Archive for February, 2022

Misery is…

Tennessee Ernie Ford used to say that “misery is a bull frog sitting in the middle of the Los Angeles Freeway with his hopper out of whack.” Others at various times have attempted to define misery as “a giraffe with a bad case of sore throat” or as “a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Each of us could add to the list.

There are difficulties in every walk of life or vocation which we could use to accurately define misery. Every person could easily draw up his or her own list. But let me list a few of the things that fall in the category of misery from a pastor’s perspective:

MISERY IS . . . when a pastor comes into the church sanctuary to lead his congregation in worship and glances out at the small Sunday night attendance . . . and realizes that it is actually Sunday morning.

MISERY IS . . . when a deacon asks, “Pastor, do we still have prayer meeting on Wednesday nights?”

MISERY IS . . . when a church member comes up to you as you are preparing to move to a new church field and says, “Preacher, the members of our congregation are really going to miss you around here” – when for the last 20 years he has only attended church on Easter Sunday and every now and then on special occasions, as when the church choir presents its annual Christmas cantata.

MISERY IS . . . when a very inactive church member is in the hospital and literally no one knows he is there, arrives back home and is angry that his pastor didn’t visit him. A lady in a church I served back in the 1960’s returned from the hospital when even her next-door neighbor did not know she had been in the hospital. When the neighbor saw that she had come home she called me, and I immediately visited her.

She said, “I was hoping no one would ask me if my pastor had been to see me, when you had not been.” I replied, “The reason I didn’t visit you is that my seminary failed me.” When she asked how the seminary had failed me, I replied, “It didn’t have in its curriculum a course in mind-reading! You told literally no one you were going to the hospital, so how could I have known you were there and visited you?”

MISERY IS . . . when you preach your annual stewardship sermon . . . and the man who attends church once a year says to you as he leaves church, “Every time I attend church you preach about money.”

MISERY IS . . . when a church member sleeps through your entire sermon that you preached one Sunday, then shakes your hand at the door as he leaves and says, “I really enjoyed your sermon today.”

Thus far, I have listed some of the things that add up to misery for the preacher. I must acknowledge that some things about attending church can also add up to misery for those who listen to sermons. One of them is when a preacher doesn’t know when to end a sermon. Every preacher would be wise to follow the advice in this helpful prayer for preachers: “Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff . . . and nudge me when I’ve said enough.” That’s good advice because your mind can’t retain more than your seat can endure.

If a preacher can’t strike oil in 30 minutes, it shows he is either using a dull auger or he is boring in the wrong place. One reason for poor preaching in the pulpit is that there is poor praying in the pew. Therefore, pray for your pastor!


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The danger of anger

Anger is one of life’s most destructive emotions. It can ruin a friendship, destroy a marriage or even be the cause of war between nations. It can cause you to say things and do things you will regret for the rest of your life. We should keep in mind that the emptier the pot, the quicker it will boil – so, watch your temper!

Do you have difficulty controlling your temper? Do get angry at the drop of a hat? Or maybe you always seem to remain cool on the outside, while on the inside you are seething with anger. Some people are experts at hiding anger. They refuse to let anybody see their anger, so they keep it inside themselves. But because they never admit it, or come to terms with it, it eats away at their insides like a rampaging cancer.

It may surprise you to know that not all anger is sin. Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians: In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26-27). Anger is a natural impulse which can be used for either good or evil. When it takes the form of righteous indignation, it can cause you to stand up against sin, evil and injustice. But when it takes the form of vindictive vengeance, it can destroy everything that is good.

There are three basic causes of anger: (1) Fear can cause you to be angry – as when you have a close call that frightens you because a driver ran you off the road. (2) Frustration can cause you to be angry – as when your tax burden keeps going up and up, and your salary stays the same. (3) Hurt is frequently the source of anger – as when someone was extremely and needlessly unkind to you, or said something about you that was untrue that caused you a lot of difficulty.

There are two basic wrong ways people try to control anger. The first way is to nurse it – to fume within but not let anyone know how they feel. Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the government building in Oklahoma City, and the man known as the Unabomberare examples of persons who nurse their anger until it suddenly erupts and causes havoc. The second wrong way people try to control their anger is to disperse it. They make no effort to control their anger. They constantly blow up like an atom bomb and disperse damage on everyone and everything around them.

There is a cure for anger. Apostle Paul, after telling us about the problems with anger, tells us what to do with it: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave us” (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus is our example in how to handle anger, for He prayed from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Our anger may cry out from within ourselves, “I will never forgive them,” but Christ can teach us to pray, “Father, forgive them.” Having been reconciled to God through His Son, we are given the strength to pass needed reconciliation on to others.

The author of Proverbs said, “Better is the man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). The process works this way: anger is the problem; forgivenessis the cure; love is the result. Once we learn how to forgive those who have hurt us or have caused us wrong, we can learn how to love them. What a tragedy to spend our entire lives being angry at someone! Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the high cost of hatred, and the waste of energy.

Are you angry at anyone? Why not ask God to help you settle it right now? Don’t let the sun go down until you have dealt with what has been bothering you – maybe for a very long time! The sooner you do it, the happier you will be. For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.

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Throughout the entire Bible there are numerous invitations from God that invite a wayward mankind to accept His love and forgiveness. Unfortunately, these invitations have not always been accepted. Every time they have been accepted, God has poured out His blessings in wonderful and powerful ways.

One of my favorite invitations from God is found in II Chronicles 7:14. I have preached using this text on several occasions. In this verse He invites both churches and individual believers to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face and to turn from our wicked ways. When we do this, He promises to hear from heaven, forgive our sin and to heal our land. This verse is rightly called “God’s Prescription for Spiritual Renewal.”

Another of God’s invitations that I love is found in Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”  It happens to be God’s last invitation found in the Bible.

People come to Christ because they are thirsty! All human beings are born with an empty place in their lives that can only be filled by what the author of Revelation calls “the water of life.” People try to quench that thirst with pleasure, accomplishment, possessions, human relationships, prestige and power. But, as time passes, they discover that none of these things are genuinely satisfying. In the book of Proverbs we see where King Solomon tried wealth, sex, power and glory and described it all as meaningless vanity.

When people realize that nothing on earth will satisfy their deepest longing, they begin to identify their thirst. That is when they are poised to come to Christ. They realize that Christ has – no, He is – the living water that they crave. He alone can fill the empty space in the human heart that has existed since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. As Blaise Paschal expressed it, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

God places no restrictions on who might come to Christ. What He offers is open to everybody. As John expressed it, “Whoever is thirsty . . . whoever wishes…” The only requirement is that you must be thirsty. You do not have to gather and retain a certain amount of information that triggers salvation, We are aware that is true because we all know people who are highly educated and intelligent who are not saved. No one can be educated into the Kingdom of God.

Is a certain emotional state required for you to be saved? Is a person saved because he (or she) feels saved? If so, what happens when life becomes a roller coaster where salvation comes and goes depending on our mood? This idea is utterly foreign to the assurances found in the teaching of the New Testament.

The truth is, any person is given the free gift of salvation by choosing to accept God’s free gift of eternal life, by responding to and accepting the invitation God offers in Revelation 22:17. A person is saved when he (or she) says, “Lord, I will place my faith in You to forgive my sins and grant me Your free gift of eternal life.” Eternal life! That means life forever. Forever is a very long time.

Where do you fit into this story? Have you accepted the living water that God offers in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ? If not, there is no better day than today to do that – and no better time than NOW!

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Robert J. McCracken, in What Happens When We Pray for Others?, emphasized the importance of praying for others. He said, “Prayer is love raised to its greatest power; and the prayer of intercession is the noblest and most Christian kind of prayer because in it love – and imagination – reach their highest and widest range.”

In the mid-1800s, the great explorer and missionary David Livingstone feared for his life. As the sun set on his small camp in the interior of Africa, he knew the local tribe planned to attack that night and kill him and all of those by his side. Even during these warnings, Livingstone was strangely filled with peace. Trusting God completely, he slept without anxiety – and his camp was not threatened.

Two years later, a miracle happened: the chief of that hostile tribe accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. Livingstone was eager to learn the story of why the tribe had never attacked on that memorable evening two years prior. The chief confirmed to him that an uprising had indeed been planned.

Men from the tribe had left their settlement with weapons, anger, and the intent to kill. But as they approached Livingston’s camp, they were surprised to see 47 warriors guarding the place where Livingstone and his friends slept. Livingstone was shocked to hear this story because he knew there had been no guards guarding his camp.

It was not until two years later, on a visit home to England that Livingstone learned why those who had planned to kill him had seen 47 warriors guarding his camp. He was informed that on the very night the crisis had taken place, 47 church members had gathered together in Scotland, drawn by the Holy Spirit, to pray fervently for him and for his mission in Africa.

Those prayer warriors thousands of miles away stood watch over Livingstone before almighty God, and his life was spared. Incredible things always happen when Christians are caught up in the Spirit to pray for a need to be met. God allowed 47 believers in Scotland to become partners with Him in performing the miracle of turning turn back a murderous attack in the depths of Africa.

The world in which we live is more dangerous and divided than it has ever been. What miracles would take place if Christians around the world would join in united prayer for the spreading of God’s love? I believe the time has come for that to happen.

There is no need so great or problem so huge that it cannot be addressed to God in prayer. God loves us and wants what is best for us. Prayer at its best, however, is much more than asking God to meet our needs; it is reporting for duty.

Prayer, when guided by the Holy Spirit, accomplishes what nothing else can. It softens hearts, calls individuals to repentance, and empowers churches to become actively involved in witnessing to their communities and to the world.

Prayer demolishes Satan’s strongholds. But, most important of all, it draws believers into intimate communion with our awesome God and with one another

The poem entitled “Prayer,” by Clarence Burkholder, expresses this extremely well:

            “Lord, let not my religion be

            A thing of selfish ecstasy;

            But something warm with tender care

            And fellowship which I can share.

            Let me not walk the other side

            Of trouble’s highway long and wide;

            Make me a Good Samaritan,

            And neighbor unto every man.”

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