A Surprise Reaction

By Rev. Dr. Emma Richardson

For just about all of us, regardless of who we are, what we do, or how we get it done, God puts special people in all our lives who make a real impact on us. Emma was just such a person for me. Emma served in full-time ministry for many years before I knew her. Prior to my arrival in Sweeny, Emma settled into retirement. She made a point to do what needed to begin but at the same time to help whoever was appointed there. She succeeded at that. She was particularly important to my recent book, Average Joe: with an Extraordinary Story. She and Paul Woodworth inspired me with the idea of using the Biblical characters. I am grateful to both of them. Dr. Emma is an ordained deacon and a member of the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She most recently served at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa Oklahoma.

“ While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after
blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’. Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you;’ for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in my Father’s kingdom’.”
(Matthew 26: 26-30, New Revised Standard Version)

I had looked forward with great anticipation to this event and I was
disappointed!

Some background, I am a Deacon (Retired) in the United Methodist Church. For over 50 years the sacrament of Holy Communion has been very special to me. Whether I was assisting in serving or participating as a member of the congregation, the service of Holy Communion always was a high and holy moment for me. It is an instrument of God’s grace to be shared with other members of the Beloved Community. (I don’t mean to start a theological discussion about the meaning of the sacrament, just sharing an experience)

Now, back to my beginning declaration. Due to several health problems, I have not been able to attend worship services for several months. My local church celebrates Holy Communion on the first Sunday of each month and on other special days such as Christmas Eve and Maundy Thursday. I had missed both of those this time—first time I can remember missing both in succession.

The Pastor and the Worship chair had brought the sacrament to my home once during this time and I was very grateful. But I had missed 4 or 5 months at that time.

I was almost healthy enough to go to worship services then along came the
COVID 19 virus and my church, like almost all congregations were not going to meet in our church building. So, like many of you, Holy Communion was offered aspart of our virtual worship service on the first Sunday of the month.

The first time, my sister and brother-in-law joined me at my home and we took Communion together.

Then, the second time, I was alone. I had prepared an altar with a cross and a tray with bread and juice. At the appropriate time, I removed the white cloth from the tray, broke the bread and whispered “the body of our Lord, broken for me.” Then I took the juice, gave thanks and whispered “the blood of our Lord poured out for me and for many”. I replaced the cloth, said a brief prayer of thanksgiving and joined in the closing with the rest of our virtual congregation.

Then, it hit me! I did not feel renewed and refreshed in my soul as I usually did after receiving the Elements. I really felt sad. It was a strange feeling, all that afternoon, I would wonder “why?” The next day I realized this was the first time I had been alone, by myself, not another person near me. I missed my community of faith! I missed looking into the eyes of one as I served them or smiling at others as I returned to my seat. I missed seeing the looks of gratitude, of wonder, of knowing the blessing of these sacred moments I shared with other members of the Beloved Community.

I have reflected on this experience quite a bit and know the empty feeling comes from me and not from any lacking of the sacrament.

Since then I have observed Holy Communion again in my home and alone. Butmthe feeling was different. I was prepared for the absence of other believers and read again the names of the members who were participating with me that day (through the magic of Facebook).

I am very grateful for the times of worship I have experienced in this “closed down” time and look forward to the time we can be together as a congregation. Until then, I know with all of my heart and soul, the Church is not a building, the Church is the people of God and together or apart God is with us in all things.

Thanks be to God.

Be Blessed this Day.
Rev. Dr. Emma Richardson

It’s About Grace

20 “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion,[a] he sent them into his vineyard.

“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.

“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’

“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.

“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, New International Version).

A story is told about Fiorello La Guardia, who, as mayor of New York during the Great Depression and World War II, who many New Yorkers called “the Little Flower.” He stood five foot four and always wore a carnation. He was a colorful character who rode city fire trucks, raided speakeasies with the police, take orphanages to baseball games, and when New York newspapers were on strike, he went on radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One cold night in January of 1935, he turned up at the night court serving the poorest people in the city. La Guardia dismissed the judge took over the bench himself.

It wasn’t long before an old woman appeared, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told La Guardia her daughter’s husband had left, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor.” The man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach people around there a lesson.”

La Guardia sighed, Turned to the woman saying, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or ten days in jail.” He wasn’t finished. He reached into his pocket and pulling out a bill, tossed it into his hat saying, “I remit the ten dollar fine; and furthermore I fine everyone here fifty cents for living in a town where a person steals bread to feed her grandchildren. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day the newspapers reported $47.50 was turned over to an old lady who stole bread to feed her grandchildren, fifty cents contributed by the grocery store owner, while seventy petty criminals, traffic offenders, and policemen, having paid fifty cents to do so, applauded the mayor.

Here is my question for you. Did the elderly lady in the story get what she deserved? Clearly the answer is, of course not. She had stolen a loaf of bread. Yes, she may have had good reason, but stealing is stealing and regardless of the reason, punishment would seem to be the order of the day.

There’s a word for what La Guardia did, grace. Grace is when one in power shows mercy to less powerful people. The mayor, rather than demanding punishment, paid the fine and helped her with the collection of the fifty-cent fines she received. It was more than she deserved. It was grace.

Our lesson is about that too. The lesson is the wonderful story of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired early, telling them that he would pay them the usual daily wage. He found more workers to hire, telling them he would pay them what was right.

At sunset it was time to pay the workers. He began with the last hired, paying the usual daily wage. Those working all day got really excited. Surely they would get more for all day.

The excitement didn’t last. Ill feelings arose when they got paid the same working all day as those only working an hour.

He heard grumbling and explained he was fair. He paid what was promised. Couldn’t he pay everyone whatever they wanted with his money?

The landowner didn’t live in our time. He also didn’t seem to know much about business. When he next hired help none would until the last hour.

The landowner did know grace. Workers at the end of the day didn’t get what they deserved they got mercy. That is grace.

In the parable the landowner is God, we are the workers, and the pay is the kingdom. Studying this parable, we see, it’s about grace.

First, the parable says grace is received, not deserved. We all should know we do not deserve grace. Nothing we do will leave us deserving grace. All we can do is receive the gift God offers.

David Seamands ends his book Healing Grace with this story. For more than 600 years the Hapsburgs exercised power in Europe. When Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died in 1916, his was the last extravagant imperial funeral. Dignitaries escorted the casket, draped in the black and gold. A military band played dirges and by torches light, as the party descended the stairs of the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna. At the bottom an iron door lead to the Hapsburg family crypt. There was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.

An officer followed the ceremony. “Open!” he cried. “Who goes there?” responded the Cardinal. “We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria…” the officer listed the Emperor’s 37 titles.

“We know him not,” replied the Cardinal. “Who goes there?” The officer spoke again, this time using a less ostentatious title. “We know him not,” the Cardinal said again. “Who goes there?” The officer tried a third time, using the humblest title: “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like us all!” The doors swung open, and Franz-Josef was admitted.

Whoever we are, whatever our titles, how much we have, it can’t open God’s grace, given freely, left for us the undeserving.

Second, God’s grace is about mercy, not fairness. Fair would be to pay the later workers less than those working longer. That would be fair. Grace isn’t fair. It is merciful. God loves us and gives us more than we deserve.

Christian financial consultant Larry Burkett tells in Business by the Book about going the extra mile, beyond fairness. In 1984 he leased an office that was a nightmare. The foundation was faulty and was singing several inches a year. After more than three years of problems, including power failures and weeks without water, Burkett moved his business.

Soon the former landlord called demanding Burkett remodel and repaint his former office space. Burkett said no. He had already been more than fair with the landlord. The demands continued. Burkett got an attorney who agreed Burkett fulfilled his responsibility and need not do anything more.

Burkett saud his son offered him different counsel reminding Burkett of the landlord’s family, who had lost their only child a few years before. The still suffered. Burkett had commented he would wanted to help them. The son said this was an opportunity to do more than what was fair, but merciful. Burkett considered and agreed. He spent several thousand dollars to restoring a virtually unusable building. That goes past fair, to merciful. It is what grace is about.

Third, God’s grace is for the last and the first. It’s easy to say we deserve more. We’ve been faithful. God doesn’t work that way. God wants a relationship with all of us, those hired early and those who worked an hour. That is Grace.

A woman was abused by her father when she was a small child. She grew up, overcame the damage, became a Christian, then married. Years later, her children grown, she received a letter from her father saying he was a Christian and asked God for forgiveness. He realized he had sinned against her and wrote asking her to forgive.

Feelings surfaced. It wasn’t fair! He should pay. This was easy. Now he was part of God’s family! Her home church was killing the fatted calf and she was invited to the party! She was angry, hurt, resentful.

Then she had a dream. Her father stood on an empty stage. The hands of God held a white robe. She recognized it, she was wearing one. As the robe descended toward her father, she awoke crying , “It isn’t fair! What about me?”

She moved past it by realizing her earthly father was now like her, the same in God’s sight. Grace was his as it was hers. With that, she was able to forgive her father.

God’s grace is a free gift and available to all. It’s a free and more than we deserve. Grace is about mercy, not fairness. Grace is for the last and the first. Thankfully, it is about grace.

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

Eating Together

 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. (1 Peter 4:9-9, The Living Bible)

Family and friends sitting at a dining table

A Guest Post by Rev. Greg Oberg

I first got to know Greg when we served together on a “Walk to Emmaus” around 2006 in the Houston Bay Area Emmaus community. We were serving in the same district. Greg was the associate pastor at Bay Harbor United Methodist Church in League City, Texas. I was serving at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in nearby Santa Fe, Texas. Greg moved on to Brazoria UMC in Brazoria, Texas. Around the same time (I don’t remember who moved first) I went to Freeport Texas. If my memory is right Greg was in Brazoria for four years and moved on to serve as campus minister at my alma mater, Sam Houston State University at Huntsville, Texas where he has done a great job for eight years. In my opinion, campus ministry is the most important ministry around.

One of the many things we have all sacrificed is the ability eat together with others beyond our immediate families. I really miss eating together with others. One of the many projects that I have been doing to stay busy is to sort through 17,000  pictures we have collected for the past 8 years of our campus ministry. I have been purging lots of redundancy, like instead of having 10 Halloween Group pictures, we’re just going to keep the best one and call it good. 

Something I have seen a lot of is us eating together well over the years. We have eaten well as a Wesley Foundation: Welcome Week food, Finals Food, Christmas ham, Super Bowl party burgers and hotdogs, Thanksgiving pot luck, going to Olive Garden for our End of Year Event, Board Game Nights at the parsonage, eating Chicken Express trays for Halloween party, and all the Wednesday night meals donated by churches and Sunday Schools. We have done a lot of eating together and that is beautiful. And we will have more of that starting August 19. One powerful element of our ministry has been eating together. 

Did you know that before Coronavirus hit, this was becoming tougher in our culture and our churches? Research has been showing us that families spend less time eating together than in previous decades. How well is your family eating together these days? Maybe better, maybe not. I have to admit, my family still doesn’t eat together every night and that’s OK, as long as there are nights in which we do. I have noticed that before Coronavirus hit, it was becoming more and more rare for people to invite others for dinner in their own homes. I have noticed a significant difference in churches that eat together and those that don’t. Do you know that most of our Methodist churches never actually eat together? Think about that. Several I have known do potlucks well. One church we connect with, Onalaska UMC, during the academic year they will eat together every week. Others will do it once a month. Others will do it on the 5th Sunday. And many never eat together at all. That’s another reason small churches love it when we do our baked potato fundraisers with them, we are helping them to eat together and feel closer together, and they didn’t have to make the meal that time. Everybody wins!

There’s something Biblical about eating together, and how that brings people together in intimate ways, no matter what the culture is, what the language is, what century they live in. There’s a lot of Bible verses about this. Eating together is all over the Old Testament and the New Testament. Here are just a handful of examples: 

Isaiah 25:6   6 In Jerusalem, the LORD Almighty will spread a wonderful feast for everyone around the world. It will be a delicious feast of good food, with clear, well-aged wine and choice beef. 

Luke 5:29-31  29 Soon Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests were there.  30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”  31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor– sick people do. 

Luke 22:19-20  19 Then he took a loaf of bread; and when he had thanked God for it, he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you– an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you. 

Romans 12:13   13 When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night.

1 Peter 4:8-9   8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. 

Acts 2:46   46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity– 

I look forward to eating together with our students again. When we come roaring back in August, you can bet that food will play a key role at the very beginning, and continue playing a key role throughout our many more months and years of ministry.

I believe Jesus loves being present with us at our meals. After all, the Last Supper had more than Welch’s Grape Juice and Hawaiian sweet bread. It was a full meal. Yet, he used that moment to create an even greater kind of intimate moment, Holy Communion. That is something else I miss and look forward to experiencing again someday. 

May God bless your times with your families. I pray that your meals that you share with them would be beautiful, intimate moments, where Jesus is present at your kitchen table, you feel the love and warmth of each other, and that feeds your soul well as your tummies are also being fed well too. 

I pray that God would continue to do the same for our Wesley and our churches when we gather again to share our meals with great joy and generosity in different months of 2020. 

God is still God, God is still good, and we this epidemic lifestyle will be behind us in due time. Onward and upward my friends! 

The Virtues of a Child

Guest Post by Mrs. Cindy Martin-Foster

I have known Cindy Martin-Foster all my life. She is my cousin, a year older than I. She is an authority on children. She should be as she and her husband, Rev. Paul Martin have 8 children and ____ “grand little ones” as she calls them. They are residents of Jenks Oklahoma where Paul is the pastor of Jenks Baptist Temple.

Children have some special virtues that diminish with age.

I have never read the children’s classic novel Peter Panbut I have seen the movie, Hook. Itis loosely based on the story, and picks up later in Peter Pan’s life as a successful attorney with his wife and two children. 

In this movie rendition, Peter does not remember his childhood in Neverland and memories are not all he left behind.   As I remember the story goes something like this: Peter was an orphan.  He lived in Neverland with more orphans called ‘The Lost Boys’  who wished to never grow up.  Peter Pan was determined not to grow up either, but somehow, he did.  His grown up life became very complicated and this was attributed to the fact that he did ‘grow up’. 

Grown-ups change and not always in good ways. Growing up is inevitable, of course, but growing disenchanted and detached is not.  Peter’s particular way of ‘growing up‘ brought on a serious case of misplaced priorities which, in turn, almost cost him his family. 

That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up.

WALT DISNEY, attributed, The Quotable Walt Disney

But he grew up anyway.  He grew up and became a successful businessman which meant for one thing, he got really busy.  In fact, he got so busy that he had no time for anything else of importance.  Not even the most important of all.. his family. 

The ‘adult‘ Peter Pan became too busy, too focused, too mature, too serious, too responsible, too committed, too-everything else characteristic of successful adulthood-praiseworthy attributes without the excess. 

But somehow in pursuit of success, he lost sight of who he was…of the good qualities he possessed as a child…that even though grown, should never have been lost. 

So, what are some of these timeless, precious virtues children possess, but often lose in adulthood?

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. 

Albert Einstein

The Bible notes some exceptional children gifted with wisdom beyond their years. Children chosen by God to teach or lead  powerful adult dignitaries with honesty and innocence in ways only a child could.

There was the child, Samuel, who God chose as His special little messenger to the high priest, Eli, to reveal to him that his days were numbered due to abhorrent acts of his sons.  

Solomon became king of Israel as a child and realizing his deficit of experience, asked God for wisdom when God would have granted him anything he wished. How many adults would do that?  

Or, consider the little servant girl to Naaman.  Naaman was  captain of the host of the king of Syria, who was smitten with leprosy.  She directed him to Elisha the Prophet who told him what to do to be healed.

There was Isaac and Joseph, both very young. By demonstrating faith beyond that of their elders they were greatly used of God. Isaac as a patriarch of God’s Covenant to his chosen people and Joseph, to save his family as well as an entire nation from starvation.  

Daniel, Shadrack, Mishack and Abednigo–Hebrew children and captives of Babylon who politely suggested a better diet when instructed by the king to eat his rich meat.  When it was discovered that their diet was healthier, they established their intelligence, wisdom, and devotion to their God, therefore becoming advisors to the king himself. 

There is much that children can teach us.

Children are illuminated text-books, breviaries of doctrine, living bodies of divinity, open always and inviting their elders to peruse the characters inscribed on the lovely leaves.  AMOS BRONSON ALCOTT, Table Talk

A child is humble, meek, trusting, eager to please, highly motivated, easily led.  He is open-minded and hungry to learn, guiltless and grudge-free.  Adults, being experienced, are prone to skepticism and over-caution but children, lacking that experience are freer to believe and trust.  All the qualities adults consider strengths are often, in actuality, more their weaknesses, at least it seems so in God’s economy.

If God elevates the attributes of a child, then why do grown-ups so often regard children  with what looks more like…contempt?

It seems to me that in churches and families where excessive attention is given to governing children’s behavior, there is little to no attention given to honoring their innocent honesty and nurturing their spirits.  Children are required to be ‘seen and not heard’ and rarely, if ever, credited with wisdom.   

I have been instructed by preachers and other church ‘authorities‘ that when and adult accuses a child of wrong-doing but the child denies it, I should ALWAYS accept the word of the adult over the child.  Well, I guess that might have worked in a time (if there ever was one) when you could actually be confident that adults were more honest than kids.

But not anymore.

In fact, that would be outright dangerous given what we now know of statistics on child abuse and molestation being that 5 children die in America every day due to some form of abuse- http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics and 

http://religiouschildmaltreatment.com/.

and 2 out of 10 girls, 1 out of 10 boys are molested by the time they are 18- http://www.childmolestationprevention.org/pages/prevention_plan.html#focus_on_cause 

Jesus modeled the exact opposite attitude towards children.  When his disciples wanted to dismiss them, he said, “Forbid them not”.  

When the adults treated them as insignificant, Jesus countered, “Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

When the disciples, adults, argued among themselves over who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus took a little child and said,

“Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

When adults abused children, Jesus said, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

If Jesus had such high regard for little children, shouldn’t we? 

Perhaps it is time to correct our focus. 

Perhaps we should take time to remember what it was like to be a child.

Perhaps we should listen to them more and lecture them less.

Perhaps we should consider what we do to provoke their behavior problems before punishing to ‘fix’ them.

Perhaps we should spend more time looking for causes instead of reacting to the effects.

Perhaps we should budget more time nurturing our adult/child relationships than we do trying to convert them to the trivial aspects of our beliefs.  

Perhaps instead of trying to quiet the noise they make, we should relish the sounds of their laughter.

Perhaps instead of grumbling about the messes they make, we should celebrate the energy they have to make them. 

Perhaps we should all, like Peter Pan, revisit that place in our childhoods and rediscover the “happy thoughts” we still need as adults.

Perhaps….

Instead of concentrating all our teachings and efforts towards the proper “training” of children, we should practice being the kind of people we desire them to be.

Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children. 

Khalil Gibran

So, adults, 

Embrace your inner child!  

It’s biblical.  

It’s wise!

Photos courtesy of my grand littles, Cameron and Iris. 

Opening photo of Iris shot by Erin B. Foster Photography.

Not a Happy Ending

Jonah 4:9-11

A Guest Post by Rev. Lisa Beth White

I have known Rev. Lisa Beth While for many years now. I have not known her longer than Paul Woodworth from last Friday or W.C. Hall from last Monday, but I can’t think of anyone else ahead of her on that list. Lisa Beth has the distinction of, I knew her before she was really even considering ministry. We were students together at Sam Houston State University. We met at the Wesley Foundation there and both played an active role there. Before I graduated her oldest daughter was born. While I was in seminary, the spring semester of her first year and my last, I took Celia to school so Lisa Beth could stand in line for registration. Preaching classes were hard to get. It is hard for me to believe that both of those “little girls” are now young women, working to make their way in the world. Lisa Beth has a Bachelor’s degree from Sam Houston State, a Master’s of Divinity from Southern Methodist, and a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University. She has served First UMC in Liberty, Bering Memorial UMC in Houston, Moody Memorial First UMC in Galveston, She served a small congregation, First United Methodist Church in Melrose Massachusetts and currently serves at  Swannanoa UMC and Tabernacle UMC, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She is also fluent in American Sign Language and works diligently with missions for the United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Church.

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’ (Jonah 4:8-11, New Revised Standard Version)

When my children were toddlers, our United Methodist Women’s circle gave us a fabric activity book.  Each page had a Bible story and activity.  There was Joseph in a colorful coat to button and unbutton.  There was a star, moon, and sun to Velcro off and on the page.  And there was a big blue corduroy fish whose mouth zipped and unzipped, and a smiling Jonah made out of a clothespin with a brown cloth cloak.  We also had a small children’s Bible that had illustrations drawn in crayon by children, with Jonah going head first into a big dark fish’s smiling mouth.  The story ends with “at last Jonah listened to God and went to Nineveh.  It’s always best to listen to God.” 

Children’s bible stories about Jonah always seem to end on that happy note.  Jonah goes to Nineveh as God commands, preaches redemption, and everyone is happy.  But the Biblical story reveals a far more complicated situation.  Jonah does go to Nineveh, he preaches an eight word sermon, the people lament, repent, and God relents, decides not to destroy the city and all the people in it.  Jonah sees that God was merciful and is angry.  In fact, he complains that God’s mercy is the reason he ran from God’s call to preach.  “It’s better to die from my anger!” he says. 

God does not tell Jonah that he should not be angry.  Throughout the book, God never tells Jonah how to handle his anger.  God asks Jonah questions that allow Jonah to think about his anger in the light of the nature of God.  Jonah’s anger was burning inside him.  We aren’t told how he felt about the people of Nineveh.  We don’t know if he thought they deserved judgment rather than mercy.  The text only tells us that God’s mercy to the people of Nineveh was enough to make Jonah burn with anger. 

As I write this post, there are scenes on all the news channels of police violence, peaceful protests, buildings burning, and looters taking advantage of the chaos.  The U.S. hasn’t seen situations like this since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  Now, as then, it’s easy to divide people into groups, to label this group good and that group bad.  It’s easy to become angry about things and to let that anger burn inside us.  It’s easy to wish that this group or that group would receive the thing that our anger says is right. 

God asks Jonah “is it right for you to be angry?”  Jonah has the opportunity to consider God’s mercy.  Instead he sits and lets his anger burn.  God does not abandon Jonah.  He stays with Jonah, gently teaching him and asking him to think about his anger.  God also does not abandon Nineveh, waiting for them to hear the good news of God’s mercy, to turn and listen to God.  When they do, God is merciful, not angry.

Perhaps that children’s Bible was right – it is always best to listen to God.  Jonah listens to God’s questions about his anger.  The text doesn’t tell us how Jonah resolved these questions.  They are left for us to ponder about our own anger and how we think about other people and the earth.  How is God asking you today to consider mercy?  How is God asking you today to consider the people who make you angry?  How is God asking you today to consider our call to care for creation? 

Now You Hear It, Now You Don’t

By: Keith Broyles

It is time once again for the Sunday Sermon. Because I am not preaching this week I went searching through some old sermon manuscripts and pulled this one out. Unfortunately, there is only the manuscript. I wrote and preached this sermon back in 2007 when I was pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Santa Fe, Texas. I hope you enjoy the read.

13 That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore.

He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.” (Matthew 13:1-9, Common English Bible)

Most of you know, Cindy, Christopher, and I spent Fourth of July weekend with my parents. My father has some hearing difficulty, but his greatest hearing difficulty is convenient hearing and not paying attention to what is being said around him. That can be said of many of us.

Most of you know, we spent Fourth of July weekend with my parents. My father has some hearing difficulty. Four years of running around the boiler room and the engine room on an old ship. He went from the Navy to working construction. His best argument for not getting his hearing checked was expense. But his greatest hearing difficulty is convenient hearing and not paying attention to what is being said around him. That can be said of many of us.

Sunday afternoon he and I were watching baseball games on television. When the Astro’s game was over we turned on the Ranger’s game. Kenny Rogers was pitching. For those few people who are totally oblivious to the sports world, Kenny Rogers went after two television photographers a week and a half ago, jerking the camera from one’s shoulder and then kicking it several times. I don’t know if the camera was damaged or not. Following this tirade, Major League Baseball suspended him for 20 games and fined him $50,000.

When we turned the Ranger’s game on, who was pitching, but Kenny Rogers. We talked about how Rogers had appealed his suspension and was allowed to play until the appeal was heard. My Dad even said that he hoped Rogers would be picked to the All-Star team so that he wouldn’t be able to play.

As the game went on, one at a time, Cindy, my mother, my brother-in-law, my sister, and then Christopher and his girl friend walked into the room. As each came in and saw Rogers on the mound they said, “I thought he was suspended. How can he be playing?” And, each time patiently at first, not so patiently toward the end I explained that Major League Baseball rules allow a player to appeal his suspension and keep playing until his appeal is heard. So Rogers was allowed to play.

Monday morning my dad hears on television that Rogers had pitched the day before and exclaims, “I thought he was suspended, how could he have pitched.” My question is, how could he have not heard it any of the six times I explained it and even worse, he watched almost he entire game, how could he have not seen Kenny Rogers pitching the day before? He was even the one who had turned the game on.

II I guess my words to my dad were like seeds scattered on a path that the birds came and ate. I don’t think that they could be seeds scattered on the rocky places that sprung up but were scorched by the sun. I don’t think that they were like the seeds scattered among the thorns and were choked out by the other plants. That would mean that he at least heard a little bit and probably chose to ignore it. He certainly wasn’t the seed scattered on good soil because he just didn’t get it at all.

I have learned over the years that such is all too true. And, it isn’t just true with my father. There are many of us with hearing that is convenient at best. I know, and I understand that there are those without hearing and even those with hearing loss. I am one who has some moderate hearing loss. And, I know my dad is too. Still, if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, at least for many of us our greatest hearing problem isn’t a physical problem. For many of us anyway, we hear much of what we want to hear. Many things that are said to us or around us, we tune out or we don’t pay attention to. Such was the case during the Rangers game last Sunday afternoon.

III We live in a society that just doesn’t want to listen or maybe has lost much of ability to listen. Perhaps it is selective hearing on many of our parts. Perhaps it is too much noise going on around us, distracting us from what others may be saying. Maybe we think that we don’t have time to listen.

The lesson we read a few minutes ago closes with Jesus saying, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Yet all too often, we just don’t want to listen or we don’t have the ability to listen to one another. And, it seems to me that such inability would also inhibit our ability or desire to hear when God is speaking to us.

This morning we continue our series, “Principles from Parables” as we look at “The Parable of the Sower.” In this lesson Jesus says that a farmer went out in the field to sow his seeds. Think for just a minute about someone who goes out, and by hand, broadcasts seeds onto a field or even a yard. As you scatter the seeds they can go everywhere. Some go to where you want, but others go to places that you don’t, even places that have no real possibility of growing anything. Jesus said that some went on the path where the birds ate them up. Some went to rocky areas, places where there wasn’t much soil and the plants couldn’t get much in the way of a root system. When the heat came they burned up and died. Some fell in the thorny places and were chocked out by the other plants around them. But, some fell on good soil, and produced a good crop, many times the amount of seed that was planted.

I understand that idea. When we moved to Lovelady, we moved into a brand new house. With a brand new house comes a brand new yard. Before we moved in a member of the church came by to plant grass seed. He broadcast the seed. I am sure that some went onto the sidewalk and the birds came and ate it. There weren’t any rocky places so that wasn’t a problem, but there were flowerbeds and some of the seed went there. Do you know what grass is when it is in a flowerbed? It is a weed, but we will deal with “The Parable of the Weeds” next Sunday. The point is, when you scatter seed, some of it goes where you want, but some of it goes into and maybe even takes root in places that you don’t want.

This parable would be difficult at best to understand if it stopped where I stopped reading this morning’s lesson. Without question, it would be cryptic. At times, it is difficult to get the real point that Jesus is trying to make when he used parables. That would have particularly been the case here except that after verse 17, verses 10 through 17 deal with the disciples asking why Jesus speaks in parables and Jesus’ response to them. But, then, in verses 18 through 23 Jesus explains “The Parable of the Sower.” Read 18-23.

With this explanation we now have a much clearer picture of what Jesus was saying to the disciples and others who were gathered to hear him. All of the seeds that went to the places the sower never intended, are people who use their selective hearing or ignore all together what God may be saying. We may hear about the Kingdom of God, and yet we don’t hear. The seeds may be planted within us but they never really take root deeply in our hearts.

On the other hand, there are also the seeds that are scattered on the good soil of the heart. They are seeds that take firm hold because we are not only attentive when the Word of God is spoken; we use what we hear to help cultivate the faith that is growing inside of us. God is speaking. Are we listening?

V I think that when Jesus says, “He who has ears let him hear” he is saying to us; “You have the ability to hear the voice of God calling you into a relationship. Take the time; stop what you are doing and listen. God may be speaking to you.”

When we live with the idea of now you hear it, now you don’t, our faith becomes the seeds that fall in places where it is difficult to impossible for it to survive. Yet when we open our ears and we listen to the word of God, the seeds of faith are planted in good soil. We hear the word of God when we read the words of Scripture, when we pray, from the things that we see in nature and the world around us. We hear it sometimes by God speaking to us from the words of others that share our world. We can even hear it through the still small voice of our conscience. But, we have to be listening or we might miss it.

Now you hear it, now you don’t is selective hearing and if we heard at all, before long it is gone away. What we really need is “Now I hear it… Yeah I still hear it.” Then the seeds of faith are growing in the richest soil of our lives.

I understand that idea. When we moved to Lovelady, we moved into a brand new house. With a brand new house comes a brand new yard. Before we moved in a member of the church came by to plant grass seed. He broadcast the seed. I am sure that some went onto the sidewalk and the birds came and ate it. There weren’t any rocky places so that wasn’t a problem, but there were flowerbeds and some of the seed went there. Do you know what grass is when it is in a flowerbed? It is a weed, but we will deal with “The Parable of the Weeds” next Sunday. The point is, when you scatter seed, some of it goes where you want, but some of it goes into and maybe even takes root in places that you don’t want.

This parable would be difficult at best to understand if it stopped where I stopped reading this morning’s lesson. Without question, it would be cryptic. At times, it is difficult to get the real point that Jesus is trying to make when he used parables. That would have particularly been the case here except that after verse 17, verses 10 through 17 deal with the disciples asking why Jesus speaks in parables and Jesus’ response to them. But, then, in verses 18 through 23 Jesus explains “The Parable of the Sower.” Read 18-23.

With this explanation we now have a much clearer picture of what Jesus was saying to the disciples and others who were gathered to hear him. All of the seeds that went to the places the sower never intended, are people who use their selective hearing or ignore all together what God may be saying. We may hear about the Kingdom of God, and yet we don’t hear. The seeds may be planted within us but they never really take root deeply in our hearts.

On the other hand, there are also the seeds that are scattered on the good soil of the heart. They are seeds that take firm hold because we are not only attentive when the Word of God is spoken; we use what we hear to help cultivate the faith that is growing inside of us. God is speaking. Are we listening?

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V I think that when Jesus says, “He who has ears let him hear” he is saying to us; “You have the ability to hear the voice of God calling you into a relationship. Take the time; stop what you are doing and listen. God may be speaking to you.”

When we live with the idea of now you hear it, now you don’t, our faith becomes the seeds that fall in places where it is difficult to impossible for it to survive. Yet when we open our ears and we listen to the word of God, the seeds of faith are planted in good soil. We hear the word of God when we read the words of Scripture, when we pray, from the things that we see in nature and the world around us. We hear it sometimes by God speaking to us from the words of others that share our world. We can even hear it through the still small voice of our conscience. But, we have to be listening or we might miss it.

Now you hear it, now you don’t is selective hearing and if we heard at all, before long it is gone away. What we really need is “Now I hear it… Yeah I still hear it.” Then the seeds of faith are growing in the richest soil of our lives.

Be Blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Learning to Be Content

A Guest Blog Post by Rev. Paul and Mrs. Margie Woodworth

I have said it before and I feel pretty sure I will say it again, Rev. Paul Woodworth is my oldest friend in ministry and you can take that any way you want. While that part is a joke, Paul and his wife Margie were the first people I met after he and I both assumed the pulpit at our respective congregations. Paul went to Bremond and Calvert, just about as far west as you can get and still be in the Texas Annual Conference. I went to Elwood, as far east as you can go and still be in the old Bryan district. Since that time, we have followed each other around the conference. Now Paul and Margie and Cindy and I all live in Lufkin. Margie made her living in the property title business. Before entering ministry Paul was in the grocery business. Since entering the ministry Paul has served, Bremond, Calvert, First UMC Madisonville (Associate Pastor), First UMC Groveton, Prairie View UMC Groveton, First UMC Brownsboro, New Hope UMC Brownsboro, Ben Wheeler UMC, Burke UMC, and First UMC Sweeny (Pastor Emeritus). Today Paul and Margie are enjoying their retirement as much as one can enjoy being quarantined in a senior living center for over three months now. That is Keith saying that, not Paul and Margie. Paul is probably the finest pastor I have known. He cares about people in a way few people I have known care. I am thankful for my friendship. I pray you enjoy their words today.

Keith

 I was very glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of course, you were always concerned but had no way to show it.) 11 I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. 12 I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. 13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13, Common English Bible) 

We have all been making adjustments during the time of quarantine.  After our Easter Sunday Service on April 10, 2020,  as we finished singing “Victory in Jesus”, we were told that we had to go to our room in our Assisted Living facility and not come out until further notice!  We were all stunned.  However, we did as we were told since there was no one to ask “Why?”

The next day we were advised that it because of the Corona Virus and the fear that we might catch it.  For the next few weeks we (28 of us) we stayed in our rooms, ate in our rooms, read, watched TV, played on our computers if we had one

Then we were given a list of times (20 minutes) intervals to walk in the hall or out in the Courtyard as long as we wore our masks.  During the first few days of “a little freedom”, we noticed that some of us would take advantage of this freedom and others would not.  Some residents appeared to be sad and depressed.  We were two of them.  It occurred to us that if you used to see family and friends, you would naturally be missing them.  Missing their hugs, their visits, the treats they would bring.

Next, they decided to let family and friends come to your window and see you for a short time.  This helped those who had family that came frequently.  Unfortunately, our family is unable to come.  

We are happy for those folks who can see their loved ones and friends, but we have become sad because we have no family to come to visit us.

The Apostle Paul went from one town to the other and he didn’t have a Hilton Inn and Suites to stay in or a wonderful buffet to eat.  

Our son, Ryan chose Philippians 4:13 as his favorite scripture:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  We have adopted this scripture to help us during this difficult time.  We have a roof over our heads, food to eat, clothes to wear, and last but certainly not least, our Bibles to read and sermons to listen to on our phones.  Praise God for all of the blessings he gives us!  When we feel low, we sing all of the songs we can find that we know out of the hymnals we have to enjoy.  Call a family member and friends who are alone. 

We are all struggling, but we are all blessed by the love of God! Remember, “I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my (our) hand.”

Praising God while Learning to be Content!

Paul and Margie Woodworth

And Finally Beloved… (Manuscript)

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoice[c] in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:6-13, New Revised Standard Version).

A little girl and her mother sat in church one Sunday. The preacher was about 10 minutes into the sermon when he said it, “And finally…” and he kept right on preaching. About five minutes later he said again, “And finally…” and the sermon continued. About five minutes later, he said for the third time, “And finally…” then the little girl turned to her mother and asked, “Mama what does that mean?” her mother whispered to her quietly, “Absolutely nothing.”

this morning I am going to use those words several times throughout the sermon. When I do, don’t think that because I say, “And finally,” or “And finally beloved,” the sermon is about to end. You may be pretty disappointed.

I use the words today because those words, “Finally beloved” are the words Paul often used to close his letters. Those words coupled by certain themes at the ends of the letters dealt with matters of Supreme importance for Paul. Many of Paul’s most important priorities are in those last few words at the close of his letters.

This morning, as we close our time together, that we would share some of those thoughts, and also a few thoughts of my own. We will refer to several of Paul’s letters today as we think and reflect a bit on these things that were important to Paul.

“And finally beloved, rejoice in the Lord.” in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” A christian’s life should be characterized by happiness. We are people who know the answer period we are people who have the answer period we know that we live by faith in Jesus Christ. That is the answer to a whole lot an complete life. And, when you have the answer to life’s primary, most important question, there is always reason to rejoice. The christian’s life should be characterized and marked by happiness , by joy. As people of faith we should radiate with optimism when we go through life looking and feeling as if our life is spent down in the pits. What does that say about our faith? What does it say about our answer for this life and the life to come?

Life can be hard. Bad things can happen in our lives. We don’t have to do anything more than watch the Evening News to see just how hard life can be. It’s been pretty hard these last few months with the corona-virus and all the issues surrounding it. Social distancing, the debate over wearing masks, whether or not businesses and other places we gather should be allowed to reopen, vaccines and cures, and on and on. There are economic problems as well as civil rights issues, civil disobedience issues, and general unrest. But, as people of faith we have the assurance that God is greater than our problems and the problems in the world. Life can be hard at times, but God is good all the time and all the time, God is good. We can celebrate and rejoice in God’s goodness. Remember too, the scriptures don’t say we should rejoice in difficulty or rejoice in pain or rejoice in problems or rejoice in tragedy. The scriptures say, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”

David Suna and John Tu sold 80 percent of their tech company, Kingston Technology Corp. They made mostly computer memory products. For that 80 percent, Suna and Tu decided they would share their good fortune with their employees. The average bonus check was $75,000. Suna and Tu said the joy was not in the money. Joy came from two places. To know that all who contributed to the success was sharing in the rewards, everyone from the custodian to the CEO was awarded.

On its most basic level, being a Christian means being a person of joy. If we are truly filled with this joy, it should be on the brink of bubbling and gurgling out of us each day. A father asked a child why she liked her Sunday school teacher so much. She answered, “Because her eyes twinkle like she’s laughing inside all the time.” Jesus as our joy keeps the corners of our mouths perpetually turning up. Keep smiling!

What is it that gives you joy? What is out there that you can do to make your eyes sparkle. I always think of our Loose Threads group. The joy we share needs to be a joy everywhere for eve

For me it is working on a song. Sometimes that means guitar or piano and practice. Or, it might be writing something new or giving something old a make-over.

Beloved, rejoice in the Lord.

Finally, beloved, be strong in the Lord. Paul is sharing with the Ephesians. He knew they would face opposition from the secular world. As the Christian faith grew stronger, the pressure Christians faced from the Roman Empire grew more and more difficult. Life wasn’t easy for those to whom Paul wrote. There were many challenges in life during the biblical era. Some were physical. Others were spiritual. So, Paul wrote these words, “be strong in the Lord,” to encourage Christians of the day.

Being a Christian has never been easy. In recent years we have seen challenges to our faith. Today the church continues to face greater and greater opposition from secular society. There are challenges again and again to matters of faith. If something even smells of faith it can face immediate and fierce opposition. To stand firm in the faith means to be strong in the Lord.

I recently found a platform for writers and bloggers I had not previously known called Medium and no, it isn’t about connections to the spirit world, palm reading, or any of that kind of thing. It is a vast number of writers, sharing thoughts on a wide variety of topics.

One of the first pieces I read was written by a lady named BeBe Nicholson. She titled her piece “Hostility Toward Christianity is Growing.” In the article Ms. Nicholson addresses some argument’s used by those who have left the church. Being hurt by the church, Christianity being most responsible for most of the wars in history and therefore responsible for huge numbers of deaths, Christians are judgmental, and Christians are intolerant. The Church is far from perfect. I am pretty sure we can all agree on that. After all, the Church isn’t the building, it’s the people and because people in general tend to be judgmental about various things, we can be intolerant. But what some see as intolerance can also be understood as living under the tenants of faith.

Nicholson uses the example of a Supreme Court case as an illustration about the hostility faced by the Church.

Atheists objected to a cross erected over 100 years ago as a memorial to soldiers killed during the first World War. Wanting the memorial removed the group fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court who ruled that there was no Constitutional violation.

A group of atheists launched a billboard campaign in parts of the country last Christmas with the slogan, “Just skip church; it’s all fake news.” Why do unbelievers care if Christians go to church?

Most ironic of the information surrounding the article was the ferocity of the comments made about the article. Those who accuse Christians of judging were judging themselves.

In responding to my comments, she wrote, “Well said Rev. Broyles! Thanks for weighing in with your thoughtful and thought-provoking statements in what turned out to be an unexpectedly controversial post. Even I, who wrote the essay, wasn’t aware of the level of hostility that is actually out there until I read the responses to my article.

Friends we must maintain our focus and our spiritual strength. Beloved be strong in the Lord.

Finally, beloved, pray for us. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives them this instruction. It is important period probably the greatest thing one Christian can do for another is to pray. Intercession is one of the finest acts the Christian performs. Our prayer life should be of central importance to our whole life. When we are in prayer we are truly a servant a servant of God and a servant to neighbor we are called to be people of prayer.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany. I came to the realization that I was not the man of prayer many people believed me to be. People would ask me to pray. I would tell them I would do so and then, many times, I never did. I wasn’t really lying to people or at least that wasn’t my intention. I always intended to pray for the people needing prayer and then life happened. I got busy with fifteen other things and that request I had committed to? Yeah, it was gone.

So, I started doing two things and I want to challenge you to make them part of your prayer routine too. First, when someone asks me to pray, I try very hard to stop what I am doing right then and pray with that person. If it is a request online, email or the church’s prayer page, I try to type a prayer in right then, when I see it. Again, at times I put it off and forget all together. When that happens, I am reminded of the importance of praying right then. And, if someone calls me on the phone asking for prayer, we take the time to stop and pray. I want to ask you to not just remember but since I started doing that, I have seen the difference it makes for the person asking for prayer. Before, they hoped I and others were praying for them, with this practice, they know we are praying.

Beloved, pray for us. Pray for each other period pray for the world around us. We are called to pray.

Finally beloved, “…What things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, think on these things.” If we are to live the kind of lives God calls us to live, all of the things on that list or must. Our hearts must be on the things of God. We must have high ideals and deep convictions in our personal lives. We must decide on clean speech, pure motives, and the highest integrity that is beyond question.

Joseph Parker, a former pastor in London, wrote that on one occasion the great concert pianist Ignace Paderewski came to London to give a concert. Parker, quite an accomplished pianist himself, went to hear the concert. The pastor was so moved by what he heard he did a very strange thing when he came home he stood by his piano, called to his wife, and said, “bring me an axe! Today I heard great music for the first time ever. By comparison what I can do amounts to nothing at all. I feel like chopping my piano to pieces.”

Parker could never be Paderewski simply by following his example period to do so, he would need Paderewski’s hands and mind and heart and yes, even his soul.

It is much the same in the Christian life. We can never live up to the life of Jesus. And, his example could lead us to great desperation. Or, we can use his example. His life, that is in each of us to inspire us on to greater things, to a greater life, to the high ideals and motives and integrity that should be part of every Christian’s faith walk. In Jesus we find our strength, power, and motivation.

Beloved what things are true honest just pure of good report think on these things.

Finally, beloved, farewell. Be perfect. These were Paul’s words that closed his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. As people of faith we know being perfect does not mean being sinless. What I think it does mean is to live as a complete child of God. It means to be everything God calls us to be. It means to live whole, well rounded Christian lives. It means we are called to live in perfect love.

A goat wanted more than anything in the world to be a lion. He didn’t want to be like a lion, he wanted to be a lion. He told himself if he could learn to walk like a lion, talk like a lion, and go where Lions go, he’d be a lion. So, he crouched down and practiced stalking through the jungle. He tried to switch his stubby little tail majestically as Lions do. Then he worked on how to turn his pitiful little bleat into the deep awesome roar of the King of beasts. He worked and he worked, and he worked. Finally, he convinced himself, he really looked and sounded like a lion. “Now,” he said, “all I have left to do to be a lion is to go where Lions go.” So, he marched into lion territory one day about lunchtime. You can imagine what happened. It was a total disaster.

To be perfect we can’t just think we are Christians. We have to act like it. We have to look like it. We have to be it. Try as much as he wanted the goat couldn’t look like a lion by the same token, we can’t look like Christians if we’re not actually Christian. We may be able to fool some people sometimes, but we will never fool the King. We cannot be perfect if we are not who God created us and calls us to be.

To be Christian, to be perfect, shows in our joy. It shows in our prayer life. It shows in our priorities. It shows, not because of what we do, but because of what God does in us . It shows because our strength comes from God.

Beloved farewell. Be perfect.

So, I close by saying just a few more final words, and these are my words, not Paul’s. And finally, beloved, I take my leave with the hope and prayer that you will always stand firm in your faith. May your days be filled with joy and your life filled with God’s grace and strength. Follow only the things that come from God. Live a full and whole Christian life. Cindy and I covet your prayers as I begin new work in Nacogdoches and we want you to know, our prayers are with you. we bid you Farewell, with his grace and peace. We will love you always.

Smart and Not Afraid: Using All Your Smarts

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” Matthew 7:24-27, NRSV

Over our married life, Cindy and I have lived in five different homes with foundation issues. When I think on them, two were built on black gumbo soil and three were on sandy loam. Three of the five were built on slabs and two were on pier and beam.

Because three were built on slabs, they were built on rock. In college there is a sedimentary rock named conglomerate. It looks like concrete except the gravel is much smaller.

One of those houses had a huge crack in the slab that was so bad, it had broken the brick on the outside of the house. There were cracks in the Sheetrock. Doors wouldn’t close. The windows wouldn’t open and one of the windows looked like it would fall out at any time.

When we looked for a condo a few years ago, we saw one we liked. We liked the location. We liked the floor plan. We liked that we wouldn’t have an upstairs neighbor. It was a nice sized lot. The HOA dues were virtually non-existent. There was this weird hole in the foundation. It wasn’t the problem with the foundation, but it was weird. We also thought it strange to have so many mirrors in an otherwise empty house. Had we bought that place those mirrors would have come out. We also would have found a way to fix that weird hole in the foundation.

As we walked around the home, I kept trying to figure out the issues. I found one outside, and made our decision. Except .crack in the wall, it would have been perfect. But there \were foundation problems meaning this wasn’t a good idea. That house was built on a rock but the ground, underneath likely would cost us money.

I drove by sometime later. The place was still for sale. But the exterior crack was covered with a 1×6.

Today’s lesson is Jesus talking about a wise person and one not so wise. Perhaps the lesson is a little of what we talked about last week using the brain God gave us.

Jesus said the wise builds a house on a rock and the foolish builds on sand.

We bought a house in the mid-80s. What a mistake. If you saw the 1986 movie, The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelly Long, we could say the movie was about our house. We had electrical issues, plumbing issues, and foundation issues. Every issue began small and grew huge. The best way to tell you about this house is in a story I call The Parable of the Washing Machine Drain.

One day Cindy said, and I do remember her words. We’ve talked about it extensively. “Honey, I have a little job for you to do.” The drain line for the washer was in the garage and ran under the house. It was pier and beam construction, so blocks and open underneath. She wanted me to snake the line. That snake is not in my irrational fear of snakes.

I ran the snake down the drain pipe, about four feet were visible. It stopped unable to turn the angle. I got a pipe wrench, removed, then started working the snake again. I went three feet and stopped. It wouldn’t go.

Cindy decided I needed help. I asked why since it was a little job. She called her brother David to help. We started but we decided to completely remove the pipe under the house. We tried to get it out.

Cindy went in and called her Dad who brought her brother Jimmy. Then my dad got a call. There was five working that day. I don’t remember was how long it took us to get out.

When we got there and all of us started working and it took all five of us to get it out. Wayne was about four then and was “helping.” We got it out. The longest pipe was the one from the drain hose to the floor behind the washer. The rest were between six inches and a foot. It looked like someone got a box of tiny pipes and fittings and proceeded to use them all. It rn six inches turn 45 degrees. It would eight inches and turn 90 degrees. It was crazy. No wonder the water wouldn’t drain. There were too many turns and the fall was nonexistent.

To top it off, the maze of pipe, someone concreted into the main sewer line. That required creative use of some tools that were never intended for such use. Our family joke is, “Honey, I have this little job for you to do.”

That was one system. It seemed like every system had a story like that. Someone put a new breaker panel outside the master bedroom. Inside the master bedroom was the original panel. Everything ran through both breaker panels.

Then the foundation. The foundation company was appalled that there were only three beams carried the whole house.

I could go on, but I won’t. Pleasant Retreat, Santa Fe, and Diboll. All had foundation issues, popping tiles off the floor, doors that wouldn’t close. It is a long list.

I was at a Lion’s Club down on the coast and the beginning of hurricane season. Hurricane expert, Dr. Neil Frank spoke on hurricane safety awareness. He said people foolish enough to buy a house directly on the beach should, but probably won’t rethink it. He quoted the lesson. Construction continued on beach houses. He said don’t buy a beach house, rent. If you insist on buying don’t buy on the immediate beach. If you are building on the beach, use pilings. Jesus was right, building on sand is foolish.

It surprised me in these days, when people around the country are wanting, demanding to go back to work, a meal, going shopping, etc. yet seem unwilling to protect themselves and others.

Thepool party where everyone ignored social distancing, restrictions on personal contact, and in the video I saw, there wasn’t a mask for miles.

More than one person said “I don’t care. I am going to do what I want.” That is building houses in the sand, Completely foolish.

In the 1918 flu pandemic the virus hit in two waves. The first wave wasn’t bad. Another wave.A gene mutated and many more peope died.

My concern is a lack of empathy, compassion, self-care, the lack of love of neighbor goes to the root our faith. I wear a mask not because I want to, but because the last thing I want to do is get one of you sick.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the effectiveness of masks. One of the universities did a series of studies using water droplets. When the water droplets were in the room. Even through a mask, many droplets still got through. But, when measured in the other direction, me wearing a mask makes a significant difference for the people around me. To do that is to live in love of God and neighbor. To quote someone I saw on TV recently, “I wear a mask to protect you, You wear a mask to protect me.

I do love the unique ways people are helping to take better care each other. To drive a lap around Daytona International Speedway for a high school graduation, picking up their diploma at the start/finish line creates a graduation none of those seniors would ever forget. The senior parade here in Huntington. And so many more. Band rehearsals over Skype or Zoom are pretty cool too.

Something Out of Nothing

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2, New International Version).

My latest creation is in the picture above. It will be a belt when complete. I almost always have something I am creating out of paracord. Mostly I make prayer ropes. But I have made bracelets, dog collars, dog leashes, handles for stainless steel mugs, Christmas decorations, cell phone belt cases, coasters, crosses, rings, lanyards, flowers, and probably a few other things too. I am almost always working on some kind of paracord creation.

I like to carve. The wood that I carve as become different figures, a sailor in his pea-coat, a cowgirl, a couple of guitars, a bear, a Nativity set, and several other things. I created them with wood and carving knives.

There is an old joke that has floated around for several years. A group of dedicated scientists decided they needed to have a meeting with God. As the scientists met, they came to the conclusion that scientists could do everything God did therefore there was no need for God and God could go away and leave us to create all that is around us.

The day of the meeting came. At the designated time God was there. The scientists finally showed up about 30 minutes late. The man speaking for the scientific world said to God, “We can do everything that you do God and quite frankly, we believe you have done a terrible job of it. You can’t even protect us from the evils of the world.”

“So you want to take care of this world. Are you really sure you can do what I do?” God asked.

“Yes,” said the scientist.

God said, “OK then, let’s both make a living breathing human being. I have already done it, but it was my greatest achievement. I can do it again. If you are going to take over and do what I do, you need to do this.”

The scientific community conferred and agreed to God’s project. It seemed fair and they knew they could do it. As old as God seemed they figured he had to slow down at some point.

God said, “I’ll go first. You watch closely and I’ll show you how it’s done.” With that God stoops down and grabs a handful of dirt and then gets some water and mixes it together. God pushes, kneads, shapes, and forms. Finally standing in front of God is a perfect replica of a human male. God walks up to the man and gives a puff of air and the man starts breathing. “There you have him,” said God. “A living breathing man. God did it, again.”

The scientists were gracious and complimented God’s work but said there was no question that science would win out.

With that, the scientist bends down to scoop up and handful of dirt to make his man but God stops him. “Stop. Drop the dirt. That’s my dirt, you go get your own dirt.” They couldn’t even get started without something God created.

I find it interesting how many of us will do something and then think, believe we did it all by myself. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, some teacher somewhere, with art, music, pottery, wood working hunting, cooking and so many more. Someone taught you something along the way and if no one did you have a true God given talent for something.

What about the resources, the supplies required to build something? If you are going to build cabinets you need wood. To make clothes you need fabric. A watercolor landscape requires paper and paint. Someone gathered what you need in a warehouse somewhere and then sent it to your local Hobby Lobby.

You need tools. Even if you could make it yourself you would need raw materials. If you buy them you can get to work on the thing that really matters but you need tools.

All of those things are necessary. We humans cannot build without supplies and tools. They are necessary. We can’t create the raw material necessary to make the thngs we need using the things we have.

Well Keith, farmers don’t use a lot o other resources. Oh but they do. How would they make anything. They get seeds from next fall. Still, seeds, land, fertilizer, equipment are all part of farm life and God got it there.

The musician play or write. There aren’t resources involved in that. Yes they are. Boats are built of the raw materials.

I can make things all day long but I start with something and work until I have it. For me, at best we are co-creators with God. We need God by our side.

God needs nothing to create all we see and all we can’t. Then and only then, we build something out of the materials God provides. God built something out of nothing. God is the creator. We are the visitors. So lets focus on building something out of something. Only God can build something out of nothing.

Be blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved