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Archive for January, 2014

The history of mankind is a record of struggles – within our own lives, within families, between neighbors, and between nations. The search for peace never ends. If you were asked to define peace, how would you answer? Most people define it as the absence of conflict, but peace is much more than that.

In the New Testament the Greek word for peace means “binding together that which has been separated.” Its counterpart in the Old Testament is shalom –  which primarily means “wholeness.” Throughout the Bible “peace” is used in a variety of ways: as a form of greeting, as an indication of freedom from outside hardships and internal distresses, and as a description of concord between nations. It is also a term connoting peace within a nation, within a church, between people in general, and as a state of rest and contentment.

There is a significant difference between having peace with God and having the peace of God in our lives. Peace with God is the result of willfully accepting the atoning work of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. The peace of God is for those who are already at peace with God.

Kenneth Wuest, New Testament scholar, notes certain differences between peace with God and the peace of God. For example: peace with God has to do with justification (being made right with God); the peace of God has to do with sanctification, which is a growth in Christlikeness. Peace with God is the result of our legal standing with God; the peace of God is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. Peace with God is static; the peace of God changes from hour to hour. Every Christian has peace with God; the peace of God every Christian may have.

What these definitions tell us is that the peace of God is enhanced through a closer walk with Him. It is maintained and strengthened through a love relationship. A Christian’s love relationship with God will, through the peace He provides, guard our hearts against thoughts of anxiety, fear, and despair. This is not to say that such thoughts will no longer enter our lives. It does mean that their control over our lives will decrease as the peace of God replaces such thoughts by controlling the seat of our emotions: our heart.

The Apostle Paul emphasized this in writing to the Christians at Philippi: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

God never made a more profound promise to believers than this. It is His declaration to every believer that if we rest in Him, an outlet will be provided for our anxiety and discouragement through the ministry of the Holy Spirit: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

The prophet Isaiah, in looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, said, “His name shall be called. . . . The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Indeed, that is what and who He is! Matthew Henry, highly regarded Bible commentator of another generation says, “When Christ died He left a will in which He gave His soul to His Father, His body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes to the soldiers, and His mother to John. But to His disciples who had left all to follow Him, He left not silver or gold, but something far better – His PEACE.”

Do you have the peace that only Christ can give? If not, it is available – but you must accept it.

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It has often been said that when a person has his religion on parade, “he is wearing his halo too tight.” When your halo is on too tight you not only turn people off, but you make Christianity distasteful and Christ unattractive.

The advertising industry has a slogan, “Running a business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but she doesn’t.” The slogan is true! It pays to advertise! Advertisements empty attics and garages of dust collectors, and line the pockets of yard sale addicts with cash. Advertisements stimulate sales, reduce prices and increase profits. Billions of dollars are spent annually in our country to advertise products.

There are some things, however, that advertising kills: (1) HUMILITY – advertise it and it becomes pride; (2) ALTRUISM, which is unselfish regard for the welfare of others – Advertise it and it becomes egotism; (3) PIETY – Advertise it and it becomes hypocrisy. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6), warns us against wearing our halo too tight. He mentioned three areas where we must avoid any ostentatious demonstration of superior piety:

Our DEEDS: One minister, who was very pleased with what he thought was the superior way he had delivered his sermon, said to his wife on the way home from church, “Honey, how many really great preachers do you think there are in our country?” “I don’t know,” she replied, “but the number is one less than you think.”

Jesus said that genuine piety is not piety on parade. The goal of piety on parade is to draw attention to yourself. Jesus saw hypocrites give alms in the temple after several blasts of the trumpet to announce the gift. In other words, they wanted to draw attention to their gifts, and that having been accomplished, the reward they sought was received. The word that Jesus used is from the business world, and it means “a settled account.” In every church gifts of all sizes have been given, and different motives have been on display – some were sacrificial, and some perhaps to be seen.

Our PRAYERS: Jesus said we should not pray as the hypocrites do. He had seen people stand in the temple and pray long prayers that had as their motive to impress others. Our prayers should not contain needless verbiage. In other words, the goal for our prayers should be: “Dear Lord, Your will, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Amen.” Please know that Christ is not condemning public prayer. On many occasions He attended the synagogue and engaged in prayer, and His disciples did also.

Compare prayer in your mind to a huge reservoir of water. Our prayers do not place water in the reservoir; they only open the gates and allow the water to flow. Prayer is never overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold on His willingness. Jesus gave His disciples what we call the Model Prayer or Lord’s Prayer as a pattern for our praying.

It is through prayer that we find God’s forgiveness for our sins, and learn both how to forgive others and to have a loving attitude toward them. It is a lesson we desperately need to learn. One mother spanked her son for misbehaving. Later that night when the mother knelt beside his bed to pray with him, the little boy prayed: “God bless daddy, God bless my sister and my baby brother, and don’t forget to bless Granddaddy and Grandmamma – Amen” When he got up off his knees he said to his mother, “I guess you noticed you weren’t in it.” He had not yet learned that effective prayer is based both on receiving God’s forgiveness and on a willingness to forgive others.

FASTING: Most Christians today have never practiced fasting along with their praying. Fasting, like praying and serving, should be done with the motive of bringing us into a right relationship with God, never to impress others with our spirituality. Those who fast to impress others have their halo on too tight.

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One of the afflictions of being a pastor is that the members of the church you serve want you to listen, with a straight face, to all the reasons they give for not attending church:

“My parents made me attend church when I was little.”

“I work hard during the week, and Sunday is the only day I have to rest.”

“There are too many hypocrites in the church.”

I have often heard these statements – and countless others like them. When I think I’ve heard every reason that people could possibly give for not attending church, I hear a new one. There was a time when I responded to such statements with simple arguments that exposed them to be flimsy excuses. Then I noticed that what I said didn’t make any difference. If I demonstrated the inadequacy of one excuse, three more would pop up in its place. So, I have tried to listen (with a straight face) while promising myself to later pray that the person making the excuses would one day find the one sufficient reason for attending church – which is to worship God in the context of Christian community.

Why do we never see Christians who are busily involved in building the kingdom of God on the earth without finding, in the background somewhere, an act of worship? Why do we never find a vital Christian community without also finding worship? Why is worship so central to everything Christ calls upon His followers to do? Is it not because worship nurtures our need to be in relationship with God?

“A Christian,” wrote Augustine, “should be an alleluia from head to foot.” That is the reality of who we are as persons created by God. God made us, redeems us, and provides for our needs. The natural, honest, healthy, logical response to that is offer genuine praise to Him. When we praise Him, either individually or in concert with others, we are functioning in accordance with His will for us. We are in touch with the basic, core reality of our being.

Another reason why it is important for Christians to attend church on a regular basis is that it centers our attention on God’s Word. In the Call to Worship we hear God’s first word to us. The hymns we sing help us to give voice to great Christian truths through music. In the reading of Scripture God speaks to us and meets our spiritual needs – both individually and collectively. In the sermon divine truth is revealed to shape our lives. Then, in the benediction He sends us out to a world that is desperately in need of knowing God by seeing His truth revealed in and through our lives.

Dwight Bradley, in Leaves From a Spiritual Notebook, says:

`           “Worship is a thirsty land crying out for rain,

            It is a candle in the act of being kindled,

            It is a drop in quest of the ocean . . .

            It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the universe . . .

            It is time flowing into eternity,

            A man climbing the altar stairs to God.”

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In Greek mythology there is a story about a robber chieftain named Proclustes. The robbers who invaded his territory were taken to his cave, where he had an iron bedstead. They were all carefully measured on this bed. If they were too short for the bed, they were stretched to fit it. If they were too long, their ankles and legs were cut off until their length was the same as the bed. The myth records that the day came when Theseus invaded the territory of Proclustes and killed him, but he did not destroy his iron bed.

To be honest, the bed of Proclustes is still around. You will find it in our homes, in our offices, in our churches, and in every place where humans go. We find it easy to measure others in the way Proclustes did. If they are too short, we stretch them out. If they are too long, we cut them down to size, because they must fit our bed. Southern Baptists have been good at measuring each other in this way in recent years. Since I am a Southern Baptist, I can say this. But we don’t have a monopoly on the practice by any means.

Christ, during His days on planet earth, realized the ease with which we human beings tend to measure others by our own yardstick, not God’s. He saw the scribes and Pharisees measuring others in this way. He saw dissention and division created by the kind of nitpicking that scrupulously strained out gnats from their drink while they swallowed entire camels – hide, hair, humps, hooves, and all.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed the subject of faultfinding directly when He said: “Do not judge, or you will be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NIV). This was not a gentle suggestion. It was not just a gentle nudge: “Do this if you think well of it.” He gave it to His disciples as an imperative. Citizens of God’s kingdom dishonor Him and do harm both to themselves and to others when they engage in the sin of faultfinding.

Jesus was not prohibiting the practice of making moral judgments. It is imperative that we make moral judgments. In fact, Jesus passed moral judgments on others when it was deserved. For instance, He called the scribes and Pharisees “a generation of vipers and whited sepulchers.” I submit that when Jesus calls a group of people vipers, they should definitely consider themselves to be vipers.

The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is diametrically opposed to anyone who would inflict slow death on others by relentless criticism. Some parents overly criticize their children. Teachers overly criticize their students. Employers unfairly criticize their employees. Sometimes ministers unjustly criticize the members of their church family. To use today’s language Jesus is saying: “What goes around comes around.” Another expression we all have heard puts it this way: “Your chickens will always come home to roost.”

When we hesitate to make moral decisions, we can easily drift into indiscriminate moral neutrality. There are times when Christians need to stand up against moral and spiritual wrongs in their community. The statement by Jesus that we will be measured by the same yardstick with which we measure others has been called “the law of reciprocity.” In other words, we get back what we give out.

Edward Wallis Hoch expressed it this way: “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly behooves any of us to find fault with the rest of us.” The important question is this: How can we refrain from the sin of faultfinding? First of all, we should recognize that it is a sin. Second, we should confess it to God as a sin. Third, we should stop doing it, and God will help us do that.

Finally, it is good advice to always let any judgment we make concerning others pass through these three filters: (1) Is it true? (2) Is it necessary? (3) Is it kind?

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A very cynical person once said, “Youth is an illusion, adulthood a blunder, old age a regret.” Just because you have celebrated more than sixty-five birthdays doesn’t mean you have to be a perpetually unhappy person full of regrets. Senior adults who make the greatest impact on their world view the opportunity to keep on celebrating birthdays beyond their sixty-fifth with both gratitude and joy.

They don’t have to spend much time trying to avoid temptation – it avoids them. When they lean down to tie their shoes, they ask themselves, “Is there anything else I can do while I am down here.” Many of the senior men have worked their way through three hairstyles: un-parted, parted, and departed. Others are 42 around the chest, 48 around the waist, 100 around the golf course, and a nuisance around the house. They know they have lots of birthdays behind them, but they still want to celebrate many more. They have learned that the way to do that is to keep taking on new thoughts and throwing off old habits.

It is generally best to look at the years above 65 with humor. A gentleman in Florida on his one-hundredth birthday said, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” He knew that faith, seasoned with an ample supply of humor, can make your later years happy and productive.

I have noticed two basic types of people who have passed their sixty-fifth birthday:

Those who move us with a sense of PITY: They think of the calendar as a banker would a robber, as having stolen everything of value they owned. Their activities are narrowed, their faculties are dulled, and their face is long. Their get-up-and-go got up and went. They grumble and complain to anyone and everyone who will listen. The author of Ecclesiastes saw nothing in front of him but the blunting of pleasure, the dulling of sense, and the extinguishing of desire because, as he expressed it, “man goes to his long home.”

Those who move us to a sense of JOY: They may be frail and near-sighted like the first type, but they have an inward spring of happiness from which contentment leaps to everyone around them. They cannot walk as fast or see and hear as well as in prior years, their judgment is less prompt, their memory sometimes fails to supply a name quickly, but no one ever attaches to them the notion of impoverishment. Children and all healthy creatures are glad at their coming, for they have wisdom and strength to share. Their faith in God is the source which enables them to share their joy with others.

Dedicated senior adults have been to me both an example and a source of inspiration. The psalmist says of such persons, “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12). The palm tree to which the righteous person is compared is the date palm. Fully grown, a palm tree can bear fruit every year for four hundred years. There is no more majestic sight in the desert wildernesses of the Middle East than to see an oasis with their date palms rising toward the sky with their diadem of leaves. They stay green all year long, constantly renewing themselves from their root system below.

The number of people in churches who have retired from serving the Lord is a needless tragedy. Senior adults have maturity and experience that those who are younger do not have. Moses and Aaron, who led the Children of Israel out of bondage toward the Promised Land, were 80 and 83. Joshua, who assumed the leadership following the death of Moses, continued to serve God until he was 110.

“In what way can I bear fruit?” you may ask. You can share your faith and experience with persons you know who are not Christians. You can, with God’s help, live a holy life. You can be a prayer warrior, lifting up those who are in positions of leadership. You can visit and be a friend to someone who has a need.

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