Thursday, July 30, 2015

Now is the Time

Sometimes a good question can change things for the better. It was so with four lepers who lived in Israel. Times were as bad as it gets because Samaria was besieged by an enemy who was starving the Israelites to death. Four lepers sat outside the city walls in similar circumstances, and one of them asked a startling question, “Why stay here until we die?” (2 Kings 7:3). He reasoned with his companions that if they tried to get into the city there was nothing but famine awaiting them, and if they continued to stay where they were, they would also die. He therefore boldly suggested that the four of them march headlong into the camp of the Arameans and see what happens. The very worst they could do would be kill them, and that was inevitable anyway if they stayed with the status quo. It was a bold move especially coming from such unlikely characters. Somehow they came to the conclusion it was time to do something. It was time to try something. It was time to act. Never mind that it was dangerous and they might be killed. They were determined to try.

Did the lepers know they would be successful? Did they have the certainty of not being harmed? Did they have the assurance they would be better off? Absolutely not! They did, however, know they had to try—and that is what they did. As evening fell, they got up and ventured toward the enemy camp. However, as they walked, God did one of the most incredible things, “for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army” (2 Kings 7:5-6). When the lepers arrived at the camp, it was completely deserted because the enemy had fled thinking a great army was attacking them. God had amplified the steps of four lepers to sound like a mighty approaching army.

God intervened on the behalf of four lepers. He didn’t tell them what he was going to do. God still does this when we step out in faith. Our resources are limited, and we ourselves are limited, but God is never limited. Nothing is impossible with God. Nothing is too difficult for God.

When the lepers reached the camp, they found food, drink, clothes, money and lots of it. They ate to their hearts’ content and then dressed themselves royally. After that they began to hide the treasures they found, and incidentally this is what most of us do with affluence—we pile it up. They continued to hoard the treasures until one of the lepers, probably the same one who asked the first question, came to another conclusion. He said, "We're not doing right.” The lepers concluded: “This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves” (2 Kings 7:9).  It is amazing that these four lepers determined that they needed to get off dead center and venture out to the enemy camp. It is also incredible that these same men, after experiencing prosperity and instant affluence, were able to conclude that they were doing no good by not sharing what they had discovered. What they discovered is what some Christians seem never to discover. The excitement of knowing Jesus is sharing him (our greatest treasure) with others who don’t know him.

“Today is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.” This message of Jesus is too good to keep bottled up inside of our souls. Jesus belongs to all the nations for all time. The prophet Haggai calls “Jesus the desired of all the nations” (Hag 2:7). What the world really wants is Jesus. This is a day for sharing him with our world.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Touch Someone

As Jesus finished his sermon from the Mount, a man who was completely covered in leprosy came to Jesus. He had made his way through the crowd and fell on his face before Jesus and spoke these words,
"Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean" (Luke 5:12).

The lot of a leper was summed up in Leviticus 13:45-46, stating that the leper must stay away from the general population, but if he ever did come close, he must follow the rules. He must have his clothes torn, his hair unkempt, his face covered and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” Thus giving the people a chance to get away from him.

What humiliation and isolation belonged to the life of a leper. Just imagine for a moment that you are a leper and that these rules exist today. Picture yourself entering a crowded store and crying, “Unclean, unclean.” What sense of worthlessness and uselessness and despair we would all feel in such a moment.

The leper wondered if Jesus would be willing to heal him, but he didn’t have to wait long to hear Jesus’ answer because he was filled with compassion at the sight of the poor man. Jesus reached out his hand and touched him and said “I am willing, be clean” and immediately the leprosy left him (Luke 5:13).

Jesus’ touch said to the man “I care, I love you, and I want to help you.” Perhaps it had been many years since the leper had been touched in a meaningful way by anyone who was not a leper. Those watching must have been shocked, but the leper felt God’s love.

Margarita was an attractive young woman with long black hair who appeared to be happy. But at twenty-three years of age she doused herself with gasoline and lit a match to her flammable clothes.  The flames instantly scorched her hair and left her body charred beyond recognition and barely alive.

I had just seen her the night before in the church where I preached. After that service she went home where an argument between her and her siblings escalated. They were hostile toward her ever since her conversion to Christ. She left the house extremely upset and eventually resorted to take her life in this unbelievable way.

When I walked into her hospital room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. She looked like some horrible creature from a nightmare.  Her swollen head was twice its normal size.  Her nose was gone and there were only slits where her eyes and mouth used to be.  The sheet that covered her was fastened in such a way so that nothing touched her terribly burned body.  She cried with excruciating pain. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the agony she was suffering.

Her first words to me that day I saw her were, “Pastor Boyd, will God ever forgive me for what I have done?” I responded, “Margarita, let’s pray, and God will forgive you right now.” We prayed, and even there in her pain she felt the comfort of God’s forgiveness.

Over the next few weeks she lingered on, but grew progressively worse until she died. Not once did her family ever come to see her, and when she died, her family didn’t claim her body, so we gave her a funeral.

Although this tragedy happened many years ago, its impact has never been forgotten in my life. It has helped me realize that there are always people who feel like outcasts and who live on the brink of despair. It has made me depend more on the Holy Spirit to see the people who need to be touched.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Run to the Father

I was pretty young when I learned the lesson of how difficult it is to cover up sin. My older brother, a cousin and I chose as live targets our neighbor’s chickens. We used our 22 caliber rifle to pick them off at close range. After we had killed close to a dozen of those poor creatures, we were faced with how we would hide our crime. We chose the same method as Moses, that of burying them in the ground. At first it looked as if our scheme had worked. However, to our dismay the neighbor’s dogs unearthed a great meal for themselves and at the same time uncovered the whole dastardly deed. Our crime began to unravel at breakneck speed.

I’ll never forget the day I looked up and saw the troubled neighbor coming to our house. I overheard his conversation at the door with my mother, “Mrs. Brooks, my dogs have uncovered nearly a dozen chickens that have been shot and buried. Would your boys have any idea what happened?” She answered, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” She first asked my brother who didn’t know a thing. Then she honed in on me, and I was a push over and confessed the whole crime, even though I had been threatened that if I told, I too would suffer the same fate as the chickens—however, the load of concealing this sin any longer was too hard to bear.

My mother proceeded to give me and my brother her best and hardest spanking, but the worst part was, “You stay here in your room until your father comes home, and he will really give you something to remember, and he did.” My father drove a truck, so I could hear the truck when it came home. I can still hear the gears shifting, the motor being turned off, my mother informing my father, the door knob turning and staring at my father. My father believed in corporal punishment, and that day he left a great impression on me as to what I had done. Added to that was the humiliation of going over and apologizing to the neighbor and working to make restitution to pay the man in full for his loss. It certainly seemed like a dumb idea when it was all over. Unquestionably, I would tell anyone never try to bury chickens in the dirt when there are dogs in the vicinity.

My brother did, however, teach me a lesson that day. Later, he said as only he could say “Hey, dummy, don’t you know how to take your medicine?” My brother had a real way with words. He went on to explain that when I tried to run away from my father when he was giving me my spanking, it would hurt more. However, if I could learn as he had to embrace my father, his swing would be shortened and therefore not hurt nearly as much. It was true.  

Even though at the time I dreaded the discipline I received from my father, as I got older I came to appreciate what he did for me. The writer of Hebrews says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Hebrews goes on to say that “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). If we run to God when he disciplines us, we will spare ourselves so much agony. God loves us, and everything he does for us is for his glory, and he wants us to be more like him.