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Archive for January, 2021

Perhaps you have heard the story of two bitter sisters who had so many problems with each other that they stopped speaking to each other. Unable or unwilling to separate, the pair lived in a large single room with two beds. A chalk line divided the sleeping area into two halves, separating doorway and fireplace, so that each could come and go and get their own meals without trespassing on her sister’s domain. For years they coexisted in spiteful silence. Neither was willing to take the first step in the direction of reconciliation.

This is a sad story, but it is the kind of thing that happens in human relationships. Has something ever happened in your life to polarize a relationship, a friendship, or a family member? Someone hurt you deeply in a way that was unwarranted, unjust, inexcusable, and reprehensible. Reconciliation can only happen when you forgive the one who hurt you. The Bible says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” Col. 3:13b).

It is better to forgive and forget than to hate and remember. Forgiveness acts in the same way an antibiotic does when applied to a festering wound. It enables us to release all the undeserved and unfair hurts bottled up deep within ourselves, our joy is restored, and we begin to heal.

Nate Carter in his book, God Never Panics”, tells the story of a man who suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. He promptly asked a nurse to call his daughter. He explained, “I live alone and she is the only family I have.” The daughter, quite upset, when the nurse called her, shouted over the phone, “You must not let him die! Dad and I had a terrible argument almost a year ago, and I haven’t seen him since. All these months I’ve wanted to go to him for forgiveness. The last thing I said to him was “I hate you!” As she began to cry she said, “Please take good care of dad. I will be there in thirty minutes.”

Before she arrived at the hospital her father went into cardiac arrest and “code blue” was sounded. The nurse prayed, “Oh, God, the daughter is coming. Please don’t let it end this way.” The efforts by the medical team to revive the patient were fruitless. A moment later the nurse observed that the doctors were talking to the daughter outside the room. She could see the pathetic hurt on her face. As the daughter came into the room the nurse said to her, “I’m sorry.” The daughter replied, “I never hated him. In fact, I love him.”

The daughter then went to the bed and buried her face in the sheets in order to say goodbye to her deceased father. The nurse, trying not to look at this sad goodbye, noticed a scrap of paper on the bedside table. She picked it up and read these words: “My dearest Jamie, I forgive you. I pray you will also forgive me. I know that you love me. I love you too. Daddy” The power of forgiveness had healed their pain.

Simon Peter once asked Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Peter thought he was being benevolent when he suggested seven times. In essence, Jesus answered Peter’s question by saying, “Don’t keep a record of the wrongs that are done to you.”

Dr. Lewis Smedes, in his book, Forgive and Forget, lists four stages we must go through in order to create reconciliation and healing in a relationship that has been severed. The four stages are: (1) Hurt – when somebody causes you pain so deep and unfair that you cannot forget it; (2) Pain – so deep that you cannot shake the memory of it; (3) Healing – when your memory is healed sufficiently that you can let go of the pain; and (4) The Coming Together – You are able to invite the person who hurt you back into your life.

The way to cross the river of pain caused by others is to build a bridge of forgiveness.

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When I enrolled as a student in Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1953, one of the courses I was required to take was Archeology 101. On the very first day in class Dr. Marc Lovelace walked into the classroom carrying a shovel over his shoulder. He dropped the shovel on the desk at the front of the room with a loud bang. His first words were these, “Brethren, this is Archaeology 101. If you expect to make an A in this course you are going to have to dig.” The memory of Dr. Lovelace walking into the classroom nearly 70 years ago with the shovel draped over his shoulder is as vivid in my mind as if it were yesterday.

It was his tongue in cheek way of introducing himself to the class – and it definitely got our attention, for we had to dig to pass the course. Archaeologists have an interesting job. They look for and dig up old stuff – really old stuff –- all kinds of stuff, but especially bones -– bones of animals and of people who lived a long time ago. For our final test that semester he wrote these words on the blackboard: “You have applied with the proper authorities in Israel for permission to excavate _________. What tools would you use, how would you use them, and how would you preserve what you find?” To excavate a site in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, you would likely find some bones that have an interesting and educational story to tell.

Human bodies are full of bones. You may remember the old spiritual song entitled “These Bones, These Dry Bones.” It goes like this: “The toe bone is connected to the foot bone . . . the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone . . . the ankle bone is connected to the leg bone . . . the leg bone is connected to the thigh bone . . . the thigh bone is connected to the back bone . . . the back bone is connected to neck bone . . . and the neck bone is connected to the head bone . . . now hear the word of the Lord.”

We could not function in our world if our bodies did not contain bones. Every one of the bones mentioned in this spiritual song will show up on an x-ray. Every one of them has a specific function to fulfill. Let us now look at three other bones humans need that won’t show up on an x-ray. Would you care to guess what three bones I am talking about? They are the backbone, the wishbone, and the funny bone.

Your backbone stands for the strength and courage you need to face and conquer the difficulties in life. Who among us has not had mountains to climb and dark valleys to go through? Apostle Paul showed backbone when he described his difficulties in carrying the gospel to the Mediterranean world. He said, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day on the open sea.” (II Corinthians 11:24-25).

Your wishbone is linked to your dreams and goals. Paul’s consuming dream was to spread the gospel of Christ. And, as the verses in the preceding paragraph demonstrate, he definitely did not have an easy task. Even so, he did not allow the difficulties he faced to keep him from carrying out his mission. Is your wishbone working? Are you working toward achieving your goals in life? Or has your wishbone been buried and begun to petrify? Don’t wait for an archaeologist to find it. Bring it to life and let God guide your dreams.

Last but not least, your funny bone has the potential to keep your other bones going, especially when the going gets tough. If you allow your funny bone to wither, your smile will wither and be replaced by a frown. A smile is a light in the window of your face that tells people you are home. When you meet someone without a smile, give him/her one of yours. It is a good way to demonstrate that you have Christ in your heart. 

Most smiles will start another smile. That is because they are contagious. Oh, and one more thing you need to know: you are never fully dressed in the morning until you put on a smile.

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Several years ago the father of a young man I know owned and operated a pool hall in South Carolina. He got into a fight with an unruly patron that continued out onto the sidewalk. In the course of the fight he picked the patron up above his shoulders, threw him down onto the sidewalk, and his skull was severely fractured. He was immediately carried to the hospital. Later that evening he died.

The young man said to me, “My father was charged with involuntary manslaughter, tried and found guilty, and was sentenced to serve time in prison. I prayed that God would not let my father go to prison.” He paused briefly, and then concluded disappointedly . . . “but God did not answer my prayer!”

Was the young man right? Did God turn a deaf ear to his prayers? Absolutely not! I believe God answered his prayer in a far greater way than he thought possible at the time. Several years later I had the opportunity to be the guest evangelist in a series of revival services in the young man’s church. Only one person that entire week came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord – and it was that young man’s father. He had served his sentence, was out of prison, and was attending the revival services that week.

God had answered the young man’s prayer in a far greater way than he had asked. I believe He answers every prayer. He answers in one of three ways: By saying: “Yes” . . . “No” . . . . or “Not Now.” When God says “No” to our prayers it is for one or more of the following reasons:

  • We do not ask according to God’s will. God’s will is clearly stated in the Bible, and His will is always consistent with His Word. Prayers that are prayed for selfish reasons clearly do not coincide with God’s will (see James 4:3). And God will not give us what we request if He knows it is not what we need or would not be good for us. He knows what is best for us; we often do not.
  • We do not even ask. Even the omnipotent God, who created our unbelievably immense and complex universe, cannot and will not answer a prayer that is not prayed.
  • We do not pray in Jesus’ name. Jesus said to His disciples: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). He is God’s uniquely born Son. God will answer every prayer that glorifies His Son.
  • We do not really believe God will answer. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). Going to God without faith is like going to the shopping mall without money. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith does not demand miracles. It does, however, create the kind of environment where miracles are possible – and often happen.
  • We do not pray specifically. Be specific in your prayer requests. A member of the Temple Baptist Church in Wilmington in the 1970’s was scheduled to enter the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She said to me, “Pray for me, but don’t just mention my name. Give God my street address also.” It was a tongue in cheek statement, of course, but she knew the value of being specific in her prayers.
  • We have unconfessed sin in our lives. King David wrote in Psalm 66:18: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” God is a holy God, and we cannot enter His presence with known sin in our lives, sin of which we have not repented, and for which we have not sought God’s forgiveness.
  • We are unwilling to forgive others. In the prayer Jesus taught us to pray we find these words: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 5:12). Forgiveness is a two-way street. We have no right to ask for God’s forgiveness if we are unwilling to forgive others their trespasses. Are there persons whom you have not forgiven? If so, why would you ask God to forgive you, if you are unwilling to forgive others? Forgive them – it won’t hurt you — then God can and will forgive you.

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Laughter is defined as a physical reaction in humans consisting usually of rhythmical, often audible, contractions of the diaphragm and other parts of the respiratory system. If you are too busy to laugh you are entirely too busy. Synonyms that are often used for the word laugh are cackle, chortle, giggle, crack up, hee-haw, guffaw, roar, snicker, belly laugh, chuckle – and there are even more synonyms than that.

That laughter has so many synonyms attests to the fact that it plays an important role in the life of every happy person. Though you know this to be true, you probably have never thought of laughter as being one of God’s very special gifts. Mirth is lacking in the lives of those who are unhappy and seldom, if ever, laugh. As a result, their face gives the impression that they have just eaten a sour dill pickle six inches long.

The Old Testament character Abraham laughed when God told him that he and Sarah were going to have a son. Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was ninety. You can understand why they laughed. It was probably a belly laugh on the part of both of them. Becoming parents at their age doesn’t normally happen. Their laugh could very likely be described as a healthy hee-haw. Three cheers for both of them!

A Baptist lady a few years ago said to her pastor, “My dog died this morning and I want to know if you think it is alright to have a funeral for him. He was like a member of our family.” The pastor, somewhat taken by surprise at this request, said, “Yes, I suppose it would be appropriate. But I have a very busy day tomorrow. You might ask the pastor of the Presbyterian Church only three blocks from your home.”

She replied, “Thank you, pastor, for this suggestion. I will call him this afternoon to see if he will conduct my dog’s funeral. By the way, how much do you think I should I pay him? I am thinking of paying a preacher at least $300.00.” “My dear lady,” her pastor replied, “Why didn’t you tell me your dog was a Baptist?”

Dr. Elton Trueblood, in his book, The Humor of Christ, points out that we often misunderstand the character of Jesus. We often think of Him as being mild-mannered, endlessly patient, and always grave and somber in speech. We just assume that there was no room for levity in the life of the Son of God. Sometimes He did on occasion become angry enough to call His enemies “whitewashed tombs, full of putrid and decaying flesh.” However, at other times He was teasing and teaching with a brilliant kind of irony and humor.”

I read recently the humorous story of a church that called a conference to discuss the building of a new sanctuary. One gentleman, quite well off financially, stood up and protested the building of a new building, saying it was a waste of money. He said that refurbishing of the present facility was what should be done. As he took his seat he sat down rather hard and jarred the pew, shaking the side of the building.

A piece of plaster fell from the ceiling and hit him on the head. He quickly rose to his feet again and exclaimed, “This building is in worse shape than I thought. I pledge $25,000 to the new building fund.” Upon hearing these words one dear sister at the rear of the sanctuary could be heard saying, “Hit him again, Lord!”

As the preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” We tend to think that weeping is religious and laughing is a sign of irreverence. Not so, for humor has an important role to play in the life of a Christian. The wisdom found in book of Proverbs grows with the passing of time: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful; but heartache crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:13 NIV).

We don’t stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing.

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