Brokenhearted and Crushed

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34:17-22 ESV). There is a relatively new practice developing on the fringe of mortuary preparation of the deceased for wakes and funerals. Though not the first time this has been seen, the body of David Morales Colón was placed on his motorcycle in a peculiar “viewing ceremony” that his family requested after he was murdered in San Juan, Puerto Rico in May, 2012. There have been others documented through the years, but this one certainly seems to have been one of the most extreme. I suppose it may have brought some comfort to the family. The idea may be abhorrent for you to even consider. However, it does underscore a universal truth. Grief from the death of a loved one is always difficult to deal with. It simply isn’t a pleasant thought, but at various points in life many of the people we love most are going to die, parents, spouses, friends, siblings, and sometimes, children. The stats on death are 100%. For everyone who lives, death eventually comes. We don’t want to think about it, but it’s a reality of life. When it comes, we need to remember the stages of grief shock, numbness, denial, anger, depression, and eventually acceptance. The holidays are even more difficult as we experience the empty chair at the table. The emotion can be overwhelming. No wonder the psalmist directs us to the comfort of the Lord. He is the only one who can give us hope in such a trying time. There are also some other practical steps you can take if you are one of those who are going through such a time: First, remember it’s a process; it can’t be rushed, but it doesn’t last forever. Second, with the help of God, it can be a time of growth. And, if you don’t know God, get to know Him. Third, seek the help of others. We all need the support of others to get through it. Fourth, remember that the first year is the toughest. Don’t try to make major decisions right away; give yourself some time. Fifth, for the believer, you can live with the hope that you can see them again. Grief is tough, but with God’s help and the help of others, you will make it. Trust in the One who has conquered death...

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He Will Raise You Up!

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. (Luke 7:1-10 ESV). I love this story. It is such a contrast to our modern culture and the present generation who questions everything with an all-encompassing and challenging “why?” The centurion almost sounds like a dictator in the way he gives orders and had them obeyed immediately. But that was not how he came across. On the contrary, he is portrayed as a thoroughly nice man. We may not know his name, but everyone in Capernaum would have. A Roman officer, true; to the locals, though, this man was much more than just a representative of a hated foreign army of occupation. He was a respected and generous member of the community, very sympathetic to the Jewish religion and way of life. What Jesus saw in him was something even more laudable. To the centurion the whole command-structure of the military was second nature. Experience told him that when he gave orders, things happened, because the whole authority of Rome stood behind him. But faith told him that Jesus too must have behind him just such an authority, indeed, an even greater one. He simply believed that Jesus’ authority was unquestionably supreme. There couldn’t be another any higher or greater. Jesus had proven his authority even more so that Rome. What many Jews found hard to grasp was obvious to this gentile. Since Jesus was repeatedly doing miracles of healing, he clearly had behind him the full weight of the “Supreme Command.” That was why he could even forgive sins in the name of God. I have so many people who simply failed to make the connection that this soldier made. We find ourselves in the midst of a crisis and question whether God’s good will could possibly be done. Our first inclination is to question why such a calamity should befall us instead of simply trusting the almighty sovereign Creator and Savior. Take a few minutes and listen to this song by the Celtic Women at Shane Castle. He will raise you...

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The Flat Earth Society

Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder— no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end— they stumble over the bodies! And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms. Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?” Where shall I seek comforters for you? (Nahum 3:1-7 ESV). Members of the Flat Earth Society claim to believe the Earth is flat. Walking around on the planet’s surface, it looks and feels flat, so they deem all evidence to the contrary, such as satellite photos of Earth as a sphere, to be fabrications of a “round Earth conspiracy” orchestrated by NASA and other government agencies. And, no, I’m not kidding! The belief that the Earth is flat has been described as the ultimate conspiracy theory. According to the Flat Earth Society’s leadership, it has been growing rapidly since 2009. Over 200 people (mostly Americans and Britons) per year have joined since then. You may visit their web site, or read some of the current literature, which speaks quite plainly about the trickery perpetuated by NASA and science in general. For them, it’s all a conspiracy. The oceans are actually secured by a mound of ice at the edges. These folks may not catch your attention, but there are subtle principles at work in their lives that we ought to take notice of in our own lives. Too many people seem to believe that our culture is stable. We seem to deny where we are heading and what counts in the end. Many have missed the core truth. This is the truth of our reading today. Nineveh (the known center of the world at that time) is not sovereign; its markets and entertainments are not permanent, its army is not strong enough. “I am against you, says the Lord of hosts” (v. 5). God plans to heal the nations, to redeem his people, to establish His eternal kingdom. The Ninevites did not see it. Their earth was flat. That certainly did not change the outcome of God’s purpose for history. We are on the eve of a New Year. There are so many things that pull for our attention. Some of them are important; most of them make very little difference in the plan and purpose of God. As ridiculous as the Flat Earth Society may seem, we can fall into such a false sense of our power to determine the future so easily. Today, God wants you to believe his Word and put your life in his hands. What better day to start fresh than today as we peek over into a New...

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The Kingdom of God

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:1-6 ESV). When Matthew announces the coming of John the Baptist he makes a simple declaration of his purpose. He was to declare “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Having been a preacher for over forty-five years I can identify with John. There really is only one message. It is much simpler than most of us make it to be. God has never desired to make that message so complex that we could not understand who He is and what He has done on our behalf. We see a key in the Greek word that Matthew uses for “kingdom.”  It is basileia, which can be defined as kingship, sovereignty, authority, rule, especially of God, both in the world, and in the hearts of men. It points fundamentally to the realm in which a king sovereignly rules His people. It does not refer to the realm over which He rules, but His subjects. This is a reference to the kingdom where God’s will is done. This is of particular interest when we remember that Jesus taught the disciples to pray “Thy kingdom come, they will be done” (cf. Matthew 6:9-13). In its fullness it includes not only human obedience to God’s word, but the triumph of God over physical evils, particularly over death. In the expectation found in contemporary Jewish teaching, the kingdom was to be ushered in by a judgment in which sinners would be condemned and perish. Thankfully they were incomplete in their understanding! Jesus came preaching a gospel of life, not death. We now have access through His work on the cross to this kingdom that does not condemn us to an eternity of loss, but a present and future full of gain. We are approaching a New Year. Perhaps your past year has been one full of difficulty and challenge. The message of this time of the year for all of us is that all of those difficulties and challenges are merely within the purview of our sovereign King who delights in working all things to our good. This is the kingdom that has now come to be. It is not yet to be, it is now present. Of course, there is much more yet to be revealed in the working of God’s kingdom on earth; but, now we have been ushered into the protection and reign of the One who has won for us the ultimate...

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The White Glove Test

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! (Psalm 25:1-7 ESV). Reading this psalm took me back over four decades ago. When I went to Texas A&M University, I was in the Corps of Cadets. Being a full time military preparatory program had its challenges. As if your first year in college weren’t enough, there were many others things that had to be done too. I learned quickly the benefits of a four corner tuck on my bed that was tight enough to bounce a coin when dropped on it; I learned the importance of rank and file while marching; I learned how challenging it was to run with a full pack and M1 rifle weighing in at about fifty pounds total; and, I learned how to shine my shoes and boots to a mirror image. One of the inspections we regularly faced was the “white glove test.” You’ve seen or heard of this infamous exercise. Someone inspects your room with a white cotton glove on rubbing it along every edge and corner to make sure everything was spotless and free of dirt or dust. I rarely passed that test! There’s another white glove test that many people like to conduct. They enjoy rubbing a white glove over someone’s past, and then inspecting the dirt with relish. Remembering the sins of someone’s youth, their sordid past becomes a way of putting them and keeping them in their place. Let a woman be named Citizen of the Year, and people will still recall the night, years ago, when she was ticketed for drunk driving. Let a man be named CEO of a great company, and people will still whisper about how, years ago, he was expelled from school for rowdy behavior. I have learned a very important lesson through the years. A friend is someone who knows you, but chooses not to remember the sins of your youth. A friend does not dredge up and recollect your sordid past. A friend forgets what you’ve done, but doesn’t forget you. Isn’t that what we want from God — remember me, but do not remember my sins? And isn’t that precisely how God deals with us! “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,” says God, “and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). Other people may remember the sins of your youth, but God forgets, forgives. God does not remember your sins. God remembers you. This New Year accept that grace and be that kind of friend to...

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I Am Old

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. (Psalm 92:12-15 ESV). Well, I finally got my 2015 Tennessee whitetail in the freezer. I guess I was too picky during the early part of the season. I saw lots of deer, but none I wanted to shoot. Perhaps I realized that after the shooting comes the real work. And, I must admit that I had to call for help to get the deer loaded and out of the field. I am very thankful for friends to call at the last minute to help me load it. You know, I used to be able to such a simple task. After all, it wasn’t that big! I suppose I have to admit that being older has a way of sneaking up on you. Certainly this signals the end of me being able to say, “I’m getting older.” Now I am forced to simply admit that I am old. We all are in some ways arriving at that place where we simply don’t have the physical ability to do the things we used to be able to do. For some, that position called “old age” is something to be dreaded. It is viewed as a time of decay and decline, with physical aches and pains. Our circle of friends becomes smaller and smaller; and, the feeling that your best years are behind you seems to lurk in the background of our thoughts. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Old age can be a time of triumph, like the last miles of a marathon race where the runner feels exultant and deeply satisfied. The psalmist talks of people who, even in old age, are like productive fruit trees, fresh and green, full of sap. In old age we may have to renounce, but we don’t have to resign. As we age, there are renunciations to be made, what foods we can eat and what activities we can do; but, that doesn’t mean we have to resign from living. We may have to live differently, but we don’t have to live less. Life is an adventure of the heart and mind, two things that don’t grow old, unless we let them. Your face may be wrinkled, but your soul doesn’t have to be; nor does your faith. We are winding 2015 down. I hope you have accomplished more than you ever dreamed possible this year. Whether you have or not, let the changing of the calendar be an opportunity for you to renew your belief in the power and purpose of God for your life. I’m always excited for new starts. Let this New Year be such a time for you. Commit yourself to renounce the things you need to renounce and to renew your life! Don’t settle for...

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