“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)

 

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“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.

“Living Purposefully”

How many are familiar with the “Battle of the Bulge”?  No, not the battle that was fought during World War II, but the struggle that many face with their waist.  I am a long-time veteran of that struggle, and have lost more of the individual conflicts than I have won.  It is a difficult battle to fight, and if you keep losing long enough, it will eventually lead to deteriorating health problems.  About the middle of February of this year, I decided to investigate the possibility of having “gastric bypass” surgery.  I read the literature about it, studied the different kind of procedures that were possible, checked to see if my insurance would cover the expense, scheduled the appointment with Roller Weight Loss and Advanced Surgery Clinic, and made the commitment to do whatever it takes to be successful with this surgery.

My first appointment was on March 15th, and it was a 4 hour appointment, and they educated me on a lot of different things that I needed to know.  The thing that I remembered the most, was that I needed to learn to “Eat Mindfully.”  The nutritionist explained that they wanted me to think about what I was going to eat, take small bites, chew my food completely, eat slowly (laying my fork down between bites), and to quit when I was satisfied (not stuffed).  I will be perfectly honest, I was going to have to go through a learning process to do that.  Up to that point in my life, what I had been most concerned about was did it taste good and was there enough of it!

The way that I decided to attack the problem was to keep a journal of what I ate.  So every day, since March 20th, I have written down what I have to eat and drink, and when I have it.  I have avoided sugar, fat, carbohydrates, caffeine, and carbonation — concentrating on proteins and liquids.  My surgery was scheduled for May 30th, and the clinic told me that I needed to lose 16 pounds, before the surgery.  Well, I lost 29 pounds before the surgery, and have lost 47 since the surgery.  I still write down everything that I eat and drink, still keep track of protein and liquids — still trying every day to eat mindfully.  The surgery that I had was an invaluable weapon in my battle against the bulge, but losing the weight (and learning to keep it off) is still a lot of work.

Well, some of you are probably thinking, Bill, we’re happy for you, and proud of you; but, why in the world do we need to know all of this?  This morning, in my devotional reading of Philippians, there was a passage reminded me of all of this, and, in particular, the concept of being “mindful.”  Look at what Paul has to say:

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:12-14, CEB)

In that passage, Paul says that there is a single-mindedness, or a purposeful behavior, in the way that he lives his life, and in particular his Christian life.  Their is a goal that he is pursuing, and his purpose is to reach that Goal — …God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.  In pursuing that goal, he doesn’t allow himself to be hindered by past failures or accomplishments, but focuses on the things that are ahead of him.

I wonder how many of us live every day haphazardly, particularly in our walk with the Lord.  Not purposefully living every day pursuing the upward call of Jesus.  Do we get up in the morning thinking about what we can do to serve the Lord that day — reading His Word, communicating with Him through prayer, sharing the story of Jesus with someone we know or meet, caring about other people, etc.

If I am going to be successful in losing weight, and maintaining that weight loss, “eating mindfully”  is going to have to become a part of who I am!  It will be no accidental lifestyle for me to reach the goal of the Christian life.  I am going to have to dedicate myself to living “purposefully.”  Will you join me on that journey?  Peace.

(I have been reading Philippians every day for the last week, and reading it from a different translation each day.  This morning I read from the CEB, the Common English Bible.  This is the first time that I have ever read from this translation, and so far the review is mixed.  Obviously, my opinion is going to be based on readability, not on the accuracy of the translation — that will have to be left to the scholars.  There were some things that I like about it, and there were some things that I didn’t.  Bill.)

 

“Seeking God”

Does it seem to you that we spend our whole life chasing something?  How many movies have been made about the endless pursuit of “something”?  There are those that are comedies, dramas, adventures, and tragedies — but they all portray man’s pursuit of what they deem to be most important, or what will make them happy.  The Billy Crystal movie, “City Slickers”, where Jack Palance kept reminding him of the “one thing”, is one of the premier examples of that.

It is not just in movies where this pursuit is featured, it is featured in our lives.  There always seems to be something out there, that we think will make our lives a little better.  It seems to start early in our lives:  a place of acceptance in a certain circle of peers, a romantic relationship (with the one that sets our hearts to fluttering), a car (and not just any car, the right car), graduation from high school, college, and a host of other things that attract our attention.  Even as we get older, the “pursuit syndrome” is still there is still there.  We want a loving, lasting relationship; a job that pays well and makes us feel good about ourselves; a house that becomes a home for our safety; and security for the future; and, ultimately, retirement.

Have you ever wondered why we are that way, or at least most of us?  I believe that God intended for us to have this “pursuit syndrome“, and wanted us to focus it on a relationship with Him!  That we recognize, that the most important thing that we pursue in our life, is the relationship with a Holy God!

We have often wondered about “how” the Bible could say that David was a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14).  It certainly was not because of his sinless perfection!  The key word, in my mind, is “after” — that David was “seeking” God, and a relationship with Him.  Regardless of how man times he faltered and fell; he would get up, confess the wrong that he had committed, and begin to seek God again!

When you read the Psalms, there seems to be two ideas that jump off of nearly every page — the steadfast love of the Lord, and the admonition to seek God.  There is a beautiful description of what we are seeking, in Psalm 89:15-18 – – listen closely:

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
     who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.
They rejoice in your name all day long;
     they celebrate your righteousness.
For you are their glory and strength,
     and by your favor you exalt our horn.
Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord,
     our king to the Holy One of Israel.
May the “ONE THING” that we pursue be God!  Isn’t that what Jesus said, Seek first his
kingdom and his righteousness, … (Matthew 6:33, NIV).  Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook, May 12, 2016.  It is being posted here, as one of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is our prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

 

“Get Out There and Try”

2003 was a really tough year for me.  I was working for a company that was not a good fit for me, and I was not a good fit for them.  We both really needed a change, and I needed to make it before they did.  I checked the “help wanted” listings every Sunday, and the web sites that were designed to help with a job search.  Resumes were sent out, phone calls made, and leads checked out — without having a whole lot of luck.  In the late summer, I went to a Springdale High School preseason football scrimmage; and while I was there I visited with Joe Kidd (my best man when Malia and I got married), and told him my situation.  Three months later, he called me and told me of a sales job that was available at Arkansas Insulation, and the General Manager was his brother-in-law.  I made the call, got an interview, was hired, and a starting date of right after the first of the year was agreed on.  Three days after I agreed to take the job, the company I was working for called me in and told me that they were going to have to let me go.  It was sure a good feeling to know that I had something lined up, and would not be without a job.

Arkansas Insulation hired me to be a sales representative, marketing the material (insulation, aluminum soffit and fascia, seamless aluminum gutter, and vinyl siding), and sub-contracting the installation, to residential home contractors for new houses.  The manager told me, he wanted me to spend all my time working with the contractors — that there were enough new houses being built to keep me busy.  If you remember 2004, Northwest Arkansas was in the middle of a housing boom — there was enough new homes being built to keep 3 salesman busy (and all of our competition).  The problem was everyone was so busy, no one had the time to really train me, and I needed training.  I did not know what walls you insulated in a house (I thought they were all insulated), didn’t know soffit from fascia, had no idea where to place downspouts for a gutter system, or how to figure the amount of siding that was needed for a project.  On top of that, I had to learn to take the needed material, write it on a work order (so that the installer would know what to do), and write out directions so the job could be found.  I met the corporate sales manager in late January, and he said that he would be down from Springfield soon to spend 3 or 4 days training me (I’m still waiting on that).  The manager, and one of the other sales guys, managed to spend about a total of 3 or 4 days with me, but, basically, I was put out to sink or swim.  Oh, I made stupid mistakes, and ran into things that I didn’t know what to do — but I made it, at least, good enough to last until I retired twelve years later.  I am really glad that while I was struggling to learn, the manager and all the other guys, were there to answer questions, and help me with the really difficult situations.

There is a series of  passages in Luke 9, that remind me of that experience.  Look at what the text says:

One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases.  Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them.  “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes.  Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town.  And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”  (Luke 9:1-5, NLT)

After they returned from this preaching tour, several things happen to show that maybe they weren’t quite ready.

First, Jesus tries to slip away quietly with them to Bethsaida, but the crowds are too large, persistent, and demanding.   Why did He try to get away quietly with them?  It may be that He knew He needed more time with them, that they weren’t quite ready.  Several things happen to illustrate that.  For example — (1) not being to able to cast the demon out of the possessed boy (Luke 9:38-40), arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46), telling those to stop using the name of Jesus to cast out demons, who were not part of their group (Luke 9:49-50), and wanting to call down fire on the Samaritan village, for not welcoming Jesus (Luke 9:51-56).  All of these seem to be examples, that they have a lot more to learn to be able to manifest the spirit of Jesus, as they interact with the people that are so important to Jesus.

But, secondly, in Luke 9:57-62, Jesus explains in pretty graphic terms what it means to follow Him.  Listen, as He explains to the disciples:

As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nest, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”

The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”

But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead!  Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”

But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then look back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

I don’t know that these all happened in the same conversation on the walk to Jerusalem, but I am convinced that Luke grouped altogether for a reason.  I believe that Luke is wanting us to learn, that “following Jesus” is the most important thing that we can do with our life.  That when we follow Jesus, we will be given the opportunity to serve the Lord — perhaps, even doing something that we are not ready to do.  That in following Jesus, and serving in the opportunities we are given; we will make mistakes, and tackle things that we don’t understand — but that He will always be there for us.  To pick us up, reassure us, and put us back on the way.  We will not succeed in following, without His strength and encouragement along the way.  Peace.

 

“They Didn’t Find Out”

A college professor once told a story about two teenage Christian boys that had an opportunity to make a lot of money, working in a logging camp for the summer.  As they were thinking what all they could do with the money they made, someone talked to them about how hard it would be to maintain their Christianity in that environment.  Suddenly, the excitement of the money had to share the stage with the question of, would it be worth it?  In the end, one boy went and worked in the camp, and the other boy stayed home and sacked groceries at the local supermarket.  At the end of the summer, when the boy came home from the logging camp, his friend asked him; how it went when the men found out that he was a Christian.  To which, the boy replied, “They didn’t find out.

Have you ever been in a situation, where you thought it would have been to your advantage if people did not know that you were a Christian?  How did you handle that?  I am ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life where I hid my Christianity, and what that really meant was that I was not Christian at all.  We live in a world where it has been, and is, a challenge to live for Jesus — and it is going to get more difficult.  But it has always been that way, that’s why Jesus said things like “deny yourself” and “take up your cross daily”.  Do you wear your Christianity proudly?  By that, I don’t mean do you wear a “Gospel Message” bracelet, or a cross on a necklace around your neck.  What I mean does your language adorn the message of Jesus, does your attitude reflect the spirit of Jesus, and do you treat people like you want Jesus to treat you?

This is always going to be a challenge for God’s people!  We are going to struggle with situations, circumstances, fear, and embarrassment; as we try to live for Jesus.  Whatever it might be, we are going to have to learn to let Jesus shine through all over our struggles and weaknesses.  This morning, I read two stories that identifies with these struggles that we have.  The first one involved Peter:

Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying — I don’t know this man you’re talking about!”  And immediately the rooster crowed the second time.

Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind:  “Before the rooster crowed twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.”  And he broke down and wept.  (Mark 14:71-72, NLT).

I understand that Peter was scared.  I won’t lie, I would have been scared too.  Other than John, Peter was probably the only (male) disciple present.  Fear of what was going on, lack of understanding as to why it was happening, and afraid of what could happen to him — caused him to do the very thing that he said that he would never do!

The second story involves the Roman official, Pilate:

So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.  He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Romans soldiers to be crucified.  (Mark 15:15, NLT).

Pilate succumbed to political correctness.  He wanted to be merciful to Jesus, until it became risky for him politically.  Pilate, in my opinion, was not a merciful man — but, I think he was tired of the political games of the Jewish leaders; and saw through their accusations, to the real reason they wanted Jesus crucified.  But, the pressure they exerted was more than he wanted to deal with, and it was just easier to give in.

We are still faced with these same situations.  We still have to make decisions about whether we will stand up for Jesus.  Those decisions will always be difficult.  What we do, may not always be what we know to do or want to do.  The challenge is to follow Jesus, and stand up for Him in every situation.  The verse still says, If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.  (Mark 8:38, NLT).  Peace.

“Wake Up in a New World Every Morning”

Have you ever heard the expression, “You wake up in a new world every morning!”  I don’t know about you, but I have heard that expression — often.  Sometimes, as a child it would be used talking to me; and I have used it with my children, fellow employees, and those that worked for me.  It probably does very little good to say something like that, but we allow our frustrations to take over.  We know that patience is a virtue, but very few of us have the patience that we need (or want).

In my world, my oldest son is a whiz on computers, and he has been my “go-to” person for any, and all, problems that I have computer related.  I’m sure that there has been a few times that he has wanted to say, “Did you wake up in a new world today”?  I was a slow learner, and things that I did not do very often — I would forget how to do them.  The really sad part was that most of them were so simple, that you only ought to have been told once.  For example, a few years ago I was just starting to use Power Point in my Sunday morning sermon presentations.  One time a week, I would have to load the Power Point off of my PC on to the thumb drive.  There were several weeks that I have called him, saying that I had forgotten how to do it.  He was very patient, and would go through it with me — again.  Now, I find it to be so simple that I wonder why anyone can’t do it.

This morning in my devotional reading, there is a passage that makes me wonder if Jesus ever felt that way about His disciples.  Listen to what the passage says:

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said,  “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”   (Mark 8:1-4, NIV)

Are you kidding me!  In Mark’s account, it has not been to long since Jesus fed 5,000 men (not counting women and children), and they are wondering what He is going to do now!  Randy Harris in his series on John, Daring Faith, says that the disciples were always worrying about food, when their Master could make food.  Do you suppose that at this point, Jesus wanted to throw up His hands and say “Did you wake up in a new world today?”

A little later, in that same chapter of Mark, I believe the frustration of Jesus comes through.  He is talking to them about the yeast of the Pharisees, and they think he is upset because they haven’t brought any bread.  Listen to what He says to them:

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”  (Mark 8:17-21, NIV)

Do you get the sense of frustration in what He says there?  The question for us this morning, is “Do we wake up in a new world every morning;”  as far as our walk with the Lord is concerned?  Do we remember the commands and promises of the Lord on a daily basis?  Do we remember His teaching about how to talk, walk, act, treat others?  Is there a consistency in our behavior, where people can see Jesus living in us every day?

…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross DAILY and follow me.   (Luke 9:23, NIV)

Let’s get up every morning, thank the Lord for the day He has given us; and resolve to live that day for Him!  Peace.

 

(This post is from March 22 of this year.  I am using it this morning because my schedule is all out of whack for today and tomorrow.  We have painters coming to the house to paint two rooms, and a long hall.  So me, and the two dogs, have to be out of the house early this morning.  This particular post is one the least “viewed” posts I have done this year.  It was posted the week I got back from traveling for a week, and I had not posted at all.  I hope it gives you encouragement to start the week.  Bill).