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Archive for December, 2021

My mother was a good cook, and my wife was a good cook. Why should I learn to cook if good food is always prepared and available to me? For more than 80 years all I had to do to be fed like a king was to put my knees under the table and say, “Bring it on!” That is a pretty good arrangement, wouldn’t you say?

When my wife died on April 5, 2016, I knew that I had to make a different arrangement in order to eat well. I no longer had a cook in the house. Could I learn to cook? I decided that I would give it a first-class effort. My problem was that I knew how to cook absolutely nothing more complicated than a scrambled egg.

My next decision was to go to the grocery to purchase five or six meals that are fully prepared, bring them home, cook them in the microwave or oven and rotate them. Cooking food from scratch is above my pay grade. All I have to do is to put each recipe in the microwave or oven for the required amount of time and wait for it to be ready. Then I sit down at the table, say the blessing, and tell myself, “Man, I’m a good cook!”

In addition to putting fully cooked meals in the microwave and oven I have one other blessing. My daughter, who lives only four miles away, is a gourmet cook. Every Sunday night, and occasionally on other occasions, I am invited to put my knees under her table. She even sends me home with delicacies that are adequate for at least two or three additional meals. That is what I call a recipe for happiness.

There are lots of things called recipes, however, that don’t involve food. Since we are at the beginning of a New Year, there was a “Happy New Year Recipe” printed in the May 1964 issue of the Christian Herald. I saved it so that I could share it with others, and this is a good time. I recommend it to you as we enter 2022:

“Take 12 fine, full-grown months. See that they are completely free from all memory of bitterness, rancor, hate and jealousy. Cleanse them of every clinging spite. Kick off all specks of pettiness and littleness. Once they are fresh and clean as when they first came into the storehouse of time, cut into 30 or 31 equal parts. This batch will keep for just one month. Do not attempt to make up the whole batch at one time; for it may spoil. Prepare one day at a time, as follows:

“Into each day put 12 parts of faith, 11 parts of patience, 10 parts of courage, and 9 parts of work (some people omit this ingredient and spoil the rest).

“Add 8 parts of hope, 7 of fidelity, 6 of liberty, 5 of kindness and 4 of rest (Leaving this part out is like leaving oil out of salad – don’t do it).

“Put in three parts of prayer, 2 of meditation, and 1 well-chosen resolution.

“Finish off with about a tablespoon of good spirits, a dash of fun, a sprinkling of play and a heaping cupful of good humor.

“Pour over the whole a liberal amount of love and mix with vim.

“Cook thoroughly in fervent heat, garnish with a few smiles and add a sprig of joy. Then serve with quietness, unselfishness and cheerfulness, and a happy new year is a certainty.”

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During the 1818 Christmas season in Oberndorf, a tiny town in the beautiful Austrian Alps, Reverend Josef Mohr, the 26-year-old assistant pastor of St. Nicholas Church, wrote a poem celebrating the glory of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Mohr brought the poem to Franz Gruber, the church organist, and requested that the musician set the words to music. That Christmas Eve, Gruber and Mohr sang their melody accompanied by guitar, little dreaming that this song would become very likely the greatest Christmas carol of them all: “Silent Night! Holy Night!” It would be difficult to go through the Christmas season without singing and/or hearing this carol.

It is tragic, but also true, that many of the nights in much of the world today are neither silent nor holy. Nations are divided by racial, political, economic, religious and social turmoil. A very dark cloud currently looms on the world’s horizon that has the potential to threaten catastrophic damage or the end to civilization. Terrorist organizations are growing in size and number. Newspaper headlines and television newscasts regularly scream of new dangers somewhere in the world. Newscasts have even mentioned the fact that some believe we could be on the front doorsteps of World War III.

Jesus spoke of a time in the future when men would “faint from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world” (Luke 22:26). We could be living in the time that Jesus described as “the last days.” There can be little doubt that the world today is more dangerous than it has ever been. Silent Night! Holy Night! seems to many only a false hope in the face of today’s reality.

Make an imaginary journey back to that first Christmas when the little band of weary shepherds had settled down to sleep on the cold, rocky ground outside Bethlehem. They likely thought it would be a night no different than thousands of others they had experienced. But God had other plans for them and for the world. This was the night when God Himself would physically enter our world as the child of a young virgin.

Luke expresses it this way: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them: and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord‘” (Luke 2:9-11 NEB).

Imagine that you were one of those shepherds on that historic night. Can you not feel the fear that gripped their hearts? One translation says, “They were terror-stricken” (Luke 2:9, Phillips). Not knowing initially what was happening, fear was an understandable emotion.

Four times the shepherds were told by the angels not to be afraid. Zacharias, an elderly man and Joseph, betrothed to Mary, were told by the angels not to fear. Mary was also told not to be afraid.

Fear not” is still one of the messages that God gives to those who accept His Son as Savior and Lord. We humans are often gripped and enslaved by fears of different kinds: those caused by loneliness, those when told we or a loved one is facing a terminal illness and those that present us with challenges we are not prepared to meet. Multitudes of people are especially afraid to die. Christ is the answer to all these fears.

That first Christmas was only the beginning for the Christ child. On the distant horizon was a Roman cross. And beyond that cross was the empty tomb. Christ came into our world to take away not only our sin, but also our fears. When we realize that God’s Son has taken the penalty for our sins upon Himself, making it possible for us to be reconciled to God, we do not need to be paralyzed any longer by the fear of dying.

Even in a world where turmoil and strife are commonplace, and where countless dangers lurk around almost every corner, we can know what it means to experience the meaning of “Silent Night, Holy Night” in our heart. We can experience what God’s Word calls “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7 NEB).

It happens the moment you accept Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. If you have not yet done that, there is no better time than today.

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What troubles you the most? And how do you handle trouble when it knocks on your front door?

Murphy’s Law says, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” And O’Toole’s Law says that Murphy was an optimist. Obviously both Murphy and O’Toole were pessimists. When you see only the dark side of life you are not likely to handle trouble very well.

The Bible teaches that Christians live in a fallen world and among a fallen race. We should, therefore, expect that life will not always be smooth. The only trouble-free world in which we will ever live will be our home in heaven (Revelation 21:3-5).

As the book of Job expressed life on planet earth, “Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). More pointedly Christ warned His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33).

No one is immune to the possibility of facing trouble – certainly not Christians. We, like everyone else, have difficulty with health, careers, children, parents, friends, neighbors, enemies, finances, automobiles, houses, plans, dreams and an endless number of other things that find their way onto the landscape of our lives.

Trouble comes from the fact that people lie, cheat, steal, gossip, covet and sow discord. People are also envious, jealous, angry and encounter expectations up to which no one can live. Rare is the person who has not been wounded in one way or another as a result of facing problems caused by one or more of these human frailties.

We not only live in an imperfect world, but we also are imperfect. If you could kick the person who causes most of your problems, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week! As the comic strip character Pogo said, “We have seen the enemy and it is us!” An old Black spiritual echoes this same thought, “It’s not my brother, nor my sister, but it’s me, O Lord; standing in the need of prayer.”

Jesus knew that those who live by the principles He taught would encounter opposition. That is why He said to His disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-20).

What we should remember, however, is that when Jesus warned us of the trouble we would face in a world where Satan is prince, He also said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace . . . take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). An anonymous poet expresses this thought extremely well:

            “I want to let go, but I won’t let go

                        There are battles to fight,

                        By day and by night

                        For God and the right,

                        And I’ll never let go.

            I want to let go, but I won’t let go,

                        May this be my song,

                        ‘Mid legions of wrong:

                        O, God, keep me strong,

                        That I may never let go.”

In the face of the tensions and difficulties we face, Jesus Christ calls us to peace and a confidence that overcomes the pressures and pains that this world often causes us. Know this: If Christ’s peace and confidence are ours, we have absolutely nothing to fear and no reason to be discouraged – especially since we have an eternal home reserved for us where there will be no tension or trouble.

The triumph of peace available to every believer is the proof of eternity in our lives. With triumph already accomplished through Calvary’s cross and the empty tomb, we can live with a sense of peace and act with a conquering confidence in Christ.

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I attended the funeral at Temple Baptist Church in Wilmington recently for a dedicated Christian lady who had been a member of our church choir for more than 50 years. Shirley’s last few days on earth were spent in the local Hospice unit. She was, of course, not able to communicate with her family during those last two or three days as she finished her journey on the way to “that city, eternal, in the heavens, not made by hands.”

During the visitation hour prior to the worship service celebrating Shirley’s life, one of her sons said to me, “I was standing by mother’s’ bedside when she died. Suddenly, she said, ‘I see Jessie Parkerson. She is wearing a white robe. And she is sitting by a fountain.’ Shirley breathed only two or three more times after that – and she was gone.”

What a tremendous emotional moment that was for me! Jessie and I labored together serving churches as pastor and wife for nearly 65 years. God called her home on April 5, 2016. The fact that she was the first person at heaven’s gate to welcome Shirley to her eternal home is a powerful confirmation of the truth found in John 14:2-3 (NIV): “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you may also be where I am.

People have often asked me, “What will heaven be like? The Bible tells us that it will be a place of beauty, peace, constant health and happiness, filled with people from all the earthly ages, who have one thing in common: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world on Calvary’s cross. No one has gone or will ever go to heaven because he or she is a church member, or because of anything he or she does. There is only one way to go to heaven: you must go to Calvary, confess your sins, lay them down, accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, turn to the right and keep straight ahead. If you have already done this, at the time of God’s choosing He will call your name, and you will head in the direction of your heavenly home.

I can think of the dedicated Christians I have known across the years who will be in heaven one day when I arrive – my precious wife Jessie whom I have already mentioned, my parents, other members of my family, and countless others whom I have known across my 90 years. I want to serve the Lord on planet earth as long as I live, but I look forward to the reunion that I will have with them when Christ calls my name. What a great reunion that will be!

Keep your Bible open and you will never find the door of heaven shut. A poem written by an anonymous author that I have often used in graveside funeral services to celebrate the life of individuals superbly emphasizes this fact:

“Think of stepping on shore

                        and finding it heaven!

            Of taking hold of a hand

                        and finding it God’s!

            Of breathing new air

                        and finding it celestial air!

            Of feeling invigorated

                        and finding it immortality!

            Of passing from storm and stress

                        to a perfect calm

            Of waking and finding it home!”

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W. H. Auden, the British-American poet, once labeled the day in which we live “The Age of Anxiety.” The word anxiety literally means “to be pulled apart.” It would be difficult to find a more accurate description of what worry and anxiety does to a person – it pulls us apart.

Dr. Charles Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said: “Worry affects circulation, the heart, the glands, and the whole nervous system. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but I have known many who died from worry.” According to Joe Graedon, author of The Aspirin Handbook, “Americans pop 80 million aspirin tablets every single day – 29 billion per year – a figure that works out to 117 aspirin tablets annually for every man, woman, and child in the country.”

What do we worry about? You name it, and we worry about it. Big things, middle-sized things, little things, even non-existent things. We worry about things that happened yesterday. We worry about things that may never happen. You cannot improve the quality of your life by worrying, but you can foul it up big time. Worry will not change your grade in school or make you more beautiful or handsome. You cannot change what is already an established fact.

Anxiety is a universal problem, but some people seem to enjoy the experience. They are miserable and want everyone around them to be miserable also. The end result of worrying is that we can guarantee the end result that we fear may happen – insomnia, fatigue, neurosis, and eventually an emotional breakdown. Earl Riney, in Church Management, expressed the same thoughts in a humorous way: “Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the daytime, and too sleepy to worry at night.” It is not wise to take tomorrow to bed with you when you retire at night.

It has been said that two out of every three persons have emotional problems. Any time you are with two other people, evaluate them. If they seem totally normal to you, guess which one of the three has emotional problems.

We should never worry about the past, for it cannot be changed. Nor should we borrow trouble from our tomorrows. Thomas Carlyle was right when he said, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly in the future, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” An old idiom expresses it this way: “Life is hard by the yard, but by the inch, it’s a cinch.”

The right way to deal with worry and anxiety is to have a deep, vibrant, and growing faith in God. Jesus said that we should start by setting productive priorities. Decide what is important, what is most important, and what is unimportant. Meaningful living does not have to consist of an overabundance of things. Live one day at a time.

You may ask, “But how can I do that?” Just follow the recommendations found in I Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Charles F. Deems, in Epigram, beautifully expresses the truth found in these two verses:

            “The world is wide

            In time and tide,

            And God is guide.

            Then do not hurry.

            That man is blest

            Who does his best

            And leaves the rest,

            Then do not worry.”

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