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Archive for October, 2011

So you want to be successful in life?  Every normal person does.  But what is success?  Using your own definition, what would it take for you to be successful in life?

The truth is: If you believe you will succeed you will; if you do not believe you will succeed, you won’t!  What your mind can conceive, you can achieve.  It also helps to know that God wants you to succeed.

You cannot stumble into success any more than you can stumble into the gates of heaven.  Success is not a destination – it is a lifelong journey.  You will never have what you are not willing to pursue.  Success always comes as a conquest – not as a bequest. The ingredients that lead to any desired goal are planning, preparation, persistence, and sometimes also pain.

Multitudes of people in our world define success as having lots of money.  If you are among those who believe that, you need to consider these facts:

  • Money can buy you a multi-million dollar house, but it cannot buy you a home filled with love, or earn for you the respect of your family members.
  • Money can buy you the services of the finest physicians and hospitals in the land, but it cannot buy you the God-given gift of health.
  • Money can buy you an almost endless amount of material things, but it cannot buy you a single minute of rest or inner peace.
  • Money will attract legions of people to you, but it cannot buy you a true friend.
  • Money has the power to buy enough books to fill a huge library, but it cannot give you the desire to read them and profit from the knowledge they contain.
  • Money can buy a crucifix to wear around your neck, or perhaps a pew in your church, but it cannot buy you a ticket to heaven.
  • The person who has no money is considered poor; the person who has nothing but money is poorer still.

In 1923 a group of the world’s most successful financiers met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago.  Collectively, they controlled more wealth than was in the United States Treasury at that time.  By the world’s standard they were considered very successful, but there is more to the story.

Twenty-seven years later this is what had happened to seven of them:

  • Jesse Livermore, the greatest bear on Wall Street, committed suicide.
  • Leon Fraser, the president of the Bank of International Settlement, committed suicide.
  • Ivar Kruegar, the head of the world’s greatest monopoly, committed suicide.
  • Charles Schwab, the president of the largest independent steel company, lived on borrowed money the last five years of his life and died penniless.
  • Arthur Cutten, the greatest wheat speculator, died abroad insolvent.
  • Richard Whitney, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, had just been released after having served time in Sing Sing Prison.
  • Albert Fall, a member of a president’s cabinet, was pardoned from prison so he could die at home.

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When he began his career, he was a seventeen-year-old refugee who had $100 in his pocket and an unquenchable desire to succeed in life.  His family had lost a huge fortune when they were forced to flee their homeland, and now he had arrived half way around the world in South America attempting to start over.

Within five years, he had not only earned his first million, he had refined his skills and developed a reputation as a ruthless, determined, and fearless man. The world was going to hear a lot more about this man.
He lived his life surrounded by luxury and beautiful women, and was devoted to pagan pleasures and a hedonistic lifestyle.  At the pinnacle of his power, in 1973, his estimated worth was more than one billion dollars.  This included immense real estate holdings, a priceless art collection, and the world’s most luxurious yacht.

His marital and extramarital affairs were the talk of the world’s press, and in 1968 he shocked the world by marrying the widow of an assassinated American president.  The philosophy of Aristotle Onassis was captured in one succinct statement: “All that really counts these days is money.  It’s the people with money who are the royalty now.”

It was at this point that his world crumbled.  In 1973, his twenty-four-year-old son, Alexander, was killed in a plane crash.  And when he died, so did Aristotle Onassis’s reason for living.  He was never the same after that.  According to his biographer, “Onassis seemed to lose all hope with the death of Alexander.  Alexander was his hope and he said to everyone that he could see no sense in living any longer.”

Time Magazine quoted one of his associates as saying, “He aged overnight.  He suddenly became an old man.  In business negotiations, he was uncharacteristically absent-minded, irrational, and petulant.”

His health very quickly began to fail and rumors spread that guilt and grief for his son had dulled his sharp business acumen.  A combination of his apparent loss of interest, the Arab oil embargo, and some uncharacteristically bad decisions drove his fortune down from one billion dollars to somewhere between 200 and 500 million in one year’s time.  Not long thereafter, Onassis himself died.

It is a sad story.  It is the kind of story that is happening every day in our world where people invest their lives in things that do not last.  As one writer at the time commented, “He was a man who prided himself in getting everything he ever really wanted in his life, but he was often morose, misanthropic, and acrimonious.  He continually followed one tenet of his own religion at all costs – to fulfill his own well-being, and yet he only truly wanted what he could not purchase.”

I am reminded of the message on a wall plaque that that I have seen:

“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

It is a plaque well worth hanging on the walls of every heart.  If your world revolves around the acquisition of material things, you would do well to recognize that things do not last.  What you have accumulated and have built your life around – all of it – will be left behind when you come to the end of your earthly journey.

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Dr. Olin T. Binkley, under whose guidance I studied Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary over fifty years ago, wrote in a helpful guide, How to Study the Bible: “We do not make the Bible relevant to the most urgent issues confronting us.  It is relevant.”  Even so, in today’s world many are asking, “How do you reconcile the Bible with modern science?”

In other words, how can divine revelation and human research be reconciled?  Perhaps we should begin by saying that the Bible is a record of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind.  It is a religious (theological) document, not a laboratory manual.  Science can inquire into God’s creation, clarify its nature, classify its species, rearrange its order, and capture its power and glory.  Yet science can only obey God’s command to “multiply and subdue” the earth.

Scientists can smash atoms, change solid substances into gasses and liquids, and work with substances that have been provided by nature. Yet, they cannot explain Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God.”  Neither can they create original matter.  For too long Christians have criticized, even rejected, men and women who are scientists, and rationalists have sneered at religion.  When we understand the Bible’s message and intent properly, we must acknowledge that both theologians and scientists depend upon divine grace.

Writers of the New Testament were clear about their task. “We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 NIV).  The early Christians were merely testifying to the reality of their own personal encounter with God.  God Himself is the Bible’s central character.

The Bible offers an eternal, universal word of hope to a sinful humanity.  It does not attempt to tell us everything we want to know.  Isaiah, for example, said, “Truly you are a God who hides Himself” (45:15 NIV).  Job cried out to God: “If only I knew where to find you” (23:3).  The apostle Paul admitted: “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV).

The Bible may not contain everything we wish to know, but it does communicate clearly all that we need to know of life on the earth in the here and now and beyond.  It leaves room for reverent wonder, patient research, as well as commitment to God.

When I pick up my Bible and read from its pages I often discover a truth I have never seen before.  I say to myself, “Since I have read that passage many times, why haven’t I been captured by this truth until now?”  What has been in my life an “old, old story” often finds a way to become real in a new way that is relevant to what is happening at that very moment.

Part of the wonder of God’s Word is that we are participants in its message, not merely spectators.  As we read of Adam, Cain, the generation of Noah, the time when the Israelites danced around the image of a calf fashioned out of gold, King Saul’s missed opportunities, David’s lust, Peter’s cursing and denial, and Martha’s tears at her brother’s death, we can see ourselves.

The Bible finds us and speaks to us where we are.  It contains God’s revelation of Himself over a period of around fourteen hundred years, yet its message is not old and out of date.  It speaks to us in a powerful way because its characters are so believable and are like ourselves.  The Bible is not a fetish or good luck charm.  Rather, it is a light for our daily lives.

I recommend that you read and study the Bible systematically in a new translation.  As you do so, pray for the Holy Spirit to interpret God’s will and apply to your life the truth found on its pages.  Since it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible in the first place, and since it is the Holy Spirit’s mission to bear witness of Christ, He will lead you to Calvary where you can find your way home.

The Bible’s message is as relevant today as it ever was! The most desirable time to read it is as often as possible.  Keep it open and you will never find the door of heaven shut.

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Of all the descriptions of love found in I Conthians 13, the one that probes more deeply and challenges most strongly says, “Love does not seek its own” (verse 5). In other words, love is deliberately and intensely selfless. “Looking out for number one,” however, has become extremely popular in our world.

An example of this can be seen in what happened on New Year’s Day, 1967. A military officer, Colonel Jean-Bekel Bokassa, seized power in the Central African Republic, claiming that he did so to keep the Communists from seizing power.

His country was small, landlocked, and underdeveloped, and had the dubious distinction of being one of the poorest nations on earth. Its 2.2 million inhabitants had a per capita income of only $110 a year, and the literacy rate was about eight percent.

Bokassa, however, was filled with a sense of self-importance. He named himself president for life and awarded himself so many medals that he needed a specially designed coat to wear them all. He began to amass a huge fortune at the same time his country was defaulting on debts and sliding into bankruptcy. His people were held in check by a system of military terrorism.

His aspirations knew no limit, for he became convinced that he was a modern Napoleon. In December, 1976, he proclaimed himself Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Empire. His coronation cost more than 30 million dollars, about half his country’s gross national product.

He gave himself such gifts as a six-foot diamond scepter, a twenty-four foot red velvet robe, and a two-ton gold-plated throne. A television reporter asked him how he could justify such expenditure and he replied, “One cannot create a great history without great sacrifices.” Of course he wasn’t the one making any sacrifices.

Needless to say, Emperor Bokassa is no longer with us. His citizens finally rose up in anger and slew him. It is a tragic story, but it is not an unusual one. There is a sense in which he is the archetypal modern man. When Paul tells us that “love does not seek its own,” we find ourselves asking, “Its own what?” I believe he is referring to our reputation, our rights, our fulfillment, our possessions, etc. Love, God’s love, is radically other-centered.

The great Russian novelist Dostoevski once wrote, “To love a person means to see him as the person God intended him to be.” This is a beautiful insight, but it does not go quite far enough. To love a person is not only to see him in that way, but to act so that he will become the person God intends him to be.

Any person who looks out for his or her own interests while giving no consideration to the interests of others cannot act in love. This attitude is beautifully demonstrated in the classified advertisement that appeared in a rural New York newspaper several years ago:

   “Farmer, age 38, wishes to meet a woman about 30 who owns a tractor. In replying, please enclose picture of tractor.”

He was obviously more interested in getting a tractor than he was in getting married. He likely died many years later a very lonely man! I have never met a young woman who would marry a man who was more interested in gaining a tractor than in having a wife.

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