Friday, April 24, 2015

Something Went Wrong

By John Stallings

On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.


People who’ve been to a Perlman concert  know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken as a child with polio & so he has braces on both legs & walks with the aid of two crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully & slowly is an unforgettable sight.

Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back & extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down & picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor & proceeds to play.

By now the audience is used to his ritual. They sit quietly as he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They wait until he’s ready to play.

But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of his strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap- it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. People who were there that night said, “We figured he’d have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches & limp his way off stage-to either find another violin or else find another string for this one."

But he didn’t. Instead he waited a moment closed his eyes & then signaled the conductor to start again. The orchestra began & he played from where he’d left off. He played with such passion & purity as they had never heard before. Of course anyone  "knows" it’s impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. But that that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. Folk could see him modulating, changing, and recomposing the piece in his head.

When he finished there was an awesome silence in the room. Then there was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the room. And then the people rose & cheered. He smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet the crowd, & then he said not boastfully, but in a quiet , pensive reverent tone, “You know, sometimes it’s the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

What a powerful line that is.

VERY OFTEN IN THIS FAST-PACED WORLD IN THE MIDDLE OF AN ALL-OUT EFFORT ON OUR PART, SOMETHING GOES WRONG.

Maybe it’s our health, or a relationship or a financial setback. Sometimes it seems that our whole world has come crashing down on us. Whatever has happened, we must carry on in spite of it to make the best music possible.

Sometimes we are tempted to think if we are good enough, pray enough, pure-minded enough & giving enough we will somehow escape trouble. Perfection, even if we could achieve it won’t guarantee trouble won’t come knocking at our door.

I remember a story my parents told me about their evangelistic endeavors when they first started in ministry. I had two sisters, Barbara & Marveline, & I was the only one too young to remember those days. My father bought a small Gospel tent & was traveling the south with it. We were staying in an old house out in the country that had been loaned to my parents for the duration of the series of meetings in La Grange, Georgia. One night my mother was awakened in her sleep & impressed to move the pallet where I was sleeping from  close proximity to an open window. At almost the instant she moved me a brick sailed through the window & landed where my head had been. Though that qualified as a small miracle, it was the late thirties & my parents survived on miracles.

The revival in that small Georgia town was going well; overflow crowds & many being saved. The revival was extended several times & stretched into weeks. Then one night something went wrong. My oldest sister Marveline, who had been fighting kidney disease, came down with a serious kidney infection & to make a long story short, she died in that town. Our little family had to lay her in a grave in LaGrange, Ga. To re-cap, my oldest sister died & was buried in a small town while her parents were conducting perhaps the greatest spiritual awakening the city had ever seen.

God has never explained that to me & I don’t believe He ever explained it to my parents. Being human, even though we are limited in our ability to grasp eternal realities, we expect God to explain His reasons to us. Trouble will come our way there’s no doubt about that, & sooner or later something in our lives will go wrong. The question is how will we respond to it when it comes? My mom, who was very young herself, responded by vowing to never put her foot inside another church as long as she lived. She was on a “slow burn” with a God who would take her beloved child while her whole family was doing all they knew to follow His leading.

Suffice to say all that changed a year later while attending a funeral of a friend. Mom heard the speaker give an illustration of a mother sheep that refused to cross a raging stream. Her baby lamb had to be transported to the other side of the stream, making the mother sheep willing to risk her life to be with her little one. Once this revelation came to mom; that she had a daughter waiting for her on the other side, she spent the rest of her life in the service of the Lord.

Jeremiah went to the potter’s house in 18:1-11 & gets an illustration for his next sermon to Israel. As he observed the potter, he notes that as the clay is being fashioned on the potter’s wheel, something went wrong. The potter sees an imperfection in his creation & just stops. He mars the clay & starts over. Jeremiah sees something besides clay in this illustration & proceeds to use it as a parallel to Israel & her rebellion & imperfections. But God isn’t through with Israel & will continue to mold & work with them.

Jeremiah’s story is reminiscent of The Garden of Eden when God stooped down, got some clay & fashioned man with His own hands. But you don’t need me to remind you that in that beautiful lush garden where everything was just perfect, something went wrong. Adam & Eve were tempted by Satan & broke the command of God not to eat of one tree & it resulted in Man being banished from the Garden. We call that the “fall.” Just like the potter, God wasn’t so out-done that He had to throw man (the clay) away. No, he kept a hands-on relationship with man. He made them clothes out of animal skins, a foreshadowing of what would come later at Calvary when His Son would be offered as the final sacrifice for mans sin & transgression. God seems to be at His best when something goes wrong.

“Something went wrong!”

This is the story of the history of God’s people & it will doubtless be the story of our lives. We try so hard. We have all our “ducks in a row” but in spite of all our efforts to the contrary, something inexplicably goes wrong. We ask “why is this happening?” “Where is God in all this?” “Why doesn’t He step in & do something?” Some people even put this exceedingly unhealthy spin on it, “How could God do this to me?” Another unhealthy response is to blame others when things go wrong instead of looking inward & upward. We find ourselves up to our ears in the proverbial Alligators & realize too late that we should have drained the swamp.

JOB

Job was a real man who lived in the land of Uz. His problems are so many its hard to select a few verses that share all of them. Job is one of the hero’s of the Bible. He was rich. He had ten children. He was upright before the Lord. Each morning he would make a sacrifice for each of his ten children in case they had sinned. Somewhat like a movie, there are two stories going on at the same time. One is the story of Job & his problems. The other is the story between God & Satan.

We are aware of both. Job was not. One day Satan shows up when the angels are before God. Imagine thousands & thousands of angels have gathered in the presence of God Himself to report on their activities. This is mind-numbing. All of creation is being held accountable to God. In this scene, Satan-fallen-rebellious-Satan-is permitted-is also allowed to come into God’s presence. Hold on to this truth; ---during the trials & tribulations of our lives, always there are dimensions that we don’t see. There’s always more than meets the eye & we need to stay keenly aware of this fact.

God says to Satan, have you ever considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless & upright, a man who fears God & shuns evil. God brags about Job. Does God ever brag about us? Remember, Job isn’t aware of this conservation. We are aware of why Job is hurting, but Job is not.

Then Satan speaks. He says, “Of course he serves you, you protect him.” So God allows Satan to harm what Job has but not Job personally. To give you an idea of God’s supremacy to Satan; Osama bin Laden didn’t come to President Bush & ask for permission to fly planes into the World Trade Center. No enemy ever asks for permission to attack. And yet here is Satan asking God for permission to attack Job. There can be no doubt that Satan did the dirty work but God allowed it. Then something goes wrong! Job's trouble starts.

One day a messenger comes & tells him that “his oxen & donkeys have been carried off, all his servants are dead & I alone am left to tell you.” While he was speaking another servant came & reported that fire from the sky has burned up all the sheep & servants & I alone am left alive to tell you.” Then Job is advised that all of his ten children are dead, killed in a house collapse. Job tears his robes, shaves his head & falls to the ground in worship & declares,

Naked came I from my mother’s womb & naked will I depart. The Lord gave & the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:21. Job still doesn’t say anything foolish. What a man!

Satan has failed. So he goes to God again & says, “Job hasn’t failed because you haven’t touched him personally. You’ve only touched his possessions & children.” Then Satan is given permission to hurt Job but not take his life. Isn’t it a comfort to know that God sets the limits on how much we can be troubled?

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor.10:13, God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will with the temptation provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

When we’re hanging on by a thread we need to be reminded that God always has His protecting hands around us. He knows what we can bear. I once heard country singer Loretta Lynn say in an interview—“They say God won’t put more on you than you can stand, but it’s not true.” Well, Loretta’s wrong about that. God isn’t going to allow us to be hurt & wronged so bad that our trust in Him will be destroyed. Here’s a promise you can hang your hat on; God sets the boundaries.


But then something else goes wrong! Job develops sores over his entire body. Next we see him scraping pieces of broken pottery over his body with his wife telling him to curse God & die.

There sure isn’t any encouragement at home.

But let’s not be too hard on Mrs. Job. We need to cut her a little slack. She’s been through a lot. Overnight she’s gone from being the wife of one of the most respected men in the east to a homeless outcast. Like Job, she’s lost everything, including her ten children. Now her once proud husband is sitting in the street suffering from a debilitating disease. His name has become synonymous with tragedy. The town looks at him with disgust. So Mrs. Job has been through a lot.

The problem with Mrs. Job is that she has caved into Satan’s attack. She no longer looks at God as good, she now sees Him as detached & uncaring. The one person Job should have been able to look to for comfort & support now becomes a tool in Satan’s hand. She becomes a part of Job’s humiliation-his test.

She rips into Job’s heart. Her advice is assisted suicide. “Forget your faith in this uncaring God-get Him really ticked off & God will kill you.” But Job says to her, -you speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Job refuses to buy it & holds onto His faith in God.

Seemingly everything goes wrong; But why?

Now Jobs friends Eliphaz, Bildad & Zopharare are going to “help.” His wife wasn’t any help; maybe his friends can bring a little comfort. They sit with Job for a week in silence. When God isn’t forthcoming with an answer, his friends start to speak up. In short, they feel Job has sinned. There is an obvious dark side to his personality. He has brought on himself the torture he’s under. What “brilliant observations” they share with Job. It’s true that sin brings punishment however righteous people experience pain as well. It’s so easy to be simplistic & assume that a hurting person has caused their own pain. Of course we don’t appreciate this logic applied to us.

If you listen to some of the modern day ministers you’d get the idea that if you’re not healthy & wealthy something’s wrong with your faith. Maybe we should ask the early Christians who were eaten by lions about pain & suffering. Do you think it was because they didn’t know how to trust God or maybe there was sin in their lives? Hebrews 11:38 says “The world wasn’t worthy of these martyred Christians.

We can read the story of Job so easily. We are aware of the conversation between God & Satan, this helps with the why. Job was able to witness to the devil himself about the boundless, sustaining grace of God. We also know the end of the story about the restoration of his possessions & having ten new children. Still we know he suffered. His wife didn’t help. His friends didn’t help. What helped Job?

For one thing Job went to the right place with his questions; he went to God. Job didn’t allow his pain to push him from God. When something goes wrong, some people will run from God, avoiding the church & God’s people. Job listened to God. God never told him about the conversation with Satan, & He never gives an explanation, but only asks Job to trust Him. Job got that lesson for he said -Though he slay me yet will I trust Him. Job 13:15. God did however have quiet a conversation with Job. If you haven’t read chapters 38-41 of Job lately, reread them. They’re amazing. God’s Word doesn’t answer all our questions but it does tell us all God wants us to know.

Do you remember how it all ends up? In the end God blesses Job’s socks off. He lives to 140 years with blessings that went way beyond what was taken away. ----Job 41:17 says, -- Job died an old man & full of days.

SOMETHING WENT WRONG--- IN NAZARETH

I can’t imagine my friends & loved ones rejecting me can you? I’m sure we’d be shattered.

But that’s precisely what happened to Jesus. Mark 6:1-6 is one of the most awesome passages in Holy Writ. Jesus returned to His home town & the first day He arrived something went wrong. He friends & neighbors rejected Him. He had been enormously successful since He left his hometown. He had healed & restored a mentally ill man, a feverish old woman, a paralytic, a woman with a twelve year hemorrhage, & a dead little girl. He had reached across the boundaries & barriers of His society & welcomed the unwelcome, touched the untouchables, & ate with sinners. He had painted a picture of the Kingdom of God.

So everywhere He went there were huge crowds pressing into Him. People were bringing the sick & elderly to Him. All day long & into the evening they came, even following along the lake shore as He & His friends sailed from place to place in Peter’s boat. Everyone knew about Him, was talking about Him & had an opinion about Him.

And now for the first time since He left—since the day He walked away from the carpenters shop to be baptized by His cousin John—now for the first time Jesus came home to Nazareth. His parents’ village, where Mary had been born & where Joseph had been a carpenter. It’s a small town & everyone had heard the rumors about Him. They were His neighbors & watched Him as he grew up. These are the people Jesus met when He joined His friends in the old synagogue on the first Sabbath of His homecoming.

Was he proud to be there? I think so. Was he a little nervous when they asked Him to read & interpret? This was a tense, homecoming moment. When Jesus was handed the scroll to read, Mark tells us that the people asked several sarcastic questions. Where did this young man get all this? Is this not the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary? Usually men were known as their fathers son’s so when they referred to Jesus as “Mary’s son” it was the same as what we would call a “bastard.”

These people took big-time offense at Jesus. Jesus responded not by being argumentative but by stating the obvious—“Prophets aren’t honored in their own hometowns.” Mark cuts-to-the-chase & tells us He could do no great works there. Nothing changed in that village. Nothing new emerged. There was no revival. Life quickly returned to normal; and why not? They had rejected Jesus.

And now what I think is one of the saddest verses in the New Testament—He went about the villages teaching. That is, He left His own home town & never returned.

Jesus set the example here for the way we should act when it’s people who do us wrong. Being human we might be tempted to try to even the score. As we’ve seen Jesus never did that. We must remember that God is watching. He has known about the injustice all along so never run ahead of Him with your own solutions. If you have tried to do the right thing time & again, God is aware of that fact. What goes around comes around. We’ve all seen people try to hurt others & in the end they themselves get hurt.  God is patient, so we must be patient.

But when God’s patience has run out, & we never know when that’s going to happen, when God sees that people have hurt us & should be forthcoming with an apology but they refuse to “get it,” He moves in & does what only God can do in a way only God can do it. When God starts moving it’s a fearful thing to behold & you’ll be glad you did right when things start to happen. We should let our hurts go & God will deal with them for us.

……Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. -Psalm 30:5

Don’t panic when something snaps in your life. Play on like Perlman. Turn to God in your time of despair.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivers him out of them all. -Psalm 34:19

God is our refuge & strength: a very present help in time of need.- Psalm 46:1


Blessings,


John

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Grumpy Old Men

By John Stallings

Don’t turn me out to pasture when I’m old, or put me on the shelf when I can’t pull my weight…… Psalm 71:9-The Message

Two elderly men had been friends all their lives. Over the years they’d shared all kinds of activities & adventures & were actually closer than brothers.

One day they were sitting opposite each other at a card table when one looked at the other & said, “Now don’t get mad with me. I know we’ve been friends for over 80 years but I just can’t remember your name. I’ve thought & thought about it but your name has slipped my mind. Can you please tell me what it is?”

The other man sat & glared at him. For at least 3 minutes he just stared & glared back at his old friend. Finally when it looked like he wouldn’t speak at all he asked, “How soon do you need to know?”

I met an old gentleman in his 90’s at the Mall where I often walk. As we walked along he began to tell me about the new hearing aide he’d just purchased. He raved about how good this hearing aide was & finally bragged it was the absolute best that could be purchased anywhere in the world. I knew he was a very wealthy man & could certainly afford the best of everything. Finally I asked him “What kind is it?” He answered, “Eleven-thirty.”

Another older gentleman had a serious hearing problem for a number of years. Finally he went to the doctor & was fitted for a set of hearing aides that allowed him to hear well. About a month later he went back to the doctor for another check-up & the doctor said, “Your hearing is almost perfect. Your family must be pleased that you can hear so well.” The gentleman replied, “ Oh, I tell them my hearing aides don’t work & I can’t hear a thing. I just sit around & listen to the conversation. I’ve changed my Will three times.”

Nowadays we hear the concept of aging expressed in many different ways. We talk about, “The Senior Years,” and, “The Golden Years.” I like one I recently heard about where the senior club in a church is called The J.O.Y Club, for older folk, or the “Just Older Youths” club.

Comedian George Burns had a definition of old age. He said, “Old age is when you don’t have to own antiques to sit down on something that’s over 80.”

People are living longer today. The life expectancy in 1900 was 49 years. In 1999, the average life expectancy was 76 years. In 2015, a 76 year old male has a life expectancy of slightly more than ten more years.76 year old females have approx. twelve more years. Since more people are alive today in their 80’s & 90’s or even 100 years old, some make the distinction between the “young-old” for those between 60-75 while the “old-old” are 75 plus. I’m not saying I agree with this, I’m just passing it on.

In our society, youthfulness is held up as an ideal while in other cultures; old age is accepted as a natural part of the life cycle. We do all we can to stay young & the cosmetic industry is booming because of it. In many cultures older people are revered & looked on as a source of wisdom while in ours, the elderly are sometimes just tolerated or even scorned.

One reason for this is the information explosion. In years past young people learned from the older folk how to do things, now with the booming technology, it’s grandpa going to his grandchild to learn how to operate a computer. This is all part of the big picture of being an older person in the United States today.

LOSS OF HEALTH

As we get older the body begins to wear out & we have aches & pains we never had before. Many older people are faced with chronic illness or physical limitations.

 The only real question I have about aging is what in the world happens at night? When I go to bed I’m walking perfectly, not an ache or pain on the horizon. But too often when I get up, I feel like someone worked me over with a two-by-four during the night. And I have a Sleep Number bed. I guess you just have to walk it off. Honestly, when you get a little age on you, you can get hurt just picking up the phone.

Also with age, our memory may start to go. As a matter of fact I was going to put another story in right here but I forgot it.

Many in their older years lose a spouse & this means adjusting to a whole different life without husband or wife. We may start to lose many of our friends. I remember how one of my grandmothers used to remark how strange it felt to lose so many of her friends.

Also, older folk may lose their independence & we can imagine the loss of self-esteem associated with that. There can also be the loss of one’s home because of lack of ability to maintain it & also a reduction in financial resources. All these losses can trigger sadness & depression in the elderly.

Of course there are blessings & benefits associated with the senior years. We might have more free time to travel & do things we never had time to do when we were employed or raising our children. Also enjoying grandchildren or younger children in our family can add a joyful dimension to this stage of life.

Older people are living healthier more active lives. In reality a 65 year old man has on average an estimated life expectancy of over 15 years while a woman that age has a life expectancy of 20.5 years. I find it interesting that old age is a stage of life that now lasts almost as long as youth. It seems that age 40 is the old-age of youth while age 50 is the youth of old age. There, didn’t that make your day?

A FEW FACTS ABOUT OLDER PEOPLE

1. Senior adults have over $1.6 trillion in spending power. [I couldn't help but think about Austin Powers when I wrote trillion.] That’s nearly twice the U.S average.
2. They buy 41% of all new cars.
3. They purchase 25% of all toys—think grand kids.
4. Account for 80% of all luxury travel.
5. Spend $7 Billion online annually.
6. Spend more time online than teenagers, and
7. Own more than three-fourths of the nation’s wealth.

The “golden years” aren’t called golden for nothing.

PSALM 71 IS A PRAYER WRITTEN BY AN ELDERLY MAN

The whole Psalm is the prayer of an aged man of faith who has lived an honorable life & now seeks God’s deliverance from enemies, sickness & shame.

It begins:

In you O Lord I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me & rescue me; incline your ear to me & save me. Be to me a rock of refuge a strong fortress, to save me for you are my rock & my fortress. Rescue me O my God from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust & cruel.[Psalm 71:1-4]

He goes on to pray,

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent. [vr.9]. 

Whatever we face in our senior years whether fears, losses, loneliness—God will not forsake us! The writer of this psalm knows God as his rock & fortress: 

Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me. [vr.3]

Prayer can & should be the way we get in touch with the power to sustain us.

I think we can say that many old people are grumpy but all of them aren’t; this psalmist certainly isn’t grumpy. Hollywood even made the movie-GRUMPY OLD MEN. Of course there are lots of young grumps & middle-aged grumps also. We can spend our years complaining, or bitter, or nit-picking. We can have a negative attitude or we can praise the Lord.

HERE ARE TEN ATTITUDES TO HELP US AS WE GROW OLDER

 1. Don’t think of yourself as old, think of yourself as experienced.Job said;  

-Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?-Job 12:12

We can tell if we’re getting old if;

We feel old,
We often say, “I’m too old to do that.”
We feel the future holds no promise.
We’d rather talk than listen.
We long for the good old days. [I don’t know about you but the good old days nearly killed me.]

Proverbs 23:22 says,--Listen to your father who gave you life, & do not despise your mother when she is old.This speaks of the wisdom & understanding of older parents.

When I was pre-teen, people would often comment about how smart I was. I knew they were wrong but didn’t really want to argue with them. Teachers would say what potential I had & would remark to my parents what a smart boy they raised. Of course they’d always add, “If Johnny would only apply himself...”

Not to be falsely humble, but I knew I wasn’t as smart as many of my schoolmates because I had the evidence & I often wondered how I could have so many people fooled. Then I figured it out; I used bigger words than most kids my age. The reason for that was, I had two parents that were preachers, [my father matriculated Mercer University in Macon Georgia] & they used big words a lot. Without really trying, just listening, I picked up their words & that made me sound smart. Occasionally I’d even know the actual meaning of a big word I was using.

This is the reason other cultures in the Far East like Japan, honor & revere their parents & grandparents & keep them as close as they can; they know wisdom resides in them. They know the elderly have forgotten more than they’ve yet learned. The trick is not to forget too much.

2. Stay engaged in meaningful activities.

If there is a “youth potion,” it’s meaningful work. It can be continued work in the “Market Place” or some other meaningful duty such as volunteerism, nonetheless work.

I was amused at Rush Limbaugh this week [Rush is usually right on target] when he dissed eating healthy and exercising because Jack Lalanne did that and he died. Hello! Rush my man, Lalanne died at ninety-six. While he was in his nineties, Lalanne when he took a notion would swim & pull a barge across San Francisco bay with a leather strap between his teeth, which I’m sure weren’t false. Jack did nothing because he had to but because he knew it kept him alive. Moreover, as far as I know he didn’t spend his last years in a wheel-chair or on a walker and succumbed to what doctors call “the old persons friend,” pneumonia.

One of my grandmothers ran a boarding house almost until she went to heaven & was in her late eighties when she passed. I know I’ve shared this before but her sense of humor was in tact on her death bed. Amongst her last words were; “In just a moment an elevator is going to come down to the foot of my bed, open up, & two angels are going to get out & escort me onto it. They’re going to push the up button & we’re going to heaven.” Then with a twinkle in her eyes she remarked, “I sure hope they don’t push the wrong button.”

Things like skill sharing, delivering meals-on-wheels, visiting shut-ins, & hospital visitation & Sunday school teaching are all things elderly folk can be involved in.

3. Continue to grow & look ahead.

Remember Caleb, the 85 year old man in Joshua 12:13 who asked; Give me this mountain? At that advanced age he still knew exactly what he wanted.

When the well-known Christian industrialist R.G Le Tourneau was asked to name the best ten years of his very productive life, his answer was always the same; “The next ten.”

Psalm 92:12-14 says, --But the godly shall flourish…even in old age they shall produce fruit & be vital & green.Paul the Apostle noted that even though the outward man grows weak, the inner man can be renewed day by day.

4. Be courageous

Courage is very importance in this process.

The other day I heard a wise lady speaking on the radio about the present fiscal crisis we’re going through in America. She was scolding the purveyors of doom about the economy & she remarked, “You know, often times the patient is killed, not by their disease but by fear.”

I couldn’t agree more. Although she was speaking first & foremost about the economy, certainly fear has killed more people than cancer has ever killed.

There is nothing so powerful in old age or for that matter, any age, than a deep abiding faith in God. When we are weak he is strong. Praise His name!

Joshua 1:9 says,--Have I not commanded you? Be strong & of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. 

5. Understand the power of positive life patterns.

I had several uncles who were very successful in the Insurance business. I’ll never forget the advice one of them gave me when I was in my early twenties. He said, “The young John has got to put some money in the old John’s pocket.” In other words, if the young John spends all he has & arrives in his sunset year’s dead broke; the old John is going to be broke.

The same is true in matters of the disposition. I can look at some younger people & just know they’ll have a hard time growing older. They are fractious & ungracious, without a modicum of the ability to laugh off things they can’t change. Getting older for them will be a horrible experience. Many of them do nothing to cultivate friendships & even alienate their own families.

Rarely do we find “Grumpy old men” who weren't grumpy young men. Conversely, rarely do we find “dear sweet old ladies” who were not “dear sweet young ladies.” The attitudes & habits we develop as we grow tend to stay with us & become all the more embedded as we age.

6. Develop a sense of humor.

Good humor is the secret to good aging. If you can’t think of anything to smile about let me help you. Here are a few benefits of growing old;

# Kidnappers aren’t very interested in you.
# In a hostage situation you’re likely to be released first.
# No one expects you to run into a burning building.
# You’ve probably sown all the wild oats you’re going to sow.
# There’s very little to learn the hard way.
# You’re too old to die young.
# When you have a party the neighbors never realize it.
# You can compare notes when talking about operations.
# You have better weather forecasters in your joints than the national Weather Service.
# Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.

An elderly couple had dinner at another couple’s house. The wives left the table after eating & the husbands were talking. One said, “Last night we had a meal at a great restaurant & I can highly recommend it.” The other man said, “What was the name of the restaurant?” The first man thought & thought & finally said, “What’s the name of the flower you give to someone you love? You know…the one that’s red & has thorns?” “Do you mean rose?”
Yes,” the man replied. He turned toward the kitchen & yelled, “Rose, what’s the name of the restaurant we went to last night?”

7. See the older years as rich, full, productive years.

# Two-thirds of the worlds most creative people are over 60.
# More than two-thirds of the men & women in medicine, education, science, government & the arts are over 60.
# Roughly 10% of those attending college are over 50.
# Strom Thurmond was a U.S Senator at his death at 100.
# David Ray of Franklin TN. learned to read at 99.
# Paul Spangler completed his 14th marathon at age 92.
# Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel lying on his back on a scaffold when he was almost 90.
#At 91, Hulda Crooks climbed Mount Whitney the highest mountain in the Continental United States.
# Will Durant finished his five-volume History of Civilization at age 89.
# Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote “Crossing the bar” at 83.
# Ben Franklin was still working in the government at 78 & wrote his autobiography when he was 80.
# John Glenn went into space aboard the space shuttle when he was 77.

Many of those who led the Kingdom of God forward in Scripture were older people;

# Noah
# Abraham & Sarah
# Caleb
# Job
# Anna
# The Apostle Paul

8. Never quit.

We never know when the Lord will call us home. All of us know someone who was supposed to die & lived on well past that date. I’ve learned not to bury people until they’re dead & ready to be buried. God loves to pull surprises & He does so regularly.

Keep in mind that no matter your age you may wind up living 10 or 15 more years, who knows. In fact some people actually live a quarter of their life after retirement. Wouldn’t it be a shame, maybe even a sin if we wasted 25% of our lives here on earth sitting on our differential?

Several years ago the Associated Press ran the story of Andre Raffray. Thirty years prior to that time at the age of 47 he worked out a real estate deal with Jeanne Calment age 90. He would pay her $500 each month until her death, in order to secure ownership of her apartment in Arles France. She could continue to live in her house until she passed away, however when she eventually did die the apartment would then belong to Raffray.

Unfortunately for Raffray, Jeanne Calment became the world’s oldest person. At the time the AP published this account Calment was still alive at the age of 120. She outlived Raffray who died in December 1995 at the age of 77. He paid $184,000 for an apartment he never lived in. According to the contract, Raffray’s survivors had to continue payment until Mrs. Calment’s death. Here’s a very good piece of wisdom; retire if you must, just keep on living.

9. Share your faith in Jesus Christ.

Nothing is as powerful as an older person who's successfully walked the road of faith through the trials of life.

I’m sure I’ll have little to leave to my children but I can leave them a good name, a name that bears no reproach. I would want them to know that I prayed regularly for them & be assured of my love for them. I would also want to leave them a strong witness of my faith in God.


10. Be ready for death.

By the way, you might find it interesting to know that the health club memberships for those over 65 & older are up nearly 150% in recent years. Older folk are taking better care of themselves & it’s paying off in longer life spans.

Nevertheless, the Bible says death will eventually come to us all or Christ will come for us by way of the rapture. You may not believe in rapture, or catching away of the saints, but if you’re saved, you’ll be leaving anyway.

Paul once called himself “Paul the aged.” It was as an old man that he wrote, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.He also made it clear that though he was willing to continue living in this life, he much preferred going home to be with the Lord. God wants us to live life to the full but He also wants us to live eternity to the full as well. He not only wants us to grow old, he wants us to grow old in the Lord.

If you haven’t spent time in Psalm 71, I urge you to go back & read it for it’s a template for aging. The Psalm ends with a prayer for revival. Life for the aged man now has only one meaning & that’s to bring praise to God & extol His mighty works.

Growing old doesn't guarantee we make & keep friends, nor that there won’t be times when we feel very much alone. But the writer of this Psalm has come to the final stage of his life prepared in the best possible way.

Hear what he says;

 -- For you, O Lord are my hope my trust O Lord from my youth. Upon you have I leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you. [Vs. 5-6]


Blessings,


John

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"I Can See Clearly Now...."

By John Stallings


Back in 1972 a little song called “I can see clearly now  entered the American music lexicon without much fanfare. But, as they say, it had legs.

There are few people on the planet who haven’t heard it at least once and it somehow seems to stick with you.

I don’t begrudge Johnny Nash his song but as I’ve said about lots of pop songs, I wish some gospel writer could have thought of it first and written it around a spiritual theme.

The words to the chorus are;

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

In Mark 8:22-26 when Jesus came to Bethsaida, they brought a blind man to him desiring Jesus to touch him. The Bible doesn’t give us the name of this blind man. He was destitute of the precious sense of sight. He had long been a stranger to beholding the beauties of nature. He could not see the lovely region around Bethsaida, the shimmering waters of the lake, the lovely flowers of the Galilean hills, nor the stars and the moon as they decorated the sky on a clear night. This man had a problem, and the people brought him to Jesus.

The healing of this blind man is one of the most fascinating miracles Jesus performed during His earthly ministry. It is also one that has produced a lot of conjecture and misunderstanding.

Let’s unpack this story and try to unravel some of the questions it presents.

The story is related to us very succinctly in five short verses, but in fact contains teaching that impacts our understanding of several spiritual truths. The disciples were granted the opportunity of witnessing a remarkable miracle in a city that was condemned for its unbelief.

Listen to Jesus’ words…

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you” (Matthew 11:21-22).

Note that Jesus chose three Jewish cities and rebuked them for their unbelief. They had heard His preaching and seen His miracles yet had not repented. He compared them to present and past Gentile cities filled with sexual perversion, idolatry, and heathenism. These were the present cities of Tyre, Sidon, and the Old Testament city of Sodom. Jesus said these cities were better than the cities of Israel. If these cities had seen the same miracles and heard the same preaching, they would have repented. It will be more tolerable at the Great White Throne Judgment for the heathen Gentile cities than for Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum in Israel.

Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of town before healing him. This blind man lived in Bethsaida so Jesus separated the man from the unbelief of the city. Jesus didn’t need snide remarks and insults to be hurled at this man who was young in faith. He could heal in the midst of unbelief, but this man could not maintain his healing surrounded by the ridicule of the city in which he lived. This is why Jesus led the man out of town and healed him away from the view of the religious population of Bethsaida.

The grave opening, deaf destroying, lame restoring, water walking, multitude-feeding, eye opening Jesus then spat on his eyes and touched him with his hands, then asked him if he could see. The blind man answered by saying, "I see men as trees, walking."

WHY DID JESUS SPIT ON THE BLIND MAN'S EYES?

Regardless of how you examine spitting in the Bible, it’s a great insult to spit on someone or to be spit upon. Anyone under the law who was spit upon had to wash themselves and their clothes and were considered unclean until the evening. (Leviticus 15:8) Other scriptures deal with the insult of being spit upon. (Numbers 12:14, Deuteronomy 25:9) Jesus was spit upon as a great insult before He was crucified. (Matthew27:30)

Some folk miss the point of the miracle and the insult Jesus was giving by bringing spit into the transaction. Jesus didn’t spit on the blind man; He spat on the blindness. This was the ultimate insult to sickness and disease. If Jesus could speak to sickness and rebuke it, then apparently sickness can hear. (Luke 4:39) If sickness and disease can hear, it can also be insulted. Jesus released all of His contempt for Satan and his works when he spit on the blindness.

Jesus spat on two others in the New Testament. He healed another blind man by spitting in the clay and rubbing it in the man’s eyes. (John 9:1-7) He also spit on the tongue of a man with a speech impediment. (Mark 7:33) Notice in each of these cases, Jesus spat on the diseased part of the body demonstrating He was spitting on the disease, not the person. Jesus did not always lay hands on the diseased part of the body. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law on the hand to heal her of a fever. He touched people, but He spit on the devil and his works.

WHY DID JESUS PRAY FOR THE MAN TWICE?

 Jesus spit on the blindness, but He laid hands on the man for healing. In fact, He laid hands on the man twice. After laying hands on this man once, his eyes opened partially and he told Jesus he saw men walking, but they were blurry, they looked like trees. This man was not born blind, but somewhere in his life, perhaps through an accident, he had become blind. He knew what men looked like. He also remembered what trees looked like. When Jesus laid hands on the man a second time, his vision was completely restored. He saw clearly.

This is the only case recorded in the word where Jesus laid hands on a person more than once. Why? Because of the unbelief of the city of Bethsaida where he resided. He was filled with doubt concerning the ability of Jesus to heal him. Being separated from the people of the city allowed him to open himself up, albeit with skepticism, to the healing power of God. Once he could see partially, he resolved himself to being healed completely. Jesus didn’t lay hands on this man twice to release more of God’s power. God's full power was in manifestation. Jesus prayed twice because the man was now more open to God's healing power.

Although this is the only case where Jesus prayed twice for a person, it’s not the only case where a person was prayed for more than once. Jesus had to cast out the devil from a boy who had already been prayed for by the disciples. Jesus cast out the devil and then upbraided the disciples because of their failure due to the skepticism of the religious leaders and the pressure of the crowd. They had failed because of their unbelief.(Matthew17:20)

MANY PEOPLE DON’T SEE SPIRITUAL THINGS CLEARLY.

Listen to 2 Corinthians 4:4;

In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not…..

Also in Ephesians 4:18…

Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18)

When we read the Bible we need to pray like the Psalmist, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" -Psalm 119:18.

Humanistic religion won’t make you free; rationalism will not make you free; existentialism will not make you free; denominationalism will not make you free. All of these isms will keep you from seeing clearly.

There are many kinds of sight: physical, spiritual, intellectual, and hindsight, and there are so many people who need a second touch. A famous actress was recently asked why she remained single but adopted children. She said, "I had a baby at twenty five because I wanted to have a baby and I could afford it. I didn’t get married because I firmly believe that marriage destroys relationships.” Really? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in the grand scheme of things this woman isn’t seeing the big picture. She just isn’t seeing clearly.

Apollos, the eloquent preacher, did not see clearly and was given a second touch of teaching by Aquila and Priscilla. After that he could say “ I can see clearly now.” (Acts 18:24 28). The twelve men at Ephesus didn’t see clearly when they only knew of the baptism of John; but a second touch of teaching by the apostle Paul caused them to see clearly. Acts 19:1-5. Even though they had been saved they hadn’t even heard of being Spirit filled. After Paul expounded they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, just like on the Day of Pentecost.

You can’t be taught wrong, understand wrong, believe wrong, obey wrong and end up being right. Paul taught the Ephesians right; they understood right, believed right, obeyed right and were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Ethiopian Eunuch was a church-going, Bible-reading man, but he did not see clearly. He was reading in the Old Testament and didn’t understand what he was reading. But evangelist Philip gave him a second touch of teaching by preaching Jesus to him and then the eunuch could sing –I can see clearly now. (Acts 8:27-39). There are many church-going and Bible-reading people who do not see clearly. They need a second touch of divine revelation.

This story under scores the fact that…

GOD DOESN’T TREAT US THE SAME WAY.

God isn’t limited by anything or anyone and he doesn’t treat us all the same. He heals one with a touch, another with a word, another with a glance, and yet another at a great distance. He touches one and never sees the other, and yet all are healed.

It’s a mark of maturity to say, “Lord, you don’t have to treat me the way you treat my neighbor.” We all understand that truth theoretically, but it is hard to come to grips with it when your child is sick unto death and your neighbor’s children are healthy and happy. No one knows exactly why two people get cancer and one lives while the other dies.

Many people struggle with this concept. They think that because God did something for a friend or a neighbor or a loved one, then God must be bound to do the same thing for them. But it doesn’t work that way. God can deliver your neighbor from cancer and not heal you. Or vice versa. Envying your neighbor because he has something you don’t have is a waste of time because God treats us as individuals, not as groups. The truth is, he might do for you exactly what he’s done for someone else, or he might do more or he might do less or he might do something entirely different. He’s God. He can deal with us the way he wants.

When Peter asked about John’s fate, Jesus brushed him off with a mild rebuke, as if to say, “Don’t worry about it.” In essence he was saying, that’s him, not you. God deals with us as individuals. The Lord isn’t obligated to bless you the same way he blesses anyone else. And he is not obligated to put you through the same trials [either greater or lesser] that anyone else goes through. Our only business is to make sure we are following Jesus closely. If we do that, we don’t have time to worry about how he treats our friends.

When Jesus entered the room to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, the mourners had already arrived and laughed Jesus to scorn for declaring the daughter was not dead but asleep. Jesus removed them from the room before He prayed. This was for Jairus’ sake. The father had already begun to fear when he heard the report of his daughter dying. (Mark 5:36) Jesus didn’t want this man surrounded by the unbelief so rampant in Capernaum. Jesus separated the man from the atmosphere of skepticism.

Notice the last thing Jesus told this blind man after his sight was restored. “Go back to your home, but do not go back into the city or tell anyone of your healing.” What a wonderful statement to anyone needing healing today who is bothered by the reports of unbelief given by friends, relatives, church or business associates. We can go home but we need to separate ourselves from the village of unbelief that could so easily sway us and cause us to be defeated. Home is where we can be alone with God to pray and study His Word.

God still asks us today, “whose report will you believe?” To believe His report, we must dwell on it and study it until it becomes a part of our lives.

WE DON'T GET BETTER AT THE SAME RATE OR THE SAME WAY

For every man who is suddenly, radically, completely transformed, it seems that there many more who must grow in grace slowly, through stages, and whose spiritual vision starts off cloudy and only slowly gets better. To say that is not to give in to pessimism. Often it’s for our benefit to get better gradually. Spectacular healings always amaze us—and thank God they do happen yet we should realize that God often chooses to heal slowly.

This principle works across the spectrum of spiritual life. Some people come to Christ and grow quickly, becoming strong Christians in a short period of time. Others take much longer to learn the Word and become strong in the faith. Many will struggle with blurry vision for a long time. I daresay that all of us have areas of “blurry vision” where see things very unclear. Every believer has blind spots which by definition we don’t see because if we saw them, they wouldn’t be blind spots.

A WORD ABOUT HOW YOU CAN RECEIVE HEALING

If you desire to be healed and are not a Christian, you should first find healing for your soul. Repent of your sins and seek God with your whole heart. When you repent of your sins, believe in the Lord Jesus [not just some things about Him, but believe Him and trust Him and what He says in His Word], and confess Him with your mouth, - then you will be saved (see Romans 10: 9, 10). When you are born again by the spirit of God and born into the family of God, you are eligible to ask in faith for any of His promised benefits.

THE CHRISTIAN AND HEALING

If you are a Christian and haven’t received healing, examine your life and attitudes in light of God's Word. God hasn’t shown respect of persons in your case, as that’s contrary to His divine nature. If you are still sick, there is a reason, and God's Word will reveal it to you if you’ll diligently seek His face. When you find the problem and correct it, God's healing touch will be yours. This is God's guarantee, and God cannot lie.

Many fail to receive healing because they have been taught that sickness and physical suffering is God's way of bringing out the best in them, or developing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. They believe that they must be patient in affliction and wait until it’s God's time to heal them. They believe that God is working out patience and long-suffering in them. Or perhaps God is chastening them for some unknown sin.

It’s true that sin opens the door for sickness to enter, but all God asks is that the sin be confessed and forsaken. God doesn’t say, “Is any sick among you? Let him patiently wait until God has finished chastening him" but rather…

Confess your faults one to another [now, today], and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The promise is, The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (James 5:16, 15).

God is not glorified when Christians continue in sickness. Build your faith on the Word of God. Search the Word to find the reason you have not been healed. Get rid of the problem, and then accept your healing joyfully, in whatever way God sees fit to give it.

God may choose to heal you instantly or He may choose to let the healing be gradual. He may choose to give a sudden manifestation of your healing, but at a little later time. Or, as in the case of one whose time has come to go, He may bring deliverance from pain and suffering by taking the person to his eternal rest.

Lay aside your own ideas of how God is going to heal you and accept the healing God's way. Believe God and take Him at His word. God says healing is for you. God, who cannot lie, says to- believe that ye receive it and ye shall have it.

Don’t cast away your confidence if recovery doesn't come immediately. Hold fast to your faith in the Word of God. Stand upon the promise and God guarantees that your healing shall come.

SAVED BY HIS HONESTY

What finally saved this poor blind man was his honesty. He didn’t lie to Jesus. That’s a crucial insight. He could have said, “Lord, I see all things clearly.” If he had said that, he would never have gotten better. His honesty gave him the sight he did not have.

Sometimes it’s hard to be honest with God. How difficult to admit our weakness.

Jesus didn’t ask this man, “Can you see anything?” in order to get information he didn’t have. Jesus knew the answer to the question. He wanted the man to be honest about his true condition.

We must come to the Lord just as we are, and when we do, he takes us as we are, but he never leaves us that way. That’s why the invitation of Jesus is always very personal.

Cast yourself upon the Lord and he will not turn you away.

Blessings,


John

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Five Foolish Things Christians Do



By John Stallings


A couple had two boys ages 8 & 10 who were mischievous. If there was any trouble around they were usually involved.

A new preacher came to town that’d had success with disciplining problem children so they asked if he would speak to the boys.

The minister agreed to see the two so the mother sent her 8 year old first in the morning, with the older boy to visit in the afternoon.

The preacher had a big booming voice so the youngster’s eyes grew large as he asked him sternly, “Son, where is God?” The kid’s mouth dropped open but he had no response, sitting there in wide-eyed shock. So the minister asked again, “Where is God?”

Finally the preacher stood in front of the boy & shook his finger in his face & asked again as loud as he could, “SON, TELL ME, WHERE IS GOD?”

The boy screamed & bolted from the room, ran home & got in the closet slamming the door behind him. His older brother found him in the closet & asked him “What happened?”

The younger brother gasping for breath replied, “We’re in big trouble this time dude. God’s missing--& they think WE did it!”

When people get desperate, or think they are, it’s amazing what they are willing to do. For example, a wife has been faithful to her husband for years, but because he isn’t as attentive as he should be, she throws discretion to the wind & has an affair.

Or a Christian young man, unwilling to continue to wait to find a Christian mate gives in & marries a woman whose faith is dubious if she even has faith. Or a Christian teenager fed-up with inconsistent parents, rebels & starts taking drugs & having promiscuous sex. The aforementioned are acceptable ways of coping by much of the world. The theme that permeates many popular songs & much of television & movies is; “whatever gets you through the night.”

Recently I was watching Jay Leno [Jay is old news now,] in his “man on the street” skit. He asked a man to name one of the Ten Commandments & he replied, “Freedom of speech.” A woman was asked to complete this sentence, “Let him that is without sin……. The answer came, “have a good time.”

Is our society in trouble or not? But not only are the unsaved in trouble these days, many Christians are so desperate for answers they cook up remedies for their problems that are worse than the problems themselves.

Here are some ways even Christian’s are ruining their lives.

1. ALLOWING EMOTIONS TO OVERRULE GOOD SENSE

Recently I heard a financial expert say;-“most people will never buy a car in their lifetime where their emotions aren’t deeply involved.”

I can relate to that statement although we’ve put over one-hundred thousand miles on our present car & almost a quarter of a million miles on the car we owned before that.

We do far too many things because of our emotions. Actions usually follow feelings like baby ducks follow their mother but that doesn’t mean the mother knows where she’s going.

The other day we were driving on I-4 in Orlando & suddenly came on a wall of tail- lights. We feared the worst but when we got close enough to see the problem it was a mother duck, out in the middle of one of the world’s busiest Super-hi-ways with about ten baby ducks following her. They were cute little rascals but that mother duck didn’t have clue-one as to where she was going nor how much danger she & her babies were in. I don’t know about you but I’ve learned that my emotions usually don’t know where they’re going either.

I won’t belabor it here because I’ve talked about it so much but letting our emotions rule us is always a bad idea, because our emotions & moods can change in 15 minutes for no apparent reason.

I’D LIKE YOU TO IMAGINE A SCENARIO FOR A MOMENT.

Picture a young woman, an immigrant from another country. She’s unfamiliar with the culture & the language but she’s eager to succeed & get ahead. She finds a position working for a wealthy couple in their large home. They are God-fearing people & she feels valued there & is treated like a family member.

But as time goes by she notices problems between the couple. She tells herself it’s none of her business but soon she finds her boss stopping to talk to her as she works. He confides to her there are problems in the marriage & becomes more & more affectionate towards her, which starts to make her uncomfortable.

But to whom can she turn? She has no friends & no support network. She’s completely dependant on her employers for everything. As the boss’s advances become more obvious the young girl wonders what to do. If they fire her she could be out on the street without a job or a roof over her head. This is supposed to be a good & upright man & a respectable citizen. One day her employer comes right out & lets her know he wants her to take his wife’s place in his affections & in his bed.

Did you imagine this story was taking place in a sprawling mansion of a multimillionaire? A high-rise in a big city penthouse apartment? Would it surprise you to know the original story I based this anecdote on happened in a tent made of animal skins at a desert oasis almost four thousand years ago?

Of course it was a different time & customs were different. A slave girl belonged to her owners & there was no such thing as human rights or a place to report sexual harassment. Polygamy was common & a man had a prefect right to have another wife or concubine if he wished, especially if his first wife was unable to have children.

ABRAM AND SARAH

In Genesis chapter 16 there’s this story of Abram & Sarah & their desperation to have a child. Sarah, - are you listening, - Sarah concocted the idea that her husband should have a child through their young Egyptian slave girl Hagar. How foolish does that sound to you?

Though this practice wouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow in that time & among the folk of that day, Abram & Sarah [I know her name was Sarai at this point but I’ll call her by the name that’s most familiar to us,] were abandoning their faith in God’s promise he’d made them by a covenant in chapter 15. Abram & Sarah, so faithful in their lives to this point are now scheming according to the flesh & not according to faith in something that will result in disaster for them & all who would come after them. They were making the mistake of doing God’s business for God.

It’s interesting to note in this story that when Sarah is laughing Hagar is crying & when Hagar laughs, Sarah weeps. Their fortunes & prospects are always moving in opposite directions. Note also that Sarah & Hagar both speak but never to each other. Hagar speaks to God & Sarah speaks to her husband but no one but God addresses Hagar by name. The people around her speak about her but never to her & never call her by name. You may be interested to know Hagar is the only woman in the Bible who dares to give God a name when she calls Him “El-Roi,” meaning “The God Who Sees.”

Getting back to emotional thinking, emotions will say things like; “Well I don’t know what God thinks but I’m going to do this anyway.” Or, “I don’t care if I do go to hell, its hell to live in this condition anyway.” Before you use that last line as an excuse, I’d advise you to go back & read the eighty words that were spoken from hell in Luke 16:23-31.

The second foolish thing Christians do to mess up their lives is;

2. THEY LISTEN TO THOSE WHO ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE WORD OF GOD.

Psalm 1:1 says, How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.

In verse 2-4 of Genesis 16, the deed was done. Abram & Sarah at last would have the child they’d wanted for so long. The house would soon be filled with the sounds of happiness. Sounds like its right out of a story-book doesn’t it?

But the euphoria was short-lived. Trouble was already brewing. Before the child saw the light of day tension filled the house so thick you could cut it with a knife. What was meant to produce happiness would end up producing nearly endless sorrow in areas they never expected.

Verse 2 says, -So Abram listened to the voice of Sarah.

You may say, “What’s wrong with a man listening to his wife?” Nothing; unless his wife doesn’t understand the will of God. God had spoken to Abram when he left Ur, when he left Haran, & when He made the covenant with him to give him a son. The revelation was made solely to Abram, & Sarah knows far less the he does.

It may surprise you to know how many people when seeking advice, will actually seek out either weak believers or those who don’t know God’s Word at all. As a matter of fact the surest way to make an enemy of some people is step in & tell them what the Bible says.

In Galatians 4 Paul says, --Before you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had... Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?

I blame Abram for what happened here just as much as Sarah, in fact he shirked his responsibility big-time when he simply didn’t refuse what she suggested & remind her of what God had promised.

The third thing Christians do to mess up their lives is;

3. THEY BLAME OTHERS FOR THINGS THEY BRING ON THEMSELVES.

Surely when the trouble started because of what Sarah & Abram did they recognized their fault & owned up to all this, right? Wrong!

After the baby comes Hagar is suddenly elevated from the position of slave to second wife. She now had two things to hold over Sarah’s head; she’s younger & she can have babies. From Sarah’s vantage point this wasn’t the way it was supposed to work out.

But when we resort to fleshly schemes things never work out like we expected.

Whew! But there’s a bright spot here. As soon as it dawned on her what she’d done, Sarah humbled herself & went to her husband & apologized for her ill-fated suggestion. Right? Wrong again! She blamed Abram. That’s right, she’s blaming him. It’s hard to believe that this is the same woman who’s held up to us in the New Testament as a model wife. But to be fair, everyone in this story is just doing what comes “naturally” not obeying God & doing things His way.

It’s very common for people to blame others when their own chickens come home to roost. A sure sign of spiritual immaturity is when people refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions.

I used the story in a message some time ago about a small airline operating out of South America. Most of the clients were missionaries who were shuttled around in the light planes owned & operated by this fledgling air-transport company.

One day one of the planes took off carrying several missionaries & two well known Bible translators to a remote area. The plane had been airborne just a few minutes when it burst into flames & crashed killing all aboard.

When the news reached the headquarters of the little airline where the plane took off & all the planes were serviced, a Christian mechanic took the news hard. The reason he took the news so hard was he remembered his hands were the last to touch the ill-fated aircraft before it left. As he contemplated it, he remembered that in the process of servicing the plane, he’d left a cap off a gas tank. He’d made a mental note to come back & secure the cap but had forgotten to do so.

One of the things that made the story so unusual was that the mechanic didn’t have to tell his story to anyone, but he was convinced his mistake had caused the plane to crash. I was impressed by that story for so many reasons, not the least of which was that mechanic was one in ten-thousand who’d implicate themselves when it would have been easier to just keep quiet about the part they played in the tragedy.

However, life seems to happen less in a linear manner than cyclical, & this man knew in his heart that in the long run he’d be more a candidate for God’s grace to help put it behind him & experience healing if he was open & honest about his mistake, rather than just bottling it all up inside himself.

If we can’t come clean about our mistakes we’re much more likely to repeat them. Many people stagger through life from one crisis to the next, battered, bruised & taken advantage of & it never occurs to them that they hold the key to changing things, but they’re too proud to admit they’re wrong. The wife blames the husband as Sarah did here & as Adam did in the Garden when he told God, The woman thou gavest to be with me she gave me from the tree & I ate.

The fourth thing Christians do to mess-up their life is;

4. THEY COMPROMISE THEIR CONVICTIONS FOR THE SAKE OF KEEPING PEACE.

Doesn’t it seem to you that its time for Abraham to take the bull by the horns in this story? Isn’t it about time he administered the Word of God to his bickering family?

He could have started by saying, “Guys, this all started because I let it happen. I didn’t have to consent to this fleshly scheme but I did & I was wrong. But Sarah, honey, I need you to own up to your guilt & admit it was your idea in the beginning. You brought this on yourself so its high-time you stopped pointing your finger at everyone but yourself; OK? You should have stopped & considered how Hagar was going to react in all this. And Oh, Hagar, girl you need to climb off your high-horse & remember you’re still a servant in this house & you must treat Sarah with respect because she’s my wife.”

So does Abraham start sorting it all out & put things back in order in his house? Nope! Abram turns out to be more of a push-over than a patriarch in this situation. Let’s face it; Abram didn’t want to deal with two bickering women so it’s much easier in this incidence for him to be a mouse than a man.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that men be overbearing with their wives, a thousand times no. But the husband is supposed to be the leader of his home & sadly many men don’t even know what that means. Godly pastors are preaching & teaching it all over America but men aren’t showing up to hear it. In America’s homes today about the only way a man’s going to rise up & breath fire is if someone misplaces the TV remote. Wives are frustrated, children are exasperated & many men are pusillanimous passives.

Twice during the difficult years of this story Hagar left Abraham’s camp. Once was just before Ishmael’s birth when she ran away because of conflicts that arose between herself & her mistress Sarah. On this occasion an angel from the Lord told her to go back to Abram & Sarah—perhaps because as a runaway slave she’d have no means of support & care for her baby outside their household.

The angel also told her she’d bear a son & that she should call him Ishmael the name that means “God hears.” Fourteen years later Hagar left Abram’s home again this time Ishmael was a young man. Not surprisingly his stock in the family had gone down with the birth of the promised child Isaac. The conflict was so bad Abram sent them away but God spoke to Hagar again & provided water when her son was dying of thirst. God also provided encouragement for her & Ishmael as he led them into a new life. Certainly Hagar was marginalized if not victimized in this situation, a woman without value & standing in the eyes of man. Though God didn’t plan to send the promised son through her, & she wasn’t the lawful wife of Abram, He didn’t see her as insignificant, nor ignore her. God saw her, He spoke to her & he reached out & touched this woman who had no reason to believe her life was of any value to anybody.

Most people know that what we are seeing in the Middle East today, the bombings that are in the news almost daily is the fruit of Hagar’s son Ishmael being born; the fruit of what went on ‘behind the tent flaps” of Abram & Sarah’s household so many years ago when they left God out of their planning & took up fleshly methods rather than rely on the promises of God.

The fifth thing Christians do to mess-up their life is;

5. THEY JUST AREN’T WILLING TO WAIT FOR THE GOOD THINGS GOD HAS FOR THEM.

Nobody likes to wait. As a matter of fact our culture hates to wait. Waiting isn’t one of our strong traits. Make us wait too long & we’re pretty sure something is wrong. Waiting frustrates us, makes us mean, challenges our faith & tempts us to lose hope. There’s a name for people who can patiently wait without going nutso. They’re called saints. Many people however if forced to wait too long, give up & become cynics making the decision to just coast through life. They become permanently disappointed with God & man.

Here’s where young people get in trouble in our materialistic society. They look at what mom & dad have, maybe three cars, an RV, a five bedroom house, flat-screen TVs all over the place, plus a quarter of a million in their retirement account. Not understanding that it took the parents 45 years of working their fingers to the bone to accumulate what they have, the young person sets out to have what the parents have, but they want it NOW!

And just how are these young folk going to do this? Easy! ---Think with me about the credit card you have in your wallet or purse. Did you know it’s a “time machine?” Oh yes, that card at least for a while can reach out & grab the future & pull it right into your present. I’ll bet you never thought about it that way did you? Each day people are charging their way into the future because they’re too impatient to wait for the future to come.

Saving is such a slow & tedious way to work toward home ownership that people have signed for mortgages they can barely afford. Also it’s hard for young people to wait for marriage to have sex so fewer & fewer couples are waiting.

Are you waiting for something big to happen in your life, your marriage, your health, finances or even your ministry? Will you let me tell you something extremely important? Here it is;--LIFE IS PRETTY MUCH A WAITING GAME. Let me go a little further. Life is slow, tedious, many times mundane & is so full of waiting if you’re not careful it can cause you to do something crazy; that is if you don’t know what I’ve just told you. Life includes seasons of running & seasons of waiting with a lot more valley time than mountain-top time.

If you’ve read many of my messages you’ve heard me say—God isn’t a time-dweller & isn’t impressed with time as we are. He calls on us to wait.

God wants us to wait in humility because He’s the king & we’re His subjects. He’s in charge. He knows when the time is right.
Waiting doesn’t mean we’ve been bad or that God is angry at us. Waiting doesn’t mean we’re lost or that God is punishing us.

Let us not grow weary of waiting like Abram & Sarah did & produce Ishmaels in our lives. Let’s not try to jump from mountain-top to mountain-top so we can live on a “false high” all the time.

Waiting doesn’t necessarily even mean that we are in need of repentance of some sin. Waiting just means that we need to be faithful & continue serving God in life’s routines.

In Hagar’s grief & agony, in her shame & hopelessness she cried out to the God of the helpless & the hopeless. The God who saw Hagar also sees you. He sees your need. He sees, knows & cares about your feelings & wants you to reach out to Him. Will you turn to Him? This story reminds us there’s a wonderful wideness in God’s unassailable love.

I invite you to remember with me this marvelous verse;

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run & not be weary & they shall walk & not faint.—Ish. 40:31


Blessings,

John





Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Who Will Throw The First Rock?

By John Stallings

“It’s a terrible thing for a sinner to fall into the hands of his fellow sinners.”—F.B Myer


Recently I was shocked & saddened to learn that an acquaintance of mine, the pastor of a church in a city not too far from where we live was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover police woman. We ministered in this man’s church on a Sunday several years back but hadn’t heard much if anything from him in recent years.

Juda & I did have the opportunity to have a couple of meals with him & his lovely wife while we were with them in the late nineties. They treated us with kindness & respect & I have to tell you we’re still stunned over this news.

The thoughts that flood my mind are; how does a man call his wife to drive fifty miles one way to a large city & bail her preacher husband out of jail at 2:a.m, especially in the light of what he was charged with. It happened on a Friday night. How does he explain it to his wife? How does a preacher walk into the pulpit of the church he built & explain this to well over one thousand people on the next Sunday.

It’s not a “he-said-she- said” deal. There’s no plausible deniability built in here. Law enforcement had apprehended him, they had video & audio tape, they cuffed him, finger-printed him & there was one of those awful mug-shots. Caught red-handed. -- [Whatever that means.] We’re earnestly praying for this man & his wife & kids & church family.

WOMAN CAUGHT IN THE ACT OF ADULTERY

As I pondered this, my mind went to the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, in John 8:1-11. The religious leaders of the day, the “teachers of the law” & Pharisees brought her to Jesus & crudely threw her down at His feet as He addressed a large crowd. It’s easy to see that though these men were religious they weren’t godly & their motivations & intentions weren’t good. As the story unfolds we discover that they were proud, self-confident, arrogant, ruthless, cunning, clever, calculating, & hypocritical to the core. The Feast of the Tabernacles had just come to an end which meant that great crowds were still in Jerusalem.

This story is so popular that even those who rarely read the Bible know about it. Though its 2,000 years old the story still captures our imagination. Our culture has even picked up on the line-Casting the first stone,” & you’ll often hear it used. No wonder the Bible is still relevant to our day; this story could have happened this week.

A woman has been caught in the very act of adultery by a bunch of rock-throwing legalists. Like the minister I spoke about, she couldn’t deny it because of the circumstances of her situation. Maybe she was sleeping with another woman’s husband or maybe she was a prostitute & earned her living from what they call “the world’s oldest profession.”

Either way she was caught in the act. She knew what it meant to be caught like this. She knew she’d broken Jewish law, she knew she was wrong & she knew the penalty. She knew she’d be taken outside the city where the whole religious community would throw rocks at her until she was dead. After all she was guilty, plain & simple.

Boy was she guilty! She’d been guilty as long as she could remember. All her friends would know how guilty she was now & the unkindest cut of all was; now they were going to tell Jesus on her. To her, [that is-up until now]-Jesus was just another religious leader.

The people who’d caught this woman were “rules driven” folk. They were all about doing the “right thing.” They were “squeaky clean.” Black is black & white is white. They couldn’t remove the sin so they were going to remove the sinner.

I’ve always had a tendency to view these people a little on the mean & cruel side. So harsh, so cut & dried. That’s true in one way but in reality, legally, they were right. They were disgruntled & hostile. The woman’s breaking of a very important law in their society made them angry & they had every right to be doing exactly as they were doing; in a manner of speaking.

So they were going to take rocks in their hands & take care of God’s business here, & if Jesus didn’t take vengeance they certainly would get the job done. They were people with a strong sense of justice & if something had to be done they were going to do it.

There was really no need for a trial here. There was no need for a jury. There was no need to wait for a verdict. She knew it & they knew it; she was dead.

But there are lots of unanswered questions here. Who was this woman? We don’t know. Was this a basically good woman who had a weakness & had just gone astray? We don’t know. Maybe she had just made some bad choices & had ended up hurting the people she loved most. Was she single, engaged, or married? We don’t know. Is she young or middle aged? We don’t know. Had she had any previous relationships with any of her accusers? We don’t know.

How did they catch her in the “act of adultery?” We can’t be sure but it’s almost certain something fishy is going on here. The law was clear that she’d committed a capitol offense but it also states it must be a detailed & precise case with two eyewitness testimonies.

IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO

Where is the man, after all “it takes two to Tango.” Adultery by definition requires two people. Was this a set-up? Did they by prearrangement let the man go free? Let’s not forget, all this was done to put Jesus on the spot so they could very well have set up the adultery. They were hoping to impale Jesus on the horns of a dilemma & it might have worked with an ordinary teacher but not with Jesus.

One thing we do know; this woman was now about to be publicly exposed & her reputation was going to be dragged through the mud.

At this point Jesus enters the story. In some ways this resembles one of those T.V reality shows. Jesus was going about His business, preaching to a large crowd in the Temple when all at once this real life drama imposed itself on Him. How would Jesus respond with no preparation at all? All at once the heat is on & Jesus stands right in the middle of a drama with a woman’s life hanging in the balance.

Imagine with me for a moment that you, like the members of this mob have a rock in your hand. Feel the weight of that rock. Maybe you can also remember someone who’s hurt or humiliated you & the pain from the incident stills lingers with you. Feel that rock. Maybe your spouse cheated on you or hurt you in some other way. Maybe you’ve been abused or abandoned with more responsibility & baggage than you can carry.

You try not to hate the person but you surely hate what they did to you. Maybe you were hurt by your parents. Maybe it’s a business partner who took money from you. Maybe that’s why you’ve got a rock in your hand right now. Maybe you’d love to find some way to get back at that person & you’re going to have to make the decision to hold the rock, drop it, or throw it. Hold that imaginary rock for awhile & let’s look at what Jesus did.

Jesus doesn’t suffer from mental blocks. He’s always ready with the answer. Aren’t you glad you know Him? It would be an understatement to say that Jesus saw right through these people & knew exactly where they were coming from. They told Him what Moses’ law required & asked Him what he thought. Was this Jesus a compromiser? Maybe they could trip Him up.

Jesus knelt & started writing in the dust with His finger. As a matter of fact, during this dramatic event He knelt down twice & wrote on the ground with His finger. We don’t know what He wrote but He wrote something. Could He have been ignoring these men, hoping they’d go away? Was He trying to buy time? Did He kneel down & momentarily drop his head toward the earth because He was embarrassed for the women? Maybe He was embarrassed for this blood- thirsty mob. There was a lot for a sensitive person to be embarrassed about. Think about it; all of this happened so quickly we are left to wonder what the poor woman was wearing if much of anything.

Or could it be that He wrote a message? We don’t know but I think so. I think what He wrote was very relevant & very telling. He could have started writing The Ten Commandments, knowing these boys had broken a few of them. Or He might have started writing sins like anger, pride, greed, arrogance or lack of love. Either way, it got their attention. Then Jesus uttered one of His most famous statements; “Let those who’ve never sinned throw the first rock.”

Jesus was saying in essence, “If you’re not living in a glass house, go ahead & throw the first rock.” In recent years we have heard this statement of Jesus used to justify prominent people & the way they use it is far removed from the way Jesus used it & meant it.

Have you ever noticed that those with the least moral authority in their lives are often quickest to tear out the throats of other people? It’s as if they think no one is going to remember or point out that they don’t have the credibility for the job. That never ceases to amaze me.

In fact, in another place Jesus plainly said. “Judge not or you too will be judged.” If you want to start playing God, you’d better be sinless yourself. If we’ve ever needed forgiveness & mercy for our actions maybe that should govern the way we respond to somebody else.

CONSIDER HOW POWERFUL THE “FIRST ROCK” IS

The first rock is an extremely influential rock. It has an awesome power. If the first rock is never thrown then no stones will be thrown. The first rock isn’t going to kill the victim but it will open the door for the others to throw their rocks. I often think about the terrible violence in our public schools & wonder if the “first rock” was the violent video games that made our kids feel comfortable with violence. I believe in a way violence & sexuality in our movies, television & music are truly the “first rocks” that have opened the door to a landslide of sinful rocks that threaten to bury a generation of youth.

The “first rockof gossip & slander often open the door that will result in a person’s life being destroyed. The first rock of criticism or unnecessary murmuring in a church will give permission to others to throw their rocks & soon unity is buried under a pyramid of broken fellowship.

The “First lie told is often the first rock that starts an individual down the broad road to deception & hypocrisy.

The “First drink” is often the first rock that opens the door to alcoholism for multitudes of people.

The “First flirtation” sometimes opens the door to a life of sexual promiscuity. There are some things God doesn’t want us to do even once.

Ephesians 5:3 says, --But fornication & all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be ONCE named among you…..

Jesus knew the law said this woman should be stoned to death but He also knew the throwing of those rocks was, in the long run, not only going to create damage for the woman, it was also going to damage those who threw them. He also knew that behind this little vignette was more than met the eye. It wasn’t exactly an open-&-shut-case.

Jesus knew the incredible damage holding bitterness & hatred inside & trying to exact revenge takes on people. I mean, how is holding hate against someone who hurt you in the past, even though the pain is real, helping your life? Will throwing that rock bring you joy & bring more of God’s blessings to your life or will it just cause more hurt & frustration in your life & the lives of those around you?

DO YOU HAVE A ROCK YOU’RE READY TO THROW?

Here’s what I think Jesus is saying to you & me today; do you have a rock in your hand? Go ahead-- Throw it. Take vengeance, for after all you’ve convinced yourself that your cause is “righteous.” But know this. That rock, in the long run is going to create more trouble for you than it ever is for the person you hurt with it. Before you throw the rock, look at your own life, because you too will ultimately need love & grace & forgiveness for your sins & mistakes.

Let’s watch this story play out. The accusers slip away quietly, beginning with the older first & then they all went away. They dropped their rocks when they saw the damage they were about to cause & when they’d gotten a good look at their own need for forgiveness.

It’s interesting that the older ones went first. Maybe it was because the longer you hold hate & hurt & judgment the more you realize how heavy it is... The more real the pain-the more costly the price of holding it is. Hopefully there was a little more maturity in the older ones.

If that’s you & God is talking to you—drop your rock. Don’t hold it one moment longer. Let a new era of your life begin.

NEITHER DO I CONDEMN YOU-GO & SIN NO MORE”

After the mob leaves it’s only the woman & Jesus standing in the middle of the crowd. He simply says, “Where are your accusers?” Didn’t anyone condemn you? Then neither do I.” I have this visual of this woman sitting on the ground, embarrassed & sick & tired of life. She’s sitting there crying & feeling guilty. Then I see Jesus lift her head & say something like, “Daughter, you’re not going to die today & not on this hill. Go & live all your tomorrows different than you lived today.”

In the eyes of Jesus, this woman looked better than the men who were accusing her. No doubt these men were troubled by what Jesus said. They saw a “slam dunk” but it all came to naught. They wanted to talk about the woman but Jesus wanted to talk about them. They wanted to talk about the law as it relates to outward behavior but Jesus wanted to talk about the law as it related to their hearts.

It’s easy to see why she looked bigger to Jesus than her accusers. She denied nothing & they admitted nothing. Jesus didn’t smooth over this woman’s sin & dismiss it as if unimportant. He forgave her but told her to get out of the sin business. If we are not walking in God’s plan for our lives, we’re in danger of damaging our souls.

Isaiah said, --Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they shall be as wool. Ish. 1:8

There is more to this story than the obvious dismissal of charges. This woman saw in Jesus an authority she had to respect though she’d never met Him before. She waited patiently for His verdict.

In Christ she saw a man who was different from all other men, a man who treated her with grace & not contempt. Why didn’t she leave when the Pharisees left? Because she knew she was a sinner & she didn’t try to hide it.

Let’s go back to that rock that you & I may be holding in our hands. As we hold the rock, lets ask a question; do we really want to be like Jesus?

If you saw the movie Forrest Gump, you’ll no doubt remember the scene when he & his lifetime love Jenny went back to the house where she grew up & was sexually abused by her father. She stood in front of the house for quite a long time with tears running down her cheeks, hurling rocks at it as if to somehow ease the pain she felt for all the years she was a helpless victim of her abusive father.

Forrest, who was supposed to be educable slow said to Jenny, “You know, sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”

That statement showed more insight than would be expected from the not-so-smart Forrest.

And the same is true for you & me. There just aren’t enough rocks if we take vengeance into our hands for the pain we’ve known on our journey.

So let’s ponder a scripture or two.

For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world…..John 3:17.

Let’s also consider….Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..... Romans 8:1

And let us not forget the words of Jesus in this story,

Neither do I condemn thee, go & sin no more.

As we drop the rocks, let’s run to The Rock.

Whether we are holding a rock getting ready to throw it, or whether we’ve been almost destroyed by the rocks someone has thrown at us, Christ & His restoring love is our only answer.

I pray everyone who reads this will give some thought to the wonderful mercy God has shown all of us, through “The Rock Christ Jesus.”

I love Dottie Rambo’s song, “I go to the rock.


I GO TO THE ROCK OF MY SALVATION,


I GO TO THE STONE THAT THE BUILDERS REJECTED,


I GO TO THE MOUNTIAN & THE MOUNTIAN STANDS BY ME.


WHEN ALL AROUND ME IS SINKING SAND, ON CHRIST THE SOLID ROCK I STAND,


WHEN I NEED A SHELTER WHEN I NEED A FRIEND,


I GO TO THE ROCK.


Blessings,


John