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Archive for August, 2020

Attitudes are important.

Much of what Jesus said to His disciples dealt with the importance of attitudes. He wanted them to know it was not only important that they avoid overt action with regard to stealing, killing, committing adultery, etc., but that they would be guilty of these things if in their heart they had a willingness to commit them.

Our attitudes determine what we do. They are the seeds; actions are the fruits. The importance of attitude is seen in the statement of an anonymous author who said, “Two men looked out through prison bars – one saw the mud, the other saw the stars.”

There are basically three attitudes people have toward life.

THE SPECTATOR ATTITUDE: In every area of public life many spectators are content just to sit on the sidelines and watch, but they are not willing to become involved in the battle. They will criticize, analyze, and evaluate. They will recognize how much some situations cry out for action. But they are not willing to be part of the action. They are quite satisfied to be observers only.

There are people in every area of life who see what needs to be accomplished. They are quick to criticize others for not being involved – but the likelihood of their own involvement is about as high as seeing it snow at the equator. Spectators are often pessimists – they absorb sunshine and radiate gloom. With the choice of two evils, the pessimist will generally choose both.

“Spectatoritis” is a common disease caught by church members. There are missions to be carried out, but they do not get done when church members are in the grandstands rather than down on the field involved in the game. Teachers are needed in Sunday School, members are needed to serve on committees, the church grounds need to be kept in good shape, families need to be cared for, and the list goes on and on. When these needs are not met it is often because no one will say, “Here am I, Lord, send me.”

THE SHELLFISH ATTITUDE: Oysters and other shellfish shut themselves off from the world around them in their little private space and let the world go by. Many church members are like that. They aren’t even interested enough in what their church is doing to be spectators. Sure, they believe in God – but from a distance. In their own way they believe in prayer, but they only want God to be involved in the answering of their prayers. They do not realize that when Christians pray, we are under obligation to do everything we can to make our prayers come true. The life of devotion standing at a distance is not a substitute for action.

THE COMRADE ATTITUDE: It is written of John Woolman, the great American Quaker, that his one desire was to personally participate in what those he sought to help were experiencing. He went on a mission to the American Indians, living their life, “that I might feel and understand the life and spirit they live in.”

The comrade’s attitude to life is one that says, “I want to identify with your need in order that I might help.” The prophet Jeremiah said, “I sat where they sat.” Genuine needs can be met and misunderstanding can be eliminated if we are willing to put ourselves in the place of others.

This is precisely what God has done. In Jesus Christ God came to this world and entered into the human situation. “The Word became flesh, and tarried among us” (John 1:14). That is news worth sharing.

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You perhaps have heard the story of the farm worker who was assigned the job of grading potatoes. In one pile he was to place the largest, in the second pile the middle-sized, and in the third pile, the smallest potatoes. After an hour or two of this monotony he threw his hands up. Asked what his problem was, he replied, “Decisions! Decisions! Nothing but decisions!”

No matter what your vocation may be, decisions must be made. Some are made only one time; others must be repeated.  However, we are fortunate in that we do not have to puzzle over every choice we make every day. We are not like the mythical centipede that enjoyed traveling around until some troublesome neighbor asked him which of his hundred feet he put down first!

Elijah the prophet lost his patience with his people because they would not make a choice between serving God or serving Baal. Said Elijah, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is sovereign, follow him. And the people did not answer him a word.” (I Kings 18:21).

It is entirely possible that you will be called upon sometime soon to make a difficult choice – and that choice would possibly have to be made quickly. If you are like the people in the day of Elijah, you will find it difficult to make a decision. You may go to someone who is a close friend, someone whom you respect and trust, and say, “What should I do? Will you choose for me what I should do?” If you were to do that you would be abdicating your right to make your own decision.

We all benefit from discussing with others the problems we face that require the making of a decision. Their thoughts may call attention to something we have not thought about, and that may be helpful to us. But we must make our own decisions. The question we should ultimately ask is, “What decision God would have me to make?” I suggest the following four things:

  1. Draw up a list of reasons for and against a certain choice. I have done this with regard to the decisions I have had to make through the years. For example, there have been times when I had to choose to stay where I was or to accept the new challenge facing me. After much prayer, and after weighing all the factors, I have found what God’s will was.
  2. Look at the total picture as far as you can. Try not to overlook any possible factor that should be taken into consideration. Any idea that should be considered should not be forgotten. Sometimes we forget we have a duty in the making of important decisions to consider how they affect not just ourselves, but also those who are dependent on us – especially the members of our immediate family.
  3. Act according to the most complete knowledge you can obtain. Be certain that it is the best available. Certainly conscience must be our guide, but we must be certain it is an enlightened conscience. As a Christian we have certain points of reference to help us — God’s Word and prayer being the most important two.
  4. Make the decision, and having made it, stick to it. Having made the best decision we could make, we should turn it and the consequences over to God and move forward. The poem, “Formula for Achievement,” written by an anonymous author, expresses this thought extremely well:

“Plan more work than you can do;
Then do it.
Bite off more than you can chew;
Then chew it.
Hitch your wagon to a star;
Keep your seat;
And there you are.”

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As a finite human being there are things that I do not and cannot know about God. Even so, there are some very important things that I do know about Him. These are based on observations I have made on the basis of personal experience. Let me mention just four:

First, God provides comfort when the walls of sorrow surround us. The psalmist was not exempted from sorrow, for he said: “Cast all your cares upon the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22 NIV). He had obviously learned this by personal experience.

When sorrow comes, we can find genuine comfort only in God. When we are immersed in sorrow there are only three courses open to us: (1) We can give up in despair, sour upon the world and become a grouch; (2) we can endeavor to drown our sorrow in drink or by a life of waywardness; or (3) we can turn to God.

As a pastor I have walked with many people through some very dark valleys. Those who were defeated chose to walk alone and were not willing to accept God’s hand. They were left with inadequate resources to supply their need during the difficult hours they were facing. Those who chose to turn toward heaven were in every instance given the strength to move forward that they desperately needed. Jesus said, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” (John 14:18 NIV). His comfort is always available, but we must accept it.

Second, God sustains us when our strength fails. You don’t have to live very long before you learn that human strength is totally inadequate to cope with the gigantic problems of life. Sooner or later there will come a time in each of our lives when divine strength is desperately needed. It will provide the difference between faith and fear, victory and failure.

Go back and stand in the shadows of Gethsemane and hear the words of our Lord on the night before He was crucified, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NIV). What a terrible hour to be deserted by His friends! They could have supported Him, but they were all asleep. Jesus was well fortified to face a most difficult hour, for “an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him” (Luke 22:4 NIV).

Third, God loves us with a love that is unfathomable. Have you ever wondered why God loves us? The Bible says that He loves us because it is His nature to do so. Charles Gabriel, in the great hymn, “My Savior’s Love”, expresses it well:

“I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner condemned unclean.”

Fourth, God forgives us even though we do not deserve it. Forgiveness is not a beggar’s refuge; rather, it is the fruit of divine love. All we have to do is accept it. God looks beyond all that is ugly and evil about us and claims us as His own. He has an amazing power to forgive our sins and totally forget them. The psalmist wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 NIV).

A cleaning woman once said to Charles Spurgeon, “I doubt that God will ever forgive my sins. But I tell you, if He ever does forgive me, He will never hear the last of it!” She was saying that there is a kind and level of joy that defies description when a person has been forgiven of all his or her sins by a loving God.

I do not know all that I need or want to know, and hopefully all that I one day will know, about God – but these are four of the things I have learned and know by personal experience. I have often failed God, but He has never failed me.

What do you personally know about God? I am not asking how often you attend church. I am not even asking whether or not you read your Bible, or how often? The question I am asking is this: “What do you know about God that is based on personal experience?”

If you do not know Him as both Savior and Lord, His message to you is this: “I stand at your heart’s door and knock to gain entrance. If you will open the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). He will not beat down the front door to your heart, for he respects your volition and personhood. You must open the door.

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Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught His disciples to pray to God, the Father, and to close each prayer by saying, “In Jesus’ name”? Here is why: we have no claims upon God because of any goodness or service of our own, but Jesus has infinite claims upon Him. It is because Jesus loves us that He has given us the right to approach the Father using His name. Therefore, we should pray boldly, not timidly.

When we pray in Christ’s name we pray on the ground of His atoning death when He took our sins upon Himself. Who among us can say, “Lord, because of the way I live, I have earned the right to be both heard and answered in the way I ask?” None of us have earned that right. It is only as we approach God the Father in the name of His Son. The reason for this is that prayer in Jesus’ name is based on His relationship with the Father. God delights in answering prayers that are prayed in His Son’s name.

R.A. Torrey, in The Power of Prayer, told the story of a father and mother who lived in Columbus, Ohio during the early 1860’s. They had only one child, a son, who was the joy of their hearts. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, the son came home one day and said to his parents, “I have enlisted in the Union Army.” They felt badly, of course, to see their son leave home, but they loved their country and were willing to make the sacrifice of giving their son to save the Union in the event that should happen.

After their son had gone to the front, he wrote home regularly, telling his father and mother about his experiences in camp and elsewhere. His letters were full of brightness and good cheer, and they brought joy to his parent’s lonely hearts. But one day, at the regular time, no letter came.

Days passed, and no letter came from the front. Weeks passed, and they wondered what might have happened to their son. It wasn’t long before a letter came from the United States government telling them that there had been a great battle, and that their son, among many others, had been killed. The light went out in their hearts and in their home.

Days, weeks, and months passed by and they still had not heard anything further concerning their son. Finally the war came to an end. One morning as they were sitting at the breakfast table, the maid came in and said, “There is a poor, ragged fellow at the door, and he wants to speak to you. But I knew you did not wish to speak to a man like him. He handed me this note and asked me to put it in your hand.”

She handed to the father a soiled and crumpled piece of paper. When the father opened the note and began to read it, he quickly realized that the handwriting belonged to his son who had been killed in battle. The note said:

Dear Father and Mother:

I have been shot and have only a short time to live, and I am writing you this last farewell note. As I write, there is kneeling beside me my most intimate friend in the company, and when the war is over he will bring you this note. When he does, be kind to him for Charlie’s sake.

Your son,
Charles

You can be certain that there was absolutely nothing in that father and mother’s house they would have considered too good for the man at their door whom they had assumed to be poor tramp. Why is this true? It would have been “for Charlie’s sake.”

Likewise, there is absolutely no resource or blessing in heaven or on the earth that is too good or too great that God will not supply for the meeting of our needs when it is in the framework of His will for us, and if we have sincerely prayed in Jesus’ name. Therefore, when your outlook is bad, you would be wise to try the up-look. God is never more than a prayer away.

An anonymous author penned these beautiful words:

“When God inclines the heart to pray,
He hath an ear to hear:
To Him there’s music in a groan,
And beauty in a tear.”

You can count on that! It is why days that are hemmed in on both ends by prayer are not likely to come unraveled in the middle. This is true because prayer provides power, poise, peace, and purpose.

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