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Archive for October, 2019

Sidney J. Harris once said, “The personality of the church is not an apple to be polished, but a banana to be peeled.” It is a very perceptive statement, and it grabbed my attention. He is saying that too much of what goes on in our churches today is devoted to the polishing process, and too little to the peeling process.

Is it true, as he claims, that too much attention in churches today deals with the surface, treating symptoms? Do appearances, buildings, budgets, order of service, cosmetics, consume most of our energy and time? We have been so bombarded on television and out in the business world with the Madison Avenue approach that we have adopted this approach in our churches. We sell the package and not the product.

The package, of course, is important: our church building, our Sunday School, our age group ministries, our church staff, etc. Our primary job, however, is not to sell the package. It is to share Christ with our world. Shall we be content with polishing the apple? Or shall we get on with the peeling of the banana?

Our Lord during his ministry on the earth had trouble with one of history’s most famous bunch of apple polishers – the Pharisees. We tend to forget that they were a very religious and dedicated people. They were patriots, for they helped organize the resistance against Rome in the struggles under Emperors Vespasian and Hadrian. They were devoted to God’s Law. They said, “O how I love thy Law! It is my meditation day and night” (Psalm 119:97). They prayed every day and tithed their wealth. But Jesus accused them of being hypocrites (see Matthew 23:-36). They were polishing the apple, but their core was rotten.

Jesus still has trouble with apple polishers today. We Southern Baptists have our share of apple polishers, but we don’t have a monopoly, not by any means. The mission of all Christian churches and denominations is to keep the task of sharing the good news of Christ with a lost world as priority number one. In other words, we are not to spend our major energy and time polishing apples.

A church or denomination that is dynamic knows its job is to peel the banana. It knows its essential purpose for existence is to reach out and make contact with others on a person-to-person basis and on a life-changing level. Peeling the banana strips away the package and gets down to the fruit.

We stop asking, “How many were in church last Sunday?” and start asking, “How many found God’s will for their lives?” We stop asking, “Why didn’t ‘so-and-so’ come to church?” and start asking, “Why doesn’t my neighbor who is lost or unchurched come?” We stop asking, “How much money was given?” and start asking, “How many people were blessed by the spirit of giving?”

What is it that keeps churches from peeling bananas? Why is it so hard for us to strip away the superfluous and get down to the fruit? Our Lord would probably say that it is due to five things: lack of commitment, living with unconfessed sin, unwillingness to make sacrifices, spiritual blindness, and lack of understanding as to what the primary mission of the church is.

Those who walk in darkness all around us – your neighbors and mine – need for us to stop polishing apples and start peeling bananas. In other words, we need to stop going through the motions, doing only what is expected of us as church members, strip away the package, tell them that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for their sins, and that He offers eternal life to everyone who will believe and follow Him.

The only way to be saved is to repent, acknowledge our spiritual needs, surrender, and follow Christ.

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The Old Testament character, Job, posed a question that humans have asked throughout the centuries, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14).

In asking this very important question he dared to go beyond the strict limits of the theology of his so-called friends and accusers. The New Testament doctrine of the immortality of the soul was not a fully developed belief in the Old Testament. Even so, countless inscriptions on tombs from many civilizations that are now extinct offer mute testimony to man’s quest for immortality.

The question concerning life after death is an anxious one. Job himself referred to death as “the king of terrors” (18:14) and as a “journey of no return” (16:22). Shakespeare’s Hamlet in his soliloquy echoed Job’s sentiment in describing death as “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” What Job and Shakespeare were saying is that once a person dies there is no way they will be able to return in their physical form to the earth again.

People do not argue with death; they argue about death. There have been endless speculations throughout history concerning its meaning and mystery. The atheist Feuerbach termed life after death “a wishful projection.” Karl Marx called it “a consolation for the oppressed.” Freud viewed it as “an unrealistic regression of the psychologically immature.”

It was a leap of faith for Job to even pose the question concerning the possibility of life after death. It expressed his innate hope and quest for immortality, a hope that would not be fully and satisfactorily answered until much later. Job was not the first person to have a yearning desire for immortality.

The question of life after death is one that schools of philosophy cannot answer. It is beyond the realm of science and technology to answer. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, confronted with the stark reality of death of her Son, humans throughout the centuries have asked the question, “Who shall roll away the stone from the sepulcher?”

The question: “If a man dies, will he live again?” finds its answer only in Jesus Christ. He alone could speak with words of authority, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). Christ’s resurrection once and for all time indisputably answers the age-old question concerning the possibility of life beyond the grave. He is what the Bible calls the “firstfruits” from the grave that precedes the final resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Jesus.

Because of Christ’s triumph over the grave, death is no longer what Job called “the king of terrors.” The grave has become the door to immortality. It is the room where the garments of mortality are exchanged for the garments of immortality. Only those whose names are included in “the Lamb’s Book of Life” will be ushered into life eternal and experience the joys of heaven.

I am grateful for every single day that I have lived, and I want to live on the earth as long as I can. I suspect that the vast majority of people who are reading these words feel the same way. But one day, at a time of God’s own choosing, our lives will end. The physical body in which we have lived will walk through what the psalmist called “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23). Those who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior will be prepared for that day.

Shortly before his tragic death, P.P. Bliss wrote the praiseful song “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

“Man of Sorrows! What a name!
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

In commenting on this great hymn, Ira D, Sankey said, “It seems as though God prepared it for the great jubilee of heaven when His children shall gather to sing ‘Hallelujah to the Lamb!’”

Jesus — the “Man of Sorrows” — took our penalty for sin upon Himself on Calvary that we might one day stand before the Judgment Bar of God with absolutely no stain attached to our name (Romans 8 :1). If you are not a Christian, please read Acts 16:31 and follow the suggestion the apostle Paul gave to the Philippian jailor. When you come to the end of your earthly journey, you will be very glad you did.

You will not have another opportunity if you wait until your life on earth is over. Think about it!

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We have all heard jokes about people showing up at the pearly gates seeking entrance into heaven. While some of these witty fabrications may bring a smile to our faces, behind most of them is the false assumption that we must do something in order to get into heaven. Some people are shocked when they learn that there is absolutely nothing they can ever do to be saved or to gain entrance into heaven.

John 3:1-15 contains the story of one of those persons. Nicodemus, a rabbi and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, had a difficult time understanding the difference between religion and relationship. To him salvation depended on the things he did (religion), not the result of God’s free gift of grace (relationship).

It was at night that Nicodemus decided to pay Jesus a visit. Was this because rabbis studied at night? Was it because he wanted to avoid the crowd? Was it because he did not want his conversation with Jesus to be limited? I believe it was because he was troubled by some spiritual questions he wanted Jesus to answer. The important thing is that he was a seeker after truth and that he went to the right source to find it.

Nicodemus was rich, highly respected, and strongly religious – a Pharisee. He had given his life to study and obey the Law. He was also knowledgeable of the traditions supporting the Law. As we might say today, “He was leadership material. He would make an excellent chairman for an important committee.” Having heard a lot of interesting things about Jesus, he wanted to meet Him and hear what He had to say.

Jesus cut right to the heart of the matter Nicodemus wanted to discuss. He told him that he must be born again. When Nicodemus did not understand what this meant, Jesus explained that He was referring to a spiritual birth, not a physical birth. To be born again spiritually is a divine act controlled by God. It is a supernatural act that brings about a dramatic change in a person’s life. Nicodemus had not entered into a faith relationship with Christ. One way of expressing it is to say he was religious, but that he was not redeemed.

There are four primary truths a person must know in order to be born again:

Position does not save you. Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish Supreme Court. He was correct on many areas of doctrine, but he made one primary mistake: he externalized religion. Outwardly, he lived above reproach. He was part of the religious elite. Applying this to our lives today it means that being a deacon, or an elder, or even a pastor does not save you. Position does not save anybody, however high or important that position may be.

Popularity does not save you. Nicodemus was highly respected and popular in his community. He was recognized as a strong spiritual leader. Being born again has absolutely nothing to do with popularity.

Prestige does not save you. Nicodemus was a person to whom people turned for spiritual answers. He was a spiritual adviser who had spent his life studying the Scriptures. He was, in essence, a spiritual guru. But he had never been born from above.

Piety does not save you. Nicodemus possessed great knowledge. He was religious to the core, and was widely recognized for his piety. What this means for us today is that you can attend church regularly, tithe your income, practice spiritual disciplines, and still be lost because possessing piety saves no one. To be born again you must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

There is only one way to be born again and one day go to heaven: You must go to Calvary, repent of your sins, lay them down, accept Christ as your Savior and Lord, turn to the right, and keep straight ahead.

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When a Church Prays

Is God’s presence felt in a powerful way in your church when it gathers for worship each Sunday? And does your church have a significant impact upon its community? If not, these two things can and will happen if you and your fellow church members regularly do two things: (1) Genuinely pray for them to happen, and (2) demonstrate a willingness to be used by God to make your prayer become a reality.

How long has it been since you prayed with all your heart for the outreach ministry of your church to be successful? Try to answer this question honestly – even if you are embarrassed and convicted. Until you have prayed for your church – its staff, its mission, and its ministries – in great detail and with sincerity, you have no legitimate right to: (1) find fault with anything it does, (2) fail to attend its worship services, or (3) refuse to support it financially. A person who prays for his or her church will do none of these three things.

Francis W. Dixon, an English Baptist minister, once said: “There is only one real problem in the church of God these days, and that problem is its prayer life.” This was not true in the first century church. The book of Acts says, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31 NIV).

Something good always happened when the early church prayed. It should be obvious that it was not the building that was shaken. It was the disciples who were shaken, and they went out to shake the entire Roman world with power. The word for power in Greek is dunamis, the word from we get the word dynamite.

First century Christians were conductors of power. Christians today can also become centers of pulsating, dynamic, spiritual power. It can happen in a church only when it is committed to prayer. God’s power is as available to churches today as it was to the early church two thousand years ago.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.” It would be hard to improve on that definition of prayer.

The early Christians, faced with persecution, prayed for boldness: “Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29 NIV). Our request as we face the challenges of our world should be the same as theirs: “Lord, give us boldness to proclaim your gospel.”

Dr. Daniel Poling was editor of the Christian Herald for many years. He had a son who was one of the four chaplains who went down on the Dorchester not far from the British coast early in World War II. Each of the four chaplains had given his lifejacket to another passenger. They stood at the rail, hand in hand, and went down with the ship. Clark Poling had written a letter to his parents shortly before he left on that fateful voyage. In the letter he said, “I know I shall have your prayers; but please don’t pray simply that God will keep me safe. War is dangerous business. Pray that God will make me adequate.”

The result of genuine prayer is that powerful things will happen. If you want your church to be filled with power, commit yourself to the goal of praying for it. Encourage your fellow members to join you in this venture. What happened in the early church can happen in your church. Prayers can be answered only when they are prayed. Nothing lies outside the reach of prayer except that which is outside the will of God.

Remember this: God is still in the business of answering prayers. The tragedy within far too many churches today, however, is not unanswered prayer. It is unoffered prayer. Believe it!

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The Declaration of Independence of the United States boldly claims that every citizen is “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” A recent poll revealed that only one third of Americans say they are very happy. That is why the question is often asked, “How can I be happy?” The German philosopher Johann Wolfgang Goethe said there are nine keys to contentment and happiness:

  1. Health enough to make work a pleasure.
  2. Money enough to support your needs.
  3. Strength enough to battle your difficulties and overcome them.
  4. Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them.
  5. Patience enough to work until some good is accomplished.
  6. Charity enough to see some good in your neighbors.
  7. Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others.
  8. Faith enough to make real the things of God.
  9. Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.

Notice how spiritually motivated most of Goethe’s keys are. But how do we acquire these qualities so we can be happy? The place to begin is to open God’s Word. Notice, for example, these two verses:

“Happy are the people whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 144:15).
“Happy is he who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20).

Another key in experiencing lasting happiness is to avoid sin, for sin is a major source and cause of unhappiness. Psalm 51 is a wonderful description of the effects of sin. Whatever you do, if you want to be happy, avoid sin. And if you fail, confess it and the Lord will restore to you the joy of salvation (see I John 1:9).

Ask God to keep you free from hate, and to keep your mind free from worry. Live simply; expect little; give much; fill your life with love, and scatter sunshine. Forget self; think of others, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Happiness is just another word for joy. What I have noticed about genuinely happy people is that it is not how much they have or who they are that makes them joyful. If you want the fullest possible happiness, give yourself completely to Jesus Christ. Trust your life to Him. Read His words, follow His ways, and talk to Him. He will give you “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8). John Oxenham expresses it this way:

“Not for one single day
Can I discern my way.
But this I surely know—
Who gives the day
Will show the way,
So I securely go.”

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