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Archive for February, 2020

Every pastor has answered the phone in the middle of the night only to hear a message tinged with tragedy. A terrible automobile accident. A family quarrel. A sudden and unexpected death. You name it, and it has happened – more times than the majority of church members realize.

Percy Bysshe Shelly was right when he personified sorrow as “a mother with her family of sighs.” It is not entirely an inadequate definition of sorrow. Stooped and weary from the bad hands dealt to life’s travelers, yet sorrow bears children only to sigh and cry and die.

Without God life ultimately becomes a dead-end street. Death becomes the termination of misery, the end of a sad tale. It is here that humanism writes its final period on life’s last page. It is here that philosophy takes its last bow. The only encore, as Robert Ingersoll’s dying words moaned, is: “The echo of a wailing cry.” That is the sad final picture when sorrow looks inward.

This does not need to be the end of the story for anyone. With all its tensions and troubles, tears and trials, life can be lived on a level that conquers sorrow. It is in the middle of dark nights that Jesus Christ does His very best work. It is during those times when we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness and deny His justice that Jesus Christ unsheathes His sword of truth, silences our doubts, lifts our eyes toward heaven, and infuses our lives with faith and hope to continue on down life’s road with our heads held high.

Hear this message, for it is of supreme importance: “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4). What John is talking about is not a stab in the dark. It is not a lucky guess. It is not some fairy tale or dream. It is not wishful thinking. Millions of people who have walked through dark valleys can bear testimony to it.

Is this for everyone? No! Is it for the majority of people? No, not necessarily, but it can be! Take another look at I John 5:4. It is only for those who are born of God. Only those who have been born again by faith in God can in the truest sense become an overcomer. That does not mean that those who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will not encounter sorrow or even tragedy. Nor does it mean that we will be immune to it. It simply means that we will overcome it, not be overcome by it.

How does one become an overcomer? Not by avoiding the potholes and pitfalls that are found along life’s highway. Not by thinking there will be no hills to climb or hardships to face. The recipe for becoming an overcomer is to let Jesus Christ live within your heart. It does not guarantee that there will always be smooth sailing ahead, for the opposite will often be true. There is no promise that you will always live on Easy Street. I am thinking of two people who demonstrated what it takes to be an overcomer.

Annie Kate Powell, a lady in her early eighties during the 1960’s was a member of the Warsaw Baptist Church when I was her pastor. Inflicted by polio when she was just a child she might have pulled her windows closed on life and lived out her days in misery. She chose to let Christ live within, and this showed by the smile she daily presented to the world around her. She chose to focus on her blessings, not on her problems.

My friend, Ed Gilbert, member of Temple Baptist Church in Wilmington, moves about in a motorized wheelchair. He cannot sing in the choir or teach Sunday School, or do lots of other jobs around the church. The church gave him the job of ringing a small set of chimes at the beginning of worship, and anywhere else during worship when he feels the Spirit moving. Ed has lots of problems. He chooses to be an overcomer.

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C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, in his book The Four Loves identified three attitudes in love: need love, gift love, and appreciative love.

In terms of human love, the love of a man for a woman or of a woman for a man, need love would say: “I cannot live without you.”

Gift love would say: “The most important thing in the world for me is that I meet your needs and make you happy.”

Appreciative love rejoices in his or her very existence, and gives thanks for all the fine qualities that he or she possesses.

In terms of our relationship with God, need love drives us to God with an awareness that life cannot be dealt with in a constructive way apart from Him. Gift love finds joy and happiness in serving God. Appreciative love gives thanks and glory to God for His very existence and for the marvelous handiwork of His creation. If our relationship with God is healthy, it should and will contain all three.

Let us look more specifically at how faith is involved in these three kinds or levels of love:

NEED LOVE: It is out of a sense of need that humans begin to love. The cry of the human heart is expressed in the words of the Christian hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” Abraham Lincoln frankly confessed: “I have often been driven to my knees in prayer, because I had nowhere else to go.” He realized that his own resources were extremely limited, and he needed strength that only God could provide.

It is characteristic of human beings to be dependent on others. Dependence on God is the very essence of the Christian faith in the same way that dependence on others is the essence of humanity. How much less meaningful and joyful our lives would be without the support of others.

GIFT LOVE: The love which thinks only in terms taking or getting is not true love. Genuine love instinctively thinks in terms of giving. Great joy is derived from the giving of oneself to the one who is loved. You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.

In human love, there is a certain danger in gift love. It is possible to be so anxious to give and to protect someone that it may in the end create in the person loved an almost complete dependence. Thus, it has the potential to smother instead of develop the personality of the one who is loved.

Gift love is well aware that it is in serving God that we find perfect freedom – freedom to become the persons God created us to be, freedom to become our best selves. It is in knowing this kind of freedom that inner peace is found.

The initial gift that we should bring to God is ourselves. If we give ourselves to Him, He will automatically have first priority on our time, talents, and resources.

APPRECIATIVE LOVE: Need love is instinctive; gift love arises naturally in the heart of any person who has a desire to love. Appreciative love is different in that it has to be consciously and consistently cultivated and grow out of an attitude of gratitude.

In human relationships we often find it easy to take for granted the love, care, and service that we receive from others. In our relationship with God we also find it easy to take His blessings for granted.

Need love; gift love; and appreciative love. Life at its fullest and best needs and must contain all three. Persons who have never experienced even one of these three are undoubtedly the most deprived people in the world. Poet John Oxenham, in Love’s Prerogative, explains why this is true:

“Love ever gives—
Forgives—outlives—
And ever stands
With open hands.
And while it lives,
It gives.
For this is love’s prerogative—
To give—and give—and give.”

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The sporting world was shocked when former New England Patriot tight end, Aaron Hernandez, was discovered dead, hanging in his prison cell from a bed sheet with the Bible verse John 3:16 written in red ink on his forehead. This special verse was also found written in blood on one of the walls of his cell.

This verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It has been appropriately called “the gospel in a nutshell” . . . “the golden text of the Bible” . . . and “the diamond of the Scriptures.”

Many have asked how God could possibly forgive a man who had so cruelly taken the life of an innocent person. Would God do that? Is it true? From a human perspective it doesn’t seem likely or even possible, but from God’s perspective the answer is an unqualified “yes” (see I John 1:9).

In order to understand what John 3:16 really means, and whether or not Hernandez could be fully forgiven for such a despicable deed, we need to go back to the original context of how John 3:16 was originally communicated. It was recorded by John, a fisherman, who was one of Christ’s twelve disciples. John refers to himself as an eyewitness when Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leader Nicodemus. The miracles and teaching of Jesus had convinced this Jewish leader that Jesus knew the secret to eternal life.

Jesus shared the mysteries of God’s love with Nicodemus by telling him why He had come to the earth, and how he could have eternal life. In other words, Jesus was on a rescue mission to save a lost world. So, what did Jesus tell Nicodemus about eternal life? He didn’t tell him to become more religious. Neither did He tell him to give more money or to do more good deeds. What any person, including Nicodemus, must do to have eternal life is to accept God’s love as expressed in the words of John 3:16.

God in the beginning created Adam and Eve in His image, pure and holy. But their disobedience injected sin into the DNA of the human race. Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death (separation from God), but the gift of God (His love as demonstrated at Calvary) is eternal life.”

John 3:16 is the most popular verse in the Bible. This is because it focuses on God’s love as demonstrated at Calvary. It paints a beautiful picture of God’s love by using eleven superlatives:

  • “For God” . . . . . the greatest lover.
  • “So loved” . . . . . the greatest degree.
  • “The world” . . . . . the greatest need.
  • “That He gave” . . . . . the greatest act.
  • “His one and only Son” . . . . . the greatest gift.
  • “That whoever” . . . . . the greatest opportunity.
  • “Believes in Him” . . . . . the greatest opportunity.
  • Should not perish” . . . . . the greatest promise
  • “Have eternal life” . . . . . the greatest possibility.

The most wonderful truth I know is that God loves every person everywhere – and that includes you. All He asks is that you accept His love and love Him in return – and eternal life will be yours.

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Several years ago a mechanic was called to repair the mechanism in a giant telescope. During the lunch hour, the chief astronomer noticed that the mechanic was reading his Bible. “What good do you expect to get from that book?” he asked. “The Bible is out of date. You don’t even know who wrote it.”

The mechanic was puzzled for a moment, and then he looked up and asked, “I have been told that you make considerable use of the multiplication table in your calculations. Is that true?”

“Yes, of course,” replied the astronomer.

The mechanic continued, “Do you know who wrote the multiplication table?”

“Why, no, I guess not,” he replied.

Then said the mechanic, “How can you trust the accuracy of the multiplication table when you do not know who wrote it?”

“We trust it because – well, because it works,” the astronomer said.

The mechanic then told him, “I trust what the Bible has to say for the same reason – it works!”

The mechanic was right, of course. The truth found in the Bible meets the spiritual need of those whose lives are out of tune with God. Their lives have gotten off course and they need to get back on track.

Do you ever read a verse or a passage in the Bible and suddenly realize that it applies to something that you are going through at that very moment? Have you ever had a problem or a question and read a verse or chapter in the Bible that deals directly with it? God’s Word is always current. It gives the guidance we need. It provides answers. In other words, it works!

Having served as a pastor for more than 60 years I am currently thinking of many people whose lives were transformed and re-directed by believing the truth found in God’s Book – a man addicted to alcohol who found Christ and became a radiant witness; a father and mother who found comfort and strength when their young son was tragically killed in an automobile accident; a couple whose marriage was on the rocks who found guidance that restored their marriage; and literally hundreds of others who found in God’s Word the truth they needed in order to experience life at its best. The truth in God’s Word meets our needs. It works!

An unknown author penned these words:

“I entered the world’s great library doors.
I crossed their acres of polished floors,
I searched and searched their stacks and nooks,
But I settled at last on the Book of Books — The Bible.”

Remember this: the most desirable time to read your Bible is as often as possible. If you don’t read it you have no advantage over those who can’t read it. A Bible known is worth far more than a dozen merely owned. If you will keep it open you will never find the door of heaven shut.

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