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Archive for November, 2020

The Bible is the story of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. It contains both the Old and New Testaments, and was written over a period of approximately 1,500 years. People usually think of the Bible as one book, but it is really 66 separate books – 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. 

The Bible is important because it is the only Book that gives satisfactory answers to these three questions: “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” John Burton expressed it this way, “Holy Bible, book divine, Precious treasure, thou art mine; Mine to teach me whence I came, mine to teach me what I am.” As important as the Bible is, the lack of knowledge today on the part of professing Christians concerning what it teaches is astounding.

Several years ago George Barna, church growth specialist, in The State of the Church, gave the results of a survey of self-described Christians measuring their level of Bible knowledge:

  • 48% could not name the four Gospels.
  • 52% could not identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples.
  • 60% could not name even five of the Ten Commandments.
  • 61% thought the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.
  • 71% thought “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse.

George Barna said, “Americans revere the Bible, but by and large they don’t know what it says. And because they don’t, we have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” This is a sad situation, but it is true. No wonder so many twenty-first century Christians seldom if ever attend corporate worship in the church of which they are members. No wonder so many church members are falling prey to false teachers and spurious beliefs. They are being fed junk food, even though they could be feeding themselves on the nurturing Word of God. The psalmist said, “How sweet are your words to my taste, O Lord, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts.” (Psalm 119:103-104a).

The Bible holds up before all who would read its pages because God’s ideals are within reach of the weakest and the lowliest person who accept and believe them. Even so, those ideals are so high that the best and the noblest among us are kept with their faces turned ever upward. The Bible carries the call of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the only Savior, to the remotest corners of the earth. On its pages are found our assurances for the present and our hopes for the future. Other books are given for our information; the Bible was given for our transformation.

It is with this fact in mind that Sir Walter Scott, in The Monastery, describes the Bible in these words:

Within that awful volume lies
The mystery of mysteries!
Happiest they of the human race,
To whom God has granted grace
To read, to fear, to hope, to pray,
To lift the latch, and force the way:
And better had they ne’er been born,
Who read to doubt, or read to scorn.”

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There are very few people who are not familiar with the story of a father and his two sons found in the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke. To give the story a current flavor let us call the younger son “the playboy” and the older son “the ploughboy.” The ploughboy stayed home, behaved himself and enjoyed the good life. The playboy sought what he thought would be a good life, only to end up in the pigpen. Reduced to abject misery, he swallowed his pride and came home to be welcomed amid a great celebration of joy.

The ploughboy, hearing the music from way out in the fields, wondered what was going on, came in quickly to investigate, and saw that his playboy brother had returned. With surprise showing on his face, he heard his father say, “Your brother has come home. I have killed the fatted calf to welcome him.”

Boy, was the ploughboy ever mad! He probably had smoke coming out of his ears. Perhaps he had been saving the fatted calf to show off at that day’s version of what we today call a county fair. But more repulsive than that consideration was the idea that it would be slaughtered to welcome his no-good sibling home. Although the dominant mood on the farm that night was one of joy, there were two who were extremely unhappy – the fatted calf and the ploughboy elder brother who had stayed home to work on the farm!

The father’s two sons – the playboy and the ploughboy – have traditionally been given most of the attention in this story. But thank God, they are not the only two characters involved. There is also the gracious father who loved both of his sons with an equal love. Despite his great joy at the playboy’s return, he did not let it eclipse or spoil his love for his disgruntled ploughboy son’s self-imposed misery.

Now it is the father’s time to speak. Seeing his playboy son’s brokenness, he reminds us of a powerful truth we should never forget as we celebrate another Thanksgiving season. “Son,” he said, “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” The ploughboy son was forgetting the thousands of times he had sat at his father’s table and nourished himself with the delicious nourishment that had regularly graced it.

It is also very easy for us to become so fascinated with what we see as our problems that we forget to focus on our blessings. How easy it is for us to become creatures of habit, and to become so fascinated with the spectacular that we fail to see the ordinary and everyday blessings that come our way every single day. Our human tendency is to see God at work during the high points in our lives and to give thanks for these. But the millions of bite-size blessings given to us every single day by God we find easy to overlook and forget.

This causes us to be very much unlike the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, who had every reason to weep because his city was in ruins. He could have looked at life in a negative way. Instead, he said, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are fresh every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Fresh every morning!

Like both of the sons I have called the playboy and the ploughboy, we often find it easy to become victimized by distorted visions – and forget to be grateful. Therefore, I challenge you on Thanksgiving Day to sing with me these words of a beautiful Christian hymn: “Count your blessings; name them one by one.”

And why do I recommend that you do this? “It will surprise you what the Lord has done.” 

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Have you ever gone through such difficult circumstances that you felt like throwing in the towel? Having to face difficult experiences can leave you totally exhausted and devastated. Even Paul, whose writings take up a sizeable portion of the New Testament, met so much opposition that he became so worn out and weary that he thought he was going to die (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Several years ago I shared the story of a fellow pastor who came to my office because he was facing strong opposition in the church he was serving. He opened his heart and poured out a ton of pain. As a fellow pastor and friend, I tried to offer constructive counsel.

Perhaps you have read or heard the fictitious story of another Baptist pastor who was encountering the same kind of opposition in his church. He was so bone weary he had to be hospitalized. His deacon chairman came to visit him in the hospital. While there he said, “At our deacons meeting last night we approved a resolution by a vote of eight to seven to pray for you to get well.” It was, of course, not a very encouraging vote. The story depicts the kind of pressure and opposition some pastors have faced. And since they are as human as those who serve in any other profession, they sometimes respond to problems and pressures in unhealthy ways.

Pastors are not the only people who face difficulties. Perhaps you are currently facing the kind of obstacles that are difficult for you to handle. It could be opposition from people where you work, people in your church, or even members of your own family. When you have to face opposition from others over a long period of time, your defenses and resolve slowly erode until you have nothing left in your tank.

Paul was not the only person mentioned in the Bible who faced the kind of difficulties that try a person’s soul. King David’s very disloyal son, Absalom literally “stole the heart of the men of Israel” (2 Samuel 15:6). He was willing to overthrow his father because he wanted to be king. David had to evacuate his home, his throne, and the city he had built. Then a distant relative of the previous king, Saul, attacked David, cursed him, and threw stones at him. That was rubbing salt into David’s wounds. He was totally bone weary when he arrived at his destination (see 2 Samuel 16:14).

Opposition exhausts. It robs you of the last ounce of your energy and demolishes your reserves and your resolve. What do you do at a time like this? May I suggest that you put into practice these three R’s:

Remember – You are not alone. Others have also gone through difficulties of an extreme nature and have gotten through them successfully. It is a human tendency during difficult hours to feel that you are alone, and that no one has ever had to endure what you are facing. Also, remember that Jesus Christ has promised to be with you always. Cast your burden on Him. You can trust Him to help you carry it.

Rest – There is no substitute for allowing your body and mind to heal. Ask the Lord to give you rest.

Resolve – When your strength is back, make an honest effort to resolve any differences that exist between you and those opposing you. Express your desire to make things right. Your adversaries may not change either their attitude or actions, but you will be able to sleep well at night, knowing that you have gone the second mile. You cannot control the attitude of others, but you can control your own.

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A young boy was standing in front of a church as a man came down the sidewalk and started to go up the church steps. The boy said, “Say, Mister, is God in there?” It was a good question. How would you answer if someone asked you that question about your church?

Most of us would probably say something like, “Of course God is in my church. God is everywhere. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. In Him we live and move and have our being.” Such an answer would be needlessly theological, and it would not adequately answer the question whether or not God, unique and transcendent, is present in your church in a distinctive and superior way.

You might also answer the question by saying, “Yes, God is in my church. We have a Sunday School for Bible study. We have organizations that do mission work, meet community needs, and witness.” In other words, “we have an ecclesiastical organization.” But having an organization does not guarantee that it contains an organism. Christ’s transforming presence within any church is determined by whether or not it contains the presence of the Holy Spirit releasing power into the lives of those who enter its doors to worship.

A five-year-old boy got down on his knees beside his bed to say his nightly prayers. After he had prayed for “daddy and mommy and his brothers and sisters and grandpa and grandma, and his cousins and a few of his friends,” he finished his prayer by saying, “and one more thing, Lord, we had a good time at church today. I wish you could have been there.”

Dr. Elton Trueblood, the great Quaker theologian once said, “The real enemy of the church is not those on the outside who openly oppose it; it is the responsible citizen who adopts a patronizing attitude toward the church by the gesture of joining it, when he or she has no idea of a genuine commitment to the gospel. The person who needs most to be convinced is not the open sinner but the person to whom it has never occurred that true Christianity is always revolutionary in both the lives of individuals and in society.”

In many nations of the world the church has degenerated into an institution, full of ritual and devoid of power. The latest figures that I have seen of regular church attendance in several countries are as follows: Germany, 5%; Italy, 14%; France, 25 to 30%; Greece, 1.5%; South America, 9.5% among women and 3.5% among men; in England two-thirds of its citizens are members of the Anglican Church, but only 6% of these are in church – on Easter Sunday. In the United States regular attendance on Sundays for worship has fallen considerably lower than what it was a few decades ago. I haven’t seen the current percentage of attendance.

Dark clouds are on the world’s horizon. Therefore, Christian churches in our country and around the world desperately need to be alive and on mission. Surprise and exhilaration are found throughout the pages of the New Testament. Words and statements like “Behold” . . .”Rejoice” . . . “They were amazed” . . .”They are zealous for God” . . .tell us how the early church made a tremendous impact on the first century world.

Churches today need to recapture what happened on the day of Pentecost when “Suddenly the sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). Jesus today, as in the first century to his initial disciples, calls out to every follower of Christ, “Take my yoke upon you, for my burden is light” . . . “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Acts 2:2).

This is the challenge God gives to every church – including yours. If you and the other members of your church are taking Christ’s challenge seriously, you can say, “Yes, God is in my church!”

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