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Archive for May, 2020

“What time is it?”

People have always had legitimate reasons to ask this question. They still do. Few questions, in fact, are more important – no matter what you do in life or what your goals may be. Only those who know what time it is can function effectively and productively in our modern world. Those who have no idea what to do, how to do it, or when to do it, never get anything worthwhile done. This is true in every area of life.

“What time is it?” is also a spiritual question every church should ask. As the church moves further into the twenty-first century it should know the following three things concerning time:

1. It is time to wake up. Sleep is obviously a blessing for people, especially at the end of a long day of hard work. Sleep refreshes and restores our physical bodies – both physically and emotionally. Sleep, however, can be a curse for a church. When you go to sleep every night you become unaware of what is happening around you; churches that go to sleep also become unaware of the spiritual needs in their surrounding community.

Noted sleepers in the Bible come quickly to mind. Samson slept the sleep of compromise when he laid his head on Delilah’s lap. Jonah slept the sleep of an easy conscience in the hull of a ship bound for Tarshish when God had asked him to preach to Nineveh. God sent a storm and a big fish to wake him up. Three of Christ’s disciples slept the sleep of indifference in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before He was crucified – even though He had asked them to stay awake and pray with Him.

Churches go to sleep: (1) when they become largely unaware of Christ’s divinely assigned mission (found in Matthew 28:18-20); and (2) when they are unwilling to provide the time, energy and resources to carry out that commission. It is a needless tragedy when a church goes to sleep. An old southern preacher once said in a sermon to his congregation, “It is time for our church to wake up and sing up, preach up and pray up, and never give up or back up or shut up, until the church is filled up or we go up.”

2. It is time to get up. We know quite well the difference between waking up and getting up. How tempting it is to shut the alarm clock off when it rings. How easy it is to mash the snooze button and sink back on the pillow for a few minutes more sleep, but you would not have a job very long if that became a regular pattern. The church that is awake and alive and committed to carrying out its assigned task cannot afford to mash the snooze button, settle back on the pew, and just enjoy the fellowship with other Christians. A call to mission that only awakens serves no useful function until it causes Christians to get out of bed and become involved.

3. It is time to dress up. After the members of a church that is asleep wake up and get up, the next thing they must do is to put aside their night clothes – in other words, the things that caused them to go to sleep. And what are the night clothes that a sleeping church needs to put aside?

Apostle Paul said in writing to the Roman Christians: “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber … The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:11-14a).

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Most people, when asked if they want to be successful in life, will automatically answer in the affirmative. But what does a person have to do to be successful? Is success just a seven letter word? Or is it much more than that? Listen to some of the ways success is defined today:

Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping tycoon who married the widow of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy said: “It’s not a question of money. After you reach a certain point, money becomes unimportant. What matters is success. The sensible thing for me would be to stop now. But I can’t. I have to keep aiming higher and higher – just for the thrill.” This statement reminds me of the richest man in my hometown many years ago. Although he owned several thousand acres of fertile farmland and virgin timber in central Georgia, he said to me, “I don’t want to own all the land in the world. I just want to own all of the land next to what I already own.” He didn’t consider himself successful. He wanted more and more. He died and left it all behind.

Barbra Streisand, popular recording artist said: “Success for me is having ten honeydew melons and eating only the top half of each one.” It is a strange and shallow way to define success.

Ted Turner, media mogul said: “I think success is kind of an empty bag, to tell you the truth, but you have to get there to really know that. I’ve always said I was more of an adventurer than a businessman. I mainly started CNN to see if it would work. And the same with creating the superstation – it was just out of personal curiosity to see if it could be done.”

There must be better ways to define success, and there are. Helen Keller was on the right track when she said, “Your success and happiness lie in you. External conditions are the accidents of life. The great enduring realities are love and service. Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow. Resolve to keep happy and your joy shall form an invincible host against difficulty.”

Keller understood that “success and happiness” are partners, and that they are the products of what is within you. They are made possible through “love and service.” Those who genuinely love and serve others find joy. Though she was totally blind, Keller was able to see that lasting joy can only be experienced by those who are guided by a sense of purpose and use the intelligence God gave them in a constructive way. Those who do this try always to give their best and will be able to overcome the difficulties they face.

True success is not a matter of money, power, and ego; rather it has to do with issues of the heart – like compassion, kindness, bravery, generosity. It is an issue of character, not performance. In other words, the right kind of performance flows out of having the right kind of character. The right kind of character is the result of having a healthy personal relationship with God.

Finally, success is the result of (1) finding what God wants you to be, and (2) serving where God wants you to serve. Once you have done this you should put your shoulder to the wheel and give your best. This is true no matter what vocation you have chosen for your life’s work – as a teacher, a physician, a business person, a farmer, a Christian minister, or anything else. God has given you two ends – one for thinking and one for sitting. Your success will depend on which end you use – heads you win, tails you lose.

Asked the secret of his power as a preacher, an African American minister in Washington, D.C., replied: “It’s simple. I read myself full. I think myself clear. I pray myself hot. Then I let myself go.” He had absolutely no doubt about what it took to be successful at what God had called him to do.

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Have you ever looked in the mirror and were disappointed with the person looking back at you? If this has never happened to you, it could be because you have a short memory. We get down on ourselves when we believe we do not measure up to our own standards, when we fail to do what we had planned, when we compulsively repeat old habits we thought we had left behind, or when our dreams are not fulfilled.

At such times the “if only’s” of of our yesterdays begin to invade the “what if’s” of our current experience and robs us of our joy. “If only I had done things differently … if only I had used more wisdom …  if only I had been stronger …  if … if … if” becomes a monotonous dirge of self-incrimination. 

Because we have the ability to remember things we said or did in the past, we have an inordinate capacity for self-scrutiny. The memory of past failures, the things we did that we should not have done, and the things we did not do that we should have done, rush to the forefront of our consciousness. Discouragement and depression set in.

Our conscious self shakes an accusing finger in our face. Self-condemnation takes over, and self-esteem goes quickly down the drain. It is at such times that we become vulnerable and are far more likely to say and do things that we never thought possible. We find it easy to treat others harshly, even good friends, because we have developed a low image of ourselves. It is extremely difficult to get up for life when we are down on ourselves. What would it take in times of self-condemnation to develop a new picture of ourselves as loved and lovable, as forgiven and forgiving?

Henri Bergson said in one of his books that it is the function of the brain to not only remember but also to forget. That being true, why do we easily forget so many things we want to remember, and remember so many things we need to forget? Why does one failure stick in our memory when many of our achievements are 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.

Can a person develop the ability to forget what should be forgotten? The answer is “Yes.” God’s Word says that the best way a healthy forgetter can be developed is by the power of forgiveness. The damage caused by the memory of our failures can only be erased by learning how to accept God’s forgiveness and to forgive ourselves. 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. The Old Testament law (Leviticus 20:10) declared that a person caught in adultery should be stoned to death.

The hypocritical scribes and pharisees pushed the woman down before Jesus. They asked Jesus 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 did not go away saying, “What if I had not done what I did?” She did not blame herself any more by saying, “If only I had been strong enough to resist temptation.”

She went away totally cleansed and forgiven. How could she do that? She had learned that the forgiveness given to her by Jesus is like the perfume a trampled flower casts upon the heel that crushed it.

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On two different occasions – the first time in 1952 and again in the mid-1960’s – I saw what is called an Unidentified Flying Object. On both occasions the UFO moved around in the sky in ways and at speeds that no government on planet earth – then or now – could possibly duplicate. Can you imagine the amazement you would have if a UFO landed in your church parking lot next Sunday, and space aliens from a planet somewhere out in the vast universe came inside your church and saw you and your fellow church members kneeling, standing or bowing in prayer, talking to Someone they could not see? What would they think?

I suspect that these outer space tourists would be impressed if you told them that it is in the mysterious action we call worship that we make contact with the Creator of everything that exists in the billions of galaxies throughout our immense universe, and that He is the Father and Sustainer of our spirits also.

So, the question arises, “What is worship?” An American named Dwight Bradley gave this answer:

“It is the soul searching for its counterpart.

“It is a thirsty land crying out for rain.

“It is a drop of water in quest of the ocean.

“It is a candle in the act of being kindled.

“It is a man listening through a tornado for the Still Small Voice.

“It is a voice in the night calling for help.

“It is a sheep lost in the wilderness pleading for rescue by the Good Shepherd.

“It is the same sheep nestling in the arms of its Rescuer.

“It is the Prodigal Son running to his Father.

“It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the Universe.

“It is a poet enthralled by the beauty of the Universe.

“It is a hungry heart seeking for love.

“It is time flowing into Eternity.

“It is my little self being engulfed in the Universal Self.

“It is a man climbing the altar stairs to God.”

In addition to these words by Dwight Bradley worship is our response to what God has done and is still doing within and through us as we serve Him. This is illustrated by the beautiful story of a little girl who, after finishing her bedtime prayers, looked up and said, “And now, Lord, is there anything I can do for you?”

Centuries ago a psalmist gave one of life’s most important invitations concerning worship: “O come, let us bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:6-7). It would be hard to define worship any better than that.

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