A Horse! A Horse!

richard iii
Statue of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral

From time to time, a line from Shakespeare comes to mind. My high school English teacher did a good job insisting that I memorize some of Shakespeare’s famous quotes. Recently, such a line surfaced. In the play “Richard III”, the king cries out, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” after his horse is killed in battle, leaving him at the mercy of his enemies.

I was frustrated looking for my keys and said out loud, “My keys! My keys! My kingdom for my keys!” Generally, I use the phrase when I’m looking for something that is otherwise unimportant, but highly important at that exact time. King Richard likely had dozens of horses in his stables. However, here he was without a horse and it was likely he would lose his realm and his life. For Richard, the normally insignificant had become of ultimate importance. Of what benefit is a kingdom to a dead man?

I thought of the words of Jesus: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, NKJV). Many people spend the days of their lives trying to gain an abundance of material possessions. The quest for a larger house, a more expensive car, the best clothing, and more and more luxurious things, becomes an all consuming pursuit. Little, if any, time is devoted to the eternally important spiritual dimension of their lives. Of what benefit is it to amass material possessions at the expense of loss of eternal life?

What a tragic way to live! For people to come to the end of their days and find they have missed eternal life by chasing trinkets will be the ultimate loss. God’s word says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10, ESV). A quote by C.T. Studd powerfully presses this point:

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Prayer: Dear Lord, please help us invest our time and abilities in those things that are of eternal value.

~ Brother Roy

Distracted Living

distracted drivingEveryday the term ‘distracted driving’ occurs in the media. Distracted driving is certainly a major problem. Cell phones are now responsible for as many accidents as driving under the influence. People are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08% (source: University of Utah).

With the idea of serious consequences arising from distracted driving in mind, I want to propose that ‘distracted living’ likewise has significant costs. The sobering reality is that distracted living can have eternal consequences. The account in 1 Kings 20 provides a dramatic illustration. A soldier was charged with a life or death responsibility. “Guard this man with your life; if he turns up missing you’ll pay dearly. But I got busy doing one thing after another and the next time I looked he was gone” (1 Kings 20:40, MSG). He forfeited his life because he was distracted.

During the horrific days of World War II, Winston Churchill was often under duress and frequent criticism for his decisions. When asked if he had any comment about the criticism and disparagement, he replied “You’ll never reach your destination if you stop to throw rocks at every dog that barks.” We must not be distracted by criticism, pursuit of wealth, entertainment, social status, or any other ‘fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 12:25, NIV).

The journey through the days of our lives are fraught with diversions. My journey has been complicated by mild ‘attention deficit disorder’. It doesn’t take a lot to get me distracted. I have found the following scriptural advice most helpful:

  • “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you(Proverbs 4:25, NKJV).
  • Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, NKJV).
  • Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Prayer: Lord, help me to stay focused on You today. No distractions.

~ Brother Roy

The Good Seed

bird seedI was sitting on my patio working on a sermon. I noticed a song sparrow hopping on the brick ledge just a few feet away from me. I had taken down a bird feeder from its winter position on a shepherd’s hook in the yard and set it on the ledge against house. The little sparrow had found the feeder in this unlikely resting place.

The sparrow soon flew away after enjoying an unexpected feast. I went back to work only to notice a short time later that the sparrow had returned. This time it was not alone. It was accompanied by another sparrow. It led the second sparrow to the secluded feeder, took a couple of pecks and flew away, leaving its companion to enjoy the seed. A beautiful thought came to mind. The first sparrow had discovered a new source of good seed and wanted to share it with a companion.

Jesus often used common things He had observed in the world around Him to illustrate a spiritual lesson. Likewise, I wanted to share this small incident with the sparrow to illustrate a basic spiritual principle. I’ll call it the “Andrew Principle”. “He (Andrew) first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42, NKJV). 

Like Andrew, we need to bring people we know to Jesus where the ‘good’ seed’ of the gospel is found. We should not wait for them to come, but go to them.  We should seek them out, and lead them to where the Savior can be found. As true believers, we should go to our friends and neighbors, and lovingly tell them of the Savior. Jesus directed us to go, not only those close by, but to the ends of the earth. It should be our natural inclination to bring others to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, may Your love motivate us to share that love and mercy with other. You have the power to blot out sin and give us life eternal.

~ Brother Roy

The Thermostat

Digital Thermostat and male handOne winter morning as I got out of bed, I was greeted by cold air. I checked the temperature on the thermostat in the living room. It was a chilly 63 degrees even though the temperature was set on 68. The thermostat is supposed to regulate the temperature, so it was maintained near a desired set point. I called maintenance, and the problem was remedied.

We have a spiritual thermostat. Its called a conscience – a God-given inner feeling or voice that acts as a guide to rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior. If the spiritual thermostat (ST) malfunctions, the temperature of the soul begins to cool down. Symptoms of a faulty spiritual thermostat are things like the lack of attention to scripture, shallow prayer life, and irregular attendance at worship with fellow believers. A negative attitude and self-centeredness also accompany a cool heart.

If you are experiencing similar symptoms, check your ST. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV). If your ST is operating properly, scripture says: And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left(Isaiah 30:21, ESV).

When the ST – our conscience – is working properly, we live in spiritual harmony with God’s laws, but when failures occur things go awry. “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed”  (Titus 1:15-16). There is great wisdom in Paul’s words to Timothy: “Continue to have faith and do what you know is right (a good conscience). Some people have rejected this, and their faith has been shipwrecked” (1 Timothy 1:19, NCV). 

Prayer: Lord, may words of the Apostle Paul be my heart’s cry: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16, NIV).

The Second Mile

crowded highwayThe highways seemed unusually crowded as I started south on I-65. The number of vehicles was worse than I expected. The slightest provocation was cause to back up traffic for miles. It was a crowded way.

It’s not just the highways that are crowded. Restaurants, shopping malls, and other attractions are becoming more congested.  It seems almost anywhere you go you are in a crowd. This is especially true if you live in or near a city. Roughly 80% of Americans live in urban areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

If you tire of the crowded way, there is a less crowded way. When you choose to walk with Jesus, He will invite you to go with Him on many ‘second mile’ journeys.  You will not find a traffic jam on this less crowded way. There are so many hurting people around us who are burdened down with the cares of this world and so few who want to help. Jesus said, If anyone wants you to help carry a load, go with him twice as far” (Matthew 7:41, WE). The more familiar King James Translation says, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41).

As Jesus was teaching His Disciples, He said to them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant(Matthew 20:25-26, NIV). 

The choice to follow the example of Jesus certainly thins the crowd. The Lord instructs His followers to “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV). Going the second mile, helping carry another’s load, adopting the role of a servant will definitely keep you out of traffic jams.

Words from the last verse of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” come to mind:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The rewards for second mile travelers far outweigh the self-sacrifices that may need to be made – the joy of giving and serving, the abiding presence of Jesus, the peace of heart that comes by being in God’s will, the promise of eternal life in heaven, and so much more.

Prayer: Lord, I want to be a second mile Christian. Help me to follow the example of Jesus. I want to take the road less traveled.

~ Brother Roy

Building a Reputation

henry fordHenry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”. So often, we know what should be done and intend to do those things. But, often those ‘should do’ things do not get done. There is an old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Your reputation must be built on things that have been done and are open to examination.

Jesus addresses this situation in Matthew 7:21-22:So then, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” The reputation of a Christian is not so much based on what the person says, but rather is based on what they actually get done.

I believe two things are necessary to build a reputation that will garner respect for the individual and lift up the cause of Christ. First, we must be actively engaged in doing God’s work. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15, NKJV). Christianity was never intended to be a spectator sport. In scripture we see, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him”  (Acts 10:38, NKJV). The example of Jesus compels us to be a doer. James provides these words of wisdom: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves… a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1: 22, 25, NKJV). 

Secondly, it is not enough to be doing good things – the things we are doing must be those things that reflect the will of God. Being busy and doing those things the Lord desires for us to do can be miles apart. Too many religious folks equate being busy doing church activities with doing the Lord’s will. No so! Charles Swindoll says, “We are often so caught up in our activities that we tend to worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”

Prayer: Lord, help us to build a Godly reputation by doing the hard work needed to advance the Kingdom according to your will.

~ Brother Roy

The Old Pie Safe

pie safeMost of the homes in the hills of Eastern Kentucky where I grew up had a ‘pie safe’. For the uninitiated, it was a popular and relied-upon piece of kitchen furniture. These cupboards had ventilation in the form of screens or tin with holes punched in it on the sides and doors. This contributed to keeping baked goods cool and preventing mold growth. It also helped to keep pesky insects, rodents, and dirt away from freshly baked goods.

As I stared across the room at our old pie safe, it brought back a flood of memories. This one had belonged in my wife’s family for generations. When age and declining health necessitated us leaving our spacious house and downsizing, many pieces of valued furniture had to go. Not this piece! Although battle-scarred and travel-worn, it is a part of our family. It moved with us. Oh, the pies and other good things it had protected. Oh, the precious memories it holds.

Focused on the pie safe, my blank stare might have been interpreted as, ‘porch light on but nobody home’. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. There was a stirring in my soul. What a wonderful thing it would be if we had a ‘spiritual’ pie safe. It could be an everyday place where we could keep aspects of our faith, valuable lessons we learned, and personal life-changing experiences we’ve had.

So often in life, little things can prove to be our undoing. Flies and other small insects can spread disease by contaminating our food. Dust and other particles can spoil contents. Scripture notes the threat that small things present to us.

  • Pestilent flies will corrupt a preparation of sweet ointment” (Ecclesiastes 10:1, BST).
  • Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that spoils the vines” (Song of Solomon 2:15, NKJV).
  • Be careful! “Just a little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise” (Galatians 5:9, NCV).

Likewise, small sins and temptations in our fallen world surround us. They can spoil our spiritual life. Like the screens or punched tins of the pie safe that screen out contaminants, time spent daily with the Lord, scripture reading, and prayer can serve to keep our spiritual goods safe.

Prayer: Lord, today I place my life in your hands for safe keeping. May I guard against small things that can spoil my relationship with you.

~ Brother Roy

Impurities in the Spring

wellspringAs a boy, I liked to squirrel hunt in the hickory grove about a mile behind my grandmother’s house. In the grove, someone had chiseled a basin in a ledge of rock below a spring where you could get a cool drink. My older brother told me to always check the spring above the basin before drinking. There could be animal droppings or other contaminants in the spring.

That situation, like so many of my experiences across the years, served as a life lesson. This physical event easily translated into the spiritual truth. A quote by Joseph S. Exell illustrates the lesson: “Impurities in the springs of thought will be revealed in the streams of action.”

God’s word serves to establish this foundational truth. Jesus prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify (purify) them by Your truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17, NKJV). In other words, cleanse the wellspring of their hearts. Let me share two scriptures that relate directly to the point of impurities in the spring of man’s thought:  

  • “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).
  • “For from within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evils come from within, and these are what defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23, NIV).

Have you ever caught yourself wondering, “Why did I say that?” or “Why did I do that?” Perhaps you have been at a loss to explain uncharacteristic behavior on your part. Maybe someone close to you has said, “That’s just not like you.” For the answer, check the the spring. Impurities in the heart ‘spring’ reveal themselves in your actions.

May the words of Brian Doerksen’s song “Purify My Heart” be our prayer:

Purify my heart,
Cleanse me from within
And make me holy.
Purify my heart,
Cleanse me from my sin, deep within.

~ Brother Roy

A Dead Mule

muleDuring my youthful years, my dad often used a parable or folk story as a teaching tool for me. On one occasion, my dad gave me an advance on my allowance for my promise to weed and hoe the garden. The money was soon spent on attending a ballgame and a movie. The promised work seemed to slip my mind. After a while, my dad called me to his version of a ‘come-to-Jesus meeting’.

My dad told me the following true story:  As a young farmer, he was trying to scratch out a living on a 39-acre farm.  He had a team of horses and a mule. A neighbor with a dubious reputation for hard work and trustworthiness approached him with a plaintive story. He desperately needed a mule to tend his garden and a small tobacco crop. He had a large family who would go hungry if my dad didn’t sell him the mule. Against his better judgment, a tender heart prevailed, and he sold the neighbor the mule. Poor treatment and overwork led to the demise of the mule within a few months. The promised payments never came. When my dad quizzed the fellow, his response was, “Lloyd, it’s awful hard to pay for a dead mule”.

Permit me to apply the lesson I learned that day to the spiritual dimension of life. Many of us have found ourselves in a seemingly hopeless situation. Perhaps it was a critical illness, financial crisis, or family tragedy that overwhelms us. We cried out to the Lord for help. In desperation, we promised to go to church, read the Bible, and live an exemplary life, if only the Lord would help us. The crisis passes and things come to a successful conclusion. All of the promises and commitments then seem to slip our minds and we settle back in to life as usual.  With the stressful predicament over, we find it is “hard to pay for a dead mule”.

God’s word issues stern warnings against making rash vows to God. I’ll share just one: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God…When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.  It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it” (Ecclesiastes 5:2-6, NIV). 

Prayer: Lord, when we urgently need your help, let our petitions be based on a right relationship with You, not shallow promises as we seek mercy and grace.

~ Brother Roy

You Washed My Feet!

Cropped view of mother applying plaster to sons footMy wife had a new lady helping her with house cleaning. In casual conversation, Gerry mentioned living in an adjacent county when she was a little girl. My wife alluded to the fact that I had been a principal at an elementary school in that area. Gerry recalled that the principal of her school was Mr. Lauter. After a moment, with wide eyes she exclaimed, “You’re Mr. Lauter! You’re Mr. Lauter! You washed my feet!”

She then related an event that had us both in tears. Her family had just moved into the community. She was new to the school, didn’t know anybody, and was frightened. At recess, she went out on the playground and kicked off her shoes to play. She stepped on a piece of glass and cut her foot. She remembered the principal picking her up, carrying her into the principal’s office, taking a basin of water, washing her foot and bandaging it. In the next moments, my heart was warmed as together we relived the long ago event.

That memory was quickly followed by another. Her family had just moved the day before. She was still frightened and confused when she boarded the school bus for home. About an hour later, the bus driver brought her to my office. She was sobbing. She couldn’t remember where she lived. I assured her that we would find her home and she calmed down. After driving numerous streets and roads, we found her home and a very anxious mother. Time prohibits me from also sharing details of rescuing her when she got stuck between standards on the swing set. As we talked, the fog of the past fifty years lifted as precious memories flooded in.

Later, because of my conversion with Gerry, I was able to push the curtain of time back even farther. I remembered when Jesus found me wounded by sin, confused, and needing a friend. He washed my feet, bound up my wounded soul, and became my life-long friend. Like Thomas the Disciple (John 14), I was lost and didn’t know the way to my eternal home. Then I heard Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” I’ve followed Him ever since. When I had attempted so long ago to help a child, Jesus had likewise reached out to me. Gerry proved to be not so much a frightened little girl, but the embodiment of Jesus. A verse of scripture came to mind, “Then the King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me’ (Matthew 25:40, NCV).

Have you been wounded by sin? Do you need a friend to bind up a broken heart? Jesus will do that and more. He will show you the way home. If you are a believer, are you reaching out to hurting people like He has reached out to you? That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV).

~ Brother Roy