There's a popular song that you still hear on the radio from time to time: "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree." It tells the story of a convict on his way home, though unsure if the family even wants him back. So he has written and asked them to "tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree" that he will see as the bus or train goes by. If he sees the ribbon, he'll know they want him to come home; if not, he'll go right on by.
You know the lyrics. As he approached he saw "a hundred yellow ribbons" decorating the old oak tree. He knew he was accepted.
Isn't that what we all want: acceptance? To know we are loved and wanted? That's what Easter is all about: despite our sin and rebellion, God loved us so much that He gave His own Son to die in our place.
Robert Orben says one of the first signs of old age is when you hear "Snap, crackle, pop" in the morning -- and it isn't your cereal!
Alcohol is one of the nation's major health problems, costing the U.S. about $120 billion a year. Every problem drinker costs society as much as $5,000 a year in alcohol-related medical expenses. (Light)
John D. Erickson of the American Bible Society told the story of Juan Chavez, one of the most wanted criminals in Mexico. Every effort to apprehend him had proved futile. Yet one day he appeared voluntarily in a Saltillo, Mexico, court house and announced his identity.
The shocked judge asked, "Who brought you in?" Chavez held up a Bible and answered, "This book has brought me back, back to pay my debt to society."
He explained: "When I got back from one of my raids, I found this book among the loot. I was hiding in a cave at the time and since I had nothing else to do, I began reading the book. I couldn't get away from it. This Bible has changed my life!"
The speaker had gone on far too long, when he began his summary, "Well, to make a long story short..."
To that, someone in the audience replied, "Too late!"
BURDEN-Could be blessing
The legend says that the birds were gathered about complaining that they had been burdened with wings. These seemingly useless appendages were heavy, bulky, and always got in the way. Besides, none of the other animals had been asked to bear them.
How surprised they were to learn that their wings were not burdens to be borne, but blessings to allow them to soar above the earth and see things none of the other animals would ever be able to see. They had misunderstood a gift to be a burden.
The three children asked their mother what she would like for her birthday. "I would like three well-behaved children," she answered.
"Oh, boy," exclaimed one child. "Then there'll be six of us!"
CHRIST-Died in our place
Dwight L. Moody told of the young man who did not want to serve in Napoleon Bonaparte's army. When he was drafted, a friend volunteered to go in his place. The substitution was made, and some time later the surrogate was killed in battle.
The same young man was, through a clerical error, drafted again. "You can't take me" he told the startled officers. "I'm dead. I died on the battlefield."
They argued that they could see him standing right in front of them, but he insisted they look on the roll to find the record of his death. Sure enough, there on the roll was the man's name, with another name written beside it.
The case finally went to the emperor himself. After examining the evidence, Napoleon said, "Through a surrogate, this man has not only fought, but has died in his country's service. No man can die more than once, therefore the law has no claim on him."
Two thousand years ago, Jesus went to a cross to bear the penalty that rightly belonged to us. He died in our place. And through Him, our names are written in the book, with His name written beside ours.
John Killinger tells about working on a sermon about the cross and seeing Grunewald's painting, Crucifixion, which hangs in Washington's National Gallery. As he observed the painting, he noticed the body of Christ appeared to have some discoloration upon it.
"I looked closely. Grunewald had made him a leper! There he was, on the cross, with leprosy! The people around him had infected him. What a powerful illustration, I thought, of the extent of the incarnation: he has come upon us so fully that he has even taken the diseases of the flesh." (Fundamentals of Preaching)
"Never does human nature seem so courageous and so wicked all at once as when we stand before the cross of Jesus! The most enthusiastic hopes, the most profound humiliation, have found their inspiration there." (Phillips Brooks)
"The cross is the only ladder high enough to touch Heaven's threshold." (George Dana Boardman)
"The cross is central. It is struck into the middle of the world, into the middle of time, into the middle of destiny. The cross is struck into the heart of God." (Frederick W. Norwood)
CROSS-Victory over death
"When the Philistines had blind Samson led out of his dungeon and into their palace and temple to make sport for them, so they might mock at him and at the God of Israel, Samson asked the lad who led him by the hand to let him feel the pillars upon which the temple stood, so that he might rest himself. Then he put one arm around one pillar and one arm around the other; and with a prayer to God, 'O Lord God, remember me, I pray Thee, and strengthen me, I pray Thee, only this once,' Samson bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon his tormentors.
"So it was on Calvary. With eyes blinded with love for mankind, Christ put one arm around the dark pillar of sin, and the other arm around the dark pillar of death, and then bowed himself with all his might, even unto death, and Satan's empire fell." (Clarence E. Macartney, The Greatest Texts of the Bible)
One Danish scientist says you can tell if you really want to do something by tossing a coin. It doesn't really settle the question for you, but as Piet Hein says, while the coin is still in the air, "You suddenly know what you're hoping."
EASTER-Makes salvation possible
"The New Testament makes the cross central. The Gospels are basically books about the cross. They make the cross the climax to which all else leads up .... They are concerned with God's provision for our salvation, and they see the death of Christ as the very central thing ...
"Without the death of Christ there could have been no salvation. With that death the salvation of God becomes a glorious reality." (Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament)
"The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse and death, are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we cease to fear them any more." (Karl Barth)
ENCOURAGEMENT-We all need
The woman's hobby was gardening, and when she had to go out of town it was necessary to leave her husband in charge of the plants. She gave him specific instructions, ending with the admonition to "please talk to them occasionally."
Her husband, no fan of plants himself, grumbled that he would feel like a fool talking to plants.
When she returned, she found everything just fine, and asked him, "Did you talk to the plants?"
"No, I didn't," he answered. "I read the paper out loud in the morning and afternoon, and if they wanted to listen it was up to them."
FEAR-Can immobilize us
Nelson Price tells about a poor widow facing eviction. She was behind in her rent and other bills, her power had been cut off, and she had received her eviction notice.
Then she heard the knock on the door. She sat trembling in silence behind locked doors and drawn curtains. The knock came again, and again she sat frozen in fear that the officials had come to take her home. Finally the knock stopped, and she was able to relax a bit.
If she had only had the courage to answer the door, she would have been greeted by her pastor, who had worked together with other friends to collect enough money to pay her rent and bills. He had come with relief, but her fear blocked the way of hearing the good news.
"If we do not know where we are going, we will not know when we get there." (James D. Glasse)
Gore Vidal's Lincoln tells about the day the president's counselors came to discuss the time after the war, which was drawing to a close. They wanted to punish the South as a vanquished enemy. When asked how he planned to deal with the South, Lincoln said, "I will treat them as if they never left."
God's grace is that way. It treats us as if we had never sinned.
A recent cartoon in the journal Leadership showed a pastor and deacon looking over a sparse congregation one morning. The deacon turns to the pastor and says: "Look on the bright side. We've solved the parking problem around here!"
A dynamic church isn't afraid of the problems associated with growth. We are always to be reaching out.
Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian, was a pessimist; Harry Emerson Fosdick, the preacher, was an optimist. One day they were discussing the future of civilization, and agreed things looked difficult. That's when Niebuhr said to Fosdick, "If you will be a pessimist with me, decade by decade, I will be an optimist with you, century by century."
Maxie Dunnam observes: "That's a good Christian philosophy. Because human beings use their power for evil, we're sometimes made pessimists about the present. But because God can change evil into blessing, we can be optimists about the future."
"I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Love will find a way. Indifference will find an excuse.
One marriage counselor had a group for deaf couples, and noticed that the deaf raise their hands higher to sign when expressing strong emotion. The stronger the feeling, the higher the hands. One woman started signing to her husband, and was clearly upset. Her husband tried to calm her by lowering his hands, but her arms went higher and higher. Eventually he yanked her hands down and signed, "Don't talk so loud. I'm not blind, you know!"
David B. Barrett, widely-respected missions scholar, has estimated that 16,000 persons a day -- 6 million a year-are becoming Christians in Africa. He estimates that as many as 357 million Africans will identify themselves as Christian by the end of the century. (Let the Earth Hear His Voice)
Linus was talking to Charlie Brown in the comic strip Peanuts, and observed, "I guess it's wrong always to be worrying about tomorrow. Maybe we should think only about today."
Charlie Brown replied, "No, that's giving up. I'm still hoping that yesterday will get better."
Once Phillips Brooks was pacing back and forth in his study when a friend came by and asked what was wrong.
"The problem is, I am in a hurry and God is not," Brooks replied.
The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Pat Carter, a missionary to Mexico, saw daily prayer as a major part of the strategy for developing a ministry with professional persons in a middle-class neighborhood.
"After noting in the book of Acts that new missionary projects were begun as the result of the initiative of the Holy Spirit, I suggested we pray and wait upon the Holy Spirit until He revealed where He wanted us to begin work. They agreed. During six months we prayed, met weekly to share impressions, had a number of spiritual retreats and united in several weekend fasts."
Over the next 18 months the tin} group baptized 36 persons and grew to a congregation of between 50-60 (World Evangelization Now)
A rabbi was walking along with some of his students when one asked, "Rabbi, when should a man repent?" The rabbi replied, "You should repent on the last day of your life."
The student went on: "But we can not be sure which day will be our last." To that the rabbi smiled and said, "Then the answer is simple. Repent now."
A gangster rushed into a saloon, shooting and yelling, "All you filthy skunks get outa' here!"
All the customers fled except one gentleman, who stood at the bar calmly.
"Well?" yelled the gangster, waving his gun.
"Well," said the man, "there certainly were a lot of them, weren't there?"
The Texas millionaire stipulated in his will that he be buried in his $90,000 Rolls-Royce.
When the time came, two laborers were shoveling the last bit of dirt onto the now-buried luxury car. One finally turned to the other and said, "Boy, that's living!"
Not really, is it? Death comes to everyone, from the richest to the poorest, and the finest car won't make a difference on the other side of eternity.