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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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
What do the following three statements have in common?
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!
Every once in a while, my wonderful wife will send me something that is so inspiring or instructive that I must share it as a guest blog. This is one of those times, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Letting go is tough. Whether it’s a plan, a dream, a way of doing, self-interest, or just about anything else that means something to us – letting it go is tough. In 1 Kings 17: 8-16, Elijah tells a poor widow to let go of her last bit of oil and flour in order to see what God will do. The woman’s future — her security — was made visible to her by her commitment to let go of all that she had at her disposal. It did not make sense; it was not logical or reasonable. She had already devised a plan for that last bit of oil and flour. She was going to make her last meal and then die. She had planned the next step which would also be her last step. This hopeless and seemingly helpless woman knew that her actions would deplete her food supply, but it was her plan. But by letting go — by releasing what the Lord asked of her — she was able to experience a miracle of multiplication. She learned a lesson that we all must come to learn in order to experience God’s power. We must learn not to be satisfied with what will soon run out and instead walk in a faith that reveals God’s provision.
David was asked to let go of his pride and confess the sin of adultery, murder, and lying. In return, he found forgiveness and restoration. However, he also learned that letting go does not change the consequence of our sin. The child that was the product of adultery and murder still died, but by letting go of his pride and humbling himself before God, King David found that his relationship with the Father could be restored. The same is true for us as we deal with our sins whatever they may be. Letting go allows our relationships to be restored whether those relationships are between God and us or between other human beings and ourselves.
God called Abraham to let go of his promised son, Isaac, the child of his old age – the one through whom all the promises of God were to be fulfilled. God did not just tell Abraham to send Isaac away as he did Ishmael. Instead, he was to let go in a final, goodbye kind of way. It was in his obedience that Abraham found the promises of God are always true and that God will always provide. It was also a time during which he learned that letting go allowed him to move forward towards the promises of God. The children of Israel struggled with letting go of their past even when it was a past filled with despair. They were tired and hungry. They were angry over their circumstances and afraid of what they perceived as their future. In their minds, the past was grander than it truly was. The good old days. They remembered gardens overflowing and a life of ease even when that was not the case. They were unwilling to press forward; they wanted to hold on to the past. The problem was that by not letting go of the past they were prohibiting themselves from moving to a grander and more blessed future. Again, the same is true for us. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14. “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It is by letting go of our past, our possessions, or even our posterity that we find that we can move forward to the future God has planned for us. We need to take seriously the directive God gave through His prophet, Isaiah. “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19). This is a promise you can take to the bank: God will make a way.
But there is one more thing that we need to release into the promises of God, and it may well be the greatest need of our lives. We must let go of the things in our past that hold on to us. These are the things that weigh us down as we struggle to run this race called life. These are the things that pull us away from the Lord and His perfect plan for us. Once again, the Apostle Paul spells it out for us in Ephesians 4:31-32. Things like bitterness, wrath, and anger must be relinquished into the Hand of God. We must reject the temptation to constantly complain and speak evil of others. It has been said that we cannot reach forward to receive the blessings of our future as long as we cling tightly to our past sins, past hurts, and past plans. Only when we open our hands to God by offering kindness, compassion, and forgiveness of our brothers and sisters in Christ will we truly discover what Paul meant when he told us to “press on.” We cannot move forward into our promised future as long as we continue to tie ourselves down to the anchors of our past. So let it go, and take hold of the blessings God is holding onto for you.
Last week, I shared the first part of this blog with you taken from a message that I preached several weeks ago. It is part of a series related to the judgments of God on all of mankind, but in order to understand the full scope of these judgments, we must know that God loves every man, woman, boy, and girl. He has done everything possible to draw all of us to Himself and to show us the way to spend eternity with Him. Here is part two of “Seven Stop Signs that Will Change Your Life.”
The third stop sign God has placed in your path is the stop sign of individual Christians. Many of you grew up in godly Christian homes with parents who taught you what the love of God is all about. You heard it in the stories they told. You saw it in the lives that they lived. But even if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, by your presence here today, it is obvious that God has placed Christian men and women in your path to show you that there is a better way, the narrow way, that leads to heaven. That’s why Jesus called Christians the “light of the world.” It is our responsibility to illuminate that sin-darkened broad path so that the lost men and women who are traveling down that road that leads to destruction will be able to see where they are heading before it’s too late. And Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:16 that true believers are “the aroma of death leading to death….” Have you ever smelled death – the aroma of decaying flesh? It is sickening, and it causes most people to stop in their tracks and go the other direction. When we live the Christian life before a lost world, not only do they see the light of God’s love shining through us, but also they sense in the depths of their hearts that they are headed in the wrong direction. That’s why most lost people don’t want to hang around true believers. We are God’s stop sign on the path to hell.
The fourth stop sign which God has placed in the path of the lost on their way to hell is the Church. While technically the church is made up of the Christians I just spoke of, I am now talking about the institutional church, the body of Christ called together under Jesus’ Lordship for the purpose of showing a lost world the way to Christ. According to Jesus in Matthew 16:18, the church is the only institution that has the power to overcome the very gates of hell itself. That one verse tells me that our Savior intended for His church to stand in the way of lost people headed to hell. How do we do it? By fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The Great Commission says we are to go into all the world, starting at home, to make disciples out of lost people. And the Great Commandment says we are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus defined the word neighbor for us in the parable of the Good Samaritan as anyone who has a need, and there is no greater need in the lives of men and women than to come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Church must stand unwavering for the Truth of God’s Word especially now when the culture is rapidly rejecting that Truth. Too often, the church and its institutions give in to the rising tide of culturalism and choose to honor the world over the Word. We can see it in the recent actions of different denominations accepting gay marriage. We can see it in the recent actions of our beloved Samford University choosing to give credence to a student group that promotes homosexuality even when it means losing $3 million from our state convention. The Church can only be the stop sign on the path to hell when we proudly and boldly stand on the BIBLE and stand against a culture headed for an eternity in hell.
But know this. It is not the church that saves the lost. It is not Christians that save the lost. It is not creation or conscience that saves the lost. It is not even messages like this on hell that save the lost. The Bible says in Romans 1:16 that the gospel “…is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” So understand this morning that the Gospel is our fifth stop sign on the road to hell. What is the gospel? It is the good news that God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to die for us. It is the good news that He did this while we were still in our sins. It is the good news that God is not slack concerning His promises, but He is longsuffering/patient because He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. The good news is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” This is the only thing that has the power to deliver any man or woman from the path of destruction to the path of life. But the gospel will never be heard unless we share it, and it will never be believed until we live our lives in such ways that prove it is true, and we will only live that way if we truly believe this Book from cover to cover.
There is another stop sign on this path to hell, and that stop sign is God. Jesus made it clear that no man can come to the Jesus unless the Father draws Him (John 6:44). “Salvation is never achieved apart from the drawing power of God, and it is never consummated apart from the willingness of humans to hear and learn from God.” (New American Commentary – New American Commentary – Volume 25a: John 1-11.) If you read that passage in John, you hear Jesus saying that God draws us by teaching us. That happens as we read Scripture, hear the gospel presented by Christians, or see His power in nature, and suddenly the Holy Spirit, our Guide, whispers into our hearts, “This is truth. Listen to it.” You’ve heard the stories of people flipping through the channels on the television or scanning the radio stations, and for some reason they stopped on one where God spoke to their hearts through the message or song. That isn’t coincidence. That is God drawing us. No doubt your story is different, but if you look back at it, you will see the hand of God drawing you. And I believe that He draws everyone at some point in their lives as He seeks to stop them on the path to damnation.
There is one final stop sign on the path to hell, and it is Grace. The New Testament definition of grace is God’s love in action, so grace is more than a concept; Grace is a Man, and His name is Jesus Christ because He is God’s love in action. He loves you so much that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself placed His own body as the last stop sign on the road to hell. Listen to me. If you go to hell, you will have to walk across the bruised and bleeding body of Jesus because He has placed Himself there to try and stop you.
So dear friend, what will you do today as you travel down the broad path that leads to destruction? Will you totally ignore these seven stop signs along the way? Will you simply step over the body that was bruised for your sin – that was bloodied in your place?
You can listen to the audio sermon from which this was taken by clicking on this link. If you have questions, or if you would like to know how to change your life, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you ever run a stop sign or a red light? Whoo. I’m glad I’m not the only one. There are times when I am distracted or talking or just plain let my mind wander, and the next thing you know, Sonya is yelling at me to stop. Sometimes I do stop; other times, it’s just too late, but by the grace of God, every time that has happened, there have been no other cars coming my way. But sooner or later, I know that the likelihood is that I’m not going to be that blessed and bad things could happen. Did you realize that God gives us warnings when we are traveling down the wrong road?
In Matthew 7:13, 14, Jesus tells us that in this life, there are two roads that we can travel. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Right now, you and I are either on the road to Heaven, or we are on the road to Hell. There is no middle ground because Jesus said in Matthew 12:30 (NKJV), “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.”
If you are traveling the broad way, the road that leads to Hell, there are several things that you need to be aware of. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus tells us that Hell is a place of everlasting fire. Do you realize what that means? It means that the fire never dies out. This is no ordinary fire because even though the fire burns forever, Hell is a place of total darkness (Matthew 8:12). Then in Mark 9:44, Jesus said that hell is a place where “their worm never dies.” The word worm was used in the OT and in Jesus’ day to refer to apostates – those who had turned their backs on God, so that means while the fire never dies, it also never consumes so that the torment is unending for those who go there. And those who are traveling the broad way will go there unless they turn to Jesus in repentance and belief. There is something else you need to be aware of. In Luke 16, Jesus tells us that Hell is a place from which there is no escape. You remember, in my previous blog, I mentioned this passage about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue and for someone to go warn his brothers. But Father Abraham reminded him in Luke 16:26 (NKJV), “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”
Do you know what that means? After death, there are no second chances, there is no purgatory, and there is no probation. Hell is a place of never-ending torment from which there is no escape.
Many people will say that if God were truly loving, He would never send a single person to suffer that kind of torment. And they would be right. God doesn’t send a single person to hell. In fact, the Bible says that hell was prepared for Satan and his demonic hordes. And Jesus reminds us that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him (the Son) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:17-18). So every human being that winds up in hell does so of their own choosing, but know this: God loves you so much that He has put down stop signs all along the way to keep you from winding up in that horrible place. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Any person who goes to Hell, goes there against God’s will. He has done everything possible, everything that He can do to stop you, and the only way you can wind up there is to ignore the stop signs along the way. But what are those stop signs?
First, God has placed in every human being the stop sign which we call Conscience. In John 8, we read about the Jewish religious leaders who brought the woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus. They walked away because they were “convicted in their conscience” that what they were doing was wrong. Paul speaks about the Gentiles in Romans 2:15 (NKJV), “…who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Even the Gentiles, those who did not receive the Law and the Prophets from God have no excuse because their conscience bears witness to the truth. Even Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden knew immediately when they had sinned because God had instilled within them this conscience which tells us what is right and what is wrong. Sadly, though, Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 4:2 that our consciences can become hardened when we repeatedly ignore it, so while the conscience serves to stop us from continuing down the path to hell, it is not enough to put us on the path to heaven.
Second, God has placed before every human being the stop sign of His Creation. Back to Romans for just a second. Romans 1:18-20 (NKJV), “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,”
Do you see it? Everyone is without excuse because the things that are made – His creation – provide evidence of God’s existence and His nature and His power. But I want you to see something. This isn’t some haphazard presentation where God puts His creation out there and everyone has to go looking for the meaning. Paul says that God has shown all these things to every person so that they will know His power, His personality, and His purpose to bring all men into a right relationship with Himself. How could anyone look at the beauty of the universe and not see God? How could anyone hold a newborn baby and not know that there is a Creator?
Again, sadly, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden demonstrates that even the perfection of creation is not enough to keep men from sinning, but it is enough to stop our descent on the path to hell.
On which road do you find yourself? While I will share the remainder of these stop signs later this week, let me give you a shortcut – a detour, if you will – to avoid a final destination you do NOT want to experience. Surrender your life to God. Trust in the saving grace provided by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Know that He did this for you, and if you believe it and receive His forgiveness, you will find yourself on the road to life.
You can listen to the audio sermon from which this was taken by clicking on this link.