Blessed… Of Splinters and Logs

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. Don’t give holy things to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs. They will stomp on the pearls, then turn around and attack you” (Matthew 7:1-6, Common English Bible).

Just before starting to write this post, I finished John Ortberg’s latest book, Soul Keeping. It is a really good book that I highly recommend, but I digress. I needed to finish the book because my Bible study groups start a study of the book later this week.

Earlier in the day I was thinking about a person from my past who was always negative. Have you ever known a person like that? I think most all of us have. As I was making my way through Soul Keeping I heard that still small voice say to me, “Keith, you can get pretty negative sometimes too.”

As I sat and considered those words, I thought of an event that happened earlier in the day, in fact it was one of the first things that happened after arriving at the church. One of my church members came into my office. I really don’t remember what she said, but I immediately started complaining about how much I have on my plate this week. There is the Ash Wednesday sermon, a new Bible study with two different groups, my Sunday school class is starting a new study this week and there is also Sunday’s sermon that I haven’t even started yet. I had two computer stations that needed to be set up. And, that doesn’t even begin to mention the regular things that happen each week, people stopping by to visit, hospital calls etc. etc. etc.

The writing of the above paragraph is not meant to be negative, it is what I was venting to my church member when she came into my office this morning. To her credit, she took it all in stride and asked if there was anything she could do to help. God bless her. She is a wonderful Christian lady who sincerely wanted to help her pastor.

That incident came back to my mind as I was absorbing Ortberg’s book. Then he got to a section where he talked about being thankful. He specifically said that the soul needs to be thankful, that it is wired to be thankful.

I thought to myself, “Instead of silently judging the negative person in my life, I need to be thankful for what that person brings and equally important, to be thankful for what I have.” When I do that, I think the splinter in their eye becomes less noticeable to me and hopefully I at least begin to remove the log that is in my own eye.

I hate to admit that too often I do pass judgment on people around me. And, I realize that is something I really need to change. But Ortberg points out in the book that our good intentions and our will power will not hold up on their own. He said, “Sin eats will power for breakfast.” I need something more.

Late in the book Ortberg suggests a small exercise that I am going to try to turn into a Lenten project. I had been trying to think of what I would do for Lent this year and nothing particularly appealed to me until I heard this. My goal is to live thankfully and express that thankfulness to those around me. When I start to judge or when I start to become negative, I pray I will realize it and instead of being negative or judging others, I will tell them why I am thankful. Ortberg argues in the book that such an action actually feeds our souls. Right now I am very thankful for Soul Keeping.

Wednesday begins the exercise. Who am I kidding. This doesn’t need to depend on a calendar. It starts now.

Anyone want to join me?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace and THANKFULNESS!!!!

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Worry Like a Bird

“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:25-34, Common English Bible).

I admit it, I am a worrier. There are many nights I lay in bed thinking about all the things that could happen, even though most of them never will actually take place. I wish I could stop. I would love to stop. But, in a few hours when I go to bed again, I will probably take up where I left off last night.

Until the past few years, Cindy would say she wasn’t a worrier. She even told a friend (a self-confessed worrier who wasn’t me) that she wasn’t a worrier. His response? Now he was going to worry that she wasn’t a worrier. In truth, she does worry, at least a little.

The truth is, I don’t worry about the things Jesus tells us we shouldn’t worry about in our Scripture for today. There is enough food in my pantry that I can go at least a few days without going hungry and beyond that, I do know the location of the nearest grocery store. I know what I will wear with come from my closet. Again, if I run out of clothes I know the way to three reasonably close Walmart stores.

If only Jesus was actually limiting our worries to just these things. They are simply examples. Worry is the problem, the things we worry about are just the symptoms of the disease. I read an Facebook meme recently that said our worry is also our lack of faith. Those words seem to play into the Scripture.

I am not really too sure how we move from worry to faith but I can’t seem to help but think it starts with prayer. Prayer is always the first place to start in the hunt for solutions to life’s problems. It seems to me, worry is really no different.

What are you worried about today? If you’re worried, that means its time to pray.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… You’ve Got to Decide

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:22-24, Common English Bible).

The train’s engineer is headed down the tracks at the posted speed limit. He is new to this particular line but the map indicates a split in the tracks with one track moving forward in a straight line and one track moving to the right. The engineer has a choice to make. The tracks may merge together down the line but right now, he must decide to go one way or the other. If the tracks merge back together again, the two tracks obviously go to the same place with the exception of any intermediate stops. That would indicate that to take the path that goes off to the right would require more distance and therefore take up more time. But, if a train traveling in the opposite direction were also on that same track were coming, not changing tracks could create a catastrophic mess. The engineer must decide. If he doesn’t decide, the tracks will decide for him.

You are driving down the road and you come to a fork in the road. You must decide to go right or go left. To not decide is to make a decision but it might mean a decision to move into the tree dead ahead that is not on the right or left path. So, you must decide.

We encounter these fork in the road decisions in our spiritual lives too. We make them everyday. Matthew reminds us of these in our reading for today. “You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve God and wealth.” You have to decide. You have to decide what it will be today. Then, when you rise tomorrow, you must decide again, which you will serve. We all face a fork in the road everyday. We all have to decide which path to take and to not make a decision is to make a decision that might not work out so well.

Who will you serve, God or wealth. We all want to live comfortably. But, what is more important, the money we accumulate or the people God places around us. God calls us to follow. To follow means to move past the love of money to serve and love the people God calls our neighbors. When we do that, we serve and follow God.

Which is it for you, wealth or God?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Our Stuff

Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, Common English Bible).

This one is tough for me. I love my stuff. I am not saying I can’t give any of it up, I can, but I still love my stuff. In particular, I love my guitars. In my life I have owned seven guitars. I still have six. I know, as collections go, mine is pretty small. Still, I do love my guitars. And, that one I no longer have, yeah, it was stolen out of my office at the church (not my current church and it was taken during a break in) a few years back. And, believe it or not, I didn’t shed too many tears when it was gone. Though I only had two guitars at the time, I pretty well looked at it, “It’s just a guitar. I enjoyed it while I had it. Now its time to move on.”

I enjoy all of them. And with the possible exception of my first guitar (a gift from my parents) I would probably react much the same to any of them. They are just things to use. They may bring me some enjoyment now but when they are gone, I hope they bring someone else some enjoyment. And yes, even whoever stole my little blue guitar.

I have viewed electronics much the same way. For most of my adult life I have had a computer at home. I enjoy using them. But, when their useful life comes to an end, getting rid of it has never been particularly difficult.

I really do think that is the key. It isn’t so much the stuff we have that Jesus is talking about in today’s reading. If it is, far more of us than not in American society have a real problem (and that could be the case). What is really at issue, it seems to me, is not what we have but its place of importance in our lives. When what we are and who we are rises and sets with the things we have, we are in real trouble.

Stuff may bring us enjoyment. I obviously enjoy my guitars and I have already said in this post how much I like my electronics. I know there are other things I enjoy having around too. But, I can’t let that interfere with my relationship with God and with the people God has placed in my life.

I will say right now, I’m really not a car guy. That being said, this week Cindy and I have been looking for a new car (well a new to us car). She had one in mind and I had another. I called her one afternoon this week and told her to go ahead and get the car she wanted. She is more important than the car we drive. Cars are just not that important. The relationship must mean more.

Most of us have stuff in our lives. If you are reading this right now you have a computer, a tablet or a smart phone or at least access to one. That means you have stuff. Having that stuff is OK. If that stuff means more to you than your relationships with God and with the gifts God has given you (the people), well not so much. You have missed the mark. It might be time to stop and re-evaluate.

What stuff do you have? How important is that stuff to you?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Fasting

“And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18, Common English Bible).

Let me be the first to say, and if you look at me you will know that what I am saying here is true, I have never been one to spend much time fasting. Before entering the ministry I was asked once to participate in a 4:00 fast. You couldn’t eat before 4:00 in the afternoon throughout Advent. I don’t remember the point of the fast, I just remember doing it. I have also participated in a few short term juice fasts. One year I did a meat fast through Lent. To be honest, I didn’t find any of them particularly meaningful.

I believe to truly find the meaning of today’s reading we need to return to the beginning of chapter 6. In verse 1 Matthew quotes Jesus saying, “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Then he goes on to talk about giving, prayer and now fasting. All of these are acts of worship. In each case, comes the caution against public displays.

There was initially only one day of fasting for Jews, the Day of Atonement (today, Yom Kipper). By Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had increased this for the super-religious to 108 days per year. Further, for the average Joe on the street, they insisted that each year they have four days of fasting.

In order to demonstrate how faithful they were, they went about the fast in sackcloth and ashes. They wanted everyone to know how faithful they were by the way they showed themselves to the world.

Jesus obviously was not impressed by this and here gives caution to those who want to show the outward signs of faithfulness while actually having nothing within. He is, in essence saying, “Folks, you’ve got it backward.”

At its very essence, our faith is a faith of the heart. It is a faith that doesn’t speak first to the world whether we are living this out in our giving, our prayer lives or in other forms of worship such as fasting.

I recently read something about “super-charged” prayer. It basically said that fasting super-charged our prayers and that when we are fasting God would multiply our prayers and the really hard things in life require both prayer and fasting. I’m not sure that is actually true. Does God answer prayer for those who are fasting and prayer more quickly than for those of us who simply pray? Possibly. But, I would submit, if one is going about fasting and prayer in the right ways, God may well do so but I don’t think it is really because of fasting. I think that because of the way they are seeking God, God is going to honor that kind of faithfulness.

What is your experience with fasting? Did it make a difference?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Just as We Also Forgive

“When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins (Matthew 6:7-15, Common English Bible).

C. S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” Wow!!! Those are powerful words that vividly describe the human condition.

Most all of us know what it is like to have wronged someone and finding we need to go and ask for forgiveness. For those of us who are believers, it is also known to us, that we wrong God and we need forgiveness. Most of us are all too ready to ask for forgiveness from others and from God.

We generally seem to have little trouble asking others to forgive us. We can ask for forgiveness from our family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, even God. What is more, we expect that people, and even more importantly, God will grant our petition.

What is a great deal harder to do is to forgive when someone has wronged us. Imagine someone owes you a sum of money and for whatever the reason, they refuse to pay. You are a victim of a violent act. You are cheated. The list could go on and on. Can you forgive?

This isn’t a simple exercise that we can do or not do based on how we feel at them moment of the wrong. It is a divine command. It is a command that many of us pray weekly or even more often. “…Forgive us the ways we have wronged you, just as we forgive those who wronged us…” God, forgive me in the same way I forgive people around me. In other words, if we want to receive divine forgiveness, we have to forgive our neighbor.

A good while back I encountered a story that wonderfully demonstrates forgiveness. I thought I would share it with you today.

In the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, a devout group of Christian people live a simple life without automobiles, electricity, or modern machinery. They work hard and live quiet, peaceful lives separate from the world. Most of their food comes from their own farms. The women sew and knit and weave their clothing, which is modest and plain. They are known as the Amish people.

 A 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. On October 2, 2006 he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child and some other terrible memories. He stormed into an Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and tied up the 10 girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life.

 This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish. How would they react? What would they do? What would YOU do? They forgave.

 Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, “We will forgive you.” Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.

 One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, “We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, [and] a language of service. And, yes, a language of forgiveness.”

 The family of the milkman who killed the five girls released the following statement to the public: “To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:

 “Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you. Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in the God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.”

The power of forgiveness can heal many wounds. It can heal the wounds in us and in those around us. It starts with our willingness to forgive.

How can you live and demonstrate forgiveness to a hurting world?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… It’s Not About Us

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:5-6, Common English Bible).

For the past month, prayer has been the subject of worship, study and discussion around my church as we have been working our way through Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker. It is my favorite book on prayer.

Some of Batterson’s discussion has been about prayer posture. He talks about literally praying on our knees. I know for some people, that is difficult, maybe even impossible because of the physical limitations of the body. Still, there is something about humbling ourselves by being on our knees or even prostrate on the floor. The thing is, its about humbling ourselves. If the reason we are kneeling or laying on the floor is so others can see how faithful we are in prayer, we can stop because we need to remember, it isn’t really about us.

As a pastor, I regularly pray in front of other people. I know many lay people who do that as well. Once I heard someone say they didn’t pray in public because of our passage today. I might be wrong, but I really don’t think this is what Jesus means here. This isn’t an instruction against corporate prayer. It is all about prayer that focuses on the one praying rather than focusing on and giving the glory to God. When we do that, we not only miss the boat, we are miles from the water.

Prayer, is not about me. To think otherwise defies logic. If prayer is about me, why do I need to pray. If I am praying about something that is within my power to do, that means I don’t need God and there was really no point in saying a prayer. But, to pray for things I cannot do, moves my prayer past myself. It is not a prayer about me. It at least should give all the glory to God. And, that is where the glory belongs.

It is one thing to pray together. But, we also need prayer time on our own. This is where the importance of going to our prayer closet, to go into a private place where we can focus on God. This kind of alone prayer is important to our personal spiritual development. It is vital to the growth of our souls.

I don’t think this necessarily has to be a room, but instead the place where you feel closest go God. To be effective in prayer means placing ourselves in the place where we do feel close to God. For some that might be a closet. For others it might mean sitting under a tree in the woods or while walking on the beach. The possibilities are endless. The real key is to find the place and then spend time alone with God.

Where is your place to talk to God?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved