Helping Another

Sometimes I find something that is so good, I want to share it without changing it in any way. This paragraph from Kierkegaard’s work is such a piece. It has been a part of my preaching and teaching philosophy for many years. 

Here is the opening paragraph to Chapter A2 from Kierkegaard’s Writings, Volume 22 translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, reformatted so that the opening paragraph has added line breaks to make some key thoughts stand out:

Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard

If One Is Truly to Succeed in Leading a Person to a Specific Place, One Must First and Foremost Take Care to Find Him Where He is and Begin There.

This is the secret in the entire art of helping. 

Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he–but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands.

If I do not do that, then my greater understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him.

But all true helping begins with a humbling.

The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness, for the time being, to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands.

I pray that this scripture might apply to all believers: “The Lord gave me the ability to teach so that I know what to say to make the weak strong. Every morning He wakes me. He teaches me to listen like a student. The Lord helps me learn, and I have not turned against Him nor stopped following Him” (Isaiah 50:4, NCV).

~ Brother Roy

No Outlet

No OutletIn southern Indiana, near where I served as pastor, there is a small church cemetery. When you turn off the main road toward the cemetery there is a highway sign that reads, “Mt. Zion Cemetery – No Outlet”. I am sure the sign often turns heads for a second look. While the obvious meaning is true, consider the possibility of an unintended deeper meaning.

Jesus shares a narrative (Luke 16: 19-31) about a rich man (Dives) and a beggar named Lazarus. While there are many writers who consider this account a parable, there are also numerous writers who do not regard it as a parable. They contend it should not be considered a “parable” because names are introduced. In all other parables, our Lord does not provide names. Be that as it may, parable or real history, I want to focus on a central teaching of the narrative.

The very poor man, identified by Jesus as Lazarus, died and was carried by angels to the arms of Abraham. No mention of his burial is made. It is likely that the street cleaners would have collected the body of one so poor. Unknown, unclean, and unwanted, it would be tossed on the rubbish and refuse heap of fire in Gehenna, the city dump. The “certain rich man” also died (in his sin) and was buried. In hell (hades) and in torment, he lifted up his eyes. He saw Lazarus in the arms of Abraham and cried out for relief from the torment of the flames. He begged for Lazarus to be sent with just a drop of water on his finger.

The terrible words of truth came to the rich man. There is a “great gulf fixed” between those who are with God and those in hell. No one can pass from one place to the other. The boundaries are set by God and cannot be violated.

If a person dies in sin and goes to hell, it is like the Mt. Zion sign proclaims, there is NO OUTLET.

~ Brother Roy

The Rooster Conundrum

roosterIn several previous devotionals, I’ve referred to a number of ‘gentlemen’ who gather each morning at the local IGA grocery store for coffee and biscuits. As you can imagine, a lot of ‘wisdom’ is dispensed around the coffee tables. You can bring almost any question to the gathering, and someone will have an answer. Some of the questions are funny and some are serious. The answers tend to follow the same ‘funny – to – serious’ pattern. 

Recently, June Humphrey, an 85-year-old sage who is the senior wise man in our group, came in and took his designated seat. As usual, I inquired about the animals on his farm. The cats, dog, cows, horse, and the occasional unwelcome ground hog all seemed to be fine. But, then he expressed concern about his two roosters. They seemed to be up early enough and were in fine crowin’ form. After a pause and a smile, he said, “I haven’t got a single egg from those birds. I’ve been feedin’ em expensive ‘layer mash’ and lookin’ after them, keeping the dog away and all. Still they haven’t laid one egg. What do you think the problem could be”? We had a genuine conundrum on our hands!

Searching for an answer, I thought of a saying my dad sometimes used. He would say, “Our old cow wouldn’t give any milk so we sold him”. It appeared this was similar to June’s problem. With these things in mind, I set out to explore the ‘rooster conundrum’ and also a parallel situation in the spiritual realm.

By God’s grace, I’ve been privileged to serve the Lord as pastor, evangelist, and missionary. For more than 50 years, travel has taken me across the United States and on many international journeys.  The most frequent question I’ve been asked is, “What’s wrong with the church?” Membership is dropping across most denominations. Revivals and renewal conferences are often poorly attended. Few seekers step out to make a commitment to Christ. In many churches, prayer meetings have dwindled and been abandoned.  People who are lost without the Savior are seldom being visited. The initial credentials for pastors have been significantly increased. Continuing education units to maintain credentials are added.  A variety of other professionally trained personnel, in areas such as music, finance, counseling, administration, religious education and etc. have been added to church staffs. Sanctuaries have padded pews, thick carpet, climate control and are usually replete with the latest technology. Lights, sound, projectors, computers and more allow churches to compete favorably with Broadway productions. We offer a variety of worship styles and have multiple Sunday Morning services (evening services are becoming a thing of the past). With all of this, things do not appear to have improved. We still wonder – what’s wrong with the church? Why won’t our ‘rooster’ lay eggs? After all, we‘re feeding him expensive mash.

Could it be a matter of the DNA, as with June’s roosters? Is egg laying determined by the gender of the fowl, which in turn is determined by its DNA? Now, we may be on to something that can help us figure out what is wrong with the roosters and the church. Maybe it’s the DNA. I believe Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, recorded in the third chapter of John, holds a key. Nicodemus was a deeply religious churchman. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious body of the day. Jesus acknowledged him as a “teacher of Israel”. When the conversation began, Nicodemus opened by declaring that he knows about Jesus and is aware of his miraculous ministry. To which Jesus immediately replied, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again” (John 3:5-7). 

Nicodemus needed a deep fundamental change. Adam’s sin has been passed on to all menincluding Nicodemus. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). He needed new DNA! He needed to be born again. Those who presume to be fellow laborers with Jesus in winning the lost and building His church must experience a deep fundamental change. Jesus said, “… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:17-18).  We must be born again and filled with His spirit. “But now being made free from sin, and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Romans 6:22). No matter how much expensive laying mash a rooster is fed, he still can’t lay an egg!

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh.  That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  (John 3:6)

~ Brother Roy

Spots and Wrinkles

tide penwrinkle releaseMy roles as an Evangelist and a Missionary have necessitated frequent travel. At times it has seemed like it is ‘pack and unpack – pack and unpack’ in an unbroken chain. Suitcases and garment bags have a way of wrinkling clothes no matter how carefully they are packed. Because of this problem, I always carry a spray bottle of ‘wrinkle release’. When sprayed on garments, it is supposed to smooth wrinkles away. I also carry a ‘go-pen’ of spot remover for the occasional mishap.

In the spiritual world, we may also find our garments wrinkled and with a spot here and there. This is very problematic. The Lord’s expectation is that believers live without wrinkle or spot, in this present world. The Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:25-27) speaks of how Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her “that He might present her for Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (v.27). Paul makes it clear to Titus that this is to be here and now:  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12, NKJ). 

The possibility of sin that can stain and wrinkle our garments will always be with us. What happens if we, by commission or omission, do sin?  What if we pick up wrinkles or spots on garments that had previously been washed “as white as snow(Isaiah 1:18). Believers are provided an answer by John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).  Jesus can be our ‘wrinkle releaser and spot remover”. Peter (2 Peter 3:14, NKJ) also emphasizes the expectation that believers keep themselves without spot or wrinkle. “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless”.  

~ Brother Roy

God’s CPAP

cpapSome years ago, I was experiencing serious health issues. Over a period of months I had suffered several Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA’s), sometimes called “mini-strokes”. Eventually, I had an acute stroke before the doctors diagnosed the root cause. I was suffering severe Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. For me, low oxygen levels and high blood pressure were the results.

The remedy was a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. It is a medical device that uses room air delivered through a mask system to keep the airway open for the person using the machine. A CPAP is used to treat obstructive sleep apnea by preventing the airway from collapsing on itself during times of sleep. I have been on CPAP for a number of years now and have not suffered any TIA’s or strokes since I started using the machine.

Many people experience great difficulty in adjusting to the CPAP. This is due in part to the constant pressure blowing into the nostrils, wearing a mask, and the hum of the machine. I was so convinced that the machine could likely save my live that I adjusted in a relative short period of time. I’ve carried my trusty CPAP everywhere. It has been in camp meetings, revivals, and mission conferences across the U.S. and around the world. I have used a variety of adaptors to adjust to various electrical currents.  I have even run it on a car battery in the bush of east Africa. I find great comfort hearing the soft  ‘white noise’ of my machine. I rest secure without worrying about stoppages in my breathing.

I wonder how many people suffer from a type of ‘spiritual apnea’? They experience interruptions, even stoppages, in the flow of God’s presence and power into their lives. At times, debilitating spiritual weakness and a sense that there are obstructions blocking the life-giving breath from God are experienced. These things are symptomatic of spiritual apnea. What is needed is Continuous Positive Spiritual Airway Pressure (CPSAP) to keep the flow of God’s power and grace into our spiritual bodies. At first, building the habits and disciplines into our lives that can make this happen may seem difficult. But, once we realize that our spiritual well-being is dependent on the free flow of His spirit into us, we can make the necessary adjustments.

What would spiritual CPAP look like? My thoughts are as follows;

  • (C) The process starts with the idea of ‘CONSTANT’. Our relationship with the Lord must be steady and continuous. It is an everyday essential.
  • (P) Next, the concept of ‘POSITIVE’ comes to bear. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). Negative thoughts and attitudes grieve the Holy Spirit.
  • (A) Spiritual AIRWAYS are the channels the Lord uses to gain entrance into our spiritual lives. Devotions, listening to gospel preaching, Bible study, and Christian fellowship are a few of the airways to the soul.
  • (P) The deep desire to please Him provides the right kind of PRESSURE to keep us growing and maturing in the faith.

Breathe on me, Breath of God, Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love, And do what Thou wouldst do.
(Edwin Hatch)

~ Brother Roy

Fog

fogMany early mornings on Dauphin Island, I’ve walked out on the deck to find the entire area enveloped in fog. At times the fog is so thick that it obscures the familiar landmarks from view. Because of limited visibility, driving can be hazardous. Traffic on the waterways can be especially risky.  However, all along the coastline from Mobile to Bayou La Batre, people are familiar with the coastal fog and used to dealing with it.

I am not an expert on fog, but let me share a few things I do know. I know with heavy fog, you can walk through it, talk through it, throw a rock through it, but you can’t see through it. It can conceal things that are right before us.  On Dauphin, I am accustomed to looking across the bay and seeing the bridge that connects the Island to the mainland. When heavy fog comes in, it is impossible to see this vital lifeline connector. Even though I know the causeway and bridge are still there, being able to see them is really comforting.

There are events in our personal lives that may obscure our view of things that are eternal. Because of spiritual fog, we can lose contact with our lifeline that is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 13:12a (Message): “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist”.  Just like a fog that covers the bay, however, this spiritual fog can be dissolved. We must have faith to believe Jesus is there even though circumstances obstruct our vision. We need to be assured that He loves us and wants to clear the fog. 1 Corinthians 13:12b: “But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly just as He knows us!” 

Has spiritual fog rolled into your life? Is it blocking your view of the Savior? He is there by your side, even if you don’t see Him. Have faith in His presence and love. Call out to Him. Let the SON clear away the fog.

Allow me to paraphrase the lyrics of a popular Johnny Nash recording, “I can see clearly now, the fog is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the thick clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna’ be a bright, bright sunshiny day.”

~ Brother Roy

The Crowded Way

Follow the crowdTraveling through Johannesburg, South Africa, my daughter recently, we saw an eye-catching sign. It was humorous, but startling. The sign read: Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers. After a chuckle, the sobering reality of that statement began to sink in.

A plethora of examples could address the theme of ‘crowds’. Both secular and sacred writers often speak to the influence of the crowd.  For brevities sake, I will focus on a few Biblical passages that reference crowds. First, Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14: ”Enter in by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” It always seems easier to go along with the crowd than to take an unpopular position. Exodus 23:2 (NKJ) declares, “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil… ” In order to fit in, people are often willing to compromise their moral values. 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV) warns, “Do not be deceived; bad company ruins morals”.  Wise advice may also be found in Proverbs 24:1 (The Message)“Don’t envy bad people; don’t even want to be around them”. Scripture makes it clear that following the crowd is not a good idea. It usually leads to trouble. 

Secondly, Matthew provides the account of Jesus on trial before Pilate (Matthew 27:15-25).  The passage dramatically illustrates the power of the crowd. “But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus (v.20). Pilate said to them, ’What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ? (v.22) They all said to him, “Let him be crucified!  (v.23) Then the governor said, ‘Why, what evil has he done? But they cried out all the more, saying, ‘Let him be crucified! (v.23) And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children (v.25).” It was not long afterwards, however, before the very people who shouted for His blood became angry when their participation in Jesus’ death was pointed out to them. The scripture says, “they were filled with indignation” (Acts 5:17-28). They tried to deny the truth and hide from reality of what they had done.

One could build a case from the historical record that for two thousand years trouble and tragedy have befallen the descendants of that group. Through the years, starting with Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem and other murderous moves against the Jews, to the Holocaust, and to present day chaos and conflict in Israel, tragedy and heartache have plagued the Jewish people.

Momentarily, a person may find anonymity and security in the crowd, but in the end each one will stand alone before God at Judgment. Following the crowd will be no excuse. I will be judged individually according to the works I have done.

“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19, KJV)

~ Brother Roy