What’s Left Behind at Shechem

Jacob Burying The Strange Gods Under The Oak By Shechem (Sebastien Bourdon)

When Abraham was living in Ur of the Chaldeans, the Lord called him to leave his home country and go “to the land which I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).  So Abraham (who was then called Abram) did as the Lord said and, not knowing where he was destined, journeyed to Canaan.  And when Abram arrived there, he found a great tree at Shechem, sometimes called the Oak of Moreh, and in the shade of that great tree, the Lord appeared to Abram and promised, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Genesis 12:6-7).  And Abram marked that site with an altar to the Lord, acknowledging the covenant that had been made between them.

Time and generations passed, and Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, who had been forced to flee Canaan for fear of his life, returned to the land God had promised his grandfather.  In his time away, Jacob had acquired wives who honored foreign gods (Genesis 31:19). After arriving back in Canaan, Jacob’s sons, in avenging a horrible wrong done to their sister, murdered the men of an entire city and took all of their households, including their pagan idols, for their own (Genesis 34).

Jacob could sense that the wheels were falling off his return to claim his inheritance, to the point that he feared that he might be destroyed in the very land promised to him as a descendant of Abraham. God’s prescription for dealing with these problems was to call Jacob to worship.  But before Jacob could worship the one and only holy God, he knew he would need to rid himself of the presence and influence of the false gods his household had picked up along the way.  So Jacob ordered his family and all who were with him to relinquish their foreign gods, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.

Time and generations passed again – slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, wandering in the wilderness, and finally the return to Canaan.  The great leader Joshua gathered the people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, the descendants of Abraham, once again at the oak tree at Shechem.  And Joshua called on the people to do away with the gods of their ancestors beyond the Euphrates River and the gods of their enslavers in Egypt and serve the Lord alone: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).  So the people made a covenant that day, beneath the oak at Shechem, to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The great tree at Shechem was a place where things were left behind.  There Abraham left any uncertainty he had about the inheritance that he had pursued by faith, as God showed him the land that would be given to his descendants.  There Jacob left the idols his household had accumulated and went forth to worship the One True God.  There Joshua and the people of Israel left the false gods of their ancestors and their oppressors and pledged to serve the Lord.

Before we can move forward to pursue the life of righteousness that God desires for us, there are things that we must leave behind.  It won’t be a tree in Shechem where we lay aside the weight of accumulated baggage – perhaps it will be the altar at a revival, or a bedside, or a church pew, or someplace else of personal significance.  Where will your “Shechem” be?  And what will you need to leave there?

“Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair

Stone Fences

Gray rock fences built of ancient limestone are hallmarks of Kentucky’s Bluegrass landscape. As iconic as the white board fences and beautiful thoroughbred horses are, these amazing stone fences reflect the very character of Kentucky. The earliest settlers in Kentucky built dry-laid fences around eighteenth-century farmsteads, cemeteries, and mills. Fence-building increased dramatically during the nineteenth century so that by the 1880s stone fences lined most roads, bounding pastures and farmyards throughout the Bluegrass. It is likely that the Bluegrass may have the most extensive collection of rock fences in North America.

What made stone such a widespread choice for fences in the Bluegrass? The stones were abundant. Masons need a minimum of tools to erect structures that are remarkably durable, yet are easily repaired if damaged. They resist fire, water, and insects. If correctly designed, they are earthquake resistant. The work does not deplete natural resources, and they aesthetically complement and enhance the landscape.

Stone fences have a multitude of good uses:

  • Establishing Boundaries: Fences can mark boundaries and property lines.
  • Keeping Harmful Things Out: Fences can keep unwanted livestock and other animals out.
  • Protecting Assets: Fences can help keep valued livestock and other animals within their proper domain.

Considering the stone fences of the Bluegrass, a spiritual parallel can be seen. The Lord himself referenced good fences: “Then He (Jesus) began to speak to them in figurative language. “There was once a man,” He said, “who planted a vineyard, fenced it, dug a pit for the wine-tank, and built a strong lodge”  (Mark 12:1). Spiritual fences are for our benefit. Believers are a planting of the Lord. It is His plan that we prosper and produce fruit.

For the same reasons noted above with stone fences, God has reasons for surrounding us with a spiritual fence:

  • Establishing Boundaries: If we are to prosper, we must know where the boundaries lie. Establishing proper limits is one of the major challenges of our day. The Holy Spirit can guide us in this crucial task. We must set spiritual boundaries and honor them. “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
  • Keeping Harmful Things Out: So many things around us try to crowd in and occupy space and time that belongs to the Lord. Trespassers in the form of unwanted ideas, outside influences, unhealthy relationships, even religious activities can consume valuable resources and time.
  • Protecting Assets: Proper spiritual fencing can also help us retain priceless assets. In the hectic pace of life, important spiritual truths tend to slip away. Surrounded by His love and protection, we can hold on to truth and grow and prosper.

‘Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone’ (Psalm 33:22).

~ Brother Roy

Life on Higher Ground

I grew up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. Although I have been blessed to travel far and wide, the hills have always had a claim on my heart. After finishing a career in higher education, I retired in the gently rolling countryside of central Kentucky.  But, the hills continued to call.

About 10 years ago, I joined with a friend who lives in Eastern Kentucky to establish a church planting ministry there. Now, once a week, I take the two-hour trip up the Mountain Parkway to our home base at Bear Pen in Wolf County. As I gaze through the windshield, my heart thrills each time I see the hills looming ahead.

One of my spiritual heroes in the Bible is Caleb, a man who also felt drawn to the hills. At 80 years old, with the Exodus and wilderness journey behind, he longed for the challenge of the mountains. He wanted to continue being a soldier for the Lord. “Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said” (Joshua 14:12, NKJV).

In the spiritual realm, there is an upward call to the human spirit. It is a call to rise above the lowlands of ‘wake, eat, work, sleep, and repeat’. The hymn ‘Higher Ground’ by Johnson Oatman, Jr. beautifully expresses this upward call:

            I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day;
            Still praying as I’m onward bound, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

             Lord, lift me up, and let me stand By faith, on heaven’s tableland;
             A higher plane than I have found, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

            My heart has no desire to stay Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
            Though some may dwell where these abound, My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

            I want to live above the world, Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
            For faith has caught a joyful sound, The song of saints on higher ground.

            I want to scale the utmost height, And catch a gleam of glory bright;
            But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found, “Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”

Does your heart yearn for higher ground? Do you have a desire to be closer to the Lord? If so, scripture provides the pathway; “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully(Psalm 24:3-4, NKJV).

Prayer: Lord, let us walk in the light as you are in the light so that we may have fellowship one with another and your blood will cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7). With clean hands and a pure heart, we may to ascend the hill of the Lord.

~ Brother Roy

Spiritual Failure

This devotional is for those who:

  • Feel they have never accomplished much;
  • Question if they have made positive difference in the world;
  • Wonder why they are here;
  • Think their reserve of self-confidence and self-worth has run dry; or
  • Think they are a failure.

These feelings are not reserved to those who have failed in some major way in the sight of others. Many of us may have had such depressing feelings from time to time. These feelings may be prompted by the ‘accuser of the brethren’, not the Holy Spirit (Revelation 12:3).

What does it mean to be a spiritual failure? You are only a failure when:

  • You quit trying. While it is true that a person who quits trying is destined to be a failure, it is also true that no one is a failure until they quit trying.
  • You quit trusting God’s Word. “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psalm 125:1, NKJV).
  • You quit giving. The poor widow’s two mites in Mark 12:23 may have seemed worth little in the eyes of the world, but were great in the eyes of the One Who matters.
  • You quit caring. Spiritual failure only comes when you are so self-centered that your own problems are mainly all you think about, talk about, and pray about.

It is important to know that you can experience failures in the eyes of a fallen world without being a failure. Shortcomings in measuring up to societies’ standards do not determine your eternal worth. From the secular perspective, success is measured by the accumulation of things like houses, land, money, popularity, and influence. Anything less than the affirmation of our secular, self-centered culture may foster feelings of failure.

The Lord does not require us to be successful in the opinion of the people around us, but He does expect us to be faithful to the task to which He’s has called us – large or small. Hear these words of Jesus, “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:23, NIV). In the spiritual realm, the values of service to others, love of fellowman, kindness, and humility are what matter most. A wise man has said, “The scales of this world can weigh pig iron or manure, but are worthless in weighing things of eternal value.”

Conclusion of the matter:He has made it clear to you, mortal man, what is good and what the Lord is requiring from you— to act with justice, to treasure the Lord’s gracious love, and to walk humbly in the company of your God(Micah 6:8, ISV). If you  are doing these things, you will not be a spiritual failure.

~ Brother Roy

Rapid Response

In recent years, hospitals have developed a new strategy to be employed with certain at-risk patients. Called Rapid Response Teams, they represent an intuitively simple concept: When a patient demonstrates signs of imminent clinical deterioration, a team of providers is summoned to the bedside to immediately assess and treat the patient with the goal of preventing intensive care unit transfer, cardiac arrest, or death.

In the spiritual ream, the Lord has a Rapid Response provision. Scripture records God’s word on His care of His people; “It shall come to pass That before they call, I will answer; And while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).  The needs of faithful followers will be anticipated, God will see their needs, and He will give to them the blessings which they need.

God does not need to wait for the blessing to be sought. “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4, ESV). How many such blessings do His people receive at the hand of God! How ready is he to anticipate our needs! How watchful is He for our necessities! How rich His benevolence in providing for us! Even the most faithful and prayerful of his people receive numerous blessings and comforts at His hand for which they have not directly asked Him.

God is always more ready to hear than we are to pray. Man’s limited intelligence makes him slow to comprehend what is needed and slow to feel the urgency of the need. God anticipates and determines in what way He will bless us, and it’s always the best way. God will meet our needs with a rapid response.

In the prayer for the supply of our daily food, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ God has anticipated and has prepared the means of answering it long before we ask. He does so with abundant harvests. Had He waited until the prayer was offered, it could not have been answered without a miracle. Ever watchful, He anticipates our necessities, and in His providence and grace lays the foundation for granting the favor long before we ask him.

God’s Rapid Response: “Before they call, I will answer” (Isaiah 65:24).

~ Brother Roy

Come to the Light

The human mind is a testimony to incredible creative design of God. I live in a state of amazement at the way my mind works. I struggle to remember what I did yesterday, but can clearly remember information from more than fifty years ago.

A recent conversation served as a classic example of this phenomena. I was having morning coffee and talking with friends. We were discussing recent storms and how the flowers and plants around our village had been effected. One gentleman shared about a recent storm that had blown down several tall flowers. They had lain on the ground for several days when he noticed flowers on several stems had turned upward and were bending toward the sun.

In a flash, I recalled a lecture I had given as a high school biology teacher some five decades earlier.  The lecture was about ‘phototropism’, which is a directional response that allows plants to grow toward a source of light. I recalled with surprising detail much of the material in the lesson. My friends politely listened to more information than they really cared to hear.

I have been blessed across most of my adult life to be both a teacher and a minister. There is often cross-pollination between the two areas. In this case, from the biological process of phototropism to the spiritual process of moving from the darkness of sin to the light of Christ. 

The coffee group’s conversation had moved seamlessly from plants to people. We talked about the pull on our lives toward Jesus Christ, the Light of The World. It seems like phototropism of the soul.

In wonder, I see an unmistakable design of the same Creator at work in both. The flowers need the light of the sun to survive and flourish and people also need the light of Christ to survive and flourish.  I love the word of an old hymn penned by Philip Bliss:

 No darkness have we who in Jesus abide;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
We walk in the light when we follow our Guide!
The Light of the world is Jesus!

Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me;
Once I was blind, but now I can see:
The Light of the world is Jesus!

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

~ Brother Roy

The One That Yelps

As a young evangelist I was seeking the advice of my mentor, Dr. Custer Reynolds. He was a learned man from Eastern Kentucky. He often couched ‘words of wisdom’ in the vernacular of the hills. On this occasion, I was troubled by critical words from a lady in the congregation where I had just finished preaching a revival. After listening to my account, Dr. Reynolds said, “If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that gets hit.” His meaning was clear. Critical or sarcastic remarks often suggest a degree of guilt.

During my high school days I had an English teacher that placed Shakespeare’s writing next to the Bible in importance. I remember a quote from Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 2) that was likely the precursor to Dr. Reynold’s remarks: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  This is one of those memorable lines from Shakespeare that is so very simple, but expresses complexity of thought and emotion. It does seem that cynical remarks or denials often follow a truth that makes someone feel uncomfortable.

Many have winced at strong preaching that hit close to home. It is not uncommon for people to feel a sense of denial or even a little anger when the message comes near to a sensitive area of life. This may actually be the Holy Spirit bringing conviction that urges a person to repent. The word convict is a translation of the Greek word elencho, which means “to convince someone of the truth; to reprove; to accuse, refute, or cross-examine a witness.” The Holy Spirit acts as a prosecuting attorney who exposes evil, reproves evildoers, and convinces people that they need a Savior.

This is not a punitive measure from God, but rather a loving act that encourages us to confess and repent of sin before it destroys us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We should praise the Lord for the conviction of sin. Without it, there could be no salvation. No one is saved apart from the Spirit’s convicting and regenerating work in the heart. 

The Apostle Paul gives clear instruction about what to do when conviction comes from the Holy Spirit: “Examine and test and evaluate your own selves to see whether you are holding to your faith and showing the proper fruits of it. Test and prove yourselves [not Christ]. Do you not yourselves realize and know [thoroughly by an ever-increasing experience] that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you are [counterfeits] disapproved on trial and rejected?” (2 Corinthians 13:5, AMPC).

Do you ‘yelp’ when you hear strong preaching about sin and its consequences?  If so, this devotional may be for you. Scripture says, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 18:8, NKJV).

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

~ Brother Roy

Surprised, But Not Unprepared

In a recent worship service, Rev. Dennis Ditto focused on familiar and comforting thoughts about prayer. His words of instruction and time-honored truths provided reassurance, but also emphasized the necessity maintaining an up-to-date and vital prayer life.

Rev. Ditto’s advice: “When we are practicing prayer daily as we should, as Jesus taught us by His example, a crisis or trial will never catch us unprepared. Maybe it will take us by surprise, but never unprepared.”

In the days that followed the message, I’ve thought often about prayer and several Biblical admonitions about prayer. These verses have been a part of my prayer life across time:

  • “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
  • “Be joyful in hope, patient in adversity, and faithful in prayer.”  (Romans 12:12).
  • “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
  • “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

 It is so important that we keep an attitude of prayer as we go about our daily lives.  I still remember and sometimes hum a chorus from my Sunday School days:

Whisper a prayer in the morning,
Whisper a prayer at noon,
Whisper a prayer in the evening,
To keep your heart in tune.

God answers prayer in the morning,
God answers prayer at noon.
God answers prayer in the evening,
So keep your heart in tune. 

Jesus may come in the morning,
Jesus may come at noon,
Jesus may come in the evening,
So keep your heart in tune.

Prayer: Lord, I want to be prepared for whatever lies ahead. Help me to pray as I ought. Life may bring unexpected events, but my prayer life can keep me always ready to respond in faith.

~ Brother Roy

When Mercy Brings Anger

Has God’s mercy ever made you angry?  That sounds like a ridiculous question, doesn’t it. What reason would anyone ever have to be angry at God for showing mercy? Well, it’s happened.

In the Old Testament (Jonah 1-4) we read about a prophet who is called by God to go to the city of Nineveh and “cry out against it” with the message that within 40 days, God would overthrow the city because of its wickedness.  And we all know the story of how Jonah ran from God’s calling, was caught in a storm, got swallowed by a great fish, cried out to God for salvation, and was vomited back up on dry land.

Later in the account, Jonah confesses that he did not want to go to preach destruction to Nineveh, because, he said, he knew God would just have mercy on the people anyway.  And sure enough, Jonah preached, the people of Nineveh sincerely repented, and God relented of the disaster He had promised. 

Wouldn’t any evangelist be delighted to have his preaching met with such a sweeping revival and transformation of an entire city?  Not Jonah. Maybe Jonah was concerned that his reputation as a prophet would be damaged because the destruction he prophesied didn’t come to fruition.  But whatever his reason, Jonah pouted because of the mercy God showed to Nineveh. 

In the New Testament (Luke 15:11-32) Jesus relates the familiar story of the Prodigal Son, a young man who selfishly demands his inheritance, abandons his home and family, and wastes his fortune in foolish pursuits. Humbled to the point of eating pig slop, the man finally returns home where he finds his father waiting with open arms.  Immediately the father launches a great feast to celebrate his lost son’s return.

But not everyone is ready to throw a party for the returning prodigal.  The older brother returns from his work in the field to find the house alive with music and dancing.  And when he discovers that the celebration is for his foolish little brother, he is incensed because of the mercy that the father showed to the prodigal son.

The Oxford Dictionary defines mercy as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm”.  The whole point of mercy is that it is undeserved.  The people of Nineveh, the prodigal son – they were sinful people for whom destruction and rejection would have been completely justified.  But God (and the father, who represents God in the parable) in His mercy showed compassion where punishment was due.

But mercy did not sit well with Jonah or the older brother.  They were ready to see somebody get what was coming to them.  And the glaring injustice of mercy angered them to the core.

Would we ever be guilty of such an attitude?  If not anger, perhaps we have been disappointed when God showed mercy on someone who deserved punishment?  Maybe, somewhat like Jonah, we have resisted building relationships with people whose behavior we find abhorrent, because we are afraid that God will ask us to love them.  Maybe, like the prodigal’s older brother, we have resented that God shows forgiveness to people who have engaged in behaviors from which we have abstained.

If you have ever felt that twinge of anger or disappointment at God’s mercy, there is an important truth of which we should all be reminded.  Jesus taught that the mercy that is shown to us is impacted by the mercy we show to others (Matthew 18:21-35).  We should be quick to remember that however faithful we may now be, we are all sinners saved by God’s grace – a mercy we did not deserve – and we should be eager to show that same compassion to everyone with whom we come in contact.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair

A Quick Update on Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief

We praise the Lord for what God is doing through His people in response to the horrific flooding in Eastern Kentucky. Here are some quick updates on the flood relief efforts of which NHIM has been able to be a part:

  • Two work teams led by Keith Madill were sent from Wilmore Free Methodist Church this week to do cleanup.
  • Two much-needed generators were secured and will be delivered Saturday.
  • A load of supplies including pet food is on its way to our staging area at the Bear Pen Community Center.
  • A used car was purchased for a family that lives miles from town and whose home was damaged and only vehicle was washed away in the flood waters.
  • An air conditioner was purchased to help cool the Bear Pen Community Center where flood victims will be staying.
  • Rolls of quarters are being provided for flood victims who have found coins hard to come by and must use a laundromat to wash muddy and soiled clothing.
  • A new load of food and supplies will be picked up Tuesday for the Abiding Hope Food Pantry.

We are exceedingly grateful for all who have come alongside NHIM and other ministries to show the love of Jesus to the hurting people of Eastern Kentucky. Please pray that the spirit of service and generosity will continue and consider how God might use you to bring healing and restoration to this flood-ravaged region.