Jesus failed. Yes, in the eyes of the world He was a real loser. He died a criminal's death because He was a rabble-rouser and wine-bibber and glutton and friend of sinners. To the Self-Righteous Ones, being a friend of sinners was the last straw. We say to ourselves that had we lived in Jesus' time there's no way we would have treated Him like that. We get indignant when we think of the horde who yelled, "Crucify Him!" Really, what would we have done? We would have done the same thing we're doing today to Him, for every time we gossip or get angry or commit any sin, we nail Him to the cross again.
Abraham Lincoln enjoyed telling the story of a man lost in the dark and dense forest. The thunder crashed all around him and every few seconds a flash of lightening would momentarily brighten his way. Disturbed over the only occasional streaks of lightening and the ever-increasing intensity of the thunder, the man finally raised his eyes to heaven and prayed briefly but to the point, "If it's all the same with You, O Lord, give us a little more light and a little less noise." "But whoever listens to Me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (Proverbs 1:33).
Two psychiatrists passed each other on the street, and one said to the other, "Nice to see you." The second doctor walked on by and after a few seconds stopped and mumbled to himself, "Now I wonder what he meant by that?" Isn't it reassuring to know that we don't have to worry about what God means when He speaks to us through His Word? He is integrity as well as love, and this gives us stability. Lesser gods have played with our emotions and dreams, but our God is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and His Word is His covenant with us. His words are true and shall never pass away. Thank You, Father!
"I know only one infallible way of preventing the common from becoming commonplace, of preventing the small from becoming trivial, of preventing the familiar from becoming contemptible, and it is to link it all to Jesus Christ, and to say, 'For Thy sake, and unto Thee, I do this'; then, not only will the rough places become plain, and the crooked things straight, and not only will the mountains be brought low, but the valleys of the commonplace will be exalted" (Alexander Maclaren). True nobility is royalty of mind and heart, not aristocracy by race, religion or color. Jesus, humble of heart, was a Nobleman through and through.
Sage advice comes to us from the ancient Orient. It suggests that before we allow anything to pass our lips, it must be made to pass through three gates: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it necessary? and 3) Is it kind? There are red-flag words and phrases that cripple family relationships in particular. These are, among many, "You never..." and "You always..." When we least need it, this is when we slap each other with the always and the nevers, the you-shoulds and I-woulds: the negatives that kill respect, both ours and theirs. Rather than retaliate in kind, let us be kind instead. The rewards are heavenly, both here and hereafter.
"My cup overflows" (Psalm 23:5c). If we were to say--and feel--this every morning as we kneel by our bed to ask God for His blessings for our day, then we could not possibly complain. Our cup overflows with all kinds of goodness: the beauty of the sunrise, the promises in His Word which cannot be broken, our families and friends who we love and who love us, enough to eat, clothes, a bed, a toothbrush, hot water, eyes to see, ears to hear, homes, birds, trees, a job that we enjoy if we are that fortunate and, in the evening, the sunset and evening star. Indeed, our cup of plenty overflows; does our cup of gratitude overflow, also?
Some of the most astute and most practical advice is in God's Word. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11 we are told, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business..." If folks would follow this sane recommendation, about half the world's ills would disappear. We have enough interests in our own busy life and we don't need to poke into another's affairs. Usually busybodies are busy mouths, and busy mouths break hearts and lives. The Word even tells us about these: "...They go from house to house...gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention" (1 Timothy 5:13). Begone, Satan!
"As they...discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them" (Luke 24:15). In this final and grand chapter of Luke is given to us perhaps the first fulfillment of comforting promises, "Where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20). A pastor once noted that only one of the two was named, and he suggested that the reader take his or her own place there beside Jesus and Cleopas. As that beautiful hymn says, "And He walks with Me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share...none other has known."
There were some in Lincoln's cabinet who took him to task for his attitude toward his enemies. "Why do you try to make friends of them?" someone asked. "You know they are traitors. You should try to ruin them." The large-hearted Lincoln replied, "Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends? And a friend is never a traitor." Jesus doesn't want us to have any enemies. In His stirring Sermon on the Mount He commands that we love our enemies; that we even go so far as to pray for those who malign us. In Romans 12:21 we are even exhorted to give food and drink to our enemy. We are to overcome evil with good, not revenge.
"If you fall down in the land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5b NAS). It is in the quiet that we gather our forces for conflict. We don't know what a day may bring. We may be asked this very day to drink the "wine of astonishment..." (Psalm 60:3,KJV). It is the habitual living for Christ that prepares us for that "brief moment" when He seems to forsake us. But "with deep compassion I will bring you back" (Isaiah 54:7). If we have been faithful in lesser strifes then we will be upheld in the greater ones. We know of His faithfulness and love from the past, so surely He will not withhold them in a greater need.
An impoverished Scotch lady told a friend how proud she was of her son who had joined the U.S. Navy and decided, after the war, to stay in America. He became successful and rich in his adopted homeland. The curious friend asked why the son didn't send her any money. She replied, "He writes me every month and sends beautiful pictures." "May I see those pictures?" the friend asked. The lady pulled from her Bible the pictures her son had been so faithfully sending. "Why, those are American bank notes! You are set for the rest of your life!" Our treasure, too, is in God's Word, and we are set for eternity.
It is not the quantity of life but its quality that finally matters. A young person dies and out of the ashes of that sorrow springs a well of good that cannot be praised or appraised here on this earth. It is God who has measured the breadth and length and depth and height of this precious life so dear to God as well as to those of us who have been touched and blessed by the person's life of love and devotion. We thank and honor Him for the loan of our darling who has given our own life a dimension we would not have had otherwise. Let us grasp our Father's hand as He guides us through the valley of grief and on to the mountain-top of joy.
There's an amusing bumper sticker that says, "I'm spending my children's inheritance." Proverbs 13:22 tells us, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children." Earthly inheritances have broken up many families, so perhaps it's not such a terrible thing to spend the children's legacy. We and our children should be dwelling on what we have, not on what we don't have. It would be far better to thank God for what we already possess; to think more about, and prepare for, "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven..." for us (1 Peter 1:4).
The book of Daniel is scattered through with bright gems. In chapter nine Daniel pleads for the Lord to hear his prayer that he might interpret the vision. He presents his supplications: "We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy (Daniel 9:18c). In verses 22 and 23 the Lord answers: "Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding...I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed." O you of faith, I want you to know because you already know Me and love Me. I will give you a vision of My truth so you will be able to discern My heart and mind and become one with Me.
An anecdote tells about the man who came to the Louvre and began to inspect the art galleries. He said to the guide, "I don't see why people are so excited about these paintings. I can't see anything extraordinary to rave about." "Monsieur," the surprised guide exclaimed, "these paintings are no longer on trial. Distinguished critics have already expressed great admiration and approval. It is you who are on trial, to determine if you are wise enough to appreciate what you see." It is a fact that Jesus lived and died, and facts won't change, whether we accept Him or not. We are on trial.
Hope is born from despair. The Biblical concept of hope is trust and refuge in God as well as expectation and desire. It is in the Acts and the Epistles where this gift of the Holy Spirit abounds. "Christ Jesus, who is our hope" (1 Timothy 1:1b) is our Surety of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22). Our hope becomes our opportunity to make this present world a finer place, if only to let others know that goodness and justice do exist. C.S. Lewis advises us to "Aim at Heaven and you will get earth `thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither" (Christian Behavior).
Henry Ward Beecher shares this inspiring thought: "There are many fruits that never turn sweet until frost has lain upon them; there are many nuts that never fall from the bough of the tree of life till the frost has opened and ripened them; and there are many elements of life that never grow sweet and beautiful till sorrow touches them." How we dread trials. But "Trials make more room for consolation. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation" (Charles Spurgeon). Remember, He is our only true Consolation.
"Then he waited for the harvest, but the grapes that grew were wild and sour and not at all the sweet ones he expected" (Isaiah 5:2c TLB). Wild and worthless grapes seem to proliferate on their own. They are offensive to God, mischievous to others, and ruinous to ourselves. The wild grapes of intemperance, seeking of constant pleasures, sensuality, infidelity, lying and stealing, have brought us a bumper crop of fruitless vines ready for the burning. How tragic! God never meant for our vineyards to be unproductive or poisonous. Surely the Divine Husbandman has a right to expect fruit in His loved and well-cultivated vineyard.
"No chance hath brought this ill to me;/'Tis God's own hand, so let it be,/He seeth what I cannot see./There is a need-be for each pain,/And He one day will make it plain/That earthly loss is heavenly gain./Like as a piece of tapestry/Viewed from the back appears to be/Naught but threads tangled hopelessly; But in the front a picture fair/Rewards the worker for his care,/Proving his skill and patience rare./Thou art the Workman, I the frame./Lord, for the glory of Thy Name,/Perfect Thine image on the same" (Anonymous).
"Love is careful of little things, of circumstances and measures, and of little accidents; not allowing to itself any infirmity which it strives not to master, aiming at what it cannot yet reach, desiring to be of an angelic purity, and of a perfect innocence, and a seraphical fervor, and fears every image of offense; is as much afflicted at an idle word as some at an act of adultery, and will not allow to itself so much anger as will disturb a child, nor endure the impurity of a dream. And this is the curiosity and niceness of divine love: this is the fear of God, and is the daughter and production of love" (Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living).
Feel like a failure? Then consider the following facts: Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Claude Monet and Isadora Duncan never finished grade school; Mary Baker Eddy, George Gershwin, Will Rogers, both Wright brothers and Peter Jennings never finished high school; Bruce Jenner, Hans Christian Anderson, Nelson Rockefeller, Woodrow Wilson and Leonardo da Vinci had learning problems. Robert Louis Stevenson was afflicted with tuberculosis and Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio before he became president. And let's remember that Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times while he was hitting those 714 runs.
Elbert Hubbard, a successful man, described a successful person as one who tries, not cries; who works, not dodges; who shoulders responsibilities, not evades them; who gets under the burden instead of standing off, looking on, and giving advice. The following is a ladder of success: 0%-I won't; 10%-I can't; 20%-I don't know how; 30%-I wish I could; 40%-What is it?; 50%-I think I might; 60%-I might; 70%-I think I can; 80%-I can; 90%-I will; 100%-I did. Someone commented that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. We moan that we have no talent and opportunities when it is perseverance and concentration we need.
Jesus told Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4). Simon told Him they had toiled all night and had gotten nothing for their labor, but in swift compliance they let the nets down again. There are several important lessons in this scripture, but for now let's just put out into the deeps of our lives. Jesus didn't say how far Simon was to let down his net, and He doesn't tell us how deep we are to reach into the reservoir of His promises in the greatness of our need. We toil to catch our happiness when our Savior asks only that we let down the net and leave the rest--and our rest--to Him.
How sneaky we are. "Word has it..." Whose word? Those who heard it second-hand or fifth-hand? Those whose hearts are soft with sympathy or hard with hate? Words can be little worms that bore, or wafts that gently refresh the heart destituted and disintegrated by the ills that afflict all mankind. Hearsay can be horrorsay by the time it makes the rounds. Small talk can degenerate into a big scandal that has no foundation, and certainly no justification. If a word is the echo of our heart, then let us be ever so careful. Let us daily read God's Word that our words may reflect His thoughts of love and faith and hope.
Our God would have us hot or cold but not indifferent. A position of ease can be more deadly than opposition. "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!" (Revelation 3:15). We know in our own relationships that it is the frost of indifference that finally kills love; so it is with our Redeemer who wants our devotion--for our good, not His. Are we warm or cold to those who long for a good word or work from us? Do we reach into the depths of our hearts in prayer for others as we pray for ourselves? Do we care deeply about their burdens?
"I settled with myself that I would consider myself justified in living till I was thirty for science and art, in order to devote myself from that time forward to the direct service of humanity...What would be the character of the activities thus planned for the future was not yet clear to me. I left it to circumstances to guide me. One thing only was certain, that it must be directly human service, however inconspicuous the sphere of it" (Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought). Once we settle it in heart and mind that we belong to God, only then can we dedicate our energies and time to Him and His.
Is Christian joy finally the realization that, when all else is taken from us, we still have the lovely Christ? Is it knowing in complete faith that out of the thorns of life will grow the roses of love; out of the grave will arise our beloved dead; from the cross will come the crown; from the trials will come the victories; from the seemingly dead acorns will grow the mighty oaks? Is this finally what joy is: simply believing? Happiness and unhappiness cannot coexist, but joy and sorrow do. "...Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross..." (Hebrews 12:2). What a spiritual anomaly this is. But our Friend Jesus had a more exalted view.
In his essay titled "Self-Reliance" Ralph Waldo Emerson states: "At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say--`Come out unto us.'" The world is knocking with clutter of mind and body. Trivial Pursuit is the name of today's game. We must decide for ourselves what is important, and then shut the door to the rubbish. "Discretion will guard [us]" (Proverbs 2:11) so we may divide the wheat from the chaff and the essential from the ever-increasing non-essentials.
After World War I a cartoonist pictured world leaders seated at a council, each with his portfolio laid out on the table. With them sat Christ, His portfolio on the table with the rest. Portfolio also means the position and duties of diplomat or minister of state. How tragic that our world leaders don't share Christ's portfolio. We've been forewarned that nations will be destroyed because they will not recognize a Power superior to themselves. The image in Daniel 2 is explained as the consummation of all earthly kingdoms; then God's kingdom is to be set forever. Christ will yet be the Portfolio of the nations.
"And the Lord God [calls] to [us]...'Where are you?'" (Genesis 3:9). Where are we in our lives? "Why do you go around so much changing your way?" He asks (Jeremiah 2:36). "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16 NAS). The serpent convinced Eve that if she ate the forbidden fruit she would know good and evil. Up to then Adam and Eve knew only good; they disobeyed and then they knew evil. Only in that respect was the serpent, that liar, right. Are we on God's path, narrow but perfect and excellent?
It's so easy to take life easy. After all, we can say that we didn't ask for life. But we have it, and with it immense possibilities as well as responsibilities and commitments. "What can I do? I can talk out when others are silent. I can say man when others say money. I can stay up when others are asleep. I can keep working when others have stopped to play. I can give life big meanings when others give life little meanings. I can say love when others say hate. I can say every man when others say one man. What can I do? I can give myself to life when other men refuse themselves to life" (Horace Traubel).