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Archive for December, 2012

Yesterday . . . today . . . tomorrow . . . three simple words!  Yet, they encompass the entire scope of human history, and even beyond human history into heaven itself. It doesn’t matter who we are, or what we plan to be or do, it is important that we realize the importance of all that is included in these three words – yesterday . . . today . . . tomorrow.

Many people, unfortunately, want to live entirely within the framework of yesterday – “Nothing is as good as it was in the good old days.” Others forget about yesterday and tomorrow altogether and live just for today – “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die”. Others are so engrossed in the task of building bigger barns in which to store their goods that they neither live up to their responsibilities in the present nor plan for tomorrow. The beginning of a new year challenges us to examine our lives and our priorities in terms of these three words:

Yesterday: As you take an inventory of your yesterdays, what blessings have you received? Was there a time in the past when you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? I remember well that August day in 1940 when I became a Christian. It is as real and as meaningful to me today as it was on the day it happened. It is with great joy that I am able to look backward through the corridor of time to a specific yesterday when Jesus Christ came into my life.

Four years after the Titanic sank in 1912 in the Northern Atlantic, a young Scotsman rose in a church meeting in Hamilton, Alberta, Canada, to give his testimony. He mentioned how he had drifted alone on a spar on that awful night when the tide brought a Mr. John Harper, of Glasgow, Scotland, also on a piece of wreck, near him. “Man,” Harper said, “Are you saved?” The young Scotsman answered that he was not. Harper said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). They drifted apart for a while, and then came close together again, and Mr. Harper asked him again, “Are you saved now?” And again he replied, “No.” Shortly after that, John Harper sank beneath the waves. At that point the young Scotsman gave his heart to Jesus Christ. What a tremendous “yesterday” he had.

What about your yesterdays? How many people can you remember and name who touched your life in a special way? Did you have a Christian home? If so, you are blessed. Our yesterdays should not be forgotten, for they are the foundation on which we today can experience joy and plan meaningfully for our tomorrows.

Today: What is your top priority? Does your life revolve around nothing more than the meeting of your own needs? If so, please know that you won’t be here forever! Does your life revolve around what you own? Your wealth will not last forever! Is it a high priority for you to the meet your family’s needs? If so, good! Your family will not be here forever either! God has a plan for every life – including yours – and He will reveal it to you. No matter who you are, or what you have chosen to do in life, it is very important that you discover and do God’s will. If you are not a Christian, you have no Christian yesterdays. That doesn’t mean you cannot become a Christian today.

Tomorrow: An ardent admirer once asked Henry Wadsworth Longfellow how he sustained his high level of vigor and productivity. Answering, he turned to an apple tree standing in full view, its blossoms beautiful and fragrant. “That apple tree is very old,” said Longfellow, “but I never saw prettier blossoms on it. I have noticed that the old tree grows a little new wood every year, and out of the new wood these blossoms come. Like the apple tree, I too grow a little new wood each year, and out of this new wood my heart blossoms.” That is the secret of planning for tomorrow. Are you growing any new wood? Jesus said we should not worry about tomorrow. This doesn’t mean we should not plan for it.

In the past year, and every year prior to that, there were obstacles in our pathway. The gift of 365 brand new days provides us with the time and opportunity to commit ourselves to what is yet to be. It is also an excellent time for church members to take an inventory of their yesterdays, to dedicate themselves anew to fulfilling Christ’s mission today, and to move forward with faith and confidence to accept the challenges tomorrow will bring.

One man said, “I would be unstoppable . . . if I could only get started.” Getting started is the secret. We are at the starting line for a brand new twelve months. As my track coach used to say, “Take your position! Get set! Go!”

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There was nothing out of the ordinary happening on the night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The innkeeper was keeping his inn. Shopkeepers and others were bedded down to get a good night’s rest. Shepherds were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks. In other words, it was what normally happened every night.

Then, all of a sudden, everything changed. The ordinary was transformed into the extraordinary. That which was natural was infused with the supernatural. The shepherds would never be the same again. For “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” It was the Chancel Choir of heaven singing an anthem of praise. Christians have been singing ever since.

There is an old Jewish legend which says that after God had created the world He called the angels together and asked them what they thought of what He had created. And one of the angels replied: “Only one thing is lacking: the sound of praise to the Creator.” So, God created music! Ever since that day, music has been heard in the whisper of the wind, and in the song of birds. And to man God gave the gift of song.

T.L. Cuyler said, “The best days of the church have always been its singing days.” And this is definitely true! Congregational singing allows the entire church to vocally express adoration and praise to God. Special music with solos, duets, trios, quartets, choirs and ensembles help to create a worshipful and responsive atmosphere. Choir practice affords instrumentalists and singers the opportunity to develop their talents in service to God.

It has been said that those who make the songs of a nation can shape its political and moral life. In much the same way hymn writers have shaped the theology of Christendom. God’s Word should always be at the center of both preaching and singing. Though a song has moving music, it is not Christian if it does not offer praise to God the Father, or have God the Son at its center. This does not mean it is bad or evil music, for some of our patriotic songs are in our hymnals and are beneficially used in appropriate services. But their use is not basically Christian.

Although emotional and aesthetic value may be inherent in Christian songs, the basic purpose is educational. A message is being proclaimed, one that is admittedly different than preaching, but which is supportive of preaching. Thus, the key to genuine worship is responsiveness. This is as true of Christian singing as it is of Christian preaching. Preaching is more than pious talk about God; singing is more than melodious conversation about God.

Much of your theology you learned from singing Christian hymns. Analyze in your mind the hymns that have touched and blessed your life most, and it will surprise you the extent to which this is true. It has been said that there are three great books that are necessary to the advancement of the Kingdom of God: the Bible, the hymnbook, and the pocketbook. The Bible is the record of God’s self-disclosure to our hearts and lives. The hymnbook is a revelation of the most noble thoughts and intents of the human heart, and of its rational and emotional response to God in worship.

Singing must come from the heart if it is to be adequately expressive of Christianity. It must come from the heart if it is to give personal satisfaction to the singer. If it comes from the heart it will be heard by God as well as by humans. That is why you will always receive a greater blessing from those who sing from their heart – even if they are slightly off key. Any kind of singing which damages or destroys the soul’s relationship to God is out of place in Christian worship.

When the noted agnostic Robert Ingersoll died, the printed funeral notices said, “There will be no singing.” If you plan to attend the funeral of an infidel, agnostic, or skeptic, do not look for hymns, anthems, oratories, carols, or spiritual songs. Without God, without Christ, without redemption, and without hope, what do they have to sing about?

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Exchanging gifts is a long-standing Christmas tradition by Christians and others. The tradition goes all the way back to Bethlehem two thousand years ago when God sent His Son into the world. Jesus is God’s gift to lost humanity. The Bible calls Him God’s “indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15), the One “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

When God first gave us this marvelous gift, there were many who sensed the need to respond to Him with a gift of their own. The Magi, astrologers the New Testament calls “Wise Men from the east,” followed a light in the sky all the way to Bethlehem. “On coming to the house where He was, they saw Jesus with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They then opened their treasures and presented Him gifts of gold and incense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

The worship offered by the Wise Men is especially noteworthy because they were kings in their own right. Thus, by bowing down in worship, they were acknowledging Jesus as the King of Kings. Their adoration was the fulfillment of prophecy. Concerning the Messiah, Isaiah had prophesied: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). This prophecy was fulfilled almost as soon as Jesus was born.

The treasure the Wise Men brought was also significant. Their gifts were costly, and thus they demonstrated the worthiness of the One to whom they were given. The gifts themselves were important. For example, Gold is fit for a king, as it is a symbol of royalty. Incense in the ancient world was often used in religious worship as a symbol for prayer. Myrrh was used in the embalming process as a spice to preserve the dead for burial.

Each of these gifts was uniquely appropriate for Christ because each was prophetic of some aspect of His saving work. Gold is for kings, and Jesus came to be the King of Kings. Incense is for priests, and Jesus is our High Priest, the One who offers our prayers up to God. Jesus also offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. In the description of His death the Bible mentions two details specifically involving myrrh: (1) the drink that was offered to Jesus on the cross was wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23); and (2) the other reference concerned the spices that were used to prepare His body for burial (John 19:39-40a). These details remind us of the fact that He was born to die.

Christmas is still a time for the giving of gifts. Millions of families and groups across America will be exchanging gifts either on or around Christmas day. The most important thing, however, is to accept the gift that God has given. The words of a popular bumper sticker that can be seen prior to each Christmas are true: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” God sent His Son to be our Savior. Everyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord receives the free gift of eternal life.

The finest way to celebrate Christmas is to offer ourselves to God in worship in the same way that the Wise Men of old did. We will not offer gold, frankincense, or myrrh. Instead, we should offer our lives in worship. After we have done that, we should give ourselves in service to others.

The presents we will find under the Christmas tree from others are trivial by comparison. It is not wrong to give gifts to one another, of course. But we should make certain that the gifts we give are given in a way that both honors God and reflects something of His grace to others.

This Christmas let me encourage you, first of all, to celebrate God’s gift of His uniquely born Son by attending the church of your choice, and by giving yourself to Him in sincere worship. Second, find those who are needy in your community and share what you have with them in the name of Him who is God’s greatest gift.

It is the only way to genuinely celebrate Christmas!

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When an electrical circuit in your home gets overloaded, what happens? A fuse is blown, or a circuit breaker is thrown. The load is more than the circuit was designed to carry. The same thing happens in humans. When it happens in an office, or a classroom, or in a home, the stress overload leads to that we call “burnout.”

Burnout is a serious problem in our fast-paced world. It affects all of us in one way or another. Catalogues and brochures from publishing houses all advertise countless books on the “burnout syndrome.” Businessmen are burning out on their jobs. Housewives are burning out in the home. Single parents leaving home, trying to walk away from it all, trying to escape, sometimes find it much worse on the streets than the situation they left behind.

Often Christians do not do much better than the rest of the world when it comes to dealing with life’s pressures and problems – and this includes Christian ministers. When it happens, it is because we have forgotten these words of Jesus, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). The real issue comes down to pressures or priorities – your life will be dominated by one or these two factors.

When we properly define our priorities, life goes more smoothly and pressures are lessened. When we put God first in our lives, we are beginning with a spiritual priority which says that those things which help us grow in our daily walk with God are most important: worship, family togetherness, physical and emotional health, a positive outlook on life. When our priorities are wrong, we sacrifice all of these for that which has little or no lasting value – and we live to satisfy those unrelenting pressures that can never be satisfied anyway. So, how can we learn to endure life’s pressures?

First, we must know WHO we are (IDENTITY). Too many people today want to be someone they aren’t – “”If I could be like him (or her)”, people often say, wishing they were better looking, happier, smarter, or wealthier. We think being like somebody else will make us happier – but it won’t! It never has! It never will! We can only be truly happy when we accept ourselves for the person we were created to be in Christ.

Second, we must know WHOSE we are (RELATIONSHIP). The Bible classifies people into two groups: those who are saved, and those who are lost. We tend to classify ourselves by race, nationality, locality, socioeconomic status, white collar or blue collar, etc. The Bible says there two roads into eternity: one leads to destruction; one leads to life eternal. The Bible says there are only two foundations: one is on the solid rock; one is on shifting sand. If you are going to overcome discouragement, you must know to whom you belong. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Those who accept and serve Jesus Christ know WHOSE they are.

Third, we must know WHOM we are trying to please (PURPOSE). A lot of stress comes our way when we try to please others: boss, husband, wife, kids, family, a friend, etc. Some people are difficult to please. If we know that our number one purpose in life is to serve Jesus Christ, all our other relationships will be more meaningful and productive.

Fourth, we must know WHERE we are going (DIRECTION). When it appears outwardly that we have failed, that the journey is too difficult, or that the road is too rough, it is good to remember where we are going. Pressures ease greatly when our purpose lies clearly before us and leads a heavenly home. Ella Wheeler Wilcox expressed it well:

  • One ship sails East,
    And another West,

    By the self-same winds that blow,
    ‘Tis the set of the sails
    And not the gales,
    That tells the way we go.

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