Archive for July, 2022

We are living in an era of constant change. Millions of people change residences every year. Community buildings, customs and leadership vary with each generation. Even the cells in our bodies undergo complete change every seven years.

Change is absolutely necessary for progress to take place. When a situation becomes static over a long period of time, death sets in. That is why the statement, “We never did it that way before” is often called “the seven last words of a dying church.” Absolute refusal to change is what creates fossilized churches, communities and people. Yet all changes are not equally good.

The change that every human needs most is to be transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. It is why Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, came to visit Jesus at night inquiring about a higher and better life. Jesus answered him quickly and directly by saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

The change that Jesus demanded of Nicodemus was personal, inner and spiritual. Corporate, external and material changes are good, worthy and desirable, but it is not what every person needs most. As Jesus said, “You must be born again.” This involves a change of heart as well as habit, of attitude as well as action, of character as well as conduct.

The important thing to know is that this change is definitely possible. Some may say, “You cannot teach old dogs new tricks.” But we are not talking about dogs, as lovable as they are. We are talking about human beings made in the spiritual image of God. There are things we cannot change—the law of gravity, the paths of planets, the ebb and flow of the tide, etc. We cannot even change our own lives totally and permanently—but God can!

Nicodemus did not question the need for a new birth, but he was puzzled about how it could be produced. His question to Jesus was, “How can these things be?” Social position had failed him. As a member of the Sanhedrin court, he was highly honored and respected. Religiously he represented the best of his day. As a Pharisee he carefully observed the laws of God and was regarded as being a highly moral man. Socially, religiously, politically, economically, he was regarded as a great success. Yet all these things had left him empty and unfulfilled.

In our day, millions of people are trying a combination of culture, power, wealth, law and science. Yet any single one of these things—or all of them collectively—cannot permanently and totally satisfy the human heart. The irony of it all is that at a time when God is needed most, many are turning away from Him. Some say there is no God. Others say there may be a God, but He is not needed today. His commandments are often changed or ignored totally.

This is often called “the new morality,” but it is actually the old immorality. Scandals in high places are taken for granted. The type of love portrayed in movies, television and books has wrecked our homes. Crime dominates daily newscasts. Law and order in many places have given way to riots, violence and anarchy. It is no longer safe to walk at night on the streets of our cities. As Mrs. Ruth Graham, wife of Dr. Billy Graham, once said, “If God does not judge the United States of America in the years ahead, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Every Christian should work hard for the social and legal changes that provide a better life for all of our citizens. But we must never forget that the change needed most is in the hearts of people. In other words, it all comes back to what Jesus said to Nicodemus a long time ago, “You must be born again.” It is the only kind of change that totally satisfies and lasts forever.

As Peter Marshal once said, “The greatest heresy among us is that a human being cannot be changed.” This is what God’s Word says: “Therefore, if any person be in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation: old things are passed away; and all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Believe it!


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A panel of psychologists several years ago declared, because of their study, that 40% of the things people worry about will never happen, 30% involve things that happened in the past, 22% involve petty trifles, and only 8% involve things of real consequence to which we should address our concern. Even though human beings know that worry is a counterproductive way to spend time, l have known several people who spent so much time worrying that their ulcers developed ulcers.

Worry lets tomorrow’s possible cloud blot out today’s sunshine. As someone once described the uselessness of worrying, “Don’t worry if your job is small and your rewards are few; remember that the mighty oak was once a nut like you.” Alexis Carroll said, “People who do not know how to fight worry die young.”

Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). The tense in the Greek in this verse is properly translated, “Stop worrying.” The tense in Matthew 6:31 is different, however, and means, “Don’t start worrying.” In other words, “If you are worrying, quit; if you haven’t started, don’t start.” Jesus gives us three reasons for not worrying about this life: It is unnecessary because God is our Father, it is uncharacteristic because of our faith, and it is unwise because of our future.

When you and I were children, we never worried about where we would get our next meal, or whether we would have a bed in which to sleep, or clothes to wear, or something to drink. Such thoughts never entered our minds because we knew that our father would provide these things for us. But how easy it is for us to forget that our Heavenly Father will provide for all our needs. If we view God as Owner, Controller, and Provider, and beyond that as our loving Father, we should know that we have nothing to worry about.

Jesus wants us to look at the birds. They don’t get together and say, “We’ve got to come up with a strategy to keep ourselves alive.” They have no self-consciousness or ability to reason. But God planted within them the instinct or capacity to find what is necessary to live. God not only creates life; He also sustains it. Birds don’t worry about where they will find food; they just go about their business until they find it, and they always do because God is looking out for them. And Jesus says that we are more valuable than birds (Matthew 10:29-31). That is why we have no valid reason to worry.

An anonymous poet expressed what Jesus meant in this way:

“Said the wildflower to the sparrow:

         ‘I should really like to know

Why these anxious human beings

          Rush about and worry so.’

Said the sparrow to the wildflower:

         ‘Friend, I think that it must be

That they have no heavenly Father,

         Such as cares for you and me.’”

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In the late 1960s, when I was pastor of the Carrboro Baptist Church in Carrboro, N.C., I lost my voice completely. There is no way the pastor of a church can teach God’s Word or preach if he cannot speak above a whisper. I immediately scheduled a visit with a physician.

After examining my throat, he said, “You have been talking too much! You have developed polyps on your vocal cords, and they must be removed. This means that you will have to cease talking above a whisper until your vocal cords have recovered.” Since pastors are expected to preach every Sunday, it was not the kind of diagnosis I wanted to hear. However, it could have been worse—much worse.

The Carrboro Baptist Church sanctuary, which had a seating capacity of around 400, did not have an electronic speaker system. I was straining my voice to be heard.Trying to project my voice in a way that would enable parishioners on the back pews to hear every word clearly had strained my vocal cords. Shutting my voice down to the level of a whisper for four weeks was a new experience for me.

We have all been guilty of talking too much at one time or another, haven’t we? It has been rightly said that a multiplicity of words almost always indicates a poverty of thought. When your mouth is in motion and your mind is out of gear, trouble is not very far around the corner. This is true for individuals, for families and even for nations. Talking when listening would be a better option can saddle you with a greater difficulty than having your doctor say you must have polyps removed from your vocal cords.

Who among us has not said things that we wished later we had not said? It is a rare person indeed who has never been guilty of speaking words harshly when using kind words spoken in a friendlier tone of voice would have been much better. I know that I have. Those who have the habit of speaking harsh or unkind words often find they have to eat them. What makes this so difficult is that you must swallow your pride at the same time. Words unkindly spoken can never be recalled.

Torrents of helpful and productive talk inundate our world every single day. Floods of the highest sentiments flow over planet earth like water flowing over Niagara Falls. Oceans of good advice are poured out in counseling sessions with those who need it. Sermons based on biblical truth are being preached by literally thousands of Christian ministers every single Sunday.

There is enough spiritual talk in the world to reform half a dozen worlds! The trouble is that for all the talk there is so little action! The Bible reminds us that “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17, 20, 26 NASB). James is saying that the proof of love is works, not words.

Speaking of self-righteous people, Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:20-21 NASB).

The book of James defined righteousness as “Pure religion and undefiled before God our Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Actions continue to reap a harvest of good things when words alone are soon forgotten. In other words: “When all the affairs of life are said and done, more is said than done.”

The world has probably never experienced a time when Christianity was so much discussed by so many people in so many different ways in so many places as is the case today. William Barclay, the great British Christian scholar, was right when he said, “The trouble is that people tend to think they are being religious when they are discussing religious questions.”

Churches are littered with discussion groups, and these can be very valuable. There are many topics that can profitably be discussed that can better equip Christians to fulfill their assigned mission. However, if the discussion does not lead to action, it cannot and will not meet anyone’s needs or glorify God.

If you think this is not true, or that I am being unfair, you will have to admit that you will remember your pastor’s kindness in the time of great stress and/or difficulty when you have forgotten every sermon he has ever preached. This is also true of lay persons. Your deeds of kindness in meeting the needs of others will be remembered long after the words you have spoken are forgotten.

The bottom line is this: your smallest good deed is better than your grandest intention.

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The largest radio receiver on earth is in New Mexico. Pilots call it “the mushroom patch.” Its real name is the Very Large Array (VLA). The VLA is a series of huge satellite disks on 38 miles of railways. Together the dishes mimic a single telescope the size of Washington, D.C. Astronomers come from all over the world to analyze the optical images of the heavens composed by the VLA from radio signals it receives from space. Why is such a giant apparatus needed? Because the radio waves, which are often emitted from sources millions of light years away, are very faint.

For centuries humans have wondered if there might be other worlds like ours out somewhere in space, perhaps with humans like us. And if other living beings are out there, how intelligent are they, and would it be possible to communicate with them? If we at some time in the future should receive specific communications from other worlds, what would be your response? How would that impact your faith in God? It would certainly dominate the news.

The most interesting thing to me about this discussion is the great lengths to which we have gone to listen for a message from other living beings who might share our universe, yet how little attention we pay to the message the Creator of our universe has spoken so clearly through His Son and through His Word. He also has an ear continuously open to us. He will hear every prayer of His children. That is why prayer is so important in the spiritual life of a Christian.

Jesus Christ both modeled prayer for His disciples and taught them to pray. Suppose Jesus Christ appeared today to you personally, much as He did to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos as described in Revelation 1 and said that He expected you to pray. Wouldn’t you be more faithful in prayer, knowing specifically that Jesus expected that of you?

A praying man as well as a reformer of the church, Martin Luther expressed God’s expectation of prayer by saying: “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.” Luther’s words enable us to see prayer not only as a divine summons, but also as a royal invitation. The writer of Hebrews expresses it in a way that cannot be misunderstood: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:16).

If Jesus has asked us to pray, and if prayer is such a vital part of a Christian’s spiritual development, why do so many believers confess that they do not pray as often as they should? Perhaps there are many reasons: lack of discipline, a regular time is not allotted, lack of faith, lack of sensing the nearness of God, etc. When there is little awareness of our need to pray there is little prayer. We should not wait until circumstances drive us to our knees.

Andrew Murray, South African minister and author of “With Christ in the School of Prayer,” was very much on target when he said, “Reading a book about prayer, listening to lectures and talking about it is very good, but it won’t teach you to pray. You get nothing without exercise, without practice. I might listen for a year to a professor of music playing the most beautiful music, but that won’t teach me to play an instrument.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” Abe couldn’t have said it any better than that!

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