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Archive for September, 2014

If you would like for your relationships with others to be both wholesome and happy, it is important that you know two things: (1) how to keep your mind open, and (2) when to keep your mouth shut. It is when your mouth is in high gear and your mind is in neutral that will have the greatest potential to build walls rather than bridges between yourself and others. Yes, there are times when silence really is golden, when it is better to remain silent and be thought stupid than to speak and remove all doubt.

William Barclay, New Testament scholar, said of a great linguist, “It was not that he could speak seven different languages, but that he could be silent in seven different languages.” Knowing when to talk, what to say, and how much to say, is important. Barclay knew that it is also important to know when to be silent.

It is good to be silent when we are angry. If we speak when we are filled with anger, we will likely say things that hurt both others and ourselves. Many a friendship has been wrecked because someone said too much, or said something at the wrong time. By that same token, many a friendship has been saved because someone knew how to hold his tongue.

Another time to remain silent is when we want to criticize. Most criticisms are better never uttered. This is because most criticism is negative, not positive in tone. The best place to criticize is in front of your own mirror. It is a good rule never to be slow with praise, and never to be quick with criticism.

It is also wise to remain silent when someone criticizes us. It is easy to rise up quickly and angrily in our own defense. We should remember that the emptier the pot, the quicker it is to boil – so watch your temper. Words spoken in anger can lead to quarrels and to breaches of friendship which are difficult to heal. Even though criticism and large pills can be hard to swallow, both have the power to do us a lot of good.

It is also best to keep silent in the presence of certain persons. I remember a lady who lived in my small hometown in Georgia many years ago who would travel from house to house early each morning, listening to gossip, and passing it on at her next stop. She would always say as she left for the next house, “Now for God’s sake, don’t tell a soul what I told you.” She wanted to be the one who shared the gossip.

To say the wrong thing in the presence of a person like this gossip spreader is dangerous. They will betray and share our confidences. They will twist our words. They will broadcast in public what they have heard in private. They are equal opportunity disturbers of the peace. They have difficulty minding their own business because they have very little mind and no business.

The one reason above all others why we need to be aware of the value of silence: it is in silence that we can best hear the voice of God. It was only in the silence of the ancient Jewish temple that the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and “heard his voice, saying ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me’” (Isaiah 6:8).

“Be still and know that I am God,” our Creator said (Psalm 46:10). Anyone who would genuinely worship God must make a place for silence. It is when we shut out the raucous noises around us that we, sitting in the silence, can hear the voice of God speaking. We can take a cue from the Quakers, known as “Friends,” who design their worship services around silence.

Mother Teresa, of Calcutta correctly said, “God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grow in silence? The more we receive in silent prayer the more we can give in our active life.” This is because silence animates compassion and sets in motion the service we render to others.

Silence is a special place to which every Christian should regularly go. Silence is a grace that nurtures, heals, reveals, and renews. Make a place in your life for silence.

 

 

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Possessed by possessions

Jesus had a lot to say about money and material things. He was deeply troubled by what possessions could do to people. As a boy He worked in his earthly father’s carpenter shop. Thus, He who had infinite power to inspire also knew what it was to perspire. As an adult teacher, when a would-be disciple approached Him about being a follower, He said, “Foxes have holes in the ground, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (Luke 9:58).

Following His death Jesus made only one bequest: He placed His mother under the care of his dear friend John. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He owned – the robe upon His back. Following His death, He was buried in another man’s grave. By those standards He was poor.

Jesus condemned no one for possessing wealth. He advised a rich young man to sell all he owned and give to the poor in order to test the sincerity of his desire to follow Him. But when Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, offered to make things right with those he had cheated, He laid no requirement of poverty on him. He had no difficulty with people owning possessions – even an abundance of them. What you own can be used to be a blessing. What you own can also be dangerous – for the following reasons:

It can build a wall between you and others. The world’s major stock exchange is located in New York City on a street that is associated with vast wealth. Brokers arrive at and leave the stock exchange in the world’s most expensive automobiles. Wall Street is an appropriate place to build a stock exchange, because many who work there are walled in from human sympathies. They are obsessed by the goal of seeking more and more riches. Values to them are monetary rather than personal in nature. It is why many of the Wall Street titans committed suicide following the stock market crash in 1929. Their reason for living was gone.

Jesus knew that money could separate people from one another, and that is why He told the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Possessions have the power to wall out family members, friends, Christian brothers and sisters, and the people around you who have needs that you have the capacity to meet.

It can build a wall between you and God. William Barclay, British Bible scholar, said, “If a man is wealthy, he is apt to think that everything has its price, that if he wants a thing, he can buy it, that if any difficult situation descends upon him, he can buy his way out of it. He can come to believe that he can buy his way into happiness, and his way out of sorrow. He can even believe he is self-sufficient and doesn’t need God.

If you are counting on your earthly treasures as your sole security, everything you own can quickly disappear. Thieves could steal it, stock markets crash, your health could totally fail, and the I.R.S. can take it away. I have conducted many funerals, but I’ve never seen a Brinks truck in a funeral procession. You cannot take it with you. But you can send it on ahead by what you do on earth to glorify God and serve others.

It can own the person who owns it. It doesn’t have to happen, but it does happen. It happened to the man Jesus called the Rich Young Ruler. He came to Jesus wanting to know what he had to do to have eternal life. Jesus knew that what he possessed, in reality possessed him. He went away sadly. Money is a great servant, but a poor master.

You do not have to have a lot of money to worship the god of gold. Millions of people today, though their needs are totally met, have just one objective: to get more and more. Jesus had a word for such persons: “What would it profit a man if he could gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Luke 9:25).

 

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For more than sixty years I have had the greatest job in the world. My title: Ambassador of the King of Kings. My job: I am a retired Southern Baptist pastor. Actually, make that “semi-retired”, because no person who has been called to be an ambassador of Jesus Christ is ever totally retired.

There are many words you can use to describe the life and labors of a pastor. One of those words is definitely not “dull.” There is always a challenge to accept, a need to meet, a problem to solve, a sermon to prepare, a class to teach . . . and it never ends. When you go to bed at night, you draw a comma – not a period – and you continue the following day to do what was left undone when you retired the previous night.

The challenge of being a pastor provides numerous rewards. You get to see people born into the kingdom of God who become growing disciples. You encounter genuine needs and have the honor or representing Christ in meeting them. Through counseling sessions you see husbands and wives in marriages that are coming apart at the seams renew their vows to each other and to the Lord. You are able to visit and touch in a meaningful way senior citizens who reside in retirement and nursing facilities. You are able to become a contributing citizen to the total community in ways beyond your ministry to your own church family.

“Shepherd” was one of the favorite metaphors used by Jesus to describe spiritual leadership. It is also one He often used to describe Himself. A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects God’s flock. These responsibilities belong to every church leader. In fact, the word pastor means shepherd.

Notice the words that Peter wrote to the early church leaders who were familiar with sheep and shepherding: “I exhort the elders among you . . . shepherd the flock of God . . . exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (I Peter 5:1-4).

In other words, pastors are undershepherds who guard the flock under the Chief Shepherd’s watchful eye (Acts 20:28). It is their fulltime responsibility because they minister to people who are like sheep – often vulnerable, defenseless, undiscerning, dependent, and prone to stray. It is an enormous task. If your pastor is faithfully carrying out the duties that God requires, remember to follow this admonition: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Unfortunately, not every church member does this. Rev. Ronald H. Weinelt, of McDonough, Georgia, founder of the Association of Battered Clergy, tells the story of a pastor who, on his very first day in office, got a call from his predecessor. He congratulated him on his new charge and told him that in the center drawer of his desk he had left three numbered envelopes which he was to open in order when he got into trouble.

After a short-loved honeymoon, the heat began to rise and he decided to open the first envelope from his predecessor. It said: “Blame me for the problems. After all, I’m gone and have problems of my own.” That worked for a while, but things got even worse, so he opened the second envelope, which said: “Blame the denomination. They have dealt with church problems many times.” That worked for a while, and things ultimately got really bad, so he opened the third envelope. It said: “Prepare three envelopes!”

In other words, a fruitful ministry is no longer possible in this church. You need to call the movers.

 

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John Newton, a gruff and bawdy slave trader, was converted on May 10, 1748. He became a minister and the author of hundreds of hymns. “Amazing Grace” is likely the one that is best known and most loved.

Of all the gifts God has given to mankind, His amazing grace is the greatest. Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love, that no person is beyond redemption, that no human stain is beyond cleansing. The world does things differently. It judges people by their behavior and requires criminals, debtors, and moral failures to suffer the consequences of their deeds.

Philip Yancey, in his book, Rumors, tells the powerful story of the day Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace. Having emerged from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he asked the jailor to join him on the inauguration platform. He then appointed Bishop Desmond Tutu to head an official government panel he called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandela’s goal was to defuse and change the natural pattern of revenge in his nation that was based on the color of a person’s skin.

In the next two and one-half years, South Africans listened to reports of atrocities coming out of the TRC hearings. The rules were simple: if a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted that the country needed healing even more than it needed justice. When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent.

At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned his body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house, seized the boy’s father, and tied him to the top of a pile of wood. He then forced his wife to watch as he poured gasoline on his body, and ignited it. Mr. van de Broek was charged with murder and brought before the panel to be tried.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman, who had lost her son and then her husband, was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said, “I want him to go to the place where they burned my husband’s body and gather up the dust so I can give him a decent burial.” With his head down, the policeman nodded agreement.

Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way from the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.

Justice was not done in South Africa that day. Something far beyond justice happened instead. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:21). Nelson Mandela understood that when evil is done, only one response can overcome it. Hate multiplies evil. Revenge perpetuates it. Justice punishes it. Evil is overcome only if the injured party absorbs it, refusing to let it go any further. This is what Jesus demonstrated by His death on the cross. John Newton was right: “Grace truly is amazing.”

When you consider the divisive and disruptive events that happen far too often in America, it is high time for those of us who are the beneficiaries of God’s grace to do a better job of showing grace to each other.

 

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