Wednesday, December 17, 2014

God's Unfailing Joy at Christmas

"The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people" (Luke 2:10).

Christmas brings anything but joy to many people. Maybe you are one of those who dread Christmas. Maybe you wish Christmas would go away. Maybe you wish December would vanish into January. You are not alone.

Christmas is forced on us whether we like it or not. Retailers know they have to get it right during the Christmas period, which is a ‘make or break’ event, as poor sales in the last two months of the year can have a disproportionate impact on their profitability. Retailers must have Christmas and push it upon us.

You can't escape Christmas. Sappy Christmas music is played in the mall, in stores, and on the radio. Television broadcasts endless Christmas movies and specials. You can't escape Christmas. It's everywhere!

Yet, Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It is anything but a merry time for many people for several reasons.

First, it brings back happy memories that have been stolen away. I know a mother who lost her son in the prime of his youth in a tragic event. She doesn't celebrate Christmas any more. The memories of them gathered around the brightly lit tree on Christmas morning are too painful.

There is the lonely father whose home was torn apart by divorce. His ex-wife has the children this Christmas. There will be no visit from Santa Claus this year. No squeals of delight will fill the house with laughter. The house is still and quiet. There is a certain darkness for him this Christmas. He will go to his sisters home for Christmas dinner with her husband and children. He will bring gifts and try to borrow their joy to lift his spirit.

Then there is the poor couple. She works a minimum wage job.  His job barely pays the rent and utilities. There little Charlie Brown tree graces the sparsely furnished apartment in the projects. Christmas is a hard time for them too.

Some fear Christmas because of the dysfunction that flares up when family members get together.  "I just hope your brother doesn't ruin it again like he did last year.  I don't even know why we have to go.  It would be much better to have Christmas just between us."

So how about you?  Is Christmas time merry or morose, received or rejected, full of joy or full of misery?  Do you dread Christmas with a "Bah humbug," or look forward to Christmas with delight.

There's not much you can do to avoid Christmas. It comes whether we like it or not.  And, if you don't like it, the angels' message of good news and joy isn't there.

But, the message remains. So take it and celebrate. Celebrate with joy all that is good about Christmas because it is excessively good. It is the day to rejoice in the birth of the One called womderful, counselor, the mighty God, and the Prince of peace.

Christmas is filled with good and bad. Oh, if we could put aside the bad things and bad memories like commercialism, the sadness from loss, the lack of nice things to wrap for our loved ones, and our flawed families, and remember, remember the true meaning of Christmas at some point during that day. If we could make that journey from the field to Bethlehem and worship the Babe in the manger, we would know the joy of Christmas and be filled with the unfailing joy that our God delights to give us.  It is a joy that no one can take away. It is a joy that never fails because God never fails.  He chose to enter our night and bring the Light of life to every dark December.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

-Charles Wesley

The Unfailing Peace of Christmas

On August 5, 1914, The Great War broke out with a vengeance in Belgium with the invasion of the German army. Thirty seven million eventually died in what was then the deadliest conflict in human history.

In the first four months of the War, heavy fighting left a staggering one million seven hundred thousand soldiers dead. 
In the third month of the War, on 20 October 1914, the Germans attacked near Ypres, Belgium which caught the allies flatfooted. However, the French, English, and Belgians dug in and halted the German effort to gain a foothold from which to invade France.

Scene from the
1st Battle of Ypres
The first battle of Ypres ended 22 November and lasted over a month.  240,000 soldiers died. A stalemate occurred with the armies staring each other down from their trenches. Between the lines was a narrow strip of battered earth called "no mans land."

The artillery from each mighty army fired shell after shell into each other's trenches. Snipers picked off those who dared raise their heads above the protection of the trench. Occasionally, a suicidal-like charge by one side or the other would be ordered only to be repulsed with the survivors scrambling back to the safety of their trench. Horror is not even close to what these men experienced. There are no words to describe it.

A little over a month after the Battle of Ypres with the two powerful armies in a standoff, something strange happened. Something real strange.

Christmas Day, 1914. British and German
Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Items
On Christmas Eve, the English and French hunkered down in their ditch waiting for the next artillary shell to explode upon them. Instead of bombs bursting in air, they heard the Germans singing, "Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht! Alles schläft; einsam wacht..."  (Silent night, holy night; all is calm, all is bright).  The allies answered not with guns but by responding to the German Christmas Hymn with "Silent Night!"

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, another astonishing thing happened. Defying their commanders orders to never fraternize with the enemy, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across "no man's land" calling out “Merry Christmas!” in English. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick. But seeing the Germans unarmed, they climbed out of their soggy, cold trenches and exchanged the Christmas blessing.  Soldiers who had been shooting each other a short time ago now shook hands with one another. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes, plum puddings, and German beer.  They sang carols and songs together. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.

Here are excerpts from a letter from an English soldier describing this phenomenal day.
"This will be the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent or likely to spend. Since about tea time yesterday I don't think there's been a shot fired on either side up to now. Last night turned into a very clear frosty moonlight night. Soon after dusk we had some decent fires going and had a few carols and songs.
"The Germans commenced by placing lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us - wishing us a Merry Christmas. They also sang us a few songs. We had quite a social party. Several of them can speak English very well so we had a few conversations.
"There must be something in the spirit of Christmas as today we are all on top of our trenches running about. Whereas other days we have to keep our heads well down.  About 10.30, we had a short church parade and the morning Christmas service was held in our trench with the Germans joining us. How we did sing!  O Come All Ye Faithful and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night.
"At present we are cooking our Christmas Dinner! You can guess we thought of the dinners at home. Just before dinner I had the pleasure of shaking hands with several Germans. A party of them came half way over to us. So, several of us went out to them. I exchanged one of my balaclavas for a hat. I've also got a button off one of their tunics. We also exchanged smokes, other items, and had a decent chat. They say they won't fire tomorrow if we don't. So, I suppose we shall get a bit of a holiday - perhaps. We can hardly believe that we've been firing at them for the last week or two.  It all seems so strange. At present its freezing hard and everything is covered with ice...
"As I can't explain to everyone how I spent my 25th - you might hand this round please"
"There are plenty of huge shell holes in front of our trenches, also pieces of shrapnel to be found. I never expected to shake hands with Germans between the firing lines on Christmas Day, and I don't suppose you thought of us doing so. So, after a fashion we've enjoyed our Christmas."

Peace in the midst of war. Handshakes given in friendship instead of bullets of death. Celebrations of joy united opposing armies.

The birth of our Savior brought a day of peace.  Instead of the violence of battle, there was the sweet calm of peace. The killing fields were transformed by the birth of the Prince of Peace. Guns fell silent and voices united in singing "Silent Night" like an international choir  Enemies wished each other happiness with "Merry Christmas!" Amazing!  Truly amazing! Not even a World War could destroy the Christmas spirit on that Christmas day.

The fighting soldiers wanted peace, family, and the warmth of home instead of the shivering fear gripping them in the trenches.

That Christmas peace represents what is the hearts desire of every soldier on the front lines. Peace. And, there is only One who can bring peace on earth. That One is Jesus whose birth was announced in the heavens by the angels to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14).
The Christmas Truce Cross
Jesus' birth heralded the desire and plan of God to bring reconciliation between enemies. "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19).  In Christ, we are forgiven and reconciled.  We enter a love relationship of peace with Him which enables us to forgive others who have wronged or hurt us. Divine forgiveness fosters human forgiveness and peace between two hostile people. Or as in the Christmas peace of 1914, it is peace between hostile combatants. Granted, that peace was but for a day, but it represents the longing of lasting peace in every person.

It is the hope for peace every child has in a home marked by conflict between mom and dad. It is the hope for peace that every husband and wife has in their marriage. It is the hope for peace in every relationship, every group, every church, and every peace-loving nation to fill the night with strains of "Silent night; holy night, all is calm; all is bright."

Only in Christ can the barriers that divide us be destroyed. Only in Christ can we crawl out of our trenches and shake hands with our opponents with a blessing for them on our lips. That is the power and the hope of the unfailing peace of Christmas.

May you and I stop this Christmas and remember the power of Christ to bring a day of peace 100 years ago in the Great War. Let us too lay down our hostilities, shake hands with one another, and forgive even as Christ has forgiven us. And may the peace of Christmas be with you - not for a day but every day. "For Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14).  
Hear and see the first hand account of the 1914 Christmas Truce through this very moving letter from an English soldier as read by a narrator. Click this link or the arrow on the embedded YouTube video. 
Finish this devotion of God's Unfailing Peace at Christmas by listening to Hark the Herald Angels Sing performed by the Celtic Women.  Click this link or the arrow on the embedded YouTube video.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Unfailing Word of Christmas

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

I crawled into my man cave like a wounded and broken animal seeking refuge. My plans and dreams had died like a fire without fuel. There was nothing left. The red hot embers turned to blackened and cold ashes. 

I was bitter and mad. I was mad at the denominational bureaucrat who fired me from my pastorate. I was mad at myself for quitting my teaching job in a tough inner city school. Leave me alone. I just want to be mad. I want to be left alone. 

I couldn't understand or answer the question "why." Why?  Why?  Why? Why had all my world collapsed?

I felt like a nothing. I felt like God didn't care. I felt like no one else cared. 

I didn't feel like doing anything. It was an effort just to roll the garbage to the road.  The simple act of living was painful and tedious. 

I was hard to live with. I ignored my wife and snapped at her when she worried and tried to fix me. I was like an old snapping turtle who didn't want to come out of his shell. 

I lost faith. Gone. Kaput. Cold ashes. None of that stuff mattered any more. Nothing mattered. I was as cold and lifeless as the ruins of  a once proud civilization. 

My plans had been good plans. To minister, preach, and help disadvantaged inner city students was good. Because they were good works and good plans, they were God's plans. But they came to nothing. They had burned out and gone up in smoke. Poof!

And so I moped alone in my man cave. 

But my wife wouldn't leave me alone. She nagged me. And yes, sometimes nagging can be a good thing. 

"You need help.  Get your doctor to prescribe an anti-depressant.  Tell him how you feel. Go to a counselor.  Get some help. Do it for me. Do it for yourself."

I finally had to admit my powerlessness. My fire had burned out. Nothing was left within me. That admission was one of the hardest things if not the hardest thing I've ever done.

So, I stuck my head out of my man cave. I stuck my head out of my protective shell. My steps were cautious.  The path bristled with danger and risk. I felt alone. God had forsaken me. That was one thing I was sure of. 

But, I did it. The path turned into a road and what a long road it is. 

Looking back on my season of darkness during this Christmas season, my faith is now rooted in the unfailing Word of Christmas. It's a different faith than it was then. I like to think of it as a mature faith. It has risen out of the ashes of failure and adversity. 

I am reminded of Mary's conversation with the heavenly messenger sent to tell her that she would have a son and to call him Jesus. She replied,  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled" (Luke 1:38).  

That word is the unfailing Word of Christmas. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This is the Word that spoke into existence the heavens and the earth and is manifested in the infant born on Christmas Day. 

The old faith that I had vanished into thin air. I thought I had real faith. Adversity struck, and it left me like the castle in the air that it was. I had built it. It came from me and had sufficed for a long time, but it evaporated like frost on a cold morning.  The heat of hard times melted it quickly away. 

Thankfully, God revealed true faith to me. It is the faith made real because of the unfailing Word of Christmas. That Word enables me to trust God as good, true, and faithful. "May your word to me be fulfilled."  His Word is always fulfilled even when you and I sit in the ashes of failure, suffering, and adversity because his Word is true, good, and worthy of trust. 

His Word is always fulfilled  Our word is sometimes and often not fulfilled. My word, was based on my self-interests and my plans. And, my word had to burn away in order for the Word to be born in a similar way that the Word was born on Christmas Day so we can believe and trust the One who is good, faithful, and true. 

Let us remember the Patriarch of faith, Abraham, had his plans that gave birth to Ishmael. That was the old pie in the sky faith. Real faith brought Issac, the true child of promise, into the world. Abraham spoke and Ishmael was born.  God spoke, and Isaac was born.

Moses had faith in his plans to bring justice and freedom for his enslaved fellow Hebrews. Under his plans, he killed the Egyptian who was mercilessly beating a Hebrew slave. To Moses, it was a good thing to do. It was a good plan. Surely, it was God's plan to deliver His people from slavery by faith in his efforts. But Moses's plans went up in smoke. He was forced to flee to Midian. There, he learned real faith. It was faith born from the Word coming from the burning bush. Moses' word ended up in Midian.  God's Word ended in miraculous deliverance.

What about you?  Are you like me, Abraham, Moses, and countless others whose faith burned out and disappeared like smoke into the sky?  

Madonna Litta by
Leonardo de Vinci (c. 1490)
For me, God revealed His Word born on Christmas Day so that I truly know Him and develop His character (1 John 3:2).  In this Christmas season, I see Mary holding the infant Jesus at her breast. The weak and helpless infant Jesus was totally dependent on His mother's milk, care, love, and nurture. 

Out of my dark time years ago, I have come to see myself dependent on the Word made flesh. I am dependent on his bread broken for me to feed me. I am dependent on His love poured out on me.  I am dependent on His care and nurture to sustain me if I'm tempted to quit and hide in the man cave. 

Further, I believe that God has given me true faith this time as revealed in the unfailing Word of Christmas wrapped in God's goodness, truth, and faithfulness. I know it will be tested. I know adversity will come again. If it's not true faith, it will be burned up again until it comes forth as pure gold tried and true. 

If you're going through it, if everything you know and believe is burning away, or if suffering assails you, may you stand by real faith on the unfailing Word of Christmas.  
Click the link to listen and watch the beautiful Christmas hymn, "Son of God," sung by Michael W. Smith or click the arrow on the embedded YouTube video.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

God's Unfailing Love at Christmas

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son" (John 1:14 NLT).

The hospital where my wife is employed as a nurse recently added a room for the treatment of Ebola patients. Along with the new room came required training for all of the hospital's nursing and doctor staff and others who might have to be involved with the care of an Ebola patient.

The protocol to enter that room is something else. There is a preparation room adjacent to the patient's room. A staff member goes in with the caregiver to make sure the protocol is followed and he/she stays in the prep room until the caregiver is decontaminated and then both of them leave the prep room together. This is done for the safety of the one treating an Ebola patient.

Next, leggings are put on that goes above the knees and taped on. Then, a body suit is put on over the nurses uniform. Plastic gloves are put on and tape is wrapped around the opening. Shoe covers are slipped on and taped. Safety goggles cover the eyes. Finally, a special Ebola suit covers all of that enveloping the nurse in a cocoon of protection.

After leaving an Ebola patient, another protocol has to be followed. A Chlorox solution is misted over the Ebola suit. That's taken off, and then the Chlorox solution is misted over each protective article that was put on. When all of that is taken off, it goes into a special bag which goes in a special storage room until it is shipped to a contractor that destroys the contaminated articles. Then, the nurse and the staff member sign off that protocol was followed to the letter.

Why all of this protection?  One Ebola germ can infect my wife with the disease which can lead to death.  She could infect me and others. We could infect family members, friends, church members, and others. It's frightening how this virus could become a pandemic of death.

After Joyce told me all of this, I meditated on it the next morning during my quiet time. My thoughts turned to Christmas and how "God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16).

Jesus was born out of the unfailing love of the Father for us. He was born without any kind of special protocol to protect him from killer viruses - viruses that not only could infect and kill him, but viruses like cruelty, meanness, hate, rejection, and wickedness. These are viruses of the heart and spread like Ebola.

Jesus chose to be vulnerable in his birth and in his coming to our world. Almost immediately, Jesus was infected with the virus that eventually killed him. Joseph had to leave Bethlehem and refugee to Egypt because of the angel's warning against Herod's evil plot to kill all the boy babies under age three in Bethlehem.

The virus spread throughout Jesus' three year ministry. Again and again, Jesus was threatened. The mob wanted to throw him off a cliff. The Pharisees plotted to kill him. And, his Judas, hi disciple, betrayed him.
But the unfailing love and grace of the Father through the Son stepped into the infected room without protection. Born in a barn and placed in a manger used for feeding cattle, he was born and became infected with our killer virus which ultimately took his life. (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). And he took on our killer virus voluntarily because of his unfailing love and grace for you and me. "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:18).

Here's a question for you and me. Would you or I go into the room of an Ebola infected patient with or without protection?  Would you want your wife to go in that room?  I wouldn't do it. I told my wife to quit before she did it. The risks of infection are too great.

And another question.  Would you go in there if your spouse or child were in that room if you had the medicine that might save his/her life?  I would do it. I'd take the risk. You would too.

But, Jesus took on our deadly virus demonstrating his unfailing love regardless of who we are. "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:7-8).

And what is also amazing is that Jesus not only became infected with our virus shortly after his birth and later died from it, but by taking it into himself, he destroyed the lethal virus forever! "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).

So, let us bow before the manger holding the newborn child and worship Him. Let us sing "Joy to the World" for Love has come at Christmas!

Enjoy Love Has Come at Christmas by Amy Grant.  Click this link or click the arrow on the embedded YouTube video.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Word Fitly Spoken

There's nothing quite like an old-fashioned Southern barbeque. I'm not talking about the barbeque that comes from a little barbeque shack on a rural southern road.  I'm talking about an old-fashioned Southern barbeque like our ancestors had back in the 1800's. The happy planned barbeque at the Wilkes place at Twelve Oaks from Gone with the Wind comes to mind.  
That tradition is alive and well in the rural South. 
Back in the mid 1990's, I had the privilege to be invited to July 4th barbecues at Kenneth Morgan's pond house in Edgefield County, South Carolina. I was his pastor, and he always invited me and my family for the festivities and to bless the feast. Ah, the benefits of pastoral service!
Kenneth loved people and his large extended family. Several drove long distances for the gala occasion. It was an event not to be missed. With Kenneth, the more the merrier!  As I recall, fifty to sixty or more gathered to share stories, laugh, and visit with those they hadn't seen in ages. Real Southern stuff!  
Kenneth was a great Southern host mixing and mingling with family and friends making everyone feel welcome, and welcome we were!  
Pit cooked
BBQ chicken
Kenneth and some of the men stayed up all night laughing and telling stories while slowly cooking the Q over an open pit. The men basted the chicken throughout the night with a special home made Carolina sauce 
The ladies fixed all the sides and deserts.  There was "Miss" Angel's (pronounced with a short "A" like in "Ann." In the South, you show respect to an older woman even if she's married by the title Miss instead of Mrs." 
Well, where was I?  Oh yea.  There was Miss Angel's real Southern

caramel and red velvet cakes.  They were to die for.  Angel's husband, Mr. W. C., made the hash. You gotta have hash with barbeque, and he made the best.  Edgefield County is known for its peach growing farms, and fresh picked peaches abounded at fruit stands in the peach growing area. So, the ladies made mouth watering peach pies and peach cobblers. Laid before us were other assorted pies and cakes too. Someone always brought Southern fried pies (Yankees call them tarts). They are dried apples or peaches wrapped in a flour dough and fried). 
One barbeque staple we always had was Carolina rice. South Carolinians make rice like nobody else on the planet.  It's part of their culture from the old rice plantations on the coast in the 1700's. Other sundry Southern sides filled the tables like baked beans, biscuits, fresh corn on the cob, home made pickles, and fresh picked green beans out of someone's garden cooked with fatback, and fresh picked big, plump, perfectly ripened tomatoes. 
There was always enough to feed the whole county it seemed. 
We all loaded our plates, People gathered on the porch, in the pond, house, in the yard under the shade trees and ate until we were about to pop. Then, we went back for more. The barbecued chicken was so tender, it fell off the bone. We washed it down with a tall glass of Southern sweet ice tea. 
Then when we thought we couldn't eat another bite, we grabbed a clean plate and piled it high with cake, pie, and cobbler.  
After dinner, we lazied around and fought hard to keep from nodding off. There's nothing like a nap after a big dinner, but that would have to wait later after we got home. 
Instead of napping, the men kind of gathered in small groups to talk politics, catch up on family news, church news from near and far, and gossip a little bit. The women segregated themselves as they do in the South and cleaned up our mess and talked about whatever women talk about. 
After dinner on one of those happy 4th of Julys, I was busily talking as preachers are wont to do and noticed that Johnny had left us.  I looked around and spotted him fishing on the far side of the pond. 
I had been praying for Johnny and thought of him often.  He had been raised in church but was no longer active. Oh, he attended on occasion.
Here was my chance to talk with him privately. I excused myself and made my way over to chit chat with him while he was alone. I felt something was bothering him to cause him to miss the happy post-dinner fellowship.
"You had any luck?" I asked. 
"A few nibbles. Caught one not big enough to keep," he replied.
To be honest, I thought he was a little annoyed in that I had invaded his privacy. Sometimes, a man wants to be left alone to deal with whatever he's dealing with. 
So, we just stood beside each other in silence for a while before I spoke not knowing quite what to say.  
"We sure would like to have you in our church," I said hoping to start a conversation. 
"When I go, I like to go to my home church where my mother and family go.  I've been a member there all my life.  I'm not Baptist. I'm Pentecostal."
"That's good," I answered. Baptists are a little dry compared to Pentecostals.  I wish we had some of that Pentecostal spirit."
More silence. 
"Well," I thought, "that bombed."
"You know Johnny" I said breaking the silence, "It's important to go to church and get involved.  For me, I need the fellowship and encouragement. I know every church has their problems. My church has problems as you well know. They all do."
"Yea, my home church has issues too."
"But Jesus died for us, the church, and filled it with misfits like me. Look at his disciples. They argued and fussed, but Jesus loved them anyway. They were a band of misfits like you and me.  Know that you are welcome in our church. I'm always glad to see you when you attend.
"And church gives us a chance to grow in Christ too.  The singing, the preaching of the Word of God, praying for one another, and bearing one another's burdens."
"I'll think about it." He responded. 
"Yes, please do and pray too."
I talked on a little while longer. I can't remember everything I said.  I think I had a prayer with him and excused myself. I could tell he wanted to be alone. 
I didn't think much more about our meeting beside the pond. But obviously, he did.  
Johnny soon started attending our church more often. Later, he was there every Sunday. He moved his membership to our church, and it wasn't long before the church recognized his gifts and made him a deacon. 
After six years of ministry with these fine people, I had a melt down in a deacons meeting and resigned as pastor. Johnny was the only deacon who tried to talk me out of it. But, I huffed off anyway.  Driving home, I realized my foolish and rash decision and regretted it. 
I kind of lost touch with Johnny. We'd see each other from time to time on different occasions. But, we didn't get a chance to talk much. 
Recently, I was invited to officiate a wedding to be held at Johnny's church, my former church. I was presently surprised to find that his wife was there to operate the sound system. And where his wife is, Johnny is usually there too.  
At the wedding reception-dinner, we sat together and had an opportunity to catch up on family news. As we were about to depart, Johnny told me some things that I'll treasure the rest of my life. 
Me and Johnny
"Do you remember that 4th of July when I was off by myself fishing?" He asked. 
"Yes," I answered. 
"I felt that you came to me as a shepherd seeking his lost sheep.  You weren't pushy or condemning. You just came at a time when I was really low and dealing with some stuff. I still remember some of the words you said. That meeting  by  the pond almost twenty years ago changed my life."
Johnny and I became emotional. I had no idea what a few encouraging words had meant to him - words that the Lord used to change his life. Amazing!  It's like that verse in Proverbs.  "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).
I had a confession to make too. Something I had never done but should have done a long time ago. I apologized for exploding, resigning, and huffing off at that deacons meeting fourteen years ago.  
I said, " I  wish I could rewind time and have a do-over."
Then Johnny said, "Yes, we are both wiser today than we were back then."  
"Ain't that the truth," I responded. "It's like that old Amish saying, 'We get too soon old and too late smart.'" 
We hugged necks and vowed to get together again for a couples dinner somewhere. 
What a night!  What an experience!  You just never know  the effect of  what a good word spoken in love has. The Bible says, "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad" (Proverbs 12:25).

Critical and judgmental words tear down and destroy people.  Encouraging words spoken in love build up.  Words have a tremendous effect for good or bad upon all of us.  So, be a builder upper.  Speak encouragement in the spirit of Christ's love for you.  The effect can change the life of a person whose really low and dealing with weighty issues. 
When two or three are walking together, it will be a much lighter load for isn't that what a brother and a sister are for?
Finish your devotion with "Standing in the Gap" by Babbie Mason.  Click the link or click the arrow on the imbedded YouTube video.


Friday, November 14, 2014

The Less Traveled Road

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost

Me, Roger, Denise
It was a great mid-October weekend spent with Roger Kuehn and his friend, Denise Shoemaker, in Indian Mound, Tennessee, out in the middle of nowhere on the eastern ridge of the Cumberland Plateau near Sparta, Tennessee.

I served as Roger's pastor from 1976-1980 and we recently reconnected. He and Denise invited Joyce and I to visit with them and stay in their "Get-Away" cottage close to their log cabin. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in 34 years, and we enjoyed sharing our stories with one another. Denise and Joyce enjoyed getting to know one another too. 

They own an American Paint horse ranch with 17 horses. Joyce loves horses and was in horse heaven. She fell in love with their frisky, cute four month old Philly, Cheyenne, and wanted to take her back to Appling. 
In spite of the weekend rain, Roger and Denise
Syrup Making Mill
showed us the sights around the Cumberland Plateau mountains. Saturday, we went to Mennonite country in Muddy Pond, Tennessee. We enjoyed shopping in their quaint stores and got to see an old fashioned Sorghum Syrup making operation. Needless to say, we bought some of their sorghum syrup. My grandfather and I used to enjoy sorghum syrup over my grandmother's hot biscuits. You can't hardly find it any more in the grocery stores today. We took a scenic drive back to their place through the Calf Killer River Valley. Calf-Killer was a Cherokee Indian chief and the early pioneers named the river for him. 

Center Hill Lake
Sunday, we went with them to their church, Baxter United Methodist, and enjoyed a Tennessee mountain country service. After dinner at the Golden Corral in Cookesville, they took us on a sightseeing tour of the magnificent Center Hill Lake formed by the Caney Fork River of which the Calf Killer River is a tributary. That all flows into the Tennessee River. Roger took us up an old winding former wagon trail road. We had almost ascended to the top where a fallen tree blocked the road. Like 19th century travelers, we had to stop and move it out of the way before proceeding. 

We said our goodbyes Monday and headed back to Georgia. 

The trip to Tennessee via Interstates 20, 285, and 75 was awful. The Atlanta and Chattanooga traffic was absolutely awful. Nerve racking!  So, we plugged in our GPS to go home a different route through the mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina, and North Georgia. It was the road less traveled. 

We drove through the rain and fog, but even that didn't dampen the gorgeous autumn drive through the winding, twisting mountain roads. We were on adventure and weren't disappointed.
After traveling about 60 miles, we came up on Wooden's Apple Orchard near Pikeville, Tennessee. We had to stop.  We loaded up on fresh picked apples and sweet potatoes to take home. They also had a restaurant serving down home Southern meals. I got the Salisbury steak, homemade fried okra, homemade green beans, and cornbread. All were just like my Mom used to make. Boy, was it good!

William Jennings Bryan
We continued out adventure and soon rode into Dayton, Tennessee. As we passed the courthouse, a historical marker caught my eye. THAT was the courthouse where the famous Scopes "monkey" Trial took place in 1925. Being the history nut that I am, we had to stop and look around. There in the courthouse lawn was a statue of one of my heroes, William Jennings Bryan who prosecuted the case for the State of Tennessee against John Scopes who was defended by the great agnostic lawyer, Clarence Darrow. Scopes broke the Tennessee law which forbad teaching evolution in the public schools. He was found guilty and fined $100. The trial gained international coverage.  Bryan had run for President three times. Once, he ran as the Populist Party candidate with Tom Watson from Thomson, Georgia.  Thomson is near Appling where we live. Bryan was an outstanding Christian statesman and an outspoken Christian. Unfortunately, the courthouse museum containing memorabilia from the trial was closed on the Columbus Day holiday. 

After our surprise find in Dayton, we continued our journey home which included a scenic drive along the Ocoee River. 

The road less traveled was filled with wonderful surprises and sure beat the maddening traffic in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and the congested interstates. 

Wooden's Orchard
And that's kind of the way it is on the Gospel Road too. It's the road less traveled. Jesus said, "Narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14). The road to life is the road less traveled and is filled with surprises and adventure. Every turn leads higher and higher. Through the valleys, along the rivers, and stopping at the orchards to taste and see that the Lord is good is a pleasant journey away from the maddening world and culture so many follow. It is a journey along green pastures and waters flowing with the fountain of life. It is marked by the history of Calvary where our Savior suffered, bled, and died opening up for us the narrow road that leads to the abundant life now and life eternal. The Holy Spirit is our GPS leading us to our heavenly home. There's no other way for me. I'll take the road less traveled any day! Won't you?

Enjoy the "Glory Road" (Click the link) sung by the Gaither Homecoming Friends. Or, click the arrow on the embedded YouTube video.