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Archive for February, 2018

Most senior adults – in other words, people anywhere near my age – will remember the old TV show, The Lone Ranger. He, and his sidekick Tonto, would show up in town when law and order was threatened and handle the situation. At the end of each show as he saddled up and rode out of town, someone would say, “Who is that masked man?” In the distance you would hear him say, “Hi ho, Silver…away!”

The only masks I have seen anyone wear in the last several years were worn by children who knocked on my front door at Halloween to say, “Trick or treat!” Jesus warned those of us who are His followers against hiding behind a mask, pretending to be someone other than who we are. The word He used was “hypocrisy.” In warning us against hypocrisy He was saying, “Don’t hide behind a mask. Be real.”

Luke’s Gospel tells us, “When a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy’” (Luke 12:1). Yeast is a rising agent. In the Bible it is always symbolic of evil. Hypocrisy works in secret with penetrating power, starting small and working its way through our lives. It is easy to rationalize a sinful act, telling ourselves it is just one time, but it then leads to other things.

Hypocrisy is futile and foolish, and Jesus explained why: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:2-3).

Simply put, there are no secrets with God. Whatever we try to hide will surface one day. The Pharisees were more concerned about their reputation than with their character. This says to us as Christians that what other people think about us is not as important as what God knows about us. He is not impressed by our outward display of “being religious”. He considers what we are inside (see Luke 11:39).

Are you putting on a good front while harboring sin in your life? Maybe the sin is something you are doing – participating in pornography, an adulterous relationship, or some other wrong behavior. Or maybe it is an attitude – bitterness, envy, anger, jealousy, forgiveness, or something else. Whatever it is, remember that God knows. He loves you and wants to help you overcome. As you confess your sin to Him and become willing to turn from it, He will forgive you and give you strength to overcome.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the man who might have made it through an intersection as the traffic light was turning red, but stopped at the crosswalk. A tailgating woman behind him slammed on her brakes, dropping her cell phone and makeup. She furiously began honking her horn, screaming in frustration, because she had missed a chance to get through the intersection. As she was in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up to see the face of very serious police officer.

He ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched and fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours she was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal affects. He said, “I’m sorry for the mistake. When I pulled up behind your car, you were blowing your horn, making lewd gestures at the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose life’ plate holder, the ‘Follow me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk . . .I naturally assumed you had stolen the car.”

Ask yourself, “Am I just a Sunday morning Christian?”

 

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In an effort to boost circulation, the St. Petersburg, Florida, Times a few years ago ran clues to a treasure hunt for two hundred dollars that had been buried somewhere in the greater St. Petersburg area. Two thousand people gathered in front of the newspaper building on the day the final clue was printed.

During the next thirty minutes several unusual things happened. Six people were injured in automobile accidents. A number of women passed out in the crowd gathered in front of the newspaper building. Four people had to be rescued from waist-deep mud. The stakes on a building site were torn up by the crowd in its mad search for the hidden treasure. The newspaper’s stunt succeeded: circulation increased five percent.

A popular pastime in America is to get something for nothing. The search for what is called the good life is often an all-consuming passion that leads to all sorts of unusual and odd behavior, some of which is pathetic, humorous or tragic. Since Christ knew this to be so, He dedicated much of His time to the search for the good life. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-34 He deals with this subject in a direct manner. He states that the good life is a life of wise investments, unwavering loyalties and simple trust:

A life of wise investments: Too many of us believe that piling up treasures on the earth should be given high priority. Christ realized that our attitude toward things, regardless of whether we have much or little, determines the direction of our souls and the destiny of our lives.

Henry Chapin Smith, an 84-year-old man who died in abject poverty, was buried in a pauper’s grave in New York. Several days after his burial, the city authorities discovered a fortune of more than $500,000 belonging to him in a Brooklyn warehouse vault. He was a graduate of Harvard, had been a classmate of Robert Frost, and a friend of the philosopher Henry James. His life is a mute reminder of the futility of placing our trust in money or in the things that money can buy.

Jesus taught the wisdom of laying up treasures in heaven. Deposits in the bank of heaven are made every time we offer forgiveness and understanding to others who need it, every time we meet human needs in the name of Christ, and every time we turn away from deeds that are shoddy and cheap and wrong.

A life of unwavering loyalty: There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being wealthy, even very wealthy – so long as what we own does not own us. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you.” This is not a prohibition against wealth; it is an admonition to get our priorities in order. Divided loyalties make for disturbed minds and confused goals.

How can we develop a life of unwavering loyalty? The apostle Paul had the right idea when he said, “This one thing I do” (Philippians 1:13). When we focus our attention and power on a single worthy objective – on following and serving Jesus Christ, the door is opened wide for the living of the good life.

A life of simple trust: The antithesis of trust is fear and worry. The Living Bible translates Matthew 6:34 to say: “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrows too. Live one day at a time.” Trusting God implicitly means that we do not have to waste our time worrying about what we shall eat, or drink, or wear. We can be certain that God knows every one of our needs and will supply them.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus does not argue against planning, or saving, or working. He is not advocating that we neglect our responsibility or that we be slothful. Rather, He asks that we trust our lives and our days into the hands of God. Living the good life on the earth gives way to a better life hereafter.

 

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Henry Francis Lyte was an elderly man, and he was approaching the end of life’s journey. His doctors had told him that he had only a few months to live. He was tired and very ill. One day he sat down at his desk and picked up his Bible. It fell open to one of his favorite passages and he read: “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent . . .” (Luke 24:29). Lyte read and reread those words. Suddenly he was tired no longer. Words, thrilling words, began to fill his mind, and he began writing the words we sing in one of our great Christian hymns:

Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me!”

It was for him a mountaintop spiritual experience. He gained marvelous new strength in the realization that he possessed something that would abide throughout eternity.

Study the material things that people today seek to gain, and you will discover that most of them are temporary – clothes that will be out of style next year, automobiles that will wear out, and countless other treasures that “moth and rust corrupt.” We are often disappointed in these things after we possess them. We realize that we cannot totally enjoy them because they do not last.

Every material blessing we have will one day be gone. Physical strength diminishes as we grow older. The years steal away our strength and/or beauty. The most brilliant and successful career will come to an end. The most thunderous applause will ultimately die into silence. Even if we are completely satisfied today, it is possible that we will not be satisfied tomorrow.

When you accept Jesus Christ by faith as Savior and Lord, you possess a treasure that abides forever. God’s grace plus our faith equals eternal life – that is God’s promise (see John 3:16). And no one and no power can take eternal life from us (see John 10:27-29).

But what is faith? There are many definitions, but essentially it is to believe certain truths. One of the grandest statements the apostle Paul ever made was when he said: “I have kept the faith.” Life had dealt him some very harsh blows – he was shipwrecked, scourged, threatened, and faced numerous other difficulties — but through it all he held on to his faith. When you remain true to what you know to be the highest and best, you are keeping the faith. Thus, faith in God basically means three things:

First, that He created the universe. In other words, He is behind all that exists. It may seem at times that evil will ultimately triumph, but we remember how Christ said: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end“(Revelation 1:8). We have read what God’s Word says about history and how it will end.

Second, that He cares. His Son took the penalty for our sins upon His own body. He died and rose again. And He is coming again to take His children to the home He is preparing.

Third, that He is with us, and will never leave us. We are not alone . . . and will never be alone.

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Dwight Bradley, in Leaves from a Spiritual Notebook, defined worship with these beautiful words:

“For worship is a thirsty land crying out for rain,
It is a candle in the act of being kindled,
It is a drop in quest of the ocean,
It is a voice in the night calling for help,
It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the universe,
It is time flowing into eternity,
… a man climbing the altar stairs to God.”

We can worship anywhere and at any time. We may worship God privately or along with others in our churches. When we worship in church on Sunday, we confess our sins through spoken words and pledge our love and loyalty to God. Some of the most significant words in the Bible are words of pledge and promise from the lips of individuals who were committing themselves to God in an act of worship. For example:

Joshua, as he stood on the banks of the Jordan River with the Children of Israel poised to enter the Promised Land, renewed his commitment to God by saying to the Israelites, “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

King David, when confronted with the enormity of his sins, cried out, “Cleanse me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you” (Psalm 51:7-13).

When the prophet Isaiah was in the Temple on the Sabbath day and heard the Lord calling for someone He could send to proclaim His message, he cried out, “Here am I, Lord, send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

On one occasion as Jesus walked through Samaria an enthusiastic young man rushed up to Him and cried out, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57).

Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37).

All of these are words of commitment. However, words alone do not constitute commitment. There is a degree of precariousness in making such verbal commitments. We know this well by our own innumerable failures to translate the words we have spoken into obedient activity in everyday living.

Nor did Peter follow through with heroic commitment to the words he had spoken to Jesus – that is, not until the hours following Christ’s resurrection when he was restored to a loving and obedient relationship with the Lord. He later became a martyr for his faith. The words of commitment we speak to God in times of worship must be not only sincere but followed by obedience.

 

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