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Archive for February, 2016

The fear of being alone scares some people. A small girl sobs to her mother, “No one ever plays with me.” A college freshman at a large university is homesick and thinks to himself, “In high school I had lots of friends, but now I’m a nobody.” The CEO of a large company sits dejected in his office on the top floor – powerful, yet alone. An elderly woman lies on her bed in a nursing home wanting to go “home.”

The fear that humans have of being alone pushes them toward noise and crowds. Even when driving down the highway, with no one else in the car, we have cell phones attached to our automobile’s blue tooth technology so we can talk to people. As long as we are connected we do not have time to be lonely.

The good news is that there is a way to deal constructively with loneliness. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster says, “We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment because it is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place.” No Christian need ever be overwhelmed by loneliness. Why is this true? When we are alone we are in a better position to hear the voice of God speaking to us.

Jesus, during the days of His earthly ministry, regularly sought times of solitude. He opened His public ministry by spending forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). Before He chose the twelve, He spent the entire night alone in the desert (Luke 6:12). When He learned the news of the death of John the Baptist, He “withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart” (Matthew 14:13). After the miracle of feeding five thousand people He “went up into the hills by Himself” (Matthew 14:23).

Again and again we see Jesus seeking a quiet place to be renewed. As He prepared for His highest and most holy work, He sought the solitude of the garden of Gethsemane to pray (Matthew 26:36-46). Without silence there is no solitude. Just as the seeking out of solitary places was a regular practice of Jesus, so it should be a beneficial practice of every Christian. Though silence involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without the heart listening to God, is not silence.

No Christian need ever be totally conquered by the demon of loneliness. Times of quietness, even those when you believe you are totally alone, you are not alone. You can cultivate the habit of using those times to hear and be strengthened by the voice of God. You can also use the “little solitudes” that fill your days – the moments in bed before the family awakens, the times when you are driving to work in bumper to bumper traffic, the occasions when you turn a corner and see a flower growing in someone’s yard, and at countless other times as well. You can take advantage of your silent moments during the day to feel God’s presence.

Solitude can not only provide you opportunities to hear God speak to your need, it can also help you to focus on the needs of others. I have often prayed for patients in the hospital as I was driving on the way to visit them – praying with my eyes open, of course. It maximized my time in a spiritually productive way.

During every single day, no matter how full your schedule may be, there will be moments when, if you are alert, you will be able to feel a tug at your heart to shut out the noise and clamor of the world around you so you can experience God’s presence. Is your life totally fulfilled? Do you long for something more, something real? Do you, with every breath you breathe, crave a deeper, fuller exposure into God’s presence? Try to find times of silence, for they can provide God with the opportunity to speak to your need.

If you will listen, your loneliness will disappear – because you will not be alone.

 

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Ask average church members to tell you what the church’s role in the world is and they will immediately show you mission statements, action plans and strategy schemes. There is nothing wrong with these three things, but the body of Christ should be viewed from a much higher perspective. Christ designed the church to be a holy presence in the world, a community of believers – alive and vibrant. A church, any church, must be much more than a series of items on an action checklist.

The church’s role (what it does) is dependent upon its character (what it is). What we do, therefore, flows from who we are. First century Christians made a tremendous impact upon their world primarily because they worshiped God and lived as a holy community. Their character was conformed to the demands of Christ rather than to the demands of Caesar. They didn’t have as their primary purpose to turn the first-century world upside down. This happened, but it was because of who they were, not because of anything they did.

This character-oriented perspective is totally foreign to the achievement-oriented culture in which we live. We tend to evaluate people by what they do rather than by who they are. It is why many people choose a church to attend solely because of its warm fellowship, its programs, its location, or because it has adequate parking. These considerations are important, of course, but how long has it been since you heard someone say, “I decided to join a certain church because of its character as a holy community?”

Every church’s first task is to make disciples, not have an enormous membership. Emphasizing bigness is sometimes referred to as “counting nickels and noses.” Making disciples involves more than adding people to a church roll, for this is only the beginning. Conversion involves a nurturing and maturing of character, of putting off the old habits and ways and putting on the new. This ideally leads to a lifetime of growth, and it takes place in the context of the community of saints, the church.

The New Testament says the role of the pastor is to prepare church members to carry the good news of God’s love to others. The only way a church can become a lighthouse to its community is for every member to consider himself (or herself) a minister. French social critic Jacques Ellul expresses it this way: “The channel through which the Holy Spirit brings truth to the world is through the pastor, who teaches it to the laity, and they in turn translate it and put it to work in the marketplace, infiltrating the world.”

Everything a church does should be geared toward the training of its members to be representatives of Christ to its community. This involves specialized ministries – to the disabled, to youth, to the aged, to families, to the homeless, to those in prison, etc. Members of the body of Christ have individual specialized gifts that can and should be used to help the church be an effective conduit of the love of God to its locale.

Satan, not wanting any church to be a holy presence in its community, will seek to destroy it. If he cannot destroy it, he will seek to detour it into some side road – bad theology, personality conflicts, immorality, or in various other ways. When the church members in ancient Corinth were squabbling about their various gifts, the apostle Paul told them that the greatest gift – the gift that made them most effective – was love.

The church needs workers, not a wrecking crew. It is a workshop, not a dormitory. If you are a Christian you should know this: if you expect to answer when the roll is called up yonder you should worship God every time you can unless providentially hindered when the roll is called on Sunday at your church.

 

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A book I recently read said that the attitude you have when you get out of bed every morning has the power to determine whether or not you succeed in life. I believe it. King David of Israel did also, for he said, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Lots of people in our world who went to bed last night did not live to see the sun rise today. So, if you got up this morning and your name was not in the obituary section of your local newspaper, you have a valid reason to rejoice and celebrate. God has given you a new day. Make the most of it.

With what kind of attitude did you begin today? Did you say, “Good morning, Lord,” or did you complain by saying, “Good Grief, another morning!” A positive attitude is contagious, but you should not wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier!

Those who, in spite of many problems, choose to begin each day with a positive attitude will touch and bless everyone around them. I am reminded of a wonderful lady in her 70’s who was a member of a church I served several years ago. She had been an invalid almost her entire life, yet she never complained. Her face constantly wore a smile because she had a song in her heart. She chose every morning to be happy, and she shared her happiness with every person who visited her.

A man who was a member of that same church lived on the opposite end of Attitude Street. He got up on the wrong side of the bed every morning. He would share his problems and pessimism with every person who would listen. The perpetual expression on his face made you wonder if he had just finished eating a large dill pickle. I learned never to ask him, “How are you today?” He would dump a two ton load of misery on you. He reminded me of one of the characters in the ‘Lil Abner comic strip a few decades ago that had a dark raincloud hanging over his head – and it followed him wherever he went.

God created each of us with tremendous potential. Whether we become in life a staggering success, or live a life of squalor and disappointment, depends to a significant degree on the attitude we choose to have every morning when we get out of bed. If you will choose to begin each day with a smile and a positive attitude, and if you will keep it up for a few weeks, it will become a beneficial habit.

You are the only person who can choose your attitude. The choice you make will determine the level of your joy, the quality of your peace, the strength of your marriage, the well-being of your children, the impact you have on others, whether or not you enjoy your work, the degree of your professional success, and even the eternal destiny of your soul.

The attitude you choose even has a lot to do with determining your daily stress factor. It has the power to turn hate into love, a frown into a smile, pessimism into optimism, rejection into accomplishment, fear into faith, and defeat into victory. I recommend that you follow the example of the steam kettle: Though it is up to its neck in hot water, it continues to sing.

Be aware, however, that even when you give your best it does not mean you are immune to an occasional difficulty or failure along the way. The only people who have never failed at anything are those who have never tried to accomplish anything. The best guarantee of success at anything is to choose to be successful. But if at first you don’t succeed, keep on trying. Success will come in due time.

When the great Polish pianist Paderewski first chose to study piano, his teacher told him his hands were too small to master the keyboard. Yet he did not allow discouragement to keep him from achieving his goal. He made the choice and paid the price to become a world-renowned pianist – and he succeeded.

When the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso first began to study voice, his teacher told him his voice sounded like the wind whistling through a window shutter. He refused to be defeated by such a negative evaluation of his talent, and he became one of the world’s greatest tenor singers.

Know this: the past is behind you; tomorrow has not yet arrived; all you are guaranteed is today. Each day is God’s gift to you. That is why it is called the present. Your attitude will determine what you make of today, of tomorrow, and of every tomorrow after that.

Aiming at a worthy goal pays huge dividends – especially if you know when to pull the trigger.

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Mahatma Gandhi praised it. Nietzsche cursed it. People around the world from various cultures have the highest regard for it. Even so, many Christians pledge allegiance respectfully to its thoughts and promptly put it on cold storage. But always it leaps to life again to provoke us and disturb us. And well it should, for it is the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’ most profound and best remembered words.

The primary version of the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew (chapters 5, 6, 7), though portions of it are also found in Luke. In Matthew’s version there are 107 verses. Of these 107 verses 29 are found all together in Luke 6:20-49; 47 have no parallel in Luke’s version and 34 are scattered throughout Luke’s gospel in different contexts. Matthew’s version of the sermon begins with the beatitudes. Blessed (happy) are the discouraged, the sorrowful, the lowly, the spiritually-depressed, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. These thoughts are the exact opposite of what the world teaches.

The truths taught in the Sermon on the Mount are regarded by non-Christians to be frustrating and humanly impossible to practice. Christians, realizing that God’s help is available, strongly believe they are goals for which we should strive as we seek to become more like Jesus Christ.

Following His baptism Jesus realized that the time had arrived when He must go forth on His crusade. Following His temptations in the wilderness He both chose the method He would use to carry out His redemptive mission and rejected the methods He knew would be against the will of God.

Those who set out on a great task need helpers in order to achieve their goal. If the helpers are to do their work intelligently and effectively, they must first have instruction. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus provided the instruction His disciples needed in order to take His message to the world. He knew His earthly ministry would last for only a limited period of time, and that following His death and resurrection He would return to the Father. At that time He would charge His twelve disciples with carrying on His work.

Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount mentions some things not found in Matthew’s account. For example, Luke tells us that it was preached immediately after Jesus had chosen the Twelve (Luke 6:13 and following). Having been chosen and called to follow Jesus, the Twelve were ready to be taught.

Today when a Christian feels called by God to become a minister he announces that fact to his fellow Christians in the church of which he is a member. Upon being called to his first charge, a special worship service of dedication is scheduled which examines the candidate and validates God’s call upon his life. An ordination sermon is preached that focuses on the importance of the candidate’s mission, and on everything he will need to successfully carry it to completion.

The Sermon on the Mount has been described variously by scholars as “The Magna Charta of the Kingdom,” “The Manifesto of the King,” and in many other ways. One scholar refers to it as “The Ordination Address to the Twelve.” Until I read that, I had never thought of it as the ordination service designed to prepare the disciples to carry out their assigned mission. But I like that description, for that is what it was.

I was ordained to become a Christian minister in January, 1949. I remember that night as well as if it were yesterday. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the twelve men Jesus chose as they listened to the ordination sermon Jesus preached. It is the greatest ordination sermon every preached.

 

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