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Archeology was one of the required courses when I attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1953. On the first day of class our professor, Dr. Marc Lovelace, walked into the classroom with a shovel across his shoulder. He plumped it down on the desk at the front of the room with authority. His first words were, “Brethren, if you get out of this course with a good grade, you are going to have to dig!”

It was an emphatic introduction to the study of archeology. I’ve never forgotten it. He was definitely trying to make a point, and we understood very clearly what that point was. Archeologists have an interesting job. They dig where past history took place. They have excavated countless sites where the events described in the Bible happened. The archeologist’s goal is to find all kinds of stuff – but especially bones!

Bones are important – and you are full of them. Babies are born with 300 bones, but by adulthood that number is reduced to 206. Some of the bones, like skull bones, get fused together, reducing the total number. The 206 bones in an adult include the following: hands – 54; feet – 52; skull – 8; vertebral column – 26; legs – 8; arms – 6. If your body had none of these bones, it would not be able to function.

There are three additional bones every person needs in order to enjoy life. They will keep us moving forward in a productive way, especially when the tough times roll. You will not find these three bones listed in any encyclopedia or medical book. They are: the backbone, the wishbone, and the funny bone.

The backbone stands for the strength and courage you need when you face challenges or have difficulties to overcome. Paul, the apostle, faced numerous difficulties – he was severely beaten more than once, stoned, shipwrecked, bitten by a serpent, imprisoned, and so on – but he kept going with courage to accomplish the mission he had been assigned by God to accomplish. He had backbone. It is the only way any of us will get through the kind of things we will likely have to face in life. A strong backbone is important.

The second bone, your wishbone is linked to your dreams and goals. Perhaps your dream is to finish college or other specialized training school to become a physician, a teacher, a scientist, or something else. Those who have no dreams have no need of a wishbone. Do you have one? If so, is it in good working order? What are you doing to make your dreams come true? Or has your wishbone been buried under a list of obstacles that you believe stand in your way? Let God guide your dreams.

The third bone you will need throughout life is a funny bone – that is, if you would like to experience joy and fulfillment. Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher in the Tabernacle Church in London many years ago was criticized again and again by some of his fellow ministers for what they said was “bordering on frivolity in the pulpit.” Spurgeon occasionally used humor in his sermons, and they thought it less than dignified.

With a twinkle in his eye, Spurgeon said to one of his critics, “If you only knew how much I hold back, you would commend me.” They thought it a crime to cause momentary laughter in church. Spurgeon said, “To cause someone to laugh is infinitely better than providing a half-hour of profound slumber.” Right on, Brother Spurgeon! Are you listening, Brother Pastor?

I read somewhere that the average person has seventeen laughs per day. A sourpuss has a lot less; joyful people often have more. I believe laughing is good for what ails you. I have no way of knowing how many laughs you have each day, but I sincerely hope you enjoy every one of them to the fullest. If having a long face is what it takes for a person to be considered a dedicated Christian, Maude and Claude, the mules with which my uncle Bennie plowed his fields back in the 1940’s, were the two finest Christians I ever knew.

 

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Prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts to those who serve Him. “Will not God vindicate His elect, who cry to Him day and night?” (Luke 18:70). Those who hem in both ends of each day with prayer have discovered that they are not as likely to unravel in the middle. Prayer equips us for service. However, too many Christians are like the Baptist deacon who prayed, “Use me, O Lord in your work – but only in an advisory capacity.”

Nothing lies outside the reach of prayer except that which is outside the will of God. Out of the 667 prayers recorded in the Bible, there are 454 recorded answers. The following four thoughts about prayer dramatically demonstrate why it is one of God’s greatest gifts to every believer:

The privilege of prayer: Because Christ has entered through the veil into the Holy of Holies before us, we through faith have direct access to the very mercy seat of God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker saw prayer as a privilege. He said, “Prayer has been the greatest source of help in my life. I never go to sleep at night without saying the simple prayers I learned at my mother’s knee. During the day I ask God’s help about my business problems, my friends, my family, and my country.” No one can live in doubt who has prayed in faith.

The purpose of prayer: Prayer is not simply petition and repetition, feeling and sentiment; nor is it a sanctified form of begging, or convincing God of something He already knows and thereby compels Him to take some sort of action. It is primarily an act of devotion whereby Christians dedicate, submit, consecrate themselves to God, and can be brought to the place where God through them can accomplish the very things for which they have prayed.

The power of prayer: It lies not in its particular method or exercise, nor in the number of hours spent in that exercise. The power of prayer lies in God. To pray in power means to pray in faith, to pray Spirit-guided prayers. Prayer provides power, poise, peace, and purpose. Therefore, when our outlook is bad, we would be well advised to try the “up-look.” Why is this true? God is never more than a prayer away.

Missionary William Carey, realizing the limitless power of prayer, said, “Attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God.” An anonymous poet expressed the power of prayer in this way:

“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring:
For His grace and power are such.
None can ever ask too much.”

The persistency of prayer: If an unjust judge, who had regard for neither God nor man, would yield to the persistence of the unknown widow mentioned in Luke 18:1-8 because he was afraid she would annoy him by her repetitious requests, how much more willingly will a just and merciful God respond to and reward the persevering petitions of His own loved ones who cry out to Him in prayer?

 

 

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H. Auden, the British-American poet, once labeled the day in which we live “The Age of Anxiety.” The word anxiety literally means “to be pulled apart.” It would be difficult to find a more accurate description of what worry and anxiety does to a person – it pulls us apart.

Dr. Charles Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said: “Worry affects circulation, the heart, the glands, and the whole nervous system. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but I have known many who died from worry.” According to Joe Graedon, author of “The Aspirin Handbook, “Americans pop 80 million aspirin tablets every single day – 29 billion per year – a figure that works out to 117 aspirin tablets annually for every man, woman and child in the country.”

What do we worry about? You name it and we worry about it. Big things, middle-sized things, little things, even non-existent things. We worry about things that happened yesterday. We worry about things that may never happen. You cannot improve the quality of your life by worrying, but you can foul it up. Worry will not change your grade or make you more beautiful or handsome. You cannot change what is already an established fact.

Anxiety is a universal problem, but some people seem to enjoy the experience. They are miserable and want everyone around them to be miserable also. The end result of worrying is that we can guarantee the end result that we fear may happen – insomnia, fatigue, neurosis, and eventually an emotional breakdown. Earl Riney, in Church Management, expressed the same thoughts in a humorous way: “Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the daytime, and too sleepy to worry at night.” It is not wise to take tomorrow to bed with you when you retire at night.

It has been said that two out of every three persons have emotional problems. Any time you are with two other people, evaluate them. If they seem totally normal to you, guess which one of the three has emotional problems.

We should never worry about the past, for it cannot be changed. Nor should we borrow trouble from our tomorrows. Thomas Carlyle was right when he said, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly in the future, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” An old idiom expresses it this way: “Life is hard by the yard, but by the inch it’s a cinch.”

The right way to deal with worry and anxiety is have a deep, vibrant, and growing faith in God. Jesus said that we should start by setting productive priorities. Decide what is important, what is most important, and what is unimportant. Realize that meaningful living does not have to consist of an overabundance of things. Live one day at a time.

You may ask, “But how can I do that?” Just follow the recommendations found in I Peter 5:6-7 – “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Charles F. Deems, in Epigram, beautifully expresses the truth found in these two verses:

“The world is wide
In time and tide,
And God is guide.
Then do not hurry.
That man is blest
Who does his best
And leaves the rest,
Then do not worry.”

 

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In Harry Wilson’s book, The Seeker, there is a very emotional scene where young Bernal came to his grandfather to inform him that he had decided not to enter the ministry. The reason for his decision was that he could not accept the traditional views of God his grandfather preached.

After a lengthy conversation, the old man looked into the face of his grandson and said, “I have no claim upon you; and I shall be glad to provide for you – to educate you further for any profession – away from here – from this house.” These were stinging words, and Bernal had not expected them from his grandfather.

“Thank you, sir,” he replied. “I shall hardly take anything further. But I will go . . . I will take a small sum to go with – enough to get me away . . .”

As Bernal slowly walked away, his grandfather fell on his knees and prayed for his grandson. As he did so, his sobs shook his body convulsively.

The following morning at twilight Bernal came to say goodbye to his grandfather. He made his way to the study door, then paused for a final word: “I believe there is no One above whose forgiveness I need sir – but I shall always be grieved if I can’t have yours. I do need that.”

Standing inside the open door, the old man said, “You have it, I forgive you any hurt you have caused me . . . For that other forgiveness, which you will one day know is more than mine I shall always pray for that.”

As Bernal left the following morning, his sister, Nancy, called out to Him. He paused and they talked for a while. Finally, Nancy asked him a very important question: “What are you, Bernal?”

“Nothing, Nance – that’s the trouble,” he replied.

“But, where are you going, and what for?” she continued.

“I don’t know either answer,” he replied.

What a powerful story! It tells us that it is not enough for us to know all of the theories about God. We may be familiar with what the latest theologians are thinking, and be totally aware of the doctrines taught by the church, but unless we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, our soul will feel the same emptiness that Bernal felt when Nancy asked, “What are you?”

The greatest danger in life is not that we aim too high and miss it, but that we aim too low and reach it. God did not create us to be a “nothing.” He created us in His spiritual image – to be noble and to live on the highest plateaus. Even so, the purpose for which God created us is always blurred when our goals revolve around fulfilling our selfish desires.

Have you found the purpose for which God created you? If not, could it be that your goals in life revolve around the acquisition of money and the things that give you the most pleasure?

Money can buy luxurious mansions, flashy sports cars, fine clothes, expensive jewelry, and exciting adventure, but none of these can satisfy the deepest longings of your soul. The richest person in the world cannot buy health or love or any degree of lasting happiness. Money cannot buy courage or forgiveness or the level of inner peace that comes from knowing all is well with your soul.

In Wilson’s book, The Seeker, the questions Nancy asked Bernal emphasized the importance of knowing who you are and where you are going in life. Until you have a satisfactory answer to these questions you will never know what it means to be genuinely happy. But what is happiness? And where can it be found?

Happiness is not something you have in your hands or on deposit in the bank; it is something you carry in your heart. It begins the moment you establish a right relationship with God. This is why C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity says, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself.” With God living in your heart you will have a healthy mental attitude, a grateful spirit, a clear conscience, and a heart full of love. If these four things could be bought, you wouldn’t be able to afford them.

Therefore, ask yourself in a personal way the questions Nancy asked Bernal: “Where am I going”? And “for what am I going?” It is vitally important to have a worthy goal for your life, but only if you are willing to leave where you are and head in that direction.

Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount mentioned the things people generally seek in order to have security and experience happiness –food, clothes, drink, etc. He then said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

If you, like Bernal, don’t yet know who you are or where you are going, why not decide to do what Jesus suggested? It will build for you a bridge from this world to the next.

 

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One of the ways Jesus conveyed truth to others was through the use of parables. One of His most instructive parables was about a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) who went into the temple in Jerusalem to pray. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about his own goodness: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, and adulterers – or even like this scoundrel tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all that I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up toward heaven, but beat upon his breast and said, “God have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.”

Jesus said that the hated tax collector, not the ultra-religious Pharisee who had an inflated opinion of himself and of his righteousness, went home that day justified before God. As I was examining this parable recently I became aware of how easy it is for Christians, including me, to have a Mickey Mouse level prayer life. I began wondering what a modern version of this parable would sound like. The wheels between my ears began spinning into action. I decided that I would try to translate this parable into today’s language and culture to see how it would sound.

In the modern version of the parable I choose to call the Pharisee Baptist Bob. On a given Sunday morning he walked into his church with his head held high and his chest out. As he walked into the sanctuary he spotted the town drug pusher and troublemaker sitting on one of the back pews. He had been tried, found guilty, spent time in prison, and was recently paroled. Bob was disgusted to see such a man in his church, so he told the head usher to keep a close watch on the man. We will call him Larry Lowlife. Larry had finally realized that he needed to change the road on which he had been traveling. He desperately needed God’s help – and he was in church

At the beginning of his pastoral prayer time the pastor always gave at least thirty seconds for the congregation to quietly pray before he began his prayer. Baptist Bob’s silent prayer was more about his own goodness than about his spiritual need: “Heavenly Father, I thank You that I’ve been a deacon of this church for more than 20 years. You have blessed my business so much that I am able to give even more than a tithe to church. I haven’t missed Sunday School in over ten years — even when I was sick. And you know that I used to sing in the choir. I don’t smoke unfiltered cigarettes, drink alcohol, or cuss on Sundays. And I don’t use or sell drugs – like the drug-pushing punk on one of our back pews who has the audacity after getting out of prison to attend our church today. And please help our softball team clobber the First Presbyterian team in church softball league Tuesday night. Amen!”

Baptist Bob was so full of pride he could strut while he was sitting down. Meanwhile, Larry Lowlife on one of the back pews was praying, “God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner. I desperately need your help to get my life turned around so I can go in the right direction. Lord, please forgive me, and cleanse me. I open my life to You!”

Hopefully this modern parable of Baptist Bob and Larry Lowlife will help you to enter the worship services in your church every Sunday with a desire to focus primarily upon three things: (1) the goodness and greatness of God, (2) to genuinely worship Him by focusing primarily upon your spiritual needs, and (3) to offer your life to serve Him in the ways that will bear witness of His love to others in specific ways.

In the original parable of the Pharisee and tax collector Jesus said there are two attitudes people generally display in worship: (1) “I’m proud of my goodness.” Pride loves to use the personal pronouns “I” and “me.” It seldom admits a need. It does not focus upon the needs of others. (2), “I desperately need God’s mercy”. Which of these two attitudes best describes your spirit as you enter church each Sunday morning?

If you will enter God’s presence aware of your own sins, not the sins of others, He can and will use you in powerful ways to serve others. Why is this true? You will know that service is simply love in work clothes.

 

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Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist, in one of his stories gives us a picture of the ideal ruler. He represents him as keeping open house and feeding the finest food to the citizens in his kingdom who have labored diligently, while he gives crusts and crumbs to those who are lazy. The way the ruler distinguishes between these is that when they enter the palace they are asked to show him their hands. The hands that are rough and calloused are working hands. Those with no sign of callouses are the hands of the slothful.

Picture yourself, using Tolstoy’s analogy, as you enter church next Sunday morning to be spiritually fed by the King of Kings. However, before you are allowed to enter into His presence, imagine that He says to you “Show me your hands!” Would your hands show any marks of labor for the Lord? Too many church members today lift their hands toward heaven with no callouses on them.

In my sixty plus years of service as a Christian minister I have been amazed at the number of church members who depend on the church for a Christian wedding and a Christian funeral, but who will do very little to make the Kingdom of God come on the earth in between those two dates. Christianity is a roll-up-your-sleeves religion. Christians should think twice before they sing, “Standing on the Promises” if all they are doing is “sitting on the premises.” Those who are merely sitting on the premises are like the little boy who fell out of bed one night, and when asked why, replied, “I guess I went to sleep too close to where I got in bed.”

Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). And the apostle Paul said, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58). In the New Testament the idea of service is second in importance only to the idea of salvation.

There is at least one task that every single Christian can do – pray! No church member can rightly say, “I would like to do something in the service of the Lord, but there is nothing for me to do.” If you believe there is absolutely nothing you can do in the work of God’s kingdom in your community, go to your pastor and volunteer your services. If he faints, it will be because pastors don’t get volunteers all that often.

The postmaster in my home town way back in the 1940’s loved poetry. He periodically placed poems on the post office bulletin board for patrons to read and enjoy. One poem in particular still sticks in my mind:

“Often when I pass the church,

I stop in for a visit,

So that when I’m finally carried in,

The Lord won’t ask, ‘Who is it?’”

The King of Kings wants those who serve Him to have willing hands, clean hands, and praying hands. As you enter church next Sunday and you hear Christ saying to you, “Show me your hands,” don’t be surprised. But before you show Him your hands, ask Him to show you His hands. The Bible tells us that they were healing hands, protecting hands, and serving hands. But of vastly more importance, they are also nail-scarred hands. They reveal just how far God was willing to go to prove how much He loves you.

What do your hands reveal?

 

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Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught His disciples to pray to God, the Father, and to close each prayer by saying, “In Jesus’ name”? Here is why: we have no claims upon God because of any goodness or service of our own, but Jesus has infinite claims upon Him. It is because Jesus loves us that He has given us the right to approach the Father using His name. Therefore, we should pray boldly, not timidly.

When we pray in Christ’s name we pray on the ground of His atoning death when He took our sins upon Himself. Who among us can say, “Lord, because of the way I live, I have earned the right to be both heard and answered in the way I ask? None of us have earned that right. It is only as we approach God the Father in the name of His Son. The reason for this is that prayer in Jesus’ name is based on His relationship with the Father. God delights in answering prayers that are prayed in His Son’s name.

R.A. Torrey, in The Power of Prayer, told the story of a father and mother who lived in Columbus, Ohio during the early 1860’s. They had only one child, a son, who was the joy of their hearts. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, the son came home one day and said to his parents, “I have enlisted in the Union Army.” They felt badly, of course, to see their son leave home, but they loved their country and were willing to make the sacrifice of giving their son to save the Union.

After their son had gone to the front, he wrote home regularly, telling his father and mother about his experiences in camp and elsewhere. His letters were full of brightness and good cheer, and they brought joy to his parent’s lonely hearts. But one day, at the regular time, no letter came.

Days passed, and no letter came from the front. Weeks passed, and they wondered what might have happened to their son. One day a letter came from the United States government, and in it they were told that there had been a great battle, and that their son, among many others, had been killed. The light went out in their hearts and in their home.

Days, weeks, and months passed by and they still had not heard anything further concerning their son. Finally the war came to an end. One morning as they were sitting at the breakfast table, the maid came in and said, “There is a poor, ragged fellow at the door, and he wants to speak to you. But I knew you did not wish to speak to a man like him. He handed me this note and asked me to put it in your hand.”

She handed to the father a soiled and crumpled piece of paper. When the father opened the note and began to read it, he quickly realized that the handwriting belonged to his son who had been killed in battle. The note said:

“Dear Father and Mother:

I have been shot and have only a short time to live, and I am writing you this last farewell note. As I write, there is kneeling beside me my most intimate friend in the company, and when the war is over he will bring you this note. When he does, be kind to him for Charlie’s sake.

Your son, Charles”

You can be certain that there was absolutely nothing in that father and mother’s house they would have considered too good for the man at their door whom they had assumed to be poor tramp. Why is this true? It would have been “for Charlie’s sake.”

Likewise, there is absolutely no resource or blessing in heaven or on the earth that is too good or too great that God will not supply for the meeting of our needs when it is in the framework of His will for us, and if we have sincerely prayed in Jesus’ name. Therefore, when your outlook is bad, you would be wise to try the up-look. God is never more than a prayer away.

An anonymous author penned these beautiful words:

“When God inclines the heart to pray,
He hath an ear to hear:
To Him there’s music in a groan,
And beauty in a tear.”

Days that are hemmed in on both ends by prayer they are not likely to come unraveled in the middle. And why is this true? Prayer provides power, poise, peace and purpose.

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