Taking a Break

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Folks I have to take a break for a week or two. I had hand surgery earlier today. Though it hurts at the moment, it will get better. But, I can’t type very well right now. So, it’s time for a break. See you in a week or so…..

Blessed… In Mourning

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, New Revised Standard Version).

When my father passed away late last year, I had a number of people telling me things about how I should grieve. “Don’t be sad, everyone loses a parent.” It is a true statement, at least the second part of it, we all do lose parents. And while there are some people who are not sad, the majority of which have pretty good reasons, it was grief I and my family felt. Telling us not to be sad, was not going to make us happy. It just isn’t that simple, for any of us. When we mourn, when we are in grief, someone telling us to be happy is not going to make us happy.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn…” Why do we want to deny people a blessing? The thing is, we don’t want to be around sadness. We don’t want to be around tears. What we seem to want is to be around people who are on top of the world.  Then many will complain that they are fake because they are always happy.

In this lesson Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” What blessing is there in mourning? Though I can’t remember who said it, but I recently read that one persons idea of blessing in grief is in the strength we gain from the experience. His idea was that when we are finally comforted we emerge from our grief stronger for the experience.

While it is not a bad theory I think the author missed the boat. Why do we grieve when we lose a loved one? Why did I cry like a little baby when I had to euthanize a family dog? Why was I so upset when I lost a job? Why did I grieve when I was a kid and my girlfriend traded me in for a different model?

We experience mourning because there is love in our hearts. How can we expect blessing if there is no love in our hearts? Why would we need comfort if we had no love? Who is going to comfort us if we have no love?

Love is the key. “Blessed are those who have loved and lost. Because they have loved and likely will love again, they will be comforted.”

Have you mourned? You are blessed because you have loved and you are loved.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… The Poor in Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, New Revised Standard Version).

At least to me, this first of The Beatitudes is a bit confusing. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Aren’t we supposed to gather the things of the Spirit? Aren’t we supposed to seek after these things of God in an effort to better prepare our way to eternity? If so, how does this verse make any sense.

When we think about being poor, we think about having little or nothing. After all, are not poor people, people who have little in the way of worldly possessions? They are people who have little or no money. Some of them may even worry about where their next meal will come from. And, we are supposed to be like that in Spirit?

Billy Graham makes the argument that we are looking at this the wrong way, but that our confusion about the meaning of this text is understandable. Graham says we need to substitute the word “humble” for the word “pure.” I think he is onto something.

I am a sinner in need of grace. I have fallen and by myself, I cannot get up. There is nothing I can do to obtain the grace. It is offered as a free gift. Without what God offers, I am nothing more than an empty vessel. Without that grace, I have no hope. Without the gift of God I cannot expect to gain the kingdom of God.

You see, it’s not about me. News flash here, it’s not about you either. In Jesus’ words in this first beatitude, it is all about God and the free grace God gives to us. What is left for you and me is, to approach God like the empty vessels we are and allow God to fill us with grace, grace we do not deserve, to accept the of the Kingdom God promises.

Then, we are called to go out into the world and share the good news of the Kingdom of God. We go out and share it with humble hearts because what we have is not of our own doing. It is because of what God is doing in us.

What is God doing in you today?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

https://billygraham.org/answer/what-does-it-mean-to-be-poor-in-spirit-as-jesus-said-we-ought-to-be/

Blessed…. Jesus Teaches

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5:1-2a, New International Version). 

Today we reached the chapter that lended its name to this particular series, “Blessed…” when we start looking at The Beatitudes tomorrow we will read again and again, “Blessed are the….” the blessed are the people we most likely would consider those who are not blessed. Jesus would say we are wrong, without a doubt. 

What grabbed me with today’s very short reading (we will have very short readings for the next several days) was the idea of being taught by Jesus. 

Jesus had just recruited the first few disciples and before they could be of much use to him they had to learn. So, they gathered on a hillside and Jesus began to teach in what we call “The Sermon on the Mount.”

Can you imagine the thrill of learning from Jesus? Can you imagine the blessing? Wow. What a great opportunity. 

Yet I can’t help but think the overwhelming majority of us would miss out. Why? Well, we take a pass on the opportunities that are given to us now.  We can learn from Jesus today by simply picking up a Bible and reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Yet how often to we read and learn from the Master?

We all need to become more faithful in our devotion to Christ by studying the things He had to say. All it takes is a little time to read and respond. Andrew, Peter, James and John responded to the opportunity given to them and they didn’t really know who Jesus was. 

We have an advantage. We know who Jesus was and is. Now we just need to learn what he had to say. When we learn, we will be blessed. 

When was the last time you studied the words of the King?

Have a blessed day in the Lord. 

Joy and Peace,

Keith 

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved. 

Blessed… Large Crowds Followed

Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all those who had various kinds of diseases, those in pain, those possessed by demons, those with epilepsy, and those who were paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River (Matthew 4:23-25, Common English Bible).

Have you ever noticed that when something good, or at least something many people think is good, large crowds seem to follow? If a new Star Wars or Batman movie hits the theaters, people will come out in astonishing numbers.

When the latest greatest toy that you can’t find anywhere on the planet two weeks before Christmas is suddenly made available in one store in a 1000 mile radius people will camp out in line for days.

Several years ago my wife bought me tickets to “The Battle of the Piney Woods,” an annual football came between Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjacks and my Sam Houston State University Bearkats. The game is played in Houston’s NRG stadium. It promised to be a really good game (and it was even if the good guys didn’t win). These are two smaller schools. They are not the likes of Notre Dame or University of Texas or even a school like Boise State. The stadium only sold tickets in the lower bowl. The upper decks were completely empty but the lower bowl was packed. For a game that was out of town for both of these small schools, it was a huge crowd.

In just over a week that same stadium will be hosting the biggest of all football games between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. Unlike my trip to The Battle of the Piney Woods several years back, they will be selling tickets beyond the lower bowl. There will be huge numbers of people in attendance. At the same time, even larger numbers of people will travel to “Super Bowl” parties to watch this game with friends.

I have always found it interesting, the number of people who will travel hundreds of miles to watch a football game but the Savior of the world invites us, calls us to a place each week, that for most of us isn’t more than a mile or two away, and over time, fewer and fewer people come. Please understand. I am not complaining about football. I enjoy a good game as much as anyone. But I appreciate even more the time I can spend gathered with God and the people of God. It seems like I spend that time with fewer people now than I did twenty-five years ago.

This is not to say that large numbers of people don’t still follow. There is enough evidence to support that. Christian concerts still draw huge crowds. The same can be said of large churches. At the same time, however, there is also growing evidence that many people, though they may claim a relationship with God, are not part of the crowd gathered for worship.

Somehow we have gotten it into our minds that worshiping alone is OK. I don’t think that is even possible but I will save that for another time. Accepting that it is possible to worship alone, I still don’t think it is what God called us to do. Again and again, throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus is with a gathered crowd of people. With these people Jesus involved himself in worship, teaching, fellowship, service and more. While Jesus could have spent his life away from people, he didn’t. Yes, there were times when Jesus was alone to pray or to rest. Those times are necessary for all of us. But, as we read, we see that Jesus was right back into the crowds of people. And that word “people” would include sinful folks (folks at least some people are trying to escape) just like you and me.

Today’s lesson talks about Jesus and crowds. In this case he was serving people. He was healing people. People saw something good happening and they followed after Jesus. Large crowds built up all around him. And, for the most part, Jesus wasn’t trying to escape sinful people. He sought to heal them, to teach them, to worship with them and to fellowship with them.

We too can gather in the presence of Jesus and experience something good. We can be part of building a large crowd. We can be part of that healing, serving, teaching, fellowship and worshiping experience. We do it by being a part of a local body of believers who want to be part of what Jesus has to offer to the world.

Jesus said, “Wherever there are two or three (or more, many more) gathered in my name, I am there with them” (Matthew 18:20, Paraphrased). If we really want to experience something good, something lasting, we need to experience Jesus with a body of believers. When we all find that something good, large crowds will follow.

When was the last time you were with Jesus and a body of believers?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Unorthodox Prayer Ropes

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The Unorthodox Prayer Rope

Virtually every religion on earth has some kind of bead tradition. Christianity is no different.

The Orthodox tradition of Christian faith has long been part of the Christian bead tradition. The prayer rope is part of that tradition.

Some years ago I developed an interest in Orthodox prayer ropes. Because of a long personal history with the Boy Scouts and four years as a “Top-Side” sailor in the Navy, knots have been of some interest to me and after buying an Orthodox Prayer Rope I started looking into learning to tie the rope.

Orthodox prayer ropes use a special knot. It is said that once tied, even the devil can’t untie it. It is probably because it is incredibly difficult to tie it is equally difficult to untie. Despite many hours of trying, I was successful in tying the know only once.

Still interested in ropes, I started searching for a knot I could tie. I discovered the “Crown Knot.” While still complicated, it is much easier than the traditional Orthodox knot.

These ropes are called “Unorthodox Prayer Rope” because of the differences between my ropes and the traditional Orthodox rope. One difference, of course, is the knot. Additionally, traditional Orthodox ropes are made from wool. Your rope is made from nylon paracord. Additionally, traditional Orthodox ropes have a cross that is also made from the wool cord and traditional knots. These ropes feature an olive wood cross. Orthodox prayer ropes are made in 33, 50 or 100 knot lengths. Unorthodox ropes are all 50 knot lengths.

There is no wrong way to use beads or prayer ropes. The traditional use of an Orthodox Prayer rope is one way. It is most often used as a counter in repeating “The Jesus Prayer” which says, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The person praying begins with the largest knot (where the cross is tied in) inviting God to join you in prayer. Then beginning with the first knot pray the Jesus Prayer with each knot around the circle.

If this doesn’t appeal to you, find your own method that works for you. The real key is to move you closer to God in prayer. Ropes and beads are tools to help you in that effort.

Blessed… But What About Zebedee

As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (Matthew 4:18-22, Common English Bible).

Until I read this lesson in preparing for this post I had never given much thought to Zebedee, the father of James and John. Losing his primary help, his two sons, had to be a crushing blow to his fishing business. Imagine losing two-thirds of your working ability. Beyond that, Zebedee was not a young man. He had two grown sons. By New Testament standards, that would mean Zebedee was not a young man. His ability to put in a hard day’s work fishing would be severely limited. At best his income would be less. Probably less desirable, he might have been forced into retirement, unable to do the work by himself and unable to afford the cost of hiring additional labor.

That really isn’t what I was thinking about with this story. No where in this reading, or any of the other Gospel accounts does Jesus invite Zebedee to join them on this new adventure. Did Jesus not think he would be a good disciple? Did James and John not want their father tagging along? Was Zebedee too old? Or, is this a case where all Jesus’ words were not recorded by the Gospel writers?

My personal thought is the latter. It makes since that none of the Gospel writers would write down everything that was said and everything that happened over Jesus’ three year ministry. I just can’t see Jesus leaving someone behind who really wanted to go and yet, Matthew’s Gospel, in our lesson for today, clearly says, “…they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Here is the thing. No matter what we do, there will always be someone who chooses not to follow in the way of Jesus. It is unfortunate, but it is also reality. We share. We do what we can. But, in the end, we must respond to the call that Jesus makes on our lives. It may mean we have to walk away.

Though the text doesn’t say this either, I would like to think that James and John maintained contact with their father. I would hope they kept going back and telling him all they saw occur and Jesus’ hand. Then, when the time was right, Zebedee decided to follow Jesus too.

As I see the story playing out in my mind’s eye, Jesus comes and challenges the family to follow him. James and John respond positively but Zebedee stays behind, perhaps even begging his sons to stay with him, he needed them. They recognized their call and walked away to follow Jesus. As time passed, when Jesus and the disciples were at their base of operations in Capernaum they went back to visit their father. He listened as they told him about Jesus turning water into wine. He heard the story of Peter walking on the water. He learned of the many Jesus healed. And in the end, Zebedee accepted the faith and joined into the work his sons had previously accepted.

I realize this isn’t in the story. It is an idea that is purely from my head. But, my understanding is also based on personal experience. When I experienced my call to ministry, my father thought I had lost my mind. I know he did because he told me so. As time went on, however, my Dad came to realize ministry was where I was supposed to be. My dad accepted my call and I believe his acceptance also strengthened his own faith.

When Jesus calls, it makes a difference.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Prophecy Fulfilled

Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.  This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light, and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death. From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matthew 4:12-17, Common English Bible).

Wow! We are only four chapters into Matthew’s Gospel and counting the one here, there have already been seven occurrences of  words similar to, “This is the fulfill the words of prophecy.” Jesus has barely gotten started, there have been no disciples called, there has been no preaching, there has been no miracles. Yet we have already heard from the prophets seven times. It might just make some people think that someone was trying to tell us and the many generations between us and Jesus something! Inquiring minds want to know!! I know, cornball line. I just couldn’t help myself.

Without question, prophecy fulfillment in each case is at least part of the equation. Part of it also is a matter of practicality. In chapter 1, a virgin becoming pregnant. It fulfilled the prophecy but there was no other way to remove original sin from the life of the Messiah.

Then in chapter 2, Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem did fulfill prophecy. The birth needed to happen in Bethlehem to confirm the tie to the lineage of King David. Later in the chapter the fleeing to Egypt might have been to fulfill the prophecy of God’s son coming from Egypt but it also met a much more practical need. Jesus couldn’t even begin ministry if he was killed as a young child.

I could go on with each of the other prophecies but I don’t think its necessary. You can go back and read them and draw your own conclusions.

In the case of our lesson today, Jesus needed a base of operations. I think he had a pretty good idea where at least a good chunk of his disciples were going to come from, they were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Why not make their home your home base. Additionally, as we can see in chapters to come, Jesus really couldn’t have made Nazareth the home base, people weren’t going to accept him there. He had to pick another place.

Jesus also knew, if he were arrested, as the lesson tells us John had been, his ministry, in the way it had to play out, would not have been possible if he was sitting in jail. Any number of people could have identified Jesus with John the Baptist. And, if you think that isn’t a big deal, in the days of the Roman Empire people were arrested for less. Innocent until proven guilty didn’t exist in those days.

 There are a couple of conclusions I draw from these fulfilled prophecies. First, if we are to see the words of the prophets played out in succeeding history or in the future, we first have to know the words of prophecy. I have heard a number of folks say over the years, “We are a New Testament people. We don’t need to study the Old Testament.” That might sound good but it is wrong. We need to study the Old Testament because God had a great deal to say in those pages.

Second, I think God not only was speaking to those in the Biblical era but speaking to us as well. For me, what these fulfilled prophecies do is, show that God and the Word of God can be trusted. Just as God fulfilled and is fulfilling the prophecies of old and God was with those people, God can be trusted to be with us too.

Is there a place where you see God fulfilling prophecy today?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

Blessed… Go Away!

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone. Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.” Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him (Matthew 4:1-11, Common English Bible).

Sometimes I think all of us feel like the guy in the picture above. We’ve got the devil sitting on one shoulder whispering in our ear and absolutely nothing on the other side. We are left feeling completely alone. It’s not a place any of us want to be.

When temptation shows up, it can be something difficult for us to deal with. I personally think it is even harder to deal with temptation when we are all alone. After all, there is no one there but us. No one will know the difference. It becomes easy to justify. It becomes easy to rationalize.

Wouldn’t it be so easy if we could copy Jesus’ words and say, “Go away Satan…” and we would be relieved of our temptation? I don’t know about you, but it rarely happens that way for me. The temptation might be there in the beginning but it isn’t really strong. Yet the longer I sit with it on my mind, the more difficult it is not to fall victim. Oh, but if I could just say go away and the temptation would be gone from my heart and mind. It would make life so much easier.

I have a few suggestions that might help here. When I quit smoking more than 30 years ago, while watching television or some other thing that occupied my mind but not my hands, I found things to do with my hands other than smoke. Unfortunately one of them was to eat and I am still dealing with the consequences of that temptation. Still, in the evening I try to keep my hands busy in order to not eat. I do find it effective.

If what you are dealing with is more of a mental temptation or something that might not be a temptation with your hands, take your mind somewhere else. Watch a movie. Read a book. Play with the kids or the grandkids. Whatever it might be, get your mind off of what tempts you. It may not last forever but it might just get you through.

In the end, however, temptation is a spiritual problem. Keeping your hands busy or getting your mind on something else might be helpful but in the end, you will have to deal with the temptation on a spiritual level. In our lesson today, Jesus dealt with temptation through His knowledge of Scripture. For every temptation Satan threw at Jesus, Jesus had an answer with Scripture. Another way to overcome temptation could be that book you read in the example above, make it the Bible. But in addition, having Scripture readily at hand comes down to studying Scripture during times when we are not being tempted. In so doing, when temptation comes at us, we are prepared.

One other help I would mention is prayer. God may not take the temptation away, but God may well help you find a way to endure.

In closing out today’s post I would also like to remind you, temptation can come, perhaps even at its strongest, when we are on top of that spiritual mountain. Remember, in the chapter we just finished yesterday, Jesus was baptized. We turn the page and find him being tempted. We should never think that once we become Christians or once we find our way to the mountain-top, that we leave temptation behind. It would be nice if it worked that way. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t.

What tempts you most? How do you overcome your temptations.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Beloved

At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?” Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.” So John agreed to baptize Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” (Matthew 3:13-17, Common English Bible)

Those scratched on words in the picture above and left are how so many of us feel during life. I can’t begin to tell you how many people have sat in my office over the past 25 plus years sharing their feelings with me and I heard some of the very words above in those conversations. It is truly heartbreaking.

I have heard stories that included physical, emotional and sexual abuse. I have heard stories of spouses leaving, not because there was anything wrong with the other spouse, but because they believed they found someone better. I’ve heard about the other spouse abusing the kids. There have been people who were wrongfully terminated from their jobs. I’ve heard tales of abuse from the kids. I have listened as people told me of having done some “wrong, bad things” and because of that, they were unlovable. All of these people shared something in common. They all believed they were at fault because of what happened to them. They also all believed because of what they had done or thought they had done, there was no way that God could possibly love them. Plain and simply put, they are wrong.

Imagine being at the Jordan River on that day some 2000 years ago when Jesus came to John the Baptist wanting to be baptized. John was there baptizing those who repented of their sin. Then along comes Jesus, someone John knew to be the Messiah, someone John knew had committed no sin, wanting to be baptized. John also knew his place as a sinner in the world. That is why John says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”

John recognized something he had in common with those people, as well as many others I have talked with, he wasn’t worthy of what he was being asked to do. And yet, it was Jesus who was asking him to do this. Jesus was saying, in essence, “Hey, give me this one, baptize me today.” John realized that by His words, Jesus was making John worthy of the requested action.

When the baptism was done, Jesus heard God speak saying, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.”

As we will see down the road, eventually Jesus will die on a cross. He died so we might have life. He died to make us worthy. God loves each of us so much, that God would die for each of us.

All those folks, whether they were right in the situation or not, whether they were the perpetrator or the victim, in themselves, because they are all sinners, just as we all are sinners, are in themselves unworthy of the love God has for them. But, at least for we who believe, Jesus makes us worthy. We are a beloved child of God.

I may not be right about this, but I like to think I am, when we accept God’s love for us, I think all of heaven hears, “This is my child whom I dearly love. With this child, I am well pleased.”

What have you done that makes you believe you are unworthy? Guess what, Jesus died for you too. Because of that death, you, a beloved child of God are made worthy.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.