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Archive for February, 2015

In the mid-1970’s I received a phone call on Saturday afternoon from a man living near Rose Hill, North Carolina. He said, “I have a nephew in the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in your city who has had a very serious heart attack, and he is not a Christian. He is very ill, and I can’t bear the thoughts of him dying without knowing Christ as his Savior. You are the only person I know who lives in Wilmington. Will you please visit him and talk to him about Christ?”

Within an hour I was in the hospital. I found the nephew’s wife waiting in the ICU waiting room. I told her who I was and why I had come. I entered the Intensive Care Unit, introduced myself to her husband and told him why I had come. I opened my New Testament and began to share the good news of God’s love. The Holy Spirit enabled him to see how far his sin had separated him from God, and that God loved him enough to send His Son to die on the Cross – thus taking his penalty for sin, which is separation from God, upon Himself. On his back in an ICU hospital bed he sincerely and unashamedly confessed his sins, and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

Prior to going to church the following morning I went to the hospital again. I was told that the man had died during the night. I called his uncle near Rose Hill and said, “I saw your nephew yesterday, and while I was there he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Your concern for your nephew led you to make a phone call, and the result of that call means that you will one day be able to see your nephew in heaven.”

What a joy it is to be present when a person is born into the family of God. It happens solely because of what Jesus Christ accomplished two thousand years ago on a Roman cross. That cross had a vertical beam and a horizontal beam – one that reaches up to God and one that reaches out to all mankind. Thus, it is both God’s weapon against evil and mankind’s bridge to God.

It is very strange that this should be so, for the cross was to the ancient Roman world what the electric chair is to ours. Try to visualize a world where an electric chair is the primary symbol of Christian churches. Picture a church in your mind that has an electric chair on top of its steeple, a small electric chair on the altar and Communion table. Think of hymns and poems, books and plays, oratorios and pictures that have one theme: the adoration of and perpetuation of the electric chair as the sacred symbol of the Christian faith.

The cross was an instrument of capital punishment, a symbol of death, but God has transformed it into a symbol of eternal life. Only God would have attempted something so novel and daring. Yet it is before Calvary’s Cross that all nations and all races become one. It is here that we behold God’s redeeming love, the love that cleanses sinners and clothes them with the grace of God. As a result of Christ’s death on a Roman cross the gates of heaven were opened – never to close again!

The hymn entitled, The Old Rugged Cross, written by Elvina M. Hall in 1865, tells us why this is true:

        “Jesus paid it all,

         All to Him I owe;

         Sin had left a crimson stain,

         He washed it white as snow.”

 

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Prior to becoming the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, who was called Old Hickory, served as a major general in the Tennessee militia. During the War of 1812 the morale of his troops reached an all-time low, and they began to argue, bicker, and fight among themselves. Jackson called them all together and said, “Gentlemen! Let’s remember, the enemy is over there.

This sobering reminder by Andrew Jackson to his troops is needed today in more than a few churches, for they have forgotten who and where the enemy is. They spend time and energy fighting one another that could and should be used in fighting the real enemy. The only way a church can succeed in its divinely assigned mission is to pull for one another, support one another, believe in one another, care for one another, pray for one another, and genuinely love one another.

One of the most profound comments made regarding the early church came from the lips of a man named Aristides. He was sent by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to spy out those strange creatures known as “Christians.” Having observed them closely, Aristides returned to say to his emperor: “Behold! How they love one another.”

If someone were assigned the mission of reporting the activities going on in some of our churches today, the report would likely say, “Behold how they judge and hurt one another! Behold how they criticize one another! Behold how they fight one another! Behold how they saddle up and ride off in many different and counterproductive directions!”

Nowhere on earth is unity more needed than in a Christian church. Sadly, it is not always present. Nowhere on earth is there a group that has a nobler, more important, or more universal mission to be accomplished. No church can have maximum impact on its community when political power plays, polarization, and petty disagreements happen on a regular basis.

One hundred pianos that have been tuned with the same tuning fork are automatically in tune with each other. In the same way a church, with hundreds of members meeting together, achieves unity by having their individual lives attuned to Jesus Christ. When church members are out of tune with each other, it is because they are out of tune with Jesus Christ. It is as simple as that!

To underscore the importance of unity, John 13 tells of the time when Jesus met with His disciples in a second-floor room for a meal in the city of Jerusalem. Jesus noticed that they had come into the room with dirty feet — not surprising in that rocky, dusty part of the world. So, Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet. What a scene it must have been! And what an indictment it is to church members who are the constant source of disunity and division!

“When He had washed their feet, He put on His garments, reclined at the table again, and said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?’” (John 13:12).

          Obviously, Jesus had washed their feet, but that is not the answer that He wanted to elicit from them. He was getting ready to say to them, “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

It is easy to love Christ for all He is, and for all He has done and is doing for those who trust Him. It is not always easy, however, to love some fellow Christians. Yet that is the command our Lord gives to those who follow Him. It is the one way above all others that the world can know that we are Christians. We are most like Him when we love one another.

Jesus never said that Christians must agree with each other on every single issue. It would not be natural, and it would very likely be impossible for us as humans to do. What Jesus said is that we are to love one another “as I have loved you.” That is a very high standard.

          As Andrew Jackson said, “We need to remember that the members of our church are not our enemies – the enemy is over there!”

 

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Several years ago in the Rocky Mountains a bighorn ram approached the home of a man named Ed Bailey while he was watching a football game on television. The bighorn stopped suddenly, seeing his reflection in an unbreakable plate glass window. Thinking it was another ram, he bowed his head, ready to charge. He backed up, and immediately saw that the other ram backed up also. Every time he moved, his reflection moved. Finally, after a three-hour duel, the ram shook his head and charged full force into the window, knocking himself unconscious.

That bighorn ram reminds me of a few people I have known through the years. I suspect that you have known such persons also – people who were born in the OBJECTIVE case, and live in a COMBATIVE mood. What makes them walk around ready to butt heads with everyone they meet – even though in the long run they are the loser for their negative attitude? I am reminded of the humorous story of a western cowboy who was known for being “the fastest gun in the west.” He was so fast, in fact, he could shoot before his gun left his holster. His name? “Footless Frankie!

I suspect that most of us have shot ourselves in the foot at one time or another by being too quick to criticize, to condemn, to confront, to challenge, to chastise. I certainly have. We need to hear again the words of Jesus, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36).

So what if you are good to your mother – big deal! Even Mafia mobsters look after their family and friends. Any person who would be a disciple of Jesus Christ must go further than that. We are challenged to love those people we ordinarily could not stand. Any person who is serious about living the Christian life must learn to look at others through the eyes of Jesus – the eyes of compassion and understanding. Yes, this includes even those who are difficult to love.

When we look at people through the eyes of Jesus, we see them as individuals having infinite value. It is easy to view a young person in trouble – perhaps pregnant or on drugs – and cast a critical eye. But any parents who read these words, unless they are exceedingly foolish or proud, know that it could be their child in trouble – and if it were, it would make a tremendous difference in the attitude they have. We dare not treat any person, young or old, with contempt, for he or she is a person for whom Christ died. To see every person through the eyes of Jesus is to see him or her, not as an object, but as an individual with hopes, dream, and aspirations equal to our own.

An unloving heart is a spiritual problem. Very often those who have the habit of butting heads with everybody they meet do so because they have never felt loved or accepted by others. Just as an abused child will often grow up to abuse his own children, so the person who has never felt loved or accepted will not be able to love and accept others. The spiritual answer for such persons is that they come to fully understand what it means to be loved and accepted by God. It is in knowing that we are loved and accepted by God that that we learn to accept ourselves and to love others.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are taught to “love our enemies.” Can it be done? Is it possible? What does it mean? No other word has caused as much discussion and debate as the commandment to love our enemies. So, we must know what Jesus meant. The Greek word He used is agape. It means that we must never allow ourselves to desire anything but the highest good for others – even our enemies. Obviously we cannot love an enemy in the same way we love those nearest and dearest to us, for that would be unnatural, impossible, and even wrong. But we can see to it that no matter what a person may do to hurt us, we should desire and seek nothing but his or her highest good.

Do you have a loving heart? If not, you can have one, with God’s help. It is for your own sake, for your antagonist’s sake, and demonstrates to others that you are “a child of the Father.” Retaliation is never redemptive in nature. In a world governed by a holy God, it can never be triumphant. It is when we love that we are most like God.

 

 

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An elderly lady tottered into a lawyer’s office and asked for help in arranging a divorce. The lawyer simply could not believe what he had heard. “Tell me,” he said, “How old are you?

“Eighty-four,” she said. “And my husband is eighty-seven.”

“How long have you been married?”

“Almost sixty-two years.”

The lawyer slapped his forehead. “Married sixty-two years? Why do you want a divorce now?”

Because,” she said, “Enough is enough!”

She had promised to marry “for better or for worse,” and it took 62 years for the worse to become unbearable. Every marriage can profit from this version of the golden rule, “Do unto one another as you would one month before marriage.” The apostle Paul puts it this way, ”Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice; and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:13).

The thing we must not forget is that the majority of marriages succeed. It is when both bride and groom view marriage as a short-term option rather than as a long-term contract that they are most likely to get a divorce. In this eventuality, love is the quest, marriage is the conquest, and divorce is the inquest.

Absolutely no marriage is immune to the possibility of having problems. There will throughout life be good days and bad days. There will be mountain peaks and deep valleys. Wise are the couples who expect and are prepared for those tough times. There may be difficult times financially, disagreements, hard decisions to make, illness or death, or countless other bumps in the road to endure.

Marriages are often wrecked by such character failures as dishonesty, unfaithfulness, alcohol, selfishness, and the list goes on and on. When problems are not faced openly and honestly, there is a strong likelihood that the marriage will become progressively worse until it becomes almost unbearable.

This is what happened in the marriage of an Ohio woman who told a friend that she had a “glow-worm” marriage. When asked what she meant, she replied, “The glow has gone, but the worm remains.” The scene in her marriage had shifted from “Moonlight and Roses” to “Daylight and Dishes.” This can happen in any marriage. It is foolish to believe that married life is going to be nothing more than a continuing romantic experience, though the spirit of courtship ought to continue throughout life – however long that may be.

If a marriage is to be all that it ought to be and can be, both husband and wife must genuinely listen to each other and support each other as they build a mature home where God is honored. A marriage seldom goes on the rocks when a couple finds something in common to laugh about. If you run out of things to laugh about in your marriage, you can pull out the old wedding pictures.

Solutions to the problems in any marriage are available if both husband and wife will do two very important things: ask for God’s guidance, and demonstrate a willingness to work at it.

 

 

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