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

The Intensivist

During a recent medical emergency, my wife was rushed to ER and then quickly transferred to the Neurological Intensive Care Unit. Along with incredible facilities, the amazing medical staff stabilized her and turned the trajectory of her life around. I thank God for them!

As the dark hours turned brighter, I was able to look at the surroundings. There was a lighted sign board listing the personnel of the unit. One position caught my attention. It was the ‘intensivist’. That was a new term for me. I learned an intensivist is a board-certified physician who provides special care for critically ill patients. Also known as a critical care physician, the intensivist has advanced training and experience in treating this complex type of patient.

While the long hours passed, there was abundant time for serious thought about life and the crises that come. I have been a minister for sixty two years. I have walked through a multitude of dark valleys with congregational members, family members, and friends. I have concluded that in the spiritual realm there is an Intensivist.

He is the third person of the Holy Trinity. When Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and Resurrection, the Father sent the Holy Spirit as our ‘intensivist’. I believe the term intensivist equates to the Biblical term ‘paraclete’ from the Greek paráklētos – advocate, helper, comforter. Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit will be another counselor or helper: And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18, NKJV).

The Holy Spirit is to be our:

  • Advocate: An advocate is someone who stands beside another in court and represents or defends them. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1, NIV)
  • Helper:Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 6:26-27).
  • Comforter: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter” (John 14:16b, KJV).
  • Guide: However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (John 16:13, NKJV).

As the hospital intensivist oversaw the physical steps that saved my wife’s life, so the ‘paraclete’ watches over our spiritual well-being and preserves our eternal life.

Prayer: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14).

~ Brother Roy

The Importance of Church Together

As church attendance numbers fade across the nation and online services become very convenient, it’s important to remember why church attendance for you and your family matters so much. You can’t serve from your sofa.  You can’t have community of faith on your sofa.  You can’t experience the power of a room full of believers worshipping together on your sofa.

Christians aren’t consumers. We are contributors. We don’t watch. We engage.  We give. We sacrifice. We encourage.  We pray by laying hands on the hurting. We “do life” together.

The scripture speaks loud and clear: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NKJV). The church needs you. And you need the church.

The pattern of corporate worship in the life of Jesus is well established in scripture: “As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day “ (Luke 4:16, NKJV).

Could not the words of Jesus to the Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:4-5) apply to our situation today? The Lord complimented the Church on the things they were doing well, but then said, Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” 

Despite all the good in the Ephesian church, there was something seriously wrong. They had left – not lost – their first love. They once had a love that they didn’t have anymore. This can be described as a definite and sad departure. The distinction between leaving and losing is important. Something can be lost quite by accident, but leaving is a deliberate act, though it may not happen suddenly. Also, when we lose something we don’t know where to find it; but when we leave something, we know where to find it.

Believers, when able, need to be in church. There are certainly physical disabilities and other extenuating circumstances that may not allow in-person attendance. But it is a spiritual imperative, both for the body of believers and individuals, that we come together for worship and fellowship when possible.

“not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some”

~ Brother Roy

Going Against the Flow

While shopping, I saw an interesting phrase on a T-shirt. It read, “Go against the flow – Any dead fish can float downstream”. That concept previously drew the attention of at least one major literary figure. Alford Lord Tennyson (1850–1892) is credited with the following line: “Remember, a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream.”

Perhaps you have had occasions where you decided to swim against the current. You felt it necessary to go against a prevailing or popularly held opinion or perspective. I am finding in my spiritual walk that it is increasingly necessary to choose to go against the current in order to maintain my spiritual integrity.

A Christian should not be surprised by this. Jesus said, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3, NIV). The Master also advised against moving along with the crowd because “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it(Matthew 7:13, NIV).

In some old notes on the topic from years ago, I had written the following quote: “If in stemming a current we cease pulling the oar against it, we are carried back.” We are either moving forward in God’s high calling or drifting back. God’s word to us is as it was to Israel, ‘Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward’ (Exodus 14:15). I affirm the following statement found in Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary: “The Bible is our landmark to show us whether we are progressing or retrograding.” Because we are faced with many situations where it would be easier to go with the flow than go against it, we should heed the following scriptural advice, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

The following Scripture provides us withan important guide: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-13, NKJV).

Prayer: Lord, if following your teachings requires that we swim against the current, may we have the determination to do so!

~ Brother Roy

Not My Day to Drink

The Samburu Area of Northern Kenya was gripped by an intense drought. The Samburu region is normally a dry, arid place, but an extended period with no rain had reached a crisis. The Samburu people, who usually eke out a subsistence living as nomadic herdsmen, were desperate. Their camels and goats were dying, leaving them with little or no hope.  

My wife and I were in Samburu working on a mission project to drill deep wells that could reach the water table at 700 to 800 feet deep or more. We loaded our SUV with bottles of water tucked into every possible space. We started out across the bush looking for a possible site to drill a well. Michael, our partner and a Samburu tribesman, was driving. Miles from any village, Michael stopped the vehicle. A short distance away was a slender teenage girl standing in the meager shade of small bush. She was watching her few famished goats searching for food.

Michael called out to the girl, “Do you have any water?” The girl did not understand that Michael was offering her water. She thought Michael was asking her to give him water. Her response still haunts me, “Sir, it is not my day to drink.” Her family was dying of thirst and had to alternate days to drink in order to preserve the small amount of water they had. People can generally only survive about three days without water. It’s a scene I will never forget.

As we worked to help relieve this life-threatening calamity in Samburu land, we were painfully aware of its spiritual corollary. Failure to avail oneself to the ‘Water of Life’ is a threat to a person’s eternal welfare. If we were helping bring physical water to these precious people and not the ‘living water’ of Jesus Christ, it would be a mere band-aid. Our mission, in the name of Jesus, was to not only to give water to quench their physical thirst, but to also introduce them to the One who is the ‘Living Water’ and gives eternal life.

A great blessing in helping bring wells to Samburu was sharing the ‘good news’ that no one had to perish without the Living Water. It was their day to drink! God’s promise is to all people:

  • “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost”  (Isaiah 55:1).
  • The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17).

Reliving those days in Samburu still stirs my heart. It prompts me to ask all who read this post, “Have you received this Living Water?” Jesus said, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14, NIV). It’s your day to drink!

Prayer: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

~ Brother Roy

Live, Christian, Live

The excuses that many church members give for not being actively involved as witnesses for Jesus Christ are many and varied. They may range from lack of ability to physical infirmity. Some seem to feel their role is unimportant in the church and still others say they are just too busy to get involved. 

The Apostle Paul speaks to this issue: But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:20-27, NKJV).

Every believer is an essential part of the body.  The Lord designed the Church so that each person is important and needed for the fulfillment of its calling. The dramatic drop in church attendance and the decline of the church’s influence in our society reflect the unwillingness of increasing numbers of church members to be involved. They renege as witnesses and advocates for Jesus Christ. Scores of church members are choosing the role of spectator rather than participant.

Many years of ministry in the beautiful country of Jamaica etched countless memories in my mind. One recollection relates to this devotional. The following song still rings in my mind:

                        Live, Christian, live
                        Live a life of holiness
                        If you cannot preach, you can live
                        If you cannot sing, you can live
                        You cannot hide from the face of the Lord
                        So you must live, Christian, live
                        Live a life of holiness

If Christians default on their responsibility to be Christ’s witnesses, the message He came to bring to us can disappear in one generation. There are roles every believer must fill if they are to be obedient to the Christ’s directives and if the Church is to thrive.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NKJV).

~ Brother Roy

The Transfer Portal

I really enjoy college sports. Watching intercollegiate competition has provided a wholesome and welcome diversion from the rigors of life. My daily activities across the years have often necessitated times of intense human interaction. As a minister and an educator, many of my contacts with people have serious and far-reaching consequences. Sports for me has been both entertaining and therapeutic.

A recent change in the way college scholarship athletes can transfer from one school to another has drastically changed college sports. The ‘Transfer Portal’ empowers student-athletes to make known their desire to consider other programs. It becomes a form of free agency that usually allows student-athletes to change schools without penalty.  

As we move through the days of our lives, we have many choices. The most important of those choices is our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. In Deuteronomy 30:19 the Lord declares, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” Joshua 24:15 admonishes us to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” As free moral agents, we have a choice about our relationship with the Lord. The choice we make may have eternal consequences.

If we have made bad choices that we regret, we have a chance to change. We have a type of a ‘Transfer Portal’ through Jesus Christ. Like student athletes, we have a period of time when we can “set aside the weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1). We may choose to change.

However, there comes a time when the Transfer Portal is no longer available. Jesus relates this account, “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’…And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:22-26).  If death overtakes a person who has chosen not to follow the Lord, the portal is forever closed!

If you realize you have been making wrong decisions about your relationship with the Lord, enter the portal now. “For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation”  (2 Corinthians 6:2). God’s word is clear, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

~ Brother Roy

The Pearl of Great Price

A recent trip through a local Peddler’s Mall brough to mind one of Jesus’ most noted parables: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45, NJKV).

I was making a quick walkthrough just before closing time on a Saturday evening. Before moving into a small unit in a retirement community, I operated an antique business. The love of ‘old things’ did not end with the dispersal of my stock. I still enjoy looking at and admiring pieces from the past.

As I hurried through the aisles, I spotted a beautiful art glass compote. Although I was not familiar with that particular type of glass, my instincts seem to say, “This is a really good piece.” I looked at the price. It was only $3.50. A piece marked that cheap was not likely to be valuable, and there was no time for closer examination. I sat it back on the shelf. On my way home, I couldn’t get the compote out of my mind. Later in the evening at home, I went on an internet search. With more luck than skill, I located the piece and found that the compote was of considerable value. My initial instincts were right. I was excited. The Mall was not open on Sunday; however, I was at the door when the business opened on Monday morning. The piece was still there. I was able to make the purchase and take my ‘pearl of great price’ home.

When I was in my teens, I attended a revival service at a local church with some friends. There, for the first time I really listened to the Gospel. I heard the Good News that Jesus loved me and died for my sin. Intuitively, I knew this message was for me. I understood my need of being ‘born again’. I received Jesus as my personal Savior. That night Jesus became and remains to this day my ‘Pearl of Great Price’!  My heart resonates with the Apostle Paul’s words. ”Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ” (Philippians 3:8, CEV).

I sing with Isaac Watts:

            When I survey the wondrous cross
            On which the Prince of glory died
            My richest gain I count but loss
            And pour contempt on all my pride

            Where every realm of nature mine
            My gift was still be far too small
            Love so amazing, so divine
            Demands my soul, my life, my all

Temporal treasures may be valuable because of their beauty or because they are rare, but they will all pass away. Jesus, the true ‘Pearl of Great Price’, is eternal.

~ Brother Roy

Trifecta/Trilemma

Lexington, Kentucky, my geographic home area, is affectionately referred to as ‘The Horse Capital of the World’. The scenic farms and magnificent thoroughbred horses are common sights. The vernacular in the area is peppered with terms related to horse racing. One such term is ‘trifecta’. A trifecta is a parimutuel bet placed on a horse race in which the bettor must predict which horses will finish first, second, and third, in the exact order. That’s a long shot!

In the theological realm, the arena of my thought life, there is a similar term – ‘trilemma’. The term originates with C. S. Lewis, an intellectual giant of the twentieth century. The trilemma is an apologetic argument traditionally used to argue for the divinity of Jesus by postulating that He was either “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord”.

When confronted with the words of Jesus, a person must decide who they think Jesus really is. Scripture states, “For as he (a person) thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Deep down in your heart, who do you think Jesus is? Was Jesus telling the truth when He said:

  • I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51) As bread sustains physical life, so Christ offers and sustains spiritual life.
  • I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) To a world lost in darkness, Christ offers Himself as a guide.
  • I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7-9) Jesus protects His followers as shepherds protect their flocks from predators.
  • I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) Death is not the final word for those in Christ.
  • I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11-14) Jesus is committed to caring and watching over those who are His.
  • I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the source of all truth and knowledge about God.
  • I am the true vine.” (John 15:1-5) By attached ourselves to Christ, we enable His life to flow in and through us. Then we cannot help but bear fruit that will honor the Father.

We can’t just pay lip service to these incredible claims of Jesus. We are faced with a trilemma. Isaac Watts’ words in the hymn “When I Survey The Wonderous Cross” give expression to what our response should be, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, NIV). If we profess Jesus is Lord and then affirm our profession by doing God’s will, we will enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s a sure bet!

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

~ Brother Roy