The Light of the World

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)

I’m of the opinion that one of the greatest things Jesus ever said to us are the words of our verse today — “You are the light of the world.” In that statement, Jesus commands us to be nothing less than what He Himself claimed to be. In John 9:5, Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” So, when Jesus asks you and me to be the light of the world, He is asking us to be nothing less than what He is.

Importance in our world today is often judged by how well known or prominent a person may be. But as Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount (the greatest sermon ever preached), He was speaking to people whose names we don’t know. They were ordinary people and He called them “the light of the world.” Do you see the significance? Jesus was telling them that they were important in the Kingdom work.

I don’t believe that Jesus was passive when He said, “You are the light of the world.” Rather, I am convinced that He emphatically said, “YOU are the light of the world!” It amazes me that Jesus would know me for who and what I am and yet still say that I am “the light of the world.”

It is significant to me that Jesus said “You ARE the light of the world.” When I got started in ministry 30 plus years ago, I thought that the most important thing I did was preparation of sermons. I still believe that my primary “gift” in ministry is preaching. I served the Pauline Baptist Church in Bentonville, NC for about 3 years. That means I preached at least 300 sermons (Sunday morning and Wednesday nights) during that time. Now, if you were to go back to that church today and ask them to give you a list of five sermons I preached in those 3 years, I doubt there is anybody who could do it.

On the other hand, I imagine that most anybody who attended that church in those days would be able to tell you how I lived, the spirit I had and the impression my life made on them. My sermons had more impact because the people KNEW me and I was involved in their lives. There are people in every church I have served who remember some crisis they encountered and I was there to minister to their family. Not long ago, a man told me that what he remembered most about me was that while I was his pastor, he went to the hospital. When I came to visit him, he said I knelt down beside his bed to have prayer. With tears in his eyes, he said, “That meant more to me than anything.”

Don’t get me wrong. Preaching is still my primary responsibility in ministry. However, my preaching is pointless if the people to whom I preach don’t see a Christian witness in my dealings with them daily. The life I have lived rather than the words I have preached has most often been the thing that has impacted people the most in these 30 years.

Remember, Jesus did NOT say, “In time you will bring the light,” nor did he say, “Someday you will become the light.” He said, “You ARE the light.” It is not by the things we say or the deeds we do, but by the people we ARE that we can be called the light of the world.

One night when Robert Louis Stevenson was a child, he stood at the window watching an old lamplighter at work. The lamplighter made his way down the street lighting one lamp after another. This process fascinated young Stevenson. Thinking that his quietness means that he was up to some kind of mischief, his mother called out to him, “Robert, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m watching a man making holes in the darkness!”

The longer I live, the more I realize that there is MUCH darkness in this world. I can’t do it all — but I can do what I can to make a hole in the darkness around me. When Jesus said that “You are the light of the world,” He intended for our Christianity to be visible to everyone. Nobody should ever have to ask you or me, “Are you a Christian?” If you are making holes in the darkness — it will be evident.

Have a great day.

Dear Hudson…Happy Birthday

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“Grandchildren are the crown of the elderly, and the pride of sons is their fathers.” (Proverbs 17:6)

Dear Hudson,

One year ago today I wrote you my first letter. I had just met you and you had stolen my heart. I couldn’t imagine how life could get any better. After 24 short hours, I understood all the fuss about grandchildren. In the 365 days since you got here, I have told your daddy on several occasions that YOU are my reward from God for not killing him when he was a teenager! I think that’s funny…your daddy…not so much.

Well, here we are 1 year later. I can’t believe how quickly time flies. I was looking at pictures this morning of you and Nana and you have grown so much! We thought you were a pretty big boy when we first met you, and now you are walking and babbling and time just keeps marching on.

My guess is you already realize this, but I’ll tell you anyway. You have four grandparents who actually believe that you hung the moon! Nonnie, Poppie, Nana and I marvel every day at what a brilliant and beautiful child you are. Your momma and daddy did a really good job making you.

Over the last year, a lot has changed. In the same way that your life has changed, our lives have changed too. In February this year, Popple went to heaven to live with Jesus. We miss him very much and I’m so sorry that you won’t get to know him the way we all did. But I can tell you this…he sure loved you. He called you his “little man.” I miss him every day, but I will do my very best to make sure I tell you as many stories about him as I can. Some of them we will probably have to keep to ourselves — but that’s ok — he was a funny man who loved Granny, Aunt B, me and all his family. As you grow older, you will discover that my love for my family is a direct result of the way Popple taught me.

The Bible verse I chose to be the heading of your letter today is from Proverbs 16. I’m not so sure I like being referred to as “elderly” but the part about grandchildren being my crown is sure true. It is also true that I have great pride in my daddy. As you continue to grow and mature, I believe you will one day be able to say the same thing. I know it hardly seems possible, but one day, you will have a grandchild and you will understand just how special they are.

Now let me explain something about that relationship with daddy. Your daddy is going to be your super-hero until you are about 12-13 years old — then, all of a sudden — he will lose his brain and you will wonder how he even ties his own shoes. Don’t panic! In a few years, you will realize that you are the one who lost his brain for a while and that your daddy is actually the smartest man in the world. During those years when you think your daddy doesn’t understand you — cut him some slack. He’s not nearly as dumb as you will think he is, I promise.

One year ago, I told you that we would always love you. We may not always like the decisions you make or the choices you choose — but after one year of being around you, I am more convinced than ever that there is absolutely NOTHING you will ever do that will make us stop loving you. And you can count on that!

It took me a little while, but I finally came up with my nickname for you. I call you Scooter. I hope you like it. I’m trying to get you to call me Poppa — but I’ll be happy with whatever you choose to call me. Pay no attention to your parents or Aunt Deevs — they want you to call me BUBBLES! How silly.

Well, this first year has been a blast for us. I hope it has for you too. Now we make our way toward “the terrible 2’s.” Personally, I don’t think you will have to worry about that much. Just stick with me and I’ll do my very best to run interference when THEY think you are getting into trouble.

Happy birthday Scooter. I love you more than you will ever know. This grandparent thing is the greatest thing ever.

Love always,

Poppa

Ignorance Is Not So Bliss…

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).

I want to go on record as forcefully as I can to say…

IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS!

My own definition of education is this…Education is nothing more than going from an unconscious to a conscious awareness of my own ignorance.

I love to read and I love to learn. But I’ve always wanted to learn stuff that was TRUE. I think it was Josh Billings who said, “It is better not to know so much than to know so many things that ain’t so.”

I remember reading an article written by Jaime O’Neill called “No Allusions in the Classroom.” As you continue reading, keep in mind this article was written in 1985!

O’Neill was a college professor in Washington state. Over the years he became increasingly concerned about the lack of knowledge among his students. And the thing that bothered him most was the lack of knowledge that so many students had about just general “facts” — things he thought most everyone knew. He decided to quiz his students. He gave them an 86 question quiz on general knowledge. Twenty-six people ranging in age from 18 to 54 in his college English class took the quiz. Remember, these questions were not about technical knowledge and they weren’t deliberately “tricky” questions. They were simple facts about the world — facts about people, places and things about life in general.

O’Neill shared these “facts” from the results of the quiz…

Charles Darwin invented gravity
Jesus Christ was born in the 16th century
J. Edgar Hoover was a 19th-century president
“The Great Gatsby” was a magician in the 1930’s
Franz Joseph Haydn was a songwriter who lived in the 1930’s
Mark Twain invented the cotton gin
Jefferson Davis was a guitar player for the band Jefferson Airplane
Socrates was an American Indian chieftain

I’ve always thought that Americans were fairly well educated — but the longer I live, the more fearful I become over the ignorance that sweeps our nation. If students in 1985 couldn’t answer those simple questions, I can’t imagine how students in 2015 would fare!

As a pastor, I am equally concerned about the Biblical ignorance among those who claim to be Christians. What if I were to give you an 86 question quiz with just basic information about your faith? How would you do?

I used to expect that non-Christians would be generally ignorant about basic theology — but today, it seems that people who have grown up in the church all their life are clueless about what they believe and why. We are told in I Peter 3 that we should “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

Too many Christians today are more concerned about offending someone than they are about telling them the truth. Truth is not determined by public opinion or by those with the loudest voices. Truth is not relative — different for every person.

For example, I was born in Northampton County, North Carolina in December, 1962 to white parents. That’s a fact. It can be proven pretty simply by just looking at my birth certificate. However, today I would like to share with you that the earliest memories as a child that I have (I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old) are wondering “whatever happened to my tail.”

I’ve never shared this story with anyone before, but in today’s world I trust that you will just accept me and believe what I am telling you because it is MY TRUTH. I know I look human and I know you think I look fairly normal, but in reality…I am a 7-toed sloth trapped in this human body. I hereby from this day forth will identify myself as Stan, the 7-toed sloth. I will be in touch with doctors at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in the next few weeks to begin the operations to add toes to my feet and finally get my tail back!

I’m free!!! I feel so wonderful. Thank you so much for allowing me to be me and thank you for standing up for my right to be TRANS-SLOTHFUL.

Ok, ok. Back to reality. I don’t care how you FEEL, you cannot create your own TRUTH. Truth is defined by our Creator and is not is fixed by Him from eternity past. The world is not full of people who were supposed to be white but they are black or people who were supposed to be women but they are men. The TRUTH of the matter is — you are who God created you to be — and God doesn’t make mistakes. That’s not MY TRUTH — that’s THE TRUTH.

We Christians need to get back to the Word of God and get out of the pop psychology poop! Truth does not rest on emotion or feelings or somebody’s opinion. It relies on the fact that God has said it and it is so. That knowledge enables us to detect and confront error. Show me a person who constantly stumbles along in their Christian faith, and I will show you someone who doesn’t expose themselves to a consistent intake of the Scripture.

So let me tell you something. Our world is not becoming more tolerant and sophisticated as we accept every kind of TRANS whatever comes about today. No, we are headed exactly in the direction predicted by the writers of the Scripture hundreds of years ago.

Paul warned us of this in II Timothy 3.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.” (II Timothy 3:1-5)

Stick to the stuff you KNOW is true. The Bible is true — always has been, always will be. Keep learning — don’t stop. Press on. Christian, keep sharing Christ with others. There is a famine in America today — a famine of hearing the TRUTH of God’s Word. Stand firm. I’ve read the end of the story and WE WIN!

Have a great day.

Loosen Up That Halo

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (Matthew 6:16)

There is an old saying in the advertising world — “Running a business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but she doesn’t.” I suppose that saying is true enough. It pays to advertise.

But there are some things that advertising kills. One is humility. Advertise it and it becomes pride. Another is altruism. Advertise it and it becomes egotism. Advertise your spirituality and it becomes hypocrisy.

We’ve all met people from time to time who seem to be wearing their halo just a little too tight. You know what I mean? If you wear a hat and it’s too tight, you get a headache. When you wear your halo too tight — everybody around you gets a headache!

I love the Sermon on the Mount. Of course it is the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher who ever lived. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about wearing our halos too tight and he warns of three specific areas where we must certainly avoid an attitude of superior piety. In other words — there are some areas you just don’t need to advertise.

If you do good deeds to attract attention…your halo is too tight.
I’m not suggesting a secret discipleship. The Bible assumes that after we are saved, we will do good things — not to earn or keep our salvation, but because we are thankful to God for this wonderful gift.

I’m talking about doing the right thing for the wrong reason. T.S. Eliot said, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

I think what Jesus is saying here is simply this…when you do your good deeds in order to receive the applause of others — your transaction has resulted in your good deeds being paid for by the attention from others rather than resulting in God being glorified.

When we do good deeds NOT to call attention to ourselves but as an expression of our love for God, we are following the precepts of Christ. To do good deeds for any other reason is to destroy the opportunity for blessing and the joy of having done the good deed. If you do the right thing with the wrong motivation — your halo may be a little too tight.

If you pray in order to impress others…your halo is too tight.
In Matthew 6:5, Jesus said, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”

Jesus teaches us that our prayers are to be a sincere matter between ourselves and God. We are not to get lost in needless verbiage. The hypocrites enjoyed making sure that they were caught in a public place when “prayer time” came along. It seems they took advantage of the situation to call attention to themselves.

I don’t believe Jesus is condemning praying in public. He went to the synagogue and engaged in public prayer on several occasions. I do think Jesus is reminding us to make sure we direct our prayers toward God — not toward the audience who might be listening.

Prayer is not supposed to be a complicated thing. In fact, the pattern Jesus gave us (The Model Prayer, Matthew 6:9-13) is made up of 66 words, 50 of which are one-syllable. The prayer is simple enough to be understood by a child and profound enough to express the heart desires of the most mature believer.

Be careful in your prayer life. If you pray so other people will be impressed with you instead of God — your halo might be a little too tight.

Finally, if you fast in order to appear spiritual…your halo is too tight.
Go back and read the verse I chose to highlight for today at the beginning of this devotion. When you advertise your fasting — you destroy whatever blessings it might bring.

I’ve always chuckled at people who just LOVE to tell stories about the times they have fasted. They try to make it sound so spiritual, but in fact, they are doing nothing but calling attention to themselves in the hope that others will hold them in higher regard. Beware of those people who want to preach to you about how spiritual they are because they fasted. We are told by Christ not to look dismal when we fast. Don’t put your “spiritualness” on parade!

Halos, by the way are a figment of the imagination created by medieval artists. And in spiritual matters, they are doubly a figment of the imagination. Our relationship with Christ and with others will become much more meaningful when we not only stop wearing our halos too tight, but when we STOP WEARING THEM AT ALL!

Do all that you do for the glory of God and not for the praise of man.

Have a great day.

Dear Church…

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

The Scripture refers to the church as the household of God. A local congregation (like Valley Grove Baptist Church where I pastor) is a tangible expression of the household of faith. In the household of faith we are brothers and sisters, and we have mutual responsibilities to relate to one another as children of our Father God. The all-inclusive law that should prevail in the household of faith is the law of love.

As members of the household of faith, we are also servants of Jesus Christ. To us has been given the mission of sharing Christ with the whole world. The longer I remain in ministry, the more I am convinced that the greatest handicap the modern church must overcome in leading the world to a knowledge of Christ is found in the failure of those of us who profess to be Christians.

I’ve said on many occasions, we should not expect lost people to act like Christians — but bless God we should expect Christians to act like Christians. And the longer I live, the more I see that our response to those who have fallen into some sin and are failing to be good representatives of Jesus Christ is woefully lacking.

It has been stated that Christians are the only people who shoot their own wounded. Do you really believe that we are making a proper response when we project a feeling of superiority to fallen brothers and sisters? Is it really proper for us to look down on them as failures and to compliment ourselves for our great success? Do you really think we should enter into a conspiracy of criticism and point out their faults and flaws as we chastise them?

The Apostle Paul says in our verse today that if we are true followers of Jesus…if we are truly spiritual…if we are spiritually mature believers, we have a major responsibility toward those who have fallen into sin. Notice that Paul addresses us as “Brethren.” As brothers and sisters we are to LOVE one another and to be helpful to one another. Paul calls the brethren “you who are spiritual” meaning that the Holy Spirit lives inside of us and we are led by the Spirit and we experience and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. In today’s world, we need Christian brothers and sisters who are not just professors of the faith but who are truly possessors of that faith to step up to the challenge of caring for those who fall into sin.

Let me quickly make two statements that I believe to be true.

First, ALL of us will stand in the need of the ministry of restoration at some point in our walk with Christ. The fact that you and I got saved does not eradicate and immobilize our fallen human nature. We continue to live in a sinful environment. I also believe that the devil works continually to deceive, defeat and destroy us.

Too many churches today baptize the new converts but they fail to continue in the discipleship process. While regeneration (salvation) is an important and necessary step in our spiritual journey, what happens AFTER that experience is equally important. We call that sanctification. That is the process that begins when we get saved and continues until God calls us to Heaven. We are to grow and mature in our walk with Christ. We are certainly commissioned to evangelize and baptize — we are also tasked with this discipleship process. I’m afraid that we have made the fatal mistake of leading people to become converts and then failed to lead them on to maturity.

One of my favorite verses in Psalm 23 says, “He restores my soul.” The ministry of restoration is a continuous need in the family of God today. If you haven’t needed it YET — you will!

Second, I believe we have a duty to love our fallen brothers and sisters. If we are going to engage in the ministry of restoration, we must give careful attention to both our attitudes and actions toward others.

I continually pray that God will deliver me from an attitude of self-righteousness. That attitude produces a harsh and critical spirit toward others. And that wins NOBODY to Christ. Sometimes it is easier to be a Pharisee than it is to be a Christian. Jesus was accused of being the friend of publicans and sinners — and the truth of the matter is — HE WAS!

Instead of passing judgment on those in the family who fall into some sin — we should love them and come alongside them to help them be restored to fellowship with God and with the church.

Read our verse today in a couple of other translations…

(Williams Translation)
“Brothers, if anybody is caught in the very act of doing wrong, you who are spiritual, in the spirit of gentleness, must set him right; each of you continuing to think of yourself, for you may be tempted too.”

(Phillips Translation)
“Even if a man should be detected in some sin, my brothers, the spiritual ones among you should quietly set him back on the right path, not with any feeling of superiority but being yourselves on guard against temptation.”

(New English Bible)
“If a man should do something wrong, my brothers, on a sudden impulse, you who are endowed with the Spirit must set him right again very gently. Look to yourself, each one of you: you may be tempted too.”

My friends, it is unchristian for us to be critical, indifferent or to feel superior toward those brothers and sisters who fall into sin. As a part of God’s family, we are to be involved and engaged in the ministry of restoration. God will judge sin — don’t worry. But judging sin is not a task given to you and me. We are to love, teach, evangelize and help grow baby Christians into full-grown mature believers.

Why don’t we try to put these 5 simple things into practice in our lives…

1. Put Christ’s LOVE to work on behalf of those who have fallen
2. Practice the FORGIVENESS of Christ toward those who have fallen
3. Lift up those who have fallen before God’s throne of grace in PRAYER
4. ENCOURAGE those who have fallen to repent of their sin and return to Christ
5. Provide Christian sympathetic HELP in their time of difficulty.

Have a great day.