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Archive for October, 2016

John Mark Templeton, in Discovering the Laws of Life, tells of an old legend about three men and their sacks. Each man carried two sacks around wherever he went, one tied in the front of his neck and the other tied around his back.

When the first man was asked, “What do you have in your two sacks?” he replied, “In the sack on my back are all the good things my friends and family have done. That way they are out of sight and hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me. Every now and then, I stop, open the sack, take them out, examine them, and think about them.” Because he stopped so often to concentrate on all the bad things that had happened to him, he didn’t make much progress in life.

The second man was asked, “What do you have in your two sacks?” He replied, “In the front sack are all the good things I’ve experienced in life. I like them, and I like to see them. So, quite often I take them out to show them off to everyone around me. The sack in back? That is where I keep all my mistakes. I carry them with me everywhere I go. Sure, they are heavy. It is true that they slow me down. But, you know, for some reason I can’t make up my mind to put them down.”

When the third man was asked about his two sacks, his answer was, “The sack in front is great. In this one I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I have experienced, and all the great things other people have done for me. The weight is not a problem. It is like the sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward in a positive direction. The sack on my back is empty. There is nothing in it. I cut a big hole in the bottom of it. So, I put all the bad things in there that I think about myself or hear about others. They go out the hole at the bottom of the sack so that I’m not carrying around any extra weight.”

The story of these three men and their sacks is obviously just a story. But it is a story designed to convey truth that every one of us would be wise to hear and obey. I suspect that the legend describes many of the people you have known and currently know – fellow church members, coworkers, neighbors, and friends – or perhaps even one or more of your family members.

Templeton’s story, though fiction, is both interesting and perceptive. It is also instructive because one of these three men in the story possibly describes you. All of us carry two sacks around wherever we go – the blessings we have shared and the burdens we have borne.

What are you carrying in your two sacks?

Who are you carrying in your two sacks?

Which sack is full, the one containing your positive experiences – or the one containing your negative experiences? Your answer will determine whether your face continually wears a smile or a frown. Wearing a smile is just one of the many ways you can demonstrate to others the joy that Christ gives to those who love and serve Him: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NIV).

Maltbie D. Babcock, realizing that inexpressible and glorious joy is the birthright of every Christian, said, “The Christian life that is joyless is a discredit to God and a disgrace to itself.”

 

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The interesting thing about studying the Bible is that occasionally a new insight or truth literally jumps off the page at you. You say to yourself, “I’ve read this passage many times, but I’ve never noticed that before.” The more you study your Bible the more new things you will see that you have never seen before.

For example, I was recently reviewing the early history of the church when a new idea jumped off the page in my direction: “Now in those days, as the disciples were steadily multiplying, there arose a murmuring” (Acts 6:1). The words multiplying and murmuring are not usually found in the same sentence when you are describing a church. What an odd combination to find growth and grumbling linked together!

We tend to equate expansion with optimism, enthusiasm, and success, but in the sixth chapter of Acts it is associated with dissension, criticism, and tension. The first five chapters of Acts describe what we might call “the honeymoon days of the early church.” After personal encounters with the risen and ascended Christ, the followers of Christ prepared themselves through prayer and fellowship for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This resulted in three thousand conversions on the day of Pentecost.

Just when everything was moving forward in a wonderful way, the harmony was rudely interrupted by disharmony. Murmuring threatened to halt the multiplying. Grumbling that could have sidetracked the growth of the early church suddenly appeared. In the daily distribution of food to widows the Greek widows were given less food than the Jewish widows. The battle was on: the Hellenists versus the Hebrews.

It is the kind of thing that can happen, and often does happen, in churches – to this very day. Church members are human beings. We are not perfect. We are still in the process of growing spiritually. Just when a church catches a vision of what God wants it to do, and a sense of unity exists, Satan throws a monkey wrench into the mix. Church members divide into two groups: “our side” and “their side.” If the murmuring that takes place in churches is not addressed promptly and lovingly, the multiplying will soon come to a screeching halt. Growing and grumbling simply cannot coexist in a church without creating problems.

The early church addressed its problem by enlarging its leadership. Deacons were chosen to deal with what was a legitimate concern involving fairness by organizing an equitable distribution of food. This enabled pastors to (1) devote more time to the study of God’s Word, (2) better address the spiritual needs of church members, and (3) spend more time sharing the gospel with persons who needed to be saved.

The encouraging thing about this first-century incident is that God used the murmuring as a catalyst to launch a bold new mission. Out of ordinary jealousy and grumbling of the kind that can be found in many congregations today, God chose Stephen and Phillip to blast the church out of its Jerusalem stronghold and launch it on an expansion that finally reached the gates of Rome. By effectively responding to the problem, rather than ignoring it, the church became stronger than if it had never had a problem. By being forced to deal with the Hellenists, it learned how to deal with the world.

The same victory can belong to any church. There is no reason any church should ever be sidetracked from fulfilling its mission because of murmuring among its members. God is still on His throne. He is infinitely able and totally willing to help any church deal with its cultural diversity and the murmuring it creates.

And that includes your church!

 

 

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Have you ever been involved in a questionable activity and had someone say, “Doesn’t your conscience bother you?” If so, know this: your conscience is not the voice of God; it is the gift of God, the gift He gave you to help you do what is right and avoid what is wrong.

What made Adam and Eve hide from God in the Garden of Eden? Their conscience! They had disobeyed God and knew that that they had to face Him.

What made King David cry out, “Have mercy upon me, O God?” His conscience! He had sinned grievously, and had hidden it from others. However, he knew his sin was not hidden from God.

What made Pilate’s wife say to her husband at the trial of Jesus, “Have nothing to do with this man?” Her conscience! She believed in the innocence of Jesus so strongly that she interceded in His behalf.

What caused Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, to cry out in anguish, “I have betrayed innocent blood?” His conscience! Can you imagine what it would be like to spend three years with Jesus, betray Him, and then realize that what you had done aided His enemies in their goal to kill Him?

What made Simon Peter weep after he had denied on three separate occasions that he ever knew Jesus? His conscience! He knew that He had promised Jesus he would defend Him with his own life, and he had failed Him out of fear for his own life.

If your conscience doesn’t bother you when you do those things that God’s Word describes as sin, it is likely because you have ignored its voice so long that it has gone to sleep. Some people drug their conscience into silence. Others drown their conscience in a river of alcohol. They find themselves sooner or later at the end of a dead-end street.

If your conscience bothers you, thank God. It is His providential way – before compasses, or radar, or sonar, or Global Positioning Systems were ever invented – of providing you with a helpful navigational system. Ignore your conscience at your peril.

In Words We Live By, Bryan Burrell tells of an armed robber named Dennis Lee Curtis who was arrested in 1992 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Curtis had his own set of scruples that indicated his conscience had long since been put soundly to sleep. In his wallet the police found a sheet of paper on which was written the following code by which he lived:

 

  1. “I will not kill anyone unless I have to.
  2. I will take cash and food stamps – no checks.
  3. I will rob only at night.
  4. I will not wear a mask.
  5. I will not rob mini-marts or 7-Eleven stores.
  6. If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line.
  7. I will rob only seven months out of the year.
  8. I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.”

 

Dennis Lee Curtis had a sense of morality, but it was seriously flawed. He had ignored his conscience so long and so often that his sense of right and wrong was weakened little by little and ultimately became totally twisted. When he stood before the court, he was not judged by the standards he had set for himself. He was judged by the higher law of the state.

The moral of the Dennis Lee Curtis story is this: pay attention to your conscience! Your best boss is a well-trained conscience. Some people stopped listening to their conscience years ago because they didn’t want to take advice from a stranger. Character is never erected on the foundation of a neglected conscience.

Every person will one day stand before God to be judged (Romans 14:10). We will not be judged by the code of morality we have written for ourselves, or by the standard set by the crowd with whom we associated and who exerted a negative influence over us. We will be judged by the perfect law of God.

If you have never given that any thought, you would be wise to do so today.

 

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” His observation, I believe, was an accurate one.

Theodore Watts, a nature enthusiast, many years ago was climbing a mountain when he overtook a gypsy woman on her way up the mountain. After greeting her, he began to elaborate enthusiastically about the beautiful scenery in every direction. The woman paid absolutely no attention to him.

He was provoked by the fact that she did not even respond to his question, so he continued, “You don’t seem to care for this magnificent scenery.” At this point she took the pipe from her mouth which she had been smoking, and said rather pointedly, “I enjoy it; I don’t jabber about it.”

“Men of imagination,” said Napoleon, “rule the world.” Imagination is only one of the many worthwhile results of being fired by enthusiasm.

David Livingston wrote: “I find I wrote when the emotions caused by the magnificent prospect of the new country might subject me to a charge of enthusiasm, a charge which I deserved, as nothing good or great had ever been accomplished in the world without it.”

Writer Margaret M. Stevens, in one of her stories tells of three brick masons who were busy at work. When the first was asked what he was building, he answered without looking up, “I’m laying bricks.” The second replied, “I’m building a wall.” But the third responded with great enthusiasm, “I’m building a cathedral.” Enthusiasm makes all the difference in the world in how a person views and values what he or she is doing.

Those who are enthusiastic consistently give everything they have to life, holding nothing back. It is difficult to stifle the ardor or dampen the spirits of people who really believe in and are excited about what they are doing. They operate on full throttle. They are aware that years only wrinkle the skin, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

There certainly is no shortage of ideas, ideals, causes, or crusades available to enlist our allegiance or enthusiasm. But we often allow roadblocks to get in the way – such as lethargy and cynicism. Lethargy comes from lack or loss of interest. Cynicism takes over when we believe that what we are doing lacks meaning and purpose.

Enthusiasm has been described as being “one with the energy of God.” It comes from root words which contain the idea of being inspired by the Divine. There is something awesome about persons who possess and practice this spiritual quality. They are vibrantly alive, and they have the ability to inspire others.

There is genuine magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment, between success and failure. It incorporates warmth and energy into personal relationships because it is infectious, stimulating and attractive to others.

Enthusiasm is contagious, but so is the lack of it. This is especially true in the life of a Christian. The gap between enthusiasm and indifference is easily recognized in every area of a person’s life. You can quickly recognize the difference between a sports team that has a record of success and a one that merely goes through the motions. A contemporary way of describing enthusiasm would be to say that it is faith with a tin can tied to its tail.

We are the persons we are because of the investments others have made in our lives – teachers, ministers, leaders, and friends. The individuals I remember and appreciate most, and who have had the greatest impact upon my life, have always been those who possessed a surplus of enthusiasm. I do not even remember the names of most of people I have known who were listless, dull and predictable.

Enthusiasm enlivens any relationship, and pumps zest and meaning into leisure, creativity, community, and service. Though it is a good engine, it needs intelligence for a driver. Parents consistently single enthusiasm out as one of the important gifts they want to pass on to their children.

Enthusiasm will never go out of style. No organization or group is likely to reach its maximum potential unless it is part of the picture. Nor will they ever be able to succeed in achieving their objective if those who hold positions of leadership in them are less than fully committed to achieving that objective.

Nowhere is enthusiasm more needed than in a Christian church, yet it is sadly lacking in many churches today. That is a needless shame, for nowhere is enthusiasm more possible.

 

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