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Archive for November, 2013

Ours is an anti-intellectual age. We have made ideas secondary to appetites, passions, prejudices, and habits. Feelings are more important than facts. As a consequence we possess information without inspiration, data without ideas.

Charles Darwin was at the root of this persuasion. He acknowledged man’s intellectual powers, but he did not see this as reason for our survival. Instead, he gave priority to physical prowess, which he called “the survival of the fittest.” He put instinct above intellect, passion above purity, might above morals. Sigmund Freud contributed to this line of thought also when he said that our actions result from our unconscious or subconscious needs.

Existentialism, a philosophy that has dominated the philosophical landscape in recent decades, is also part of this persuasion. It sees man’s mere existence as the only important thing in an alien and decadent world. It ignores the past, denies the future, and deifies the present. The present tense is all that matters to the existentialist. My mother and father, who are no longer alive on earth, still matter to me. My church family matters. My friends, past and present, matter. I not only exist in the present, but I am inescapably linked with both the past and the future.

Every human’s greatest need is to have a legitimate and meaningful reason to exist. Of course you and I exist, but why? In other words, why are we here? We need to know the answers to these questions more than we need a new house, a new car, a new job – or anything else that an affluent society could possibly provide.

To find meaning there must be a vertical dimension to our lives as well as a horizontal one. This is precisely where the Christian gospel comes in. It declares not only that we were made in the image of God, but that we are marred by sin. It declares that we can be forgiven of our sins and begin to live our lives anew with a sense of redemptive purpose.

In other words, the gospel gives us a reason for existence. It gives meaning in the midst of the ambiguous present. It tells us that we came from God and return to God, and that the chief end of life is to glorify God. It gives us meaning in the present and hope for the future. It is an organizing, integrating, magnetizing center without which life loses its meaning.

Living solely for enjoyment of the present moment is the dominant philosophy of our age. It has produced an almost limitless number of “Good Time Charlies” and “One-Night-Stand Anns.” Pornography is an unbelievably big business in our country. Magazine stands are full of publications that are bought by those who worship at the altars of sexual gratification, material possession, and hedonism. The erotic revolution has produced less happiness, not more. And this has led to rising statistics of venereal disease, illegitimacy, abortion, drug addiction, and broken marriages.

The gospel of Christ speaks powerfully to the age in which we live. It declares to drug addicts and sex deviates, and to the advocates and practitioners of free love, that God loves them in spite of their sins. Through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, they may be saved and given an abundant, meaningful, productive life.

All Christ asks is that we follow Him. He said to His disciples, “Take my yoke upon you.” The yoke symbolizes the discipline and control required of those who choose to follow Him. But the glory is found in these additional words of Jesus: “My yoke is easy.” In other words, the yoke fits well. It is the one thing above everything else that gives lasting meaning to life.

The good news of the gospel is what our world desperately needs. Should the time ever comes when it inspires the world’s thinking and mobilizes the world’s power, a new day of peace with justice will dawn for all men. Unfortunately, that day will not fully come until Christ returns.

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Thomas Gaddis’s book, The Birdman of Alcatraz, is a biography of the convicted criminal and two-time murderer, Robert Stroud. Stroud spent most of his seventy years behind bars and in solitary confinement in the prison known as Alcatraz. During his first twenty years of confinement, he became increasingly withdrawn, bitter, and harder to handle. Needless to say, he was considered to be a maximum-security risk.

However, something happened that drastically changed Stroud’s life. During one of the prison courtyard exercise periods, a tiny sparrow fell from its nest during a storm. Stroud found the sparrow, and initially had the impulse to snuff out the little bird’s life just as he had snuffed out the lives of two human beings – but he didn’t! Instead, he carried the sparrow to his cell and nursed it back to health.

His interest had been aroused, and he read everything he could on the subject of birds. Other prisoners began sending their ill canaries to him. When encountering diseases that had no known cure, he would experiment and often find a cure. Little by little he was changed from an incorrigible prisoner to a quiet, serious, able authority on birds.

One day Stroud asked his guard, a man with whom he had previously refused to speak, for the orange crate on which he was sitting, that he might make a cage for his sparrow. “For twenty years I’ve tried to get through to you and be nice to you,” the guard said, “but you have never given me the time of day.” After a few minutes of silence, however, the guard had a change of heart and slipped the orange crate into the cell. When Stroud noticed it, he mumbled two words he had probably never said: “Thank you!”

Robert Stroud’s rehabilitation began the moment he learned to say, “Thank you,” and mean it. Only then did he begin to understand himself. He began to realize that he was not the isolated, self-sufficient, independent character he had so long pretended to be. In the same way, it is only when we can say: “Thank you,” and mean it, that we begin to understand ourselves for what we are – – creatures rather than creators, receivers rather than givers. Paul Tillich spoke wisely when he said: “A man who is able to give thanks seriously accepts that he is a creature and acknowledges his finitude.”

It is only by being grateful that we can recognize how dependent we are – upon God first of all, and also upon others, for our very being. It is always a tragedy when we forget who we are and why we are here. This is what the ancient writer of Deuteronomy meant when he said, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10-14a NIV).

Is this not an accurate picture of what is happening in our country today? When we forget to give thanks, or refuse to, we forget who we are – creatures of the living God, dependent upon Him for our very being; indeed for every breath we breathe. There are basically three reasons why we need to have the spirit of thanksgiving in our lives: (1) to teach us who we are, (2) to remind us that we belong to God, and (3) to make us aware of the countless ways we are blessed by others.

He who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness.

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Perhaps you have heard the story of an Oklahoma woman who refused to marry her boyfriend on religious grounds – she worshiped money, and he was broke! If your primary goal in life is the accumulation of wealth, you need to know that every material thing you own at the time of your death will then belong to Uncle Sam, family or friends, or causes as specified in a probate will. Every smidgen of it will be left behind!

Lots of people have dreamed of carrying their wealth with them following death, but no one has yet succeeded. High on a hill beside the Ocmulgee River in Macon, Georgia is an ancient Indian tribe burial ground. Graves were excavated and covered with a glass enclosure to secure and preserve the contents. Buried with the deceased are the things they considered valuable in life: beads, arrowheads, precious gems, gold, etc. They believed these things would be useful to them in the “great hunting grounds in the next life.”

In 1922 the tomb of young King Tutankhamen, who ruled Egypt from about 1358-1346 BC, was discovered. The royal tomb was filled with beautiful ornaments and furniture of many kinds, including his royal throne. King Tut, for short, was buried in three coffins, the second and third coffins inside the outside coffin. The inner coffin was made of 2,447 pounds of pure gold, the largest gold object in existence. King Tut’s tomb was as near as anyone has ever come to taking the wealth they owned here on earth into the next life.

Material goods, of course, are very important. All of us need food, clothes, shelter, tools, and transportation. We also need religious expression, government, education, art, health care, etc. All of these things cost money. Jesus would not have taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” if He had not considered material things to be important. We live in homes and drive automobiles. We have bank accounts, because they give us the means to provide for our legitimate needs. What Jesus condemns is the storing up of material goods to the point of making them the most important priority in our lives (Matthew 6:19-21).

An interesting conversation took place between an elderly Christian and a young man getting ready to attend college. The prospective student was asked, “What are you going to do in life?” He replied, “First, I’m going to get an education.” “And then?” “I will go into business.” “And then?” “I will make my fortune.” “And then?” “I will retire on the money I have earned.” “And then?” “I suppose I will die.” “And then?” came the probing question again. The point the elderly Christian was trying to make is a good one.

Since Jesus assured us that life continues beyond death (John 14:1-6), it is important to focus on the kind of wealth that will not be left behind when we die. Though we cannot take any material wealth with us from this life into the next, the Bible makes it clear that we can send it on ahead. That is tremendous news. It is why Jesus challenged His followers to “store up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20).

Material treasures here on earth are subject to deterioration and decay. Robbers can steal them, and often do. A stock market crash can quickly make what you have invested totally worthless. The only thing a dollar will get you as much of today as it ever has is four quarters, ten dimes, twenty nickels, or one hundred pennies. And about the only thing you can get today with a penny is heads and tails. But know this: The moment you die, you will immediately inherit all of the treasure you have sent on ahead.

The treasure you have in the bank of heaven is what you have invested in the building of the kingdom of God on earth. Where is your treasure located? Is it only what you have on deposit in the bank and/or in your stock portfolio? How much do you have on deposit in the Bank of Heaven? What you have deposited there you cannot lose. And it will pay dividends forever!

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Have you adopted specific goals you would like to achieve in life? People who fail to achieve the goals they have set for themselves often do so because they haven’t discovered the right formula. But becoming successful is really not a mystery; in fact, it is quite simple. All you have to do to succeed is fail.

That’s right, fail…and then learn from your failures. It is generally believed that failure is diametrically opposed to success, the enemy of success, but this is not true. In fact, failure is the first step toward success. Failure is a stern teacher, but a very helpful one.

I read recently about a young executive who asked his company president how he had become successful. He replied, “By making good decisions.” The young man then asked him how he had learned to make good decisions. The president replied, “By making bad decisions and learning from them.”

When someone mentions the name Babe Ruth, the first thing that likely pops into your mind is the fact that he hit 714 home runs during his career. You possibly do not know that he also set a record for striking out. Thus, he also failed a lot, but he kept swinging the bat until he became a tremendous success.

In order to succeed you must do more than learn from your failures and keep on trying. You must also refuse to let what others say about you cause you to stop pursuing your goals. The fact that others may not believe in you should never keep you from believing in yourself. Consider where we would be today if the following people had thrown up their hands and given up on achieving their goals:

Beethoven’s music teacher said of him, “As a composer, he’s hopeless.”

When Isaac Newton was in elementary school, his work was evaluated as poor.

One of Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was unable to learn.

Caruso’s music teacher said that his voice sounded “like wind blowing through a window shutter.”

Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four years old, and couldn’t read until he was seven. He struggled with dyslexia.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he didn’t have any good ideas.”

Louisa May Alcott’s editor told her that her writings would never appeal to anyone.

Someone evaluated Henry Ford in his early career as having “no promise.”

Admiral Richard Byrd was originally evaluated as “unfit for military service.”

And guess who failed the sixth grade? Winston Churchill.

The Royal College gave Louis Pasteur an evaluation of “mediocre.”

Fortunately each of them kept going forward. They learned from their failures, and did not allow the negative opinions of others to keep them from becoming eminently successful. If you will keep your eyes fixed clearly on your goals, give your best always, learn from your failures, and believe in yourself, with God’s help you also will succeed in becoming all that you were created to become.

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