Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, thankful

I Heard Him Before I Saw Him

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.  You are with me.”  Psalm 23:4

I heard him before I saw him.  Last week I was walking in the city park.  It wasn’t the casual walk but the exercising kind.  I do about 2.5 miles in about 35 minutes.  That day the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the trees were doing their “leafing out” thing and it was a good day.  Then, like I said, I heard him before I saw him.

I was alone in the park till then.  As I crossed the bridge on the north end of the park there was a man in his forties or fifties.  He was dressed normally–whatever that means but that was where normalcy ended.  At first, I thought he had one of those things in his ear that enabled him to talk on his cell phone.  The closer I got the more I could see and hear.

He was angry.  He was shouting. He was cursing. Then he began to pick up rocks and throw them violently in one direction and then another.  I realized he was fighting a battle with someone I could not see but he could.  To him it was real–very real.  He felt threatened and hurt by an enemy only he could see.

I prayed.  I asked God to deliver him from the invisible demon that was haunting him.  I asked God for His peace to come upon this peace-less man.  Later I saw him leaving the park, no longer angry, no longer violent, no longer cursing. It seemed from where I was that a moment of calm had come to his storm wrecked mind.  I was grateful and told God so.

I thought about that day several times and I realized that in these days there are a lot of folks fighting and fearful of enemies–enemies that don’t have or need a face to wreck their lives.  The covid-19 virus, the loss of a job or business, the fear of losing someone they love, the fear that things will never be the same, the fear that this fear will own them–consume them.

My mind goes back to Psalm 23:4. David, chased by a crazed king consumed with jealousy, chased by too many memories of too many failures writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.  You are with me.”  He was wise enough to know that as he walked through this valley it wasn’t filled with real monsters–only monster “wanna-be’s.”

You see, the valley became a roadway and not a residence.  Death, because of his faith in a “bigger-than-anything” God, was reduced to a shadow.  Shadows can frighten but can cause no real damage or harm.  How did that happen? Somewhere along the way David chose to believe in his “bigger-than-anything” God and he found peace.  He said, “I don’t need to fear evil, no matter what it looks like, because You are with me.”  You are with me. Today as you journey, remember all around us are people who fight battles with enemies only they can see.  Be sure and swift not to judge but to pray.  That day in the park I got it right but trust me I don’t always do that.  It’s then that I pray a different prayer–one for forgiveness.  And if you are fighting those invisible enemies today–just a word or two.  God loves you.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this. 

Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, thankful

Ain’t No Sunshine

What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Mark 10:51

Bartimaeus, or Bart as his friends called him, was blind.  Along with the blindness came the usual social stigmas of being an outcast and the usual career choice–begging.  He had landed a good stretch of the highway to beg.  There was a lot of traffic but as always–a lot of darkness.  But all that was about to change.

One day he heard a crowd passing by and asked what was happening.  The fact that anyone even acknowledged him was a miracle.  Someone said, “Jesus was passing by.” Bart had heard of this young Rabbi and he had also heard stories, rumors really, that He could heal people like him.  Three words flashed into his mind–now or never.

He began to shout, to beg, to scream “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Over and over he shouted.  The crowd quickly became annoyed and demanded that he shut it down or they would shut him up.  But desperation and hope wouldn’t allow that.  “Jesus, Son of David, please, have mercy on me.” Right at the point when his ears told him the noise was fading he heard it.  Jesus was saying something, “call him.”  Amazingly the same crowd that tried to shut him down now helped pick him up.

“What do you want me to do for you?” the unseen Rabbi asked.  It might seem like a strange question to ask a blind guy but Jesus wanted to be sure Bart knew his need.  Perhaps a small contribution.  Maybe a walking stick or a seeing eye camel.  Jesus was asking, “Do you want a better life or a new life?” Bart was ready for something new.

Mark 10:51 gives us his reply.  “Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.” His five words are loaded with meaning.  First, the word “Rabboni” was master and it was a term of surrender.  He was saying, “I haven’t experienced what I need but I will trust You for it anyway.”  That’s faith.  Second, “I want to see.”  He wasn’t asking for a band aide he was wanting something new, something life changing.  Faith and the wisdom to ask for the right thing was a game changer for Bart.

Wait, Jesus is speaking again and what He says is amazing.  “Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.”  Your faith has saved you.  Amazing. And do you know what?  Mark puts it very plainly in the rest of verse 52. “Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” Immediately his world exploded into light and color.  Instantly the darkness was forced to flee as the Light of world flooded in. Amazing.

Well, Jesus had told him to go and do you know where he went.  Right with Jesus.  He followed him.  I mean, where else would he go but to follow the One who gave him light, who gave him life.  I can imagine the smile on his lips and chatter from his tongue as he shared what Jesus had done.  “I once was blind, but now I see” he would say.  We added the “amazing grace” part later. So how about you?  Does your life seem pretty dark right now?  You’ve seen the list over and over.  Fear. Corona virus. Unemployment. Unknowns. Whatever it is, Jesus is passing by and He has an invitation just for you.  He invites you to come and when you get there don’t ask for a seeing eye camel or walking stick.  He’s got something bigger for you.  He has peace and He has hope. He has a new life of light and color.  You’ll find a friend who will never leave or abandon you.  Go ahead, get up.  He’s waiting.  You can trust him.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, Scripture, Southern born, wisdom

Chicken Little

I know that You can do anything, and no one can stop You.” Job 42:2

Poor Chicken Little.  He had it all wrong.  The story is told of a little chicken (aptly named Chicken Little) who was walking one day and a bird dropped an acorn which hit him on the head.  Chicken Little assumed that the sky was falling and the world as he knew it was coming to an end.  He rushed to tell the king and along the way told others of the bad news. They in turn joined him in the quest to tell the king. The only problem was the sky wasn’t falling.

When I was a kid, like so many of us, I wrestled with fear.  There was the standard fear of the dark.  When the lights went out, my heart rate went up.  My vivid imagination allowed for plenty of strange things to be seen in the darkness and sometimes even in the light.  I remember as a six or seven year old sitting in the bathtub and seeing “eyes” peering at me from inside the overflow drain.  “Maybe it is a snake” I thought.  “Perhaps it was a giant rat that lived inside the drain.”  Regardless, for years I lived in fear until one day I got brave.  I took a flashlight into the bathroom and shined the light in the drain.  It turned out to be the tops of two brass screws inside the drain!

When I was a little older the fear thing still lingered.  With too many people and not enough house, I found myself sleeping in the dining room.  Mom and dad moved the table somewhere and put a twin bed there instead.  We lived in Florida and trust me it was HOT and it was HUMID and air conditioning was something that we DIDN’T have.  Each night I would crawl into bed, a fan in the window at least stirring the warm evening air. And each night the monsters would come out.  Of course they weren’t real.  Of course they didn’t exist. Right…but try telling that to a young boy with a vivid imagination.

I had to do something and I did.  I would reach down and pull the sheet and bedspread over my head and lie still.  I don’t know if the idea was the sheet and bedspread would somehow protect me or if they simply would hide me.  But there I would lie hiding, sweating and praying that whatever hid in the darkness wouldn’t eat me.  I guess it worked because I’m still here today but boy was it HOT!

I guess I finally overcame most of my fears. I have to admit though when Bubba the goose hisses at me in the park, it still makes my skin kinda tingle. To some degree fear is still a stalker in my life.  Instead of snakes in a drain or monsters in the dark or bad guys in the house it has become the uncertainty of these uncertain days.  And I know I am not alone.  Every time we turn on the news we are told that the sky is indeed falling and that the end of world as we know it is coming.  As I waited for the morning weather forecast today, a story popped up on the screen about a new strain of the swine flu in China that could or would certainly be the next pandemic.  What? Excuse me?

I am a guy who gets to serve God and people as a pastor and there is one thing I know.  God is in charge and He is bigger than any of it and all of it.  You may have heard of a guy named Job—and no he was not related to Steve Jobs. (Smile)  His sky in fact did fall and he ended up losing everything.  Well, actually his “why don’t you give up and die” wife stuck around but so did his faith in God.  In fact, in the midst of his hot mess, Job said this, “I know that You can do anything, and no one can stop You.” Score one for Job.  He believed that God was in charge, that God had a plan and that nothing was going to happen on His watch unless He said so.

Now that is some real good, real comforting, real “you take that fear” news.  But you also need to know that sometimes that can be hard.  God’s plans don’t always mean I get what I want…in fact, often it means the opposite.  But hey, I was the guy who manufactured monsters in his head.  But it still means that God is good, that God is faithful and that God can be trusted.  It does mean that He is watching out for my good and He is working to bring His glorious plan to pass. A friend of mine recently suggested that perhaps it is time that we turn off the bad news.  I agree.  The broadcasters know that bad news “sells” and they are dishing it out by the buckets full.  Corrie ten Boom, a concentration camp survivor from World War II said, “If you look at the world, you will be distressed.  If you look within, you will be depressed.  But if you look at Christ you will be at rest.” What powerful and true words.  If you are not a God follower perhaps this sounds a little far fetched.  Trust me…He is worth checking out. He is the real deal…not church…not religion…and certainly not the fear mongers. You can rest in Him…because He’s got this.

Posted in Uncategorized

Do You Believe?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

It was an ordinary day. Jesus was on the move traveling from one small village to another doing what He did–making a difference. As He was approaching Nain, a stop in the road, He ran into a funeral procession. We recognize funeral processions by the flashing lights on the hearse followed by cars with headlights on. He recognized it by the mourning–the funeral wail. The closer He got, the louder it got. It was the sound of broken hearts and lives.

In Luke 7:12, we get the details. It says, “Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was also with her.” What a tragedy. The cause isn’t listed nor does it matter. Death comes in many forms and is no respecter of persons. But it was her only son and he died too young. It gets worse.

Luke also shares that she was a widow. She is facing this dark time alone. There is no husband to share the grief–it is all hers. And when the grieving is over, she faces a very difficult world. No source of income, no safety net, no unemployment, no social security–nothing. It’s a bad deal from top to bottom. And then it happens.

Jesus sees the situation and orders the mourning column of brokenness to stop. Why? He has compassion on her. He knows her story before He is told and He tells her, “Don’t weep.” It could be an unkind statement akin to “hey, get over it” or “it will be better tomorrow.” Instead it was a statement of power–the kind of power that can change everything.

He walks over and touches the coffin–a big no, no in that culture but Jesus didn’t let rules stop Him from loving, from acting. He says, “Party’s over death…you’re done.” Ok, He really said, “young man, I tell you get up.” And boom–just like that he did. Now let me tell you when you are at a funeral and the dead person sits up and is alive, the funeral is over, and the party begins. Break out the fried chicken because death is done, and Jesus is King.

I love this story…I really do. I see it played out day, after day, after day. No-not exactly like this, but I, we, see God bringing spiritually dead people to life every day. And when that happens John 11:25-26 becomes a reality. There Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Wow what power–what assurance. But it all hinges on the last four words, “Do you believe this?” “Do we believe this?”

Ok, so these are difficult days. You might feel like the widow of Nain. It may feel like your world is imploding around you with all the safety nets gone. Well, there’s One that will never leave you and His name is Jesus. Oh, and knowing Him, is a game changer. The future that matters–the eternal one–is a guaranteed better day. In a word, it is heaven.

So, as we journey these uncharted waters together remember we never have to be alone–ever. Jesus wants us to experience His compassion and His salvation. And listen, when Jesus shows up things change. He is bigger than anything so rest in Him. He’s got this.