“Lord … Help!”

Jay Hooten was one of the wisest men that I ever had the opportunity to know!  I say that, not just because he was my Father, but because he demonstrated it nearly every day in every phase of his life.  I’m not saying that he was perfect, because he had his faults; and he was not ashamed to admit them.  I’m not saying that because he was the most educated man I have known, because he only had an 8th grade education (and as he would say, that was only 1/2 year at a time, because he was in the fields working the other half).  He was raised on the banks of the Cadron Creek, not far from Wooster, Arkansas.  If you don’t know where Wooster is, don’t feel bad.  Most people from Arkansas did not know where it was until about 2 years ago, when the Highway Department put an exit on Interstate 40, and said that it would take you there.  He grew up chopping and picking cotton, fishing, trapping, hunting, and a million other things that boys living in the country did (that were raised during the depression).  If he were still living, he would be celebrating his 96th birthday in about two months; but I know he would rather be where he is now, than be here (especially with mother there).

Let me give you two or three examples of his wisdom.  Obviously, the greatest sign of his wisdom is that he believed in, and followed Jesus.  He didn’t become a Christian until his early to mid 30’s, but it was a life-long decision, that changed everything for him.  Proverbs 1:7 says The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom … , and Dad loved and respected Jesus.  That love and respect caused him to look at life through the eyes of a believer, and it shaped every action, word, and decision that he made.  Basil Overton used to tell us, “He that knows the Lord, knows what he needs to know the most.”  People did not have to be around Dad long, to know that there was something different about him.  What was different was, he knew, really knew, the Lord.

The second example that I would share, is the way that he handled disciplining me.   I was a problem child, and I am ashamed to admit that now; but too many people know that it is true, for me to deny it.  Mother would lose her temper, and discipline me with whatever was handy — as we got older, and  both of us grew, we had a lot of laughs about that.  But Dad, never would discipline me when he was angry, he would always say “I’m too mad to discipline/spank/ whip you now, but we’ll get together tomorrow.”  Well, I always dreaded tomorrow!  I don’t know why, because he was so tender-hearted that he would lash me a couple of times with his belt; I would cry real loud, and he would quit.  When I was older, I asked him “why” he always waited to discipline me.  I’ll never forget him saying, “If I whipped you when I was mad, I was doing it for me; and not for you.”  Over the years, I wish that I had been wise enough to practice what he said.

The final story that I want to share, has to do with his business, and the way that he ran it.  Actually, there are two parts to this.  The first one, Dad always wanted people to feel as if he treated them fairly; because he felt that is the way that the Lord wanted him to be.  There was one customer that  called, that was extremely irate over a bill; and felt as if he had been charged too much.  Dad talked with him for a while, explaining every charge on the statement; but nothing would satisfy the man.  Finally, Dad told him just to send him a check for what he thought the job was worth, and Dad would consider the bill paid.  When relating that story in other places, I have had people tell me they knew people that had done the same thing, but that is not a story that you hear often.  The other story (the one that all of this has been leading too) happened in the mid 1970’s.  Dad had a small “service station equipment” business, where he sold, installed, and repaired all the equipment (gasoline, oil, air, hydraulic, etc) that was used in those places that pre-dated convenience stores.  Anyway, in the mid 70’s, Dad got a contract to do a job for a truck stop in Oklahoma, and it was a little over $40,000 — a great job for a small business like his in the mid-70’s.  Well, the job was nearly completed, and the truck stop about ready to be opened, when the owner filled for bankruptcy.  All of sudden, everything got tied up in bankruptcy court; and Dad did not get a dime (even though, he had to pay for all the equipment, materials, and labor).  I remember how tight things got there for a while.  I don’t remember how much later, but it seems like it was 3-5 years later, Mom (who was Dad’s bookkeeper) told me that the court had awarded Hooten Equipment about $6,000.00 against what was owed.  I remember talking to Dad, and saying “That really has to hurt, doesn’t it?”  I will never forget what he told me, He said “Not really.  I asked the Lord to help me get through this, and He did.  Now, this is like an unexpected gift from Him. I just feel grateful.” 

James 1:5-8 (NIV), If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

It appears to me, that about all of James chapter one has to deal with the “trials” of life, and how the child of God is to deal with them.  With that being true, you would have to think that these verses would have the same application.  So, now go back and look at James 1:2-4 (NIV):

Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

When Dad got the letter, telling him that all of the debts and money were going to be tied up in bankruptcy court, I doubt that he saw one thing there to fell “joyous” about.  But, if you look at verse 2, it doesn’t say that everything is “pure joy”, it says to “Consider it pure joy”!  If there is a situation, a disease, a problem, or a relationship that is putting your faith through a trial; and you are struggling with how to deal with it — take it to God!  Ask Him to give you the wisdom, to be able to deal with this “trial” in the way that He wants.  Tell him that you recognize when you do that, you will be able to endure and persevere through the trouble,, and the end result will be STRONGER faith.  That when you pass through to the other side of the difficulty, you will be able to look back with “pure joy“.  I am still trying to learn the lessons that my Dad taught me, and this is one of the important ones.  How are you doing with the trials of life?

Advertisements

“What God Can Do, If We Let Him”

There are times when you read Scripture, and your heart soars as you read about the greatness and majesty of the God that we serve.  There are other times, when you are filled with love and gratitude; as you read about the grace, love, and forgiveness that the Father has for us through Jesus.  Then there are those times, when tears fill your eyes, and your heart breaks; as you realize your sin — and the failure to be what God wants you to be.

That last emotion is the one that I felt this morning, more than the others, as I read Psalms 78-81. The psalmist (Asaph), writing after the destruction of Jerusalem (Psalm 79:1), reviews the history of the Jewish people — and how often they failed God.  He goes all the way back to when they were in the land of Egypt, and the mighty works that God demonstrated to lead them out of slavery.  How sad it was that they forgot what He had done, and complained and murmured about everything.  There is one verse that just reverberates sadness — How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness and GRIEVED Him in the desert. (Psalm 78:40, CSB).  Just like them, most of the time we are so self-absorbed that we don’t stop and consider how our sin makes the Father feel.

He continues by humbly asking God to remember with compassion His people, and to come quickly because they have become weak (79:8, CSB).  One really interesting thing jumped out at me, the psalmist asks God to help them — not because of them , but …for the glory of Your name.  Deliver us and atone for our sins, because of Your name. 79:8, CSB).  The psalmist then pleadingly asks the Father, Lord God of Hosts, how long will You be angry with Your people’s prayers?” (80:4, CSB).  Those thoughts made me stop and consider how my life has made God feel.  How my prayers have made God react.  Wondering, if the problems that we see in the world today, are my fault (and people like me), because I have not remembered what God has done?  If by not remembering myself, have I not passed it on to my children, and the generation that follows them?  If my actions have grieved my God, and have made Him angry?  If there is hope for me, my children, and the  generations that are to follow?

Toward the end of Psalm 81, God speaks through the psalmist saying, If only My people would listen to Me and Israel would follow My ways, I would quickly subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes.  (81:16, CSB).  There is hope!  God will help us defeat our enemy Satan)!  That change can come, if we listen and follow His ways!

The last line, of the last verse, in Psalm 81 — offers to us a beautiful promise.  It says, … I would satisfy you with honey from the rock. (81:16, CSB).  Regardless of how difficult, how hard the situation and circumstances get, God can bless us!  That is if we remember, turn, and follow Him — He can bless our lives with the sweetness of forgiveness, acceptance, and peace.

Lord, help us to turn to You, and ask for Your forgiveness, help, strength, and power — EVERY DAY!!!  That is our only hope for survival passing through this world.  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on July 21, 2016.  It is being reposted here as a part of our “Psalms for Saturdays”.  It is my prayer that it blesses you, and helps you to draw closer to the Father.  Bill)

“I Know Which Way to Go”

One of the greatest inventions ever, as far as most men are concerned, is the “Global Positioning System”.  They may not even know why, except that it is another piece of technology that they get to play with.  I am not saying that women don’t use it, or appreciate it; in fact, they may appreciate more than men.  But the women know exactly why they appreciate it.

You see, the GPS has relieved men of one of the great weaknesses that we have always been accused — not stopping to ask directions!  The GPS will direct us to where we need to go, go ballistic if we make a wrong turn, and it will often tell you of detours, accidents, and road construction on the road ahead.  So, unless you refuse to pay for the upgrades, forget to turn it on and program the trip, or ignore what it says — you will never have to stop and ask directions again.

I don’t know what it is about asking directions that bothers men so much.  I guess it is the fact that when you stop and ask directions, you are having to admit that you have got yourself into a situation that you can’t handle.  On top of that, generally when you got to the point that we would stop and ask directions; you ended up having to stop again, to be sure that you were following the first directions correctly.  Men, it’s true, we just have this terrible condition that we won’t ask for help until there is no other choice!

I was reminded of that condition this morning, as in my morning reading from the Psalms, I noticed that several times the writer is going to God in prayer, and it seems that he really has no other options — he is down to his last option.  Now I KNOW he should have started with God, but it seems obvious, from some of these verses, that they didn’t do that.

Psalm 141:1, O Lord, I call to you, come quickly to me. …

Psalm 142:6, Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.

Psalm 143:1, O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.

Psalm 143:7, Answer me quickly, O Lord my spirit fails.  Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

So, one of the things that I took from the reading today (Psalm 140-145) is to stay in constant “contact” with God, always recognizing my constant need for His help.  I do not want to put in the position of thinking that He is all that I have left.  I want Him to be the starting point of every day, regardless of what my circumstances might be.

Now, if everything that has “some assembly required“, came with an app for my smart phone, telling me how to do the assembly … then I would not have to unfold some piece of paper with 5 different languages and a parts catalog.  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, July 4, 2016; and is reposted here as a part of “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is my prayer that you are blessed by reading it.  Oh, by the way, since this written, I have found that youtube has assembly videos for many of the things that says “some assembly required”.  Bill)

“Open the Eyes of My Heart”

Old Testament stories are so interesting, intriguing, and powerful.  The problem is that we often allow them to become stories with characters, instead of seeing them as people that are interacting with a Living God and what He wanted for their lives.  We find it so very difficult to place ourselves in those situations, that we can’t image any one else being there.

Two of my favorite incidents, that have had a great impact and influence on my life, are from Genesis 21 and II Kings 6.

The first story, from Genesis 21, is the story concerning the birth of Isaac, a child of promise to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.  You recall they had tried to help God fulfill the promise, by having Abraham father a child through Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar.  Their attempt at helping, and the subsequent birth of Ishmael, just created more problems for everyone.  It got to the point, that when Isaac was born — Sarah compelled Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away.  Off they went into the wilderness, and after they had run out of water, Hagar sat the boy under a tree; and went and sat nearby, preparing to die!  Verse 19 says, Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. .. (NIV).  It seems as if the well was always there, she just could not see it UNTIL God opened her eyes.

II Kings 6 tells the story of the Arameans (Syrians) coming to Dothan to capture Elisha.  His servant gets up in the morning, walks outside, and sees that the Syrian horses and chariots have surrounded the city.  Because he is afraid, Elisha comforts him buy saying, Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  Then Elisha prays:  ‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’  Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  (II Kings 6:17, NIV).  Again, it appears as if the horses and chariots of fire were there, the servant just could not see them.

What brought these stories to mind this morning, is what the psalmist says in Psalm 119:18, Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.  (NIV).  It would seem to me, that he is saying there are things that are there that I can’t see — UNLESS GOD HELPS ME!

Paul prayed for the disciples in Ephesus, …that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … (Ephesians 1:18, NIV).  He then goes on to explain that they need to be opened to see they HOPE they were called to, the RICHES OF THEIR INHERITANCE, and God’s incomparably GREAT POWER.  Could it be that those things are there, and that we can’t see them until God opens our eyes.

J. M. Powell, in his book This Cause We Plead, tells of David Lipscomb saying that he had been a daily student of the Bible for over 50 years; and that every time he read the Bible he learned something new, that he had overlooked or not seen before.  You know, I don’t doubt that for one minute.  Could it be that the Father “opened his eyes” as he searched the Scripture?

I encourage you, the next time you sit down to read, meditate, and apply Scripture; that you begin by asking God to “open your eyes.”  Peace.

 

(First, I began by apologizing for not having the regular “Psalms for Saturday” for the last 3 or 4 weeks.  But the last 3 or 4 Saturdays have been extremely busy, and the next couple look the same way.  But I will do a better job of getting these posts up in a more timely manner.  This particular post was first posted on FACEBOOK, June 29, 2016.  It has been adapted and placed here, and it is my prayer that it will be a blessing to and for you.  Bill)

“Strengthening Faith in the Tough Times”

Insomnia can be a miserable experience, but it can be productive if we let it.  One of the dogs decided that they needed to go outside about 12:30 this morning (I had been sleeping for about 2 1/2 hours).  Well, when one goes out, they both do.  After about 20-25 minutes — I had to go out, track them down, and bring them in.  They laid down and went right to sleep, 45 minutes later I was laying wide awake in bed!  So about 1:30 I got up; did my devotional reading for the day, prayed some of the Psalms that I had read, prayed about some of the people that were on my mind, and, now, trying to share some of the “musings” about what and where my mind has been.

He will cover you with his feathers,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 

You will not fear the terror of night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

nor the plague that destroys at midday. 

A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

 (Psalm 91:4-7, NIV)

That reading tells me, that the tragedies and difficulties of life should not cause my faith to vanish.  That my God is willing and able to cover me, and provide shelter!  I would like to tell you that I never struggle believing that — but, even though my mind intellectually accepts that as truth, my experiences in life cause me to doubt.  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!

As I reflected on this passage, and all the implications of it to my life; I was reminded of a sermon that I had the privilege of hearing this past Sunday.  Malia and I got up and went to the early services of the Mount Comfort church, and Nathan Jorgenson blessed me with the things that he had to say.  His sermon began in Hebrews 11, and then moved to Exodus 14; and the story of the children of Israel leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea.  There are times, even the stories that we have heard for years, strike a new chord and we learn something new and are blessed by it.

There they were — a sea they can’t cross in front of them, and an army they can’t defeat behind them.  Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?  I’m pretty sure that we ALL know that feeling!   But the Lord has told Moses, …I will gain glory for myself through Pharoah and all his army, … (Exodus 14:4, NIV).  There were people standing there, I’m sure, who doubted the truthfulness of that.  I may not understand, or be able to explain, WHY things happen the way that they do; BUT I DO KNOW THAT GOD CAN USE ME, AND ANY SITUATION, FOR HIS GLORY!  Psalm 91 says that I do not have to be afraid, or be defeated, by the difficulties of life.  The only way that I can accomplish that, is by having the faith that God can use everything for His glory.

I want to wrap these thoughts up, with a couple of quotes from Tim Keller’s devotional book on the PsalmsThe Songs of Jesus.  These quotes come from the devotional for June 21, which was taken from Psalm 74:1-8.

The first is from Elizabeth Elliot, and her book, Through Gates of Splendor:  “God is God.  If He is God, He is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere but in His will, and that will is infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.”

The other is from Keller’s prayer for the day:  “Lord, I praise you that you not only bring glory out of darkness, strength out of of weakness, and joy out of sorrow; but often make good things richer and more powerful through those bad things.  Help me so that my mind and heart rests in this truth.  Amen.” (page, 172).

Peace.

 

(This was first posted on Facebook, June 21, 2016.  It has been edited, and revised, for use here as a part of “Psalms on Saturday”.  It is my prayer that it has been a blessing to you.  Bill)                                                                               

“The Prayer of Jesus”

As the year 2017 is drawing to a close, I am finishing up the daily devotional book that I have been using.  Each morning I have begun the day with a reading from One Year with Jesus, “365 daily devotions based on the chronological life of Christ.”  This book is published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc,, in Wheaton, Illinois.  The reading each day comes from The New Living Translation, followed by a Life Application note (adapted from Tyndale’s Life Application Bible), with an additional “information” note.  As with all daily devotions, some days are better than others; but over the whole year I have really enjoyed my mornings with this volume.

This morning, I want to share with you the devotional thoughts from today’s thoughts.  I believe that they were really good.  It began with the reading from John 17:22-26:

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!
“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
This is the “life application” that followed from that:
“Jesus’ great desire for his disciples was that they would become one.  He wanted them unified as a powerful witness to the the reality of God’s love.  Christian unity provides an environment for the gospel message to make its greatest impact; lack of unity among Christians frequently drives people away.  Are you helping to unify the body of Christ, the church?  You can pray for other Christians, avoid gossip, build others up, work together in humility, give your time and money, exalt Christ, and refuse to get sidetracked arguing over divisive matters.
Then there is this “information” note:
“Jesus asked that the Father’s love would be in believers and that he himself (Jesus) would be in them.  This expresses the Father’s desire, and because it is his desire, he will make sure it is accomplished.”
I want to focus my thoughts on the “life application”, for just a for a few thoughts.  First, I think that every Christian ought to examine the sentence that I have underlined, and ask themselves if they are living that out in their local church.  If we cannot practice that in our local churches, how in the world can we expect for it to happen in “Christendom” at large.  Secondly, the American Restoration movement, or the Stone-Campbell movement (which ever one you prefer), began as a unity movement.  Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and a host of others had a desire to unite all those that were following Jesus into a “Back to the Bible” movement.  Sadly, not only could that not be accomplished, but their “disciples” could not even agree with each other.  The last 125 years of the history of those that trace back to that “movement,” is one that is marked bitterness, arguments, and divisiveness.  It is really a sad moment, when it dawns on you that such a beautiful dream degenerated to what it is now.  Finally, I still believe in a “Back to the Bible” mentality.  I no longer look at the religious world through “rose-colored” glasses believing that we can all be united in this approach.  As long as Satan has power in the world (I John 5:19, NASB), people will value their own thoughts as being more important than the thoughts of other people — even, as they are approaching the Scripture.
I am convinced that the Christian world will never be united, like Jesus prayed that it would be.  I am convinced that what I need to do is pray for the unity of ALL believers, study/teach/preach Scripture the very best that I can, consider others as more important than me, love the brotherhood, and practice the spirit of unity in the local church where I am.  If I can’t do it where I am, is there any reason to believe that it could happen all over the world?  Peace.

“Lord, Please Give Me Wisdom”

Southerland Springs is an unincorporated community, in Wilson county, Texas, with an estimated population of about 400.  It is about 20 miles east of San Antonio,on Highway 87; and is a community that most Americans had never heard of before yesterday.  52 people were in services at the First Baptist Church, when a man walked in with an automatic assault rifle and started firing.  When he was through, 26 were dead and 24 were wounded; and, evidently, he died later from a self-inflicted gunshot.  Our hearts are breaking with that church, and that community.  As our hearts break, we cry “How long,  O Lord, how long?”  Every time we hear of incidents like the AME church in Charleston, S. C.; the church of Christ in Antioch, TN.; or this Baptist church in Texas — our mind is soaked in despair at the condition of our world.  Evil, through these manifestations of sin, is running rampant in our country, and our world.

Those of us who preach, and those that lead congregations, are being faced with decisions that we would have never believed that we would have to make (and some church leaders have already been through this process).  Should our churches encourage individuals with “concealed carry” permits, to bring their weapons to services, offering some protection to those that attend services in our buildings?  As someone that has never owned a gun; and can probably count on one hand, the number of times that I have fired a gun as an adult — that is a decision that I never thought I would have to consider!  Personally, I believe that it is one that every church is going to have to consider; and if the last 3 years are any indication, smaller churches need to be thinking about it sooner, rather than later.

As I stated, as one that has never owned a gun, and has some “pacifist” leanings, I don’t believe that stricter gun ownership regulations will stop shootings like this.  I don’t even know if it will slow them down,  If a person is consumed with the desire to do evil, and that seems to be happened in Charleston and Antioch; they will find the weapon they want.  The shootings do not appear to be by someone that just woke up one morning; decided to go purchase a weapon, and start shooting churchgoers that day.  But, all of that will have to be figured out by people that are smarter than I am.

My concern this morning is more of a “faith” question.  Every preacher that has been doing this very long, has been faced with situations where the tragedy is overwhelming.  It might have been a murder, tornadoes, car accidents, industrial accidents, or suicides (and those are just the ones that I remember from my life in ministry).  That doesn’t even include the tragic passing of young and old from sickness and disease.  How we, and our brothers and sisters in the Lord, respond to these situations concerns us.  This morning, I want to share some thoughts with you from a passage that I have been spending a lot of time with lately:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

But if any of  you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all ways.  (James 1:2-8, NASB)

What I want to do is just list a couple of things that I see from those verses.

#1 — James does not say that the trials of life are joyous.  He says that we are to approach them with the inner strength and satisfaction of knowing what they can do for our faith.  It is the struggle of life, working in conjunction with our faith that will produce endurance.  Endurance is what will move our faith through to the stages of perfect and complete.

Let me be really transparent here, it would be real tough to go to a home in Southerland Springs, and talk to a grieving family and tell them about considering the trials of life with all joy.  The use of the word encounter, makes it seem to me, that this has to be something that you have to be prepared to do; after it happens is to late to start.  You approach life with the thought, I will not allow the events and tragedies of this life, to corrupt the faith I have in the One who created this life.

#2 — If I don’t think that I can do that, I need to be asking God for the wisdom to help me do it.  Then, if I do that, when the trials and struggles of life approach; not only will I have the confidence that God has given me the wisdom to face them (remember, I asked without doubting that He would give it), but I will know that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are walking through this with me!  Don’t you think that we have a greater opportunity to consider the trials of life with all joy, knowing that God is there with us and is enabling us to conquer them.

Lord, let me live this day with the confidence that You can and will give me the wisdom I need to meet the trials and struggles of life.  Father, please give me the faith to ask this without one doubt in my mind.  Father, I know that You are with me every step of the way, and the wisdom and strength you provide can help me to come out on the other side — victorious!  With a faith that has more endurance, and is stronger.  It is through Jesus that I ask.

Peace.

 

 

“David and his Prayers”

Many of you, that are reading this devotional this morning, have sat in my Bible classes.  If so, you probably have heard me say as we looked at a letter written by the apostle Paul — I sure would like to have seen his prayer list.  It seems as if in every letter Paul lists a number of people that he is praying for, and the things that he asks for that particular church.  Studying the prayers of Paul, and the lists of people that he is praying for, is a fascinating study.

One of the most enlightening aspects of reading the Psalms, is to be able to read the prayers of the people, particularly David.  The whole spectrum of human emotion can be found in the prayers of David — praising an awesome God, pleading for direction in his life, lamenting his present condition, anger at the enemies trying to kill him, impatience with God for leaving him in the situation, asking for forgiveness for his stupid mistakes, expressing confidence in God to get him through the difficulties he faces, and everything else in between.  Eugene Petersen once said, Everything that a person can possibly feel, experience, and say is brought into expression before God in the Psalms.  Amen?

David was not perfect, but he was “seeking” the heart of God for his life.  His journey in trying to get there, getting there, and staying there; serve as a powerful learning experience for Me.

This morning’s reading, Psalm 25 jumped off the page at me.  The whole chapter appears to be a prayer from David, as he seeks direction and assistance from the Father.

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.  (Psalm 25:1-2, NIV)

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  (Psalm 25:4-5, NIV)
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.  Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.  (Psalm 25:16-18, NIV)
Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.  (Psalm 25:20-21, NIV)
Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook, May 30, 2016.  It has been revised and adapted for use as one of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

“I’m Supposed to do What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What Went Wrong”

Over the years, we have all seen it happen.  We have all seen that preacher, author, project, ministry, church, or most anything that is similar begin with an explosion on the horizon, taking off with great expectations; and then just fizzle to nothing, or, even worse, crash and burn.  If you are like me, you wonder “why” it happened?  It may have even been an individual, who began the Christian life on “fire” for the Lord; and gradually the flame just died.  What is the reason(s) behind such collapses and failures?  What went wrong?

I was surprised to find “an” answer, probably not “the” answer, in the book of Nehemiah.  The reason I say it is not “the” answer, is I know that not every situation is the same; so there is not one answer that will fit all situations.  Nehemiah, the man, is such a remarkable man; and the book (which reads like a journal that he kept) which bears his name, is just extraordinary for the lessons that we can learn.  But, to be perfectly honest, this is not the lesson that I expected to find when I read through the book.

You recall the story, Nehemiah had gone back to his homeland to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem.  He did this with the blessings of King Artaxerxes, and his material and financial support.  The job that Nehemiah did in leading the people through this monumental task was outstanding, and has provided many lessons on leadership through the generations.  The wall was completed in an amazingly short period of time, in spite of all the opposition.  Read what Nehemiah has to say about the completion:

The wall was completed in fifty-two days, on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul. When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God.  (Nehemiah 6:15-16, CSB)

When the wall was completed, the people settled in their own homes and towns.  But on the first day of the 7th month, they gathered for a reading of the Law.

On the first day of the seventh month, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law.  (Nehemiah 8:2-3, CSB)

This was followed by the 7 day “Festival of Booths,” and another day when the people listened to another reading of the law, confessed their sin, and worshiped.  Nehemiah 9 contains a long song of praise of what God has done, confession of wrong; and, closes with a plea for God’s help because of the distress that they are in.  How could anything be better than this?  How could anything go wrong, with such a remarkable story in the background?  Especially, when what happens next takes place:

In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement in writing on a sealed document containing the names of our leaders, Levites, and priests.  (Nehemiah 9:38, CSB)

This “binding agreement” is laid out and explained in Nehemiah 10:30-39, and it seems to be an agreement among the people to do everything they were supposed to.  After the listing of the leaders who had their seals on the document, this remarkable statement is found:

The rest of the people — the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, and temple servants, along with their wives, sons, and daughters, everyone who is able to understand and who has separated themselves from the surrounding peoples to obey the law of God —  join with their noble brothers and commit themselves with a sworn oath to follow the law of God given through God’s servant Moses and to obey carefully all the commands, ordinances, and statutes of the Lord our Lord. (Nehemiah 10:28-29, CSB)

Don’t you know that there was much rejoicing and celebration taking place among the people that night.  They were back on the right path, God would be blessing them over and over again — what could go wrong?

But something did go wrong!  Terribly wrong!  Nehemiah 13 details that Nehemiah returned to Susa and the service of King Artaxerxes; and when he left, the people had begun to break every one of the things that they had agreed on.  They were not back where there forefathers were before, completely; but they were headed that way in a hurry.  When Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem, he got things straightened out (by whatever means were necessary to accomplish the  task).  But we are still left with the question, “what went wrong”, when everything seemed to be going so well?

Let me make three observations:

#1. Satan is strong, and sin is seductive.  The text does not say that, but we know that from other Biblical stories, and our own experiences.

#2. Their agreement was based on their ability to keep the commands.  This is the same mistake that the previous generations made.  They committed themselves to do all the right things, but never got right on the inside.  So many of the prophets chastised the people because of this failure, and the people in Jerusalem during the days of Nehemiah made the same mistake.

#3. They failed to pray about it.  This was the one that surprised me, because Nehemiah is often cited as a great example of leadership, because of his prayer life.  I tried to read Nehemiah very carefully, and found 13 references to the prayers of Nehemiah.  From what I saw, there is a break in the prayers of Nehemiah from Nehemiah 6:14 to Nehemiah 13:14.  You would think that as important as this “binding agreement” could have, and should have, been — it would have almost demanded prayer.  That shows how easy it is for us to get caught up in the excitement of a moment and forget to bring God into our plans and actions.

When we attempt great things, or even small things, let’s remember to not make the mistakes others have made.  Let’s examine what went wrong, even with the Biblical stories, and determine not to repeat their failures.  Peace.