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Archive for December, 2016

Like most men, I never learned to cook. I didn’t need to learn, for my mother was an excellent cook. One month shy of twenty I married the love of my life, and she also had been trained by her mother to be an excellent cook. Why learn how to cook if you have been blessed your entire life with a mother and a wife who were experts at the craft. You just put your knees under the table and enjoy yourself. Then it happened!

My wife Jessie, after nearly 65 years of happily married life, went home to be with the Lord on April 5th. Suddenly I was left without a culinary expert in the house. Since I am a Baptist minister, this was a problem. We have a reputation to uphold when it comes to putting away food. By the way, Baptist preachers don’t have a monopoly on this trait. When anyone asks me what my favorite dish is, I reply, “Food! Any kind of food!”

After Jessie moved out and moved up, I got out some recipe books. My plan was to learn how to prepare a few simple recipes. I didn’t know how complicated recipes can be, particularly some of them. As I looked at the number of things recipes include I thought to myself, “What is this? And what is that?” I quickly realized how complicated recipes can be! Even so, they are very important, not just in the preparation of food, but in everything you do – including entering a new year. An issue of the Christian Herald several years ago included what was called a “Happy New Year Recipe.” As we enter 2017 I recommend that you try it:

“Take 12 fine full-grown months. See that they are completely free from all memory of bitterness, rancor, hate, and jealousy. Cleanse them of every clinging spite. Kick off all specks of pettiness and littleness. Once they are fresh and clean as when they first came into the storehouse of time, cut into 30 or 31 equal parts. This batch will keep just one year.

“Do not attempt to make up the whole batch at one time; it may spoil. Prepare one day at a time, as follows:

“Into each day put 12 parts of faith, 11 parts of patience, 10 parts of courage, and 9 of work (some people omit this ingredient and spoil the rest).

Add 8 parts of hope, 7 of fidelity, 6 of liberty, 5 of kindness, and 4 of rest. (Leaving out this part is like leaving oil out of salad – don’t do it).

“Put in 3 parts of prayer, 2 of meditation, and 1 well-chosen resolution.

“Finish off with about a tablespoon of good spirits, a dash of fun, a sprinkling of play, and a heaping cupful of good humor.

“Pour over the whole a liberal amount of love, and mix with vim.

“Cook thoroughly in fervent heat, garnish with a few smiles, and add a sprig of joy. Then serve with quietness, unselfishness, and cheerfulness, and a happy year (a happy day, a happy weekend) is a certainty.”

If this recipe is followed exactly, not leaving anything out, and not replacing even one ingredient with a substitute, you can walk through the front door of the year called 2017 fully prepared for what lies ahead.

 

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One of the great mysteries of Christianity is the relationship of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to her first and greatest son. She knew more than anyone else that He was virgin-born. Everyone else, including her husband Joseph, had to take it on faith. On the night of the Savior’s birth, and the days that followed, many strange and wonderful events took place. Mary “pondered all these things in her heart.” She must have wanted to share some of them with others, but we can be certain that she was discreet.

Approximately thirty years later she saw the mission of her Son take a turn that, in all likelihood, she never expected or even dreamed would happen. Watching Him die on a Roman cross had to be a very difficult experience. With a broken heart, and with tears undoubtedly streaming down her cheeks, she heard Him say to John, “Behold your mother.” Mary perhaps thought, “Is this all? Or is there more?” Her fears, frustrations, and disappointments received a glorious reversal three days after He was buried when He arose from the grave to be the ever-living Lord.

Few people today stop to think about the position that women held in the non-Biblical world or in the Jewish world of the Old Testament. Although Mosaic Law in certain ways protected women, we must be honest in recognizing that women had far fewer rights than they do in the western world today. But when Jesus came, He immediately identified Himself with the downcast and the outcast, including women who were considered “second class.” This is nowhere more clearly seen than in His relationship with His mother.

The story of the Samaritan woman in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel illustrates just how far Jesus has elevated the role and importance of women in the world. John tells us that the disciples marveled to find their Master talking with a woman. It was not the kind of thing that was done in that day.

Women today should ask themselves some questions. Who has done more than Jesus to challenge the idea that women were less important than men in any way? Who has lifted and transformed women from being man’s plaything to becoming his beloved companion? Who has elevated women more from being man’s personal property to the level of being his friend, his equal, and his inspirer? Who in all of history has done more or given more attention and affection to a mother’s children?

In spite of all that Jesus did and still does to emancipate women from a subservient role in society, the United States has been slow to learn. It took far too many years for our country, founded on Christian principles, to recognize that women should play a role in society as important as that of men. In 1797 Charles Fox said, “It has never been suggested in all theories and projects of the most absurd speculation that it would be advisable to extend the right to vote to the female sex?” Many decades passed before women could vote. It was not until 1850 that the first woman was admitted to the Harvard Medical School, and she was forced out.

Throughout the world the importance given to the role of women in society is shameful. Jesus cared for womanhood. He saw the grief of his mother from the cross and made provision for her. He told his disciple John to care for her. In that hour of unutterable agony, He saw not only the weak men but the weeping women, especially the one woman who cared more for Him than any other, His mother.

Jesus refused to adopt the traditional attitude of the world toward women. He was the pioneer of our faith in every way, but especially in His attitude toward womanhood. How slow the world has been to catch up with Jesus. How slow we have been to let His mind be in us. Shame on us!

 

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Our ability to remember is one of God’s greatest gifts. How wonderful it is reach back into our yesterdays and recall precious experiences in order to treasure and relive them again. Even unhappy memories have an important role to play in our lives – if rightly used.

However, there is another side to memory – we need to learn the art of forgetting. Nations as well as individuals had better learn how to forget – not the horrors of war, lest they be guilty of that greatest sacrilege, the waste of sacrifice – but the old animosities, the old suspicions and fears which breed conflict. Races need to learn how to forget blind prejudices against other races. While we are often angered by not being able to remember certain things, we are more deeply troubled by the things we are not able to forget.

Memories we have in abundance, but how many of them are things we should have forgotten a long time ago. If our memories have no windows toward sunrise, no wings of hope, no stirrings of power, they need to be drowned in oblivion. They would tend to crowd out noble and uplifting memories.

Revenge, remorse, anger, and greed are four nails, any one of which may fix a memory so deep that only the grace of God can ever pluck it out of the mind again. In my counseling sessions as a minister many people have shared difficult experiences from which they had not gained freedom. The question I wanted each of them to ask themselves is this: “Are there, in the grace of God, rivers of mercy that can flow into my life and teach me the art of forgetting, whereby my memory can be transformed, disciplined, renewed?”

Remembering our past failures and mistakes can be a humbling experience. There is not a single businessman who does not have failures in his past – bad investments, wrong policies, etc. Nor is there a successful attorney who has not lost his or her share of cases. The best physicians have written prescriptions that did not help their patients. The most capable ministers have preached sermons that missed their intended mark. Every person, however capable, can recall ghosts of failure from his or her past.

Most of us have accumulated difficult memories from our yesterdays – unkindness, sharp criticism, abuse – that threatened to rob our lives of joy. Even Abraham Lincoln faced hurtful abuse. He was called a gorilla, and a low cunning clown, but one of the secrets of his greatness lay in his magnanimity. He refused to harbor resentments and grudges. Lincoln knew that nursing a grudge or harboring difficult memories from the past would be like taking poison and waiting for the one who caused his pain to die.

How can we master the art of forgetting cruelties and unkindness? There is only one way – the way of Jesus. We must face the injury and the person who caused it, and deliberately forgive. God’s Word says: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Do you think that is easy? If you do, you do not know what forgiveness costs. Offering love, forgiveness, cleansing, and reconciliation has the power to heal human relationships when nothing else can.

You may say, “To forgive that man (or woman) is impossible.” It is definitely not impossible if you enroll in the school of the Master, to learn from His attitude and allow His power to work through you (see Luke 23:34). When unkind vindictive individuals try without cause to give you grief, you don’t have to join them in being miserable. First, ask God to help you forgive them. Then, move forward.

We are like beasts when we kill, like men when we judge, and like God when we forgive.

 

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In 1849 at the hour of the evening opera, a large crowd had gathered to hear the Swedish nightingale, Jenny Lind. Staggering down the street outside was Max Bronzden, son of a blacksmith, who had shared childhood with Jenny Lind, but who had become an alcoholic.

Seeing the multitude at the opera house, he slowed his steps. From, inside came the ringing voice that awakened memories. Watching his chance, he evaded the ticket agent and found a seat in a dark corner, hoping no one would claim it. His keen ears and musical temperament began to drink in the glorious music that filled the vast auditorium. The number ended, and a tempest of applause shook the house. No one applauded more heartily than Max.

Stirred as he had not been since childhood, he forgot himself and his rags. Running forward, he cried, “Jenny, my little Jenny: I told you that you would do it. Speak to me and tell me that you remember me. I told you that you would rule the world with that voice. Speak to me and tell me that you remember me.”

The crowd cried, “Put him out! He is crazy!” Strong arms seized Max and started pushing him toward the door when Jenny, who had been bowing to the crowd, suddenly lifted a hand and silenced the audience. “No, leave him in. I know that man!”

At this point Max turned toward Jenny and said: “Forgive me. But I was passing. I heard your voice and I stole my way in. I wanted to listen to you sing for the sake of old times. At one time the bird and I were the only listeners you had. I told you that you would be great, and you seemed glad to hear my praise when I was nothing but a barefoot boy, the blacksmith’s son.”

Bending forward toward him, Jenny Lind said, “Bring him to the front seat. It is Max Bronzden, my earliest and truest friend. Stand here, Max. I want my audience to know you. You created in my heart the ambition to be great. My stage was just a forest log, and you showered me with wild flowers, which I prized more than I prize these jewels. Your praise stirred in me the desire to do what these friends have heard me do tonight. Be worthy of the trust and confidence I give you. I have struggled and conquered all difficulties. You can do the same. Be content no longer, Max, to be a vagabond, as you say you are. Be a man!”

Max could hardly speak, but in hoarse earnestness, he said, “Jenny, with God’s help, I will.” The concert hall, which had been as silent as death, burst into a more tumultuous applause than it had given the world’s greatest singer a few moments before. And Max went from that place determined to be a new man, with more courage than he had ever had, never again to be conquered by the damage alcohol can inflict.

Jenny Lind, who had the whole world at her feet and all the wealth any person could ever need, was never so busy or preoccupied with herself that she could not recognize the needs of others and seek to help them. She never became so important in her own eyes that she ceased to be grateful. She believed that persons who are too busy or important to help those who are down and out and in need have more business and importance than God intended for them to have.

Jenny Lind’s concern and encouragement for an old friend was what it took to challenge him to turn to God for the strength to turn his life around. Are there persons you personally know who need someone to show them love and concern? It could possibly inspire and challenge them to seek God’s help in getting their lives turned around. It is one of the finest ways I know to serve Jesus Christ and to follow His example.

 

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“What is so special about Jesus that I should worship Him?” This is the question often asked by those who do not believe in the existence of God. How Christians answer it is extremely important. Merely quoting various creedal statements will not impress those who do not believe. We must share what we personally know about Jesus Christ as the result of having a personal relationship with Him.

Daniel Poling, one of America’s great preachers in the mid-twentieth century went home from church one Sunday night and his twelve-year-old son came up to him and said, “Daddy, I want to make an appointment with you. I’ve got something I want to talk to you about.” His dad responded by saying, “I’ll be glad to talk to you any time. How about talking now?”

The son replied, “No, I want to make an appointment in your office like everybody else does.” So, Poling set the appointment for the following afternoon at three o’clock. The following afternoon when his son arrived in his office at the church, he said, “Daddy, when you preach on Sundays you are always telling the people what different theologians say about God, and what various other people whom you know say about God, but daddy, I want to know what you know about God.” It was a great question!

Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, referred to Christians as “those who have turned the world upside down.” It was said of Christians that “they out-thought, out-lived, and out-died all others in their day.” They made that kind of impact upon the first century world because they had a dynamic personal relationship with God. If this had not been true, Christianity would have been only a blip on one page of history.

If you think of yourself as a Christian, what do you personally know about God? Do you have fellowship with Him every day wherever you are? It is not enough to say, “Well, I’m a church member” . . . “I have been baptized” . . . “I read my Bible and pray daily” . . . “I tithe my income” . . . “I attend Sunday School.” These things are wonderful, but what do you genuinely and personally know about God?

The Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood several years ago scheduled an acting contest. The contestants were asked to quote the Twenty-Third Psalm. An older, mature, and experienced actor quoted it with all the proper inflections. He was dramatic in all the right places. When he had finished, everyone broke out with applause. A young actor, who was a committed Christian, then stood to quote the psalm. When he finished, there was such a spirit of reverence in the room that no one spoke a word. The experienced actor had quoted the Twenty-Third Psalm from his head, but the younger actor quoted it from his heart. The older actor knew the Shepherd Psalm, but the young actor knew the Shepherd.

The best argument a Christian can use in winning another person to Christ is the argument of personal experience. Several years ago one of our deacons asked me to go with him to witness to his alcoholic neighbor who was not a Christian. The man said to the deacon, “You dare talk to me about changing my life and becoming a Christian – as much liquor as you and I have drunk together?” The deacon replied, “What you say is true, but a change has taken place in my life. I’ve come to tell you how that change happened.”

Millions of people in our world do not yet know the truth found in the four New Testament gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In order that they might know and be transformed by the truth they contain, God has chosen to use a fifth gospel: the gospel according to you. So, what IS the gospel according to you?

 

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