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Archive for May, 2012

A couple came by a Baptist parsonage on Saturday afternoon and asked if the pastor would marry them.  The bride was wearing a veil and the pastor could not see her face.  Following the ceremony, the groom said, “Preacher, how much do I owe you?”

“There is no charge,” the pastor replied.

“But I want to show my appreciation,” the groom said, and he gave him five dollars.

At this point the bride took off her veil, and the minister, seeing her face, gave him three dollars change.

It feels good to laugh, doesn’t it?  Some people have the idea that Christians ought always to be serious – that you aren’t supposed to laugh, that the longer your face is the more dedicated you are.  If having a long face is what qualifies you to be a dedicated Christian the two mules with which my Uncle Bennie plowed his fields back in the late 1940’s were the most dedicated Christians I have ever known.

In recent years the medical profession has been taking a second look at the place of humor in the health and healing process of the human body. Dr. Raymond A. Moody, Jr., a former practicing physician in Charlottesville, Virginia wrote a book entitled Laugh after Laugh in which he discusses the place of laughter or humor in the healing process of the human body.  In his book he mentioned how philosopher and speaker, Norman Cousins, had developed a life-threatening disease for which there was no known cure.

Cousins checked out of the hospital and into a cheerful environment in a hotel.  He began to watch funny movies, especially old candid camera programs.  He found that one ten-minute period of laughter gave him two hours of painless sleep.  Ten years later, by changing his dietary habits and laughing as long and as often as he wanted he was functioning at the maximum level, reversing all previous medical predictions.

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard many years ago warned against what he called the “stupidly serious” and pointed to the profound nature of humor.  And Abraham Lincoln, whom we usually think of as an ultra-serious leader was a teller of many funny stories.  One day a horse Lincoln was riding got his back foot hung in the stirrup.  Lincoln looked down, saw what had happened, and said to the horse, “Here, if you’re going to get on, I’m going to get off.”

Since we believe humor and laughing are important, what does the Bible have to say on the subject?  You may be surprised.  For example, Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  And many other Proverbs also suggest the importance of having a cheerful outlook on life.

The Bible contains a lot of humor.  For example, the seventeenth chapter of Genesis tells the story of Abraham and Sarah.  God told Abraham when he was one hundred years old that his ninety year old wife was going to have a baby.  Abraham broke out with what most people today would call a belly laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding!”  And when Sarah was told that she would bear a child, she also broke out with laughter.  I can imagine her saying to God, “Have a baby with that old man!  Surely, God, you can’t be serious.”

Moving to the New Testament you see Jesus telling the story of a man who had a 2×4 board sticking out of his eye who meets a man who is rubbing his eye.  The man with a 2×4 in his eye gets right in the other man’s face, and says, “Hey, you have a speck in your eye.  Let me get it out for you.”  Wouldn’t you have laughed?  Certainly you would.

The most common type of humor used by Jesus was irony.  Irony is the kind of humor that shows the glaring inconsistency of something or the strangeness of a situation.  The Lord knows there is enough inconsistent behavior in all of us to keep us laughing for a lifetime.  If you don’t know how to laugh, I recommend that you learn.  You will enjoy life much more than those Christians who think the longer your face is the more pious and dedicated you are.

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Do you ever get down on yourself?  It happens to all of us at times.  It happens when we believe we do not measure up to our own standards, when we fail to do what we planned, when we compulsively repeat old habits we thought we had left behind, when our dreams are not fulfilled, and when our hopes are not realized.

At such times the “if onlys” of past days invade the “what ifs” of the present and robs our joy.  “If only I had done things differently . . . if only I had gone to college . . . If only I had not married the person I married . . . if only  I had used more wisdom . . . if only  I had been stronger . . .  If . . . if . . . if . . .” becomes a dirge of self-incrimination and the joy of living is lost.

Because we have the ability to remember things we said or did in the past we have a tremendous capacity for self-scrutiny.  The memory of past failures, of the things we did that we should not have done, and the things we should have done that we did not do, rush to the front of our consciousness.  Discouragement and depression set in.

Our conscience shakes an accusing finger in our face.  Self-condemnation takes over and self-esteem drains out.  It is at such times that we become very vulnerable and far more likely to do things we said we would never do.  The end result is that we are made to feel knee high to a grasshopper.  It becomes easy for us to treat others harshly because we have a low image of ourselves.

It is extremely difficult to get up for life when we are down on ourselves, isn’t it?  What would it take in times of self-condemnation to develop a whole new picture of ourselves as loved and lovable, as forgiven and forgiving?  If we would do that, it would make a tremendous difference.

Henri Bergson said in one of his books that it is the function of the brain not just to remember but to also forget.  But why do we so easily forget things we want to remember and remember things we definitely need to forget?  Why does one failure stick in our memory so strongly when hundreds of achievements are so easily forgotten?

Some people spend lots of money attending courses in an attempt to improve their memory, but I have never heard of anyone attending a course that teaches you to forget.  How does one develop the ability to forget what should be forgotten?  It is the things that we wish we could forget that creates chaos in families and divisions in churches.

A healthy forgetter can only be developed by the power of forgiveness.  The memory of our failures can only be erased by learning how to accept God’s forgiveness and by choosing to forgive ourselves.  We see this supremely demonstrated in the encounter by Jesus with a woman who was caught in adultery (John 7:53 through 8:11).

Put yourself in this scene: Jesus is teaching in the precincts of the Temple when His teaching is interrupted by the jeers and frenzied cries of an approaching crowd led by scribes and Pharisees dragging an unresisting woman.  The Old Testament law (Leviticus 20:10) declared that a person caught in adultery be stoned to death.

The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees pushed her down before Jesus.  They asked Him to affirm the law’s verdict.  The self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers and her embarrassment are evident in this scene.  Would Jesus forgive her?  The answer is in the affirmative.  She went away totally cleansed and forgiven.  She no longer had to deal with “what ifs” and “if onlys,” for she had met Jesus Christ and had been transformed into a totally new person.

Are you ever bothered by “what ifs” and “if onlys?”  If so, Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, is able to help you move beyond them into a meaningful present and toward a positive future.

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There is no more influential or powerful role on earth than the one God has given to mothers. As significant as religious, political, military, and educational public figures may be, none come close to having as much impact on society as that made by mothers. Their deeds are never fully forgotten, nor are the truths they taught us to believe and practice.

If you have (or had) a godly mother, you will reap tremendous benefits as long as you live.  On the other hand, if your mother neglected your needs and never showed you any love, you have missed some of life’s greatest blessings. For good or ill, a mother’s mark is permanent. “As is the mother, so is her daughter” (Ezekiel 16:44).

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said: “No one is poor who had a godly mother.” I know this to be true because my two brothers and I had a godly mother. She, of course, was not perfect, but no one is. Jesus Christ was her Savior, and she lived her faith in the context of our home.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminded us of the high regard that Jesus had for His mother: “Even He who died for us upon the cross, in the last hour, in the unutterable agony of death, was mindful of His mother, as if to teach us that this holy love should be our last worldly thought,  – the last point of earth from which the soul should take its flight for heaven.”

As we approach Mother’s Day I throw out a challenge to every mother who reads these words. Ladies, this is your hour . . . your distinct opportunity to soar . . . your chance to make your mark upon the world!  A harmonious marital partnership and a solid, unselfish commitment to motherhood have never been of greater importance to you or, for that matter, to our nation than now.  Give it the best you have, for there is no challenge more worthy.

God’s Word provides excellent guidance and strength to every mother who would seek to build a godly home.  No finer words have ever been written than those in Proverbs 24:3-4 – “By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” Every godly home should have these three very important ingredients: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Wisdom is the ability to see with discernment, to view life as God perceives it.

Understanding is the skill to respond with insight.

Knowledge is the rare trait of learning with perception – discovering and growing.

Both fathers and mothers are responsible for passing on to their children the truths that will equip them to live life well.  Mothers, however, have traditionally been the primary nurturer.  I challenge every mother with these words written by Dorothy Nolte:

“If a child lives with:

  • CRITICISM, he learns to condemn.
  • HOSTILITY, he learns to fight.
  • RIDICULE, he learns to be shy.
  • SHAME, he learns to feel guilty.
  • TOLERANCE, he learns to be patient.
  • ENCOURAGEMENT, he learns confidence.
  • PRAISE, he learns to appreciate.
  • FAIRNESS, he learns justice.
  • SECURITY, he learns to have faith.
  • APPROVAL, he learns to like himself.
  • ACCEPTANCE and FRIENDSHIP, he learns to find love in the world.”

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Western society for the last four or five decades has become obsessed with the search for self.  The age-old question about the meaning and purpose of life has been turned into a modern growth industry.  People seek to find meaning in countless ways – biofeedback, Yoga, creative consciousness, new age philosophy, awareness, and workshops of one kind or another.  Each of these fads have an avid following – that is, until something new comes along.

Book shops are filled with titles that guarantee success with everything from making money to developing the kind of physique others will admire and try to emulate.  In one not-so-magnificent obsession after another the search to “find ourselves” has spawned a whole set of counterfeit values: we worship fame, success, materialism, and celebrity.  We are told that if we want to become successful we must “look out for number one.”

The promises made by the fads dominating today’s public scene, unfortunately, fall far short of fulfilling the lives of those who adopt them.  Each new promise leads to a meaningless dead-end.  Many of the popular fads that were present in the past century have led to self-absorption and isolation rather than to happiness and freedom as was predicted.  The technology created to lead humanity to a new promised land produced a mushroom cloud instead.

The pursuit of affluence has led not to happiness and freedom as promised.  It has succeeded only in degrading our culture by leaving people spiritually empty.  This inevitably led people to become totally self-absorbed, frightened, and hollow.  In the midst of these debilitating paradoxes of modern life, people search daily for some shred of meaning.

What does the Christian church have to say to the world in which we live?  Unfortunately, it has often bought into the world’s value system: fame, success, materialism, and celebrity.  Churches that adopt the world’s goals and standards have no power to impact their environment with the message of God’s love.  They have lost their reason for being.

Thirty years ago a North Carolina radio station advertising itself as a “Christian” station mailed pastors in central North Carolina a book that caught my attention.  The gist of it’s message is that great wealth is guaranteed by God to everyone who follows Christ.  The book’s jacket contained pictures of huge piles of money, several kinds of expensive jewels, yachts, lavish automobiles, and luxury homes.  The author stated categorically that God was going to take the wealth away from those who do not believe in Him and give it to those who do believe in Him.  This is absolute drivel and total heresy, for it is just another way of saying, “What’s in it for me?”

“Horse feathers!” as my father used to say about things that make absolutely no sense.  God has never promised to make Christians materially rich.  Jesus said to His disciples, “A servant is not greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  God promised to give us the things we need; He never promised to give us everything we want.

The kind of faith that is genuine and honors God does not seek to do its own will; it is totally dedicated to knowing and doing God’s will.  When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” (Matthew 22:37).  Those who have this kind of love do not ask, “What’s in it for me?”  They are committed to the goal of maintaining a worshipful heart, and daily offer their lives as an acceptable sacrifice.

If you are a Christian, ask yourself these two questions: “Do I view my faith as a magnificent philosophy or as a living truth?  Is it an abstract, sometimes academic theory, or is it an unreserved commitment to serving the Son of God for whom I would, if necessary, lay down my life?”

Neither Christians nor churches can impact the world in a meaningful way by adopting the world’s standards and goals.  To do that Jesus said we must become salt and light and leaven.

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