“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.)

 

“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.

 

“What are You Chasing”

There was a customer that I had for many years, who once told me “that he did not build houses, he built landmarks”.  I want you to know, that he was telling the truth.  He built some of the most magnificent, large houses that I have ever seen.  Malia and I always made it a point during the “Northwest Arkansas Parade of Homes,” to go through his entry for that year; and she always says “he never disappoints.”  The Parade was about 5-6 weeks ago, and I believe that his entry this year, was the best that I have ever seen.  Truly, a magnificent structure!

It was, and still is, a breath-taking pleasure to go through those homes — that are so beautiful, that are decorated exquisitely, and with fantastic curb appeal.  Some of them are so large, that they have a master bath larger than our master bedroom.  As we have toured these homes, we have often wondered where these people worked; and what exactly did they do.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying, I am glad that people have the jobs that they have, are able to build the homes that they want, and to live the lifestyle that they have chosen — that is one of the advantages of living where and when we do.  People building, and buying houses, is how I made a living for 12 years.  We just need to recognize that money, fancy cars, luxury items, and big houses are not the ultimate test of success.

When I read this passage, there were a couple of thoughts that stuck out in my mind about life, success, riches, and big houses:

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases.  (Psalm 49:16, NIV)

First, is the use of the word “overawed”.  Most of the other translations, use the concept of don’t be “afraid” of someone’s wealth.  Afraid may be a more correct translation, but I like what the word “overawed” says to me.  There are things that we see that are purchased with the wealth of this world, that really will take your breath away.  But don’t let the “things” of this world consume you.  So many people are consumed by the “desire” and the “chase” to be wealthy, that they hardly think of anything else.  God doesn’t want his people to be that way!  It’s not wrong to be wealthy, but it is wrong to put it above “seeking God”.

Secondly, the rest of the chapter is fascinating, because it  very bluntly teaches — you can’t take it with you!  About a year ago, there was a picture on Facebook of a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer, with the caption saying “I was wrong, you can take it with you.”  As funny as that is, you really can’t take it with you!  A life chasing riches, without seeking God. may make for a luxurious life now — but that is all it will be.

A man who has riches WITHOUT understanding is like the beasts that perish.”  (Psalm 49:20, NIV).

Never leave God out of your plans, your wealthy, or your future.  Peace.

 

(This is a revised and updated version of a post that first appeared on Facebook on May 4, 2016.  It is being used as one of our “Psalms for Saturday,” and I hope that it is a blessing to you.  Thanks for reading, Bill.)

“Speckled Axe Syndrome”

Have you ever committed yourself to do something, and then found out it was more difficult than you imagined.  There are a probably a lot of us that have found ourselves in that predicament.  The task could be anything from a new job, a physical exercise regimen, a diet to lose weight, or trying to break a bad habit.  I would imagine that most of us have had that experience at one time or another in our life.  It ought to be obvious by the way that I talk about the subject, that I have experience.  I’m real good at starting something, and if I don’t get the results that I want, as quickly as I want; I become discouraged, and give up.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote an article about his desire to live a morally perfect life, and in his autobiography described the results:  “This article, therefore cost me so much painful attention and my faults in it vexed me so such, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax from a smith, my neighbor, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge.  The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel; he turned the wheel while the smith pressed the broad face of the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing.  The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on and at length would take his axe as it was, without further grinding.  No, said the smith, turn on, turn on; we shall have it bright by and by; as yet it is only speckled.  Yes, says the man, but I think I like a speckled ax best.  And I believe this may have been the case with many who, having, for want of some such means as I employed, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that a speckled ax was best…”  (p. 82, The Autobiography of Ben Franklin; Bantam Books, 1982).

You know, I think that a lot of us have encountered that particular “philosophy of life,” and maybe, not just encountered, but allowed to become a part of our lives.  How many times have begun a new year by resolving to lose weight, to quit some bad habit, to get up earlier in the morning, to read the Bible daily, to attend every Wednesday night service, or talk to somebody about Jesus on a regular basis.  Then as the routine of it is no longer exciting, but becomes more and more of a grind — we decide that maybe that wasn’t what was best after all.

Jesus did not want that for our lives.  He doesn’t want just a little, or what we can spare — He wants all of us.  Mark 8 was a part of my devotional reading this morning, and it is a pivotal turn in the direction of the book.  There are two key conversations that take part in the latter part of the chapter.

First, He asks them who the people were saying that He was.  They told Him, that people thought he was either John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.  He then asked them, who they thought He was; to which Peter replied, … You are the Messiah.  (Mark 8:29, NLT).  It seems obvious to me, that Peter (and the others) did not understand what being the Messiah meant, because Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.

Then, in my opinion, Jesus begins to tell them what it means for Him to be the Messiah:  Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of the religious law.  He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead.  (Mark 8:31, NLT).  Well, that wasn’t what they wanted to hear, so Peter took him aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such things.  Jesus told Peter, and I think, all of the rest, that …You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.  (Mark 8:33, NLT).

After explaining what Him being the Messiah meant, and that you could not longer look from just a human point of view; He very vividly portrayed what it meant to follow Him.

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
(Mark 8:34-38, NLT)

You see it is no longer about what I want.  It is not longer about what makes me happy.  It is no longer about compromising about what I believe, in order to feel comfortable with world.  IT IS ABOUT loving God, following Jesus, living in the joy of the Holy Spirit, loving your neighbor, and dying to self.  Is there any doubt about that, based upon what Mark 8:34-38 says?

So the question that I have to ask myself this morning is, Have I settled for a speckled ax?  Peace.

“I Feel Old”

This morning I want you to know that I feel old!  I know that doesn’t surprise some of you, and I know that a few are thinking “What did you do — look in the mirror?”  That’s not exactly what I am talking about, because I have realized that I am that kind of old for a while now.  Let me see if I can explain what I mean.

Do you know what the slippery slope argument is?  It is the argument that when someone proposes an action, they are told that they should not do that “because of where it might lead.”  I always despised that argument when I was younger.  What it told me was that there was nothing wrong with what I wanted to do, but it could lead to something wrong.  Generally, I took it as permission to do what I wanted; because I was strong enough, in my opinion, to avoid it leading any further.

Have you seen the commercials on television recently, where the husband is becoming his mother in his words, thoughts, and action; or the woman is becoming her father, in her words, thoughts, or actions.  Well, I feel old this morning, because as I look at the condition of our country — I realize that we got here because of the slippery slope.  From the first time we laughed at Billy Crystal on “Soap”, we have moved toward a public acceptance of alternate lifestyles.  That is just one easy example, of all the changes that have taken place.  There is no other way to explain how we got where we are in 2016, compared to where we were in 1960.  I feel old because I see the truth in those arguments that I used to reject.

I’m still not sure that we ought to argue about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of every question.  I’m still not convinced that the young people of today will accept the slippery slope argument, any more quickly than I did.  I’m convinced that we have to teach people to seek the Lord in all that they do.  To be perfectly honest, they may have tried that when I was young, and I refused to listen.  But I believe we must teach, that my decisions about what is right or wrong, may not be as important as deciding if my actions will get me closer to God.  In my reading from the Psalms this morning, there were some passages that jumped out at me.

Psalm 9:10 (ESV), And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 14:2 (ESV), The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

Psalm  16:8 (ESV), I HAVE SET THE LORD BEFORE ME; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

If the direction of our life is decided based on individual decisions about individual actions, there may not be a direction or a purpose for our life.  Until I put the Lord out in front of my life, not what I want or feel; until I realize that He is looking for those that seek Him, and are not living for themselves; and until I know that I can trust Him in the decisions I make, regardless of how unpopular (or politically incorrect) they are — my life will not go in the right direction.

I might have laughed at something like this when I was 20, but I do believe that wisdom comes with maturity and age.  Let’s make seeking God the center of our decisions, and not necessarily the “rightness” or “wrongness” of each individual action.  Peace.

 

(This was first posted on Facebook, April 26, 2016.  It has been revised and updated, and posted here as part of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  I hope that it is a blessing to you.  Bill)

 

“I Don’t Need a Doctor”

This Friday, July 7, 4 members of the Prairie Grove church will be leaving for a one week, short-term mission trip to Honduras.  I can’t tell you for how many years our congregation has had people going on these trips, but I would say at least 15.  We are actively involved in supporting the churches, people, and native preachers in the communities where our members will be working.   What our members will be doing is supporting, assisting, and encouraging the members of the churches in Honduras in their walk with the Lord.  Every time we help our members go to Honduras, it is good for our local church.  This year we have been collecting reading glasses to be distributed among the people, and arts and crafts to be used in teaching children.  A spirit of evangelism is being fostered among our people, as we support this team going to Honduras.  One of the preachers from Honduras, came to preach for us on the 5th Sunday in April, and the contribution for that day went to help them buy a suitable location for building a church building.

I don’t know how long short-term mission trips have been a part of the work of our churches.  I’m pretty sure that it increased as air travel become more reliable, and affordable.  One of the real blessings of attending a Christian college, Bible college, preaching school, or involved in a college campus group — is the opportunity at that age to participate in these kinds of trips.  For many of these students it is a life-changing experience.  Many students have lived somewhat sheltered lives, and to see the needs of the people and their thirst for the story of Jesus changes them forever.

When I was student at International Bible College, I did not participate in any foreign mission trips; but I did work in a couple of evangelistic campaigns in the states.  Those two campaigns were as different as they could have possibly been.  One was in a mid-size southern community, that was beginning to struggle to hold its own, as it was in the beginning stages of the “white flight”.  The preaching services were held in a local rodeo arena, and, probably, drew people that would have never gone to a church building.  In fact, I know that is true, because one of the men that was baptized said that he would not have gone to a church building.  The other campaign was in one of the booming cities in the country, with the preaching services held in a magnificent building in one of the more affluent communities in the city.  We were sent out to knock doors, asking how the church could be of service to the people.  I will tell you that it was one frustrating week!  We would go to the doors of these houses, and (1) people would talk to us through their intercom systems (innovative for the early ’70’s), (2) the maid would answer the door, or (3) we would be kindly sent away (with sort of a dismissive attitude).  I’ll never forget the one man that told us, in a sort of condescending tone, that we needed to go to the other side of town, where they really needed people to help them.

I was reminded of this story in my morning devotional reading in Mark 2-4.  Listen to what Jesus says:

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.  I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”  (Mark 2:17, NLT)

I don’t know how accurate the New Living Translation is for that passage, but I think it expresses exactly the point that Jesus was saying.  I don’t believe that He is saying that the Pharisees were “spiritually” healthy; but they did think that they were magnificent specimens “spiritually.”

You know what I’m talking about.  You know people, or you may be this way yourself, that won’t go to the doctor!  They may feel as if there is nothing wrong them, they know how to care for themselves, or they may just not trust doctors.  It would do some of them no good to go to the doctor, because they would not do what the doctor said.  That is the same principle that Jesus is explaining in Mark 2.

The life-style of our nation, compared to so many others, has made it hard for people to see or feel their need for Jesus.  Hearts need to be broken, so that people could be receptive to the story of Jesus.  People need to know that they are sinners, and that there is no answer for sin — BUT JESUS!  Peace.

 

 

“Didn’t Turn Out, Like I Thought It Would”

Have you ever made a decision, and the results of that decision were not at all what you expected?  It seems like that happens to Malia and I, more often than we would care to remember.  Our personal decision-making processes are almost completely different.  I am the one that can see, and buy into, the blue sky that it is out there; while she is the one that is more conservative, with a let’s not rock the boat too much philosophy.  Generally, with the two extreme personalities, and seeking God’s help, we, generally, do pretty good.

There have been some situations, where we thought that we had made a good decision, but it sure didn’t seem like that way at first (or it never seem liked it was a good decision).  There have been a couple of preaching jobs, where neither one of them started like we had hoped they would.  I will never forget, after attending the first elders’ meeting at one place; I went home and told Malia, “I don’t know what I have gotten us into, but this is not going to be good.”  Another job, we felt as if certain things would happen before we got there — they didn’t, they never did, and it was a struggle the whole time that we were there.  I really believe that God used those situations to bring Malia and I closer together, and to equip us for other situations in ministry.  Of course, those kinds of things don’t just happen to ministers, they happen in the secular work force also.  I took a job one time, and by the end of the first week; I knew that I had made a mistake.  After waiting three months, I started sending out resumes; and at six months, I was talking to as many friends as I could, seeing if they knew anything available.    The flip side happens also — I took the job with Arkansas Insulation (probably the best job I ever had); and I did not know anything about the products, didn’t anything about building houses, and had never proven I could do what it takes to succeed in that kind of “sales” job.  It never should have worked, and I turned out to be pretty successful at what I did, and ending up retiring from there.  isn’t it amazing, what we think is going to happen, quite often never does!

Part of my devotional reading this morning, was from Matthew 27; and all those thoughts raced through my mind as I read these verses:

When Judas, who had betrayed him realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse.  So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and elders.  “I have sinned,” he declared,  “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

What do we care?” they retorted.  “That’s your problem.”

Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.   (Matthew 27:3-5, NLT)

This morning, in the margin of my Bible, beside that first line, I wrote, “I wonder what he thought would happen?”  It seems to me, from the reading, that he is surprised by what happened, and overwhelmed with guilt.  Did the lust for the 30 pieces of silver, cause him to not even think about what might happen?  Wouldn’t you like to be able to get inside of his mind and see his thought process for these events?  Regardless, it didn’t turn out the way that he thought it would.

There is another bad decision that he made.  Scripture says that he went out and hanged himself.  He compounded the first bad decision, but making another bad decision; that was irreversible.  Just from the passage in Matthew, it sure seems that Judas was penitent about what he had done — and confessed that it was sinful.  If he had tried to rebuild the broken relationships, is it possible that the angel in the tomb could have told the women, Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter AND JUDAS, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. (Mark 16:7, NLT)?  Isn’t it possible, that if Peter could be forgiven, that Judas could have also.

When we make decisions, let’s seek the will of God when making that decision.  If the decision, turns out to be a bad decision, let’s keep seeking the will of God.  Please, let’s not compound one bad decision, by piling another one on top of it.  Peace.

“He’s There for You”

While my mother was living, and I was working for Arkansas Insulation; most mornings, on my way to the office, I would call her and see how she was doing.  Inevitably, the conversations would drift any number of ways — to the newest vitamin (supplement) that I needed to take, a problem that I needed help with, the loneliness she was feeling, or just life in general.  I really miss those conversations, just knowing that she was there to talk.  After she was gone, I can’t tell you how many times I reached for my phone, then realized that I could not talk to her any more.  My sister, Christye, has often expressed those same thoughts to me, about how much we have lost; just because she is not there to talk.  The really sad part, is that I don’t think either one of us realized how important that was, until she was gone.

When Jehovah led the Israelites out of Egypt, He often got tired of their complaining and whining.  There was a point that He got so disgusted, He was going to let them go on to the “promised land” without Him (Exodus 33:1-3).  The people mourned because of what God said, and Moses implored God that it was His presence that gave him the ability to lead the people.  One of the more powerful verses in that context says:

For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people?  Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?  (Exodus 33:16, ESV)

The gist of the passage is that what set apart Moses, as the leader of the Israelites, and the Israelites as the people of God — was the presence of God in their midst.  They needed to know that God was there!

In my reading this morning, there was a couple of passage in the Psalms, where David expressed how important the presence of God was in his life.  Listen to what is said:

For you make him most blessed forever, you make him glad with the joy of your presence.  (Psalm 21:6, ESV)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; … (Psalm 23:4, ESV).

For years I have listened to my brethren argue about what God does, and how He does it.  It is my opinion, that we have forgotten one very important principle.  What makes the people of God distinct from everyone else in the world, is the presence of God in their lives!

Personally, I need the joy, and the comfort, that comes from knowing the presence of God in my life.  I need to know that He is there!  Peace.

 

(This devotional was first posted on Facebook, April 1, 2016.  It is being reposted here as a part of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to your life.  Bill)

“Do You Need Jesus?”

One of the joys of being an experienced (kind way of saying older) minister, is to look back through the years and think about the people with whom you have interacted.  The stories of people that are elders, Bible class teachers, deacons, and strong examples of the Christian life; are the fruit of what makes ministry a joy.  I can think of two older men, both having faithful wives, that called me during the week and asked if I would baptize them.  I had often wondered why they had not, seeing as how they always came with the spouse, but I was sure glad to be the one to baptize them.  Looking and seeing that in the years after that, they have been servants in the Kingdom, shining forth as examples for everyone.  The joy that those kind of stories ignite in the heart is immeasurable.

Over the years, I have witnessed many people come to a decision-making point with their faith.  It may have been someone that heard the gospel for the very first time, and felt the need for a Savior in their life.  There were times when it was someone that had known about Jesus for a long time, and never felt compelled to do anything about what they knew.  I have seen those that had started following Jesus, but never really committed themselves; make the decision to start living like what they said they believed.  In all of these instances, something clicks, something motivates them; that they decide that they need to make a change in who and what they are.

The sad part of ministry is that you can think of those same years, and remember those that needed to change; and for some reason never did.  Why?  What motivates some to change, and follow Jesus; and then others do not.  Here is something that crossed my mind as I was reading Matthew 9 this morning.

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.”  … “For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”  (Matthew 9:12, 13b, NLT)

Those words were spoken in the context of Jesus calling the tax collector, Matthew, to follow Him; and the dinner party that followed, with …many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.  As I read that, the thought was obvious — if you don’t know that you NEED Jesus, you’re not going to make the effort to follow Him.  There are those that know that they need Jesus, and decide for selfish reasons not to follow; but everyone that makes the decision to live for Jesus knows that they need Him.  But as I worked my way through the rest of the chapter, that point was driven home repeatedly.  Observe what the text says:

As Jesus was saying this, the leader of a synagogue came and knelt before him.  “My daughter has just died,” he said, … (Matthew 9:18, NLT)

Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind.  She touched the fringe of his robe, for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”  (Matthew 9:20, NLT)

…two blind men followed along behind him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”  (Matthew 9:27, NLT)

The thing that all three of those stories share, is that the individuals KNEW that they NEEDED Jesus.  They recognized their need, and Jesus responded to them.   People still come to Jesus when they KNOW they that NEED Him.  The “good news” today is that Jesus offers freedom from guilt, freedom from sin, and freedom to follow Him to a better life.  In this age, in our culture, many people struggle to see that they need anything.  There are times that it takes sickness, disease, injury, death, or disaster — for people to admit what they really need.  I believe that Jesus responds to our situation, like He did in His day:

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom.  And he healed every kind of disease and illness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.  So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”  (Matthew 9:35-38, NLT)

Peace.

“Matters of the Heart”

Several years ago I was working at a job site; I tripped, fell, and ran a piece of rebar into my leg.  I was fortunate, I suppose, that it went into my shin — and could not go far; but it bled profusely.  The contractor was at the site, and I got loaded into his truck, and he took me to the ER at Washington Regional.  There they cleaned the wound, and stitched it up.  Well, it began to look like it was infected, and I began trying to see another physician to take a look at it (and not all doctor’s will even look at Workman’s Comp case — including my primary care physician).  When I got in touch with the insurance rep, they demanded (and made it happen) that I go to a “Wound Center”.  First, going to a wound center is not necessarily a good thing; and, secondly, by the time I got there my wound was infected.  They explained that they were going to “carve” (my word, not theirs) the wound out, pack it, and it would need to heal from the inside out.

As I sat there waiting, thinking how this had gotten more complicated, they were scurrying around; checking vitals, and getting everything ready to perform the procedure.  Then, all of a sudden, everything stopped, and the doctor explained that we had a problem — my pulse rate was 39!  I’ll never forget their next words, “If you ran marathons, we could accept that; but, obviously you don’t.”  Well, to make a longer story shorter — the pulse rate got within range, and they did the procedure; and I was almost immediately given a heart monitor to wear for 3 days.  After going through my primary care doctor, and then on to my cardiologist, it was diagnosed that I had PVC (premature ventricular contraction).  The “dummies” definition for PVC, is that the upper chamber of your heart beats, and sends a signal to the lower chamber to beat (almost instantaneously); but my lower chamber has a mind of its own, and beats when it wants to.  This makes it difficult to get an accurate pulse rate.  It was not life threatening, and was not causing any problems, so nothing will be done until it does.

What I found interesting, was that I had a heart problem that I did not know I had.  Even though it was not serious, it was something that I needed to recognize.  This morning as I was reading in Matthew, I was reminded of how that can happen in our Spiritual lives.  Notice what Jesus says:

But I warn you — unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  (Matthew 5:20, NLT).

In their society, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees were known for their keeping of the Law, so how in the world were the disciples to be more righteous?  Well in the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus teaches just how that was to be done.  He mentions several commands that were to be obeyed:  you must not murder, you must not commit adultery, divorce your wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce, you must not break your vows, punishment must match the injury, and love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But Jesus says that there is more to these commands than just “doing” what they say, He says that the obedience to them must be rooted in a heart that is right.  The implication is that you can be doing the right thing, and not be doing it for the right motivation!

When I lived in Rogersville, Alabama, Dan and Judy Holland, with their sons, Pat and Heath, were good friends of mine.  Dan told me the story of the time that he was working in the yard, and asked/told a young Heath to stack some fire wood.  Heath was playing, and wasn’t really interested in stacking firewood.  Dan walked over, whacked him on the bottom, and said “Young man, you go stack that firewood, and you stack it right.”  Heath jumped, walked away, and muttered “I’ll stack it, but I won’t stack it right.”  How often is our obedience to the Father, not really because we want to; but because we feel as if we have to.  We need to check on our heart, and be sure that the “matters of the heart” are in line with what God wants.  Peace.