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Archive for April, 2021

One of the tragedies of life is that so many of us spend too much time in pursuit of treasures that do not endure. This always leads to disappointment. Even if we attain the prizes we seek, they prove to be less satisfying than we thought when we viewed them from a distance. Health, vigor, beauty, and thunderous applause fade away. A crashing stock market, a bank failure, floods, drought, and finally death, can wrench these possessions out of our hands.

In light of the transiency of so much of life, we rejoice to read these words in I Corinthians 13:3: “Now abides faith, hope and love, these three. But the greatest of these is love.” Faith, hope, and love are permanent. They are qualities that add meaning and zest to life.

Faith: The Apostle Paul mentions the importance of faith in the following three verses: (1) “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (II Tim. 1:12); (2) “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28); and (3) “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building with God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (II Cor. 5:1).

Hope: Hope looks to the future with confidence and expectancy. If we get sick, we hope to get well. The opposite of hope is despair. Despair produces defeatism. Defeatism is contagious, debilitating, and often fatal. Hope is inspiring and energizing. Jesus knew the value of having hope. He saw the cross, but He also saw His resurrection three days beyond it. He saw hope for the church. It is always great to have hope.

Love: God sent His Son to “seek and to save that which was lost.” In Romans 5:8 Paul reminds us that “God commended His love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” And God created us with the capability of loving Him in return. We love Him because He first loved us. In addition to that, we are also to love our neighbor as ourselves. When a lawyer asked Jesus, “Who am I to love?” He answered by sharing the story of the Good Samaritan. He even said that we are to love our enemies.

Christian love and fellowship is what makes the body of Christ a church. Josephus, the early historian said of the first century Christians, “See how they love one another.” Human love – the love of a man for a woman, and the love of a woman for a man – the love of parents for their children and children for their parents – is the most permanent and vital relationship on the earth.

You may ask, “How can I know and experience the power of God’s love in my life?” The answer is easy: you must respond affirmatively to God’s love in the way that it was revealed and expressed on the hill called Calvary. The words of the first and last stanza of a hymn Christians often sing expresses it well: “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride. Were the whole realm of nature mine that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Have you accepted Christ as your Savior yet? If not, there is no better time to do that than today.

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In an effort to increase circulation, the St. Petersburg Times several years ago ran daily clues to a treasure hunt that involved finding $200 buried somewhere in the greater St. Petersburg area. Two thousand people gathered in front of the newspaper building on the day the final clue was printed. During the next 30 minutes several unusual things happened: a half dozen people were injured in automobile wrecks, a number of women passed out in front of the Times building, and four people had to be rescued from waist-deep mud. In retrospect, the treasure hunt was a huge success – circulation increased by 5%.

The lure of material wealth can become a mania. The fact that the North Carolina legislature some years ago joined numerous other states in establishing a lottery illustrates this fact. One of America’s favorite pastimes is the effort to get something for nothing. The constant search for what is often called “the good life” often becomes an all-consuming passion. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

Jesus had a great deal to say about the human tendency to acquire material things in the belief that this can make them happy. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19). Why did He say this? Obviously it was because earthly treasures can be stolen or will deteriorate. They are not permanent; they cannot last. Also, the things for which we live determine the direction of our lives. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all else that matters will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). However, owning even a great amount of wealth cannot in itself provide a good life.

Several years ago an 84-year-old rag picker in New York City died in abject poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave. A few days later, the city authorities discovered a fortune of more than $500,000 belonging to him in a Brooklyn warehouse vault. His name was Henry Chapin Smith. He was a graduate of Harvard University, had been a classmate of Robert Frost and was a friend of the philosopher, Henry James. His life stands out as a mute reminder of the futility of placing too much trust in material things.

The father of a close personal friend of mine several years ago lived in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He had made millions of dollars in real estate, owned several blocks in the center of Pittsburgh, but drove a small car because he said he couldn’t afford gasoline for a big car. He closed off the third floor of his home because the bathtub leaked and he couldn’t afford to have it fixed. He wore old clothes to free medical clinics rather than see a physician where he would have to pay. In his eighties he was killed in an automobile wreck.

Following his death, enough stocks, bonds and holdings were found inside his house that it took attorneys all morning and until 2 o’clock in the afternoon to list them on a central list. In the house several shoe boxes of money were found in the attic, in closets, and in other hiding places that had a face value of $500,000. The money was in old-fashioned large bills, said to be worth conservatively at least three times face value to collectors. My friend’s father was literally worth multiplied millions of dollars. He died and left it all!

The only kind of treasure that lasts is the treasure that is laid up in heaven. Treasures are deposited in the bank of heaven through acts of forgiveness and deeds lovingly done in the name of Christ, and by being a faithful steward of our time, talent, and treasure. Matthew 25 reminds us that every visit to those who are sick or in prison or in need is done as if done for Christ Himself. This is the kind of treasure that lasts forever.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with owning material wealth – even lots of it. But it is wrong when we put wealth before God, or even worse, when we make wealth our god. In saying, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 5:24), Christ was not advocating POVERTY; He was advocating PRIORITY.

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Nate Carter in his book, God Never Panics, tells the story of an S-4 submarine that was rammed by a merchant ship just off the coast of Massachusetts several years ago. It quickly sank into the cold dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean, trapping the entire crew. Every effort to rescue the crew failed. During one of their attempts a deep-sea diver heard faint tapping coming from the inside of the sunken sub which he recognized as being Morse code containing the message: “Is . . . there . . . any . . . hope?”

Although hope is the wind that propels us forward, it does not keep us from feeling the pressure and strain of life. If you live long enough, chances are that you are going to face some storms. No one can live life entirely free of pain, trouble, and difficulty. We often struggle with internal emotions created by anxiety, stress, burnout, and tension. Anxiety’s assault can rob us of joy and leave us emotionally bankrupt.

Perhaps there has been a time in your life when you asked the question, “Is there any hope?” Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. Problems and conflict are products of living in this world. Unfortunately, they cannot be avoided. In fact, God’s Word confirms it: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous person, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19).

Waiting upon God and living in His presence – these are the two spiritual actions that will resurrect hope within you as it increases your faith. God’s Word says, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). It is in the moments of crisis that we can feel God’s arms surround us.

If and when we find ourselves facing the kind of difficulties that threaten to overwhelm us there are three principles we can employ that will open the door called hope:

Principle # 1 – Trust in God, not in ourselves. In tough times the human reaction is to panic. We sense our inability and lack of resources to overcome the problem. We sang a song in Sunday School when I was a boy, “God will make a way for me.” God’s Word is clear, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Principle # 2 – Don’t look at circumstances; look to God’s Word. It is easy to become distracted by overwhelming circumstances. When we trust in God every giant is dwarfed, and that will give us hope. Hope is the soil in which the seed of faith germinates. As it grows it becomes the foundation on which faith is built.

Principle # 3 – Don’t run and hide – Accept the challenges you face and give your challenges everything you have. The initial human response to conflict is to withdraw. Some who face difficult problems have the underlying impression that if they run and hide the problems they are facing will disappear. Others view the difficulties they face as a hopeless inevitability. The constructive way to deal with the problems and crises we face is to give everything we have to the challenge, knowing that God is on our side. 

Never forget that God’s Word says, “All things work together for the good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).” Therefore, when you find yourself assailed by doubts and pummeled by questions, you can rest knowing that God is in control. When you are weak, He is strong. When you are lost, He knows the way. When you are afraid, He is courageous. When you fail, He forgives. When you are persecuted, He defends. When you fall, He is there to catch you. He is sovereign, and that means He is in control.

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Larry Calvin in his book, No Fear, tells the story of a priest who lived in a monastery where the vow of silence demanded that a priest speak only two words every six years. At the end of the first six years of silence one priest uttered the words: “Bed hard.” After 12 years he said, “Room hot.” After 18 years he said, “Food bad.” Finally after 24 years he exclaimed: “I quit!”

His superior immediately replied: “I’m not surprised that you would quit. For almost a quarter of a century all you have done is complain!” People who complain a lot usually use far more than eight words.

Why do we find it so easy to complain, to focus on bad news rather than good, to gossip about people behind their back rather than give them compliments, to dwell on products that fall short rather than work well? We had an expression in middle Georgia where I grew up to describe the professional complainer: “He/she was born in the objective case and lives in the kickitive mood.” If you are a person who complains about almost everything you should remember this: “A mule makes no headway while he is kicking; neither will you.”

The habit of complaining about everything in sight has been popular for a very long time. For example, approximately 34 centuries ago, complaining became the order of the day during Israel’s spectacular deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The Israelites should have offered to God their praise, worship, and wholehearted trust. Instead, they responded to His goodness by complaining, murmuring, and quarreling. Numbers 11:1 begins with these four words: “Now the people complained.” Spiritual amnesia had set in. On the heels of unthinkable miracles, with their pockets full of Egyptian jewelry, they had the audacity to complain that God had not provided five-star hotel accommodations for them while they were crossing the desert. 

Complaining, whining, and thanklessness are ultimately not a response to our circumstances. Rather, it is our response to God. For 400 years the Israelites complained about their enslavement in Egypt. They complained when Moses came on the scene to lead them out of bondage. They continued complaining all the way across the wilderness. Their complaining wasn’t caused by their scenery; it was rooted in their heart.

The same is true for you and me. Know this: a heart of gratitude and thankfulness is not dependent upon our bank statement, our doctor’s diagnosis, or the praise we receive for a job well done. Thanklessness and complaining – regardless of our situation, even in times of suffering – reflect our heart. Ingratitude is sin, for it forgets God’s goodness. Spiritual amnesia is a deadly disease that threatens our faith and our joy even more than the possibility of having cancer. Ingratitude penetrates to the core and rots our heart from within.

Israel complained about their problems and ignored their blessings – and we also find that easy to do. Every time we are tempted to complain, we should look back upon our lives and remember:

  • That Jesus Christ upon the cross paid the penalty for our sins.
  • That God has protected us from making a shipwreck of our lives.
  • That God graciously arranged for us to grow up in a godly family.
  • That God awakened us to the ugliness of sin.
  • That we walked away from a terrible car wreck or some other crisis years ago.
  • That our wife (husband), mother, or sister survived a serious illness.
  • That God graciously answered a prayer we prayed.
  • That God gave us mentors and key friends who have enriched our lives.
  • The countless other ways God daily touches and blesses our lives.

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An Indian chief named Crowfoot (“Isapo-Muxika” in his native language) is reported to have said, “A little while and I will be gone from among you. Whither I cannot tell. From nowhere we come, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of buffalo in the wintertime. It is a little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

These exquisite and dignified words of the Indian chief emphasize the fact that life is short, that every person now living will one day die – that is, unless Christ’s return to earth takes place first. The psalmist asked the question, “What man can live and never see death?” (Psalm 89:48). “It is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27).

Just as we recognize the cessation of plant life at the end of summer – the yellowing of grass and the bright colors of falling leaves – so also must we recognize that there is a limit to the number of years a person can live on earth. We cannot forget our first childhood contact with death, the shock and pain of its brutal invasion of our family circle. Though we may try to suppress such thoughts from our mind, we cannot be unaware of them.

Chief Crowfoot correctly recognized that our journey on the earth comes to an end. Also, he had no awareness of where he came from or of where he might go when he walked into the sunset. He knew that even if he could live well beyond his hundredth birthday it would still only be an instant of time. Multiplied millions of people in our world are in the same quandary. They do not know where they came from, and they have no assurance concerning where they are going.

But faith has an answer for anyone who has anxiety concerning the end of life. The Son of God not only faced death bluntly and biologically, but He was victorious over it. He transformed it from an enemy bent on our total destruction into a friend that promises to usher us into eternal glory.

The Christian faith affirms that we were created by God, and that we were created for a unique purpose – every single one of us. Thus, death is not final. It does not have to be the last word for those who accept Jesus Christ, God’s Son, as both Savior and Lord. Therefore, if you have done that, death is only a comma in the story of your life, not a period. The resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees eternal life to all who believe.

The high point, the constantly recurring theme, and the grand climax in the great symphony of the Gospels, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died for our sins; He arose from the dead victorious over sin and death. It was the day death died. If we subtract this from the message of the New Testament, we have nothing to say that has any lasting significance. When I was in Israel in 1973, I went inside the empty tomb where Christians believe that Christ was buried and rose again three days later. I spent 15 minutes in prayer and rededicated my life to Christ. It was the most moving experience of my life.

The resurrection of Christ is the most momentous event in history. If anyone needs proof of this fact, let him consider the consequences of what happened to history’s first believers. Their faith, which died when Jesus died, was suddenly revived. They saw Him die, and then they saw Him alive again. He appeared to Mary Magdalene, to other women, to Simon Peter, to two men on the way to Emmaus, to 10 others at once, to 11 on another occasion, to James, and then to 500. They all had a fantastic story to tell.

These were more than verbal reports of excited, exuberant men and women. The amazing thing is that along with these reports of the resurrection of Christ was the indisputable resurrection of Christianity. Following Christ’s resurrection the once disillusioned disciples became men set on world conquest.

These ordinary, fallible, blundering men and women were changed from weak vessels into flaming messengers, ready to go boldly into the very city that had crucified their leader to proclaim Him as the world’s Savior. Their faith was no longer a consoling convenience, but a consuming passion. They were electrified with a new power. They proclaimed a new message. They sang a new song: “Christ is alive! He is alive!”

Dr. Donald G. Barnhouse, a great scholar of another generation, once said, “The angel rolled away the stone from Jesus’ tomb, not just to let the living Lord out, but to let unconvinced outsiders in.”

This is the message the Indian chief named Crowfoot needed to hear. So do millions of others today. Some of them are people you personally know. Have you ever shared with them the message of Easter?

If not, why not?

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