Sleep in Peace

Psalm 4

For the music leader. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

4 Answer me when I cry out, my righteous God!
    Set me free from my troubles!
        Have mercy on me!
        Listen to my prayer!

How long, you people,
    will my reputation be insulted?
How long will you continue
    to love what is worthless
    and go after lies? Selah
Know this: the Lord takes
    personal care of the faithful.
The Lord will hear me
    when I cry out to him.
So be afraid, and don’t sin!
    Think hard about it in your bed
    and weep over it! Selah
Bring righteous offerings,
    and trust the Lord!

Many people say,
    “We can’t find goodness anywhere.
    The light of your face has left us, Lord!”[a]
But you have filled my heart with more joy
    than when their wheat and wine are everywhere!
I will lie down and fall asleep in peace
    because you alone, Lord, let me live in safety (Psalm 4:1-8, Common English Bible).

I am a person who has difficulty going to sleep. The difficulty has always been part of my nights (or days when I worked the graveyard shift). I can lay in bed, for long periods each night and stare at the ceiling. Sometimes I will get up and go do something else for a while. Sometimes I will read a book. As often as not, however, I just lay there, hoping to fall asleep.

The problem? Sometimes I’m just not tired. At other times it is something more. Even if I am tired, I still don’t sleep. The problem is, in my estimation, I can’t shut down my brain. No matter what I try, I am thinking about my sermon for Sunday, I am thinking about how I can best put together an event for which I am responsible. When I was teaching full-time it was lesson plans or grades were due or even what the next day’s lesson would be and how to best accomplish the goal of the lesson. It really doesn’t matter if I have already done the world. I am still thinking about it and how I can make it better.

The psalmist is talking about many things in today’s reading that would have caused many sleepless hours for me. The troubles of life and my reputation can keep me awake.

The psalmist also makes me laugh. He says, “Be afraid…Think hard about it in your bed…” Hey, that is the problem except I don’t have to be afraid. Just about anything can be the source of a sleepless night.

In the last couple of years my sleeplessness has gotten better (except when it decides at times other than the hours of sleep). In the past I would lay awake and think. Now, even if I am thinking, sleep can come on quickly. And, most of the time, I am thankful for that.

The psalmist closes these thoughts saying, “I will lie down and fall asleep in peace because you alone, Lord, let me live in safety.” Those are words for me and all you who are like me. God is with us. We need not worry. And, if we do our part, do our work, the rest will likely take care of itself.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(703)

Refuge in God, the Church

Why do the nations rant? Why do the peoples rave uselessly?
The earth’s rulers take their stand; the leaders scheme together
    against the Lord and against his anointed one.
        “Come!” they say. “We will tear off their ropes
        and throw off their chains!”
The one who rules in heaven laughs; my Lord makes fun of them.
But then God speaks to them angrily; then he terrifies them with his fury:
        “I hereby appoint my king on Zion,
my holy mountain!”

I will announce the Lord’s decision: He said to me, “You are my son,
        today I have become your father.
Just ask me, and I will make the nations your possession;
    the far corners of the earth will be your property.
You will smash them with an iron rod;

you will shatter them like a pottery jar.”

10 So kings, wise up! Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
11 Serve the Lord reverently—trembling, 12 kiss his feet
        or else he will become angry, and your way will be destroyed
    because his anger ignites in an instant.

But all who take refuge in the Lord are truly happy! (Psalm 2:1-12, Common English Bible)

I thought I would share a story (actually more of an idea) with you I ran across in Homiletics Online, an online magazine used by many preachers. I have subscribed since 1998. Other than Homiletics I have no idea who to credit. The writer isn’t named.

“Maybe it’s time for a remake of Frank Capra’s beloved 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life — only this time, with the main character being not a banker, but a minister. Clarence, the clumsy but well-meaning angel, would escort the Rev. George Bailey not to an imaginary Bedford Falls bereft of a savings-and-loan, but one without a single church.

“What would it be like to live in such a community? Would there be the same levels of volunteerism, of civility, of simple human kindness?

What would happen to the teenager who’s been finding refuge from his abusive family in the church’s youth group? Or the divorced single mother who discovered that her volunteer experience as a Sunday School teacher helped her find employment as a teacher’s aide in the local school? Or the potential suicide whose life was changed after sitting down with the pastor in Starbucks for a cup of coffee and a heart-to-heart chat?

Our churches are worth more than we could ever imagine. What we have is more than a building. Of course, the Church is not a building at all. But, that said, even our buildings are worth more than we might think. Sure a dollar figure can be given to a building. A building costs so much to build. A building costs another amount to insure.

Our buildings are worth more than money because for many, they are a refuge from the storms of the world. The church is a place to escape, even if for a short time, the difficulties of life. For a period, we can find refuge from whatever it is that brings weight upon our shoulders. It is a place to learn. It is a place to find peace. It is a place for experience. It is a place with ears to listen.

The question has been asked, “If this church were to close its doors today, would anyone notice.” I would hope so. I would hope so for all he reasons I just said.

But, here is the thing, the building is not what makes the real difference. And in truth, the only refuge a building can offer is physical protection. It can keep the rain off our heads, it might give us refuge from the dark. We can find refuge in the building but it is all about the physical.

The psalmist speaks of refuge in God and how that refuge brings us to a place of joy. The building might be a place to escape, but we really escape to God, and that escape, that protection is of the spirit and it lasts longer than an hour on Sunday morning. Yes, we can feel weight lifted, but it is God who lifts the weight, not a building. Yes, the church building can be a place where we learn, but it is God who is the real teacher. Yes, we gain experience but God leads us in the way of light and life, and in God is where we gain experience. The Church is a place of listening ears. But, while people may listen, God never fails to hear. We always pray the Church might be a place of peace, but we pray because we know that God is the origin of peace.

When we take our refuge in anything of this world, even the Church building, we must remember, the refuge is temporary. We always find real and lasting refuge in the arms of Almighty God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Searching for the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(701)

Restored By God

Psalm 3

A psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.

3 Lord, I have so many enemies!
    So many are standing against me.
So many are talking about me:
    “Even God won’t help him.” Selah
But you, Lord, are my shield!
    You are my glory!
    You are the one who restores me.
I cry out loud to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
I lie down, sleep, and wake up
    because the Lord helps me.
I won’t be afraid of thousands of people
    surrounding me on all sides.

Stand up, Lord!
    Save me, my God!
In fact, hit all my enemies on the jaw;
    shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Rescue comes from the Lord!
    May your blessing be on your people! Selah

I wish I had thought to take a picture of the acoustic guitar I am working to restore as a before picture. It isn’t finished yet but it looks better than when I began. Considering the state it was in when I got it, just to put new strings would have been an improvement. It was completely unplayable when I got it. When it is finished in will be a loaner guitar for Guitars 4 Vets.

Guitars 4 Vets is an organization I ran across a few months ago that uses music to help veterans suffering from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. Being a vet myself, the son of a vet, and the father of a vet, I am very thankful that those issues impacted us personally. I was in the Navy during peace-time and such was a non-issue for me. For my dad, he served on a fleet tanker and was in and out of war zones on a regular basis during the Korean War refueling he fleet. As for my son Wayne, he was on the ground in Iraq when Iraqi Freedom began. I could name others in our family as well. Unlike many during so many conflicts, our family is fortunate. I am grateful.

To look at the Fender Telecaster above, gives me happy feelings. The person who restored this once beautiful guitar, bringing it back to its original beauty did a wonderful job.

The psalmist knows the feeling that goes with restoring something special. That something was a someone and it was him. We don’t know of any particular malady from which the psalmist suffered other than, he apparently had a lot of enemies. Feeling alone and under attack constantly can eventually make one feel like we need restoration.

The psalmist recognizes all God is in his life. God is a protector, a listener, one who answers, a savior, and a rescuer. I am sure we could all name several more things God does. The psalmist names one more too, God is a restorer.

God is in the restoration business. We call it healing. It seems to me, that when we go before God, requesting God heal us, we are asking God to restore our life back to what it was before something tore us down. But, it is important to remember, what God is most interested in restoring is not the body, but the condition of heart, soul, and spirit.

There are more programs out there than just Guitars 4 Vets. I have a cousin who works with wounded vets teaching scuba-diving. There are others too, “X-Sports 4 Vets” seeks to get vets past their troubles by using involvement in extreme sports. “The Sierra Club” has a military outdoors program that works to get vets outside to find healing in nature. “Veteran Expeditions” seeks to aid vets and their families with travel and adventure. “Pets 4 Vets” pairs shelter dogs specially selected to match the personality of the vet. “Heal Our Vets” provides many programs and retreats for veterans with PTSD. “Project Healing Waters” uses fly fishing to help these veterans in need. I haven’t even mentioned programs like the “Wounded Warrior Project,” “Fisher House,” “Disabled American Veterans (DAV),” “Hire Heroes,” and “Project Homefront.” They too work to make the lives of these vets better.

None of us can support all of these but I believe each is a place, a tool God can use to restore the lives of these vets. There are other people in need of restoration. There are probably programs out there that can be God’s tools to do just that.

Perhaps you are a person who needs to know God’s power to restore your life. Do not suffer alone. Reach out to someone. Ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You have already shown your strength, you have nothing left to prove. Let the people who surround you, let the people who love you, let the people who have worked to find a way to use the gifts God has given them to help you, that God might restore you through them.

I am not the greatest guitar player around, but I love guitars and I love vets and I am thankful for what they have given to all of us. I am also thankful I can combine those two loves to make a difference. Find what gifts you have that God can use to make a difference in the lives of these great men and women.

I have chosen Guitars 4 Vets. I would ask you to keep that program and me in your prayers. The closest chapter of Guitars 4 Vets to Lufkin TX where I live, is in Houston. It is 2 1/2 hours away. The program tries to establish chapters where there are VA medical facilities. We have a VA out-patient facility here. I have applied to start a chapter in our community and I will interview for that later this week. I ask that you help me this way, to help the vets of this community.

The most important thing, however, is, open yourself to be an instrument of God to restore people around us. God can and will make a difference. God is giving you the opportunity to be part of God’s restoring grace.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(702)

Facing the Red Sea

Sermon from Huntington UMC, Hunington, TX 1/19/20

19 God’s messenger, who had been in front of Israel’s camp, moved and went behind them. The column of cloud moved from the front and took its place behind them. 20 It stood between Egypt’s camp and Israel’s camp. The cloud remained there, and when darkness fell it lit up the night. They didn’t come near each other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord pushed the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea into dry land. The waters were split into two. 22 The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians chased them and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and cavalry. 24 As morning approached, the Lord looked down on the Egyptian camp from the column of lightning and cloud and threw the Egyptian camp into a panic. 25 The Lord jammed their chariot wheels so that they wouldn’t turn easily. The Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites, because the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the water comes back and covers the Egyptians, their chariots, and their cavalry.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. At daybreak, the sea returned to its normal depth. The Egyptians were driving toward it, and the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry, Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea. Not one of them remained. 29 The Israelites, however, walked on dry ground through the sea. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left.

30 The Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the amazing power of the Lord against the Egyptians. The people were in awe of the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses (Exodus 14:19-31, Common English Bible).

God is faithful! It is a statement most of us would say we believe. Are we sure? Are we sure that when we are facing a big and very real problem or decision that God will be with us and see us through our problem and that everything will be ok? Well, since we are so sure, what would we say to someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

        The late Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite theologians. He is challenging but he is also one of the easier theologians to understand. I have learned a great deal reading and studying his theology. But from learning his story, I have come to respect this man as more than just a Theologian. During his life he has made history. Through the end of his life and death, he has become an inspiration to many, both those who witnessed the last years of his life and death, and people in generations since.

        I don’t know how many of you have heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was born in 1906 in Germany. During his formative years he saw Germany defeated in World War I. He went, first to college and then on to theological school. He even came here, to the United States and studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He made may friends here. He was also an ordained clergyman in the Lutheran Church of Germany.

        Around the time Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, Adolph Hitler came to power. Bonhoeffer and his brothers in the clergy (at that time, the clergy was still an all-male profession), had to determine what it meant to be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ and His Church. On the one hand, you have Hitler doing things to Germany and its people that quickly proved to be evil by the standards of most anyone who would call themselves Christian. On the other hand, you have what Jesus and Paul said in Scripture about duty to the governing authorities. It would not have been an easy decision for me to make, and I doubt it was easy for many members of Germany’s clergy.

        Many of those clergy did align themselves with Hitler and his Nazi German government. Bonhoeffer, a theologian often labeled a pacifist, a tag that, in my opinion, is not all together accurate, went in the opposite direction. He spoke out boldly against the atrocities of Hitler’s Nazis.  For obvious reasons, Bonhoeffer’s life was in danger. His friend here in the States did have some power and influence and managed to arrange an offer of political asylum. At that point Bonhoeffer could have gotten out of Germany, and he did manage to get his family out, but he knew that the flock God had called him to lead was not in the United States. It was in Germany. He continued to speak out against the government. In 1942 the Nazis arrested Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They accused him of being part of a plan to execute Hitler. He floated around between several jails and concentration camps. On April 8, 1945 the Nazis executed Bonhoeffer. The war in Europe would end just after a month later.

        So, after hearing that, do you think God was faithful to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Here is a man that if you read his story and any of his writings, you would know he was a man of great and uncompromising faith. He truly believed God was with him and would see him through all his trials. And yet, he died anyway. An evil government executed him because he was faithful to God. WHY DID GOD LET THAT HAPPEN? Many theologians call this the theodicy question. Why does God allow evil to happen?

        You have heard it before, maybe not by that name, but you have heard it. It goes something like this, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Another version might say, “Why are the wicked allowed to prosper?”

        They are tough questions. They are questions that have no easy answers. And, to make matters worse, there are those who, because they don’t know the answers and cannot find the answers are quick to blame God or say there is no God. In short, these questions keep them from the faith.

        Our lesson this morning is about God’s faithfulness. It is a familiar story. When we hear it many of our minds spring to images of Charlton Heston as Moses in the old movie, The Ten Commandments leading the Israelites across the Red Sea and suddenly seeing the waters come crashing over the top of the Egyptian army. We can easily remember it because that is the point of the movie that had the greatest visual effects. Our kids look at those affects and are not impressed at all, but at the time they were special effects.

        What we may not remember of the story, or even the movie for that matter was that when the Israelites were moving through the wilderness they were running from Pharaoh’s army. Now, with the army hot on their tails they suddenly find themselves facing the Red Sea. And, they started to grumble. “Why Moses, did you pull us away from Egypt and bring us out here in the wilderness to die.” They were afraid of the sea. They were afraid of Pharaoh’s army. They didn’t trust God.

        How like us humans. Remember that God sent Moses to free the Israelites because they were crying out in the suffering of their slavery. And now, because they were facing the unfamiliar, they were ready to go back. To quote the old cliché, “Better the devil we know.”

        We too have our Red Sea moments with Pharaoh’s army on our tails. We live complicated lives and have complicated decisions where none of our choices seem to be the right choice to make. If we move forward, we think we will drown in the sea, and if we move backward the coming army will stampede us. What should we do? It seems a no-win situation.

        I feel certain that Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have felt that way when he saw what the Nazi government was doing. If he spoke out against them, he moved into the Red Sea, he risked his life and seemingly spoke against what Scripture said. But on the other hand, if he retreated to Pharaoh’s army, stay quiet and let the government continue unchecked, he risked the lives of others and went against what he believed, jeopardizing his soul. You can almost hear the torment in Bonhoeffer’s words when he prayed, “Whoever I am, I am thine.” I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer was facing the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army hot on his tail.

        We know what happened in the lesson. God told Moses to hold out his staff and the sea split and the Israelites crossed on dry ground. As expected, Pharaoh’s army followed the Israelites into the Red Sea. After all the Israelites had crossed, God had Moses hold out his hand again and the waters closed over the top of the enemy army. In the lyrics of an old youth camp song, “all of Pharaoh’s army did the dead man’s float.” In this lesson we see an example of God’s faithfulness. As Moses and Israel faced this problem, God was faithful to them and saw them through.

        But can the same be said of God in all the problems we face? Can the same be said for Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He died. The Nazis executed this great man of faith. Where was God’s faithfulness as Bonhoeffer faced his Red Sea?  Why didn’t God open the Red Sea for him? Again, there are no easy answers. But I believe God was there. I belie God was faithful to Bonhoeffer. I believe Bonhoeffer knew God stood with him and that God was still faithful to him.

        On the day the Nazis took Dietrich Bonhoeffer away to his execution, he preached to his fellow prisoners. He preached from Isaiah 53:5, “By His stripes we are healed.” One prisoner said Bonhoeffer found just the right words to express the spirit of their imprisonment. Immediately following the little service the guards came for Bonhoeffer. Everyone gathered knew where he was going. He told an English prisoner, “This is the end – but for me it is the beginning of life.” A doctor who witnessed the execution said that just prior to the event, Bonhoeffer knelt and prayed. The doctor said he had never seen anyone go to the gallows so serenely. Bonhoeffer could do that because he knew God was with him.

        You see, we must remember that even when we face the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army hot on our tails, God is faithful. But we also must understand God may not be faithful in the same way we picture in our mind. Our focus is on the army and on the sea, but God knows what is on the other side. We see the problem, and we may think we know the solution, but God knows it far greater than we.

        God knew the Israelites needed to see divine power in order to truly know who was leading them. God needed to get their focus moved from their problems and onto God so God could lead them in the difficult days ahead.

        In Bonhoeffer’s case, I think he was already focused on God and what God was calling him to do. And, I believe God did open the Red Sea for Bonhoeffer, perhaps not in the way any of us might imagine, but God opened the sea none the less. God opened the Red Sea by making a way for Bonhoeffer to preach, at least for a while, to people who needed the Good News in their lives. God granted to Bonhoeffer the opportunity to preach against the terrible evils of Nazi Germany. God allowed Bonhoeffer to touch the lives of prisoners who needed to hear that God was still with them. And, through his writings, we can see the blessing of God even in the darkest hours of human life.

        We all, at times in our lives, face the Red Sea. I think most of us also know that it feels like to have Pharaoh’s army chasing after us. We all have problems that seem to have no solutions, at least not any good solutions. We face problems as individuals and as a congregation. Moving forward seems difficult at best, we might even have to swim. But going backward is impossible. When we face those problems in our personal lives or when we face them together as members of the church, we can be like the Israelites and stand together as members of the Church, we can be like the Israelites and stand around and complain about the mess we find ourselves in. We can dream about how good things used to be while fearing the future. Or, we can remember that even in this time, and this situation, God is faithful, and that God will see us through. God will open the sea in front of us, perhaps not in the way we imagined, but the solution will come and we will move forward on dry ground. The requirement for us is to remember we are God’s children. We need to look forward and watch and see the power of Almighty God!

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

If it Feels Good Do It (or not)

16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:16-21, Common English Bible).

It was a rallying cry of the 1960s and 1970s. Who that lived through that era did not hear the words, “If it feels good do it”?

A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon where I talked about slang in general and used examples from each decade. Remember the 80s when “Bad” was good and the 90s when it was all about the bling. You don’t hear that much about “Bling” anymore. Such terms tend to come and go. Another example from the 1960s was “Keep On Truckin.'”

There are other words and phrases that seem to transcend time and generations. The word “cool,” meaning great is a good example. Another is, “If it feels good do it.” While you usually don’t hear some of the other words and phrases from the time like one of the biggest buzzwords of the 60s, “Groovy,” seems to all but have disappeared. The same can be said for, “Keep On Truckin’.”

And then, there is, “If it feels good do it.” That phrase was license to do pretty well anything you wanted. It is a phrase that has transcended the 60s. But then again, it has transcended the firs century.

Contrary to what children of the 60s might think, they did not coin the term. Paul uses it in our lesson today. The big difference between the two is, those in the 1960s used it as a license to carry out whatever they wanted to do. Paul, on the other hand, uses the phrase as a warning. Paul even gives us a short but inconclusive list, telling us exactly what he means. Paul warns against immoral sexual behavior, sexual motives, moral corruption, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that.Paul tells us it isn’t a comprehensive list.

There is nothing wrong with doing things that make us feel good. But that also means there is something more here to consider. We find that in verse 17. Paul writes, “A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires.” As I read that verse, it seems to me that the key is in, “our selfish desires.”

As I consider Paul’s words, I can’t help but think he means when we live in an attitude of, if it feels good do it, we are living for ourselves instead of living for God.

I have to ask, when we work out our selfish desires, are we living for God or are we living for ourselves.

If it feels good, do it, as long as you are doing it for God. With God, nothing will ever feel better than anything else. So, if it feels good, DO IT, just make sure you know who you do it for.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

In Search of the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Reboot and Rebuild

Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33, Common English Bible).

OK, it is confession time for me. When I left full-time ministry a year ago, I fell out of some of my habits. I neglected prayer time. I often forgot to spend time listening to God through meditation. Reading and studying Scripture was probably the second thing that fell by the wayside when I started teaching. The first one, without question, was this blog.

Since school let out last May and because I did not return to the classroom (except as a substitute teacher) any excuse I had (and they were not good excuses) really disappeared. It occurred to me that if I was going to be honest with myself I needed to start with admitting to myself that the excuses I used then were pretty lame. But, even worse, today there are no excuses.

For years I have been pretty good about remembering prayer time. I might not always remember all I was supposed to include in my prayer time, but I did remember to pray. I never fully abandoned prayer. When I first started the daily commute to school, I used my drive time, particularly in the morning for prayer time. I figured when Cindy or someone else was in the car I would talk to them. Why couldn’t I talk to God while I driving? It sounds reasonable enough but it wasn’t long before that prayer time was lost to listening to audiobooks during my commute. As I said, I never fully abandoned my prayer times but it was far short of what it had been only a few short weeks before.

The thing is, I would still pray before meals. I would still pray breath prayers as an ambulance or law enforcement or fire fighters past my way. I developed a new habit shortly before I started in the classroom. When someone would ask me to pray for them, I would take the time to stop and pray with them at that moment. I had come to a realization that I would forget and neglect people I had promised would be in my prayers. By praying right then, even if I did forget, I would have been there with my prayers at least once. I did manage to keep that going too.

I guess what I really missed was, I didn’t take the time to listen to God. Prayer is actually pretty simple when you just float a laundry list of requests out there and leave prayer at that and that was my prayer life. I would throw out all the things I wanted God to do but never worried about what God wanted me to do. I realize today, I need to get back to praying the right way, having a two-way conversation with God.

I quit writing things on my calendar. Why bother? My days were pretty structured so why did I even need a calendar. The calendar the school gave me pretty well kept things where they needed to be.

I neglected writing in my journal. I wish I had a written record of my teaching experience. I remember some but certainly not all. I wish I could go back and remind myself of some of the things I experienced and a journal would be a real help.

I also realized I completely dropped what I did on this blog. For months at a time, there was nothing here at all. I told myself that, since I was no longer a full-time pastor I didn’t need to do this anymore. But the truth is, I know I had readers who were not, and likely never will be part of a church I serve. I also know that these pages were part of their devotional readings. I let them down when I stopped writing.

A thought occurred to me today. Over the years in ministry, I have had people say, “Preacher, I used to go to church all the time. I guess I just got out of the habit and once I got out of the habit it is really hard to get back in the habit.”

I don’t think I ever understood that. Even now, I never got out of the habit of going to church. But, that is probably because I am expected to be there, every Sunday. And, while I was no longer full-time, I was still a pastor and it is generally accepted that the pastor will be in church. I did keep up with that one.

I really didn’t understand that getting out of the habit thing until now. I realized, missing worship may not have been a broken habit but all this other stuff was. I don’t have the excuses, bad as they were, for neglicting the spiritual habits that had become an important part of my life over the last 30 years and I still fall far short of where I was a mere 18 months ago.

Another thought occurred to me. It has to do with the Scripture reading. Because I was neglecting these habits and letting them fall to the ground and lost, I was not putting the Kingdom first. Everything else took precedent.

If I am going to be more faithful, I have to get back into these habits. Being faithful means I need that time with God be be filled with faith. I cannot neglect the things hat have become important to my faith walk.

I pray that I will continue to work to re-establish what were some pretty good habits. They are far to important to me to ignore them for the foreseeable future and likely beyond.

Is there something keeping you from seeking first the Kingdom?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

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

"Kindness for Christmas"

December 22, 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11, New International Version).

Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Tomorrow, congregations around the world that use Advent wreaths light the fourth candle, the “Love” candle. Traditionally, the Church has assigned these four theological necessities to the four candles on the outside of the Advent wreath. This year, possibly more than any past year, I have found myself reflecting on their meaning in current American society. Can we really say these things are our desire?

Cindy’s favorite verse in the Bible is part of the passage above. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I understand why she likes it so much. It’s words, however, are words easily forgotten in our polarized society.

As we have witnessed this week with the impeachment of a president on the one hand and the cries of “do nothing Democrats” on the other, it should be enough to make us all question not only the relevance of these four concepts but even their existence. Are they extinct?

For those who think I started talking about the Advent candles and now I have gone political, no, not really. But, I do remember back to one of the Presidential debates during the 2016 campaign. A citizen, a voter asked both Secretary Clinton and President Trump to say something nice, something they respected about each other. To me, it was one of the extraordinary moments of that debate for sure, and really to the entire campaign.

Secretary Clinton said she admired the now President’s family, their loyalty to one another, the way they honored their commitments and more. She said what she admired about President Trump’s family pointed to Mr. Trump himself.

President Trump said he admired Secretary Clinton’s tenacity. He said she was a fighter and she never gave up.

Before this question in the debate both candidates threw a great deal of mud at one another and this Kum-ba-ya moment didn’t last long. They were back at each other’s throats in a matter of moments. But, at least to me, it was a moment of fresh air during a time of unprecedented mire and muck by both candidates. And, three plus years later, we seem to be right back in the slop.

To me, with Christmas less than a week away, in a time when polarization is so present, not only in our politics, but in so many places in our society. We can see it on the streets, in our clubs, and even in the Church where we continue to see divisiveness on a number of issues at every level.

Is there hope? Can we find peace? Do people have joy in their lives today? Where’s the love? It seems to me that all these things are co-dependent on each other. Is there hope when there is no peace, joy, or love? Can we find peace in a world without hope, joy and love? How can we have joy if we do not also have hope, peace and love? And, if we are to believe Scripture, love really isn’t possible without the other three.

Most importantly, however, the only way any of these things become possible is through the birth of a tiny baby who would come into the world bringing all four. That fifth candle, the one in the center of the Advent Wreath, the white candle, the candle that represents Christ makes the other four possible. We have hope because of the One born of a virgin. We have peace because of the one given the name Jesus. We have joy because this baby would grow into a man who became a Savior. That Savior, Jesus Christ, gave us the ability to love, because as we are reminded in 1 John, He first loved us.

As I was writing this, I was also watching an awards show I had not even heard of before. I am not usually a person who watches award shows, EVER. When we turned the television on, it happened to be set to the station showing “The Musial Awards,” named after and honoring the late baseball great, Hall of Famer, Stan “The Man” Musial. The awards that carry his name to honor those who exemplify great sportsmanship and sacrifice.

When we first turned it on, they were telling the story Darius Kruah and Aaren Crane, two boys from different elementary schools in North Augusta, South Carolina. They were part of running clubs at the schools and competed against each other in the 100 meter sprint, assigned to lanes next to each other. Before the race the two had never met. The race started and the boys were in a virtual dead-heat for the lead when, for Aaren, the unthinkable happened. He tripped and went crashing into the track. He put his arms out in an attempt to break his fall. He ended up breaking his wrist. That isn’t the important part of this story. Darius, now, with the elimination of his closest competitor, was going to win the race. No one would catch him. Well, except for one thing. Darius, in a show of sportsman ship, sacrifice, and I would argue love, stopped, turned around, and went to check to make sure his fallen competitor was OK. He gave up his chance to win to check on another competitor who became his friend.

The Musial Awards were filled with such stories. The two runners who were both struggling and joined hands to encourage each other to finish the Pittsburgh Marathon.

There was the Forest Lake Christian School volleyball team. They were in the state tournament semi-finals and scheduled to play the girls from Paradise High School. Two days before the match, wildfires, so common in California destroyed the entire town of Paradise. The Paradise girls had lost everything, including their uniforms. No one really expected the Paradise girls to play with their entire community devastated. In a team meeting the Paradise girls decided overwhelmingly that they would play. That was when the Lake Forest girls went to work. They got donations from all over to help their competitors with what they needed. They also got Paradise new uniforms, with the girls names on the back. They got every number correct.

Then there was Henry Farsca, a nine-year-old Boston Red Sox fan. Henry got the chance to go to Fenway Park and watch his beloved Red Sox play the Baltimore Orioles. Before he went to the game Henry sat down and wrote a fan letter. It wasn’t to one of the Red Sox as we might imagine, but to Orioles’ first baseman, Chris Davis, who was in the midst of a Major League Baseball record hitting slump. In his past 54 at-bats, Davis had not gotten a hit. A term often used in baseball is “picking someone up.” That is what Farsca did for Davis. Farsca wrote a letter to Davis and gave it to the right person, who passed it on until it got to Davis right before the game began. In part it said, “The way you play baseball has nothing to do with how good a person you are. Also, you are incredible. You played in the MLB for a long time, and everyone goes through a slump. Don’t give up. We’re rooting for you.” Davis read the letter before the game, went to bat in the first inning and hit a two-run single.

Those are but a few of the stories from The Musial Awards. Should you get a chance to see them, I commend them to you. There are many heart-warming stories.

In all these stories we can see evidence of the Advent candles, of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I have no idea of the faith of any of those involved but I do know, the One who gives Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love is in the midst of all of us, giving us all these great gifts and so much more. The One who gives us these things also gives us the tiny baby whose coming we celebrate in the days to come.

I want to leave you with a challenge and I pray it carries forward for longer than Secretary Clinton’s and President Trump’s few kind words to one another in the last election. I want you to add someone to your Christmas list. This isn’t someone you already have there. It isn’t someone that is your friend. Find a rival and do something for them. You don’t need to go buy a gift, but do something that says you see the good in them.

Jennifer Dukes Lee said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Such an act would be an act of kindness. It is also something of an example to our polarized society. It might even be the beginning of how we change the world.

Have a blessed day and a Holy Christmas.

Grace and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2019, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.