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Even though I will be 89 years old in September I had given no thought to being old until a little over a year ago when someone said to me, “Do you mean you can still drive at night?” Then, after a pause, he added “at your age!” There are people who know your age and are surprised you can still do certain things. Others know how old you are and say to you emphatically, “Don’t ever grow old!”

Two or three years ago I attended a lady’s birthday party that Sanford First Baptist Church was giving their oldest member. She had just passed her 100th birthday. During the course of the evening I was talking with another member of the church who happened to be 99. In the course of our conversation she said, “Preacher, I got my driver’s license renewed last week for five more years. I began wondering what it might be like to ride down the road in an automobile driven by a lady who only lacked a few months being 100.

It has been said that the only sure-fire formula for living to be 100 is to keep breathing! Regardless of our age, most of us are not nearly as old we hope to be. The important thing is not how many years we live but how well we live the years we are given. The right way to grow old, of course, is to grow old gracefully. Just remember this: We don’t stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing.

Perhaps someone, thinking it was good advice, has said to you, “Don’t grow old!” Those who view old age to be frightening and humiliating may think this is good advice. Let us examine it more closely:

It is impossible advice. You and I can do many things, but there is one thing we can’t do – stop the years from marching on. We can be careful and wise in exercise, in our diet, in our spiritual intake, and in our social involvements, but we cannot halt the aging process. From the moment we are born we start aging.

It is bad advice. When we are told to do something that is impossible it is nearly always bad advice. It leads to frustration and to all kinds of unanticipated problems. When we see someone trying to stay young – using huge amounts of cosmetics and other disguises to conceal the fact that they have used up a huge number of calendars, it is embarrassing. To accept things as they are without resigning to premature old age is wisdom. It is possible for us, with God’s help, to make our current age a tremendous time to live.

It is mistaken advice. Robert Browning lived before any of us were born, but his best known lines may well have been these:

“Grow old with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God:
See all nor be afraid!’”

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Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1533-1630), once said to the Countess of Nottingham, “God may forgive you, but I never can.” This sixteenth century queen was not the first person, nor has she been the last, to refuse to extend forgiveness to another person when it was needed.

For example, several years ago there appeared on a company bulletin board in Grand Rapids, Michigan these words: “To err is human; to forgive is not company policy.” I am glad God does not operate by this policy, or Jesus would never have entered the world with the mission to redeem mankind.

There is an enthralling scene in Luke’s gospel that illustrates the importance of Christ’s mission. The disciples of Jesus had been fishing all night and caught nothing, so Jesus asked Peter to launch out into the deep and let down his nets. Peter probably did not expect to catch any fish, but so many fish were caught in his nets that he had to get help from others in order to bring the huge catch to the shore.

At this point Peter fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Peter learned two things that day: (1) he discovered the spiritual poverty of his own soul, and (2) that the forgiveness he desperately needed could only be provided by God. Luke does not conceal Peter’s stumbling footsteps. He was impatient, crude, often egotistical, and made blunders. Even so, he would later come to the end of his life with the flags of victory flying and the bugles of triumph blowing.

What made this dramatic change in Peter’s life even more dramatic was what happened on the Sunday morning following Christ’s crucifixion when the mourning women came to Christ’s tomb. The angel guarding the tomb said to them, “Do not be amazed . . . He has risen from the grave . . . go and tell His disciples and Peter . . . He is going ahead of them into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you” (Mark 16:6, 7).

Why did the angel ask the women to go tell “the disciples . . . and Peter”, for Peter was also a disciple? I believe it was because the angel knew how deeply Peter was hurting because he had denied Christ three times. Also, Jesus still had plans to use him in spreading the good news of God’s love to the world.

When the news reached Peter’s ears of His Lord’s personal word to him, they must have been like a drink of fresh water to a man crossing a desert whose throat was parched and whose lips were cracked. “Did He really call my name? That means He has forgiven me – even after I denied three times that I did not even know Him. It means He still believes in me and wants to use me. O happy day!”

Can’t you just see Peter moving swiftly in the direction of Galilee with his head held high and his arms swinging? He probably was out in front of the other disciples, his heart beating rapidly with exultant joy. His past was stained with ugly deeds, but his future was full of promise and hope! He was on his way to see Jesus. The smile on his face advertised to everyone he met that his heart was filled with joy.

It is only when we come face to face with ourselves, see the ugly deeds of our lives, and feel the hopelessness that Peter felt that we can begin to appreciate the power and joy of being forgiven by the Son of God. No matter how dark our deeds, or how hopeless our outlook for the future, He gives a second chance to all who will accept it. He is in the cleansing business, not the whitewashing business.

We not only need God’s forgiveness, but we need to forgive one another. It is how the world recognizes us as Christians.

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Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem when He gave two of them an unusual mission: “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it to me. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Tell them that the Lord needs it and will send it back shortly” (Mark 11:1-3).

All they had to say was “The Lord needs it.” This was the password they would have to use. Jesus obviously had previously planned for the donkey to be placed in a certain spot, and the password had been worked out in case of difficulty. The specifically chosen colt was scheduled to play a significant role in Christian history. The owner refused to let it go until the password – “the Lord needs it” – was spoken.

In today’s technological world we make wide use of passwords. There are many things we cannot do unless we use the password that has been pre-chosen. “The Lord needs it” has to be history’s first and most important password. As Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday and Easter this year it is still an appropriate password as we minister to each other in the church, in our community, and together in the world.

Note the preparation that Jesus made. The people He had reached and healed were ready to be involved with Him. Now was the time they were to serve Him who had so faithfully served them. The owner of the donkey had been prepared for this strategic moment in history when Jesus would fulfill the Scripture and ride upon a donkey as the Messiah into Jerusalem.

Those who went ahead and those who followed Him shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:9-10). When Jesus arrived he entered Jerusalem and went immediately into the temple.

The fact that He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey may seem totally insignificant to many people. For the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to ride into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey rather than on a beautiful white horse doesn’t seem to convey the idea of the majesty He so richly deserved. Jesus, however, wanted to declare His Messiahship on His own terms. He was both victor and victim, high and humble, God’s anointed and suffering Servant, Prophet of Power and Prince of Peace.

For the two thousand years since that day Christians have called attention to the events leading up to that first Palm Sunday and Easter. Oddly it all began with the choice of a certain donkey on which Jesus would ride into Jerusalem. Have you ever wondered who the owner of that donkey was? Can you imagine what it was like for him to know that it was his donkey on which the Son of God rode into Jerusalem on the way to fulfill the mission assigned to Him by His Father? And the entire drama would not and could not have happened if the disciples who came to get his pre-chosen donkey had not used the right password.

History’s first password was and still is the most important password ever used – and it hasn’t gone out of style. It can and should be often used today. For example, is there someone you know who is not a Christian to whom you should and can share your faith? Do you have a talent which you are not using to serve the Lord? Are you a faithful steward of your time? Of your talent? Of your wealth?

If so, you need to hear history’s oldest and most important password: “THE LORD HAS NEED OF IT.”

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If you were asked to name the first problem any human ever faced, I doubt you would name loneliness. After God created history’s first man, He saw that he was lonely and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). Bingo! Eve walked onto the stage of history. Immediately Adam, in essence, said to God, “The animals You created did not impress me all that much, but I really like what You created this time.” He would never be lonely again!

From the beginning of time to this very hour, humans have periodically dealt with the debilitating affliction called loneliness. The Old Testament character Job said, “My kinsmen have gone away; my friends have forgotten me. My guests and my maidservants count me a stranger, and look on me as an alien (Job 19:14-15). The psalmist said, “I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof” (Psalm 102:7). Loneliness throughout history has robbed human beings of genuine joy.

Queen Victoria, for instance, said after the death of her husband, “I am sixty-five, and I am lonely and have never found peace.” Louis Zamperini, the great Olympic track star, spent forty-eight days during World War II on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean after his plane went down. Admiral Richard E. Byrd spent five months in soul-shattering darkness alone in a shack that was buried in the great glacial icecap that covered the South Pole. No living creature of any kind existed within a hundred miles.

In the fifth chapter of John we read about the time Jesus made His way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. When He reached the sheep-gate by the pool of Bethesda, He observed multitudes of people who were plagued with various infirmities, waiting to be moved into the water. Suddenly He noticed a poor man who seemed needier than all the rest, and He asked him, “Would you like to be made whole?” The man replied to Jesus, “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me in the pool.” Think of it, thirty-eight long, weary years waiting for someone who would help him be the first person to get into the pool. He obviously had no friends. When I was in Israel in 1973 I stood by the pool of Bethesda.

Billy Graham, in his book, Peace with God, describes the demoralizing loneliness of a group of elderly people whose needs were being met in one of our nation’s institutions supplying the needs of the elderly. He said that in the background there was an elderly derelict man, with one finger, picking out on the keyboard of an old piano, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” He knew that Jesus lifts the spirit of those who are lonely.

In our nation’s major cities there are currently large numbers of street people living in doorways or cardboard boxes, and who are daily scrounging for food in garbage cans. There are Christian churches in close proximity that they could easily choose to attend, but most of them will likely never do that. God has never commissioned those who are lost and lonely to find and attend a church. He has, however, commissioned every church to go out to find them, attempt to lead them to Christ, and minister to their needs.

Christ has a special compassion for those who are lonely, for He Himself was once lonely. Having been tried by Caiaphas and Pilate, He was sentenced to die a cruel death nailed to a Roman cross. Even his disciples had forsaken Him, and He was left very much alone. He cried out while on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). God, being a holy God, could not look upon His Son in those moments when He bore in His body the sins of the world. In this excruciatingly lonely hour, Jesus took upon Himself the penalty for sin, which is death, that every person who believes in Him might have eternal life.

He loves you that much! Have you trusted Him as your Savior?

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Some people cozy up to the anemic brand of Christianity that is equated with plush pews and pious prayers – even if it involves signing a pledge card, putting some money in the offering plate when it passes by. But Christian discipleship involves much more than sitting on a church pew and shelling out a few dollars.

Jesus chose twelve disciples who would carry on the work of His kingdom following His resurrection and ascension. Yes, He willingly trusted the work of His kingdom into their hands – even though the task of carrying the gospel to the entire world would not be easy. It is undoubtedly why He said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

They were shocked, flabbergasted, bowled over. They had possibly not understood until that moment that following Jesus would be anything but, as we say in today’s terminology, “a piece of cake.” It would require every last bit of their time and energy. This lovely, gracious, all-powerful miracle-performing Christ whom they thought was on His way to becoming Israel’s king was now predicting His own execution.

This is possibly what happens, in some degree, to many of us today. As long as we can go to church, hear a sermon and then go home, living pretty much as we please, indulging in our material gifts, using them for our personal aggrandizement while continuing to yield to our sinful desires and instincts, nobody is provoked, and we can continue our church relationship as an integral part of our lives.

But when the pastor’s sermons begin to mention cross-bearing and dying to sin, that the cost of dedicated discipleship goes beyond practicing the golden rule to the point of being totally committed to the work of His kingdom, many church members find it easy to cop out. Not everybody who goes by the name of Christian is willing to deny himself (or herself), take up his (or her) cross in order to follow Jesus. To accept the love Jesus carried to the whole world, and to lead the kind of life He taught us to live is not a part time job.

Discipleship means involvement. Jesus set the pace, and He expects His disciples to make an effort to keep that pace. He said, “As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means accepting Him not only as our Savior but also as our Lord and Master. Too many church members try to sing both “I Love You, Lord” and “I Did It My Way.” That isn’t genuine discipleship. Jesus calls us to become involved with the tears, trials, and sufferings of humanity around us in specific caring ways.

The task every Christian is called upon to accept and to carry out includes proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot accomplish this mission merely by attending church on Sunday morning. We must go outside the walls of our churches into the community, sharing our faith with our friends and neighbors, with classmates at school, and with fellow workers where we work.

Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). He sent them into the midst of a decadent and sin-permeated world. It was, as if He had said: “You, a mere handful of individuals, have been chosen and imbued with power from on high to keep this world from decadence and self-destruction.” If there was ever a day in which our sinful world needed salt, it is today.

Fellow Christians: Jesus said we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” There is no way we can be salt and light just by sitting on a church pew. Think about what that means in your life!

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Life is full of questions. Some are large and some are small. Some are essential and some are trivial. Some deal with passing curiosities that grab our attention and we ponder them briefly and then forget them, while others provide for the major themes of our lives. Some we should ask but don’t, and others we ask but wish we hadn’t. In many ways the questions we ask — of ourselves, of others, and of society  — define who we are, what we stand for, and what we ultimately become. 

There is one question, however, that every person must answer eventually. I call it “Life’s Most Important Question.” Some people go looking for it, chasing after it with the joyful abandon of a child on Christmas morning. Others spend their whole lives deliberately trying to avoid it. Some tiptoe around it and move on because they are too busy with other things. For some individuals it jumps out at them unexpectedly. For others a sudden tragedy drops it on their doorsteps.

How we deal with life’s most important question says a lot about who we are and what we value. There are biases, prejudices, and blind spots that we carry around with us as a result of past experiences that influence us. Then there are the fears and ambitions that have the power to literally dominate our lives. None of these factors, however, alter the importance of facing and answering life’s most important question.

So, what is life’s most important question? Matthew 16:13-20 tells us of the time Jesus was talking with His disciples as they were passing through the district surrounding Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked them two questions. The first question was: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples replied, “Some say you are John the Baptist, others say Elijah, still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

The second question Jesus asked his disciples is vastly more important than the first. His first question only leads to the second one. He wanted to know what they thought. He does not ask us individually what our parents believe, or what our teachers believe, or what our spouse believes, or even what our pastor or close friends believe. He asks us the question that is more important than any other, “Who do YOU say I am?”

When I was in Israel in 1973 I visited the region around Caesarea Philippi described in Matthew 16:13-20. Every time I read this passage it underscores in a powerful way for me the importance of the question Jesus asked concerning His identity. God’s Word says that ultimately every person — every single person  — will ultimately stand before Him to acknowledge Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Hopefully you will not wait until Judgment Day to know who Jesus really was and still is.

No one else can answer life’s most important question for you. You must answer it for yourself. You can agree with Christ or disagree with Him. You can glorify Him or vilify Him. You can follow Him or reject Him. About the only thing you cannot do is to ignore Him. He is inescapable and unavoidable.

If Jesus showed up at your church this coming Sunday and stood before the congregation and said, “Who do you say that I am?” How would you answer? The culture around us seems intent on placing Jesus in the same category as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But Jesus is not the figment of anybody’s imagination. He was present when the universe was created. He lived on the earth in a specific place and at a definite time within history. Jesus still asks, “Who do YOU say I am?”

What is your answer?

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Matthew Kelly, in Rediscover Jesus, tells the powerful story of a businessman named Paul who was in Brooklyn, N.Y., attending the most important meeting of his life. It had gone well, and he could hardly wait to tell his wife and his boss. As he rushed out of the Brooklyn office building with his team, they noticed a vacant cab – a rare sight during the rush hour.

Eager to get to the airport to catch their flight home, they bolted toward the cab, yelling to get the driver’s attention. But as they made their way across the sidewalk, they inadvertently knocked over a small produce stand. The rest of the team seemed oblivious until Paul stopped and turned around to go back.

From beside the taxi the others called out to Paul, “Come on, you will miss your flight.”

“Go ahead without me,” Paul replied as he made his way back across the street toward the sidewalk covered with produce. At that moment, he realized that the woman who had been behind the produce stand was blind. She was just standing there crying softly with tears running down her face.”

“It’s OK, it’s OK.” Paul said to her as he got down on his hands and knees and began picking up the fruit and vegetables. There were a hundred people passing in each direction, but nobody else stopped to help. They just scurried off to wherever they were going.

When the fruit was all back on the stand, Paul began neatly organizing it, setting aside anything that was spoiled. Now he turned to the woman and asked, “Are you OK?”

She nodded through her tears. Then, reaching for his wallet, he took out some bills and passed them to the woman saying, “This money should cover the damages.”

With that, Paul turned and began to walk away.

“Mister,” the woman called after him. Paul paused and turned around. And she said, “Are you Jesus?”

“Oh, no,” he replied. The woman only nodded and continued, “I only ask because I prayed for Jesus to help me as I heard my fruit falling all over the sidewalk.”

Paul turned to leave again, only now his eyes began to fill with tears. For a long time he wandered around looking for a taxi. After finally finding one, he sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to the airport. He had missed his flight, and because it was Friday night, all the other flights were full. He spent the night in a hotel by the airport. This gave him time to think. He couldn’t get one question out of his head: “When was the last time someone confused me with Jesus?”

It is a powerful story, isn’t it? We live in a busy world, don’t we? The demands of our job plus other interests require the expenditure of so much energy and time that we often fail to see individuals around us who have needs to which we do not respond. The result is that we miss opportunities to be an ambassador for the King of Kings. People with needs remain unmet because we are too busy to see and are not concerned.

II Corinthians 5:20 says that every Christian is an ambassador for Christ. Therefore, as Christians let us ask ourselves: “Am I ever so busy that I fail to see human needs, walk by them, and leave them unmet?”

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