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Archive for June, 2012

Prior to becoming President of the United States, James Garfield was principal of Hiram College in Ohio.  A father, whose son was a student at the college, came to Garfield and asked if the course of study could be simplified so that his son might be able to graduate with his degree in a shorter period of time than was required for other students

Garfield replied, “It all depends on what you want to make of your boy.  When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years.  When He wants to make a squash He requires only two months.”  This was not what the father was expecting to hear, or wanted to hear – but it was what he needed to hear.  He had big dreams for his son to succeed, but he did not want him to have to pay the price required in order to graduate.

We are making too many squashes and not enough oak trees in our day, aren’t we?  We must realize that goals are never reached by taking shortcuts, nor are dreams realized by giving less than our best.  Triumph can never become the possession of those who, after having tried and failed once, throw up their hands and accept defeat.  Success is getting up one more time than you fall down.  If at first you don’t succeed, you are somewhere around average.

The persons who achieve most in life – in any field of endeavor – are not always those who have the most ability.  People succeed because they set their goals high and give all that they have in the direction of achieving them.  They do not accept failure as final.  They keep their eyes on the goal and persistently keep on moving in that direction.  Whatever abilities they have – many or few – are invested to the fullest.  Though others may say, “You don’t have what it takes to succeed,” they refuse to accept that evaluation.  History gives evidence that these things are true.

For example, in 1831 a man in Illinois with only a few years of formal education failed in business, was defeated in a run for the state legislature in 1832, again failed in business in 1833, was elected to the legislature in 1834, but defeated for speaker in 1838.  He was defeated for elector in 1840, defeated in his run for the U.S. Congress in 1843, elected to the U.S. Congress in 1846, but was defeated in 1848.  He was defeated for the U.S Senate in 1855, defeated for the vice-presidential nomination in 1856, and defeated for the U.S Senate in 1858.  But in 1860 he was elected as President of the United States.  He triumphed because he wouldn’t quit trying.  His name was Abraham Lincoln.

In 1902 the poetry editor of Atlantic Monthly returned a stack of poems to their author with this note, “Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse.”  The poet was Robert Frost.

In 1905, the University of Bern in Switzerland turned down a doctoral dissertation as “irrelevant and fanciful.”  The writer of that paper was Albert Einstein.

A little over a century ago in England a small boy grew up speaking with a lisp.  In 1894 an English teacher wrote these words on his report card: “A conspicuous lack of success.”  He was never a scholar in school.  When war broke out involving his nation, he was rejected for military service, and was told, “We need men.”  He once rose to address the House of Commons, and all who were present walked out of the room.   In fact, he often spoke to empty chairs, but he kept on giving his best, and one day he became Prime Minister of Great Britain.  With stirring speeches and bold decisions he led his nation to victory in time of war.  His name was Sir Winston Churchill.

Abraham Lincoln is one of our country’s greatest presidents, and many regard him to be the greatest.  Winston Churchill, though initially thought to lack qualities of leadership, rose to the occasion in the middle of the twentieth century when Germany’s Third Reich, under the leadership of Adolph Hitler, threatened millions of people in Europe, Asia, and North America.  Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill succeeded because they were men of character and vision and possessed the qualities required of leaders.  The accomplishments of Robert Frost and Albert Einstein are well known.

What are your goals in life?  What do you hope to achieve – for God, for others, and in your own life?  What price are you willing to pay to become God’s instrument in serving others?  Whatever they are, put your shoulder to the wheel and give it all you have.  The only way you will ever totally fail is to never try.

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Who cared for the plague-stricken populations of the first and second centuries? Christians did! Who buried the pagan dead? Christians did! Who opened the first hospital in Europe? Gallincanus, a Christian, did! Who gave his life to stop the brutality in the Roman arena? Telemachus, a Christian, did! Who organized life for the lepers in the fourth century? Christians did! In the first six centuries of Christianity’s existence it was the social concern of Christians who made the Christian church a powerhouse of love.

All of this was made possible because “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yes, He who hung the stars in place, and holds the world in His hands, demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son, Jesus, the Christ. By His life, His teaching, His death on a Roman cross, and finally through the lives of His followers, He seeks to demonstrate His love.

This is what the apostle John taught: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God” (I John 4:7-8). Such concepts did not just appear out of thin air. They were born out of companionship with Jesus Christ. In I Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul penned the greatest hymn of love ever written, not because he was the greatest lover, but because he knew the world’s greatest lover, Jesus Christ.

Over sixty years as a Christian pastor have taught me that love is the strongest building force in the entire world. Hate warps. Envy corrodes. Greed corrupts. Jealousy distorts. Bitterness shrinks. Lust defiles. Evil decays and destroys. It is obvious to any keenly observant person that these things are true.  We know that we are at our best and truest selves when we spread love around like sunshine. Love heals life’s hurts. It straightens and strengthens. It cleanses and corrects. It builds and beautifies. It transforms death into life, sorrow into gladness, defeat into victory, and draws us nearer to one another and also nearer to God.

Love is never satisfied with the status quo. It contains within its very nature an urge in the direction of perfection. This is why Jesus said, “You . . . must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Love is not satisfied with that which is “good” if it can be made better, and it seeks to move beyond that which is “better” to that which is “best.”

To love only those who love us is self-centered by its very nature. That has always been the law of the jungle!  But to love those who are unlovely, to love those who misunderstand and hurt us – that is to be Christian. So convinced was Jesus of the power of love that He prayed forgiveness from the cross upon those who drove the nails through his hands and feet. And before He died He promised personal companionship with a convict on the cross beside Him.

It is the will of God that those who follow Him make love the outstanding characteristic of their personality and conduct. Love, intelligent Christian love, is socially conscious. It opens its eyes to injustices and wrongs in both its immediate environment and in the entire world. It does not turn a blind eye to people living in slums or to the slums that exist on the inside of people.

If God is love, and He is, then Christ is God’s love letter to the world, God’s Valentine! Christ is God’s invitation to any person who walks in darkness to come to His Son to find life that lasts an eternity. God’s love begins to transform our lives the moment we accept Jesus Christ, God’s Son, as both Savior and Lord. It continues to transform our lives through spiritual growth and as we share it with others. It is why the apostle Paul said, “Now abides faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13).

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Do you remember when men were men, when you could tell by looking? Do you remember when men knew who they were, liked themselves as they were, and did not want to be anything less than they were because God created them that way?

Do you remember when only women wore makeup, earrings, necklaces and bikinis? Do you remember when it was the men who initiated the contact and took the lead in a dating relationship, made lifetime commitments, and treated a woman like a lady?

I am not referring to the ego-centered, over-muscled Rambo or Terminator types who suffer from macho mania. Such men are always looking for a fight, walk with a swagger, never apologize, and stare at people with a “make my day” attitude.  They are a genuine nuisance to be around.

Nor am I referring to the Archie Bunker type loudmouth who slouches in his chair, barks out orders like a Paris Island DI, and thinks the entire world revolves around him. Since when do arrogance, dogmatism, prejudice, ignorance, and selfishness make a man more masculine?  This type of guy may wear trousers, but he is in reality a frightened child living inside a man’s body.

True manhood calls for discipline of character, ability to set worthy goals, and possesses a strong determination to achieve those goals. Authentic men are not afraid to show affection by hugging their children.  Nor are they ashamed to cry when they are sad or hurt. They have the ability to admit when they are wrong. They willingly say, “I’m sorry”, when they hurt someone’s feelings. They are vulnerable because they are sincere, and they have genuine integrity.

I believe that such qualities not only inspire the respect and admiration of women, but also engender healthy admiration among younger men and boys who hunger for heroes who are genuine. Our world needs fewer spineless men who are wimps and are still tied to their mother’s apron strings.

In recent decades there has been a constant assault on masculinity. This is well represented in the media, and also in the world of fashion. Many performers who have been adopted as heroes by the youth of America no longer pretend to be masculine. Gender roles are often blended, and this is sad.

Author Alvin Toffler saw all this happening years ago.   In his book, The Third Wave, he says: “the role system that held industrial civilization together is in crisis.  We see this most dramatically in the struggle to redefine sex roles.  In the women’s movement, in the demands for the legalization of same sex marriages, and in the spread of unisex fashions, we see a continual blurring of traditional expectations and roles for the sexes.

Genesis 1:27 tells us that “male and female He (God) created them.”  When Adam saw Eve for the very first time he said, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).  A good modern translation of these words by Adam would be, “Wow!  God, I really like what You have created this time.”

God obviously intended that there be a significant difference between male and female.  It was one of His most fantastic ideas.  It is also the foundational block upon which civilization has always rested.  It is also the only way that a stable civilization will be able to exist in the future.  In today’s world the traditional family is under siege, largely because men have abdicated their God-given responsibility.  As former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover once said, “The hope of our world lies in a return to the faith of our fathers, and a universal acceptance of the Supreme Being who guides our destiny.”  Fathers should take the lead in doing this.

In spite of the clear differences between the role a father plays and the one a mother plays, it is God’s will that they work together as a team.  Excellent guidance for fathers and mothers who are willing to take their responsibility seriously can be found in the Bible.

Dad, as we approach Father’s Day, you need to know that God gives you both the opportunity and the responsibility to be the spiritual leader in your home.  If you will assume that responsibility gladly and with commitment, you can set the pace in your home. Failure to lead is a serious failure.  The stability and future of your home, and indeed of our nation, is depending on you!

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I had the distinct privilege of serving Temple Baptist Church in Wilmington twice: As pastor from 1969-81, and as interim pastor from September 1, 2010 to October 31, 2011.  I tried to visit our members who were confined to nursing homes every month. Each time I went to Cornelia Nixon Davis Nursing Home in the late 1970’s I would also visit a very fine Methodist lady who had lived directly across the street from my wife and me. Her church did not broadcast its worship services, so she listened each Sunday to our broadcast.

On one occasion as I entered her room it was obvious that she was depressed. Her husband had died a year or so earlier, and her only son had also recently died. Since she was the only member of her family still living, she felt very much alone in the world. Thus, she had a king-sized case of the blues. You don’t have to lose all the members of your family to succumb to melancholy, but this is one of the leading times when it happens.

This precious Methodist lady made a statement concerning her prayers that I had never heard used before.  “Preacher,” she said, “I’ve been asking the Lord to take me home so I can rejoin my husband and son. I don’t understand why He hasn’t answered my prayer . . . and, frankly, because He hasn’t, I’m a little put out with Him.”

I replied, “Has it ever occurred to you that there could be some residents in this nursing home who are not Christians, or some who are lonely, who need someone to share the love of God with them?  Some of them would possibly listen to your testimony, but would not listen to anything I say or to what any other preacher says, because we are expected to talk about God’s love. You could be God’s ambassador to them.”

Her face suddenly brightened, and, after a pause, she said, “I’ve never thought of that!” A smile creased her face, and I knew that my answer had come from God. The reason God had not answered her prayer and taken her home to heaven is that He wanted her to witness to others who were in that nursing home. She had found a reason for living, and she was depressed no more.  She witnessed to the very person who came into her room – and it happened to be a nurse who was a backslidden member of my church. She had not attended a single worship service in well over ten years.

Have you, like the Methodist lady in Wilmington, ever had a bad case of the blues?  If you haven’t, you are the exception rather than the rule. The psalmist had a huge case of the blues, for he said, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5).  One way to deal with the down times in life is by giving in it to the point of whining and complaining.  Those who do this are not only miserable but make everybody around them miserable as well. But there are positive ways to handle the blues. Take, for example, the following suggestions:

First, remember that you were created in the image of God, and this makes you an important person. No person who was created by God has to dwell in the valley of despair permanently. It is easy to get upset when you are looking at your problems rather than at the Problem Solver. God would not have made you in the first place if He did not intend to meet your every need. Keeping a positive attitude is simply a matter of keeping your eyes on God.

Second, remember that you are needed. Needy people are all around you. You may be the only person who can meet some person’s needs. When you are depressed, look around to find those whose problems are greater than yours. We all give our lives to something. Giving yourself to others has the power to turn sadness into gladness.

Third, you can go to God in prayer. One of the closest friends of Jesus was John the Baptist.  In fact, they were cousins and probably played together when they were boys.  One day the news came that John had been murdered. Surely it grieved the heart of the Lord, and it was enough to grieve Him. What did He do?  The Bible tells us that “He went up into the mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone” (Matthew 24:23).

Remember this wonderful line spoken by Basil King: “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

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June is the month when lots of weddings are scheduled.  Happily, some marriages last for a lifetime, but others will end up being little more than a short term option.  Any marriage that is built on nothing more than a passing emotional experience will definitely face tons of difficulties.  It is not enough to be in love with love.  To be married you must learn to love one person deeply, maturely, and unselfishly, so that his or her happiness is more precious to you than your own.

In other words, you should be able to say with all your heart to the one you love the words found in the poem, Bathsheeba, written by Virginia Rogers:

You are my world,
You are my sun, my star:
There is no life for me
Save where you are.”

Physical attraction is obviously important in the choosing of a mate.  This is true because true love is a deep and stirring emotional experience, providing the dynamic that will carry a bride and groom through all the tests and crises married life will bring.  Any couple getting married should seek to have a matching of the minds, characteristics and ideals, a growing understanding, and a wealth of common interests and activities.  This social aspect of love is vitally important.

Couples standing at the marriage altar should definitely not overlook or underestimate the spiritual element that gives love its staying power, its unselfishness, and joy even in sacrifice.  Love that contains these qualities is born of God, and those who truly love each other are confident that God has not only brought them together but shares in the whole experience with them.  “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:12).

It is important that those getting married have respect for each other’s personality and ideas, a similarity in tastes, ideals, and leisure-time activities, and a genuine interest and appreciation where they differ.  Having a growing understanding of each other’s moods and reactions in varying life situations strengthens love.  There should be no challenge or problem – big or small – that should not be discussed.  True love is revealed by such standards.

You don’t have to be young to fall in love and decide to get married.  For example, I recently read the account an unusual marriage.  Rev. Estill Franklin, 103, a retired Methodist minister, and Fern Brown, 90, were married in the chapel at the Wesley Manor Retirement Village in Crawfordville, Indiana.  After the ceremony, the newlyweds took a honeymoon ride around town in a limousine and returned to the retirement home for a small reception.  Asked their plans for the rest of the day, the ninety year-old bride replied: “A nap.  All of this has worn me out.”

In Madison, Tennessee a pastor was called to a nursing home to perform a wedding.  An elderly man met him at the door.  The pastor sat down to counsel the man, and in the process he asked him these questions:

“Do you love her?”  The man answered, “Nope.”

“Is she a good woman?”  “I don’t know for sure,” he replied.

“Does she have lots of money?” asked the pastor.  “I doubt it,” he said.

“Then why are you marrying her?” the preacher asked.  He answered, “Because she can drive at night!”

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