What To Remember When You Need To Remember
In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us."
We sometimes forget the gracious hand that blesses us every day with choice bounties! "We in America need to wake up and look up, pray up and praise up!"
I heard the story of a man in Tampa who committed a spur-of-the-moment robbery while on his way home from a late-night drinking session. A very drunk Mr. Prendergast forced his way into the house through an open upstairs window, filling a suitcase with cash and valuables before setting the living room on fire to cover his tracks. He then escaped through the back door and made his way home, chuckling all the way.
Only as he turned the corner into his own street, however, and discovered three fire engines outside his house, did he realize that in his drunkenness he had, in fact, burgled and ignited his own property. His comment was: "I had no idea I had so many valuable possessions."
Perhaps it is a good time to ask ourselves about our own sense of gratitude. Are we more inclined to whine when things don't go our way or to find encouragement from the blessings we enjoy in spite of the challenges?
If you are a Bible student, let me suggest two out of many passages which speak to this subject. They are Psalms 103 and Philippians 1:1-6. These words are like treasures stored in a chest for us to do for our soul what a prescription from our physician can do for our physical difficulties.
For believers, there is no greater blessing than the assurance of forgiveness. Not far from New York, there is a cemetery with a grave, which has inscribed upon its headstone just one word-"Forgiven." There is no name, no date of birth or death. There is no epitaph, no elaborate eulogy-just that one word, "Forgiven." Forgiveness of our sin is only possible through Jesus Christ.
Years ago a young man had quarreled with his father and he left home. He continued to keep in touch with his mother and wanted very badly to come back home for Christmas but he was afraid his father would not allow him. His mother wrote to him and urged him to come home but he did not feel he could until he knew his father had forgiven him.
Finally, there was no time for any more letters. His mother wrote and said she would talk with his father, and if he had forgiven him, she would tie a white cloth on the tree which grew along the railroad tracks near their home. If there was no white cloth on the tree, it would be better if he went on.
So the young man started home. As the train drew near his home he was so nervous he couldn't look. He asked a friend who was traveling with him to tell him what the tree looked like. A few moments later the friend said, "Oh yes, I see the tree." The young man asked, "Is there a white cloth tied to it?" For a moment the friend did not say anything. Then he turned, and in a very gentle voice said, "There is a white cloth tied to every limb!"
What Christ did for believers on the cross becomes God's way of tying a cloth of forgiveness for each of us. His story could well be our story except that our sin is different from his sin. But unlike his parents, God does want our apology in the form of confession of Christ and repentance! And this story reminds us of another story in scripture, does it not? The prodigal son who came to his senses and more importantly, the Father who ran to meet him and forgive him.
The Psalmist talks about being delivered from the pit. (103:4) Have you ever been there? Sometimes it is the direct result of wrong choices like the
Prodigal Son Jesus spoke about. Sometimes it's like what happened to Joseph in the Old Testament. Others did him wrong. Or maybe it is like Joseph who was lied about and ended up in jail. That's pit living.
Have you ever said about something that happened to you, "Well, this is the pits?" I honestly think all of us have been there in some form. Something bad or negative happened to us in life and we felt like we were in a deep pit of some kind and needed to be lifted out. When you are in the midst of living in the pit, remember who cares for you where you are.
For that reason the words of Paul to the Philippians means so much to me. He says, when you are in the pit remember these three things. One, remember Godly relationships. Paul wrote from prison. He was encouraged by the love that congregation had shared. Second, Paul remembered God's gifts of grace and peace. "Grace shines brightest when problems are the darkest." Grasping this simple truth helps us to discover that the "luster of grace is not diminished by the ashes of adversity." Grace always precedes peace. When you consider and incorporate the grace of God in your heart the reward is the peace that only God can give. Third, Paul suggests we rejoice in our tribulations. I confess that's hard and not attained every moment. But consider Paul's experience. It was while in jail that God worked a miracle that attracted the attention of a hardened jailer who asked to have what they had. Never discount the potential for your witness even in your worse trials.
"Today upon a bus, I saw a lovely maid with golden hair; I envied her -- she seemed so happy, and how, I wished I were so fair; When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle; she had one foot and had a crutch, but as she passed, a smile. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two feet -- the world is mine.
And when I stopped to buy some sweets, the lad who served me had such charm; he seemed to radiate good cheer, his manner was so kind and warm; I said, 'It's nice to deal with you, such courtesy I seldom find'; he turned and said, 'Oh, thank you sir.' And then I saw that he was blind. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine, I have two eyes, the world is mine.
Then, when walking down the street, I saw a child with eyes of blue; he stood and watched the others play, it seemed he knew not what to do; I stopped a moment, then I said, 'Why don't you join the others, dear?' He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two ears, the world is mine.
With feet to take me where I'd go; with eyes to see the sunsets glow, with ears to hear what I would know. I am blessed indeed. The world is mine; oh, God, forgive me when I whine."
"Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits..."