Tuesday, November 25, 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!  
 
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 tall glasses 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 July's, 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 and 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, and praying for one another. 
 
"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. 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. 

"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.  


Me and Johnny
Then Johnny said, "Yes, we are both wiser today than we were back then."  

"Ain't that the truth," I responded.  

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. 


Cheyenne
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.




Friday, November 7, 2014

The Gift of Emotions

Who doesn’t want to be happy?  I think most if not all of us have the wish and desire for happiness in life.  I certainly do. 

But, I know as you know that happiness is elusive because happiness is getting what we want, and we don’t always get what we want.

Happiness is a fleeting emotion.  The feeling doesn’t last long even when we get what we want. 

Nevertheless, we are supposed to be happy!  Our culture fosters that idea.  I once attended a church service during a time when I was between pastorates. I was really low.  I was so low that I was reaching up to touch rock bottom.  I didn’t need to hear the worship leader say, “Some of you look sad.  Don’t look sad!  Be happy.  Come on everybody, how about a big smile to start the service today?”  I felt sick.  I felt like I just wanted to get up and leave.  My happiness machine was broken and wasn’t going to generate any happiness for a while.  I had to work through some things and get my mind and emotions around what had caused my despair.     You can’t be happy when you’re sad even when the worship leader tells you to be happy.  Instead, I needed the freedom to feel all of my emotions pouring over me which included anger, sad, loneliness, and hurt. 

God made us emotional.  They are a gift. Receive them.  Experience them fully.  I think this is part of what Jesus meant when He said that He gives life fully and abundantly (John 10:10).  Full living is to fully experience the emotional pain of hurt, sadness, loneliness, and other emotions instead of self-medicating with alcohol or building a wall around the heart to block the unpleasant, painful ones.

Let go and experience the emotion of hurt which speaks to our desire for healing and wholeness.  Sadness speaks to our need to grieve and accept life on life’s terms.  Loneliness speaks to our deep desire for relationship with God and others.  These are not bad emotions but good ones because emotions lead us to the understanding that we not complete within ourselves. 

Emotions point us to our need for a love-relationship with God and true friends for encouragement and support completing in us what is lacking.  I think this is what Jesus meant by a full, complete and meaningful life. 

Emotions tell us that we are alive and that life has meaning. I feel; therefore, I’m alive.

To be alive is to experience the gift of emotions and understand what they are telling us. 

Understanding them helps gives life meaning.  Jesus certainly experienced his emotions.  He didn’t build a wall around his heart.  He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He hurt when thousands left him after feeding them. He experienced loneliness in the Garden when he longed for his disciples to pray with him.

Gladness, as fleeting as it is, comes too when we walk through the pain, listen to the heart, and fully feel all of the emotions that make us human.  Jesus walked through grief, hurt, loneliness and much more.  Gladness came and went and came again for him.  He experienced his emotions deeply and fully in his humanity.  He showed that all of our emotions mysteriously weave and work together making the heart into a beautiful tapestry.    

(Special thanks to Chip Dodd’s insights from his book, The Voice of the Heart.)  Click link to preview and order Dodd's book from Amazon.

Click the arrow in the embedded video or click this link for "I Give You My Heart" by Hillsong.






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stop Playing Nice!

A pastor friend of mine didn't want to confront a mean church member who was wrecking havoc in the church and his ministry. He believed that it was not the Christian thing to do.  He wrongly believed that love for his enemies meant allowing himself to be pushed around.  I tried in vain to explain to him that Jesus didn't play nice with the Pharisees. He was direct,  confrontational, and even called them "white washed tombs" (Matthew 23:27).
 
With some people, you just can't play nice. In my beginning years of ministry, I had an evangelist tell me, "You've got to run over them before they run over you."  That was harsh I thought.  But he had seen me kowtowing to a member who was critical of the evangelist and of me receiving a love offering for him each night. The member said harshly, "One love offering for the week is sufficient.  He's getting too much money with these every night offerings." 
 
Nevertheless, the revival was a soaring success.  We had to extend the meeting to an extra night. The church was packed every night.  Many were saved and professed faith in Christ.  The Sunday after the revival, I baptized about 12 new believers.   
 
Such people like this sour member are stingy, mean-spirited, fault finders, and dream stealers. They are miserable and want you to be as miserable as they are!  My dad used to say, "Misery loves company."

As a pastor, I felt it my God given duty to play nice with malicious, spiteful people in my church.  Yes, there are those kinds of people in the church. Paul dealt with them often. In 1 Corinthians 5:11, he says to not associate with such people. "I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people."   Church bullies fall into at least two categories in this list. They are greedy because they demand their own way instead of Christ's way, and they are slanderers because they are verbally abusive especially in their unreasonable demands.  Confront them. Get rid of them. Stop playing nice.
 
The "not nice" people in church demand their own way and weasel themselves into power positions in the church. Every church has power brokers who run the church. I have been blessed over the years to have godly, kind leaders who wanted the church to grow and go forward. On the other hand, I have had those in my church who were power brokers and resisted every program and ministry I began to try and increase and grow the kingdom of God in faith and in evangelism.
 
I remember a man who I knew to be a negative trouble making bully. The deacons felt he should be on the board because he had never served and was a life long member of that church.  I begged and pleaded for them not to put him on the board and elevate him to a position of power. They did anyway. To make a long story short, he fought me in everything good I tried to do for the Lord and for that church to try and increase and grow the church. This contentious new deacon recruited others and persuaded his group that I needed to be fired. He recruited members who rarely if ever attended church to attend this business meeting to vote me out. He made the motion to fire me.  The discussion that followed was ugly and hateful. Those who I thought supported me turned against me.  But, many spoke out for me and against the motion. The vote was taken.  About 30 percent voted to fire me. About 65 percent voted to retain me. The rest abstained.
 
The fall out from that meeting cleansed the church. Most of the mean-spirited members got madder and left. For a while, attendance was down, but then it took off as my programs, outreach, and ministry were implemented without resistance. The church grew like a wildfire!  It was amazing.
 
You can't play nice with mean people. Paul advised Titus, "As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned" (Titus 3:10)
 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

God's Strange Call to Failure

Here's a strange call from God. It's the call to failure. It is a call foreign to American exceptionalism which rewards success and throws failure in the trash heap.  Failure is the antithesis of everything we've been taught and conditioned to believe since we were children. How strange that The Lord called us to fail!

Teachers don't teach it. They reward the successful student. When I taught in the public school, an ice cream party with a goody sack was held for honor roll students. They were privileged and got of class to participate in the celebration.

Coaches don't coach to lose.  A team's failure will only be tolerated for a short time before fans clamor for his dismissal. College athletic directors and owners of professional sports teams won't put up with a coach who loses more games than he wins. There was even a popular saying several years ago. "Second place is the first loser."

Businesses don't reward failure.  If a company loses money year after year, the CEO is replaced by the stockholders with someone who can make it profitable again.

Preachers don't preach failure either.  How many sermons have you ever heard on God's call to failure?  I can't think of a single one. Instead, it's all about overcoming failure to be the success God wants you to be. In fact, pastors who build bigger buildings, increase giving, and add members are often rewarded with even bigger churches and bigger salaries.

No husband and wife wants their marriage to end in the failure of divorce. On their wedding day, they dream of happiness, joy, and marital bliss.

Failure is not an option in our American culture. It is never recognized, never rewarded, and never held as a standard for others to follow.

As General George Patton famously said, "America loves a winner!"

It seems so odd and peculiar that God would call us to failure. It's so wrong. It's so out of the ordinary, and yet that's exactly what God wanted on one occasion for the Israelite army and His chosen people.

The strange call to failure is found in Judges 20:23-26.

"The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?”

The Lord answered, “Go up against them.  Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords."  

Can you imagine the consternation and confusion of the soldiers who survived this battle as they ran from the scene of slaughter where 18,000 of their comrades in arms lay dead?  Can you imagine the hurt, disappointment, protest, and even anger they had toward God?

They must have said, "But God, you told us to go fight against the Benjamites when we asked you whether or not we should fight them.  Why did you tell us to fight and not give us the victory?  We were defeated, and You were the One who told us to go into battle!"

So, let me ask.  Is every call from God a call to success. Is every task He sets us on going to end in victory?  Can a victorious life be a failed life?

It takes a lot of time in meditation, counsel, and reflection to get over the shock of failure that God engineers. The heart can become bitter. Doubt in the Lord's goodness can drive out faith. But in such times, faith is all we have to hold us together. And faith always leads to hope as God reveals the purpose of his strange call to failure.

George Matheson(1842-1906) knew failure. He lost his eyesight at age 20. His fiancé broke their engagement.

One of the great hymns Matheson wrote, "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go" contains these lines.  "O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, And feel the promise is not vain, That morn shall tearless be."

Matheson also wrote a book of devotions, Thoughts for the Journey, (which is available in a free ebook by clicking the link). He observed: "Is there no such thing as a call to failure?  What is it that God wants to perfect in us? Sympathy. How is sympathy made perfect?  Is it in the number of my victories?  No.  It is in the number of my defeats. It is not in my gains but in my losses that make me human. My heart must go through the pathway of thorns. The cross has fitted me for sympathy with the crowd.

"It is not the powers but the difficulties of the great that inspire us. I get my wings from their night not from their sunshine. I make their clouds my chariot. I rise upon the step upon which they fall. It is not the footprints they left on the sands of time that impel me to follow.  It is the spots where the footprints fail. It seems a strange thing that the temple of a holy life should have one gate not beautiful. Elijah had his depression. Moses had his temper. John, who saw heaven, had his moment in Samaria. I will take wing from their weakness. Get robed from their rags. I will rise from the spot where they wrestle. In the place where they flagged, I shall be constrained to fly."

Another reason God's call to failure is strange to us is because He wants to form the image of His Son in us making us complete and whole through the humility caused by failure. Our default position is pride. There was a time in my life that I was like the Israelites. I prayed and felt God calling me to "go into battle against the Benjamites."  But, I failed miserably. Pride kept me from seeking a counselor. "After all," I thought, "I'm a pastor. I have helped others with my counsel. I am the pastor-counselor, and counselors like me have all the answers. I even took several counseling courses in seminary." I thought I didn't need anybody's help, but I was so wrong.

I rationalized, "Why should I go to anyone else since I have all the answers?"  So, I tried harder in my own strength and was crushed again and again when I tried to figure out my issues on my own that had brought me such pain and depression.  But each time, I was routed on the field of battle like Israel. It was with enormous difficulty that I swallowed my pride and sought professional counseling and began in earnest seeking self understanding through long times of prayer, meditation, Scripture, journaling. Slowly, piece by piece, The Lord chiseled away offensive pride and self-sufficiency in me and wrought in me the grace of humility. 

One of the many truths I learned was to put aside my prideful self-esteem. I learned instead to bask in God-esteem and accept His providence in that He was and is always working to bring good out of my failures including His strange call to failure. The call to failure creates the image of Christ in me. Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29-30).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Lord's Baseball Game

Now Fred was a real baseball fan.  He had been invited by the Lord to watch the game in the owner's box and sat next to the Lord.  The Lord's team was at bat, and they were trailing 3-0. It was the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs.

The batter named Love stepped to the plate.  He swung at the first pitch and knocked a single because Love never fails.

Next up was Faith.  He beat out a bunt and put runners on 1st and 2nd because Faith works with Love. 

Batting third in the bottom of the 9th was Godly Wisdom.  The devil tried to deceive him with a curve ball.  Godly Wisdom looked it over.  Ball one, the umpire called.  Three more trick pitches but Godly Wisdom refused to swing at the sucker pitches.  He walked, and the bases were loaded because Godly Wisdom never swings at what the devil throws.

The Lord turned to Fred and said, "I'm bringing in my star player now with the bases loaded." Grace stepped into the batter's box.  Fred looked at Grace and said to the Lord, "He sure doesn't look like much!"  The devil's team thought the same thing and relaxed thinking they had won the game. 

The devil went into his wind-up, and threw a 99 mile per hour fastball.  It was high heat.  To the shock of everyone, Grace swung and connected.  Grace hit the ball harder than anyone could have ever imagined.  But the devil wasn't worried.  His center fielder was fast and never missed a fly ball.  He ran back, back, back to catch the ball and went up for the ball.  But the ball went right through his glove, hit him on the head, and sent him falling to the ground.  The ball bounced off his head and over the fence for a grand slam home run!  The Lord's team won 4-3.   

Then the Lord turned to Fred and asked him, "Do you know why Love, Faith, and Godly Wisdom could get on base but couldn't win the game?"

Fred replied, "No, I really don't know why."

The Lord explained, "If your love, faith, and wisdom had won the game, you would think you had done it by yourself.  Love, Faith, and Wisdom will get you on base, but only my Grace can get you home."
Click this link or the arrow on the embedded video for the Victor's Crown by Darlene Zschech and Hillsong.
"The Lord's Baseball Game" is copied with my edits from Evangelist Joyce Payne's September 2014 newsletter, "Outpourings of Good News."  Click on the link to go to her website. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Most Bizarre Promise

I love to watch God work in people's' lives.  Even more, I love to experience His work in my life. 
 
Out of the abundance of our God's grace, mercy, and providence, he turns the hard times into immeasurable blessings. Only by the power of God can a hard stone turn into a pillow of blessing. That's what He did for Jacob, and I've witnessed this transformation in my own life as well as in the lives of others. I've also read about it in the biographies and accounts of Christians who had a stone for their pillow. 
 
Jacob fled for his life from his twin brother, Esau, after tricking their father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing. The blessing rightfully belonged to Esau, the older of the two brothers. When Esau discovered the deception, he became murderously mad and went after Jacob.
 
Jacob was an unlikely candidate to receive the promise that God gave to his grandfather, Abraham, which wasn't fulfilled until the Hebrews occupied the Promised Land. But, God had said at the twins birth that the younger, Jacob, would inherit the promise instead of the older, rightful heir, Esau. 
 
The working out of God's promise was fraught with doubt, drama and danger as is all the promises that God gives to us. Jacob's adverse situation caused him stress and anxiety. He was always looking over his shoulder.  He was always looking back to try and detect any sign that Esau was closing in on him.
 
On his way to Paddan Aram to find a wife among his people, Jacob laid down on the hard ground using a stone for his pillow. His sleep was fitful, restless, and taut with tension. He dreamed of a ladder with angels ascending and descending on it that caused him great anxiety. He woke up in terror. And exclaimed, "God lives here!  I've stumbled into God's home! This is the awesome entrance to heaven!” (Genesis 28:10-12). Such a vision of glory would be anyone's nightmare. It is enough to send any mortal to his/her knees. 
 
In that horror, Jacob heard the voice of God. "The ground you are lying on is yours! I will give it to you and to your descendants" (Genesis 28:13). This is one of the strangest promises ever conceived. The place of my humiliation, the place of my collapse, will become the place of my conquest.

It is not uncommon for a person in the hour of adversity to have hope and a vision of a better fortune. But this promise is different. It is remarkable in how bizarre it is.  God said, "The ground you are lying on is yours!" There is a time coming in which your glory shall consist in the very thing which now constitutes your pain. Nothing could be more dismal to Jacob than the ground on which he was lying. It was the hour of his poverty. It was the season of his night. It was the seeming absence of God. 
 
But God declares that this rejected moment is to be the scene of his glory. "The ground you are lying on is yours!" The place of your prostration will be your paradise." There is no promise in the world so bewildering and yet so sweet to a distressed soul as this.