“Who Sits on Your Throne?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Questions from the Shore”

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

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

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

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

Bill Sherrill
01.21.2018

“The Gospel of Mark — Part 3”

OBSERVATIONS

If you were commissioned by God to send a letter of hope to a group of Christians facing a martyr’s death, what would YOU write?   Mark, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers this question by writing a “gospel” that demonstrates how to communicate with compassion, urgency, and hope to a people in need.

You see, the gospel of Mark is a story of concern.  It may very well be that we have read the “gospels”  in the wrong way; or, at the very least, failed to grasp what they are all about.  I believe, as do many scholars, that Mark would be surprised that we read his writing as a biography, or as history.  Each “gospel” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) was shaped by specific cultural, social, and religious “happenings” — that affected them, and the ones that first read their writings.

The “gospel” of Mark is written as a story (and a very good story), with an economy of words and a very direct style.  It is not a story that can be labeled as fiction, because it happened.  It is the story about Jesus, the Son of God.  The story was written to encourage the Christians in Rome, during the persecution of Nero.  The key to the story is:  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 10:45).

There is a relationship between Mark, and discipleship, that is often overlooked.  Mark presupposes that the best way to challenge the readers (his audience) to faithful discipleship is to tell them the story of Jesus.  He very clearly depicts that the way of Jesus, as the way that his disciples are called to follow.  Only a clear and correct understanding of Jesus, can produce a clear and correct understanding of what it means to be a disciple.

The intimate relationship between Jesus and his disciples, that is portrayed in Mark, forms the underlying structure for many passages.  It also provides a basic link between the ancient writing and our lives today.  This “gospel” is written for disciples of every age, and a concern for disciples permeates the entire gospel — from the call of the first four (1:16-20), to the final message (16:6-7, 15-18).  There is an open-endedness about this gospel that invites us to identify with those first disciples, and to follow in their footsteps, as they follow in his.

Mark is very relevant to our day, and our situation.  There are themes and counter themes that run through the book — power, conflict, suffering, misunderstandings.  Did you hear that:  POWER, CONFLICT, SUFFERING, MISUNDERSTANDING — that’s the stuff we read about every morning, and then hear on the evening news.

Mark’s emphasis on the costly service, suffering, rejection, and death of the Son of God (vindicated by his resurrection); serves as a healthy corrective to the idea of “cheap grace”, that seems to be so prevalent in our culture.  Being a Christian is not easy and simple!  Being a Christian involves serving and suffering — the way of the cross:  Then he called the crowd to him, along with his disciples, and said:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

(It is m prayer, that the story of Persis and her life, tragedy, fears, hopelessness, and renewal through Mark’s gospel; help you to get a better understanding of what Mark’s gospel is all about.  May you read the book again with fresh eyes, and see the masterful story that Mark weaves for his audience.  Bill)

“The Gospel of Mark — Part 2”

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1).  That first statement, caught Persis somewhat by surprise.  She had never heard anyone use the word “gospel” about anything that was written.  It had always been about something preached orally.

As the brother continued to read the letter from Mark, he said The time has come, he said.  The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news. (1:15).  Some kingdom Persis thought, a group of frightened people, meeting underground because they are afraid of being found.  She thought, look what believing the good news has brought to my life.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed. (1:35).  It seemed strange that Jesus, the Son of God, needed to get off to a solitary place and pray to God.  Still, she remember how comforting prayer had been in her life, especially when she and Octavius prayed together.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (3:6).  Those words just sent cold chills up and down her spine.  Hatred, conflict, plotting — even in the days of Jesus.  Was it always going to be this way?

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived.  Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.  A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”  “Who are my mother and my brother?”  he asked.  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (3:31-35).  People never had understood what Jesus was all about, then or now in Rome.  They hated Christians because they were different, and they didn’t understand why they were different.  They didn’t really know what Christians wanted to do, how they wanted to live, and what their dreams and goals were.

As the good brother continued to read, he told those marvelous stories that had always thrilled the hearts of all the disciples … the calming of the sea (4:35-41), and the healing of the sick woman and the raising of the dead girl (5:21-43).  Persis thoughts soared as she thought of all the power that the Lord had, and how he had demonstrated that power to demonstrate that he really was who he said he was.  Why, you could almost hear the preaching of Peter in the words of Mark.  As suddenly as her thoughts had soared, they had came crashing down!  Why couldn’t he use his power NOW, to save his people from this awful life they had?

“But what about you?” he asked.  “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” (8:29).  Persis could not help but think, “That’s right, but look at what it cost you, Peter.”  Besides, she thought, it must have been easy to believe in Jesus in those days, with all the power he demonstrated in the miracles that he did.

It was at that point in the reading, that Persis noticed a change in what was being said, sort of like a change in emphasis; or, at least it seemed that way to her.  He ten began to teach them the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (8:31)  She was sure of it, John Mark had found a new focus, a new emphasis, for the events and teachings in the life of the Lord.  Jesus is now teaching the disciples “the way of the cross” (8:34-38).  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last, and the servant of all.” (9:35).  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.” (10:45).  Persis thought to herself, it’s as if he’s saying “I’ve shown you I have the power, but I control that power to serve my Father, and my disciples.  Serving even to the point of suffering and death!”

“While they were reclining at the table eating, he said “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”  (14:18).  That part of the reading shook Persis to the core of her very being, as she thought that may be Jesus really did know how they felt.  She had struggled with her feelings for a long time, since so many of their problems were caused by those from their own number, had (to protect their own lives) betrayed them; by revealing their locations to the Roman soldiers.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today — yes, tonight — before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” (14:30).  Persis couldn’t help it, but she looked over at Demetrius, who had his bowed with tears streaming down is cheeks.  She thought, he has to be remembering when the Roman soldier placed the spear to his side, and threateningly asked “Lord Jesus, or Lord Caesar.”  In that moment, out of fear and weakness, he had replied “Lord Caesar.”  Since that time, Demetrius had never been able to hold his head up and look other Christians in the eye.  But, now he lifted it up, and she could not help but think of the comfort and reassurance that he must have felt.  He knew that Peter was an apostle, a preacher, and one of their elders; and he had been guilty of the same mistake he was; and just look how God had loved him, and used him.

As the brother read the story of the crucifixion (15:15-37), cold chills went up and down Persis’ spine.  The horror of what had happened to her family was vivid in her mind, as the listened to the words about the suffering of Jesus.  But, this is what Jesus said would happened to those that followed him.  Maybe Octavius, Gaius, and Athena knew this, and that is why they willingly gave their lives rather than to denounce the Lord.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” (15:39).  There it was again, that same confession, the one Peter had made earlier (8:37).  Yes, it was all worth it, because Jesus was the Son of God.  Don’t be alarmed,” he said, “you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.” (16:6).

Persis left that assembly stronger, her faith rejuvenated, her resolve to practice righteousness and trust in Gd and his power increased many times.  Jesus did understand her feelings:  the betrayal, the denial, the hurt, the loss, the separation, and the pain.  Her family had suffered and died, and she might also, serving “in the way of the cross”; but Jesus had suffered and died to provide that way for her.  She understood that Jesus had the power to reclaim their lives at his coming, in the resurrection; because there had been no grave that could hold him.

She resolved that day to spend the rest of her life, doing what Jesus had asked:  “…Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (16:15-16).

 

(I hope that this story about the reading of Mark is a blessing to you.  Part 1 was yesterday, and it will conclude tomorrow with Part 3.  Bill)

 

 

“The Gospel of Mark — Part One”

(This is an introduction to the Gospel of Mark written in story form.  It was written right after I had just finished reading Telling the Truth by Frederick Beuchner, so you may notice a touch (or two or three) of his influence.  Parts 2 and 3 will be posted on Thursday and Friday.  I pray that it serves the purpose of giving everyone an overview of what Mark was all about.  Bill)

TEXT:  Mark 1:1, The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

THE SETTING

This morning, I want you to take a trip with me, in your mind; back through the corridors of time.  We will be traveling back to the ancient city of Rome, during the year 64 A.D.  During our stay, we will be placing ourselves in the life of a middle-aged woman named Persis (Romans 16:2).  Persis is married to Octavius – and they have a very happy marriage; they have two beautiful children – Gaius ( 17 year old son), and Athena ( a 15 year old daughter).

They have been living in Rome for 5 years, since Nero had lifted the edict of Claudius banning Christians from living in the city.  During that time, Octavius and Persis had developed a very prosperous and peaceful lifestyle.  Nero was a little bit on the looney side, but most of his eccentricities were directed toward the rich – the aristocrats of society.  Christians, besides being able to live in Rome, could also own businesses and property, meet in public assemblies, and all of the other “niceties” of Roman culture.  In fact, the family had developed a thriving little toga business, purchased a little cottage (down near the beautiful aqueduct area), and attended the thriving and growing church that met on Coliseum Drive.

Persis often though how fortunate they had been during the “great fire” the year before, their business and home had not been touched.  Not everyone had been so fortunate, but that was just one of the blessings of being obedient to God.  She had just wished all the rumors, vicious rumors, would stop.  Everywhere you went, you heard things like “Nero ordered the fire” or “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.”  Why the elders at the church insisted that John Mark (the evangelist) deliver a sermon concerning “Gossip” and Christians not being involved in it.  The elders, including Simon Peter, had stood up and commended him on the sermon.  But that sermon had not silenced the rumors in the city.  Sure, Nero had made aggressive steps of “urban renewal,” but the lavish new palace had rekindled all the old thoughts – more vicious and spiteful than ever.

Then came THE headline in The Rome Morning-News, “Christians are Responsible Claims Nero.”  Surely everyone would know that they weren’t, but people were so strange about things that they did understand and accept.  Octavius and Persis had sat at the breakfast table, and wondered what this would mean to their lives, and to the lives of their children.

The questions began to turn to fears, when all of the elders (including Simon Peter), had been arrested by the palace guard and hauled off to prison.  Luckily, John Mark, had left a day before, going to the city of Alexandria, to speak on “The Crucible of Faith in a Modern World” at the University lectureship.

In spite of her doubts and fears, Persis had to get out of the house that Saturday and go to the market, and buy groceries for the family.  When she returned – her worst fears were turned into reality!  Surrounding her beautiful little home, stood Nero’s dread palace guard.  Her good friends, Acquila and Priscilla, grabbed her and whisked her away before anyone saw her.  They explained  to her, that one of the elders had “cracked” while being tortured, and given the names of all the Christians in the city; and the Romans soldiers were methodically arresting them all.  All the Christians that were able, were escaping to the catacombs of the city.

The days had turned to weeks, and the weeks to months, and Persis was no longer really living, life had turned into just an existence.  The events of the past few months were just too traumatic:  Peter had been crucified (upside down, at his request, because he was not good enough to die in the same way as the Lord); the great missionary, Paul, had been brought to Rome and beheaded; her husband, Octavius, had been thrown to the lions in the Coliseum; her son, Gaius, had been “tarred” and burned in Nero’s gardens (as light for one of his many night parties); and, her daughter, Athena, had been placed in the bloody skins of wild animals and thrown to the dogs.  All of them maintaining faithfulness to the Lord Jesus, to the … very end.

Two more years passed, and Persis life was even more just an existence with the frightened, and lonely Christians in the catacombs.  Her pain and sorrow seemed at times to be more than she could bear.  Every once in a while, they heard of continued persecution in the other parts of the city – Christians, being brought in from other parts of the Empire, and being thrown to the lions in the coliseum.  Often they had to move their location within the catacombs, because someone would betray them – some had ventured back into Roman society, hiding their Christianity, and attending the worship services secretly, but Persis really had no place to go.  She struggled with her faith:  doubting that Jesus cared, questioning the value of believing, and, of course, the fear of death at the hands of the sadistic Romans was always present.  She was not alone in these feelings – the entire community of believers seemed to be on the verge of “apostasizing.”

Then came the news, a letter had arrived from John Mark!  All of the disciples were gathering to hear this letter from their not only beloved preacher, but also their friend.  Persis was just being seated, in the cold, damp, underground gathering; when the brother stood up to read.

“Trickle Down Effect”

  Are you old enough to remember when we turned on the radio or tv to get the 5:00 news. What we expected was for a newscaster to come on and in 30 minutes bring us up on the major news of the day. One does not have to be very old to realize that today’s newscast is basically a “carrot to the donkey” ploy to entice us to watch the advertisement. Have you noticed how major networks have developed a new method which tells you at the beginning of the newscast everything you are going to hear and then goes straight to the adds? There may be four or five actual new items that are stated and it will give you one item at a time while promoting the remainder to come and them back to the adds. When the news is over you have glanced at the five items briefly, one at a time between adds, and watched 15 to 20 minutes of adds. Now I bring this up, not to expect a change in the way news is done, but to make a point about “trickle down.” What you now see is that local newscasters in their rush to appear as astute as national casters are now following the same pattern. Less news and more adds makes money. News does not make money is only provides a draw to allow adds to be gained. The point is little folks tend to follow big folks as a method to increase their followers.
Now what in the world does that have to do with church? I would think it is obvious but just in case you have not noticed, little churches tend to try to follow the patterns of megachurches in an attempt to increase their share of the population. One of the blessings/curses of long life is the fact that one experiences multiple pattern shifts in church growth. When a megachurch appears to show rapid growth it is only a brief time before small churches adopt the same plan as much as is possible. Of course what is successful in a church where the population of the area is exploding exponentially is not likely to work in a semi-rural area where the population is rapidly moving to the city. But they try never the less. Only a short time ago a megachurch, which was likely the primary leading pattern for others, openly confessed that it was totally changing its direction after becoming aware that, while growing rapidly, its members where not becoming the Christ followers that the leadership intended. After millions of how to books and millions of dollars they were honest enough to face the terrible fact that the goal of becoming Christlike was not being met.
That church leadership was honestly seeking the way to produce Christians rather than numbers. Many who followed their pattern are still satisfied with the numerical growth regardless of the spiritual growth. In my years of ministry, 65 to date, I have been witness to the church growth bug infesting many of our own churches. I do not have the insight of information to judge what that has produced. What I do know is there is no “system” that can do what is really necessary. Whether it is better organization, missional direction or pure entertainment, none of these systems will fulfill the basic nature of what God requires. He sent His Son to earth to teach and show what He wants.  He desires every child to become like his Brother. In all fairness I do not doubt that is the desired goal of each “system” we have developed, but the failure is apparent. While I do not for a minute equate the leaders of these systems with those Paul describes in his second letter to Timothy, his words ring with some truth when taken out of his context and applied to our problem. “Ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Tim 3:7. Do we desire to grow? Certainly! But the end game must always be to develop individuals who become Christlike in all their patterns of life. That takes valid teachers – and – serious hearers. My question – Are you a pretender, attender or a serious dedicated God fearing soul striving with everything you have to become truly Christlike? Your answer is the difference between life and death.

Bill Sherrill 01.14.2018

(Almost 60 years ago my mother was Bill Sherrill’s secretary.  He was “my” preacher for about 7 years, and was influential in how I view the preacher and his work.  We left Fort Smith in 1965, and I believe Bill left in 1966.  He is still active — both in ministry and in life.  He told me that he still rides his Harley to the office every day.  I hope you enjoy this post from “my” preacher.  Bill)

“Blessed”

Do you remember the song that we used to sing in Vacation Bible School, “Down in my Heart.”  The first verse was, “I have the joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.”  The second verse was, “I have the peace that passes under-standing down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.”  The third verse was, “I have the wonderful love of my blessed redeemer way down in the depths of my heart, deep in the depths of my heart, deep in the depths of my heart to stay.”  There was even a fourth verse, “And if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack, sit on a tack, sit on a tack to stay.”  Such simple times, and we did find such joy, peace, and love in the singing about Jesus with songs of praise, hearing the stories from the Bible about God and His people, and being together with others that shared in all of that.

I wonder what happens to us, that as we become older that we lose a lot that joy, peace and love; that we look at studying the Bible as a waste of time, and being with others that believe as we do as something that we HAVE to do (if nothing else interferes).  Probably, we have lost that simple trusting faith of children, and the Christianity that we do have is just enough to make us miserable.

Psalm 1 talks about the individual that is “blessed”, and how that happens in his life.  Listen to what the psalmist says:

Blessed is the man                                                                                                                                who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,                                                                             nor stands in the way of sinners,                                                                                                    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;                                                                                                    but his delight is in the law of the Lord,                                                                                       and of his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree                                                                                                                                      planted by streams of water                                                                                                         that yields its fruit in its season                                                                                                      and its leaf does not wither.                                                                                                         In all that he does he prospers.                                                                                                        The wicked are not so,                                                                                                                         but are like chaff that the wind drives away.                                    

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,                                                              nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;                                                                 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,                                                                             but the way of the wicked will perish.      

(Psalm 3:1-6, ESV)

Mark Lanier, in his devotional book Psalms for Living, describes Psalm 1 as the preface to God’s hymnal.  I like the sound of that, and it does tell us what we do to be blessed by God, and what those blessings are.  The psalmist tells us that we have to avoid getting involved with sinners.  In telling us that, he shows the progression of the impact that keeping the wrong company can keep.  It begins by walking and listening, and then progresses to standing and sitting.  We are of the world, but we are to be separate from the world.  Don’t do anything that will allow sin to gain a foothold in our lives.  But not only are we to be separate from sinners, we are to fill ourselves with the Word.  We will delight in the law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night.  How many of us can use the words delight and meditate concerning our relationship with the Word of God?

If I will avoid allowing sin in my life, and be filled with the Word of God, I will be “fruitful” (vs. 3), and God will watch over me (vs.5).  I don’t know about you, but those promises sound really good to me.  Peace.

(Well, it is early Monday evening, and I am just now getting my “Psalm for Saturday” posted.  Have been pretty busy, and have worked on this post 3 different times today.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  I  apologize for the way that the Scripture quotation looks in the blog.  That is not the way that it looks on the page where I typed it, and posted it from.  The really sad part, I have done all that I know to do to correct it, and nothing seems to help.  Bill)

                                                                                                                

“A Case of the WANTS”

Our society is challenged by “things”!  Culture has made most people develop a really bad case of the “wants”.  Everyone is chasing the American dream — I want to make it big, so I can have everything I want.  Lotteries, casinos, multi-level marketing, all kind of treasure hunts on television, and a multitude of other things — all feed the desire to have more.

Everything around us feeds the desire to have more.  Advertisers know how to entice us to want more.  How easy life would be if we had these “things”.  “Easy terms” make it accessible for everyone.  How many commercials do we hear, or watch, in a day.  We notice every “new” thing that our friends and neighbors purchase.  We participate in a “Parade of Homes”, or an “Open House”, (for houses that we know that we will never be able to afford) — and see a shower bigger than our bathroom, a bathroom bigger than our bedroom, and a master suite bigger than our house.  We have come to the point that “success” in life is determined by how much you have.

The problem that a society like that creates for the Christian, is reconciling what they (we) want, with the pursuit of a relationship with God.  We have to develop a theology of money, and how we allow it to fit into our lives.  There is nothing wrong with money, and nothing wrong with having a lot of money.  The difficulty with money comes as we decide on our theology concerning it, and does the cultural view toward money have more influence than the Biblical view.  Where do money and things fit in the pecking order of the priorities of our life.

One of our struggles, in developing this theology of money, is why do good things happen to bad people?  As I look around, and see the people with money and things (and maybe things that I would like to have), my mind wonders — “Why them, and not me”?  Of I’m not careful, I could come to the conclusion that it is because God doesn’t care about me; or doesn’t trust me, or doesn’t want me to be wealthy.

This is not a new problem, just about all of Psalm 73 deals with this struggle.  Just observe a few of the things that are said:

“But as for me, my feet almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  (Psalm 73:2-3, NIV)

This is what the wicked are like — always carefree, they increase in wealth.  (Psalm 73:12, NIV)

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  (Psalm 73:13, NIV)


Not all wealthy people are sinners.  Not everybody else is envious of what the wealthy have.  But there is the danger of thinking that God does not love us, because we don’t have what others have.

Two things that I encourage us to remember:  (1) as missionaries often explain, compared to the rest of the world’s population — most Americans are wealthy; (2) we have to know what is important.  The psalmist says — …and earth has nothing I desire besides you.  (Psalm 73:25, NIV)

Satan works on me constantly, seducing me with the things of the world.  My struggle, my prayer, and my goal is put God on the throne of my life, and not want ANYTHING that this world has to offer more than I want God!  May God bless me in that effort.  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, June 9, 2016.  It has been revised, and posted here as a part of the “Psalms for Saturday,”  It is my prayer that it will bless your life.  Bill)

 

“Doing What You Love, and Feeling Useful”

Friday, December 11, 2015 was my last official day to be an employee of Arkansas Insulation.  Oh, I went back a couple of times to work with the young lady that took my place — introducing her to the customers, sharing some of the things that I had learned about those customers, and giving her some tips on how to make the job easier.  It was my desire that she be successful at the job, and take good care of my customers.  But, I went off the payroll on that Friday.

Every once in a while, I will run into people (or they will contact me) and they will always ask “How do you like being retired?”  I had a pretty stock answer for that question — “I am old, bald, fat, and very happy!”  One of those four things is very important, two of them I can’t do a thing about, and the fourth one I am in the process of changing (and I am nearly through)

What I want you to know today is, that I did not retire from Arkansas Insulation to quit working!  But what I do now does not feel like work.  You see, I believe that the saying is true — Find something that you really enjoy doing, and you will never work another day in your life.  I am doing what I enjoy most in life — preaching for the Prairie Grove church of Christ!  I look forward to every day, the challenge of that day, with the prayer that I can do something good for the Lord that day.

This morning, I want to share two passages from Psalm 71, that have become a part of my daily prayers.

Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
(Psalm 71:9, NIV)

As for me, I will always have hope;
        I will praise you more and more.
 
My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
        of your saving acts all day long—
        though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
        I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
        and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
        do not forsake me, my God,
(Psalm 71:14-18, NIV)
Now, I know that the Lord will not forsake me.  My prayer is that I will not feel forsaken.  That I will feel useful, and  be able to share the story of God’s power, love, and salvation to another generation that is coming behind me.  I know that I have a lot less time in front of me, than I have behind me (and what is behind me passed quickly).  My prayer is that the Lord will help me to be fruitful, and useful, in that time.  Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook on June 8, 2016.  It has been updated and revised, and posted here as a part of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  It is my prayer that you will be blessed by it.  Bill)

 

“Home Run Bible Study #1”

Jackie Chestnutt has been a really good friend to me over the last several years, and I value his friendship very much.  Jackie has served the Southside church of Christ (Rogers, AR) for over 40 years in a variety of roles (bus minister, youth minister, elder, pulpit minister).  We have found ourselves to be “kindred spirits,” not only in matters concerning God, the Bible, church, etc.; but also in some of the hobbies we have shared.  At one time, we both had a real passion for sports cards (particularly baseball cards), and actually were partners in a small baseball card shop in Rogers.  We still talk occasionally, may be not as often as we used to — but the conversations are always like we talk every day.

Several years ago, Jackie introduced me to a concept that he used to explain the steps of studying the Bible.  Well, almost immediately, I fell in love with the idea; and, I have taken it and run with it.  I have tuned it, refined it, and tried to make it my own — but, the idea was from Jackie.  So, beginning with this blog post today, and continuing for, at least, the next two Wednesdays, I want to share this idea with you.  Jackie compared effective and successful study of the Bible to hitting a home run in baseball.   Let me begin to walk through that process.

#1 — The On-Deck Circle

This is the place where the batter makes the final preparations for going to bat.  Let me suggest that there are several things that you need to do.

First, you need to pick a time and place that are conducive to study.  You will need a place that is well-lit, comfortable, and quiet.  Also, you will need to have a time that will be free of distractions and interruptions.  This is difficult for many of us, because of all the things that go on in our homes.  Since, Malia and I have become “empty-nesters”, I have been fortunate enough to turn one of our bedrooms into an office.  It has worked well for me, as I have a computer desk, another desk, and plenty of lighting.  For the past 16 or 17 years, I have made it a habit to get up between 4 and 5 in the morning, to the office, and try to read and write for, at least, a couple of hours.  I love that time of the morning:  (1) it is just me and the Lord, and (2) my mind is never sharper during the day, than it is when I first get up in the morning.  I know that won’t work for everyone, but the principle of the right time and place is imperative.

Secondly, you will need to pick the translation that you want to read.  Obviously, I believe that the best translation is the one that you will read.  At this point in my life I am using three translations.  I have been preaching, teaching, and studying from the ESV for about the past seven years, and have found it to be more than adequate.  I am also using the NASB, for some writing projects that I have agreed to do (they are part of a larger project, and all of them are using the NASB).  Finally, Crossway Publishing sent me a free copy of their new translation, the CSB, if I would use it for a while and then write a review of it (it is the translation that I have been using as I am preaching through Nehemiah).  I am not an authority on the original languages, the translation process, or all of the translations.  Scot McKnight, a well-respected New Testament scholar, wrote this on his blog in 2014:

“The sweeping conclusion is this:  unless you can read the original languages, you should avoid making public pronouncements about which translation is best.  Instead, here’s my suggestion:  if you don’t know the languages and can’t read them well enough to translate accurately on your own, but you want to tell your congregation or your listeners which translation is best, you need to admit it by saying something like this –‘On the basis of people I trust to make this decision, the _____, or the _____, or the _____, or the _____ is a reliable translation’.”

I believe that is really good advice; and I am not a scholar, so I will follow it.

Finally, after you have decided on a translation that you will read, pick an edition of that translation to use.  There are some things that are really important to me, but they may not be that important to you.  There are three things that I look for in a Bible I will use for study.  I want print that is a little larger (and this is becoming more and more important).  It does not have to be large print, but I do not want to have to use my magnifying glass to read (and I do keep one on my desk).  It also needs to be a single column edition, like every other book I read.  I don’t know who decided that a double column page was a good idea, but in my opinion it stinks.  I suppose that they were concerned it keeping the Bibles from being so thick (which also led them to use paper so thin, that you can see through it).  There also needs to be wide margins on the Bible I use.  I am a note maker!  I have Bibles where the margins are crammed full of notes that I have made as I am reading.  I would also recommend certain kinds of pens and highlighters to use during the study, because as we have noticed; the paper in Bibles has the tendency to be a little on the thin side and will bleed through. If you have any interest in this, message me and I will share my opinion with you.

At this point, we are ready to get in the “batter’s box,” and begin our study.  At the present time, I am studying the book of James, so the examples I will use in the posts for the next two Wednesdays will be from there.

I look forward to continuing this for the next two weeks.  Peace.

(I am sorry to be so late getting this posted today.  My son-in-law had surgery yesterday, and so the granddaughter spent the night with us.  So, this morning was considerably different than normal.  I’m really not sorry that it is late, because I would do the same thing again; but, I am sorry that I didn’t make the fact known ahead of time.  Bill)