When Life Is the Pits

cherry pitsOverheard at Fitch’s store: “If life is a bowl of cherries, then I got stuck with the pits.”

I’m not sure if the ending of the phrase is the original, but it struck a chord with me. It ranks in there with, “I always seem to get the short end of the stick,” or, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” I cogitated on the idea that sometimes we seem to be the recipient of more than our share of trouble. Then an intriguing thought came to mind. When God is in charge of your life, the ‘pits’ may not be what they seem to be. They could contain the embryos of new life.

The Book of Genesis relates the amazing story of Joseph. Joseph was the 11th of the 12 sons of Jacob. Because of their father’s perceived favoritism for Joseph and Joseph’s seemingly arrogant attitude, the brothers hated him. When he was seventeen years old, they planned to kill him, but the oldest brother, Reuben, restrained them. “And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him; and they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it” (Genesis 37:23-24, KJV). If ever a person literally got stuck with the ‘pits’, it was Joseph.

But, the Biblical account teaches us that if God is directing our lives, everything will ultimately work to our benefit. The Genesis story tell us, “Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt” (Genesis 37:28).

Now, as Paul Harvey would say, here is ‘the rest of the story”. Joseph became a slave and experienced many other ‘pit’-like incidents. Prison and jail cells were often his home. However, his faith in God’s providential care did not waiver. Eventually, God’s plan began to unfold. It always does! God’s plan propelled Joseph from the pit to the palace. At 35 years old, he rose in position to be second only to Pharaoh, the most powerful man on earth. “And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:41).

A great famine struck Egypt and all of the surrounding countries. Because of Joseph’s God-given wisdom, Egypt became the ‘bread basket’ for that part of the world. Joseph was in charge of all governmental affairs. His family, father, and brothers were forced to come to Egypt to survive. When his family came to Joseph seeking help, they didn’t recognize him. In kindness, he dealt with them. When Joseph finally revealed his identity to his frightened kinsmen, he let them know he had forgiven them. Then he said, But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20, NKJV).

Joseph had been dealt a bad hand, but he didn’t fold. He trusted God when things looked bleak. God rewarded his patience and trust. Those things which seemed evil against him, God turned into good. The pits became a ‘bowl of cherries’.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths(Proverbs 3:6).  The Lord can take you from the pit to the palace of His will.

~ Brother Roy

Storm Window

storm windowA severe storm with strong winds swept through our neighborhood. A large limb from a tree in my neighbor’s yard fell across the fence and crashed into the lower level of my house. After the storm passed, I went around the house to inspect the damage. The limb had broken the storm window, but not penetrated the inside pane, because the storm window was mounted outside the main glass window.

In addition to insulation, storm windows are meant to provide an additional measure of protection for homes against damages to costly inner glass panes during inclement weather. My storm window did its job. There was no water or wind damage to the room inside.

I thought about how God’s protective care is like a storm widow. When the storms of life assail, the Lord can insulate us from internal damage. We may, at times, sustain some surface damage, but the inner person can be protected. A prayer by the Apostle Paul speaks to this point. He prays, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17).

The word’s of Dottie Rambo’s song, ‘Sheltered In The Arms Of God’, beautifully express this truth:

So let the storms rage high, the dark clouds rise – they don’t worry me
For I’m sheltered safe within the arms of God
He walks with me and naught of earth shall harm me
For I’m sheltered in the arms of God.

Lord, You are my storm window. “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

~ Brother Roy

A Guy You Want Around

what a friendI live in the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky. Many of the men in town gather at Fitch’s Store in the morning for coffee, donuts, etc.  If you have a question, it is the answer place. The group will field questions from most any category. Farming, philosophy, ailments, theology, sports, and politics are but a few of the topics the gathering will tackle.

But, most questions of a ‘who can help me with _________ (fill-in-the blank)’ nature has one answer – Alvin Harris. There are not many problems Alvin will not tackle and solve. Have a plumbing problem, call Alvin. Have an electrical problem, call Alvin. Want a dry-wall man or carpenter, Alvin is your man. Need someone to work on an ATVs or mower, try Alvin.

Recently, I was having problems with the oven in our auto-light stove. The stove was several years old and had long outlived the warranty. I called Alvin. He came and disassembled the mechanism, studied the design, and a couple of hours later had the oven working fine. As a matter of fact, better than ever. One of the burners had never worked, which explained why it took so long to reach desired temperature. Alvin is the kind of guy you want to have around.

In the spiritual realm, Jesus is a guy you want to have around. Jesus is the Answer Man. He is the one who can fix life’s most perplexing problems. Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18, NIV). Life presents us with many problems we may think cannot be fixed. Hear God’s word on the matter: “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27, NIV). 

Joseph Scriven’s hymn, “What a Friend We Have In Jesus”, shares a wonderful truth:

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do carry everything to God in prayer!

Conclusion: Jesus truly is the kind of guy you want to have around.

~ Brother Roy

Counting Sheep

counting sheepI was having one of those toss-and-turn sleepless nights. Time crawled by. I tried ‘counting sheep’, but that was just not getting it done. My mind was jumping from thing to thing. I wondered, where did the phrase ‘counting sheep’ come from? I got out of bed for a quick computer search which yielded the following: “The most popular belief, according to Mental Floss, has to do with shepherds in medieval Britain. Apparently, if shepherds used communal grazing land, they were obligated to keep a headcount of their sheep each night. So before they went to sleep, they counted their sheep to ensure that they were all accounted for”.  The phrase ‘counting sheep’ has since morphed to mean “to perform any repetitive or monotonous thought exercise as a means of calming the mind to try to fall asleep (such as the traditional sleep aid of counting imaginary sheep)”.

As I pondered this less-than-exciting information, I had a revelation. Why count sheep when I could talk to the shepherd! My mind began to take comfort and rest because, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still watersHe restores my soul” (Psalm 23, NKJV).  I thought of Jesus’ parable about a shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one which is lost (Luke 15:3–7). A sense of calm began to settle over my soul.

What a comfort to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27, NKJV). I was able to follow Him to peaceful sleep and rest. I heard Him say, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30, NKJV).

Conclusion: If you are having trouble sleeping, don’t bother counting sheep, talk to the Shepherd!

~ Brother Roy

Prepare for Sudden Stop

sudden stopIt was summer, and I was travelling south to preach a camp meeting. I was driving on a long stretch of interstate highway with few major interchanges. I vaguely noticed the usual number of summer construction sites along the way. My familiarity with the road and the general monotony of interstate driving lulled me into a state of highway ‘hypnosis’. Suddenly, I was jarred out of my stupor! Heavy rumble strips did their job. I was alert and staring at a large yellow warning sign replete with flashing lights. The sign read – “PREPARE FOR SUDDEN STOP”. The bold warning helped me avoid disaster.

As a youth growing up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, I was accustomed to seeing bold warning signs of a different kind. A noted evangelist had placed signs along many major thoroughfares in the hills. These signboards read – “PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD”. The words were taken scripture (Amos 4:12, KJV). I had also heard those words in sermons and realized they were a solemn warning to careless souls. They always succeeded in sending a shudder down my spine and cause me to ask myself if I was I prepared to meet my God.

The “PREPARE FOR SUDDEN STOP” highway signs are intended to alert drivers to potential physical danger. In like manner, the warning on the religious signboards were calculated to caution spiritual travelers. Although the signboards and sermons of my youth made me uncomfortable, I am thankful for God’s desire to help me avoid eternal disaster.

The Apostle Peter declares, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (2 Peter 3:9-10, NKJV).

As we race down the highway of life, often in a haze, let us be thankful that our loving heavenly Father is ‘not willing’ to let us run into disaster without being forewarned. I want to be prepared for that ‘sudden stop’ at my last heart beat.

~ Brother Roy

Treasures on Earth

shedDownsizing was the order of the day. Health issues and accumulating years necessitated moving into smaller quarters. Reduction of the contents of a spacious home, a two-bedroom apartment, an antique shop, and two outbuildings offered many challenges.

A large dumpster loaded to overflowing, an equal amount of stuff on the ground awaiting the arrival of a second dumpster, an auction, and most of the ‘treasure’ accrued over fifty years would soon be gone. The term ‘bitter-sweet’ described our feelings.

I mean no disrespect to Matthew 6:19, but may I offer a paraphrase? “Do not store up your treasures in outbuildings where mice leave their ‘calling cards’; where raccoons have raised a brood of ‘little bandits’, and a leaky roof destroys the best of furniture and fabric.” How quickly many things once thought to be ‘pearls of great price’ lose their luster. Stains, mold, soils, warped pieces, and moth holes spoke to me on the folly of storing up treasures on earth.

While I think I’ve always believed the words of Jesus, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV), the tangible events mentioned above brought this Biblical truth home. The message from scripture moved from my head to my heart.

Wonderful family members and Christian friends helped with the momentous task. It was very obvious that the love and kindness of these folks are true treasures on earth. Unlike the stuff we accumulate, the glorious reality that our relationships with the Lord, family, and fellow believers constitute things that never fade. These riches will continue on into heaven. Serving the Lord, sharing our faith, serving our fellowman are among the treasures we can store in heaven.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

~ Brother Roy

Artificial Light

christmas trashThe long, long commercial Christmas season has finally passed. Crass and gaudy light displays on private dwellings and business establishments have been taken down. Our eyes can begin once more to see things as they are. Originally the lights of Christmas were to symbolize the light of Bethlehem’s Star that signaled the birth of the Savior. With the passing years, artificial lights surrounding the Holidays dominate the nights but there is little, if any, connection to the Christ Child. The displays are mainly intended to attract shoppers and to entertain.

As the faux light of Christmas fades, the stark reality of bills, credit card debt, and spiritual darkness come back into focus. The artificial lights may illuminate the surface, but do not penetrate into the inner person. The darkness of a fallen world remains. The long nights for lost souls persists after the imitation light has disappeared. “If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23). We should not be surprised that so many are distracted and deceived by false light. “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14, NIV).

The glorious message of Christ’s birth was this: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him” (John 1:9-10, NIV). The true light was Jesus. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

Followers of Jesus have been given a charge to keep. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV). We, like the Apostle Paul, have a responsibility to the lost, to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins…” (Acts 26:18, NIV).

Prayer: Lord, as the artificial light of the season fades, may we be your true ‘light’ in this dark world.

~ Brother Roy

A Day Without Jesus

in him we liveDr. Andrew Johnson, an evangelist from Eastern Kentucky during a bygone era, used to say, “I’d rather have all the bombs, bullets, and battalions of earth’s armies hurled against me across a lifetime than to live one day without Jesus”.  As a young evangelist, Dr. Johnson’s words were indelibly etched in my mind.

I have come to personally affirm Dr. Johnson’s statement more and more as the years have passed. My recognition of the Lord’s daily sustaining grace seems to grow each day. I recognize that the ground upon which I walk and the very air that I breath are gifts from above. “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In the prayer that Jesus taught us (Matthew 6:11), we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” as an acknowledgement of our daily dependence on our heavenly Father.

The reality of Dr. Johnson’s proclamation is reflected in the sad laments of King Saul. On his last day, Saul was surrounded by the ‘battalions’ of his enemy’s armies. His blood and the blood of sons and comrades would soon soak into Mt. Gilboah’s soil. Hear his fear-laden cries: “Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21). “God is departed from me, and answereth me no more” (1 Samuel 28:15).

I never want to spend ‘a day without Jesus’. Lines from the great hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” express my feelings:

Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Dear friends, are you spending the days of your life without Jesus? Life without Him never ends well. Will you humbly answer His call? Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Prayer: Lord, I want to walk daily close to You.

~ Brother Roy

Where Is He?

wise men starAs Christmas approaches this December, I remember the Sandy Hook School shooting that left 20 children and 6 adults dead in December 2012. The horror shook the nation. Across the media and internet, the question of ‘why’ was everywhere. People asked, “Where was God in the midst of this atrocity?”

That tragedy has since been followed by many other school shootings. The question of ‘why’ arises each time. I wonder if I might suggest a connection. The courts have ruled that it is illegal to read the Bible, pray, or put on a Christmas pageant in our public schools. Jesus is not to be mentioned by chaplains in our military, another arena of mass shootings. Manger scenes have been banned from the public square. It is illegal to post the Ten Commandments in the lobby of a courthouse or in the hallways of our schools. “Happy holidays” is sometimes insisted upon rather than “Merry Christmas” as a common greeting. Santa Claus is seen everywhere, but where is Jesus this Christmas? Is there no room for Jesus in America anymore?

In the wake of the tragic shooting in the Connecticut school, someone posted on Facebook, “God, why would you allow such a tragedy?” In my mind, I heard God answer, “I am not allowed in schools anymore.” There is a scripture that is worth considering, “Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4:6b, NKJV).

“Where is he?” That was the question the Wise Men asked as they entered Jerusalem. They had seen his star in the East. It was a sign to them that the King of the Jews (the Messiah) had been born. Where would they find Him? They followed the star day after day and month after month until they were in the vicinity of Jerusalem. When they turned to go into the city, they were sure that they had arrived at their destination. The star which they had followed for so long disappeared. As they entered Jerusalem, they began to ask, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” They expected everybody to be excited. The birth of a King would be the talk of the whole city, but no one seemed to know. They did not find Him in this seat of government and religion as they supposed. As the Wise Men left the clutter of a fallen world behind, the star reappeared and guided them to the Christ Child. He had been born in an animal stall, in a manger, because there was no room in Bethlehem’s inn.

Jesus may not be welcome in our public schools or government offices today, but I think you can still find Him. Where is He? You will find Him in many good Christian teachers modeling Jesus before their students and teaching things which are not in their textbooks. I think you will find Jesus in a Christian doctor or nurse standing beside the bed of a dying patient, holding their hand, praying with them, offering comfort and hope as they take their last breath. Where is Jesus? I think you will find Him in those toiling in an unfamiliar culture to make Jesus known to someone who has never heard His name. You will find Him in a cell, where a prisoner has been beaten almost to death because they will not deny their faith. You will find Him in a lonely mountain cabin where an elderly couple sits before the glowing embers in their fireplace, reading their devotions and saying their evening prayers. You will find Him in the heart of a single mom, unable to provide gifts for her children, trying to hide her tears while she prays that somehow Jesus will visit their home and leave gifts for her children. You will find Him in a small country church where a simple preacher stands behind his pulpit with tears in his eyes for those who do not know Christ as their Savior and pleads with them to open their hearts to Him and be saved. In folks like these, the guiding light can still be found. Follow this true ‘light’. It will lead you to Him.

Do you have room in your heart for Jesus? Is Jesus standing outside, knocking on your heart’s door, waiting to come in? Let this be our prayer: “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for thee” (Emily E.S. Elliott).

*Thanks to Rev. Billy F. Gerald, now deceased, whose last letter to me prompted this devotional.

~ Brother Roy