Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Tear Down This Wall"

By John Stallings


A very successful businessman was on a road trip with his wife.

 When they stopped for gas she got out for a moment & shortly thereafter the businessman saw his wife engaged in conversation with the male service attendant.

After they finished she got back in the car. As they drove away the husband asked about the guy his wife was talking to & learned that she’d dated him in high school.

Feeling cocky, her husband says to her, “I bet I know what you’re thinking. I bet you’re thinking that you’re pretty lucky that you married me, a very successful president of a mega-corporation & not a service station attendant.”

She said, “No, actually I was thinking that if I’d married him & not you, he’d be the president of a mega-corporation & you’d be working in this gas station.”

There is a sin that is hard to detect, & its results are deadly.

It has been around since before man.
It is no respecter of persons.
It can creep in at any stage of your life.
It is a sin over which most Christians stumble.
Believe it or not, this is the only sin that even our face can commit.
The sin-PRIDE

In 1981 I had the privilege of visiting the Republic of China with The Blackwood brothers Quartet.

I was privileged to speak in several major rallies all over the Far East. God was gracious to give us many souls during these days.

I was more impressed with the city of Hong Kong than any other place I visited in the Orient. We ate one meal that had 23 separate entrees.’ Seven of these entrees’ were desserts. Ugh! But I did learn some things on this adventure; The Cantonese cooks are the best.

I also learned that The Great Wall of China was started about four hundred years before Jesus was born & is the only man- made object visible from outer space.

The wall continued to be built on & off for about two thousand years. Today it stretches, though it has collapsed in many places, from the east coast of China all the way into the north-central part of the country.

The Chinese people built it to keep enemies from attacking & invading their country. To this day, the Great Wall is a great source of pride among the Chinese. Tourists come to see it. Historians study it, & scientists use it to study earthquakes.

But did you know that some historians believe the Great Wall-the pride of China-backfired on them? It may have protected China from attack, but it also isolated the nation from many good things. For centuries much of the progress & discoveries that benefited people in other parts of the world never reached China. A great nation became a backward nation of barbarians partly because the Great Wall kept progress from flowing into China.

PRIDE

That’s a lot like what pride does. Some folk act prideful because they think it protects them or makes them look better than others around them. Little do they know their pride makes it harder for God to help them, or other people for that matter.

On the other hand, humility opens the windows of blessing. Humility makes it easier for God to speak to us & help us & bless us. Pride builds a wall that keeps many good things out of our lives; humility opens a window that brings many good things in.

Perhaps the highlight of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency was on June 12, 1987 when he addressed a throng gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in what was then West Germany. In a speech that could be heard behind the Berlin Wall in Communist East Germany President Reagan said…..

“General Secretary, if you seek peace. If you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union & Eastern Europe, if you seek liberation; come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!!”

These emotion- filled words have been compared by many with President John F. Kennedy’s speech given twenty-four years earlier at the same place where Ronald Reagan threw out his challenge, when he declared; “Ich bin ein Berliner.”[I am a Berliner!]

Just two years & four months after President Reagan’s speech was delivered, the Berlin Wall was torn down.

Pride’s most dangerous aspect is that it builds walls between people. You could almost use the words pride & wall inter- changeably.

FOREBODING WALLS WE FACE

There are a multitude of walls we all must face, many of which can be overwhelming. There’s;

…Racism
…Sexism
…insensitivity in others
…Strife
…Hostility
…Grudges
…Addiction
…Stubbornness
…Unforgiveness
…PRIDE

HERE’S A PRIDE QUIZ;

Are you easily offended?
Does it irritate you when your faults are corrected?
When you make a mistake do you have a pocket full of excuses?
Do you find it hard to receive instructions?
Do you mind being told what to do?
Do you get upset when someone crosses your rights?
Do you ever seek council or advice?
Do you have a grateful spirit?

Forty years ago this summer, the first moon landing took place, Apollo 11. It was then that the first man set foot on the moon. Many of my readers will remember the man’s name; Neil Armstrong. You will no doubt remember his words when stepping onto the moon, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” There was another man on that trip & many will remember his name, Buzz Aldrin. Buzz was the 2nd guy on the first trip to the moon.

Later that year there was the 2nd trip to the moon, Apollo 12. I’m going to refresh your memory by giving you the name of the lead astronaut on the 2nd trip, Pete Conrad. I bet few people could give me the name of the 2nd guy on the 2nd trip. His name was Alan Bean, but almost nobody remembers him.

SILAS

Silas was the Alan Bean of the Book of Acts. Because he, like Alan Bean, was the 2nd guy on Paul’s 2nd missionary trip he gets sort of lost in the shuffle. Of course we know that Barnabas was the 2nd guy on the first trip, but the 2nd guy on the 2nd trip gets a little fuzzy. We don’t know too much about Silas.

What do we know about Silas? For one thing we know he’s called a “Fellow worker.” We’re first introduced to him in Acts 15, at the Jerusalem council-the first church convention if you will. The apostles & elders hash out a thorny situation about what to do with the Gentiles & they composed a letter to be sent out & chose two men to take it—“Leading men among the brothers.” One of these leading men was Silas. Later Silas is mentioned as a prophet & he “encouraged & strengthened the brothers with many words.”

When Paul & Barnabas had a bit of a falling out, Paul needs a good 2nd banana to travel with him, so he chooses Silas. There must have been something about Silas that caused both the church at Jerusalem & the apostle Paul to choose him for some important albeit unglamorous tasks. Maybe the words we’re looking for are “faithfulness” & “Humility.” In 1 Peter 5:12, Peter mentions Silas using his Latinized name, Silvanus, & calling him a “faithful brother.”

Sometimes Silas traveled with Paul & at other times Silas & Timothy traveled elsewhere; places like Philippi, Thessalonica, & Corinth. Faithful, humble, willing to take the lower part-that was Silas. Let’s move this story along.

So Silas goes with Paul on his second missionary trip. They go through Syria, Cilicia, Asia Minor where they pick up Timothy to join the group. Paul gets his Macedonian vision & now the little band heads over to northern Greece. First stop- Philippi. One thing we know is—Paul is Paul! If ever a man could have worn a T-shirt saying “Here comes trouble” it was he. As you well know Paul is “hung –up” on Jesus & can’t & won’t try to hide it [thank God.]

“ANOTHER FINE MESS”

So now Paul’s preaching gets him in trouble resulting in him & Silas being arrested, beaten & tossed into the slammer. These men are in all probability hanging up on a dank prison wall with their hands & feet in stocks.

What now? Try this guys; give up. It’s not worth it. Of course we know that’s untrue but you wonder if Silas ever wondered, “Maybe I should have stayed in Jerusalem.” I don’t know what was running through Silas’ mind on this occasion. We might ask ourselves what our thoughts would be in a mess like this. How do we react when trouble & hardship comes our way? Do we blame God or say, “I don’t deserve this, - After all God, I’m doing your work?” I suppose this is a temptation for all of us; to blame God & others for our difficulties. It seems that sinful flesh is-“The same yesterday today & forever.”

A GOOD TIME TO PRAY

Friend, forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but I’ve learned when things are “all tied up in knots & wrapped around the axle” that’s a very good time to pray. When you can’t do anything & God is going to have to do everything, that’s another real good time to call on Him, am I right? Paul & Silas knew the same thing you & I know- that we have a heavenly Father who loves us. We can call upon the Lord in the day of trouble& expect to hear from Him. That’s what Silas did. At midnight, Paul & Silas prayed & sang songs to God. The only thing these two men of God had they could use were their tongues so they operated within the fullest extent of their liberty.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE STOCK MARKET

Paul & Silas never heard of the Stock Market but they were familiar with Stocks. The prayers & praises of these two men went up through the roof, moved through the clouds, shot through the Milky Way, scooted by Orion & the Pleiades & didn’t stop until they reached the throne room of heaven. Then God took their songs of worship & praise & sent them back down to earth in the form of an earthquake & the stocks fell off Paul & Silas the prison doors flew open. Then they probably sang a chorus of “Unchained melody.”

The jailor & his household were saved because of this miraculous jail-break but there was still work ahead for Paul & Silas, more towns to go to. “And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them & departed.—Acts 16:40

People can get spiritually “star struck,” & feel that if what they do for God isn’t evident to all, they’re wasting their time. The devil will tell us that we should never play second banana or be willing to play a humble role. But if the truth be told, God needs an army of Silases, fellow workers, faithful & humble, singing & praying & praising individuals who stay in there, not worrying about the accolades of men.

Isn’t it instructive that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem for His Triumphal Entry, when He made His grand entrance into the City of God, he didn’t come riding on a white stallion, wearing shining armor. That would have made Him look like a conquering military man.

No! Jesus made His grand entrance on a humble donkey. How great is that? No king in history ever rode into a conquered city on a donkey. That would be out of the question because it would be too humiliating. Other kings rode on prancing stallions or chariots in procession. Only Jesus rode a donkey. If you & I would be like Him, we should ask God to give us humility.

I close with a story from my life that after many years still troubles me. For years I had a minister friend who, though I loved him as a brother, I never truly understood.

To be frank, he was the kind of a person who always seemed to have an invisible wall up, through which, as far as I know, few ever passed. The wall was to me, unmistakably a wall consisting of fear, mistrust, & pride. The manifestation of this pride was that he’d never; under any condition, ever admit to any kind of failure. Out of 52 Sundays, I could usually count on a few “disaster Sundays,” either we got clobbered by the weather & the crowd was down, or I didn’t do as well as I felt I should in my preaching. Or maybe the church offerings were low.

This good brother never had a down Sunday to hear him tell it. He had an almost unbelievable mind-set. According to him, things in his life were always perfect. And to be candid, things did always seem to be going swimmingly for my friend. If I ever mentioned to him any problem I was going through, real or imaginary, he’d look at me & shake his head in wonderment. Every sermon he preached went great for him, every alter call was extremely productive; the sun was always shining, the birds always singing. This man never knew mediocrity.

Through the years of friendship, I would sometimes hear of reversals he was having, nothing of a moral nature but if I ever asked him about it the wall would go up & he’d put such a good face on things it made me feel I’d just listened to idle gossip.

I knew for a fact some of his children had gone through divorce but it wasn’t that different from what most men his age experience with their family. But he’d never mention it. I was pastoring a church in a distant town from my friend, & one day I heard through unimpeachable sources that the church he pastored had just filed bankruptcy. We spoke by phone but he never mentioned this & it was evident he was covering it up. By this time I was catching on that he had a problem facing reality. Do you think??

But I was older now & experienced enough that I was no longer going to be intimidated by his elusiveness, so in one of our next conversations I pinned him down about some of the things I’d been hearing. Still he hedged, never admitting to anything negative in his life.

Some time later our families were together. My preacher friend & I & were riding to the store one day & I finally decided to put a question to him respectfully but point-blank;-

“Have you ever had anything to happen in your ministry or personal life that you’d feel to be negative or bad or hurt you in any way?” Can you imagine asking a question like that? My friend knew me well enough to know I wasn’t just being nosey & that I was a friend who wasn’t going to spread anything negative about him.

He thought for a moment & then he spoke; “Well to be honest with you, the only thing I can think of that I think was my worst fault has been my tendency to be so far ahead of people & events that sometimes it caused problems, not because I was wrong but because I was moving too fast for people.”

Then I asked the last question I ever remember asking him. I said;-“Then what you’re saying is that the only fault or failure you ever had in your life & ministry wasn’t really a fault in you but the weakness in others around you.” He thought a short while & then a big smile crossed his face. I felt for a minute that hopefully my pushing him like this would cause him to get real with me & our friendship, instead of being bruised, would be enhanced. I thought he might even feel I was being sarcastic or dealing with him in a humorous way.

Finally he answered, sober as a judge; “John, you’re exactly right. It is, & has always been the problems of those around me.”

Not long after that conversation I got the shocking news that my friend had dropped dead suddenly. I spoke to a family member & learned that he’d just had a physical check-up & was told by the doctor that his constitution was a strong as an Ox. Later I learned he had stress related problems & had suffered a massive coronary occlusion. In essence, his heart had exploded; an extremely athletic man who had hardly gained a pound since his high school days.

I will always believe that my friend died very prematurely because he carried such unrelenting pride in the perfection of himself & everything connected to him. At some point the tipping point was reached & he was confronted with the incontrovertible evidence that his illusion of personal perfection wasn’t true & would never be true. This revelation devastated him, shattered him & killed him.

What we’re dealing with here is beyond a positive confession. Certainly words of faith & great expectation are powerful weapons in our spiritual arsenal. And unquestionably I would have been concerned if my friend had been prone to get down & wallow in his weaknesses & failures.

What I’m suggesting is that we by the grace of God tear down every wall that pride has constructed, because those walls will inevitably shut us off from the love, support & understanding we need from each other. They’ll certainly cut us off from our loving & compassionate God.

For…

.The lord resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.-
James 4:17


Blessings,

John

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm

By John Stallings



…..The joy of the lord is your strength.



An elderly man was at home dying in bed. He smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookies baking.

He wanted one last cookie before he died. He fell out of bed, crawled to the landing, rolled down the stairs & crawled into the kitchen where his wife was busily baking cookies.

To have one or two cookies before he checked out was all the old man wanted. With his strength failing, he crawled toward the cookies on the table & as he grasped a warm, moist chocolate chip cookie, his wife suddenly whacked his hand with a spatula.

“Why?” He whispered. “Why did you do that?” His wife answered, “These cookies are for the funeral.”

This story, though darkly humorous, underlines one of the realities of life; there’ll always be something or someone to squelch whatever enthusiasm or joy that we can muster up.

Curb your enthusiasm,”- you may know is a TV show on HBO that has been popular since the year 2000. I’ve never watched a whole episode, mainly because we don’t subscribe to HBO. The show, written by writer/comedian Larry David underscores his idea that many people seem to live their lives projecting “false enthusiasm” which he believes is used to imply that “they are better than you.” David’s style is droll & dry & so he would like to urge people to “curb their enthusiasm.”

Since my knowledge of the show is limited, I couldn’t tell you much of anything except the main theme of the show. I’ve seen David interviewed occasionally & have heard him explain in detail what his show is all about. Mr. David wants to condition his audience not to expect too much from life & in all candidness, not to expect too much from his show. This is David’s “shtick.” He hits the jackpot on at least one of his objectives

I think few would disagree that our world at present is a world in agony. In the past few years the number of people seeking treatment for depression in the U.S has doubled. More antidepressant drugs are being prescribed than ever before in our history. Our school children are unhappy in school so schools are beginning to require that kids take certain drugs to control their behavior.

Materialism & the obsession for accumulating things is what people are turning to trying to find some sort of joy. The very atmosphere in which we live seems to encourage us to be morbid & to curb any excitement, joy or enthusiasm we might be clinging to. There will always be some outward circumstance that if we dwell on it, can steal our joy.

I heard the story of a mother of eight who came home from a neighbor’s house one Saturday afternoon. As she walked into the living room she saw five of her youngest children huddled together concentrating with great interest on something. As she slipped near them trying to discover the center of attraction, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Right dab in the middle of the room were five baby skunks. She screamed at the top of her voice, “Children run!!!” Each child grabbed a skunk & ran.

Life is like that sometimes. We’re going full steam ahead, feeling wonderful with the wind in our sails & the next thing we know we’re confronted with a room full of skunks. All of the sudden our joy is gone.

We can exchange the word joy for enthusiasm, & we can also speak of fervency & excitement & be in the same vein. Here’s a kicker; you & I can’t make ourselves joyful in the New Testament sense. That kind of joy is produced by something else. False joy manifests itself in flippancy. True joy isn’t uncontrolled emotion just as love isn’t. Godly joy is a mindset that results from love, faith, & hope that spring from the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

Joy isn’t a commodity that can’t be produced, bought, sold or stolen. We can’t buy joy on discount at Sears. We can’t purchase joy-in-a-jug. We can’t download joy. We can’t lobby for it. We can’t win joy in a lawsuit. We can’t turn it on with a remote control. We can’t earn joy & we can’t learn joy. We certainly can’t inherit it. Joy is as unpredictable as the one who bestows it. We can’t achieve joy, we can only receive it.

Let’s look at three elements of true joy;

1. In Godly joy there’s the state of complete satisfaction.

Not long ago, in keeping with Rock N Roll’s 50 year legacy, a poll was taken across the country to find out the most popular song of all time. When I read the results, I was flabbergasted to learn that neither Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny cash, nor Little Richard were associated with the No.1 Rock n’ Roll song of all time. Instead the poll revealed that the number one Rock song of all time was by the British band, The Rolling Stones, titled “I can’t get no satisfaction.” That truly surprised me.

As I thought about it, it occurred to me that the popularity & longevity of the song can be attributed to a simple observation:- the song speaks to the fundamental dilemma of so many people in our society who are in a constant quest for something that can bring them satisfaction. You can almost see the history of the last 50 years of American life & culture written through the lens & lyrics of that song. The song has a refrain that says; I tried, & I tried & I tried & I tried & I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Maybe they’re saying; “I tried LSD & cocaine & I can’t get satisfaction.” “I tried sex orgies & I can’t get satisfaction.” “I’ve tried alcohol & amphetamines & I still can’t get satisfaction.” “I’ve tried money & materialism & all I can say is I can’t get no satisfaction.” Maybe the reason for the tremendous popularity of that song & its persistent appeal is that it speaks to a universal aspiration that reaches deep into our psyche- to a frustration that burns within our society which says; -- “I tried, & I tried, & I tried & I tried -but I can’t get no satisfaction.”

The other morning we were watching the news & it seemed that every other commercial was for Viagra, Levitra & Cialis. I suppose married couples use these products, but in my heart I know the heavy emphasis on these products stems from our national fascination with sex. Sex, -in too many cases, cheap, fleeting, loveless encounters that are so much a mark of our present culture. Never mind that our country is over run with teenage pregnancy, unwanted births, a staggering use of abortion as a means of birth control & once solid marriages that are destabilized by extra-marital affairs. People try all these pursuits to find satisfaction but something is missing

If you & I are unsatisfied in any way we can’t be joyful. It can’t be said that we truly have Biblical joy unless we’re satisfied in our emotions, our thought life & our desires. Furthermore, if we don’t have contentment, we don’t have real joy. Someone said, “if you can look back over your life & feel contented about it, then you have one of man’s most precious gifts—a selective memory.” I guess we’ve all felt that way at times.

We’re living in a world of discontent, especially in America. People can have a nice home, a nice enough car, & wonderful friends & family & still be inwardly miserable. Many folk feel life has been unfair to them or “dealt them a bad hand of cards,” so they have a resentful attitude toward others & many times toward God.

The Stone’s song says, “I can't get no satisfaction.” But as Christians we should be living in a state of complete satisfaction.

A miracle takes place that turns us from unsatisfied people who’re cumbered by many things, into people who have full “Jesus joy.” Jesus said to His disciples;

These things have I spoken to you that MY joy might remain in you…. Matt. 15:11

This isn’t the momentary buzz we get when we go fishing or shopping. If you & I can get tickled over a few moments of doing fun things but after it’s over & our hearts are cold, we aren’t in a state of “Jesus joy.” Real joy & contentment is freedom from irritation, anxiety, worry & dissatisfaction.

ANCIENT ISRAEL

Israel had a problem with complaining & in my opinion they still do. Listen to what God told them;

….because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully & gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger & thirst, in nakedness & dire poverty you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. Duet.28:47-48

Of course you & I are spiritual Israel & we also tend to have this problem. Our society has an impact on us, constantly bombarding us with negativism even though we may fight hard to resist it.

We must overcome this temptation of discontentment the world so fiercely has. Real joy it keeps us from succumbing to the spirit of this age.

For Paul & other writers of the New Testament, joy & contentment are paradoxical because they were able to have it in the midst of the worst of afflictions. An example of this joy in suffering is seen when Paul & Silas are in a Philippian jail. Though their bodies are bruised & beaten, they are singing & praising God at midnight.

Paul said;

for I have learned that whatever state I’m in, there to be content. Phil. 4:11

Paul didn’t just happen to be extra blessed with contentment. He said he’d learned to be content. He had to work at it. He had to keep his faith strong & keep on believing in the character of God.

True contentment is a deep-seated habit or permanent state of mind & must be based in Godliness. A contented mind arises from the assurance that God is always right & that His will is always best for us.

2. In joy there’s a spirit of excitement.

We’ve ministered In Jamaica several times over the years. When we’d get to church to start services, the whole church would already be around the alters. The people were excited about being at church. The sounds of their prayers & praises reached such a decibel level, you’d have had a hard time hearing it if the Blue Angels flew just over the rooftops. It would take great effort for the pastor to get their attention & let the people know it was time to start the service. Since Jamaica is a very poor country, certainly their joy & enthusiasm wasn’t predicated on their material possessions or their circumstances. Here in America, often it’s like pulling teeth to get people to come around the alter for prayer.

The Jamaicans are so full of “Jesus joy,” that if humor is used in a message they are always one step ahead. Very little ever goes over their heads. Sometimes the laughter would be so loud & last so long it would be a little startling. My travels around this world have convinced me that joy isn’t contingent upon the abundance of things people possess.

We can’t have true joy & it not be evidenced by excitement. And if we have excitement, we’ll have an enthusiasm that will cause people look at us in a quizzical manner, wondering what’s up with us.

Some churches however seem to think that joy is one of the “7 deadly sins.” I’ve been to funerals where more joy was expressed than in some church services I’ve attended. The Bible says --where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty & joy.


3. In joy there’s always a feeling of power & strength.

Joy is one of the greatest powers in the world. True joy fuses us with a dynamic feeling of power & strength that is exhilarating. A person in the state of joy is in a sense afraid of nothing. Jesus was able to face the onslaughts of hell because he had faith in His father which gave Him deep-seated joy.

Just a few weeks ago we all were witness to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I remember seeing a Haitian woman pulled from the rubble of a building after being buried for almost a week. Experts tell us that three days is the limit for a person to live with no food or water. The elderly woman was singing a hymn & had a big smile on her face as she was finally freed from the concrete tomb. I don’t have a clue as to what it was like to be buried alive for days without food or water & I hope I never have to find out.

Also I remember seeing a four year old boy pulled from the wreckage after being buried for a week. He shouldn’t have been alive but when they finally pulled him out, he was smiling ear to ear & both his arms were raised like he’d just come from an old fashioned revival meeting. I can’t say that this joy was spiritually motivated. But what I can say is, if this old woman & this child can manifest this kind of joy over being rescued physically, you & I who know the Lord, & have been pulled from the pits of sin & established on the Rock Christ Jesus shouldn’t let anything steal our joy or curb our enthusiasm.

NEHEMIAH

In the 5th century BC, Nehemiah stepped forward to do the will of God. He did what God had put in his heart & mind & found the joy of the Lord was his strength.

As a result he was able to overcome intense opposition & threats; by taking wise defensive measures, by setting a good personal example & by forging ahead with his obvious courage. In Nehemiah 8 he spoke to the people saying;

Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet & send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

King David called the Lord “my rock”, “my strength & my shield; my heart trusted in Him, & I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, & with my song I will praise Him.


ALL IS RIGHT-OR-ALL IS WELL?

There’s a big difference between saying “all is right in my life” or-“All is well in my life.” The first phrase suggests that everything in my life is in order & under perfect control. This statement suggests absolutely everything is going exactly as I desire & there’s not a worry in the world. Frankly I couldn’t make that statement with a straight face -could you?

However the second phrase suggests something very different. “All is well” suggests that things may not be going according to my plan. Things may not be as great I would like in my health. My finances & my relationships may not be right in this moment. Nevertheless, I can still sing this old song;

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I can’t always say- “everything is right” but I can always by faith say, “it is well with my soul.” It’s clear to me that if an individual “can’t get no satisfaction” they’re looking in the wrong place.

Listed among the Fruit of the Spirit is, love, joy, & peace. As we’ve tried to say-this isn’t something man can achieve on his own. It’s a “God thing.”

There’s an old Bill Gaither song we used to sing back in the seventies;

The world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away.
You know the world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away.
This happy face that I’m wearing, my JESUS put it there to stay,
Because the world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away.

This is what makes Christians different. This separates real joy from the cheap thrills & temporal pleasures of this present world.

Only joy can say;


"The world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away."


Blessings,


John

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Nick At Nite



By John Stallings

 
Recently the world was aghast at hearing about a small humble house in Seffner, Florida where a man was swallowed by the earth, never again to be seen nor heard from.
 
This man was in his bedroom ready to retire when his world literally dropped out from under him and he was gone. The rest of the house was intact and its inhabitants untouched. It was as simple as that.


That’s right; straight from his bedroom to the bowels of the earth.
 
Seffner Florida isn’t an unknown place to me as when I was a kid evangelist I held revival meetings there. It’s very close to Tampa. I’m sure that if I had pressured folk to be saved because they couldn’t be sure the earth wouldn’t someday swallow them up, I’d have been laughed to scorn. To even make a statement like that would have been tantamount to suggesting a flying saucer might kidnap them.


I can’t imagine a more shocking way to die neither can I imagine a situation that would be any more impossible to plan for or for that matter- guard against. Is there even insurance that could cover a person for a thing like this; - “If the earth swallows you, you’re covered”? Covered indeed.


The years have taught me that it can contribute to our spiritual growth to be thrown for a loop once in a while. Befuddlement can lead to experiencing familiar things in a new way. 
Confusion can be a prelude to new insight, a breakthrough to newness of life.  Perhaps this is why I’m so fond of Nicodemus. In him I find a companion for those times when the familiar suddenly drops out from under my feet, and things become strange and unknowable.

NICK

Spiritual confusion probably came as a surprise to Nicodemus, a man who occupied a position of power in the halls of faith.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and most probably a member of the Sanhedrin, the “Supreme Court “of the Jewish people. 

NIGHT

 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, a time symbolic of mystery and uncertainty. 

Night time is a dark time.

Night time is a quiet time.

It’s easier to do something secretive at night.

It’s easier to do something illegal at night.

It’s easier to do something private and/or personal at night.



Nick came at night.  Night gives way to silence … to stillness … which then gives way to too much time to think … and to feel. It’s at night that we fight with self-doubt. It’s at night that the “what ifs” whisper in our ear. It’s at night that fear settles in. It’s at night that guilt and shame drag us into their torture chamber. Monsters do live in the dark!

There’s a reason that bars are filled at night. There’s a reason suicide rates climb at night. There’s a reason psychic hotlines and spiritual prayer hotlines peak at night. And there was a reason Nicodemus sought Jesus out at night.


Recently I heard a newsperson on a local station say; “nothing much happens in the daytime. Everything of any importance happens at night.” Maybe that was a little over stated but I’m sure the newsman didn’t think so.

Night time,-when we are apt to grope in the dark and to pray with fervor that old prayer -“and things that go bump in the night, dear Lord, deliver us.” 
Night time, -where the edges are fuzzy and the way unclear.

 Maybe Nick, being a religious leader, didn’t want others to know that he was seeking counsel from this upstart young Rabbi. Perhaps Nicodemus was afraid of the criticism of others. Perhaps He didn’t want others to hear what he was asking. Or Nicodemus could have come at night because Jesus was too busy for a private interview during the day.


Maybe you’ve noticed I’ve borrowed a phrase from the Nickelodeon Television Channel to name this message, “Nick at Nite”.


Nicodemus is the “cream of the Jewish crop.” One wouldn’t dream of having life any better than he has it. He’s a Jew, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin -the highest legal, legislative and judicial body of the Jews-, and a highly respected teacher of the Old Testament Scriptures.

We don’t know all that was haunting Nicodemus, it doesn’t matter really – but we do know that he shows us what we should do and where to go when the night settles in on us.


Here's what we know;-“Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God …”. Nicodemus was looking for answers or help and he knew God was the place to find them.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus doesn’t give Nicodemus time to go much further. It’s almost as if Jesus cuts him off mid-thought; he interrupts and goes straight to the core of Nicodemus’ problem.

I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again … you MUST be born again” (vv. 3 & 7).

Nicodemus was haunted by something. He was hoping Jesus could give him some relief … maybe a word of encouragement or a simple key to peace. But Jesus sees the real need and gives the real answer ... enough of the secrecy ... he comes out with it. “You MUST be born again.”


Hear Nick speak;


Rabbi, please tell me. I’m a ruler. I’m an educated man. I’m a religious man. But Rabbi, I have this void in my heart and I am a broken man. I need to have something in my life that will transform my evil to good, darkness to light, hate to love, ugliness to beauty, stinginess to generosity, and sin to salvation.

 Rabbi, please tell me. What is it that I need?”


Hear Jesus speak;

Nicodemus, you don’t need information - you need transformation.
• Nicodemus, you don’t need refinement- you need renewal.
• Nicodemus, you don’t need a new start, you need a new heart.
• Nicodemus, you don’t need a better life - you need a new life.
• Nicodemus, you don’t need to turn over a new leaf - you need to be born again! You need a “do- over” from the inside out.

Nicodemus, you weren’t born spiritually sick, you were born spiritually dead.


Bear with my humble illustration for a moment.  


You’re a renowned pianist, trained by the finest concert pianist the world has ever known. When you perform, crowds gather to listen. Everyone hails you as the master in your area of musical expertise. Now suppose some young man comes along who grew up in the back-woods and who never had a piano lesson in his life, but simply taught himself to play on a broken-down instrument in his grandmother’s house. When this hillbilly musician comes to town, his talent is discovered, and people throng to hear him perform. When he does, tears come to the eyes of those in his audience. You too listen to him play. You, better than anyone else, recognize in him a musical genius that you have never had and never will have. When you hear him play, you wish you had his abilities.


I believe this is the way Nicodemus must have felt about Jesus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee who is at the top of his field. Not only is he a member of the Sanhedrin, he’s a Bible teacher. Yet when he hears Jesus teach, he hears the answers to questions that have bothered him for years. He watches the crowds as they listen to Jesus, and he knows he has never held the attention of an audience like Jesus does. Jesus speaks in simple terms, but His message has great power. Nicodemus observes the miracles Jesus performs, knowing he has never performed as much as one miracle. By nearly any standard, Nicodemus doesn’t hold a candle to Jesus.



BUT--NICK CAME!


The most important thing was that Nicodemus did come to Jesus, and pays Jesus a compliment.


He sees Jesus as a teacher from God, because Jesus was working miracles.  Nicodemus was savvy enough to know that Jesus could only do the great miracles that He did if God was with Him.


 What was Nick searching for? I believe that Nicodemus was searching for the way to eternal life.  Jesus’ answer to Him in verse 3 would indicate that this was the case. 

 Nicodemus’ question was similar to that of the Rich Young Ruler who asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”


 In spite of all Nicodemus’ religion, he evidently, like that rich young ruler, knew he was lacking something. For all of Nicodemus’ efforts as a Pharisee who tried to keep the Law of God, he must have realized that he was falling short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness.


 Nicodemus was trying to get to Heaven by performing good works, and I think that he sensed that he just wasn’t cutting it. To use a sports analogy, our good works are like a long fly-ball hit into center-field, right into the glove of the center fielder. It looks good, but means nothing.


An important discussion took place between Nicodemus and Jesus under the quite protection of the night. This discussion had great implications for Nick and for us as well.

I believe that Nicodemus understood that Jesus was using an illustration.  I don’t think Nicodemus expected to literally go back into his mother’s womb. I think he was asking, “You say everything has to be new; that there needs to be a new birth. How can all things be new?

How can I change who I am? Can I crawl back inside my Mama and start again? “How can I start over?”


Nicodemus knew that he needed something different. He just didn’t know how to get it!
  But Nick speaks out of a position of confidence, knowing that he has generations of tradition on his side. 

We know….” He begins, taking the posture of a wise old rabbi, “taking the newer, younger rabbi –Jesus -under his wing in a family fashion.”

 “We know…” Nicodemus speaks on behalf of a theological set of principles that have long since worked out the kinks of uncertainty.  Nicodemus appears to be confident, bold, self-assured, a man with all the answers. However, in this nocturnal meeting with Jesus, “where things go bump in the night,” his safe little world begins to unravel. 
  
Nick doesn’t fully grasp that underneath his certainty is the possibility of uncertainty, and that even though he thinks of himself as having it all figured out, below the surface he is deeply curious, and perhaps a little uncertain, thus his nighttime visit with Jesus.

“Nick, we see you making your way through the darkened streets, and we wonder why you are here.  The records indicate that you’re a man of light and reason, a learned man steeped in the discipline of scholarship.  Yet here you are, driven by your curiosity, pulled by your insatiable desire to answer the question “Who is this man Jesus and how relevant are his teachings?” 

You begin with a statement and set the stage for a speech.  But underneath… the questions are bubbling away.

Nick, you are experienced in detecting the subtle nuances in the thought of a rabbi.  You are skilled in finding the loopholes in logic. You can articulate with great ease the deep intricacies of faith.  Why is it that you stumble here?  There is no board lighting up with answers or directions for you in this midnight meeting with Jesus.  You follow your curiosity and find yourself walking on thin air trying to fit Jesus’ words, into an understandable pattern.”

Jesus says one thing: “you must be born from above,”  “What’s that supposed to mean--? You must be born again?” 

If Nick were alive today he might have said…” Say what?

Nick doesn’t stop there.  Think about it:  if you are born again, then you must grow up again.  Think about your life, Nicodemus.  What would you do differently if you had half the chance?  How would you grow up differently?  How would you re-edit the narrative of your life?  As you enter more deeply into your puzzlement, Nicodemus, you’ll find that Jesus is inviting you to be curious about your life, and to rethink your assumptions and conclusions with an altered perspective. 

 You are challenged not only to conduct an autopsy on your past, but to look to the future through the eyes of redemptive possibility.  How might your life be different if you were born again?  How would your life be altered if you truly believed, from the beginning, that God loves you with an unconditional love?  For God so loves the world, Nicodemus, for God so loves you.

“Nicodemus, patron saint of the curious, we see you in the flickering lamplight, your face an arresting mixture of confusion and interest.  Jesus waits, the silence broken only by the sound of the wind banging the shutter against the house.  You tug at your beard and rethink your life, seeing your past and future through the eyes of the One who loves you. 

Every true Christian has been born again. Being born again isn’t about improving one’s morality or having a powerful spiritual experience. It’s a completely new way of seeing the world. It’s the eyes of the new birth that allow a Christian to see the truth of the Gospel. The new birth is also the engine of Christian growth. It’s the new heart God gives that helps us put our hope in God rather than the idols of this world.

 In a moment Nick, you’ll disappear from this story.  It’s as if you need time to think about what Jesus offers you. You’ll remain silent throughout the rest of the gospel.  We’ll wonder time and again what happened to you after this night. 

 As the story unfolds, and Jesus’ popularity grows and his message spreads and the drama builds and the crowd shouts “Crucify him,” we do not see your face, Nick, but we know you are there in the shadows, watching it all, your safe, predictable world coming apart at the seams.

Nick, later, we’ll see you one more time, for you will come again to Jesus, this time as the day is dawning.  Along with your friend Joseph of Aramathea you come to the tomb of Jesus, your hands full of burial spices and your heart full of sorrow.  The last of your clearly defined world crumbling around you, and finally, you discover you are wide open to a God you cannot reduce to a set of beliefs or lock safely away in your theology. 


 Your spiritual confusion leaves you open to a God powerful enough to re-work your life and make it into something altogether new.  

And you will turn your face into the breeze that stirs, faintly at first, but then stronger, and you will catch the scent of dawn, and turn your open, newborn face toward the day, full of possibilities you can’t yet imagine. 

 
Blessings,

John



















Friday, September 29, 2017

Someone To Watch Over Me

By John Stallings

I remember when I was a kid and my parents would go out of town. As soon as we heard they were leaving my sister and I would quickly ask, “Where are you going?”

After being told where our parents were going, somewhere in the exchange of information one of us would ask “Can we go with you?” My parents didn’t go on vacations without us so we invariably knew; they being preachers, -where they were going had something to do with ministry. Maybe a convention or a ministerial seminar. More times than I can count I remember one of my parents saying, “Johnny, son you can’t come this time.”

My next question would be “Well, how long will you be gone?” After gleaning these details either my sister or I would ask the most important question of all, “Who’s gonna look after us?” An overwhelming majority of the time the person who would keep us would be my grandmother, my mother’s mother. It hurts me to say it but she and I didn’t get along all that famously but she was a great cook. Grandma Manley made the best Apple turnovers you ever tasted. Somehow we were always able to “tough it out.”

When Jesus told His disciples he was going to leave them and return to His Father, they naturally had lots of questions to ask also. “Where I’m going you can’t come” Jesus said. Like confused children the disciples asked, “Who will take care of us?” They probably asked, “Where are you going and how long will you be gone?” Jesus’ answer was, in essence; “this much I can tell you; I’m not going to leave you alone. I’ll ask my Father to send you another comforter to stay with you. He will be with you until I return.”-John14:16

In this story Jesus is the “parent” ready to take the next stage of the trip to the cross and to infinity and beyond, and the disciples are the children. Jesus even calls them “little children.” So, is it too much to think of the Holy Spirit as our “babysitter,” the one looking after us while Jesus is away getting things ready, just like he promised?

As we speak, Jesus is in heaven practicing with the heavenly angelic choir so they can roll out the red carpet and give us a rousing welcome to heaven, polishing those pearly gates so that they shine when we arrive. Or, maybe he’s at the great “Wal-Mart in the sky” picking up our favorites. Or, maybe he’s in the garden cutting fresh flowers for our rooms. He’s got to be doing something, right? He’s got to be doing something because he’s taking his own sweet time coming back. I think it safe to say that heaven is in her “last day operations” right now and Jesus is making one last check of the banquet tables.
When it comes to the Rapture, I’ve got to be frank, I cannot for the life of me figure out what’s the hold-up? I’m about ready to get outside and start doing “rapture practices.” But I’ll restrain myself. Just exactly how bad do we have to act before the Holy Spirit picks up the phone, calls Jesus, and says “Hey, man, you gotta come home. This place is out of control.”

When you asked your mother when dinner would be ready, and she said, “in a little while,” you knew you’d better get a snack. Or, when you ask your wife how long ‘til she’s ready and she answers, “in a little while,” how long is that? Suffice to say you might as well watch a John Wayne movie because it’s useless to watch the clock.

I’ve said it before but I still haven’t figured out what takes women so long to get ready to go somewhere. I can be ready to go to the Moon in thirty minutes but it’s not that simple for Juda. Women even have “nighttime rituals” for something as simple as going to bed. Women “get ready for bed.” I’ve never gotten ready for bed in my life, other than brushing my teeth. I just go to bed and I suspect most men do the same.

Biblically speaking, “in a little while” seems to mean 10 years, 100 years, 500 years, 1000 years. From where we sit in 2016, it’s been so long since Jesus said, “I’ll be back in a little while” that some folk wonder if he has forgotten. They ask, “Is he gone for good? And if he is gone, where has he gone and what in the world will we do without him? And what is he doing, exactly, and why doesn’t he show himself?” It’s just like the child waiting for their parents to come back and take charge. “Who will watch over us? And, what do we do in the meantime?”

AN ALL IMPORTANT QUESTION

That’s the question of questions. What do we do in the meantime? Well, one thing’s for sure, the ministry must go on in the meantime. If the disciples could do it, we can do it. No offense to them, but they were no better than us. Jesus promised an Advocate to these disciples and us. This is important - he did not expect them – or us – to be faithful all by themselves. He didn’t expect them to do anything by themselves. In fact, in the Gospel of John, he tells them they CAN’T do anything by themselves.

He is sending an advocate – in the Greek, the word Advocate means- one who is called alongside. The Holy Spirit is called alongside them to strengthen them to do all kinds of things that they could never do for themselves. Someone to teach and advise, but also someone who watches over us, comes alongside and handles situations that baffle us. We could all use an Advocate.

IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRISTS COMMAND THE BELIEVERS WAITED AND THE HOLY SPIRIT CAME.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. -Acts 2:1-4

Do you remember the TV show “Designing Women?” I usually don’t get interested in these “all girl sitcoms,” but occasionally I enjoyed this one. I guess it’s the “Georgia Boy” in me and also the fact that I liked Dixie Carter, at least her character in the show.

She died a while back, and columnist Connie Schultz wrote a tribute to her and her Designing Women character, Julia Sugarbaker. In this article, she says, “The passing of actor Dixie Carter has reminded me just how much most of us could use a friend like Julia Sugarbaker… the smartest and sassiest woman in the Southern Georgia foursome of "Designing Women."

Oh, the thrill whenever Carter's Julia Sugarbaker set her sights on someone who had committed the crime of small-minded thinking, be it prejudice, sexism or just plain stupidity.” That was Julia’s thing – getting riled up – her loyalty made her a fierce power to behold. My favorite scene is at a beauty pageant after Julia hears an arrogant Miss Georgia bad-mouth her baby sister and former Miss Georgia, Suzanne Sugarbaker.

Carter comes alongside of this beauty queen, Marjorie, and lets loose the storm of sisterhood: she defends Suzanne and her baton twirling talent so passionately and so eloquently that you want to stand up and cheer. This is her finale: "And you probably didn't know, Marjorie, that Suzanne was not just any Miss Georgia; she was the Miss Georgia. She didn't twirl just a baton; that baton was on fire. And when she threw that baton into the air, it flew higher, farther, faster than any baton has ever flown before — hitting a transformer and showering the darkened arena with sparks. And when it finally did come down, Marjorie, my sister caught that baton, and 12,000 people jumped to their feet for 16 and one-half minutes of uninterrupted thunderous ovation as flames illuminated her tear-stained face. And that, Marjorie — just so you will know and your children will someday know — is the night “The lights went out In Georgia."

Connie Schultz ends her article by saying, no matter how old we get, there’ll always be a Mean Girls Club. Most of us yearn for that Julia Sugarbaker kind of friend who overhears the nasty gossip and steps up to unravel the yarn on our behalf.

Friend, the Holy Spirit is kind of the Julia Sugarbaker of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the one who gets fired up, riled up, fed up and who steps up, who Advocates, who strengthens and inspires and who is in charge, and who does not mind reminding us that he’s in charge until Big Daddy comes home. That’s the plan Stan!

God knows that the Christian life is too difficult to be done alone. When it comes to following Jesus, nothing is done alone. We have his spirit inside us.

We can’t change God’s schedule, but, in the meantime, we have this Advocate watching over us, ready to come along side us and inspire us and lead us on.

It is interesting to note that the word "comforter" was also used for legal aid or the counsel for the defense; so the Holy Spirit is that. Jesus is our aid at the right hand of the Father; the Holy Spirit is our aid on earth. Jesus is an advocate in Heaven; the Holy Spirit is a conditional advocate on earth.

The reason Jesus had to return to Heaven was twofold. First, He went to do His work. Hebrews 7:25,

"Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them."

Second, He went to give the Holy Spirit HIS work to do.

There are other times when He will empower and strengthen OTHERS to say just the words you need and give you just the comfort you need. This does not mean the Holy Spirit is not doing the comforting. He is leading and strengthening someone and using him to comfort us and strengthen us in our time of need. At times He runs alongside to help and there is no human aid in sight. At other times, He leads someone to come to us to be our aid, our comforter, to pick us up. In either case, this is the work of the Spirit. He simply sometimes chooses to use human help.

In my own life there have been many times the Holy Spirit alone has been my comforter. In the mid-nineties, I lost both my parents within a six month period. I can remember standing by their caskets and though my heart was breaking I could feel the Holy Spirit comforting me. I could almost feel fingers touching my arm. It was the Holy Spirit coming HIMSELF to watch over me, to look out for me and give me comfort.

Then this same Holy Spirit led others to speak words of comfort to me; He led loving friends to encourage my heart. He was comforting and strengthening me both WITH and WITHOUT human instruments. The Christian should yield himself to the Holy Spirit in order that the Spirit may use him to comfort, strengthen and restore others.

When the Christian writes a note of comfort, he should ask the Holy Spirit to deliver it for him and to use it as a strength and comfort. When a word of comfort or strength is spoken to a bereaved or weary friend, the power of the Holy Spirit should accompany that word. Hence, the Christian should speak to the Holy Spirit BEFORE he speaks the word of comfort, asking Him to speak words that he cannot speak and to leave impressions that he cannot leave in order that he may be used as a tool of the Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen the discouraged, weak, lonely, bereaved or fallen brother. There is a wonderful truth in John 14:26,

"But the Comforter, Which is the Holy Ghost, Whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."

Notice the words, "and bring all things to your remembrance." The Spirit-led and Spirit-filled Christian may so yield himself to the Holy Spirit that when he comforts , the Holy Spirit will bring to mind what he ought to say. The Christian will enter into the very work of the Spirit Himself as a tool to be a comforter.

Thank God for those times the Holy Spirit Himself has come to lift me up and strengthen, and to comfort me. Thank the Lord for those times when He has touched a friend and spoken through him as a human instrument to comfort me and strengthen me and lift me up. And thank God for those times when He has used me as a tool to comfort others! My prayer is,-Oh, Holy Spirit, use me again and again and again and again to strengthen the weak, lift up the fallen, encourage the discouraged, offer fellowship to the lonely, give a smile to the sad and comfort to the bereaved and weary.

It is interesting to note that in a sense Jesus had to leave in order for the Holy Spirit to come, that the Christian might be benefited to the fullest. For one thing, Jesus can serve us better in his glory and we can do greater works because the Holy Spirit came.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father." –John 14:12

Jesus entered the very presence of the Father; at the Father's side He can help us and intercede for us. He knows our needs more. He felt them while He was here, so He can send the Holy Spirit to dispense the fulfillment of our needs. Hence, He helps the Father to know our needs. Though He doesn't have to persuade the Father to help us, He does remind Him of what help we need. Jesus isn’t interceding for sinners, that’s our job. He’s interceding for you and me.

When I was a young pastor, I did so many things myself that I later had others to do. I have filled the baptistery, prepared the communion cups, cleaned the building, turned on the lights, turned on the heat/AC, printed the church bulletin, drove the church bus, taught a Sunday School class and of course preached. Sometimes I even led singing. However, with the passing of the years and the increasing of the church membership I‘d have others to do what I used to do. Though I’d miss the personal contact and many of the tasks, it is expedient to my church people that I administrate so that greater works can be done than were once done when I did it all myself. I could say to my people, "It is expedient that I go to administrate, for I can send many others to do the work that I did and get more done."

Jesus was our comforter while He was here, though in a sense He continues to comfort from the right hand of the Father. He has sent us the Holy Spirit to comfort us and through that Holy Spirit greater works can be done than were done when our Lord was here.

I am sitting in our computer room now writing these words. If Jesus were in Jerusalem tonight, I would catch the first plane tomorrow morning and I would fly to see Him. However, in all probability I wouldn’t get to see Him or talk to Him, for millions of others would be seeking the same privilege as I.

If He were here on earth, it just may be I would never get to touch His hand, see His face or talk to Him personally. But now that He’s gone and has sent the Holy Spirit, He is in this room with me in the wee hours of the morning, and I feel His presence. I can talk with Him. In this sense, it was expedient for me that He go away, for through the Holy Spirit, I can be with Jesus anywhere I am, even in the wee hours of the morning in a quiet room in Florida.

Isn’t it comforting that we have this Third part of the trinity to strengthen us, lift us up when we’re trodden down? Isn’t it thrilling to know we have…


Someone to watch over us?



Blessings,



John

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Life's Crazy Bounces

by John Stallings


If you’re like most people, you’ve never heard the name Coleman Mockler.

His story is told in Jim Collin’s excellent book, “Good to great.” The book tells about men who took good companies that people never expected to be more than average & made them great.

Though the name Coleman Mockler probably doesn’t ring a bell, you have no doubt heard the name of the company he made great, especially if you are a man & you shave. The company of which I speak is Gillette.

During Mockler’s tenure as CEO of Gillette, he steadied the company through three hostile takeovers all on the promise of a series of products that might prove profitable. These products were the Sensor & the Mach3. Now when Mockler did all this, these well known brands were in development & it was his determination & leadership that kept Gillette from being just another good company bought & sold to gain market share.

With his patience, Gillette became great. Mockler was a shy & unassuming man, & with his success also came a degree of fame. Forbes magazine came knocking & when they couldn’t agree about a picture of him to run with their article, they used a cartoon of him in the image of Conan the barbarian, showing him conquering all his competitors.

Mockler had the picture in his hands, seeing it for the first time as he walked in the halls of his office & had a heart attack still grasping the picture. He died that day.

LIFE DOESN’T ALWAYS MOVE ALONG THE PATH WE ANTICIPATE.

Look at King David. When he was made king he had every reason to believe all would be right with the world but his first wife grew to hate him. Who better to be king than the man who’d started as a boy giant-killer, was a sensitive poet, a great warrior & leader of men?

Then his father-in-law was bent on killing him, his second marriage started off in adultery, murder & the loss of a child. His daughter was raped by her brother & then this son was killed by another brother. His wickedly vengeful son Absalom starts a civil war ousting David & taking his stepmothers as wives.

We’ve all heard of the providence of God. Though the word isn’t found in most modern translations, in English the word “Providence” has two parts. Its “pro” & “Video” put together, literally meaning “to see before.” It refers to God’s gracious oversight of the universe. The word’s deepest meaning is: God not only knows the big picture, He also concerns Himself with the tiniest details.

The title of this blog, “Life’s crazy bounces” may trouble you at first because we are taught that nothing happens to the child of God in a “happenstance way.” And that is true. God’s people don’t just bounce around helplessly with no rhyme or reason to their experience. Very true. So the correct idea is that “bouncing” is a word or concept we mortals use to explain what our life experience sometimes feels like. But from God’s perspective, we’re all on a divine time-clock experiencing exactly what He has planned for us to experience.

GOD UPHOLDS ALL THINGS,
GOD GOVERNS ALL THINGS,
GOD DIRECTS ALL THINGS,
GOD ATTENDS TO ALL DETAILS,
GOD DOES IT ALL FOR HIS GLORY.

God doesn’t roll dice. Nothing happens in God’s world by chance.

God is in charge of what happens, when it happens, how it happens, why it happens & even what happens after it happens. This is true of all events from the beginning of time. He does this for our good & His glory. God isn’t the author of sin yet evil serves His purpose. He doesn’t violate our free-will yet free will serves His purpose. We’re not supposed to understand all this; we’re just supposed to believe it.

1. WE’RE READY FOR LIFE’S CRAZY BOUNCES WHEN WE TRULY BELIEVE GOD'S IN CONTROL OF OUR LIVES.

Have you ever heard the saying, “God moves in mysterious ways?” Many people think it’s a scripture verse but in reality it’s from a song written in the 1800s by an Englishman named William Cowper. Here’s the first phrase;

GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS
HIS WONDERS TO PERFORM,
HE PLANTS HIS FOOTPRINTS IN THE SEA
AND RIDES UPON THE STORM.

Although the Bible doesn’t actually contain this verse, the principle is everywhere between its covers.

God takes time in His Word telling us the stories of men whose lives dramatize the fact that He isn’t a time-dweller. He’s not a senile old fuddy-duddy, He never gets in a hurry nor is He always scurrying around trying to catch up.

I heard about a man who was praying & said, “God, is it true that a million dollars is about the same as a penny in your sight?” God answered, “Yes, it’s true.” Then the man asked, “God is it true that a minute is about the same to you as a thousand years?” God answered again that this was true. The man then asked, “God will you give me a million dollars?” God answered, “Of course, in a minute.”

God’s ways, His thoughts & His schedule differs greatly from ours & He wants us to understand this fact.

JOSEPH

Joseph is one of the best examples of a young man whose life was subjected to many crazy bounces. If anyone could say they experienced rejection it would be Joseph. He was one of Jacob’s twelve sons, & was in the line of the great patriarchs of God’s people. Joseph was also from a long line of unhealthy family favoritism, as matter of fact he was caught up in one of the worst cases of sibling rivalry ever.

Talk about dysfunctional families. Joseph grew up in a home torn by the conflict of two wives vying for their husband Jacob’s attention. The rivalry escalated when Jacob began to favor Joseph the first son of his favorite wife Rachel. This smells bad already, right? Oh yeah, troubles brewing here.

Joseph was too young & immature to deflect in any way the favoritism his father showed toward him; in fact he seemed to relish it. He wore the flashy coat his father gave him & actually flaunted it telling his brothers about his dreams of the future when one day people would bow down to him, including them.

Not surprisingly the anger Joseph’s brothers felt grew into hatred & when they got their chance they threw him in a pit, finally selling him into slavery. For Joseph it well might have seemed his life was over but God had other plans for him. To use baseball terminology, it might have seemed he’d bounced out of the park & out of play. Things went from bad to worse for a few years but in God’s time Joseph won the favor & respect of the great Pharaoh whose dreams he interpreted & eventually he was made second in command in all of Egypt.

This seemingly crazy bounce played into God’s plan for Joseph to be instrumental in saving many lives in the years to come through his wise stewardship of Egypt’s grain reserves. As the story unfolds, many years later his brothers visited Egypt to buy grain to take back home to Canaan. They didn’t recognize Joseph but he recognized them & when he revealed his identity to them they were shocked & terrified.

But what does Joseph say to them? He absolves them from blame or responsibility & tells them it was God who’d sent him to Egypt to save many from starvation. After what appeared to be nonsensical bounces in the life of Joseph, a divine plan & pattern finally snapped into focus.

And likewise, God has plans for each of us.

As Joseph’s story closes his father died which gave the brothers further cause to fear for their lives. But Joseph reassured them that the providence of God was at work through it all & said to them;

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done to save the lives of multitudes.”


MOSES

The life of Moses was also a study in crazy bounces. He started off a basket case. By all accounts he should have been dead. He was in the equivalent of a Hebrew refugee camp. Moses was abandoned by his parents under threat of the State. The pharaoh king fearful of the sheer number of the Israeli population ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill any boy babies as soon as they were born. He of course expected this to be carried out, but Moses was spared. Moses was part of a despised minority [baby boys] so despised in fact they were victims of legalized murder.

A question arises here; why did God wait until Pharaoh decides to kill all male infants before Moses is born? Why didn’t God just allow His deliverer to be born before Pharaoh decided to kill all the Hebrew male babies?

Think about it this way; the lethal environment into which Moses was born provided an opportunity for a Hebrew child to be raised by the daughter of Pharaoh. The man who was going to take 2,000,000 stiff-necked people through a hostile desert for 40 years, meet face to face with Pharaoh as God’s spokesman & write the first five books in the Bible required a very special kind of training & the development of some unique abilities.

So God arranges a set of circumstances wherein a Hebrew mother places a perfectly healthy beautiful child into a wicker basket which would end up in the possession of the daughter of Pharaoh who raises him in a manner fitting royalty. Think about the utter improbability of a baby boy born to a hated Hebrew slave receiving grooming required to do all that God had planned for Moses. Yet it’s no problem for God because He’s sovereign.

Moses was banished to oblivion in the bleak "desert university" for forty years until God called him one day out of a burning bush. This calling was the continuation of a life that was marked by ups & downs. We’re told that after a long life of 120 years, Moses died secure in the arms of God.

He came a long way from the wicker basket & passed on in accordance with God’s timetable for him. He must have marveled as he looked back over his life & all that God had wrought through him. And let’s not forget, before he died Moses was still robust enough to climb Mt. Nebo in the land of Moab, a mountain that’s extremely high. He hadn’t sat on the sidelines of life & though he wasn’t perfect we are told after his departure, --No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”


2. WE’RE READY FOR LIFE'S CRAZY BOUNCES WHEN WE BELIEVE GOD IS KEEPING SCORE & WILL SETTLE ALL ACCOUNTS IN HIS TIME.

We live in a day when it’s possible for anyone to write a book. Some of the most unsavory of characters have written books & made millions. Victims of crimes have written books telling their side of the story. O.J Simpson has written a book as have members of his jury. Even O.Js prosecutors have written book. Books are written on romance, science fiction, drama, poetry, & there are biographies and autobiographies. Some books are written to enlighten the public, others are written to confuse them.

It seems everyone wants to write a book including me & some books that are written are actually worth reading. I spent a lot of money over the years before I woke up to realize you’re blessed if you get one or two nuggets out of the average book, the rest aren’t worth a whole lot. Some books are extremely important, while others don’t say much at all.

I’ve never had a book written exclusively about me but two of my songs are included in books telling the back-story of the song. This is humbling on more than one level.

Did you know that your life story is being recorded? Well it is. You say, “Brother, my life is so boring no one would write about me.” Oh but you’re wrong. The devil loves for people to think no one is watching & that no one cares what they do or say. But the devil is a liar. You are so important God is writing your life story every moment. Most people aren’t aware that God has that much interest in them but He does. God is a God of justice & He’s going to be very honest in His book about you & me.

The reason God is writing about us is there’ll come a day in which we’ll have to stand before Him & there’ll be no denying anything God chooses to bring to light. Now I don’t profess to know how God keeps His records I just know He does it.

In 1 Cor.3:11-15 Paul tells us that we who are saved will appear at the Judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to our works. This of course isn’t to be confused with the Great white throne judgment where sinners will be judged & punishment will be meted out. The child of God won’t have to worry about being lost when he comes to this judgment, but we’ll all be judged according to our works.

If you study Paul’s words here, the only concern for the Christian is that his works will be burned if God finds they weren’t done out of the right motivation. God will determine if our works are wood, hay & stubble or gold, silver & precious stones.

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay & stubble.

Every man’s work shall be made manifest for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

If any man’s work shall be burned he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.—1 Cor.3:11-15
Notice our work won’t be judged by what SIZE it is but what SORT it is. We’ll also be judged as to our attitude, aspirations, & abilities. Our works will be presented before God on that day & He’ll take His Holy Ghost blow torch & hit our pile of works with it. If it can stand up under the fire, then we’ll receive a reward.

Years ago I read a book entitled, “The thimble crown.” The writer depicts a man who thought he had so much to present to God, down on his knees trying to find the small amount of his life’s work after God’s judgment fire had hit it. Then in the story, the man was presented with a crown, but it was the size of a thimble.

This should give us all pause, that the things we do, we do for the glory of God.

3. WE’RE READY FOR THE CRAZY BOUNCES OF LIFE WHEN WE DON’T LET THEM STOP US FROM DOING WHAT WE KNOW WE SHOULD BE DOING.

Let me tell you the story of a strapping young eighteen year old Greek man named Marcus Engels. Several years ago Marcus was riding in a car one night with some other young people in the Saint Louis Missouri area when their car was struck by a drunk driver. Marcus was left legally & permanently blind by the accident.

When the dust settled from the tragic wreck, Marcus was forced to accept the hard cold reality that a lifetime of blindness loomed ahead of him. However, instead of allowing himself to be enveloped by grief, Marcus determined to fight his way out of his set of his circumstances & be a whole person. He’s certainly more than made good on that vow.

Today, fourteen years later Marcus is indeed a shining example of what can happen when a person refuses to give in to self-pity & despair. The reason I know about Marcus is, he’s my son-in-law. He’s one of the nations leading motivational speakers, speaking annually to multitudes in schools & other venues, challenging young & old alike to be all they can be, by God’s grace in spite of their setbacks.

I know you’ll forgive me if I seem to be biased but I know of no greater example than Marcus of what can be done in a life touched by unforeseen bounces. He doesn’t need my endorsement or help of any kind from me, but since I felt his story so fit this article he has graciously allowed me to use it.

If you’d like to know more about Marcus you can pull up the address below & be further informed. If you take a moment to look at Marcus’ website I know you’ll be happy you did for Marcus is one the most inspiring young men in America today.

www.marcusengel.blogspot.com

4. WE’RE READY FOR THE BOUNCES OF LIFE WHEN WE BELIEVE---- HE WHO HAS STARTED A GOOD WORK IN US WILL COMPLETE IT.

Paul said,--being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ…… Phil.1:6

Paul knew what it was to be on a roller coaster ride in his life experience. He had learned to be the big dog or to be considered a complete flop. He knew how to have everything or how to have nothing. Paul could take it all in stride because he understood the sovereignty of God & had all faith that He would finish every work He started.

Sometimes Paul soared to great heights & sometime he plummeted to the depths.

Listen to some of Paul’s life in his own words;

Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night & a day have I been in the deep;

In journeyings often in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

In weariness, & painfulness, in watchings often, in cold & nakedness, beside those things that are without that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. --2 Cor.25-28
Paul gives us a verse of verses when he tells us;--We know that all things work together good for those who love God who are the called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28

As Christians we believe that God holds the future in His hands. We believe that God’s Will in human history --will ultimately be done. The only problem is that so many times we just cannot see it, & are tempted to doubt that all things work together for good.

There are many times when we’ll not see the good even if it were right under our nose. We have to accept that our notion of what is good may not always square with what God calls good in His divine wisdom & infinite understanding.

Won’t it be a wonderful day when we’re finally be able to see it & say, “Ah! Now I understand?"

Sometimes life is a tapestry, a weaving, a quilt. If we look at it from the backside all we see is a confusing jumble of knots & threads & colors. It seems chaotic without rhyme or reason. We don’t always see what God’s hand is creating.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God who are called according to His purpose. That promise is our anchor in this troubling & confusing world. That promise is our security, our comfort, our hope.

“HE MAKETH NO MISTAKE.”

My father’s way may twist & turn my heart may throb & ache,
But in my soul I’m glad to know He maketh no mistake.

My cherished plans may go astray; my hopes may fade away,
But I’ll trust my Lord to lead, for He doth know the way.

Though night be dark and it may seem that day will never break,
I’ll pin my faith my all in Him, He maketh no mistake.

There’s so much now I cannot see, my eyesight’s far too dim,
But come what may I’ll simply trust, and leave it all to Him.

For by and bye the mist will lift, and plain it all He’ll make,
Through all the way though dark to me, He maketh no mistake.


By A.M Overton


Blessings,


John