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Archive for February, 2014

In The Grace of Giving Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed a friendship with George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.

“No, Peter,” General Washington said, “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”

“My friend,” exclaimed the preacher, “He is the bitterest enemy I have.”

“What?” said Washington, “You have walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata – no longer an enemy but a friend.” Loving others is how the world knows that we are Christians.

Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). But sometimes it is just plain difficult to love some of the members of God’s family, isn’t it? A man said to me on one occasion, “I love mankind; it’s just certain people I can’t stand.” Loving people in general is not so hard; loving specific people can be an altogether different story.

To deny that loving others is possible, though, is to deny the truth of Scripture. Look at it this way: God, who is the very embodiment of love, created us in His image. We, therefore, have the capacity not only to love, but also to love everyone – just as God does. God came to earth as a man named Jesus. He manifested His love in human form. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling within, and since God is love . . . well, you get the picture. God’s love is “made complete” in Christians as we demonstrate our love for one another.

Because no one has seen God at any time, love makes us the embodiment of who God is. For many people, the only evidence of the love of God they will ever know may be us – the way we treat others, the kindness, compassion, tolerance, and patience we exhibit to others. This means that others see the love of God, or fail to see the love of God, largely by the way we demonstrate His love in our attitudes, words, and actions.

Think about this the next time that negative member in your church gets on your nerves – and some people are experts at doing this. God has promised not only that you can care for such a person, but that you can demonstrate the love of Christ to him. Loving those who love us is easy, but loving those who are hard to love is much more difficult. Even so, it is a small price to pay in exchange for the awareness that you have borne an effective witness to the love of God.

If you have the joy of being part of a church where the members genuinely love one another, you are truly blessed. A church like that will always have a dynamic impact on its community. Unfortunately there are also churches where dissention and distrust prevail. Such a church cannot have a positive impact on its community.

Not every church member, or even every pastor, demonstrates Christian love as well as did Peter Miller in the days of the American Revolution. For example, I read the story recently of a pastor who was fired by his church following a bitter church split. Feeling anger toward them, he decided to have the last word. Following his death he was buried in the church cemetery. The church members who had fired him found these words inscribed on his tombstone:

Go tell the world that I’m dead,

But they need shed no tears;

For though I’m dead I’m no more dead

Than they have been for years.

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Playing the blame game

“Don’t blame me! He did it!”

“It would never have happened if…..”

People play many different types of games, but “the blame game” is undoubtedly the one played by more people than any other. This is true because it is so much easier to blame others for our wrong decisions and actions than it is to assume personal responsibility.

People get away with a lot. An FBI agent embezzled $2,000 from the government and blew it all in one afternoon of gambling. He was understandably fired. But then he was reinstated. Why? The court ruled that he had a gambling addiction and was protected under federal law because of his “handicap.” It was not a handicap that anyone had forced upon him. He was a gambler because he had personally chosen to become one. This fact the judge, for some strange reason, seemed not to realize.

I recently read the story of a man who applied for a job as a park attendant. The park ran a background check, and guess what they discovered about him? He had been convicted more than thirty times for indecent exposure and flashing. It would have been an extreme risk to hire a man with this in his background, so he was turned down. So, what did he do next? He followed the new American pastime and sued the U.S. Park Service. He said he had never flashed in a park, only in libraries and laundromats. You know the outcome. The officials hired him because the judge said he had been a victim of discrimination.

In the Discipleship Journal, Don McCullough tells the story of the manager of a minor league baseball team who was so disgusted with his center fielder’s performance that he ordered him to the dugout and assumed the position himself. The first ball that came into center field took a bad hop and hit the manager in the mouth. The next one was a high fly ball, which he lost in the glare of the sun – until it bounced off his forehead. The third was a hard line drive that he charged with outstretched arms. Unfortunately, it flew underneath his glove, bounded up, and smacked him in the eye.

Furious, the manager ran back to the dugout at the end of the inning, grabbed the center fielder by his uniform, and shouted, “You idiot! You’ve got center field so messed up that even I can’t do a thing with it!”

First of all, blaming somebody else for something you have done is neither honest nor helpful. It cripples the atmosphere in the workplace. It sows discord within families. It creates so much division within churches that they are unable to accomplish their divinely assigned mission. Blaming others is a human tendency that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Second, blaming others is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another person, and regardless of how true what you say may be, it will not change you. You may succeed in making other persons feel guilty by blaming them, but it will not succeed in changing the events that are making you extremely unhappy.

God’s Word suggests a better way to live than by blaming other people. King David committed adultery and murder and then lied about it. He found peace only after he chose to become personally accountable to God (read Psalm 51). And here is the wise counsel found in Proverbs 28:13 — “A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance.”

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Why Did I Do That?

Visualize the scene: A Christian couple that normally has smooth sailing in their marriage is home one evening – and they are going over their monthly bills! They have both worked hard that day, and they are already tense before they realize there will be some month left over at the end of their money. Little by little they become testy with each other. Before long they are yelling at the top of their lungs – behavior that has been uncharacteristic of their relationship.

Later, Joe and Jane make up with tears. Question: Why did Joe and Jane act that way?

Ronald is a faithful deacon in his church. His church is important to him. He considers himself to be an ambassador for Christ wherever he goes. But one day he is driving home from work, and an impatient driver is tailgating him. Ronald gets more and more frustrated. Then Mr. Tailgater passes and screams unintelligibly at him. He yells back, “You stupid jerk, why don’t you learn to drive? You dummy!” Question: Why did Ronald act that way?

Now let’s bring the question closer home: Have you ever had those or similar impulses? You would be way above the average if you haven’t. Impulsive behavior is understandable in an unregenerate person, but why do sincere followers of Christ think, speak, and act inconsistently with the gospel of our Lord? It might be a surprise to you, but Apostle Paul struggled with this dilemma – and he wrote thirteen books included in the New Testament.

How many times have you asked yourself, “Why did I do that? Why did I lose my temper? Why did I laugh at an off-color joke? Why did I spank my child solely because I was angry? Why did I pass on that gossip about my neighbor? Why? Why? Why?” Deep within each of us is the tendency, at least occasionally, to do what we really do not want to do. Therefore, how can we isolate this impulsive behavior and deal with it?

Samuel Smiles, summing up what Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount, penned these wise words: “Sow a thought, reap an act; Sow an act, reap a habit; Sow a habit, reap a character; Sow a character, reap a destiny.” That is how vital our thoughts are. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

Our admiration guides our affection. Jesus expressed it this way, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” It all begins with what we admire. It was so with Adam and Eve and with King David when he, lusting for Bathsheeba, had her husband killed so he could have her for himself. Just as with David, it is also true of you and me. That which we consider to be important will claim our highest affection and consume a significant portion of our time.

Our affection governs our attitude. Again the question, “Why do we do what we do?” Apostle Paul said, “The god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are living in a day when God is consistently being pushed to the periphery of public life. Marriage and the family are being redefined to include any and every kind of relationship. These things are true because people are making decisions from their emotions and not according to the mind of Christ.

Our attitude guarantees our action. Jesus said that no person can serve two masters. This is true because the orders given by two masters are often diametrically opposed: one commands us to walk by faith, and the other commands us to walk by sight; one commands us to be humble, and the other commands us to be proud; one demands that we set our affections on things above, and the other demands that set our affections on things on the earth.

The important question is: “What can we do to constructively deal with our impulsive behavior?” We can repent before God and ask that He indwell our lives. The Prodigal changed his mind, and that changed his will. In changing his will, his actions were changed. It was only then that he headed in the direction of home. I think you get the point.

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The myths about marriage are omnipresent in our culture. The mythical scene goes like this: You are trudging along in life – lonely, but coping. You see someone across a crowded room that makes your heart beat faster. Fade in music. Fade out loneliness. You are lifted to the pinnacle of bliss, wedding bells ring, and Prince Charming and Cinderella live happily ever after. For many couples, however, this is myth, not reality.

In a Ribbesford, England this epitaph is inscribed on the tombstone where Anna Wallace is buried:

“The children of Israel wanted bread;
The Lord sent them manna.
Old Clerk Wallace wanted a wife;
The devil sent him Anna.”

It is following the wedding day that reality sets in. Challenges present themselves, and problems arise. As Cher once observed, “The problem with some women is that they get all excited about nothing – and then marry him.” In other words, what they thought would be heaven on earth quickly becomes hell on wheels.

Success in marriage is more than finding the right person; it is also the matter of being the right person. Divorce court statistics tell the story of countless married couples who were: (1) not prepared for marriage, or (2) not willing to do the things following their wedding day that every marriage needs to succeed.

The most damaging myth in our society concerning marriage is that it is primarily about receiving, but this is also not true. Marriage is about giving. Ask anyone who has been joyfully married for fifty years or more and they will describe their relationship as one that involves giving – with no thought of return. Husbands and wives who believe that marriage is primarily about receiving have not yet learned the joy of giving.

Several years ago Zsa Zsa Gabor was on a call-in radio show, and a caller said, “I would like to break up with a man, but he has been so nice to me. He gave me a car, a diamond necklace, a mink stole, beautiful gowns, a stove, expensive perfumes, and lots of other nice things – what should I do?” Without hesitation, Zsa Zsa said, “Give him back the stove.” This “me-first” attitude and lifestyle is all too common in our world.

Couples stand at the marriage altar before God, friends and in-laws, and solemnly promise to love one another until death parts them. Immediately following the wedding ceremony the responsibility of living up to that commitment begins. It is in unreservedly giving themselves to each other, and in seeking God’s blessings on their marriage, that their union will be able to provide the joy and stability they both want and need.

God’s Word describes a husband’s responsibility in this way: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy . . . that He might present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV).

God’s Word says that wives should “submit to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:22 NIV). Our politically correct world, in criticizing this teaching, fails to realize that no wife will ever have reason to fear submitting to her husband who loves her in the same way Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her redemption. In submitting to him she will be submitting to the one person who is already totally submitted to her. Thus, an ideal marriage involves mutual submission – husband and wife to each other, and both to God.

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