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Archive for November, 2012

Albert T. Rasmussen, in Christian Social Ethics, says, “Our houses of worship have become places for the social climbers and our congregations have become just crowds, like the patrons of a movie theater. The great sin of the church is to be so interested in serving those within it that it cannot serve the needs of those without.” This is well said, and to the degree that it contains any truth, it is an indictment on the church as it currently exists in the world.

Dr. Franklin Clark Fry, in an address entitled, “The Ministry of the Laity in Economic Life,” made a similar observation: “The church always defaces itself, it always denies God when it seeks to set itself apart from the world in which it exists; when it makes itself a place of refuge, a citadel with high walls inside of which men can hide; when it shuts its doors to close out any part of the life of man.” Dr. Elton Trueblood, the great Quaker theologian, expressed a similar view when he described many churches as being “stained glass foxholes” isolated from the community around them.

As much as the church may fall short of all it was originally designed to be, we should know that no church is a God store existing solely to dispense spiritual nourishment to the masses. The church itself cannot meet anyone’s needs. It is a community of faith where people gather regularly to meet God – who alone can meet a person’s need.

The business of the church is not to promote programs, though this is one of the things it does in order to fulfill its mission. Nor is it the primary business of the church to spend time presenting lectures on current events mixed with irresistible charm. The church is not a place where people should come to be entertained, or to make friends – though some of the world’s finest friends can be made there.

The New Testament defines the church as a place where those who walk in the darkest night of life can see a star of hope and find spiritual strength. That is why a church must always keep the light of hope lit. It is the only way to bring people face to face with God in genuine worship.

When individuals come to church holding their shattered hopes and broken dreams, the church can say, “Don’t give up. All is not lost!” When those who have lost their way in life come with their lives covered by the stains of many sins, we can shout, “God loves you and will forgive you! No person is beyond redemption.” When individuals come with their hearts full of disappointments, we can tell them about a God whose grace is adequate to meet their need. We can say these things not just because we have heard them expressed by others, but because we have experienced them.

James S. Stewart, the eminent Scottish preacher was very much on target when he said, “Christianity is right, absolutely right, when it refuses, in spite of a barrage of criticism, to be deflected from the one object for which it exists, which is to hold up Jesus.” Any church that fails to lift up Jesus Christ will have no vitality, nor will it have the power to change the community in which it exists.

The church must do more than point out the evils that exist in society; it must proclaim the message of redemption. Otherwise, its influence will be very much like that of a doctor who diagnoses someone’s disease but fails to prescribe a cure.

The church must do far more than speak words in opposition to sin; it must also demonstrate the power of God’s love through everything it does. It is only as individuals climb the steep slopes of Calvary where the battle of good and evil was fought and won two thousand years ago that their spiritual needs can be satisfied.

Jesus did not spend the majority of His time on earth condemning the things that were wrong in His day. He talked to everyone He met about God’s power to redeem and forgive. He was never without a word of hope and courage.

When He heard the cry of blind Bartimaeus, He did not remind him of his blind eyes and his bleak world of darkness. He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus replied, “Oh, Master, let me see again!”

“Go your way,” said Jesus, “your faith has made you whole” (Mark 10:51-52).

People in the community around every church are desperately searching for a prescription that will make them well again. The church has that prescription.

That prescription is a person! It is Jesus Christ!

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Dealing with Loneliness

There is a problem that is older than sin – it is LONELINESS! Sin began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating fruit from the tree in the center of the garden. But loneliness began before that. It began when Adam was alone . . . and very lonely. “God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so He gave him a helpmate” (Genesis 2:18).

Thomas Wolfe was right when he said, “Loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. A sense of loneliness has permeated literature, music, and drama. Through the years songs dealing with loneliness have flooded the market: “One Alone,” “All by Myself,” “Bluer than Blue,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Blues, Go Away from Me,” “Sadder than Sad,” “Feelings,” and “You Picked a fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille.” These are only a few.

Bookstore shelves are full of books dealing with loneliness, depression and sorrow. Motion pictures and plays are shot through with loneliness – such as Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Lonely Hearts Clubs can be found in large and small communities. If loneliness is so prevalent in our world, we should not be surprised that it appears in the Bible many times. If you are lonely, or know of someone who is, I dare to offer three suggestions that will not only help you deal with it, but overcome it:

First, know the reasons for loneliness. A young man, talking to the late great preacher, T. Dewitt Talmadge, lamented, “Dr. Talmadge, I have no will to live. I’m not sure of my salvation. In fact, I’m not even sure about the existence of God. I really wish I were dead. I want you to drop my name from the church roll.” Dr. Talmadge said, “Before I do that, I want to send you out on an assignment. Will you go?” The man said he would, and did. His mission was to visit an elderly man who was dying with cancer.

Hours later he returned with a radiant light in his face. “Dr. Talmadge,” he said, “It was wonderful! The man asked me how he could be saved, and how he could prepare to meet his God. As best I could I showed him the plan of salvation. He bowed his head and called on the Lord to save him! His last words to me were, ‘Son, you are an angel. I’m ready to meet God now. Thank you so much for coming!’” The previously lonely and depressed man requested that his name be left on the church roll. He also asked Dr. Talmadge for another visitation assignment. He had discovered the secret that only by being busy for God by serving others can a person overcome depression, doubt, and self-pity. He had conquered his loneliness by building bridges instead of walls.

Second, recognize that there is a remedy for loneliness. Genesis 28 describes a time when the Old Testament character Jacob grappled with a gnawing sense of loneliness, accompanied by the fear of the unknown. Fearful and nervous, he began searching for a place of rest. He had stolen his brother’s birthright, and the brother was coming to meet him. Bedding down for the night at a place called Bethel, every rustling leaf, the sound of nocturnal insects, every slight breeze, every call of a night animal or bird, could possibly be the indication that his brother was coming to do him harm.

All he had covering him was the black blanket of night. After he fell asleep, God visited him in a dream. In his dream God let down a ladder from heaven to where he was. He still sends down a ladder from heaven to every person who needs Him. If you are lonely, God stands ready to send down a ladder to where you are. Experiencing God’s presence is the remedy for loneliness.

Third, a response must be made to God’s remedy. God comes to meet us where we are in order to identify with our every need. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who knew severe loneliness in Gethsemane and while being impaled to a Roman cross, will come to you where you are because He cares for you and loves you. The words of Ann Russel express this fact beautifully:

     There is never a day so dreary,

     There is never a night so long,

     But the soul that is trusting Jesus

     Will somewhere find a song.

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A little over thirty years ago a pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan was served papers arresting him for noise pollution. Over the loudspeaker in his church tower he was playing the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” According to the city ordinance, he was guilty of creating a general nuisance. Can Thanksgiving ever be a nuisance?

If Thanksgiving is observed only one day of the year, some may think of it as a nuisance. The wife who plans the Thanksgiving menu, buys the food, spends hours in the kitchen preparing the sumptuous Thanksgiving meal, may think that all of this drudgery is a nuisance. The husband, who does not want to attend a Thanksgiving service at church, may complain: “We go to church on Sunday; why must we also go on Thursday?” The teenage son may feel that spending lots of time eating a Thanksgiving meal, which keeps him from watching the football game on TV, is a nuisance.

It is when Thanksgiving is genuinely observed every day that it becomes a blessing and not a nuisance. This is how the apostle Paul felt about thanksgiving: “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). Paul constantly expressed thanksgiving, and encouraged those to whom he wrote to live in a spirit of thanksgiving. Even Cicero the Roman orator agreed with Paul, for he said, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue but the parent of all other virtues.”

Genuine thanksgiving can never be a nuisance, for our physical and mental health depends largely on our attitudes and emotions. Negative feelings are like poison in our bodies and minds. Wrong attitudes, like acid, eat into our sense of well-being. If we are sick on the outside, it is often the result of being sick on the inside. Dr. R.W. Menninger estimated that 80 percent of the complaints people take to doctors are not physical ills as much as psychosomatic reactions to the problems of living. Negative attitudes include worry, resentment, anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, and depression. The worst negative attitude a person can have is revenge. Revenge includes hatred, anger, and bitterness.

If negative attitudes cause ill health, what can positive attitudes do to keep us healthy in body and mind? The good or positive attitudes include kindness, consideration, love, and forgiveness. Of all the positive virtues, the one that psychologists and psychiatrists have found to be the best is gratitude. The result of gratitude is serenity, compassion, hope, faith, trust, and peace. A person who has a healthy relationship with God possesses gratitude as a way of life.

Because gratitude is the key to happiness, it is not a nuisance. This is true because God’s mercies never come to an end. The ungrateful person is always unhappy. He is miserable because he has a negative attitude toward life. He grumbles, mumbles, and complains. He never sees anything good about life. He constantly finds fault. He looks for things that are wrong. But a grateful person is a happy person because he understands that he has been richly blessed.

A grateful person is also a helpful person. What does gratitude have to do with being helpful to others? It is simply a normal reaction to having been helped or blessed by others. If someone does you a favor, do you not instinctively feel that you want to do something in return? Gratitude is the force that makes serving God and others a pleasure. We enjoy serving God and obeying His will because we are thankful for His blessings.

John Henry Jowett once said, “Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.” Therefore, as the song we often sing suggests, let me encourage you to “Count your blessings; name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

Thanking God should never be regarded as a nuisance! Not in Grand Rapids, Michigan! Or anywhere else!

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The culture in which we live today places a high priority on money and how it is to be used. Those who have lots of it want not only to use it well, but to keep as much as they can for future needs and/or emergencies. Those who have little of it want more of it. The attitude Christians have toward money, and the way we should use it, requires that we manage it in a way that our needs and those of our family will be met.

In fact, the Bible denounces as a hypocrite any professing Christian who fails to care for the physical needs of his family because of financial irresponsibility, slothful mismanagement, or waste. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family,” 1 Timothy 5:8 states firmly, “he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That is straight talk. So, the decision as to how we use our money – for ourselves, for others, and especially for the sake of God’s Kingdom – is a spiritual issue. It is not always looked upon as a spiritual issue.

Why is a biblically defined use of money and resources so crucial to a Christian’s spiritual growth? For one thing, it is a case of being obedient to God. A surprisingly large amount of Scripture deals with the use of monetary wealth and possessions. If we ignore these passages, or take them lightly, it will hinder our spiritual growth. Here are some New Testament principles concerning giving:

God Owns Everything. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:11). And we read in Job 41:11, “Everything under heaven belongs to me.” The New Testament does not revoke the truth in these verses. God is owner, and we are managers or, to use the biblical word, stewards. A steward is required to give an account of his faithfulness to the One who, as Creator, is owner of all things. We often speak of “my house” or “my land”, but we are only stewards.

Giving is an Act of Worship. The apostle Paul calls the financial gift the Christians in the Grecian city of Philippi sent to him by Epaphroditus, “A fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). In other words, Paul says that their act of giving to the work of God was an act of worshiping God. Have you ever thought of giving as an act of worship? What you give of yourself and of your means to God as an act of worship is the only wealth you will be able to take with you to heaven. Everything else that you own will be left behind when you die. Every bit of it!

Giving should be Sacrificial and Generous. The widow whom Jesus commended is one illustration that giving to God is not just for those who, as the world would put it, can “afford it.” She gave all that she had. Many of us need to be reminded that giving isn’t sacrificial unless it is a sacrifice. A Gallop poll in the past showed that the more money Americans make, the less sacrificial their giving becomes.

Giving should be an Expression of Love. It should not call attention to itself. It should not be done for recognition or because of a legalistic requirement. Dr. Billy Graham once told of receiving a letter that declared, “I admire you a lot. And I want to help you in your exemplary crusade; and so you’ll find enclosed, my check for $500. The reason it is not signed is that I prefer to remain anonymous.” The gift, in fact, was much too anonymous — so anonymous, in fact, that Dr. Graham could not cash the check and apply it to his ministry.

Giving should be Willingly, Thankfully, and Cheerfully. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). God does not want anyone to give with a grudge – that is, you give but you don’t want to – resentfully, with a heart that isn’t right no matter how much you give. God is not a celestial landlord stretching out a greedy, outstretched palm, demanding His due. He wants us to give because we willingly choose to give. Grudge giving says, “I have to”; duty giving says, “I ought to”; thanksgiving says “I want to”. God wants every giver to enjoy giving.

Giving should be Planned and Systematic. “Now concerning the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

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Robert Louis Stevenson spent most of his life suffering from the debilitating complications of tuberculosis.  In his poem, “The Lamplighter,” he reflects on one of his boyhood dreams. On winter evenings he would watch the lamplighter making his way up and down the street near his home, lighting the street lamps one by one.

Stevenson watched him as he climbed his ladder at each lamp post, leaving a glow behind that pierced the darkness. He experienced a thrill every time the lamplighter passed his door, for he always paused to give him a friendly smile.

Stevenson wrote these words in his poem:

  “But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,

   O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!”

There is a lot of darkness in our world today, and the causes are many: prejudice, hate, greed, lust, selfishness, complacency, disappointment, trouble, sorrow, etc. It is our mission as Christians to bring light to the darkness existing in our environment by sharing God’s love.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I doing to bring light to dark places in my community?
  • Have I offered a word of hope to those who are discouraged?
  • Have I shared the load of even one person who is carrying a burden?
  • Have I prayed for anyone who has experienced grief or loss?
  • In what specific ways have I challenged the injustice in society?
  • How long has it been since I shared the love of God with even one person?

Every Christian has been given the challenge to bring a wounded world to the Great Physician, for He has the power to provide healing. Jesus walked away from the carpenter’s shop at the age of thirty with a burning passion to transform a divided world into a brotherhood of love. His dreams were noble and His purpose was pure.

He drew large crowds wherever He went and was accepted by multitudes of people. Then hostility against Him grew into open opposition. The crowds dwindled, and the voices against Him became louder and more threatening. His own family failed to understand Him. His friends deserted Him, and He found Himself facing the dark shadows of death.

Where others would have given up and turned back, He kept on going. He walked to the cross with a steady step, for it was His assigned mission to be the Ultimate Lamplighter. And, “Because He was faithful unto death, God has given Him a name that is above every name, a name at which one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to the glory of God, the Father” (Philippians 2:10).

He who said, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12) also said to His followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Our challenge is to push back the darkness. No other mission that we might undertake is as important as that.

A lamplighter must believe three things: (1) That God is the Creator of our universe; (2) That God provides eternal life to those who accept His Son as Savior and Lord; and (3) That all who follow Christ must “let their lights shine” (Matthew 5:16).

If you are a Christian, it is your assigned mission to be a lamplighter. Therefore, as the old gospel song suggests, “Brighten the corner where you are!”

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