A little boy said to the girl next door, “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day?” She said, “You could decide to keep your room clean and orderly and go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told, and quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” He replied, “No, I mean something practical.”
On this Mother’s Day, I offer three practical gifts from Scripture. These are part of God’s refrigerator art if you will, pictures of faithful motherhood.
In Psalm 128, the mother is pictured as a fruitful vine in the very heart of the house. The godly mother has a central place of responsibility in the home that, though she may not see it through diaper pails and dishpan hands, will bear fruit for generations to come.
In 1 Samuel 1, the mother is pictured as the greatest intercessor her son would ever know. It was Hannah’s prayer that touched the hem of God’s garment, and it was Hannah’s spiritual influence on Samuel that shaped and prepared him to fulfill God’s calling on his life.
A London editor once submitted to Winston Churchill a list of all those who had been Churchill’s teachers. Churchill returned the list with this comment: “You have omitted to mention the greatest of my teachers—my mother.” And Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot tell you how much I owe to the custom on Sunday evenings while we were yet children for Mother to stay home with us, and then we sat around the table and read verse after verse and she explained the Scriptures to us. Then came a mother’s prayer; and some of the words of our mother’s prayer we shall never forget even when our hair is gray.” I don’t know if there is a more powerful force on this earth than a mother’s prayers for her children.
In 2 Timothy 1, the mother is pictured as a woman of genuine faith. Apparently, Timothy’s father was not a believer, but God worked through his mother and his grandmother to give him a sound foundation. Is there anything more precious to a mother than genuine faith? Timothy, who would become the most dependable companion of the Apostle Paul, learned the Word of God as a young child on his mother’s knee. She had genuine faith, not the wishy-washy easy-believism that so many in the church subscribe to today. Genuine faith impacts every person it touches.
Consider Susanna Wesley who was the youngest of twenty-five children and who gave birth to nineteen herself. Eleven of her children died in childhood. Her husband left her for a time, even serving extended sentences in debtor’s prison. O, how God used Susanna Wesley to give away her faith to her children! As each child turned five, she tutored them in the alphabet and then, beginning in Genesis, she taught them to read, word by word, from the Scriptures. “I wonder at your patience,” her husband Samuel once said. “You have told that child twenty times the same thing.”
“If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times,” Susanna Wesley answered, “I should have lost all my labor. It was the twentieth time that crowned it!”
I am thankful for the mother who raised me and for the wife and mother I love and live with. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who serve so faithfully in the high calling of motherhood. You are a gift that could never be repaid in this lifetime.
I was intrigued by the article on the front page of the Times-News a few years ago. It was about church attendance in North Carolina in general and Alamance County in particular. One thing that made me laugh out loud was the pie chart that measured church attendance in our state. Forty percent of us in the Tar Heel state report that we attend church weekly. Twenty-four percent say they go nearly weekly, or monthly. Maybe that means they go weakly. Thirty-four percent never or seldom go. None of those numbers provoked laughter, only a groan or a sigh. But then I saw the tiny sliver in the very top of the pie chart, representing two percent of the people in North Carolina who don’t know if they attended church or not. Now, that is funny.
There are a lot of things that I don’t know if I did last year. I don’t know if I rode a bicycle more than once. I don’t know if I skipped a rock across a pond. I probably did; I just don’t remember. I don’t know if I played golf three times or two. I don’t know if I stayed up past midnight even once. I don’t know if I played a card game. There are many more, but you get the drift. The things I am not sure I did are just not that important to me. But I know whether I went to a funeral, a wedding, or a church service. How can someone not know that? Clearly because going to church is not something that is important to them, not just to the two-percenters, but to the growing majority of people in our city and state.
You need a reason to go to church? “And He (God) put all things under His (Jesus’) feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” The church is the sum and substance of God’s plan for the world. Jesus rules over kings and governments and scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs and demonic powers and the powers of nature and universities and religions and the Milky Way and the galaxies that He has flung throughout the universe. He rules over everything that we do know about and He rules over everything we don’t know about. And the One who rules over everything we know about and everything we don’t yet know about is the head of the church.
Alistair Begg tells the story of John Reith, the first director of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation. He was a tall man, six feet six, an intimidating figure who had big bushy eyebrows that he liked to peer through as he looked at you. But early in his tenure as director, he saw some of his employees huddled together, whispering about something. Later that day Reith called one of them to his office and asked what the group had been discussing. The young man said, “Oh, we were talking about how to produce a radio program that will be a fitting burial for the Christian faith. It’s time for that nonsense to be put to rest.” Standing up and towering over the young man, a red-faced John Reith looked through bushy eyebrows and growled, “The church will stand over the BBC’s grave one day!” And it will.
I want to invite the two-percenters to join us for worship. If for no other reason, at least you will know that you went to church in 2021.
See you Sunday.
We have all been behind that person in the grocery store express lane whose cart is loaded to overflowing. You stand there with your one jar of peanut butter and debate with yourself whether to tap him on the shoulder and point at the sign. Or whether to say something subtle like, “Excuse me, but what part of ’12 items only’ do you not understand?” Most of us who were raised in the south, however, will just grin and bear it.
Or remember the time you were standing in the aisle of the plane, waiting to find your seat while someone, as Brian Regan likes to say, is trying to shove a dead yak into the overhead compartment? If you have flown even once, you know what I am talking about.
How many times have you wished you could be a police officer for just 15 minutes so you could pull over the guy who just cut across six lanes of traffic on the interstate, nearly causing a ten-car pileup?
Or how about the time you were standing in line for hours to get into an event that is festival seating. Right before the doors opened, a hoard of people who just arrived on the scene broke in line ahead of you, and laughed about all the suckers behind them. Why did that grind your gears?
It’s because God is just, and we are made in His image. Every one of us is equipped by our creator with a well developed sense of justice, which means the slightest injustice can cause us to ball up our fists and clench our teeth. Or at the very least, shake our heads and sigh.
If you have ever read the incredible story of Esther in the Old Testament, you know that Haman plotted to have every Jew in the Persian kingdom destroyed. The king signed off on it, and the days were ticking by until it would be done. But Haman could not wait that long to remove his nemesis, Mordecai the Jew. So Haman built a gallows, 75 feet high, with the intention of hanging Mordecai on it the next morning. When the king discovered that the decree to annihilate the Jews would include his own wife, Esther, and when it was revealed that Haman had also schemed to hang the man who had saved the king from an assassination plot, he exploded. The king ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.
You cannot read the story without despising Haman and wanting him to get what he deserved. And that’s because you cannot rid your soul of a desire to see justice done, and to live justly, without hardening your heart like Haman did. Want to be free of that nagging sense of right and wrong? Here’s what you should do. Live completely for yourself. Ignore any pleas for help. Learn to laugh at victims of injustice, especially those who cannot possibly defend themselves. Then, take the next step and begin to act on your convictions. Treat others with disdain. Plot to harm the weak and eliminate the burdensome. In no time at all, you will look and be just like Haman.
But be forewarned. The Bible says, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” You see, that sense of justice that you crushed through hatred and selfishness was given to you by a just and righteous God. He will always do what is right. Always.
Haman found that out the hard way.
When Jesus was crucified, there was darkness over the whole land for three hours. We know what it’s like when the power goes out, don’t we? But even when we have no power because of an ice storm, we can see during the day. The “light” is still on. But at noon as Jesus hung on the cross, God turned off the light. The darkness of the cross was magnified when God turned the sky black. Can I remind you for a moment of what Jesus was going through?
The punishment of crucifixion was meted out for such crimes as treason, desertion in the face of the enemy, robbery, piracy, assassination, and sedition. Among the Romans, scourging, undoubtedly to hasten impending death, preceded crucifixion. The victim then bore his own cross, or at least the upright beam, to the place of execution. A tablet, on which the feet rested or on which the body was partly supported, seems to have been a part of the cross to keep the wounds from tearing through the transfixed members. The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, especially in hot climates. The swelling about the rough nails and the torn lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. The length of this agony was wholly determined by the constitution of the victim, but death rarely occurred before thirty-six hours had elapsed. The end was sometimes hastened by breaking the legs of the victims and by a hard blow delivered under the armpit before crucifixion. The sudden death of Christ evidently was a matter of astonishment. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
Jesus suffered more than any man ever has, not just because of the brutal killing instrument that He hung upon and the unspeakable pain He bore. He suffered the greatest pain because of the punishment He bore. Could this be another reason why God turned off the lights? The darkness over the earth magnified the separation between God and His Son.
Alistair Begg says that the basic meaning of sin is to forsake God. Before you say, “Oh, I would never do that,” stop and consider. To forsake God can mean to go through your days as if God is not important. It is to live life on your own terms and only fit God into the picture when it is convenient, to have Him as a sub-category in terms of what is really important to us. You are fine having him in the backseat. But you certainly don’t want him driving the car. The idea that He would take over and you would be under His authority in everything is offensive to you. If then, the essence of sin is to forsake God, the consequence of sin is to be God-forsaken. That’s why Jesus cried out as He did from the cross in His darkest hour, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me.”
Why was the perfect Savior God-forsaken? Because He was bearing your sin and my sin in His body on the tree. Peter wrote, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.”
This is the mystery of Easter. The dark day had to come first, for the new day to dawn once and for all. That day is here, and it has dawned for all who put their trust in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, for salvation. There is no other way out of the darkness, but praise God there is a way!
I was in the checkout line in the grocery store once and happened to glance at the tabloids beside me and noticed the headline: “Sunbather Bursts into Flame on Beach!” I did a double take as I considered the ramifications of such an event. I mean, I’ve had some bad days. We all have. But that’s a really bad day. You’re at the beach with your chair and your book and your bottled water. You put on your SPF 50, but it doesn’t occur to you to put on asbestos. Then suddenly, “Poof! Flame on!” Kids are running over to roast marshmallows…. OK, no. Didn’t happen. Just another case of bad journalism intended to titillate and trap, producing a visceral response that ends with wallet out and good money thrown away. I avoided the trap that day, but the headline stays with me.
Let me tell you a story that really did happen that was worse than spontaneous combustion at Myrtle Beach. It happened on another beach, or at least in a coastal town in Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Paul and Barnabas had traveled over land, preaching the Gospel everywhere they went, and then they came to Paphos. The Governor of the province, Sergius Paulus, invited the two preachers to come and share their message with him. But Paulus had a man in his employment named Elymas who served him as a court wizard. The wizard knew he had something to lose if his boss believed in Christ. So, he did his best to keep his boss from hearing the message. When Paul realized what was happening, he said to Elymas, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”
I would make the argument that someone who is attempting to turn a person away from faith in Jesus Christ is much worse than just a misguided relativist. Notice that Paul didn’t ask Elymas to be tolerant. Nor did he prop Elymas up in his false ideas or even tell him that he admired his ‘courage’ to stand against the traveling preachers. He told him to stop opposing the work of God. He told him he was a son of the devil. Which, by the way, is the devil’s only employment, to oppose the work of God. He told him he was full of all deceit. Which was probably a reference to the fact that Elymas cared nothing for Sergius Paulus; Elymas cared only for Elymas, and his employment. You can almost always trace deception back to money and power.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather burst into flames on a beach than have the apostle Paul tell me the things he told Elymas. Others, like Sondra Maluniu, don’t feel that way. She wrote an article for wikiHow entitled, “How to Persuade a Christian to Become an Atheist.” The fifteen-step process is supposed to be a manual for those who would attempt to make crooked the straight paths of the Lord. I had to chuckle at her fifth step: “Read their holy book cover to cover.”
Yes! Please do just that. And you might just find yourself in the company of people like Sir William Ramsey, Frank Morrison, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and Andre Kole who set out to disprove Christianity and prove the Bible is “full of contradictions.” Instead, they found faith in Christ and belief in the veracity of the Scriptures.
How did it turn out for Elymas? Read Acts 13 to find out.
It’s like a movie plot, but more interesting because it happened. You can read about it in Acts 5. Evil men, “filled with jealousy” are plotting to stop good men who are filled with the Holy Spirit. Evil sometimes triumphs, at least for a season, and the good men are arrested for teaching about Jesus and thrown into prison. They don’t even get to try the free breakfast, though, because in the middle of the night, God sends an angel to bust them out. Not a drop of blood is spilled. The angel just opens the locked doors and leads the twelve men out, presumably while the prison guards are standing right there beside the doors. It reminded me of Brother Andrew smuggling Bibles into communist countries in the 1950’s. In his book, God’s Smuggler, Andrew says he would often pray, “Lord, when You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see what’s in front of them.” He didn’t even try to hide the Bibles, and for 35 years, the guards never saw them. Whether it is locked prison doors or not-so-hidden Bibles, God reigns.
The religious leaders of Israel (Sanhedrin) gather the next morning, thinking they have their enemies in the jailhouse, and they send for them to be brought over. A prison officer reports that the doors are locked and the guards are posted beside them, but the cells are empty. He exits stage left and another man enters stage right and announces that the twelve apostles who are supposed to be in the jailhouse are in the temple. Again. And they are teaching the people. Again.
You have to wonder about the thick-headedness of the Sanhedrin at this point, don’t you? They have heard about Pentecost and what happened there, with people speaking in other languages that they had never learned, and three thousand people becoming followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They have heard about the lame beggar and see him every day, now very much healed and no longer a beggar, and they have heard about the two thousand people who became followers of Jesus that day. They have heard about the other miracles, and reports of many others believing in Jesus. Now they hear about a miraculous prison break where the men inside apparently just vaporized and then re-appeared in the temple. Why would the Sanhedrin gnash their teeth in rage and continue to plot against the followers of Jesus? You would think they would learn. But here’s the thing. It has to do with the Words of Life, and whether you believe them and live them…or not.
The Center for Bible Engagement found in a recent survey of more than 80,000 U.S. households that most people who identify themselves as Christians don’t read the Bible in an average week. Their only “engagement” with the Bible comes on Sunday morning. The study also revealed that there is a strong correlation between lack of Bible engagement and daily struggles with worry, gossip, fear, forgiving others, and even with failing marriages and addiction to pornography. The behavior and lifestyles of those who don’t engage the Bible four or more times per week is almost identical to those who don’t believe in God at all.
The difference in the book of Acts between the men and women who had the words of life and lived them, and those who did not have the words of life and rejected them could not be any more dramatic.
It is the same today.
How do you prepare for church on Sundays? I don’t mean laying your clothes out the night before, or making sure you have your Bible. I used to prepare on Sunday morning as a child by watching the cartoon, “Davey and Goliath.” Anybody old enough to remember that? I would sit on the sofa with my two brothers, all in our Sunday best with hair slicked down, or licked down, and we would watch TV and try not to fight during commercials, while Mom and Dad hustled around getting ready. That’s not what I mean, though, by getting prepared for church.
Rather, what’s your mindset about going to church? Two common mistakes are to come either as a spectator or as a worker. Jordan Kauflin writes, “We come with the expectation, spoken or assumed, that everyone else needs to make sure we have a good time. I need my kids to be taken care of. I need people to seek me out. I need the music to sound a certain way. I need the preacher to stop speaking on time so that I can get on with my life. As for Jesus? Hopefully he shows up by his Spirit so I can have a spiritual, emotional experience that carries me through my week. We come as spectators, expecting to be served. For some of us, we prepare for our Sunday gathering as workers. You might serve in your church as a children’s ministry worker, usher, setup team person, greeter, or hospitality person. We prepare much like we prepare for work (and for some, it really is work). We make a list of all the things we need to do. We make sure we leave on time. Our mind is filled with logistics and details. We remind ourselves how important our role is.”
I would suggest that both of those mindsets are me-centered. Instead, let’s tune our hearts to sing His praise, as the hymn writer said. Go to church to meet with God and to worship Him. “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise.” We go to receive from Him, so pray with expectation that you will not miss what He is saying that day through the songs, sermon, and sharing.
Expect also to be challenged to respond to what God says to you. The Creator doesn’t speak just to hear Himself talking. He communicates through the preaching of the Word in ways that will change your life and mine. Prepare to hear from Him and prepare to respond to what He says. Why do some Christians seem to stagnate and stay in the same place spiritually for years while others explode with growth in maturity and wisdom? It’s as simple as the math formula, “time times rate equals distance.” With what rate do you apply what you learn from God and obey it?
Finally, come to church with the expectation that the body needs you. The Bible says the body of Christ grows “when each part is working properly.” The lady sitting in front of you needs to hear you sing with all your might because she’s just not feeling it this morning. The young man in the parking lot who is questioning his faith may just tell you the truth if you ask how he’s doing. The family behind you has suffered a tremendous loss and they need to know you care.
The truth is, you and I have work to do at church that often makes our jobs pale in comparison. And I know for many reading this column, you have gotten out of the habit of going to church because of the pandemic. Hey, it’s simple to start a new habit. You just start going again. This Sunday, then the next, and the one after that. Keep it up for 8-10 weeks and your heart will be re-conditioned to the point that you are amazed you stayed away so long!
Going to church this week? I hope so, for all the right reasons.
Gary Thomas tells the story in his book, Sacred Marriage, about two brothers who worked together during the day in a field and in the evening at a mill. Each night they divided up the grain they had processed. One brother was single, and one was married with a large family. The single brother decided that his married brother, with all those kids, certainly needed more than he did, so at night he secretly crept over to his brother’s granary and gave him an extra portion. The married brother realized that his single brother didn’t have any children to care for him in his old age, so he went up each night and secretly deposited some grain in his brother’s granary. One night they met halfway between the two granaries, and each brother realized what the other was doing. They embraced and as the old rabbinical story goes, God witnessed what happened and said, “This is a holy place—a place of love—and it is here that my temple shall be built.”
That’s a picture of what was happening in the first church in Jerusalem. The people were saved from sin and to a new way of life, even to the point that, “No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own.” That seems to be a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? If what belongs to me is not my own, then it doesn’t belong to me, does it? Well, no, it really doesn’t. It belongs to the Lord. But at the same time, He lets us choose what we are going to do with those things that belong to Him and are in our hands. He gives us stewardship over much. That’s what was going on in the new church. They were living out the reality of what Jesus had told them when He said, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” Because they believed this promise, that God would give them the kingdom, they were free to meet genuine needs in the church out of love.
I can imagine a conversation Peter might have had with an old friend he bumped into one day in Jerusalem. The friend says, “Hey, what’s this I hear about a…what do you call it, a church? What’s going on with all you people who are following this Galilean guy around? What’s his name, Jesus? The dead religious leader. I mean, he was crucified, right?”
“Yes,” Peter might say, “but haven’t you heard? God raised Him from the dead on the third day, and I saw Him. I talked to Him. I ate with Him. Jesus is alive! And do you know what He is doing now? He is changing lives. Thousands of them. He has given us salvation, the promise of eternal life, and He has given us peace with God and love for God’s people. In fact, just the other day, a believer named Barnabas sold a field, brought the money from the sale, and laid it at our feet. All of it. He did that so people in the church who need food and clothing and are just struggling with basic needs could be helped. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to.”
The radical love of Jesus Christ leads to radical giving. He loosens our grip on things and tightens our embrace on people. It doesn’t mean that His followers never own anything. It simply means that their things don’t own them.
In a family history that one of my uncles did several years ago, he found this story. My ancestors came from Germany and Switzerland. The Germans were Moravians and they left their homeland to come to America in the 1700’s. The trip on the sailing vessel “Sandwich” took fifteen weeks from Holland to New York. Along the way, one of my relatives gave birth to a little girl, who died a few days later and was buried at sea. The mother also died shortly after, and was also buried at sea.
But another story caught my eye as I read about my past. It stood out especially as we have just begun a series of sermons that will take us through the book of Ruth.
It happened in 1787, when one of my ancestors approached the elders of the Moravian church in what is now called Winston-Salem and expressed his desire to be married. The elders must have agreed that this young man was a worthy candidate, so they wrote the names of all the single women in the community who were also ready for marriage on separate slips of paper. They put the names in a half-coconut shell and the young man drew one out. That was the woman he was to marry. At first, the young woman declined. Then two days later, she agreed to the proposition. But then my ancestor declined. Perhaps he thought, “Hey, she wasn’t so thrilled about being married to me when she first heard this. Well, believe me, she’s not the only fish in the sea. Or, Moravian in the settlement!” I have no idea if he said that or not. The record does show, however, that the young man came back to the elders two days later and had changed his mind, saying, “I believe it is the will of God for me to marry Anna.” The wedding took place less than one month after my ancestor first made his desires known to the elders.
The book of Ruth, on one level, is a love story. When Ruth first catches the attention of a man by the name of Boaz, the reader starts to wonder if there is the possibility of romance in the air. Ruth is a young widow from Moab, who lost her husband after ten years and then moved from Moab to Bethlehem with Naomi, her mother-in-law. Boaz is a respected man in the community, a landowner, and a man of influence. He is also a generous and a kind man, and when he sees Ruth gleaning in his fields, he asks one of his employees who she is. His heart is captured by this young widow, and he tells her that she can glean in his fields every day, and there is no need to go to others. He also warns the young men who work for him to leave her alone.
You will have to read the rest of the story to see how the “courtship” process works between these two. I will tell you this. It doesn’t involve a coconut shell and names on slips of paper, but it may shock you even more.
Both events, the Moravian romance and the Ruth and Boaz love story, illustrate for me the truth that marriage is built on the solid rock of commitment, not on the shifting sand of emotion. Is God against emotion? Of course not, it was His idea in the first place! So we see Him adding emotion where there is commitment.
You fall in love with the one you give yourself to for life.