Monday, June 30, 2008

Hospitality in a Hostile World!

Happy Monday. I do hope you started your brand new week off yesterday by spending some time with God. Some believe you can do this all by yourself as you go about your normal routines, or take a long walk in the park, or enjoy some other activity. Some like to think they can meet with God by watching a religious television program or while listening to sacred hymns or gospel songs. While I would never deny that we can spend time with God at anytime and when we determine to do so there's always benefit and blessing, however, He sent His one and only Son to die on our behalf, and His death included the establishment of His blood bought Church. Therefore, spending time with God at the place where brothers and sisters come together is the very best way to begin your week. Sure, there are always notable exceptions and God understands better than we ever will when folks are unable to be in service with other believers. Yet, we lose the blessing and the start we need in our walk with Him whenever we fail to do life in the way He has laid it out in His Word.

We are very busy people. I am amazed at just how busy we really are. Our schedules are jam packed with places to be and people to see. This doesn't just apply to the workplace, our families are on a dead run even on the weekends. I'll be 62 within a couple of months and I can tell you that I have actually lived at a time whenever this scheduling deal did not dominate people's lives like it does today. No, I'm not saying people didn't need to be at certain places at certain times. They had appointments just like we do today. However, the schedule was in big blocks not by the minute and hour. I can actually remember people in the evenings or on Sunday afternoon just dropping by to visit. That's right. They would just drop by. We would all sit on the porch or out in the yard and visit. My wife and I had one dear friend who would do this and he might well stay for hours. Priorities and pacing was different and it goes without saying that we most assuredly did not have the choices for entertainment, amusement, sports activities, and even shopping places to choose from. The question for us is to think about whether we are better off in this melt down approach or when we took time to enjoy people.

Perhaps what brought this up was my mom telling me they had an unexpected visit from some old friends who were just passing through last Saturday morning. They were up in that area, therefore, they just dropped by. Wow! Can you imagine the panic in most of our homes if some folks decided to just drop by on a Saturday morning. I know in our busy busy world this would be not only a surprise but I'm not sure we could handle it anymore. It's hard to imagine that we operated with that more or less open door approach as a way of life just forty years ago. We often would throw a meal together and invite people to join in. It most likely would not have been anything fancy or special but we didn't feel embarrassed in asking them to stay and they didn't feel like they were intruding by joining together with us to share a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Maybe that's where we got off track, expectations. Today we want everything to be just right before anyone enters our home. We want them to feel welcome but basically on our terms and at our convenience. We are told the standard for hospitality in biblical times was that people felt a sincere obligation to take in folks who needed a place to stay, were just passing through, or for any other reason. We still get cards from folks that say their back door is always open for their friends and loved ones, and they then invite us to just drop by to see them some time. My wife and I have often talked about how wonderful those old days were when the spirit of fellowship and community was so evident, however, when it comes to how we might move back in that direction, well, we'll just have to schedule a time in our Daytimer to sit down and talk about it and perhaps develop some thoughts and ideas, that is, if we ever find the time to do it! Something to think about on a Monday! I do pray that you and yours will have a most wonderful week! Amen. ....More later.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Learning from the life of Job

Friday is a good day to reflect on your week and give God the glory for His great love and mercy. Yeah, I know that's kind of a difficult thing if you've not had a great week but regardless of the week we have, God is still God, He is still good, and He and He alone is worthy of our praise and adoration. This is essentially what the Patriarch Job told his wife after she had advised him to curse God and die. He told her that she was speaking like a foolish person and questioned her about how they should be faithful to God during times of blessing and times of adversity. I've heard many people over the years do quite a bit of piling on when it comes to their remarks about Job's wife. I've probably done some of that myself in a joking way. But when we think about all she suffered in suddenly losing all her children, her home, and all their worldly goods, and then to see her husband doubled over in pain and agony from a plague, we might do well to consider how we would react in those same circumstances.

I don't have to think long at all before I can remember being out of sorts over a slight inconvenience, delay, or trivial problem. Therefore, we can learn from Job's experience to continue praising God, not because we are in the best of circumstances, but because He is God. Many people run from the Book of Job because they see it as being just too depressing. I am fascinated and drawn to this great account because of the transcendent truths it lays out for us. Most people have concluded that Job's story was preserved in order to give us all some hope during times of struggle and difficulty. Many promote the idea that it is there to help us make sense out of why those who do their best to serve and be faithful to God undergo trials and suffering. While I do not deny these as being lessons that can be gleaned from reading this great writing, I have come to believe there's much more to it.

First of all I am completely knocked down by the depth of theological knowledge displayed by all the characters in this great drama. The dialogues that flow from the exchanges between Job and his friends are rich in imagery, detail, and reflect insights that are profound. Think about it. Job most likely predated Abraham. He did not have the written law which would later be codified under Moses. These people had learned what they had learned from oral tradition handed down and from seeking to know God as best they could. Sure, much of the conclusions drawn by Job's friends were incorrect but much of their thesis in how they described God and His greatness just take one's breath away. This tells me that God has not withheld knowledge about Himself to His created beings, all the way back to the beginning.

In the end, I conclude the lesson of Job is a lesson about the God who is sovereign and is always and forever at work to reveal His glory through all that happens in the heavens and in the earthly realm. Job was a part of a contest and he had no clue about the details. He persevered and remained committed to his trust in his God but as a human being he also complained that his treatment was unjust and unfair. This is how many of us feel at times. In the end, Job got a glimpse of God, and that was the end of his dialogue except to humble himself in the dirt. His questions ended. His complaints ended. But his confession of his position before Almighty God is one that we all should understand in terms of the purpose of this great account. Here's what Job said when he came face to face with God: "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore, I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes." As far as I can tell, Job never got any of the many questions he had put forth answered, however, he did have them answered in this way: The answer is God, our trust in Him, and without regard to any and all that happens, it is still the same, the answer is God! Have a great Saturday and Sunday and I will, Lord willing, have something for your Monday! May God bless. Amen. ....More later.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thanks, Baby Sister!

Today is Thursday, June 26, 2008. Twenty-nine years ago today we said farewell to our baby sister, Kayla, as she said goodbye to this world of heartache and woe, and hello to her eternal bliss in the presence of her heavenly Father. If there ever was a person who taught us how to live by the way in which she died, it was this precious gift of a child who lived out a legacy, and in so doing caused us all to desire to influence others before we leave the planet. We in her immediate family will never forget those eighteen months of being with her as she struggled and persevered in her battle against Leukemia. There are many ways people react when they find out they have a terminal illness. Kayla had many bad days where she had to battle the emotional distress of leaving her husband and three young daughters, however, on the whole, she determined, with God’s help, to make the most of her time by spreading God’s love to as many people as she could. She actually had a list and did her best to contact every person on it!

At her home going celebratory service many announced how they were impacted by her testimony for Christ during her time of trial. Those who visited her during times where the treatments themselves were almost as bad as the disease, left being uplifted, encouraged, and inspired by her attitude, her warmth, and her reliance upon God. Some said they often felt guilty because they had gone to bring her comfort but left having been comforted by Kayla. That my friend is a testimony worth remembering and an example of dealing with great challenge worth patterning our lives after. Everyone ended up with a ‘Kayla’ story. I know I’ll never forget what she told me about this entire episode. She said she felt so blessed to know in advance so that she could contact everyone she wanted to talk to and while she never thought she would be leaving so soon, how much she looked forward to seeing her Savior. Wow! Wow! Wow!

Today my mind’s eye goes back to her and my younger brother as we played together as children. She was my mom’s baby and she was always our baby sister. However, when it came time to say goodbye to this world she was a believer who at age twenty-seven was committed to her Lord as much as the most mature of saints. We are human and we can’t help but wonder how things might have been different had she lived. She, however, closed down that option by facing her illness with courage and faith as she prepared to be welcomed into her ‘real’ home. The Apostle Paul encouraged others to follow him as an example as he followed Christ. May God help me to follow in Kayla’s footsteps in leaving a legacy that will continue even twenty-nine years later. May God bless her memory as we remember her on this day. And finally, the lyrics to that wonderful song: Thank you for giving to the Lord …I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord …I am so glad you gave. Amen. ….More later.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pilate to Jesus: What is truth?

Pouring out some wisdom on a Wednesday. I read this week where the recent widely publicized photos of the supposed lost tribe on the Brazilian, Peruvian border was a hoax. Last week Scotland announced that one of the reasons test scores are falling is because students are turning more and more to the internet for answers and often the information they find and use is not accurate. I receive emails every single day where the sender believes the information being passed on is accurate but upon investigation it does not hold up to scrutiny. It’s hard to fathom how many actions are taken every second of every minute based on wrong or untrue information.

We should not be surprised since Jesus had this to say about Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44).” The question Pilate asked as reported in today’s title is one that echoes down through the ages. “What is truth?” The song lyric has this sentiment, “Don’t believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” Sadly, we see this lying game portrayed in every facet of our world, from politics to advertising, from personal deception to the misrepresentation and twisting of facts.
That’s why I must tell you there is only one source of truth that we can count on. It is that which meets the test of “Thus says the word of the Lord,” and it is embodied in the person of He who proclaimed Himself to be the way, the truth and the life. (see John 14) I love the verse that puts this issue of finding where to place your confidence and trust when it says this: Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7) We wake up every day to headlines, stories, articles, photos, television reports, radio broadcasts, magazines, and the incessant nanosecond updating on the internet; but many of these are slanted and distorted, therefore, we have trouble putting our confidence in any of them. Even the most well respected news sources have had to retract stories after discovering them to have been fabricated and false.
In view of how we are being bombarded with falsehoods twenty four hours a day, what are we to do? I am glad I asked that question on behalf of us all because Jesus responded to Satan during the temptation trial by quoting from God’s word as recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy, Chapter 8. Here is what He said: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” If we want to be certain of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we need to live in recognition of this statement as the only reality we can depend on. The good news is that we can be sure that God will never lie or mislead us and we can count on it, now, tomorrow, next week, next year, and forever! I do hope this truth encourages you like it does me. Amen. More later.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jesus: "Those who are well do not need a physician."

Here's something to think about for a Tuesday! This past weekend as I was privileged to minister to the inner city African American mission I was reminded once again that one of God’s primary purposes for His local congregation is for us to bear one another’s burdens. (see Galatians 6:1) The folks in that mission come with no pretensions and they allow their heartaches, hurts, pains, and sorrows to be known. One particular older lady came forward at the end of the service and she was crying her heart out. She is not in good health, her adult children are messed up with all kinds of trouble, and she is left to try and help them as best she can as well as trying to see after her grandchildren. On Sunday the strain was just too much but praise God she was able to fall into the arms of Jesus as myself and the others there did our best to love, comfort, and intercede on her behalf.

I thought how different this was from what most Church meetings are like in our so-called modern sophisticated religious world. I would have to go all the way back perhaps to my childhood days to remember a Church gathering where people poured out their hearts to God and openly sought the help and prayers of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t get me wrong, we do offer help to those who are hurting in our fellowship but the image of someone literally wailing out to God is not one I can easily picture. This is somewhat sad since history tells us there have been times when the Church was first and foremost a place for the hurting and not just a meeting of a special club.

We encourage people to be open, transparent, and honest in their expressions of need. However, I’m not sure we are equipped to deal with the reality of this happening. I could start with me. I typically am reluctant to share burdens with others and often excuse not doing so because many others have greater needs. That may be nothing more than a cop out because if that spirit of reluctance prevails, very few will be willing to share the great burdens that we all deal with from time to time. I can tell you the folks at that mission lay it all out whenever it comes time for prayer requests. Some are big needs like children and grandchildren who are unsaved and mixed up with gangs, drugs, and other illicit behaviors. They talk about health issues and financial needs like being able to buy gasoline or pay their light bills and meet their basic needs. Some seem small but when you think about things like having no air conditioning for two weeks while temperatures have soared into the high 90’s, well that is something to pray about.

But they didn’t stop with just pouring out their needs. They gave glory to God for the progress they had made in the small as well as some big things that had happened in their lives. They spoke about how some help had come to them from an unexpected source and wanted all to join them in praising God for His goodness. Some expressed that with all their troubles they were still so much better off than many and because of that they wanted to thank God for being there for them, day after day. I had worked hard on the lessons I prepared for them. I always try to do my best, with God’s help to bring His very voice by using His word to communicate truth. However, when I leave that place I always feel like I’m the one who received a blessing. I’m the one who learned something. I’m the one who is humbled by seeing God at work in these people who live in very difficult circumstances. Please join me in saying a prayer for Sister Ella and the rest of the folks at the True Light mission. Amen. …..More later.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Encourage Someone Today!

It may be Monday but as Yogi Berra said it seems like it is deja vu all over again! Last Friday I received an email that had as its subject the word: Encouragement. The email had one sentence and this is what it said: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9) It was from a friend I had not heard from in perhaps two years. It came seemingly out of the blue but it was very interesting because of the person who sent it to me. If you read my blog last Thursday, you will recall I talked about a lady from Canada who had attended our mid-week Bible study and prayer service. In that blog I talked about her deciding to find a fellowship to attend and then taking action intentionally to show up at our meeting.

Well, as I was talking to the class last Wednesday evening I told them it reminded me of a fellow who had done the same thing several years ago. Brother Carlos had been transferred by his company from Spain to the United States to help manage the integration of a large firm they had purchased in our area. Brother Carlos flew in from Spain on a Wednesday, arriving mid-day, obtained a rental car and then commuted out to a furnished apartment near the area where we live. He and a comrade got themselves situated, found a Walmart to purchase some needed items, and then Brother Carlos began looking for a Church nearby because he wanted to go Wednesday evening. He did show up that Wednesday evening and it was my pleasure to welcome him into our time of study and prayer. He also dragged his buddy along with him who really did not want to come.

Over the next several months I became better acquainted with Brother Carlos and found him to be a man of intense belief, faithfulness, and with a commitment to the cause of Christ. He attended with us for those months until his family arrived from Spain. They fellowship with Plymouth Brethren Churches and I helped locate one for them in the area where they were buying a house. He had a wonderful testimony and I hated to see them move on but once I heard about the customs they observed within their type of practice, I knew we were not going to be able to offer the same. I'll never forget a question he asked me one time that haunted me then and continues to do so even until this day. He asked, "But when does your fellowship pray?" I told him we pray at every service. He went on, "No, I mean when do you gather and pray for hours?" I told him we didn't. I later learned that the Plymouth Brethren do have prayer services that go on for two hours or more. They also have services that may exceed six hours on Sunday. Therefore, I was very happy they were able to locate a fellowship that was more like they had in Spain.

I told that story last Wednesday evening and out of the blue on Friday morning, as if Brother Carlos heard me talking about him, he sends out a word of encouragement. No greetings, just a verse to encourage. I sent him back an email and we corresponded about the fond memories we have of our time together. In telling this story over the weekend, it finally dawned on me. It wasn't the unusual deja vu sudden reconnection to Brother Carlos. Talk about being a slow learner! Could it be that God had something to say to me in the verse that Brother Carlos sent? That's what I will be focusing on as I continue to be thankful for how God works to build us up as we exercise the faith we have by encouraging others. I don't know about you but when you mention someone you haven't seen or heard from for a couple of years and then two days later you get an email from them, it might just be time to stop and think about that verse. So here it is, one more time: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9) Have a great week. Amen. ....More later.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Say Hello To The Folks Back Home

Pull up a seat and take a load off because it’s Friday already. Last Saturday as I crossed the Sabine River from Texas into Louisiana something came over me like it always does. For some reason the homing instinct kicked in and I felt very familiar with being on that highway and getting closer to where I grew up. (I think this is the Spirit implanted homing instinct we also have for heaven, or should have.) I drove through the Pisgah/Toro Community. It’s one of the oldest in that part of Louisiana. It’s also where many of my grandfather’s people lived. Growing up I visited them a number of times and they always seemed odd since they more or less lived off the land and appeared to be totally disinterested in the world in general. It was quite an education each time I was out there but there were some good memories as well. Their laid back lifestyle lived out one day at a time was conspicuous and their obvious grit and determination was commendable.

A little further up the road as they say I passed by the turn off to one of our favorite hunting spots. It was called the ‘old Cabra place’ and we would drive back into the woods and make camp. I can well remember many a cold morning with daylight barely visible, my teeth chattering, as we made our way down old abandoned roads to find our location. I was there for the thrill of being there. My grandfather was there for the ‘meat on the table’. But he loved it and it showed because in some ways it connected him back to his upbringing. I recall him telling me about the first deer he killed as an eleven or twelve year old. He had a funny look on his face as he recalled the conversation between him and his dad. Such memories.

I’ve already mentioned my visit to the cemetery but just past that turn off within a couple of miles stands what is left of the old baseball park. That was the scene of many of my greatest triumphs that is if you count people being fearful because no one knew where the ball might go when I threw it. I did hit a few batters when I was pitching. I had a modified sidearm fastball that was really fast but I couldn’t really guide it very well. I remember one night when we were playing Rosepine I unintentionally beaned a fellow who went down like a sack of bricks. Suddenly their whole team all came out on the field. There’s nothing like a good fastball upside the head to get people into the game. My errant missiles may be one reason I converted to third base early in my career.

As I turned left I saw where the old Bridges’ place used to be and next to that the Slay homestead. Lots of memories connected to those places. From there I made my way into the little town where I grew up. As I crossed the railroad tracks over on the left was the Conoco service station where I once worked. (Its now a parts/hardware place, if its open at all, it was kind of hard to tell.) Now you wouldn’t know it by my photo on this blog, and I readily admit that I do carry the marks of a high mileage vehicle, but back in the day as a teenager the girls used to flock to that station. While it may be hard to believe, they said I reminded them of James Dean, (the photo is of him, not me), and they were always coming up with things for me to check, from tires, oil, washing the windshield to checking their radiator, you name it and they wanted me to check it. But my stepfather who owned the station would eventually run them off because they rarely bought anything.

Who knows? Maybe I’m just imagining that’s the way it was. Perhaps I have, over time, become the joke we used to make, a “Fig Newton of my own imagination.” Or as they say, I’ve perhaps become a legend in my own mind. However, I do remember that day a carload of girls on a field trip stopped for gas. They were city girls from Shreveport and they were part of something called the Sunshine Girls. Believe me, they did enjoy flirting with and pestering me that day. As best as I recall, I didn’t mind it at all. But come to think about it, I’m not sure anyone can vouch for that story and if there were any witnesses, they are all probably dead by now. But thanks anyway for the memories, real or imagined. You be the judge. Have a great Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and I’ll try to have something to jump start your day on Monday. May God bless. Amen. …..More later.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

You Have to Do It Intentionally!

Thursday's thoughts. Good morning, afternoon, or evening depending upon when you read this blog. Perhaps you landed on it by mistake because I've received several notes from folks who have. Maybe you are running late today because you do have other things in your life other than reading the stuff I put together. One of the beautiful things about the way in which the internet works is how you can do it whenever you can do it, on your schedule, 24 hours a day. Last night we had a lady visiting in our mid-week Bible study who was from Canada. She was down in our area because her daughter was having some tests run and could be facing some serious medical complications. If you show up at a Wednesday evening gathering as a visitor, you can be sure you did so intentionally. This lady had a wonderful countenance and she was very comfortable with our little group. Why? One reason is that she knew and we knew that in the truest sense of the word, God's word in fact, she was a sister in Christ to us all. Therefore, in many ways it was like coming into a family gathering. We were blessed to be able to pray for her daughter and to enjoy fellowship with her.

Her being there reminded me of the several years that I dealt with folks up in Canada, mainly on the western side of the country. The people I dealt with were some of the most positive and supportive I've ever known. Their optimism was almost strange compared to many of their contemporaries that I dealt with here in the states. The work I was doing was oil field related in terms of opening up new opportunities for some patented products we sold. When I first started dealing with the folks in Canada I thought perhaps they were just pulling my leg. Maybe it was a joke played on a Yankee. But, over time, I learned that there was a genuine spirit of openness, friendliness, and acceptance that was very impressive. They had gone through the same turmoil and devastation in the oil patch that we had but for some reason they seem to have done it, and got through it without losing their positive outlook. I mentioned this last night and the lady who now lives in Ontario smiled in agreement and volunteered that she had previously resided in Calgary for thirty years.

This positive outlook was not 100%, but it was very noticeable. The withdrawn and bitter spirit I sensed on the part of many of our own folks was also very noticeable. Thinking about how they came across to me and how I came to appreciate the genuineness of their attitudes makes we wonder out loud how you and I come across to people. We who are believers have little excuse to come across as being angry, out of sorts, and disgruntled as we deal with other people. However, that is one of the things people say about us who claim to be Christian is how often we portray a picture of a downtrodden and gloomy life. If anyone has a reason to be optimistic and positive about who we are in Christ, and our certainty of His provision, our future, and our hope, then it would be those He has saved by His grace. I know from my own life, far too many times, that in the heat of the battle anyone can come across in a negative manner. However, the lady from Canada sought out a place to spend time with other believers intentionally! Therefore, you and I need to do what we do especially as it relates to our interacting with others in an intentional manner by doing our best to make a genuinely positive impression because of the hope that resides in us by the grace of God. Amen. ....More later.