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Archive for January, 2015

The family is by far the most fundamental institution in any society. It is where we first learn to love others, come to terms with our aggressions, develop a conscience, and acquire values. But what is a family? Who makes it up? And where does it happen?

Traditionally, when we speak of family, we are talking about that group of people who generally live under one roof, who are related by marriage or adoption, and who love and support one another. This is where children are initially nurtured, and where the teaching and transmission of traditions and values takes place.

As a result of the dramatic social forces and events of recent decades – increased sexual freedom, divorce and remarriage, out-of-wedlock births, a decline in fertility, the rapid movement of mothers into the labor force, and additional factors and influences – a range of new family structures has emerged. No longer is a family thought of only in terms of “Molly and me and the baby makes three.”

While much has changed that affect families, the basic needs of human beings remain the same. People do not flourish in isolation. We need to love and be loved, to touch and be touched. We need to feel that we are important to other people. We require relationships to live life at its fullest. In other words, what we most need can best be supplied by family.

The term “family values” is bandied about with great facility, and the presumption is that everybody is talking about the same thing. From a sociological perspective, values are ideals, standards, customs and beliefs that people of a given group or society regard with positive or negative feelings and that shape opinions and behavior.

A study was conducted a few years ago by Mellman & Lazerus, Inc., a Washington, D.C. research organization, that attempted to find out what people thought when they talked about “family.” Participants were presented with a list of twenty-eight statements and asked to rank them in order of most to least important in response to the question, “How well does the term “family value” describe each particular value? Here are the leading eight:

  • Providing emotional support to your family.
  • Respecting your parents.
  • Respecting other people for who they are.
  • Being responsible for your actions.
  • Being able to communicate your feelings to your family.
  • Having a happy marriage.
  • Respecting your children.
  • Respecting authority.

People said, “Having a happy marriage” mattered more than simply “Being married.” “Respecting your children” was more important than just “Having children.” The study said that the quality of relationships means much more than the simple existence of those relationships. We should all be excited and heartened by these findings.

People are saying that family doesn’t mean just the immediate relatives. In other words, family includes everyone who loves and cares for you, and whom you love in return. But it all begins in the traditional family unit. It is where love is first learned and best practiced, and where we are prepared for family relationships beyond our initial family.

Any family is strongest that has God at its center. Perhaps that is why Charles Henry Parkhurst once said, “Home interprets heaven; Home is heaven for beginners.”

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The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige, and position. If you can demand service from others, you have arrived. Jesus, however, measured greatness in terms of service, not status. He said that greatness is determined by your willingness to serve others, not by how many people serve you. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

Go into any book store today and you will find thousands of books on leadership, but few on servanthood. Most of us would like to lead; few of us are willing to serve. This is as true in churches as it is in any other organization or group, regardless of size. Serious problems will develop in your church if it has too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. There is always a need for those who are willing to serve.

Several years ago Mother Teresa visited Phoenix, Arizona to speak at the opening of a home for the destitute. KTAR, the largest radio station in Phoenix, had a staff member to interview her. It isn’t often that you get the opportunity to interview someone who has demonstrated in such a superlative way what it means to serve others. During the commercial break the interviewer asked her whether there was anything he could do for her. He expected her to request a donation or ask for media help in raising money for the new facility.

Mother Teresa’s reply was not at all what he expected to hear. She looked him squarely in the eye and said, “Yes, there is something you can do for me. Find someone nobody else loves, and love them.”

I have never heard the rest of the story. I do not know if the challenge of that diminutive nun from Calcutta caused the KTAR interviewer to seek out someone to love unconditionally or not. But it would be hard to find a more powerful statement that defines what it means to be a servant.

Giving the gift of our money is never as costly as the giving of our lives. The gift of money is immediate; the gift of ourselves is an ongoing thing. Once money leaves our hands, very often the memory of it leaves us as well. But when we give our hearts, our talents, our very lives, the memories are with us forever.

While money is needed, necessary, and always appreciated when given in the support of any endeavor of the kingdom of God, the most acute need is always for persons who are willing to give themselves in service. Whatever the name on the sign out in the front of your church, it will always welcome the spiritual gifts you have to offer – your time, your talent, and your devotion. Yes, God accepts volunteers.

There is power in serving. Power comes through purity. In 2 Timothy Paul writes, “So if anyone purifies himself, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

There is purpose in serving. The purpose of serving, of course, is to glorify God and meet human need. In our self-serving culture with its “me-first mentality”, serving others is not a popular concept.

There is passion in serving. The passion comes from the heart. Samuel Chadwick hit the nail squarely on the head when he wrote these words, “Spirit-filled souls are ablaze for God. They love with a love that glows. They serve with a faith that kindles. They serve with a devotion that consumes. They hate sin with fierceness that burns. They rejoice with a joy that radiates. Love is perfected in the fire of God.”

 

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The prophet Ezekiel in a vision was placed on a high mountain and told to observe every detail concerning the future temple that would be built and report to Israel what he had seen. Of special interest to Bible students is that the new temple would have “narrow windows” (Ezekiel 40:16 KJV).

The idea of looking out through narrow windows is intriguing to me, for it describes the way that multitudes of people in our world view everything they see. They feel the restrictions of their circumstances. Their ambitions have not been realized. Their dreams have not been fulfilled. Opportunity has passed them by. They have never had the chance to do great things, or to develop their latent talents.

If you were forced to view everything in life through the narrow windows of circumstance, what would you see? And what would be your reaction? That, of course, would depend upon who you are and what your philosophy of life happens to be.

Some of the finest work for the kingdom of God is being done by persons who are looking out on life through the narrow windows of restricted circumstances. Among this group are Christian missionaries who serve in difficult spots in our world. They are far from home and from their families. Many if not most of them do not have the conveniences that most of us view as necessities. Though they look out through the narrow windows of circumstance, their faith in God and their love for others enables them to serve nobly.

What are some of the narrow windows through which you could possibly be forced to look out upon your world? One of them is physical infirmity – blindness, deafness, crippling disease, chronic ill-health, or other difficult circumstances. As a Christian minister I have known many people who, in spite of having to endure debilitating circumstances, achieved greatness, even happiness in spite of them.

The Old Testament leader Moses had an impediment of speech – but he did not let it prevent him from leading God’s people out of bondage to the Promised Land. The apostle Paul had a “thorn in the flesh,” but it did not keep him from traveling far and wide to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. John Keats and Robert Louis Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis. So did Sidney Lanier, a poet from my home state of Georgia. John Milton was blind, and Beethoven was deaf. Franklin Roosevelt had polio. Catherine Booth, the mother of the Salvation Army was perpetually sick. They were not defeated by their narrow windows of circumstance.

George Matheson (1842-1906) was stricken with blindness. When he resigned as pastor of his church in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1899, he described himself as “Barred by every gate of fortune, yet refusing to give in; overtaken by night, yet confident of the morning.” “OVERTAKEN BY NIGHT” – a narrow window! Yet through that window he was able to clearly see a love that would not let him go, as he expressed in that great hymn we Christians sing and love, one stanza of which says,

O joy that seekest me through pain,

            I dare not ask to fly from thee.

            I trace the rainbow through the rain,

            And trust the promise is not vain

            That morn shall tearless be” (written in 1882).

 

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A woman saw an ad in the newspaper that a large department store was going to begin a huge sale with slashed prices the following morning. She loved shopping for bargains, but she had a problem. She was going to be out of town the following morning and could not go to the sale. There was a particular coat she wanted and had waited for the price to be right. She asked her husband, who didn’t have to go to work the following day until 4 PM, to be at the store when it opened and buy the coat for her.

The following morning he got out of bed early, not having the slightest idea that he was heading for a virtual battleground where the survival of the fittest would be the order of the day. When he arrived at the ladies apparel department in the store, he discovered a huge horde of women pushing and shoving each other in order to get the bargains. Not wanting to be rude, he didn’t join the pushing and shoving mob scene. After a half hour or so, he realized that the only way he was going to get to buy the coat his wife wanted was to join the pushing and shoving.

When he began pushing women aside, one woman said to him rather gruffly, “Sir, why don’t you act like a gentleman?” He replied, “I acted like a gentleman for thirty minutes, and it got me nowhere. I discovered that the only way I was going to get to buy anything was to begin acting like a woman.”

Sales usually draw a crowd. We like to buy items that have high quality, but with a price tag as low as possible. If it is important to check the price tags on items we purchase, it is even more important to check the price tags attached to the decisions we make. Every single one of them has a price tag attached.

History affords numberless illustrations of foolish decisions that were made without checking the price tags attached to them. In the Old Testament we are told that Esau sold his birthright for a paltry pot of soup. In the New Testament we are told that Judas made the decision to betray his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Sir Francis Bacon, one of the most brilliant men in history, rose from one position to another until he became Lord Chancellor of all of England, took bribes, was exposed, and put in prison. In our own country during the Watergate trials, men in high positions, highly respected by their peers, in a moment of weakness made decisions that have caused their names to live in infamy.

Young people especially have a lot of important decisions to make. Following high school, decisions must be made concerning which college to attend. Freshmen, away from home for the first time, do not benefit from their parent’s daily guidance. Alcohol and drugs are easily available. Decisions concerning boy-girl relationships can ultimately lead to the choosing of a mate. Decisions, all of them, have a price tag attached.

Following a young couple’s wedding day there is no end to the decisions that must be made. Will Christ have an important role in every aspect of home life? How much importance will be given to attending worship regularly as a family? If right decisions are made from the beginning, it will be easy to continue making them throughout life.

The Bible tells us that Lot, Abraham’s nephew, “pitched his tent toward Sodom.” He thought about gold; he forgot about God. He thought about making a fortune; he forgot about his family. He thought about popularity and pleasure; he forgot about purity and purpose. He thought about his cattle; he forgot about his children. Many parents today, like Lot, take the low road toward Sodom, and they live to regret it.

Please do not fail to check the price tag on every decision you make, for some of them could take you in the wrong direction. The most important decision any person can ever make is to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. To every person who makes this decision, God promises salvation, joy, peace, victory, and eternal life. The price tag on the choice to reject Him is tragic in terms is what is lost. Therefore, when it comes time to make a decision – any decision – don’t forget to check the price tag attached. Some of those decisions may not turn out to be a bargain.

 

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There are 52 weeks in every year, 7 days in every week, 24 hours in every day, 60 minutes in every hour, and 60 seconds in every minute – no more and no less . . . for any person . . . for every person. This being true, let us dedicate ourselves to the goal of making the next 365 days the very best that they can be.

The Old Testament character Job said: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6). A wise woman said to King David: “We are as water spilled upon the ground” (II Samuel 14:14). The Psalmist said: “As for man, his days are as grass” (Psalm 103:15). These words describing the brevity of life need not depress us. Rather, they should make us more aware of the value of time and more appreciative for the privilege of using it. That being true, what attitude should we have as we enter the New Year? God, through His Word, offers some valuable suggestions. We can:

Accept every day as God’s gift and live it to the fullest. The Psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Getting out of bed every single morning will be a lot more fun if we realize we are entering a day that God has made. William James said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Each new day we can choose to be happy . . . or be miserable. We can look at our assets . . . or worry about our liabilities. We can choose to serve others . . . or we can choose to grumble when others do not serve us. We can say “I will” . . . or we can say “I can’t.” We can choose to live each new day in fellowship with God . . . or we can ignore God and pay the consequences. Henry Ward Beecher said: “God asks no man whether he will accept life. That is not the choice. You must take it. The only choice is HOW.”

Some people unwisely choose to live in the past. In the early 1940’s a man in my hometown in Georgia started a new business selling mules to farmers. “Mules are here to stay,” he said. “Tractors won’t last. Farmers are not going to quit plowing with mules.” He lost his shirt! He also lost his trousers and underwear! Look also at the towns that have chosen to live in the past, to not accept new ideas and challenges, and you will discover that they either did not grow or shrank in size. The same is true of churches that choose to live in the past – with crystalized patterns and programs. It is why the seven words, “We never did it that way before” have been described as the seven last words of a dying church.”

Choose to serve a great cause. Our world contains much that is beautiful and meaningful, but it also has much that is wrong with it. Too many nations are beating plowshares into swords. There are too many divisions in our world, too much hatred, too much lust and greed, and too much disease, starvation and death. The world that God made was beautiful, but what mankind is doing to God’s world cannot be described as beautiful. God wants all of us to have a worthy cause to which we can devote our lives – Mother Teresa, that great Roman Catholic saint, is a worthy example for us. She devoted her life to serving the poor in India. There are needs all around each of us that we can meet.

Worthy causes to which we might commit ourselves in the year ahead can include these: to strive for justice and peace in our land; to be a living embodiment of virtue; to practice wholeness of character; to meet human need wherever and whenever we find it. To see that great need exists all around us only requires that our eyes be open.

Strive for true greatness. The world measures greatness by how much wealth you have and can earn, by how much education you have, by how much power you can exert, and by how many people work for you. James Gordon Gilkey suggests four measures of true greatness: (1) Loyalty to tasks, easy or hard, which life places upon us; (2) The quality of work we do; (3) What we do to create and maintain the fine institutions in our community; and (4) What we do to shape tomorrow. These four measures for greatness are worth becoming our goals, but they are not exclusive of others.

With these thoughts in mind, it is my prayer that the year ahead will give to you the kind of joy that only comes from choosing, pursuing, and achieving worthy goals. Remember this: God will guide you every step of the way.

 

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