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Archive for April, 2018

Some people think of themselves as nobodies with little or no talent and on the road to nowhere. On the other hand, some people think much too highly of themselves – they are called egotists. Some are so egotistical they can strut when they are sitting down. In other words, they work overtime at letting off esteem.

Though ANYBODY can miss out on life at its best by choosing to dwell either in the valley of depression or on the mountain of conceit, it is healthy for EVERYBODY to want to be SOMEBODY. Alfred Adler, psychologist, pointed this out when he said, “It is the overarching impulse of our emotional life which works its way into every purpose, and breathes its life into every endeavor. The desire to be SOMEBODY is as ancient as Adam, and as immediate as the baby in your home crying to be picked up.”

Jesus understood the human urge to be SOMEBODY. It is why He advised dinner guests on one occasion who were at the head table, probably examining the place cards to see if their names were up there, that it would be better to sit down almost anywhere and wait to be called up to the place of honor. And Apostle Paul said that the hunger for attention and importance should be handled carefully: “Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3 Living Bible).

When you are viewed by others as a NOBODY, discredited and avoided, something happens inside of you. There are few personal tragedies as great as the one that happens when you throw up your hands in defeat, believing that nothing matters any longer. A man in the Research Triangle of North Carolina a couple of decades ago was relieved of his job for inadequate performance. He immediately sank into deep depression, became unbalanced and angry, went to his office with a gun and killed and wounded several people. He had come to believe that by losing his job he had been made a NOBODY.

There are many wrong ways to try to escape the feeling that you are a NOBODY. One person talks loudly in public, swears boldly, or voices opinions dogmatically in order to be noticed. Others dress in an exotic manner to seek attention. Some willingly step on others as they climb the ladder of success. Others manifest the mindset of a dictator by lording it over those they supervise. Oddly enough, on the other end of the spectrum there are individuals who try to prove they are SOMEBODY by telling you how important they are. Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled” (Luke 14:11).

Many people seek to elevate themselves by belittling others. Remember the Pharisee praying in the temple about whom Jesus spoke: “I thank you, Lord that I am not as other men are – and especially this tax collector scoundrel who is here in the temple praying.” It is a spirit of jealousy, exhibitionism, inferiority, and slander that promotes within your soul the practice of lifting yourself up by lowering someone else. To do this is counterproductive, mean-spirited, degrading, and unchristian.

The best way to develop a sense of self-worth is to identify with and serve others in the name of Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). The happiest and most fulfilled people are those who do this. Practice the trait of singling out those traits which you can approve in others. Help those who are discouraged to grow by offering them encouragement. Try to create in them a genuine sense of self-worth, and you will catch a healthy dose of it for yourself.

It is by ceasing to belong to yourself because you belong to Christ and enjoy serving the needs of others that you will be on the road to becoming somebody special!

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Judaism in Jesus’ day functioned, in effect, as a religious caste system. In the temple non-Jews could go only into the outer Court of the Gentiles. A wall separated them from the next partition, which admitted Jewish women. Jewish men could continue one stage further, but only priests could enter the sacred areas. Finally, only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, also called the Holy of Holies — and he could do this only once a year on the day of Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement.

These divided areas in the temple were described as steps toward holiness, and the Pharisees reinforced the system scrupulously every day. The rule that required the washing of hands was their way of avoiding defilement in order to make themselves acceptable to God. Had not God earlier banned from the temple the presence of sinners, menstruating women, and the physically deformed and others?

Into the midst of this religious caste system, Jesus appeared. To the Pharisees’ dismay he had no qualms about socializing with children or sinners or even Samaritans. He touched, or was touched by, the “unclean” – in other words, those with leprosy, the deformed, a hemorrhaging woman, the lunatic and those possessed by demons. Although Levitical laws prescribed a day of purification after touching a sick person, Jesus conducted mass healings in which he touched scores of sick people. He was not concerned with the almost endless legalistic rules concerning defilement after making contact with the sick or even the dead.

Just one example of the revolutionary changes Jesus set in motion was His attitude toward women. At every synagogue service Jewish men prayed, “Blessed are you, O Lord, that you did not made me a woman.” Women sat in a different section of the temple, were not counted in quorums, and were rarely taught the Torah (Law). Yet Jesus associated freely with women and taught some as His disciples. He asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water who had had five husbands, and offered her the water of life. An immoral woman washed His feet, dried them with her hair, and went away forgiven and transformed.

In reality, what Jesus did to the religious caste systems was to move the emphasis from God’s holiness (exclusive) to God’s mercy and grace (inclusive). By going out of His way to meet with Gentiles, eat with sinners, and touch the sick, He was challenging the status quo. Thus, the religious leaders saw Him as a threat. No wonder the Gospels mention more than twenty times when they conspired against Him.

The story Jesus told about a pious Pharisee and a remorseful tax collector praying captures the inclusive gospel of grace in a nutshell. The Pharisee, who fasted twice a week and tithed his income on schedule thanked God that he was better than robbers, evildoers, and adulterers – and infinitely better than the tax collector who was praying near him. The tax collector, too humiliated to even raise his eyes toward heaven, prayed the simplest prayer possible, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Jesus, by challenging the rigid system of rules and regulations being enforced, was emphasizing the importance of God’s grace. He was a friend of sinners. They both enjoyed and benefitted from being in His presence. The Pharisees, who avoided being in the presence of sinners, found this to be revolting.

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS CHRISTIANS SHOULD ASK: What was our Lord’s secret that we have lost in many of our churches? Is any type or group of persons excluded from worship participation in my church? Does my church, and do I, need a fresh invasion of God’s grace that is inclusive, not exclusive in spirit? Have I shared the good news of God’s grace with anyone in the last year? In the last ten years? In my entire life?

 

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Several years ago there was a bar at Wrightsville Beach that called itself “The Wit’s End.” The unusual name, I suppose, was chosen to give the impression that patrons who were at the end of their rope could find an answer to their problems at this location. If so, the impression was an erroneous one. Bars have caused tons of problems, but I’m not aware of them ever solving any problems.

A hand-painted sign beside a highway in the Ozark Mountains contains those same words: “Wit’s End.” Driving several miles past the sign into the hills, you will reach a mountain cabin. Someone seeking refuge from the raucous rattle of the city built himself a mountain hideaway.

Have you ever been at your wit’s end? If so, you are not alone. Multitudes of people have been there. Many are inside the city limits of Wit’s End today.

Why is this true? Frustrations in our fast-paced world are numerous. Dark clouds cover our world’s horizon. And within our nation numerous complex problems exist. For the very first time in history humans have the means to instantly annihilate civilization. And that includes you and me, my friend.

The multi-divided world needs to know that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. People generally arrive at the place called Wit’s End for one primary reason – they are relying exclusively on human wisdom and strength. Marvelous things happen at this location when we reach up toward God with childlike faith.

F.W, Robertson, one of England’s greatest Christian ministers, was continually plagued by thoughts of suicide. George F, Handel wrote the Messiah, in my estimation the most beautiful and powerful piece of sacred music ever written, when he was at an especially low period in his life.

Few people have faced more personal tragedies than did Abraham Lincoln: the death of his son, the misunderstanding of his wife, the abuse by his contemporaries, and the contempt of multitudes who wanted our nation to continue supporting the evil practice of human slavery. Even so, few people have contributed more significantly to our nation in particular and to mankind in general than our sixteenth president.

Lincoln knew that our Creator is in the business of turning burdens into blessings. In times of defeat God clears away the obstacles in our pathway and opens the road before us in the direction of victory. He provides the strength on dark nights that brings us safely through toward the dawn of a new and radiant day.

Coming in for a landing at the Greater Cincinnati Airport several years ago a Trans World Airlines jet with seventy-five passengers aboard crashed over a mile short of the runway. Sixty-seven of the passengers and crew perished. “Flying too low” are words that describe far too many Christians today who are living in the troubling lowlands of spiritual defeat.

Listen to these words from Isaiah: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV).

If you are at your wit’s end (or ever arrive there) remember this: When you are lying flat on your back, the only direction you can look is upward – toward God. If you will do that, a sunrise will greet you!

 

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Following His resurrection, Jesus remained on the earth for forty days in order to minister to His disciples. He had already taught them how the Old Testament had predicted and prepared for His coming (Luke 24:44-48), but there were other lessons they needed to learn before they could begin their ministry. He appeared and disappeared during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension. They never knew when He might show up again.

Toward the end of those forty days Jesus summoned His disciples to meet Him on the Mount of Olives. What did He have in mind? Imagine their excitement, for they no doubt wondered if their Lord would announce the establishing of His kingdom on earth and fulfill the great promise to which the Jews had clung through long centuries of suffering and exile.

Christ would be King, not just of Israel but of the whole world. And they would be at His side judging the nations, reckoning accounts, rewarding the righteous. Centuries of injustice would be dealt with and set straight. When you read the four Gospels, it is clear that the disciples had a strongly political view of the kingdom and were especially concerned about their own positions and privileges. Being loyal Jews, they longed for the defeat of their oppressors.

With these thoughts in mind I can imagine their hearts beating rapidly as they journeyed to meet Jesus on the Mount of Olives. His mere presence likely produced such awe in them that one by one they dropped to their knees. Was this to be the beginning of His rule? Was this to be the Coronation of the King of Kings? It was then that one of the disciples asked the question that must have been on all of their minds: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?”

Much to their surprise, Jesus rebuked them sharply: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set for his own authority.” He had already told them to wait in Jerusalem. He then said to them: “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7). Then, all of a sudden, before they could protest, He was gone, ascended from their presence into a cloud.

It would be difficult to imagine the wild emotions those eleven men must have experienced at that moment. Deeply felt awe? A terrifying fear? And what disappointment! Jesus was suddenly gone. They were left alone, outcasts in their own land, with very few human resources available to them. And on top of that, they had been commanded to go back to Jerusalem and wait – waiting is so difficult for strong-willed men to do.

Wait for what? Contrary as it must have been to their every instinct, “wait” is precisely what they did. For ten days they waited – 120 of them in all, and they were of one mind and continually in prayer. They waited. And then it happened!

With the force of a powerful tornado they were filled with power. The power of the church to fulfill its mission comes from the Holy Spirit and not from man (Zechariah 4:6). The Holy Spirit had been active prior to Pentecost in the Creation (Genesis 1:1-2), throughout Old Testament history, and in the life and ministry of Jesus (Acts 10:38). However, now two things would be different: the Spirit would dwell within people – not just come upon them; and His presence would be permanent, not temporary.

Ordinary people were able to do extraordinary things because the Spirit of God was at work in their lives. Within a century and a half the then-known world was never the same again. Josephus, the Jewish historian, described them as “these men who turned the world upside down” (John 14:16-17).

The task of sharing the good news of Christ with the world is a divinely assigned mission. Christ has given this mission to every Christian and to every church. The same Holy Spirit power that was available at Pentecost is available today. The reason we often fail so miserably is that we try to carry out a divinely assigned mission solely in our own power. Unlike the Christians described in the book of Acts, we are not always willing to wait and pray until we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is the major reason why churches – and why we as individual Christians – fail to carry out the mission that Jesus has given to every single person who follows Him.

Imagine that as you drive out of your church parking lot every Sunday following worship that there is a sign beside the exit containing these words, “The mission field begins here!”

 

 

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