“Look for the Helpers”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Called to Care”

This morning when I turned on the computer, the first headline that I saw said “Jimmy Fallon Gives One Million Dollars to J. J. Watt Fund.”  After reading the story, I realized that it was not Jimmy Fallon, personally, that gave the money; but the television show that bears his name.  Regardless, it was a significant gift for a very deserving effort.  If you have not heard the story, J. J. Watt (a professional football player for the Houston Texans) set out to raise $200,000 for relief efforts in Houston; and now, a little over a week later, the fund has raised over $21,000,000!  That money has been given by over 187,000 contributors, showing that there are still a lot of generous, and caring, people in our country.

It really appears that our country is going to need a lot of generous people over the next few weeks and months.  The largest, and most powerful, hurricane ever recorded (Irma) is churning its way toward Florida, and should be there sometime between Sunday and Tuesday.  The report I saw said that they are not quite sure, once it gets to South Florida, what direction it will go — but not many of them are good options.  Yesterday, in the Gulf of Mexico, another Tropical Storm (Katia) was formed.  It is off the coast of Mexico, and is moving east.  The Gulf Coast could take a real hammering this year, and the damage that has already been inflicted is catastrophic.  The care and concern of the people in our country has always been amazing.  That care and concern could be really stretched this year.

All of those stories sort of dove-tailed, into a passage from my reading this morning.  As I read about the generous people in our country, giving to help those that are struggling with all that is happening, this passage reminded me that God’s people need to be the ones that are leading the way.  Listen to what Paul said:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Galatians 5:13-14, NRSV)

That’s not just in the way that we treat people on a day to day basis, but how we respond to their needs.  As I have read on Facebook, and various blog posts, I have been extremely proud of the way that God’s people have responded to the needs along the coasts of South Texas, and in Louisiana.  We need to exhibit that kind of loving, caring attitude to the world, and not just during times of disaster.

But now, I want to mention another area where we need to be caring, and loving.  Most of you know, I am not too interested in politics, or things that are political.  But the repeal of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) really got my attention yesterday.  Beginning in January, 2004 through December, 2015 — I was a salesman for Arkansas Insulation, and because of the nature of that business; most of our installers were immigrants from Mexico, and Central America.  Over that 12 years, some of those guys that I worked with on a daily basis became friends.  I am sure that some of them were illegal, but I did not make it a practice to ask.  So, when we talk about legislation regarding immigrants, it is not some legislation that is not real to me.  It resonates with names like Alberto, Jesus, Jorge, Juan, Antonio, Raul, Adolpho, …  So when I read these things, it is not just someone — it is a name, a face, a personality.  Obviously, that effects the way that I think about such things.

What I observed over those years is that being here legally, after you have once come illegally is not easy.  Two of our men did that, changed their status from illegal to legal.  But to do that, they had to go back to Mexico for nearly a year, leaving their families here, before they could come back legally.  It is my understanding, that if you are here illegally, you don’t just go in and file for U. S. citizenship.  You have to be here legally to do that, and I just explained what that involves.  Many of these men that I know, don’t have anything to go back to in Mexico — that’s why they are here.  DACA was a way that children that were brought here as a child (under the age of 16, I think) would have a renewable two-year grace period from deportation, and eligibility for a work permit.  I don’t have any answers about what needs to be done, but it seems that there could be something better than sending all of these people back to a country where there is no future.

In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to remember that they had been slaves in Egypt, and to care for those that aliens (NRSV) or sojourners (ESV).  Listen to the words of Moses:

“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22, ESV)

I believe that one of the things that made Boaz a worthy man (ESV), in Ruth 2, was his concern for those that were in need, and Ruth was an immigrant.  I don’t have all the answers for this, or any, subject; but I believe that God’s people ought always to come down on the side of love and concern.  I am going to be praying that our government will be able to come up with a reasonable, and caring solution.  Peace.

“How Important Am I?”

Over the last 40+ years of ministry, I have been involved with, and watched, lots of catastrophic disasters in our country.  Tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, fires, and floods; those are just a few of the things we have seen.  What always impresses me, is the way that people respond to a series of events like this.  It is not just an outpouring of money, it is an outpouring of people putting themselves on the line to help someone else.

We have all seen examples, particularly this past week, of people risking their own lives to help others.  Regardless of race, sexual preference, religion, or any other division that we tend to make among ourselves — people helping people has become the shining light through this tragic time.  People are coming from all over our country, and even other countries, to help the people of south Texas.  Oh, there have been a few that have tried to make political statements and push their issues from what is going on — but, by and large, it is about one person helping another.  Sort of the way that God intended for us to act.

This is the post that I intended to write yesterday morning, before I had PC and internet connection problems (and did not have time to get it straightened out).  For the last week or so, I have been reading Galatians for my morning devotional, and yesterday I finished it for the third time, from a different translation each time.  After reading the ESV and the NIV, I read the New Living Translation — and there was a verse from it, that just reached up and slapped me in the face!  Slowly take in what this verse says :

If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself.  You are not that important.  (Galatians 6:3, NLT).

My reaction to that was probably enhanced by all that I have seen and heard over the last few days.  When you live in an area that just received 50″ of rain, there is no one that is too important to lend a helping hand.  There may be some that think they are, but they … are only fooling … themselves!  I thought it would be appropriate to cite a variety of other translations of that verse, before I make one final point.

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (ESV)

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (NIV)

For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  (HCSB)

For if a man thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.  (ASV)

If a man thinks he is “somebody,” he is deceiving himself, for that very thought proves he is nobody.  (Phillips)

If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.  (The Message)

The verse right before this, instructs us to fulfill the law of Christ, by bearing the burdens of one another.  The NLT may not be the word-for-word translation for what the original says, but it captures the heart of the message, in my opinion.

The real challenge is, for all of us, after time passes and we forget the calamity; how will our attitude be about those that need help?  Will we maintain the “spirit of Houston,” or will we go back to being a divided, cynical nation again?  Will we divide over race, sexual preferences, sexual identity, religion, and economic status?  Or will we learn that we are all just a moment’s notice from being a people in dire need?  May God help us to learn the lesson that is right in front of us.  Peace.

“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.