Archive for January, 2012

I spent almost the entire summer in 1946 picking cotton while living with Uncle Bennie and Aunt Lillie Mae on their farm. Most farmers in middle Georgia in those days did not yet own a tractor – including Uncle Bennie. He provided for his family by plowing and tending his fields with two mules – and they both had names: Maude and Claude.

After a hard day’s work out in the fields Maude and Claude were brought into the lot and promptly unhitched from the plow. They were then fed and watered before being shut up in the barn for the night. Maude was ready at the end of each day for a good night’s rest, but Claude still had lots of energy. As soon as he finished eating, he would go around behind Maude and back up in her direction. She knew what he had on his mind, so she would simply walk away.

Claude, however, would not give up easily. Why he did this I will never know, but he would keep on backing up until he got close enough to give her a swift kick in the rear. This was amusing to me. Needless to say, it was definitely not amusing to Maude. This scene would just keep repeating itself until Uncle Bennie closed them up for the night in the barn.

Claude was a hard-working and cooperative worker – as long as he was hitched to a plow with a bit in his mouth so he could be controlled. He would move to the right when the command “gee” was given, and move left when the command “ha” was spoken. He would stop when Uncle Bennie said “whoa.” However, when turned loose in the lot after he had been fed and with Maude locked into his radar, he was deviously mischievous – and, as they say, “stubborn as a mule.”

In those days when mules were treated gently, fed adequately, properly shod, and shown kindness, they provided the means by which farmers fed their families. It would have been taking your life into your own hands, however, to stand in close proximity to Claude when he was in a kicking mood and had Maude in his rear view mirror. Unlike Claude, she was never mischievous, always gentle, a hard worker, and responsive to every spoken direction.

Since that summer in 1946 I’ve often thought about Maude and Claude. They remind me of some of the church members I have known. I am grateful for those who had a disposition like Maude, for they always responded affirmatively when called upon to serve in some capacity. They had a good spirit because they loved the Lord and their church, were hard workers, and could be counted upon to do a superb job. Without them the churches I have served would not have succeeded in accomplishing the mission Christ assigned to His church nearly as well as they did.

Some church members, however, have been more like Claude – even after doing some things right, they spent a lot of their time and energy backing up and kicking their fellow Christians. Those who can – do. Those who can’t – criticize. Finding fault, criticizing, and knocking fellow Christians sidetracks a church from fulfilling its divinely assigned mission.

The truth is that all of us have a little of Claude in us at times – even if we do not like to admit it. The apostle certainly knew that. Perhaps that is why he wrote to the church in Corinth, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:27).

Christians who choose to grow toward spiritual maturity must discipline themselves. Mules do not have much choice in the matter. You and I, however, do have a choice, for God made us in His image. This means we are free moral agents. We are free to either serve God or to serve ourselves. In order to serve God well, we must be disciplined.

Our part is to choose to be disciplined. God’s part is to supply the power, and He will do that. This involves two things: (1) we must listen to the Holy Spirit’s direction, and (2) we must be obedient to the teaching found in God’s Word. No one can do our listening for us. And no one can be obedient for us. God is willing to do His part. We must also do our part.


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PJ Media recently carried an interesting article written by Dr. Jerry Kieschnick, President Emeritus of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.  It was the story of a woman named Pam who experienced the pain that countless women in our country have felt when they were considering having an abortion.  She and her husband Bob were serving as missionaries to the Philippines and were praying for a fifth child.

Pam contacted amoebic dysentery, an infection of the intestine caused by a parasite found in contaminated food or drink.  She went into a coma and was treated with strong antibiotics before her physicians discovered that she was pregnant.  The doctors urged her to abort the baby for her own safety and told her that the medicines had caused irreversible damage to her baby.  She refused to have an abortion and cited her Christian faith.  She held in her heart the hope that her son would be born without the devastating disabilities her doctors predicted.  She said the doctors thought of the baby she was carrying as a mass of fetal tissue, not as a human being.

In the weeks that followed Pam nearly lost the baby four times, but she still refused to have an abortion.  She and her husband made this pledge to God in prayer: “If You will give us a son, we will name him Timothy and train him to become a preacher.”

Pam’s pregnancy was so difficult that she spent the last two months in bed.  She eventually gave birth to a healthy baby boy on August 14, 1987.  Later on, just as she and her husband had planned, Timothy did indeed become a preacher.  Today he preaches in prisons, makes hospital visits, witnesses to others daily of his faith, and periodically serves with his father’s ministry in the Philippines.  He also happens to play football.  His name is Tim Tebow.

Tim was the star quarterback for the Florida Gators that won the NCAA National Championship.  He was the first sophomore in history to win college football’s highest award, the Heisman Trophy.  His current role as quarterback of the Denver Broncos has provided an incredible platform for Christian witness.

Tim bows after every touchdown and at the end of each game to offer thanks to God for the gift of life and for the opportunity to share his faith.  The news media calls this “Tebowing.”  This public and unashamed witness of his faith out on the field of play is often criticized by those who do not understand his sincerity.  The concerted effort in our secular world to push the expression of Christian faith out of the public square doesn’t stop him from sharing his faith.

In the black that athletes place below their eyes to cut down the glare of the bright field lights Tim always prints the words, John 3:16.  In a recent playoff game against the vaunted Pittsburg Steelers his passing yards, including the winning 80 yard touchdown pass in overtime that won the game, totaled 316.  Was this just a coincidence?  Or was God rewarding his faithfulness in a unique way?

What if Tim’s mother had died as a result of continuing her pregnancy in 1987?  What if she had taken her doctor’s advice and consented to have an abortion?  Also, how many other healthy and active leaders would we have today in every field – medicine, education, science, business, etc. – if only millions of healthy fetuses had not been willingly and needlessly terminated before they had a chance to live?  These are questions worth considering.

Say what you will about Tim Tebow’s ability to play quarterback, but we should honor the way God heard and answered the prayers of Mrs. Pam Tebow.  We should also recognize and appreciate the powerful witness that her son gives to the world of the limitless love of God.

In the words that Paul Harvey made famous, “And now you know the rest of the story!”

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It is fascinating to study the migration of birds.  Take, for example, the Pacific Golden Plover.  They are hatched in northlands of Alaska and Siberia.  Before the young ones are old enough to fly great distances, the old birds desert them and fly far away to the Hawaiian Islands.  The young birds are left behind to grow strong enough to follow their parents.

When the young birds that are left behind are fully mature they rise into the sky and set their course out over the Pacific Ocean.  They have never made the journey before, but they must cross two thousand miles of ocean on their way to their destination.  During their trip they do not have even one opportunity for food or rest, and they frequently encounter high winds and storms.  Yet they fly straight to those tiny specks in the Pacific known as the Hawaiian Islands.

How do you explain the flight of these birds?  Surely they are equipped with what we today call a Global Positioning System (GPS).  What is fascinating to me about this is that God has also made the same kind or provision for those who serve Him.  When our lives are in harmony with His will, even though we cannot see the way ahead, we have an instinctive sense of the right direction and, with courage and confidence, we move steadily ahead through life without fear.  We know that, even through life’s storms and uncertainties, we shall arrive at the destination God has provided for us.

The Bible says that this is the assurance every believer can possess: “In all your ways acknowledge him (God) and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6 NIV).  This relieves us of the burden of the responsibility of tomorrow.  We have all made mistakes in our yesterdays, and we can both be forgiven of them and learn from them.  But when we turn our face toward the dim unknown tomorrow, God has promised to give the level of guidance that we need.  If we follow His will, God says to us, “I will accept responsibility for whatever happens.”

After Jesus on the cross said, “It is finished,” He then said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46 NIV).  His statement was an expression of total faith.  He had done His best.  He had given His all.  He had fulfilled the mission for which He came into the world.  Now He was willing to leave the results in God’s hands.

Because Christians have a continuing faith relationship with God, we can say with the hymn writer, “Keep thou my feet: I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step is enough for me.”  God does not usually make known His will for years ahead.  Instead, He shows us one step at a time, and as we take that step, it will lead us in the direction He would have us go.

When you leave where you are in the middle of the darkest night and head for a destination a hundred miles or more away, the headlights on your automobile will only reveal what is directly in front of you.  They will not shine all the way to your destination.  But if you keep following what your headlights reveal, you will reach your destination. In this way God reveals our path one day at a time.

To be in the center of God’s will, and to trust Him implicitly, does not mean that we will be immune to the kind of tragedies and conflicts that often happen in life.  It simply means that God’s guidance can be trusted as we face them, and that we need not fear.  Also, God’s will for us is not limited to our time on earth.  He plans in terms of eternity.  He has promised that those who trust Him will reach beyond earth into eternity.

Jesus said to His disciples, “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 may always be where I am” (John 14:2-3 NIV).

Just as the Pacific Golden Plover flies to a destination where they have never been, every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has a destination.  We have never been there before, but it is our Savior’s promise.  It is the EPS (Eternity Positioning System) that God installs in every believer’s heart.  At a time of God’s own choosing it will guide us to our prepared destination.

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The annual budget year for most churches runs from January 1st through December 31st.  This means that the old budget year is now over, and a new budget year has begun.  This means that efforts are currently underway by churches to undergird all the ministries and programs that have been proposed for the year we have just entered.  Dreams are realized only at the price of dedication and effort.  This is as true of churches as it is of individuals.

One reason churches fail to meet budgeted goals is that a budget is looked upon in terms of dollars and cents, not in terms of evangelism, outreach, and ministry.  Another reason is that a sizeable number of members often give little or nothing.   They find tithing, the giving of a tenth of their income to the Lord, difficult because they try to give their eleventh tenth, not their first tenth.

When church budgets are not met, the dreams that have been dreamed cannot come to fruition.  Church leadership is forced to make adjustments, to whittle down the size of dreams, and some of the things that should be done never get done.  The church staff and lay persons in leadership positions are put under the pressure of meeting every goal when funds are short.

The great English pastor Stephen Olford once told the story of a circus athlete who earned his living by displaying astonishing feats of physical strength.  His show would normally conclude with a simple, but impressive, demonstration of his ability to squeeze an orange dry.  After completing his act, he would then challenge his audience to produce anyone who could extract even one drop of juice from the crushed fruit.

On one of these occasions, a little man volunteered.  He was so small in stature that his very appearance raised a laugh from the spectators.  Undaunted however, the man stepped onto the stage and took from the athlete what appeared to be nothing more than a shriveled up piece or orange rind.  Then bracing himself, he slowly and firmly compressed his right hand.  Every eye was on him, and the atmosphere was electric.

A moment or two elapsed, and then, to everyone’s amazement – especially that of the athlete – a drop of orange juice formed and dripped to the floor.  As the cheers subsided, the athlete beckoned the man to come forward, asked his name, and then invited him to tell the crowd how he managed to develop such fistic powers.

“Nothing to it,” replied the man.  Then, with a grin, he added, “I happen to be the treasurer of the local Baptist Church.”  Church treasurers have had lots of experience squeezing budgets all the way to the end of the year.  Church treasurers in Baptist churches are not the only ones who have had to work hard to keep the money from running out before the end of the year.  If every church member practiced good stewardship this would not be a problem.

Maybe you have heard the story of a minister who was called by the Internal Revenue Service concerning a member of his church who was being audited and had reported on his income tax form that he had given $5,000 to the church.  The IRS wanted to know if this was true.

The pastor replied, “I don’t have the records before me, and I will have to check on it.  But I’ll tell you this – if he didn’t, he will!”

If you genuinely want your church to fulfill its divinely assigned mission, I encourage you to be faithful to it in every way – with your prayers, your witness, your attendance, the sharing of your talents, and in the giving of your material means.  It is the only way your church will be able to succeed in carrying out our Lord’s Great Commission (see Matthew 28:18-20).

Ask yourself this question: “If every member of my church was just like me, what kind of church would my church be?”

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