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Archive for November, 2018

Do you ever get down on yourself? It happens to most of us at one time or another, doesn’t it? It occurs when we believe we do not measure up to our own standards, when we compulsively repeat old habits we thought we had left behind, when our dreams are not fulfilled, and when the goals we set for ourselves and work toward achieving are not reached.

At such times the “if onlys” of past days invade the “what ifs” of the present day and robs our joy. “If I had done things differently . . . if I had used more wisdom . . . if I had not gotten sidetracked . . . if I had been stronger . . . if . . . if . . . if” becomes a dirge of self-incrimination.

Our ability to remember things we have said and done in the past that trouble us gives us a tremendous capacity for self-scrutiny. The memory of past failures, the things we did that we should not have done, and the things we should have done that we did not do, rush to the front of our consciousness. Discouragement and depression set in.

Our conscience shakes an accusing finger in our face. Self-condemnation takes over and self-esteem drains out. It is at such times that we become vulnerable and far more likely to do things we said we would never do. It becomes easy to treat others harshly because we have developed a low image of ourselves. It is difficult to get up for the challenges and opportunities we face each day when we are down on ourselves. What would it take in times of self-condemnation to develop a whole new picture of ourselves as being both loved and lovable, as being both forgiven by others and forgiving toward others?

Henri Bergson said in one of his books that it is the function of the brain to both remember and to forget. But why do we so easily forget things we want to remember and remember things we need to forget? Why does one failure stick in our memory when hundreds of achievements are so easily forgotten?

Some people spend lots of money attending courses in an attempt to improve their memory, but I have never heard of anyone attending a course that teaches you how to forget. If there were such a course being taught it would not lack for a large number of applicants.

The memory of our failures can only be erased by learning to accept God’s forgiveness. We see this supremely demonstrated in the encounter by Jesus with a woman who was caught in adultery (John 7:53 – 8:11). Put yourself in this scene: Jesus is teaching in the precincts of the Temple when His teaching is interrupted by the jeers and frenzied cries of an approaching crowd led by scribes and Pharisees dragging an unresisting woman behind them. The Old Testament law (Leviticus 20:10) declared that a person caught in adultery be stoned to death.

The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees pushed her down before Jesus. They asked Him to affirm the law’s verdict. The self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers and her embarrassment are evident in this scene. Would Jesus forgive her? The answer is in the affirmative. She went away cleansed and forgiven.

I was counseling a man many years ago who was deeply troubled about the time when he was serving our country overseas during World War II when he strayed into an immoral relationship. He and his wife were dedicated members of their church. He said, “If only I had not done that!” I asked him if he had ever asked God to forgive him. He replied, “Thousands of times.” I replied, “If you have done that, God has forgiven you. Why don’t you forgive yourself?” Only then was he able to move beyond what Christ had erased.

Suggested title: Handling “What ifs” and “If Onlys”

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One of the sad stories coming out of early American history is of a man who went west to find gold. He staked out a claim and worked it for a long time, but he found no gold. He followed the instructions he had been given day after day and week after week, but he found no gold. Finally, discouraged, broke and exhausted, he threw his shovel down and came back east.

Not long thereafter someone else with dreams of finding gold came to where he had stopped working and began to dig again. In only a few days he struck a rich gold vein. It became one of the richest gold mines in North America.

Have you ever given your personal energy and enthusiasm to achieving a worthy goal, kept at it for a while without success, and then decided that success was just not in the cards. Giving up too soon is the cause for a lot of failure in life. By not staying at the task, by throwing in the towel too soon, reachable goals are often lost forever.

The only thing achieved in life without effort is failure. Falling down doesn’t make you a failure, but staying down does. No one is a failure who can truly say, “I have given my best.” The last time you failed, did you stop trying because you failed – or did you fail because you stopped trying? It was probably because you stopped trying and gave up too soon.

It is especially tragic to give up too soon in the following areas:

KNOWLEDGE: William Barclay, author and New Testament scholar, told the story of a young man who attended college, but who found the going very tough. He became so dejected that he almost decided to quit and go home. At this point he saw a narrow strip of gummed paper inside the back cover of a book. He became curious as to what might be below the strip, so he stripped it off. Underneath were these words: “Go on, young man, go on!” Barclay said that he did go on. He graduated from college, and later became a very famous man. He was on the very edge of turning back too soon – but he kept on going.

FAITH: The reason many of the young people in our churches drop by the wayside and quit attending church as soon as they enroll in college is that their faith is not their own. Their faith is secondhand. It is their parent’s faith, or perhaps it was the result of the influence of a Christian friend; it never really became their own. They were introduced to what the New Testament said about God’s love as revealed in His Son, but their faith ceased to grow.

The reason why the faith of so many people collapses in the hour of trial or challenge is simply that it is not theirs. It is something they have accepted because someone else said it, not because they have discovered and experienced Christ in a personal and powerful way in their own lives. To claim to profess faith does not mean that you possess faith.

The cure for doubt is not to push it into the back of your mind and refuse to think about it. Rather, it is to face it honestly and work your way through it. For faith to mature in any person’s life it must continue to grow. What often happens is that individuals who profess faith in Christ encounter obstacles, become discouraged, and turn back too soon.

GOODNESS: The Rich Young Ruler who met Jesus is a good example of quitting too soon. He genuinely wanted to possess goodness. He came to Jesus and asked for His guidance. Jesus quoted the commandments which are the basis of goodness and respectability. The young man said that he had faithfully kept them all. Even so, there was still a void in the depth of his being.

Jesus, who could read him like a book and knew what his top priority was, said, “What you must do is sell all your possessions and give them away.” The young man went away sadly, “for he had great possessions.” If he had honestly put his thoughts into words, he would have said: “I want goodness; but I don’t want it strongly enough to give away everything I own.” He turned back too soon.

LOTS OF OTHER THINGS: Someone asks us to forgive him or her. We know that we should, but for some reason we do not do it. We know that offering forgiveness would provide the opportunity to restore a broken relationship, but we hold onto our hurt feelings or our anger. We turn back too soon.

In showing generosity to others, or in trying to break ourselves of a harmful habit, it is so easy to stop short of reaching a worthy goal. We pay a needless and costly price when we give up too soon.

The tragedy of giving up too soon is that we miss some of God’s greatest blessings. Quitters never win; winners never quit. Could this be a truth you need to hear? Think about it!

 

 

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In the United States the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving is commonly traced to a 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts which was made possible by a good harvest the previous year. The first nationwide thanksgiving celebration did not take place until much later when George Washington proclaimed that November 26, 1789 should be set aside . . . “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”

The reason for any celebration is that you have something to celebrate. In our country we have all kinds of celebrations. National celebrations include New Year’s Day, Independence Day, and Armistice Day. There are also many sectional celebrations. Thanksgiving Day is primarily a religious celebration, in that we celebrate the goodness of God. There is a sense in which no gift is ours until we have thanked the giver.

After a tour of the United States some years ago an European was interviewed and asked to give his impressions of our country. He had seen our skyscrapers, inspected our factories, and visited our national wonders. But when reporters asked what had impressed him most about America, he replied simply, “The size of the American garbage can.” Our lack of gratitude for God’s blessings has often caused us to waste our resources needlessly.

Too often we have celebrated the goodness of God in the same way materialists do. We give evidence of being kin to the man called The Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. The next time you read his story in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, notice how many personal pronouns he uses to describe what he owns. His pride and selfishness was on display big time. He had riches, good character, position, and ambition. Jesus told him that he had to have a different priority. He went away sorrowfully “for he had great riches.”

How should Christians count their blessings? A good place to begin might be to thank God for the capacity to be thankful. The Hebrew word for “man” means “an upward looking creature.” Next, we can make a list of what Apostle Paul calls “the unsearchable riches of Christ”: Deliverance from sin (forgiveness, cleansing); the capacity to forgive others; “the peace that passes understanding” (serenity of spirit); comfort in the time of sorrow; courage in time of emergency and stress; the capacity for spiritual growth in Christlikeness. And the list could go on and on.

Whether we realize it or not, blessings are a judgment. We judge ourselves by where we set the period when we count our blessings. A materialist looks only at things. An egotist thinks only of self – other people don’t count. The cemetery is full of people who thought the world couldn’t get along without them. The late Alexander Wolcott once was listening to a man so enamored with his own voice that he would not let anyone else get a word into the conversation edgewise. Thinking that the egotist had been talking long enough, Wolcott said: “Pardon me; my leg has gone to sleep. I think I will join it.”

Our blessings – all of them – were given to us by God. If we use them for selfish ends, we become ingrates and parasites. If we use them with the awareness that we are trustees, we will share them with others. It is the only way that we can become channels of God’s grace. It is by practicing faithful stewardship that we can transmute God’s blessings on to others.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, it is the parent of all the others.

 

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The gift of guilt

One of the Bible’s greatest attributes is that the characters it describes are presented realistically — that is, you see them as they are – warts and all. Take David, king of ancient Israel, for example, who spied Bathsheba, a married woman, bathing on a nearby rooftop. Lust consumed him so totally that he committed adultery with her, arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, and took her for himself.

The account of this notorious sin has one central theme: a broken relationship with God. He successfully hid the guilt he felt from others – that is, until the prophet Nathan exposed his sin to him. Psalm 51 tells us that David dealt with his guilt constructively by confessing his sin to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4 NIV).

Guilt is an early warning sign of danger, the first hint that something is wrong. “Man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to,” observed Mark Twain. A guilty conscience presents itself as an inner voice that clamors for our attention, and it can have a powerful effect on both our body and our emotions.

Some psychologists believe that guilt is a bad thing. They believe religion is the culprit that causes their clients to feel guilty. They suggest that we would all be better off if we could learn to overcome our feelings of guilt. They see the pain produced by guilt as a bad thing. The truth is that pain can be a very positive thing. It lets us know that something needs our immediate attention.

Guilt reminds us that we are moral beings who are accountable to God. Like everything else in our disordered world, guilt is subject to misuse. Instead of serving as a prod to deal with a problem, it can sometimes become the problem. False guilt occurs when a person punishes himself or herself for not measuring up to somebody else’s standards – perhaps a parent’s or the church’s or society’s standard. True guilt occurs when a person becomes aware of not measuring up to God’s standards.

A fourteenth century mystic, Dorothy of Montau, wept for hours after realizing she had committed the “sin” of wanting to eat a piece of spiced fish. Martin Luther, in his early days as a monk, would literally tire his confessors out by confessing the most miniscule sins and unhealthy thoughts. “My son,” his exasperated advisor said, “God is not angry with you: it is you who is angry with God. Eventually, Luther came to see that his constant fear of sinning actually showed a lack of faith.

Just as our physical bodies speak loudly through pain so that we will attend to an injury site, our conscience speaks through the language of guilt so that we will take the necessary steps for healing. The goal of both is to restore health. When we feel the twinge of conscience, we should ask ourselves, “Have I sinned against God or against others?” If the answer is yes – we should not ignore or repress the guilt it has caused. We should admit it, confess it, and experience God’s forgiveness.

Those who feel no guilt cannot ever find healing. The same is true for those who wallow in guilt. The designed purpose of guilt is to push us in the direction of finding a cure. Fortunately, a cure for the guilt that sin produces is available. “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9) NIV).

Notice the word “ALL” in that verse. Sins that are confessed to God are forgiven – ALL of them, not just SOME of them. They have become nonexistent in His eyes. Sins that God has forgiven have been totally erased, cancelled, expunged, wiped out – in other words, gone. When sin disappears joy arrives on the scene.

 

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When I was your age I used to walk a mile to and from school every day – and it was uphill both ways.”

This is the kind of boastful statement parents sometimes make to their teenage sons and daughters to emphasize how easy young people have it today when compared to the time their parents were growing up. The difference between the two times is called “the generation gap.” It is one of the things with which mothers and fathers must deal if they are to fulfill their God-given responsibility as parents.

To keep the lines of communication open with their teenagers it is important for parents to know what is popular with the younger generation in today’s world – for example, their likes and dislikes when it comes to the styles and labels of clothing they prefer. Each generation will set its own preferable style.

Our daughter, Gail, just before entering high school requested that we purchase a certain label of coat that was popular in her age group. When I told her we could not afford that label, that another label had the same style and quality, she said, “Write a check!” I should have known then that she would become a banker following her graduation from college. Today she is a regional Senior Vice-President for First Citizen’s Bank.

Watching your sons and daughters grow up, become Christians, graduate from college, get married, have children of their own, and succeed in their chosen profession is a reason and time to rejoice. The only thing that compares with that is having grandchildren – and great-grandchildren! I have three great-grandchildren – and if you have a couple of hours to spare I could tell you about them.

Let me encourage every parent to work hard at the task of maintaining communication with your children until your divinely assigned parental responsibility is finished. The gap between generations is real, but communication can be maintained by parents who willing and seek God’s guidance.

When our daughter, Gail, was fourteen I went into her room one night, sat down on the bed beside her, and we had a “DDT” (daddy-daughter-talk). Her mother and I were aware of the pressures she would face and the challenges she would have as she entered high school. She and I talked honestly and openly about them.

I said to her, “Your mother and I want you to begin making as many of your own decisions as you can, for that is the way you grow up as a Christian toward maturity. When you make good decisions, we will commend you and support you. When you make what we consider to be a wrong or bad decision, we will countermand it, and we will tell you why. God gave you to us, and He requires us to guide you in the right way. We believe God has special things in store for your life.” That talk was one of the wisest things I ever did.

God’s Word gives every parent this instruction: “Train up your child in the way he (she) should go, and when he (she) is old, he (she) will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Parents who say to their children, “Don’t do as we do; do as we say” will fail in the most important responsibility they will ever have.

Mothers have provided most of the training in the home for children, for fathers have traditionally been the breadwinners. In today’s world more and more mothers also work outside the home. Whatever a family’s circumstances may be, both parents should be involved in the training of their children. It is their sacred duty.

Parents: If you will set the right standard for your children in everything you do – seven days every week and twelve months every year – you will never regret it. When you have done that, you will have been a good steward of the greatest responsibility you will ever have!

 

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