A Plant Held without Love

In Memory of Faithful Former Church Member

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. 25 While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’

28 “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.

“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’

29 “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvest time I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.”’”

3Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 Jesus replied, “The one who plants the good seed is the Human One. 38 The field is the world. And the good seeds are the followers of the kingdom. But the weeds are the followers of the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the present age. The harvesters are the angels. 40 Just as people gather weeds and burn them in the fire, so it will be at the end of the present age. 41 The Human One[d] will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that cause people to fall away and all people who sin. 42 He will throw them into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Those who have ears should hear.” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Common English Bible).

It is another “Song Styles Saturday.” I am sharing with you today a poem I wrote with the intention of putting to music but have not done so yet. This is a poem I have wanted to write for a few weeks not.

I have always loved the parable above. I think I have preached that lesson in just about every church I have served. I preached this text one Sunday. It was a sermon that went well. A man met me at the door. The region around this church was known for one particular agricultural product. This man was a principle grower. As he was leaving worship that morning we shook hands and he said, “Keith, a weed is just a plant nobody loved.” That was more than 15 years ago. It has obviously stuck with me since and has grown to mean a great deal to me.

I discovered a few weeks ago that he had passed away. I am not sure how long ago but he is someone I will not forget and my poem “A Plant Held Without Love” I write in memory of him. If I can get permission from his family, I will edit this post to give him the full honor due him.

Once a man was a little tike,
He looked around both day and night
A gift for mom, he knows she’d like,
Flowers would make her day so bright.
Colors of yellow, green and white
A child’s gift seems so so very right?

Dandelions that bloomed held in hand.
In Mom’s vase he knows they’ll look grand
Mom kissed and squeezed her son’s small hand
Some told him that his flower was weed
But he gave flowers for loves deeds
Were his flowers now only weeds?

Weeds he can’t understand or see,
Nor hear about while watching TV?
Flowers still bring to his Mom’s glee.
Despite the words for weeds he hears
Strange sounds that ring loud in his ears
As some eat dandelions with cheer.

Blooms that are weeds he says can’t be.
Some see flowers and some see weeds
And the dreamers of bright green leaves
People drool over harvested sheaves.
Food for the journey, strength for now,
Ready to serve, this is my vow.

Strong dandelions push up, won’t quit
A plant that grows through dirt and grit
One plant that we see in three ways
Flower, food, and weed seem to stay
A paradox in a firm plant
For people to decide we can’t.

Weeds he can’t understand or see,
Nor hear about while watching TV?
Flowers still bring to his friend glee.
Despite the words for weeds he hears
Strange sounds that ring loud in his ears
As some eat dandelions with cheer.

Today the weeds won’t go away
See God’s faithful are here to stay
God’s great harvest will come one day
The weeds and wheat, will move apart
God calls us to reach out for hearts
So all are here for God’s next start.

May we know God’s love for all these
The sprouts, the weeds, the wheat, and leaves
We pray to God, all will know Thee.
Repent so forgiveness we’ll see.
To live alone our love will decay
All are weeds we meet on the way.

Weeds he can’t understand or see,
Nor hear about while watching TV?
Flowers still bring to his friend glee.
Despite the words for weeds he hears
Strange sounds that ring loud in his ears
As some eat dandelions with cheer.

Along our way, we think we know
We judge the weeds so they won’t grow
Yet even wheat is stomped and mowed
The man said God does see all three
A weeds not loved by you or me
Lord forgive me, for this I plea.

A weed is a plant, hated by all
It is beaten down large or small
A weed is a plant nobody liked
Dug with a spike, cut with a knife
A weed is a plant, held without love
May I treat all like you above.

Weeds he can’t understand or see,
Nor hear about while watching TV?
Flowers still bring to his friend glee.
Despite the words for weeds he hears
Strange sounds that ring loud in his ears
As some eat dandelions with cheer.

A weed is a plant, hated by all
It is beaten down large or small
A weed is a plant nobody liked
Dug with a spike, cut with a knife
A weed is a plant, held without love
May I love all as you above.

A weed is a plant, hated by all
It is beaten down large or small
A weed is a plant nobody liked
Dug with a spike, cut with a knife
A weed is a plant, held without love
May I love all as you above.

A weed is a plant, held without love
May I love all as you above.

Be Blessed,

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Making Lollipop Moments

28 One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

32 The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34, Common English Bible)

Yesterday we talked about Drew Dudley, a guy giving away lollipops to people during college registration. While jokingly playing “matchmaker” with his supply of lollipops, he was just out having some fun. He had no idea they would take him seriously. The girl found Dudley on campus four years later. She tells Dudley that she and the guy started dating and had kept dating all four years of school. She tells Dudley he had made a difference for at least one student, her. That day, she was ready to give up before she ever started. Drew and that lollipop made a huge difference for her. And the biggest part of the story? Drew Dudley could not remember the encounter with the girl and her now boyfriend?

About six years ago, every Wednesday I went to the local elementary school and listened to kids read all day. Most of them were behind grade level and the teacher thought reading to me might get them move closer to grade level.

When Julius’ teacher came in, she said she was going to send him to me. He was three grade levels behind in reading. For the whole school year, I listened to Julius read. We would talk and he told me he was afraid he would be taken from his family. He and his six siblings lived with grandma. His mom was in jail. No one knew who his dad was. The two of us just talked.

One day after I had finished listening his teacher came in to take Julius came in to take Julius back to class. She sent the boy back to class, She said, “I want you to know how much you have helped him.” She reminded me that at the beginning of the year, he was three grade levels behind. At the end of the year he was back on grade level. I told the teacher that Julius’ improvement had more to do with her than with me. She was with him five days a week. I was with him for an hour.

She said he also went from being a behavioral problem to a model student. She was convinced it was because he had a positive male role model. That was something new to his life.

I knew what I was doing mattered. If it didn’t I would have found something different to do with my Wednesdays.

Steve was a student in my government and economics classes. I also had him in my psychology and sociology classes. Steve said he wanted to be a psychologist when he finished school.

He was the first student I met at that school. Once school started I saw some problems in his writing. It wasn’t a huge deal but he and others struggled with their writing. Because of that struggle, I had them write more than I might have otherwise. One day, write after I had given them a writing assignment, Steve asked, “Have you ever thought about being an English teacher and writing coach?”

Steve and I talked one day this week. Steve is the only one of my former students that I talk with. I wanted to see how he felt about his first year of college went. He said it was great. He was particularly thankful that I had pushed him in both of my classes. He said, “Whether you know it or not, you have made a difference for me.

Lollipop moments are those times when we make a difference with those around us. I am thrilled to hear someone say I made a difference. That is what I do. That is how we do it. I love talking about how these kids have touched my life. I pray the mark I leave behind is a changed life. Changed lives are my goal in life.

So, what can we do to impact lives and change lives to figure out ways we can go out, and with God’s help have lollipop moments.

  • Volunteer to tutor math or reading at your local school
  • Clean up a park
  • Buy a meal and give it to a homeless person
  • Give a homeless person get clothes from a thrift shop. Help twice.
  • Sew blankets for kids in the foster-care system
  • Smile at someone who is obviously having a bad day
  • Work with an elementary school teacher to have a class birthday party during school one day and celebrate everyone’s birthday.
  • Go to the local nursing home and do something directly with residents
  • Go to the local nursing home sometime that isn’t Christmas
  • Teach someone something.

I have barely scratched the surface of what these moments might look like. You can make a difference. It doesn’t have to be big it just needs to show you care.

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Open My Eyes So I May See

Yesterday, I started Thinking about “Song Styles Saturday,” my mind still thinking about the death of George Floyd and the plight of my African-American friends in situations I take for granted.

I have thought often this week about with my friend Gilbert, a man of African-American descent. We were attending a retreat. He needed a ride. I gladly gave him one. I just exited I-45 at Texas Highway 19 outside of Huntsville. As I rounded a curve I saw a Texas State Trooper. I saw my speedometer. I was over the speed limit and I knew… I made my way onto the shoulder, stopped, and waited for the trooper.

Once at my window he asked for my license and insurance. I had them in hand. He read my license and said, “Mr. Broyles, I stopped you for exceeding the speed limit. Where are you going?” I told him.

About that time he glanced over and saw Gilbert. The trooper’s attitude changed. He was courteous to me. He was less so with Gilbert. He didn’t use foul language and there were no racial slurs but his language, facial expressions and tone were harsh. He made it abundantly clear he was not happy to see Gilbert whose only mistake was riding with a guy who wasn’t doing a very good job of maintaining his speed.

I tried to steer the situation back to me. I have never wanted a speeding ticket but would gladly have taken one that day to get Gilbert out of there. I said something about getting my ticket. The trooper said (again courtesy – he turned it off and on like a switch), “Mr. Broyles, I will have you on your way in a few minutes. I need to address this first and please don’t interfere.”

He flipped the switch again, asked Gilbert a few more questions, then he went back to his cruiser. When he returned, I got a warning ticket, I was surprised. He told Gilbert to be careful in that area. He flipped his switch one more time and said, “Mr. Broyles, have a nice day.” As he walked back, I drove carefully away.

I apologized to Gilbert. He was so gracious to me. “It’s not your fault,” he said. In a way it was. If I paid better attention to my speed it wouldn’t have happened.

I should apologize to Gilbert again. Until this week, when other friends reminded me, I forgot about that day. When the retreat began, for me, it hadn’t happened.

When I thought about my song for today, Something had bounced in my head much of the week. The tune I kept thinking about was “Open My Eyes, that I May See” but with different words.

Yesterday I got out a hymnal and read the original lyrics. It struck me that this old hymn speaks to the world this week. Take a look at the lyrics by Clara Scott. She penned the tune as well. She published the song in 1895, shortly before her death. I believe it is still relevant.

  1. Open my eyes, that I may see
    Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
    Place in my hands the wonderful key
    That shall unclasp and set me free.
    Silently now I wait for thee,
    Ready, my God, thy will to see.
    Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

2. Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth thou sendest clear;
And while the wavenotes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee,
Ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!

3. Open my mouth, and let me bear
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee,
Ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Though Clara Scott’s words speak so well to our current world, I still had lyrics I wanted to get out of my head and onto paper (as it were).

“Open My Eyes, I’ve Failed to See”

[Verse 1]
Open my eyes I’ve failed to see
The fate of friends did not touch me
That will protect and let them live free
No fear of hate but liberty.

[Chorus]
My hardened heart has left it be,
Compassion for those not like me
The privilege I have, I didn’t see
Lord change me.

[Verse 2]
Open my ears I need to hear
The oppressed voices far and near,
And as the cries sound deep in my ear
Lovers of peace should have no fear.

[Verse 3]
Open my mouth with words to share
Words to be filled with love and care
That justice may stand, divine love our brand
God’s love you show to ALL in our land

[Verse 4]
Open my soul, the world to see
Love those you’ve placed all ’round me
A world of justice, Lord let it be,
For all your children, violence must cease

Be Blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Seeing Jesus Part 1

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6, English Standard Version)

I have always enjoyed pictures of Jesus. The picture above is a particular favorite. It is a favorite because I remember it hanging in our house when I was young. It was my first thought, my first idea of what Jesus might have looked like. I am pretty sure that when I was very young that I thought this picture was exactly what Jesus looked like.

Thou I seriously doubt this was the next picture of Jesus, I have little doubt that a picture similar to this would have been my next understanding of Jesus. While Santa Claus was a regular Christmas visitor in my childhood home, the importance of Jesus’ birth was also an important part of the season.

I remember the first time of hearing of Jesus at the temple I was puzzled about how they could have lost him. I couldn’t imagine a circumstance that my parents wouldn’t know where I was and really couldn’t imagine them leaving me behind.

I remember this picture from Sunday School as a boy. I am sure we didn’t study Jesus Baptism every year but it seems like we talked about it a great deal and this picture was a regular part of those discussions.

This picture and similar pictures were also present in Sunday School as we learned of Jesus carrying his cross.

Another picture from my memories as a child of Jesus carrying his cross.

This picture is part of my Easter memories for many years.

This picture is not a childhood memory. I am not sure exactly when I saw this picture. The pictures I remember from childhood were always from the outside and the stone was rolled away. Seeing the inside of the empty tomb today is much more memorable.

Another Resurrection picture I remember from childhood.

Peter stepping out of the boat. I distinctly remember asking my Sunday School teacher if Peter knew how to swim. I remember he said, “Probably not.” My thought was, ‘If he can’t swim, why would he get out of the boat in a storm.'”

The story of the Woman at the well has been a favorite of the Church for many years. She was an outcast among outcasts. After talking to Jesus she went and told her story, “Come meet the many who told me everything I ever did.

Another story I liked as a kid. I imagined myself as the boy with his lunch. Because of his generosity Jesus did something extraordinary. He fed all those people. Scripture says he fed 5000 plus women and children. 15000 people or even more could have bee fed that way.

I can remember these kinds of pictures even if I don’t remember this particular one. It wasn’t until I was in ministry that I realized the significance of this picture but even realized it was part of the story was even there. There were initially five loaves and two fish. After everyone was served and was full, there were more leftovers than there was food in the beginning.

Leonardo da Vinci could have used the help. From my teenage years I remember this picture. I always found it significant that in da Vinci’s mind, they didn’t use one long side of the table.

I included this picture because it is the first picture I remember seeing that showed me the idea that Jesus may not look like me, a white male. It also demonstrates to me that each of us may have our own image of Jesus in our minds.

Be Blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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.

Smart and Not Afraid: Fear Factor

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 New Revised Standard Version)

When I was doing youth work during my first two years of seminary, I had a set of rules I gave the kids. Initially there were four. I told them if they would follow those four rules I wouldn’t have to make up any more. Yeah, they tested me and I did have to make up a few more. The new ones and three of the original four don’t matter for our purpose today but the last rule said, “God gave you a brain, please use it. If you think it might get you in trouble it probably will. Don’t do it.

Once upon a time NBC television show called Fear Factor? We never watched it much. The first time I saw it, I knew I wasn’t going to watch much. I knew they were in constant violation of Keith’s last rule. God gave you a brain please use it.

Contestants were challenged to do things that seemed more than just a little frightening. There were no snakes that first show but I knew it was coming. Too many of us have that fear.

I got no push back from Cindy. Her fear is heights. Christopher did give us some push back but that was to be a teenager giving his parents a hard time.

I wouldn’t have participated in the show. The prize money was $50,000 and that isn’t enough. Even without snakes, there were scorpions, bugs, maggots, and worms to name only a few.

I question the sanity of bee keepers allowing bees to cover his their face giving them a bee beard. I am not worried about getting stung by a bee. I have been stung before and probably will again. It isn’t pleasant But, to be stung by hundreds of bees. No.

They might had contestants dangle from a rope, attached to a helicopter 100 feet in the air if the scorpions, bugs, or snakes were not enough. After a few years they started running out of ideas and had contestants start eating and drinking things most of which were just plain disgusting. If you don’t know, trust me on this one. You DON’T want to know.

In 2017, MTV ran the show. The stunts became even more extreme, and more disgusting. In 2018 Fear Factor got cancelled for the final time. Eating bugs, carrying worms in their mouths, being covered in maggots all fall into that category of, what were you thinking, God gave you a brain, use it.

Last week we began a sermon series, “Smart and Not Afraid.” We talked about fear and how it isn’t a bad thing. Want to be tough and not afraid of anything. We talked about researchers reporting on benefits fear can bring to life and at the top of the list was, fear keeps you safe.

God gave us fear. Though my fear of snakes sits squarely in line with an irrational fear, Snakes can kill a person and they scare me. That isn’t the irrational part. Snakes on television or in a movie scaring me is. I won’t watch Snakes on a Plane or Anaconda those titles mean that movie is rated “K” for Keith stay out.

That’s where that youth group rule enters into Fear Factor. If I am irrationally afraid of snakes, that rule says, “God gave you a brain, please use it.” Don’t do something you fear, at least not without a plan it could bring harm to someone.

In Scripture, Jesus and others say, “Don’t be afraid.” At times, all of us are afraid. OK, not Jesus and probably not the angels, but the rest of us have fears. If you think your not afraid, you just haven’t found it. We are afraid of something.

Last week Paul said, to “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” There are only a few times in Scripture where fear might be thought of as a good thing. In the Old Testament particularly, the words “fear God” or “Jacob feared God” are used. That fear is considered more respect and awe. But, make no mistake, there should be a little fear of God’s power there too.

Last week I said, every time I preach there are a butterflies in the pit of my stomach. I can go be a public speaker in front of a big crowd and not be bothered. My fear is not public speaking. When I stand here, there is a tinge of fear because I know I speak for God. When you speak for the creator of the universe, if there isn’t fear, go sit down. This isn’t your calling.

In today’s lesson, Paul asks, in the Keith paraphrased version, “If God is on our side, can anyone or anything stand against us?” Think about that. If God is for us can our greatest fears be against us? Paul continues “God did not keep Jesus on the bench, even knowing what awaited Jesus God gave him for us. If God would do that, if God loved us that much, is there anything God wouldn’t give us, the faithful? If God says we are acceptable , can anyone bring anything against us? No! Christ died, Christ was raised, and now Christ is at God’s right side, speaking for us. Isn’t that a kick. No matter what we have done, no matter what we have or not have, Jesus is sitting with God and talking us up. Can anything, Paul asks, separate us from the love of God in Christ? Can trouble, suffering, hard times, hunger, nakedness, danger, I am going adding fear, or even death?

 No, Paul says, we who run scared, we with irrational fears, are conquerors who win a sweeping victory by faith, by grace, because Jesus loves us.

Still in the Keith paraphrased version Paul goes on, NOTHING SEPARATES us from God’s love—not life, death, angels spirits, the present past, or future, not powers above or below, NOT EVEN OUR FEARS. Nothing, nothing in the universe can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ!

Ingrid Betancourt camaigned to be president of Colombia when she was kidnapped by guerrillas. They held her in the jungle for six years. With fear her companion, she learned to use it and grow. They carried her into the jungle. She thought they would kill her first she thought. The first night the guerrillas put an iron collar around her neck and bolted her to a tree, high enough that her toes barely touched the ground. There she stayed all night with one sadistic guard watching her. He tormented her all night, degrading her, and stirring up all her fear and emotion.

New days meant continued torment . Every night fear ruled her. She had panic attacks, tremors, and cold sweats. The more fear shown, the more her tormentor played on her worst feelings. One day she vowed to kill him. For weeks she plotted and looked for opportunities to execute the plan. One day she stopped. She said she wouldn’t allow herself to become one of them and began living in defiance. Things were difficult she wasn’t going to allow them to turn her into something she was not.

Not long after her moment they carried her further into the jungle. They built a concentration camp with twelve foot high walls topped with barbed wire and guard towers in each corner.

She overcame using many principles and lifted up three. The first was to be guided by her ideals. They wouldn’t turn her into something she wasn’t. fter arriving at the camp someone yelled for the captives to number off. When at her turn she yelled, “I am Ingrid Betancourt. I am not a number, I have a name. If you want to know I am here, call me by my name.” The guards went crazy but it was nothing compared to the hostages. They feared she would get them into trouble. But, she was living out of her ideals. She was human. The others were too. She wouldn’t give up anyone’s humanity.

Her second principle was, to build unity. The guards new their jobs and they did them well. They manipulated with fear, mistrust, whatever would tear them apart and make them feel alone and isolated. She worked repairing damage. Her first escape attempt was with Lucho. They tied themselves together. By day they hid. At night they got into water with alligators and piranha, allowing the current to carry them downstream. Lucho was diabetic. They slowed and when he became sick, and the guerrillas caught them. Because she stayed with Lucho unity grew among her and the captives. She couldn’t leave Lucho behind Her ideals wouldn’t allow it.

The third principal, develop faith. Ingrid said by this point she had a master’s degree in escape. One captive, a former police officer she called Pincho, was held the longest. He asked her to help him escape. She was surprised. He was more afraid than anyone. They first had to teach him to swim, not easy for a prisoner. One day he asked Ingrid, “Suppose I am in the jungle and wander in circles unable to find my way out. What do I do?” Sbe said, “Pincho, grab a phone. Call the man upstairs.” He said, “I don’t believe in God.” Her response was classic. “God doesn’t care, He’ll help you anyway.” A few days later, Pincho was gone. The guards said Pincho died, claiming finding his body half eaten by an anaconda. Seventeen days passed. Ingrid knew because she had counted each torturous day. On day 17, news exploded from the radio: Pincho was free and alive They heard him say, “My fellow hostages are listening. Ingrid, I did what you said. I called the man upstairs, and he sent a patrol that rescued me.”

Not long afterward, the Colombian army rescued all the hostages. It was six years for Ingrid. She learned the transformation power of the principles she learned, to live by her ideals, to foster unity, and develop faith. Ingrid always felt fear. It wasn’t about not having fear. It was about surviving. Without ideals she wouldn’t have fostered unity and without unity she wouldn’t have had the faith carrying her and others through.

I believe she also lived out my last rule. She used the brain God gave her to do all those things. To do otherwise, the person she had been wouldn’t survive. And, most importantly, she knew that NOTHING would separate her from the Love of God in Christ Jesus her Lord.

_____

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

We Search for God

Hear the birds, sing songs bright
Can’t hear God, in day or night
God speaks we hear not with ears
Is God near?
 
We search for God in how we feel,
Don't taste God in the meal,
We breathe and try to smell,
God's near, and my soul is well
 
Eyes that try fail to see,
That my God is near to me,
My senses are short of the mark
Sight's in the dark.
 
We search for God in how we feel,
Don't taste God in the meal,
We breathe and try to smell,
God's near, and my soul is well
 
We can feel what God made,
The Lord is near in what we taste,
Senses fail our souls do know ,
God’s near hearts grow.
 
God gives the rose for sight and smell,
Feel dog fur, hear church bells,
We taste and see God's good
Sense and soul I’ve understood.
 
Gifts of grace from God are good.

Sighs too Deep for Words

Today is Song Saturday. Each Saturday I bring you a poem or song lyrics from either an original poem/lyrics or perhaps from another poet/lyricist. Most weeks I have done fairly well at bringing original work. Today’s post is also original work.

Earlier this week, as I was working on something else I happened on Romans 8:26 (you can read the verse below). I’ve read it many times before as Romans 8 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. As I looked at it this week, the verse spoke to me. Yesterday I wrote the lyrics.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did writing it.

Song Lyrics Based on Romans 8:26

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26, New Revised Standard Version).

Intro

Verse 1

With beaten soul, my world struck down,
Devoid hands look for Jesus’ crown
The pain grows deep, I seek a way,
Friend, where will my empty heart stay.

I’ve nothing left, but one small seed
Restore me this, broken soul pleads.
These broken strings play songs not heard
I pray with sighs too deep for words.

Prechorus

With my deep groans far out of tune,
Help me Lord to sing your song soon.

Chorus 1

No words to speak, no song to play,
I am empty, fill me I pray
These broken strings might play songs heard
I still pray with sighs too deep for words.

Verse 2

Temptation surrounds God’s people,
I’ll praise God, under the steeple,
Freedom calls me, fly like the birds,
We pray with sighs too deep for words.

Prechorus

Deep groans now coming into tune
I know I’ll sing God’s great song soon.

Chorus 2

I still can’t speak, no song to play,
I am empty, fill me I pray
New strings to strum play songs now heard
And l pray with sighs too deep for words.

Bridge

Spirit power enter I pray
Fill me with grace, your love to stay
Lord when I pray, you’ve always heard
Yet I pray, sighs too deep for words.

Chorus 3

For this old string, there’s life anew.
The sounds of Grace, you play here too.
God’s sounds are sung, your blessings heard
I speak with sighs too deep for words.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Believe: Faith and Grace to Forgive

 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[a] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10, New International Version).

Leon was one of the more interesting men I have known in my life. He passed away a few years ago and like so many who served in various ways during World War II, we all owe him and so many more who served then and now a great deal.

 Leon lied about his age after the war began so he could join the merchant marines. If there was a job more dangerous than being in the military during the war it was being a merchant mariner. Despite having lived all his childhood on the coast he had no idea he was prone to seasickness. He told me he was seasick the entire time he was in the merchant marines.

That didn’t stop him from learning his lessons as a merchant marine, both the good ones and the not so good, more stereotypical lessons. Leon had a mouth and you can take that in just about every way imaginable. He was, what we in the navy called, a crusty old salt. I heard some people refer to Leon as a banty rooster. If you didn’t know, a banty rooster, when talking about a person, is a short or small, often aggressive person. That definition fit Leon to a tee.

Still, most people knew Leon to be a good man. A man who would do just about anything for you, though he would gripe about it the whole time he was doing it. He really wasn’t mad about it. That was just Leon.

 One day I had the opportunity to sit and have a long conversation with Leon. I really don’t remember the subject of the whole conversation nor do I remember how we got onto the subject of confession and forgiveness. Nevertheless, we did end up on that topic. I do remember Leon’s words in this particular conversation, “Preacher, if you knew all the things I have done you would know there is no way God can forgive me and I’ve seen to much to ever ask for it.” They are words that still send chills down my spine.

Leon was right in that I don’t know everything he has seen or done but I think he was absolutely wrong that God can’t forgive him. If there is anything I know about God, it is that God is in the forgiveness business and thankfully, there is more grace in God than there is sin in us. Friends, if that isn’t true, there isn’t much reason for any of us to have hope and joy is worthless. But I also do know, we have plenty of reason to hope and to have joy.

This is the fifth of six posts on “The Apostle’s Creed.” Over the previous posts we have looked at most of the creed beginning with, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” We talked in that post about how God created everything we can see in the universe as well as everything we can’t see. None of this happened by accident.

We moved on to “I believe… in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord… and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall judge the quick and the dead.” As Trinitarian Christians we believe Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. God the Father being the first person and God the Son being the second person. Being the second person of the Trinity Jesus is fully divine but as one who was born, lived and died as a human Jesus is also fully human.

Our third post looked at the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. We saw how the Holy Spirit is God at work in our lives today. The Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus on earth. Without the influence of the Holy Spirit our lives will fall short.

Yesterday’s post moved us forward and showed us the United Methodist understanding of the holy catholic church and the communion of saints. We understand the word catholic (with a lower-case “c”) is universal and that church is not a building but all people who profess the name of Jesus Christ. Just as we all are also the church, we are also all saints by our belief in Jesus. The communion of saints is the body of believers, both past and present.

Today’s post has us getting near the end of the creed as we talk about, “the forgiveness of sin.” As a lifelong sinner, and no, I am not proud of it, oh, and by the way, you too are a lifelong sinner, as a lifelong sinner I am grateful for this line of the creed. I believe in the forgiveness of sin. I believe, unlike Leon, there is very little that God cannot or will not forgive. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the one unforgiveable sin but to be really honest, I am not all together sure what that is. So, I went and asked Mr. Wesley. In his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament John Wesley writes, “How much stir has been made about this! How many sermons, yea, volumes, have been written concerning it! And yet there is nothing plainer in all the Bible [since I didn’t get this Mr. Wesley isn’t helping my ego much]. It is neither more nor less than the ascribing those miracles to the power of the devil which Christ wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost.” I think I can safely say I haven’t heard anyone in my life, including Leon say Jesus’ miracles were the work of the devil. So, it seems to me, we are probably pretty safe on this one. Few, if any of us, at least by Wesley’s definition, have committed an unforgiveable sin. So, let’s move off that one, shall we?

Our lesson today is all about sin, confession and forgiveness. I believe, when we read these words from John’s first letter we can see that there are two keys to forgiveness. First, we have to acknowledge that we have sin in our lives.  There are people around us who believe, because of their faith, they are no longer sinners. I have talked to them and they think once they accept Jesus Christ they no longer sin. Folks, nothing could be further from the truth. John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us….  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

 The Huntington River Gorge, near Richmond, Vermont, is beautiful but deadly. In the last forty years, twenty persons (mostly young adults in their twenties and thirties) have lost their lives in the gorge. Hundreds of gorge swimmers have been injured.

On the surface the water of the gorge looks calm and placid, but beneath it are strong currents that run swiftly over treacherous waterfalls and whirlpools. Public safety officials have designated the gorge “the single most deadly place in the state.” Warning signs have been posted on a side of the gorge, reading, “When the water is high due to rain or snowmelt, especially powerful currents can easily sweep you over the falls and trap you underneath the water.”

People have debated what to do about the gorge for years. Some argue for more public information about the gorge’s risks. Others want to ban anyone from visiting the place. Meanwhile, the gorge continues to attract swimmers to the scene. One college student attending the University of Vermont — just fourteen miles from the gorge — said she had heard about the beauty of Huntington River Gorge and wanted to see it. She said people already know about the dangers and try their best to be careful. “You can’t change the water, and you can’t stop people from going in,” she said.

Sin is like that. Something can look so beautiful, on the surface, but underneath the surface is where we find the difficulty. And, try as we might, we can’t stop one another from doing it. Sin is going to happen. The key is in knowing, realizing there is sin in all our lives. We cannot, we will not escape it.

Once we acknowledge the sinfulness in our lives, the second key, according to John, is confession. “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Did you hear that? “If we confess our sins…” If we want to find forgiveness from God, that forgiveness is rooted in confession. I don’t mean confession as in going to confession as our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters find meaningful and important. And, I would interject they have a point too. While we don’t understand it to be necessary to confess to a priest, confessing to God is the real standard, there is something about confessing to another person that can be very valuable as that person can be an accountability partner who helps keep us away from the sin that brings us down again and again. There is also something about hearing our own voice saying our sins out loud to God. But, we have to confess and I mean really confess.

When Roger Barrier left home for college, his mother — who had always done his laundry — made a canvas duffel bag for him. “Put your dirty clothes in this every night,” she said. “At the end of the week, wash them at the Laundromat.”

Seven days later, he took his dirty clothes to the Laundromat. To save time, he thought, he threw the duffel bag into the washer, put in some laundry powder, inserted the proper change, and turned on the machine. Moments later, a loud thump, thump, thump, thump echoed through the Laundromat. A pretty coed approached him with a grin. “I watched you load your washer. I think the clothes would get cleaner if you took them out of the bag.”

One day, when his relationship with God was hurting, he remembered his laundry episode. He realized the way he confessed sins — “Dear God, please forgive me for all the sins I’ve committed today” — was about as effective as his first attempt at washing clothes. Each sin needs individual attention.

But, when we faithfully confess our sin, we will find forgiveness. I seriously doubt there is anything in your life God will not forgive.

A South African woman stood in an emotionally charged courtroom listening to white police officers acknowledge the atrocities they had perpetrated in the name of apartheid. Officer van de Broek acknowledged his responsibility in the death of her son. Along with others, he had shot her eighteen-year-old son at point-blank range. He and the others partied while they burned his body, turning it over on the fire until it was ashes.

Eight years later, van de Broek and others arrived to seize her husband. Hours later, van de Broek came to fetch the woman. He took her to a woodpile where her husband lay bound. She was forced to watch as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed his body. The last words her husband said were “Forgive them.”

Now van de Broek stood awaiting judgment. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked the woman what she wanted. “Three things,” she said. “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.

“Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.

“Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him, too. I would like someone to lead me to where he is seated so I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.”

As the elderly woman was led across the courtroom, van de Broek fainted. Someone began singing “Amazing Grace.” Gradually everyone joined in.

If this woman, a finite creature, can find it in her heart to love and forgive after crimes against her and her family as heinous as those, how much more can God, an infinite in power and love and forgiveness, forgive us, God’s children.

You see friends. Really, it isn’t about us at all. This isn’t about our sin, not really anyway. This is about the infinite love and forgiveness of God.

There is one more thing I want to say about God’s forgiveness. When you or I forgive, we might forgive but it is really hard to forget. The event, regardless of how hard we might try, remains locked into our minds. But when we confess our sin and ask for God to forgive, it is gone.

A couple of weeks ago I ran across a story on The Upper Room’s website about a boy who had kicked a ball and broken a window in a neighbor’s home. When confronted the boy admitted what he had done, and the neighbor forgave the boy. It was a great story.

But it got me to thinking. Not long ago I had to go to one of those people who fix the chips in your windshield. I had had a rock hit mine and I had a small crack. The guy who worked on it did a good job. I am happy with his work. But you can still see the chip just a little bit. The cracks are still visible if you look closely.

When that boy confessed his sin, he confessed breaking the window, it is like God taking a cloth and wiping the window clean. Those cracks that we can’t fix, no matter how hard we might try, for God, they are wiped clean. No more crack. No more chip. No more break.

That is forgiveness. For God, when we confess and God forgives, the slate is wiped clean. What good news that is for you and for me.  No matter how many times I say it as part of a creed, I believe in the forgiveness of sin. I believe the grace of God is at work in my life and in your life to wipe that window clean of all the cracks I put in it. I am thankful for that grace. I am thankful for divine forgives. I need, we all need, the forgiveness of sin.