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As a pastor for more than sixty years, the sermons I preached and the articles I wrote for publication dealing with Father’s Day were focused on what God’s Word has to say about the responsibility every father has – to himself, to his children, to the mother of his children, and to his extended family.

This Father’s Day I will depart from that pattern. My Father’s Day focus this year will be on our Heavenly Father. It makes a difference whether or not we believe in God – and the kind of God we believe He is. In fact, it is the most important part of our experience, for what we believe about God determines what we believe about life, our duty, and our destiny. So, what kind of God is revealed on the pages of the Bible?

In the Old Testament God reveals Himself through the Law and the prophets. Then, in the fullness of time, when the time was right, He sent forth His Son. The book of Hebrews puts it this way: “The Son is the express image of God’s person” (Hebrew 1:3). That is, Jesus is the epitome of God. It is why He said to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) – like Father, like Son. So, what do we learn about our heavenly Father’s love by looking at the Son? We can put it in three simple phrases:

First, He never lets us down. He has promised to be with us always – when we are on the top of mountains and when we walk through dark valleys. In one community where I served as pastor a young man was killed in an automobile wreck. His mother and sister blamed God. The young man had been driving drunk at a high rate of speed. God never promised to save us FROM difficulty; He promised to be WITH us through every difficulty. To look at God as our private genie, or as Santa Claus who gives us everything we want, and who does what we ask Him to do, would make Him our servant and ourselves His master.

Second, He never lets us off. God is not only a God of love, He is also a holy God. Anyone who looks at Jesus must recognize the importance of the tenderness of God toward the sinner. But, at the same time, it must not be overlooked that God hates sin. It is why Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple. God’s laws declaring that sin will be punished have not been repealed (see Galatians 6:6-7).

Hangovers still come the morning after. The person who dabbles in dangerous drugs will pay a penalty. The person who sows wild oats will have to face a difficult harvest day. Punishment follows our sin as inevitably as the burned spot follows a blaze. God loves the sinner, but He punishes sin. He never lets us down, and He never lets us off. But the story of God’s love is at this point not complete.

Third, He never lets us go. The greatest thing about genuine love is that it keeps on loving in spite of everything. No matter how often its favors are spurned or refused, no matter how poignantly it is wounded, or how far away the loved one wanders, it always holds on, and never gives up. We learn what our Heavenly Father is like when we look at His Son. It stands out above everything else. It is like Father, like Son.

Jesus told us about a son who showed himself ungrateful and turned his back on his father, went out to a far country, and threw his life away. But the father always kept the candle burning in his window and kept watch for his return. One day he saw someone coming in the distance. As he came nearer and nearer the father exclaimed, “He walks like my son! He looks like my Son! He IS my son!” The prodigal had come home!

That father reminds me of God. Are you in a far country? If so, He is waiting for you to come home.

 

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Greg Laurie, in The Great Compromise, tells the story of a massive redwood tree that had survived some 400 years in one of America’s national forests. This ancient tree had survived fourteen separate strikes of lightning. It had survived countless earthquakes, storms, floods, and other violent natural disasters.

Even so, without warning, this massive tree eventually came crashing down to the ground with a tremendous thud! It didn’t fall as the result of the lightning strikes. It wasn’t felled by lumberjacks. It just came crashing to the earth for no apparent reason.

On closer inspection, investigators discovered why this giant tree had fallen. Tiny beetles had found their way inside its trunk and had begun eating away at its life-giving fibers, weakening its mighty bulk from the inside out. What fourteen lightning bolts, horrendous storms, and earthquakes could not do was easily accomplished over the passage of time by a colony of small insects.

It is a parable of the kind of thing that often happens in the lives of Christians. We begin our Christian walk with strength and determination, but somewhere along the way we begin to face a steady series of small, seemingly insignificant temptations. Like small beetles eating away at the heart of a giant redwood tree, these temptations erode the foundations on which our commitment has rested. One by one our convictions are compromised and our Christian walk comes crashing to the ground.

Show me a person who has fallen away from his or her walk with the Lord and I will show you a person who began making compromises long before. It just doesn’t happen that a person who has been walking closely with the Lord one day suddenly and completely ceases to serve the Lord the next day. Upon investigation what appears to be a sudden falling away is in reality the result of a steady series of small compromises over a long period of time, probably unnoticed until the fall happens.

Our Jewish friends know the dangers of compromise. As part of the Passover Feast celebration, they still go through their houses annually to remove all items containing leaven, or yeast. The Old Testament identifies leaven as a symbol of sin.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth regarding their welcoming immoral persons into their fellowship: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (of dough)? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump” (I Corinthians 5:6-7).

It is important to realize that wherever God is working, Satan is also present to oppose. There is a high hill just outside one of the small towns in my home state of Georgia from which you can look down and see the entire town. Someone, possibly in a joking mood, said to me when I was a teenager, “Satan never even enters that town. He just comes to the top of that high hill, looks down into the town, sees that everything is under control, and goes on to other locations not yet totally under his control.”

Whenever God’s people say, “Let us rise and build,” Satan will be right there saying, “Let us rise up and oppose them.” If he cannot destroy a church, he will seek to detour it – into false theology, into active dissention and division, or in countless other ways to make it totally irrelevant in its community.

Satan takes the same approach with individual Christians – yes, including you and me. If you haven’t met Satan lately on the road you are traveling it is probably because you are traveling in the same direction he is. The more committed you are to Jesus Christ the greater your chance will be of meeting him in the middle of the road as he attempts to steer you in another direction.

As Christians we should regularly ask ourselves two questions: (1) “Is there any compromise in my life?”, and (2) “Is there anything standing between the Lord and me that is choking out my spiritual strength, draining me of zeal, and leavening my life?” If you answer one of both of these questions in the affirmative it is a sign that you could be kin to the people who live in that small town in Georgia – under Satan’s control.

Temptation often comes through a door that has been deliberately left open. One of the dangerous facts about temptation is that the more you see it the better it looks. But know this: by yielding to it you may lose in a moment what it took a lifetime to gain.

Every Christian can avoid being defeated by temptation by praying often the prayer the psalmist prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23).

Try it. It will keep you from becoming Satan’s tool!

 

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A high school teacher once asked her freshman students during an American history class to write an essay on the life of Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s early founding fathers. One boy squirmed in his seat, chewed on his pencil, took out a sheet of paper, and began to write.

Little did he realize that he would produce this masterpiece: “Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, but his family got tired of that and moved to Philadelphia. When he and his family got to Philadelphia he was hungry, so he bought a loaf of bread. He put the bread under his arm and began to walk down the street. As he did so, a woman smiled at him. He married her and discovered electricity.”

Franklin did not discover electricity in this way, of course, but a certain form of it does exist in a good marriage. I am not referring to the kind of shocking things that take place in some marriages. June is usually thought of as the month for weddings. Any marriage that contains electricity will have the following qualities:

Commitment. Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). All marriages have tough times sooner or later. During such times there will be the temptation to give up trying to make the marriage work and get a divorce. Few marriages would end in divorce if both husband and wife would “look up,” not “give up.” Problems – even large ones — can almost always be solved if a renewed commitment is given to knowing and doing God’s will and to loving one another.

Anything worth having is worth fighting for. If your marriage is on shaky ground, why not decide to fight for it. You can do this by continuing to date one another. Just because you are married does not mean you should stop dating. Fires go out when they are not regularly tended. They flame up when given attention.

A man once told me of an argument he and his wife had had. She threatened to leave and go live with her mother. He said to her, “If you leave, can I go with you?” He, in essence was saying, “I love you and you are stuck with me. I am willing to make whatever changes I need to make in my life in order to make our marriage work.” Their marriage was rekindled, and it became stronger than ever.

Boundaries. When you are married, the number one person in your life should always be your mate – not your parents, your friends, your neighbors, or even your children (as important as they are). Keep building your relationship with your mate and the needs of your children will also be met.

Responsibilities. Take care of your mate’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. You know what his or her physical needs are, and these are your responsibility. Rededicate your marriage to God and He will meet the spiritual needs in your marriage. He alone can forgive sins, explain your purpose for living, and ultimately give you a home in heaven.

Companionship. God’s idea for marriage is that “the two shall become one flesh.” This is a spiritual concept. “Two are better than one . . . if either falls, the one will lift the other . . .Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11).

Actions. Love is a verb, not a noun. How do you show your mate you love him or her? You act like it! Actions speak louder than words. If in your marriage negative words outnumber positive actions, I suggest that you look up rather than give up. It is the best way to keep holy wedlock from becoming an unholy deadlock.

God stands ready to install electricity in your marriage. Husbands and wives: The ball is in your court!

 

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Have you ever tried to count the number of things we consider today to be necessities that did not even exist less than a century ago? We have been led to believe that we simply cannot get along without an almost countless number of things, yet people got along quite well without them before they existed.

What drives us to work so hard in order to buy things for ourselves we really don’t need? And why do we work overtime in order to buy them? The answer is quite simple – advertising! As they say, “advertising pays.” I guess it does! It has been said that doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but she doesn’t.

A classified ad in an Oklahoma City newspaper contained these words: “Used tombstone for sale — Ideal for a family whose last name is Jones.”

A loan company’s ad used a play on words: “We take the moaning and groaning out of loaning.”

A bachelor in Denver, Colorado with an urge to merge, advertised for a wife in the newspaper: “Bachelor with a waterbed desires to meet a nice, hard-working girl with short toenails.” He wanted his ad to be eye-catching and creative, but somehow I can’t believe he succeeded in getting the result he wanted.

A sign in the window of a florist said: “Smoking and forgetting your wife’s birthday can be hazardous to your health.” It focused on being truthful, not on being cute and creative. It probably sold lots of flowers – while helping husbands earn brownie points at home on their wife’s birthday.

The genius of advertising experts has made the gratification of artificially created wants more important than satisfying real needs. Selling things, developed to the point of an art, has psychologically conditioned us to work endless hours in order to keep up with the proverbial Jones family. It has also caused us to neglect our families, work endless hours, and become stressed out to the point of exhaustion.

We would like to think that we are above the manipulation of Madison Avenue, but in the end we often succumb to their inventions and become addicted to the products they tell us are essential to our well-being. We should never underestimate the skill of these people.

There was a time when ads only gave us information about products, but that was when people needed what was being sold. In those days, the ads described the materials used in production, gave data about the durability of the products, and even gave technical details that would provide scientific grounds for choosing what was being advertised. It worked because people actually needed what was being advertised.

Those who contrive today’s ads have great insight into our collective psyche and have tailored their pitch to convince us that what is being sold will provide such essential requisites as security, love, status, and peace of mind. We are taught that everything we need – even for our spiritual well-being — can become ours if we have enough money.

Life was much simpler when Jesus attacked materialistic lifestyles 2,000 years ago. I wonder what He would say to people today who spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t know who, in reality, probably don’t care. Would He cry out in His ancient tongue, “Raca” which means “Fools!”?

Believe it or not, God has seldom been more talked about than in our intensely consumer-oriented society. It is just that God has a whole new role today. For millions of people He is no longer the object of their worship and adoration. Instead, He has become an important means for getting what they now worship and adore – things!

This re-definition of the Christian faith is even propagated in the form of what is called “prosperity theology.” A book mailed to me a few years ago by a North Carolina television station advertising itself as a “Christian station” said that God wants every Christian to be wealthy. It claimed that God was going to take away all the material wealth owned by unbelievers and give it to believers. In other words, “Seek first the Kingdom of Godand He will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams.”

Is this what the Bible teaches? Absolutely not! The so-called “prosperity gospel” is asininity to the ultimate degree. It focuses largely on “What’s in it for me?” It has a great deal more to say about prosperity than it does about the gospel. God promises to meet our need, not satisfy our greed.

 

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Few things, if any, are more needed in the lives of Christians or in the life of Christian churches today than the need for genuine joy – contagious, outrageous joy. Some church members seem to believe that in order to be a dedicated Christian you must have a long face. If that were true the two mules with which my Uncle Bennie plowed his fields in middle Georgia in the 1940’s were the two best Christians I ever knew.

Someone once asked Mother Teresa what the job description required for anyone who might want to work alongside her in the grimy streets and narrow alleys of Calcutta, India. Without hesitation she mentioned only two things: “the desire to work hard and a joyful attitude.” These two qualities are rare in many churches today. The second – a joyful attitude — is often more rare than the first.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for thirty years. His mind, wit, and quality of work earned him the unofficial title as being “the greatest Justice since John Marshall.” At one point in his life, Justice Holmes explained his choice of a career by saying: “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked so much like undertakers.”

Worshipers in church on Sunday morning come from a world where bad things constantly happen. If sex and violence are not the pulsating themes of a new film, some expression of unhappiness is. Newspapers and television newscasts thrive on tragedies and calamities, lost jobs and horrible accidents. Several years ago I wrote a letter to an editor asking if some of the positive things that happen could not also be given more coverage. He replied that he had to report the news. To him, I suppose, good news was not interesting. Christians do not need to focus perpetually on negative things. We have legitimate reason to manifest joy.

I recently read the story of a man living in the third century A.D. who was facing death who penned these last words to a friend: “It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful lives. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are Christians – and I am one of them.”

Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul, did not dwell on his own difficulties or ailments, but he took the time to record a partial list of them in a letter to his friends in Corinth: “I have been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have known hunger and thirst and have gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:23-28).

How could Paul stand up under so much pressure and face so many obstacles and keep on going? His heart was filled with overflowing joy, the kind of joy that was not threatened by the difficulties he faced. To the Philippian Christians, he said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

Do you need a joy transfusion?

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Maxie Dunham, president of Asbury Theological Seminary in his book, This is Christianity, tells a remarkable story about Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon. A man had been injured in a fire while attempting to save his parents from perishing in their home that had caught on fire.

He wasn’t able to get to them, and they perished. However, in trying to save them, his own face was burned and disfigured. Like many people in a similar situation, he interpreted his pain as God’s punishment. He closed himself up in a room and would not let anyone see him – not even his wife.

The man’s wife went to see Dr. Maltz to ask for his help. He told her not to worry because he could restore her husband’s face. She was not convinced that her husband would let him help, for he had repeatedly refused any help – even from her.

“That is why I have come to see you,” she said. “I want you to disfigure my face so I can be like him. If I can share his pain, then maybe he will let me back into his life.”

Dr. Maltz was shocked. He denied her request to disfigure her face, but was so moved by her love that he went to speak with her husband. Knocking on the man’s bedroom door, he called loudly, “I’m Dr. Maxwell Maltz. I am a plastic surgeon, and I want you to know that I can restore your face.” There was no response.

“Please come out,” Dr. Maltz said. Again there was no answer.

Still speaking through the closed door, Dr. Maltz told the man about his wife’s proposal. “She wants me to disfigure her face. She wants me to make her face like yours in the hope that you will let her back into your life. That is how much she loves you.”

There was a brief moment of silence, and then, ever so slowly, the door knob began to turn. Like a morning glory opening to the rays of the morning sun his heart was melted and opened wide in the presence of his wife’s sacrificial love.

The way this woman felt about her husband is how God feels about you. In fact, if you were the only human being who ever lived, God loves you so much that He would still have sent His Son into the world to save you. And He has felt the same way about every person throughout history, regardless of how undeserving he or she may have been.

Paul explained to the church at Rome just how complete God’s love is when he said, “God demonstrates his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NASV).

God’s love cannot be purchased; it is freely given. It is given not because we deserve it, but because we need it. It is hard to fathom love that great, isn’t it? Our love for others is sometimes given with limitations and stipulations attached. We say things like, “We will love you if . . . . Or “We will love you until . . . .”

The woman who came to Dr. Maltz loved her husband so much she was willing to become like him. God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place, taking the penalty for our sin upon Himself.

In other words, He became like us so that we, by faith, can daily become more like Him.

 

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In the mid-1940’s I spent four or five weeks working on my Uncle Benny’s farm. Most farmers in middle Georgia in those days, including my uncle, did not yet own a tractor. Instead, he owned and worked two mules – Maude and Claude were their names. Some people thought tractors would never replace mules in farming.

In fact, one man in town started a new business (are you ready for this?) – A mule business! He had the dream of becoming a successful businessman. “Most farmers cannot even afford tractors,” he often said. So, he borrowed what for him was a lot of money to start buying and selling mules. To his surprise tractors did replace mules in farming. And, as the saying goes, “He lost his shirt.” He also lost his undershirt!

At the end of each day’s hard work Uncle Bennie would bring Maude and Claude in from the field, unhitch them from the plow, and give them plenty of food and water before putting them in the barn for the night. Maude was always ready to rest, but Claude still had lots of energy. He also had a devious streak.

Each day after Maude and Claude finished with their meal, and before Uncle Bennie put them in the barn, Claude would display his devious streak. He would head for Maude, backing up in her direction. He would follow her all over the lot if necessary. When he caught up with her he would deliver a swift kick to her rear end. This, as you can imagine, wasn’t very popular with Maude.

Claude worked very cooperatively as a team with Maude – as long as he was hitched to a plow with a bit in his mouth. He would “gee” (turn to the right for those of you who never plowed with a mule), and “ha” (turn to the left) when Uncle Bennie gave those commands. But turned loose in the lot with Maude in his sight at the end of the day he was as energetic as a kid on Christmas morning — and “as stubborn as a mule.”

When mules were fed adequately and shown kindness they provided the means by which farmers fed their families. But, it would have been taking your life into your own hands to stand at the southern end of Maude looking toward the north when Claude was in a kicking mood and backing up in her direction.

Maude, unlike her pugnacious partner, was never mischievous, was always gentle, a hard worker, and responsive to Uncle Bennie’s commands. All of us have a little of Claude’s errant DNA in us at times, don’t we? That is probably why the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:27).

Mules back in the 1940’s were generally well disciplined because they had been trained and were controlled and given commands by their owner. Unlike mules, you and I are created in God’s image — as persons, not as puppets. We are free to either serve God or to serve ourselves.

Disciplined lives do not happen by accident. We must choose to be disciplined, and if we make that choice, God will supply the power to make it happen. A disciplined life is the result of two things: (1) we must be obedient to the teachings found in God’s Word, and (2) we must follow the direction of the Holy Spirit.

As a pastor for more than sixty-two years I was always grateful for church members who were like Uncle Benny’s Maude – committed, disciplined, cooperative in spirit, and always both willing and ready to go to work “in the fields that were white unto harvest.” The churches I have served have had lots of members on whom I could depend to do that – and I am deeply grateful. Every pastor I know feels the same way.

Unfortunately some church members are like Claude – skilled at backing up and kicking!

 

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