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Archive for June, 2018

Let freedom ring!

We call July 4th “Independence Day.” Nearly two and one-half centuries ago our forefathers decided to make a bold move. As a colony they decided to declare their independence from our mother country and remain free. As we celebrate the freedom they sought and made possible, a song comes to mind:

O beautiful for spacious skies,

    For amber waves of grain,

    For purple mountain majesties

    Above the fruited plain.”

Our hearts beat faster every time we sing this song. The mountains are our nation’s skeleton. The rivers are its life-blood. The fields of grain and square miles of forest are its beautiful skin. Other nations have mountains, rivers, and fields of grain, but what is the soul of America? I believe it is the relationship that our founders had with God, and which we continue – a relationship characterized by faith, fear, and fervor.

The fifty-five men who met to draw up the Declaration of Independence had moments of heated and lively debate. Finally, Ben Franklin asked permission to speak to those assembled. He waited for quiet, and then spoke, “We have been assured in the sacred writings that except the Lord build the house, they that build it labor in vain. I move that every morning before we begin our work that we pray to God, asking his guidance and blessing.” From that day on Congress has opened its sessions with prayer. America’s strong faith in God has been the foundation on which our nation has been built.

But, added to our faith in God, we also need to fear God – not the kind of fear that frightens us, but fear in the sense of standing in awe of God, love of God, reverence of our Creator. When God ceases to be awesome for us, then our future will cease to move in the direction of greatness.

When we look at the nations around our world we see that God and freedom are closely related. It is why we sing with both gratitude and joy these words found in the Battle Hymn of the Republic: “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.” As Christians we know the length to which God has gone to free us from sin and grant eternal life. It is fitting that every day of the year, but especially on July 4th, we should ask ourselves, “How far and to what length are we willing to go to preserve our God-given freedom?

To our faith and fear, we must also have fervor. The fruits of freedom will not long belong to those who do not realize that freedom means responsibility. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” For almost two and one-half centuries three things – our faith in God, our fear of God, and our fervor in doing God’s will – have made our nation great. That greatness will not continue unless we build worthily upon that heritage.

In 1829 a prayer room was established in the U.S. Capitol where members of Congress may pray and meditate. It is located off the rotunda under the great dome. It is dominated by a stained glass window of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. Beneath it is an altar of white oak on which stands an open Bible. The room is not open to the public, but we can join those who use it by praying for our nation.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

 

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What attracts people to a church?

A convenient location? Yes!

An attractive building? Yes!

God’s Word central to its preaching and teaching? Yes!

A good speaker? Yes!

But another very important factor in attracting visitors, newcomers, and prospective members to a church is friendliness in the pews. When a congregation is warm and dynamic and possesses the kind of enthusiasm that is genuinely contagious it will, like a magnet, draw visitors through its doors.

I have a neighbor here in Wilmington who does not attend church regularly. She recently said to me, “I have visited two churches here in the city and nobody even spoke to me.” Obviously, the friendliness of a church is very important to her, and she has not attended either church a second time. Naturally, I told her how friendly the church is of which I am a member, and I invited her to attend.

Churches generally will raise huge amounts of money to build a well-located, comfortable building, have well-trained staff members, and try to provide an abundance of educational, recreational, and social activities for every age group – and all of this is good. However, good old-fashioned friendliness is probably the first thing that appeals to people about a church. It is one of the things money cannot buy.

The friendliness of a church is the automatic result of dedicated people who love the Lord, love each other, and enjoy helping others to feel at home in their church. Visitors are likely to be impressed when they are greeted with a smile and a warm handshake. They are more likely to attend again and again.

Here are five simple suggestions which, if adopted and practiced by the members of your church, will make it a friendlier church:

  1. Take the initiative in speaking to others. Don’t wait for them to make the first move.
  2. If you see someone you do not know, introduce yourself before the prelude music begins. That way the next time you see that person – either on Sunday in church or somewhere out in the community, you can speak using his or her first name.
  3. Wear a pleasant expression on your face. If you feel grumpy and have a sour disposition, try not to let it show at church. Some people are so gloomy when they enter a room the lights almost turn off. Everybody knows that sourness spoils milk – it has the same effect on church attendance. A great church is built on smiles – not frowns. The word “smiles” is the longest word in the English language. Why is this true? It has a “mile” between its first and last letter.
  4. Adopt Will Rogers’ testimony as your motto, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” If there is any dislike in your heart for the person near you in church, ask God to help you like that person. He answers our prayers – especially if they are sincere and in accord with His will.
  5. Practice Proverbs 18:24: “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly” (KJV).

 

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As a pastor for more than sixty years, the sermons I preached and the articles I wrote for publication dealing with Father’s Day were focused on what God’s Word has to say about the responsibility every father has – to himself, to his children, to the mother of his children, and to his extended family.

This Father’s Day I will depart from that pattern. My Father’s Day focus this year will be on our Heavenly Father. It makes a difference whether or not we believe in God – and the kind of God we believe He is. In fact, it is the most important part of our experience, for what we believe about God determines what we believe about life, our duty, and our destiny. So, what kind of God is revealed on the pages of the Bible?

In the Old Testament God reveals Himself through the Law and the prophets. Then, in the fullness of time, when the time was right, He sent forth His Son. The book of Hebrews puts it this way: “The Son is the express image of God’s person” (Hebrew 1:3). That is, Jesus is the epitome of God. It is why He said to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) – like Father, like Son. So, what do we learn about our heavenly Father’s love by looking at the Son? We can put it in three simple phrases:

First, He never lets us down. He has promised to be with us always – when we are on the top of mountains and when we walk through dark valleys. In one community where I served as pastor a young man was killed in an automobile wreck. His mother and sister blamed God. The young man had been driving drunk at a high rate of speed. God never promised to save us FROM difficulty; He promised to be WITH us through every difficulty. To look at God as our private genie, or as Santa Claus who gives us everything we want, and who does what we ask Him to do, would make Him our servant and ourselves His master.

Second, He never lets us off. God is not only a God of love, He is also a holy God. Anyone who looks at Jesus must recognize the importance of the tenderness of God toward the sinner. But, at the same time, it must not be overlooked that God hates sin. It is why Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple. God’s laws declaring that sin will be punished have not been repealed (see Galatians 6:6-7).

Hangovers still come the morning after. The person who dabbles in dangerous drugs will pay a penalty. The person who sows wild oats will have to face a difficult harvest day. Punishment follows our sin as inevitably as the burned spot follows a blaze. God loves the sinner, but He punishes sin. He never lets us down, and He never lets us off. But the story of God’s love is at this point not complete.

Third, He never lets us go. The greatest thing about genuine love is that it keeps on loving in spite of everything. No matter how often its favors are spurned or refused, no matter how poignantly it is wounded, or how far away the loved one wanders, it always holds on, and never gives up. We learn what our Heavenly Father is like when we look at His Son. It stands out above everything else. It is like Father, like Son.

Jesus told us about a son who showed himself ungrateful and turned his back on his father, went out to a far country, and threw his life away. But the father always kept the candle burning in his window and kept watch for his return. One day he saw someone coming in the distance. As he came nearer and nearer the father exclaimed, “He walks like my son! He looks like my Son! He IS my son!” The prodigal had come home!

That father reminds me of God. Are you in a far country? If so, He is waiting for you to come home.

 

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Greg Laurie, in The Great Compromise, tells the story of a massive redwood tree that had survived some 400 years in one of America’s national forests. This ancient tree had survived fourteen separate strikes of lightning. It had survived countless earthquakes, storms, floods, and other violent natural disasters.

Even so, without warning, this massive tree eventually came crashing down to the ground with a tremendous thud! It didn’t fall as the result of the lightning strikes. It wasn’t felled by lumberjacks. It just came crashing to the earth for no apparent reason.

On closer inspection, investigators discovered why this giant tree had fallen. Tiny beetles had found their way inside its trunk and had begun eating away at its life-giving fibers, weakening its mighty bulk from the inside out. What fourteen lightning bolts, horrendous storms, and earthquakes could not do was easily accomplished over the passage of time by a colony of small insects.

It is a parable of the kind of thing that often happens in the lives of Christians. We begin our Christian walk with strength and determination, but somewhere along the way we begin to face a steady series of small, seemingly insignificant temptations. Like small beetles eating away at the heart of a giant redwood tree, these temptations erode the foundations on which our commitment has rested. One by one our convictions are compromised and our Christian walk comes crashing to the ground.

Show me a person who has fallen away from his or her walk with the Lord and I will show you a person who began making compromises long before. It just doesn’t happen that a person who has been walking closely with the Lord one day suddenly and completely ceases to serve the Lord the next day. Upon investigation what appears to be a sudden falling away is in reality the result of a steady series of small compromises over a long period of time, probably unnoticed until the fall happens.

Our Jewish friends know the dangers of compromise. As part of the Passover Feast celebration, they still go through their houses annually to remove all items containing leaven, or yeast. The Old Testament identifies leaven as a symbol of sin.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth regarding their welcoming immoral persons into their fellowship: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (of dough)? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump” (I Corinthians 5:6-7).

It is important to realize that wherever God is working, Satan is also present to oppose. There is a high hill just outside one of the small towns in my home state of Georgia from which you can look down and see the entire town. Someone, possibly in a joking mood, said to me when I was a teenager, “Satan never even enters that town. He just comes to the top of that high hill, looks down into the town, sees that everything is under control, and goes on to other locations not yet totally under his control.”

Whenever God’s people say, “Let us rise and build,” Satan will be right there saying, “Let us rise up and oppose them.” If he cannot destroy a church, he will seek to detour it – into false theology, into active dissention and division, or in countless other ways to make it totally irrelevant in its community.

Satan takes the same approach with individual Christians – yes, including you and me. If you haven’t met Satan lately on the road you are traveling it is probably because you are traveling in the same direction he is. The more committed you are to Jesus Christ the greater your chance will be of meeting him in the middle of the road as he attempts to steer you in another direction.

As Christians we should regularly ask ourselves two questions: (1) “Is there any compromise in my life?”, and (2) “Is there anything standing between the Lord and me that is choking out my spiritual strength, draining me of zeal, and leavening my life?” If you answer one of both of these questions in the affirmative it is a sign that you could be kin to the people who live in that small town in Georgia – under Satan’s control.

Temptation often comes through a door that has been deliberately left open. One of the dangerous facts about temptation is that the more you see it the better it looks. But know this: by yielding to it you may lose in a moment what it took a lifetime to gain.

Every Christian can avoid being defeated by temptation by praying often the prayer the psalmist prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23).

Try it. It will keep you from becoming Satan’s tool!

 

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