Daniel Hansen tells about the time he and a friend visited the site of the battle of Gettysburg. Climbing a nearby observation tower expecting to see a magnificent view, they were disappointed to see only the trees which surrounded the tower! When the tower had been built years earlier, the builders apparently forgot that the trees would continue to grow and eventually block the view.
In the same way, says Hansen, life has a way of growing up around us in ways we may not expect. That's one reason we need the season of Advent, which says to us, "Come and be prepared to celebrate Christmas by being lifted up above the tree tops of all that has its way of blocking the revealing view of this event."
ADVICE--Can't always take
An old Danish proverb says, "He who builds according to every person's advice will have a crooked house."
ATTITUDE--Makes the difference
Some people seem to find a silver lining in the darkest cloud. For example, during the Second World War, General Creighton Abrams found himself and his troops surrounded on all sides. With characteristic optimism, he told his officers: "For the first time in the history of this campaign, we are now in a position to attack the enemy in any direction."
Whatever problem seems to surround you, concentrate on the solutions, not the difficulty.
It's easy to consume ourselves with worry--but what good does it do? One study suggested that an average person's anxiety focused on these areas:
40% about things that will never happen
30% about the past, which can't be altered
12% about criticism by others, most untrue
10% about health, which gets worse with stress
8% about real problems that will be faced
How much of your worry is meaningless?
Just before the death of actor W. C. Fields, a friend visited Fields' hospital room and was surprised to find him thumbing through a Bible.
Asked what he was doing with a Bible, Fields replied, "I'm looking for loopholes."
As Gary Redding points out, "There are no loopholes. The Bible is the Word of God. It tells us how God feels about us and it tells us how to be saved. It tells us how to live under God's authority. On those issues the Bible is very clear."
BOASTING/PRIDE--Often without basis
One golfer boasted that he had just shot a 67, and added that it was his first time playing the course. Asked by others if it was true, the caddie confirmed the score. Then he went on: "Tomorrow he'll play the second hole."
So much of our boasting is just like that--without any real foundation. As Paul reminds us, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
CHRISTIAN LIFE--What world expects
In 1951, the French philosopher and skeptic Albert Camus was asked to address a group of French churchmen on "What the world expects of Christians." He said, in part, "What the world expects of Christians is that they speak up against evil in such a way that not the slightest doubt (about what they mean) can exist in the heart of the simplest man. The world expects Christians to speak out clearly and pay up personally."
How much more does Christ expect of us?
CHRISTMAS--A place for Him in your heart
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.
My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep,
I too must sing, with joyful tongue,
That sweetest ancient cradle song,
Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto man His Son hath given
While angels sing with pious mirth.
A glad new year to all the earth."
Little Johnny's parents were puzzled when he announced that he no longer wanted the list of toys he had included on his Christmas gift list.
"Didn't you write Santa Claus asking for them," his mother asked, and little Johnny answered, "Yes, but I looked in the closet the other day and I've already got them!"
"The Baby is what it was all about. If he had not grown up to become the Jesus Christ of the New Testament, we would never even have heard of the story of Christmas, despite its beauty, simplicity and wonder. But something began at the Nativity which has never ended. The infant would change history, wrench the world's chronology so that its years would pivot about his birth, and touch countries, cultures, civilizations, and untold millions of lives." (Paul L. Maier, First Christmas)
"The hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable." (Ralph W. Sockman)
"The character of the Creator cannot be less than the highest He has created, and the highest is that babe born to Mary on that first Christmas morning." (A. Ian Burnett)
"It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air." (W. T. Ellis)
E. V. Hill told a group of pastors about the sign that sits in front of his Los Angeles church, which reads:
Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church
Hill explained the sign: "Conservative, because we believe every word in the Bible. Liberal, because we will try every means available to get the job done. Militant, because we will not take 'No' for an answer."
CHURCH--Can forget mission
The story is told of an elderly man who ran a variety store. At one time it had been a prosperous business, but in recent years he had become possessed with the concern to keep the store neat and clean. He would spend hours arranging and rearranging the merchandise on the shelves, often refusing to unlock the doors for fear that the store would be thrown into disarray. The appearance of his store became a higher priority than selling anything.
How tragic when that happens to a church! Yet we can become so concerned about maintaining the current program and structure that we lose the dynamic commitment to mission that should characterize the church.
Adrian Rogers tells about the man who bragged that he had cut off the tail of a man-eating lion with his pocket knife. Asked why he hadn't cut off the lion's head, the man replied: "Someone had already done that."
It's not enough to only take on the easy tasks. Christ has called us to boldly serve in ways that will cause us to risk our own comfort and security. That takes real courage.
Estimates of the cost of drug abuse to the United States--in lost productivity, medical costs and crime--range from $47 to $60 billion a year, according to USA Today. A Miami study indicated that some 239 heroin users were responsible for more than 80,000 crimes in a single year--almost one crime per day per person.
"Your business and mine is to so live that after our personalities have become lost in the shadows, we shall leave behind us a trail of light that will guide the steps of those who otherwise may walk in darkness." (Harry Lauder)
FAITHFULNESS--What God asks of us
Mother Theresa was on a street corner in Calcutta, and three bodies were laying on the street. She began working with one person, and as she worked a visitor asked, "Aren't you upset that you can't get to all the bodies?" Mother Theresa replied, "No. God created us not to be successful, but to be faithful."
What freedom that will bring to our lives if we grasp the concept! God has not called us to achieve great things, but to be faithful to the task to which He has called us. He will take care of the accomplishments.
Recognize any of these names: Owen D. Young, Pierre Laval, Hugh S. Johnson, James F. Byrnes, Mohammed Mossadegh, Harlow Curtis? You should; according to Time magazine, these are all people who have been designated as "Man of the Year" by Time, indicating they had the greatest impact in that year of all persons living on Earth.
Yet today they are virtually forgotten to all but a few of us. Fame is fleeting. The celebrity of today is all-but-forgotten tomorrow.
"Success does not necessarily mean that we must earn a great deal of money and live in the biggest house in town. It means only that we are daily engaged in striving toward a goal that we have independently chosen and feel is worthy of us as persons. A goal, whatever it may be, is what gives meaning to our existence." (Earl Nightingale)
"God cast aside the great shield of His omnipotence; He laid His sword of lightning with which He could cleave apart a galaxy; he put aside His robe, woven of a thousand bright suns, and stepped down from His throne of stars to enter our earthly race, a baby." (W. D. Mills)
"Only the Word made flesh can give any sort of hope in a world as grim and ugly and hard and sordid as ours." (Lynn Harold Hough)
A recent survey asked Americans which current personalities they most respected as contemporary heroes, and leading the list were movie stars Clint Eastwood and Eddie Murphy. As Russell Dilday points out, "The survey either suggests we have a serious shortage of respected leadership in our country or else a gross misunderstanding of the identifying characteristics by which great leaders are recognized."
George Vandeman pointed out that the old figure saying the human body is composed of minerals worth about $5 is no longer valid. A Seattle veterinarian has determined that just seven of the chemical components in the human body are worth more than $100,000, not to mention $1,200 worth of blood.
It's nice to know our bodies are worth something. But of how much more value is your soul?
LOVE--Must be shown
"Love talked about can be easily turned aside, but love demonstrated is irresistible." (W. Stanley Mooneyham)
MISSIONS--Don't limit vision
"When God has called us to reach the whole world and we limit our attention and our concern to a square block or even a city, I suggest to you we've lost the understanding of what it means to be church." (R. Keith Parks)
MORAL ISSUES--Teen pregnancy
Every day more than 3,000 teenage girls in the U.S. become pregnant, with 2,300 of them unintended. Every day teen mothers give birth to 1,300 babies; 800 of those mothers have not completed high school, 100 haven't made it through ninth grade. 500 teen-age mothers will have abortions today. (Light, April 1986)
There is no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday." (Robert Nathan)
In the years just prior to World War II, a powerful revival swept through the Lisu tribespeople in southwest China. Thousands committed their lives to Christ, and many of them received training and themselves began reaching out to their own people as preachers and teachers. When the war broke out and forced the missionaries to leave the country, thriving churches remained to carry on the work.
J. O. Fraser, one of the missionaries with the China Inland Mission who pioneered work with the Lisu tribe, credits this mighty working of the Holy Spirit to the prayers of a small band of people organized by his mother to pray for the work. In a letter to the group he wrote: "I am feeling more and more that it is the prayers of God's people that call down blessing upon the work." (Mrs. Howard Taylor, Behind the Ranges: Biography of J. O. Fraser of Lisuland, Southwest China)
Old Ben had been listening all afternoon as the two church ladies tried to impress each other with how religious they were. After one finally left, the second turned to Ben and noted smugly, "Betty is a good Christian, I suppose, but I just think I live closer to the Lord." Ben thought about that for a moment, then replied, "Ain't either one of you crowding Him much."
REPUTATION--Based on action
An old Chinese proverb put it simply: "If you don't want anyone to know, don't do it."
SERVICE--God desires ours
Ralph Stone tells about the statue of Jesus with outstretched arms which was damaged during the war. Though the people were able to replace the statue on its base, the arms had been destroyed. Someone placed a plaque beneath the statue which said: "I have no hands but your hands."
God has chosen to work through His people. He depends on our hands to serve those in need, to reach out to a lost and dying world. Our hands are His hands.
According to a Roper Organization poll reported by Associated Press, only 49 percent of American women believe sex before marriage is immoral, down from 65 percent who believed that in 1970. About half also indicated that there is no reason a single woman should not be able to have children and raise them on their own--though only 15 percent said such behavior would be acceptable for their own daughters.
"A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves." (Henry Ward Beecher)
"The finest test of character is seen in the amount and power of gratitude we have." (Milo H. Gates)
"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues." (Cicero)
VISION--Best not always seen
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." (Antoine de Sainte-Exupery, The Little Prince)