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All of us have heard someone described as “a self-made person.” The truth is that no one is self-made. I am not. You are not. No one is. No one will ever be. It is impossible to become eminently successful at anything solely by self-effort.

Having said that, how long has it been since you personally credited someone who contributed to all or part of your success? Legions of people cooperate to make each of your days possible. Some work very hard daily: the trucker on the road at 3:00 AM delivering the produce you consume, those involved in law enforcement seeking to provide for your security, and even the crossing guards who protect and assist you on your way across the street to attend school.

There is the pastor in his study preparing a message that he prays will lift your faith. There are teachers who guided or who still guide you through school. There are those who gather the news, print, and deliver the daily newspaper that keeps you informed on what is happening around the world. There is the research scientist on a stool in a lab trying to learn something that will buy you a few more years of life. Closer to home there are the members of your family who strive to meet your needs daily.

Do not forget the men and women in the military services of our country who risk their lives in hot spots around the world in order to preserve the liberties no American should ever take for granted, men on platforms drilling for oil so you can drive where you wish, and secretaries, receptionists, restaurant cooks and waiters who serve you. This is only a partial list of those who touch your life on a regular basis.

Your father worked and earned the income that provided food to eat, clothes to wear, and other necessities for you and each member of your family. Your mother nursed you when you were just a child, clothed you, and kept you safe. Millions in our world die before the age of ten. Millions more are beaten, abused, famished, and diseased. Life and health should never be taken for granted.

Teachers taught you to read, inspired you to learn, gave you a love for music, and taught you to play a sport. Nurses brought you a blanket or a tray of food when you were a patient in the hospital. Someone went the second mile to meet a specific need you had or have.

Know that you owe. Know whom you owe. Know that you could not be the person you are, know the things you know, or do the things you do, if it were not for others. Do not fail to recognize the countless contributions that countless individuals have made and still make to your life every single day. And please do not forget to say “Thank you” – to God, or to others – when these two words are earned and appropriate.

You fool no one except yourself if you are foolish enough to think you made it, or could ever make it, entirely on your own. No one ever has. No one ever will. Countless individuals have made investments in your life. Know that you would not and could not be the person you are without those investments.

It is not what you have in your pocket or in the bank that makes you thankful; it is what you have in your heart. Be grateful not just for the doors of opportunity that have opened to you, but also for those who oiled the hinges. There is a sense in which no gift is ours until we have thanked the giver.

 

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Thomas Gaddis’s book, The Birdman of Alcatraz, is a biography of the convicted criminal and two-time murderer, Robert Stroud. Stroud spent most of his seventy years behind bars and in solitary confinement in the prison known as Alcatraz. During his first twenty years of confinement he became increasingly withdrawn, bitter, and harder to handle. Needless to say, he was considered to be a maximum-security risk.

However, something happened that drastically changed Stroud’s life. During one of the prison courtyard exercise periods, a tiny sparrow fell from its nest during a storm. Stroud found the sparrow, and initially had the impulse to snuff out the little bird’s life just as he had snuffed out the lives of two human beings – but he didn’t! Instead, he carried the sparrow to his cell and nursed it back to health.

His interest had been aroused, and he read everything he could on the subject of birds. Other prisoners began sending their ill canaries to him. When encountering diseases that had no known cure, he would experiment and often find a cure. Little by little he was changed from an incorrigible prisoner into a quiet, serious, able authority on birds.

One day Stroud asked his guard, a man with whom he had previously refused to speak, for the orange crate on which he was sitting, that he might make a cage for his sparrow. “For twenty years I’ve tried to get through to you and be nice to you,” the guard said, “but you have never given me the time of day.” After a few minutes of silence, however, the guard had a change of heart and slipped the orange crate into the cell. When Stroud noticed it, he mumbled two words he had probably never said before: “Thank you!”

Robert Stroud’s rehabilitation began the moment he learned to say, “Thank you,” and mean it. Only then did he begin to understand himself. He began to realize that he was not the isolated, self-sufficient, independent character he had so long pretended to be. In the same way, it is only when we can say: “Thank you,” and mean it, that we begin to understand ourselves for what we are – creatures rather than creators, receivers who can learn to become givers. Paul Tillich spoke wisely when he said: “A man who is able to give thanks seriously accepts that he is a creature and acknowledges his finitude.”

It is only by being grateful that we can recognize how dependent we are – upon God first of all, and also upon others, for our very being. It is always a tragedy when we forget who we are and why we are here. This is what the ancient writer of Deuteronomy meant when he said, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10-14a NIV).

Is this not an accurate picture of what is happening in our country today? When we forget to give thanks, or refuse to give thanks, we forget who we are – creatures of the living God, dependent upon Him for our very being. There are basically three reasons why we need to have the spirit of thanksgiving in our lives: (1) to teach us who we are, (2) to remind us that we belong to God, and (3) to make us aware of the countless ways we are blessed by God and by others.

He who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness.

 

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God’s Word tells us: “There are six things the Lord hates: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19). In early Christian history the wording changed on the things God hates, and they were referred to as The Seven Deadly Sins: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath.

If early Christian leaders had added an eighth deadly sin I would nominate gossip. As a Christian minister since 1951 I have seen the devastating effect that gossip has had within the body of Christ. Gossip can be very cunning, for Satan has a slick marketing trick that he uses to influence church members. He leads us to call gossip by euphemisms like “sharing our concerns” or “venting to a brother or sister.” Euphemisms make gossip sound much less dangerous.

Church members who gossip often try to remain anonymous when they pass along what they consider juicy information about a fellow church member. It doesn’t have to be true. For example, a lady in my home town often visited her neighbors early in the morning for the purpose of spreading the latest gossip. She would end her conversation by saying, “For God’s sake don’t tell a soul what I’ve told you.” She wanted to tell everybody herself.

There are several specific mentions of gossip in Scripture. Three Old Testament highlights are as follows:

  • Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people” (Leviticus 19:16).
  • They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere” (Psalm 41:6).
  • “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends” (Proverbs 16:28).

The apostle Paul showed how seriously he considered gossip when he included it among this unattractive menu of sins: “Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip” (Romans 1:29). Those who gossip probably never realized that God’s Word lumps gossip in with hate, murder, and deception. No follower of Jesus should ever give gossip a place to live. Why is this true? “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops” (Proverbs 26:20).

God is not glorified when a Christian imagines things and spreads idle chatter about a fellow Christian, for it both grieves the Holy Spirit and causes the one who is talked about to experience emotional pain. In the New Testament James is brutally honest in describing the impact of gossip: “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).

                If you have been guilty of passing along hurtful information about a fellow Christian you need to repent and receive the gift of a new heart that acts in accordance to the love and law of God. This new heart can only come from God. He has said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees” (Ezekiel 36:26).

A good practice for Christians to follow before passing along information about a fellow Christian that has the potential to be controversial or cause distress is to ask these five questions: (1) Is it true? (2) Is it helpful? (3) Is it inspiring? (4) Is it necessary? (5) Is it kind? If what we are about to say does not pass these five tests, we should keep our mouth shut. To do this will both keep us from dishonoring Christ and creating disharmony in the body of Christ.

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Six times in the first chapter of Genesis the word good is used to describe the various stages of creation. “And God saw that it was very good” (verses 4,10,12,18, 21, 25). In Genesis 2:18 we find the first “not good” mentioned in the Bible. But the consistent theme dealing with the creation of all things is this: “And the Lord saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

The first two chapters of Genesis tell us that the only institution to exist prior to the fall of man was the family. God designed the family to carry out His purposes in extending His life, expressing his character, and exhibiting His dominion. He designed the home to be His most effective tool against Satan. He gave to Adam the freedom to eat the fruit from all the trees in the garden — with the exception of the tree of life, that is.

Genesis tells us that after Adam was created, God brought all the animals before him to be named. He did not find in any of the animals a “helpmate” – thus God created Eve. Charles Spurgeon, the outstanding English pastor many years ago, described the creation story in this way: “Woman was not taken out of man’s head to be lorded over by him, or from his feet to be trampled on by him, but from his side to be equal with him, from under his arm to be protected by him, and from near his heart to be loved by him.”

It didn’t take long for trouble to develop in history’s first family. Eve disobeyed God’s warning about not eating the fruit of the tree of life in the center of the garden. She chose to do things her own way, not God’s way. Every family can profit by examining the mistake she made:

First, she was isolated from her husband when she disobeyed God. Adam was her protection. She was his completion. Satan knew that if he could get to Eve, he could eventually get to Adam. This has been his method down through the centuries. He had the advantage of having Eve alone for his work of deceit.

Second, Eve communicated with Satan when she should have deferred to her husband. After all, it was Adam who had heard the original command not to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. Adam was the proper one to confront the half-truths of Satan with what God had asked him to do.

Third, Eve ignored revelation and turned to reason. This happens too often in families today. For Eve to follow God’s will required only obedience; following her own will was an act of disobedience. When Satan convinced her to look for a second time at the tree instead of following God’s instructions, he was well on the way to conquering her. When she saw that the fruit on the tree was good for food and pleasant to the eye, she ignored God’s command and began traveling down the road of human reason.

Fourth, God created them to function as a team. The dominion God had given them was to be exercised together. Satan could not conquer them when they thought and acted together. Eve sinned and Adam followed. Chaos resulted. From their failure has come every failure of mankind to this day.

The instructions God gave to history’s first family have never gone out of style. Unfortunately too many families still do not follow God’s instructions. It is why the three stages of modern family life have been described as matrimony, acrimony and alimony. Your family doesn’t have to be a battleground – not if Christ is Lord in your home, love is growing, and commitment to one another is a constant reality.

Sir John Bowring described this kind of family by saying, “A happy family is but an earlier taste of heaven.” It would be hard to describe a genuine Christian family any better than that.

 

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W.J Jeffers tells us in his book New Horizons, “There are two days in the week about which I never worry – yesterday and tomorrow. Yesterday, with its mistakes and blunders, has passed forever beyond recall. I cannot undo any act that I wrought. I cannot unsay a word that I said. All that it holds of my life is in the hands of God. Tomorrow, with all its possible adversities, burdens, failures, and mistakes is as far beyond my reach as its dead sister – yesterday. There is left for me one day of the week – today.”

Lots of people in today’s world do not know how to wisely use yesterday, today, and tomorrow – and they suffer what is called a nervous breakdown. Realizing this, J.L. Glass a few years ago penned an article titled, “Five Ways to Have a Nervous Breakdown.” His list, with my comments added, is as follows:

  1. Try to figure out the answer before the problem arises. This is like trying to cross a bridge that has never been built because it is unnecessary. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Focusing on what may happen tomorrow needlessly doubles the load you are carrying today.
  2. Try to relive the past. If we can learn to trust God with our tomorrows, we can also learn to trust Him to help us move beyond the things that happened in our yesterdays. Focusing constantly upon yesterday’s sins and/or mistakes fails to realize that, when we have confessed them, God has totally forgiven them (I John 1:9). If God has forgiven them, we don’t have to carry them around any longer.
  3. Try to avoid making decisions. Avoiding the necessity for making decisions is like allowing weeds to grow in our garden. While we are not deciding, the weeds are growing. Putting off making decisions does not change the fact that they must be made. Both success and failure in our lives often depends on making the right decision. The capacity to make choices is our most godlike characteristic.
  4. Demand more of yourself than you can produce. Making unrealistic demands of yourself is like beating your head against a stone wall. You don’t change the wall; you only damage your head. God created human beings in such a way that we need one day in seven for rest. Workaholics would work eight days out of seven if that were possible. Making this mistake can lead to a nervous breakdown.
  5. Believe everything Satan tells you. Jesus described Satan as “the father of lies” (John 8:44). The Bible describes him as a master of disguise, masquerading as an angel of light. He will always paint a pretty picture of the things you should do, the goals you should pursue, the habits you should adopt, the places you should go, the groups you should join, the ways you can have fun, etc. But what he doesn’t tell you is the eternal price you have to pay if you are foolish enough to follow his advice.

An anonymous poet offers the following wise counsel:

“Just for today, Lord,

Tomorrow is not mine;

Just for today I ask Thee

For light and health divine;

Tomorrow’s care I must not bear,

The future is all Thine”

 

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“What is so special about Jesus that I should worship Him?” This is the question often asked by those who do not believe in the existence of God. How Christians answer it is extremely important. Merely quoting various creedal statements will not impress those who do not believe. We must share what we personally know about Jesus Christ as the result of having a personal relationship with Him.

Daniel Poling, one of America’s great preachers in the mid-twentieth century went home from church one Sunday night and his twelve-year-old son came up to him and said, “Daddy, I want to make an appointment with you. I’ve got something I want to talk to you about.” His dad responded by saying, “I’ll be glad to talk to you any time. How about talking now?”

The son replied, “No, I want to make an appointment in your office like everybody else does.” So, Poling set the appointment for the following afternoon at three o’clock. The following afternoon when his son arrived in his office at the church, he said, “Daddy, when you preach on Sundays you are always telling the people what different theologians say about God, and what various other people whom you know say about God, but daddy, I want to know what you know about God.” It was a great question!

Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, referred to Christians as “those who have turned the world upside down.” It was said of Christians that “they out-thought, out-lived, and out-died all others in their day.” They made that kind of impact upon the first century world because they had a dynamic personal relationship with God. If this had not been true, Christianity would have been only a blip on one page of history.

If you think of yourself as a Christian, what do you personally know about God? Do you have fellowship with Him every day wherever you are? It is not enough to say, “Well, I’m a church member” . . . “I have been baptized” . . . “I read my Bible and pray daily” . . . “I tithe my income” . . . “I attend Sunday School.” These things are commendable, but what do you genuinely and personally know about God?

The Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood several years ago scheduled an acting contest. The contestants were asked to quote the Twenty-Third Psalm. An older, mature, and experienced actor quoted it with all the proper inflections. He was dramatic in all the right places. When he had finished, everyone broke out with applause. A young actor, who was a committed Christian, then stood to quote the psalm. When he finished, there was such a spirit of reverence in the room that no one spoke a word. The experienced actor had quoted the Twenty-Third Psalm from his head, but the younger actor quoted it from his heart. The older actor knew the Shepherd Psalm, but the young actor knew the Shepherd.

The best argument a Christian can use in winning another person to Christ is the argument of personal experience. Several years ago one of our deacons asked me to go with him to witness to his alcoholic neighbor who was not a Christian. The man said to the deacon, “You dare talk to me about changing my life and becoming a Christian – as much liquor as you and I have drunk together?” The deacon replied, “What you say is true, but a change has taken place in my life. I’ve come to tell you how that change happened.”

Millions of people in our world do not yet know the truth found in the four New Testament gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In order that they might know and be transformed by the truth they contain, God has chosen to use a fifth gospel: the gospel according to you. So, what is the gospel according to you?

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If you attend church regularly, what is your motive for doing so? It is a good question! Perhaps it is because your entire family attended church when you were young, and it developed into a habit. But is it more than a habit? Hopefully, it is because you have a strong desire to join your Christian brothers and sisters in the act of corporate worship. As someone once said, “If you expect to answer when the roll is called up yonder, you should be willing to answer more than just on Easter Sunday when the roll is called down here.”

The building we call the church is just the place where the church, which is a body of believers, gathers on a regular basis to worship and sing praise to God. Perhaps you have heard a minister on Sunday pray, “O Lord, as we come into your presence….” Does that mean that God can only be found inside a church building? Absolutely not! He can be found and worshiped anywhere and everywhere. You may try to run from God, but you will never be able to go anywhere that He is not present.

We live in a world where people disappear from one another. Spouses leave a marriage and disappear. Children are kidnapped forever. Some people change their name and start a new life. Our government provides a witness protection program and gives those who testify against powerful crime figures a new life and identity. It is as though the earth swallowed them up. But no one disappears from God.

King David reminds us in Psalm 139:7, “I can never be lost to your Spirit! I can never get away from my God!” God said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Can anyone hide from me? Am I not everywhere in all of heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). It is not easy for humans to understand these concepts. Wherever we go, God will be there. It is easy for people to think of God as being present only in certain places – like churches.

This is illustrated beautifully in a single Bible verse found in II Kings. Naaman, who was the Syrian commander in chief, held a powerful position – but he had leprosy. A small Israelite maid had been captured in a raid inside Israel and made to serve Naaman’s wife in Syria. She told Naaman that Israel had a prophet by the name of Elisha who could heal his leprosy. Naaman traveled to Israel and presented himself to Elisha. He followed Elisha’s advice, was cured of leprosy, and accepted Israel’s God as his own.

This is where the story gets even more interesting. Before Naaman left to go back to Syria he requested that he be given two mule loads of dirt to carry back to Syria on which he could build an altar to worship Israel’s God (II Kings 5:17). It was common in that day to believe that each nation had its own god. To leave one nation and go to another was to leave one god for another. Hence, if Naaman was to worship Jehovah God in Syria, he thought he must take some soil from Israel with him on which to build an altar.

To us this appears extremely naïve. To people of that day, however, it had definite meaning. The request demonstrated Naaman’s sincerity. It tells us that his faith was genuine, even if he did not understand that God could be worshiped anywhere. How like Naaman some Christians are today to believe they must go to the building where the church family is gathered in order to worship God. May we never lose a sense of appreciation for the importance of worship that takes place on Sunday in the church building.

However, let us never forget that when we are at work, or at home, or driving down the highway, or facing a sunrise or sunset, we can erect an altar where we are, lift our eyes toward heaven, and worship God. And we don’t have to have two mule loads of dirt from Jerusalem in order to do that.

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