Why Were They Called Christians?

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Acts 11:25-26

We live in a time of a reawakening of “spirituality.” Is this a good or bad thing? There is a great difference between the contemporary, formless spirituality and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives weight, substance, call, and identity to our vague spirituality.

For some years now we seem to be going through a resurgence of interest in the Spirit. Americans are becoming more spiritual. “I am not very religious, I’ll admit,” someone else said, “but I am very spiritual.” We have had programs on television about angels, even about the perils and pitfalls of pastors. It does seem, if popular culture is a valid indicator, that we are becoming more spiritual. But I feel duty bound to warn all these sincere folk that from our church experience, “life in the spirit” can be a great challenge. Be careful of the Spirit!

In one of his letters to one of the churches he helped to establish, Paul speaks about the need to “test the Spirit.” “Not every spirit,” says Paul is the “Holy Spirit.” Presumably, according to Paul, there can be good and bad spirits.
But I am not writing about that. I am writing about the way the Holy Spirit deals with us. I hear these people talking about how good a thing it is to be spiritual. Much of the talk implies that, if we just get a little spirit, we will receive help with our problems, more satisfying lives, a lowering of our blood pressure. If I read my stories correctly in scripture, getting more spiritual can get you killed. But I can say this, the Holy Spirit is a power, a power outside ourselves, that helps us in our weakness, yes, but also a power that pushes us, prods us, pokes at us, and rarely leaves us as we are. The Holy Spirit is not only a power, it is also a persona, that visage of the aspects of the nature of God.

I’ll tell you why the Holy Spirit is threatening. Am I only speaking for myself when I say that I like to be in control? Life can be disordered enough, and I like order. I like to get up in the morning, eat the same honey buns, brush the same teeth, move in the same direction through ritual, habit, and pattern. It is good to have a few things tied down, patterned, and predictable. The Holy Spirit is about none of that. Furthermore, I like to feel that I am in charge, in control, in the driver’s seat determining the direction of life. I like to make decisions, set goals, priorities, and move toward them, achieving them, checking off my list of projects. Life hits you with enough strange stuff. You can make, decide, create, achieve. The Holy Spirit is about none of that. I suppose rising out of my desire for predictability and control is my strong yearning to know. I want to understand why things work the way they do.
I want to be able to explain the incongruities of the world, to define, understand, explain. The world can be mysterious. Therefore, I like to get things explained, defined, understood – even God. The Holy Spirit is about none of that.

Antioch was in Syria, 16 1/2 miles from the Mediterranean and three hundred miles N of Jerusalem. It was founded about 300 B.C. The city was destroyed several times by earthquakes, one of which, A.D. 526, killed 250,000 persons.
Antioch was luxurious, it’s main street, four miles in length, was lined with magnificent mansions. It was highly cultured, but its social life was debased, sensual, and shocking. It became the third city in the Roman Empire, reaching a population of 500,000. Antioch was associated early with Christian effort.
It was there that the persecuted disciples fled after the demise of Stephen.
The name Christian was first applied to followers of Jesus there. All three of Paul’s missionary journeys began in Antioch.

Princeton University and the National Museum of France excavated at Antioch for six seasons during the years 1932-39. A street plan of a large part of the ancient city has been established. Numerous significant mosaic pavements were uncovered in churches. The Chalice of Antioch is a controversial art object found at Antioch in 1910 and now is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The chalice is of two parts: a plain inner cup of silver, about seven and a half inches high and six inches in diameter, and an outer gilded silver holder with twelve figures displayed on the outside. It has even been identified as the Holy Grail used by Christ at the Last Supper. Perhaps this chalice is an early piece of Christian art of some century later than the first.

Why were they called “Christian” at Antioch? We as believers are called by many titles – Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic. What is required to be called a “Christian?” A Christian is a believer in and a follower of Jesus Christ. Christian literally means “Christ Like.” However, it occurs in the Scriptures only three times: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26); “and Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian'” (26:28); “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed” (1 Peter 4:16). The term Christian is clearly a Gentile designation for believers because the word Christ, upon which the term was constructed, suggests recognition of the Messiah, which no unbelieving Jew was prepared to do.

Becoming a Christian, according to the New Testament, is a definite act with significant results. I was asked to do a funeral for a man I hadn’t ever met and while visiting with the family this is the information I was given: The family said, “He was a good Christian man.” What church was he a member of? None. When was he baptized? Never was baptized. Well, what church did he attend. Didn’t go to church. What was he like? Everyone knew of his temper. He had a bad habit of cussing. But he believed in God. I don’t have to be a minister to figure out that this man was not a Christian. Where is the fruit? Where is the evidence?

The “spirituality” that I see being established today is an “I believe in a God that is defined by me.” Christian spirituality isn’t just some projection of our various inclinations about God. Spirituality is not something vague within us. It is something that is brought to us, taught to us. Christianity is a revealed and revealing religion.

There are five things that are necessary to be a Christian.
FAITH: Do you genuinely believe that God is real? Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
REPENTANCE: Repentance is to know and accept the fact that we are sinners. Once we admit that we are sinner we are sorrowful for our actions.
BAPTISM: Baptism is a necessary part of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.
FORGIVENESS: Those who accept Christ are forgiven of their sins. No matter how many times we sin, we are forgiven.
THE HOLY SPIRIT: All who have accepted Jesus, have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God’s Promise Celebrated

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Luke 2:21-40

While Jesus was in Bethany reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. Jesus said what she did was a beautiful thing. The beauty of it lay in its very extravagance.

This isn’t just a $5 bottle of Musk or a $50 bottle of White Diamonds. You wouldn’t wrap this up for Valentines Day, and say, “Surprise honey, I got you a pint of Nard #5.” This stuff was expensive, imported from the Himalayan mountains of India, and was worth about a year’s income. Can you imagine blowing about 30 grand on a jar of cologne? There is no indication that she was wealthy. What she gave cost her, just like it would cost you if you gave a year’s wages. Mary breaks it open and empties it on Jesus’ head. Then she wipes his feet with her hair. This is her act of worship…extravagant giving, humbling service. She didn’t give the left over after satisfying her own wants and desires. She gave her best.

If our giving never costs us, then our giving never really means anything. On the other hand, we have Judas Iscariot, who viewed this act of extravagant giving as a complete waste. “When the disciples saw this, they were indignant, ‘Why this waste?’ they asked, ‘This perfume could have been sold at a higher price and the money given to the poor.’

Christmas is about gift giving. Ever since the wise men brought the three gifts of gold, incense and myrrh, giving is a part of Christmas. It’s not Christmas to which we object, but rather the “commercial racket” that Christmas has become. The problem with commercialized Christmas began with Dickens’ Mr. Pickwick carrying a cod to Dingley Dell as an offering for their Yuletide celebration. Then it was Scrooge ordering a turkey for his clerk. “But then the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards,” a tradition “forced upon us by the shopkeepers.” And the worst of it is the giving of gifts by people one hardly knows. The “whole thing is a nightmare,” says Lewis. “Most of it is involuntary.

What is the point of getting a gift we did not want, a gift we did not need from someone whom we hardly know? Perhaps it is the whole point of this blessed day of days. Did you hear the Scripture? “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). Our neighbor asked me once if my parents liked country ham? He said that he was giving them one for Christmas. My parents were mad at me for not telling them about the ham because they had nothing ready to give in return.

God kept trying, with every means at God’s disposal, to get through to us – the covenant to Abraham and Sarah, the promises to the patriarchs, the poetry of the prophets, the praise of the psalms. When none of this worked, God gave us the Son. Down through the centuries thousands had begged God for a sign, a word, a signal, but who had asked for the Son, the very Son of God “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb 1:3)? The angel said to us, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). A sign of what? “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). The word grace is the same word in the New Testament as gift.

When Adlai Stevenson worked for the Agricultural Administration, he received a Christmas gift from a walnut company: a large sack of individually packaged walnuts. He received this gift well before Christmas and realized he could never eat this many walnuts. He identified his opportunity and sent the individually wrapped walnuts to his friends as presents–only to find out later that inside each of the packages of walnuts was a card that read: “Merry Christmas to Adlai from the walnut industry.” Good gift; wrong recipient!

Love heals people it heals the one who gives it and it heals the one who receives it. In so many ways, down through all the ages, God tried to show us that he loved us and cared for us. God tried to speak to us in various ways, to reach us through various means. Now God has come to us as the Son, as the babe at Bethlehem. Here is a gift we did not know how to ask for, much less graciously receive. Yet here is the great gift, the magnificent act of grace, that God knew we needed. God in the flesh. Jesus, the Messiah, born among us.
Herein is our great joy.

I know of a man who spent an hour’s flight seated next to a man from Minneapolis, a salesman of some sort. He engaged my friend in conversation about this and that. My friend had intended to get some work done on the flight, but this stranger wanted to talk, so they talked. During the conversation he said, “You look like a man who needs to learn to relax.”
My friend thought it an impertinent comment from someone he had just met.
But he remembered that comment about two weeks later when in the mail he received a package. A gift. All the card said was, “From John.” He had not the faintest idea who John was. It was a couple of woodcarving knives, whittling knives, of all things. What was he supposed to do with these and who on earth were they from? Then he turned the card over. It read, “To a man who needs some-times to relax, from someone who found these helpful.”

Can you believe that? He never asked for woodcarving knives. This guy didn’t even know him. Now, what is he supposed to do? Is he expected now to send him some gift in return? A gift from a virtual stranger?

Now they have some kind of a relationship, I suppose. My friend now has to think of something to do for him. Here, with this uninvited gift, this guy has turned their chance conversation into a relationship. Now what? Now, three years later, when my friend wants to relax, he’ll take out that woodcarving set and start carving on a piece of wood. He is no artist and no expert, but it does cause him to relax. And to think, he didn’t even want this. Some gift. Some grace. And the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. This is good news, a sign that God really cares for you. You shall find a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger…”

Forgiveness: A Measure Of Love

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Luke 7:36-48

A little boy disobeyed his mother. But his conscience began to hurt him, and he was sneaking up to his room when his mother saw him. “Where are you going, Frank?” she asked. “To my room to talk to God.” “Is it something you can’t tell me?” Frank explained, “Yes, it is. You’ll just scold and punish me while God will forgive and forget all about it.”

Our news as a society is filled with questions of forgiveness. An accident occurs in the Pacific that cost the lives of 14 young people when a sub hits a boat. Mistakes were made and the captain is punished. But families think it is not enough and demand more. A bomber blows up a building and changes the lives of a whole community. So we want to watch the execution on TV. We say, “It will bring closure.”

No one denies that wrongs were done and that great injustice took place in these two cases and in hundreds of others like them. Even things on a much smaller scale that in some ways bothers us more. The neighbors dog that keeps fertilizing your lawn. The colleague at work who gossips about you. The friend who borrowed something and won’t return it.

What do we do with our anger? Buddy Hackett says he doesn’t bother to carry a grudge. He says, “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”

I have seen people hold grudges for years. Ever heard of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s? You think that only happens in the hills of Kentucky? We hold the grudge because we cannot resolve the anger.

I was teaching a Bible study one time on the story of the “Healing of the Demonic.” A man with so many demons in him that they are called legion. Jesus orders the demons out of the man into a herd of pigs that are nearby. The pigs run off the side of a cliff and die. Now our attention is on the fact that this man is healed, he was once mentally deranged and now he is well. A woman asked, “Is the farmer compensated by Jesus for the loss of the pigs?” Good question! It was a good thing that happened but the farmer experienced the loss. To whom does the farmer express his anger and does his injustice keep the farmer from becoming a Christian?

“We are such a mixture of sinner and sinned against that we cannot forgive people without feeling set free ourselves.” A woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. A known sinful life and with an alabaster jar of perfume – the woman had been a prostitute. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. The Pharisee doesn’t like this happening at his house. Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. You and I know that God is the moneylender and that we are the debtors. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Corrie Ten Boom, who years after her concentration camp experiences in Nazi Germany, met face to face one of the most cruel and heartless German guards that she had ever encountered. He had humiliated and degraded her and her sister. He had jeered and visually raped them as they stood in the delousing shower. Now he stood before her with hand out-stretched and said, “Will you forgive me?” She writes, “I stood there with coldness clutching at my heart, but I know that the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. I prayed, Jesus, help me! Woodenly, mechanically I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me and I experienced an incredible thing. The current started in my shoulder, raced down into my arms and sprang into our clutched hands. Then this warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. I forgive you, brother, I cried with my whole heart. I have never known the love of God so intensely as I did in that moment!” To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.

They betray him, whip him, taunt him, mock him, spit on him, curse him and nail him to a cross, and in retaliation he cries out to God: “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

We all know that we are to forgive so that we may be forgiven, but how do we do it? Four simple rules to forgiveness!

Remember God’s Word – they have been forgiven by God whether we forgive them or not. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14) “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21)

Turn to God in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer shows how important prayer is in being released of the anger. “…forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors….” The best therapy is to talk it out and there is no better therapy then to talk it out with God. “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43)

Deal with the anger (issue) now. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Eph 4:26)

Do a good deed/turn for the one that needs our forgiveness. On the evening of April 25th, 1958, a young Korean exchange student, a leader in student Christian affairs in the University of Pennsylvania, left his flat and went to the corner to post a letter to his parents in Pusan. Turning from the mailbox he stepped into the path of eleven leather-jacketed teenage boys. Without a word they attacked him, beating him with a black-jack, a lead pipe and with their shoes and fists. Later, when the police found him in the gutter, he was dead. All Philadelphia cried out for vengeance. The District Attorney secured legal authority to try the boys as adults so that those found guilty could be given the death penalty. Then a letter arrived from Korea that made everyone stop and think. It was signed by the parents and by twenty other relatives of the murdered boy. It read in part: “Our family has met together and we have decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who have committed this criminal action . . . In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious, educational, vocational and social guidance of the boys when they are released . . . We have dared to express our hope with a spirit received from the Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins.” Turning the other cheek to our enemy is a call to make friends of that enemy. The best way to forgive is to turn the bitterness to love.

Finding Love

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First Corinthians 13

Sometimes misunderstood, John began to think about how blessed he was to have such a wonderful wife, and he decided to show his appreciation. So he went out and bought a box of candy and a dozen roses. When he got home, he decided to ring the bell and surprise her at the door. When Mary answered the bell and saw him with candy and roses, she burst into tears. “What’s wrong?” he insisted. “It’s been a horrible day;” she cried out. ‘The baby’s been sick, the washing machine broke down and now you come home drunk!”

There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved. Tell me whom you love, and I’ll tell you who you are. — Creole Proverb

We find love by first loving ourselves. Try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself? Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’… That is an enormous relief.”

A man was sitting outside the drug store in New Castle, Kentucky. He had a Social Security check in his hand, waiting for the bank to open. He asked, “Have you ever really been hungry?”

We find love by giving love to others. Love is the willingness to sacrifice for others. Hatred is the willingness to sacrifice others. Leo Buscaglia in his book Loving Each Other, says, “Always start a relationship by asking: Do I have ulterior motives for wanting to relate to this person? Is my caring conditional? Am I trying to escape something? Am I planning to change the person? Do I need this person to help me make up for a deficiency in myself?
If your answer to any of these questions is ‘Yes,’ leave the person alone. He or she is better off without you.”

If you’re too busy to help your neighbor in need, you’re too busy. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him (is just too busy to help), how can the love of God be in him? (John 3:17) Love heals people; it heals the one who gives it, and it heals the one who receives it.

Fifty-seven pennies found under a little girl’s pillow when she died left their mark on Philadelphia. The girl wanted to enter a little Sunday School in Philadelphia years ago, and was told that there was not enough room. She began saving her pennies to “help the Sunday School have more room.” Two years later she became ill and died, and they found a small pocket book under her pillow with fifty-seven pennies and a piece of paper which had the following note written very neatly: “To help build the Little Temple bigger, so more children can go to Sunday School.” The Pastor told the story to his congregation, and the newspaper took the story across the country. Soon the pennies grew, and the outcome can be seen in Philadelphia today. There is a church which will seat 3,300 persons, a Temple University which accommodates thousands of students, a Temple Hospital, and a large Temple Sunday School.

And it all began with a beautiful, dedicated spirit — and fifty-seven pennies.
It takes concern and commitment and dedication and love to give one’s self.
In the words of Jesus at the conclusion of the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Go thou and do likewise.”

We find love by finding God. Ron Jenson rented a travel camper and traveled around the country with his wife while working on his doctoral thesis. His task was to interview 350 Christian leaders. At the end of his tour he made a discouraging observation. He said, “I found a great deal of zeal for God’s work, but very little passion for God.”

There was a small voice that penetrated the stillness of the night. It came from the bedroom across the hall. “Daddy, I’m scared!” Out of your groggy, fuzzy state, you respond with, “Honey, don’t be afraid, Daddy’s right across the hall.” After a very brief pause the little voice is heard again, “I’m still scared.”
Always quick with an insight you respond, “You don’t need to be afraid, God is with you. God loves you.” This time the pause is longer . . . but the voice returns, “I don’t care about God, Daddy; I want someone with skin!”

It seems like the logic used by the little child is precisely the reason for the incarnation. After thousands of years of being unsuccessful in being able to convince his people that he really loved them, our Creator realized that the best way to demonstrate his love for us was to send “someone with skin on.”

In Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, Mr. Washington recalled a beautiful incident of an older brother’s love. He said the shirts worn on his plantation by the slaves were made of a rough, bristly, inexpensive flax fiber. As a young boy, the garment was so abrasive to his tender, sensitive skin that it caused him a great deal of pain and discomfort. His older brother, moved by his brother’s suffering, would wear Booker’s new shirts, until they were broken in and smoother to the touch. Booker said it was one of the most striking acts of kindness he had experienced among his fellow slaves. What a beautiful illustration of “bearing one another’s burden,” which we are admonished to do in Galatians 6:10.

Love doesn’t just happen, it is learned. We do not develop habits of genuine love automatically. We learn by watching effective role models – most specifically by observing how our parents express love for each other day in and day out. Tolerance says, “You must approve of what I do.” Love responds, “I must do something harder; I will love you, even when your behavior offends me.” Tolerance says, “you must agree with me.” Love responds, “I must do something harder; I will tell you the truth, because I am convinced ‘the truth will set you free.'” Tolerance says, “You must allow me to have my way.” Love responds, “I must do something harder; I will plead with you to follow the right way, because I believe you are worth the risk.” Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance glorifies division; love seeks unity. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything.

One of the most difficult things I ever had to do in my life was to tell a colleague and friend that he smelt bad. The two of us had a friendship that went back 25 years. No one else was telling him the truth, not even regional staff. We do not judge the people we love. We pardon to the extent that we love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. In the end what counts? And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Finding Happiness In The Midst Of Sadness

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Proverbs 15:13

What goes HA, HA, HA, plop? Answer: Someone who laughs his head off! A gifted public speaker was asked to recall his most difficult speaking assignment. He said, “That’s easy. It was an address I gave to the National Conference of Undertakers. The topic they gave me was ‘How To Look Sad At A Ten Thousand Dollar Funeral.’

There is an old Arabic proverb that says, “All sunshine makes a desert.” A young single woman just learned from her doctor that she only had one year to live. “Isn’t there anything I can do to extend my life?” she asked her doctor. “The doctor reflected on her question, hesitated, and then said, Well, you might try marrying a boring man. Perhaps your last year of life will seem like more.”

Holiday Inn interviewed 5,000 people to fill 500 positions that were needed to open a new facility. When the hotel managers interviewed these candidates, they excluded anybody who smiled fewer than four times during the course of their interview. This standard was applied to every available job and to every prospective employee. How many of us would qualify for a job at Holiday Inn?

We have a lot we can learn from children, for research shows children laugh an unbelievable 400 times a day on average. This is compared to adults who average 15 laughs a day. The writer of Proverbs knew what he was talking about.

Misconceptions about happiness. Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and softly sits on your shoulder. Joy is never in our power and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.

One of the biggest deceptions of today is the belief that leisure and money are the two essentials of happiness. The sad fact of life is that there are no more frustrated people on the face of the earth than those who have nothing to do, and those who have too much money for their own good. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. The Chicago Tribune (9/1/96) ran the story of Buddy Post, “living proof that money can’t buy happiness.” In 1988, he won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania Lottery. Since then, he was convicted of assault, his sixth wife left him, his brother was convicted of trying to kill him, and his landlady successfully sued him for one-third of the jackpot. “Money didn’t change me,” said Post, a 58-year-old former carnival worker and cook. “It changed people around me that I knew, that I thought cared a little bit about me. But they only cared about the money.” Post is trying to auction off 17 future payments, valued at nearly $5 million, in order to pay off taxes, legal fees, and a number of failed business ventures.

A Gallup Poll reveals that less than 10% of Americans are deeply committed Christians. Gallup says only 6% – 10% have what he termed a “high spiritual faith.” The people of this minority group are categorized as particularly influential and happy. These folks are, as Gallup says, “a breed apart.” “They are more tolerant of people of diverse backgrounds. They are more involved in charitable activities. They are more involved in practical Christianity. They are absolutely committed to prayer. They are far, far happier than the rest of the population,” said Mr. Gallup.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
In the May 1996 issue of American Scientific magazine, a myth about happiness has been exposed. It noted, “People have not become happier over time as their cultures have become more affluent. Even though Americans earn twice as much as they did in 1957, the number that are ‘very happy’ has declined from 35 to 29 percent.”

Joy is that which encompasses and transcends both happiness and sadness.
Once endowed with joy, a person is not likely to lose it and in fact it grows with awareness of it. Joy is like the sun, always shining even when night falls or clouds cover it. Happiness is a kiss, joy a golden wedding anniversary.
Happiness is frequently shared but not always — joy is always. Happiness is born in the mind, joy in the heart. Happiness comes from humans, joy from God. Happiness is exchanging Christmas gifts — joy is awareness of what Christmas is all about. There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved. Victor Hugo wrote, “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.” “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man or woman about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’ If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor 13)

If you observe a really happy person you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of the day.

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The joy is not always in getting what we want but in letting go of what we don’t need. “A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” Hugh Downs said, “We can complain because rosebushes bear thorns, or we can rejoice because thornbushes bear roses.”

We do everything we can to avoid and escape pain but to live without pain is to live half alive. Pain and joy run together. When we cut ourselves off from pain, we have unwittingly cut ourselves off from joy as well. Neh 8:10 Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

Alexander McClaren, tells a marvelous story about when he was fifteen years old in a village outside of Glasgow, and he was sent to work in order to earn his way to college and to find resources for his family. His father walked him to work the first day and they went by a ravine in which people said there were evil spirits and anyone who walked through the ravine would be invested with those evil spirits. When Alexander McClaren got to Glasgow, he realized that he was going to have to go back through that ravine on his way home. It worried him Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, all day Saturday, and it filled his mind all Saturday evening. He got to the edge of the ravine and he could not do it! And then suddenly he heard a voice, and the voice said “Alex, it’s your Dad. I’ve come to walk through the ravine with ya!”

That’s what God is saying right now, “I’m going to walk through the ravine, through the valley of the shadow of death, through the impossibilities with you. Put your hand in mine.” “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” “I’m with you. I’ve come to walk with you.” May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to make you happy.

Earthly Success, Heavenly Failure

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Jeremiah 22:13-14

Kings, though they are gods to us, are men to God, and shall die like men; so it appears in these verses, where we have a sentence of death passed upon two kings who reigned successively in Jerusalem, two brothers, and both the ungracious sons of a very pious father. Shallum and Jehoiakim are the sons of Josiah. Josiah went to the grave in peace and honour, was prevented from seeing the evil to come in this world and removed to see the good to come in the other world; weep not for him, but for his unhappy son, who is likely to live and die in disgrace and misery, a wretched captive.

Both sons of Josiah have been caught up in the wealth and power of their Kingship. Their attention is on immediate gratification and what they can accumulate. Their attention is not on honestly governing the people. All attention is now and not to an accountable future.

Even Jesus made the statement, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23) We all understand it is not the money but what the money is doing to the person. Fame is vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.

Job is a wealthy man but the intent of his heart is good. Therefore God designs a plan to purge Job of the pride that has filled his life. This is where we get the saying, “Pride goes before the fall.”

One morning a couple of cowpunchers went out on the range to bring in a wild steer from the mountains. They took along with them one of those shaggy little gray donkeys-a burro. Now a big three-year old steer that’s been running loose in the timber is a tough customer to handle. Nevertheless, these cowboys had a technique for handling this steer. They got a rope on the steer and then they tied him neck and neck, right up close, to the burro and let them go. At first, the burro had a bad time. The steer threw him all over the place. He banged him against trees, rocks, into bushes. Time after time they both went down. But there was one great difference between the burro and the steer. The burro had an idea. He wanted to go home. And no matter how often the steer threw him, the burro got to his feet and he took a step nearer the corral. After about a week, the burro showed up at the corral. He had with him the tamest and sorriest-looking steer you ever saw.

The thought of this little burro being overpowered and abused can encourage us when we find ourselves struggling with difficult problems or people in our lives. We often feel tied “right up close”. If we could only have some slack!
But our God had a purpose in tying us to our problem. He knows that our faith will enable us to hang in there. No matter how often we are thrown, our stubborn Christian attitude will enable us to get to our feet and take a step nearer to God’s solution! We may be abused and hurt. But just think of the tremendous outcome we might eventually stand before the throne of our Savior, tied to that special person who has now been brought to Christ! Maybe God’s techniques make sense after all!

Success comes only when today is well lived and the future is planned. Jesus tells the story of a man who didn’t take stock in his future. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. The deception of wealth is that my future is secure. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. “He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Real success is when a believer succeeds in life and in death. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? What can a man give in exchange for his soul?

“Success is when 10,000 hours of training meet with one moment of opportunity.” We go to a wait loss clinic to lose 20 pounds. They plan exercise for us that will burn the weight. They plan a meal that will help us not to put the weight back on. And they help keep us focused on the plan. We go to a financial counselor and say, “I want to retire at 55.” The counselor will find out what type of standard of living we want in retirement. Then he will map out how much money we have to set aside and to achieve that goal. Then he will keep us focused on the goal – early retirement.

Jesus put it a different way, He called it our foundation. Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible, they were faithful. Seventy-five percent of under-achievement points directly at poor attitude, lack of perseverance and unfaithfulness. The young do not know enough to be prudent and therefore they attempt the impossible – and achieve it, generation after generation.

While fishing off the Florida coast, a tourist capsized the boat. The man was not sure if it was safe to swim to shore. He saw a man with a camera who stood on shore and called out to him, “Are there any alligators in these parts?”
“Nope,” the man answered, “There used to be some, but they are now long gone.” The man in the boat felt assured of his safety, dove from his boat, and began to swim toward shore. While swimming, he began to wonder what happened to the alligators. He stopped swimming while still in the water, and shouted his question to the man with the camera on shore, “What happened to the alligators?” The man with the camera who stood on shore replied, “These waters are too shark-infested for alligators to last long.” The man with the camera who stood on shore got some great pictures.

Problems are God-given opportunities to grow. Challenges which drive us to deeper understanding and maturity. Problem comes from the Greek word “pro baleen” which means “to throw” or “drive forward.” Problems drive us forward. The core of our problem-solving ability is in our attitude. Among those who have overcome adversity include: Beethoven, whose best works were composed after he lost his hearing; Louis Pasteur, whose greatest discoveries were made after he had suffered a stroke which threatened his life; John Milton’s best poetry came after he was blind; William Cowper wrote his greatest hymns in moments of having a clear mind between fits of insanity.

The Changing Face Of Evangelism

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Mark 16:15-18

After listening to Chuck Swindoll on the radio, 8-year-old Debbie asked 6-year-old brother David, “Do you know about Jesus?” Expecting a new slant on the old gospel story, David replied, “No.” Big sister continued: “Sit still, ’cause this is real scary.” After explaining the gospel as only an 8-year-old could, she popped the question: “Now David, when you die, do you want to go to heaven to be with Jesus, God, your mommy and daddy and big sister, or do you want to go to the lake of fire to be with the Devil and bank robbers?” David thought a moment, then replied, “I want to stay right here.”

A passenger jet was suffering through a severe thunderstorm. As the passengers were being bounced around by the turbulence, a young woman turned to a minister sitting next to her and with a nervous laugh asked, “Reverend, you’re a man of God, can’t you do something about this storm?” He looked at her and replied, “Sorry lady, I’m in sales, not management.”

Charles Malik, Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations, asked in a speech: “What has been the greatest American contribution to the rest of the world? Has it been money? Has it been food? Has it been medical skill? Has it been military might? Has it been industrial know-how?” Then he answers: “The greatest thing to come out of America has been the American missionary effort: the quiet, selfless men and women who have left the comfort and security of their homeland to bring the gospel of Christianity to less favored nations.”

Not the Bible thumping preacher that goes in because everyone else is wrong and to only save the lost from hell. But the missionary that has something to give to the community. Medical care. A better way to have water and food. Better education. To find peace and justice. Because the lost are won by the gracious acts of life skills.

The church is like manure. Pile it up, and it stinks up the neighborhood; spread it out, and it enriches the world. The great task of the church is to get sinners into heaven and saints out of bed! An Amish man was asked if he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The wise gentleman responded, “Why do you ask me such a thing? I could tell you anything. Here is the name of my banker, my grocer, and my farm hands. Ask them if I am saved.” True character is revealed in our treatment of others.

When Jesus gave us the Great Commission, exactly what was he telling us to do? At first glance, “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” all look like verbs, and we think, “Oh, I get it-Jesus told us to go, baptize, and teach!” Close but not quite right. Those are nice things to do, but Jesus actually and grammatically commanded us to “make disciples.” The “going, baptizing, teaching” tell us how we do it. Making disciples is the end, the focus, the command. Going, baptizing, and teaching are the means, the method, the activity.

The most effective means of getting people to experience what a church has to offer is having someone they know who belongs to the church simply invite them to try it. Call it whatever you wish–word of mouth, personal invitation, friendship evangelism–this is indisputably the most effective means of increasing the church rolls. Why? Because it builds upon an established relationship, which means that the recommendation or invitation springs from a credible source. More often than not, if the person being invited has any interest in the church, the mere fact that the church has the endorsement of a trusted friend or associate is sufficient to cause “product trial.”

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law….”Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

It sounds easy, but the tough part is to instill in the members your vision of church growth and help them see they are the actual marketers of the church. The lay members possess the ability to make the church grow. They must understand it is up to each of them to invite people to visit the church. This means that the church leadership has a challenge before it: –to make sure people feel so satisfied with the church that members would feel comfortable recommending it to their friends; –to communicate the importance of members inviting friends; –to encourage members to invite their friends, preparing the laity for such boldness; –to prepare the church for how to treat visitors once they grace the church with their presence.

Statistics show that out of every six times the gospel is presented, one person will receive Christ.

When Honorius was Emperor of Rome, about the year 400 A.D., the great Coliseum of Rome was often filled to overflowing with spectators who had come from far and near to view the state games. Part of the sport consisted in watching as human beings battled with wild beasts or against one another until one or the other was killed. The assembled multitude made Roman holiday of such sport and found its highest delight in the death of a human being. It was on such a day when the vast crowd was watching the contest that a Syrian monk by the name of Telemachus stood up in the vast arena. Telemachus was torn by the utter disregard for the value of human life and so he leaped into the arena in the midst of the gladiatorial show and cried out, “This thing is not right! This thing must stop!” Because he was interfering with their pleasure, the authorities gave the command for Telemachus to be run through with a sword, which was done. Thus he died, but he kindled a flame in the hearts and consciences of thinking persons. History records that because of this within a few months the gladiatorial combats began to decline and very shortly they passed from history. Why? Because one man dared to speak out for what he felt was right.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:14)

A church on the move must confront reality and meet people where they are.
Separation is not isolation-it is contact without contamination. Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. Many church members don’t have any unsaved friends, or if they do, they keep them at a distance. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem, where the crowd was so cosmopolitan that the inscription on his cross had to be written in three languages. Many churches today have abandoned the marketplace and spend their time reminding one another of the gospel.

I’m thankful for a church that remembers that we exist primarily for those who aren’t here yet.