Tragedy Strikes Again #SSPreacherman

“Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!” This is what comes to my mind every time I hear about another mass shooting like what took place at Parkland High School in Florida. I am so tired of picking up a newspaper or hearing another story about an individual picking up a weapon and killing innocent children in a place where there should be an expectation of safety and security. My heart breaks for these students and their families. We pray for healing and recovery for the injured and for peace for the families of those slain.

I am also so very tired of the political heads who use these occasions to call for stricter gun control laws – as if that will fix everything. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Cain didn’t need a gun to kill Abel. His descendant, Lamech, didn’t need a gun either. And all you have to do is look to Chicago to see that gun control does not stop bad people from getting guns and doing bad things with them. I can remember when I was in high school in the late 1970s. There wasn’t a pickup truck in the parking lot of the high school that didn’t have at least one rifle or shotgun hanging in the back window. I can even remember seeing one of my friends talking to the principal of our school at his truck, taking out his new rifle, and demonstrating the action. And not one student was ever shot at our school.

I know that this is not terribly politically correct, and for those that are offended by this I want you to know that I love you with all of my hearts and I would die to defend your right to disagree with me – but before you do, would you finish reading my thoughts. Immediately after an incident like this, people start pointing fingers trying to assess blame. They target our educators who are often overworked and underpaid but who are expected to serve as parent, teacher, counselor, parole officer, and a dozen other jobs without receiving the support of a political system that will hang them out to dry if they say or do the “wrong thing.” If that isn’t enough, the next easy target is our mental health workers. Like the teachers, they are stretched so thin that it is no wonder that people slip through the cracks. They lack the resources – and sometimes the training – to do a thankless job that few of us would endeavor to do. Parents ultimately find themselves in the crosshairs, and for some, rightly so. The parenting skills of so many in our world today consist of putting your child in front of a television or video game screen where they are bombarded with images of violence and gore to the point that these young people become numb to it all and the value of any human life drops to zero. And we need to remember that the Bible places the ultimate responsibility for all of this squarely on the parent’s shoulders: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will never depart” (Proverbs 22:6). But we are at a point where the current generation of parents were not trained by their parents or their parents’ parents, and that results in a new generation that has no clue.

Target after target, the blame is cast — so much that surely something will stick somewhere. Even God becomes fair game. Why would a good God allow this to happen? Why doesn’t God do something about all of this? The answer to the first question will never satisfy most people because the same people that suggest God should take control of a shooter’s trigger finger would balk at the thought of Him forcing His will on them. How dare God force me to do this or that! And it is simply because God has given His ultimate creation the freedom to choose our actions that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve and has multiplied throughout the generations to the point that we are suffering the consequences of a sinful, sin-filled world. Yes, bad things do happen to good people because we are the inheritors of a sin nature that when left to itself will do bad things to good people.

The answer to the second question may be more offensive than my answer to the first: God did do something. Two thousand years ago, He sent His only begotten Son to die on a cross, taking the sins of all mankind upon Himself – becoming sin itself so that it would be put to death on the cross – so that all who would accept that sacrifice as being for their sins, believe that Jesus died on the cross but rose again on the third day, and confess that He is Sovereign Lord over all creation, but more importantly, over their own lives, will be forgiven of sin and made into new creations where they then have the ability to stand against their own sin nature. That is good news, but along with that good news comes great responsibility. You see, the second half of the answer to that second question is that God has done something to combat the evil that would send a 17-year-old into a school with a semi-automatic rifle to kill innocent children. He saved you and me. He saved us and He commanded us to go into the world and make disciples teaching them to observe all the things that He has commanded us to do. It is our responsibility to come alongside these parents and these mental health workers and these educators reminding them that this isn’t a gun problem. It’s a sin problem. The only hope that we have of changing this is to recognize that this is a spiritual battle that will only be won in the spiritual realm. We must take up the weapons of our warfare (Ephesians 6) and fight the battle on our knees and in our churches and in our homes and in our schools. We must share the gospel to win the lost to Christ and then we must disciple/train parents to train their children in the ways they should go, and when they are older, they will not pick up a gun to shoot innocent children.

I know that some who read this will argue that mental disease is real and that spiritual solutions will not resolve this issue. First, I believe that some mental issues are the result of sin – original sin as well as the sins of the fathers and the children. If our mental health workers could recognize this and rely on those who understand the concept of spiritual warfare, they would find greater success in dealing with their patients. Second, I know that if Christians would truly be the hands and feet of Jesus, those suffering from true mental illness would find compassionate treatment and the help that they need before they arrive at the point where they commit murder. Either way, God has done something to stop these horrible events: He created you.

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye #SSPreacherman

Most of you never knew Sonya’s mother – Granny is what everyone called her. She was an amazing lady. She could cook like you wouldn’t believe. She was a seamstress extra-ordinaire. She was full of wisdom and mischief and life. She was an amazing lady. One of the most amazing things about Granny is that she could talk. Oh, man, could she talk. Most of her family got the gift, too. I’ll never forget my first experience with the entire family of 9 children and countless grandchildren. There must have been four different conversations going on at the same time, and Granny was involved in all of them. She could talk to anybody – strangers, families, the mailman. I’ll never forget the times I sat with her in the doctor’s waiting area when, in a matter of minutes, she had struck up a conversation with a total stranger that lasted until one or the other was called back to the exam room. Then she found someone else to talk to. Sonya used to tease that when she called her mom, she had to say goodbye almost immediately so that her mom understood there was an end to the conversation coming. It didn’t really matter because most conversations lasted no less than 45 minutes after the first round of goodbyes. Sadly, in later years and especially after Granny’s stroke, the conversations did not last as long and the goodbyes came sooner. And it is the final goodbyes that are always the hardest.

But Scripture teaches us how to prepare for these goodbyes if we are willing students. We see in Enoch’s life that he walked every day in preparation for his final goodbye. We are simply told at the end that “Enoch was no more.” It’s always dangerous to argue from silence in the Scripture, but it seems that his family and friends were not distraught at his departure. We are not told that anyone went out looking for him; he was just no more because he had lived a life that was marked by a daily walk with God. He was a man prepared for his goodbye because of his relationship to the Father.

Abraham knew that before his goodbye would come that a promise had to be kept. So, he called in his most trusted servant and exacted a pledge to fulfill that promise God had given. Because he had experienced the fulfilment of promises in the past, he knew that they would be fulfilled in the future, as long as he followed God. God had given him a son that was a promise for the future. Isaac needed a wife, but he needed a wife from his own country. His goodbye was one of preparation that would secure the future that God had promised.

Some goodbyes are forced upon us – like Jephthah’s daughter. Because of the foolish actions and foolish words from her father, her goodbye came at an early age, in the glory of her youth. Because of a foolish vow, her life was cut short, but she was given three months to celebrate life with her friends and to grieve all that she would never experience.

Joseph’s life is a story of a second-chance to say goodbye. When his brothers sold him into slavery, he was cast into a role that God had planned for him, but he was forced to leave so much behind. Nevertheless, he persisted in his role and in his understanding that God held him in His hands. After many setbacks, he was placed in a secure position that would lead to a goodbye that would bring salvation and peace to his family. Sometimes, sudden, unplanned goodbyes bring about great blessings and secures the hope of many.

Whether or not we are able to prepare for our goodbyes, it is important to remember that as hard as it might be, it can be even harder to hold on – it might even be painful. Very few of us truly embrace change. Just recently, our 8 year old granddaughter, Hayes, experienced this truth. When she was just an infant, her parents bought a van. It was nothing fancy, but it took them on trips and provided hours of entertainment for her. Then, her daddy was in an accident and the insurance company deemed the vehicle totaled. Her dad asked her if she wanted to take one last ride before they dropped the van off at the insurance office, and with tears she said, “I am losing the van of my childhood.” She wanted to hold on to something that meant a great deal to her even though it was damaged and broken. Sometimes we have to know when to let go of broken dreams and broken things, and we have to embrace new hellos. Like the great big Ford F150 her daddy bought to replace it. She’s already in love.

Most people see goodbyes as a final moment – an ending. In our home, when our children leave after an extended stay, we call that day “goodbye day.” Even when we know the separation isn’t forever, there are tears and extra hugs and, of course, just one more kiss. Recently, someone said that the hardest part of the ministry is saying goodbye, and though this is true, one of the most exciting parts of the ministry is the joy of saying, “Hello.” Hello to new opportunities and challenges and people. And while we could talk about the countless goodbyes of Scripture — Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, the disciples leaving their families, Paul heading out on his missionary journeys, John exiled to the Isle of Patmos —  we need to realize that without these goodbyes, there wouldn’t have been the fulfillment of prophecy or the spread of the gospel or the grand “hello to heaven” we read in the Book of Revelation.

I don’t think that God ever planned for our goodbyes to be completely comfortable, but we must never lose sight of the fact that they can be sweet: the aroma of life unto life, the reminder of a life well lived. Or they can be a signal that our actions can result in grave consequences. Either way, every goodbye should serve as a reminder that God has a grand purpose and a plan for each one of us if we will only see past the pain and embrace the joys of what is to come.

 

It is Time! @SSPreacherman

It is Time

These words evoke an avalanche of thoughts and memories. Some are welcome; others come creeping back in when we least want them to. We will always remember when Sonya was pregnant with our children. When the time came for Jennifer to enter the world, we were young, in college, and completely clueless. When the time came, we didn’t know if Sonya was in labor or just nauseated. We talked to Granny, Sonya’s mom, and asked what she thought. Then we called the nurse, and she said, “It is time to head to the hospital.” When the time came for Ashley to be born two years later, we were far more knowledgeable about the process, so the only problem was waking Ben. But when Sonya said, “It is time,” everything changed.

Then the years quickly passed, and the calls came in. We have no greater memories than hearing the words over the telephone from our precious daughters, “It is time. The baby is coming.” What an adventure. New life was coming — it was time.

We will never forget the days we had to say goodbye to our mothers. For Ben, it was a day following a night of heavy snow. We made our way from our hotel room to the hospital in Kentucky. We knew that the machines keeping his mom alive were to be turned off. When most of the family had gathered around her bed, the decision was made. It was time to say goodbye. For Sonya, it was a day spent in the nursing home with her 95-year-old mother. We knew that God was ending her journey with us soon. We just didn’t know when. We whispered our goodbyes, hugged and kissed her, and held her for a moment knowing that when we walked away, it would be for the last time — the final goodbye.

We have served in the ministry for more than 35 years, and during those years, these words have meant so many things. It is time: for new programs, new buildings, new life to come into this world and the next, new members coming into the church, and new friends becoming part of our lives. Every one of these moments added worth and value as they became part of our story.

Just last week we said it again. “It is time to put away the Christmas decorations.” This week, it was time to flip the calendar page and ring in a new year. And with the turning of that page, we found our lives to be at a pivotal moment. All of us do – or at least we should. For some, it is time to put off the old ways and dress in the new garments that Christ has prepared for us by choosing to surrender our lives to Him. For others, it is time to address the areas of life that have been neglected and allowed to become so full of unnecessary things – wrong things. For all of us, it is a time for new beginnings. There is something deep inside of all of us that is filled with hope and awe with the striking of midnight on December 31. Even though there is not really anything different about January 1– it is just a day: a day off work, a day of football, or if you stayed up late, maybe a day to sleep in and lounge around in your pajamas. But the hope is there. And the possibilities are there if we are willing to take the time to see them and do something about them.

So, as you flip through the pages of your calendar and see all of the empty days waiting to be filled with activities and events and gatherings, be sure to plan for the most important moments of life – moments of change through worship and praise of our Creator God. As you stare at the blank pages, prepare yourself to be amazed at the memories that our Savior wants to write into your life knowing that on some of those days He will write in blessings and complete joy. But also know that there will be days of terrific pain and deep disappointment which He will walk you through if you will let Him. And through it all, know that if you celebrate both of these kinds of moments as part of God’s plan for your life, then His Amazing Grace will not have been wasted. His efforts to grow you into Christlikeness will not have been for nothing. And you will arrive at the day when you hear those words once again: “It is time. Come home, precious child. Rest with Me from all your labors.”

Ben and Sonya

Lessons Learned #SSPreacherman

Several months ago, I decided that I wanted to change up an old table that we used in our kitchen. This table had already been in another home, and it is not unlikely that we were its third home by now. In other words, it was well-used and well-loved, but change is one of those things that we embrace around our house, so I thought to myself, “How hard could this be? Hey, I have watched enough HGTV and other DIY programs. Just how difficult could this redo be?”

First, it took several conversations with Ben in order to get started. You see, Ben is not into furniture restoration, and as long as the table will hold up under the weight of a family-style meal, it’s good enough. In other words, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I had scoured Pinterest in order to get ideas of what I wanted to do, and I decided that I wanted paint on the table. That was the second part of our conversation. When I mentioned paint, Ben’s reply was less than encouraging. (In all fairness, I, Ben, like the look of woodgrain). So, because I wanted this to be something we would both love, I began my search for a reddish stain. Nothing struck my fancy, but I settled for red mahogany. I sanded and sanded and sanded some more. I felt confident that the time had come for the first coat of stain. Yikes! Half of the table looked great; and the other half? Not so good. It looked like the wood was rejecting the stain. So, I waited and sanded and tried the stain again. Same results. The next thing I did was to snap a picture and posted it on Facebook asking for thoughts. I got answers, and I got questions for which I did not have answers.

You may be wondering what this has to do with anything. Well, the truth is that you can learn quite a few lessons when tackling a project that you know little about. Don’t misunderstand. This was not my first round at redoing furniture, but it was my most complicated.

First lesson: I knew what I wanted, but I was willing to compromise on what we could both live with. It’s important to recognize that the best of plans may require that you make changes – especially when it comes to trying to make everybody happy. In this plan I made, I figured it would take no more than ten days. Oops! Second lesson: Allow plenty of time for the process to be completed. Even the simplest of projects can become complicated. This is true in our Christian walk, too. Most of the time, we do not get answers the way the Gideon did. We have no fleece to put out, and even if we did, God may not choose to respond to our request. God’s Word reminds us in many different places that this life is a process, and the process is going to be more complicated than we imagined, and even painful, at times. My furniture restoration project certainly was. It was hot. It was cold. It rained. It required sanding and sanding and more sanding. And the smell…. No one told me that the stain would stink, and it didn’t stink for just a day or two. It smelled for weeks. Third lesson: Much like when we dabble in things we should not be involved in, the smell of sin clings to us. The opposite is true, too. When we cling to God — when we worship Him in truth and power — we are a sweet-smelling aroma to the Father.

I really worked hard to pick the right product. I read the labels, and I sought to understand the instructions. However, without a teacher or advice from someone who did this sort of thing for a living, I was attacking this project with limited knowledge. So, I asked around, and I was pointed in the direction of gel stain. I have never used gel stain before, and though it seemed simple enough, it applied differently than other stains. Needless to say, I had a few problems with the stain. There was as much on me as was on the furniture — especially when I got to the chairs.

Fourth lesson: As believers, we have written instructions that we call the Bible. In that precious Book, we even have dire warnings that tell us that if the instructions are not followed, disaster will result. That is why it is imperative that we join ourselves with a body of believers who can help us understand God’s instructions and model for us how to live them out. You see, I asked for advice, and I tried my best to follow the advice given. But I am a novice when it comes to a project like mine. What I needed more than advice was lessons. I needed someone to come alongside and teach me. In the Christian life, we need people to come alongside us and teach us how to deal with tragedy. How am I supposed to react when I lose my job and face total financial meltdown? You may have never experienced any of these, but other believers have. We need those believers to come alongside and teach us the lessons they have learned. There will always be differences in our circumstances, but we can still gain valuable principles from their journeys. Sometimes just knowing that we aren’t the first (aren’t you glad you weren’t the first Job?) to go through a situation provides a little bit of comfort. And know this: One day, child of the King, you will get to be the one that comes alongside another brother or a sister and teach them the lessons you have learned in your journey of life.

Life “redos” take patience; that is a fruit of the Spirit most of us had rather not harvest. I could tell a difference in my work on the chairs from one to the other. The first chair was, and is still, kind of sad-looking. It could use a second redo, and maybe one day it will happen. But the good news is that I learned lessons as I worked. While working through the chairs, I realized that I needed a different kind of sander. I needed a Dremel, and about four chairs into the process, I remembered that we had one. I also concluded that if I had removed four screws from each chair that the process would have been a lot easier. Fifth lesson: We are all that way when it comes to our Christian walk. Sometimes God is saying, “I have given you all the tools you need. Why aren’t you using them?” In those moments, He is just asking us to take them up and start using them for Kingdom work. In the midst of this process, I also learned that sometimes something just has to go. Getting rid of, or removing things that interfere with the work is necessary or we will end up working twice as hard and still not have a satisfactory outcome.

(Lessons Learned was a collaborative effort by Ben and Sonya)

I Was Created For…. @SSPreacherman

Have you ever spent time in prayer wondering about why you were created? A few years ago, I (Sonya) was inspired to do just that during a revival service. This is what I came up with:

I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​to ​inhale​​ ​His​ ​Holy​ ​breath. I​ ​was ​​created ​​to ​leave​ ​my​ ​land ​and​ ​begin​ ​a​ ​journey ​to​ ​a​ ​new​ ​land​ ​full​ ​of​ hope​ ​​and​ promise.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​to​ ​serve​ ​the​ High​ ​Priest​ and​ ​learn​​ His​​ ​laws​ ​and​ ​decrees. I​ was​​ ​created​ ​to​ trust​​ in​​ the​ light​​ when​​ ​life’s​ ​path​ is​​ ​dark​ ​and​ ​all ​I​ ​can ​see ​​is​ ​the ​​pillar​ ​of​ fire.​ ​I ​was​ ​created​ to​ ​​let​ His​ voice​ ​​speak​ ​so​ ​all​ ​men ​ can​ ​be ​drawn​ ​to​ ​Him. ​​I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​to​ ​be​ ​brave​ ​and​ ​courageous​ — ​to​ seize​ ​the ​Promised​​ ​Land​ ​to which He​ ​has​ ​brought​ ​me. ​​I​ ​was​ ​created ​to​ ​have​ ​His​ ​law ​written​ ​on​ ​​my​ heart.​ ​I ​was ​created​ ​to​ ​​believe​ His​ ​prophecy. ​​I ​was​ ​created ​to be​ ​​redeemed​ ​by​ ​His ​ blood.​ ​I ​​was ​ ​created ​​to ​​be ​a ​part​ ​of​ ​His ​work,​ ​to​ ​rebuild​ broken​ ​lives​​ ​and​ wounded​​ hearts.​ I ​was​ ​ created​ ​to​ sing​ ​His​ praises.​ ​​I ​was​ created​ ​​to​ ​walk​ with​ ​​Him ​​through​ ​all​ ​seasons​ ​of​ ​life. I​ ​was​ created​ ​to​ seek​ ​His​ wisdom.​ I​ was​ ​​created to​​ ​seek​ after​​ Him.​ I​ ​was​ ​created​ to​ allow​ ​Him​ to​ ​be the​ ​lover ​of​ ​my​ ​soul. ​I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​to seek​ ​His​ peace​​ ​and​ ​to​ ​offer​ it​ ​​to others.​ I​ ​was ​created​​ to​ ​see​ ​Him ​in​ ​the​ ​fiery​ ​furnaces​ ​of ​ ​life​ ​–​ to​ ​ be​ ​willing​ ​to remain in the fire and ​be refined.​ I​ ​was​ ​created ​to ​see​ ​Him as​ ​an​ ​open​ ​door — my ​escape​ from​ ​sin. I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​to​ ​believe that ​He​ ​is ​faithful​ ​in ​all​ things​​ ​at​ ​all​ times.​ I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​to​ ​join Him​ in​ ​​the ​missionary​ ​call. I​ ​was created​​ ​to​ ​embrace​ ​the​ ​Holy​ Spirit’s​ ​​power. I​ was​ ​created​ ​to​ ​be​ cradled​ ​in​ ​His​ ​arms.​ ​I ​was​ ​created​ ​to​ ​walk in​​ ​His promise​ of peace.​ I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​to​ ​respond​ ​to​ ​the​ ​call​ ​for​ ​revival.

I​ was​ ​created​ to​ ​soar ​when​ my​ ​journey​ causes​ ​me​ ​to​ ​be​ weak.​​ ​I​ ​was​ created​ ​to ​worship​ ​Messiah. ​I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​for​ the​ fire​​ ​from​ ​Heaven​ ​to​ change​​ me.​ I​​ was​ ​created​ ​to ​​be seen​ ​by​ ​the​ ​Father’s​ eyes​ ​of​ mercy​​ ​and​ ​grace. I​ was​ ​created to​​ ​be​ ​bathed​ ​in​ ​love,​ ​to​ stand​​ in​ ​the​​ ​shadow​ ​of​ ​the​ ​cross,​ ​so​ that I​​ ​could​ ​bend​ my​​ knees​ before​ the​ throne​​ ​of​ ​grace​ and​ ​ ​forgiveness. I​ was​ ​created​​ ​to have​ ​a​ servant’s​ ​heart.​ I​ was​ ​created​ to​​ ​be​ ​a​ worker​​ not​ ​ashamed​ ​of​ ​the​ Gospel​​ ​of​ Christ.​ I was​ ​created​ ​to​ trust​​ the​ Master’s​ ​ ​heart when​​ ​I​ did​ not​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​movement​ ​of​ ​his hands.​ I​ ​was​ ​created​ ​to​ ​hear​ the​​ Bridegroom​ ​say, “Come,​ ​my​​ ​bride.​ ​It​ ​is​ time​​ for​ the​ ​​wedding feast.”​ I ​was​ ​created​ ​for​ ​everlasting ​praise​ ​and​ ​worship​ ​of​ ​my​ King. I was created for eternity.

Ben and Sonya Hayes

Trust Me! #SSPreacherman

What do you mean, trust? You’ve heard it all before: trust jumps, trust falls, or “just trust me.” When my children were little, I (Ben) would tell them to jump and that I would catch them. They did it without question. As we get older, we go to team-building conferences that encourage us to trust our team members and fall into their arms. And then there is the one that we have all most likely heard: just trust me. I (Sonya) never learned to swim as a child and have not yet learned as an adult. I tried it once and discovered that it was not my instructor that I didn’t trust as much as it was a lack of trust in my own abilities.

In recent days, due to the terrible storms and wildfires that have ravaged our country, we have seen lots of people having to trust total strangers. These people have been clinging to trees, roof tops, and cars, yet in just a matter of a few moments they place their self in the trust of someone they did not know. As the fires approached their homes, people were forced to flee leaving their material possessions in the hands of firefighters. This past week, we watched as rescue workers dug through the rubble of earthquake-ravaged buildings in Mexico in their attempts to save a few survivors – all the while telling the victims of this natural disaster to “just trust me.”

In times of crisis, we often have no choice but to trust others. We are forced to wait and wonder if our trust will be rewarded with deliverance.  But in our walk with Christ, we have a wonderful opportunity to trust Him not only in the difficult times of life but also in the every day circumstances we face. And there is a vast difference between the two. It is imperative that we learn to trust our Heavenly Father in the everyday moments. Read carefully Mark 9:17-24. A father came to Jesus on behalf of his demon-possessed son. He describes the situation that has plagued his son since childhood, and then he says, “…if you can do anything,….” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Jesus asked. ‘Anything is possible if a person believes.’” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Can you relate? This is a prayer that I often find myself whispering from the depths of my heart during the everyday circumstances of life. And sometimes I even hear myself crying out these very words in the dark and difficult times. Throughout the gospels, there are times when the disciples were forced to trust in Jesus. Remember the storm in Mark 4? Our loving Savior was asleep in the boat, and the storm came up quickly. The hearts of these men were terrified, so they went to their sleeping Savior. Did they trust Him? Maybe. A little. They knew enough to awaken him, but they didn’t trust His heart completely. “Do you even care that we perish?” What a question! They did not yet realize the depth of the Savior’s love for them. They did not understand that He longed for a relationship with them that went beyond the moment.

When we are suffering, it is only human nature that we want to know the “whys” and the “hows” of what is happening to us. Like Job, we spend an endless amount of time trying to figure out what we have done wrong, asking ourselves, God, and anyone who will listen why we deserve such hardships.  Charles Spurgeon once said, “I am certain that I never did grow in grace one half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.” In the midst of the pain, it’s hard to see the good. In the center of the storm, it’s easy to question God: Why did you let this happen? Where are you when I hurt? And once again, we cry out like the desperate father, “Oh! Help my unbelief!”

So, where is God when life hurts? Where is He when death is wrapping its cold fingers around the love of your life? Where is the Father when the child you have loved and sacrificed for runs wild? “Where is He?” we ask. Then, with a quiet whisper from the Holy Spirit, we find Him. Truthfully, we have known all along where God was because in His word we are reminded that he came to Earth and showed us His face. We have seen His heart touched by our grief, by the hunger that gnaws within us, and by the prodigal that is too often us. And since we serve a God that never changes, He is still moved today by all that hurts us; He suffers along with and beside us. God is where we are; He is waiting for us on the path to which pain has taken us. He is waiting and yet He is walking with us.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest . . . for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” When we move closer to the Father, maybe even crawl up onto His lap and lean into Him, we find the absolute promise of this verse fulfilled. Death may still come and the child may not return, but you will know without a doubt that in the midst of your hurt, the tears that flow are captured by God, and He will give you rest and peace.

Matt Redmon has a song titled Gracefully Broken. Listen to what it says:

Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
Gracefully broken
My heart stands in awe of Your name
Your mighty love stands strong to the end
You will fulfill Your purpose for me
You won’t forsake me, You will be with me
Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
Gracefully broken.

When the hurt seems to never end, when the pain is excruciating, and when the night seems to go on forever, we are being Gracefully Broken for our good and His glory.

Ben and Sonya Hayes

Relationships #SSPreacherman

Recently, Ashley, our youngest daughter, relayed a new bedtime-stall tactic created by our three-year-old granddaughter, Lucy. On this particular night, Lucy was weeping bitterly over everything and everyone trying not to go to bed. The routine is that she snuggles with one of her parents (or when we are around at bedtime she asks for one of us) who then read her a story, pray with her, and then snuggle for a few minutes before she goes to sleep. On this particular night, we weren’t there, and Mommy and Daddy had done everything they could to get her to sleep, her last resort was to cry out, “I just want to snuggle with God, but I can’t see Him.” This story has pushed me (Sonya) to ponder a recent Sunday School lesson. My thoughts were like this: If all of the different people with which we have relationships were gathered around a table, what perceptions about relationships would we discover?

We have all, no doubt, had the privilege of having some amazing relationships with friends, co-workers, and family members. I have a love relationship with my spouse that is one of the true treasures of my heart. When we had children, they brought a whole new meaning to the concept of relationships. And if you are a grandparent — well that is a relationship that is inexplicable. But of all these relationships, the one I value most is my relationship with my Savior.

Many people never realize this, but relationships are costly. As I thought about those who would be gathered around the table, I realized that our perceptions about the connections we have with others varies greatly.  Some invest extravagantly in their relationships while others seek only to benefit from those to whom they are connected. Some see limited value in either the process of building a relationship or in the results. If you read the gospels, you discover that Jesus experienced both extremes. Many times, He gave extravagantly to those around Him and received very little in return. For example, do you remember the story of the ten lepers that He healed, but only one returned to worship and say thank you? Or the story of Judas – the one in whom He invested three years of His life mentoring and discipling only to be betrayed by a friend’s kiss?

But the story that provoked my thoughts about relationships and how we see (or do not see) them is the account of Jesus when He was anointed at a dinner party. You find this particular story in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:1-8.  This was so important that we have the same even described from three different men who had three different perspectives and very different perceptions. Yet, they tell a very similar story. We see in these verses once again the extremes of what was invested in the relationship and how different people perceived our Savior, Jesus differently. For Mary, the woman who anointed Jesus, the cost of either the alabaster box or the expensive oil was never a consideration. Both were hers to hold onto or to give away. Her only desire was to give her best to the one who had given her the most. She saw her Savior, and she used a perfume that was normally used to anoint kings at their ascension to the throne or to prepare a body for burial. How appropriate that she unwittingly did both for Jesus giving no thought to her sacrifice — a sacrifice of worship.

The other extreme that we see in this story, sadly, is the reaction of the disciples to Mary’s action. Those who sat at the table became indignant over the extravagance. They called it a waste, proclaiming that there were better uses of these sacrificed resources. They thought the worship of her Savior was extreme. Too extreme. They saw a way to make ministry easier for themselves. These things should have been sold because everyone knows that a heavy money bag would certainly make feeding the hungry and clothing the naked — the very things Jesus had told them to do – easier, requiring less faith or self-sacrifice. Or in the case of Judas, John’s gospel tells us that the heavy purse would provide him with resources he could use for himself.

Immediately following this story, we see Judas negotiating with the enemy the cost of betrayal. Some say that the betrayer saw a way to use Jesus’ claims to force Him to be the kind of Messiah the Jews had always looked for: a conquering king come to throw off they shackles of the oppressive Romans. But that was never meant to be, at least not this time around. Most, however, believe that he saw this simply as a way to personally benefit his own bank account. Either way, how sad that this man’s perception of his relationship with the Savior was so superficial and self-serving. Judas had witnessed the same miracles as all of the other disciples. The Savior had washed his feet just as He had done with the other eleven. But for Judas, his investment in the relationship with Jesus was minimal at best. All he could think about is, “What’s in it for me?”

Could that be the same problem affecting countless numbers of church-goers and church-members who are looking for some type of deliverance? Week after week they attend a worship service looking for some sort of benefit for themselves never realizing that worship is about sacrifice – self-sacrifice. Worship is costly. It is expensive. True worship requires extravagance. In fact, Paul tells us in Romans 12 that true worship is presenting our entire beings on the altar as living sacrifices in service to a Holy God, and that is only our reasonable service. What are you holding back in your precious alabaster box? Would you be willing to give it all to worship the Savior? I hope so because that is the only way to truly worship and experience the kind of relationship that He longs to have with you.

Ben and Sonya Hayes

 

In the Path of the Storm #SSPreacherman

There are some things that stick in your mind, and I guess because of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I have been thinking about the storms I have been through.  Storms with names like Ivan, Katrina, Erin, Opal, and Danny. There were many others, but the names escape me at the moment. I will never forget the day we made preparations for Hurricane Ivan on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. Sonya and I had made the decision to stay in our home and not evacuate because of the number of senior adults from our church and community that we knew would never leave. We knew that if we left, it could be days or weeks before we were able to get back in, and besides that, our house was like a fortress. Once our preparations were done, we sat on the front porch enjoying the cool breeze that always starts hours – sometimes days – before the storm hits. I remember it clearly. There was one of those spiders that are everywhere during that time of year that had built a web between the railing of the porch and the shrubs. He was a pretty good-sized spider, and I remember wondering if he would be there after the storm. He wasn’t. I remember laying on the mattress in our hallway trying to sleep listening to the wind rattle our storm door. I remember as the eye of the hurricane passed directly overhead stepping out to survey the damage and seeing stars in the sky. I remember hearing the roar of the winds in the distance as the eye-wall came closer. I remember the days without electricity; my kids coming to help us clean up the mess; the fun times sitting under the carport in the evenings just talking and eating all the food we had left in our freezer. I remember spending hours cleaning floors, walls, and chairs in the church fellowship hall so that we could have a worship service that Sunday morning. I remember it all as if it were yesterday.

Through it all, I was never afraid because we knew that God was protecting us. We had prayed earnestly for direction about staying or going, and we both sensed that God would have us stay. There was great peace in our hearts even when we received the phone calls from the Emergency Management Agency telling us that we were stupid and were going to die if we did not evacuate. Those were not the exact words, but it was the message they wanted to convey.

I know that millions of people are right now in the path of the storm, and I pray for God’s peace and wisdom to rest on you. I pray that you will trust our Sovereign Lord to guide you and protect you. And I pray that in the aftermath, you will be the salt and the light that your hurting neighbors will need to help them find their way to Jesus.

Running the Race #SSPreacherman

My lovely wife, Sonya, has another encouraging and inspiring blog for you.

Once upon a time, I (Sonya) used to run. I didn’t run for a team or as part of a sports program but just because I enjoyed the process. I am sure my form and warm-ups would cause a track coach major stress. Today if I am seen running, one could and should assume there is a great need, and the only I way could get there is by running. There are many famous runners in our culture, and they all run for different reasons. One man that ran for God was Eric Liddle. He ran in the1924 Olympic race and is probably best known from the movie, Chariots of Fire. He won the gold medal in the 1924 Olympics, finishing alone with no one even close. It is told that “he ran with Scripture in his hand, looking upwards and laughing with joy.” His entire being was involved in the race, and he explained his experience of running like this: “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure!” In the message Bible, we read “I run to you God; I run for dear life” (Psalm 31:1, MSG). If you are runner in the physical world, you run with purpose and with pride. God desires the very same from us in our spiritual walk with Him. He wants us to run with endurance knowing that just like Liddle and others Olympic runners, we, too, have an audience. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that “…since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

In running, we often become exhausted and need to be refreshed. In marathons, you see that there are tables set up along the route with water or some type of sports drink to do just that. In Scripture, we find that Jesus was tired from the journey and sat down at a well. In the Old Testament, Gideon was exhausted but continued the pursuit of the enemy. Samson cried out after a battle begging God for water or he would die. The truth is that we all get tired. Sometimes we are exhausted; we become weary from the race. The good news is that when the race of this life drains us and we feel that we cannot go on, we can go to the Father, and we can listen to the words of the prophet, Zephaniah. “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

As a parent and grandparent, I have been privileged to comfort and bring calm to my child and my grandchild. Sometimes your child has become exhausted from the activities of the day and collapses in your arms to sleep the night away. At other times, it is a battle as I spend the dark night singing them to sleep. Thankfully, the Father has a voice much sweeter than mine and He never misses a note. I find comfort in knowing that when I run to the Father and He takes me in His arms that He has a song for my heart and for my ears only. The mighty God who saves takes time to encourage and rejoice over me, a frail human unworthy of such attention. He takes time — not to rebuke or scold me but to cradle me and sing my song to me.

In Psalm 56:8, the psalmist reminds us that God has not allowed a single tear of sorrow to slip down my cheeks unnoticed. He has them stored in a bottle and recorded in a book. My hurts and sorrow are always before Him. They are there for a purpose. With every glance He takes, I am before Him, and He sees my tears of brokenness, humiliation, fear, and every sorrow that has sent these tears sliding down. He sees His child – overcome and helpless — and His heart is moved on my behalf.

Have you been there? Exhausted from the labor of the day or even the loneliness of the night? Have you felt the weight of raising children, from your job, or just life and the responsibility that comes with this journey? Have you ever come home to find those you love are there for you? The smile and the warmth of the hug tells you in that moment you are loved. That is what Jesus promised. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Fall into the Savior’s arms. Let your burdens fall at His feet. Feel the rest he gives. Be comforted and renewed so that you, like Eric Liddle, can say that you run and feel God’s pleasure in all that you do. Read the words of this Phillips, Craig and Dean song titled God Ran.

Almighty God, The Great I Am,
Immovable Rock, Omnipotent,
Powerful,Awesome Lord.
Victorious Warrior, Commanding King of Kings,
Mighty Conqueror and the only time,
The only time I ever saw him run,
Was when He ran to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to His chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice He said
“Son, do you know I still love You?”
He caught me by surprise, When God ran
The day I left home,
I knew I’d broken His heart.
And I wondered then, if things could ever be the same.
Then one night,
I remembered His love for me.
And down that dusty road, ahead I could see,
It was the only time,
It was the only time I ever saw Him run.
And then
He ran to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to His chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice He said
“Son, do you know I still love You?”
He caught me by surprise.
And He brought me to my knees.
When God ran, I saw Him run to me.
I was so ashamed, all alone, and so far away.
But now I know, that He’s been waiting for this day
I saw Him run to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to his chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice
I felt his love for me again.
He ran to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to his chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice
He said “Son”
He called me Son.
He said “Son, do you know I still love You?”
He ran to me (When God Ran)
(I saw Him run to me)
And then I ran to Him
(When God ran)
When God ran

Written by Benny Ray Hester, John Parenti • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

Ready for the Big Day? #SSPreacherman

What do the following three statements have in common?

  • Make sure you pack plenty of food and water for your trip.
  • Be sure to remind your pets not to panic before the event begins.
  • Don’t look at the sun without proper eye protection.

Yep! If you live anywhere around the Tennessee Valley, you know that all of these statements came from the news media concerning the total eclipse we will be experiencing today. Now, I have always considered myself to be a huge geek when it comes to anything astronomical. I can remember the excitement I felt as a young person when we were privileged to view partial solar eclipses and total lunar eclipses. I always felt a little let down afterwards because it didn’t really live up to my expectations. And with all the hype and craziness going on around this eclipse, I expect much of the same. But today, my city is in the 96% Zone of Totality. What does that mean? It’s going to get dark around 1:30 this afternoon.

But I think that people have gone absolutely insane over this. Some have paid $15,000 to view the eclipse from an air-conditioned room at a football stadium. I hope that includes refreshments and a pair of gold-plated viewing glasses. Some have spent $1,500 for glamping in the “zone of totality.” I can only assume that means camping with some type of extra benefit. But what is almost as bad is to hear of people waiting for hours to spend $10 on a pair of paper glasses. I can ALMOST understand some friends of mine waiting 4 hours to purchase the totally chocolate-glazed eclipse donuts at Krispy Kreme. Almost. As much as I love their chocolate-covered donuts, I’m not waiting 4 hours for any kind of donut. Again, I think that people have gone absolutely crazy over this.

The Bible says that God has given us the sun, moon, and stars for “signs.” Some believe that eclipses are signs warning of coming judgment. That could possibly be the case for the United States because we are long overdue. Others have talked about the possibility of earthquakes caused by the eclipse, but as far as I know, there are no scientific bases for that at all.

Sonya and I have talked about all the possibilities we have heard surrounding the eclipse. That is why she said what she did this morning before we left for work. We kissed goodbye, spoke of our love for each other, wished each other a good day, and then she said it: “If I don’t see you again down here, I’ll see you in the air with Jesus.” Man! All I could think of was, “Wouldn’t that be great?” You see, with the timing of this total eclipse and the next one – 7 years from now – there are those who have mentioned this would be a great time for the Rapture of the church followed by the Great Tribulation and Jesus’ glorious Second Coming. After all, if the sun was created for the purpose of giving us signs, wouldn’t that be just like the Father to have it all planned out like this? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the Rapture is going to happen today or tomorrow – but it could! And I thought about all those posts I have seen on Facebook. If Christians had spent as much time preparing for the Lord’s return as we have spent preparing for this eclipse, what a difference we could have made in the lives of the people around us.

Here is the truth! We don’t know when the Rapture will occur. We don’t even know when someone we love will breathe their last breath. That’s why the Bible so urgently instructs us to do the work God has commanded us to do – to make disciples – while we can. We need to work for the night is coming, and just like the eclipse today, it may come sooner than you think. Are you ready? Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

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