As COVID-19 continues its warpath through the world, Gospel Rescue Mission has remained a safe haven for our guests and a place of comfort. For one guest, COVID-19 left his life in shambles, and we were the soft-landing place he needed so that he could sift through the rubble and start putting the pieces back together. So, what happened to James? Did he fall ill? Did he lose a family member to the destructive virus? No. In fact, James’s story has a whole new level of shock factor.
It was early March, one week before America came grinding to a panicked halt. James received a troubling call from a friend, and he knew he needed to be there as that person went through one of the worst experiences one could imagine: the sudden loss of their spouse. He could hear the pain in his friend’s voice and knew he had to help in any way that he could, so he took the next flight out to California, unaware of what was stirring up on the other side of the globe. What he thought would be his mission to help another would ultimately tear his life apart.
A week after arriving in sunny California, mass-hysteria set in as news swept across the nation about the pandemic. Airports were cancelling flights, bus stations closed down, and trains weren’t taking passengers. Transportation, other than pricey rental cars, became non-existent. So, James buckled down for the long haul, happy to be with a friend in need and enjoying the vacation-style atmosphere of Cali. Its beachy palm trees made for a nice change of scenery, much different than the quiet plains of Oklahoma. Just as he was settling in though, his phone rang again. This time, the devastation was much closer to home.
His wife called with the news no husband ever wants to hear, especially when you are a thousand miles across country. “I have cancer,” she told him somberly. And with those three words, James’s life came tumbling down. He tried to catch a flight out, take a bus, anything, but with limited funds, and all inexpensive forms of transportation down for who knows how long, he was stuck. After a short time, he found a flight to Dallas, the closest he could get to his home in Tahlequah, and he jumped on it without hesitation. Upon arriving at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, he was quarantined for two weeks at the Arlington Event Center, having just arrived from a coronavirus hot spot. In the meantime, his wife was going to appointment after appointment receiving more bad news with every visit. Those two weeks seemed to be an eternity.
When his time in quarantine was up, he made a mad dash for the bus station, which was still operational in Texas. He went as far as the bus would take him, Muskogee, and that’s when things really started to unravel. His funds were completely depleted. His wife’s health had taken a turn for the worse; in just a matter of 3 weeks after her diagnosis, she was hospitalized, and the prognosis wasn’t good. With no income and his wife being in the hospital, the family home that they had been renting was needed by other family members, and they lost their home. He had no place to go back to and no money to get him to Tahlequah anyways. And with the hospital locked down due to COVID-19 and not accepting visitors, there was no point in trying to get there anyways. And that’s when he found Gospel Rescue Mission.
Since being here, James’s wife was transferred to OSU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, underwent two surgeries, and still has two more surgeries to go. While doctors are trying to be optimistic, the reality of the situation is that her health is uncertain. She was stable enough to be released after her surgeries, so she went to live with her son until they could get a place of their own and start rebuilding their lives. James recently found employment at a great job and is saving up to get their vehicle back and get a new place to call home.
We all know that God can work amazing miracles through the power of prayer. So, if you are reading this story, please take a moment to pray for them and for all the guests and staff at GRM. It’s a tough business to be on the receiving end and the giving end of life change, and COVID-19 hasn’t made it any easier. However, through prayers and the support of our volunteers and donors, the guests and staff at GRM will keep coming back with more stories of heartache turned to heartwarming stories of strength and resilience. Thanks for all your support!
In a well-written letter, artfully crafted in beautiful cursive handwriting, Roger tells a friend that, “One of my greatest accomplishments in life has been, and still is, my sobriety.” He came in for our interview well-dressed in a pale blue polo shirt and nice khaki pants, hair long but well-groomed into a ponytail. In our brief interaction, he expressed concern for the health of one of our guests, compassion for the others who seem to be in a worse situation than himself, and his kindness and big heart was apparent within our seven minute conversation. Rather than telling me his story, he handed me this letter.
“Everything you need to know about my story is right here in this letter to my dearest friend and supporter,” he explained. We spoke for a short time, and it wasn’t until after he left that I began to read about this beautiful soul named Roger.
His new life began after he spent quite some time clinging to life, hooked up to a respirator because of his alcohol addiction. He had also used meth throughout the years, but that didn’t have a hold on him like alcohol did. He’s now been sober for well over 10 years, and he knows that its because of God that he no longer has the cravings or the taste for liquor. As I read over his words, I thought it was interesting that on a few occasions he referred to God as my God. His close relationship with the Lord came across loud and clear.
He addressed his friend, “You told me once, ‘Roger, you are made of a much finer metal than that and God has a far greater plan for you…’” While being here at the Gospel Rescue Mission, that plan didn’t seem to be very obvious to Roger, I could tell as I read his eloquent words, but the hope that he expressed throughout the four-page message was hard to miss. “I’m a good influence to the young and old…people have begun to gravitate toward me. It’s like magic in a way,” he wrote, very aware of how God was using him in the least likely of situations. “I do believe I’m an instrument of our God,” he mused.
As he concluded his letter, he gave one final thought. “Together, we can give away what has been given to me. Although I’m down, and some think broken, I have never felt so free. I feel good about the things to come.” It wasn’t but a few days after our interaction that Roger left GRM with family, and we pray that this was God guiding him to a new situation where he could be a light for others, just as he was praying for.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Many take a large growing church as a sign of God’s favor and His blessing. It might be. The preacher might sell many books, have active speaking schedules and even be able to claim worldwide attention. Their ministry might be done in power with the signs and wonders of miracles, healing and more. But that is just a maybe. Those things were true of the apostle’s ministry, sometimes.
But too many today twist Scripture, cherry pick verses here and there in an attempt to justify their false teaching and explain away difficult passages such as, “Take up your cross…” These same teachers dismiss most of the Old Testament. Yet, Jesus warns us not to do that. He is a fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets (most of the old testament by the way.) This means that if we are to understand Jesus, we must take the time to study to understand God as he is portrayed in the law and the prophets.
The law is a teacher. I really did not understand what coveting really was until I read the Torah. Honestly, apart from the law I think I am a pretty good person. My soul is dying but I have no symptoms that I am willing to acknowledge. But when I meditate on His law, I sense my own sinfulness. I see my own selfishness. Where when I only look at the New Covenant, I see that I am forgiven. I find peace with God and others through the saving Grace of Jesus. That is my only hope. But as long as I deny the symptoms, I will refuse the cure. The law and the prophets come together as a standard, as a covid-19 test to inform me of my illness.
But again, too many preachers today lie about numbers forgetting that lying is a sin. I have heard it justified saying that the end justifies the means. They manipulate people with soft music, shame and adjusted lighting so that they can claim “more souls for the Kingdom.” If they use the tools of the devil to gain an audience and they have twisted Scripture they are not of God. But since they have not examined their own hearts, they do not know that. Since they have not set their life alongside the law and the prophets, they don’t know that they are simply spreading their own sinful virus.
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.Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
The day of the false teacher is here. Do not be deceived. Instead, examine yourself and then receive the cleaning of the King.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you:
For some reason we (the people of God) have divided our world into secular and holy. Yet this is His world. We belong to Him. It is all His. All the world is holy. I pray that through this blog series you will begin to see the Holy Spirit directing your every step, in every area of you life.
We have come to believe that living a life filled with the Holy Spirit is limited to church or obviously sacred events. But the anointing or what is sometimes referred to as the infilling of the Holy Spirit is for our everyday life and work. Decide today to do all of your work unto the Lord. Invite the Holy Spirit to grant you the wisdom, understanding and knowledge to do all that your work and life requires. Allow Him to rule your daily life. He will cause you to do better work. He will cause your work to be done more efficiently and with a higher quality than you could ever imagine doing on your own. Do you have a speech to give? The same Holy Spirit that inspires great preaching can lead you to give an inspired presentation about architecture, solving world dilemmas and anything else that you are seeking to accomplish through your speech. It is the Holy Spirit, the gift of Christ that will empower you. Even the most secular, the most common tasks can be done in power and in overpowering love.
“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.
For too many in the church today there is a focus on the darkness. Our denomination decides on what sin is and then we spout hate and division. Don’t get me wrong here, sin leads to death. There is no question on that. Our focus first must be on our own sin.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7: 3-5
Socrates is given credit for saying that, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Examine your life and cleanse yourself you doubleminded!
The light of the modern church is dimmed. We have forsaken the poor and put our focus on large church facilities. We claim this is the light of the world showing the power of God. However, remember who it was that promised the riches of the world to Jesus. Many of these large churches do have large numbers of people come to faith. But how many develop the heart of God to go into the inner cities? The light must show up to light the way for those who spend their lives viewing pornography, oppressing others, those that are feeling hopeless and more.
I am not saying ignore sin. We must call it out. What I have discovered as I have now routinely examined my choices and my own heart is that ALL of my sin stems from me trying to meet a legitimate need in a way that dishonors God. More and more I am better able to recognize the need and my temptation to meet it with some sort of idol worship. The recognition is powerful, and I can turn to God.
“Jesus I am lonely. Jesus I am afraid. Jesus, I don’t know what to do.” Sometimes I discover that I put too much stock into what people think of me or my identity is wrapped up in some false image. When I am successful at repenting and turning toward God I can become the light. I shine brighter. The light is not on me but is actually on the King. My God protects me, He defends me and He can do the same for you. Just trust in Him. I know you hurt. I understand because I often hurt too. Turn to God and ask Him to cleanse you so that you can be a city shining on the hill that beckons people to come to you because you represent hope, healing and salvation.
Many years went by when a signal went out far and wide to report the death of Joseph. Many arrived to visit his home and walk the grounds to see the place where they had buried his ashes. The place on the trail had been prepared many years in advance. The marker there said, “Parts of trail may be impassible. Yeah right!” The marker made all who knew Joseph to smile. Those who were random visitors would be perplexed. Shaking his head and smiling Samuel noticed the perplexed look on some children.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” one of the kids asked their mother who also looked baffled. Samuel continued to shake his head and debated whether he should admit that he was eaves dropping or not. He wondered if it was his place to tell the story. Samuel scratched his balding head and nodded to his wife and she too shook her head. She had heard the story too many times and really didn’t want to hear it again. However, she did like the expression on Samuel’s face when he told it. This was his first of many visits to Tranquility.
Clearing his throat, Samuel asked, “I’m sorry but I couldn’t help but overhear the question. I know the answer if you would like to hear it?” The little family sat down on a bench.
“When Joseph was a young man he was out on a vacation with his wife, kids and his in-laws. As part of the adventure they stopped by a state park that had been a routine part of his wife’s childhood. There was a lake and the day was really beautiful. They had not come prepared to do any swimming, but someone noticed that there was a nature trail that went all the way around the lake. After some consultation whether or not the kids could make the 1.2-mile adventure it was decided to give it a shot. The youngest could be carried a bit and they would take turns if it really came to that. It was not long from the trail head when they saw a sign that said that ‘Parts of trail may be impassible.’ Joseph looked at his wife and kids and another meeting was called. After some laughter it was decided that if it really was impassible, they could just turn around. They would go as far as they could. Several times along the trail they came across a log or a small stream of water. Every time that they came to one of these ‘obstacles’ Joseph would laugh and say, ‘Part so trail might be impassible, yeah right.’ Joseph when he told the story would stop there to say that many times there are signs that seem like the trail ahead will be impassible and that we should simply turn around. Most of these are fakes and lies. If God has called you to go around the lake, then go around the lake. No matter how many signs tell you that ‘parts of trail may be impassible’ you must just say, ‘Yeah right.’ As the troopers continued around the trail, they came to a place that was actually a raging stream flooded by some recent rains. By the looks of it there was no way to get past this one. That is when they noticed that the park rangers were in the process of building a bridge and had laid two logs across the stream. Another meeting was called. They had already hiked a little better than mile. The children had been carried much of the way. Everyone was starting to get tired. ‘Let’s go for it.’ Joseph climbed up on the log and scooted his way across as the family rested. He wanted to make sure that this was the only part of the trail that was actually impassible. Coming back and having confirmed that if they got past this that they might get a little wet, but there was only a short hike from finishing the trip. Joseph scooted with his boys across. His daughter made her own way. Soon his wife, taking off her shoes, meanders over the log and safely arrived on the other side. The in-laws also carefully made their way over. Joseph would say that there actually is no such thing as an impassible trail. Sometimes you must get creative to get around, under or over and obstacle. Over the years I heard him say many times, ‘Parts of trail may be impassible, yeah right!”
Other visitors arrived over the course of the year. Eric stopped by to pay respects during a visit back to the states from the Uganda where he, his wife and kids had been living as missionaries. Eric was now disciplined and healthy. His family was stable and enjoyed the stability that comes from an adventurous and stable family.
Julie was among the first to hike the trail. Her life was unbelievable. After five years of running the 50’s restaurant as part owner, her partner turned over the whole operation to her. She had launched out and added a medieval restaurant that did not succeed. With the encouragement of her husband she invested in theme dining opportunities of all kinds. She had one that was a replica of a 1920’s club with swing music that was very successful. The 50s and 80s themes were always popular and did well. She added in movie themed attractions and now was passing on much of the day to day operations onto her daughter.
Sarah never came to see Tranquility. Rarely did she even think of Joseph as she now was the CEO of a major hotel chain. Long since divorced she was lonely and even though she often put a happy mask on everywhere she went, she was secretly miserable. Her husband Mike though had come many times. After the divorce he took Joseph’s course and was now remarried and owned a small construction business that mostly did remodels. He was fully content.
Now you my friend. What will be your story? How should we tell your tale? Invest in yourself and experience a full and complete life. Invest wisely.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
People are no longer thirsty for the things of God. Sure, many go to church and even more claim a style of Christianity, but few are desperate for the things of God. Once I had a toothache and determined I would do absolutely anything to make the pain go away. I handed my wife a hammer and asked her to beat the tooth out. I tied a string around the tooth with the other end on a weight and dropped the weight down the stairs. I slammed my head against the wall and so much more. Nothing worked. I was desperate but I was refusing to do the simple. I was refusing to call the dentist. Once I was desperate enough, I made that call. Less than two hours later I had seen the dentist, my pain was gone. He had absorbed the infection and given medication to care for me. I struggled in my own way for hours before calling on the only solution that had any hope.
In the same way there are many who will feel the pain and discomfort of their lives sometimes for decades but refuse to make the one call that makes a difference.
We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for He can even raise the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:9
When you are salty you are looking for God in ALL situations. You are DESPERATE! You desire to please Him above all things. When you are salty you throw caution to the wind and simply go after Him.
It was safer for the Apostles to simply go back to fishing. No Pharisees nor Sadducees going to threaten to kill you while you bring in a catch of fish. Tradition says that all the apostles except John died a martyr’s death. That was not needed. Peter could have lived a quiet life with his family. Andrew would have sent his kids to visit Uncle Simon on the weekends. But he took a chance. He was salty. No, he was not perfect. He often held onto fear. Too often he tried to do things his own way and hold onto the old traditions. But when you are salty you are desperate enough to listen to the whole of God’s word. You are thirsty enough to consider that just maybe you are misunderstanding His Word. Your thirst will make you just a touch insane in your efforts to learn more, experience more and live more.
How do we get thirsty?
Pray deliberately and with emotion.
Pray God would open His Word to you in some different way.
Visit other denominations and faith groups.
Read books, articles and more from outside you faith group.
Talk with those in a different faith group and honestly seek to understand their interpretation of Scripture. (You don’t have to agree. You must just listen and seek to understand.)
4am. Joseph’s alarm went off with a cricket’s chirp that he had trained himself to wake up to but also did not disturb his wife’s sleep. Quietly as possible he crept into the living room and drank down a vitamin packed drink. He had been drinking this nearly every day for years and he felt as though it was building up his immune system. In his mind he tried to shift his self-talk. Left to itself his mind was trying to convince him that this morning discipline stuff was a waste of time. His mind directed him to go back to sleep. Joseph pushed back the temptation but still questioned himself. He had been doing this for years and could not really see any major benefits from getting up early. But he did recognize that those days where he gave into the voice and went back to sleep that he was not as productive.
Making his way to the couch Joseph opened his prayer book and cried out to God on behalf of people that he had met over the years. Often, he would also include some prewritten prayers. In the morning this seemed to help him overcome prayer ADHD. With his mind focused his real purpose of this time was not really a shopping list of needs to bring to his Creator, but rather a deep desire to connect and be able to hear from God.
His final prayer of this morning session always was the same. From the prophet Samuel he had learned to pray out, “Speak Lord your servant is listening.” He would pray that and purposely try to empty his mind so that he might hear that still small voice.
Joseph then put on his work out clothes that he had set out the night before. He loved this time of year because he did not need any winter gear. Sliding on his headphones, Joseph met his dog outside of the garage. Together they walked through the woods where Joseph did fifteen pull ups and then walked back through the woods to his garage. Stopping on the driveway Joseph pushed himself to do fifty push ups and then started running. As he ran his headphones played podcasts that taught him more about being a Godly leader. Often these podcasts challenged him to be a better father, a better husband or more. Nearly every day while he was running the country roads whether through these podcasts or just flitting along, he would receive an answer to that last prayer. God would speak. Joseph answered as the prophet Isaiah had, “Here I am Lord, send me.” Joseph was always touched when he heard from God. Usually it was encouragement from His Savior to continue in the work. Occasionally, it was correction or even direction of things to do that day. By the time he returned to his house he knew that he needed to get to his journal to take some notes. But first he fed his wife’s chickens.
After journaling, he would realize that he simply could not do what God had called him to do so he prayed the third part of the prayer. “Fill me with a double portion of your Spirit.” He had added that several years prior when he had read that the prophet Elisha had made that request of his own mentor.
Joseph then opened the Bible and read five psalms, one proverb and six pages of Scripture. Then he sat back and meditated on what He had just read. Were there any fresh insights? Anything new? In the silence Joseph listened. He desperately wanted to hear from God clearly every day however sometimes he was just too distracted. While he was certain God was speaking, he simply could not hear Him through the noise. Breathing in deep, Joseph tried to still his mind and focus. This morning he had read about Moses losing his temper with the children of Israel. Amid that frustration, Moses had struck the rock instead of speaking to it. With that act of disobedience Moses had lost his opportunity to lead the people into the promised land. Joseph sighed. How many times had he snapped or become sarcastic as he had tried to lead organizations or even something like his small little classes? Joseph wept.
Before breakfast, Joseph opened up his phone and one of his favorite apps that would tell him about some country in the world with specific prayer requests. This never failed to make him wish to be able to travel the world and share the Gospel with the lost or encourage believers in foreign lands. “Maybe someday.” Joseph journaled his remaining thoughts and went to the kitchen.
While he thought maybe variety might be better, Joseph liked the simplicity of fried eggs and because of the chickens they typically had plenty in stock. The silence of the house soothed him as he slowly chewed his food and thought about the day ahead. When he was finished with the meal, he would do the dishes as an act of service. He never wanted his wife to have to do his dishes in the morning.
Grabbing a cup of coffee Joseph opened his laptop and opened the local paper. Skimming different articles would grab his attention as he sipped his coffee. “The world is definitely broken,” he thought as he so often did while reading the news. The pain and heartache that he would read about as only marginally offset by the fun stories about fairs or achievements of locals.
The paper complete, Joseph would again pull out his journal and ask himself some personal questions based on Scriptures that he had pulled together over the years. He was terrified of being like so many that simply checked the box of calling themselves Christians. He was determined to live His faith but wanted to do this daily self-check to ensure that he was on track. With a deep breath, Joseph grabbed a professional magazine and read a few articles before turning on the coffee for his wife. At exactly six am he would deliver the coffee to the table beside her, kiss her on the forehead and move slowly out of the bedroom.
After reading a few more articles, Joseph again pulled out his journal and reviewed some memory verses and worked on memorizing a few more. At exactly six-thirty, Joseph started getting ready for the day.
The alarm clock was blaring and the lump under the covers was not moving. Clothing was strewn all about the room. An investigator would have thought the whole room was a crime scene. One of those plug-in air fresheners was giving it all it had but was failing miserably as the stench of sweaty clothes and body odor was overwhelming. The lump suddenly groaned and rolled over. Eric struck the alarm and looked at the alarm. His eyes tried to focus on the digital numbers, but they remained blurry. Blinking several times and seeming to have his answer he tried to think what day it might be. For a moment, Eric thought that it was Saturday and his heart swelled with joy and just a touch of annoyance at having left his alarm on. As he laid back down on his pillow, he suddenly realized that it was Tuesday and he needed to get going. He always planned his life so that he got the maximum amount of sleep. After almost twenty minutes he rolled out of bed and looked around the room for clean clothes to wear. Not finding any he pulled what smelled the least worst from a pile in the corner of the room and got ready.
Sunshine filled the room. Julie jumped out of bed. Unlike most people, she loved mornings. There was nothing that gave her more bliss than sitting on her back patio with a cup of coffee and she raced to the kitchen to get things rolling. She was almost dancing as she emptied the filter and the grounds from yesterday into the trashcan. Opening the cabinet where she kept the coffee she stared with unbelief. Quickly she grabbed a chair to look more clearly into the shelving where she kept the coffee. “No, no, no.” With horror she realized that there were no coffee nor coffee filters. Her mind took her back to the day before and she remembered that she had used the last of the coffee. Looking at the wastebasket, Julie considered for a moment using the old grounds but decided against it. If she hurried, she could stop by the coffee shop on her way to class.
Sarah and Mike sat in front of Pastor Dumas. Pastor Dumas was in his early sixties and very energetic, not just for his age but for any age. He was impeccably dressed though it was early in the day. For over thirty years he had been leading this church through seasons of storms and seasons of rejoicing for years. He had done countless counseling sessions over the years. Most were of the prenatal variety. He always thought that was important but also knew that most would not do so if he had not made it a requirement to be married at the church. Many times, he tried to convince couples that they really needed ongoing marriage counseling. Most couples seem to wait until there was an overwhelming amount of pain before coming to him or one of the other pastors for help. Pastor Dumas, himself, had been married for thirty-five years now. As he sat across from this couple, he reflected on all of the times that he had invited relationship experts to speak into his marriage. He had the habit of talking to couples that had been married for several decades and garner as much advise that he could gather. Overall, he was happy with his marriage but always sought to improve it.
Typically, in situations like this one of the couples, usually the guy, would be stoic and sit with his arms crossed as if he was angry. Most of the time his appearance of anger was just a cover for his feeling of failure because he could not fix his marriage problem. Additionally, he was not sure what the problem was that he could not fix. She had tried to explain it, but it made no sense. He saw himself as sacrificing and giving to his wife. He almost always saw himself as a great provider. Now the woman was always unpredictable. She might be crying but in recent years that was not typical. Now what was more typical was that she would by angry.
However, today was not typical. Both Mike and Sarah were crying. Pastor Dumas cleared his throat and allowed them a moment to try to gather themselves. A few minutes went by and what had started as light weeping had evolved into deep sobs. A few minutes later they were both into ugly cries of agony. Pastor Dumas prayed quietly and chose not to interrupt.
The last night of any class was always a struggle for Joseph. Relationships would continue. He still had contact with students from many of his early classes. As he recalled his flawed teaching, his sometimes lack of attention it was amazing that any of those early classes had any success. But despite his own efforts many had achieved a measure of their hopes and dreams. With many he could update information as it became available. It gave him great comfort to realize while still not perfect, he had been able to continue to learn and grow consistently over the years. If the students received nothing else, ultimately if they could realize that deliberate investment into their own growth paid exponential dividends.
The students were somber as they came in. They too could sense that this was the end of something and unlike graduations tonight there was a deep sorrow almost a feeling of grief. Tonight, nobody grabbed any snacks and only Sarah took a cup of tea.
“Let’s say that I was to offer you a job. This job would require you to work 1 hour a day. Reasonable sweat will be spent on this job. I will tell you that it is doable but not cushy. The entire project will only last about 30 days. On day one I will pay you one penny. Each day I would double the amount that I paid you the day before. How many of you would take that job?”
They all seemed to be doing the math in their heads. Samuel was the first to volunteer. Julie scrunched up her face and hummed quietly to herself. The others ultimately reluctantly decided to play along.
“So, on day one you get your penny and go home. Likely you are thinking this just is not worth it so you might contemplate quitting. But that would be a mistake.” Joseph smiled and paused for dramatic effect.
“On day two you get two pennies. Again, it simply does not seem worth it. Then the next day you get a whopping four cents. This is hard work now. You are feeling like you are getting nowhere. But hang in there. When you get to day 20 you will be getting $5242.88 for that hour. Not too bad. We still have ten working days left! Day thirty will give you $5,368,709.12 for that one hour of work. My friends that is what habits are like. Developing habits and including them in your life will bring you happier relationships. They will bring you better health, better knowledge and wisdom. I must also warn you though that negative habits and even no discipline also works in a similar fashion. The only real difference is that instead of a paycheck at the end you get the bill. The first few days of a bad habit don’t seem to negatively impact you that much. But ultimately they kill you.”
The students seemed to have new appreciation for the discipline of healthy habits and smiled broadly, even Julie seemed to grasp how this might benefit her.
“These habits should be built over time so that you can learn to manage them and be added to in a way that is not exhausting. Remember these are new skills. Additionally, unless you are professional athlete, but even then, you should strive to be well rounded. Everyone can benefit from some physical disciplines. Things like exercise, nutrition and rest can deeply impact all other areas. But also include relationship habits. These might include reading books, listening to podcasts and then practicing the things that they talk about in those programs.”
Sarah considered that and thought about how Mike had started bringing her coffee, holding doors and taking her on dates again. He would listen to her. Maybe that is where he got that stuff, she thought.
“You should set up habits to build your social skills, your work skills and your knowledge base. But again, don’t try to do too much all at once. Some of these habits could be daily, others weekly or monthly or even annual.”
After a season of questions and answers, Joseph prayed a blessing over each one and asked God to encourage them and help them all to grow.
“A realization that I recently as I was reading through the Scriptures.” Joseph took a deep breath.
“David is recorded in the Bible as being a man after God’s own heart. I guess I always thought that he was just born that way. My soul was perplexed because he was definitely not a man after God’s own heart when he did the whole Bathsheba thing. So I kept reading and rereading. I meditated on those passages and I asked God to bring understanding to how this could be. David was a man and if he is a man after God’s own heart the standard seems low. But then God took me to the final prayer of David.”
Joseph pulled his tattered Bible out and turned to 1 Chronicles and began to read from verse 10.
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.” Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.
“What I see in that prayer is a man of praise. I see a man of humility. I see a man that trusts God for all things. We see a man of gratitude and so much more. That is the conclusion to His life. That is where we actually see him as a man after God’s own heart. I know that some of you struggle with the whole concept of God. But that is the ultimate target when you are making your life plans. When you are establishing these habits and living a full and abundant life. I encourage you not to simply do habits to do habits. Experiment try new things and build a productive life. I believe in you.”
All of the students were crying a little now. Saying their goodbyes, they all made their way through the door. Joseph left all alone, also wept.
While all of them had assorted plans they decided to stick together and went to a small Mexican restaurant to eat together. None of them felt like going home just yet.
Eric did great Joseph impersonations. Julie told stories about her childhood and ultimately told everyone about her work opportunity. Life was looking up for all of them. After much laughter and some tears, they all went home.
Project 1: List 1 thing that you could do daily spiritually, on thing physically, one thing mentally and one thing socially that would help focus you in all four areas.
Project 2: Create a series of promises to yourself to do those daily. Example: When the alarm goes off, I will get out of bed and walk to the living room. When I walk into the living room in the morning, I will drink 16 ounces of water, after I drink 16 ounces of water I will read my Bible, etc.
Project 3: Consider your living and dead guy council. What are some of their daily habits?
Project 4: Consider those closest to you. What are their daily habits?
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We complain about our “rights” if they don’t include the name of Jesus at the community government opening prayer. But is that really persecution? How about businesses that are targeted and attacked through legal channels for not serving LGBTQ? Is that persecution? Some claim persecution when churches were directed not to meet in person during the early days of the pandemic. Is that persecution?
Let’s be honest. Here in America we really do not know persecution. I remember many years ago now being in a mission’s service and heard a missionary speak of the church in Iran who had as its motto, “To the last man, to the last breath.” I have read “Voice of the Martyrs”, “Foxes Book of Martyrs” and even the more modern version “Jesus Freaks” These men and women put their lives on the line every single day all in the name of Jesus. Their faith was and is costly. Our brothers and sisters around the world are facing persecution every day and they consider it pure joy. They would consider the American statements of persecution to be a joke.
But let us assume that what we face by the anti-Christian forces does qualify as persecution. What are we to do? First, we need to pay attention to the words of Jesus here as He speaks to us from the Mount. We must see that it is much more than just our faith that leads to our persecution. It is persecution because of righteousness that is commended and comes with a reward. This is bringing justice and truth to our world. This is done at great personal risk. This is not done for our glory. Righteousness means that it is not done to sooth our own conscience or make us feel better. Righteousness is not done out of guilt of shame. Many who stand for the right are made fun of and taunted. Some have their livelihoods taken away. When things are done in righteousness, they also exude love to the lost.
Paul calls us to speak the truth in love. Too many of us are really good at trying to protect ourselves so we speak truth but forget the love. Others are so focused on love that they become appeasers making a peace treaty with Satan. Righteousness is difficult to stand for because you will be assaulted not only from the world but also from the church.
It seems like our modern church does not really want to ruffle feathers. Jesus ruffled feathers. They did not whip him, spit on him, insult him and put him on a cross because he appeased them. He loved them so deeply he was willing to die for them. I wonder if His mind wandered to his future as He spoke these words from the Mount.
My guess is that they might have, but if they did, He encouraged His mind to go beyond the persecution to the reward. If you want the Kingdom of Heaven you must be willing to be persecuted. Live a life of righteousness! Let the world see you doing the right things with love in your eyes. They will first be confused because currently the church is seen as filled with hate. Many historians talk about the early heroes of the faith. They spoke truth in love, they broke no laws except they would not worship Caesar. They were seen by the public serving each other and the lost. Then they witnessed these men and women being put into the Coliseum to be brutally mauled by man or beast. They did not cry out; they did not speak against the injustice. They simply accepted and allowed their faith or be fully seen. Many came to Christ because of them.
What will be the result when you show love to the homosexual, the murderer, the bigot, the Muslim, the false teacher? Let them attack you. Smile and know that the Kingdom of Heaven is waiting for you. Thank your persecutors for their help toward refining your faith.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
To be a peacemaker you must be able to carry the rod and the staff. To bring peace to your family you must learn to speak truth in love. To be a child of God means that we choose to be uncomfortable because these situations are difficult.
In the ancient of days and in some societies even today the shepherd carries a rod and a staff. (remember that according to Psalm 23 that these two together comfort us) The staff is used to rescue and guide and lovingly lead the sheep. This is a part of peacemaking. Guiding and showing the way is required today. People simply do not see when they are being bullheaded and stubborn. They deem anybody that disagrees with them to be haters and the enemy of all things good. As children of God we must begin to lead our culture to learn to listen. In the end we will likely not agree. In some things we can simply walk away and be content. But in other situations the rod will be needed.
Typically the rod is used by the shepherd to protect the sheep from outside intruders. This is using the justice system or actual physical force. We must protect the most vulnerable around us from the oppressors. NOTE: The oppressor will typically not see themselves as an oppressor so keep that in mind. In today’s world we also may have to use the rod to protect our sheep from wolves that are internally mingling with the sheep. These include villains who are unstable and are looking for weak minded people to control. These also include false teachers who prey upon our own natural selfishness for health and wealth. They are right in their own eyes just like any other oppressor so as a peacemaker you must defend the powerless.
The man or woman of God must become good at using either tool.
To be a peacemaker will require courage. Engaging in peace making efforts will use a great deal of energy. It is easier to look away and ignore the situations around you. It is easier to not talk about hard things. But we must decide to engage. Peacemaking is all about the ultimate result, being children of God.
As a peacemaker you will not always win. Sometimes you will step back in horror as all of your efforts collapse around you and blood (physical or emotional) is pouring out onto the street. Sometimes others simply are unreasonable. Love them enough to try. Other people are often working off of their own hurt and are unable to see the possibilities in other opinions. Many are like children who will throw a tantrum if you don’t do what they say. Try anyway.