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Archive for July, 2015

John Ortberg, in Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, asks this interesting question, “What were the most exciting five minutes of your life?” He then says, “There is a good chance that, if we were able to remember them, the most exciting five minutes of life would be the very first five. After nine months of darkness and isolation, you discover that there is a whole world out there, full of colors, tastes, sounds, sensations, and other people.”

To use this thought as a segue to what Christ said is in the future of every Christian, I believe the most amazing five minutes we will experience in the future will be the first five minutes after we die. Let that thought sink deeply into your subconscious being and chew on it for a little while. For centuries, the brightest minds on earth have devoted entire lifetimes trying to penetrate the veil and learn what lies on the other side of death.

Whether or not you are a Christian, five minutes after you die, you will know. Those five minutes are coming. They will indicate an eternal destiny of either indescribable joy or unspeakable loss. So, let’s ask the question that has been asked down through the centuries, “What will heaven be like?”

The short answer is that nobody knows – not fully, and in detail. And I suspect that is the way God has arranged it. If we knew everything we would like to know about heaven, I doubt that we would want to hang around in our current world where pain, suffering, violence, war, and death appear in each day’s headlines. We would probably put in an immediate requisition with God for a transfer of residency.

Jesus described heaven as “the Father’s House.” Following His resurrection from the grave He ascended into heaven. He had promised His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them, and that He would come again to take the church, His bride, with Him to “the Father’s House”. Heaven will be “a prepared place for a prepared people.”

The apostle Paul said, “Now (here in the world) we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12 NIV). In other words, we shall recognize each other just as we do here on the earth. Heaven will be home, for the Father will be there, Christ will be there, and all of God’s children will be there. What a tremendous reunion that will be!

John, in Revelation 21:1-5, describes heaven in terms of what will NOT be there: “no more tears– our world today is full of tears; no more pain” – imagine an existence where pain does not exist; no more death” – death has invaded every family on earth, but it will not exist in heaven; “no more sea” — the sea was a symbol of mystery, and stood for danger, storms, and separation. None of these things will exist in heaven. How do we know this is true? The resurrected Christ said, These words are trustworthy and true.”

In the New Jerusalem God’s people will finally live in community. No walls or fences to divide us. No more wars. No broken homes. No divided families. No hospitals, for none will be needed. In his classic masterpiece St. Augustine describes heaven as “The City of God.” John in his vision says it will be a city without a cemetery, a city where we will finally experience deep, open, intimate, joy-producing, trusting relationships.

There is one further word everyone should know about heaven: the road that leads there begins on a hill outside the old city walls of Jerusalem where Jesus on the middle of three crosses took the penalty for our sins upon Himself. At that cross, you must lay your sins down, ask for and receive forgiveness for your sins, turn to the right, and keep straight ahead. Then, at the end of your earthly journey a door will open and Christ will welcome you into “the Father’s House.”

Three things are vitally important with regard to where you will spend eternity: location . . . location . . . location.

 

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A very cynical person several years ago said: “Youth is an illusion, adulthood a blunder, old age a regret.” Such a characterization could only describe someone who lives for himself or herself rather than for God and for others. It certainly does not describe a righteous person, for Proverbs 11:28 declares that “the righteous will thrive like a green leaf” (NIV). I know many individuals who fit this glowing description.

I have always loved people called “senior citizens”, and I am glad because I am now a senior citizen myself. I sometimes refer to my age group as “S.S. people” – the S.S. is for Social Security. I have been told there are three ways to tell if you are getting old: (1) loss of memory . . . and I can’t remember the other two.

Agatha Longworth, a fine Roman Catholic lady from New England several years ago was rather deaf. When she went to confession, her priest, Father Leo Dankin, asked her to speak more quietly, since everyone in the church could hear. She shouted, “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” He told her that henceforth when she came to confession, she should write down what she wanted to confess in advance. At her next visit to confess her sins she handed Father Dankin a piece of paper. He looked at it and said, “What is this? It looks like a grocery list.” “Oh dear,” she replied, “I must have left my sins at the grocery store.”

Old age is unpredictable. You just wake up one morning and you’ve got it. It is the time of life when you learn what the statute of limitations is all about. When you lean over to tie your shoe, you ask, “Is there anything else I can do while I am down here.” Many men above sixty-five have already worked their way through three hairstyles: un-parted, parted, and departed. Others are 42 around the chest, 48 around the waist, at least 100 around the golf course, and a nuisance around the house.

Will Rogers, probably America’s greatest political sage, once said, “Some people turn back their odometers. Not me, for I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.” Lots of men above sixty-five view life in the same way the the author of Ecclesiastes did. He saw nothing in front of him but the blunting of pleasure, the dulling of sense, and the extinguishing of desire. As he expressed it, “Man goeth to his long home.” It was a gloomy way to look at life.

Fortunately, lots of senior citizens, men and women, get up every morning with a smile on their face and with joy in their heart. They may be frail and nearsighted, but they have an inward spring of happiness from which contentment leaps to everyone around them. They may not be able to walk as fast, or see and hear as well as in other years. Their judgment is probably less prompt, their memory may occasionally fail 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. Many senior adults who fit this description have been an example and an inspiration to me – in my growth as a Christian and in the fulfilling of my duties as a pastor. They have made my work easier, and more enjoyable, and more successful.

If you have passed your sixty-fifth birthday you should know that you have the kind of experience that God can use in serving others. A shelf is something you place “things” on, not “people.” Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83 when God called them to lead the Israelites toward the Promised Land. In the ninth chapter of Philippians the apostle Paul refers to himself as “Paul the aged”, and look at how God used him. There are many other examples of how God is able to use people productively in their golden years.

You may ask, “In what way can I bear fruit?” You can share your knowledge and experience. You can practice holiness, and demonstrate God’s love as you meet human need. You can be a Prayer Warrior. And there are countless other ways God can use you – if you are willing! By the way, God uses volunteers.

 

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In 1973 Wilmington’s Temple Baptist Church made it possible for me to join a tour group that traveled to the Holy Land. It was something that I had always wanted to do. Excitement coursed through my veins at the thought of being able to walk on the very ground where Jesus walked, served, healed the sick, trained His disciples, died on a Roman cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.

One of the sites our tour group visited while in Israel was Jericho, a village only a few miles from where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. A lot of biblical history took place in and around Jericho. Our bus stopped long enough for us to purchase some items from the vendors located along Jericho’s main drag.

Realizing the history that had taken place in Jericho, I wondered what it would have been like to be in this historic village on the day Jesus came through town. Suddenly an imaginary miracle took place – it was no longer 1973! I was transported backward 2,000 years and was in Jericho on the very day Jesus came through town. And this is what I saw happen:

Someone began to shout, “Jesus of Nazareth is heading this way.” Since the miracles of healing Jesus had performed were widely known, people began coming from every direction. They started to line both sides of the street two and three deep in the hope of seeing this worker of miracles, or perhaps even get to meet Him. As Jesus came within view, the crowd’s excitement began to build, and I became excited also.

It was at this point that I saw Zacchaeus, the pint-sized shyster who was the region’s IRS honcho. Jews who became collectors of Roman tax generally extracted more taxes than citizens were required by Rome to pay. They put the surplus in their own pockets. This, of course, made them extremely unpopular.

Being short in stature, Zacchaeus knew he would not be able to push through the crowd of people lining the street in order to see Jesus. So, he climbed up into a tree to get a better view. When Jesus came to where Zacchaeus had perched himself in the tree, He suddenly stopped. You could have heard a pin drop.

People on both sides of the street began to murmur. I could hardly wait to see and hear would happen next. It would be an excellent time for Jesus to cut this unpopular pint-sized tax collector down to size, just as He had done to the Pharisees and Sadducees. He might have said: “You are a crook and a traitor! You have the reputation of being greedy. You will spend eternity in hell!” The crowd would definitely have approved of that. But it is not what happened.

Zacchaeus knew how unpopular tax collectors were, and Jesus knew that also. Individuals in the crowd began hurling insults at Zacchaeus. They could not understand why Jesus would give special attention to someone they regarded to be a traitor. Suddenly Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down from the tree. He then invited Himself to be a guest in his home for the evening meal. I remember wondering what Mrs. Zacchaeus would later say to her husband for bringing a guest home for dinner unannounced.

Zacchaeus, having jumped down from the tree, grabbed the hand of Jesus and shook it vigorously. He promised to return to any taxpayer that he had cheated fourfold any amount he had been overcharged. Jesus smiled when he said this, but several in the crowd began to grumble: “How could Jesus associate with someone as disreputable and dishonest as a tax collector? It is a terrible idea.”

Of course Jesus did not think going home with Zacchaeus was such a bad idea. It is the kind of thing that happens every time sinners meet Him face to face — they receive the opposite of what they deserve. That is what grace is all about. It is what happened when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in 1939. Everything in my life was changed dramatically. And I haven’t gotten over the experience yet!

It was at this point that I heard the horn on our tour bus blow. I was no longer in Jericho two thousand years ago. My imaginary journey had come to a screeching halt. I was back in 1973! I boarded the bus, and we traveled on down the road to the next site on our Holy Land tour schedule.

I’m still amazed when I realize that I was actually in Jericho on the very same street where Jesus 2,000 years ago came through town, stopped, looked up, saw a little man up a tree, and said, “Come down, Zacchaeus, I just invited myself to go home with you!”

If you haven’t met Jesus yet, you should know this: He would also like to go home with you!

 

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Delanceyplace publishes excellent articles regularly on past and current topics. A Sanford friend a few weeks ago emailed me an interesting article from this website entitled, Mark Twain’s mother that dealt with Samuel Clemmons’s attitude toward slavery. The friend liked the article and suggested that I write a column which would include my personal growth and efforts in the area of race relations. I promised him that I would plant the idea in my column seed bed to see if it germinates.

When the tragic event in a Charleston, South Carolina church recently happened, my friend’s idea sprouted bigtime. The time for it to become a column had arrived. The abolition of slavery when Abraham signed the Emancipation Proclamation one hundred fifty years ago had as its goal the establishing of healthy relationships between people of different races. However, prejudice has not disappeared, and may never do so. Bigotry still lives. Christians should be in the forefront of helping our nation to establish a genuine spirit of brotherhood in the area of race relations. We have far too often lagged behind.

I was born in central Georgia in 1931, just sixty-six years after the last battle in our nation’s Civil War was fought. Much of the ingrained prejudice left over from the days of slavery was still very much alive as I was growing up. White students in my hometown attended a school that was first class in every way; the school attended by black students was far less adequate. Relationships between the races were generally civil – so long as established boundaries were not crossed. Those of us who had white skin went to our churches; people of color went to their churches. I became a Christian when I was eight, and knew before my sixteenth birthday that God had called me to become a minister. As I began to grow in my relationship with Christ I realized that Christian faith and bigotry cannot coexist in the life of a genuine Christian.

Throughout my high school years I had a black friend near my age whose first name (believe it or not) was Tankum. When I was a freshman in Mercer University I said one day to my grandmother, “I would love to have Tankum as my roommate in college, but knowing that he is black and from a poor family, it would not be possible for him to attend college.” My grandmother, true to the culture of the late 1940’s said, “Son, Mercer has ruined you!” That kind of camaraderie was not possible with her culture-influenced mindset.

My grandmother was a good woman in so very many ways, and I loved her. But, like the majority of people who were white, she had accepted the status quo. The culture in Georgia in the 1940’s didn’t allow for the kind of unity which the U.S. Constitution promised but had not achieved. Our country since the 1940’s has made substantial progress, of course, but there are still prejudiced individuals among us whose thoughts and actions are dominated by the kind of bigotry that led the young man in Charleston to kill nine good people.

In the 1980’s I had the opportunity to baptize the first black members of Sanford First Baptist Church – one was a teenage girl in our special ministries program, the other was one of our two church custodians. Sanford’s First Baptist Church in the 1970’s was at least a generation ahead of the churches I had previously served in recognizing that every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, regardless of his or her race, color or other difference, is a Christian brother or sister to be loved and appreciated.

Two things are sad to me about the continuing race problems in our country: (1) They are used far too often as a political tool by politicians who are seeking votes, and (2) Christians and churches should be doing a much better job to represent Christ in dealing with human differences. We must never forget these words of Jesus: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

 

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Every July 4th patriotic Americans celebrate far more than the birthday of our nation. We also celebrate two revolutionary ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence:

First, THE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT: Our founding fathers believed that government has no right to exist except for the benefit of the subjects of that government. It was designed to be a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” not a “people of the government, by the government, and for the government.”

The second revolutionary idea, THE POWERS OF GOVERNMENT: Government has no powers except the powers given to it by the people. This idea is not supported and practiced in every country in our world.

The events that took place in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1776 were precipitated by a foolish king, an insensitive and greedy Parliament, and an arrogant aristocracy in our mother country which was heavily taxing the people in the American colonies to help finance a war in which they were not participating and in which they had no interest.

Benjamin Franklin proposed that a Continental Congress be convened to discuss the oppressive measures being imposed on the colonists. In 1774 this Congress was convened and a committee was appointed to study the matter. A second Congress was called for May, 1775. The members of this Congress were not rebels. They loved their mother country. Finally, on July 4th, 1776 the document was signed.

Who were these men who helped constitute our nation? They were definitely not scalawags and leftovers from the European continent. They were men of integrity and principle who risked everything they had, even their very lives, by signing this document. They said, “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.” If the cause had failed, these fifty-seven men would have lost their property and possessions and their very lives as well. Their average age was 44. The youngest was 29. The oldest, Benjamin Franklin, was 70.

President Calvin Coolidge would say many years later: “The real origins and great outlines of our democracy were the result of the religious teachings of the previous period. The intellectual life of our forefathers centered on the meeting house or the church. They were a people who were under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power. No other theory is adequate to explain the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight which the people had gained from the Bible.”

Independence, however, must be both declared and earned. There were wars to be fought and battles to be won: at Lexington, at Concord, at Bunker Hill, at Valley Forge, and at Yorktown. Blood, sweat, and tears were invested in their cause. Freedom can never be given as a gift and declared by lip service only; it must be earned! And it must be earned anew in every generation. After the Declaration of Independence was signed, someone asked Benjamin Franklin, “What kind of government do we have?” He replied, “We have a republic, if we can keep it.”

William Gladstone, the English historian, said, “The U.S.Constitution is the most remarkable word known in modern times to have been produced by the human intellect at a single stroke.” God has had His hand upon our nation. May it ever be “One Nation under God!” But the freedoms we enjoy are currently in jeopardy. New challenges face us. God is being deliberately and systematically pushed to the periphery in public life. Dark clouds are on the world’s horizon. Apathy and cynicism must be kept out of the driver’s seat. A renewed commitment to the principles that have made America great is needed. This begins with a renewed commitment to God.

Psalm 33:12 – “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

 

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