Archive for September, 2012

In 1973 I stood on the mountain in Israel where Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount. Looking across the Sea of Galilee I could see the Golan Heights. Many of the events that I have studied in the Bible happened on these hallowed grounds.

It was on the Sea of Galilee that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and the two brothers, James and John, were making their living as fishermen when Jesus called them to follow Him. I was standing where Jesus said to them, “Hear me, fellows, and hear me well.  If you will trust me and follow me, I will train you to become fishers of men. You may not believe it now, but it is true. Catching people is far more important than catching fish.”

Jesus was not denigrating the fishing business. There is nothing wrong with being a fisherman. It is a worthy occupation; just as countless other occupations are worthy. But no earthly enterprise is as important as the business of introducing people to the Savior of the world. This task should be central to every Christian, no matter what he or she may do to earn a living. The sad truth is that the majority of Christians never win a single person to have faith in Christ.

It is when Christians come to the conclusion that there is nothing more important than reaching others for Christ that their values will change forever. What could possibly be more important than helping men, women, and young people come into a saving, liberating, and life-changing relationship with the God who created the universe?

Once a Christian understands that the most important business in the world is the people business, watch out! They will live differently, pray differently, love differently, work differently, give differently, and serve differently. If you are a Christian, has this kind of experience happened to you yet? If not, why not?

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computers, died during the past year. He realized many years ago that the meteoric growth of his corporation necessitated the hiring of an experienced executive who could provide overall leadership of a superior quality. So he went after top executive, John Sculley, who was head of a major soft drink company.

After a long and thorough interview with him, he started to get the sinking feeling that Sculley was going to turn down his offer. So he took him to the top of an apartment building overlooking Central Park in New York City, and made his final, last ditch effort to get him to lead his company.

Even then it wasn’t looking good. Finally, in total exasperation, Steve Jobs looked John Sculley in the eye and said, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” Sculley wrote later in his book, “This knocked the wind out of me.” That is why he left the soft drink company and joined Apple Computers.

Christians have the opportunity to change the world – one person at a time. When a love-starved person is introduced to the grace of God for the first time, when a lonely person experiences the richness of companionship with Christ, when a guilty person finds forgiveness and a clean conscience, when a wandering person gains a worthy purpose for his life and finds his way home, something special happens – and a chain reaction takes place. It is like no other experience you could ever have.

Every Christian is called to be an ambassador for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There are no exceptions. It involves changing lives one person at a time. Could there possibly be a more important job than this? If there is, I have no idea what it might be.


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Well, Yes and No

One man said to another: “You are a rather indecisive person, aren’t you?” He replied: “Well, yes and no.”

One does not have to look very hard, or long, at this little conversation to realize that it is pregnant with truth for our lives as Christians on far too many occasions. Our fundamental problem in living the Christian life is often indecision.  Indecision is the result of not knowing when to say “yes,” and not knowing how to say “no.” Consequently we end up doing neither – not at the proper times, anyway. Actually, indecision is also a decision – a decision not to decide.

The Christian life is a life of truth speaking. It is one in which our words match our thoughts, and our thoughts fit the facts. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, addressed this subject when He said, “Simply let your ‘Yes” be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’  be ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37). He was addressing the habit of swearing, or the making of oaths. He was saying that one does not have to swear in order to tell the truth.  Simply tell the truth – “Yes” or “No” is all that is needed!

The words of Jesus go down to the roots of human experience. They strike all hypocrisy out of our lives. They compel us to take sides in every great struggle between right and wrong, between truth and error, between that which is wholesome and that which is hurtful, between that which is genuine and that which is false. We must give our unhesitating “YES” to the cause of good in the world. And we must give an uncompromising “NO” to the enticements and solicitations of evil in the world. This is not done by passive non-participation in that which is evil, but through active opposition to evil in all of its forms. We must know when to be a “YES” person, and when to be a “NO” person.

The terms “YES” and “NO” are the heaviest-charged words in human language. The spoken “YES” is the marriage of the will to that which is good. The spoken “NO” is the veto-power of the will that puts the stamp of condemnation upon that which is wrong. “YES’ and “NO” both carry character in them. They are both symbols of strength and of granite fiber in a person’s moral nature. The seed of everything we do is a “YES” or a “NO.” In other words, at the heart of every thought or action is a choice or a refusal.

“YES” is an important word because it is God’s word. Because it is a positive word, it leads to action. Jesus called two sets of fishermen brothers to follow HIM – James and John, and Peter and Andrew – they said “YES”, left their nets, followed Him, and never looked back. Jesus called a tax collector named Matthew to follow Him – he said “YES,” left off collecting taxes, followed Him, and never looked back. Jesus called Zacchaeus, a man of small stature, to come down from a sycamore tree to follow Him – he climbed down, said “YES”, followed Him, and never looked back.

Yet, who among us has not known heartache and tragedy when we have said “YES” to the wrong things? How many of us have said “YES” to the temptations of immorality, as did David, King of Israel?  How many of us have said “YES” to the temptations of power and prestige, as did Pilate, who caved in to the pressure of a mob and condemned Jesus to be crucified? How many of us have said “YES” to greed, or to deceit and dishonesty? We Christians lose our power to bear witness to the love of God in our world unless we also learn how to say “NO” when it is the right thing to do.

The pressure to go along with the crowd is always present. We face this pressure every day in the business world, in our social relationships, in the political arena, and even in our choices and actions within the context of family life. The pressure to follow the crowd is particularly great for young Christians. Sexual immorality is not only prevalent, but is widely accepted as the norm in today’s world. Alcohol and illegal drugs are easily obtained in every community.  One reason young Christians have often lost their ability and desire to say “NO” is that they have adopted the wrong heroes.

Do you have difficulty making the right decisions? How often have you made wrong decisions?  Are you bothered by indecision? Jesus said, “Simply let your “YES” be “YES”, and your “NO” be “NO.” He did not say this in order to be arbitrary, or vindictive, or domineering. He said it because it serves our own best interest – and because He loves us.

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A man, his wife, and his wife’s mother, were on a trip. The wife was driving, her mother was sitting in the right front seat, and her husband was in the back seat.  As they traveled through a certain city, a motorcycle policeman pulled up beside the car and motioned for her to pull over. “Madam,” he said, “when you were rounding a corner a minute or so ago, the back door of your car came open, and a man fell out on the street.”  “Thank goodness!” she said. “I thought I had gone stone deaf!” When her husband’s constant instructions on how to drive had ceased, she thought she had lost her hearing. This is just a story, of course, but it has an important point to make with regard to today’s world.

There are all kinds of drivers on the road – good, bad, and in between – but the worst kind of driver is the person who never sits behind the steering wheel or pushes the accelerator, but who constantly tells those who are driving to the very best of their ability how it should be properly done. We call such persons “back-seat drivers.” Back-seat driving in one form or another has existed throughout history.

In Matthew 16, for example, we see an account of back-seat driving when Simon Peter took it upon himself to tell Jesus what He ought to do. Jesus had told the disciples that in the not-too-distant future He would be persecuted by the religious leaders in Jerusalem and killed, and that He would rise to life again on the third day following His burial. Peter replied sharply: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” In other words, “If I were you, Lord, I would never allow it to happen.” In his supposed superior wisdom, he was certain he knew better than Jesus what ought to happen.

I believe Peter’s words were honorable. He didn’t want to see Jesus get hurt, but he did not understand the situation as Jesus did. Even so, Jesus rebuked him sharply: “Get behind me, Satan!”  That was strong language. Jesus was simply saying that Peter’s back-seat driving was satanic in origin. How hard it is for humans to see the total picture, or the long view. Our tendency is to seek quick and obvious results. We want what we want, and we want it now. We find it hard to understand that God is not as impatient as we are, and that He is not interested in quick or easy solutions.

All of us have had to deal with back-seat drivers at one time or another. They tend to think they know the solution to every problem – but they are almost always unwilling to be part of the solution themselves. From the safe distance of the back seat they criticize others who are doing their best, but they never lift a finger to help. Back-seat drivers can be found in organizations large and small, and in every level of life.

Having served as a pastor for sixty years, I have known lots of back-seat drivers. There has never been a shortage of persons who are more than eager to apply for the post of Planner-in-Chief at the Court of Heaven, Advisor to the Almighty, and Counselor to the Creator. Most churches have enough Chiefs; they could use more Indians.  Back-seat drivers tend to believe that if only God would take their advice, how much better, and fairer, and happier the world would be – “If I were you, Lord, I would do it this way!”

The most serious indictment of the back-seat driver is that he or she is not in the best position to see what is going on. There is no way you can see how to drive from the back seat as well as you can from the front seat. When Peter rebuked the Lord, he had no idea what Jesus had in mind. He was judging the situation with limited knowledge.  Therefore, his advice was useless. Have you ever wondered why the best people are rarely in office? Or why the best players are so seldom on the field? Or why the best teachers are not in the classroom? Or why the best preacher is the pastor of another church nearby, or was the pastor of a church 20 to 50 years ago?

The back-seat driver reminds me of the Italian man who fell asleep one day on his sofa. One of his children wanted to play a joke on him, so he rubbed some limburger cheese in his mustache.  When he woke up, he sniffed several times and said, “Something in this room is rotten!” He went through every room in the house, sniffing in each room, and said, “This whole house is rotten!” He went out in the front yard and sniffed again, and said, “My goodness! The whole world is rotten!” He thought the problem was everywhere else, but it was under his own nose.

God’s finest blessings are available only to those who are willing to fully participate in them – in other words, those who are willing to get in the front seat and drive. Back-seat drivers are left out in the cold – and wonder why!

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On the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, which he designed, are these words, “If you would see his monument, look around you.”

Architects who design buildings want them to be both functional and beautiful. Designing and building things is just one of the ways they can leave behind a legacy of what they have achieved when they are no longer living. Many of history’s greatest architects are remembered for centuries primarily for the structures they designed and built.  But buildings and bridges do not last forever. With the passing of time they fall into a state of disrepair and have to be demolished and/or replaced.

The monuments that are enduring are not built with mortar and stone. Rather, they are built with Christ-like deeds of love and kindness which are erected in human hearts. The ravages of time crumble into dust the mortar and stone out of which cathedrals are constructed. Deeds that are motivated by the constraining love of Christ – for individuals or for all mankind – will endure.

To illustrate how true this is, I challenge you to spend a few moments in reflection to participate in a very important mental exercise:

  1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
  2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
  3. Name ten people who have won the Nobel and the Pulitzer Prize.
  4. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
  5. Name the last decade’s worth of winners in the World Series.
  6. Name the most valuable player in the last five NCAA men’s basketball championships.

Perhaps you can name some of these, but it would likely be only a few. We do not remember very long who the headliners of yesterday were. On this list there are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their respective fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish with the passing of time. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners. They become yesterday’s news.

Now let us continue with our mental exercise:

  1. List the names of a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
  2. Name three friends who stood by your side during a difficult time.
  3. Name five people who have touched your life in a special way.
  4. Name five people who have qualities you greatly admire.
  5. Name five people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
  6. Name five people, not including the members of your family, with whom you enjoy spending time.

The second list was easier than the first, wasn’t it? This is true because the people who make a difference in our lives are not the ones with the most credentials . . . or have the most money . . . or have the most college or graduate school degrees . . . or were given the most awards. Rather, they are the persons who care the most, the ones who value others and seek to serve them.

If you have followed the instructions in the mental exercise suggested above, you have had reinforced for you an important truth: The things in our world that are often regarded as the most important are not, after all, all that important.

Having recognized those who have touched our lives in special ways demands that we give serious thought to the persons we know who need our care. It should be our goal to live our lives in such a way that those we will one day leave behind remember and appreciate what we have done to enrich their lives.

If we accomplish that, we will not have lived in vain.

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