Land of the Living

Quotefancy-299734-3840x2160Two elderly sisters, both devout Christians, were approaching the end their days on earth. One of the sisters was in critical condition in the hospital. The other sister, only slightly better, came for what perhaps was their final visit. The healthier of the two leaned over her failing sister and whispered to her that this could be the last they would see each other in the ‘land of the living’. The weaker sister smiled and with a faint voice responded, “No, this may be the last time we see each other in the land of the dying.”

What beautiful insight and confidence she had in the waning hours of her physical life. All of us will face those final moments. May we have the peace and assurance that the dying sister had. Several scriptures come to my mind that can provide comfort for the time when the light of this life begins to fade.

  • “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55,57, NIV)
  • “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13, NIV)
  • Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26, NIV)
  • “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3, NIV)
  • “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4, NKJV)

Yea, though I walk
Through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
They comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

~ Brother Roy

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What’s Wrong with Eastern Kentucky?

hazardI was recently asked to speak to a civic organization about NHIM’s work in Eastern Kentucky. I shared a number of newspaper articles and various reports concerning the plight of people in Appalachia. During a Q & A period at the end, I was asked point blank, “What do you think is wrong with Eastern Kentucky”?

Let me share some of the observations with you that I shared then. First, I related to the gathering my recollections of growing up in the hills more than five decades ago. I had been largely absent from the area since graduation from high school. Except for an occasional visit or vacation weekend, I had spent little time there. A few years ago, I started working on a regular basis in Eastern Kentucky, I soon discovered, to my dismay, that it was a far different place than my boyhood memories. I have struggled to determine what had changed. My conclusions are as follows:

  • Small churches in many communities were gone, which contributes to a lack of moral fabric and opportunities for healthy social interaction.
  • Although there appears to be a number of churches in some areas, they are often totally independent. There is no accountability or oversight as to religious doctrine or financial matters. Heresies and confusion abound.
  • High unemployment, lack of job opportunities, and chronic poverty dominate most areas.
  • There is a low priority on education and marketable job skill training.
  • Welfare and reliance on other government programs have created a mentality of dependence and a sense of entitlement.
  • Poor diet, obesity, and lack of accessible medical care exacerbate the situation.
  • Drugs are rampant and violent crimes are a major problem. An abundance of ‘Pain Clinics’ greatly contributes to the crisis.
  • Breakdown of the basic family unit is leading to large numbers of neglected and abused children.
  • Human trafficking is on the rise. Recently a social worker in Eastern Kentucky informed me me of the heartbreaking and rapidly growing problem of human trafficking. Young girls (children) being sold by addict mothers for drugs is common.
  • Hopelessness and a fatalistic world view permeates the region.

Take a look at some of these heartbreaking statistical maps:

ky_poverty_rates_hca

county economic levels

Economic Levels of Appalachian Counties (source: Appalachian Regional Commission)

KyOverdoses2012

change in life expectancy at birth

Change in life expectancy between 1980 and 2014 (source: Business Insider)

In the face of these overwhelming obstacles, most programs that are meant to help only seek to change the external environment. They are based on a belief that people change from the outside in – change the environment, change the man. This failed philosophy is repeated over and over again as things continue to deteriorate in the mountains.

NHIM takes a completely different approach. We believe that the only way to truly change a person is for change to take place from the inside out. There needs to be a ‘new birth’ of moral conviction, principled life styles, and a strong work ethic in individual hearts. We rest solidly on the premise that when people become new creatures in Christ old things pass away and things become new.

Our church plants are positioned in communities where little, if any, Biblical teaching takes place. They are centers for moral instruction, healthy social interactions, and community-building. As individuals make internal changes, they link with others in the church who have also changed. They then form the building blocks for a better community and a better way of life through Christ who strengthens them.

~ Brother Roy

An Unmarked Car

smokey in plain white wrapperRecently, I was traveling on New Circle Road, which is a by-pass around the business section of Lexington, Kentucky. Largely unnoticed, a plain white car was sitting on the side of the road. As I passed the white car, I observed an ‘official’ license plate and a long antenna mounted on the trunk. It was an unmarked patrol car. I quickly checked my speed. Thankfully, I was driving the posted speed limit.

I watched as the unmarked car darted out and separated a speeder out of traffic. The other drivers observing the speed limit continued on their way. For some reason, the incident reminded me of the words of Jesus recorded in the 25th chapter of Matthew. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another” (Matthew 25:31, NKJV). 

The Matthew account continues, “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (v. 34). In this account, those who inherited the kingdom of heaven inquired as to why they were thought worthy of this great reward. Jesus responded, “…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (v. 35-36). Those on His right hand seemed unable to recall those events referenced by Jesus: “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (v. 37-40).

People in need are like unmarked cars. They have no flashing lights that say “Help me, in the name of Jesus.” If the love of the Savior has penetrated our hearts, our response to human need should automatically be to help. A true believer does not stop to calculate whether or not they will be credited for helping at judgment.

My prayer: Lord, please don’t let me get pulled over at judgment for failing to recognize the many ‘unmarked’ souls as I make my probationary journey of life.

~ Brother Roy

A Shaker Proverb

shakertownJust down the road from us, near Harrodsburg, Kentucky, is America’s largest restored Shaker village. In 1805, the religious group called the ‘Shakers’ came to central Kentucky and established a village they named Pleasant Hill. The community thrived for a while, but then gradually began to decline. By 1910, Pleasant Hill had closed its doors as an active religious society. In 1961, a remarkable restoration project began at ‘Shakertown’, as it had come to be known. The private corporation that undertook this remarkable venture has made the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill one of the finest historic restorations in the nation.

Over the past half century, I have spent many wonderful hours walking through this incredible restoration, not to mention the marvelous meals I’ve enjoyed at the renowned Shaker Inn Dining Room. I have never lost my awe and admiration for this place. Its quiet avenues and stately buildings remind me of a simpler time and way of life.

The buildings in the village are an amazing testimony to the craftsmanship and ingenuity of those early builders. Their work has stood the test of time. The Shakers lived by a principle or proverb that has had an enduring impact on my life. The proverb, generally stated is this: “Build as if you will live forever; live each day like it’s your last.” The proverb has a Biblical tone. In Romans 14:8, Paul embraces this principle: For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s”.

The Apostle Paul’s word to the Colossians also embodies this Shaker proverb. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24, NKJV). Like the Shakers, we would do well if the tasks that we set our hands to each day are done to the very best of our ability.

“In all the work you are doing, work the best you can. Work as if you were doing it for the Lord, not for people.”
(Colossians 3:23, NCV)

~ Brother Roy

Whose Image?

roman coinIn Matthew 22, the Pharisees attempted once again to trick Jesus into saying something wrong. “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk” (v.15, NKJV). The plan was to ask Jesus about paying taxes to the Roman government. If He encouraged the Jews not to pay taxes, they would charge Him with treason against Rome. If He encouraged them to pay taxes to Rome, then the Jews who despised paying taxes to their hated oppressors would turn against Him. The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v.17).

Jesus was aware of their wicked intent and asked them to show Him a coin. And He said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s’. And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’” (v. 20-21).

Today, we continue to be faced with similar dilemmas. We live in the physical world, but if we are true believers, we are not of the world (John 15:18). We must not allow the world to stamp its image on us. We should render to the world those things that are of the world. However, we are created in the image of God: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (Genesis 1:26, NKJV). We should give unto God the things that are God’s.

The scripture teaches us that if believers live so much like citizens of the world that people can’t tell the difference, it invites disaster. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4, NKJV). 

If we are to live in peace and harmony with God, we must be committed to Him. We must reflect His likeness. We must exhibit His image. We must not be conformed to the world’s likeness: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).

I was made in His likeness, created in his image,
For I was born to serve the Lord.
And I cannot deny Him, I will always walk beside Him,
For I was born to serve the Lord.

Bill & Gloria Gather

~ Brother Roy

Left Behind

The Flight of Lot by Rubens

The Left Behind books are a religious fiction series that tells a story of end times (set in the contemporary era), in which true believers in Christ have been “raptured”, (taken instantly to heaven) leaving the world shattered and chaotic. This best-seller fiction series captured the imagination of millions of readers. There is a true Biblical account that carries a similar theme as Tim LaHaye’s imaginary story – it’s is the intriguing account of Lot’s wife in the Book of Genesis.

In one brief dramatic phrase of just 15 words, Lot’s wife is placed among the most well-known women of the world. God had determined to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their manifold wickedness. Earlier, the Lot family, because they were citizens of Sodom, had been taken captive by marauders plundering the wealth of the city. Lot’s wife, along with her husband and children, had been rescued by God’s grace at that time but unwisely returned to the city. Since God is merciful and a God of second chances, He sends messengers to warn the family of impending destruction.

Mrs. Lot reluctantly responded to the ominous warning, but she lingered as if addicted to the opulence of her lifestyle there. Finally, the heavenly messengers had to take her by the hand and lead her out of the city. Outside the city, the messengers issued an irrevocable mandate: “Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed” (Genesis 19:9-10, NKJV).

Some years ago, I stood in the Louvre in Paris where Rubens’ masterpiece, “The Flight of Lot”, is displayed. It depicts Lot’s wife leaving the doomed city. To her, one of the angels is speaking the solemn warning. She is followed by her two daughters. One of the daughters leads a donkey loaded with splendid vessels filled with silver and gold. The other carries containers filled with lush fruit. Lot’s wife clasps her hands and looks beseechingly into the face of the warning angel. It’s a mind-riveting picture.

Then come those brief, dramatic words to which I referred earlier: “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26, KJV). Oh, those revealing words, “from behind”. She was following along behind, and then she was finally left behind, forever. Are you keeping up? Scripture instructs us to “add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7, NKJV). If you are not progressing and growing in the faith, you are falling behind. Don’t get left behind!

Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32)

~ Brother Roy

Umbrella Faith

umbrellaOnce, an entire village decided to pray for rain.  On the day of prayer all the villagers gathered, but only one boy came with an umbrella. That’s faith on the part of the boy. 

Scripture says; “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  Faith is the sense that beyond and behind the visible there is an invisible. By faith alone we are sure of eternal things and that they really ARE!

The “things hoped for” are not mere figments of the imagination; their basis is the word of God. By hope we are confident that we shall have them. All Christian hope presupposes faith (Romans 8:25).

The “evidence” or awareness of things not seen is convincing proof to the believer. It is the way the soul is able to see what the eye cannot see. “By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of His divine being. So nobody has a good excuse” (Romans 1:19, MSG).

In the age in which we live, everyone wants a scientific explanation, hard data, test results, etc. Most people place little confidence in anything that cannot be empirically validated. The true believer recognizes that there are two worlds, the physical and the spiritual. Of the two, the spiritual is the one that ultimately matters.

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (2 John 2:17, MSG).

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7, KJV)

~ Brother Roy