside the home).

Since marriage is a serious relationship, it naturally follows that the same rules govern its success as govern the success of other careers: adequate preparation, intelligent earnestness, persistent industry, and the will to succeed. Marriage demands all of these plus the anointed strength of genuine love. To have ecstasy, not agony, in your marriage, you must have four very important things:

COMPASSION: There are few things as sad as a husband and wife who have lived together for fifty years and have lost their ability to feel compassion for one another. Also, there are few things, if any, more special than seeing a husband and wife live together for half a century or more whose hearts still beat rapidly in each other’s presence.

COMMITMENT: Jesus, during the days of His flesh, personified the grace of God lived out in love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Knowing that about Him, we should view all our relationships – especially marriage – with the utmost seriousness. Marriage is not for children, but for adults who love one another, and who genuinely care for one another. Marriages may be made in heaven, but God puts both husband and wife in charge of the maintenance here on earth.

COMMUNICATION: It has been said that some women become widows on their wedding day, and it is true. The biggest complaint women have about their husbands is in the area of communication. One man said to a friend: “My wife says that I don’t listen to her. At least, I think that is what she said.” Guys, does this describe you?

COOPERATION: The Genesis account of creation does not say that God saw Adam’s loneliness and gave him a servant, or a slave, or a pet. The Living Bible puts it this way: “A companion for him, a helper suited for his needs.” If you have these “four big C’s” in your marriage, they add up to the most important “C” of all – “Christlikeness.”

 

The pages of the New Testament are literally punctuated with promises. Many of these promises come from Jesus Himself. One of the most fantastic promises in the entire Bible is found in John 14:12. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Wow! What a breathtaking promise! If that is even remotely possible, then most Christians, if not all of us, will have to acknowledge that we have not taken Jesus very seriously. If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we are satisfied with far less than Jesus had in mind for us.

One of my favorite comic strip theologians is Snoopy, that hound of heaven. In one of the installments he boldly declares, “Woodstock is going to be a great eagle.” Then in the next frame, he says, “He is going to soar thousands of feet above the ground.” Woodstock takes off into the air, and as Snoopy looks up, he sees the bird upside down, whirling around crazily. At this point he has second thoughts, and says, “Well, maybe hundreds of feet above the ground.” Immediately Woodstock falls to the ground and lies there on his back, looking dazed. Finally, Snoopy concludes, “Maybe he will just be an eagle that walks around.”

How like Snoopy most of us are. How quickly we settle for much less than what is promised and not nearly as much as is possible! Perhaps you have heard the story of an elderly bachelor and an old maid who started dating. Each had lived alone for many years, but gradually the old gentleman developed a strong attachment to his friend. He was shy, though, and afraid to tell her his feelings. Finally one day he mustered up the courage and blurted out, “Let’s get married!” Surprised, she threw her hands up in the air and shouted, “It is a wonderful idea – but who in the world would have us?”

What John 14:12 and the two stories about Snoopy and Woodstock and the elderly couple are saying to us is that we can do a lot more than we normally might think is possible – that is, if we would only believe. The psalmist has a word for us at this point: “When I consider the heavens, and the work of your (God’s) fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:3-5).

If you will add this word from the psalmist to what Jesus said about us doing greater things than He did in the days of His flesh, you will begin to see just how important you are to God. There is no other individual in the entire world precisely like you. You are a unique, unrepeatable miracle of God. Not to believe this is to commit the sin of unbelief that will cause you to be less, and to do less, than Jesus said is possible.

You are important to God. You can believe that on the authority of God. It’s in the Book! Never forget that Jesus said, “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father noticing it, and you are of more value than many sparrows.” He went even further than that in pointing out that even the hairs on your head are numbered. This is just one of the ways that God says you are important to Him. And that you can do much greater things than you ever thought or dreamed possible – if you let Him live in you and work through you.

The apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The secret of doing great things is to let Christ live in you and work through you. It is God’s promise to you – but only if you will believe it, and claim it. The next move is yours.