“The Challenges of 2018”

“2017 is now past.  Learn from it, celebrate and honor it, but don’t focus on it.  It is gone.  Wholly embrace and boldly enter 2018 with expectations of new successes, greater personal growth, and special moments with family and friends that await you.”  (Richard Blackaby)

The first Hoot’s Musing for 2018 started with this quote on January 4, with an entry entitled “2017 in the Rear View Mirror.”  It was an entry about my desire to be a better disciple and preacher this year than last year.  My goal is to continue to grow, and not become stagnant in my life of faith, and my life in ministry.  This is the first report on how I am doing with the challenges that I presented to myself for 2018.  You, the readers of Hoot’s Musings are my accountability group, and each month I will report to you how I am doing — and I want you to hold my feet to the fire.

READING

My goal for 2018 is to read 78 books.  Now there is nothing magic about reading a certain number of books, except that it will be a continual challenge to use my time more wisely.  In the past I have used a lot of books in my study, but very seldom did I read that many books.  For example, right now I am teaching a Sunday morning Bible class on Satan and His Dark Kingdom; and there are 15 books that I am reading in conjunction for that class.  At the same time, I am preaching an expository series through the book of James, and there are 13 more books I am reading as a part of my preparation for that series of sermons.  It is not my intention to count any of those books as a part of the 78, as I want those books to be just for the joy of reading.

There are three books that I am reading daily (or in one case, weekly) that I will put on this list.  Each morning, I begin my day with some devotional reading from Psalms, and I am using two volumes to direct the thoughts of that reading:  Psalms for Living: “Daily Prayers, Wisdom, and Guidance” (Mark Lanier), and Prayer, Praise and Promises: “A Daily Walk Through the Psalms” (Warren W. Wiersbe).  Also, as a part of my desire to be a better preacher, I committed to read one book a month on preaching.  The first book I chose to read was One Year to Better Preaching: “52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills“, and I would think that it would be obvious that is a book that you read one chapter weekly.  So after one month, I am pleased with these books that will be a part of the whole year with me; and I am convinced that I will profit greatly from all of them.

To accomplish my goal of 78 books this year, I will need to average 6 1/2 books per month, and I am glad to report that I am a little ahead of schedule.  In the month of January I read 6 books, and have two more that I am about two-thirds of the way through.  The books that I have finished are:

  1. Book of Enoch“All about the Three Books of Enoch” — Dr. A. Nyland

     2. Captives of the Word — Louis and Bess Cochran

3. Praying for Sunday:  “You, Your Pastor, and the Next Sermon” — by Dr. Michael Fabarez

4. The Last Lecture — Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

5. Sermon Design and Delivery — Tom Holland

6. Alexander Campbell:  “The Man and His Mission” — Leroy Garrett and Louis Cochran

The two books that I have not completed yet are:

7. Nial’s Crossing:  “A Novel ( A Bill Maytubby and Hanna Bond Mystery) — Kris Lackey

8. The Blind Side — Michael Lewis

I will freely confess that three of those books are extremely short (less than 100 pages), but they were something that I wanted (and even, needed) to read.  The real challenge will be ahead, as I continue to attempt to do this on a regular basis.  I really believe that I will profit because of this effort, and ask for your encouragement in the process.

WRITING

The sermons on James are really good for me, and I hope that they are blessing others.  It is my prayer, that if the publisher finds them to be what he wants — that they will bless others for years to come.  I hope to have them finished by the end of April, and that I will be able to turn them over to him by then.  Writing a manuscript for a sermon has been really difficult for me, as I have never done that.  BUT, I believe that in developing the discipline to do that, will enhance my communication skills as a preacher.

I posted 10 times on this site during the month of January, and I would like to get that up to about 12 to 15.  In the last month I used two articles from another author (Bill Sherrill), three were from 2016 Facebook devotionals about Psalms, and five were new material from me (including one book review).  That ratio of articles may continue in the future, and hopefully it will be a blessing to you (the readers) and helpful to me.

PASTORAL MINISTRY

I have often said, I am not a pastor and don’t want to be called a pastor.  I am a preacher, that ministers at a local congregation; under the leadership of men called elders (shepherds, or overseers).  They should be responsible for more of the pastoring in this local church than I am.  But as a local minister, I am expected by God, and the people of this church, to be involved with, care about, and love the members of the Prairie Grove church.  I will never be as good as I should be, or even as good as I want to be.  I must constantly remind my, provoking to love and good words, to be more involved in a pastoral ministry with the church I serve.  Please pray that my efforts will be successful in this particular area.

HEALTH AND FITNESS

This is an area that I have added as a challenge for 2018.  Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, know that I had gastric bypass surgery on May 30, 2017.  It has been really successful for me, but, in a way, it has created some other problems.  I have lost some much weight, so rapidly; that I have lost a lot of muscle in the process.  On top of losing muscle, I have never been one to exercise — regularly, or even sporadically.  The last half of 2017, I really did well of walking on a regular basis (walked 230 miles in 77 days of walking).  But the walking dried up the last 2 – 2 1/2 months of the year; as the weather got colder, and the days shorter. My weight has been pretty static since about the 15th of October, only losing about 16 1/2 pounds.  Right after Christmas, I knew that I had to do something.  I thought about buying a couple of pieces of exercise equipment, but that just did not seem logical to the wife (or me), because I had no history of persistence in exercising.  So at the age of 67, I bought my first gym membership; and decided that I would work out on a regular basis for the first time in my life.  It was my goal to average going to the gym 4 to 5 times a week.  Monday – Wednesday – Friday, I would do lifting exercises to build some core strength back; and then on Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday, I would do a cardio workout.  Since January 2, the day I bought my membership, I have had 30 opportunities to work out, minus the 4 Sundays, as I had other obligations and responsibilities on that day.  In those 26 days, I have managed to go to the gym and exercise 19 days (73%).  I feel really good about that, and want to continue doing at least that well.  In my opinion, being in better condition physically, will be a part of improving as a preacher.

Weight – March 15, 2017 — 324 pounds

Weight – February 1, 2018 — 216 pounds

Richard Blackaby also said, and I quoted in the first entry of the year, “Warning!  If you don’t make any adjustments to your attitude, skills, or habits in 2017; you are destined to be exactly the same person with the same results in 2018!  Aim for more!”  That is my goal for the year 2018!  Pray for my efforts, in all the areas of endeavor!  Peace.

 

Advertisements

“Who Sits on Your Throne?”

Many of you have heard me talk about Basil Overton, and some of you have heard me mention him many times.  He was one of the teachers at International Bible College, and, in my opinion, he would have qualified for a Reader’s Digest entry into their “Most Unforgettable People” columns.  He had the unique ability to take the most complex subject, and break it down where almost anyone could understand it.  For years (and years) he wrote a column in the paper he edited (The World Evangelist), called Mule Musings.  He would take the habits of, or stories about, mules; and then make a spiritual application from them.  He was a brilliant and educated man, and I believe that he demonstrated that by being able to communicate with ALL people.  One of his memorable sayings was that “You had to be able to shuck the corn where the hogs could find it.”  The point of that would be, it didn’t really matter how much you knew, if you could not communicate it on a level where people understood — what you knew didn’t really matter!

Two of my favorite sayings (and again, you have probably heard these before) concerns people who have a little too high opinion of themselves.  He would say — “He has a problem with the perpendicular pronoun”, or “He is a self-made man, and worships his creator.”  Isn’t that a beautiful and simplistic description of a very real problem, that we, as humans, have.

Psalm 115 gives a very visual illustration of a problem that the nation of Israel faced:

But their idols are silver and gold,                                                                                                 made by human hands.                                                                                                                    They have mouths, but cannot speak,                                                                                            eyes, but cannot see.                                                                                                                          They have ears, but cannot hear,                                                                                                    noses, but cannot smell.                                                                                                                  They have hands, but cannot feel,                                                                                                   feet, but cannot walk.                                                                                                                         nor can they utter a sound with their throats.                                                                       Those who make them will be like them,                                                                                       and so will all who trust in them.                                                                                                (Psalm 115:4-8, NIV)

What a remarkable description of the futility, and the foolishness, of idolatry.  How ridiculous is it to worship a “god” that you made with your hands?  To think that something we designed and fashioned, could have been what created, sustains, and saves us!

Now, I am sure that for many of them — the idol was not the god, but was just representative of their god.  But, after time passed, the idol became the god.

You know that we still have that problem, don’t you?  The things that have been “created” by man, have become their “gods.”  It might be money, pleasure, sports, career, and the list could go on and on and on!  And again, these things are not the good, they become representative of the “god” that we have.  The “god” that we have … is … ourselves and what we want!  Their is the problem, we worship what we want!

Years ago, Kenneth Reed wrote a book entitled What Controls Your Life.  In the first chapter of that book, he explained that in each of our lives their was a throne; and whatever was most important to us would sit on that throne.  Each one of us needs to closely examine our life, and decide “Who Sits on our Throne”  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on June 28, 2016.  It is being re-posted here as a part of our series on the “Psalms”.  It is our prayer that it will be a blessing to you, and that you will grow closer to the Lord.   Bill)                                                                                                      

“Questions from the Shore”

(This is one of my favorite stories from the Gospels, and the author is one of my favorite preachers.  I grew up listening to Bill Sherrill preach, and really enjoy his thoughts from his weekly email.  I am glad that I have the opportunity to share them with you.  Hoot.)

It was early in the morning, just after daybreak, and the  morning breeze was just beginning to ripple the water of the lake. Not too far off shore, a group of men were in their boat. They had fished all night without success. On the shore stood a lone figure. He called to them inquiring about their catch, though he knew they had none. In words which must have stirred memories of another time, he said, “Cast your net out to the right side of the boat and you will get a catch.” As they struggled to bring in the huge catch, one spoke to another saying, “It is the Lord!”

Peter, who was always the one who rushed in where angels feared to tread, dove into the water and swam to shore. The rest followed, towing the overflowing net. On the shore, Jesus had prepared a fire and invited them to share a breakfast meal. Following the meal he turned to Peter and ask, “Do you love me?” Peter was already hurting because he had been so bold in word and so weak in courage at Jesus’ trial. His simple reply, “You know I love you,” twice answers the Lord’s questioning. The third time the question is asked, the reply is the same but we are told Peter’s feelings were hurt. What we miss in the English translation is the use of two different Greek words for love in the exchange. To use words perhaps a little more understandable, we would have Jesus ask “Do you love me with the highest love?” Peter then, no doubt remembering his failure to show such love under pressure, responds, “You know I care for you very much.” This play on words is used twice and then the third time Jesus lowers his level of commitment as he asks, “Are you sure you care for me very much?” It is to this lower challenge that Peter responds with renewed hurt. He has been trying to express his love without his usual bragging and Jesus, rather than accepting his humility, calls for him to be sure he even loves at that level.

We are not all that different from Peter, are we? We profess in word and song our undying love for the Savior, but often fail to exhibit it in times of testing. Were Jesus to call us to the shore might he say to us, not, “Do you love me,” but, “Are you sure you really care very much?” Forgive us Lord that our mouths too often out distance our actions!

Bill Sherrill
01.21.2018

“Opened their Mind to Understand”

In December of 2003, I interviewed with Mike Linn for a job as a sales representative for Arkansas Insulation, and I really needed the job.  I needed to leave where I was, and they needed for me to leave.  Work was a real challenge, emotionally and financially.  Joe Kidd, Mike Linn’s brother-in-law, had recommended me for the job, and I will forever be indebted to him.  Joe and I had been friends for a long, long time; and, in fact, he was my “best man” when Malia and I got married.  I’m sure that I never would have gotten an interview if it had not been for Joe.

You see, being a sales representative for Arkansas Insulation involved calling on residential contractors (home builders), soliciting the work that we could do on the houses they were building.  The products and labor we had to offer involved insulation (obviously), gutters, soffit and fascia.  To be totally honest, I didn’t know anything about any of that!  I did not know soffit from fascia, how to design a gutter system for a house, or how you went about insulating a house.  I was surprised to find out that not every wall in the house was insulated, that there were different thicknesses of insulation, that those different thicknesses indicated different degrees of effectiveness, and I had no idea what R-value meant.  Not exactly what you would want selling your products!

Over the 12 years that I worked for the company, I probably sold as much insulation as any salesman in any of the 8 offices of the company.  Now, there were other salesman that sold more (a lot more) windows, gutters, soffit and fascia than I did — but I was an insulation salesman.  How did I learn about insulation?  Well, a local salesman by the name of Jim Foster got stuck with teaching and training me.  I road with Jim for 3 or 4 days, and he taught me how to do it —  just like he did it.  He had to explain to me that there was  a difference in the cold wall and the knee wall, what size stud took an R-19, and what depth the code required for the attic insulation.  There were times that I had to go back and ask questions, times that I had to go back and remeasure the house, times that I made mistakes and the installers took the wrong material, and so on!  There were houses, big houses, that it would take 4 or 5 hours to measure; and when I got back to the office I was not sure of what I had done, or if I had done it right.  There was one house in Prairie Grove that I worked on all morning; and then, went back to the office and said that I needed someone to go with me, because I was totally confused.  There are just some things that take time to learn; but, I was determined to learn it.

There is a story that is found at the end of Luke’s Gospel, that I find to be very intriguing.  It begins like this:

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  (Luke 24:13-16, ESV)

I don’t know if these two were part of the 12, but they were followers of Jesus, and they were distressed by what had happened.  A part of their distress, was that they did not understand why this happened, it wasn’t what they thought would happen.  Listen to what they told Jesus:

they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. … (Luke 24:19-21, ESV)

This was not supposed to happen to the Messiah, and now He cannot redeem us from the occupation of Rome in our country.  Everything is all messed up now!  They went on to say:

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.  (Luke 24:21-23, ESV)

Jesus must have been heart-broken, that they had not understood all the things that He had said to them.  He said:

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.   (Luke 24:25-27, ESV).

I don’t know about you, but I would have loved to hear all of that!

Later, after He had revealed Himself to these two, and they had gone back to tell the 11; Jesus appeared in their midst, and part of what he said to them was:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:44-47, ESV)

Our task is to learn the message of the Messiah, redemption, resurrection, repentance, and forgiveness of sins; and proclaim it to all the nations.  Like I said, I would like for Jesus to interpret all the passages for me, and open my mind to understand — but, the Father, has left us a written revelation to share.  May we have the energy and desire to learn this message, and share it with others; as I did to learn about insulation and sell it.  Obviously, we recognize which is the most important.  Peace.

 

(This week has turned into a very busy week — with medical appointments, deadlines, holidays, etc.  This post is one that was written about 9 months ago, that was not seen by very many people.  I am reposting it today, in hopes that it is a blessing to you.  Bill)

“Life is Tough”

There is no denying the fact that life can reach those points, where the difficulty can almost become unbearable.  It is during those times that we want to do like Hagar, and sit down and cry loudly (Genesis 21); or do like Elijah, and sit down under a tree and wished to die (I Kings 19).  There are all kinds of things that can drive us to that point — the suffering and death of a loved one, persecution from those that oppose us, financial reversals, marital difficulties, disease, and the list could go on and on …

I have been really blessed in my life, I have not faced many of those situations.  I have walked through them with many of my friends, and it always causes me to pray for the strength of faith to face these difficulties (that will inevitably come my way).    The reason for the prayer, is that we know that the reactions of Hagar and Elijah did not work, because of what happened in the rest of their stories.  In Hagar’s story, an angel of God appeared as she sat and waited on Ishmael to die, and said …”What’s wrong, Hagar?  Don’t be afraid, for God has HEARD THE BOY CRYING from the place where he is.”  (Genesis 21:17, CSB).  It does not say a thing about God hearing her cry!  In Elijah’s story, as Elijah sits under the “broom” tree, an angel comes and gives him something to eat and drink; and then sends him on his way to Mount Horeb.  It is there that God reveals Himself to Elijah in the still small voice, rebukes him for having such a defeatist attitude, and then tells him that are 7,000 others that have not bowed to Baal.  Those stories are so often a reflection of the way we act, or the way that we feel.  All of us want to do better, but we struggle with the faith to believe that we can.

My life was blessed last night, as 21 of us got together and watched a movie that is 42 years old, The Hiding Place.  This 1975 film, starring Jeannette Clift, Julie Harris, and Arthur O’Connell; is based on the 1971 book by the same name.  It is the true story of the Ten Boom family, as remembered by Corrie Ten Boom.  The Ten Boom family lived in the Netherlands, and were there during the Nazi occupation in the early part of WWII.  As the German occupation intensified, the persecution and imprisonment of the Jewish people began.  Because of their strong Christian faith, the Ten Boom family could not sit and do nothing as this was happening to their friends and neighbors.  The book and the movie are the tragic and touching tale of what they did to help their Jewish friends (and many they did not know), and the time they spent in German concentration camps.  You will shed tears, as you become involved in this remarkable story.

There is one line that I will never forget, that Betsy shared with Corrie; and Corrie has  shared it with the world — “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper.”  Regardless of the situation, and how bleak the trial might be, God, and His unfailing love are always there.  I was reminded of the “Shepherd’s” psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd;  I have what I need.  He lets me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters.  He renews my life; he leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the  presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.                                                                                                                  (Psalm 23:1-6, CSB )

Get this book and read it.  Rent, or buy, this movie and watch it!  You will be blessed because you did.  Peace.

“Seeking after God”

Reader’s Digest used to have a treasury of short stories about people in every issue, especially those people that make a serious impact on the lives of others.  Over the years there have been a lot of those “special” people in my life, more lives than I could ever list or name.  Two of my favorite people are Mahlon Graham and Harold Wilbanks.  They both attended the Cedar Grove church in Rogersville, AL, when I preached there.  Harold passed away a few years ago, and Mahlon still lives in that community.

The people that make up that church all deserve extra stars in their crown — for putting up with all the nonsense, mistakes, problems, and dumb actions of a young (single) preacher, that still had some growing up to do.  Probably as much as anybody else, Harold and Mahlon liked me; and understood some of the conflict that was going on in my life.  They would listen to me, encourage me, and chastise me when I needed it.

Mahlon had a service station on Highway 72, east of town, down by the river, down by the river.  Sometimes the three of us would be there, and almost without exception, the conversation would turn to football.  Harold was an Alabama fan, Mahlon is an Auburn fan — and they were both serious about their team.  On top of that, they were both loud; and could get louder if they thought the situation deserved it.  Sometimes, I am sure that you could hear these “discussions” a mile away.  In those discussions I generally favored Auburn, but being an Arkansas, I really didn’t care much for either team.  So, I delighted in getting the arguments started, and providing a spark to keep them going.

Mahlon and Harold both encouraged me in my preaching, and there were times that I really needed it.  It was strange to me, that both of these men liked what they called my “hard” sermons.  You may recall those kinds of sermons from the past, when the preacher romps, stomps, and yells about “sin”.  Most of the time it seemed as if the intent of the sermon was to get the people to feel as if they were not good enough, or doing enough, to say they were saved.  Mahlon told me once, that he figured if he could “hunker” down and take a sermon like that, he was probably going to be alright.

Well, maybe I have learned a little, and grown a lot since then — but my approach to challenging sin is a little different 40 years later.  I have come to the conclusion, that sin is a “heart” problem, and not an action problem.  The bad actions are the result of what is going on in the heart.

Listen to what the psalmist has to say:

In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.  (Psalm 10:4, NIV)

That verse, as well as any, my definition of sin:  Sin is doing what I want, instead of what God wants.  In one of the most wicked periods in the history of the Israelite people, one of the thoughts that is constantly repeated is:

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. …  (Judges 2:10-12, NIV)

The Israelites were sinners because they had a heart problem, that manifested itself as actions in their lives.

The actions of people are bad, because our actions are a manifestation of what is in our heart.  In one of his first recorded sermons, the apostle Paul made this statement about the Israelite King, David:  After removing Saul, he made David their king, God testified concerning Him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do”.  (Acts 13:22, NIV).  David made some terrible mistakes, but he always stayed “after” the heart of God, and God loved that attribute in him.  When we keep “seeking” God, even if we make mistakes along the way; God, in His “steadfast love”, forgives us and stays out in front of us.  We have to continually search out heart, and see if we are “seeking” Him, or seeking after our own wants and pleasures. Those that are “seeking” have room in their heart for God.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.  (Psalm 9:10, NIV)

Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on May 27, 2016.  It has been revised and edited for use as one of our “Psalms for Saturday”.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing for you today.  Bill)

 

“What Went Wrong”

Over the years, we have all seen it happen.  We have all seen that preacher, author, project, ministry, church, or most anything that is similar begin with an explosion on the horizon, taking off with great expectations; and then just fizzle to nothing, or, even worse, crash and burn.  If you are like me, you wonder “why” it happened?  It may have even been an individual, who began the Christian life on “fire” for the Lord; and gradually the flame just died.  What is the reason(s) behind such collapses and failures?  What went wrong?

I was surprised to find “an” answer, probably not “the” answer, in the book of Nehemiah.  The reason I say it is not “the” answer, is I know that not every situation is the same; so there is not one answer that will fit all situations.  Nehemiah, the man, is such a remarkable man; and the book (which reads like a journal that he kept) which bears his name, is just extraordinary for the lessons that we can learn.  But, to be perfectly honest, this is not the lesson that I expected to find when I read through the book.

You recall the story, Nehemiah had gone back to his homeland to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem.  He did this with the blessings of King Artaxerxes, and his material and financial support.  The job that Nehemiah did in leading the people through this monumental task was outstanding, and has provided many lessons on leadership through the generations.  The wall was completed in an amazingly short period of time, in spite of all the opposition.  Read what Nehemiah has to say about the completion:

The wall was completed in fifty-two days, on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul. When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God.  (Nehemiah 6:15-16, CSB)

When the wall was completed, the people settled in their own homes and towns.  But on the first day of the 7th month, they gathered for a reading of the Law.

On the first day of the seventh month, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law.  (Nehemiah 8:2-3, CSB)

This was followed by the 7 day “Festival of Booths,” and another day when the people listened to another reading of the law, confessed their sin, and worshiped.  Nehemiah 9 contains a long song of praise of what God has done, confession of wrong; and, closes with a plea for God’s help because of the distress that they are in.  How could anything be better than this?  How could anything go wrong, with such a remarkable story in the background?  Especially, when what happens next takes place:

In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement in writing on a sealed document containing the names of our leaders, Levites, and priests.  (Nehemiah 9:38, CSB)

This “binding agreement” is laid out and explained in Nehemiah 10:30-39, and it seems to be an agreement among the people to do everything they were supposed to.  After the listing of the leaders who had their seals on the document, this remarkable statement is found:

The rest of the people — the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, and temple servants, along with their wives, sons, and daughters, everyone who is able to understand and who has separated themselves from the surrounding peoples to obey the law of God —  join with their noble brothers and commit themselves with a sworn oath to follow the law of God given through God’s servant Moses and to obey carefully all the commands, ordinances, and statutes of the Lord our Lord. (Nehemiah 10:28-29, CSB)

Don’t you know that there was much rejoicing and celebration taking place among the people that night.  They were back on the right path, God would be blessing them over and over again — what could go wrong?

But something did go wrong!  Terribly wrong!  Nehemiah 13 details that Nehemiah returned to Susa and the service of King Artaxerxes; and when he left, the people had begun to break every one of the things that they had agreed on.  They were not back where there forefathers were before, completely; but they were headed that way in a hurry.  When Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem, he got things straightened out (by whatever means were necessary to accomplish the  task).  But we are still left with the question, “what went wrong”, when everything seemed to be going so well?

Let me make three observations:

#1. Satan is strong, and sin is seductive.  The text does not say that, but we know that from other Biblical stories, and our own experiences.

#2. Their agreement was based on their ability to keep the commands.  This is the same mistake that the previous generations made.  They committed themselves to do all the right things, but never got right on the inside.  So many of the prophets chastised the people because of this failure, and the people in Jerusalem during the days of Nehemiah made the same mistake.

#3. They failed to pray about it.  This was the one that surprised me, because Nehemiah is often cited as a great example of leadership, because of his prayer life.  I tried to read Nehemiah very carefully, and found 13 references to the prayers of Nehemiah.  From what I saw, there is a break in the prayers of Nehemiah from Nehemiah 6:14 to Nehemiah 13:14.  You would think that as important as this “binding agreement” could have, and should have, been — it would have almost demanded prayer.  That shows how easy it is for us to get caught up in the excitement of a moment and forget to bring God into our plans and actions.

When we attempt great things, or even small things, let’s remember to not make the mistakes others have made.  Let’s examine what went wrong, even with the Biblical stories, and determine not to repeat their failures.  Peace.

“It’s a Lot of Work”

This past Sunday morning, in a sermon about Ruth (second in our series on “Heroines of God”), for a few moments I talked about the difficulty of life, hard times, and the American Dream.  I stated an opinion, that I did not believe that the American dream happened as often now, as it did in previous generations.  It was my speculation that there was two reasons for this: first, because of the vast amount of media that is available, our dreams are a lot bigger; and, secondly. the current generations will not work as hard to achieve those dreams, as the generations before.  Our culture is wrestling with a sense of entitlement now, that did not seem to be a part of our make-up before.

Let me see if I can offer an illustration.  If you have read this blog very often, you know that I had “gastric bypass” surgery about three months ago (in fact, you are probably tired of hearing about it).  As I have talked about it, the comment has been made that it is not a “magic bullet” — that just because you have had the surgery, the weight will not drop off, and stay off.  For the surgery to be successful, it takes work — a lot of work.  I have had to break habits, that I have had for years.  I have always eaten too much, too fast, and whatever I wanted.  Now, with the surgery there are some things that will deter you from doing that, but it still takes effort to make changes in that behavior.  If you had told me a year ago, that I would get up most every morning and walk 2 to 4 miles (and sometimes more) — I would have probably laughed at you.  For this surgery to be successful, and stay successful, for me; it is going to take a lot of work, for a long time.

I don’t remember who was the first one that I heard say this, but this saying is very true:  The only place that success comes before work, is in the dictionary.  It really doesn’t matter what area of life that you are talking about, that statement is true.  If you want to be good at something, and someone that is considered successful in a chosen area; you are going to have to work at it.  I was reminded of that this morning in my reading from Galatians.  Look at what Paul has to say:

Oh, my dear children!  I feel as if I’m going to through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. (Galatians 4:19, NLT)

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following Jesus is easy!  There is a lot of work in allowing Christ to develop in you fully!  There are too many people that view baptism as a paid in full “fire insurance” policy, and never make the effort to develop and grow to the point that Christ is developed in their lives.  As we learn to live out the repentance that we expressed, from serving ourselves to following Jesus — there are habits that we are going to have to break — habits that we have practiced all of our lives.  As we attempt to practice the confession of living for Jesus the son of God, there are new habits and practices that we are going to have to develop.  These new habits will take a commitment to do it, and time to make it happen.  On top of all that, we have an enemy that will be working against us in everything that we do.  This enemy is as powerful as a roaring lion, and his minions are not flesh-and-blood enemies, but evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, mighty powers in this dark world, and evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Does winning a war with an enemy like that, sound easy to you?

Once you have got into Jesus, don’t think that it is all over.  You need to continue to work, to get Christ fully developed in your life!  It’s a lot of work to do that!  Peace.

“Who Am I Trying to Please?”

There was a customer of mine, that once told me that when I walk into a room, people want to talk to Bill Hooten.  We were taking about my job as a salesman for Arkansas Insulation, and his considering a change  in employment and careers.  I have always considered his remark as more of a statement about his feelings about the other job, than an accurate portrayal of me.  Those of you that know me well, know that I really struggle with crowds of people that I don’t know, or where I am not known.  Most of the “personality” tests that I have taken, say that I lean strongly toward being “introverted.”  Even those simple little tests that pop up in your timeline on Facebook, have come back with those results for me.

That seems really strange, since the two “professions” that I have done for the last 15 years are as a minister, and as a salesman.  If you ask most people, I think the standard answer would be that someone that does those two things, more than likely should be  extroverted.  Now, there have been certain aspects of both of those “professions” that have given me real difficulty.  For example, one of the most difficult things that I did in my sales job was “find” new customers, especially ones that I did not know.  Meeting them, introducing myself, and “selling” them on allowing me (and my company) to be of service to them — still gives me chills.  BUT, once I had a customer, and  built a relationship with them; I never lost many.  In fact, over the years I gained lots of “new” customers, because of the relationships that I built with the people in the companies that I did business with.  Someone would leave and start their own company, and they would call me.  A construction superintendent would leave one company, and move to another; and it would not be long until I had the opportunity to bid on work for the new company.  In fact, I can think of one man, Kirby Burks, that over about a 12 year span, I had the opportunity of doing work for 6 different companies that he was associated with.  You see, even introverts can build relationships.

Building relationships was about caring for people, and taking the time to get to know them, and being likeable.  It is amazing how many people struggle with doing those three things.  I want people to “like” me, and I do my best to get to know people, and go out of my way to be caring about them, because I want them to “like” me.  In 12 years of sales to the home-building industry, I can’t think of very many people that I didn’t “like”; and, in turn, didn’t “like” me.  There are always exceptions!  There were a few that were abusive to guys that worked with me, the installers — who, if they didn’t do the work, I could not sell anything.  There were a few that wanted to take advantage of the relationship — getting me to do something, they knew that I should not (and would not) do.  I know that there has to be a “line drawn” somewhere, in every relationship, that can not be crossed; if that relationship is going to work.

This morning, as I was reading in Galatians 1, these thoughts ran through my mind as I read what Paul had to say.  Be attentive to what he has to say:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10, ESV)

In that particular context, Paul is saying that just to make other people happy, he will not change what the gospel says.  There were those Jewish Christians, who were trying to hang on to the last vestiges of their Jewish way of life, and bind circumcision as essential to being a Christian.  Even though, Paul had an orthodox Jewish background, he would not change the gospel to please anyone.  Almost all of the first three chapters of Galatians, he spends explaining why he would not, should not, could not do that!

Most all of us want to be liked, and want people to accept us.  Lots of people will want us to participate in things that we know we should not.  All of us need to remember, that if we are Christians, we cannot please men; IF it means displeasing God.  This is a struggle that we begin to face from a very early age, and, for many (including me) it continues for a lifetime.  Not only do we have to remove ourselves from the throne of our heart, but it is essential that we removed the desire to win the approval of other people.  That throne only has room for one.  Jehovah God wants to sit on that throne, and be in control of our life.  Peace.

 

“Pressing On”

Those of you that are regular readers of this blog, or know me personally, understand the journey that I have been on this year.  Earlier this year, I made the decision, and the commitment to do what the doctors’ told me, that I was going to improve my health — beginning by losing some weight.  I’ve struggled with my weight since I was in my early 20’s, and had been morbidly obese for a number of years.  Due, in large part, to my obesity, I was struggling with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and just being generally unhealthy.  Once I made the decision, and the commitment, I decided that my best option was “gastric bypass” surgery, and started the process at Roller Weight Loss and Advanced Surgery Clinic.  It is a decision that I have not regretted.

As of this morning, I have dropped 80 pounds, 10″ in the waist, and three shirt sizes.  Even better than that, I am no longer diabetic, and both my blood pressure and cholesterol medicines have been cut in half. There are still some “goals” in front of me, that I want to reach, and the doctors want me to accomplish. I’m convinced that are not only those numbers good, but there is a general all around improvement in my health; as I was able to walk 5 miles (at a good pace) this past Saturday morning.

One more thing that I know, is that there is not a time in this journey when I can quit.  The surgery that I had, as I have said before, is not a “magic bullet.”  This has to be a lifestyle change of exercise, eating less, eating mindfully, and eating healthier.  If I go back to what I was eating and living like I did before, all that I have accomplished will have been wasted.  So, I have to get up every morning, and remind myself of the commitment that I have made to my health, lifestyle, and body.

I was reminded of all of that this morning, as I was reading in Philippians 3.  Read what Paul had to say, and then make to make the application:

but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:12-14, ASV)

I made a decision, and a commitment, to live for Jesus a long time ago.  I would like to tell you that I have never wavered from that commitment, that my life is has been one long, uninterrupted life of faith and service to the Lord — but many of you would know, how untrue that is.  Most of my adult life, I have felt like David — seeking after the heart of God, with some stumbles (and some were major falls) along the way.  The older I get, the more I realize that every day is going to require a renewed commitment to the Lord for that day.

My friend, Lynn Anderson, once told me that “the only faith I have, is the faith that I have today.  Yesterday’s faith is gone, and tomorrow’s faith is not here yet.”  I believe it is important that we all realize this.  This morning, and every morning, before your feet hit the floor — thank the Lord for another day, and ask Him for the strength to live that day for Him!  I am convinced that a life of faith involves a decision for faith each day, and the desire and strength to lived that day in faith to the risen Savior.  Have you made your decision to live in faith TODAY?  What you have done before is behind you, and what you will do tomorrow; might not happen.  Let’s live in faith in a risen Lord today!  Peace.