How Far Would You Go to Get Noticed?

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 23-24; Luke 19:1-27

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19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus.

Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”

Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10  The Human One came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10, Common English Bible).

Graduation season is upon us. Within the next 2-3 weeks, colleges will start graduating their seniors. Within a week or so after that, it will be time for high schools to do the same. That means, it is also time for the relatively new custom of decorating the tops of mortarboards.

When I graduated from high school back in the mid-1970s, I don’t remember anyone decorating a mortarboard. When I graduated from college almost two decades later, there were a few, but I really don’t remember many. When I graduated from seminary six years later it was noticeably more.

A few years ago I attended a college graduation and there was something crazy going on. Almost everyone had something on top of their flat square hat with the tassel hanging off.

I am told that decorating mortarboards started out as a way for parents and others attending graduation to be able to pick their graduate out of the crowd of people all wearing the same color.

It seems to me that these days if I wanted to find my graduate, I would tell them to leave the mortarboard just like they got it. There would be quite a few less to look at.

I don’t think Zacchaeus was necessarily trying to get noticed when he climbed up in the sycamore tree. He just wanted to see Jesus. The Scriptures say he was a short man. He was also, as a Roman tax-collector, a hated man (do you like your friendly neighborhood IRS agent?) that no one was going to go out of their way to help.

So, if one is short and can’t see over the crowd, what do you do? You find a way to make yourself taller. Man lifts and cherry pickers were still 20 or so centuries away from being invented so Zacchaeus had to find another way. Most of us don’t carry ladders in our pockets and even if Zac had a box with him, it still might not have made him tall enough to see Jesus over the crowd. So, being the observant guy he was, he sees the tree and climbs it. I’m not actually sure how he was able to do that with a robe on but, as the old saying goes, “when there is a will there is a way.”

Imagine shock for Zacchaeus and everyone else around him when Jesus stops the procession and tells good old Zac to get out of the tree and then invites himself over for dinner. Some might say it was rude on Jesus’ part but somehow I don’t think Zac is one of them.

How would you feel if all you were trying to do was get a look and then you got so much more? For Zacchaeus, it was enough to get him to turn his life around, to make a change, to see the harm he had caused others. It was enough to get Zac to repent.

So, how far would you go to get noticed by the Master?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

They Understood Nothing

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 21-22; Luke 18:24-43

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31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and said, “Look, we’re going up to Jerusalem, and everything written about the Human One by the prophets will be accomplished. 32  He will be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be ridiculed, mistreated, and spit on. 33  After torturing him, they will kill him. On the third day, he will rise up.” 34 But the Twelve understood none of these words. The meaning of this message was hidden from them and they didn’t grasp what he was saying. (Luke 18:31-34, Common English Bible).

Mark Twain once said, “The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.”

Niels Bohr said, “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” Um, no problem there Niels. I won’t argue your point. I don’t understand it.

Elbert Hubbard said, “He who does not understand your silence probably will not understand your words.”

William Howard Taft wrote, “Don’t write so that you can be understood. Write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”

Stephen Covey said, “Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.”

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Some of the authors of books I read in seminary needed to hear at least a few of these. Immanuel Kant, author of The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals would be number one on my list of people who need to talk to Einstein about his quote. I read the book ten times (short book) and I still didn’t understand what he was saying.

The disciples were like that too. I feel certain they didn’t understand quantum mechanics and many other concepts we live with today, some I understand and some I do not. I feel the same is true for you. Somewhere, someone is going to bring forth an understanding that most of the rest of us just are not going to get.

For the disciples, it was the one who can easily pull the wool over any of our eyes. God, who does understand quantum mechanics and is not, despite what Niels Bohr has to say, profoundly shocked by it, blocked the things Jesus was saying from their minds.

It is important for us to remember that the disciples were probably of a mindset, much like the rest of the Jews, that the Messiah, and they did understand that this would be Jesus, was going to be a militant. As such he would march into Jerusalem and throw the hated Romans out. He then would re-establish Israel as a world power and Jerusalem would once again be the capital. It would be really easy for the idea that Jesus would be killed to fly over their heads. They didn’t understand yet. In truth, they probably didn’t want to understand.

Things were about to happen. They would be things the disciples wouldn’t understand, at least not at the moment. But, three days later, just as Jesus was telling them in this lesson, everything would change. On the third day, they would see power like they had never known before. Thanks be to God.

Have a great day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Just Like Everyone Else

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 19-20; Luke 18:1-23

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Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust:10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11  The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12  I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13  But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14  I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.” (Luke 18:9-14, Common English Bible).

The late Margret Mead was a respected but also often controversial cultural anthropologist of the 1960s and 1970s. She once said, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” The Pharisee in the lesson today, yes, I know it is a parable and therefore not a real person, would have loved Margret Mead. His alleged uniqueness, I don’t believe, is what she had in mind.

The great danger of the Christian faith is that we somehow start to believe we are better than everyone else. No Pharisee was called a Christian, at least until Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea or perhaps Paul would have been the first. It is doubtful Joseph or Nicodemus would have called themselves Christians. While that is true, it is also true that sometimes, we can get a bit caught up in ourselves and start saying, “Look at them, they…”

There is the woman who comes into the church building with her service dog… “Look at her bringing that dog into the church. She should be ashamed. She doesn’t need that dog in here.” Nevermind that the woman is a quadriplegic and the dog is trained, to among other things, pick up things from the floor the woman might drop.

There is the man who was out drinking on Saturday night and wandered into the church building on Sunday morning. “Look at him, coming into church on Sunday morning after what he was out doing last night.” We never stop to think that perhaps this was the first time the man had been to church for many years and he was there to see if he might find help for his drinking problem.

“Look at that teenager hanging out with our youth group. Can you believe he is wearing a t-shirt advertising a beer company to the youth meeting?” No one ever stopped to think he might have, and actually did hear you. He never darkened the doorway of the church again.

The list could go on for far too long. We sometimes have a tendency to feel like we are better than those other folks. When we do, we are like the Pharisee from Jesus’ parable. Do these people sin? Yes! But never, ever forget, you and I do too.

There is an old story about a man with long hair, a week old beard, and dirty raggedy clothes who wandered into the church one Sunday morning. He started looking around for a place to sit. No one seemed to be willing to make any room for him to sit. Rumbles were going on through the sanctuary. Almost everyone in the congregation was uncomfortable he was there. “What was he doing there?” was a common thought. “Someone needs to tell him he needs to leave,” others were thinking.

Suddenly, an elderly man, one of the patriarchs of the church, came walking up the aisle. Everyone knew he was coming. They could hear his cane clicking on the tile floor. “Oh, the bum’s going to get it now. Mr. Smith is going to give him what for and then kick him out of here. We don’t need his type around here.”

Then the whole place went quiet when Mr. Smith got to the end of the aisle where the man was sitting. You could have heard a pin drop. And then there were gasps as Mr. Smith slowly, painfully sat down on the floor next to the man. He believed no one should have to sit alone during worship.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

 

 

Hanging From an Oak Tree

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 16-18; Luke 17:20-37

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From Mr. Biblehead (http://mrbiblehead.blogspot.com/2016/)

So the troops marched into the field to meet the Israelites. The battle was fought in the Ephraim forest. The army of Israel was defeated there by David’s soldiers. A great slaughter of twenty thousand men took place that day. The battle spread out over the entire countryside, and the forest devoured more soldiers than the sword that day.

Absalom came upon some of David’s men. Absalom was riding on a mule, and the mule went under the tangled branches of a large oak tree. Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair while the mule under him kept on going. 10 One of the men saw this and reported to Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging from an oak tree.” (2 Samuel 18:6-10, Common English Bible).

When you read some of the other translations of the Bible, instead of the phrase “…hanging from an oak tree,” as is the case with the Common English Bible, in the New Revised Standard Version, for example, we read, “…hanging between heaven and earth.” It creates an interesting image, regardless of which version you might read.

Regardless of how you might read it, depending upon your perspective, the image can be pretty comical and pretty scary all at the same time. To be down on the ground and seeing Absalom in the tree, hanging either from his hear or by his neck between two tree limbs (I prefer by his hair), he, the would-be ruler of Israel, hanging in a tree by his hair. But, on the other hand, from Absalom’s perspective it had to be terrifying. The king’s army is after you and you hang helpless from a tree, defenseless. In addition to all that, it had to hurt!!!

There are two other things about the Absalom story that are really important. First of all, if you remember back to just a few days ago when we read the story of David and Bathsheba. God said, through the Prophet Nathan, that David would face revolt from within his own family. This is that prophecy coming to life.

The other thing, and it is actually in today’s “Journey Through Scripture” reading from 2 Samuel. David asked Joab and his other two military commanders to please go easy on his son Absalom. I understand how David felt. I have two sons. I would beg anyone to spare their lives regardless of what they had done to me. We saw evidence of that just a couple of months ago, when in February, Governor Abbott commuted the death sentence to life without the possibility of parole for Thomas Whitaker, who had killed his mother and tried to kill his father. It was in part, Thomas’ father Kent’s appeals to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to the Governor that led to the very rare action on the part of the Texas Governor. David and Kent Whitaker were thinking a great deal alike on this one. David was thinking like a father, not a deposed monarch.

Joab, on the other hand, knew, as long as Absalom was alive and free, or perhaps just alive, David’s throne would remain in jeopardy. Joab knew, that for him to truly serve his king, there was only one action he could take. Absalom had to die.

One more thing I want to mention regarding all of this. Nathan had prophesied that David would face an uprising from his own family. And, as we have already said, it did happen. And, Absalom already had control of the country and there were people who were extraordinarily happy about it, as we can see from today’s readings. This was all over David’s affair with Bathsheba and the execution (or it may as well have been an execution) of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite. God could have let Absalom take over the country. Already Absalom had all but won. It was really just a matter of catching his father and either executing him or putting him in prison. Yet it didn’t happen. And friends, that is grace, the unjustified merit of God. David deserved what he would have gotten, but God protected him anyway, unmerited favor.

God gives grace to all of us. God offers, let’s take grace.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

It Wasn’t God…

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 14-15; Luke 17:1-19

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11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, 13 they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”

14 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”As they left, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18  No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” 19 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

How easy it is.  When things in life are bad, we are quick to ask God to help. When things are good, well, not so much. Way too many of us start taking credit for what God actually did. “It wasn’t God. There’s no point in thanking God. I took care of that myself. Just like always, I picked myself up by my own bootstraps and took care of business. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. It wasn’t God.”

Before long, however, we are down off the mountaintop and things aren’t going so well. Things are beyond what we can do for ourselves so we stop and pray. “Lord, I can’t handle this, I need your help. Please come and help me.” God does, we forget to be thankful, we take credit and when things go bad again… well I think you get the idea.

Things couldn’t have been much worse for those ten guys. Leprosy, the name given by those in the Biblical era for any one of a number of skin diseases. At least some of these diseases were very contagious. When someone contracted the disease they lost everything. They lost their ability to work, to make a living for their family, really they lost their ability to even support themselves. They lost their family. Think about it, would you want to infect your family with such a terrible disease? Most of us wouldn’t even consider it.

Probably what made the disease as bad as it possibly could be, by law, these men and women lived in isolation, outside towns and villages, depending on the kindness of family and friends or strangers for their survival. To cap it all off, when someone approached, the “leper” was required, by law, to shout as loud as possible, “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!”

When Jesus was coming close that day, they didn’t do as the law required. They didn’t yell, “UNCLEAN UNCLEAN!” Instead, it was, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!” In other words, “Lord, I can’t handle this, I need your help. Please come and help me.” Do those words sound familiar? They should. If they don’t, read again from the top.

As they traveled back, they discovered they are cleansed, made well. Nine of them just keep moving. Over history, we have given those guys some grief for not going back. But, they were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do. But, Jesus himself is critical of their behavior. When one man, a hated Samaritan, is the only one to return, Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine?”

Could it be that the nine were saying, “It wasn’t God. There’s no point in thanking God. I took care of that myself. Just like always, I picked myself up by my own bootstraps and took care of business. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. It wasn’t God.”

As for the only man to return? Jesus said, “Your faith has healed you.” That could lead us to think, there is a difference between being well, and being healed. From the way I read it, I think I would rather be healed.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

In Broad Daylight

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 12-13; Luke 16

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Why have you despised the Lord’s word by doing what is evil in his eyes? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and taken his wife as your own. You used the Ammonites to kill him. 10 Because of that, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite as your own, the sword will never leave your own house.

11 “This is what the Lord says: I am making trouble come against you from inside your own family. Before your very eyes I will take your wives away and give them to your friend, and he will have sex with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did what you did secretly, but I will do what I am doing before all Israel in the light of day.”

13 “I’ve sinned against the Lord!” David said to Nathan.

“The Lord has removed your sin,” Nathan replied to David. “You won’t die. 14 However, because you have utterly disrespected the Lord by doing this, the son born to you will definitely die.” (2 Samuel 12:9-14, Common English Bible).

David, the guy after God’s own heart, the guy that knew God would help him whip up on the Philistine version of Shaq, Goliath, shows he is like the rest of us, he too has feet of clay.

First David has an affair with the wife of one of his soldiers. There is a line of theological thought that says it wasn’t an affair but instead, it was David being even more sexually inappropriate and in essence using his power to force Bathsheba into the illicit affair. Think about it, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. After all, he is the king and she was just a woman. As I’ve said before, I am not trying to be controversial when I say that. Women were little more really than the purpose for which David used Bathsheba. Well, that and rearing a family, hauling water, cooking, making clothes… shall I continue?

Then to make matters worse, when Bathsheba’s husband wouldn’t cooperate in David’s efforts to cover things up, David sent him into battle and to his death. He may not have murdered the poor guy, but he may as well have done so.

I remember one Sunday I preached on David and Bathsheba. After the service, a man met me at the door. “Preacher! I don’t know why you thought you had to preach that sermon. We don’t have any murderers and adulterers in our church!”

I wanted to answer, “Are you sure?” but I let it go. In reality, I was a lot more concerned that he completely missed the point and I am sharing this little side story with you because I don’t want you to miss it too. This isn’t about murder and adultery. Yes, those two sins are present. Of that, there is no doubt. But, this isn’t about some specific sin, it is about sin, period. David had committed sin and tried to sneak around about it. He tried to cover it up. He did it secretly. And God said, through the Prophet Nathan, “What you did, you did in secret. What I am about to do, I will do in broad daylight so everyone will see it.”

So much of the time when we commit sin, we try to keep it a secret. We try to cover it up. What God does, God lets the who world to see.

In the end, things sound bad for David. God knows his sin. God says punishment is coming. David’s child with Bathsheba is going to die. But, God says to David, “You aren’t going to die.” Further, before the Journey Through Scripture passages for today close, Bathsheba and David will celebrate the birth of another son, Solomon who will lead God’s people Israel.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

And When He Came to His Senses…

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 9-11; Luke 15:11-32

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17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:17-24, Common English Bible).

For the first time since starting Journey Through Scripture, today I actually had to make a difficult decision regarding the text on which I would write. Both the Prodigal Son and David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) are great stories. Further complicating things, once I decided which text would be my focus for the day, I had to further cut it down. Which one of the sons do I focus on or do I ignore them both and talk about the father.

Well, by this point it should seem fairly obvious which way I went. We are talking about the Prodigal Son and the first of the two sons, but you can’t talk about either of them without talking about the father.

At the point where I pick up the story, the younger son has taken his share of the inheritance and blown it all in what we will just call “wild living.” Having nothing left and thinking going home was not an option, he hired himself out to a pig farmer. There is little that could be worse for a Jew than being a pig farmer. And, if there was anything worse to eat than pork (I’m not saying I agree, about pork, I still love a good bacon-cheeseburger. I am talking about to a true, faithful Jew) it would be the slop fed to the pigs. And, the Scripture says, he was ready to eat that.

Then one day, he came to his senses. Hopefully when any of us are acting and thinking in a way that, let’s just say, isn’t to smart, we come to our senses as the son did in this lesson. He thought to himself, “Here I am starving to death. My father’s servants eat better and are treated better than this. I know I can’t go back expecting to pick up where I left off. I blew that chance when I left . But, if I go back, perhaps my father will hire me back as a servant. Whatever things may have been before, they were always better than this.” And, he heads for home.

How can you not love the father in this great story. “While he was still a long way off…” His father knew what was going to happen and he allowed his son to make the mistake. Too many parents today, don’t let their children make their own mistakes. The father in the story did. When my boys were still at home I would count myself in that number,

But, while he allowed him to make the mistake, he also knew one day he would come back and he was watching the road for the return of his son. Even when the son was a long way off, the father saw him and new it was his son. He ran to his son. We guys may not have tried this much, but running with a long skirt isn’t so easy. It would require raising the hem above the ankles, something men didn’t do in those days. It violated societal norms and yet, for his son, he did it anyway.

The son had his speech ready. “Dad, I am a sinner. I am unworthy of being your son. But please, let me come back and just work for you.”

For his part, the father would have none of that. In essence, the father said, “You can come back, but it won’t be as a servant! It will be as my son.” And with that, the father threw a barbecue that any Texan would be proud to throw.

Friends, there is a word for that. GRACE. We have talked about it a bit already. Grace – God’s unmerited favor. There is nothing the son did to deserve what his father was doing for him. He couldn’t buy the position, he had no money. He couldn’t expect to borrow from it. He couldn’t take it or otherwise rob his father of it. It could only come as the free gift from his father. It was more than he deserved. It was more than he could pay back. It was more than his fair share. Remember, he had already received his share of the inheritance. There was nothing else he deserved, legally or otherwise, and yet his father gave to him anyway. That is grace.

Just like the son, we too receive grace. It is more than we deserve and it is more than we could take or borrow or anything else. God gives it to us out of God’s love for us, God’s greatest creation. You and I receive the gift of grace, God’s unmerited favor.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness (For that grace),
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved