“What Do People See in Me”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“I’m Supposed to do What?”

One of the most heart-breaking things on television the last few days, was the letters SOS painted on the streets in Puerto Rico.  Underneath the large block letters, were the words “we need food and water.”  It is impossible for me to imagine how dire this situation really is, and very little that I can say from the comfort of my office in Prairie Grove, Arkansas to make the people in Puerto Rico feel better.  It is going to take boots on the ground, and lots of dollars to help the people recover from two major hurricanes within a 2 week period.  It is a tragedy that is only to get worse over the coming weeks, and even months.  The really heart-breaking story is how this going to affect the children of the island.

Puerto Rico may be the worst situation right now: but the people of South Florida, those along the Gulf Coast of Texas, many that dealt with the fires along the Columbia River in Oregon, and the tragedy of the earthquakes in Mexico City, might have a hard time understanding how it could be worse than what they face.  I read on Yahoo this morning, that there is a volcano about to erupt in Bali — that has the locals being evacuated, and travel warnings from most major countries in regard to traveling there.  Even in our own area in the last few years, we have seen the devastation of tornadoes in Oklahoma City, Joplin, Tuscaloosa, and Vilonia.  The power of nature, at its worst, may make you want to throw up your hands and scream “God, WHY?”

You may wonder, what made me take off on this rant?  This morning, I was reading in James; when these words stopped me in my tracks:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (James 1:2, NASB).

When I read that, and then thought about all that has been going on in our world recently, I just shook my head and thought, “There is nothing to be joyous about in the middle of all this!”  In the midst of all the loss, destruction, and death; HOW CAN ANYONE FIND JOY?

Then it dawned on me, it does not say that there is any joy to be found!  In fact, it implies just the opposite!  There is nothing joyous about the things that James is talking about, IF they have to be “considered” joy.  In fact, I think he would tell us that they are anything but joyous.  But, when we are set upon by trials (or sickness, or disease, or persecution, etc.), and we meet them with an unwavering faith in God; if we are blessed to come through, we will be stronger and have more endurance.  THEN, we can look at that trial, that period of suffering, knowing that we are stronger (because we have more endurance), and that moves us closer to where we want to go in our walk with the Lord.  James did not say that it would be easy to do, and I have no desire to endure trials and suffering like that, just so that I can say that I know.

I do believe that James tells us that it is possible, and I think that the very next verse in James is there for a reason.  It says:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  (James 1:5, NASB).

Wintley Phipps, on one of the Bill Gaither Homecoming shows, said that an old black woman told him, “If the mountain were smooth, you couldn’t climb it.”  As he said, she probably had more sense by accident, than the rest of us have on purpose.”  What I have to remember is that God never said that it would be easy, or that the sailing would always be smooth; because life is just difficult.  What I have to learn is to face the rough times with faith; and on the other side, see the blessing and joy that came from enduring.  Peace.

” Consistency”

Recently, a head football coach at a major university resigned from his very lucrative, and prestigious position.  Evidently, some things came to light that put his behavior in a very bad light.  The school administration made it very plain, that if he had not resigned, he would have been fired.  Their reasoning was that his “personal conduct” had violated certain stipulations in his contract.  In other words, his behavior had not been consistent with what they expected from someone that was in his position.

Now, I’m not going on a “witch hunt,” or cast stones at someone that is down; because the university that I support, lost a coach on somewhat similar circumstances.  Other schools, businesses, and organizations have all lost people because their behavior is not “consistent” with what they stand for.  I know that there are some college football coaches that have “cut ties” with star high school recruits, because of something that appeared on their social media accounts.  Again, their behavior was not “consistent” with what they wanted from their players that represent the university, and them.  There are certain behavior patterns that people, and organizations, expect from those that are in position of leadership and influence.

This morning, I was reading in Galatians as a part of my devotional reading, and I read the story where Paul had to confront Peter.   You see, Peter, even though he knew better, was acting like a racist toward the Gentiles (because there were people there from Jerusalem).  Peter was in such a position of influence, that others, including Barnabas, were joining him in this racist action; and Paul was compelled to speak.  What I found interesting in that story, was this verse:

But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, … (Galatians 2:14, NRSV).

When I read that, I thought he was rebuking Peter for acting in way that did not reflect what Jesus was all about.  WOW!  If we rebuked people today for not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, who would not be rebuked!  Then a thought slapped me up side of the head, as I thought about something that has been going on in the evangelical world for the last few days.

Last Tuesday (8-29), some evangelical heavy-hitters released what they called The Nashville Statement.  It is a document that has 14 articles that deal with human sexuality, and it is obvious with the LGBT movement.  Now, I suppose that I had better say first of all, I have read the statement and believe what they say is right.  So you’re question is, What’s the problem then?

Well, I don’t understand (1) why it had to be said, (2) why it had to be said when it was, (3) what was the purpose for saying it, (4) what good will it accomplish, and (5) if this is the only statement that they think is necessary.  Now, there are people a lot smarter than me, and a whole lot more influential than me, that are discussing those questions — I don’t suppose that there will be very many people that ever know this blog was written.  But, the thought this morning, as I was reading Galatians, is how can you make a “statement” about only one of the “sins” that is troubling us today?  A little later, in Galatians 5, Paul lists what he calls the works of the flesh, look at that list:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious:  fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. …  (Galatians 5:19-21, NRSV).

Wouldn’t like to see the statement that a group of religious leaders drew up about enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy … .  There are some of those that I would not want to have any part, because I would be guilty.  Is our anger any worse in the judgment of God, that sexual sin?  Where was the evangelical statement about racism after Charlottesville?  How many of our people excuse their behavior, saying “that’s just the way that I am”?  This list could go on and on and on.

Now, I understand that some are afraid of our changing culture, and the impact it will have in the future.  The culture is changed, and the laws are made.    The die is set, as far as the country, and it’s government, is concerned. We should quit worrying about that, and start preaching Jesus and His redemptive love.  I worry about proclamations and statements that drive the wedge deeper; between those who are supposed to represent Jesus, and those that are struggling with immense problems.

Now, I know that that this will not please everyone!  There are probably some that will think I am too soft on this.  I don’t see this as soft on this, I see it as saying we are picking what we to attack, and soft on a lot of other things.  What I have written is not a well thought out piece, that I have taken the time to word properly.  I read Galatians, went for a walk — talked to the Lord, and thought about what I would write.  I hope that it has made you think.  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.


“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)


“Do You have a Prayer List”

How do you go about your personal prayer life?  Do you have a regular time of day, when you stop and spend time with the Father in prayer?  How long do you spend in prayer? What method do you use as a reminder of those that have requested prayer?  How do you remember those that are in need of prayer, that may not have talked about it publicly — but you know of their needs?  Do you have a number of churches, or preachers, or individuals; that you pray for on a regular basis?  After you are through praying, do you have an epiphany — and remember someone (or something) that you forgot to mention?  Do you take the time to list all the things that the Father has given to us, or blessed us with, during your prayers?  How often do you spend time just praising God for Who He is?

I have always struggled with having the kind of prayer life that I wanted?  I willingly confess, that there have been times that my prayer life has been better, and it has been worse.  Probably, I’m not the only one that can make that confession!    Over the years I have struggled, looking for the best method of practicing my prayer life.  I have trusted things to my memory (and that option gets worse all the time), and always struggled to always remember everything.  I have used a list, or lists, and prayed for everything that was on the list, which worked out pretty well (if you can remember to keep your list(s) updated.  What has always worked the best for me, is a combination of a list, and a worksheet — where I write out my prayers, and the people, things, and situations that I am to remember in prayer.

At this particular time in my life, I am struggling with finding the time to pray like I want to pray.  Most everyone knows, that I had “gastric bypass” surgery a little over two months ago.  Well, I am very much a person of routine, and the my mornings were pretty scheduled — and worked really well for me.  Now, I spend 45 minutes to an hour, walking early every morning, and am tired when I get back — and so my mornings are not going like I want.  This morning, as I was reading through Philippians, I was challenged, and encouraged, to redouble my efforts to find a schedule that works for me.  Observe what the text says:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 1:3-11, ESV)

It is always encouraging for me to read the prayers of Paul!  I don’t know what method that he used in his practice of prayer, but he prayed for everyone and everything!  I want my prayer life to be modeled after Paul’s.  If you notice in this prayer, his prayer is full of joy because of his friendship and partnership with the saints in Philippi, and for that he is extremely grateful (who in your life, in your spiritual family, causes your prayers to be filled with joy, when you think of them).  But not only is he grateful for that joy: he prays that their love may abound, that they will approve what is excellent, and be pure and blameless.  I want to be that kind of prayer warrior, for those that I know and love.

Just reading Paul’s prayer, and thinking about how he prayed, motivates me to do a better job!  How about you?  Peace.


“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.


“It Ain’t Over til It’s Over”

Probably, most baseball fans recognize the title of this post as a “yogi-ism.”  Yogi Berra was a catcher for the New York Yankees for 18 years; during that time he was on a World Champion team 10 times (more than any other player ever), an 18 time All-Star, and has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Interestingly enough, many people that are not baseball fans, know his “yogi-ism”, better than they know Yogi.  What is a “yogi-ism”?  Well, Wikipedia gives this definition — “Berra was also well known for his impromptu pithy comments, malapropisms, and seemingly unintentional witticisms, known as “Yogi-isms”. His “Yogi-isms” very often took the form of either an apparent tautology or a paradoxical contradiction, but often with an underlying and powerful message that offered not just humor, but wisdom. Allen Barra has described them as “distilled bits of wisdom which, like good country songs and old John Wayne movies, get to the truth in a hurry.”  It is pretty obvious what the wisdom and truth is behind “it ain’t over til it’s over” is.  Don’t ever give up!

If you are an Arkansas Razorback football fan (as I am), there are some games that have been lost, that we thought we had won.  We may have even started celebrating too soon.  The pain is so indelible in our minds, that just a word or two brings back the memory, for example; “Street to Peschel”, or “Stoern-over”.  It is really not fair to remember losses for one play, because all during the game plays were made, or not made, that could have changed the outcome of the game.  But it is also true, that there are many games in Arkansas Razorback history that have been won, when everything looked lost.  We also remember those games with just a brief description, of just a word or two; and everyone knows exactly what we are talking about.  For example, if you have been a Razorback fan for very long, you will remember — “The Miracle on Markham”, or “The Henry Heave.”  If you are an LSU fan, or an Ole Miss fan, you probably remember those games with other descriptive phrases.

This morning, as I was reading in Luke 4, I was reminded of Yogi Berra’s famous saying — “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Observe what the text says:

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.  (Luke 4:13, NLT)

There are times that I think, we only believe that Jesus was tempted those three times that Luke enumerates in the 4th chapter.  But, if you examine the text closely, you will see that is not true.

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River.  He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.  (Luke 4:1-2, NLT).

It appears to me from those verses, that the devil was constantly working on Jesus for 40 days, trying to get Him to disobey the will of God.  At the end of the forty days, which included the three temptations that Luke specified, he left Him.  But it was not over, whenever Satan got an opportunity, he attacked Jesus again.

The message for you and me in this story, is that when we defeat Satan — there is no time to relax and celebrate.  He will be back!  Just as strong and powerful as he ever has been, looking to defeat us!.  He knows our weaknesses, and if we become over-confident, he will attack, hoping to catch us off guard.  Don’t ever forget:

Stay alert!  Watch out for your  great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  (I Peter 5:8, NLT).

In the words of Yogi, the battle against Satan for control of our lives “…ain’t over, til it’s over.”  Peace.