“A Servant’s Heart”

If someone were to ask you: “Who do you know that has the heart of a servant?”  Who would come to your mind?  I’m sure that each one of us, know at least one individual that is always there, ready to help anyone that has a need.  It doesn’t matter who it is, or what they need — they will do their best to assist.  There is never any thought of what they will get in return, only the need of the individual is what matters.  They are the kind of people that inspire us to do better.

Over the years, almost every church that I have had the privilege of being involved with, has had at least one, and most of the time more, servants as a part of their fellowship.  They are not the kind of people that you would mention their name, because they would be embarrassed by the attention (and would likely scold me, if they saw it or heard about it).  They come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and occupations; but one thing stands out about them, they have a big heart!

For about the last 10 years, I have teaching a small group Bible study that has a core group of about 5 couples — the group has fluctuated, adding one or two couples, and then losing a couple.  The group is spread out over parts of 3 counties, and our meeting places vary (at the different homes of the members).  We try to meet once a month during the school year, but there are times that schedules (and weather) have interfered.  We had our first meeting this past Sunday, and the decision was made to study Paul’s letter of Philippians.

Beginning on Monday of this week, as my devotional reading, I have been reading Philippians (from a different translation each day); and, you might have noticed, my devotionals and “tweets” have been coming from what I have been reading.  This is the second devotional from Philippians, and so far Paul’s letter has been tough on me!  Tuesday (8-8-17) we talked about the practice of prayer, and the how of doing it and the need for consistency in our prayer life.  This was drawn from the first chapter, as Paul talked concerning the how and what of his prayers for the church in Philippi.  This morning, my mind was forced to think about what it meant to be a servant, and the people that I have been privileged to know that were servants; and to admit to myself, that there are some areas of serving where I am not what I need to be.  Observe what Paul says:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.  Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.  (Philippians 2:3-4, NLT)

The challenge we face is to really think like that!  I don’t remember where I saw it, but in the last week, I scanned an article that affirmed that most “white southern evangelicals” believe that people in need are there because of their own lack of effort and initiative.  If that is true, are “we” really living out the attitude that Paul says that we need to have.  Are we hindered in our ability to serve, because we don’t have the “heart of a servant”?  Do I regard myself as “better”, because I am the one being asked to serve?  What does that say about my heart, and my relationship with the Lord?

Notice what Paul says next:
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  (Philippians 2:5, NLT)
What attitude is that?
     Though he was God;
          he did not think of equality with God
          as something to be cling to.
     Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
          he took the humble position of a slave
          and was born as a human being.
     When he appeared in human form,
          he humbled himself in obedience to God
          he died a criminal’s death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8)
The question that I have to ask myself is, what if Jesus had looked at me in my need; and
thought of me, like I think of those in need in my world.  Where would I be now?

“Why We Care”

As a child of the 1950’s, the first television shows that I remember watching were on a black and white TV.  Looking back from today’s perspective, the quality of production was not very good, but as a young boy they pulled me in and wrapped me up.  There were certain shows that captivated my interest.  Shows like Rin Tin Tin, The Lone Ranger, Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, Wanted Dead or Alive, Rawhide and Have Gun Will Travel (do you see a pattern).  As I got a little older, other programs captured my interest:  Daniel Boone, Bonanza, Laramie, The Big Valley, The Wild Wild West, and High Chapparal.  Obviously, as I got older, and became more interested in movies — the John Wayne Westerns, and others of that genre, were always high on the list.  Is it any wonder, that one of my favorite cable channels today is “The Western Channel.”

So, obviously, my favorite movie from my youth, was a western — “The Magnificent Seven“, with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Eli Wallach — just to name some of the stars.  You probably know the story, villagers from a poor Mexican village hire seven gunfighters to assist them against a gang of 40 outlaws who pillage the town on a regular basis.  The gunfighters take the job, that didn’t pay as much as what they are used to receiving, and the odds are overwhelmingly against them.The most remarkable part of the story is that they “hardened” gunfighters begin to care about the people of the village.  The leader of the outlaw band can’t understand why — why they are there, and why they care.  There is one well-known line from the movie, where he says “If God did not want them to be sheared, he would not have made them to be sheep.”  Sort of a cold-hearted view toward people, don’t you think?

Psalm 82 is a fascinating, and difficult, chapter for the modern reader.  It reads as if there is a meeting in heaven of the great assembly, sort of like the one you read about in Job 1.  As I read the NIV, it seems as if God is sternly dealing with the “celestial beings” that are there, about how they are mishandling the people of His creation.

How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked.  Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.  (Psalm 82:2-4, NIV)

I will leave it to you to decided if this is a real heavenly meeting, or a symbolic picture that is painted for our learning.  But it is a definite, that God is telling someone that it is their responsibility to care for the weak, the fatherless, the poor, and the oppressed.

There are still people in this world that believe that some people are sheep, that were meant to be sheared.  They will take advantage of them, mistreat them, and generally ignore their plight.  God’s people are to be just the opposite, a blessing to all people; especially those that are not able to help themselves.  People will not understand why we care, we will be in the minority, and there will be those that take advantage of our concern.  But God still wants us to be salt and light in our world, and do what we can do in His name (even if it is just a cup of cold water).  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, May 11, 2016.  It is being reposted here as a part of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing for your life.  Bill)

“I Want to be a Prayer Warrior”

There have been several “Mother’s Days” where I have used the words to a song called “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again” in the sermon.  It is more well known as a country song, that has been recorded by George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and Alabama; but the first time I ever saw it was in an old, old hymnal.  J. W. Bahlman, was an elder of the North Main church, in Winters, Texas; and had been leading singing since he was a young teenager.  He had attended a Stamps-Baxter singing school in Dallas very early in his life, and paid the school’s enrollment fee by cleaning the meeting place every night.  For several summers, probably around the ages of 12 to 14, he traveled with a preacher by the name of L. W. Hayhurst, leading the singing for gospel meetings.  You could not hardly name a song that J. W. could not lead, and he had a bunch of old paperback song books that he had collected over the years.  He found this song in one of those books, we printed copies of it, and he said that he could lead it.  Mother’s Day came, and he did get the song started, but I don’t know if anyone was singing by the time it was over.  Everyone, it seems, had tears in their eyes; and was really struggling to get the words out (including J. W.).  The prayers of a mother, are so indicative of the love that a mother has — that it touched the hearts of everyone.

Later in my life, I found out that when I was going through a period of rebellion in my life at York College, my mother was praying every night, “Lord, make him a preacher.”  Most people, were just hoping that I would be around at 30.  In my opinion, there is no greater evidence of love for another person, than to be praying for them.  We can all think of those people, that when we listened to them pray, you could just tell that it came from the depths of a heart-filled with love.  That prayer was not a religious duty to them, but it was their privilege and their joy to empty the feelings of their heart at the throne of the Father.  I am always blessed by following those people in prayer as they lead me.  May God bless us with more prayer warriors like this.

All of these thoughts came racing through my mind, as I was reading in Luke 11, this morning.  Notice what the text has to say:

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying.  As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus said, “This is how you should pray.”

“Father, may your name be kept holy.

  May your Kingdom come soon.

Give us each day the food we need,

and forgive us our sins,

     as we forgive those who sin against us.

And don’t let us yield to temptation.”  (Luke 11:1-4, NLT)

The first thing that jumped off the page at me, was that there must have been something about the way that Jesus prayed, that the disciples noticed.  It must have been something that they really wanted in their lives.  Something so important, that they asked Him to teach them to pray, so that they could have it in their lives.  It may have been the relationship with the One that He prayed to, it could have been the intensity of the words that He said, or it may have just been the calm and peace that was there as He spoke to the Father.  Whatever it was they saw, they wanted it!

I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with saying the words to this “model” prayer, but I really don’t think that Jesus was giving the disciples the exact words that He wanted them to repeat over and over.  He was sharing with them, the things that they needed to be concerned about.  His model prayer taught them to be adore our God, and praise Him for who and what He is.  He also taught them to be aware of the spiritual blessings that are available, and pray for their increase upon God’s creation.  The disciples were also instructed to be aware of the physical needs that they had, and, by implication, of the  needs of those around them.  They learned that they needed to be aware of the shortcomings and failures in their lives, and appeal to the Father for forgiveness.  As a part of that forgiveness, there were acts of obedience and trust that they should exhibit (as evidenced by the ability to forgive those that sin against us).  Finally, they were taught that living for Jesus was a struggle, and to appeal for help in the fight against the evil one.

It would really be a blessing, if I could tell you that my prayer life is all that I want it to be.  There have been times in my life, when it has been close to what I wanted; but it is my inconsistency that plagues me.  Oh, in the mornings, as I walk, I talk to the Father; but the time when I get alone with God and empty the feelings of my heart, about the sins of the world, my family, my church family, and my own struggles and failures — I am not where I want to be right now.  I want to be a prayer warrior!  For my God and His influence in this world; that His salvation, and the Spiritual blessings in Christ, may be more of a reality to people; that those who suffer pain, disease, and have to do without the physical necessities of this life can find comfort; for my sins that are constantly are with me, and the ability to demonstrate grace, trust, and love to everyone around me; and, finally, that we can keep the evil one on his backside, and defeated in the spiritual war that is going on around us.

Would you pray for me, and my desire to be a prayer warrior?  Would you join me in this effort, as we appeal to the Father to make a difference in this world?  Peace.

“The Church’s Responsibility”

Malia and I got married in December of 1978, and on September 11, 1979 our oldest son, Josh, was born.  For a variety of extenuating circumstances, we didn’t have medical insurance coverage to help with the cost of that pregnancy and birth.  Somehow, on the two meager paychecks that we brought home; we manged to pay for those as we went along.  In the fall of 1981, I agreed to move to Winters, Texas from Huntsville, Arkansas; to serve as the minister for the North Main church of Christ.  Well, Malia was pregnant at the time, and one of the things that I made sure of — was that our Blue Cross policy would transfer from Arkansas to Texas.  With the assurances that it would, we made that move.  The only problem, was once we made the move we found that Blue Cross, Arkansas, and Blue Cross, Texas; are really two different companies with completely different policies.  The policy that we had in Arkansas was not available in Texas; and the ones that we could afford, would only pay a fraction of what the policy in Arkansas would have paid.  Thankfully, with the generosity of the North Main church, and a Christian neighbor, we covered the birth of our daughter, Courtnee, with very little difficulty.  Those two situations have caused us to be sure of our medical coverage, and to be sure that we have the coverage that we really need.

I’m sure that all of us have individuals in our families that struggle to be insured properly.  As a result of their struggle, they have been the beneficiary of government programs and benefits.  If you are like me, you know how crippling a lack of insurance could be for them, and their families.  For a number of years, government provided insurance and benefits has been a constant point of contention in our national government.  Our last president passed a medical care plan, that was dubbed “Obamacare.”  It was not a perfect plan, it helped some and hurt some; and many shouted, loud and long, about how expensive it was.  Really, I don’t know all the ends and outs; but what I do know, is that I have had friends and family come down on both sides — cursed or blessed.

Now, our current administration is pushing HARD for “Obamacare” to be replaced with a new plan, and they have just unveiled what they are proposing (as I was typing this, the morning news just revealed that the new proposed plan will not be presented for a vote, because the votes are not there).  Already there are those that are talking about how crippling it will be, and how those that can least afford it will be penalized the most.  Both sides have paraded people in front of the cameras to talk about the inequity of the present system, or the inhumanity of the proposed system.  It all promises, to be a long, hot summer as the two sides fight to get what they believe to be the best.

Obviously, as you read this, you understand that I have not spent a lot of time studying the ins and outs of either plan.  But this morning, in my devotional reading in Matthew 25, I could not help but wonder how God would expect the individual Christian, and the corporate church, to respond to these situations.  Listen to what Jesus said:

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  for I was hungry and you fed me.  I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing.  I was sick, and you cared for me.  I was in prison, and you visited me.”  (Matthew 25:34-36, NLT)

I could not help but think, how would Jesus want His people to respond to this current crisis in our country.  If the numbers that are tossed about, are right, and there are millions of people that will be without insurance coverage, and because of that not get the medical care that they need — how should God’s people respond?

Should we form political action groups, and lobby and petition Congress to take care of those that need really need it.  Josh Patrick, a minister for the Harpeth Christian Church, tweeted this yesterday afternoon (6-27), “Jesus didn’t come to launch a political revolution.  His message had political implications, but he never tried to influence a government.”  I totally agree with that, if there are people of God, and people in general, suffering; God’s people need to do something — NOT TRY TO GET SOMEONE ELSE TO DO SOMETHING!

I believe in church buildings, and I believe in a paid staff for local congregations; but when mortgages, utilities, insurance, salaries, etc.; create such a financial burden on a local church, that they can’t do what Matthew 25 talks about, we have missed the point some where along the way.  It may be time that we start seriously considering, what is our responsibility to our brothers and sisters, and neighbors, and make plans and preparations to do it.

As the title of my blog indicates, these are my “musings” from my devotional readings.  I don’t have a well thought out plan for all of this, or the wisdom to begin to know how to do that.  But I know that when I read Matthew 25 this morning, I was overwhelmed with the thought of what should the people of God, and the church of God do?  Comments?

“The Master Toucher”

The book club at the Prairie Grove church met yesterday and discussed our latest selection, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  It is one of those rare books that everyone in the group was in agreement, that it was really good.  It is the story of the Ten Boom family in pre-WWII Holland, and their circumstances during the war.  There are so many outstanding lessons that can be gleaned from the pages of the book:  perseverance, contentment, faith, prayer, etc.  But one of the overwhelming themes, from all the members of the group, was how people could be so cruel to other people.  You see, the Ten Boom family, was sent to German concentration camps because of their efforts to hid and protect Jewish families from the Nazis.  I started to say that they were treated like cattle, but I think we treat our cows better.  It will bring tears to your eyes to read some of the things that happened.

I suppose in the history of human civilization, there have always been examples of people mistreating other people, and it was not always during times of war.  People have always been mistreated, and it may have been because of their nationality, religion, race, or their financial condition.  They would have been regarded as outsiders, outcasts, or even as untouchables.

In my reading this morning, I ran across a text in Matthew 8, where Jesus interacted with the untouchables in his culture.  Follow closely the reading of the text:

Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside.  Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him.  “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”  Jesus reached out and TOUCHED him.  “I am willing,” he said.  “Be healed!”  And instantly the leprosy disappeared.  (Matthew 8:1-3, NLT)

People with leprosy among the Jews were not cast out of society, because they were different.  The disease they had was extremely contagious, and could have run through the people — inflicting a lot of pain and suffering.  The truth of the matter is, Jehovah God set the way that the nation of Israel was to treat those with leprosy (Leviticus 13).  Generally, the two things that most Bible readers remember about lepers are:  they were to live outside of the camp (away from people); and anytime they were approached, they were to cry out “Unclean!  Unclean!”.

So, we notice in this story of Jesus, two really strange things happen — particularly for that time and culture.  The leper approached Jesus, and Jesus touched the leper.  The collective gasps of the people that saw this transpire, must have sounded like a giant vacuum cleaner.  That never happened, and in their minds it should have never happened.  Jesus TOUCHED the untouchable!

Many years ago, I heard a sermon (and I don’t remember the preacher’s name) that was called “JESUS, THE MASTER TOUCHER.”  The preacher talked about the importance of the intimacy of touching, giving several examples of its importance, with babies, children, and adults.  He then used several Scriptures where Jesus touched individuals; making the points that the touch of Jesus gave people a sense of self-worth, and a sense of intimacy with the Master.  It was just one of those lessons that stays with you.

The point that I want to make from this text is that Jesus really is “the master toucher.”  He touched, and healed, someone that should never have been touched — that was an outsider among his own people.  Jesus is still “the master toucher,” and those that think they are outcasts — Jesus would love to touch your life.  Because of who He is, and what He has done; He can give you a new life in Him, and all the blessings that are attached to that life.  Why don’t you find out what you need to do for Jesus to touch your life!  Peace.

John 11 — “Jesus Wept”

Grief is one of the most difficult, and debilitating, of all the emotions we encounter in this life.  It tears at our hearts, and can be crippling in our efforts to make through the day.  It seems as if it does not just last for a little while, something can trigger it years later.  About 12 years ago, my Dad was in the VA hospital in Fayetteville, and just a few hours before his passing; my sister leaned over him and quietly sang “Victory in Jesus.”  Now, you would have to know that was one of the songs that Dad and Christye had sung from the time she was a little girl.  Since that time, I don’t know if I have been able to sing that song all the way through, when someone leads it in the assembly.

My personal struggle with grief, is that I never lost a close family member until I was over 50 years old.  There were people that I had been close to, that meant a lot to me, that had passed away, or a tragedy had struck that drug your emotions through the ditch.  Looking back over the years, I remember names like the Owens family, Cecil Bolinger, J. W. Bahlman, Benton Wray, and a host of others — that were important to me, and to the churches where I preached.  I hurt because of the place they had in my life, and because of the pain that I saw in the lives of people that I cared about.  My grandmother passed away almost 16 years ago, but for the last 12-15 years of her life she had lain in a nursing home, with arthritis so bad she could not roll over in the bed by herself.  We had hurt for her for so many years in that condition, that her passing was not nearly so traumatic.

But, it was not until my Dad died on December 22, 2005, that I really learned what grief was all about.  I grieved because a part of me had ripped away.  I grieved because of the pain that my mother and my sister were feeling.  I didn’t grieve because of Dad, because He had gone where he always wanted to go — to be with Jesus; but I grieved for us.  This morning, as I was reading in John 11, all of these thoughts went rushing through my mind.  Listen to what the text has to say:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.  “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept.  (John 11:32-35, NIV)

We have all sat in Bible classes, discussing these verses, and wondered why He wept.  We reason back and forth, He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Some will say that it is implied in the text that He was weeping because Mary and the crowd were so distraught.  Those are valid points of discussion, but I believe there is a more pressing thing on his mind.  I believe that Jesus is weeping because He sees the dramatic effect of Satan and sin in the world!

I want to share three passages with you:

…the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  (Genesis 3:16-17, NIV)

…The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  (I John 3:8, NIV)

Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  (John 12:31, NIV)

Since Adam and Eve ate of that fruit, Satan had been “the prince of this world”, terrorizing humans with the sting and fear of death.  Jesus came to the grave of Lazarus, looked and saw Mary and the others weeping, and He saw what sin had done to this world.  We can see Jesus as a living parable of Matthew 5:4 — Blessed are those who mourn, …  Jesus is weeping, because He sees the destructive nature of sin.  He knows that He is going to change that.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death is your victory?

Where, o death is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (I Corinthians 15:54-57, NIV)

     When we stand at the grave of someone that we love, we don’t have to grieve as they did before Jesus.  Through His death, burial, resurrection, and appearing; we can have the promise of victory!  …This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  (II Timothy 1:9-10, NIV)

Thank you, Jesus!  Peace.

 

Luke 15 — “The Stories of Life”

A few years back, my oldest son called me one night and said that he and some of his buddies from the fire department were wanting to go on a hunt for wild hogs.  After living in west Texas for several years, my response was that I thought that I could arrange that.  He said that was exactly what he was hoping that I would say.  Almost immediately, I got on my phone to my friend, Lanny; and told him what these guys were wanting to do — and he said, “Bring them on, and you can all stay with us.”  That was sort of what I thought he would say, and we started making plans.

Well, the plans came together and we left Northwest Arkansas for West Texas, one cold and blustery weekend toward the end of January.  Within the last 50 miles of getting to our destination, on a long strip of West Texas highway, we saw a dead hog laying on the side of the road (looked like it had been hit by a car or truck).  It was still fairly early in the afternoon, so they started making plans to go out hunting when we got there.  When we got there, the cold was brutal; as only a cold and windy West Texas evening can be.  Now, I am not a hunter, and when those guys came in later than evening, I was glad that I wasn’t.  But they were excited, because they had seen lots of signs along the creek bank that just had to be hogs.  I don’t how well they slept that night, but they were looking forward to the weekend.

Lanny, and his wife Brenda, treated us like royalty.  Not only did they provide us with a place to sleep, but Lanny, and his cast iron skillet, prepared the kinds of foods that a bunch of guys like to eat.  Well, I don’t how many acres those 4 firemen walked over in the next 2 days, but they never saw a hog.  They saw a lot of sign, but the only hog they saw was the dead one on the side of the road.  They learned that you don’t really “hunt” hogs, because there is no pattern to what they do — just because they are in one place on one day, doesn’t mean that you can predict, or plan, on when they will come back.  But, even without seeing, shooting, or killing any wild hogs, they met some of the finest people in the world.  Not just Lanny and Brenda, but we went in to Abilene and had supper one night with the family of Donald and Jean — and their hospitality was just unbelievable.  All of the guys were just overwhelmed with just how friendly, kind, and hospitable the people were .  They didn’t kill a thing, but I think that will all still you that they had a great weekend, and would love to do it again.

When we started home, Josh and I were riding together and he was just bubbling over about how good a time that they had.  In fact, he was wanting to go back another time and go dove hunting.  Then he asked “Do you know what the best part of it was?”  He said that the afternoon that they spent with Freddy, was the best part of the weekend.  Now Freddy attends church with Lanny and Brenda, a church where I used to preach; and Freddy is the epitome of a West Texas cowboy.  I’m not talking about a guy that wears jeans, and has a couple of western shirts.  I’m talking about that picture you have in your mind of what a “working” cowboy looks like.  Jeans, worn boots, large buckle on his belt, broken down and worn cowboy hat, handlebar mustache, that look of someone that has been outside most of his life, and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.  Freddy is the one that convinced me to go on my ONE AND ONLY rattlesnake hunt, and that is something I said that I would never do.  I asked Josh what it was that was so enjoyable about being with Freddy, and he said “It was the stories, Dad.”  He went on to explain that they would ask him a question, and he would never just answer the question — he would tell them a story.  Evidently, those stories were outstanding!

This morning, as I was reading Luke 15-17, I was reminded of Freddy and his stories.  You see, like Freddy, Jesus was a story teller; and He told stories for the same reason — to answer a question, or to explain something He was trying to teach.  In Luke 15:1-2 the text says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’.”  (Luke 15:1-2, NIV).

Now Jesus could have unloaded on them, and lectured them and berated them for their sorry attitude about those that were a part of God’s creation, but He didn’t.  He told three stories, about the right way to think about those that are considered sinners.  The first two stories, about a lost sheep and a lost coin, explain the efforts that we will go to looking for animals and coins; and the rejoicing that we feel when we find them.  He goes on to add “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” ; and “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”.

But the third story, the one about the father and his two sons, is the longest and the one that we remember and are most familiar with.  I am not going to do an exposition of this story, but I am going to ask you to read Luke 15 and read verses 11-32.  Then remember the attitude of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law in the first two verses, and recognize this story is prompted by what they were muttering.  Then decide for yourself who is represented by the father and the two sons, and then ascertain which one of them you are most like.  I promise you, that if you prayerfully and honestly do that — you may have a drastic change in attitude.  Remember, these stories of Jesus, are the “stories of life” — and quite often they are our life.  Peace.

Mark 10 — “Servant of All”

This morning I want to tell you a story, actually two stories; and both of them involve the same preacher.  There is a city, and for a city it is relatively small; but there are a lot of churches in this city.  There are all kinds of churches, of every size and denomination; but in particular, there are several from the Stone-Campbell heritage.  Many years ago, one of the larger congregations in that fellowship hired a new preacher, and most of the other preachers don’t trust him for some reason.  He doesn’t talk like they do, and he seems to handle Scripture differently.  These preachers began to listen to the tapes of his sermons, being sure that what he is saying is according to the Scripture.  Many of them decide that what he is preaching is dangerous, and begin to write bulletin articles and preach sermons about his error.  It is not long until he is ostracized by most of the preachers in town, and talked about by other preachers all over the country.

Another preacher in that city accepts another job, quite a distance away.  He has been one of those that wrote the bulletin articles, and preached the sermons about preacher #1.  After he moves, he writes a letter to all the preachers of his fellowship in the previous city, asking them for a favor.  You see, he has four sons; and three of them are preachers — the 4th one has quit going to church.  In this letter, he asks these preachers to go and visit his son.  Some of these preachers are his friends, most of them are acquaintances, and then there is the one that he wrote about and preached against.  One preacher goes to visit his son.  Can you guess which one?  Yep, you’re right.

A number of years later, a young preacher from a small town outside of that same city, is sitting with his wife, at the hospital of the city.  Their son has just been taken into surgery, and they are there by themselves.  The preacher from the large congregation comes in , and sitting down beside them; says that preachers don’t have preachers to sit with them at times like this — so he is there to sit with them, and pray with and for them.

This morning, as I was reading in Mark, I read a story that reminded me of these events.  Listen to what Mark has to say:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:35-45, NIV)
This morning as I read that passage, I thought of the stories that I have just shared.  How at times we can become so impressed with our own self-importance, that we forget to be a servant.  It doesn’t have to be something like watching for the “soundness” of those that we disagree with.  It can be something as simple as getting involved in what we do, that we lose the servant heart.  That what we are doing is so important, we’re so important; that we don’t have time for things like that.  Even if we think we are saving the brotherhood, if we do not exhibit the heart of a servant in our actions; we are failing.
This morning, I confess that I have struggled making time for people.  It’s not because I think that I am better, or even that I am unconcerned.  It’s leaving the comfort of where I am, and going to a”strange” place is really hard on me.   I know that is just an excuse, and I am trying harder to do better.  Because, passages like Mark 10, drive home the importance of having that servant heart.  May God help me learn from the example of the preacher that I told you about this morning.  Peace.

Matthew 10 — “God Cares for the Least of Us”**

Have you ever felt as if you really didn’t matter?  It may have been after some tragic loss in your life, and you were overwhelmed with grief and loneliness.  It may have been after you lost a job, either dismissed or laid off.  It may have been during a time where everything that happened, caused you to be driven further and further into debt; and there just didn’t seem to be any way out.  Whatever the reason might have been, you need to know, that you are not the only one that has felt that way.

I vividly remember July 3, 2007 when I got laid off from my sales position at Arkansas Insulation, because there was a lack of residential construction.  What I remember most, was the feeling of despair when I walked into the Arkansas Employment Security office to file for unemployment.  I was almost 57 years old, and had never been in that situation before – and it was devastating.  Tragically, I remember how lonely my mother was after Dad passed away, and how the loneliness played havoc with her self-worth.  I remember how she talked of going to bed every night, and telling the empty bed beside her “good night”.  How that she felt that she was not needed by anyone, and that she had no reason to live.

Your situation may not be, or may not have been, like either one of those; but more than likely it was/is just as difficult.   These feeling will drive us to the point, that we cry out, “God why are you letting this happen to me!”  We may even wonder, does He know what is going on in my life.  Although we are often embarrassed to discuss it, you can walk into almost any room full of people; and know almost all of them have been at this point sometime in their life.

This morning as I was reading in Matthew, these verses moved me:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 10:29-32, ESV)

Sparrows designated a whole family of small, plentiful birds in Palestine, generally thought of as the smallest of all God’s creatures.  The penny as used here, probably, referred to the smallest, and least valuable, Roman coin.  With all that being true, why would anyone sell, or buy, them.  Well, it is my understanding that for a sin offering, that those who were too poor to bring a goat (or sheep) could offer a bird.  So the merchandisers in the temple would sell sparrows to the poor.  That makes the parallel passage in Luke interesting, it says:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  (Luke 12:6-7, ESV)

There have always been those that promote a bargain.  Can’t you hear them, hawking their merchandise, saying “Buy from me, and I will give you a fifth sparrow for nothing.”

Over 35 years ago, at the Ministers’ Renewal Workshop at Abilene Christian University, I heard a preacher/counsellor from Tulsa, Dr. Dan McCaghren, deliver one of the most moving lessons I have ever heard.  It was entitled “*The Gospel to the Fifth Sparrow”.  The thrust of the lesson was that the Gospel was especially for the lonely, the depressed, the hurting, those that didn’t feel like they mattered to anyone – those that thought they were worth nothing.

It is my prayer that we never forget that.  First, for those that we are seeking out to teach the Gospel.  That we not neglect the poor and disenfranchised, and their need to know the story of Jesus, because they don’t fit the demographic that we are looking for in our congregation.  Secondly, that we personally remember this; when were are struggling with financial crisis, job loss, grief, loneliness, and all the other debilitating problems we encounter.

May we always remember that we matter to God, and that He knows, and cares about, what is going on in our lives.  It may seem like more than we can handle, but if He cares for the sparrow, He cares for us!

Peace.

*I was so moved by this particular lesson, that I have changed it, adapted it to me and my personality, and preached it several times.  I have not seen, or heard,  Dr. McCaghren since that workshop; but I owe him a debt of gratitude for such a powerful lesson.

**This was the third devotional that I ever posted on this blog site, and the site was so new that not many people saw it.  It came from the same passage that was a part of my devotional reading this morning, and the lesson from this devotional is really important to me, so I decided to share it again.  I hope that it is a blessing to you.

John 19 — “Acts of Kindness”

One of the most touching movies of all time, in my opinion, was the movie called “Pay it Forward.”  You may remember that it starred Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment.  It is the story of a young boy that lives in a troubled  home, that is challenged by his teacher to come up with a plan that can make a world-changing  difference.  He comes up with the idea that instead of paying back acts of kindness (good deeds), you pay them forward to three other people.  The movie watches the impact that doing good can have in the lives of people, and how acts of kindness can spread.

We all have opportunities to do good for other people.  It may not be some great feat, but may just be something like “giving a cup of cold water” to someone that is thirsty.  It always seems to be so rewarding to do something nice for someone, especially when it is not expected.  The smile, the genuine thank-you, is a feeling that is hard to forget.  Acts 10:38 says that Jesus went about “doing good”, and his example is one that we need to remember.

In the devotional reading for this morning (John 18-19), there was an act of kindness that sometimes we just don’t consider.  Listen to what the text says:

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.  (John 19:38-41, ESV)

We get from that text that Joseph is a disciple of Jesus, although he didn’t want anyone to know it.  John 3 never gave us any indication of how Nicodemus responded to the teaching of Jesus about the “new birth”; but since he knew that Joseph was a “secret disciple”, it would seem likely that he was (or at least had leanings that way).  I believe that what they did for the body of Jesus, would have to be called an “act of kindness”.  It was also an act of kindness that came with great risk.  Joseph was afraid for the Jews to know that he was a disciple, because he was afraid of what they would do.  Going to Pilate, and asking for the body, was exposing himself, at the very least, as someone that cared.  Nicodemus joining with Joseph, placed himself in harm’s way, IF the Jews decided to retaliate.

Mark tells us that Joseph “took courage” (15:43) when he went to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus.  This morning, let’s take courage and get out of our comfort zone, and begin to pass around unexpected, random acts of kindness.  Let’s begin to put into practice the example of Jesus, of going around “doing good”; and modeled by Joseph and Nicodemus.  These acts of kindness will be a witness to what Jesus means to our lives.  Wouldn’t you rather be known as Christian, because of “acts of kindness;” than some of other things that are identified with Christianity in our world.  Pay it Forward.  Peace.