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Archive for November, 2015

When we suspect someone has his religion on parade we often say, “He is wearing his halo too tight.” If our hat it too tight we can get a headache. If our halo is too tight we will give everyone around us a headache and turn them off. We will also make Christianity distasteful and Christ unattractive to others.

The advertising industry has a slogan, “Running a business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but she doesn’t.” The slogan is true, for it definitely pays to advertise. Advertisements empty attics and garages of dust collectors, open up space needed for other things, and line our pockets with cash.

There are things, however, that advertising kills. Advertise our humility, and it becomes pride. Advertise our altruism and it becomes egotism. Advertise our spirituality and it becomes hypocrisy. It would prove that it is only imaginary, not genuine. Jesus said there are three primary ways those who follow him make an overly ostentatious demonstration of their faith. Our halo is too tight when we:

Do good deeds in order to draw attention to ourselves (Matthew 6:1-4). To do that would be to act with the wrong motive. T.S. Elliot, in his book entitled Murder in the Cathedral, says, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Jesus challenges us to let our light shine because this both demonstrates the right motive and glorifies God.

Putting our piety on parade has just one goal: to draw attention to ourselves. The word used in Matthew 6:2 means “the account is settled.” We achieve what we wanted, which was to draw attention to ourselves. Doing good deeds solely as an expression of sincere love for God and others is the proper way to follow the precepts of Christ. To do good deeds for any lesser reason is to have the wrong motive.

Pray in order to impress others (Matthew 6:5-15). Jesus said that we should not pray as hypocrites do: in the synagogue (or church) or on street corners in an attempt to impress others with our spirituality. Jesus was not condemning public prayer. On many occasions He attended the synagogue and engaged in public prayer. He asks us not to think of prayer as the repetition of an endless amount of words. Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold on His willingness.

The best known prayer in history, the Lord’s Prayer, can be repeated in less than thirty seconds. It is composed of sixty-six words, fifty of which are one-syllable words. It is simple enough to be understood by a child and yet profound enough to express the heart’s desires of the most mature person.

Fast to appear spiritual (Matthew 6:16-18). Just as in advertising the prayers we pray and the good deeds we do, advertising our fasting destroys whatever blessings it might bring. Fasting is not as prevalent a practice in our day as it was two thousand years ago during Christ’s earthly ministry. Even so, fasting as we spend a serious length of time in prayer is still a productive way of drawing closer to God – that is, if we do not advertise it to others as a way of trying to impress them.

Halos, of course, are a figment of the imagination created by medieval artists. And in spiritual matters they are a figment of the imagination. Our relationship with Christ and with others will be happier and more productive if we let Christ live through us. If we do that daily, we can forget about wearing a halo.

 

 

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Charles Swindoll, in The Darkness and the Dawn, tells the story of how Old Ed every Friday strolled along the beach near where he lived in Florida on the way to his favorite pier. Clutched in his hand was a bucket of shrimp. As he walked to the end of the pier he always seemed alone with his thoughts. However, he wouldn’t be alone for very long. Up in the sky a thousand white dots would come screeching and squawking, winging their way toward Old Ed.

In almost no time at all the hungry seagulls would begin to envelop him, fluttering and flapping their wings wildly as he began tossing out shrimp to them. Anyone on the pier who happened to be in hearing distance of Old Ed could hear him say with a smile, “Thank you. Thank you.” It didn’t take long for the bucket to be empty, but Ed wouldn’t leave. He would stand there as if in deep thought, as though transported to another time and place.

Invariably, one of the seagulls would land on his sea-bleached weather-beaten hat – an old military hat Ed had been wearing for years. When he would finally leave the end of the pier, a few of the birds would hop along the pier with him until he got to the stairs that led down to the beach and toward his home. If you had happened to be on the pier with your fishing line in the water, you might have thought that Ed was an odd kind of codger – the kind who, as we sometime say, is “one sandwich short of a picnic.”

Just who was this fellow who fed seagulls each Friday a bucketful of shrimp? His name: Eddie Rickenbacker. If you are above eighty you will remember that he was a famous hero in World War II. On one of his flying missions across the Pacific, he and his seven-member crew went down in the ocean. Miraculously, all of the men survived, crawled out of their plane, and climbed into a life raft. They floated for days on the rough ocean. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all, they fought hunger. By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water. They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were. They needed a miracle.

That afternoon they had a devotional service and prayed for a miracle. Then they tried to take a nap. Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap down over his face. Time passed. All they could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft. Suddenly Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap. It was a seagull! With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew had a meal. They used the intestines for bait with which they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait. With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the sea until they were found and rescued.

Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that first lifesaving seagull. Every Friday he would carry a bucket of shrimp to the end of the pier near his home. With his heart filled with gratitude and a smile on his face he would throw his shrimp to the seagulls while saying, “Thank you. Thank you.”

Some people go through life and never learn the importance of saying “Thank you” – to God for His many blessings, or to others who have touched their lives in a special way. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew prayed for a miracle, and God heard their prayer. He learned that you should be grateful not only for what you receive, but also for what you escape. The sacrifice of one seagull paved the way for thousands of seagulls in Florida to have a sumptuous meal every Friday afternoon as the sun went down.

Miracles happen in the lives of those whose favorite attitude is gratitude.

 

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“What is life all about? Why am I here?” These two questions, which are life’s most important, have been asked in one way or another by individuals from the beginning of time.

It may surprise you, but the Bible gives no less than eighteen answers to the question, “What is my life?” It is: “a tale that is told . . . a pilgrimage . . . a swift post . . . a swift ship . . . a shepherd’s tent removed . . . a thread cut by the weaver . . . nothing . . . a sleep . . . a vapor . . . a shadow . . . a flower . . . a weaver’s shuttle . . . an eagle hurrying to its prey . . . water spilled on the ground . . . grass . . . wind . . . a weaver’s thread suspended in the air.” The one thing that strikes you about each of these images is that they are all quick things. There is the suggestion of brevity and evanescence about them. It is only when we look at these images closely that shades of difference begin to appear.

Three of the metaphors describe life as a very short or little thing. Those who are above sixty-five years old know quite well how to identify with the shortness of life. Life has many great moments – of triumph and of defeat. There are both difficult hours and joyful hours, but how rapidly they pass. Even if every person could live for a century, when compared to eternity, life would be but an individual drop of water in an ocean.

The three metaphors which describe life as a very little thing are: “a shadow,” “a shepherd’s tent removed,” and “a tale that is told.” “A shadow” is unreal, illusory; it falls across the world without affecting it. Perhaps it only darkens it. Then it rises suddenly and is gone, leaving few if any impressions. “A shepherd’s tent removed” is pitched here today and is moved tomorrow. How rapidly we come on the scene, stay for a short while, and then move off the stage. We spend our years as “a tale that is told.” Generations before us have told their tale, and our tale is now being told.

Another three metaphors refer to life as a very short thing. Shortness, of course, is different from littleness. A bolt of lightning is short, but not little – but life is both short and little. There are two ways to measure time: by growth and by the amount of minutes we have. Therefore, we try to pack as much into every day as we possibly can. King David once prayed that God would give him a measure for his days. Well, he got it – “a hand breath.” And life is like “a swift ship” sailing away while being driven by an unseen wind.

Three metaphors describe life as transitory, a thing of change, with no endurance. “A pilgrimage” – in other words, it is a journey from here to there. “A vapor” describes something that has no substance, here for a moment, but quickly dissipates and is gone. No book but the Bible would describe life as “a sleep.” To live is to sleep and to die is to wake up in the presence of God.

One metaphor, “as water spilled on the ground” describes life as an irrevocable thing. Days, weeks, and months that have come and gone cannot be gathered up again. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could be gathered up again? Yesterday’s mistakes and sins cannot be changed. Forgiven? Yes! Changed? No!

Have you ever given any thought to your life as being like “a weaver’s thread suspended in the air, with the blade of the knife just touching it with its sharp edge? This metaphor says that we all must one day die. The thread of our life will be cut – one half left unfinished, still falling into the past, and the other half dropped noiselessly into eternity.

Life on earth can come to a sudden ending. Are you ready for the swiftly falling knife, for the Reaper? Have your sins been pardoned? If so, you have found the right answer to life’s two most important questions.

 

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A historic church in the heart of a decaying downtown section of a large American city had fallen on hard times. The environment around it was blighted. The cheap stores up and down the street had all seen better days. The challenge facing the young pastor had caused him to be discouraged and dispirited. One day an old friend happened to be in the city and came by to visit him.

“John,” the young minister said to his friend, “I am appalled by what goes on around this church. In the back of that grocery store across the street is a bookie joint that deals in illegal bets. Around the corner in the middle of the block and up a flight of stairs is a house of prostitution. That pool hall on the corner over there is the hangout for the neighborhood gang. Narcotics pushers openly sell their drugs on the street.”

His friend replied tersely, “Why don’t you get off this block? This is no place for a church!” He was trying to sympathize with his friend but, my goodness, how badly he missed the point! Churches should not run from the pockets of evil, vice, poverty, and lawlessness, though many churches have and some still do.

The outstanding Quaker theologian, Dr. Elton Blueblood, described many of the churches in our country today as “stained-glass foxholes isolated from the battle going on around them.” God cannot and does not use a stained-glass foxhole in a powerful way to impact its community. The kind of church God uses to build His kingdom on earth will always have the following three biblically-defined characteristics:

It will be a praying church. Acts 1:14 tells us that prior to the day of Pentecost the first Christians were “all joined together constantly in prayer along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.” Those first 120 believers were gathered in the Upper Room. Everyone was present – all 120 of them. No one was absent. The result of the prayer meeting was that following the completion of Peter’s sermon 3,000 people accepted Jesus as their Savior.

What would happen if every member of your church showed up next Wednesday night to pray for your church and for your community? What would happen if every member of your church prayed for your church staff and for the lay leadership in your church – every single day? It is not difficult to see that God would infuse your church with such power that it would have a tremendous impact on your community. W.W. Ayer, in Christian Digest wrote. “The quickest way to get a church on its feet is to get it on its knees.” Prayer is why the early church was “in one accord.” No church that is genuinely united in prayer can be divided in purpose.

It will be a witnessing church. Of the first century church it was said, “And all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1b). This was during a time of persecution. Notice that the apostles stayed in Jerusalem at the risk of their own lives to minister to those who were not dispersed. And Acts 8:4 says, “Those who were scattered preached the word wherever they went.” This was the lay people, not the preachers. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and . . . preached the word . . . wherever they went. Both prayer and witnessing preceded Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. If the sermons at your church lack power it could be that the members of your church have not been engaged in prayer and witnessing.

It will be a preaching church. The message coming from the pulpit of every church should be based solidly on the Word of God. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). The Christ whom Peter preached at Pentecost is still the Son of God. He is still willing to forgive us of our sins. He is still able and willing to adopt us into His family. And He is still willing to accept and bless any commitment that we make to Him.

 

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