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Archive for December, 2013

The year that lies ahead can become possibly the best year of your life if you will accept one principle: WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT YOU HAVE.

You could be one of the richest persons in the world, as Howard Hughes once was, and be a recluse hidden away in a dark and lonely hotel room obsessed by fears that terrify you. You could be the most popular entertainer in the world, as Elvis Pressley once was, and take hundreds of pills each day to ease your inner pain. You could be a highly recognized comedian, as John Belushi once was, but have such inner sadness that you will pump your veins full of a deadly narcotic. Who you are and what you have are not as important as what you believe.

Your success and happiness in the coming year will be largely determined by the following four things:

What you believe about yourself: Anorexia nervosa is an awful disease – if it can be called a disease. It afflicts mostly young women between the ages of 15 and 25. One of its most famous victims was also one of the most popular and talented singers a few years ago. Karen Carpenter believed she was too fat. As has sometimes been said, she was so thin she could stand under a clothes line in a shower of rain and not get wet. She looked very much like a victim of starvation – yet, she would still say, “I’m too fat!”

What you believe about your purpose for living: “Why am I here?” is one of life’s most basic questions. Charles L. Allen, in his book, “You Are Never Alone,” tells the story of a man named John Davis who was a farmer and self-styled, self-made man. Through his lifetime he became very wealthy, but had no friends. His wife’s family never approved of him, and had nothing to do with him. At the time of his wife’s death he hired a sculptor to erect a beautiful statue in her memory. He was so pleased that he had other statues built that were overly elaborate.

When people urged him to donate some of his money to meet community needs, he said, “What has the community ever done for me?” He died at the age of 92 in a nursing facility as a ward of the state of Kansas. No one was saddened at his passing. All that is left behind of his life is that monument in a cemetery in Lincoln, Kansas. It is mute testimony to the poverty of the values of a so-called self-made man who never understood the meaning of his life.

What kind of legacy will you leave behind when you are gone? How will your community and the world be changed in a positive way because you lived and died? What is your purpose in life? Are you fulfilling it?

What you believe about others: Millions of Americans are exercising daily and watching their diets in an effort to have good health. Did you know that loving others is also good for your health? Peter Hansen, a therapist consultant who conducts workshops, says: “Love and health go hand in hand.” James Lynch, author of The Broken Heart, says: “The mandate to ‘love thy neighbor’ is not just a moral mandate – it is also a physiological one.” Dr. Robert Taylor, a California psychiatrist, says that loving others is one of life’s greatest stress reducers. Jesus said that loving others is second in importance only to loving God.

What you believe about Jesus Christ: What you believe about Jesus Christ is the key to having a meaningful and successful new year. The Gospel of John describes Jesus as “the Word made flesh” and as “the light that shines in the darkness which the darkness cannot overcome.” Nothing is more important that what you believe about Jesus Christ.

Why is what you believe about Jesus Christ so important? It will determine what you believe about yourself, what you believe about your purpose for living, and what you believe about others. It will also determine how much priority you will give in the coming year to worship, to Bible study, and to prayer. What is happening TO you is not as important as what is happening IN you. It is what you are willing for God to do IN your life that will determine how much He will be able to do THROUGH you in the way of serving others.

 

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Have you ever wondered what was happening in heaven on the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem? I can picture in my mind the angel Gabriel gathering the angels in heaven around him to share the exciting news of the events happening on the earth.

The great congregation of angels around the throne was waiting for the moment called “the fullness of time” to strike when Jesus would be born. I can imagine them intermittently interrupting Gabriel with songs of joy, singing praise to the newborn King, His worthiness, and His glory. One might ask how it can be assumed that the angels were in readiness to be at that scene. The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “When He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him’” (Hebrews 1:6). This was a divine command, and the angels were quick to obey.

The people on the earth were oblivious to what was happening in the stable outside the inn in Bethlehem, but the innumerable hosts of heaven were waiting to worship, praise, and glorify, the newborn Baby. Why? “The fullness of time” had come! In heaven there was a farewell between the Father and the Son in a dialogue that dealt with the purpose of Christ’s coming into the world. The words of God are recorded in Hebrews 10:5-7 – “When He comes into the world, He (God the Son) says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You (God the Father) have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me . . . Then I said, ‘I have come to do Your will.’”

Let us now turn our attention from the conversation in heaven between the Father and the Son to the events that were about to happen in Bethlehem where the angels were waiting and watching. The first event to take place was the arrival of the holy family at Bethlehem. Mary pondered in her heart all the things that the prophets had foretold – which she incorporated into her song, the Magnificat. The fullness of her time had come, and the child was born. The next step was the appearance of the angels to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the fields outside Bethlehem.

Simultaneously, in a far-off nation, the Wise Men, studying the sky, saw the appearance of a new star. They were men chosen of God because of their search for truth. They began their long journey in search of Him who was to be born King. In them we have the forerunners of many Gentiles who were and are yet to come to worship the Christ Child.

All of the angels in heaven were watching and waiting. One can only imagine their excitement when the trumpet sounded and Gabriel announced: “The Savior has been born!” And just as He was born in Bethlehem, He is reborn in every heart and life the moment they acknowledge Him as Savior and Lord. It is why Paul wrote to the Galatians, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19 NASB).

The birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem took place for one reason: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB). The proof of God’s love is that “He gave.” Love reaches out, overflowing beyond the borders and boundaries of self. Love has within itself the desire to make some sacrifice, to do something for the sake of the one who is loved.

Huber, the Swiss naturalist, was standing one day with his mother watching a colony of ants. He was only a boy at the time, but he became deeply concerned, for as he walked closer, he noticed that the busy little creatures were alarmed. Stooping down, he looked more closely at them; then turning to his mother, he said, “They’re afraid of me, mother, aren’t they?” “Yes,” she said, “but they wouldn’t be afraid if they knew how much you love them.” Huber became thoughtful. Then he said, “Mother, how can I tell them that I love them unless I become an ant?”

The point is well taken. That is precisely why Jesus left heaven to become one of us: He loves us!

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Do What?

The disciples of Jesus watched from a safe distance as their Lord suffered an agonizing death on a Roman cross. They had to believe they were next on the authorities’ Most Wanted List. So, what did they do? They headed for the hills until three days later, when Jesus rose from the grave and started making personal appearances to His followers.

They were not really adjusted yet to having Him back with them when He startled them by telling them He was going to leave again. After all they had experienced in the previous days, this had to be almost more than they could take. If He were to go away again, surely He would have some additional words for them – and indeed He did. His final words to His disciples are found in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth?”

Do what?” they no doubt thought, and perhaps expressed verbally as well. “You want us to carry your message to the entire world? Surely, Lord, you must be kidding!” But He wasn’t kidding! Granted, there was that part about the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, but they were in no condition to understand all that this meant. And then, very soon after He had risen from the grave and reappeared among them, Jesus was gone again.

Unbelievable! Try to picture in your mind the kind of whirlwind in which the disciples found themselves. They were given the huge task of telling the whole world all that they had heard and experienced in the previous three years. Some of them had to be thinking, “It is a task far bigger than we can possibly manage. We have had no theological training. We simply can’t do it!” They would not be the last followers of Jesus who would think that way.

Those early disciples knew they had no power within themselves that could make them equal to the task Jesus had assigned them. And they were right! What they learned is that Jesus did not just give them a job to do; He would also provide the power to carry it to completion. Carrying the good news of God’s love to the ends of the earth cannot be done by using human strength alone. Christians and churches have often tried to do that, but they have always failed.

The Holy Spirit came upon history’s first Christians at Pentecost, and they were totally transformed. Men who had hidden themselves in fear as Jesus hung on the cross were given the power to begin at Jerusalem and go out in all directions to boldly tell the story of God’s love. Though they had been fearful, they became fearless. They demonstrated courage and conviction in the face of tremendous opposition. They made such an impact on the first century world that Josephus, the great Jewish historian, referred to them as “men who have turned the world upside down.”

Acts 1:8 explains that the power of the church must always come from the Holy Spirit. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). The ministry of the Holy Spirit is an absolute necessity. It is the only way the church through twenty centuries has carried out its assigned mission. The Holy Spirit’s presence is as necessary today as in the first Christian century if the church is to bear faithful witness of God’s love.

The word “witness” is the key word in the book of Acts. It is used 29 times as either a verb or a noun. A witness is someone who tells what he has seen or heard. When you are on the witness stand in court, the judge is not interested in your ideas or opinions; he only wants to hear what you know. All God asks of Christians is that we be ourselves, rely on the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and tell others what we know about God’s love.

That’s it! Nothing more! Nothing less! Nothing else!

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Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, lived on one of the Greek islands. Near where he lived is an old olive tree that supposedly was planted around the time that he lived. If this is so, this tree would be approximately 2,400 years old. Its trunk is very large, but completely hollow. It is little more than thick bark. It has a few long, straggling branches, but they are supported by sturdy wooden poles every few feet. It has an occasional leaf here and there, but it produces very few olives.

In the fields around, however, olive groves can be seen in all directions. The strong, young trees with narrow trunks are covered with a thick canopy of leaves, under which masses of olives can be found each year. The tree of Hippocrates is still an olive tree in that it still shows the essential characteristics, but it has long since ceased to fulfill an olive tree’s function. Tourists come in droves to inspect this ancient relic, having a link to ancient history, but it long ago ceased to do what it was designed to do.

The tree of Hippocrates is an accurate description of what has happened to many American churches. The form is there, but the function is not. They have some of the characteristics of being a church, but they have stopped reproducing. Some are satisfied with just being big. Others take pride in the fact that they have a noble history. A church begins to stagnate when its members begin to say the following seven things:

We’ve never done it that way before. These words are called “The Seven Last Words of a Dying Church.” Churches are unwilling to try new ideas and methods because they are satisfied with the status quo. They have gotten into a rut. A rut has been described as “a grave with both ends knocked out.”

We’re not ready for that. This is just another way of saying, “We like the way we are. We will perhaps be willing to try something new in the future, but not now. It could possibly work, but we aren’t ready!”

We’re doing all right without it. When churches reach out to their community and bring in new people, they would very likely not think the same way we do. The current power structure would be diluted.

We tried that once before. If it didn’t work then, it is likely that the people who oppose it now are the very ones who made it impossible for it to work when it was tried.

It costs too much. These words have been spoken countless times in an attempt to stymie excellent ideas that would empower a church to fulfill its mission. “Is it God’s will?” is the question a church should ask, not “How much does it cost?” God never asks a church to do more than it is able to do. He enables His followers to accomplish the goals He assigns. We only have to be willing; God supplies the power.

That’s not our responsibility. Saying this is just another way of maintaining the status quo, of saying, “We’re willing to attend church every now and then, but much more than that we are not willing to do. Perhaps what is being proposed can be done by another church, but not our church!”

It won’t work. You never know whether or not anything will work until you try it for the first time. Pessimism doesn’t get anything done. It never did. It never will.

These statements might well be called “The Seven Steps of Church Stagnation.” They inhibit, limit, damage and stagnate! Is your church like the tree of Hippocrates? Or is it alive with enthusiasm? Is it making a positive impact on its community? Are people being born again? If your church is not alive and moving forward, it is moving in the direction of stagnation. The success of your church in fulfilling its divinely assigned mission depends to a large degree upon you.

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