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Archive for May, 2014

Allan Fromme, in The Ability to Love, tells an interesting story about the Swiss psychiatrist, Eugene Bleuler, who in the 1890’s was famous for his work in schizophrenia. The students in his hospital had come upon a severe schizophrenic man who had deteriorated so far they could get no response from him whatsoever, so they asked Dr. Bleuler to visit the patient in his room.

While Dr. Bleuler was inside the emotionally ill man’s room his students waited outside, gloating within themselves over what they were certain would be the professor’s failure. After about twenty minutes the door opened and the professor and the patient walked out arm in arm, tears streaming down the sick man’s face. Obviously the patient had experienced a genuine emotional response and catharsis.

When the dumbfounded students asked Dr. Bleuler by what profound scientific method he had reached the patient, he answered, “I cried a little, and he cried a little, and that is how it happened.” The learned doctor taught his students a valuable lesson that day. When you can identify with those who have known only rejection to the point of showing genuine concern and compassion for them, they will often respond by opening the door for you to enter their lives.

One of the great problems in our increasingly urbanized world is that people live closer and closer together without really getting to know one another. Those who have no interest in knowing their neighbor will have no desire to become concerned about their needs, or to demonstrate a willingness to meet those needs. Before you find fault with individuals who live isolated from others, how long has it been since you became concerned enough about anyone to pray for them or to cry with them concerning their spiritual need?

In 1981, after having served Temple Baptist Church in Wilmington for twelve years, I accepted the call of the First Baptist Church in Sanford to become their pastor. During that last year in Wilmington I had visited a member of our church in her home as she went through a terminal illness and died. During those visits I tried to win her husband to Christ, but I did not succeed. The brazen hypocrisy of his employer, a professing Christian and leader in his Wilmington church, had stood in his way of becoming a follower of Christ.

During that last week before leaving Wilmington I visited him in order to make one last attempt at leading him to Christ. I said to him, “The one thing I am most sad about as I leave Wilmington is that I have not been able to convince you of the importance of choosing Christ to be your Savior. At that point, I got choked up and cried. I had to wait a minute or so to continue. A few months after I arrived in Sanford the Temple Baptist Church newsletter mentioned that he had become a Christian and had been baptized. I believe my tears made an impression on him where my words had utterly failed. Tears succeed where talk fails.

There were two occasions in the earthly life of Jesus where He is mentioned as weeping: first of all at the tomb of Lazerus (John 11:35), and (2) as He entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday (Matthew 23:37). At the tomb of Lazerus he wept quietly. As He entered Jerusalem, He uttered loud lamentation like one mourning for the dead. Jesus was on the way to the cross to die for the sins of the world. His concern for the lost world was so great that it occasioned sincere tears.

When churches fail to fulfill their mission, could it be that they do not care as much for those who are lost as Christ cared for Jerusalem? Words alone will win no one. Genuine concern accompanied by tears is the formula God recommends. “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” Psalm 126:5-6).

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Millions of young people are currently graduating from high school. What lies ahead for them? And how do they prepare for it? If you are graduating this year, I encourage you to ask yourself the following three questions:

What do I want out of life? Many people go for decades and never have a particular destination in mind. Your greatest danger is not that you will aim too high and miss it; it is that you will aim too low and hit it. Christopher Columbus discovered America by accident. Someone waggishly said, “When he arrived on our shores he didn’t know where he was; when he got back home he wasn’t certain where he had been – and he did it all by using somebody else’s money.” If he were citizen of our country today, he could possibly be a candidate for the U.S. Congress.

If you, as a high school graduate, are to arrive at a worthy destination, you must first know where you have been, and where you are. Though you should not live in the past, it will always be a part of who you are. Your parents, teachers, and others helped to develop you into the person you have become. The time will come in your life, when you realize that the teachers who made you work the hardest, who wouldn’t let you goof off, were your best teachers – though you may not believe that now. It may be only after you are married and have children of your own that you realize how much your parents have sacrificed to bring you to the day when you can graduate from high school.

Am I willing to wait for success in its own time? It is so easy to want what you want immediately – if not sooner! Our world is full of people who want success but are not willing to wait for it, or to work for it. As one who is beyond 80 years of age, may I suggest the following to you: (1) Set worthy and reachable goals; (2) Work diligently to achieve them; (3) and be patient – your time will come.

Proper goals, combined with patience and hard work, produce results that are lasting in nature. Always maintain integrity, and respect the integrity of others. If you keep your body for the one with whom you one day decide to spend a lifetime, you will not regret it. God’s way is better than the world’s way.

Am I capable of making important decisions? Until now you have had the guidance and assistance of your parents, your teachers, and others. You may be looking forward to getting away from home where you don’t have to be home by a certain time, pick up your clothes, cut the grass, or do other chores around the house. When you leave home to enroll in college or other training schools, for the first time in your life you will be responsible for yourself. It is reported that an anxious mother, hovering outside her son’s door on his last night at home, overheard him as he prayed, “Goodbye, God, I’m going to college.” God is as available on a college campus as He is anywhere else in the world.

Ernest Hemingway, in From Success, wrote these meaningful words:

            “We have not wings, we cannot soar,
             But we have feet to scale and climb
             By slow degrees, by more and more,
             The cloudy summits of our time.
             The heights by great men reached and kept
             Were not attained by sudden flight,
             But they, while their companions slept,
             Were toiling upward in the night.”
 

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Most people, when asked if they want to be successful in life, will automatically answer in the affirmative. But what does a person have to do to be successful? Is success just a seven letter word? Or is it much more that? Listen to some of the ways success is defined today.

Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping tycoon who married the widow of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy: “It’s not a question of money. After you reach a certain point, money becomes unimportant. What matters is success. The sensible thing for me would be to stop now. But I can’t. I have to keep aiming higher and higher – just for the thrill.” This statement reminds me of the richest man in my hometown many years ago. Though he owned several thousand acres of fertile farm land and virgin timber in central Georgia, he said to me, “I don’t want to own all the land in the world. I just want to own all of the land next to what I already own.” He didn’t consider himself successful. He wanted more and more.

Barbra Streisand, popular recording artist: “Success for me is having ten honeydew melons and eating only the top half of each one.” It is a strange and shallow way to define success.

Ted Turner, media mogul: “I think success is kind of an empty bag, to tell you the truth, but you have to get there to really know that. I’ve always said I was more of an adventurer than I am a businessman. I mainly did CNN to see if it would work. And the same with creating the superstation –it was just out of personal curiosity to see if it could be done.”

There must be better ways to define success, and there are. Helen Keller was on the right track when she said, “Your success and happiness lie in you. External conditions are the accidents of life. The great enduring realities are love and service. Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow. Resolve to keep happy and your joy shall form an invincible host against difficulty.”

Keller understood that “success and happiness” are partners, and that they are the products of what is within you. They are made possible through “love and service.” Those who genuinely love and serve others find joy. Though she was totally blind, Keller was able to see that lasting joy can only be experienced by those who are guided by a sense of purpose and use the intelligence God gave them. Those who do this try always to give their best and will be able to overcome the difficulties they face.

True success is not a matter of money, power, and ego; rather it has to do with issues of the heart – like compassion, kindness, bravery, generosity. It is an issue of character, not performance. In other words, the right kind of performance flows out of having the right kind of character. The right kind of character is the result of having a healthy personal relationship with God.

Finally, success is the result of (1) finding what God wants you to be, and (2) serving where God wants you to serve. Once you have done this you should put your shoulder to the wheel and give your best. This is true no matter what vocation you have chosen for your life’s work – as a teacher, a physician, a business person, a farmer, a Christian minister, or anything else. God has given you two ends – one for sitting and one for thinking. Your success depends on which end you use – heads you win, tails you lose.

Asked the secret of his power as a preacher, an African American minister in Washington, D.C., replied: “It’s simple. I read myself full. I think myself clear. I pray myself hot. And then I let go.” He had absolutely no doubt about what it took to be successful at what God had called him to do.

 

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There is a game children play where they are quiet for a specified length of time. The object of the game is to listen through the quietness to see which child can count the most noises – the sound of a car horn, the siren of a fire truck in the distance, a neighbor’s dog barking, birds chirping in a tree outside the window, or other sounds. When you are trying to count the noises you hear, the list can become quite impressive.

Though listening through the quiet is probably a game originated by an exhausted mother attempting to have a few minutes rest from the duties of caring for her children, it is not just a children’s game. God also calls for us to listen through the stillness: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 KJV).

The first thing that many of us do when we get up in the morning is to turn on the television. Even if we pay little or no attention to it, we surround ourselves with its noise. The rackets of the city give us no respite. We are immersed in raucous sound from morning until night. Even the night is no longer quiet.

The Psalmist was both right and wise when he said that we should cease all our endless going places and doing things and, in the silence, just listen. The familiar hymn, “Take time to be holy/Speak oft with thy Lord/Abide in Him always/And feed on His Word” captures a tremendous truth. If we are to hear what the Lord has to say, we must go into the silence and listen.

When the prophet Elijah went down into the Sinai Peninsula to hide from Queen Jezebel’s threat, a mighty wind shattered the rocks around him, an earthquake shook the earth, and this was followed by the sharp sound of lightning. God’s voice was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. Following these things came a period of silence, and then came a gentle whisper. It was not until the noise ceased and the silence grabbed his attention that Elijah heard “the still small voice of God” (Il Kings 19:12).

The Old Testament character Job said, “There was silence, and I heard a voice” (Job 4:16 KJV). The culture in which we live bids us fill our days and hours with busyness. Jesus during His ministry on earth was also busy, but the nature of His activities and the authority of His teaching came from the periodic long silences to which He disciplined Himself.

It is in times of silence that we can best find life’s meaning? In our quiet moments of prayer God’s voice can be heard, and the road we are to travel can be made known to us. William Gladstone declared: “Statesmanship is finding out where God Almighty is going in the next seventy-five years, and then go in that direction.” Our challenge is to escape the noise and find the silent place where God is waiting to speak.

Abraham Lincoln, crying out for wisdom during a crucial time in the history of our nation said, “I have had so many evidences of God’s direction, so many instances when I have been controlled by some other power than my own will, that I cannot doubt that this power comes from God.” It was during his silent moments of meditation that Lincoln found the strength he needed to lead our nation.

It was through the struggling, yet quiet, hours of Gethsemane that Jesus was given the strength to face the horrors of the Cross. It is in times of silence that the deepest things of eternity are interpreted. It is in the silence that accompanies sorrow that the comfort to cope with our sadness is discovered and appropriated. It is in the silence of despair that hope is born again and life is made able to lift up its head.

Go into the stillness and listen. Silence is for hearing.

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I have always loved senior citizens, and I am glad of that — because I now am one. I’m not just glad to be a senior citizen, but I have plans to keep on trucking down the road. Among the choicest servants of God that I have known have been dedicated men and women who have traveled on by their sixty-fifth birthday.

I sometimes call us “S.S. People (SS is for Social Security). It has been said that there are three ways you can tell that you are a senior citizen: (1) you may experience a loss of memory . . . and I can’t remember the other two. Also, you don’t have to avoid temptation nearly as hard as in younger years because it avoids you. When you lean over to tie your shoe, you ask yourself, “Is there anything else I can do while I am down here?” The obituary page is the first thing you check in your morning newspaper.

Even before they reach their sixty-fifth birthday a high percentage of men have already worked their way through three different hair styles: un-parted, parted, and departed. Some of us are 42 around the chest, 46 around the waist, 100 or more around the golf course and a pain around the house. A man in Missouri said sadly, “It is terrible to grow old alone. My wife hasn’t had a birthday in several years.”

A very cynical person once said: “Youth is an illusion, adulthood a blunder and old age a big regret.” Sheer pessimism! Those who characterize the last years of life in this way are individuals who live only for themselves. I believe it is best to look at life beyond your sixty-fifth birthday with both enthusiasm and humor. It certainly beats the alternative – especially if you are healthy and happy.

I have noticed two types of senior citizens:

  • Those who inevitably move us with a sense of self-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.
  • Those who move us not to pity but to a sense of joy. They may be frail and nearsighted 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 other years, their judgment may be less prompt, their memory sometimes fails to supply a name at call, but one never 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.

Old age is a joy when you have a sense of humor. On his one hundredth birthday, a salty gentleman in Florida said, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” If you cannot count in your memory many dedicated servants of God above sixty-five who have touched and blessed your life in immense ways, you are one of the world’s most deprived individuals.

The Bible says, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he or she shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12). The date palms described by the Psalmist bore fruit every year for 300-400 years, and they can still be seen in Lebanon today. 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.

Cedar trees grow in the mountains in Lebanon. They grow lofty in stature, have great strength, are evergreen, and give off to their surroundings a sweet fragrance. These are the characteristics righteous seniors should have. So, if you are above sixty-five, get out of your recliner, go out into your community and share your knowledge and experience with others. Practice holiness. And bear fruit for the glory of God.

 

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