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Archive for January, 2017

Nearly fifty years ago I went to visit a member of the church I was serving at the time whom I knew to be depressed due to serious health concerns. I walked up on the front porch and knocked on his door. When he didn’t answer, I walked back to my car, got in, and started to crank up. But I felt a compulsion to go back to the door and knock again. Again there was no answer, and I returned to the car. I had a strong feeling that he was home, so I went back to the door and knocked for the third time.

The window to the left of the porch opened six inches or so, and the man said, “Preacher, I’m home. I’ll open the door in a minute.” When he opened the door to let me in, he was crying. I waited for two or three minutes, letting him cry, and then I began to converse with him. His health had degenerated to the point that he believed his life was not worth living.

It is the kind of situation which ministers are called upon to face occasionally. How would you handle it? What would you say to him? Needless to say, I did the best I could to get him to move from focusing upon his troubles to focusing on the God who loved him. I told him that God never promised we would be immune to difficulties in life, but that He walks with us through them. I opened my New Testament and read to him this promise God makes to every believer: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Now this is just a meaningless sentence, or it is 24 carat gold dug from God’s gold mine, the Bible. There are three words in that one verse – never . . . leave . . . and . . . forsake — which makes it, in my estimation, the most encouraging verse in the Bible. The word never is what grammarians call a synergistic compounding negative. It is a “forever never” that has no exceptions. The word leave gives us the assurance that God will never leave us behind. The word forsake assures us that He will never forsake us.

A full, more amplified translation of Hebrews 13:5 can be literally translated to say, “I WILL NEVER, NO NOT EVER, GIVE UP ON YOU, LEAVE YOU BEHIND, CAUSE YOU NOT TO SURVIVE, LEAVE YOU HELPLESS; NOR SHALL I EVER CEASE TO KEEP MY PRESENCE WITH YOU.” We can cash a promissory note only once. Here is a promissory note from God that you can cash as many times as you need.

God’s omnipotence (all powerful) answers when you say, “I don’t have any strength left.” God’s omnipresence (everywhere present) answers when you say, “I am so alone and depressed.” God’s omniscience (all knowing) answers when you say, “I don’t know what to do.” The God who did not leave Israel in the wilderness will not leave you. He did not forsake Elijah on Mt. Carmel and He will not forsake you.

If you ever feel lonely or depressed, or do not have the strength to face the heavy load you carry, or do not know what to do, remember that you can practice the presence behind the promise found in Hebrews 13:5. It is, as I said earlier, the most encouraging verse in the Bible. Notice that God begins the verse with “I” and ends it with “you.” The good news is that God genuinely cares for you and loves you.

The man who was so depressed that he did not open the door to my visit until I returned to his front door for the third time joined me in prayer during my visit. He said, “Pastor, I had my gun loaded, and I was just before killing myself. But you kept insisting that I open the door!” He stopped focusing on his problems and began to focus on the problem solver, Jesus Christ. He put his gun away and continued his life.

If you are ever faced with great difficulty don’t forget to claim God’s promise found in Hebrews 13:5.

 

 

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Very early in life I strongly felt God’s call upon my life to become a pastor. I preached my first sermon when I was sixteen years of age. In December, 1949, at the age of eighteen years plus three months, I was called to become pastor of the Bethsaida Baptist Church just outside Dublin, Georgia. For a little more than seventy years I have had absolutely no doubt concerning what God called me to do in life. I have gotten up more than 25,000 consecutive mornings knowing the purpose for my life. Many people struggle throughout life because they do not have that sense of purpose and satisfaction.

The famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy once asked himself this question: “What is life for? To die? To kill myself at once? No, I am afraid. To wait for death till it comes? I fear that even more. Then I must live. But what for? In order to die? And I could not escape from that circle?”

The Old Testament character Job even said, “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’ That day – may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it” (Job 3:3-4 NIV). It was at a time when he was struggling in the midst of excruciating sufferings. He was viewing life through dark colored glasses.

Job was discovering, as multitudes of people do in today’s troubled world, that the most atrocious and destructive type of difficulty is that in which the victim can see absolutely no meaning or purpose to his or her existence. Job’s faith enabled him to ultimately triumph over his trials, but many people do not.

I cannot think of anything sadder than to get up every morning day after day, year after year, and decade after decade, and not have a reason for living that provides joy and happiness. Life lived on the highest level, and as God originally designed it to be, should include having a sense of purpose. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why was I born? How can I live in such a way that life has genuine meaning?”

The primary purpose for our Lord’s sojourn on planet earth was to point out the meaning of life as God originally designed it to be lived. He came to reveal order and purpose in life’s activity. He came to direct human beings, inextricably entangled on dead-end streets dealing with problems of their own making, to the orbit and destiny for which God created them.

Jesus first had to break through the thick crust of materialism that keeps most of God’s creatures from committing themselves to the truths that are eternal. “Do not labor for the food which perishes,” He exhorted. In saying this, He was not condoning lethargy and indolence. Rather, He was rebuking the excessive attention we place on labor that is designed to tear down our barns in order to build bigger barns. He knew that those whose main goal in life is to accumulate wealth would miss out on the values that are spiritual and eternal. As has been wisely said, “No one is as poor as he or she who has only money.”

The young man who came to Jesus whom we call “the rich young ruler” illustrates this truth extremely well. He was an outstanding young man, for he had kept the commandments from the days of his youth. He also asked the right question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is doubtful that he would have asked this question if he had not had a genuine interest in spiritual things.

Like so many before him and after him, his priorities were skewed. His life lacked genuine meaning and purpose. Jesus, perceiving what was in his heart, said, “First, you must go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and then come to follow me.”

“What?” he must have thought to himself. “I can’t do that!” That which claimed his interest and energy left him unfulfilled. He went away sorrowfully because he thought that life revolves primarily around material possessions and what they make possible. Like so many in our world today he was living his life on the cafeteria plan – self-service only.

Jesus was not saying that the only way any person can have eternal life is to become a pauper. He was simply saying that this young man had to choose to give top priority to the kind of life that gave God glory rather than to the things he owned. He made the wrong decision, and eternal life came out second best.

“What does this have to do with me?” you may ask. Simply this: Go stand before a mirror and ask the person looking back at you this question: “What is the one thing in life that you consider to be more important than anything else?” The answer to that question will reveal whether or not you are guided by a sense of purpose that reaches beyond the day you breathe your last breath.

 

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Rev. John Rainey served as pastor of my home church in in Georgia in the early 1940’s. Severely afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, he had great difficulty walking. His wife drove him everywhere he went in order for him to fulfill his pastoral duties. He sat on a kitchen stool behind the pulpit during the entire length of each sermon. He was one of the most sincere and effective Bible preachers I ever knew.

Some years later when he was serving the Bluewater Baptist Church near Dublin, Georgia, he became very ill and came very close to dying. It was during this time that he had what is called “a near death experience.” He later described himself as consciously moving from earth into a world with celestial beauty. He was taken inside a room filled with brilliant light where he did not see Jesus, but heard him say, “John, I’m not ready for you yet. There is still work for you to do on earth.” He opened his eyes and began to recover.

On his first Sunday back in the pulpit he shared his near death experience. At the end of his sermon when the invitation was given for people to respond to the call of Jesus upon their lives, several people, all of whom were adults, walked the aisle and made a public profession of their faith in Christ. One of them was a man for whom his family and friends had prayed for many years to become a Christian. I believe this was a part of the unfinished work the Lord wanted him to complete before finally going home.

Pastor Rainey only saw briefly what lies beyond the door of death and was able to remain on the earth. Many others in the course of human history bore witness to what they saw as they were leaving for their heavenly home. For example, the first Christian martyr, Stephen, said as he was being stoned to death, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

Dwight L. Moody, American evangelist of another generation, said not long before he died, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Earth recedes! Heaven opens before me! If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling and I must go!”

“No,” said his son who was standing at his bedside. “You are dreaming, father.” Moody replied, “I am not dreaming. I have been within the gates, and I have seen the children’s faces. This is my triumph! This is my coronation day! It is glorious!” J.W. Macaulay captured the joy Moody was experiencing in these words:

Here we labor, here we pray,

  Here we wrestle night and day,

  Here the battle rages sore

  Here the tempter ne’er gives oer;

  There we rest from toil and pain,

  There all losses turn to gain,

  There we lay our burdens down,

  There we wear the victor’s crown.”

 

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Mrs. Myrtle Raye Glass, a member of Sanford’s First Baptist Church, celebrated her 100th birthday on December 17th in the church’s Fellowship Hall. Members of her family and a large number of friends, including me, were present. Her husband, now deceased, was a member of the church’s Pastor Search Committee that asked me to become their pastor in 1981. I wouldn’t have missed Myrtle Raye’s happy event for anything.

One of the many attendees of Myrtle Raye’s birthday bash was Mrs. Virginia Hester, also a longtime First Baptist member. Her next birthday will be number one hundred. Yet note this: she told me that she had renewed her driver’s license the previous week for five more years. Imagine meeting a car on the road driven by a woman driver who is 104 years old! Would that scare you? Both Myrtle Raye and Virginia are still trucking on down the road. They have proven that the best way to grow old is not to be in a hurry about it.

Most people run out of gas before they celebrate a hundred birthdays. I heard Bones McKinney, former basketball coach at Wake Forest University, say at a Chamber of Commerce banquet several years ago, “I realized I was getting old when my wife decided to go somewhere after dark and I didn’t have to go with her.” And he was only in his seventies – more than two decades younger than Myrtle Raye and Virginia. They prove every day that you don’t have to act like an old person just because you have seen ten decades come and go.

Psalm 91:6 speaks of “the plague that destroys at midday” (NIV). The Hebrew poet who wrote this sublime psalm may have been thinking of the fierce heat of the midday sun that constantly beat down on those who were living in Israel at the time. However, the basic idea he expresses can also apply to people in middle-age. The destruction, the corrosive influences that impact us negatively in our middle years, can be and often are the result of cynicism, or disillusionment, or depression.

If you are currently in the middle years of life and believe your happiest and most productive days are in the past and cannot be repeated, I have good news for you! God in His love and renewing power can work a dynamic miracle in your personality. In the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostles there is the account of the miraculous healing of a severely crippled man achieved by the Spirit of God through the Apostles Peter and John. The healed man was very likely no more than forty years of age

No matter how old you happen to be – young, middle age, or senior citizen — God’s Spirit can also give you newness of life. All you have to do is to believe the promise found in Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday” (verses 1-1-6 NIV).

Dr. Jack Ellis, retired Vice President of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, is a friend of mine. His mother will be 110 on March 14th. She, like Myrtle Raye Glass and Virginia Hester, will tell you that to enjoy life all the way to your hundredth birthday you must keep taking on new thoughts and throwing off old habits.

On September 27, 2031 I will be one hundred years old. On that day I am planning to have a big birthday party, and every person who is reading these words is cordially invited to attend.

 

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