Saturday, March 28, 2009

#34 The Jordan of Life

Joshua 3:17 “Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.”

About two weeks ago I was traveling to Lansing. I had meetings that I needed to attend there for professional development. But I had also been having trouble with my car’s suspension and desperately needed to get it fixed. My front struts and rear shocks were worn out and the car was not riding or handling very well at all. I likened it to what it must have been like to ride a wagon along the Oregon Trail. Because the front-end of the car was so terribly worn and out of alignment my tires that I just bought in November of last year became nearly worn out too. The tire on the front right was worn to the point that you could see the steel belts showing on the outside edge. In light of that I had parked the car for about a week and half until I could order the parts and get them installed.

While in route to Lansing just below Alma and not quite to Ithaca my tire blew out. And as is often the case, I was talking on the phone. After all, a pastor’s car is a mobile office. To make it worse, I was in the left-hand lane and leaving a voice message for one of our church families. I hurriedly told their answering machine I just had a tire blow out and I had to go. I never thought about how it may scare them to come home and hear that message. By God’s grace, I was able to get to the right-hand shoulder and out of the traffic flow. I did not get hurt at all. I calmly got out and began to dig out the spare tire to exchange it for the damaged one. No problem right? Wrong.

Since the front end was messed up I was afraid to put the spare on the front so I moved the rear tire to the front and put the compact spare on the rear. So far, so good. That is until I lowered the jack and brought the full weight of the car to bear on the spare which I quickly discovered was flat also. In brief, I was unable to make any phone calls and get help so I decided to pray. I asked the Lord to please send me someone to help air up my tire. I even asked the Lord to have someone with an air compressor to stop by. But after about fifteen minutes no one had stopped. I began to doubt the Lord. I began to ask the Lord why He was not sending someone to my aid. Finally, I decided that the Lord could not bless me unless I tried to help myself.

I remembered the children of Israel who were eager to pass into the promised land under Joshua’s leadership. They came to mighty Jordan and needed to cross over. The Lord caused the waters to stop flowing and the priests carried the ark into the dry river bed first. They stood there with the ark until all had crossed over and then they came on across. I knew the Lord would go before me if I was willing to follow. The idea came to me that I needed to take off my little spare tire and begin walking so that is what I did. I had been on the roadside for about 40 minutes and no one came to my aid.

As soon as I followed the Lord’s leading and began walking down the road with my tire, a car pulled over in front of me. The two gentlemen offered to carry me to a station to air up the tire and they brought me back to my car. They even waited until I got it put back on and they followed me a few miles to make sure it was going to hold. What a blessing they were to me. But that blessing did not come until I was willing to go where the Lord led me.

This morning I can’t help but wonder how many of you may be waiting for something to happen in your life. I can’t help but wonder how many of you need to take action on issues in your life. How many of you desperately need something to happen for you but it seems that all avenues of opportunity have been exhausted? I would encourage you to of course first seek the Lord in prayer and fully surrender you heart to Him. Let Him have full control of your life and be willing to move as He gives you guidance. Just remember that God will go before you and prepare the way if you are willing to get up and do your part too. God wanted to help me fix my tire but He wanted me to do my earnest part and not just sit and wait for help to come to me.

For 40 minutes not one soul stopped to see if I needed anything. The moment I start walking down the shoulder with my small tire a car with two of the nicest guys you could ever meet pulls over. Friends, I want to encourage you to make sure that you are prayed up and then ask the Lord to show you how you can move for Him. Ask Him to show you how you need to move forward in faith knowing that the Lord will lead you where you need to go. He will make a path when there is no path and He will open doors where there appear to be no doors. Nothing is impossible for God to accomplish in your life!

Dear Father God,

We praise You and give You glory and honor on this Sabbath morning. We thank You for this life and the opportunity to serve You. We ask this morning that You would give us encouragement to know that You will lead us where we need to go. You will show us paths heretofore we have not seen and You will give us guidance beyond what human reasoning can devise. Father, we thank You for Jesus that we can have a Savior and Lord who loves us more than we can truly know, and we thank You that He will lead us all the way to heaven if we will simply follow Him completely. Give us motivation to do our part. Give us the courage to step across the Jordans in our lives. This we pray in Jesus holy name, Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2009

#33 The Rope Will Hold

2 Timothy 1:7 NASB "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline."

As a child I did many things that I had no business doing. Can anyone relate? Far too many I am sure. One of the things I did as a child was climb on things. As I have mentioned before, my granddad ran a junk yard and I would spend hours and hours combing over the hills there and roaming all over. Long before I was ever born or even thought of my great granddad owned the property that became my granddad's where the junk yard was. While the land belonged to my great granddad he sold a right of way to the local utility company so that they could come across the land with high-tension power lines. The lines were very high up on towers. These towers were very accessible as they had no fence around them. Not only were they accessible, they were quite inviting to little boys who loved to climb. My buddies and I had climbed on the lower rails of this tower many times. We could see a long ways off over the hills and it was really fun to see how far we could climb. We would only go so far though because we did not understand electricity and we were afraid if we went too high we would get shocked to death. One day when I was by myself I was walking around the junk yard and decided it was a good day to climb the tower. It was still morning and dew was on the groundÅ and on the rails of the tower. I noticed that the rails were slick when I started to climb but I was not concerned about it. I began my way up. Fortunately for me I did not make it very far-about 10 or 15 feet-when I lost my footing and came tumbling down the side to the ground. Praise the Lord I did not break any bones. The grass was sort of high and the ground was relatively soft because it was not a traffic area for the junk yard. The only thing that was broken was my desire to climb, and from that day on I developed a fear of unsecure heights.

That fear followed me into basic training for the Army. Part of our training was to learn how to repel down a wall. We marched out to the obstacle tower and when I saw it my heart began to beat very fast. The tower was fairly big and the top of it was about 70 feet high. After they briefed us on what was going to happen they divided us up and sent us to the various stations for the training. I was among the first group to go to the tower. They walked us up the long steps and when we reached the top we had to get down on our knees and crawl to the place where we were to go over the wall. I was so glad when they told us to get down and crawl. I felt so much safer that way. They had apparently had Soldiers fall off the tower before so they remedied it by having everyone in training crawl when on the top of the tower. We made our way around to the various stations where the drill sergeants were instructing Soldiers on what to do. I purposely made my way to my favorite drill sergeant. He seemed to like me so I thought it would be better for me. When I got there I was shaking like a leaf on the inside. He asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was alright but he knew otherwise. He looked at me in the eyes and he told me, "You are going down that wall and you are going to be fine. You hear me?" I just shook my head in affirmation and slid out over the wall. When I first went out all I could think of was whether or not my rope would hold. I had to place my feet along a little wooden ledge then lean back on the rope and let it hold me. That was a "lean" of faith because there are a few moments before the rope catches you and it feels as if you will fall backwards off the tower. Thankfully the rope caught me. I sat there trying to get my bearings until the raspy voice of the drill sergeant snapped me back to reality. He again looked me in the eye and said, "Bentley, get off my wall. Kick off and remember your training." With that I was off. I kicked off and began to lower myself down the 60 foot wall. After the very first kick I was having a blast. In fact, repelling was one of the highlights to basic training for me. I actually wanted to do it again, but we could only go once.

I see much of what we do for God in the same light as my sitting in a rope harness hanging by a small rope off the side of a wall. Sometimes when God calls us to do something for Him we bring with us all the fears that we have accumulated during our lives. The fears are often well justified just like my fear of unsecure heights was founded in the reality of my fall from the electric tower. But just like I had to push through that fear to accomplish my training for the Army, we too have to partner with God to push through our fears of serving Him and witnessing for Him. Far too many of us allow fear of rejection and fear of failure to cripple us to the point where we may not do the things that God has called us or equipped us to do. I have known some people who never do anything for God and they always make excuses instead of sincerely praying about God's calling and then stepping forward to serve as God equips them to do so. Friends, it is my sincere prayer that as we approach these last days of earth's history that each of you would ask the Lord where He would have you to serve in His work to take the gospel to a world that is dying and in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear Father God,
As we approach this Sabbath we would lift up our hearts in praise to You. We want to thank You for Your manifold blessings. Father, as we consider pushing through our fears to do your will in our lives, I ask that You would forgive us where we have failed You in the past. Please wash away the stain of sin that has crippled us from doing Your work. Please give us a spirit of power and love and discipline as You have promised through the apostle Paul. We want to have Your power when it comes to winning souls and we thank You that You are abundantly able and willing to equip us to serve You. It is in Jesus' mighty and holy name that we pray for these things and offer our praise, Amen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

#32 Just a Short Fall

Proverbs 16:18 NASB "Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit
before stumbling"

We have been blessed with three wonderful children and we love them dearly.
Yes, sometimes they make you want to pull your hair out but that is just
part of being a parent, right? I have always loved to watch the kids play
and discover things. They are so curious and want to learn everything at
once. You really have to keep a keen eye out or they will run off into the
street or who knows? Right? I can recall back when we were living in
Collegedale and I was attending Southern Adventist University for my
ministerial training. I worked most evenings at the Village Market and did
not get home until after 9 most nights. One evening I received a call from
Ginger and she was in a bit of a panic. She told me that the kids were out
back playing and all was great...for a while. During this time we had a
Little Tykes play set that consisted of a very short sliding board and a bit
of a climb-around portion. It was a really small thing designed for kids 3
and under and the kids loved it. That evening while the kids were playing
Carson made his way up the small steps to slide down the slide. When he got
to the top he lost his balance-not uncommon for 18 month olds-and went
tumbling to the ground. Like all children, he had fallen hundreds of times
but this one was different. When he got up he was crying uncontrollably.
When Ginger went to pick him up and comfort him it made it worse. After
about 30 minutes of crying without ceasing she decided to call me. She told
me the story and I asked her to load up the children and come to where I
worked only a few miles away. She made great time getting there and so I
went out to check on Carson. When Ginger told me that it seemed to hurt
Carson worse when she picked him up I feared that he had broken a bone.
Sure enough, when I ran my finger across his collarbone area on the left
side I could feel a bump that should not have been there. The x-rays
confirmed that his little collarbone had snapped and I was so impressed with
the way that Carson handled it all. He was so brave through it all. Who
would have thought that such a short fall would have broken his little bone?
Not me, that's for sure.

When I think back on Carson's ordeal it causes me to think about sin in our
lives. We all seem to set sin up on a scale that ranges from minimal to
monumental. I have heard so many people in my life say, "It is just a
little thing. It won't hurt anyone," or there is the ever-famous, "It's
just a little white lie" as if color has anything to do with mitigating the
disdain for sin in God's eyes. If you had told me that my son falling 18
inches to the ground would have fractured his clavicle I would have told you
that you were crazy and that little fall was not capable of breaking a bone.
Boy, would I have been wrong. Many people have the same mindset when it
comes to sin. They think that as long as they don't get washed away into
"big" sins then all is well. Friends, I am here to tell you that is a lie.
When God inspired Paul to write that all have sinned and come short of the
glory of God in Romans 3:23 he did not mean that all have just committed
"big" sins. The truth of the matter is that sin is sin. Period. If you do
something that is contrary to the will of God then you are guilty of sin and
worthy of death. It does not have to be some so-called big sin like
stealing or murder to be counted as sin in God's eyes. No, anything that we
know to do as revealed to us by God through His word or His messengers God
expects us to get in line and adhere to it. In James 4:17 we learn that sin
is anything that we know to do and don't do it. So I encourage each of you
to not fall into Satan's trap of thinking that as long as we are not
involved in "big" sins that we are Ok. Let us all realize that we are not
Ok apart from Christ. Let us all realize that even what seems like a small
sin to us is a slap in the face to our Savior. Let us all realize that even
a short fall can break us. Me may even walk around unaware that something
has happened inside after we choose to do a little sin, but if we do not ask
for forgiveness and for victory over that "little sin" then it could very
well lead us to fall in another area of our walk. I urge each of you this
evening to not let pride and arrogance get in the way of spiritual growth.
Instead, let the God of grace and mercy fill you with His Spirit to the
point where you too despise sin and sinning just like God does. I urge you
all to not let a short fall be the pathway that leads you away from God in
the form of a broken relationship with Him.

Dear Father God,
This evening I thank You for the reminder that even seemingly little things
can serve to sever our ties with You. I thank You that You love us beyond
what we can imagine and that You long to give us victory over sin. Please
cleanse us each one tonight and wash away the blot of sin on our hearts.
Give us victory please even over the so-called little sins in our lives. We
do not want any spot of sin left upon our characters because we do not want
to miss heaven for anything in this world. Mend us where we are broken I
pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

#31 Weeds and Corn

1 Corinthians 8:1 NASB "...we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge
makes arrogant, but love edifies."

When I was growing up I took every opportunity I could to go to my
grandparents. As I have shared before, my granddad owned and operated a
junkyard so there was always things to get into. Some of them good and some
of them...well, not so good. Enough said for now J. Apart from running a
salvage yard, my grandparents always had a garden to raise their own
vegetables. Both of them had grown up during the Great Depression era so
they fully understood the value of knowing how to provide food for yourself.
When I was a boy I was not very inclined to want to work in the garden. I
would much rather be off riding my bicycle or running through the woods or
who knows what else, but my granddad was intent on seeing to it that I knew
how to garden. He would take me out there in the blazing North Carolina
heat where I could stand and watch his small, red-belly Ford tractor dig up
the hardened earth. I was always so impressed with how straight he could
plow the rows after he tilled the earth. I never realized how good pawpaw
was at plowing until I watched my uncle do it one day. His lines looked
more akin to contemporary art than rows for a garden. Even though I was not
really into the whole gardening thing I was always fascinated with watching
everything sprout. It still amazes me that God placed the ability for a
plant to grow out of such a small thing as a seed. The only bad part apart
about the seeds coming up was that the weeds seemed to be in a race with the
seeds to occupy the same space. So the horrid job of weeding the garden
then provided me job security that I wished had not existed.

Hoeing weeds was not something at which I found immediate success. In fact,
my first time nearly became my last. I can recall it was so hot that the
dirt seemed to be melting, and my pawpaw thought it a great time to go out
and weed the garden. He began to talk and tell me what he wanted me to do,
but my mind was thinking of nothing but the small creek that was just a five
minute walk from the house. So while the instructions for weeding the
garden were given out I was not engaged at all. He set me at the corn row
and he went on the other side to the beans. At this stage in my life I was
not very skilled at distinguishing between corn and weeds. In fact, I made
no distinction in the least as I hacked my way across the row of corn.
Somehow I had it in my head that I was to clear the ground of anything
green. Fortunately for my pawpaw he came to check on my progress and to his
horror I had cleared the row of all plant life for about 20-25 feet. His
loud questioning brought my hoeing to a stop as he asked me why I was hoeing
up the corn too. I explained that I thought I was doing what he asked me.
Of course I did not want to admit that I was not paying attention to the
instructions when we set out, not that I needed to explain that fact at that
point. My failure to make a distinction between weeds and corn encouraged
my pawpaw to then walk me through the garden to show me the difference
between the wanted and unwanted vegetation. Fortunately for the whole
family, I learned the difference and we were able to enjoy the fruits of our
labors that summer and fall.

I liken this scenario to the way Christians interact with one another in the
church. Sometimes it is hard for us to recognize the difference between
those in the church family that are solid, mature Christians and those that
may be weaker in their faith. Sure there are some outward indicators but if
we do not take the time to look for them we may not recognize that our
fellow sojourners on this planet may have struggles for which they need our
patience, love, compassion, and acceptance. When we fail to see this we may
say or do things that are very hurtful. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 8
where Paul discusses this very thing as it relates to the eating of meat
that was offered to idols. You see, in those days Pagan worshippers offered
daily sacrifices to their false gods and idols. They used only a portion of
the meat in the actual sacrifice and the remainder of the meat would then be
sold in the market or served in the idol's temple. Paul makes the argument
that many know that there is no such thing as an idol in the sense that the
so-called gods they represent do not exist. Therefore, it does not matter
if the meat was offered to one of these manmade objects or not. He goes on
to say however, that some among them still regarded the idols as being real
because they are weaker in their faith Paul says. One could even say they
were fresher in their experience in some aspects and they still required
growth in that area. The problem comes in when both groups attempt to live
and worship together. The more mature in their faith may unknowingly cause
the weaker to fall because of their maturity. But by causing the weaker
ones to fall we sin not only against them, but also against Christ ( 1 Cor
8:12). In essence, when we walk through our Christian existence and take no
regard for others around us we end up hoeing up the weeds with the corn
because we destroy those in our path. Sure it may happen innocently enough,
but that does not negate that it happens. And if we do something in our
walk with total disregard to those around us are we truly following the way
of Christ? I would have to say that to follow Christ is to be mindful of
those around us and to mingle with them with the intent of bringing good to
all we meet. Friends, as you spend time with one another in God's family
be mindful that we all have similar and different struggles. Be careful
that what you do does not negatively influence or cause to stumble one among
you that may have a weaker faith. Be one who edifies the body of Christ.
Surely the world is full of those who seek to destroy it.

Dear Father God,
It is my prayer this morning that You would give us eyes to see and ears to
hear that we may know how to interact with one another in Your family.
Lord, we know that we are all at different levels of spiritual growth and it
is essential to recognize and appreciate this within the body of Christ.
May it never be said of any of us that we took no regard for those around us
and simply lived how we choose to do. But may we live our lives with the
intent of serving others and ultimately serving You. Lord, please give us
the wisdom to know how to not needlessly offend others, but if we do cause
another to stumble please give us the courage to go and make things right
with them. Lord, we realize that life is too short to be at odds with one
another and we need Your eyes to recognize how we should act. Please make
straight our paths as we seek to acknowledge You in all our ways. In Jesus'
name we pray, Amen.