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Archive for April, 2013

The late Carl Goerch (1891-1974) was known as “Mr. North Carolina.” He excelled in several fields: as the long-term reading clerk for the North Carolina House of Representatives, as a popular broadcaster, newspaper columnist, author of several books, and a widely sought speaker. He also founded the popular magazine known today as Our State.

During his lifetime Goerch visited all fifty states and fifty-two foreign countries, but if you asked him his favorite spot on earth, he no doubt would have said, “Ocracoke.” I remember him best for his outstanding newspaper columns featuring interesting locations and specific individuals in our state. They were all well-written and contained good humor. He deliberately chose not to have his stories copyrighted, so they could be retold by others again and again.

One of his best stories dealt with an incident that took place in 1878 in Swan Quarter, the county seat of Hyde County. In that year the Methodists decided to build a new church for their congregation. After looking around town, and after much prayer, they chose a spot owned by a large land owner named Saddler. Representatives of the church went to see Mr. Saddler and politely asked if he was willing to donate a small lot on which they could build their church.

Mr. Saddler was not a religious man, and he had the reputation for being very gruff.  After listening to their request, he refused to either donate or sell any land to them on which they could build a house for worship. Believing they had chosen the best location, they tried to talk to him further. He became angry and ordered them off of his land, and told them to never come back.

Next, the committee went to see a local resident named Jackson. They asked him to donate a particular lot that he owned. Although the lot was not as desirable as the one owned by Mr. Saddler, it would be suitable. Mr. Jackson honored their request and deeded the lot over to the Methodist Church.

The congregation built a small wood-framed structure on brick pilings and scheduled a particular night to hold a dedication service. There being no weather satellites in the sky in 1878, they had no idea that later that night a powerful hurricane would hit the North Carolina coast. A tremendous amount of water was pushed out of Pamlico Sound and into the streets of Swan Quarter. After dawn the following morning the people were treated to an unusual sight.

During the night, the water had rushed under the church that had been dedicated only a few hours before, lifted it off of its pilings, and floated it about a hundred yards down the street. And, believe it or not, it came to rest on the lot Mr. Saddler had refused to either donate or sell to the congregation. In fact, it settled in the exact spot they had originally planned to build. The first person in the Register of Deeds office that Monday morning was Mr. Saddler, and he deeded the lot to the Swan Quarter Methodist Church.

I would like to know what Mr. Saddler was thinking during that dark night in Swan Quarter as the hurricane was causing devastation on the North Carolina coast. Having treated the Methodists so gruffly, and having rejected their request for a lot on which to build their church, I especially would have enjoyed seeing his face following daybreak as he went out to survey the damage and saw the church sitting on the lot he had refused to either give or sell.

In today’s world, when it comes to starting a business or industry, the first important decision that must be made is where to locate it – or, as they say, “location . . . location . . . location.” Selecting the right location is also important when a church needs to build. Rejecting what the Methodists in Swan Quarter wanted was easy for Mr. Saddler. But did the church’s new location on his land cause him to believe he had also rejected what God wanted?  If so, God’s location won!

If there are any important decisions you need to make in your life, especially with regard to your relationship with God, please don’t wait until a hurricane is swirling around you before you make them.

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Hypocrisy is an ugly word. It is even uglier when it moves beyond being just a word to describe a person’s lifestyle. Hypocrites are pious pretenders who preach by the yard and practice by the inch. They never intend to be what they pretend to be. We see them in every area of public life – in the business world, in politics, in education, service institutions, etc. But they are especially odious and destructive when they are found in churches. Paul said, “They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof” (II Timothy 3:5).

Just when I think I have heard every excuse that people could possibly give for not attending church or choosing to become a Christian, I hear a new one. The most used excuse, however, is probably this: “I would attend church and become a Christian if there weren’t so many hypocrites in the church.” I usually say to those who use this excuse, “You are hiding from God behind a hypocrite. You can’t hide behind anything that is not bigger than you are. God’s Word says that on Judgment Day every person will have to give an account of his or her life – that includes the hypocrites in churches, and it also includes you!”

It goes without saying that Jesus had an intense dislike for hypocrites. He showed compassion and offered forgiveness to a woman caught in the act of adultery. He gave a Samaritan woman living water. He ate in the home of hated tax collectors. He associated with and healed lepers who were considered outcasts by others. But when He came into the presence of hypocrites He saw red. He called them “whited sepulchers which appear beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27).

As a Christian minister I have tried to pay close attention to how people present themselves to others. I am absolutely convinced that telling the truth and behaving truthfully in everything we do is healthier and more beneficial in the long run than intentionally or unintentionally conveying any kind of pretense or falsehood.

A piano manufacturer once sought to get a testimonial from Will Rogers for his pianos. Rogers, who never endorsed a product unless he totally believed in it, wrote this letter to the piano firm: “Dear Sirs: I guess your pianos are the best I ever leaned against. Yours truly, Will Rogers.” I doubt the piano manufacturer used this testimonial in his advertisements. It would not have sold a single piano.

Rogers had a reputation of being an honest man. He was familiar with the definition of the word “hypocrite” – and he didn’t want to be one. He refused to say something he didn’t know by personal experience to be true. Refusing to be a phony, under any circumstances, may cost you for a little while in some ways, but the long-term consequences will be enormously positive.

There is something magnificently un-hypocritical about little children. They generally say the first thing that comes to their minds. They tell the plain, unvarnished truth as they see it – even if it is hard to handle! I suspect you have encountered situations like this one:

“How do you do, my dear?” said an elderly lady to a little girl.

“Very well, thank you,” was the quiet reply.

There was a pause and then the lady asked, “Why don’t you ask me how I am?”

“Because,” said the child calmly, “I’m not interested.” It wasn’t the answer the elderly lady either expected or wanted. Children are generally honest – even when what they say is not tactful.

If we could learn to avoid hypocrisy like it was the plague, we would save ourselves an enormous amount of trouble. This is true for two reasons:

First, our inner contentment as persons requires that we be genuine.  We will always be happier and more satisfied with ourselves when our relationships with others are genuine rather than superficial. I have counseled with many people concerning their problems, but I have never found this principle to be counterproductive in any of their relationships with others.

Second, hypocrisy always violates and devastates relationships. When those with whom we associate recognize that we are presenting ourselves in false ways – ways designed to bolster our image or achieve some desired selfish goal – they lose confidence in us.

Lost confidence produces defensiveness. This, in turn, keeps personal interactions superficial. Intimacy is needlessly blocked. And our relationships fail to forge the kind of deep bond that is necessary in order to make them meaningful, long-lasting, and fulfilling.

The best policy in life is to shun hypocrisy like the plague. If you do, your relationships will be genuine and enduring. Others will learn to trust and respect you. Oh, and one more thing: It is the only way you will ever fully become the wholesome and whole person God created you to be.

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“To think or not to think” – that is not the question! “What we choose to think about” – Ah, that is the question! The thoughts, feelings, and interests which we allow to invade and occupy our minds will begin to mold our character. Indeed, we will become what we continually think about.

Marcus Aurelius wisely said, “As are thy habitual thoughts, so will be the character of thy mind, for the soul is dyed the color of its thoughts.” What he was saying is that thinking the right kind of thoughts produces healthy attitudes that lead, in turn, to constructive actions. Having the right attitude is more important than our past, our possessions, our successes or failures, or even what others think about us. Our attitude is what keeps us going or keeps us from going. When our attitude is right, no barrier is too high, no valley too low, no dream too extreme, and no challenge too great.

But it is not always easy for us to have the right attitude, is it? Think of the things that suck up our attention and energy like a sponge, all of which are inescapable: the tick of the clock, the weather, the actions and reactions of others, who won the ball game, the results of an X-Ray or physical examination, irritations that can’t be avoided, the demands of our workload, April 15th and taxes, having too much month left over at the end of our money, etc.

When we fight against things we cannot change, we get ulcers, we have headaches, we become grouchy and hard to live with, and we could even possibly die. One study, called “Broken Heart”, researched the mortality rate of 4,500 widowers within six months after their wives had died. Compared with other men their same age, the widowers had a mortality rate forty percent higher. Not one of us can prevent those times or experiences which put us in the middle of an emotional hurricane. But there are constructive ways of dealing with those experiences. We can consciously choose to have a positive attitude.

If we develop a negative pessimism, our joy will not only run away and hide, but we will make everyone around us miserable. One lady was asked, “Did you wake up grouchy this morning?” She replied, “No, I let him sleep as long as he wanted to.” I even read of a grouchy fellow in Alabama who had a telephone installed in his home just so he could hang up on people. If you want to spoil a grouchy person’s day, give him a smile. Constantly looking on the dark side of life is to miss the joy of living.

Apostle Paul has some good advice to offer at this point: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV). There it is again – The mind! Attitude! By getting rid of those things that drag us down, we make room for joy. Circumstances happen that could easily crush us – at home, on the job, or elsewhere – and immediately we have to make a choice – an ATTITUDE choice. We can hand the circumstance over to God . . . or . . . we can play the role of martyr. Joy waits for our decision.

When we deliberately choose to exclude God from our circumstances we exclude joy from our lives. We then tend to gravitate in one of two directions, and sometimes both – “blame” or “self-pity.” When things go wrong we find it easy to blame ourselves, or someone else, or God. When we blame ourselves, we multiply our guilt, rivet ourselves to the past, and decrease our already low self-esteem. When we blame God, we cut off our source of power, doubt replaces trust, and we become bitter, cynical, and hard to live with. When we blame others, we alienate ourselves and poison our relationships

The apostle Paul was right when he encouraged the Philippian Christians to give serious thought to those values that are permanent. He knew that such thoughts would shape their attitudes in a way that would lead to actions which both glorified God and blessed others. Twenty-first century Christians need to follow Paul’s counsel equally as much as did the Philippian Christians in the first century. As a popular song some years ago expressed it, “When you emphasize the positive, you eliminate the negative.”

Keep your face turned toward the One who said, “I am the Light of the World” and you will never see the shadows (John 8:12).

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Leonard Bernstein, orchestra conductor, was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play. He thought for a moment and said, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”

It was a very keen observation about human nature, but the truth is that all of us must play second fiddle part of the time – on the athletic field, in the home, in church, and out in the big world where we work and play. Few people have a leading role, and to say this is not to speak disparagingly of supporting roles or bit parts. In a dramatic play it takes all the actors to make the play complete. If all you saw or heard was the lead actor, the plot would be very dull indeed.

When King Saul in ancient Israel came back into Jerusalem following a huge victory, he was met by a group of young girls who were singing, “Saul has slain his thousands!” I’m sure these words were met with tremendous approval by Saul, and he probably was thinking to himself, “I’ve got to have that song written down and preserved forever.” But the stanza continued, “Saul has killed his thousands . . . BUT DAVID HAS KILLED HIS TENS OF THOUSANDS.” “That miserable shrimp!” he was probably thinking, and he proceeded to go mad with envy. He wrecked his life because his ego would not allow him to take second place to anybody. It is not easy for any of us to take second place, is it?

Several years ago when I was pastor in Warsaw, North Carolina I was asked to coach a Little League baseball team. Since I love both children and sports I gladly consented to do this. I had absolutely no difficulty with the boys on my team. Dealing with parents whose sons were not as skilled as some other boys was a different story. One father, whose son couldn’t hit a baseball with a bat if it was as big as a basketball and thrown to him underhanded, thought his son should play every inning of every game. He was not willing for his son to play second fiddle. He did not realize that every team needs players not only on the field of play but also on the bench and during practice sessions.

I am amused when I read newspaper accounts of a professional athlete, who makes millions of dollars every year playing a kid’s game, become unhappy and grouchy because another player signs a contract paying more money than he is getting. The problem is jealousy and selfishness. Such athletes claim they just want to get paid what they are worth – which would be much less than they were already making. Their ego will not allow them to come in second to anybody.

The most unpopular member in some families is the mother-in-law – not in all of them, of course. Brooks Hays, former U.S. Congressman from Arkansas, and a former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, once said, “Behind every successful man is a loving wife . . . and a surprised mother-in-law.” Mothers-in-law hear lots of things like that, but let it be said that most mothers-in-law are outstanding. After all, they were mothers before they became mothers-in-law.

Still, the oldest joke in the world was told about a mother-in-law. A primitive woman runs into her cave and cries out to her cave man husband who is asleep on a bearskin rug, “Come quickly! A saber-toothed tiger is chasing my mother!” The unimpressed husband rolls over to go back to sleep as he says, “What has the tiger ever done for me? Why should I save him from your mother?”

General Robert E. Lee knew the value of playing second fiddle. This great general never stopped being a true southern gentleman. Once, while riding on a train to Richmond, he was seated at the rear of the car. All the other seats were filled with officers and soldiers. A poorly dressed, elderly woman boarded the coach at a rural station and, finding no seat offered to her, she trudged down the aisle toward the back of the car. Immediately, Lee stood up and offered her his seat. The other men then all arose one after another and offered the general his seat, “No, gentlemen,” he replied, “if there are no seats for this lady, there can be none for me!” He knew how to play second fiddle.

The inability to play second fiddle when called for is a sign of selfishness and insecurity. Humility and the ability to give strong consideration to the needs of others are signs of self-respect. Lots of people need to learn that.

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