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Archive for July, 2013

We have all known people facing difficult circumstances who have asked God to do certain things, do them HOW and WHEN they requested, only to realize that what they wanted didn’t happen. Their human response was to ask, “Where is God when we need Him most?” It is so easy to forget God when we are sitting on top of the world – and so easy to blame God when things don’t happen precisely the way we want.

Things can go wrong even when we are trying to do everything right. Yes, bad things can and do happen to good people. If you haven’t experienced this in your life, in due time you will, and you will see it happen in the lives of others. Real problems are a part of everyday life. They happen.

Lucy, in the Peanuts comic strip was complaining about her problems. Charlie Brown tried to comfort her by saying, “Lucy, into every life a little rain must fall. Besides, life will always have its ups and downs.” Lucy replied, “But Charlie Brown, I don’t want any ups and downs! I only want ups and ups!” Most of us are like Lucy. We want God to do what WE want, not what HE wants. How many times have you prayed selfishly for something which, if God had given it to you, it would have ruined you?

Consider these five thoughts when you believe God hasn’t answered your prayer:

When your request is wrong, God is denying you. When our motive for asking is not right, God will not grant our requests. This does not mean He has deserted us. He is still there, but He is denying our request for our own good (James 4:3). God is too wise to be fooled by our clever devices and our petty insistence that we get our way. God is omniscient. He knows everything about us – our past, our present, and our future. How can a loving God, who knows everything that will ever happen in our lives, answer “yes” to our prayers if He knows that doing so would ultimately hurt us?

When your timing is wrong, God is delaying you. Timing is crucial to everything in life. God never promised to answer our prayers according to our chosen timetable. There is not one guarantee in Scripture that God will always give us WHAT we want WHEN we want it. God is not our private genie whose primary reason for existence is to pop out of the bottle only when we call on Him. If that were the case, we would be His master, and He would be our servant. Prayer doesn’t work that way.

When your course is wrong, God is directing you. When we get off course in life, God lovingly, yet firmly, directs us back on the proper path. For some of us, this happens frequently; for others it is an occasional experience; but for all of us it is a necessary process in order to keep us in line with God’s will.

When your priorities are wrong, God is disciplining you. God holds us accountable for our actions (Galatians 6:6-7). He is our heavenly Father, and like any good father, He disciplines His children. Why? Because He loves us and wants what is ultimately best for us. When God disciplines us, I believe He does so with a broken heart for our own sake. He is not forsaking us; rather, He is correcting us.

Through it all, God is developing you. “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). As John Bunyan, in Pilgrim’s Progress, said, “We are all pilgrims on a journey, and we have not yet arrived at our celestial destination.” But, we are on our way! While we are on our journey, let us never forget this fact about prayer: In what may seem to be God’s denials or delays, He is answering our prayers in His own way and in His own time. We can trust Him, for He both loves us and has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

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Memory has a very significant ministry in our lives. Who among us is not blessed by remembering precious moments from the past? I count past memories among my greatest treasures: many from my childhood; meeting, falling into love, and marrying the girl of my dreams; the birth of our wonderful daughter, the birth of our grandson; and the birth of our two great-grandchildren (plus a third one on the way).

Even unhappy memories have a unique ministry in our lives if rightly used – such as the times I failed myself, others, and God; the loss of twin sons in 1960, one who lived half an hour and the other an hour; a few difficult moments like those every pastor experiences – times when I learned to forgive, and be patient. I try never to dwell upon unpleasant memories from the past, but I do try to be stronger because of them.

What a wonderful blessing it is to be able to remember. All of us have visited family members or friends in nursing homes whose minds are unable to function, and we say to ourselves, “How tragic!” WHAT to remember and HOW to remember are two questions which often perplex us. But the fact that we can remember things is certainly to be counted among our greatest assets.

Even so, let me put in a good word for the gift of forgetfulness. There are many things we need very much to forget. Nations, as well as individuals, had better learn to forget certain things – not the horrors of war, lest we be guilty of that great sacrilege, the waste of sacrifice. But the old animosities we need to forget. In our nation we need to learn to forget blind prejudices against other races, or there will be a fearful price to pay. While we are often troubled by the things we cannot remember, the chances are great that we are even more deeply troubled by our inability to forget certain things.

There is an old fable about a king who was approached by a magician who offered him, upon certain terms, the gift of a perfect memory. The king told the magician he did not want a perfect memory, but that he would give him everything he possessed if he could teach him how to forget. Most of life’s richest opportunities are never accepted by us because our minds and hearts are cluttered with the scrap lumber from the trash piles left over from yesterday. While we brood about what is past and will never come again into the light of today, the chances to be prepared for tomorrow go unheeded and unaccepted.

Memories we have in abundance, but how many of them are of things that should have been forgotten a long time ago! If our memories are pathetic and not prophetic, if they have no windows toward sunrise, no wings of hope, no capacity to stir our inner being with power, no challenge to reach forth to better things, they need to be drowned in oblivion. Their presence crowds out the nobler, diviner, life-transforming memories.

Maybe you are unhappy because you have not been able to break free from something in your past. The Gospel of Jesus Christ can bestow on you the marvelous gift of forgetfulness. Christ can open up for the aridness of your life overflowing rivers of mercy and grace. God can give you the gift of forgetfulness, so that your memory may be transformed, disciplined, renewed. Are you willing for God to give you the gift of forgetfulness? Would you like to be free of the hurts you have felt at the hands of others?

The only way to master the art of forgiving is the way of Jesus: “Father, forgive them . . .”  How many marriages could be saved, how many churches made alive with power, how many individuals transformed, if only we could learn how to forget certain things? Why not ask God to give you the gift of forgetfulness? The secret is found in Ephesians 4:32. Look it up! You will be glad you did!

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A group of first graders were talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up. One little boy said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a lion tamer. I’ll have lots of fierce lions. I’ll walk into the cage and they will roar and roar.” He paused a moment, then said, “Of course, I’ll have my mother with me.” The thought of being in a cage of roaring lions caused his courage to waver . . . until he realized his mother would be at his side. His self-image received a boost.

In recent years counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists across the world have emphasized the importance of having a proper self-image. Our world is full of people who achieve very little because they do not believe in themselves. How do you feel about yourself?

Recently I read the story of a man in Hong Kong who passed by a tattoo shop. He noticed a window display of the kind of art and statements people have tattooed on their bodies. He was fascinated by one slogan in particular. It contained these three words: “BORN TO LOSE.” To the proprietor of the shop he said, “Do men really have those three words tattooed on their body?” The shop owner replied, “Before tattoo put on body, tattoo on mind.”

Dr. Thomas A. Harris, in his book, “I’m OK – You’re OK”, describes one of the techniques counselors can use in helping people to have a proper self-image. He describes what he calls the PAC (Parent, Adult, and Child) Method of Self-analysis. “In each of us,” he says, “there is a parent, an adult, and a child.” He explains that the parent is that part of us that is authoritarian, that makes demands. The child is that part of us that is dependent, cries, is afraid, or feels alone. It is important to know when the parent or the child is in the driver’s seat, for this is what enables us to move on to the level of being an adult that makes mature decisions and acts upon them responsibly and courageously.

Dr. Harris’s book has its limitations. Self-analysis alone is not enough to give anyone a proper and healthy self-image, for only God can do that. There is power in positive thinking, but only if it is linked with the possibilities that are available through having a dynamic faith in God.

The cure for a low self-image is to gain the realization that where your abilities end, God’s abilities begin. It is to say, “I Can’t! But God and I Can!” Apostle Paul understood this very clearly, for he said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). He did not say “I CAN (by myself) do all things.” He said, “I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens me.”

You will never be used by God in a mighty way if you have a low self-image. God can work a miracle in your life if you totally submit to His will. The first thing He will do in your life is to give you courage. After He gives you courage, He will show you a problem or a need that can be met.  Millions of people in our world do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Some of those are your neighbors. How long has it been since you shared God’s love with even one person?

Every Christian has a ministry, a job to do, a place to serve. What would God have you do? Whatever it is, why not say to God, “I will do what You want me to do, because I know You will go with me.”

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As a young man, Robert McQuilken dreamed of becoming the president of Columbia Bible College in Columbia, South Carolina. His father, whom he adored, had held that position, and he aspired to someday take his father’s place.

Not everyone has the opportunity to see a dream come true, but Robert McQuilken did. When he was chosen president of this outstanding school, he moved into the office his father had occupied with the firm conviction that it was God’s will. He believed that God had called him to the task.

Dr. McQuilken served as president of Columbia Bible College with distinction, and under his leadership it became a premier Christian institution. It has prepared literally hundreds of young men for Christian service, both in the United States and overseas.

It was at this point that Dr. McQuilken had a tragedy on his hands. His wife, Muriel, began to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Her condition rapidly deteriorated, and in a matter of months he found himself faced with the dramatic consequences of her failing health. She not only lost the memory of much of their life together, but she was unable to even recognize him.

He knew he had an important decision to make, and he quickly made it. In March, 1990 he resigned the presidency of Columbia so he could give full-time care to his wife. It was a decision to which he did not give a second thought. He walked away from the position to which he had felt called by God as an act of love for his wife.

There were realists who told him that it didn’t make sense for him to do what he was doing. He had adequate theological training and many spiritual gifts that equipped him to capably serve this outstanding institution. Anybody could take care of his severely incapacitated wife, they said, but not everybody could be president of Columbia Bible College. “Your wife would not know the difference,” they said, “for she does not even recognize you when you come into the room to help her.”

Then there were the superficially pious critics, the kind who plan to go to heaven (provided they don’t overshoot it), who told him he was walking away from a calling from God. “No one should ever go AWOL from God,” they said. “You are letting your personal concern for your wife interfere with your service to the Lord.”

He answered his critics magnificently. To the realists he said, “I know she doesn’t know who I am, but that is not the point. The really important thing is that I know who she is! Furthermore, I recognize her, though she is very forgetful, to be the same lovely woman I married many years ago.”

At this point he turned to his superficially pious critics. His words to them were even more profound: “There is only one thing more important than a calling,” he said, “and that is a promise. Forty-two years ago when we got married I promised to care for her ‘in sickness and in health’ and to be there for her ‘until death parts us.’” Dr. McQuilken knew the difference between what is important and what is most important, between promises made and promises kept. Not everybody does!

Jack Dossenbach, Sanford businessman, and one of the most outstanding Christian laymen I ever served as pastor, in the 1980’s faced the same dilemma Dr. McQuilken faced. His precious wife, Sadie, was afflicted with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The last few years of Sadie’s life were spent in a Lee County convalescent center. Every day Jack was by her side at the appropriate times to feed her lunch and dinner. Late one afternoon I visited the center while Jack was there. As tears rolled down his cheek, he said to me, “Preacher, she doesn’t know who I am, and I am so lonely.” The important thing was this: Jack knew who she was. He was by her side every day because he knew the value of the promise he had made many years before. The world could use more men like Robert McQuilken and Jack Dossenbach.

The strength of a nation depends upon the integrity and faithfulness of its families. Sadly, millions of couples in our country live together outside the bonds of matrimony. Countless other couples who get married view their union as a short-term option until problems develop, not as a lifetime contract. Such marriages generally go through three stages: matrimony, acrimony, and alimony.

The difference between a marriage that lasts and one that fails? Knowing the value of a promise!

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