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Archive for September, 2017

When tragedy strikes

You do not want it to happen. You hope it will never happen. Yet, it sometimes happens – tragedy strikes! It could be the death of a family member, the loss of a job, or something else that turns your world upside down. We live in a fallen world, and it sometimes falls on us. When this happens to you it is human to have more questions than answers. How to cope with these questions presents a difficult dilemma.

The Bible says: “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven . . . a time to cry and a time to laugh . . . a time to grieve and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 NLT).

Bad things happen, even to good people. For example, some years ago as I entered the lobby of the Moore Regional Hospital in Southern Pines to visit a patient who was a member of our church, a nurse who knew me said, “There is a family here who desperately needs the presence of a minister. Can you visit them now?” I gladly said I would, and I went immediately to the room to which I was directed.

A young mother had come to the hospital to give birth to her first baby, and the baby had been delivered still born. A young mother’s dreams of holding and loving her first child had turned into a nightmare. She had requested her family to dress the baby in clothes she had purchased for the baby to wear home from the hospital. She wanted at least an hour or two to hold her baby’s lifeless form to her bosom.

This was the scene that greeted me as I stepped into the room. Sensing the full measure of this young mother’s tragedy, I began to cry. A minister meets tragedies like this throughout life, but what made this scene especially tragic for me is that several years earlier my wife and I had lost twin sons who lived for only an hour or so because they were premature. Yes, as the book of Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time for tears.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in On Death and Dying, introduced the world to the now famous five stages of grief persons experience when a close member of their family dies. These five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Not everyone travels through these five stages in that order.

Grieving in the face of tragedy is a natural process just as showing expressions of joy is when things are going well. I have traveled this road personally, and being a Christian minister has given me numerous opportunities to traverse it with others. The five stages of grief pointed out by Kubler-Ross are real. If tragedy ever knocks on your front door here are some suggestions that will provide you with hope and healing:

  • Remain calm. Dangerous decisions are often made in times of tragedy. The Bible challenges us to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger. This is especially true in times of tragedy.
  • Utilize your support system. Christian friends and family members are available to stand by your side. Some of them have walked through dark valleys themselves.
  • Acknowledge what really happened. It is not uncommon for a person to go into shock when tragedy strikes. That is why it is important to fully realize and ultimately accept what happened.
  • Remember that God is in control. God loves you, and He will never allow His children to be tested beyond what they can bear. He can be trusted to provide everything you need because He sees the big picture. Tragedy is bad, but out of even bad things God can bring about good (Romans 8:28).
  • Pray. Prayer is as basic to the Christian as oxygen and breathing are to the human body. But, in the midst of tragedy it is perfectly normal to “hyperventilate” a bit. Let Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, enfold you with His Spirit and His love. He will meet your need as you spend time in prayer.
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A reporter once asked Bud Wilkinson, former football coach at the University of Oklahoma and director of the President’s Physical Fitness Program, “What would you say is the contribution of modern football to physical fitness?”

Wilkinson replied, “Absolutely nothing!” It was not the kind of reply the nonplussed reporter expected, so he asked the famous coach if he would elaborate.

“Certainly,” he replied, “I define football as twenty-two men on the field desperately needing rest and forty thousand people in the stands desperately needing exercise!” It seems to me that Wilkinson’s description of football could also be used to describe far too many churches today – more spectators watching from the grandstands than participants down on the field. To church members who have the “Let George do it” attitude God says, “Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).

If you want your church to be all that it should be and can be, one that is genuinely interested is reaching its community for Christ, it can happen. Schedule a Sunday evening, or as many Sunday evenings as you need, and invite your entire membership (especially your leaders) to discuss the following questions:

  • Is there an atmosphere of grace in our church?
  • Is our church a safe place to struggle?
  • Does a believer who is struggling with sin feel compelled by the culture of our church to wear a mask and promote an image? Or does our church have a healthy culture of confession and repentance? Do we try to help and to restore those who have sinned and have dropped out of church?
  • Is there a welcoming spirit of Christ-like hospitality in our church for both members and guests?
  • Are there persons or groups of persons our church would not welcome into our worship services, programs, or ministries? And if so, how can we change our attitude?
  • Does our church have a genuine concern for reaching a lost world for Christ? And what specific things does our church do to win people to Christ in our community?
  • What does our church do to meet the needs of families who have small children? And, if we are doing very little or nothing, what do we need to start doing?
  • Does our youth ministry promote morals and virtues that result from the reality and empowerment of the gospel?
  • Are sermons laced with Jesus Christ and the promises of His gospel, or is He strangely absent?
  • Is there a culture and spirit of prayer in our church, or are most decisions pragmatic in nature?
  • Are there specific spiritual needs in our community that are currently not being met? If so, what can our church do to meet those needs?

If the entire membership of your church is given the opportunity to express its thoughts and dreams concerning its life and ministry, think of the interest and increased participation in your church’s life and ministry that could be created. You likely would not be able to discuss all of the questions in one congregational discussion. And you may want to add other questions than these to discuss.

Remember: the world at its worst needs every Christian church to be at its best. It will not happen in your church if your members think of it as a dormitory, not as a workshop.

 

 

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We all have a breaking point, a place where the pressures of life get to us, when it is impossible to experience peace or express patience. Therefore, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the one thing that most robs me of peace?
  • Is there a person who really gets under my skin?
  • What is it that makes me impatient to the point of breaking?

Our mental institutions are filled with people who long for peace. Walk along the streets of any city in America and observe closely the people you meet. The tension on some of their faces will clearly show that they lack peace in their hearts.

Is it any wonder that Jesus Christ had so much to say about peace? He greeted His disciples with the single word, “Peace!” First century Christians greeted one another by saying, “The peace of the Lord Jesus be with you!” Christians today often greet one another when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated by saying, “Peace to you!”

Peace is more than a state of being free from hostility, more than harmony or a temporary truce in personal relationships. Peace, real and lasting peace, can only be provided by Jesus Christ. He gives it to us by His indwelling presence.

Jesus knows how much every person needs peace. That is why He said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

Memories lurk within us that have the power to rob us of peace. When we are quiet, a familiar piece of music, or a face we have not seen for a long time, floods back into our minds and hearts, bringing with it the realization of unresolved failure, sin, or rebellion. And the peace we have known suddenly runs away and hides.

Our peace is also shattered when we refuse to become the agent of forgiveness in the lives of people. Is there anyone you need to forgive, anyone who has failed you at some point in your life – perhaps a member of your family, a fellow church member, a neighbor, or an old friend who has hurt you in some way?

When we lack peace it is a warning signal, a jarring alarm inside us telling us that someone or something has taken Christ’s place as Lord of our hearts. Jesus Christ will not take second place in anyone’s life. He must be Lord of all or He will not be Lord at all. Christ’s Lordship provides wholeness. Where there is wholeness there is peace.

All of us long to be quiet inside, to have an inner unity and oneness. The loss of peace is the price we pay for having a secondary loyalty. Jesus Christ said that we cannot possibly serve two masters. Divided loyalties always produce tension.

As John Ruskin once said, “No peace was ever won from fate by subterfuge or agreement; no peace is ever in store for any of us, but that which we shall win by victory over shame or sin, victory over the sin that oppresses, as well as over that which corrupts.”

If you lack peace in your life, perhaps it is time to ask yourself, “Does Christ have first place in my life? Does He have absolute reign and rule in all of my relationships and responsibilities? If you can honestly say that He does not, then there are some very important decisions you need to make with regard to priorities in your life.

The prophet Isaiah had it right when he said, “You will keep him in perfect peace, O God, whose mind is stayed on you” (Isaiah 26:3). Know this: Peace is always the companion of knowing and doing the will of God.

 

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Christians have known for twenty centuries that a man named Ananias played a significant role in the metamorphosis that changed Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle Paul, the greatest Christian missionary in history. By obediently doing what God asked him to do, Ananias became one of the heroes of the first century church.

The Lord appeared to him in a vision and asked him to undertake what he must surely have perceived as a dangerous mission. The Lord directed him to go to the house of a man named Judas, who lived in Damascus, lay his hands on a man called Saul of Tarsus, and pray that he might receive his sight. Saul had been blinded while traveling to Damascus to persecute the Christians who lived there. He fully intended to take the Christians that he would capture to Jerusalem for trial, torture, and death. Saul’s reputation was well known in the region.

God, in essence, said to him, “Go and help the man who came to Damascus to throw you into prison, and who would have been glad to murder you.” Can you imagine how much courage it took for Ananias to follow God’s instruction? This could well have cost him his life. The book of Acts tells us that Ananias did not question the instructions he had been given. His first words to Saul were, “Brother Saul.” What a tremendous welcome! It is an outstanding example of Christian love and forgiveness.

According to a Christian legend, Ananias was a simple cobbler who had no idea what happened to Saul after that day or how he had changed the course of history by obeying God in a simple act that played a significant role in Saul’s transformation into the Apostle Paul. The legend tells us that as Ananias lay on his deathbed, he looked up toward heaven and whispered, “I haven’t done much, Lord: a few shoes sewn, a few sandals stitched. What more could be expected of a poor cobbler?” And the Lord spoke in Ananias’ heart, “Don’t worry about how much you have accomplished – or how little. You were there when I needed you, and that is all that matters.”

It is a beautiful legend, and one that contains a message every Christian should learn. Being in the right place at the right time, even if it is only for one hour, can give you the opportunity to change history. In order to become God’s instrument, all you have to do is to listen and obey.

God has a mission for every believer. No Christian can truthfully say, “I have no talents God can use.” You may not have the ability to sing in the choir. You may look at dozens of other tasks and say, “I don’t have the ability to do any of them.” God needs and can use your ability, but what He needs most is your availability. That is why it is very important to be always open to God’s call upon your life, so that when He speaks, you will be in position to obey.

An autistic young man in his mid-twenties named George was a member of one of my former pastorates. He was a genuinely sincere Christian, even though his ability to do many of the things that God calls Christians to do was limited. He could not have taught a Sunday School class, or sing in the choir, or fill any of the leadership positions in the organizational structure of the church – and he knew this. But he loved the Lord. He also loved his church and his fellow Christians. He had a contagiously loving Christian spirit.

I asked the Lord to show me some way that George could be used to serve Him that would give him a sense of joy. Our church was located in the heart of the business district where vandalism was not uncommon. One day I said, “George, sometimes the church staff may leave the church in the afternoon and forget to lock one of our outside doors. You are usually downtown in the early evenings. Will you go around the church to check to see if every door is locked?”

He said, “I’ll be glad to do that, preacher,” and a wide smile immediately appeared on his face. It was a chance to serve his Lord and, like Ananias, he was obedient. Just checking to see if the church’s outside doors are locked at night when no one is there may not seem very important to you – but to George it certainly was.

There are no small or unimportant jobs in God’s kingdom.

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