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Archive for July, 2018

When you got out of bed this morning did you sing “O What a Beautiful Morning,” or did you sing “Make the World Go Away?” Does it seem that everything is coming apart at the seams? If so, you probably have a case of the blues. Some days you are on top of the world; other days the world is on top of you. It is when the world is on top of you that you will have the blahs. You will feel helpless, hopeless, humorless and hurt.

All of us have lived on this street at one time or another. People have different names for the experience. The psalmist called it “the depths.” Apostle Paul called it “losing heart.” A poet called it “the dark night of the soul.” Psychologists and psychiatrists call it “depression.” Lots of people call it “Monday.”

When life comes apart at the seams it leads to negative thinking. I suspect that even the nationally known Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of several volumes built around the theme of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” had some days when events did not work out very well. If he did have days when his thinking was negative rather than positive, I wonder if he had to check into a motel under an assumed name.

What is the best way to battle the blues? First, you must realize that you are human, and all humans will have some difficult days. Knowing this, you can prepare for them before they arrive. Unless you are Superman, and don’t have any kryptonite around, there are going to be days when nothing goes right.

When Muhammad Ali was in his prime, about to take off in an airplane, a flight attendant reminded him to fasten his seatbelt. He brashly retorted, “Superman doesn’t need a seatbelt.” She quickly replied, “Superman also doesn’t need an airplane to fly.” Ali fastened his seatbelt.

Charles Lowery tells the story of a pastor visiting a hospital ward for the terminally ill. While he was there he asked three patients what they wanted said at their funeral. The first one said, “Tell them I was a family man.” The second one said, “I would like it said that I was a loyal husband.” The third one said, “At my funeral I want the first person who looks down into the casket to exclaim, “Hey, everybody! I saw him moving!” Even though he was fully aware he would soon die, he had not lost his sense of humor. He had not thrown up his hands in defeat. He refused to sing the blues.

I read some years ago the story of a time when the devil decided to put his tools up for sale. On the date of the sale he laid them out for public inspection, each having been previously marked with its sale price. They were a treacherous lot of implements – hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lust, lying, pride, etc. Laid apart from the rest was a harmless-looking tool, well worn, and priced very high.

What is the name of that tool? asked one of the purchasers, pointing to it. “It is discouragement,” the devil tersely replied. When asked why he had it priced so high, the devil replied, “Because it is more useful to me than any of the others. I can pry open and get inside a person’s heart with that, when I cannot get near him (or her) with the other tools. Once I get inside, I can make him (or her) do what I choose. It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since few people know it belongs to me.”

When you have days when you are battling the blues, think of the tea kettle. Though it is up to its neck in hot water, it continues to sing. But the most important thing you should remember is to not give up. Instead, look up, grow up, get up, and get busy doing something worthwhile for others. It washes the blues away.

Try it! It works!

 

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For Christians the model prayer, the prayer that Jesus gave in order to teach us how to pray, is called the Lord’s Prayer. In it we ask God to “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Some Bible translations use the word “trespasses” instead of “debts.” Both words stand for the same thing – sins or failures.

One of the most glorious facts about God is that He forgives us when we are genuinely sorry for both the wrongs we have done in the past and those in which we are currently involved. What we find easy to forget is that there is something we have to do in return for God’s pardon – we must forgive those who have hurt or injured us. Only then can we fully experience the joy of being forgiven by God. An unknown author expresses it this way:

“If an unkind word appears,
File the thing away,
If some novelty endears,
File the thing away.

“If some clever little bit
Of a sharp and pointed wit
Carries a sting with it,
File the thing away.

“If some bit of gossip come,
File the thing away.
Scandalously spicy crumb,
File the thing away.

“If suspicion comes to you,
If your neighbor isn’t true,
Let me tell you what to do.
File the thing away.

Do this for a little while
Then go and burn the file.”

A prayer for forgiveness is God’s prescription for gaining authentic peace. The petition in the Lord’s Prayer that asks for God’s forgiveness is also found in Ephesians 4:32 – “Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Let me encourage you to attend church next Sunday. Join sincerely in the confession of your sins. Accept the assurance of God’s pardon. But, when it is received from God it must be given to others. Forgiveness is a two-way street.

 

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God not only commends humility in His people, but Jesus displayed it in His humanity. “And being found in the appearance of a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even the death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus demonstrated humility in every aspect of His life: He was born in the humblest of circumstances; He was obedient to His earthly parents; He said, “I am among you as one who serves”; He washed His disciples’ feet on the night of His betrayal; He was obedient to His Father’s will in His death.

The promises of God toward those who are genuinely humble are breathtaking: He promises to dwell with them, to esteem them, to give them grace, to lift them up, and to exalt them. Humility is the soil in which the other traits of the fruit of the Spirit grow. It manifests itself in our relationships – with God, with ourselves, and with others. It is the proper attitude to have as we approach every relationship and circumstance.

There are several ways humility is evidenced in the life of the believer. To begin with, if you are genuinely humble you will accept others, because you have accepted yourself. This does not mean you necessarily agree with what they believe or do. When others succeed, you will be happy for them; when they fail, you will try to encourage them.

A lack of humility on the part of the disciples of Jesus was a constant source of friction, and it must have grieved Jesus. The disciples argued among themselves as to which of them would sit on His right hand when Jesus entered into His kingdom. The presence of pride in their hearts is why they came to Jesus to ask the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). Our Lord placed a little child in their midst and told them that they had to become like a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Another evidence of humility is that you will accept circumstances. When circumstances do not go your way, do you become angry and critical? Do you always try to manipulate people and circumstances to either benefit or comfort yourself? The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). This does not mean you should never try to improve your circumstances, for that would be complacency, not contentment. But it does mean that you will not spend the majority of your time complaining.

A third evidence of genuine humility is that you will have a healthy attitude toward things. The person who possesses genuine humility does not find satisfaction in things: he can do with or without them. He does not measure anyone’s worth by how much wealth he (or she) owns, for “a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he (or she) possesses” (Luke 12:15). If things can change your attitude, then they can be your master, not your servant – and that is the sin of idolatry. It is not how many things you own, but whether or not those things own you.

Material wealth is either a window through which we see God or a mirror in which we see ourselves. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we brought nothing into the world, and that we can carry nothing out. (I Timothy 6:7). As a pastor I have presided over literally hundreds of funerals, but I have never seen a Brinks truck in a funeral procession carrying the wealth the deceased person had accumulated to a destination beyond the grave. No matter how much you accumulate in this life it will be left behind – literally all of it!

Only what you have done for others and for the glory of God will be in the bank of heaven waiting for you when God chooses to call you home. It is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit (humble), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

 

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I grew up in Chester, Georgia. According to the 1940 census, its population was 340. That was less than a dozen years after the 1929 stock market crash. People didn’t have a lot of material things. Everybody believed that having enough to meet their basic needs was enough – everybody, that is, except one man.

He owned the only bank in town plus stock in several other banks. He owned the biggest grocery store, lots of stock in several industries, several thousand acres of farmland, and virgin timber scattered across Georgia. As many people would express it today, “He had a lot of stuff.” But, to him it still wasn’t enough. One day I heard him say, “I don’t want all the land in the world; I just want all the land next to mine.”

If he had owned all the land next to what he already owned it would likely still not have been enough. He was not a bad man. I never heard anyone say he was dishonest. He was a member of one our town’s churches, and he attended church on a fairly regular basis. But his primary focus was on the “stuff” to which he held a deed. He had more than enough, but to him it was not enough. He died and left it all!

Avarice is one of America’s sins. There are well over 30,000 self-storage facilities in our country offering over a billion square feet for people to store their surplus stuff. Fifty years ago this industry did not even exist. Americans currently spend almost $15 billion a year just to store their extra stuff.

William Randolph Hearst, for example, was a “stuffaholic.” He had 3,500 square feet in which to put his stuff. At one time he owned 50 miles of California coastline. His house contained 72,000 square feet in which he kept 3,500-year-old Egyptian statues, medieval Flemish tapestries, centuries-old hand-carved ceilings, and some of the greatest works of art of all time. Then he died. How shortsighted of him! We all will die one day.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-20). One day we will all give an account for what God has entrusted to us. That will be either an occasion of great joy or one of deep regret.

Apostle Paul reminds us: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:9-10a). Even so, all of us have mail-order catalogs delivered to our homes in the mail. There are over 40 billion (that is right – billion). And every one of them has as its goal to influence us to buy more and more “stuff.” It is how things in the “want” category get moved up to the “necessity” category. It is what could be called “catalog-induced-anxiety.”

Yale theologian Miroslav Volf says that there are two kinds of richness in life: “richness of having” and “richness of being.” Richness of having is an external circumstance; richness of being is an inner experience. When we focus on the richness of having it is because we have been led to believe that this is where happiness lies. Nothing could be further from the truth. John D. Rockefeller once said, “I have made millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” J.J. Astor said, “I am the most miserable man on earth.”

Multitudes of people in our country have no soul satisfaction. But I have some good news: the richness of being is always available. You can have very little stuff, and with God’s help, still be rich in the ways that count. It is what will enable you to become compassionate, generous, grateful and joyful.

 

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