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Archive for March, 2016

When Jesus gathered His disciples together for the Last Supper, they were having difficulty deciding who was the greatest (Luke 9:46). Whenever any group argues over who is the greatest, it will also have difficulty deciding who is the least. Human nature hasn’t changed much in two thousand years, has it?  Most of us are aware that we will never be the greatest; we just do not want to be the least.

Gathered to celebrate the Passover feast, the disciples were aware that someone needed to wash the others’ feet. The only problem was that the disciple who stooped to wash the feet of another could be considered the least among them. So, there they sat, feet caked with dirt. Not one of them offered to kneel down and wash the feet of the others. So Jesus took a basin of water and a towel and redefined greatness.

Jesus said to them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash each other’s feet” (John 13:14). Perhaps they said something like this, “Lord, we would find anything else You have asked us to do easier than to wash each other’s dirty feet. Surely you are kidding!” They were probably thinking to themselves, “Washing somebody’s feet is too mundane, too ordinary, and too trivial for us to do.”

Jesus was trying to teach them that greatness comes from serving others, not from serving oneself. What you do to serve yourself is only temporary in nature. It is often selfish in nature and seeks human applause. It is easily affected by moods and whims.

True service delights only in serving others. It can serve enemies as well as friends. It acts from ingrained patterns of living. It is indiscriminate in its ministry. After all, the command of Jesus was to be the “servant of all” (Mark 9:35). It ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need. When we set out on a consciously chosen course of action that accents the good of others, and is done for no other reason than to serve, a deep change occurs in our spirits. Service can be defined as love wearing work clothes.

Those who respond to the call of Christ to become servants give up the right to be in charge. There is great freedom in this. When we choose to become servants, we surrender the right to decide who and when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable. Service is not a list of things we do. It is not a code of ethics, but a way of living. It is one thing to act like a servant; it is quite another to be a servant.

There are many small ways in which we as Christians can become servants in small ways that we have never even realized. For example: (1) Like Dorcas, we can make “coats and garments for widows” (Acts 9:39); (2) We can refrain from passing on the gossip and backbiting that we have heard; (3) We can choose “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show humility toward all men” (Titus 3:2); (4) We can show hospitality; (5) We can genuinely listen to people who have needs. These are only a few of the ways that we can “bear each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

When Jesus took a basin of water and a towel to wash and dry the dirty feet of His disciples He was beckoning all who follow Him to take up the ministry of the towel. To participate in such a ministry, flowing out of the inner recesses of the heart, is to experience joy and have peace. Will you dedicate yourself to “the ministry of the towel?” If you are willing, I suggest that you begin each new morning praying this prayer:

Lord Jesus, bring me someone today whom I can serve in your name and for your glory. Amen!”

  

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Throughout the entire world where people have lived you will find cemeteries. Underneath the tombstones found in these burial grounds are the earthly remains of individuals who once were alive but now are dead. Tombstones generally contain the names of deceased persons, the dates they were born and died, and perhaps a brief epitaph describing something about them.

How different the situation is in that ancient cemetery where Jesus Christ, following His crucifixion, was buried. No epitaph telling anything about Him was carved into the stone door of the sepulcher. Rather, the epitaph was spoken by an angel, “HE IS NOT HERE: FOR HE IS RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID” (Matthew 28:6).

The Apostle Paul summed up for the Christians in Corinth the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in these powerful words, “If Christ be not raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17).

What Paul is saying is that without Christ’s resurrection, the cross would be meaningless, a tragedy, and a defeat. Without the resurrection there would be no good news, the world’s darkness would be black, and life would hold no meaning. Without the resurrection the New Testament becomes a myth, Christianity becomes a fable, and millions of Christians are living under the delusion of the greatest hoax in history.

The great question of this age, and of every age, is the one asked by the Old Testament character Job many centuries ago, “IF A MAN DIE, SHALL HE LIVE AGAIN? Ask a scientist this question and he cannot give an answer. Ask the great writers of recent history – William Faulkner, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O’Neil, and others – and they are filled with pessimism. Jesus answered Job’s question when He said to Martha following the death of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26).

The resurrection of Jesus is the hinge of history. The historical evidences of both His death and resurrection are many. It was validated by His enemies and experienced by His followers. When I was in Israel in 1973 I had the privilege to enter the tomb in which many Christians believe Christ was buried. It is nestled beneath a hill that bears the resemblance of a human skull. While I was inside that tomb I rededicated my life to the One who died that I might have eternal life. I praised God for the resurrection of His Son. It was the day death died!

When the disciples saw the tomb on that first Easter morning they quickly saw that it was empty. Later, when Jesus appeared in their midst, they thought they had seen a spirit. But Jesus said to them, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see me have” (Luke 24:39). Later, there were thirteen different appearances of Jesus under every conceivable condition and circumstance. These were definitely not hallucinations, for they usually continue to occur. The appearances of Jesus came to an end when He ascended into heaven.

Many years ago following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the local communist leader was sent to tell the people the virtues of communism and to take their minds away from religion – which Karl Marx had called “the opiate of the people.” After the Bolshevik had harangued them for a long time, he said to the local pastor rather contemptuously, “I will give you five minutes to reply.

The pastor said, “I don’t need five minutes. I only need five seconds. He rose to the platform and gave the traditional Easter greeting: “THE LORD IS RISEN!” The villagers, as one man, thundered back, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!

 

 

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One of the most interesting characters mentioned in the New Testament was a man named Barabbas.   Having been tried before Pilate for being an insurrectionist, found guilty, and sentenced to die, his cell was very likely located in the fortress of Antonia in the city of Jerusalem.   The Roman governor, Pilate, was holding court within hearing distance.  As he was waiting to be crucified Barabbas possibly heard the crowd outside his cell cry out words that chilled him to the bone: “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  He knew the time was approaching when he would hear the footsteps of Roman soldiers coming to escort him to die on a Roman cross.

According to the accounts by Matthew and Mark, during the Feast of Passover the governor normally set free any prisoner the people wanted released.  It is not known how this custom began, but it was clearly in place at the time Jesus was brought before Pilate to be tried.  Prior to this very important feast the people would approach the Roman governor and ask that a specific prisoner to be set free.

Being anti-Semitic, Pilate had absolutely no sympathy with this Jewish custom. On this occasion, however, he welcomed it.  First of all, he knew that the charge against Jesus had been trumped up by the Jewish authorities.  He also knew that if he did not go along with crowd’s demand, a riot could possibly take place.  Should a bad report be sent to Rome about his regime, he could possibly lose his position as governor.

The second dilemma Pilate faced was that he was convinced Jesus was innocent. Also, his wife had dreamed Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against Him.  It is interesting that of all the judges before whom Jesus stood, Pilate gave Him a chance to declare His innocence.  He looked only for the facts, and they led him to believe that Jesus was not guilty of the crime with which He had been charged.  When the crowd refused to accept Pilate’s judgment, he washed his hands of the matter and allowed Jesus to be crucified.

As we look back upon that eventful day, this question remains: Why, of all the prisoners who were sitting in Roman cells waiting to be tried, did Pilate select Barabbas as the one he would offer to be released? Why not one of the two thieves who would later that day be crucified along with Jesus?  Why would Pilate offer to set free a man described in Matthew 27:15 as being notorious?  The word “notorious” meant that Barabbas was much more than a petty thief, picking pockets as he walked along the crowded streets of Jerusalem.   He was a murderer, a hardened criminal.  Josephus, the famous Jewish historian of the day, agreed with Matthew that Barabbas was indeed notorious.

“When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate asked them, ‘which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’” (Matthew 27:17).  “They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’” (Matthew 27:22).  At this point Pilate gave in and allowed Jesus to be crucified.

Imagine that you are Barabbas in that cell, believing your time on planet earth is growing very short. Feel his tensions as the footsteps of Roman centurions are heard coming to escort you to your death on a cross.  Your heart is beating rapidly, and your breathing becomes shallow.  But when the cell door swings open, Barabbas hears these amazing words, “You may go free, for another man has died in your place.”

The freedom Barabbas gained when he heard those words can be yours. Yes, Jesus Christ also died for you. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

 

 

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Worry has the power to give small things big shadows. It causes our imagination to picture the worst case scenario. Another way of expressing this is to say that it is thinking turned toxic. The only place worry will get you ahead of time is the cemetery.

The word worry comes from a root meaning “to choke or strangle.” And that is precisely what worry does – it chokes and strangles our creative capacity to think, hope and dream. It causes us to dress up like mountain climbers to climb over molehills.

Do you tend to worry? If so, what are you worried about? Focus on those people, situations, or apprehensions that cause you to experience the greatest anxiety. Then ask yourself this probing question: “Have I ever had a time of trouble that was solved or improved by worrying?”

There are many available lists of what causes us to worry. A.J. Cronin, distinguished author and physician sorted it out this way:

  • 40% — Things which never happen.
  • 30% — Past things that can’t be changed.
  • 12% — Health worries.
  • 10% — Petty miscellaneous worries.
  • 8% — Real legitimate worries.

We have all been told how useless it is to worry, but we go ahead and worry about things anyway, don’t we? We are so conditioned to worrying about people and things that the habit takes control of our minds before we are even aware it is happening. The compulsive response to handling life’s tensions is so ingrained in our brains that we do it automatically.

It doesn’t make sense to worry about the future. Why open an umbrella before it begins to rain? Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it by the handle of anxiety or by the handle of faith.

At its core, worry is agnosticism because it questions the adequacy of God to meet the needs that we and others have. And it is nourished by a fear that there may be problems and perplexities that will leave us outside God’s ability to meet our needs.

I saw a plaque on the wall in the Duplin Times office in Kenansville several years ago that contained this tongue-in-cheek advice to people who tend to worry: “WHY WORRY? You are either going to live or die. If you live, you will have plenty of time to deal with your problems. If you die you will either go to heaven or to hell. If you go to heaven, you will have nothing to worry about. If you go to hell, you will be so busy shaking hands with friends you won’t have time to worry. So, why worry?” It makes a humorous point, but I didn’t think such a flippant approach to what is a major human problem would be very helpful.

Is it possible to be healed of the sickness of worry? Can we find a satisfactory solution to this vexing problem? Definitely yes! Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, has the power to heal the causes of worry. His prescription is given in Hebrews 13:5-6 – “God has said, ‘Never will I fail you; never will I forsake you.’ So, we may say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

This is God’s promise to every person who will believe it. It does not mean that our lives will be always smooth and totally free of problems. What it does mean is that Christ will do one of three things: remove the danger, strengthen us to stand strongly in it, or use the situation to help us to grow in grace.

True love never fails because it does not forsake. The word “forsake” means “to disown, leave completely, abandon, desert, and reject.” That is the one thing our Lord, who loves us, will never do. Those who believe in Him belong to Him for eternity.

Ask yourself just three questions: (1) What am I worried about? (2) Is it worth the anguish it causes? (3) Why not surrender what I am worrying about to the Lord right now?

You have nothing to lose – nothing but your worries, that is! But you will gain a Friend who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV).

When worry knocks on the door of your heart, climb on the wings of faith into the presence of God. He will give His angels charge over you to protect you (Psalm 91:11). When you are surrounded by angels you should definitely not waste any time worrying. So, why worry?

 

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In Boston, near the church where he preached for years, there is a statue of Phillips Brooks. In the statue his left hand rests upon the Bible and behind him the fingers of his Lord rest upon his shoulder. Both Brooks and Jesus Christ were in the pulpit at the same time. It is what makes preaching powerful.

Numerous books have been written on the subject of preaching – many of them are classics. Those that have made the biggest impact on preaching have dealt not just with the mechanics of preaching but also with the person who is called by God to preach. Though the technical aspects of preaching are important, the preacher who preaches with power must also have Christ with him in the pulpit.

Churches in many denominations periodically elect a pulpit committee to search for a new pastor. In other denominations bishops assign and reassign pastors to local congregations. In searching for a new pastor, human yardsticks are usually given a high priority: education, eloquence, charisma, administrative ability, speaking style, pastoral heart, and money-raising talent. Far more important than any or all of these combined is the question, “Is the individual in question learned in God’s Word?” If so, it will be evident that both Christ and the prospective pastor will be in the pulpit as God’s Word is preached.

The primary job of any pastor is to be the voice of God to the congregation. Preaching the truth does not always make the preacher popular or widely accepted. Theodore Epp, founder of Back to the Bible radio ministry, realized something was wrong when he stopped receiving critical mail. Convicted that he was not challenging his flock enough, he changed his preaching. “I’m afraid that when I’m pleasing everybody, I’m not pleasing the Lord,” he later said, “and pleasing the Lord is what counts.” This is not to suggest that a pastor is only successful when he upsets his hearers. But his priority must always be to preach truth – even if it hurts!

“Do not worry about what to say or how to say it,” Jesus said to His disciples as He sent them out. “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19-20 NIV). This does not mean that in today’s world a preacher should not prepare and study, for the early disciples had already been thoroughly prepared when Jesus spoke these words. Jesus, in essence, was saying, “Be sure when you stand to preach that I am with you.”

The preacher’s state of mind is critical. Preachers should not pump themselves up with boldness. Some preachers already have too much boldness and not enough substance to go with it. The boldness should come from the knowledge that Christ is with you as you speak. Every preacher’s charge is to preach the whole truth. “Away with this milk and water preaching of the love of Christ that has no holiness or moral discrimination,” proclaimed Charles Finney, one of the great preachers in the 19th century.

One pastor, filled with ego rather than the Holy Spirit, and overly impressed with his preaching skill, said to his wife one Sunday on the way home from church, “Honey, how many great preachers do you think there are in our country?” She wisely replied, “I don’t know, but the number is one less than you think!”

Another minister, after he had resigned to accept another church, said to a parishioner who was feigning regret that he was leaving, “Look at it this way, my dear, your next pastor will likely be far better than I have been.” She remained inconsolable and said, “That’s what everybody said before you came.”

You already know your pastor is human. Like you, he makes mistakes. But his mission is so important that he needs your prayers. Oh, and by the way, he also needs your help.

 

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