- 2017Sep 20
The Lord Jesus Christ took it personally when those closest to Him ordered their lives according to fear. A cowering believer is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.
Faith in the Heavenly Father should banish all fears, He thought.
Scripture brims with injunctions not to fear but to show faith. Here are five of what may be five hundred such reminders…
1. Those with us are greater than those with them.
“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16)
God’s army is with us.
2. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
God Himself is in us.
3. The Lord has promised to be with you.
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:8)
The Lord is alongside us.
“I will never leave thee nor forsake thee; so that we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my Helper; I will not be afraid.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
4. The Lord has not given His children the spirit of fear.
“He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Fear has no place in the child of God.
5. You have a choice, faith or fear, and you have chosen faith.
“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40)
There is no room for fear in the life of a believer, my friend. We either believe Jesus Christ or we believe the enemy, but we do not do both.
Choose this day whom you will serve, yes, and in whom you will believe. It will make a world of difference.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Ingram Publishing
- 2017Sep 13
Sunday, preaching in Biloxi, Mississippi, I asked the congregation, “How many of you were living here in 1969 when Hurricane Camille changed this coastline forever?” A lot of hands went up.
Then, “How many of you lived here in 2005 when Katrina destroyed so much of the area?” Many more hands.
I said, “So when you think of neighbors dealing with hurricanes, such as Harvey and Irma, you know. You’ve been there. You can pray for them with a genuine compassion and a deeper understanding.”
Before they left the building, those people made generous contributions to their neighbors impacted by the hurricanes.
Each hurricane is different. Each takes its own path and blows at its own speed. And each one is similar. They destroy and uproot and flood. Those who experience even one such storm forever identifies with the victims and veterans of all those which follow.
With that in mind, it might be in order for those of us with scars from past hurricanes (for my family, it was Betsy in 1965 and Katrina 40 years later) to offer a word or two of encouragement to friends caught in the path of the latest of these monster storms.
10 words, actually…
(We will try not to insult you with platitudes such as “work hard” or “try not to cry.” You will work hard and you will cry, and God bless you as you do.)
Keep your faith in the Lord of the heavens and the earth, the One who created it all and for whom none of this was surprising. Trust that He knows what He is about and that the day will come when you look back and see His hand in all that has happened and is taking place in your life and in those you love. Keep your eyes on Him.
After Katrina, when we were able to get back into New Orleans, someone had posted Jeremiah 29:11 at intersections across the city: “God says, ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” That was a timely word to people who had lose their neighborhoods and livelihood and were wondering what the future held. Later, when the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary began rebuilding, President Chuck Kelley chose the same Jeremiah 29:11 as the theme for its recovery. The promise was given to Israel in Babylon, of course, but is just as true for God’s people going through their storms today as then.
Something good is about to happen for all in the hurricane zones: God’s people will soon be arriving by the thousands, bringing help for recovery of homes and lives, bringing with them chainsaws and mud-out crews and rebuilding teams, youth choirs and generous offerings from the churches. Your neighbors who have been skeptical about God and faith are about to see Him take on flesh and blood in the lives of dedicated disaster relief workers and fresh-faced young people.
It’s true your area has changed, and probably changed forever. But, as with the case of New Orleans, that’s not all bad! Some neighborhoods needed revitalizing, some crime groups needed breaking up, and some churches needed to see their fields afresh and anew. It’s important not to try to remake your church into what it was before; God is doing a new thing in your midst. Trust Him that He knows what He is about. Keep reminding yourself and your friends of Matthew 16:18–“It’s His church and He will build it.”
“In everything give thanks,” Scripture commands (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Gratitude is the ultimate grace, we’re told. No doubt you can find things to be grateful for even in the midst of the suffering about you: that the devastation wasn’t worse, that more lives weren’t lost, that even while looters were at work and price-gougers were doing what they do, people all around you were showing love and compassion. God is on the scene and He is faithful.
The rebuilding of your city and your lives will not happen as quickly as they were destroyed. The wheels of government agencies often turn slowly and people are frightened by new conditions, new regulations, and new everything. In our case (New Orleans), we lost hundreds of thousands of our neighbors who never moved back but gained almost an equal number, many of them fresh-faced young adults wanting to get in on the rebuilding of the city, but a large number from Hispanic countries who helped in the reconstruction. All of these things required adjustments and patience.
While you may have had it bad, you can find others who had it worse. Show mercy and kindness toward them. Offer whatever assistance you can. One of our associational leaders, Freddie Arnold, lost his house to the floodwaters, but spent many weeks after the hurricane with chain-saw crews helping neighbors. When asked where he was staying, Freddie joked, “I’m sleeping around.” In time, Louisiana Baptists named their annual award for “disaster relief worker of the year” in Freddie Arnold’s honor. Then, fittingly, he was its first recipient.
Perhaps only Christians will appreciate this, but it’s important to put your expectations on the Lord and not on people. If we expect the government to take care of all our needs, or for the wonderful compassionate agencies–whether the SBC DR group, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Red Cross, or any of a hundred others–to do everything we require, we will probably be disappointed. The familiar advice of Philippians 4:6 is always in order: “Be anxious for nothing; Pray about everything; Thank God for anything.”
You will be learning a great deal about yourself, about human nature, as well as about the Lord God in the next weeks and months. The lessons will come in all shapes and varieties. “It is good that I was afflicted,” said the Psalmist, “that I might learn to fear Thy name” (Psalm 119:71).
I suggest you start a journal and keep good notes, of what you went through, and everything you see God doing. Future generations will read it and will benefit from it. (Our Katrina journal is on our website www.joemckeever.com. Scroll down to the archives, then click on September 2005 and scroll to September 1. The “journal” covers the rebuilding of New Orleans for the next two years.)
“Stress is not par for the course,” said the grandmother to her teenage offspring. “It is the course.” This hurricane may have interrupted your life the way you were living it, but it’s just taken a hard right turn. Nothing is going to be the same. Embrace the change as you begin each new day.
As they said in Israel in days of old, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:17).
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/KSwinicki
- 2017Sep 06
“Lord, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
“Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am.” (Psalm 39:4)
“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green.” (Psalm 92:14).
The Bible has a lot to say about getting old. And most of it is great.
As a child, I would lie awake wondering about the future. For one born in 1940, the turn of the 21st century was several lifetimes away. “In the year 2000,” I thought, “I’ll be 60 years old. Almost at the end of my life.”
When that momentous time arrived, I was scarcely out of my teens. I was anything but old. Surely not. No way was I ready to cash in my chips, to hang it all up. To call it a day. To head for the house. And a lot of metaphors like that.
I was still young and alive and working.
I took retirement at the age of 69. But I kept working. After all, I was (and am) a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While we may retire from salaried positions, we stay with the calling. As of today–August 25, 2017–I’m a few months into my 78th year (translation: I turned 77 last March 28). Two days ago, I drove in from a week of ministry in the Carolinas. After a deacon training event in Charlotte, a weekend of ministry in Inman, SC, and a prayer breakfast at Fort Bragg, I logged 1,918 miles on my little Camry. Every night, I was in a different hotel. And I loved it. (For those who ask, my wife would have accompanied me but she’s teaching English in a community college. Next Monday, she has a birthday. We’ll be the same age. And yes, we are blessed indeed.)
We’ve laughed at the remark of the army chaplain’s 5-year-old last Monday night. After we’d been to the post exchange for dinner and were saying our good-byes, little Elizabeth said, “Mister Joe. You are… almost dead.” I laughed out loud. “Well, honey–I’m closer than I’ve ever been. But I’m not quite there yet.”
To a child, 77 might as well be 700. I remember the feeling.
Last night, my good friend Joel Davis called from Atlanta. Joel is 85 now. Last January, a few days following our wedding, Bertha and I drove there for his retirement service. This terrific man, my roommate during college (I was the one in college, Joel was working; we shared an apartment a few blocks off campus), had been best man in Margaret’s and my wedding. His godly influence and sterling example had been a gift from Heaven for a 20-year-old trying to find his way in life. During his career as an engineer, Joel constantly served the Lord as a part-time church staff member, first minister of music and later minister of seniors.
So, last night, this unemployed and retired friend said, “I’m taking music lessons.” And proceeded to describe what he’s doing and the excitement of his accomplishments. Did I say Joel is 85?
Anyone celebrating good health as he approaches his 80th birthday–well, it’s only two years and seven months away!–should pause to acknowledge the part medical science and the health-care profession have played in that little accomplishment. I am all too aware that had I lived two or three centuries earlier–before x-rays, anesthesiology, and a hundred other advancements we take for granted–even if I were still kicking, I would be a cripple (I had hip surgery at the age of 9), toothless (man, the stories my dentist and I could tell!), blind (cataract and laser surgery last summer), and an invalid (I take a handful of vitamins every day). Of course, I would also be dead from the cancer that threatened to end my life 13 years ago.
Thank you, Lord, for medical science and the professionals who devote themselves to eradicating disease and seeing to the well-being of those of us who depend on them.
Bertha and I walk. As soon as we moved to this home, we located all the parks with walking trails and selected the one we like best. Almost daily, when I’m at home, we walk the path, holding hands, talking nonstop. We are well aware that to keep our bodies healthy and functioning, we must use them. “Use it or lose it” could be said about many things, including one’s physical strength.
Having started this article, I now find myself asking where I’m going with it? What is the point of this? Short answer: To encourage friends who are complaining about getting old to stop the foolishness and seize the day and make the most of it.
Tomorrow Bertha and I drive to Mobile, around three hours away, where I’ll do a banquet for the wonderful Dayspring Church. The next morning, we’ll sit in on the Sunday School class (at Cottage Hill Baptist Church) taught by my son Neil. He’s asked me to teach Psalm 42 with him. I replied that he should do the play-by-play and I’ll be his color commentator. Translation: I’ll interrupt whenever I think of something interesting to add to his teaching.
Garson Kanin, playwright, told of the time artist Pablo Picasso entered an exhibit of his paintings through the years. They’d been arranged from the earliest to the latest. Kanin says Picasso entered with a lovely young thing on each arm. Someone greeted him, kissed him on the cheeks, and said, “Maestro, please explain something to me.”
“Looking at your work,” the friend said, “your earliest paintings are stiff and traditional and rigid. But as you aged, the paintings become more alive, more vivid, with brighter colors. Your imagination seemed to grow through the years. Please explain that.”
Picasso said, “Oh, it takes a long time to become young.”
That line–“It takes a long time to become young”–is the title of Garson Kanin’s wonderful book about getting older. I recommend it highly.
This week, I’ve had to turn down a number of invitations from churches due to a schedule already filled. What’s going on? I wondered. And then it hit me. The churches know the clock is ticking on Joe, so if they’re going to get me to come and speak and sketch people, they’d better get on with it!
The clock is ticking on all of us. It’s how life is lived. And it’s wonderful in every way.
Seize the day, friend. Take that class, learn that foreign language, go back to school, go help a child, volunteer at the hospital or church or school.
Go for long walks. Have that checkup with your doctor. Take your vitamins. And stay close to the Lord. Visit the library and check out some great novels. Read the entire 150 Psalms and see which ones have your name on them.
Don’t let me hear you complaining about getting old. God is giving you a wonderful gift and you’re complaining? You’ve won the lottery, friend. Think how many classmates of yours are no longer living. How did you happen to outlive them? So, while you’re still vertical and mobile and breathing, while the mind is still functioning and the brain is still active, make the most of it.
In some orchards, the best fruit comes from the oldest trees.
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