The one person in the New Testament that I preached the most about, apart from Jesus, was Barnabas. I wanted to preach every year on him, some aspect of his life and ministry. Sadly, I didn’t do that. For he’s a worthy role-model for each of us and deserves at least one sermon a year! So, for the next few postings(we’re travelling now so postings will not be daily, just occasionally as intended from the outset), I want to talk about Barnabas. He’s first mentioned in this text of Acts 4 as a kind of worthy personal example and footnote to what the early church first looked like –a united group of believers in Jesus the Living Son of God, they shared all they had, they witnessed about the Risen Jesus where ever they went and with whomever they met, no one had unmet needs, they shared willingly and tangibly and generously. The church at its beginnings is at its very best. And then in verse 36 we’re introduced to one of the members of the church who personifies all the qualities of the new life in Christ, exhibiting in his being the fruit of the Holy Spirit. His name was Joseph…in the line of others with that name who were courageous for God, heroes in both the Old and New Testaments. A worthy name with prayers from his parents for a life that would match the good name of Joseph. He was a Levite, we’re told. They were men of the tribe of Levi, who served the Lord assisting the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. They were servants, assistants, helpers and up-lifters of others. Joseph did not serve in the Temple growing up as his parents had moved far away. We learn that he was from Cyprus, where there were many Gentiles living among the Jewish community there. He could mix-it up with people who were different from himself and his group. He knew what life was like in the real world. This Joseph was not raised in some cloister or monastery. The apostles loved this Joseph. They even gave him a nickname, one that fit him to a tee. They called him Barnabbas, which means ‘Son of Encouragement’! What a worthy nickname! It fit so well with Joseph that never again is he referred to as Joseph in the Book of Acts. Now and always, Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement! He must have been someone who uplifted everyone he came in contact with. Saw the best in people, gave others a second chance, thought before he spoke, was kind more than critical. We’ll hear more of this in future blog postings. Isn’t he a worthy role-model? I’d like to be more like Barnabas. And to be honest, I have a long-ways to go. There’s an edge to me that sometimes feels harsh. Anybody else with me? Am I the only one? Be honest now. I’m challenging myself now– why not look for opportunities to encourage someone today. Think of ways to say ‘thank you’ and ‘God loves you’. You’ll have the opportunity…oh,wouldn’t it be nice to be called Barnabas!
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear some description of the different generations that make up our society. I’m an early Baby Boomer, one of those countless millions born right after the end of World War 2(no, not the Civil War!). Before us is the Greatest Generation, after us the Hippies, and now we have the X Generation, the Y Generation, the Millenials and the who knows what generation. I can’t keep up. What’s next? ‘Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care’!! I was reading Psalm 24 in my quiet time with the Lord…and He spoke loud and clear to me through His written Word, the Bible: ‘Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob’ (verse 6). People love to categorize others, button-hole them, pigeon-hole them, put them in a box, labeling them maybe to shelve them ignoring them? Could be. I’m not sure but I do know that creating such dividing walls separates people making us more lonely than we need to be and even a bit smug. Read Psalm 24:6 again…Seeking the Lord, wanting to be close to Him, hearing Him in His Word, experiencing Him in the events of our lives, being in His hands,humbly and comfortably sitting at His feet puts all of us who believe in Him in the same generation. The Seeking Generation…that’s us! Male, female, Jew, Gentile, Sudanese, Romanian,rich,poor, upper-class, no-class,old, young, good-looking, barely noticed, doctorate, school of hard-knocks, Baptist, Presbyterian, Non-Conformist, Roman Catholic…all in Jesus who trust in Him alone, the Same Generation! So, when someone asks you what generation you were born into, tell them, ‘the Generation that Seeks the Lord.’ And say it proudly! That’s my generation! And yours? Hey, even more than that, we’re family in the Jesus, with an inheritance that’s just out of this world! ‘Such IS the Generation of those who seek Him…’
eneration! Talk about walls coming a- crashing down! Barriers shattered. People talking with each other and not passed each other. Wow! Praise the Lord! One People, One Church…When you’re asked what generation you were born in? Why not say, the Generation that seeks the Lord! That’s my generation? And yours? Think of the inheritance we all have coming!
While here in South Carolina, we have toured 2 of the old Rice Plantations along the historic Ashley and Cooper Rivers outside of what they call the ‘Holy City’, Charleston. Azaleas have been in full bloom and just breath-taking! Hit it just right! One of the flowering trees , new to us, that we have so enjoyed has large clusters of very fragrant white flowers that just fill the landscape with beauty and sweet fragrance. Asking one of our tour guides for the tree’s name, she said it was a Fringetree. Like that ‘surrey with the fringe on top’, a frilly cream-white flower, showy, bell-shaped and fringelike with groups of 3 together on 4 to 8 inch stalks (aren’t you glad we bought that tree book!). Now that I’m so old, I noticed with a laugh that this tree is also called ‘Old Man’s Beard’–which reminds me that I do need to shave soon! Today I want to thank the Lord for all His creative power and majesty and artistic wonder. Just look around you, where you are, and marvel at all His hand has made. The stars…the oceans and rivers…clouds and rain, sun and moon…the birds (we have enjoyed the Painted Bunters and the Pileated Woodpeckers and of course my favorite Cardinals). Why not turn in your Bible to the Old Testament book of Job, chapter 26. And read it. His opening 4 verses are dripping sarcasm aimed at his friends who have proved to be less than true ones to him. But from verses 5 onward Job gives great praise to God the Creator of this world and universe. Please do read these verses…they are magnificent. Take note today of His work shared with us…in creation. Forget Mother Nature…this is Father God the Creator, and Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now look at verse 14–for here is a word of hope that we ‘ain’t seen nothin’ yet’! “And these are but the outer fringes of His works…” (Job 26:14). Read that again. There’s so much more to see when we get to Heaven– the horizons are endless; the vistas, eternal; the beauty,unsurpassed; the learning, never-ending; the true stories entertain like nothing on this earth ever has or will. Heaven is just that…heaven and paradise. And the best is yet to come! As Job said, ‘these are but the outer fringes of His works.” Can’t wait for the surrey to pick us up and drop us off at the most marvelous New Jerusalem ever coming down from God Himself! Are you ready?
This month is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the New York World’s Fair! I have such fond memories of my times there. I was in high school, a teenager who just the year before had responded to the invitation to ask Jesus Christ into my life. A brand-new believer who knew next to nothing of the Bible or Christianity at all. It was a Sunday evening, the date I cannot tell you, and I was channel surfing on my old radio in my tiny upstairs bedroom. School was the next day and I wasn’t really looking forward to it as I was very self-conscious and fearful and shy in those days. Though I knew so little, yet when I heard of Jesus’ love for me and that He wanted to be in my life, I just grabbed it, I just lunged toward Him in simple faith. And that started the great journey of my life. A highlight of my life then was the World’s Fair in New York City. I lived maybe 2 hours from Flushing Meadows where the Fair was held, and my father and I went 12 times to see it during its 2 year run! 12 times…and with my Dad who was a real neat guy. Very friendly, calm, would never go on his own and my mother had no interest at all in doing much outside the house she loved and felt secure in, but with me he loved to go to the Fair as well. 12 times we went–still shocks me. All those times together. Did I say where? Yes, the New York City World’s Fair! All those sights and sounds and smells of excitement everywhere. I loved it! GE, General Motors, Walt Disney with that ‘It’s a Small World’ tune I still can’t get out of my head! Going past Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Vatican Pavilion…so beautiful and breath-taking with the whitest marble you could ever imagine, but don’t linger in watching for we were on conveyor belts, whisking us by to make room for lots and lots of people. First time I ever ate Belgian Waffles–so good and messy! All those memories are still vivid in my mind to this day. But the one that has had lasting impact on my life is a visit to the Billy Graham Pavilion. Yes, there was one. And it was there that I signed up for my first Bible study course and received a modern-day translation of the Bible, paperback version, which I still have to this day. I thank God for Billy Graham…he was the one I heard on the radio that Sunday evening when I asked Jesus into my life. And now it’s Billy Graham that is getting me going into God’s Word. I thank God for Billy Graham. But more so, as Job said many years ago now, ‘…I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread.’ (Job 23:12). It’s God’s Word I took away with me from that World’s Fair. It’s the Bible that is the treasure God has given me to learn of Him and to love Him. It’s God’s Word that He offers us as more than daily bread to nourish us, to challenge us, to discipline and correct us, love letters all from His Mouth to our ears. What could be better? Such fond memories of those New York World’s Fair visits accompanied by my Dad…and receiving a gift that keeps on giving as I spend time in God’s Holy Word. The same gift from that same Lord Jesus Christ gives to you as well. Better than Belgian Waffles, better that a marble masterpiece. Open it today, the Bible, God’s gift that keeps on giving…
Margaret Wayman, a good friend from our church family, sends birthday greetings to me with the verse that we sing in church for people’s birthdays: ‘ Happy Birthday to you, to your Savior be true, everyday read your Bible, Happy Birthday to you!’ Thanks, Margaret…and today I was reading my Bible (as I was sung to!) and turning to Luke 10:25-27. A top-notch religious leader comes to Jesus to test Him, trick Him, put Him off balance, whatever…with a loaded question: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus, without any hesitation, tells this pious fellow to ‘Love the Lord’ with all you are and have, and ‘to love your neighbor as yourself’. Jesus didn’t make up His answer; it’s right out of the Old Testament. Nothing new really, but so little acted upon. That’s what our good friends from Australia, Jack and Maggie Littler, e-mailed me about yesterday(maybe today for them…I’m tempted to yell ‘ Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ to them but they said they don’t know what it means and they’re originally from England anyway so I’ll keep my yell to myself!!) that what this sorry world needs lots of is L…O…V…E. I agree but much more importantly, Jesus would say ‘amen’. Just read Luke again for what He said. Jesus says it all, He covers everything. First, love the Lord. Without this starting point everything else goes askew at best. Loving God means so much…telling Him just that over and over and meaning it, obeying Him when we’d rather go our own way, following Him which means letting Him take the lead. And much more… that you can think of. Right? What about loving our neighbors? I know I could do a lot more here and it wouldn’t take too much imagination either. And I bet (and I’m not a betting man) that I’m not alone.The third leg of this chair: loving self? Maybe this is where our societies excel…loving ourselves. Focusing inward, navel-gazing as we used to say, the unholy trinity of me, I and myself. Self-obsessed. ‘It’s all about me’ bumper stickers, ad-nauseam. We have twisted what the Apostle John wrote in his first letter: ‘God is love’ (1 John 4: 8)–and now it’s ‘love is God’. So, first things first, the Lord as our primary priority. Numero Uno. Our greatest love, our goal about all else. The One above anything else. Then, when we love Him, we can’t help but care about those around us…even around the world. No barriers with loving neighbors. And of course this will be the very best way of taking care of and loving ourselves. It truly is better to give than receive. Wonder who said that? The same One who told us all about L…O…V…E. Thanks, Margaret, for the good reminder: ‘every day read your Bible’. And, Jack and Maggie, that love is so needed by us and the whole world. I’m thankful for good friends and the Great Friend to all of us who trust in Him, the Love of our lives now and forever! Jesus–‘to your Savior be true’!
For 40 long years God has provided a miracle food for His hungry people. Manna from heaven…and the people griped about the same menu day after day, week after week, month after month, yes, year after year. Manna… forever. Well, as it turns out, not really. For as long as needed, though. But they were hungry people, they needed His help every day. Like you and me. We pray and beg and then before we know it, even right after God answers our prayers, we gripe and complain, worry and bicker. Bad timing, indeed! Bad form,also. Read this Joshua passage in the Old Testament– for it is amazing. Just a few verses, but packed with meaning. God provided that food for forty years and now after Passover is celebrated, after they remember how God miraculously delivered them from slavery to freedom, now they can eat all the fresh produce of the promised land. The variety of fruits and vegetables and cheese and meat…now, this IS the promised land, after all! As I read this I thought that there are some times when God seems to be carrying me, when I can’t get one foot in front of the other. Like when our babies and grandkids needed spoon-feeding and all our help, so I need the Lord. Leaning on His shoulders, immobilized by fear or whatever has flattened me. Am I the only one? Just me, just me, O Lord…! And then there are the times when He says to go out and work hard, cultivate the fields of my life, struggle through it, deal with it, hang in there, grow up and harvest all He has for me. Manna one day…the ‘produce of Canaan’ the next! All from His hands, all tender and loving, and sometimes tough loving as well. Are you with me? More importantly, He’s with us. Always…in all ways.
Last time I was talking about how God had turned some rather nasty lemons into some rather delicious lemonade in my life. He does that. After all, He is the Resurrected, Risen Lord of All. So, doing a few things for me, opening some doors, closing some windows is right up His alley. God is right there for us. Not off on an extended vacation, not having wound up this ‘clock of the universe’ and let it wind down on its own. No, He’s Immanuel, God with us. And in the literal Hebrew, it reads, ‘with us, God!’ A lot of things are with us in this life–illness, disappointment, job loss,marriages failed or failing, kids who could care less about us or God or anyone other than themselves, financially foolish investments,churches turning in on themselves, bad breaks, good intentions run amok. You name it… you can think of a lot more than I can at the moment. So, hang close to Immanuel, with us…God! Keep repeating to yourself silently today…He’s with me, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so’. Hey, that’s where we find out about Jesus! Not by hearsay or rumor or certainly from the news media of today, but from His trustworthy Word, the Bible you read and memorize and meditate upon. Deuteronomy 29:29 says it all–‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.’ Isn’t that a neat verse? I love it. Much of our life we’ll never, ever figure out. Questions will remain unanswered. How God will answer many of our prayers is still a mystery to me and to you. Lord, How? When? In what way? This verse from the Torah says that there are secret things belonging just to God. He’s not going to tell us everything. He’s not a crystal ball or a horoscope regardless of how much we just have to to know. What we do have, what He’s given us is His Word. And He’s God of His Word. That’s His gift…everything we need to know in life is right there between those precious pages. When I had my lemons I had no idea how or even if lemonade was on God’s menu for me. But what I did know(not as much then as now however…God has been growing me!)is I could trust Him..’for the Bible tells me so’. He would surprise me. It wasn’t about me after all but about Him. His will…His Word…being His child holding onto His hand letting Him lead. Maybe someone today needs to reach out and hold on…to Him who is with us… and to His Word, the Bible. Anyone?
Ever wonder why tough times come your way? That’s really a silly question…who hasn’t and is still breathing. Why me? Why this? When will it end and how? What’s going to happen next, Lord? If you’re there right now , remember you are at the point of a new beginning, a new opportunity from the Lord. Reading Acts 8, we discover that a ferocious persecution has broken in Jerusalem against Christians making it impossible for most believers to stay safely within the walls of that ‘holy city’. It was so dangerous that the Bible says they ‘scattered’ …to save their lives. Moaning and groaning and complaining and and whining about all their problems and the lack of appreciation of those religious folks who should know better; and those big, bad Roman soldiers with their mighty weapons! Not quite: ‘Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went'(Acts 8:4). Wherever the dangerous rip-tide of persecution took them, the Word of Jesus went with them. Boldly they spread the Good News of Jesus everywhere they went. I’m sure they didn’t like being persecuted. None of us likes going through turbulent times. But what they had, and what we have, is the assurance of God’s presence with us, His hand of mercy going before, above, underneath and ahead of our every step. Think about that for a moment today. Just pause and remember Immanuel, ‘God with us’. He is…even and especially when the dark clouds roll in blocking out the sun and light of our life.Let me be personal for a moment. I remember that time when I was so hurt by my old denomination. It was like they were telling me to get out of Jerusalem or else; and while you’re at it don’t preach anymore, anywhere. Period. Attending a local pastor’s Bible study, I shared my dilemma with my fellow pastors. One of them, one of the oldest (probably younger than me now!), maybe he’d been to Bible school for a year and that’s all, a 2nd career minister after being a car mechanic most of his adult life, with a very small church. When I told them how I felt and wondered what to do, he asked me point-blank : ‘did God call you to preach?’ I answered an unequivocal ‘yes, He did.’ My friend then said, ‘Why do you listen to those people? If God calls you to preach, you preach.!’ That might not sound like much to you, but those words from God’s mouth through my friend’s lips changed my whole life. I went home after Bible study, wrote a short letter of resignation to my old denomination, and started preaching again, then for 5 years hosted weekly personal testimony/evangelism TV show, then was called to be pastor of a local church , where I just finished 14 years as pastor, their longest serving minister in their over 100 years of ministry. And now I am their Pastor Emeritus. Wow! Could I ever have imagined what God would do through that terrible time in my life. Did I love going through it all and can’t wait for the next time?! No, of course not. But I do love the One who turned my lemons into the best tasting lemonade I’ve ever enjoyed! How about you? Going through whatever? You won’t go alone and the outcome is going to be better than even you or I could ever imagine. Trust me. No, trust Him!
Happy Easter to each of you! We said that to our checker at the grocery store here at Seabrook Island, South Carolina, and she wished us a happy visit from the Easter bunny. We thanked her and with a nice smile on my face, I pointed my finger upward and mentioned the One who is Risen from the dead! And she smiled back agreeing and affirming that that’s her hope for Easter Sunday, hope in the Risen Jesus Christ! So, leaving the poor old Easter bunny aside, not eating any more chocolate than I have to, not cracking too many festively colored eggs, not combing the stores tomorrow for half-price baskets and Peeps and all that other stuff that make the holiday fun but hidden as to the real meaning. If the ungodly in our society can’t kill the holiday (‘holy day’), at least they’ll make it fun! Not to be a party-pooper, all these things are good times especially when shared with children. Just don’t stop there. Get back to the basics–of what it’s all about. Jesus has been crucified, he died and was buried. But now…and this is huge…now He is ALIVE!, He can be seen, He can even walk through locked doors. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Victory in Jesus! Look back at Matthew 28:6 and did you notice what the angel told the two women at Jesus’ tomb–“He is not here; He has risen, just as He said’. ‘Just as He said’–did you hear those Easter words? In other words, Jesus means what He says. He’s a man of His word. What He says you can count on. Take Him at His word. What was the angel referring to that Jesus had said? One place in particular is Matthew 16: 21–‘From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ Just as He said…now here’s a challenge to you and me–to put His Word into our hearts, to hear His Word as we encounter all the ups-and-downs of life, for Jesus to help us just when we think that death has won out. NO, He is risen,Just as He said! And where can we hear His word? To put securely into our minds and hearts for when we need them most? You know where…it’s still the greatest story ever told! The Bible…God’s Word…For all it’s Worth…in our hearts and minds. And it’s the Living Word of not just anybody but of God Himself! Happy Easter…Just as He said!
‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’…and what a great, old hymn. I love to sing it and whistle it too–much to my poor wife’s consternation! Reading this section of John 15, you can hear the love and the joy and the friendship in the marrow of Jesus’ words to His followers, to those in His day, and also to us today. ‘You are my friends…’ (verse 14) and ‘…I have called you friends…'(verse 15)–read those verses and put your name in the place of the personal pronoun. You…by name…are God’s friend, the personal friend of Jesus, the Risen Lord! Can you let that sink in a bit this Easter weekend? Meditate upon it. Say the words slowly. Feel their meaning. Stop…and ponder. As I was reflecting of these verses, and especially on the thought of Jesus being my friend, another thought entered my mind. Jesus said that ‘you are my friends’…not, I am your friend. Now, certainly He is our friend, the best one of all, ever. Of course He is. But, I was thinking about another way of looking at that–how am I a friend of Jesus? Oh, I love the idea that He loves me, that He’s my friend but what about how I can love Him… how I can be a friend of His? What pleases Him? Frankly, I’d rather have it the other way around, on the receiving end of all those goodies from God!! But that kind of friendship is way too one-sided, and we all know what that feels like to be with a so-called friend who can only talk about themselves, who shows no interest in us, who monopolizes conversations and can turn any comment to their own advantage in one-upmanship and self-centeredness waiting for you to take a breath so they can jump right in to tell their better story! You know what I mean. You have someone clearly in mind, and hopefully that’s not you or me–especially me! But, am I that way with God? And how about you? Always asking and begging in prayer, always talking about ourselves, not sharing Him with others, not speaking up about an issue when we know how God feels about it, not praising or thanking or just sitting quietly with His Bible in our laps listening to Him speak to us. That’s what a real friend would do…all those things and many more that you can think of as well. Be a friend to Jesus…be a friend today. “What a Friend Jesus Has in (your name)”!