An Undeserved Gift

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You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of (Ephesians 2:8-9 Common English Bible).

I know, I know. Today is Halloween and here I am talking about Christmas and gifts and such. It would be the easy thing to do if I were just to sit back and wait for Thanksgiving to arrive and then when I see Santa pass by on the Thanksgiving day parade to run out and buy, buy, buy. I could do that but then I probably wouldn’t put much thought into what I was giving to the people I say I care about so much.

This year I have been thinking. I’ve actually been thinking for a couple of months now. What can I do for this person who is so important to me? What gift can I give that communicates just what this person means to me.

Most of the time I we don’t think about a gift in terms of what someone deserves unless we are talking about a Divine gift, a gift like God’s grace. Then we always couch it in terms of something that is undeserved. Most all of us recognize there are no gifts we receive from God that we can truly say we deserve.

As I have been thinking about Christmas gifts for my friends and family the thought occurred to me, there are no gifts I receive from others that I truly deserve. When I receive a gift from someone, whether it be God or one of my friends, the gift given is, at least in part, giving of themselves. What have I ever done to “deserve” a part of another person, much less a part of God.

God gives me the free gift of grace. It is completely undeserved. I may be a faithful disciple, but because I a human I have also fallen well short of what God wants me to be. No matter what I do, there will always be people who are more deserving than me. Yet, the same is also true for them. We humans always, always, always fall short.

But, God loves us anyway and God gives us the free, undeserved gift of grace. Salvation through faith Paul calls it in our lesson above. Without grace I have no salvation. Without grace I have nothing. Without grace I am nothing.

And, it isn’t about who I am or what I have. Without the grace of God nothing else matters. But, the good news is, because of salvation through faith, I do have something, though it isn’t really mine. It belongs to God. That free gift of grace does say I am something and that I am important. I am something and I am important because God says I am. God says I am worth this gift, but it isn’t from my own doing, but from God’s doing.

Whether we believe or not, we are nothing without grace. We become something with grace because that grace brings us salvation, but only if we believe. And, it isn’t from our doing, it isn’t from anything we are or hope to be. It comes by the free, undeserved gift of God’s grace. And, that means, the only way I can brag is to say, “I couldn’t do it for myself but look what God did for me.”

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Willing to Settle?

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I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope (Jeremiah 29:11, Common English Bible).

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C.S. Lewis

“You get in life what you are willing to settle for.” I find that an interesting thought. A little over a year ago I wanted a new guitar and I was pretty determined I was going to get one. I had been looking at a sweet classical guitar. A classical was exactly what I wanted but in truth I had never heard of this particular brand guitar so I wasn’t sure. Christmas was coming (no I wasn’t expecting anyone to buy me that new guitar). Christmas coming had a great deal more to do with what the dealer had in stock. He told me he was getting in a couple of new guitars, classical guitars and then I would be able to look at a few and compare.

I really wanted to go ahead and make the purchase. I was afraid if I didn’t go ahead and buy the new guitar I might spend the money on something else and completely miss out on having a new guitar.

In the end I decided I would wait. The new guitars came in, I sat and played all of them and I decided on the one I had looked at all along. When it was all said and done, all the guitars were in the same price range. They were equipped about the same. What it would really come down to was, which one did I like best. That turned out to be the one I had looked at longest.

Had I decided to buy the guitar before having the chance to compare I would have been settling on what was available. By waiting, I got to decide on what I really wanted.

The same can be true of our spiritual lives. How often are we willing to settle for what is easiest instead of claiming all God has to offer for us. God, speaking through Jeremiah reminds us that God has great plans for us. And, God’s plans are greater than anything we might dream of or imagine.

We seem to be willing to settle for the cheap guitar when we could get the good guitar instead. We are willing to settle for a hamburger and a coke when we could have had a fine cut of beef and the best choice of wine.

In the end, the key is, don’t settle for easy when God has the best in mind for you. Pray about what is there and what may still be to come. Don’t settle for what the world has to give. Instead reach out for all that God has in store for you. It is up to us. We can settle or we can reach.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Of Insignificance and Significance

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Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31, Common English Bible)

This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us… But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:5, 8, Common English Bible).

 

I still remember the day I reported aboard the U.S.S. Mt. Whitney. Standing on the pier looking up at haze gray steel, it just looked so big. And, it was far from being, not just the largest ship in the harbor, it wasn’t even the largest ship at that pier. When I turned around on the pier I was looking at the U.S.S. Saipan, a carrier for helicopters and probably twice the size of Mt. Whitney. I could also look further down to the carrier piers and they were far larger still.

Then there was the first day at sea. This ship that seemed so large standing next to it on the pier now seemed so small when I was standing on the bridge of Mt. Whitney somewhere out in the Atlantic. I realized I was one of more than 500 on the ship. And this ship? It was the only thing in sight for at least twelve miles in any direction (the distance from the ship to the horizon) was water, lots and lots of water. Imagine for a moment that you are standing in the exact center point of an Olympic size swimming pool with a two inch long toy boat. For that boat it is a long way from the middle of the pool to one of the walls.

It is a feeling of sheer insignificance. It comes at a time when we realize, we are just one of 7.5 billion people in the world. It comes when we realize that we are one in a number so large few of us can truly comprehend its size. It comes when we realize in comparison to the vastness of the world we are just a small spec.

After that first day at sea came the first night at sea. I stood on the bridge once again, looking out at the stars in the sky. That feeling of insignificance grows in the vastness of the dark. We might not be able to see all the water at night but we can certainly the vastness of the cosmos. Now,  instead of being one of 500 on a ship in the middle of one of earth’s oceans, we realize we are an even smaller spec in all the created cosmos.

If we pay attention to all that is around us, it can be very humbling. For me at least, words like, “You are dust and to dust you shall return,” spring quickly to mind. Some might wonder why I would think such a thing, but then again, when I consider how small I am compared with the vastness of God’s creation, how can I see it any other way?

Though it can be difficult, let’s take a look at this from a bit of a different perspective. Look at our own bodies. Just the idea that one degree of fever can make the difference between feeling great and feeling completely miserable says something of this finely tuned piece of divine engineering that is the human body. Scientists are discovering more each year of how one part of the body and how it relates to another. There are now studies that show a relationship between gum disease and heart disease. I read an article a few weeks back suggesting there may be a relationship between untreated hearing loss and stroke. I have no idea if such is true or not. I feel certain more research needs to be done. But, that suggests to me that we humans, though we may feel insignificant at times, in the eyes of God we are far from insignificance.

We are significant. Think about it this way, out of all God created, the human creature is the only element of creation that God said was, “supremely good.” God said all the rest of creation was good, but of the human creature it was “very good” (depending on the Biblical translation you read).

And, in Romans we are reminded that through the Holy Spirit God pours love out upon us. But, even more importantly, Paul reminds us that God loves us so much, Christ died, for us. Such moves us from insignificance to significance in a really big hurry.

If ever you feel insignificant, remember, God doesn’t think so. You are important. You are loved.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Today I Am Weak

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I was given a thorn in my body because of the outstanding revelations I’ve received so that I wouldn’t be conceited. It’s a messenger from Satan sent to torment me so that I wouldn’t be conceited. I pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me alone. He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Common English Bible)

“Every weakness contains within itself a strength.” ― Shūsaku Endō

Today I feel pretty weak. The day after surgery it is to be expected. Pain medications keep the edge off the pain but they do nothing to take the edge off the weakness. It seems to me, if anything, the medication adds to the weakness. Please understand, I don’t mean people shouldn’t take pain meds. That is far from the case. Cindy would probably have run away by now without my pain medication.

We often feel weak at times in our lives. Whether it is weakness that comes on with the events of a day or week  or be it inner turmoil or other things, that can happen in our lives. Much of the weakness I am feeling is physical weakness that comes with surgery. But, also an emotional weakness that comes with the death of a loved one. Grief can seem to be a form of weakness.

But, as much pain as I feel in my shoulder today, the end of the pain should be on the horizon. The surgery, while brining on additional short-term pain, will eventually relieve the pain completely. The restrictions on my body because of the pain of injury will be gone and a new strength will replace it.

Shūsaku Endō is one of my favorite Christian author. His book Silence, the story of a sixteenth century Catholic priest who goes to Japan to be a missionary and to investigate the reasons his mentor had abdicated the faith. It was something Father Rodrigo couldn’t understand.

After reading Silence the quote from Endo above doesn’t surprise me. “Every weakness contains within itself a strength.” In the book Father Rodrigo saw himself as becoming weak when he also abdicated the faith. But in so doing, he actually became more Christian than he had ever been before. I will leave the remainder of the book for you. It is a Christian novel worth the time for you to read.

Paul reminds us that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. In the things that make me weak make God strong. When I am weak I let God work through me more. I think most of us know God to be omnipotent, all powerful. But God has manners too. God isn’t going to work through us if we fail to leave God a way. We are more likely to allow God to work through us in the times of our weakness. Paul seems to be saying as much. My personal experience seems to me to indicate much the same.

So, bring on the weakness. The weakness in my shoulder will go away, eventually. It will be replaced with strength. I am not ready to start doing push-ups again, but then again, before the surgery my shoulder wasn’t doing any push-ups either. So, when I can, I will be dropping the weakness for new strength.

We should be working on that in other areas too, but we build the strength because we let God’s strength work in our weakness.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

How God Heals

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Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. Psalm 30:2
I have been trying to keep ahead of this all week as I knew with my father’s funeral and then my surgery it would be a challenge to keep up with it. So far that plan has worked well. By the time you read this I should be home following surgery. As Dr. Illahi has done surgery on me before, I feel pretty certain in saying things went well (plus if they didn’t I will probably at least try to change this post).
As I starting thinking about this post in particular, in relationship with all that has happened this week I was reminded of a sermon I heard preached by the late Dr. Bill Hinson, then pastor at First United Methodist Church in Houston. This seemed to be particularly appropriate to me during this week.
While serving at Elwood United Methodist Church near Madisonville, Texas (It was my first church after entering the ministry a little over 25 years ago) I had the habit of getting up early on Sunday morning, moving the directional outdoor antenna on the house toward Houston and watching a re-broadcast First UMC Houston’s service from the Sunday before. Though I had written my sermon earlier in the week, it seemed to help prepare me to preach.
On this particular Sunday, my maternal grandfather had passed away from complications with Parkinson’s Disease. I was having some difficulty reconciling what my family experienced in his illness and death with my understanding of God.
The sermon Dr. Hinson preached that Sunday was on the four ways God heals us. It spoke to me, quite possibly in ways no other sermon (mine or others) has spoken to me before or since.
The first way Dr. Hinson said God heals us is by sending us to the right doctor. I live with a chronic inner-ear condition called “Migraine Vestibularopothy” (according to spell check I didn’t spell that correctly but it didn’t give any better suggestions either). I bounced around with several doctors, none really able to do much until one doctor sent me to an ear, nose and throat physician that specializes in inner-ear conditions. While I still deal with the ailment, this doctor got me on a treatment regimen that keeps the condition manageable. I also think that is what God has done in the treatment of my shoulder. Yes, sometimes God heals us by sending us to the right doctor.
Sometimes God heals us in what we would call “miraculous healing.” When I think of miraculous healing I think of someone like the late Dennis Byrd. Dennis died in a head-on-collision a few weeks ago but before that, he was known first as a professional football player with the New York Jets. Byrd was one of those players who suffered a catastrophic injury during a game. Doctors said he would never walk again. They were wrong. Byrd tells his story in his autobiography Rise and Walk (a great book, I highly recommend it). With a miracle from God and sheer guts and determination Byrd taught himself to walk all over again. His is a great story. God does heal us in miraculous ways.
The third way Dr. Hinson said God heals us (actually Hinson had this as the fourth way but it makes better sense to me in this order) is as God healed Paul of his “thorn in the flesh” by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.” I can think of so many people who deal with on-going chronic conditions and yet live powerful lives, practicing the faith God has placed within them. I know a young man who is mentally challenged. There are few people I have ever met with faith greater than his. God’s grace is sufficient for him.
The last way Dr. Hinson said God heals us is, by “calling us home.” God healed my father over the past week. Dad had lung cancer complicated by pneumonia. Thankfully, he was never really in pain. He just tired easily and toward the end, he had a really hard time breathing. His lungs just wore out. He maintained his sense of humor to the very end. He just couldn’t breathe and God called him home. I realize many people would say God didn’t heal him, but they would be wrong. My healing at the hands of Dr. Illahi (under God’s guidance) is a temporary healing. God gave dad the ultimate healing. There is no more pain (though as I said, he didn’t have much), there is no more sickness, there is no more cancer, there is no more difficulty in breathing. God freed Dad from that worn out body with the ultimate healing that will last for all eternity.
I think in some way we have all experienced the healing grace of God. I am thankful to Dr. Hinson for sharing these in that sermon so many years ago. It has stuck with me over the years and I have had the opportunity to share his ideas with many people in the time since. I think these ideas are sound theology. I know them to be a comforting reality.
Whatever ways we may experience God’s healing during our lives, we all will share Dr. Hinson’s final way God heals us. God will call us home. Then, for we who believe it will be victory over the illnesses of this lifetime. It will be “Victory in Jesus.”
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Grace and Peace,
Keith
Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

The Trailblazer

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Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12, Common English Bible).

Monday we buried my father. Yesterday was his memorial service. I know, for many that is backward but other concerns entered the picture and this plan worked best for all of us.

During his memorial service I shared the poem below. After learning of his death last Friday evening, I woke up early on Saturday morning. The Scripture and thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4 I shared yesterday along with the title, “The Trailblazer” was on my mind, though I knew the two weren’t related except they were both my gifts to my father, through God. As I laid in bed those seeds started to germinate. Cindy drove us to San Antonio Saturday morning. As she drove, I wrote. Below was the result.

He never discovered worlds unknown,
Or searched the depths of the deep blue sea;
Flight was not his lot in life,
But his life blazed a trail for me.

Pages of history won’t show his name,
Fame and fortune for him wouldn’t be;
Songs and holidays won’t carry his name,
But he blazed a trail for me.

He showed me how to be a man,
In him a loving husband I did see;
He taught me how to be a dad,
That’s one way he blazed a trail for me.

Dad tied my shoes and gave me food,
In the yard he often played ball with me;
We shot bows and arrows and looked at rocks,
Yes, my dad blazed a trail for me.

He showed the value of working hard,
A job done right, the world could see;
The bridges he built stand in time,
His hard work blazed a trail for me.

A son and daughter he did raise
A great father we both did see;
He loved us dearly all our lives
My father, blazed a trail for me.

Self-discipline was the rule of the house,
Many frustrations and failures I would see;
To teach me right, his discipline would prevail,
In being a good citizen, he blazed a trail for me.

He lived the Scripture husbands love your wives,
For over sixty years, their love we would see;
Over all my life, the two were one,
Showing a husband’s love, he blazed a trail for me.

A life of service he did live,
Years of Scouting had him in the trees;
Many boys he taught to camp and cook,
In Scouting he blazed a trail for me.

He served his country in time of war,
The Tolavana his ship in the Navy;
They refueled the fleet, keeping them underway,
In the Navy, he blazed a trail for me.

A Christian man my father was,
Living a faith for all to see;
He read the Bible, worshiped and prayed,
In faith, he blazed a trail for me.

Today he’s not here, today he’s gone home,
The great glory of God he does see;
The eternal reward stands before him now,
From now until forever at home in the sky,
Still, he’s blazing a trail for me.

We appreciate your prayers. This has been a hard week. We know God has been with us. Through your prayers, you have been with us as well. You are a blessing to me and my family.

You have a blessed day in the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

In Jars of Clay

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We don’t preach about ourselves. Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord, and we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. God said that light should shine out of the darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

So we arena depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:5-12, 16-18, Common English Bible).

Since my dad’s death on Friday the image above, Paul’s “…we have this treasure in clay pots…” has been going through my brain. Part of the time I have been thinking about all the things Dad did and enjoyed. I have thought of the people that were important to him. I have thought of the bridges he built (literal bridges, he was a retired Texas Department of Transportation inspector). I have thought of the lives he impacted.

Part of the time I have been thinking more theological. I have thought about that verse in relationship to the words from the traditional burial service, “…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust…” I have thought about it in relationship to Ash Wednesday and the words we say during the imposition of ashes, “Remember you are dust and to dust you must return.”

Yesterday I was the pastor for Dad’s burial service (I will not be preaching the Memorial Service today). I talked about all these things. I also talked about that last sentence of the passage above. “The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.”

As I think back on my Dad’s life I remember the impact he made on many boys through the Boy Scouts. I know all the people he built things for (he was a very good finish carpenter) and how they will remember him. Some of the ways we will remember dad are through the things we can see. Every Sunday morning when I stand to preach I am at least at some point behind a lectern he built specifically to hold both my Bible and my iPad. There is a physical reminder there for me of my father. As good as that is, it will never touch my memories on the way he impacted so many people.

When I looked inside the casket yesterday and saw his body for the last time, it reminded me of him but I also distinctly know, he isn’t there! All I am looking at is the outward shell. I can see my dad’s used clay pot. That clay pot is some 85 years old. It is broken down. It is worn out, and from this day forward, it is something I can’t see. But that’s OK because what is far more important is the soul I can’t see, at least for now. It is a soul I can’t see because today it rests eternally in the hands of God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved