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Archive for June, 2013

Several years ago, somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning, my phone rang. A policeman on the other end said there had been a break-in at our church. I put my clothes on as quickly as I could and met him at the church. Most churches, especially in urban areas, have had break-ins. They usually happen on Sunday night when burglars surmise that the Sunday offerings are still in the church office.

The major problem churches face is not having break-ins occur; it is the lack of sufficient break-out. This by no means is a plea to do away with or curtail what happens inside the church building. What happens there is extremely important – especially if it leads to genuine “break-out” into its surrounding community.

God expects the church in each generation to get out of the harbor and sail on the open seas of human need. The army that never gets out of the briefing room will never win any battles. The athletic team that never gets out of the locker room to head to the field of play will never win any games. The great Quaker theologian, Elton Trueblood, once described the modern church as “a stained-glass foxhole” – in other words, a group of people who meet within the church walls in total isolation from their community. What every church that can be described as a stained glass foxhole needs is to stage a “break-out.”

A break-out makes sense when you understand what a Christian church is. God spoke to Abraham in the ancient city of Ur and made a covenant with him and with his descendants – a covenant based on faith that made the people of Israel a “called-out community.”  In the New Testament we see God making a “new covenant” based on faith – faith that accepts redemption through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary’s cross.

The apostle Paul described the church as “Christ’s body” (I Corinthians 12:12-30). A body is a marvelous instrument – each part designed to serve a particular function. So it is with the members of a church. It is Christ’s presence within the body of believers that makes it a church. Without Christ’s presence it is just an organization, such as a civic club or lodge or fraternity.

In the early days of our country out west there were large cattle ranches that had huge cattle drives to large livestock centers in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Dodge City. Each ranch had a branding iron with which they stamped their brand on their cattle. Rustlers were often caught because of the presence of a brand. A “maverick” was a calf without a brand – anyone could steal it and stick his own brand on it. Every Christian should ask himself or herself, “To what degree do I bear the brand of Christ to the world around me?”

A break-out also makes sense when you understand what the world is. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the entire world (not just a few people) that He gave His only Son . . . so that whoever believed in Him might have eternal life.” I feel sorry for people who believe that God belongs to them and to them alone. God loves every single person in the entire world. It is the assigned mission of every church to share this fact – not just inside its church walls – but out in the community and throughout the entire world.

My father, a small town barber in Georgia, many years ago prepared a tomato plant seed-bed every spring. Farmers for miles around would come to town to buy seedling tomato plants from him and transplant them in their gardens. The church is a plant-bed. Fruit is never produced in the plant bed.

Don’t lose a lot of sleep if your church has had a break-in. But you should be really concerned if it has been several years since it has had any significant break-out into its surrounding community.

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Benjamin Franklin listed twelve virtues which he thought embodied the traits of a good life: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. Certainly these are all vital life qualities. Notice, however, that Franklin listed humility last.

Jesus taught His followers to put humility first. He also demonstrated humility in His daily walk. Every list of sins in the Bible lists pride first because it is a fracture in the foundation on which our lives are built. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Some beautiful words written by Isaac Watts make it clear that those who pattern their lives after Jesus Christ will not be dominated by pride. A hymn that he wrote expresses it this way: “When I survey the cross on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines pride as “inordinate self-esteem; conceit; disdainful behavior; ostentatious display.” We all know persons who possess these qualities. They are so full of pride they can strut even when they are sitting down. Temper gets people into trouble, but pride keeps them there.

Pride will do the same thing for you that turning on the dome light in your automobile will do while you are driving down the highway at night. It will have an internal blinding effect that greatly restricts your vision. You will not be able to see clearly the dangers that lie ahead.

Dr. Elton Trueblood, the great Quaker theologian, said: “Though the Bible urges us on to perfection it gives no encouragement to suppose that perfection is achieved . . . A man who thinks he is righteous is not righteous . . . for the reason that he is full of spiritual pride, the most deadly form that sin can take.”

The saintly fourth-century Christian, Jerome (347-419 AD), once warned: “Beware of the pride of humility.” The kind of pride he is describing can say, “I am a very humble person, and proud of it.” This is not genuine humility, and it is even worse than pride. Actually it is pride in disguise. It is the odor that gives it away. It is a putrid personality trait to have.

Those who possess genuine humility strive to be free from pride and vanity. We have all known and have been blessed by genuinely humble persons. They are transparent in that you can see God through them.

Recognition and praise has the power to flood a life and inundate it. If accolades are received by a person who totally enjoys recognition, it can be devastating. Pride is always destructive. It will turn you from a hero into a zero.

Those who are genuinely humble see themselves as God sees them. This awakens their need for His love and forgiveness, for they see themselves as sinners in need of God’s grace. They come with empty hands to receive His love which they could never earn, but which is theirs for the taking. Because they have dethroned themselves they have found peace. Vanity, on the other hand, holds its distorting mirror in front of us so that we see only ourselves.

The degrading power of vanity is illustrated in a story I recently read of a young lady on a trans-Atlantic trip. She happened to notice a man at the next table having difficulty breathing because of a bad cold.

“Uncomfortable?” she inquired sympathetically.

In return she received an affirmative nod.

“I’ll tell you what to do for it,” she said. “Go back to your stateroom, drink lots of orange juice, and take five aspirin tablets. Then cover yourself with all the blankets you can find and sweat the cold out. I know what I’m talking about. I’m Billie Burke of Hollywood.”

The man smiled graciously and said, “Thanks for the recommendation; I’m Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic.”

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In describing the role of fathers Ham Mobley gave this description: “Between the joy of bridegroom and the pride of grandfather, we find a bewildered human being called a father. Fathers are not born and fathers are not made. They are merely something that happens when a wife becomes a mother . . . . Wives try to remake them, daughters have a way with them, and mothers still try to baby them . . . . Nobody is so eager for Friday and the weekend, or so thankful for Monday and the job. Nobody else buys Christmas presents so late, or reserves homecoming tickets so early. Nobody else gets as much pleasure out of giving away cigars, saying “She weighs seven pounds and two ounces” or hearing someone say “He sure favors his dad.”

What is a father? To some he is a biological incidental; to others he is an economic necessity; but the root meaning of the word “father” is “The source or prototype.” A father has also been described as “a man who gives his daughter away to another man who is not good enough for her so they can have children smarter than anybody’s.”

Fortunate indeed are the children who have the privilege of growing up to maturity under the influence of a father who personifies integrity and goodness and all those graces of character that God wants to see nourished and flourishing. It is not difficult biologically for one of the male gender to become a father, but what the world needs is more godly fathers.

If you are a father, the following suggestions will help you to be a godly father:

You must demonstrate that you have been born again. The new birth is essential, first of all, if you are to be the best possible husband. Too many married men who go by the name of Christian do not demonstrate to their wives by the way they live that they have been born again by the Spirit of God. There is a huge difference between being a husband and being a Christian husband. It takes a Christian husband who has been born again to be a godly father.

You must have strong convictions. Moral deterioration is widespread in our culture. Multitudes of people who once had strong convictions concerning right and wrong have yielded to compromise and have sacrificed the principles taught in the Bible. People in high positions in government have been accused of and indicted for fraud, embezzlement, deceit, and other kinds of illegalities, and have then said “I am not guilty of any wrongdoing.” Centuries ago the Greek philosopher Diogenes walked through the streets of Athens with a lantern. Someone asked him what he was doing, and he replied, “I am looking for an honest man.” We need Diogenes to walk America’s streets today.

You must set the right kind of example. Here are four areas where a father’s example is extremely important: (1) In reverence and worship. The Bible gives to the father the primary responsibility for spiritual leadership in a home. Joshua said to Israel: “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). (2) In truthfulness and speech. (3) In providing Christian discipline for children. (4) In demonstrating a Christian lifestyle. A man who is unfaithful to his wife and who rents pornographic films to watch at home shouldn’t be surprised when he learns that his teenage daughter is pregnant, or that his son has participated in such an arrangement. (5) In modeling compassion and forgiveness.

You must love your family. The family is the most basic unit of a stable society. A man who genuinely cares for his family is investing his affection in that which will pay the greatest dividends throughout life and for eternity. A man who genuinely loves his family will, with God’s help, be faithful to his marriage vows. When children know that their father loves their mother and is faithful to her in every relationship of life, they will have a much better chance to become emotionally and spiritually stable when they become adults. All the fishing and ball games or dance recitals will not suffice to bring love to children in a home if “daddy does not love mama.”

If you are a father, “Can your children see God in your life?”

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In one of the episodes of the old television show, Gunsmoke, an outlaw picked a poverty-stricken town outside Dodge City, Kansas to ply his trade. He had heard that even though the town was poverty-stricken the church in that town possessed a crucifix and candlesticks made of solid gold. He had no compunctions about desecrating a holy place, and he quickly robbed the church.

As he was leaving, however, a priest appeared, blocking his route of escape. Quickly the outlaw added murder to the crime of robbery. But, as the outlaw knelt by his victim, the priest performed a strange ceremony. He dabbed his thumb into his own blood, traced a crude cross on the forehead of his murderer, and whispered, “I forgive you.” The outlaw could never get the words of the priest out of his mind. Such grace had caught him off guard and left him defenseless. By taking the initiative for forgiveness, the priest demonstrated the gospel of the cross.

What happened to that outlaw? Troubled, guilty, he fled when not pursued. At one point he tried to return the stolen treasures to another church, but the Baptist preacher did not use gold altarware in his church. Wherever he went, people were repulsed by what he had done – robbing a church and killing a priest. Driven by guilt from town to town, he ended up in Dodge City, Kansas, and in a tragic gun battle with Marshal Matthew Dillon. Marshal Dillon, of course, drew his gun the fastest and shot the outlaw, who soon died. But as Dillon knelt over him, the man whispered his last breath: “I forgive you.” And the mystery of forgiveness was continued.

Have you, like that outlaw, ever been bothered by guilt? If so, you can understand what William Wordsworth meant when he said, “From the body of one guilty deed a thousand ghostly and haunting thoughts proceed.” Guilt can take away your sleep, ruin your life, and destroy your relationships with others. If you are struggling with the guilt of some past failure in your life, you need to know that there is a way to be rid of guilt.

There are basically three improper ways people respond to guilt: some refuse it, others abuse it, and still others excuse it. Those who refuse it try to block guilt out of their minds – they refuse to feel guilty about anything. This is certainly the case with many mass murderers, serial rapists, pathological liars, and others who engage in persistent criminal behavior. Since their world revolves around themselves, they give little thought to the value and rights of others.

Those who abuse guilt feel guilty about everything. They condemn themselves for everything that ever went wrong in their lives. They have the “I did it” mentality. Perhaps they feel that by accepting the blame for every wrong in sight, they can experience atonement for other wrongs they have done.

Those who excuse their guilt blame others. Alcoholics say things like, “I came from a dysfunctional family.” Those who cheat on their exams in school say things like, “The teacher was unfair.” Criminals say things like, “Societal conditions made me do it.” To blame God, the devil, the church, your parents, your teachers, or society as a whole for your sins or your circumstances is to ignore the fact that you are solely responsible for your decisions and actions.

You can never gain freedom from guilt by suppressing it, by sublimating it into your subconscious mind, or by blaming it on somebody else. In order to deal with guilt constructively, it must be acknowledged, and the sin that produced it must be confessed. King David understood this as he expressed his own inner turmoil in Psalm 32 (notice verse 5 especially). The Prodigal Son, in a story told by Jesus, came home and said to his father, “I have sinned.” The key to saying “goodbye” to guilt is to recognize that only God can take it away and cleanse our conscience. It is when we understand that we have sinned not only against ourselves and other individuals, but also against God Himself, that we will see why it is so important to have God’s forgiveness.

One of the greatest verses in the entire Bible is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Notice that it is “ALL” unrighteousness, not just “SOME” of it. When we confess our sins, God washes them away. That is how you can say “goodbye” to guilt.

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