I Saw God Today

 

I know I haven’t posted in a few days. Sunday night we evacuated from Sweeny. It was a difficult night, not as difficult as many had it, but difficult none the less. A good bit of Monday we were still trying to get to my retirement home and did finally make it Monday afternoon. It isn’t usually that long of a drive but avoiding flood waters wasn’t easy. Yesterday was spent mostly resting. I wanted to post something today but I am going to leave the last chapter and a half of Matthew for a bit. Perhaps I will pick it back up tomorrow or maybe in a week or two. With what the Gulf Coast in general and the Texas Gulf Coast, in particular, has experienced over the past week, I have a few things to talk about. So, here we go….

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah” (2 Kings 19:11-13, Common English Bible).

I woke up this morning with the above passage going through my mind. As I started thinking about this passage a paraphrase started going through my mind and began to take shape….

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the streets and broke apart the trees, broke windows and tore rooves from homes. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was rain. The rain left everything wet in its wake. But the Lord wasn’t in the rain. 12 After the rain, there were flood waters. There were flood waters that filled fields and roads and homes. But the Lord wasn’t in the flood waters. After the flood waters, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When we heard it, we covered our faces. We stood before the devastation caused by the wind, the rain, and the flood waters. A voice came and said, “Why are you here?” (2 Kings 19:11-13, Keith Paraphrased Version).

I have seen a few posts on the internet in general and Facebook in particular that, while the word patterns might fit, the words themselves are just wrong. “The devastation of Harvey is due to the evilness of Houston and Harvey is God’s wrath to punish the city.” While the posts are out there, the theology is all wet, if you will pardon the pun.

That being said, I have seen God in all this. It may be hard for some to see the presence of God when the world, at least their personal world seems to be crumbling around them. It may be hard to see God when sitting in a Red Cross emergency shelter, sometimes more than 100 miles from home. It may be hard to see God when, like me, you are sitting, even sitting comfortably, waiting, but so far away from where you so want to be. Yes, I am enjoying a few unexpected days with Cindy, but right now, my heart is with the people of Sweeny. That is where I want to be.

I have seen God in this crisis as I have seen city and county officials from various municipalities and counties all along the Texas Gulf Coast who, despite personal sacrifices have maintained a calm steady hand of leadership. They have taken heat and criticism for decisions they have made. I feel certain these decisions were made with the best interests of citizens at heart. I believe they were made using the best information they had at the time. “For as you’ve done it to one of the least of these…” Yes, I have seen God today.

I have seen God in the people who, often at risk to their own lives, have volunteered their time and their treasure to come into communities where they have known no one and owe nothing. They did it because they know that lives matter. They know that talk is cheap and actions are what is important in times like these. “For as you’ve done it to one of the least of these…” Yes, I have seen God today.

I have seen God in people in the media who have tried to predict the unpredictable and forecast that which cannot be forecasted. I have seen God in those who have tried to lead others out of dangerous situations and back to safety with their knowledge of roadways and freeways. I saw God in a CNN crew that put down their microphones and cameras to save lives in the flood waters. “For as you’ve done it to one of the least of these…” Yes, I have seen God today.

I have seen God in the first responders. Again, these are people who have risked their lives to help ensure our safety. I have seen God in the countless people who have made their way into work long hours with little rest in hospitals and nursing homes and fire stations and police beats. I have seen God in National Guard troops and soldiers from Fort Hood who are here rescuing people from rising water. In the efforts of all these, at least one lost his life. “For as you’ve done it to one of the least of these…” Yes, I have seen God today.

I have seen God in the words of many bloggers I know who, in their own way have tried to contribute to the things needing to be done. They work to share words of good cheer, words of comfort, words of God so that others might gain strength for the incredible journey still to complete. “For as you’ve done it to one of the least of these…” Yes, I have seen God today.

Right now, God has put me in Lufkin and has started putting ideas into my head, ideas like this post, as ways I can serve and help from where I am right now. I can, hopefully, bring comfort to the people I know and love, whether part of my church or others through words God has for me to say. In other words, God can work through me and I pray others don’t see me, but God who lives within me.

I pray in these difficult days you are safe and well and that you feel God’s blessings this day.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

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

Blessed…To Do Nothing is Still Doing Something

24 Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere and that a riot was starting. So he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I’m innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It’s your problem.”

25 All the people replied, “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”26 Then he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified (Matthew 27:24-26, Common English Bible).

Pilate had it wrong. He couldn’t have been more wrong. He didn’t want to execute Jesus. His wife told him not to do it. But, on the other hand, he had the leaders of the Jewish Council insisting that Jesus needed to die and threatening him with a bad report to the Emperor. To make matters even worse these leaders, the priests were stirring up the crowd to the point they were almost at the point of having a riot. It wasn’t a good situation.

In yesterday’s lesson, Pilate makes a move in this little chess game. For all practical purposes, it was Pilate’s last real move of the day. Tradition had him release one prisoner. He gambled. It was a calculated risk, but a risk none the less. It was also a gamble he lost. Normally he gave the Jews their choice of any prisoner. As a part of his gamble, Pilate took a notorious prisoner, an insurrectionist, a murder, a thief  and a con man. Pilate paired this man Barabbas with Jesus. Pilate reasoned there was no way the Jews would let Barabbas, a man they feared, go just so they could execute Jesus who, may have annoyed the leaders, he had really done nothing wrong. Pilate played his hand and the leaders called his bluff.

That’s where we begin today. Pilate has had enough of all this. Jesus meant nothing to him, so quite literally, Pilate washed his hands of the Jesus matter. He chose to do nothing. He released Barabbas and turned Jesus over to be crucified.

“I have nothing to do with this man,” Pilate said (my paraphrase), “Let his blood be on your hands. It isn’t on mine.” With that, Pilate had finished his mental exercise of saving Jesus.

When the end of this debate came, Pilate didn’t see himself as part of the problem. He didn’t see himself as having any further responsibility. He was just looking for the fastest way possible to restore order.

For Pilate, really for the Romans of the period, life was cheap. Jesus really meant nothing to him.  If Jesus was keeping the Jews stirred up, it wasn’t in Pilate’s best interest to ignore the situation. He couldn’t just let things remain in turmoil. The fastest, most expedient means was to send Jesus to the cross.

Of course, Pilate wouldn’t see it this way. He believed that by washing his hands of the situation and putting it back on the Jews would absolve him of any guilt. That is a line of thought that is shortsighted.

In truth, just as we are responsible for the death of Jesus due to our own sin, the same was true of Pilate. By not saving a man he believed to innocent, he rejects Christ and allows an innocent man to die. Pilate’s decision is arguably the worst decision in history. When Pilate decided not to decided not to decide, he actually decided.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thanksgiving,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… And the Guilty Go Free

15 It was customary during the festival for the governor to release to the crowd one prisoner, whomever they might choose. 16 At that time there was a well-known prisoner named Jesus Barabbas. 17 When the crowd had come together, Pilate asked them, “Whom would you like me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 He knew that the leaders of the people had handed him over because of jealousy.

19 While he was serving as judge, his wife sent this message to him, “Leave that righteous man alone. I’ve suffered much today in a dream because of him.”

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and kill Jesus. 21 The governor said, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”

“Barabbas,” they replied (Matthew 27:15-21, Common English Bible).

When I was a kid I liked to play the classic Parker Brothers game Monopoly. Playing that game is the only way I have ever been to jail other than as a visitor. The funny thing about the game is, you do nothing to land yourself in jail but yet that is where you just might find yourself during the course of a game. Sometimes you might find yourself there more than once during a game.

You end up in jail but you really did absolutely nothing wrong. Oh, but you did. There might have been nothing you could do about it. You landed on the “Go to Jail” corner or you drew the wrong card from Chance or Community Chest. When that happens you read those infamous words, “Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200.

Now you find yourself in jail and you did nothing wrong. Am I correct?

Well, no, I’m not. You did do something wrong. You may not have been able to help it but, you landed on the wrong square or drew the wrong card. Now you must “pay your debt to society.” It really doesn’t seem very fair, but it is the rule in the world of Monopoly.

What really isn’t fair is, while you are sitting there in jail, hoping to roll a double to get out or passing the three skipped turns when it is declared you have done you time and are free to go, your buddy across the table ends up in jail. He/she doesn’t even spend a turn in jail because they have been sitting there, holding a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. They surrender the card, walk away, and the guilty go free.

Pilate listened to the stories the priests brought to him. They wanted Jesus killed but Pilate could see nothing he did wrong. Even Pilate’s wife knew Jesus wasn’t guilty, calling him righteous.

Pilate, using an old tradition of releasing a prisoner at Passover gives them an offer he thought they would never take. They wouldn’t possibly want a rebel and murderer like Barabbas released instead of Jesus. Pilate took a risk and he failed. And, because of that, a guilty man walked away free. It would seem that Barabbas used his “Get out of Jail Free” card. An innocent man would be sentenced to die.

When we read the story of the events surrounding Jesus’ death we often like to think we would have done things differently. “I wouldn’t have let Barabbas go and then crucify Jesus.” I have heard this comment and other similar comments. The thing is, whether we want to admit it or not, the is a really good chance we would have acted just like everybody else.

“I wouldn’t have yelled ‘Crucify Him!” Again, we all would probably have fit in well with the crowd. Besides, we are already guilty. No, we might not have yelled for the release of Barabbas, but we are guilty of a roll in his death with each sin we commit.

Though he had no real acting part in the movie, the story goes, when Mel Gibson filmed the crucifixion scene in The Passion of the Christ we actually do see him in the movie. Well actually, part of him. We see his hands. It is reported to be Gibson’s hands that drive the nails into Jesus’ feet and hands. He says, the story goes, that he knew he too was guilty of crucifying Jesus and seeing his hands in the movie reminded him of his roll.

We are all guilty. But, at the same time, because of faith, we are also like Barabbas in another way. We are the guilty who walk away free. The grace of God is bigger than the sin that could convict us.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… Greatly Amazed

11 Jesus was brought before the governor. The governor said, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” 12 But he didn’t answer when the chief priests and elders accused him.

13 Then Pilate said, “Don’t you hear the testimony they bring against you?” 14 But he didn’t answer, not even a single word. So the governor was greatly amazed (Matthew 27:11-14, Common English Bible).

The radio in my car has a USB port where you can put songs on it, resulting in our ability to carry many more songs than one could hold on a single CD.

In general, I find the whole concept of USB flash-drives pretty amazing. When I bought my first computer it didn’t have a hard drive in it. It only had 2, 360KB floppy drives (I know I am dating myself). I lived with it that way for a year or so and then I bought a 40 MB hard-card. That meant I could put on that one hard-card as much information as I could put on 120 floppy discs. I thought I was uptown. I thought I would never run out of disc space. Imagine my frustration when I filled up that drive.

Fast forward to today. I was looking for a flash drive online. I found two that were interesting to me. One is the 128GB drive pictured above. Something the size of a dime can now hold more than 3000 of my old 40MB hard card. I also found they make a 2TB flash drive. Suffice it to say, that is a lot of data on something less than 3 inches long and less than an inch wide. Further, I haven’t even touched on the idea of cloud storage. We might sit here for days talking about that one.

That is absolutely amazing.

Today we get amazed over many things in our technology driven world.  Still, as amazing as that can be, I find people even more amazing, from both positive and negative perspectives. I am often amazed what people are able to do to make the world a better place. I think it is equally amazing what people can do that could tear the planet apart.

As Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate is all but directly asking him to defend himself. If only Jesus will defend himself, it would at least seem in today’s lesson that Jesus would be able to walk away. Clearly, it is what Pilate wanted but he probably couldn’t come right out and say as much.

Pilate is utterly amazed, more amazed than I was when I saw that tiny dime-sized flash drive that can hold more than 3000 of my old hard cards that were pretty close to state-of-the-art back when I bought it.

It seems strange to see someone who makes no effort to defend themselves. Why would a person (and Jesus was fully human) not defend himself. Back only a chapter ago, Jesus is praying for the cup to be taken from his hand but he says, “Not what I want, but what you want.”

Pilate is amazed. You or I would probably be amazed until we realized that what Jesus was doing would save the world. Then it makes us realize the truth of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” When you think about it that way, Pilate isn’t the only one greatly amazed with Jesus, we should be too.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… On Regret

When Judas, who betrayed Jesus, saw that Jesus was condemned to die, he felt deep regret. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, and said, “I did wrong because I betrayed an innocent man.”

But they said, “What is that to us? That’s your problem.” Judas threw the silver pieces into the temple and left. Then he went and hanged himself.

The chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said, “According to the Law it’s not right to put this money in the treasury. Since it was used to pay for someone’s life, it’s unclean.” So they decided to use it to buy the potter’s field where strangers could be buried. That’s why that field is called “Field of Blood” to this very day. This fulfilled the words of Jeremiah the prophet: And I took the thirty pieces of silver, the price for the one whose price had been set by some of the Israelites, 10 and I gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me (Matthew 27:3-10, Common English Bible). 

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” I have some serious disagreement with Mr. Twain.

I have some serious disagreement with Mr. Twain. Are there things I wish I had done in life that I didn’t do? Sure there are. Are there things I didn’t do and did something else in its place and now think, with hindsight, “I should have made a different decision?” Absolutely. Are there times when I settled for indecision or no action rather than doing something that could help move things forward? Without question.

All that being said, there are other things in my life, things I have done or things I have said where I have made some pretty serious errors, some bad lapses in judgment that I have come to regret far more than the things I didn’t do and now, again with the benefit of hindsight wish I had done differently.

As I talk with people who tend to live by the Mark Twain quote, most of the time, as they tell me about it, it is either a poor moral choice they wish they had made instead of doing the right thing or they truly believed they were making the right decision and now really wish they had gone the other direction. And, the very first verse of our lesson has Judas regretting this thing he did do, far more than he regretted anything he did do.

I found that wallet full of money. No one would have known had I just kept it for myself. Instead, after finding the man’s ID in his wallet I was able to track down a telephone number and told him I had found his wallet and then returned the wallet to him. No one would have known. I should have kept in there was money in there.

That is just one example. There could be more. We act like those things don’t matter, but they do.

Our lesson is the conclusion of an earlier story (Matthew 26:14-16) where Judas makes the decision to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Things weren’t working out the way Judas wanted. He thought Jesus should throw out the Romans, set himself up as a new ruler and then set the disciples up to get rich on all of it. When that wasn’t happening, 30 pieces of silver, in return for turning Jesus in, seemed like a pretty good deal.

The deal was no more than done when regret enters the picture and it does so in the form that is totally opposite of the Mark Twain quote above. It seems to me that such is the case for us, more often than not.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessing… Someone To Do the Dirty Work

Early in the morning all the chief priests and the elders of the people reached the decision to have Jesus put to death. They bound him, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate the governor (Matthew 27:1-2, Common English Bible).

As a kid, I remember thinking it would be fun to be a garbage man. I know I wouldn’t have liked the smell. When I did smell it, I didn’t like it even then. I know why I thought it would be fun in my young very naive mindset. I thought it would be fun because you got to stand up on the back end of the garbage truck. I am not sure that is supposed to happen these days but I do know I see one standing on the back of the truck while the truck is moving.

As I think about it today, I have absolutely no desire to pick up garbage today. It smells, it’s hot, people give you no respect, oh, and did I mention that it is a smelly hot (not to mention cold in the winter, rain and, while not so often in Texas where I live, snow presents these hard workers with yet another obstacle) job where you get no respect? It truly is a dirty job but someone has to do it. As a society, we need these folks to do our dirty work.

While I wanted to ride the garbage truck, even back in those days I would rather have been a firefighter. You got to go to the fires and put them out. You got to hang out at the fire station (or so I thought), but best of all, you got to ride on the back of the fire truck.

The list of dirty jobs could be endless. Mike Rowe made an entire television series based on the idea of people doing these dirty jobs. I loved watching that show though I know I would have little if any interest in doing those kinds of work or even to do Mike Rowe’s job and highlight the work some folks to for us.

The phrase, “Someone to do the dirty work” takes on a different meaning when used in some contests, like today’s lesson. The posts from the past several days have talked about Jesus’ arrest, his facing the high council, and them finding him guilty. Now they wanted someone to “do the deed” when they were unable to do it themselves.

The Pharisees wanted Jesus out of the way but they didn’t want to do the dirty work themselves. At this point, they still aren’t fully sure where the crowd’s support would be. What if they killed Jesus themselves and the crowds took notice and turned out the council members. It is not beyond the realm of possibility. If Jesus was executed and the crowds revolted. There were not that many at any point in the day.

The high council wanted Pilate to look good. So, they gave him Jesus but at the same time, they rid themselves of finding the man guilty. If the people get angry they can point at, and blame the high council. What they needed was someone to do the dirty work. They needed someone they could to whom they could point and assign blame.

We do some of the same. How many dirty jobs do we have where we would like someone to sleep tonight. Why does it say that? I am sure it has a pot-luck purpose. Paul, Margie, and Ryan

Those dirty jobs may not be too appealing, hat’s OK. We also need help to make changes. If we are faithful in these things, just remember, God has a plan and part of that plan is you.

Have a blessed day in the Lord,
Keith

Copy right 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Blessed… And the Rooster Crowed

69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant woman came and said to him, “You were also with Jesus the Galilean.”

70 But he denied it in front of all of them, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

71 When he went over to the gate, another woman saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”

72 With a solemn pledge, he denied it again, saying, “I don’t know the man.”

73 A short time later those standing there came and said to Peter, “You must be one of them. The way you talk gives you away.”

74 Then he cursed and swore, “I don’t know the man!” At that very moment the rooster crowed. 75 Peter remembered Jesus’ words, “Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.” And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably (Matthew 26:69-75, Common English Bible).

One of my favorite all-time books was required reading when I was in seminary. I took a class titled, “Preaching and Contemporary Literature.” Almost all the books we read for the class were novels (without question the easiest reading I ever had for a course in seminary). Silence by Shusaku Endo was easily my favorite book in the class. I am not sure I would say it is my favorite book but it is definitely in my top ten.

Martin Scorsese turned the book into a movie that premiered in 2016. Though I loved the book, I have not seen the movie. It may well be because I loved the book so much, I fear being disappointed with the movie.

The book is set in 17th century Japan. Catholic missionaries have gone to Japan to evangelize the indigenous population. While in Japan Father Ferreira abdicates the faith. He was the mentor for two other priests, Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe. These two find it unbelievable that Ferreira would leave the faith and they travel to Japan to both evangelize and find Ferreira to learn why.

Once in Japan, Rodrigues starts to build a fair sized body of believers. It doesn’t take long before the government authorities to notice, find Rodrigues and arrest him. He is surprised by how well he is treated. Then he learns of the horrible treatment his converts receive. It can all stop. All he must do is, what his mentor had done before him. abdicate the faith.

In a chilling scene, the Japanese authorities placed a picture of Jesus on the ground and tell Rodrigues to step on the picture. If he does so, all the torture to the new Christians will stop. He also will, in that moment cease being a priest. It gives a new meaning to the idea of laying down one’s life for a friend.

Rodrigues stands above the picture and it seems to come alive before his eyes. The face of Jesus says, “Trample, trample. It is for this, for humanity to walk on me I came into the world (my paraphrase).” With that Rodrigues steps on the picture. Endo then rights, “And in the distance, a cock crowed.”

Of course, the scene alludes to Peter denying Jesus in the portion of the story that is today’s reading. Peter denied Jesus with his words and heard a rooster crow. Rodrigues denied Jesus with an action and heard a cock crow. We deny Jesus in many ways. Have you heard a rooster crow?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved