“The Challenges of 2018”

“2017 is now past.  Learn from it, celebrate and honor it, but don’t focus on it.  It is gone.  Wholly embrace and boldly enter 2018 with expectations of new successes, greater personal growth, and special moments with family and friends that await you.”  (Richard Blackaby)

The first Hoot’s Musing for 2018 started with this quote on January 4, with an entry entitled “2017 in the Rear View Mirror.”  It was an entry about my desire to be a better disciple and preacher this year than last year.  My goal is to continue to grow, and not become stagnant in my life of faith, and my life in ministry.  This is the first report on how I am doing with the challenges that I presented to myself for 2018.  You, the readers of Hoot’s Musings are my accountability group, and each month I will report to you how I am doing — and I want you to hold my feet to the fire.

READING

My goal for 2018 is to read 78 books.  Now there is nothing magic about reading a certain number of books, except that it will be a continual challenge to use my time more wisely.  In the past I have used a lot of books in my study, but very seldom did I read that many books.  For example, right now I am teaching a Sunday morning Bible class on Satan and His Dark Kingdom; and there are 15 books that I am reading in conjunction for that class.  At the same time, I am preaching an expository series through the book of James, and there are 13 more books I am reading as a part of my preparation for that series of sermons.  It is not my intention to count any of those books as a part of the 78, as I want those books to be just for the joy of reading.

There are three books that I am reading daily (or in one case, weekly) that I will put on this list.  Each morning, I begin my day with some devotional reading from Psalms, and I am using two volumes to direct the thoughts of that reading:  Psalms for Living: “Daily Prayers, Wisdom, and Guidance” (Mark Lanier), and Prayer, Praise and Promises: “A Daily Walk Through the Psalms” (Warren W. Wiersbe).  Also, as a part of my desire to be a better preacher, I committed to read one book a month on preaching.  The first book I chose to read was One Year to Better Preaching: “52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills“, and I would think that it would be obvious that is a book that you read one chapter weekly.  So after one month, I am pleased with these books that will be a part of the whole year with me; and I am convinced that I will profit greatly from all of them.

To accomplish my goal of 78 books this year, I will need to average 6 1/2 books per month, and I am glad to report that I am a little ahead of schedule.  In the month of January I read 6 books, and have two more that I am about two-thirds of the way through.  The books that I have finished are:

  1. Book of Enoch“All about the Three Books of Enoch” — Dr. A. Nyland

     2. Captives of the Word — Louis and Bess Cochran

3. Praying for Sunday:  “You, Your Pastor, and the Next Sermon” — by Dr. Michael Fabarez

4. The Last Lecture — Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

5. Sermon Design and Delivery — Tom Holland

6. Alexander Campbell:  “The Man and His Mission” — Leroy Garrett and Louis Cochran

The two books that I have not completed yet are:

7. Nial’s Crossing:  “A Novel ( A Bill Maytubby and Hanna Bond Mystery) — Kris Lackey

8. The Blind Side — Michael Lewis

I will freely confess that three of those books are extremely short (less than 100 pages), but they were something that I wanted (and even, needed) to read.  The real challenge will be ahead, as I continue to attempt to do this on a regular basis.  I really believe that I will profit because of this effort, and ask for your encouragement in the process.

WRITING

The sermons on James are really good for me, and I hope that they are blessing others.  It is my prayer, that if the publisher finds them to be what he wants — that they will bless others for years to come.  I hope to have them finished by the end of April, and that I will be able to turn them over to him by then.  Writing a manuscript for a sermon has been really difficult for me, as I have never done that.  BUT, I believe that in developing the discipline to do that, will enhance my communication skills as a preacher.

I posted 10 times on this site during the month of January, and I would like to get that up to about 12 to 15.  In the last month I used two articles from another author (Bill Sherrill), three were from 2016 Facebook devotionals about Psalms, and five were new material from me (including one book review).  That ratio of articles may continue in the future, and hopefully it will be a blessing to you (the readers) and helpful to me.

PASTORAL MINISTRY

I have often said, I am not a pastor and don’t want to be called a pastor.  I am a preacher, that ministers at a local congregation; under the leadership of men called elders (shepherds, or overseers).  They should be responsible for more of the pastoring in this local church than I am.  But as a local minister, I am expected by God, and the people of this church, to be involved with, care about, and love the members of the Prairie Grove church.  I will never be as good as I should be, or even as good as I want to be.  I must constantly remind my, provoking to love and good words, to be more involved in a pastoral ministry with the church I serve.  Please pray that my efforts will be successful in this particular area.

HEALTH AND FITNESS

This is an area that I have added as a challenge for 2018.  Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, know that I had gastric bypass surgery on May 30, 2017.  It has been really successful for me, but, in a way, it has created some other problems.  I have lost some much weight, so rapidly; that I have lost a lot of muscle in the process.  On top of losing muscle, I have never been one to exercise — regularly, or even sporadically.  The last half of 2017, I really did well of walking on a regular basis (walked 230 miles in 77 days of walking).  But the walking dried up the last 2 – 2 1/2 months of the year; as the weather got colder, and the days shorter. My weight has been pretty static since about the 15th of October, only losing about 16 1/2 pounds.  Right after Christmas, I knew that I had to do something.  I thought about buying a couple of pieces of exercise equipment, but that just did not seem logical to the wife (or me), because I had no history of persistence in exercising.  So at the age of 67, I bought my first gym membership; and decided that I would work out on a regular basis for the first time in my life.  It was my goal to average going to the gym 4 to 5 times a week.  Monday – Wednesday – Friday, I would do lifting exercises to build some core strength back; and then on Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday, I would do a cardio workout.  Since January 2, the day I bought my membership, I have had 30 opportunities to work out, minus the 4 Sundays, as I had other obligations and responsibilities on that day.  In those 26 days, I have managed to go to the gym and exercise 19 days (73%).  I feel really good about that, and want to continue doing at least that well.  In my opinion, being in better condition physically, will be a part of improving as a preacher.

Weight – March 15, 2017 — 324 pounds

Weight – February 1, 2018 — 216 pounds

Richard Blackaby also said, and I quoted in the first entry of the year, “Warning!  If you don’t make any adjustments to your attitude, skills, or habits in 2017; you are destined to be exactly the same person with the same results in 2018!  Aim for more!”  That is my goal for the year 2018!  Pray for my efforts, in all the areas of endeavor!  Peace.

 

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“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)                                                                                                      

“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)

 

“Who Moved My Pulpit?”

October 1st a new direction for this blog began.  Instead of trying to write a new entry 6 days a week, and then struggling to get it done and feeling guilty if I didn’t; I changed my schedule to writing 4 day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) a week.  Monday are to be devotionals from the devotional reading that I do; Wednesdays are used for devotionals, book reviews, theological or doctrinal teaching, etc.; Fridays have reflections on what is going on in my life, and the things that I have learned; and, on Saturday we have our “Psalms for Saturday“.

This morning I want to talk about, and briefly review, a book that I have read in the lst week. The book is:

Thom S. Rainer  Who Moved My Pulpit?  “Leading Change in the Church” 2016, B & H Publishing, Nashville, TN, 143 pages

Last Thursday morning, November 9th, as I was scanning through Twitter, I noticed there was a coupon for a FREE book. Well, those sort of things always catch my attention but to get this book; you had to take the coupon to a Lifeway Christian Bookstore.  I just happened to be headed in the direction of the nearest store, so I stopped by and picked up a free copy of Who Moved My Pulpit?.

Thom Rainer is a remarkable writer for any one that wants to understand how individual congregations (churches) function.  It seems to me that he knows more about the politics of a local church, the life cycles of local churches, and other related local church topics; than anyone that I have ever read.  He has written such books as I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Simple Church, Transformed Church, and many other titles.  This particular, short, volume is about leading change in the local church.  Anyone that has been in ministry for any length of time has either been in trouble for changing something (that wasn’t supposed to be changed), or has known of another minister that has been.  These changes could be from changing the order of services, changing the layout of the auditorium, the mission of that particular congregation, new carpet, all the way to more dramatic changes.

What Rainer does is this book is lay out a road map to navigate the change process; and the advice that he gives is very practical, and the examples that he uses are very real and to the point. The first chapter is introductory to why change can be difficult, and most every preacher will empathize with the story that is told in the chapter.  The second chapter is titled, “Five Kinds of Unmovable Church Members”, and as you read that you will be attaching names to the descriptions that he gives — because you will have known them all.

The next eight chapters are the road map that Rainer suggests that anyone trying to make a change (of any kind) in a local church follow.  The titles of the chapters will give you an idea of what he suggests, and may just prick your interest to the point of wanting to read the book.  They are as follows:

Stop …and Pray

Confront and Communicate a Sense of Urgency

Build an Eager Coalition

Become a Voice and Vision for Hope

Deal with People Issues

Move from an Inward Focus to an Outward Focus

Pick Low-Hanging Fruit

Implement and Consolidate Change

With the book only being 143 pages long, these chapters are not long and are full of information that will be valuable to the local preacher.

This book is written with those preachers that serve as “pastors” of a local church, and are recognized as the leader of the congregation.  Within the vast majority of churches of Christ, the preacher is not considered the pastor.  It is our understanding that local churches are to function with a plurality of elders (or overseers, or shepherds) that serve as the “leaders” of the local church.  I have noticed in the last few years, that there are those preachers in our fellowship that are beginning to call themselves “pastors”, but I am not one of them.  I am not the pastor of the Prairie Grove church, and do not want to be.  I am a minister, servant, of the Prairie Grove church, and I serve with our elders, as the minister of the Word, while they lead the congregation.  I have been called “pastor” many times; and most of the time (not always) I will reply that I am not the pastor, that I am the preacher.  The reason that I don’t do it every time, although I probably should, is that the most common reply is “same thing.”  But it really isn’t.

Over the years, the most common problem that I have seen in local churches of Christ, is that the elders don’t (won’t) lead, or facilitate change — so the preachers does it.  Honestly, most elders don’t have a problem with that, because it is one less thing that they have to do (and very few are full-time elders, and usually have busy lives with their jobs, family, etc.).  The problems usually arise when the preacher does something that one of them (elders), or a vocal church member, does not like.  Often that will lead to full-blown problems about who the boss really is, and will often lead to the preacher having to move (or worse moving, starting another church and dividing the one he left).

So, the question is — would I recommend this book?  Absolutely!  It has lots of valuable information, that needs to be shared.  But, I would absolutely discourage any preacher (from the churches of Christ) to try and use the information in this book to manipulate his elders to get the changes that he wants.  What I would recommend is that he get extra copies, and share them with his elders.  They are the ones that need to recognize the need for change when it arises.  They need to be the ones that have a dream for the future of their congregation.  The elders need to recognize that they we can’t always keep doing what we are doing, because it is not working.  They need to lead the congregation to a more outward focus.  They need to know the road map of how to make that happen.  As preachers, we can support them by our preaching of the Word, as they lead God’s people to be what God wants them to be.

On a scale of 10, I would give this about an 8.  I hope that you have found this to be of interest.  Look for more reviews in the coming weeks.

Bill

“Why Did That Happen?”

Inevitably, things happen in our lives, things that we don’t understand, and we don’t understand why they worked out the way that they did.  There are people in the Prairie Grove church, family members and friends, that are encountering difficult times, and some really challenges with life — that are trying at best, and can be much worse.

I wish I could explain why I have been so blessed, and so very fortunate in my life.  That tragedy and disease have not affected me, and my family, as it has other people and families that we know and love.  I thank God every day, for his goodness and blessings, and entreat Him for those that face the situations that I have not.

In 1973, I was preach for a small church in rural Lawrence County, Alabama.  I don’t remember if I was living in Florence, or Rogersville at the time — but it was a 25-30 mile drive from either place.  One night after services, several of us went to the house of one of the members for a time of fellowship.  When it was time to go, the pointed me to a back road that would get me home quicker.  It was dark, dreary, and rainy night; and I was driving a road that I had never driven before.  Somehow, I missed seeing the sign for the railroad crossing, and I went over the little rise for the tracks way too fast.  The result was that I ended up running a stop sign, and ended up in a cotton field on the other side of the road.  When I got out of the car, walked around to the back, and sat down on the bumper of my little red Volkswagen beetle — I just sat there and trembled!  That stop sign that I ran, was for the intersection of that country road and Highway 72.  Highway 72 is a four land highway that is the main connection between the Shoals are and Decatur. As I sat there and watched numerous semi’s going both ways, I thanked God that, somehow, I had made it across the highway without being hit.  You can call it luck, providence, or what you want; but, in my mind, it will always be that God looked out for, and protected me that night.

I cry out to God Most High,

  to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.

He send from heaven and saved me,

        rebuking those who hotly pursue me;

God sends his love and his faithfulness.  (Psalm 57:2-3, NIV)

Theologically speaking, I don’t believe that God has a detailed plan of every event that is scheduled for my life.  I believe that I make choices that can change the direction of my life, and that God allows me to choose the path (even if it is the wrong one).  But I do believe that there are times that God intervenes in the affairs of the world — and I don’t know why He chooses the ones that He does.

The passage in Psalms, reminded me of a responsibility that is given to those that God intervenes on their behalf.  As an acknowledgment of what God has done, my life out to be more devoted to the “purpose” that God has for all lives.  God’s plan for all lives, is that they live in relationship with Him; loving, serving, sharing.  Pray that I will recognize how blessed that I am, and that I will fulfill His “purpose” for my life.  Peace.

“The Inward Struggle”

Have you ever heard of “the battle of the bulge”?  No, not the battle during World War II, but the continual struggle that many have fought on a daily basis, and still continually fight.  Of course, I am talking about a struggle with weight.  I am veteran of many conflicts, and have lost more than I have won; and I still struggle with the desire to eat things that I shouldn’t.  Those of you that have never engaged in this conflict, be very thankful!

In the mid-1980’s, when Malia and I were living in Winters, Texas, there was a period of time when I lost a lot of weight.  Doug Taylor and I (and later Donald McMillon) went to a weight-loss physician in Lubbock, and I was successful in his program — for a while.  I took the medication he said to take, ate the foods that he said to eat, and exercised.  Lanny Bahlman and I would meet three mornings a week (at 5 in the morning), and go play racquetball.  Many afternoons, Jerry Hood and I would go walk at the high school track.  But another child came along (in both the Bahlman and Hooten homes), and the early morning racquetball was out of the question.  The cold of winter set in, and the late afternoon walks were not very comfortable, and I soon abandoned them.  Food still looked and tasted good, and over a period of a couple of years (and a move back to Arkansas), I gained all the weight back — and then some!  Most everyone that struggles with a weight problem can identify, at one point or another in their life, with that story.  Sadly, it is all too familiar.

The radical decision that I made this year, to have gastric bypass surgery, was not made on the basis of losing weight.  It was made with the desire to be healthy, and to live longer.  A lifetime of eating anything I wanted, as much of it as I wanted, and as fast as I could; leaves me with cravings that still have an impact on me.  Even now after the surgery, after losing 90+ pounds, and no longer having Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc; I still find myself wanting foods that I know that I should not eat.  The threat of another failure is real.  We all have seen people that have had the surgery, and then gain the weight back — and I don’t want to do that!

You see, food offers what tastes good at the moment, at the expense of what is good for me and my health.  The danger that I face is that I will begin to indulge in those foods (and amounts) that I shouldn’t, and nothing bad will happen.  Blood sugar won’t spike, blood pressure will stay the same, and the weight won’t change — so you begin to think that you can do that more often.  Then you will have those days, when you cheat on your food once; and think I have already blown it today, I might as well do it again (and I will do better tomorrow).  Before you know it, you have not only lost the battle — but are losing the war.  The only way to win, is to resist the urge and the temptation on a daily basis — no, on an hourly basis.  You have to be determined to be victorious over your desires, and win this battle, and every one that comes your way.  I’m not foolish enough to believe that I will, having already lost a couple, but I am determined to get back on the program (and that I have done) and not be caught in the same situation again!  With the encouragement of family and friends, I KNOW that I will lose this last 15-18 to make my goal weight, and I WILL keep it off!

Over the years I have recognized that my struggle to control my weight, is very similar to my struggle to live for Jesus.  Obviously, the big difference is that my victory in living for Jesus is not just dependent on me, and my strength, to resist the seduction of Satan and sin.  But Scripture still says for us to …lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.  (Hebrews 12:1, HCSB).  The terminology is quite appropriate don’t you think?

This morning in my devotional reading, James says some things that made me think of all this.  Think about these two readings:

…Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.  (James 4:4, HCSB)

Therefore, submit to God.  But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people!  Be miserable and mourn and weep.  Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.  (Jame 4:7-10, HCSB)

I see within those words, the same struggle with sin that I have always had with my weight.  They are both very seductive, both can offer immediate gratification and pleasure, and both can be destructive.  For years, I have been using this definition of sin, doing what I want, instead of what God wants.   There is a reason that one of the most powerful statements that Jesus ever made was (and is) …If anyone wants to be My follower, HE MUST DENY HIMSELF, take up his cross, and follow Me.  (Mark 8:34, HCSB).

Obviously, I am not putting a struggle with weight on the same level as a struggle with sin.  BUT, there are similarities with the struggles.  Let’s recognize the danger, and be victorious in our struggle with sin.  Peace.


“Seeking after God”

Reader’s Digest used to have a treasury of short stories about people in every issue, especially those people that make a serious impact on the lives of others.  Over the years there have been a lot of those “special” people in my life, more lives than I could ever list or name.  Two of my favorite people are Mahlon Graham and Harold Wilbanks.  They both attended the Cedar Grove church in Rogersville, AL, when I preached there.  Harold passed away a few years ago, and Mahlon still lives in that community.

The people that make up that church all deserve extra stars in their crown — for putting up with all the nonsense, mistakes, problems, and dumb actions of a young (single) preacher, that still had some growing up to do.  Probably as much as anybody else, Harold and Mahlon liked me; and understood some of the conflict that was going on in my life.  They would listen to me, encourage me, and chastise me when I needed it.

Mahlon had a service station on Highway 72, east of town, down by the river, down by the river.  Sometimes the three of us would be there, and almost without exception, the conversation would turn to football.  Harold was an Alabama fan, Mahlon is an Auburn fan — and they were both serious about their team.  On top of that, they were both loud; and could get louder if they thought the situation deserved it.  Sometimes, I am sure that you could hear these “discussions” a mile away.  In those discussions I generally favored Auburn, but being an Arkansas, I really didn’t care much for either team.  So, I delighted in getting the arguments started, and providing a spark to keep them going.

Mahlon and Harold both encouraged me in my preaching, and there were times that I really needed it.  It was strange to me, that both of these men liked what they called my “hard” sermons.  You may recall those kinds of sermons from the past, when the preacher romps, stomps, and yells about “sin”.  Most of the time it seemed as if the intent of the sermon was to get the people to feel as if they were not good enough, or doing enough, to say they were saved.  Mahlon told me once, that he figured if he could “hunker” down and take a sermon like that, he was probably going to be alright.

Well, maybe I have learned a little, and grown a lot since then — but my approach to challenging sin is a little different 40 years later.  I have come to the conclusion, that sin is a “heart” problem, and not an action problem.  The bad actions are the result of what is going on in the heart.

Listen to what the psalmist has to say:

In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.  (Psalm 10:4, NIV)

That verse, as well as any, my definition of sin:  Sin is doing what I want, instead of what God wants.  In one of the most wicked periods in the history of the Israelite people, one of the thoughts that is constantly repeated is:

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. …  (Judges 2:10-12, NIV)

The Israelites were sinners because they had a heart problem, that manifested itself as actions in their lives.

The actions of people are bad, because our actions are a manifestation of what is in our heart.  In one of his first recorded sermons, the apostle Paul made this statement about the Israelite King, David:  After removing Saul, he made David their king, God testified concerning Him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do”.  (Acts 13:22, NIV).  David made some terrible mistakes, but he always stayed “after” the heart of God, and God loved that attribute in him.  When we keep “seeking” God, even if we make mistakes along the way; God, in His “steadfast love”, forgives us and stays out in front of us.  We have to continually search out heart, and see if we are “seeking” Him, or seeking after our own wants and pleasures. Those that are “seeking” have room in their heart for God.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.  (Psalm 9:10, NIV)

Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on May 27, 2016.  It has been revised and edited for use as one of our “Psalms for Saturday”.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing for you today.  Bill)

 

“It’s Not My Fault”

Flip Wilson was a very popular comedian, and was one of the very first African-American entertainer to host his own weekly variety TV show.  Not only was he an outstanding stand-up comedian, but he also was very successful portraying comedic characters in his show.  Two of the most popular characters were Reverend Leroy (pastor of “The Church of What’s Happening Now”) and Geraldine Jones (his most popular character).  Geraldine was now for referring to her boyfriend, Killer, and two very popular sayings:  “What you see is what you get,” and “The Devil made me do it.”  They were so wildly popular, that they were adopted by many and became catch-phrases for many in the nation.

It has always been interesting to me, as to why certain things, particularly catch-phrases, become popular.  I can remember repeating the two Geraldine phrases, and think that I understand the most popular of the two — The Devil Made Me Do It. When we do something wrong, we would really like to have someone to blame it on, and the devil is a likely subject.  That is really nothing new, as it has been common since the days of Adam and Eve.  You remember, Adam blamed Eve (the woman that God gave him); and, Eve placed the responsibility on the serpent.  Admitting responsibility for the things that we do that are wrong, is very difficult for most people.  We are still blaming others, even God, for the things we do that are wrong.  In James 1, James talks about the “sin process”, and where sin comes from.  Read carefully what he says:

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.
(James 1:13-15, HCSB)

Most of us, when we just give that a cursory reading, know that what it says is right.  We are tempted when we are enticed (seduced) by our own evil desires.  When we see something, and we don’t see it as the good thing that God has given us; but as an “object” that we can use to satisfy our own evil thoughts, wants, and desires.  We may even know that it is wrong, but are so consumed by what we want — that we don’t care.

When we give in to the own seductive power of our wants and desires, we sin!  I really like the way the HCSB read here — … it gives birth to sin, …  That may be one of the most appropriate descriptions of sin that I have ever read.  Sin is conceived and nurtured in our mind, and then delivered into the world by our own selfish desire.  The end result is death.  That death may be a reference to spiritual death, a separation from the love, grace, and presence of God; or it may be talking about physical death, as a result, or a consequence, of what we have done.

When we learn to think of sin in that way, what Jesus says in Matthew 16:24 becomes crystal clear.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. (Matthew 16:24, HCSB)

To be victorious in the struggle with sin, I have to learn to say NO to what I want.  I really believe that is the hardest thing that we will ever do.  But it is what we have to do!  Peace.

“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)                                                                                                

“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.