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One of my favorite comic strip theologians is Charles Shultz, creator of the Peanuts cartoons. In one of the installments, Lucy storms into the room and demands that Linus change the television channel, threatening him if he doesn’t:

“What makes you think you can walk in here and take over?” Linus asks.

“These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they are nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”

“Which channel do you want?” Linus asks disgustedly. Then, after a moment or so, he looks at his own fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”

Like Linus, many of us need more discipline and organization in our lives. How do we cope with the tyranny of the urgent, not allowing the immediate claims on our time and energy to sidetrack us from the mission Christ has given us? The answer: we use the resource available from beyond ourselves – prayer.

Paul affirms this possibility in his epistle to the Christians in Rome. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27). In other words, it is when we are most aware of our helplessness that we see the importance of turning to God in prayer. He helps us do what we could never do by and for ourselves.

We remember Gethsemane and the anguish of Jesus as he embraced His human limits. The author of Hebrews says, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Facing what we face prepared Him to be our priest, our great intercessor.

Jesus prayerfully interceded in our behalf in Gethsemane; we prayerfully intercede in behalf of others. Some very special things happen when we pray – things that would not happen if we did not pray. Lives are transformed, individuals are healed, situations change, conditions are altered, people find direction, revivals come, and even nations have been empowered to move in a more positive direction.

In his Cotton Patch Gospel version of the New Testament, Clarence Jordan translates II Corinthians 5:19 in this way: “God was in Christ, hugging the world to himself.” That is what prayer is, isn’t it? We put our arms around another person, another family, our church family, a relationship, a situation, our community, and even the world. Through prayer we hug the person or persons to ourselves and to God in love. In a mysterious way we may never understand, something always happens not only to us but also to those for whom we pray.

Intercessory prayer is the power base on which meaningful relationships with others take place. It opens the way for us to invest time, energy, and resources in what God is doing to build His kingdom on the earth. One of the reasons why both individual Christians and some churches lack power today is that intercessory prayer is neglected. Make no mistake: the ministry of intercession is very demanding.

The Prophet Isaiah gives us these words from God: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). What a powerful promise – God hears and answers our prayers! Claim that promise and, like Lucy in the Peanuts cartoon, you can become better organized to serve God.

 

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“Can my life be changed? Is there any hope for me?” These two questions have been asked countless times by individuals who were living on what they perceived to be a dead-end street. Those who turn to God will discover that they can and will be answered in the affirmative.

God has been lighting candles of hope through many centuries of darkness, and He is not about to stop at this stage in history. The prophet Micah proclaimed, “He (God) will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, He will cast all our sins into the depth of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Also, those who seek a better way and a brighter day will be strengthened by words Moses spoke to Israel: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Who among us would dare claim to have lived a perfect life? Anyone making such a claim would undoubtedly lie about other things too. Though we may claim to be perfect, our thoughts and deeds would always speak out against us. “All we like sheep have gone astray . . . . “(Isaiah 53:6). The Apostle Paul declared, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

When I read in the Bible that “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” I am fully convinced that God said what He meant and meant what He said. No one is excluded from receiving God’s measureless mercy and complete forgiveness. Literally no one — no matter how numerous or dark their sins may be! There is nothing anyone can do to earn God’s forgiveness. All that is required is to accept it by faith.

This means that life can definitely be changed! God’s forgiveness is of such magnitude that finite minds have always found it difficult to understand or believe. Even so, there are three things you and I can know with absolute certainty about God’s offer of forgiveness:

It is a divine act. It is the supreme way in which God expresses His love for us. We acknowledge our wrongs and repent of our sins. We come, asking Him to forgive. The next move is then His, and He never disappoints us. He covers our ugly sins with His love. That is forgiveness. It is His nature to forgive.

It is an outright gift from God. There is nothing we could ever do or know that could demonstrate in any way that we merited His forgiveness. Sin robs us of inner peace and separates us from God. It will eventually cost us our soul, unless we repent of our sins and accept God’s forgiveness.

Its goal is the restoration of a relationship. Once God forgives us of our sins, we are no longer separated from Him. When the prodigal son was forgiven of his sins, I doubt that his father ever mentioned his being away from home again. That did not mean that his brother did not remind him of his evil ways. Unfortunately, we humans tend to be much less forgiving than God.

God’s first business is the restoring of broken relationships. Through the offer of forgiveness He seeks to make obedient children out of those who are separated from Him. He stands at the door of every heart, waiting for us to open it and invite Him into our lives to bring hope and healing. He knocks and waits patiently. The door to every person’s heart is opened from the inside – and that includes yours.

Do you have any relationships that need restoration? Some may be filled with resentments and unwarranted prejudice. Others may have a deep sorrow that needs divine healing. Others may be caught in the grip of a destructive habit that is difficult to break. Some may involve the burden of guilt resulting from things that happened in the past.

If you are experiencing difficulties in your life, believing you live at the end of a dead-end street, perhaps you are at this very moment asking the question, “Can my life be changed?” If so, know this: your life definitely can be changed! Whatever your spiritual needs are at the current time, they can be met in Jesus Christ. No life is beyond His help and healing. “For God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).

Nicolaus Copernicus was a great mathematician. His studies and calculations revolutionized the thinking of mankind about the universe. At death’s door he saw himself, not as a great scholar or astronomer, but only as a sinner in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He chose his own epitaph: “I do not seek a kindness equal to that given to Apostle Paul, but the forgiveness which God granted to the penitent thief. That I earnestly seek.”

If your life needs to be changed, I John 1:9 tells you where to begin: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

And now . . . 2018

Standing at the front door of another year, what kind of world do you see? It is important that you and I know, because civilization is dangerously close to committing mass suicide.

On one extreme stand numerous terrorist cells and nuclear alarmists whose idiom sounds like syntax from Frankenstein: “carbon annihilation, mega-death, total obliteration.” On the other extreme are the “head-in-the-sand optimists” who through their imaginary rose-colored glasses see the world as getting better and better. And between these two extremes stand two groups: (1) historians with their inevitable schemes and concepts of history repeating itself, and (2) a herd of unthinking millions who have elected to do absolutely nothing when it comes to plugging into the needs of today or accepting the challenges of tomorrow.

Do we not as Christians have more to say about the future we face than these things? If so, let us make a clear, unapologetic declaration to our world that God has not abdicated His throne, nor will He? It is the business of every Christian, regardless of what earthly kingdom in which he or she may hold citizenship, to pray “Thy kingdom come” . . . and to work diligently and daily to make it happen.

Faith causes us to look with optimism toward the future, but sight keeps us from ignoring present tense reality. Discipleship has one foot in heaven, but the other foot is firmly planted on the earth. Faith is not content with saying in woeful tones, “Look at what the world has come to.” Instead, it shouts as an alternative, “Look at the One who has come into our world.” Faith does not throw up its hand when faced with sordid waywardness in every direction. Christian optimism does not require us to be blind to the sin in our world – and plenty of it exists. We see the world in all its ugliness, but we see it through the eyes of faith.

The year 2018 demands that we think of the future, but the future begins with the present moment. Jesus emphasized the importance of the present moment, for He said, “I must work the works of Him who sent me, while it is still day: the night comes when no man can work” (John 9:4). What this means for every Christian is we are up at bat in the here and now. The fouls which come from half-hearted effort and the strike-outs which result from distraction are ever under His scrutiny and control. He is saying to every Christian, “Swing the bat! Hit the ball! Don’t sit in the stands and act like a spectator!” Too many of us do that!

There are dark clouds on the world’s horizon. Old orders are crumbling, and new orders are appearing. And many Christians are oblivious to it all. We must not be content in accepting the status quo. I believe that time is short for us to win our world for Christ. We can sing, “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”, but we must also sing, “’Tis Heaven Below My Redeemer to Know.” A knowledgeable and dedicated Christian knows that he or she cannot sit on the sidelines when there are multitudes who do not know Christ.

We do not know everything that the future may hold, but we know who holds the future. This is the greatest reason we have to march into the year before us with our head held high, our chin up and chest out, and our eyes forward. Jesus said, “I will go with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20). We may not know what lies around the next bend, or over the next hill – but Christ does! He not only knows the way, but He holds the keys to every closed door that we may face.

Merchants who operate stores selling merchandise will close out the cash register and pull a tape on 2017. Let us do the same as we put behind us the year 2017 and dedicate ourselves to serving Christ in 2018.

 

One of the great mysteries of Christianity is the relationship of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to her first and greatest son. She knew more than anyone else that He was virgin-born. Everyone else, including her husband Joseph, had to take it on faith. On the night of the Savior’s birth, and the days that followed, many strange and wonderful events took place. Mary “pondered all these things in her heart.” She must have wanted to share some of them with others, but we can be certain that she was discreet.

Approximately thirty years later she saw the mission of her Son take a turn that, in all likelihood, she never expected or even dreamed would happen. Watching Him die on a Roman cross had to be a very difficult experience. With a broken heart, and with tears undoubtedly streaming down her cheeks, she heard Him say to John, “Behold your mother.” Mary perhaps thought, “Is this all? Or is there more?” Her fears, frustrations, and disappointments received a glorious reversal three days after He was buried when He arose from the grave to be the ever-living Lord.

Few people today stop to think about the position that women held in the non-Biblical world or in the Jewish world of the Old Testament. Although Mosaic Law in certain ways protected women, we must be honest in recognizing that women had far fewer rights than they do in the western world today. But when Jesus came, He immediately identified Himself with the downcast and the outcast, including women who were considered “second class.” This is nowhere more clearly seen than in His relationship with His mother.

The story of the Samaritan woman in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel illustrates just how far Jesus has elevated the role and importance of women in the world. John tells us that the disciples marveled to find Jesus talking with a woman – especially to a Samaritan woman! It was not supposed to happen in that day.

Women today should ask themselves some questions. Who has done more than Jesus to challenge the idea that women were less important than men in any way? Who has lifted and transformed women from being man’s plaything to becoming his beloved companion? Who has elevated women more from being man’s personal property to the level of being his friend, his equal, and his inspirer? Who in all of history has done more or given more attention and affection to a mother’s children?

In spite of all that Jesus did and still does to emancipate women from a subservient role in society, the United States has been slow to learn. It took far too many years for our country, founded on Christian principles, to recognize that women should play a role in society as important as that of men. In 1797 Charles Fox said, “It has never been suggested in all theories and projects of the most absurd speculation that it would be advisable to extend the right to vote to the female sex?” Many decades passed before women could vote. It was not until 1850 that the first woman was admitted to the Harvard Medical School, and she was forced out.

Throughout the world the importance given to the role of women in society is shameful. Jesus cared for womanhood. He saw the grief of his mother from the cross and made provision for her. He told his disciple John to care for her. In that hour of unutterable agony, He saw not only the weak men but the weeping women, especially the one woman who cared more for Him than any other, His mother.

Jesus refused to adopt the traditional attitude of the world toward women. He was the pioneer of our faith in every way, but especially in His attitude toward womanhood. How slow the world has been to catch up with Jesus. How slow men have been to let His mind be in us. Shame on us!

The eighteenth century was marked by an unusual outpouring of God’s Spirit. The Great Awakening, as it is usually called, very likely had its beginning among a group of German Protestants known as the Moravians. In 1727 a nobleman named Count Zinzendorf offered his property as a refuge for Christians who were being persecuted for their faith.

Soon after this new community began, the Moravians became conscious of a special nearness of God’s presence. Their meetings were marked by passionate praise for Christ and public confession of sin. Then came the day Count Zinzendorf described as “a day of the outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon the congregation.”

As a result of this fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit, the Moravians committed themselves to pray for the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. They met in pairs to pray by the hour around the clock – an hourly intercession that continued for more than one hundred years. This was very likely the longest scheduled prayer meeting in history. No wonder God’s Spirit was poured out so powerfully.

Missionaries were commissioned and sent to other countries. It was at Aldersgate in London that the English preacher John Wesley attended one of their meetings. Wesley had been a churchman, even a missionary, but by his own admission, had never become a born-again Christian.

Wesley became a successful evangelist throughout Britain and America, often preaching outdoors. God was pouring out His Spirit on other ministers and on many churches in our country. The great Calvinist George Whitfield preached to an audience in Philadelphia numbered in the tens of thousands. And revival broke out in a powerful way in Massachusetts in the church Jonathan Edwards served as pastor.

The landscape in Europe and in America was totally transformed as a result of the Great Awakening. A violent revolution like the one that took place in France was likely prevented in England. The United States was enabled to begin as a profoundly Christian nation. Many Ivy League institutions were founded as explicitly Christian colleges. Churches were strengthened and many souls were saved.

When I look back to that period in history, I feel a sense of longing. Our culture is moving in the direction of Sodom and Gomorrah and is dying a long, slow spiritual death. Many who sit on the pews in our churches would rather be entertained than edified. Many who stand in America’s pulpits no longer call for the repentance of sins. Thus, people are leaving church as spiritually empty as when they came.

Millions of children live in homes without a father. Marriage and family are being redefined so that the traditional family unit no longer has the level of moral influence on the life of our nation as in prior generations. Abortion on demand for any reason whatsoever ends the lives of hundreds of thousands of viable babies every single year before they have the opportunity to breathe their first breath.

The regular consumption of alcohol has become a widely accepted way to participate in public life. Illegal and dangerous drugs like heroin and opium cause endless problems for police departments in every town and city in America. One of the current problems is the widespread use prescribed medicines like opioids. These problems lead ultimately to our nation’s homes being broken apart and scattered asunder.

God is being systematically pushed to the periphery in public life. Judges have often interpreted the “separation of church and state” clause found in the private papers of Thomas Jefferson, though it does not appear in the U.S. Constitution, to mean the “separation of God and state.” We must never forget the words of the Psalmist: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

A spiritual awakening like the one that took place in the eighteenth century is definitely needed in our nation – one in which “the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us from on high” (Isaiah 32:15). The proper place for it to begin is within our churches. Can you imagine the tremendous difference it would make in their worship and in their witness? And can you imagine the impact it would have on the level of morality in our communities and in our country as a whole?

God’s prescription for a spiritual awakening to take place in any nation is found in II Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I long to see spiritual renewal in America! No one can say that it is not desperately needed. The good news is that God stands ready to make it happen. He even tells us in I John 1:9 the very first thing we must do in order for it to begin –“CONFESS OUR SINS”. The ball is in our court!

 

As a Christian minister, it has been my opportunity to minister to many people when they were ill. I have noticed that those who lack a spiritual perspective on life are often totally defeated and throw up their hands. And that those who have a spiritual perspective on life view illness as a teacher and as an opportunity to make profound changes in their attitudes and actions.

Marsha Sinetar, in To Build the Life You Want, Create the Work You Love, tells the story of a fabulously wealthy king who had a son whom he totally adored. The boy was bright and handsome – perfect in every way – except one: he had a severely hunched back.

This saddened the king very much. So he proclaimed that a huge reward would go to the person who figured out how to heal the boy’s back. Many months passed without a solution. Wise men and women with what they believed to be good ideas traveled to the palace from all over the region. But no one knew what to do. No one came up with a satisfactory solution.

Then one day, a famous teacher happened into the kingdom and heard about the problem. “I don’t want your reward,” she said, “but I do have your answer.”

This was her advice: “In the center of your courtyard, you must construct a sculpture – an exact replica of your dear son, with one exception: Its’ back must be straight and lovely in appearance. That is all. Trust God for the healing.”

With that the famous teacher disappeared and the king’s artisans began their work on the statue. In a short time, a beautiful marble sculpture sat in the center of the courtyard. Every day as the little boy played, he studied the figure admiringly.

He began to feel, “Why, that’s me! That looks exactly like me.” Every day, the prince gazed lovingly at the sculpture until he identified with it.

Bit by bit the boy’s back straightened. One day, a year so later, as the king watched his son frolicking in the gardens, he noticed that the boy’s back had begun to straighten. In time it was totally healed. The young boy’s identification with the marble sculpture had been so complete that he believed it represented him – straight back and all. His body obeyed his belief.

It is obviously just a story, but it is a story pregnant with truth. That on which you focus your primary attention has the power to mould your life. As King Solomon of ancient Israel once said, “As you think within yourself, so you are” (Proverbs 23:7).

The difference between an optimist and a pessimist is perspective. I have known people with something as minor as an ingrown toenail wail and complain vociferously, “How could God allow this to happen to me?” I have also known people with a terminal illness praise God for every blessing they have because they are optimists. As Winston Churchill once explained the difference between the two this way, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Why is having the right perspective in life so important? For one thing, it teaches you that happiness comes not from what you have but from what you are. The mind that is stretched by a new idea never returns to its original dimensions.

There is a tremendous difference between the way optimists and pessimists view life. Optimists count their blessings; pessimists discount theirs. Optimists see their glass as being half full; pessimists see their glass as being half empty. Optimists have no brakes; pessimists have no motor. In other words, if you keep your face toward the sunshine you will never see the shadows.

God has performed miracles in the lives of many people, and He can do it again – in your life! It may not be His will to give you the specific miracle for which you have prayed. He does not always heal every person’s body that has been diagnosed as being terminally ill. But in the world to come He will provide total healing. At that time “there will no longer be any death, or mourning, or crying, or pain . . . for the former things will have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

That is the ultimate reason why having the right perspective is so important!

 

Once when President Franklin Roosevelt was preparing a speech, he needed some economic statistics to back up a point he was trying to make. His advisers said it would take six months to get accurate figures. “In that case, I’ll just use these rough estimates,” FDR said, and he wrote down some numbers in his text. “They’re reasonable figures and they support my point. Besides,” he added as an afterthought, “it will keep my critics busy for at least six months just to prove me wrong.”

It is only a mild kind of disregard for truth that is far too common on the part of those who are elected to serve in public office. And this is true all the way from the county court house to the White House and in both houses of Congress in Washington, D.C. The tragedy is that what begins as the careless handling of the truth ultimately becomes a willing, deliberate, and habitual distortion of truth. The lack of truth breeds distrust.

God’s Word calls for Christians to always be people of truth. “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ . . . . .Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:15,25).

There are at least four benefits of always speaking the truth:

First, you will not have to portray a false image. I have often said of a person, “What you see is what you get.” And I like that trait! Truth tellers don’t have to maintain a facade. They are real. You can count on what they say. They know that those who think a white lie is permissible quickly become colorblind to truth.

Second, you won’t have to worry about the truth being discovered. When you tell the truth, you don’t have to face the fear of contradicting yourself later. Politicians live with this fear, or at least they should! The practice of making promises in order to get elected, and then forgetting those promises once they are elected, is all too common in the political arena. Politicians do not have a monopoly on the habit of fabricating or stretching truth by any means. People in every area of public life are guilty of this.

Sam Stephens, a man in my hometown in Georgia in the 1940’s, enjoyed fishing. He also loved to exaggerate the number and size of the fish he caught. People knew Sam’s reputation, so they made up a story that would teach him a lesson. According to the fabricated story Sam’s neighbor’s wife had a baby, and Dr. W.F. Massey, our family physician, delivered the baby at home. The pair of scales with which Dr. Massey usually weighed newborns was broken, so he went next door and borrowed Sam’s fish scales. The newborn baby girl weighed 49 pounds and thirteen ounces. Sam’s habit of stretching the truth to embellish his reputation as a fisherman took quite a hit. Lies, like chickens, always come home to roost.

Third, you will have freedom from guilt. Unfortunately some people have lied so frequently their conscience has been anesthetized. But most of us know what guilt feels like, and it is miserable. King David described it best when he said, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your (God’s) hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). He had learned that when you have a clear conscience, you will also have peace of mind.

Fourth, truthfulness honors God. “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence” (Psalm 101:7). God honors those who have a truthful heart. The lack of truthfulness is one of the major reasons relationships break down – with others or with God.

Telling the truth is not always popular, but it is always right.