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Archive for July, 2021

No one enjoys being criticized. Even so, criticism is a part of life in today’s world. I’m talking about the uncalled for negative comments that are made about others, whether said behind their back or to their face. There is an old saying that when you point your finger at someone else, you have three fingers pointing back at you. This is why the best place to criticize is in front of your mirror.

Of course, constructive criticism is justified, for it is given for the purpose of helping a person correct what can and should be improved. It should always leave a person with the feeling that he or she has been helped. We can welcome criticism when we know it is meant to improve our lives.

It is sad when children grow up in a home where they are constantly criticized in a negative way. They can’t please their mother or father. This makes them feel awkward around others as it continues on into adulthood and becomes hurtful, harmful, and destructive. The end result is that they have low self-esteem, become angry easily, and often feel abandoned. No one wants to be perceived as a failure.

The important thing is that we do not have to be limited by the criticism of others. Faced with the criticism and the discouragement offered by others we have two choices: we can give up, or we can press on. Imagine the difference in the lives of the following people if they had allowed criticism to defeat them:

“As a composer, he is hopeless.” That is what Beethoven’s music teacher said about him.

When Isaac Newton was in elementary school, his work was evaluated as poor.

One of Thomas Edison’s teachers told him that he was unable to learn.

Caruso’s music teacher told him that he did not have a good voice.

Einstein did not speak until he was four, and he could not read until he was seven. He struggled with dyslexia.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he didn’t have any good ideas.”

Louisa May Alcott’s editor told her that her writings would never appeal to anyone.

Someone once evaluated Henry Ford as having “no promise.”

Admiral Richard Byrd was once evaluated as “unfit for service.”

Guess who failed the sixth grade? Winston Churchill.

The Royal College gave Louis Pasteur an evaluation of “mediocre in chemistry.”

Every one of these outstanding leaders in their field pressed on. They did not allow the criticism or lack of faith from others to keep them from succeeding. So did many mentioned in God’s Word who faced obstacles that included other people who did not believe in them. God can take our failures and mistakes and make them learning experiences for a greater level of achievement in the future (see Philippians 4:13).

Those who can – do. Those who can’t – criticize.

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Direction is important in life. Where you are going does matter. In fact, it matters a great deal. The greatest danger in life is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it. Your life cannot go as planned if you have no plan.

I became a Christian when I was eight years of age. It is a decision the wisdom of which I have never doubted. I knew that God was calling me to be a Christian minister when I was sixteen. I became a pastor preaching every Sunday morning and evening when I was three months past my eighteenth birthday. The direction that God had chosen for me required that I pursue college and seminary training. The direction God chose for my life I have tried to follow, and my life has been filled with joy and meaning.

You may have heard the story of a man who got up one morning and, as was his custom, scanned through his morning newspaper before going to work. As he passed the obituary page he was stunned to see a column announcing his death. In fact his funeral was scheduled for that very afternoon. Reading in the newspaper an account of your death, if you aren’t already fully awake, will quickly finish the job.

After telling his wife what he had read, he immediately called a neighbor to see if he had yet read the morning newspaper. “In today’s newspaper there is a column on the obituary page,” he said, “that announces my death. In fact, the announcement says that my funeral is scheduled for this afternoon.”

“Yes,” said his neighbor, “I read the morning newspaper. And I saw the announcement about your funeral being scheduled for this afternoon. I had no idea you would be leaving our neighborhood so soon. By the way, where are you calling from?” This is just another example when direction is very important.

Jesus spoke of two ways and two roads. The broad way leads to destruction, and many find this road. The narrow way is often rocky, but it leads to life eternal. In today’s world the pressure is always upon us to travel the broad road, for this is where the crowd can be found. 

Conformity is one of the biggest sins of our age. It is easier to fit in than to be different. Even so, there are times when being different from the way the crowd is traveling is the only way to gain a proper and productive perspective on life. Ask yourself, “Where am I heading? In what direction is my life pointed?” To have a positive direction for your life, like anything else worthwhile, requires planning and forethought. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The rich man in the story of Jesus we call Dives did not realize until it was too late what the proper direction for his life should be. He was clothed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every single day. His major problem was the same as that of many people in our world today — he did not plan ahead. He made the decision to walk with the crowd. When he finally realized his mistake it was too late. Jesus summarized his life this way: “And in hell, where he was in torment, he looked up . . . “(Luke 16:23).

If you wait as long as Dives did to find the proper direction and purpose for your life it will be too late to correct your mistake. To those who wait until it is too late God has said: “Then they will call on me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. . . . . . . Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.” (Proverbs 1:28-31).

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A Halo’s Fit

When we suspect that a person has his religion on parade we say things like, “He is wearing his halo too tight.” When your halo is too tight, lots of complications can take place. When your hat is too tight you get a headache; when your halo is too tight you give other people a headache. You turn them off bigtime, make Christianity distasteful and Christ unattractive.

The advertising industry has a slogan, “Running a business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but she doesn’t.” You have heard that it pays to advertise, and that is definitely true. Advertisements can empty your attic of dust collectors and line your pocket with dollars.

Advertising is one of the biggest and most profitable businesses in America. However, there are some things that advertising kills – and one of them is humility. Advertise humility and it becomes pride. Jesus pointed out three areas where people must avoid any ostentatious demonstration of superior piety. To advertise your spirituality is to destroy it. When spirituality is advertised it becomes hypocrisy.

Jesus said that one of the times when your halo is too tight is when you do good deeds to attract attention to yourself (see Matthew 6:1-4). He is not warning us against doing good deeds. He is warning us against having the wrong motive – which is to do good deeds in order to attract attention to ourselves. He admonishes us to let our light shine in a way that will both glorify God and lead others to become His followers. That is a much higher motive than trying to impress others by calling attention to ourselves.

Many years ago I attended a worship service in a church one of my friends attended when a man tried in a very obvious way to advertise his halo. When the offering plates that morning came down his row he stood up, took his wallet out of his back pocket, removed four or five bills out slowly, placed them in the offering place, smiled, and sat back down. I imagined him thinking to himself, “That should tell everybody what a good Christian I am.” I certainly wasn’t impressed. I don’t believe God was either. He had his halo on too tight.

Jesus, in essence, said that your halo is on too tight when you pray in order to impress others. Something dies within you when you parade your relationship with God just to impress others. He said that He often saw that happen in the Temple on the Sabbath (see Matthew 6:5-8). Our prayers should demonstrate that there is a serious relationship between us and God. Sincerity does not include needless and meaningless verbiage. It quickly demonstrates itself as genuine. Lack of sincerity quickly demonstrates itself also.

A third way that Jesus was not impressed by people wearing halos was when they fasted in a way that tries to impress others (see Matthew 6:6-18). We are admonished by Christ not to look dismal as many of the hypocrites He saw who put their piety on parade. Fasting that is genuine will be blessed by God and will always have as its motivation to glorify Him, not to impress others who have their halo on parade.

Actually, it needs to be said at this point that halos are the figment of human imagination created by medieval artists. They aren’t real. If your relationship with Christ is not genuine you won’t have to advertise it. People know that those who don’t practice what they preach are called hypocrites.

Hypocrites preach by the yard and practice by the inch.

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You remember Lot’s wife, don’t you? She was the lady who lived in Sodom but wouldn’t listen. Her body left Sodom before it was destroyed by fire, but her heart was still there. She disliked leaving so much that on the way out of town she looked back – and turned into a pillar of salt.

When Jesus told His disciples they were to become “the salt of the earth,” He didn’t mean that they were to literally turn into a pillar of salt. He wasn’t threatening them. He was challenging them. In saying that His disciples are to be both salt and light, Jesus was describing the kind of influence we are to exert upon our world. He was implying a conflict, expressing a compliment, issuing a commission, and issuing a call to consecration (see Matthew 5:13).

Conflict: It is not right for the followers of Christ to follow a policy of peace at any price. This is true because Christianity is revolutionary. A Christian is different, and the world often resists and dislikes persons who are different. It is why there is such a thing as “peer group pressure.” To dare to be different is to risk being excluded, to get left out. There is often a cost involved in following Christ.

Genuine Christians are different because Christ calls us to be interested in others, not just ourselves. We have a different lifestyle, and we seek to be generous, not stingy. We experience conflict because we interfere and hinder those who practice injustice and follow a policy of greed. Doing these things lets us know that we are following in the way of the prophets and martyrs who paid dearly for being different.

Compliment: It is definitely a compliment to be called “the salt of the earth” by the Son of God. It is also a judgment upon the world. Apart from knowing God the world gets worse and worse, not better. It should mean a great deal to Christians that Christ has entrusted His mission on the earth into our hands. We have been asked to preserve that which is good, purify that which is worthwhile, and provide opposition to that which is not right. If Christ has that much confidence in us, we must not fail Him.

Commission: We are to preserve Christian standards in our community, in the marketplace, in politics, in our schools, and in every place where people are involved. Salt is a preservative and an antiseptic. It is the open enemy of decay, the foe of impurity, and the avowed antagonist of rottenness and disintegration.

Calamity: If salt loses its distinctive nature it also loses its preserving power and becomes dull, insipid, flat, and tasteless. We as individual Christians, through compromise with a contaminated world, and through spiritual indifference, can lose our saltiness – and it often happens. What this means is that any church which refuses both the claims and commission of the Lord can lose its distinctive reason for being.

Consecration: It is the challenge of every single Christian to sincerely seek to function as the “salt of the earth.” This initially calls for our confession of past failures to represent Christ to our friends and neighbors. An attitude of continuing repentance will help us to know and to accept the mind of Christ Jesus and make Him Lord of every area of our lives – our affections, our attitudes, and our ambitions.

It is to the degree that we understand what it means to be “the salt of the earth” that we create in the lives of those who do not know Jesus Christ a sense of thirst. By the beauty of our lives and the happiness of our hearts we can win others to Christ by creating in them a desire to know Him as both Savior and Lord.

If you are a Christian, how salty are you?

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A woman was asked why she was so faithful in going to hear a certain preacher. Her reply was thought-provoking: “He cleans out the gutters of my mind.” Now that is what I call a compliment to preaching. I have been preaching since 1948 and I am still learning how to do the job God called me to do. In these 72 years I have found that the kind of preaching which cleans out the gutters in the mind of hearers must have the following ingredients:

First, preaching must contain REVELATION, or else it is not true preaching. By revelation I mean it must have behind it the authority of God’s Word. If such dynamics do not attend the preaching moment then the communication could qualify more for a lecture or speech, but hardly a sermon. 

Second, preaching must be RELEVANT. It must deal with the things listeners face every day in life – problems, needs, challenges, opportunities, etc. The most memorable preaching events that any of us remember are those that bring God’s Word directly into our lives, relating the eternal to the earthly. Preaching that is not relevant will soon not have many hearers. Parishioners in the pew want to know what God has to say about their daily lives with its hurts, heartaches, and challenges. Preachers who address the issues of life in an honest and forthright way will have listeners.

Third, preaching must be REALISTIC. Parishioners want and need something to hang their hopes on. It must not offer more than God Himself offers, nor expect more from hearers than God expects from them. Preaching needs to be realistic and approach the problems, the pains and predicaments with eternal truths, not just words that sound good and inspiring. The preaching moment must be when real truths invade the hearts of listeners and set things straight.

Fourth, preaching must be REDEMPTIVE. It must offer hope in the midst of despair, insight in the midst of confusion, encouragement in the midst of discouragement, light in the midst of darkness, and love in the midst of hate. Worshipers are thirsty for good news. They are desperate to hear a word that will liberate and set life on a new course. Where preaching brings the grace and power of God onto center stage, it gives life the opportunity to bring its weight and its sin under the influence of a Redeemer who will help. People are desperate to hear a word that will help liberate and set life on a new and constructive course.

And fifth, preaching must invite a RESPONSE. Effective preaching should leave people asking, “What must I do with this truth? How can I apply it to my life? How willing am I to allow the truth I have heard to shape my life as a Christian? Parishioners need not only to hear the good news, they need to genuinely receive it into the stream of their daily lives and allow it to change their lives. In other words, the most effective preaching demands a verdict!

Now that I have listed the things I believe any person who has been called by God to become a minister should do to make his or her preaching effective, let me close by suggesting something that you who listen to preaching can and should do: pray for your pastor! A pastor has a 24/7 job. Often when the preaching coming from the pulpit is poor it is because there is so little praying in the pews.

Like you, your pastor is not perfect. Preaching every Sunday is a very rewarding job, but it is not easy. If you don’t believe that I suggest that you volunteer to be the preacher at your church for just one month.

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