Volume vs. Substance

empty vesselsThe morning coffee drinkers at Fitch’s Store often contribute folk sayings and witticisms to our cogitations. One such phrase recently surfaced: “Empty vessels make the most noise.” The analogy refers to the principle in physics that empty containers create louder noises than filled ones. In relation to people, perhaps you have noticed that at times those with the least knowledge speak the most, speak the loudest, and create the most fuss? They substitute volume for substance in an attempt to make their point.

I grew up in a culture where emotional displays were a normal part of social interaction. Vociferous proclamations were often used in place of reasoned discourse. At times, heated arguments could even erupt into violence. Mountain feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys would be an example of my cultural roots.

The religious communities were not exempt from this phenomenon. In some of the churches, the measure of spirituality was how loud and animated the preacher and congregations were. I frequently wondered if many of these boisterous folks were “empty vessels”. Observations of these same folks in everyday life caused me to call into question the fullness of God’s spirit in them. I remember hearing my grandmother say, “It’s not how high you jump, but how straight you walk when you hit the ground that really matters”.

Hear the wisdom of Solomon on the matter, “Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain” (Proverbs 25:14). Peter says of such people, “These are wells without water…” (2 Peter 2:17). They are in fact empty vessels and would be well advised to remain quiet unless they have real knowledge to offer.

James gives this advice, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV). It is true even in Christian circles: “Empty vessels make the most noise”

Prayer: Lord, let us share our faith in Christ from a full heart. “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45, NIV).

~ Brother Roy

The Great Migration

monarch migration

It was late October. I was setting on the seventh floor balcony of a dear friend’s condo on the beach in Destin, Florida. The sun was bright and warm as I gazed lazily toward the gulf. I became aware of a constant stream of Monarch Butterflies passing by. The old Biology teacher in me awoke and I remembered the amazement in my student’s eyes as they learned about the Monarch Butterfly Migration.

The Monarchs begin their southern migration September to October. Eastern and northeastern populations, originating in southern Canada and the United States, travel to overwintering sites in central Mexico in November. Then they begin their northern migration in March. No individual butterfly completes the entire round trip. Female monarchs lay eggs for a subsequent generation during the northward migration. Four generations are involved in the annual cycle. This massive movement of butterflies has been called “one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world”. I was witnessing part of this amazing event right before my eyes.

As is so often the case, a life lesson presented itself to me while I paused for a moment of reflection. I thought, I have something in common with the Monarch Butterfly. It is on a pilgrimage to fulfill God’s created purpose and so am I. It is pausing here for a brief period of time before its journey across the expanse of water between this shore and its final destination. These days of preparation are critical before it takes wing for the crossing. My stay here on earth is also my preparation time before I wing my way home.

The Monarch has a homing instinct that guides it. Man also has a homing impulse nestled within. In man, it’s called the ‘soul’. The homing call 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.” 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.” Like the Monarch, we pause for a brief time to prepare for our journey and then we take our flight.

The words of the gospel song ‘I’ll Fly Away’ (by Albert E. Brumley) echoes in my mind:

Some bright morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away

May I ask how your preparation for this eternal event is coming? Do you know the way home? Thomas asked Jesus how he could know the way to heaven. “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). If you know Jesus, you will know the way home!

Prayer: Lord, may my days of preparation here be pleasing in Your sight. When You call, I want to be ready to fly away to Your celestial shore.

~ Brother Roy

The Generator

generatorOne of the most powerful hurricanes on record was moving slowly across the Bahamas, leaving a path of unimaginable destruction. Hundreds of thousands of people were plunged into darkness as electrical power was wiped out. The hurricane was then projected to take several more days before making landfall in Florida and along East Coast.

Television coverage of such events is fueled by ‘for profit’ companies that use commercials to attract customers. This was a prime time to advertise generators. These generators are small machines powered by gasoline or diesel that convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. It was suggested that you might keep one in your basement for those times when a storm knocks out your power.  With power outages that could last for extended periods, generators were hyped as essential for lights, refrigeration to preserve food, and other indispensable functions of modern life.

These commercials on TV also ‘generated’ a life lesson in my mind.  We live in a sin-darkened world. People are stumbling and falling in this darkness. Mass shootings, terrorism both domestic and international, and the drug crisis are but a few situations that reflect the darkness. The Message Translation says it well: “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is” (John 3:19, MSG).

Jesus came into the world to generate light and dispel the darkness. Scripture says:

  • For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.(2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV)
  • Jesus came, “To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79, ESV)
  • “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)

A Comforting Promise: The Lord will generate the “light of life’ in all who follow Him.

~ Brother Roy

The Twinkie Defense

twinkiesAn old proverb states, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client.” While this is generally true in the physical sense, it is undoubtedly true in the spiritual realm. When we stand at God’s Judgment Bar, only a fool will try to offer a defense or an excuse for sin. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, “Liquor may have its defenders, but it has no defense.” In the same way, sin may have its defenders, but it has no defense before God.

Scripture speaks clearly about judgment:  

  • “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, NIV)
  • “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19, NKJV)
  • “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” (John 5:22, NIV)

Any attempt to excuse our sins before God is like the Twinkie Defense. The term “Twinkie Defense“, a derisive label for an improbable legal defense, surfaced in the murder trial of Dan White for the murders of San Francisco city Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Lawyers argued that consumption of Twinkies and other sugary foods was a symptom of depression and that contributed to White’s murderous actions.

The reality of Scripture warns us no human being stands a chance of acquittal at judgment based on his or her personal righteousness or any other excuse. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all of our righteousnesses are like filthy rags(Isaiah 64:6, NKJV). We need a Defense Attorney like no other. Thanks be to God – we can have one! We have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). People who have received Jesus as their savior have Him as their advocate. He is their defense attorney before the Father. We who were sinful will find in Him the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and thus have our acceptance with the Father.

Prayer: When I stand at judgment, “Oh, may I then in Him be found; Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne” (“The Solid Rock” by Keith Ward).

~ Brother Roy

From Seed to Full Flower

sunflowerFall was rapidly approaching. Crops were nearing maturity and harvest. A field of sunflowers caught my attention. The huge seed heads were bowing toward the earth. The seed heads of some varieties can be especially large. A quick Google check indicated that the heads may, at times, contain up to two thousand seeds. In God’s creative design, a small seed can produce a remarkable harvest.

A life lesson emerged in my mind. A recent Sunday School lesson focused on Revelation 16 At the end of time, the order is given, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth” (v.1). Terror, suffering, and unspeakable pain beyond imagination are poured out. John Swaim, an excellent teacher, made an insightful and soul-stirring statement: “Here we see the full flower of earth’s first sin in the Garden of Eden.” Although there was some discussion that followed, my mind was riveted to his statement. I was shaken by the thought and experienced “a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:27, NIV).

I wonder if the daily reports of mass shootings, staggering numbers of drug overdose deaths, abuse of children, starvation, terrorism, cruel tyrants and more are the harbingers of far worse things to come? Is the rapid decline in the influence of the church a herald of the looming apocalypse? Are the judgments of God coming to ‘full flower’? If so, what should I be doing?

There are two areas of crucial concern for me. First, my own personal readiness for these coming events. I want to approach each new day with clean hands and a pure heart through the power of the Holy Spirit. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:10-12, NIV). I desire to live in a state of readiness.

The second area of concern is my obligation to be a witness to those who are not in a right relationship with the Lord. To share the offer of salvation from the Lord and to tell of the impending judgment if He is rejected is both a both a privilege and a responsibility. James admonishes us, “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20, NIV). The Message translation gives a clear and simply word, “God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change” (2 Peter 3:9, MSG). I desire to be a ‘light’ for Christ in a world that is growing darker by the day.

Prayer: Lord, as I contemplate the end of time, may I be committed to personal holiness. May I be fervent in my desire to share the message of salvation to all who will listen.

~ Brother Roy

Drive-In Revival

“Get in touch with God, turn your radio on!” That was the theme at the Sunday afternoon worship service at Bear Pen Church.  We were in our second week of Sunday afternoon drive-in revival services at the little church in Wolfe County, Kentucky.  A global pandemic required us to avoid close contact with each other, but “social distancing” did not prevent us from gathering to worship and hear the Good News.

Cars gathered on the hillside in front of our Abiding Hope Food Pantry as music and a revival message filled each car. Our little FM radio transmitter sent a clear signal to each car. The “Amens!” came by way of a honk of the horn and the flash of headlights. Praise the Lord, when our church door was closed, God opened a window. The Spirit of God visited with us as we turned our radios on.

lauter bear pen drivein

A Great Change

cirrus clouds

I was gazing out over the waves from the seventh floor condo balcony in Destin, Florida. The warm sun and a gentle breeze was soothing to my soul. There wasn’t a cloud in the bright blue sky. Although I didn’t fall asleep, I was adrift in thought and oblivious to the passing of time. Sometime later, I roused to full consciousness. I quickly became aware the unclouded sky had given way to a cover of high flying Cirrus clouds.

From my previous days as a science teacher, I knew that an increasing cover of Cirrus clouds indicated a change of weather would occur within 24 hours. The sobering reality of change, not only in the weather but in life in general, settled in my mind. Perhaps my sensitivity to change has been heightened by recent events in my own life. In our mid-seventies, my wife and I faced a radical change. We sold the home we had built with our own hands 43 years earlier. We downsized drastically and moved into a senior living center. Wow! What a change!

Faced with the inevitability of change, we need to be prepared to deal with it. I want to make a slight word substitution in Proverbs 27:12 (NIV) without altering the true perspective of the verse: “The prudent see change (danger) and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” With things changing all around us, we can take refuge in God’s unchanging word. It is there that we find instructions and directions that can help us cope with the ebb and flow of life’s circumstances. “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore, I hate every wrong pathYour word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:104,105, NIV). 

Are you preparing for the changes in your life that will surely come? I have found the following scripture verses helpful:

  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV)
  • So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV).

I am presently waiting for the next GREAT change in my life. It may be tomorrow, maybe next year, maybe in ten years or more, but it will come. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.…we shall be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53, NIV). In the meantime, what a joy it is to walk with Jesus through each change in my life.

At times, I enjoy reading Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message. It can provide a fresh look at well-known scriptures. For example: “Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace” (1 Corinthians 4:16, MSG). While I wait, my heart sings, “Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided— Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

We Shall Be Changed – Hallelujah

~ Brother Roy

The Inevitable and the Optional

cemetery cross 2As the morning coffee crew gathered at Fitch’s Store, a sense of sorrow and disbelief hung over the group. The day before, a robust young man in his thirties had died. He was a frequent patron at the store. All of us knew this well-liked young man. It was certainly a heartbreaking loss to family, friends, and community. His death was a sudden and harsh reminder of our own mortality.

We had to come to terms with the fact that under God’s providence we will all die one day. Unless we are part of the generation that will be alive at the return of Christ, no one is going to get out of this world alive. We have a hard time internalizing that fact. Americans spend billions of dollars a year trying to slow the aging process. Joggers line the road early in the morning to exercise and to keep their hearts healthy. We take vitamins and other supplements, trying to stave off diseases. And those are good things. We ought to be good stewards of our physical bodies. But those things will not keep us from dying. We all are going to die someday. Physical death is inevitable.

While our physical demise may be inevitable, our spiritual death is optional. An old adage says, “born once, die twice; born twice, die once”. If we experience only physical birth, we will die physically and also be subject to a second death – spiritual death. The term “second death” occurs four times in the New Testament, specifically in Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, and 21:8. Unless spiritual death is faced and reversed in this life, the final result will be unending separation between God and all who reject Him. This is the second death.

The good news is this second death is optional. Hear God’s words of the matter:

  • Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.” (John 3:5-7, NIV)
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12, NIV)

Prayer: May we exercise our option and chose life in Jesus.

~ Brother Roy

Sparrow Care

sparrowI was listening to a Christian radio station while driving. They were playing one of my favorites, ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow’ by Charles Gabriel. Beautiful memories of a dear friend and song evangelist, Paul Roher, came to mind. We had spent many years working together in camp meetings and revivals and at Asbury College. The song was one of his most requested songs. Memories were flooding my soul.

Although I had heard the song more times than I could count, it seems the Lord used it in a special way this time. Sparrows are among of the most common birds in the world. They are considered the lowliest of our ‘feathered friends’. I thought, “I’m a sparrow.” A sense of comfort and security settled over me. My heart kept singing “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” I may not be an eagle or a peacock, just a lowly sparrow, but He cares for me.

The scriptures assure me of this truth;

  • “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” (Matthew 10:29, NIV)
  • “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7, NIV)

Matthew mentions two sparrows for a penny and Luke’s account notes five sparrows were sold for two farthings. Sparrows were so common and cheap that if a man bought two farthings’ worth he got one thrown in free. Yet, the Lord promises “not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”

In a world fraught with trouble and uncaring people, a world where ‘might makes right’, a world that seems to cater to the rich and famous – what a blessing it is to realize that the One who really matters has His eye on us. He cares for us no matter how insignificant and lowly we may be in the eyes of the world.

May I ask, “Do you have a personal relationship with the one who watches over and cares for you?” You can by confessing your sins and inviting Him in to your heart (1 John 1:9).

Prayer: I want to walk with the One who provides His followers ‘Sparrow Care’.

~ Brother Roy

Improving

improvementWhen I moved to Wilmore to attend Asbury College, I often encountered Dr. Paul. He was a retired professor and frequently visited the campus, especially for chapel services. He was a pleasant and engaging gentleman who always had a smile. If you asked him, “Dr. Paul, how are you today?” he would respond, “Improving, improving.” His reply of “improving” was always followed up with the comment, “The largest room in my house is the room for improvement.”

Half a century has passed since then, but Dr. Paul’s words still challenge me. The wisdom behind his words are well-grounded in scripture. Peter emphasized the necessity for believers to keep ‘improving’ in their walk with Christ:

  • “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8, NIV).
  • “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:18, NIV).

The Book of Hebrews urges believers to keep improving; “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so” (Hebrews 6:1-3, NIV).

With scripture urging true believers to keep improving, adding to their faith, moving forward to maturity, it is incumbent on us to do so. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I improving?” We need to understand, like Dr. Paul, “The largest room in our house is the room for improvement.”

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

~ Brother Roy