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Archive for August, 2018

The first Monday in September each year is celebrated as Labor Day. The first Labor Day was held in 1882. It became a federal holiday in 1894. All government offices, schools and organizations and many businesses are closed. It is usually viewed as the end of the season when most Americans take their vacations and the beginning of another school year.

Labor Day, oddly enough, is a day when people stop working for a day in order to celebrate the value of work. It is also a good time to recognize that God takes our work seriously. Yes, your work matters to God, and for that reason it has intrinsic value. There are three reasons why this is true:

First, God is a worker. You perhaps have never thought of God in this way. Actually it is as a worker that God makes His first appearance on the pages of Scripture. In Genesis 1 we see the account of God creating the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2:2 calls this activity “work.” It is the same word used for man’s work in the Ten Commandments. Since the time of Creation, God has continued to work. Jesus declared to the Pharisees, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17).

Deuteronomy 11:17 tells us that God is working out His purposes in the context of history. He accomplished the great work of atonement at the Cross. As Jesus explained: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). The fact that God calls what He does “work” and calls that work “good” means that work has intrinsic value.

Second, God created people as workers. The beginning words of the book of Genesis tell us that God created man in His image as a worker. “God said, Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26,28-29). Not only is God a worker, but humans are to be workers also. This idea gives dignity to our work. It is valued by God.

Third, God created people to be His coworkers. God planted the Garden of Eden; man cultivated it. The first partnership in history! What an incredible privilege – to work in partnership with God! Does this sound odd to you: an infinite all-powerful, God co-laboring with humans? If that does not give a sense of joy and dignity to the work you do – no matter what it is – I have no idea what would. Genesis implies that you and God are meant to be coworkers throughout life. God “plants”; you and I “cultivate.” That is a partnership.

You and I are junior partners in God’s work. Yet our participation in God’s work makes it our work too. We are co-laborers with God in managing His creation. An omnipotent, sovereign Creator has no need of our labor to accomplish His work. However, He chooses to allow us to participate in His plans. This implies that our work, if it is legitimate work, is actually a function of God’s grace. Legitimate work is any work that contributes to what God wants done in the world — and does not contribute to what He does not want done.

Millions of people today have no joy or sense of fulfillment in their labors. No matter where you earn your paycheck – as a teacher, physician, nurse, athlete, bus driver, pilot, construction worker, grocer, etc. – if you will think of yourself as being God’s partner, you will be surprised how much more fulfilling it will be. If you cannot do what you do in partnership with God, there are plenty of jobs available where you can.

Celebrate this Labor Day by realizing that God is your partner. Go to work on Tuesday filled with joy.

 

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In the 1950’s psychiatry and other forms of therapy began to achieve genuine credibility in our nation. Those who followed and employed the teachings of Sigmund Freud believed that when you did something wrong, you did not have to hold yourself responsible. It was somebody else’s fault.

Who was to blame for your problems? Your parents were! “I came from a dysfunctional home. My parents crippled me emotionally. They were too demanding! They set a terrible example for me. I am what I am because of them! Don’t hold me accountable!”

Next came the 1960’s. Our nation was in turmoil caused by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King. Rioting was common in the streets of many of our nation’s largest cities, and a new kind of thinking was born. Those guilty of mischief were saying: “My problems are caused by society! Our world is a bad world. Rioting and looting and the burning of buildings were frequently in the news. People were burning their draft cards and our country’s flag. But individuals doing these things were not responsible. They were saying, “Don’t blame me!”

Following the 1960’s came the 1970’s – sometimes called “The Me Decade.” The 1970’s featured the sexual revolution and the beginning of the breakdown of the traditional family. It was both easy and popular to say, “I’ve got my own life to live! Don’t try to lay a guilt trip on me” – and, “If it feels good, do it!” In other words, “I’m OK; you’re OK.” In fact, that was the title of a very popular counseling book at the time.

In the last thirty or forty years a new concept with regard to personal accountability has been on the throne: “victimhood.” If your house was robbed, you should have had a burglar alarm system. If you were raped, the rapist said it was your fault because you wore clothes that indicated you were asking to be molested. If your car was stolen it was because you parked it in the wrong place, or you left the keys in the ignition. Criminals don’t blame their parents, or society, or themselves. They are victims!

What is missing in these pictures? No one is willing to say, “I am wrong! I have sinned! My problems are my fault! I am responsible!” Shifting the blame has been going on since the beginning of time. Adam blamed Eve for disobeying God, and Eve blamed the serpent. They were not willing to repent.

Repent is a very important word. The syllable “Re” in front of a word means: “to return.” “Re-pent” means: “to go back.” “Pent” is a word meaning “the highest position,” such as a “penthouse.” Thus, the word “repent” means “to go back to the place of highest position.”

The place of highest position for Adam and Eve was their status in the Garden of Eden when they walked together with God. That was before sin destroyed their relationship, and God and mankind were separated. God does not ask us to repent of our sins because He wants to make us feel bad about ourselves, or because He wants to embarrass us. It is because He wants to restore our lost relationship with Him.

Repentance is a word you will not hear used very often by those who stand in today’s pulpits to preach God’s Word. This is a tragedy, for no one – literally no one – can have the benefits of God’s grace without yielding to what He requires of those who would become Christians. Repentance is the road that must be traveled in order to be saved – in other words, to have a restored relationship with God.

Could this be why churches do not have a greater impact upon our culture? Think about it!

 

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The belief that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history. Australian aborigines pictured the afterlife as a distant land beyond the western horizon. The early Finns pictured it as an island in the distant east. Peruvians and Polynesians believed they went to the sun or the moon after they die. Native Americans thought they would hunt the spirits of buffalo.

An ancient Babylonian legend refers to a resting place and hints at a tree of life. In the pyramids of Egypt, maps were placed beside the embalmed bodies as guides to the future world. The Romans believed that those who were righteous would picnic in the Elysian Fields while their horses grazed nearby. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, said, “The day you fear as the last is the birthday of eternity.”

Although these conceptions differ in many ways, the unifying factor between them is a belief that life after death is possible. Anthropological studies suggest that in every culture throughout history there has been a belief that this world is not all there is. It was not until the closing days of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ that the dream of and the desire for a meaningful afterlife became more than just a dream and desire.

Jesus, when He knew His crucifixion would soon take place, told His disciples that He was going to leave them. When they heard this, they became deeply troubled. It was at this point that He said to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back, and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3, NIV).

What a fantastic promise! To every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord He makes the possibility of eternal life more than the expression of a dream or an aspiration. According to Jesus, who defeated death by rising from the grave, heaven is a real place. It is not a product of religious imagination, or the result of a psyched-up mentality, looking for “pie in the sky in the by and by.” Heaven is the place where God dwells and where Christ today sits at the right hand of the Father.

Heaven is described in the New Testament as a kingdom (2 Peter 1:11), as an inheritance (I Peter 1:4), as a country (Hebrews 11:16), as a city (Hebrews 11:16), and as a home (John 14:2). Jesus referred to heaven as “My Father’s house.” It is also “home” for all of God’s children. The Greek word that is translated “mansions” in John 14:2 and “abode” in John 14:23 simply means “rooms, abiding places.”

Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3) during His early years on the earth, and now He has returned to glory. He is building His church on the earth and a home for that church in heaven. He promises to return to the earth at a time of God’s choosing. Some redeemed believers will go to heaven through “the valley of the shadow of death”, but those who are alive when Christ returns will never see death (John 11:25-26).

When the apostle John tried to describe heaven, he almost ran out of symbols and comparisons (see Revelation 21-22). Finally, he listed the things that will not be in heaven: death, sorrow, crying, pain, night, etc. What a wonderful home it will be — and those who are redeemed will enjoy it forever along with their loved ones and others who throughout Christian history have already gone to heaven.

Do you have a room reserved in the “Father’s House”? If not, I suggest that you go to a hill called Calvary, repent of your sins, lay them down, accept Christ as your Savior, turn right, and keep straight ahead.

 

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J. Allan Petersen’s book, “The Myth of the Greener Grass,” contains a lot of truth that our generation needs to hear. After nearly forty years of counseling married couples, he points out the tragedy caused when one or both partners in a marriage are unfaithful to their marriage vows.

Infidelity is so common that it has invaded Christian churches – in many instances big time. The increased secularization in today’s world, fertilized by a chipping away at society’s established patterns for successful and happy marriages, fewer eyebrows are raised than in prior generations. The head is unbowed. The heart is unbroken. The further one travels on the road toward Sodom the easier the journey becomes.

According to Petersen, “A call for fidelity is like a solitary voice crying in today’s sexual wilderness. What was once labeled adultery and carried a stigma of guilt and embarrassment is now an affair – a nice sounding, almost inviting word wrapped in mystery, fascination, and excitement. A relationship is not a sin. What was once behind the scenes – a secret closely guarded – is now in the headlines, a TV theme, a best seller, as common as a cold. Marriages are open; divorces are viewed as creative.”

Magazine racks, bookshelves, billboards, movie theaters, television and the Internet have all become cesspools for the portrayal of sex outside of marriage. This results in infidelity becoming more common and acceptable. Fidelity, not infidelity, needs defending in our sex-saturated society. People who proclaim and practice the virtues of faithfulness are often regarded as either mid-Victorian or as a religious fanatic.

An article in Redbook Magazine co-authored by Robert J. Levin and Alexander Lowen mentioned three ways in which infidelity can totally destroy the future of any marriage:

First, infidelity causes pain to the other. A solid marriage between a man and a woman is bound together not by law, but by faithfulness. Without singularity of commitment, a marriage tends to fall apart. The cheater’s pleasure causes great pain to the partner who is betrayed.

Second, infidelity masks the real problem. To whatever extent infidelity temporarily relieves the discontent in a marriage by either a husband or a wife, it camouflages the real malady and permits it to grow larger. The betrayed partner either hides the hurt or seeks separation and divorce.

Third, infidelity is destructive of the self. A healthy marriage is never based on deceit. The grass on the other side of the fence may look greener, but it isn’t. The principles that lead to a successful and happy marriage found in God’s Word are right. Infidelity by a marriage partner is not just an affair. It is adultery. And it has serious consequences.

Marital infidelity at its core is dishonesty and a sin – a sin against the marriage partner, a sin against God, and a sin in the life of the guilty partner. But even after that, there is a way a broken marriage can be healed. Healing can only happen through total and honest confession of sin. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8). Notice that the word is “all” unrighteousness, not just “some” unrighteousness.

Healing can take place only if and when the partner who has sinned submits to God for cleansing, and the injured partner accepts his or her sincerity. Then the two of them together must totally rededicate themselves and their marriage to God and to each other in a way that will produce consistent spiritual growth. It is a starting over, and with God’s help it will work. I have in counseling situations seen it happen.

 

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I read recently a fable about a couple who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary by going to London. They liked antiques and pottery — especially tea-cups. They saw an antique store and went inside. Spotting a gorgeous tea-cup, they asked, “May we see that? We have never seen a tea-cup so beautiful.”

As the shop owner was speaking to them, the tea-cup suddenly spoke, “I’m glad you like me, but I want you to know that I have not always been a tea-cup. There was a time when I was just a lump of red clay. The potter took me and rolled me, pounded me, and patted me over and over until I yelled out, “Don’t do that! I don’t like it! Please leave me alone.” But the potter only smiled, and gently said, ‘Not yet!’”

“Then . . . WHAM! I was placed on a spinning wheel, and suddenly I was spun around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy! I’m going to be sick,’ I screamed. But the potter only nodded and quietly said, ‘Not yet!’ He spun me and poked and prodded and bent me into a new shape, and, if you can believe this, he put me in the oven. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. ‘Help me! Get me out of here!’”

“I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, ‘Not yet!’ When I thought I couldn’t bear it another minute, the door opened. He carefully took me out and put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. Oh, that felt so good! Ah, this is much better,” I thought.

“But after I had cooled he picked me up and brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Oh, please; stop it, stop it!’ I cried. He only shook his head and said, ‘Not yet!’ Then suddenly he put me back in the oven. Only this time it was hotter than the first time. In fact, it was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I was convinced I would never make it. I was ready to give up. Just then the door opened and he took me out again and placed me on the shelf, where I cooled . . . and waited, ‘What is he going to do with me next?’”

“An hour later he handed me a mirror and said, ‘Look at yourself.’ And I did. I said, ‘That is not me; it couldn’t be me. It is beautiful. I’m beautiful!’ Quietly he spoke: ‘I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I left you alone, you would have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I had not put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I had not done that, you never would have been shaped properly. You would not have any color in your life. If I had not put you back in the second oven, you would not have survived for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. Now you are what I had in mind when I first began to shape you.’”

The moral of the story is this: God wants only the very best for us. He is the Potter; we are the clay. He will shape us, and expose us to enough pressures of the right kinds so that we may be made into a flawless vessel to fulfill His good, pleasing and perfect will. Therefore, when life seems hard, and we are being pounded and patted and pushed almost beyond endurance; when our world seems to be spinning out of control; when we feel as though we are in a fiery furnace of trials; when life seems to be more than we can bear, know this: we are in the hands of the divine Potter who loves us and knows what He is doing.

At this point I suggest that you brew yourself a cup of your favorite tea and pour it in your prettiest tea-cup. Then, sit down and think of “The fable of the beautiful tea-cup” — and spend a little time talking to the Potter. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (I Peter 3:12).

 

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