Always Remember!

Wise King Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything:

A time to be born and a time to die,

a time to tear down and a time to build up,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

He could have added one more:

There is a time to forget and a time to remember.

We cannot live in the past, but neither can we forget the past. The present is enriched by remembering the past. The future is shaped by our experiences in the past. This is what God says in His Word.

For many years the Israelites lived in Egypt as Pharaoh’s slaves. Then one day God appointed Moses to lead them out of Egypt to a land of their own. For 40 years Moses lived with these rebellious Jews in the wilderness and was their leader. Now it was time for Moses to die, and, under new leadership, Israel would move into the Promised Land where they would be free.

In some of his parting words, Moses told the Israelites to remember their days of slavery. They had been overworked and beaten. The Jews’ job was to make bricks. In the making of these bricks, they used straw. In the past, general laborers brought the straw to the place where the bricks were being made; but then there was a change. The Israelites were to get their own straw, but were required to make an equal number of bricks in the same time as before. “Do not reduce their quota,” was the order. If they did not make their quota, the slave masters would beat them.

Moses told the Israelites to learn from these terrible experiences. “Let what happened to you as slaves shape your future, as in the future you will have people working for you.” Hear his words:

“Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there.” (Deuteronomy 24:14f)

Just remember the difficult times of the past and learn from them. That was the message.

This is Memorial Day weekend. Remember, the freedoms we enjoy in America came at a great price. Always remember. I visited East Germany before the wall came down. The sad look on the children’s faces was heart-breaking. A mother told me the government had broken her son’s initiative to do his best in school. Whether you were an engineer or a person who swept the streets, your pay was the same. So the boy reasoned, “Why study?” The churches were either boarded up or used for some secular purpose. The wall separating east from west was the symbol of captivity. This could have been my plight if others in the past had not died for these freedoms America now enjoys, but takes for granted.

I learned from this experience how blessed we Americans are. We are free. Our children are happy. The youth have every opportunity in the world to move ahead with life, but all of this was not without a price.

My friend, Christian, died on the battle field of France so I might be politically free. My friend, Charlie, a man with five children and a wife at home, died in the Battle of the Bulge only a short time before the war ended. He sacrificed his life for this country. We had better remember these sacrifices, lest we take our freedom for granted.

I am a child of the great depression. Even as a child, these were not easy days. Many people were hungry and had no shelter or clothing. Today, as I remember the past, there is no question but that those days were good for me. It taught me the value of a dollar, and that is needed in an affluent society like ours. It tells me that it does not take a lot of money to be content. In fact, it reveals how wealth can play tricks with me and distort my understanding of life’s real meaning. Moses was right. Always remember the past. It can enrich the present and shape the future.

Remember those last days when a loved one was dying. A friend came by to hold your hand and shed a tear with you. How it helped! Do you remember how hurt you were when the next door neighbor didn’t even inquire as to how things were going, to say nothing about offering a helping hand? You learned from the experience. Now another person is living through these tough times. Will you be the sympathizing friend or the indifferent neighbor? Remember the past. It will direct your behavior today.

Remember how empty life was before you were a Christian? Your soul was filled with guilt. “How can I make up for all the wrong things I did?” was an important question. You lived with fear wondering how you would ever face those difficult times. There was little direction in making the big decisions of life, like raising children and having a good family life together. Then Christ became a part of your life. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, He has atoned for your sins and assures you that, trusting Him, your guilt is taken away. His grace is sufficient for the difficult times. His Word directs your life as a parent or spouse. He has made all things new.

As you remember your life before you had a personal relationship with Christ, think of the people close to you who have yet to meet the Savior. Does this not motivate you to share your Savior with them? Shouldn’t you at least offer them the new life that can be theirs in Christ Jesus?

On this Memorial Day weekend, take some time to look back in your life and write down five experiences or five people who have made a difference in your life. Then follow God’s Word and let these experiences or people enrich your presentnand shape your future in blessing someone else. Amen.

Peace of Mind

There are three major church festivals in the calendar year. What are they? Most people with some church background would answer Christmas, Easter, and then hesitate. Why is it that Pentecost, the third church festival, is not known by as many church members as the other two are? One reason is that the festival of Pentecost has not been commercialized as the others are. There are no Pentecost gifts. We don’t go Pentecost shopping. Pentecost cards are not as popular as Christmas cards are. Families don’t get together for a big Pentecost dinner as many do for Easter. We don’t buy Pentecost clothing like we do Easter bonnets and dresses. These are some of the reasons that many people in our towns don’t have the foggiest idea what the word Pentecost means.

But the Church, at least in present times, has not emphasized Pentecost nearly as much as they have Easter and Christmas. Before Christmas, we set aside four Sundays known as Advent that our hearts can be prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The forty days of Lent are intended to prepare us for the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. However, there is no similar period to emphasize Pentecost. And yet, without Pentecost, Christmas and Easter would long have been forgotten.

Two weeks from today, June 3, is Pentecost. This is the day when the Holy Spirit came to this earth in a very unique way, to work in the hearts of people and bring them to faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. In our text, Jesus tells us that His Father is going to send the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls “the Counselor.”

Then Jesus speaks these words that should catch the attention of a culture which has so much but can’t seem to find inner peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (27) This peace comes when the Holy Spirit makes God’s Word come alive in our hearts. The Lord draws a sharp contrast between how the world and the Holy Spirit bring us peace. Let’s pursue this thought further.

First, the world suggests peace through elimination. The Holy Spirit brings peace through confrontation.

The world says, “Whatever is disturbing you, eliminate it from your life.” This seems like good common sense, and it is in many cases. If crowds bother you, stay away from them. If mowing the lawn irritates you, hire the neighbor boy to do it. If you don’t like tomatoes, pass them by. If golf frustrates you, try tennis.

However, our situation is not always that simple. If you are in sharp conflict with another person who is making your life miserable, it might not be that simple to eliminate him or her. That person could be your child, your spouse, your in-laws, the person with whom you work, or any person with whom you are forced to associate on a daily basis.

The Holy Spirit says, “No, elimination is not the way to live at peace with a person who disturbs you. The answer is confrontation.” Jesus says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23) You may not end up as close friends, but there will be peace of mind to know the problem has been discussed, and you have departed as friends. Closure to a difficult situation makes it possible to begin healing and finally have peace.

Second, human nature says peace comes through denial. The Holy Spirit says that peace comes through confession.

As sinful people, it is natural to defend ourselves by declaring our innocence when we are guilty. It is difficult to confess we are sinners in need of God’s grace. We find comfort in the statement, “We are who we are because of where we come from.” There may be truth in this statement. If there was little love shown in the parental home, it could leave its mark. But there is no peace found in denying your own responsibility and blaming someone else for what went wrong in your life.

Pete’s father and mother did not give him much attention as a teenager. They were busy with their own work and activities. He got tired of being at home alone, so he ventured out onto the streets and got involved with the wrong crowd. This led to trouble with the law, and finally to prison. It was easy to see why Pete was where he was. You could feel sorry for him, but it didn’t alter the fact that, to live in society, he had to be a responsible person and obey the law. No matter how much Pete tried to blame others, he was left to pay the price for his own behavior.

The story of Adam’s projection of guilt is repeated often in the lives of most people. When God asked Adam, “Did you eat of the forbidden tree?” His answer is so familiar to us. “The woman you gave to me, she gave me the fruit, and I ate what had been forbidden.” Was Adam at peace? Was he free of guilt? Wasn’t it God’s fault for giving him such an evil woman, and then the women’s fault for leading him into temptation?

Adam had an explanation for his behavior, but it gave him little peace of mind.

This is the story of the alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous has learned that no one is helped until he or she is willing to confess their helplessness to alcohol. Blaming others or circumstances in life brings no permanent peace. It is not until the estranged husband and wife are willing to confess their part in the failed marriage, that there will be hope of seeing the people reunited to live a happy married life. Blaming the teacher for Johnny’s poor showing in school does not help Johnny. The teacher may need to be replaced, but Johnny has got to assume some responsibility if he wants to be successful in getting a good education.

Israel’s King David is an excellent example of one who found peace of mind, not through denial, but confession. He had committed adultery and murder. There was guilt and unhappiness in David’s soul. What he had done was sin. Then Nathan came and confronted him with his sin, and the king said, “I have sinned against God.” In Psalm 32 he tells all about it:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was sapped as in the heart of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.

I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (1-5)

This man could not live any longer with his denial of sin. Confession and God’s forgiveness brought him peace of soul and mind.

Who is the Counselor? He is the Holy Spirit. He is God at work within us, speaking through the Bible, facing us up to who we are, and giving us grace to find peace in Christ Jesus alone.

Pray to God that each day we may find our peace and comfort as the Counselor leads us to the truth revealed in God’s Word. Amen.

Love in Close Quarters

Human nature being what it is, is there any wonder there is so much domestic violence? Husbands, wives, and children arrive home after work and school. They are tired. It might have been a tough day for all of them. Any little thing can irritate them. Soon the tempers fly and there is the beginning of an unhappy evening.

I often say to a couple getting married, “There are wonderful blessings in being married, but marriage will always present a challenge for you. You are promising to love one another in Ôclose quarters.’ It matters not whether your house has 1,000 or 5,000 square feet. You can’t run away from each other.”

If these words are taken seriously, the couple will ask, “Give us some advice as to how we meet the challenge.” My answer is, “Let me introduce you to the One who has been my greatest counselor in having a good marriage. His name is Jesus.” It is this advice from Jesus that I share with you on this Mother’s Day as our thoughts are turned to the families living in close quarters.

Jesus says, “A new command I give you; love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (34).

Much has been written about love. Wise old Solomon said, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12). Plato, the wise Greek philosopher, wrote classic books on the subject. Family counselors tell us that love is the backbone of any relationship. The tabloids give their version of love, both in word and picture. We have so many presentations of love that we are no longer quite sure what the word means. Now Jesus says, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another.” What’s new about Jesus’ statement? It is His next statement, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” We must discover from the Bible what Jesus meant by love.

If you love a person, you will be sensitive to his or her feelings. Love forces you to get outside of yourself and consider the feelings of the other person.

Do you remember that story of mothers bringing their children to Jesus that He might bless them (Luke 18:15-17)? These mothers had learned that Jesus was nearby, so they were excited about having Him touch their little ones. When they arrived, the disciples rebuked them and were sending them away. When Jesus saw what was happening, the Lord immediately told the mothers to bring their children to Him. He picked them up in His arms and blessed the little ones.

Jesus wanted to bless the children. He wanted to tell His audience that, unless they became as little children, they could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He was also concerned about the feelings of those mothers.

How would those women have felt had they gone home rejected by the disciples?

Apply this to love in our homes. When we say to each other, “I love you,” we should be saying, “I am sensitive to your feelings.” Are we? It means that I am not so caught up with my own problems that I have little or no concern about how you feel. As a parent, you might have had some tough things said to you at work, but you are also open to hear that your children, Mary and Bob, were hurt badly at school today. Mary didn’t get a date for the prom; Bob didn’t make the baseball team.

Love, Jesus’ style, causes you to reach out to the other person and listen to how they are feeling.

If you love a person, you will sacrifice for him or her. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Because God loves us, He gave to the point of sacrificing His Son. It is only after we have looked at Jesus on the cross that we begin to understand that love calls for sacrifice. In Jesus’ case, it was the giving of His life. Catching His spirit, Christians have an element of sacrifice in their practice of love. We are willing “to give” some of ourselves to the needs of others.

A woman, referring to her husband, said, “There is always plenty of money and time, if it is something he wants.” Such a statement clearly states that the husband needs to hear Jesus say, “Love as I have loved you.” That will give him a new understanding of what love is.

It is in the close quarters of the home that love calls for sacrifice. Children need to learn from their parents that loving includes giving. A tremendous lesson can be learned when we make a decision on where the family will spend its vacation. All the members come to the table with their own ideas as to where the family should go. Where we spend the vacation is not nearly as important as learning how to sacrifice my idea for the good of the family. And when the decision is made, to accept it graciously if I did not get my way. That’s what is new about love as

Jesus taught.

Somehow, we need to be made aware how much sacrifice is being made in the family circle for us. I never fully realized how much my wife sacrificed for me until she had a stroke. Children need to know the sacrifices parents are making for them lest they take all of these kind gestures for granted. To develop the attitude that I deserve being waited on and showered with every kind of gift causes the person to believe that life owes me something. Not so, and life will soon reveal it. The willingness to sacrifice is not only a quality of love. It is a basic principle for a happy life.

If you love a person, you are willing to forgive those who offend you. “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This was Jesus’ prayer from the cross for people whose hearts were filled with hatred. Without forgiveness, there is no love. In close places like the home, there is a need for a lot of forgiveness. We hurt one another. Sometimes it is intentional when we act in anger. At other times it is unintentional. While it is common for the natural person to carry an unforgiving spirit toward those who have hurt them, the Christian is empowered by Christ to forgive. The love Christ has put into our souls compels us to reach out and forgive.

Hearing this you may say, “Jesus might have taught it, and you preach it, but I cannot buy it. I will never forgive that person for what he has done to me.” Jesus would answer, “That is your right, but then please know that your understanding of love does not come from Jesus.”

All of this leads us to ask, “How can I love this way?” God’s Word answers, “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). Love is caught more than it is taught. If we experience Christ’s love for us each day, we will grow to be a more loving person. So if you are serious about wanting to be a loving person, let Christ love you as He speaks to you daily in His Word. His love will flow into your life and through you to others. Only in Christ do we know what love is.

The Feeling of Insignificance

Tom was a third string quarterback on an outstanding high school football team. With two quarterbacks considered better players than he by the coach, Tom saw little playing time. It is reported that today he refers to his experience of standing on the sidelines or sitting on the bench as living with “the feeling of insignificance.” This is commonly known as a low self-image. He did not feel that he was important to his team.

Today, Tom is known as one of the world’s greatest golfers. He is seen many times during the year on national television. Many spectators follow him on the course, especially when he is in contention to win the tournament. All of this attention convinces Tom that he is a significant player in the golfing world. I refer to Tom Lehman, one of the best-known golfers on the PGA tour.

A reporter at the World Com Classic, commenting on Tom’s illustrious golfing career, made reference to his high school football experience, and inferred that this great golfer also knows the other side of the athletic world and what it is to live with the feeling of insignificance.

Haven’t we all tasted of the feeling that we just don’t count?

This feeling of insignificance is related to the assumption that you must perform well in a given task and receive the praise of people. The larger the groups who applaud you, the more important you are. President Bush plays a more significant role in the world as president than when he was the governor of Texas. Former president Clinton has a less significant role today in world affairs than he did a year ago. But here is the big question: if our importance is related to some accomplishments which receive public praise, what happens when one falls out of sight? What happens when the athlete gets cold? What happens when the politician is no longer in office? What happens when the master mechanic has to retire because of poor health? What happens when the skilled surgeon has to tender his resignation because of failing eyesight?

What makes the early years of retirement difficult for some of us? It’s that feeling of insignificance. Before I retired, I would awaken on Monday morning, take a shower, put on a clean white shirt, and head off for work. There I would be greeted by a friendly staff. Two or three of them would compliment me on yesterday’s sermon, and then my secretary would remind me of what had to be done during the week: calls that had to be made and meetings that were scheduled. There was a feeling of importance until I foolishly came to believe that the church could not run without me.

Then came the big retirement party. Now it was the first Monday of retirement. The alarm rang at the same hour. Why should I get up? As a retiree I could remain in bed and watch the entire Today Show. There was no need to put on a white shirt and tie. No, that would no longer be the proper way to dress. Just a pair of jeans and tennis shoes were the official Monday morning attire. What do I do? It didn’t seem right to play golf. That was done on Thursday afternoon with your friends, not on Monday morning. I stayed home all day. By 5:00 p.m. I said to my wife, “Let’s go out for dinner. I can’t stand this any longer.” Day number one of my retirement was not pleasant, nor was day two or three. After a few weeks of frustration, I had lunch with a friend who had similar experiences in the early days of his retirement. He put his finger on the problem immediately when he said, “You no longer feel important to anyone. Who needs you anymore? You have to learn that God still has a place for you. Once you served Him as a parish pastor. Now you will serve Him in other ways. Your importance has not changed. You now have an opportunity to minister with God’s Word in a less structured way.”

My friends’ counsel was based on God’s Word. Look at our text:

Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, says, “We are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (14) Christians live with the conviction that Christ died for us. Because of that, we have become new creatures. “We live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died for us and was raised again.” (15) “Therefore,” Paul writes, “all this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation . . . He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (18-20) It is our privilege to carry the message of God’s love under all circumstances to those with spiritual needs. This affirms that we have a significant role to play in life, which comes from our relationship with God. Our feelings of importance have no relationship to the praise of people. What we are doing for God by serving others may not be known to many, but it is a ministry that is significant in God’s eyes. Let’s see how this works:

Look around in your neighborhood, or among your circle of friends, and see the needs. There’s a family whose hearts are heavy. While they are committed believers in the Lord Jesus, they need others in the faith to comfort them with the promises of God’s Word. The father, in his early 50s is terminally ill. He grows weaker and weaker. There is severe pain in his body. As if that were not enough, a few days ago his daughter had a breast removed from cancer. While her prognosis is good, it is scary. This is a home where the Christian can play a significant role. A part of our ministry can be to visit this family and share with them a word like Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear . . . Be still and know that I am God; . . . the Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Then we sit back and listen as the sick person shares his feelings. Before leaving, we talk to our Father in prayer and commit this Christian brother to the loving care of His heavenly Father who watches over him. This is a significant ministry!

I received a note from a father and mother asking if I would write a letter to their daughter, who is graduating from high school. These letters, written by friends of the family, will be bound in a book and given to her on graduation day. Each of us was asked to emphasize a particular topic. I was to write on the importance of God’s Word in our lives. It is my prayer that this book will be a source of comfort, inspiration, and counsel to the young woman. Those of us asked to contribute to this book were given a very significant assignment. Who knows how God will use these letters in her life.

I visited with a woman in the grocery store last week. She had not been at her Bible class for several months because of illness in her family. During that time, when she needed spiritual help, no one from the class had contacted her. “No one cares,” she said. “They didn’t miss me.” This was not an unfamiliar story. I heard it often when I was a pastor. It wasn’t that we didn’t care. In most cases, our office was not aware of these specific cases where Christian care was needed. However, members of the congregation knew about it. Yet no one made a call on the person who was hurting. Some of these friends were probably sitting home wondering what life was all about in these hours of despair. Their lives are open to what God has to say. What a blessing could have come from someone dropping by and sharing with this woman those wonderful words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This is what Paul is talking about when he says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Ministering to one another with God’s Word is a very important task. Be faithful in this calling, and we will have few feelings of insignificance. Those peak days in our careers might have come and gone, and there might be days when we will entertain thought that there is little purpose in living. When that happens, just remember that the Lord is saying, “I can use you in sharing your faith with those who need to know that I am by their side.” Amen.