A Reckoning Coming?

By Drew Weber

20 The young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?”

21 Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.”

22 But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

25 When his disciples heard this, they were stunned. “Then who can be saved?” they asked.

26 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.”

2Then Peter replied, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?”

28 Jesus said to them, “I assure you who have followed me that, when everything is made new, when the Human One sits on his magnificent throne, you also will sit on twelve thrones overseeing the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first (Matthew 19:20-30, Common English Bible).

I have known Drew Weber since he began in ministry in 2008. The biggest reason I got to know him was, at that time my wife was on the administrative staff at Moody Memorial First United Methodist Church in Galveston, Texas. Drew went on staff there several months after Cindy did. Since that time Drew and I have had several long conversations, theological and otherwise. When I developed some health issues while serving at First United Methodist Church and Oyster Creek United Methodist Church in Freeport, Texas, Drew filled the pulpit for me a few times and always was outstanding.

When Drew left Moody he went to First United Methodist Church in Cameron, Texas followed by First United Methodist Church in Jasper, Texas. He now serves as the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Texas.

The “Prosperity Gospel” or “Word of Faith” movement has thrived in the 21st Century despite its unbiblical theology. Purveyors of this type of preaching and teaching wrongly proclaim that God’s will for your life is financial and physical well-being. Teachers of prosperity theology claim that through faith in Christ, positive speech or “positive confessions” and financial donations to these ministries the result be financial blessings and physical well-being for you and your family. Hmmm….I seem to remember Jesus saying, “You cannot serve both God and money.” And Paul wrote to Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” There seems to be a great deal of money loving in this teology.

In today’s Scripture reading Jesus tells a man who is already prosperous to go make others prosperous right? You might think that if you heard some of the prosperity gospel preachers, but it is NOT what the Gospels say. It isn’t even what this story says. In it, Jesus says, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.” (1 Timothy 6:10) That sounds like the opposite of a prosperity gospel.

I am of the firm belief that prosperity theologians and preachers are leading people straight to hell! Well, Drew, come on now, that is a little bit harsh isn’t it? I mean, after all, God seems to be blessing their ministries and if it gets people to start thinking about faith then isn’t it a good thing? No, it’s not and I believe God has had enough. I predict that many of these large churches, famous ministries, and prominent figures in this false gospel campaign will start to fall from grace. I believe that over the next two years God will start to break the yoke of this demonic teaching as one after the other falls from their lofty perch.

Here’s why prosperity theology is awful.  It completely misses the entire point of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t come so we can all live our best lives now. If that’s the case then why did my Christian sister die of cancer at age 21? Prosperity teachers would say that she didn’t think positively, donate to their ministries, or have enough faith. Furthermore, I know a lot of faithful Christ followers who are struggling financially. Are they not making enough “positive confessions?” Oh, and what about the Christians who are getting their heads chopped off in the middle east? If they would only watch the right “preachers” and donated to them they could be alive and living their best life now. 

Friends, if you are watching any of these teachers and preachers you need to stop immediately. It is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ – it is something entirely different than anything found in Scripture. Jesus came so we can be forgiven for our sins, have a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and live with God forever in heaven. God’s purpose for your life is to be molded into the image of His Son and lead others down the path of truth and life. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This is the Gospel and Jesus said that there will be struggles along they way but He will never leave us nor forsake us. However, he never once talked about financial and physical well-being as the point of His coming to Earth. 

I urge you to pray for people to be rescued from this dangerous branch of “Christianity.” I urge you to pray that people will stop supporting these ministries. I urge you to pray for churches that stand on the Word of God to have pews filled on Sunday morning. The “Prosperity Gospel” is no longer just a nuisance, it’s a force of the Enemy and I believe God has had enough. Time will tell.

Today is the last day of this round of guest blog posts. It was great to hear from so many of my family and friends. I look forward to hearing from them again and others too. I hope to have another post soon. He had to have back surgery during this time and he really wanted to write a post. I will give him a day whenever he gets healed.

As usual for Saturday, we will have a music focus tomorrow. We will have a patriotic focus here on my blog post tomorrow. Check out the blog at revbroyles.me.

Called – Send Me

After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
        your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
        your old men will dream dreams,
        and your young men will see visions.
29 In those days, I will also pour out my
    spirit on the male and female slaves.

30 I will give signs in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 32 But everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be security, as the Lord has promised; and in Jerusalem, the Lord will summon those who survive. (Joel 2:28-32, Common English Bible)

Sam Cutrone currently serves as the pastor of Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church in Bryan, TX. He has a powerful testimony. Sam and I have worked as colleagues but I am proud to call him friend.

O let the Son of God enfold you
With His Spirit and His love
Let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul
O let Him have the things that hold you, And His Spirit like a dove
Will descend upon your life and make you whole.
Jesus, O Jesus
Come and fill Your lambs
Jesus, O Jesus
Come and fill Your lambs.

It was just a month ago that we, in liturgical congregations celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is the Sunday we celebrate God sending the Holy Spirit upon His Disciples in the upper room. The hymn above reminds us of this poignant powerful moment in which God fulfilled His promise to the Church. The account is a humbling reminder how the disciples had to remain open in order for the Spirit to be poured into them. This happened when the disciples let their lives be enfolded into the life and message of Christ. Secondly, they had to open their hearts in order for their souls to be fed. Finally as they gave Christ all their doubts, fears, and anxieties they were healed.

How have you felt enfolded into God’s love?

Since the age of 15 I knew I was called to ministry. However it took me 30 years to fulfill my calling. In 1990, I served a small church in Martindale, Texas. It was a small rural church with 15 congregants. They were a Godsend into my life. One Sunday I had to inform them I had been removed as a candidate for ministry by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. Hence, I would be unable to remain at the church (appointment). It was a bitter pill to swallow. As I told them, about the decision, I found a strange peace deep within me. I felt a profound love touching my heart that morning. The people were shocked because we had been together for 2 years. But I reassured them the conference and district leaders knew what they were doing: the church had to trust the process. I must admit these were some dark moments for the church and for me as we grieved together. As we wept we found the Spirit leading us to a deeper understanding of Christ’s love we had for one another and a resilient strength to trust in what God was doing.

In those few precious moments we found consolation in Christ’s arms of grace. We discovered that through the years we had learned that God’s love bound us together and kept the cords of ministry strong. We found, in those moments, that Christ’s love was sufficient. While I may have been removed from ministry we were joined in the desire to serve Christ and the community. With hearts full, sorrows shared and remembering we were bound together by God’s love; we left the church that Sunday knowing the Holy Spirit was upon the church and us.

Later that night, I poured out my ardent prayer out before the Lord. I prayed for God’s spirit to comfort the church and my family. I shared with God my disappointments, fears and anxieties; I left everything at the foot of the cross. Later, the phone rang, I was surprised to hear Bishop Earnest Dixon on the other end of the line. He said, “Sam, I don’t know what you’ve done at the church in Martindale but they love you. I think it’s best if you continue ministry with the church. What do you think?” I said, “Well if you think that’s best. Then yes I’ll go.” I continued in ministry for 5 more years. It wasn’t until I moved in 1995 I realized how much they loved me and my family but more importantly how much they trusted God. Unbeknownst to me, the night the Bishop called me, the church had handed the charter of the church to the District Superintendent. They simply said, “if you remove Sam, then remove us! We see the Spirit moving in the Church and want to see what God will do with us.”

It’s a wondrous sight to behold when the Holy Spirit gets involved. Our moment of grace comes when we step aside and let the Holy Spirit fill us with God’s love. Then empty our lives from the fears, anxieties and uncertainties of the world. When we let our hearts be filled with the Spirit we find healing and the ability to trust and love God even more. We are called to the share this hope with others. Take a moment and lift your heart to the Lord, let God’s Holy Spirit fill you with God’s love. Then go into the world and pour God’s love into the lives of those who are thirsty, lost in the darkness, hurting or struggling. This is our purpose and call.

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.

Opening Blind Eyes

by Keith Broyles

From time to time I get on writing.com. You can find different things to help with writing,com, including writing prompts and writing challenges and contests. But I always feel challenged there. Writing from the tags for the Though I have never won’t any of the few I seen there, I still enjoy doing it.

Today’s poem and future song lyrics began as a writing challenge on

Blind eyes fail to see creation’s slow death.
The stench of the air, leaves us without breath
Empty ears ignore the earth’s groans and cries
Still, God who made us, wipes tears from blind eyes

My Blind Eyes bring Empty Hearts
Empty Hearts bring Empty Souls
Empty Souls bring Empty lives
Empty lives bring More Blind eyes

God creates humans for more than we know.
Fun with no joy pulls us from where we grow.
Our hearts are empty, no strength from above
Empty hearts lack peace, Lord send us a dove.

My Blind Eyes bring Empty Hearts
Empty Hearts bring Empty Souls
Empty Souls bring Empty lives
Empty lives bring More Blind eyes

Empty hearts can’t see, God’s blessings for me
Empty souls cry out, yearning to be free.
The soul may be empty, the spirit dry,
God still loves us, let love show in our eyes.

My Blind Eyes bring Empty Hearts
Empty Hearts bring Empty Souls
Empty Souls bring Empty lives
Empty lives bring More Blind eyes

Let love’s light shine, in this dark world.
Let my blind eyes, be blind no more.
My eyes can see, the world alive.
In grace and love, God’s call with thrive.

No blind eyes mean loving hearts
loving hearts mean loving souls
loving souls mean loving lives
loving lives mean, love for You.

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Complaining to a Good God….

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:1-6, New International Version)

Rev. Alan Van Hooser has had an impact on my life that he may not even realized. I attended a pastor’s retreat, it had to have been at least ten years ago. Alan led a workshop on prayer beads. It wasn’t something I had ever done or really given much thought. Alan led a great session and it wasn’t long before I was making strings of beads and looking for more. My more was spiritual directors’ training and prayer ropes. I am pretty sure, if it was not for Alan Van Hooser I would not have those things and they have become important parts of my ministry and I am grateful to him for his work and ministry. I am also grateful that when I came to him again, Alan again agreed to help my ministry again as a guest post but you can also follow Alan’s own blog at thethoughtfulpastor.com Alan has served as pastor in several places including Cheatham Memorial UMC, in Edgewood, Texas. He currently serves as pastor at Friendship United Methodist in Porter, Texas.

God has been good to me.  There have been rough places made both of my own choices and things beyond my doing.  BUT, a faithful and loving God, who holds me in the name of Jesus Christ and lives in and through me with the Holy Spirit has used them all to my growth in faith. Yes, I have whined and that has not been fruitful.  There must be a more spirit led way to share my pain and disappointment with God.  Maybe you are there too.

We are in a crisis that has challenged the faith of many.  The rough places of isolation, loss and uncertainty have created a crisis of faith much larger than the threat of physical illness.  Yes, yes “All things work together for good” but what do we do in the meantime. Can we complain to God in our  anger, doubt and fear?  The short answer is yes.  The Bible is full of faithful whining called prayers of lament

Scripture has famous laments from the Psalmist, the Prophets and even Jesus.  (My God, why hast thou forsaken me!) Our God of grace has big shoulders and allows us to speak of negative things.  How does this work?  

Below is a teaching/learning element, a “formula” for a lament created in your own words.  This guideline is a help, a starter that forges faith from the depths of our pain and  grows our relationship with Christ.  How are you praying from your pain?  Try writing a prayer like this.

  1. Sit quietly and write your deepest pains. Just or unjust.  Put them in words and write a prayer in this way
  2. Address God in a personal way. (Example: Almighty, Father, Faithful God-whatever has meaning for you)
  1. Thank God for ALL things.  (Example: Lord you gave given me good, bad and ugly. Thank you for being able so see me through them all)
  2. Complain! (Example: I am all alone, my job is uncertain and I am losing hope)
  3. Confess your own sin ( I confess things done, undone, attitudes and letting fatigue look like doubt )
  4. Pray for HELP! ( I don’t know how to pray-HELP ME LORD. Pray Psalm 13 or other scripture with YOUR NAME in place of the “I’s” and “me’s”)
  5. Trust God. ( God, I am wounded-but even so I will trust you.  (Psalm 51:8)
  6. Finally, offer this lament as a praise (Psalm 51:8. “Let me be happy and joyful! You crushed my bones, now let them celebrate” )

Write this on a card, carry it, revise it, pray it until the “formula” is simply your honest response from your pain to our God. Watch your relationship bloom through the negative things in your day!

Lament and be healed, pray and be strengthened.  Let others  see your witness of faith in the rough places. By being stronger in your relationship with God, you create a healthier community. 

Peace be unto you! God is near.  (Many thanks to Smith and Schoenfeld in “Growing through Disaster” for the outline)

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? 

How Sweet the Sound

By Keith Broyles

Well, it is another Song Style Saturday. I have several songs I could put on here, but I really felt led to talk about “Amazing Grace.” The hymn is arguably the best known and favorite hymn of Christians everywhere. I don’t know that is THE favorite hymn, but it is A favorite. It isn’t my favorite, really it isn’t even close. I personally believe it isn’t the greatest interpretation of Scripture and at best is weak theology, at least a line of the first verse fall into that.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…” Wretch? Really? How do we reconcile being a “wretch” with this.

26 Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”

27 God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. 30 To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. (Genesis 1:26-31, Common English Bible).

A “wretch” like me but we are talking about the same creature that when God made that creature and said, “IT WAS SUPREMELY GOOD.” How can something be both a wretch and be supremely good?” I understand we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. I get that. My thought is, I was created supremely good, but I don’t live in the divine, supreme goodness.

Some of the things I do are wretched. God doesn’t make bad but I do bad.

We have a self-esteem issue in our society. We have plenty of people who already see themselves as worthless. We need to show people of their preciousness and value in the eyes of God. I don’t expect that many of you will agree. That is OK. I also believe in the thoughts of retired Bishop Richard B. Wilkie, our disagreements bother us more than they bother God.

For those who don’t know the story, John Newton was a sea going man, a captain. The two worked on cruise together. On one of the cruises he was on later, he got impressed into the British Navy. It was the taking of someone off the street, as it were, and forcing them to work the ship. From the British ship, Newton was sold to an African tribe. He went from trading slaves to being one and one sold freely.

Newton managed to escape with the help of a crew member who knew is father. He got back to England, got a ship and went back into the slave trade. He went from trading slaves, being a slave and back to trading in slaves again.

Newton gave up the slave trade but not before he penned the lyrics to Amazing Grace. The tune, according to Phipps sounded like an African sorrow chant. Phipps would like to think that all of the hymn came into being by what Newton where little else happened besides the tears, talking, and singing.

Several years ago, while serving in Lovelady, TX, we had finished a Bible study and it was going to be a few weeks before we would begin the next study. I looked around until I found a very short-term study on “Amazing Grace.” Those in my study group were very excited about studying. We learned from this study that no one actually knows the number of verses that people have written over the years.

I have known for years that there were verses written by people other than John Newton, some appearing in hymnals and some have never shown up in a hymnal. They have written them, and the verses remained local, never published. Others may get published but in hymnals outside the mainline denominations. We are going to take a look at the verses written by Newton but also some of the verses written by others.

Verse 1
Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

Verse 2
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Verse 3
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home!

Verse 4
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Verse 5
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease.
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace!

Verse 6
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine.
But God who called me here below
Shall be forever mine!

Verse 7
In evil long I took delight
Unawed by shame or fear.
‘til a new object met my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

Verse 8
I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood.
Who fixed His languid eyes on me
As near His cross I stood.

Verse 9
Sure, never ’til my latest breath,
Can I forget that look?
It seemed to charge me with His death
Though not a word He spoke.

Verse 10
My conscience owned and felt the guilt,
And plunged me in despair.
I saw my sins His blood had shed,
And helped to nail Him there.

Verse 11
Alas, I knew not what I did,
But all my tears were vain.
Where could my trembling soul be hid,
For I the Lord had slain!

Verse 12
Because he died upon the cross,
He paid the price for me.
He bought my soul for his glory,
And now he’s set me free.

Verse 13
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun!

Verse 14
Jesus remember me, he said,
The sinner’s heart felt plea.
The promise made, the story spread
I know He died for me.

Verse 4 is considered by some in the music world to be the “Forgotten verse. I am not sure I agree. I went through several hymnals looking specifically for this verse. The only hymnal I didn’t find it in was the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal. It has verses 1, 2, 3, and 13. The United Methodist Hymnal has six verses, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 13. The only reason I can see that verse 4 would be “forgotten,” we tend in many settings, to sing a limited number of verses. In this case, we might sing 1, 2, 3, and 6. In my congregations we usually sing all six verses in the hymnal. My wife loves the “forgotten” verse 4 and if we don’t sing it, she will want to know why.

This next verse following was sent to me recently. The gospelweb reader who sent it said it was written by Daniel Mitchell, a 15-year-old boy in San Francisco, California. I have not tried to sing it, but it seems to fit well — here it is!

Verse “13” was apparently added by an American, many years ago to the old original version written by John Newton. It is one of my favorites to end this wonderful old song, whatever number of verses you may sing, but fits particularly well either just before the verse beginning, “The earth shall soon dissolve . . . .” and is often used as the ending verse of the song.

There are hymnals with as few as three verses if Amazing Grace. There are others with as many as six. I am most familiar with The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal and The United Methodist Hymnal as they are the hymnals used most in my denomination. The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal has four verses. The United Methodist Hymnal has six.

Verse 14 above, you will not see in a hymnal. It is my contribution to the hymn. While I said I am not a fan of the hymn, it is really just the first line of the first verse we could leave out.

People often have strange and inaccurate ideas about different songs. One webpage I looked at while searching for other information called “Amazing Grace” the quintessential American Song of Redemption.” That Americans love this hymn is beyond question. However, John Newton was a priest in the Anglican Church. He was British. Amazing Grace, in its original form is a British song.
Beyond the traditional tune that contemporary singer Whitney Phipps identifies as a “West African Sorrow Chant” that Newton may have heard coming from the belly of his slave transport ship. People have sung the lyrics of Newton and others to these tunes. These include:

“Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagles. When this tune is used, the chorus of the actual Eagles song with one minor change. The Eagles song just says at the end of the chorus, “…on the ground.” With Amazing Grace those last three words become four words, in one of two versions, “…on solid ground” or “…on Holy ground.”

“The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. Nothing changes in this version except the tune. Some find this version offensive because “House of the Rising Sun” is a song about a house of prostitution in New Orleans. Others see it as the redemption of “House of the Rising Sun.” They find it appropriate because that is what “Amazing Grace” is all about.

“The Theme from Gilligan’s Island – This version has popularity in some circles, others see it as just silly.

“The Theme from the Mickey Mouse Club” – What was said above about Gilligan’s Island is echoed with “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

One of the most popular settings is for funerals, particularly those serving in uniform, has the song played on bagpipes. There is a truly haunting sound in the melody when played on that instrument.

This song has also made its way into film and television. It appears in both The Simpsons and The Mickey Mouse Club. The movie credits for “Amazing Grace include Alice’s Restaurant, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Silkwood. Amazing Grace, Newton’s Grace, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

There is so much information about Amazing Grace entire books have surrounded the one song. It is a rich song performed by many, many artists over the years. It is the most recorded song in history, and it has a special place in the history of hymns and other Christian songs.

Be blessed.

In Search of the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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.