“Lord … Help!”

Jay Hooten was one of the wisest men that I ever had the opportunity to know!  I say that, not just because he was my Father, but because he demonstrated it nearly every day in every phase of his life.  I’m not saying that he was perfect, because he had his faults; and he was not ashamed to admit them.  I’m not saying that because he was the most educated man I have known, because he only had an 8th grade education (and as he would say, that was only 1/2 year at a time, because he was in the fields working the other half).  He was raised on the banks of the Cadron Creek, not far from Wooster, Arkansas.  If you don’t know where Wooster is, don’t feel bad.  Most people from Arkansas did not know where it was until about 2 years ago, when the Highway Department put an exit on Interstate 40, and said that it would take you there.  He grew up chopping and picking cotton, fishing, trapping, hunting, and a million other things that boys living in the country did (that were raised during the depression).  If he were still living, he would be celebrating his 96th birthday in about two months; but I know he would rather be where he is now, than be here (especially with mother there).

Let me give you two or three examples of his wisdom.  Obviously, the greatest sign of his wisdom is that he believed in, and followed Jesus.  He didn’t become a Christian until his early to mid 30’s, but it was a life-long decision, that changed everything for him.  Proverbs 1:7 says The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom … , and Dad loved and respected Jesus.  That love and respect caused him to look at life through the eyes of a believer, and it shaped every action, word, and decision that he made.  Basil Overton used to tell us, “He that knows the Lord, knows what he needs to know the most.”  People did not have to be around Dad long, to know that there was something different about him.  What was different was, he knew, really knew, the Lord.

The second example that I would share, is the way that he handled disciplining me.   I was a problem child, and I am ashamed to admit that now; but too many people know that it is true, for me to deny it.  Mother would lose her temper, and discipline me with whatever was handy — as we got older, and  both of us grew, we had a lot of laughs about that.  But Dad, never would discipline me when he was angry, he would always say “I’m too mad to discipline/spank/ whip you now, but we’ll get together tomorrow.”  Well, I always dreaded tomorrow!  I don’t know why, because he was so tender-hearted that he would lash me a couple of times with his belt; I would cry real loud, and he would quit.  When I was older, I asked him “why” he always waited to discipline me.  I’ll never forget him saying, “If I whipped you when I was mad, I was doing it for me; and not for you.”  Over the years, I wish that I had been wise enough to practice what he said.

The final story that I want to share, has to do with his business, and the way that he ran it.  Actually, there are two parts to this.  The first one, Dad always wanted people to feel as if he treated them fairly; because he felt that is the way that the Lord wanted him to be.  There was one customer that  called, that was extremely irate over a bill; and felt as if he had been charged too much.  Dad talked with him for a while, explaining every charge on the statement; but nothing would satisfy the man.  Finally, Dad told him just to send him a check for what he thought the job was worth, and Dad would consider the bill paid.  When relating that story in other places, I have had people tell me they knew people that had done the same thing, but that is not a story that you hear often.  The other story (the one that all of this has been leading too) happened in the mid 1970’s.  Dad had a small “service station equipment” business, where he sold, installed, and repaired all the equipment (gasoline, oil, air, hydraulic, etc) that was used in those places that pre-dated convenience stores.  Anyway, in the mid 70’s, Dad got a contract to do a job for a truck stop in Oklahoma, and it was a little over $40,000 — a great job for a small business like his in the mid-70’s.  Well, the job was nearly completed, and the truck stop about ready to be opened, when the owner filled for bankruptcy.  All of sudden, everything got tied up in bankruptcy court; and Dad did not get a dime (even though, he had to pay for all the equipment, materials, and labor).  I remember how tight things got there for a while.  I don’t remember how much later, but it seems like it was 3-5 years later, Mom (who was Dad’s bookkeeper) told me that the court had awarded Hooten Equipment about $6,000.00 against what was owed.  I remember talking to Dad, and saying “That really has to hurt, doesn’t it?”  I will never forget what he told me, He said “Not really.  I asked the Lord to help me get through this, and He did.  Now, this is like an unexpected gift from Him. I just feel grateful.” 

James 1:5-8 (NIV), If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

It appears to me, that about all of James chapter one has to deal with the “trials” of life, and how the child of God is to deal with them.  With that being true, you would have to think that these verses would have the same application.  So, now go back and look at James 1:2-4 (NIV):

Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

When Dad got the letter, telling him that all of the debts and money were going to be tied up in bankruptcy court, I doubt that he saw one thing there to fell “joyous” about.  But, if you look at verse 2, it doesn’t say that everything is “pure joy”, it says to “Consider it pure joy”!  If there is a situation, a disease, a problem, or a relationship that is putting your faith through a trial; and you are struggling with how to deal with it — take it to God!  Ask Him to give you the wisdom, to be able to deal with this “trial” in the way that He wants.  Tell him that you recognize when you do that, you will be able to endure and persevere through the trouble,, and the end result will be STRONGER faith.  That when you pass through to the other side of the difficulty, you will be able to look back with “pure joy“.  I am still trying to learn the lessons that my Dad taught me, and this is one of the important ones.  How are you doing with the trials of life?

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“Why Don’t Good Things Happen to Me”

Years ago, a Jewish rabbi, by the name of Harold Kushner, wrote a book entitled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.  His young son had a degenerative disease, that caused his body to age rapidly, and to die in his early teens.  He wrestled with the problem of innocent people suffering, and why God allowed those kind of things to happen.  We could not agree with his conclusion, but he voiced feelings all of us have probably felt at one time or another.

There is another problem that we all may struggle with on a more regular basis — “Why Do Good Things Happen to Everyone Else?”  We wonder if God does not love us as much, as the people that have the nice farm … the big house … the new furniture … the new car or truck … the new bass boat … and the list could go on and on.  The question almost becomes:  “does God appreciate my righteousness, and the things that I do, and the sacrifices that I make?”

Psalm 73, the psalmist details his problems with God is blessing evil, sinful people, and not him.  Our problem may not be with sinful people having nice things, but it may be that we don’t understand why other Christians have more than we do!

I am going to tell you about a struggle that I have had.  35-40 years ago, when I started a journey in the ministry; I just knew that I would preach for a large church, write a few books, and be a known speaker on the different lectureships and workshops.  When those didn’t happen, I began to be envious of those that had that success — and wonder “why” them, and not me.

Some of these passages in Psalm 73, nail me right between the eyes.  Listen to what the psalmist has to say:

Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing? (Psalm 73:13, CSB)

When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded, I was a fool and didn’t understand; I was like an unthinking animal toward You.  (Psalm 73:21-22, CSB)

When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary.  (Psalm 73:16-17, CSB)

I am ashamed of my struggle.  I am ashamed of my desire for personal success, and the sinful pride that was behind it.  It hurts to admit those feelings, BUT, I would be surprised if I am the only one that has ever had those feelings.  May my confession be an encouragement to some else.  But listen to what else the psalmist has to say, and the lessons that I pray that I am anchored to, at this point in my life.

Whom do I have in heaven but You?  And I desire nothing on earth but You.  My flesh and my heart may ail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.  (Psalm 73:25-26, CSB)

But as for me, GOD’S PRESENCE IS MY GOOD.  I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.  (Psalm 73:28, CSB)

May God help us all, but on this morning , especially me; make His Word, His Presence, and His praise the very center of what we are all about.  May we learn, sooner rather than later, that it is all about Him, and not us.  Peace

This was first posted on Facebook on July 20, 2016.  It is being reposted here, as a part of our “Psalms on Saturday”.  I apologize for not having it posted on Saturday, but for a variety of reasons, I got behind a couple of days this week.  Look tomorrow evening for our weekly “That Was the Week that Was”.  It is my prayer, that this blog post today will be a blessing to you.  Bill).

“Some Pain is Good”

Most of you know that we have had a “Book Club” at the Prairie Grove church for the last couple of years.  We have read several good books over that period of time, and all of them have had their strengths and weaknesses — and some we like more than others.  One of the books we read was an older book, written by Philip Yancey, entitled Where is God When It Hurts.

As with most books, there was a mixed reaction to it.  But, there was one point from the book that we all agreed on, and were intrigued by — that some pain is good.  If you’re like me, the first time you read that statement, your first thought was “not to me, it’s not!”  But, the more you think about it, the more sense it really makes,  In some instances, if not most, without any pain you would not know that anything is wrong.  Why d you go to the doctor?  Usually, because you are hurting somewhere!  Without pain, you might not know that you need to go.

There is a rare condition called “congenital analgesia”, where the individual can feel no pain.  Although it is rare, there is a village in Sweden (Vittangi) where abut one out of every 20 people suffer from this malady.  Think about that.  You can’t feel burning, frostbite, broken bones, stomach pains, headaches, etc.  One of the great dangers is that you can hurt yourself, not know it, and infection or disease can set in.

Yancey, in his book, says that is the real danger with the disease of leprosy.  I have always thought with leprosy, that the skin and bones would deteriorate and fall away, joint by joint.  What happens, according to the explanation in the book, is that the disease cause the extremities to lose feeling, and then infection and disease cause them to fall away as they deteriorate.

You’re probably wanting to know, “why do I need to know all that”?  Because part of the problem in our world, is that people feel no responsibility for what they do, no remorse for their thoughts and actions — they feel no guilt!  They can be abusive, vile, vulgar, mean, sinful; and there is no pain attached to their actions.  Hearts have become calloused, and people do what they do without any pain or remorse.

Listen, to what David says in Psalm 38 (quotations from CSB):

vss. 3-6, … there is no health in my bones because of my sin.  For my iniquities have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear.  My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness.  I am bent over and brought very low; all day long I go around mourning.

vs. 8, I am faint and severely crushed; I groan because of the anguish of my heart.

vs. 15, For I put my hope in you, Lord; you will answer me, my Lord, my God.

vss. 17-18, For I am about to fall, and my pain is constantly with me.  So I confess my iniquity; I am anxious because of my sin.

vss. 21-22, Lord, do not abandon me; my God, do not be far from me.  Hurry to help me, my Lord, my salvation.

Until our hearts become tender, feeling the pain of guilt, and learn that the remedy for that situation is the blood of Jesus — our world will not change!  As long as we can do something wrong, and not feel the pain of hurting God, or hurting someone else; our lives will not change.  As long as we can sin, and feel no consequences for our actions — people will continue to do wrong.

I don’t like pain!!!  But may I always feel the wound of being disobedient to my God!

(This was first posted on Facebook on July 13, 2016.  It is being reposted here as a part of our “Psalms for Saturdays”.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you on this day.  I know that it was for me this morning, as I read it again.  It was just what I needed.  Bill)

“Needed — A Basin and a Towel”

I must have been in my late 50’s when I first learned the word “oxymoron,”  but it had served me well in principle many years before that. Several years ago I ran into a phrase which seems to fit the definition well, yet is in fact and absolute truth.  It is “Servant-Leader.” I know of no other expression which so appropriately describes the ones Jesus calls to follow him.  While he was still in his earthly ministry his disciples often bickered over which one of them was the greatest.  Although he had several different answers for them, the one recorded most in the New Testament is “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,”    (Mat 20:26; Mat 23:11; Mark 10:43; Luke 22:26 ).  Few other teachings get so much exposure!  Perhaps it is because there are few teachings so contrary to human nature.

Jesus brought a radical new thought into his world, and ours.  He did not do away with leadership but made them servants of their fellows.  He did not do away with power but simply pointed to a greater source than mankind.

In the society of man, from the early days down to the present, status has a great deal to do with who serves and who is served.  Men often measure their stature by telling how many “work under” them,  or how many they are over.  Now that can be an important measure, by human terms, or it can be used in deceptive ways.  For instance, I have a good friend who was a city employee, who once told me that he had more people under him than anyone else in the city.  But he said it with that smile which tells you that you have not heard the whole story yet.  And then he explained he was over the city cemeteries!  Not that this was not an important job, but it was not quite the same in its explanation as in the first impression which was given.  He was using humor in his statement, but many slip in a statement of their “oversight” as a factor of status.

Typically, we measure success by wealth, position, and power.  Jesus taught it was to be measured by service.  But the service to which he calls us is not one of unwilling slavery.  It is a call to unselfishly lay down our privileged  position and willingly take up the task of servitude.  After all, isn’t that exactly what he had done?  Do you remember the scene John describes at the last supper?  “..And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you..If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.  (John 13:12-17).

And when he had washed their feet!  I am sure that many of us would have been like Simon Peter.  He was refusing to let Jesus wash his feet because he saw it as demeaning to the Lord.  That was the very point Jesus was making.  Service is not demeaning, it is uplifting!  “And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”  (Mat 23:11).  Jesus changed things! He not only “..has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble” (Luke 1:52), he has shown the power of humility.  “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him..that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW.. and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:8). What the world needs is more leaders with a basin and a towel.    –Bill Sherrill 03.18.2018

“Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes”

Saturday was a really interesting day!  It wasn’t because of the Razorback football game, as that was just another disappointment.  It was because of the conversations that I had with a fellow, that I am confident was trying to “scam” me.  You know it is really amazing how hard some people work at trying to do something illegal.  If they put that much effort into a legitimate job, they could do really well.

It started Saturday morning about 10:00, when the phone rang for the first time, as I was getting ready to go to my son’s house and watch the ball game.  As soon as he started talking, I knew that I had heard that voice before.  When he said that this was  “David Church” for the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, I knew that I was right.  Immediately, I told him that I was not interested and hung up.  I had answered the phone in the living room, and walked back into the kitchen, and by the time I went to finish what I started, the phone rang again.  To my utter amazement, it was “David Church” again!  I quickly told him that a few days before that I was not interested, and five minutes before this call that I was not interested, and that nothing had changed — and hung up again!  Just like all of you, I often get calls like this; but I had never had someone call me right back like that.  But, I was sure that I had heard the last from David Church!

By the time I got back in the kitchen, the phone was ringing again.  I wondered who it was, because I sure didn’t believe that it would be David Church again.  WRONG!  His first words were “Please, don’t hang up again.  I need to tell you what you have won, and what needs to be done for that prize to be given to you.”  Well, I listened (I know, stupid).  He went through his spiel, that my name had been selected and there was a prize just waiting for me to claim, so that they could bring it to me.  That is where it really started getting interesting.  First, I told him that I didn’t know how that could be, since I had not entered the sweepstakes.  He had an answer for everything that I said, or questioned.  Then he asked if I could come by their location in Little Rock, and verify that I was Bill Hooten.  Quickly, I told him that he had just shown me that he was not even in Arkansas — that I was 200 miles from Little Rock, and “no” I would not come by.  He said that there are other things that could be done, and kept repeatedly telling me that he would not ask for money or any private information.  Well, by that time I was getting tired of him, and needed to go on to my son’s house.  I came up with an idea, I told him that I needed to go; but I would go to Arvest Bank, where my wife worked, and I would call him from there on Monday morning — all he needed to do was give me his phone number!  I readily confess that I thought would end my conversation with David Church!  Imagine my surprise, when he agreed to that arrangement and gave me his phone number!  Of course, as we were getting off the phone he asked me to call him when I got back; so that we could go over some final details.  I agreed, not really intending to calling him back until Monday morning.

Well, I went and endured the beat down that the Razorbacks took, and went home.  About 4 hours later, I rationalized that I needed to call him, since I had told him that I was a preacher.  He had called me on the land line at the house, so I called him on my cell phone.  Of course, he didn’t answer and I didn’t leave a message.  But he did call back in a few minutes, and it became painfully obvious that he did not remember who I was at first.  Again, he asked me to come by their facility in Little Rock, and that is when I accused him of not remembering who I was.  I think it began to come back to him, and, then, finally, he asked me just to trust him.  I told him that I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me — and we had no reason to trust each other.  He asked if I thought this was real?  I told him that my dad taught me a long time ago, “If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.”  He then said, ‘So you have no interest in what I am trying to give you?”  Quickly, I told him that I had already told him that twice, and he had not changed my mind.  Then he hung up on me.

Just for the sake of clarity, Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes has on their website that they NEVER contact winners by telephone or e-mail before awarding their prizes.  So, why do people fall for things like this.  I believe that that the Bible has the answer for us, in the book of James.  Listen carefully to what he has to say:

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it bring forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  (James 1:14-16, NASB)

You think about winning 2 1/2 million dollars at once, and then $5,000 a week for the rest of your life — people become “enticed” so much, that they do things that they KNOW they should not do!  That’s how people end up getting hurt and swindled.  Their desire for something becomes stronger, than their desire to be smart.

Temptation can have that same effect.  Our desire for something illicit overwhelms our desire to be what we are supposed to be — and a sin is born.  Let’s be smarter than that.  Let’s be in control of our desires.  Peace.

 

(I thought about putting the phone number of “David Church” in this devotional, and asking everyone to call him; but I decided that would not be the right thing to do.  It is my prayer that he does not hurt, or take advantage of anyone.)

“Really? Not me!”

This is going to be a really difficult “blog entry” to write!  But, I knew that I needed to write it this morning, as I was doing my devotional reading.  It is going to be difficult, because for so much of my life I struggled with this very problem.  So, when you have to lay yourself open — it becomes a struggle to say things in just the right way.

There was a time, that I used to tell Malia that the kids got her temper — because I still had mine.  I pray, that over the last few years, that I have gotten rid of that demon that was all to prevalent in my life.  When I was younger, it seemed like that I could explode over the least little thing.  Then as I got older, I began to learn how to control my temper.  The problem with that last sentence, is that it says “I began to learn how to control” — not that I was allowing the Spirit of Jesus to rule my life, and put anger out of my life.  When we depend on our own strength and ability to control our temper — it is not gone, we have a lid on it, and that it could explode at any time. 

For a few years I was the general manager of an equipment company, and had anywhere from 15 to 25 employees.  Those of you that have been in similar situations, know that when you have that many employees; there are going to have difficult situations that you have to handle.  Of all the situations (people problems) that I had to deal with during those years, I don’t recall ever losing my temper at one of my employees.  Whether it was something they did, something they said (to one another, or to a customer), or problems they were having personally (with each other, with the company, or with with me).  But during those same years, we were raising three teenagers — and, I am ashamed to admit — my ugly temper made its presence known often.  It breaks my heart, that some of the most vivid memories my kids carry of me, is of the times that I let anger get the best of me.  My office at home is one of the bedrooms, one night one of the kids mouthed off to their mother and ran to the room and locked the door.  A locked door did not slow me down!  The heel of my hand hit that door, and split the door facing from top to bottom.  As long as we live in this house, it will never be fixed.  It reminds me on a regular basis of just how stupid, foolish and sinful I could be!

Read carefully what James has to say in the following verses:

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.  Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.  But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  (James 1:19-22, NASB)

All too often, when talking about personal “quirks” (anger, gossip, negativity, etc), we have a tendency to excuse ourselves by saying “That’s just the way I am.”  I am sure that you have heard someone say that, or may have even said it yourself.  What we need to remember, is that being a disciple of Jesus means “Changing the way that you am”!  We all need to quit excusing ourselves, and begin the process of changing!

Let me make a few points from those verses:

#1. Everything that James has been saying is relating to the trials of life.  So when he says be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, he is still talking about the time of our life when we face trials.  It is during those times that we really need to be patient, which is exactly what James is describing.

#2. When he says the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of  God, he is saying that you will flunk the “test” of the trial by losing your temper.  Think about the times that you have lost your temper, and could not every one of them be considered a time of trial that “tested” your faith.  Anger is not what God wants from us at the time of trial!

#3. Therefore, because of what James just said about anger, get rid of all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.  Those are the things that are exacerbated by our anger.  Because when we lose our temper, we will nearly always do something sinful.  Isn’t that why Paul said in Ephesians 4:26, Be angry, and yet do not sin; … (NASB).

#4. As I said at the beginning, admitting (confessing) that we have an anger problem is humiliating.  So when James says, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls; he is telling me to swallow my pride, admit my sin, do those things will achieve the righteousness of God and save my soul.

#5. As one that believes that obedience is a part of the salvation process, because it is inherent in the definition of faith; through the years I have attempted to beat people over the head with James 1:22.  It says, But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (NASB).  This morning, as I was dissecting these verses, it became painfully obvious to me, that while that verse might be used for that, James was telling us to pay attention and obey what he has to say about anger!  So, I have to ask myself, am I going to be “doer of the word” when it comes to controlling my temper.

Father, as this day begins, please work in my heart and life, helping me to overcome the weakness of the flesh.  Particularly, Father, do I ask that you strengthen me in a lingering struggle with my temper.  Help me Father, to realize I cannot do this by myself, that I must allow you to work in my life to win this victory.  Through, Jesus.

Peace.

“The Description of a MAN”

If I were to ask you to offer the description of what a “real” man is like, what would you say?  Have our definitions of a what a man is like, been shaped by the famous?  the educated?  the powerful?  the athletic?  the self-made?  the rich?  Who would be your example of the prototype of what a man ought to be like?  I suppose there would be as many different answers to these questions, as there are people that read them.

This morning as I was reading in James, this passage made me stop and think about the qualities that a man ought to have.  Observe carefully what James has to say:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness  is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.  (James 3:13-18, HCSB)

That is not necessarily the definition, or the qualities, that the world would look for in a real man.

wise

good conduct

gentle

pure

peace-loving

compliant

merciful

Do those attributes and qualities change any of the answers that you gave; to what makes a real man, or who is the prototype of a real man?  You see, in my opinion, a real man is one that believes in, and has submitted to, the God of the heavens; by having a relationship with Jesus the Christ; and allows the Spirit of God to bear fruit in his life.  That fruit is:

But the fruit of the Spirit  is love, joy,  peace, patience,  kindness,  goodness, faith,  gentleness,  self-control. … (Galatians 5:22-23, HCSB)

You see, the definition a real man (or woman) is not determined by what you look like, how much money and possessions you have, what kind of position you have, or how much power and authority.  A real man is one that has turned over control of his life, and emotions, to God — and manifested these attributes in all phases of his life.

Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place, if the people in authority had these kind of attributes.  Peace.

“Look for the Helpers”

Recently, I read the words of Fred (Mr.) Rogers when he explained how he would comfort children watching disasters unfold on television.

His answer, “Look for the helpers.” (Ed Stetzer “Remember Teachings of Mr. Rogers and the Good Samaritan in Harvey Relief Efforts” USA Today, August 31, 2017).

It seems as if whenever a disaster strikes, faith-based groups (churches) get there before government aid, and are there after the government assistance has left.  That is not intended as a slam against government assistance, but churches have their roots in the communities, and with the people.  It is their neighbors, friends, and loved ones that are suffering; and they are personally involved in what is going on in their communities.

Churches have caught a lot of flak for some of the things that they have said and done, and some of it has been deserved (in my opinion).  But, no one objects to churches and religion, when they are doing what they are supposed to do!

I was reminded of that this morning, in my reading of James 1:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (James 1:27, NASB-U)

It is my opinion, that James is not limiting the assistance of God’s people to orphans and widows.  But, they were among the most helpless in the culture of his day, and those that could be in distress the quickest.  It is my conviction, that God’s people are never more Christlike than when they are helping someone else.  This verse, and countless others, throughout Scripture admonish us to be among the “helpers”. 

You know, if we would spend our time being “helpers”, doing Kingdom work; and less time worrying about politics, issues, and other things of the world — God’s people might have a better reputation.  Peace.

“What Do People See in Me”

When I first moved to Florence, Alabama to attend the International Bible College; for a short while I attended the Mars Hill church of Christ.  This church was just off the campus of Mars Hill Bible School (a K-12 Christian school).  On the grounds of the church, was the old Mars Hill church building, that was built in 1904.  The old building is still maintained, and used for weddings, funerals, etc.  But the history of the Mars Hill church dates all the way back to the 1860’s.  One of the great evangelists of fellowship was T. B. Larimore, and the Mars Hill church was his “home” church, and he had a gospel meeting at the church every August for 40 years.

The preacher at the church, when I attended was Kenneth Davis.  Kenneth was also an instructor at the Bible School, and an adjunct professor for the Bible College.  He was speaking in one of our chapel services, when he made a statement that I have never forgotten.  He said that most Christians had such long faces, that they look like they could eat oats out of the bottom of an old-fashioned buttermilk churn.  I referenced that statement in a sermon on Psalm 84 a couple of weeks ago, but my reading this morning reminded me of it again.

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”  (Psalm 2:2-3, NIV)

The context probably is expressing surprise that the nations would plot against Jehovah God, and the king of His people.  The “Chains and Shackles” would be the dominance of the nation of Israel in the land that God had given to them.

My question upon the reading of that text, is why so many people today consider the service of God as being in the bondage of chains and shackles.  If you have trouble believing that — talk to a few of them, or read some of the things that they write.  Could it be, that those of us who are in the service of the Messiah; appear to be miserable (have such long faces) in the daily practice of our Christianity.  That our Christianity is more a case of the “don’ts” than anything else.  That our service to God, is our payment on the “fire insurance” that we have taken out?  It might be, that we have just enough of God to make ourselves miserable!

Is it possible that we have not really grasped what belongs to us in Jesus.  He said, Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32, NIV).  Freedom from what?  Freedom from guilt — freedom from sin — freedom from fear — freedom from death — and the list could go on and on!  Remember, Christian, that the people of the world READ us; and they will make judgments about the importance and value of serving Jesus — based upon what they see in our lives and attitudes.  What I have to ask myself, today is “What are they seeing in me”?  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on May 26, 2016.  It is being reused here as one of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is our prayer that it will encourage and edify you in your walk with the Lord.  Bill)                                                                                                

“Overwhelmed”

In 1996, I was hired as the “Branch Manager” of Fowler Equipment in Springdale, Arkansas.  Fowler was a sister company to E-Z Mart Stores, Inc.  They were at that time two separate companies, but there were so many ties between the two companies that you could not think of one, without thinking of the other.  In fact, Fowler Equipment was started by E-Z Mart, to do maintenance on their stores and equipment; but after a few years it had been sold to a group of investors.  But of those 9 investors, 6 were employees of E-Z Mart, and the other three were related to the owner of E-Z Mart.  The challenges of managing a company like that were numerous, and, at times, just a little bit overwhelming.

One of the real challenges was trying to meet the expectations of the nine members of the board of directors.  On one hand, they expected their branches to go out and get business from other companies beside E-Z Mart; but, on the other hand, they insisted that E-Z Mart problems be the first ones that we responded to.  The people in Northwest Arkansas in the fuel business, or that owned convenience stores, viewed E-Z Mart as the competition; and Fowler Equipment as a subsidiary of E-Z Mart.  Naturally, they felt if they used us for any of their projects; they would be contributing to the success of their competition.  It was very difficult to convince them otherwise.  But, I always managed to to keep a salesman on the payroll, who had the responsibility of finding “other” business.  We never were as successful as we wanted to be, but we managed to find some customers.

The 6 years that I was the branch manager, were years of expansion for E-Z Mart.  The owner was buying other convenience store chains, and we were adding stores to the list that we were responsible for.  At one time, my office was responsible for the maintenance of over 125 stores:  that reached in Oklahoma from McAlester, to Shawnee, to Ponca City, to Arkansas City, Kansas,  and then to Tulsa — and points in between.  We took care of stores in Joplin and Sarcoxie, Missouri, Mountain Home, Arkansas, Fort Smith, Arkansas — and points in between.  Plus, all the 33 stores in Northwest Arkansas.  For a couple of years, we were running a dozen service vehicles — we were putting  a lot of miles on those vehicles (and the men were getting paid for a lot of hours).  During a couple of those years, I would lay in bed at night and wonder how we were going to get all the work done.  There were other times, I would lay in bed and wonder how I was going to keep all those men busy.  One of those is better than the other, but they both will leave you feeling just a little bit overwhelmed.

This coming Friday night (9-15), I am speaking at a men’s retreat on Leadership.  As part of my preparation, I am reading Nehemiah in my morning devotionals.  There is a lot in the task that Nehemiah faced that I can identify with:  (1) He was a cupbearer for the King in Susa, and was going back to Jerusalem to take on a major construction project of rebuilding the walls of the city of Jerusalem — not exactly what he was trained to do; (2) when he got there, he found that the job was bigger than he had originally thought; and, (3) there were those that did not want him to succeed.  I’m sure that a lot of you can read that; and think I have been there.  You may even be thinking, I bet I know how he felt.

In reading the first four chapters this morning, I began to understand how he got the job done — a job he may not have been qualified for, a job that was bigger than he thought, and a job where there were people who did not want him to succeed.  Let me suggest a few things:

(1) In the first four chapters, every time this a critical situation the text either records a prayer of Nehemiah, or says that he prayed.

(2) He involved the people in rebuilding the walls of the city, even people that you would not normally think of being involved in a construction project.  For example:  Shallum, ruler of half of the district of Jerusalem, and his daughters (Nehemiah 3:12); look at this list of some of those building walls — goldsmiths (3:8, 31), perfumers (3:8), Levites (3:17, 18), priests (3:22, 28), and merchants (3:31).

(3) When those that opposed his work, reached the point that they were enemies and were using guerilla warfare tactics to stop these people from repairing and rebuilding the wall — Nehemiah made sure the people knew that he cared as much about them, as he did rebuilding the wall.  At the most vulnerable points, he stationed people to protect the people and the workers.  There were other places where half the people worked, and the other half stood guard.  There were also those places where people worked with one hand, and held a sword in the other.

Those three areas, are areas that leaders of all kind (spiritual, business, or volunteer) need to learn to practice, in order to be a better leader.  Ask God to help you by stopping to pray in every critical situation; be relational to the people where they will all care and be involved in the project (in one way or another); and let them know you care more about them, than you do the project or the task.  The successful leaders that I can remember in my life, had those qualities.  Peace.