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A few years ago, newspapers and television networks carried a news story that literally grabbed my attention. It involved a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Seattle. There is nothing unusual about an airplane flight, for thousands of passenger planes are in the air over our country at all times. But this flight had an interesting passenger on board – a huge pig. I had not heard of a flying pig before – even in comic books.

Two passengers convinced the airline representative that the pig needed to fly with them as a “therapeutic companion pet” – like a seeing-eye dog – so the US Airways representative decided to permit the pig to sit with them in the first-class cabin of the plane. It was a decision he was destined to regret – and it didn’t take long for a high level of regret to begin.

Passengers described the 300-pound pig as “enormous, brown, angry, and honking.” He was seated in three seats near the front of the plane, but the attendants reportedly had difficulty strapping him in: “He became restless after takeoff and began to saunter through the cabin,” one passenger said. “He kept rubbing his nose on people’s legs trying to get them to give him some food and to stroke him.”

Upon landing, things only got worse. The pig panicked, running up and down through economy class and squealing. Many passengers, also screaming, stood on their seats. It took four attendants to escort the beast off the plane. And when they reached the terminal, the pig escaped only to be recaptured in another part of the airport. When asked to comment on the story, US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said, “We can confirm that the pig traveled, and we can confirm that it will never happen again.”

Have you ever had a day like the one the pig’s fellow passengers had? Who hasn’t? You have undoubtedly never been on a flight that had a 300-pound pig on board, but you have probably made a decision about something you regretted and later said, “That will never happen again.” Every day we make decisions, big and small, that determine our future. Decisions determine our destiny. It only stands to reason that the best way to minimize your regrets is to learn how to make good decisions, quality decisions. This is true in every area of life – especially with regard to our relationships with others.

There are three decisions we should make concerning our relationships that are always right:

Decide to apologize when you are wrong. “I’m sorry!” When was the last time you uttered these two words? More important, when was the last time you knew you needed to apologize, and didn’t? One of the most productive decisions you will ever make is to apologize when you are wrong. Saying “I’m sorry” has the power to repair harm, mend relationships, soothe wounds, and heal broken hearts. It has the power to both disarm others of their anger and prevent further misunderstandings. An apology involves three R’s: Responsibility – “I know I hurt your feelings”; Regret – “I feel terrible that I hurt you”; Remedy – “I won’t do it again.”

Decide to tell the truth when tempted not to. Telling the truth is better than telling a lie. A lie may help you to escape from a problem momentarily, but it contains within itself the seed that will sooner or later reap a harvest of difficulty. Therefore, always tell the truth – even when you are tempted not to do so.

Decide always to give your best. When you decide to give your best, it is because you are emphasizing the importance of serving the best interest of others. When you give less than your best, it is because you are looking out for your own interests. The reward you receive from serving others is the satisfaction you have in your own heart. The roots of happiness grow deepest in the soil of service.

 

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“What does God look like, daddy?” a preschool child asked his father. It is the kind of question small children often ask without any warning whatsoever – and usually at a time when fathers least expect it. Trying to sound wise, dads would probably stall for time and search for a suitable answer, one that a four-year-old can understand. They would swallow hard, and say something like, “Well, what do you think God looks like?”

“I don’t know,” the child might say. “But you know what God looks like, don’t you, daddy?” At this point fathers find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They either ignore their child’s curiosity or change the subject (and miss a golden opportunity), or they deal with the question in an honest and forthright manner.

If a father is asked this question and is wise, he will seriously ponder it, “What does God look like?” How can he answer his child’s question correctly and intelligently? He tosses it over and over in his mind until he realizes that it is not just a question children ask. Adults also need to know what God looks like.

Anyone who wants to see a portrait of God needs to look no further than the opening statements of the gospel of John in the New Testament. John declares that God came to earth in human flesh as a baby and later walked among us. In an amazing touch of wonder this Galilean carpenter – fully divine and fully human – walked the dusty streets of first-century Palestine. He wore our skin. He showed how great our Creator’s love is and how far He would go to make reconciliation and redemption not just possible, but available, for sinful humankind. To be in the Son’s presence was to be in the presence of God. Every place He went, God was there. Every person He healed was healed by God. He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

God did more than come near — He came here. He left His footprints in our sand. He breathed the air we breathe. His tears spotted our dirt. He was nailed to a Roman cross made of wood that had grown as a tree out of the earth’s soil where we live. His blood spilled from that cross to the ground on which I personally walked in 1973 when I was in Israel. It is not that He was “like us.” He became one “of us” — born of woman.

I tried to express these thoughts in a poem I wrote in 1981 that I entitled, “The King.”

“The rulers of this world march by

In purple and in gold;

They rise, they flourish, and they die,

And their entire story is told;

One king alone is divine,

One banner triumphs still;

He’s King and servant – and His sign

Is a cross on a hill.”

It is time to return to the child’s question, “What does God look like?” He looks just like Jesus!

 

Tell God about it!

Are you deeply bothered by something that you have done in the past? If so, you can stop it! The past is over. It belongs in your yesterdays. The greatest days of your life can start today – if that I what you choose can happen. God wants you to believe that things in your past — whatever they may be, or however difficult you assume them to be – do not have to keep you from having a productive today or a wonderful future.

Consider Moses, the lawgiver and liberator of Israel, to whom God gave the Ten Commandments, who wrote the first five books of the Bible. He was a murderer, and was on Egypt’s Most Wanted List. He became a fugitive and fled to the backside of the wilderness. Though he did not know it at the time, God was just getting him ready for a major assignment.

Or consider King David, the young shepherd boy who killed the giant Goliath of Gath. After David became King of Israel he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed in cold blood. Yet he confessed (see Psalm 51) and was restored to fellowship with God. God did not allow his past to determine his future. He also has the power to keep problems that happened in your yesterdays from stealing your joys today or from determining what happens in your future.

When Jesus called Simon Peter to follow Him, He knew what a tremendous vessel he would be. Yet, even after three years of intimate fellowship with Jesus, watching Him perform miracles, and listening to Him teach, Peter denied three different times that he ever knew Jesus. It was definitely not one of Simon Peter’s better moments. Jesus not only forgave him, but He called Him back to be a rock and to feed His flock.

Is there anything in your past that paralyzes your potential and fills your heart with shame? If God forgave Moses, King David, and Simon Peter, what makes you think that He will not also forgive you? Confess your past sins to God and ask Him to cleanse your life. He has forgiven everyone who has ever asked Him to do that. He will also forgive you. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9 NIV).

You do not have to live your life in a way that leaves you totally or partially paralyzed by past decisions and/or actions. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone goes through adversity, rejection, and reversal at one time or another. God’s Word says we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It also reminds us that sin – any sin, all sin – if confessed – will be forgiven. You can believe it.

Have you been hurt? Tell God about it!

Have you been criticized? Tell God about it!

Have you been betrayed? Tell God about it!

Have you wronged another person? Tell God about it!

Have you sinned against God? Tell Him about it.

It would be impossible to estimate the number of jobs lost, promotions missed, sales not made, opportunities not accepted, friendships destroyed, marriages ruined, and churches divided and detoured from their assigned mission by people without determination, focus, or fortitude who were having a pity party.

If you are held hostage by anything in the past, why not try what the Apostle Paul suggested to the Christians in Thessalonica: “In everything give thanks.”

When you are living on easy street or dwelling down deep in the dumps, give thanks. In prosperity or in poverty, give thanks. In health or in pain, give thanks. “Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting” (Psalm 100:4-5). When you are able and are willing to demonstrate gratitude, God will give you a new attitude. He or she who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness.

When your outlook is bad, I recommend that you try the “up look.” Nothing is outside the reach of prayer except that which is outside the will of God. He is greater than any difficulty you have ever had, now have, or will ever face – and He is never more than a prayer away.

In other words, every time you have a problem or a burden, tell God about it!

 

 

The first Monday in September each year is celebrated as Labor Day. The first Labor Day was held in 1882. It became a federal holiday in 1894. All government offices, schools and organizations and many businesses are closed. It is usually viewed as the end of the season when most Americans take their vacations and the beginning of another school year.

Labor Day, oddly enough, is a day when people stop working for a day in order to celebrate the value of work. It is also a good time to recognize that God takes our work seriously. Yes, your work matters to God, and for that reason it has intrinsic value. There are three reasons why this is true:

First, God is a worker. You perhaps have never thought of God in this way. Actually it is as a worker that God makes His first appearance on the pages of Scripture. In Genesis 1 we see the account of God creating the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2:2 calls this activity “work.” It is the same word used for man’s work in the Ten Commandments. Since the time of Creation, God has continued to work. Jesus declared to the Pharisees, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17).

Deuteronomy 11:17 tells us that God is working out His purposes in the context of history. He accomplished the great work of atonement at the Cross. As Jesus explained: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). The fact that God calls what He does “work” and calls that work “good” means that work has intrinsic value.

Second, God created people as workers. The beginning words of the book of Genesis tell us that God created man in His image as a worker. “God said, Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26,28-29). Not only is God a worker, but humans are to be workers also. This idea gives dignity to our work. It is valued by God.

Third, God created people to be His coworkers. God planted the Garden of Eden; man cultivated it. The first partnership in history! What an incredible privilege – to work in partnership with God! Does this sound odd to you: an infinite all-powerful, God co-laboring with humans? If that does not give a sense of joy and dignity to the work you do – no matter what it is – I have no idea what would. Genesis implies that you and God are meant to be coworkers throughout life. God “plants”; you and I “cultivate.” That is a partnership.

You and I are junior partners in God’s work. Yet our participation in God’s work makes it our work too. We are co-laborers with God in managing His creation. An omnipotent, sovereign Creator has no need of our labor to accomplish His work. However, He chooses to allow us to participate in His plans. This implies that our work, if it is legitimate work, is actually a function of God’s grace. Legitimate work is any work that contributes to what God wants done in the world — and does not contribute to what He does not want done.

Millions of people today have no joy or sense of fulfillment in their labors. No matter where you earn your paycheck – as a teacher, physician, nurse, athlete, bus driver, pilot, construction worker, grocer, etc. – if you will think of yourself as being God’s partner, you will be surprised how much more fulfilling it will be. If you cannot do what you do in partnership with God, there are plenty of jobs available where you can.

Celebrate this Labor Day by realizing that God is your partner. Go to work on Tuesday filled with joy.

 

In the 1950’s psychiatry and other forms of therapy began to achieve genuine credibility in our nation. Those who followed and employed the teachings of Sigmund Freud believed that when you did something wrong, you did not have to hold yourself responsible. It was somebody else’s fault.

Who was to blame for your problems? Your parents were! “I came from a dysfunctional home. My parents crippled me emotionally. They were too demanding! They set a terrible example for me. I am what I am because of them! Don’t hold me accountable!”

Next came the 1960’s. Our nation was in turmoil caused by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King. Rioting was common in the streets of many of our nation’s largest cities, and a new kind of thinking was born. Those guilty of mischief were saying: “My problems are caused by society! Our world is a bad world. Rioting and looting and the burning of buildings were frequently in the news. People were burning their draft cards and our country’s flag. But individuals doing these things were not responsible. They were saying, “Don’t blame me!”

Following the 1960’s came the 1970’s – sometimes called “The Me Decade.” The 1970’s featured the sexual revolution and the beginning of the breakdown of the traditional family. It was both easy and popular to say, “I’ve got my own life to live! Don’t try to lay a guilt trip on me” – and, “If it feels good, do it!” In other words, “I’m OK; you’re OK.” In fact, that was the title of a very popular counseling book at the time.

In the last thirty or forty years a new concept with regard to personal accountability has been on the throne: “victimhood.” If your house was robbed, you should have had a burglar alarm system. If you were raped, the rapist said it was your fault because you wore clothes that indicated you were asking to be molested. If your car was stolen it was because you parked it in the wrong place, or you left the keys in the ignition. Criminals don’t blame their parents, or society, or themselves. They are victims!

What is missing in these pictures? No one is willing to say, “I am wrong! I have sinned! My problems are my fault! I am responsible!” Shifting the blame has been going on since the beginning of time. Adam blamed Eve for disobeying God, and Eve blamed the serpent. They were not willing to repent.

Repent is a very important word. The syllable “Re” in front of a word means: “to return.” “Re-pent” means: “to go back.” “Pent” is a word meaning “the highest position,” such as a “penthouse.” Thus, the word “repent” means “to go back to the place of highest position.”

The place of highest position for Adam and Eve was their status in the Garden of Eden when they walked together with God. That was before sin destroyed their relationship, and God and mankind were separated. God does not ask us to repent of our sins because He wants to make us feel bad about ourselves, or because He wants to embarrass us. It is because He wants to restore our lost relationship with Him.

Repentance is a word you will not hear used very often by those who stand in today’s pulpits to preach God’s Word. This is a tragedy, for no one – literally no one – can have the benefits of God’s grace without yielding to what He requires of those who would become Christians. Repentance is the road that must be traveled in order to be saved – in other words, to have a restored relationship with God.

Could this be why churches do not have a greater impact upon our culture? Think about it!

 

The belief that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history. Australian aborigines pictured the afterlife as a distant land beyond the western horizon. The early Finns pictured it as an island in the distant east. Peruvians and Polynesians believed they went to the sun or the moon after they die. Native Americans thought they would hunt the spirits of buffalo.

An ancient Babylonian legend refers to a resting place and hints at a tree of life. In the pyramids of Egypt, maps were placed beside the embalmed bodies as guides to the future world. The Romans believed that those who were righteous would picnic in the Elysian Fields while their horses grazed nearby. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, said, “The day you fear as the last is the birthday of eternity.”

Although these conceptions differ in many ways, the unifying factor between them is a belief that life after death is possible. Anthropological studies suggest that in every culture throughout history there has been a belief that this world is not all there is. It was not until the closing days of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ that the dream of and the desire for a meaningful afterlife became more than just a dream and desire.

Jesus, when He knew His crucifixion would soon take place, told His disciples that He was going to leave them. When they heard this, they became deeply troubled. It was at this point that He said to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back, and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3, NIV).

What a fantastic promise! To every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord He makes the possibility of eternal life more than the expression of a dream or an aspiration. According to Jesus, who defeated death by rising from the grave, heaven is a real place. It is not a product of religious imagination, or the result of a psyched-up mentality, looking for “pie in the sky in the by and by.” Heaven is the place where God dwells and where Christ today sits at the right hand of the Father.

Heaven is described in the New Testament as a kingdom (2 Peter 1:11), as an inheritance (I Peter 1:4), as a country (Hebrews 11:16), as a city (Hebrews 11:16), and as a home (John 14:2). Jesus referred to heaven as “My Father’s house.” It is also “home” for all of God’s children. The Greek word that is translated “mansions” in John 14:2 and “abode” in John 14:23 simply means “rooms, abiding places.”

Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3) during His early years on the earth, and now He has returned to glory. He is building His church on the earth and a home for that church in heaven. He promises to return to the earth at a time of God’s choosing. Some redeemed believers will go to heaven through “the valley of the shadow of death”, but those who are alive when Christ returns will never see death (John 11:25-26).

When the apostle John tried to describe heaven, he almost ran out of symbols and comparisons (see Revelation 21-22). Finally, he listed the things that will not be in heaven: death, sorrow, crying, pain, night, etc. What a wonderful home it will be — and those who are redeemed will enjoy it forever along with their loved ones and others who throughout Christian history have already gone to heaven.

Do you have a room reserved in the “Father’s House”? If not, I suggest that you go to a hill called Calvary, repent of your sins, lay them down, accept Christ as your Savior, turn right, and keep straight ahead.

 

J. Allan Petersen’s book, “The Myth of the Greener Grass,” contains a lot of truth that our generation needs to hear. After nearly forty years of counseling married couples, he points out the tragedy caused when one or both partners in a marriage are unfaithful to their marriage vows.

Infidelity is so common that it has invaded Christian churches – in many instances big time. The increased secularization in today’s world, fertilized by a chipping away at society’s established patterns for successful and happy marriages, fewer eyebrows are raised than in prior generations. The head is unbowed. The heart is unbroken. The further one travels on the road toward Sodom the easier the journey becomes.

According to Petersen, “A call for fidelity is like a solitary voice crying in today’s sexual wilderness. What was once labeled adultery and carried a stigma of guilt and embarrassment is now an affair – a nice sounding, almost inviting word wrapped in mystery, fascination, and excitement. A relationship is not a sin. What was once behind the scenes – a secret closely guarded – is now in the headlines, a TV theme, a best seller, as common as a cold. Marriages are open; divorces are viewed as creative.”

Magazine racks, bookshelves, billboards, movie theaters, television and the Internet have all become cesspools for the portrayal of sex outside of marriage. This results in infidelity becoming more common and acceptable. Fidelity, not infidelity, needs defending in our sex-saturated society. People who proclaim and practice the virtues of faithfulness are often regarded as either mid-Victorian or as a religious fanatic.

An article in Redbook Magazine co-authored by Robert J. Levin and Alexander Lowen mentioned three ways in which infidelity can totally destroy the future of any marriage:

First, infidelity causes pain to the other. A solid marriage between a man and a woman is bound together not by law, but by faithfulness. Without singularity of commitment, a marriage tends to fall apart. The cheater’s pleasure causes great pain to the partner who is betrayed.

Second, infidelity masks the real problem. To whatever extent infidelity temporarily relieves the discontent in a marriage by either a husband or a wife, it camouflages the real malady and permits it to grow larger. The betrayed partner either hides the hurt or seeks separation and divorce.

Third, infidelity is destructive of the self. A healthy marriage is never based on deceit. The grass on the other side of the fence may look greener, but it isn’t. The principles that lead to a successful and happy marriage found in God’s Word are right. Infidelity by a marriage partner is not just an affair. It is adultery. And it has serious consequences.

Marital infidelity at its core is dishonesty and a sin – a sin against the marriage partner, a sin against God, and a sin in the life of the guilty partner. But even after that, there is a way a broken marriage can be healed. Healing can only happen through total and honest confession of sin. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8). Notice that the word is “all” unrighteousness, not just “some” unrighteousness.

Healing can take place only if and when the partner who has sinned submits to God for cleansing, and the injured partner accepts his or her sincerity. Then the two of them together must totally rededicate themselves and their marriage to God and to each other in a way that will produce consistent spiritual growth. It is a starting over, and with God’s help it will work. I have in counseling situations seen it happen.