No Escape

escapeWe recently sailed out of Miami on the NCL Escape. Our trip was a beautiful gift from our daughter and son-in-law. Away from the pressures of ministry and a hectic schedule, there was time to reflect on my advancing years and issues of life. There were over 4,000 passengers on board the ship. When the crew and entertainers are added to that number, the count soars to over 6,000. Many of the guests sailing out on the Escape seemed to be seeking to do just that – ‘escape’.

Wanting to leave behind such things as dysfunctional relationships, job and career disappointments, family crises, and a host of other troubles, they appeared to be making a vain attempt to distance themselves from their problems.

By the hundreds, people descended on the buffet lines and restaurants, seemingly intent on gorging in an almost endless feeding frenzy in an attempt to forget things left behind. Alcoholic beverages were consumed to a startling degree – many seemed to have a glass in their hand from morning until they collapsed at night.  The ringing bells, horns, and other noise of the casinos drew people like a moth to a flame; disillusioned, they hoped to win something there to numb their inner pain from life’s losses.  Raucous entertainment, thumping drum beats, blaring musical instruments coursed through speakers turned to the maximum volume; with the rhythmic vibrations, they sought to anesthetize the mind.

The common theme for so many is: Escape – Escape – Escape – Escape – Escape!

Hear a great eternal truth from God’s word. If we reject God, we shall not escape. “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3, ESV). The cruise ship Escape will soon return to our port of departure. The troubles that were left behind will be there waiting. If anything, they will have increased in intensity. Until we make peace with God, there is no escape. “Where shall I go from your Spirit, or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol (hell), you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:8-10, ESV).

But, there is a true path of escape from the cares of this life. Jesus provided words of direction for those who are troubled, bruised by the world, or burdened down with guilt. He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

~ Brother Roy

Beauty and the Beast

beauty and the beastIt was about 8:00 a.m. when Lebo, our tracker, gave a hand signal to our ranger. He had picked up the tracks of two lions. Dwayne, our ranger, was well familiar with this area and these lions. He is a veteran game ranger in Madikwe, South Africa. After a few hundred yards farther down the dirt road, Lebo gave another hand signal, and Dwayne turned off road. A short distance later, the land cruiser slowed to a stop as Lebo pointed out the lions. The two were stretched out and sleeping. They scarcely roused as we approached. Dwayne explained that we were a party to something extraordinary. These older lions had been ejected from their territory in a terrific fight with two younger male lions. In an unheard of occurrence, these two old timers had recouped and returned. In another furious battle, they reclaimed the territory. Bruised and battered, still licking their wounds, they were resting from the grueling combat.

We spent considerable time watching the lions and listening to Dwayne as he recounted the exploits of the ‘old guys’.  It was then that I noticed the black tip of one of the lion’s tail a few inches from a beautiful flower. I immediately thought of the Beauty and the Beast. As is often the case, some seemingly unconnected events start my mind down the path of a life lesson.

Villeneuve’s traditional fairy tale, The Beauty and the Beast, carries a fascinating story line. A handsome prince falls under the spell of a wicked fairy that turns him into a hideous beast. Only by finding true love, despite his ugliness, could the curse be broken. Now, let me attempt to relate this fairy tale to the message of God’s love.

In the Garden of Eden, man fell into disobedience and sin under the awful influence of the wicked one, Satan himself. The distorting and defacing impact of sin turned man into a fallen and ugly beast inside. Scarcely had the curse gripped the heart of man, when jealousy and murder reared their repulsive heads. Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed his brother Abel. From that time to this, the curse of sin has passed on to all men. Once infected by sin, beastly men have left their bloody footprints across the pages of the scripture and across history. Tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and even today’s ISIS exemplify the ugly beast within as they behead, rape, and torture the innocents.

As in the fairy tale, only unconditional love, despite man’s ugliness, can break the curse. God’s word informs us of an amazing transformation that can take place because of Christ’s love.

  • But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
  • This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
  • Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13)
  • Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV)

By the grace of God, the beast can become beautiful. Do you want to become a new creature? Is the desire of your heart to see ugliness within pass away? Accept Christ’s love and He will make you into a new person.

We Can Turn From Beast To Beauty By Christ’s Love

~ Brother Roy

Renewal Week at Wilmore Free Methodist

profBrother Roy will be preaching the messages for Wilmore Free Methodist Church‘s Spiritual Renewal Week services, February 12-15.  Service times are Sunday morning (8:30am & 10:50am), Sunday evening (6:00pm), and Monday-Wednesday evenings (7:00pm).  WFMC is located at 1200 Lexington Rd., Wilmore, Kentucky.  Nursery and children’s ministries are available in each service.

Predators of the Heart

jackalOn a recent trip to South Africa, I found a Zulu proverb that had a familiar ring to it. The proverb says, “The Jackal is not kept in the same kraal as the sheep.” It reminded me of a saying from my boyhood days in eastern Kentucky. People would say, “You don’t let the fox guard the chicken house.”

Jackals are related to foxes, and although jackals are little larger than foxes they closely resemble each other. Apparently, they share other characteristics. We say that a cunning person is as sly or smart as a fox. Jackals are often depicted in like manner and are described as clever sorcerers in many African myths and legends. While jackals and foxes scavenge, they are also skilled hunters. Just like farmers in the Kentucky hills hate foxes that are chickens killers, the Zulu hate jackals, because they are often sheep killers.

There is a spiritual application that can be made with the Zulu proverb. Jackals are mentioned approximately 14 times in the Bible. They were hated and feared by Hebrew shepherds. The shepherds had to be vigilant at all times to protect their sheep because the jackals were always on the prowl. What kind of a shepherd would willingly tolerate a jackal in the sheepfold or kraal? My question in the spiritual realm is, “Who would willingly or carelessly give the Devil, the jackal of men’s souls, a way into their heart?”

The Bible provides information on the critical issue of guarding the way into the heart:

  • “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23)
  • “…and give no opportunity to the devil(Ephesians 4:27, NKJV)
  • “Lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices”  (2 Corinthians 2:11, NKJV)
  • “Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen. Don’t let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live…” (Deuteronomy 4:9, MSG)
  • But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3)
  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1, ESV)

Pornography, lust, greed, covetousness, pride, and self-centeredness are but a few of the lurking sins that hang around us. Like jackals, they look for an opening into the heart. If we are not vigilant, they will enter in unobserved. We may not realize what has happened until it’s too late and the damage is done.

Stay Alert – Guard Your Heart

~ Brother Roy

NHIM Pastors Retreat Cruise

img_0387Over the past week, 26 friends and co-laborers participated in a pastors retreat cruise sponsored by New Hope International Ministries.  The goal of the cruise was to provide a time to get away and refresh for several pastors with whom New Hope works in Eastern Kentucky.  The theme of the week was “Come Apart Before You Come Apart” with the theme verse of Mark 6:33Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat” (NLT). 

The ship sailed out of Mobile, Alabama, and included two full days at sea and a day each in Progreso and Cozumel, Mexico.

A major purpose of the retreat was to provide time away from the pressures of daily life and ministry. We spent much of our time enjoying fellowship with each other, sharing victories and difficulties, and eating dinner together as a family.

The retreat provided important opportunities for our group to get to know each other personally. Hectic schedules, work and ministry obligations, and family responsibilities leave little time to visit and learn about each other when we are at home, but the fellowship in sessions and around the dinner table provided opportunity for encouragement and enjoyment of each other.

While we were together as a group for many activities, we also wanted ministry couples to have some private time together – catching a nice lunch together in the dining room, watching the waves in the moonlight, or a late night coffee and dessert date provided an important time of refreshing and renewal.

In our scheduled sessions, Brother Roy preached a message on how Hezekiah took his challenges before the Lord, Pastor David Spencer shared about his vision for church planting and evangelism in Eastern Kentucky, NHIM Board Chairman Matt Kinnell spoke about how God’s plans for our lives – both physical and spiritual – are always better than we could have imagined, the laypeople traveling with us provided input on what they expect from a pastor, and we ended with a celebration of ‘The Lord’s Supper’ as a family.

Here are some photos from our week together:

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There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

sea from air

The big Boeing 777 lumbered down the runway and was soon airborne.  My wife, my son-in-law’s father, and I were on our way to Johannesburg, South Africa. The direct flight from Atlanta to Jo’burg takes approximately sixteen hours. There is a lot of time for thought and reflection during this forced inactivity.  A couple of hours into flight, I turned on the flight tracker and noted that our altitude was something above 35,000 feet and we traveling at a speed of 620 mph. I also noted that we had left the east coast of the USA behind and now had thousands of miles and many hours ahead of us before we would approach the west cost of Africa.

I tilted my seat back, closed my eyes and thought of how immense the ocean beneath us really was. The old, beloved hymn by F. Faber, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”, came to mind.

But, before relating some of that great work to you, I have something to say about the newer praise and worship music. I have spent the last 45 years at Asbury University working with Christian students. I worship with them and truly appreciate most of the contemporary Christian music they enjoy. I’ve learned a lot from the passion, emotion, and joy these young people find in this style of music.  That said, I often find myself wanting to introduce them to some of the older hymns that have sustained me across 55 years of ministry. The old hymns have been my theology teachers, my guides, my comforters and so much more.

Now, as an example, here is the hymn I referenced earlier. I will share parts of it without further comment:

There’s wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice, which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members in the sorrows of the Head.

If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord.

Souls of men! Why will ye scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! Why will ye wander from a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty, but is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us Come and gather at His feet?

Amen.

~ Brother Roy

Homing Call

homing pigeonWhat do Queen Elizabeth, Elvis, Mike Tyson, and Leon of Fitch’s Grocery fame have in common? They’ve each stroked the feathers of a pigeon, lofted it in the air and set it free. They’ve all spent time of waiting, watching, and hoping for the bird’s return.

No one knows for sure how a homing pigeon manages to find the way back to its loft. Some credit the bird’s ability to read the magnetic fields of the earth, others say it can hear at a very low frequency and pick up sound waves that bounce off the landscape. Still others credit a mysterious ability of the birds to visually read landmarks and geographical features. This is all speculation. There is no definitive answer as to how the tiny pigeon brain can keep the bird on course for great distances and take it ‘home’.

Across the centuries people have enjoyed these amazing birds. Some enjoy the sport of competitive pigeon racing and others simply find pleasure in raising and keeping the birds. Leon is one who just enjoys the birds and likes to release them and watch them fly out and then return home.

A few months ago, I was preaching the farewell message at the Wilmore Camp Meeting. After decades, the camp meeting was closing and would forever be just a memory of glorious days of the past. To send the ‘grand ole lady’ out in a triumphant way, I invited Leon to bring seven white pigeons to release. After the service, a crowd gathered on the grounds. I lifted my shofar and gave seven blasts, and then Leon released the birds. They circled the campgrounds three times. They were radiant as they banked in unison; their wings resplendent in the golden glow of the evening sun. Then they were  gone – answering the homing call, they returned to their loft.

God has placed within each of us a desire to be at home with Him in heaven, our eternal home. The Homing Call of God is never fully erased, even by the most grievous of sins. In Psalm 116:7, a pilgrim on his way back from captivity in Babylon sings, “Return unto rest, O my soul.”  But there is no rest for the soul except in God. St. Augustine said, “We came forth from Him, and we are homesick until we return.”

Legend tells that Jesus, on his visit to Jerusalem at 12 years old, was found discussing with the rabbis the question, “Where shall rest be found?” One said, “In the abundance of the world.” Another said, “In the good opinion of our fellowman.” A third answered, “ In being content with present conditions.” A fourth responded, “In enjoying the simple pleasures of life.” A fifth concluded, “In self-respect founded in virtue.” Jesus remarked, “None ever rests until he finds God.”

Our souls are stirred to heavenward flight by the homing device God has built within each of us. In the words of the country gospel song, “Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away; to a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away”. Do you sense that homing call? I trust your answer is, Yes!  If not, turn from you sin, repent, and believe in Jesus.

He Is Calling You Home

~ Brother Roy