Tax Collectors, Soiled Saints, and Pharisees

Sunday Chronicles #68, Nov. 19, 2017

Greetings from Springfield, MO on an awesomely gorgeous Sunday afternoon. After chapel, I backed the Lincoln into the driveway on my first try! It’s not exactly straight, but all four wheels are on the concrete, so I’m counting it a success. Most of the leaves are down now and visible across the creek in some undergrowth is a small tree with bright red leaves. I’m guessing it’s a persimmon, and I’d like to go investigate, but since I’d have to wade the creek, and there’s no one here to fish me out if I fell in, I decided I’d best be satisfied with guessing.

Our chaplain continued his series in Mark’s Gospel, speaking today from Mk. 2:13-17 where Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him. When Matthew responded favorably, Jesus and His disciples went to Mathew’s house for a meal. Jesus’ acceptance of Matthew brought intense criticism from the scribes and Pharisees. To them Matthew was a traitor – he was collecting taxes for the Imperial Roman government which the Jews hated. Even worse, Rome allowed tax collectors to charge more than what the government required and keep the extra for their wages. (Remember Zacchaeus? Lu. 19:1-10). Thus, most tax collectors became wealthy while taxpayers suffered. (I’ll resist pointing out similar flaws in our tax code. You can fill them in.)

Chaplain challenged us to follow Jesus in looking for and accepting those who need God’s love. Through the years I’ve tried to do that, but I can tell you that when you do, some “religious” people (modern Pharisees) will lead critical attacks on you. Keep your focus on pleasing God and your heart free from any hate toward those who attack you, and God will see you through. Once when we were pastoring, I invited a woman to sing a duet with me whose personal life didn’t please some of the “saints.” Yes, she had made some bad choices, but she had repented and was sincerely trying to make corrections. If only perfect Christians qualified to sing praise to God, there would be no songs! Matthew had a soiled history, but He accepted Jesus’ invitation. Isn’t that what all of us did?

This week we have Thanksgiving. I’ve been told that after the death of someone you love, the first holidays are the hardest. Today I’m learning that’s true. Grief has puzzled me; just when I think it’s getting better, it rolls in like a fog. A friend sent me a quote that has helped explain some of what I feel. I don’t know the original author, but here’s the thought: “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

Thank you for your prayers and the love so many of you have extended to me. This week the dizzy spells have been much lighter and less frequent. I’m trusting that they will totally disappear. We still have no idea what causes them. Arthritis in my hips and knees make getting around harder. Melinda took me to Evangel University Friday night to see their musical production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” We borrowed a wheelchair from Maranatha to help get me from the parking lot to the auditorium, but it was still quite a task. I can see that my going out anywhere this winter will be restricted. Jon, Amy, Andrew, Elizabeth, and Melinda will be here for Thanksgiving. Join us in giving thanks to God by reaching out to those who need to know His love. Perhaps you know a “Matthew” who is waiting for an invitation to follow Jesus. God has abundantly blessed us by giving us His Son as our Savior. We can follow His example by reaching out to someone needing to be loved. Peace, jwb

 

Advertisements

Walking in Life’s Storms

Sunday Chronicles #67 Nov. 12, 2017

Sunday afternoon in Springfield, MO with an overcast sky spitting bits of cold rain. Our chapel service today was well attended, and in honor of veterans’ day, Chaplain spoke from Josh. Chs. 23 & 24, emphasizing Joshua’s role both as a veteran of military campaigns and of spiritual leadership. Since 95% of our congregation consists of people aged 55 to 105, he appealed to us to encourage the younger generation to trust God and to pass on to them our experiences of God’s faithfulness. Certainly all of us who have walked with God through the years have seen Him do mighty things for us, our families, and in the lives of those to whom we ministered.

In every desperate situation of life, we have a choice. We can trust God and depend on Him to see us through or we can focus on the problems and give up in despair. I thought of Peter when he stepped out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus. As long as he looked at Jesus, the water held him up, but when he looked at the waves, he began to sink. Even then, Jesus did not forsake him; Jesus reached out a hand and pulled Peter close to Him. Isn’t that what Jesus does for us when fear and distress overwhelms us?

 Having spent my life as first a preacher’s daughter and later a preacher’s wife, I’m a veteran of spiritual battles, both as an observer and a participant. In the winter of 1941-42, when I was in the second grade, the Great Depression still gripped the Midwest. My dad was pastoring a small church in Nuyaka, OK. The church had no parsonage, so Dad drove a school bus for $25 per month. This was the exact amount of the house payment on our home. Our living expenses–food, clothing, gas for the car, etc.–had to come from whatever offerings the church gave on Sundays. Most of the church people were farmers and in winter, they had little or no cash income. One cold morning, my mother used the last flour she had to make biscuits and water gravy for breakfast. Dad went to drive the school bus; I went to school; and Mama went to prayer. She knew I would walk home at 11:30 for lunch, and she didn’t have anything to fix.

 But that morning another woman was praying also. Her children had gone to school and her husband to plow a field. She hadn’t been a Christian very long, but as she prayed while she worked in her kitchen, she felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to bring food to us. She had never done anything like this and wasn’t sure how my mother would feel about it. But the impression was so strong that she pushed the pot of beans she had cooking on the wood stove to the back, went to their smokehouse for meat, cut a piece of ham, put cornmeal and flour in jars, added some dry beans and a few other things from her kitchen. She put all the items in a large tow sack and carried it, walking in the cold on a rocky road about a mile, to our house. She got there about 11 a.m. When my mother answered the door, she said, “Sis. Wells, I’ve brought you some groceries. I don’t know whether you want them or not, but I can’t carry them back home, so you have to take them. And I have to get back to get Sterling’s (her husband) dinner ready!” When I came home at noon and smelled ham frying. I knew something unusual had happened! While this is certainly not the most outstanding miracle I’ve experienced, it impressed on my heart that God knew our needs and He cared!

 Read Joshua’s words in Ch. 24 and his declaration of faith. To pass on the truth of God’s promises to the next generation, we much love them. We cannot effectively minister to people we don’t love. Even God starts His work in us with love: “For God so loved the world…”(Jn.3:16) “While we were yet sinners, He loved us and gave His life for us.”(Rom.5:8) Some modern writer has said, “We can’t do great things; only small things with love.” Small things done with love changes lives. If you’ve walked through life’s storms and felt Jesus’ hand in yours, let His love flow through you to those still walking in the storm.

 Thanks to the visitors who have blessed me this week with things like Krispy Creme doughnuts, a sandwich and fries from McD’s, a just-the-right-size carton of homemade pimento cheese, and on Saturday, a big, fat cinnamon roll from Grandma Ruth’s in Branson! It has lasted all day today! These may seem like little things, but because they were done with love, they brought joy. Thanks, also, to the Wiseharts who transported me to the Maranatha Missions Banquet on Wednesday evening. Your cards, e-mails, and comments on FB–all the kind things you do–are the hands of Jesus extended. And He said you will be rewarded! Mt. 10:42; Mk. 9:41. This week, don’t look at the storm; keep your eyes on Jesus, and do small things with great love. Peace, jwb

Putting on the Apron

Sunday Chronicles #66, Nov. 5, 2017

Dear Readers,

It’s a slightly overcast, breezy afternoon in Springfield, MO. Weather people say a cold front will move through later and temps go down. But an 80-degree day for Nov. 5 has been welcome!

It’s missions convention week here at Maranatha. Our speaker in Chapel this morning was Steve Donaldson, one of the three brothers who founded Convoy of Hope. When Steve was 10 years old, their father was killed and their mother injured in a car wreck. Steve told how while their mother recuperated, a Christian family took all four children and their mom into their trailer home and cared for them. That act of caring stayed with the boys and is the platform on which they have built the compassion ministry they now operate.

Convoy of Hope, which takes major help to places hit by natural disasters, now also has an outreach to churches in small towns or country communities called Rural Compassion. Since more than half of my and Nelson’s pastoral ministry was in such places, the man spoke my language! He told how much pastors of small churches sacrifice to stay there; usually one of the couple must hold a job to help pay the family’s expenses; often they can’t afford health insurance. Car repair and upkeep is an on-going expense. In the 1960s we pastored in Wilburton, a small town in eastern Oklahoma. The local hospital was limited in the kind of care it could offer. Some weeks we had people from our church in hospitals in McAlester, Muskogee, or Tulsa, OK and also in Fort Smith, AR. Round trips to these towns ranked from 70 miles to over 150. Many times I’ve watched Nelson set off to visit patients in two or more hospitals and prayed that he and the car would both be able to make it home!

I grew up in rural/small town churches, and I still love them. In our present culture, mega-churches have their place; they do projects that small churches can’t, but small churches provide a close-knit family atmosphere that is hard to duplicate in large churches. God has a place for both in His kingdom. One of Steve’s quotes was “A true mark of spiritual maturity occurs when a church takes off its bib and puts on its apron.” That can happen in any size church if we let God break our hearts with the things that break His. Certainly our churches, whether large or small, need a “Day of Pentecost” infusion of the Holy Spirit to empower us to minister effectively. And that begins with each of us praying for the Spirit to work through us to minister to those with whom we have contact. It’s not what we do that changes lives; it’s what the Spirit does through us.

Maranatha residents were blessed this week by the annual November “Love Storm” that Eastside Assembly in Eldon, MO brings here. They have been doing this for over 30 years! Eldon is not a large town, but the people of this church have large hearts. Led by their pastor, Sis. Buena Huffman, they gather and make gifts all year to provide retired ministers/missionaries with a brighter Christmas. The gifts are arranged on tables, and we old people can walk by and choose anything we want to use in our homes or as gifts for our families. The quality of the gifts and the number offered are awe-inspiring, and they are given with lots of love and caring. This church knows how to “wear the apron.”

Thanks to the many friends who have “worn the apron” to help me in some way this week.

Physically, I’m struggling, but spiritually I’m growing stronger as I no longer have Nelson’s spiritual strength to rely on. All of you are in my prayers. Feel free to send requests as you have need. Grief and loneliness continue, but they have given me a deeper compassion for others who suffer. I pray I may “wear the apron” until I exchange it for a heavenly robe. Peace, jwb

Friends: We All Need Them

Sunday Chronicles #65, Oct. 29, 2017

Today, Springfield, MO is chilly but sunny with a blue sky, a few floating white clouds, and splashes of color on the trees. The work of “the old Master Painter” never fails to thrill me. The thought that He cares enough about His creatures (made from mud!) to place us among such beauty makes me feel rich. He could have made the world all a dull gray, but He didn’t. And people who have visited Heaven report that colors there are richer and more varied than those we see here! We can’t even imagine what we have to look forward to.

It’s been a good day because I was able to drive to chapel this morning. After missing the last two Sundays, I was hungry to be in church and give praise to God with His people. At home, I have CDs and tapes of good sermons, Bible teaching, and Christian music, for which I am grateful, but these things do not feed my soul like physically being in church does.

Chaplain spoke this morning from Mk. 2:1-12. Jesus is at Capernaum, a town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Apparently he was staying in Peter’s home. Mk. 1:32, 33 records Jesus’ healing many sick people there, but on this day, He was teaching, and a crowd was packed into the house. The service was disturbed when four men tried to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus and could not get in. Instead of giving up, they climbed the outside stairs, carrying their friend on an improvised stretcher, up to the flat roof. (They must have been strong as well as resourceful!) They located the area above where Jesus was teaching and tore a hole in the roof. I can imagine the dismay of the crowd below when dirt and tiles began falling on their heads.

Jesus didn’t reprove them for interrupting His teaching; instead when the paralyzed man was lowered in front of Him, Jesus said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” That’s the first thing we all need! Later when Jesus was on the cross and cried out, “It is finished!” the heavy woven curtain that separated the Mercy Seat in the temple from the court of the people was ripped from top to bottom. This made the Mercy Seat, which had been approached only once a year on behalf of the people by a priest sanctified for the job, available to everyone. Now any of us can go there when we need forgiveness. As the old song goes, “Jesus opened up the way!” Stop here and give Him praise! (Sidenote: Zachariah was standing beside this Mercy Seat when the angel Gabriel appeared to him with the message that he and Elizabeth would have a son who would be a forerunner of the coming Messiah.)

After their friend was healed, I don’t know if these four men repaired the hole they made in the roof. Perhaps even the healed man helped. Mark tells us that Jesus’ saying “Thy sins be forgiven thee” poked holes in the theology of the Scribes and Pharisee who were present. They considered Jesus’ words blasphemy because they would not accept Him as the Son of God. These things I do know: (1) All of us need friends who will carry us when we hit difficulties that knock us down and sometimes poke holes in our faith. Friends who, when trying to get someone to Jesus, don’t give up when they meet obstacles. (2) We can be assured of a welcome when we come to Jesus, even if we have sinned. He will deal with the sin first, then help us toward healing. Remember the Samaritan woman in Jn. 4 and the woman taken in adultery in Jn. 8. The Pharisees would have stoned them. Jesus does not ignore sin, but He addresses it with love and compassion. We should do the same. Our role is to bring the hurting person into the presence of Jesus and let Him change their hearts. I pray that my home will be a place where everyone will find acceptance and the compassionate mercy of the Holy Spirit.

I had intended to share thoughts on a subject related to my and Nelson’s years of ministry, but that will have to wait. Nov. 3 of this coming week marks Nelson’s 8th month in Heaven. I’m still learning to adjust to being alone. Thanks to the many friends who have carried me during this time of transition. I have given up on getting a quick-print book of Christmas articles finished before Christmas. Perhaps I will post some of them on my blog. If you have an opinion on this, please share it with me. Thanks for your comments; they let me know that someone is reading. Peace, love, joy –jwb

Two Eternal Questions

Sunday Chronicles #64, Sunday October 22, 2017

Two Eternal Questions…

Dear Readers, Much of my prayer time this week has been spent in asking God to give you His joy and bless you for how you’ve blessed me during this birthday time. Your cards, gifts, and visits have continued coming all week. I have started writing thank-you notes but have more to do. Perhaps I can finish in a few days. As one of my cards says, “We’re not old. We’ve just been young for a long time!”

My father’s birthday was Oct. 18 and my only sister’s is Oct. 31. She will be 97 this year. Mama’s birthday was Sept. 22; as a family we celebrated birthdays two or three times in the fall. Usually my dad’s and my celebration was done together. So this week I’ve thought a lot about my dad.

In my reading I’ve noticed several writers, commenting on our splintered culture, say that many young people have no sense of “family.” They recommend each person asking “Where did I come from?” and “Where am I going?” They say that parents and grandparents need to spend more time interacting with their children and talking about family history. Some say that young people who have a solid sense of family connections do better in school and are not as likely to get involved in drug and alcohol use.

My dad would not have known these new findings, but in my growing-up years, we often traveled in ministry. As he drove along country roads, he would tell me stories from his childhood. His father died in 1900 when my dad was 6 years old, leaving his mother to raise their seven surviving children alone. At the time of the father’s death, the family was traveling in northern Arkansas in two covered wagons. They had been to “the bottoms” to harvest crops and were on their way home, camping each night in small towns along the road. En route, the entire family came down with typhoid fever except a 12-year-old son, Fred. The town where they were camped cared for them as best they could, but Mr. Wells died and was buried there. Grandmother Wells was so sick that her only memory was of being raised up to see her husband in his coffin. Years later my dad and his brothers searched for their dad’s grave, but never found it. It probably was never marked.

After Mr. Wells’ death, when the family finally made it back to their home, Fred was the only one able to bring in wood for heat, water from the well, and to care for the animals they had. Neighbors were afraid of catching the fever. Mrs. Wells, grieving her husband’s death and weak from her own bout of fever, worked to care for the children. Even though she was a woman of faith, she was near a total collapse. But in the midst of these difficulties, a miracle took place! Their food supply was running out; they were eating mostly parched corn and using ground-up acorns to make coffee. My dad said his mother kept a stone jar sitting near the fireplace with some type of yeast dough in it. Each morning she cooked pancakes from the jar, thinking that would be the last, as she had nothing to add to the jar to replenish the dough. But the next morning there would be enough dough in the jar to make pancakes for all of them. This kept up until she as able to get more food.

So when I contemplate where I came from, I know that I am a descendant of people of faith, people who hoped in God when faced with what seemed to be insurmountable circumstances. That faith is what I’ve tried to pass on to my children and grandchildren. I know many of you have done and are doing the same. Tell them stories, write them accounts of God’s goodness, leave a record for them to read.

The writers of the questions saw the second question “Where am I going?” as a type of goal setting, planning for the future. At 84+, I know that my future on earth is limited. I have worked to prepare several Christmas stories that I intended to publish in a small paperback book before Christmas, but I haven’t been able to get the work completed, and time is running out. Unless God gives a miracle, this project will have to go on hold. Perhaps I’ll be around long enough in this next year to get that finished, if God wills. If He doesn’t, He will have a better plan. For believers, the final answer for “Where am I going?” is that we are going to be with Jesus!

For the second time this month, I didn’t make it to chapel. The TV channel is still not operating due to renovations in the chapel. Rain and cooler weather have activated the arthritis pain. It has one good side effect: I spend less time trying to do household work and more time in prayer. I’m thankful for CD’s and tapes, but nothing replaces being in God’s house with His people. May this week be one of walking closely with our Lord. Peace, jwb

“Abba”–The God of All Comfort

Sunday Chronicles #63, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017

“Abba” –The God of All Comfort

A beautiful fall day in Springfield, MO –much like the day I was born, according to my sister, who is 13 years older than I am. Birthday greetings have come from near and far…as far away as Asia, Africa, and Europe, and as close as neighbors in Maranatha. It astounds me that God has blessed me with friends who are impacting His Kingdom around the world. How could one frail girl who grew up in rural Arkansas and Oklahoma be so blessed? It is a God-thing, and I give Him praise for such rich blessings!

From my miraculous healing in 1934, when doctors in Porterville, CA told my dad I would not live through the night and to make arrangements for an undertaker to pick up the body, to this last year when I have walked a road of sadness, God has never left me. Yesterday I read a story of a traveler in Israel who was walking in a crowded street of Jerusalem. Ahead of him was a Jewish couple with three children. The younger child lingered behind and got separated from her family. When she realized she was alone in the crowd, she cried out “Abba!” Her father quickly turned back, found her, and took her hand. As they approached a busy street crossing, he lifted her in his arms and carried her across.

I, too, have felt alone in the crowds of life, but I have learned that I have a Heavenly Father; if I call out to Him, He will take my hand and pull me close to Him. When trouble or sadness separates any of us from His presence, He has not left us. He is waiting for our call. When we are weak with fear, He will carry us until we regain our strength.

In recent weeks, I have listened to parts of the “The Messiah,” that great musical the draws much of its lyrics from the writings of the Prophet Isaiah. Lately I have been impressed with the words of Is. 40:1, “’Comfort ye, Comfort ye my people,’ saith the Lord.” Perhaps in my own time of sorrow, I’ve been made more aware of the need of others for comfort. Every person seems to be dealing with some type of problem –health, finances, family relationships, work-related stress, or spiritual questions — and I believe God is saying that His desire is to comfort His people. He does not want us to live in turmoil; His gift to us is peace in any or every circumstance. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let not your heart be troubled and do not be afraid,” (John 14:27 NIV).

“The Messiah” moves through the drama of the ages with Isaiah’s words: he speaks of “good tidings” for the people of Jerusalem and admonishes them to “Behold your God.” Then comes the pastoral section where we see God as the Good Shepherd: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom.” Finally we come to the “Hallelujah Chorus” that great outpouring of praise, such as resounds in the courts of Heaven constantly.

If you feel lost in the hassles of life, all you need do is call out, “Abba!” and your Heavenly Father will reach out His hand to draw you closer to Him. Hear the “good tidings” and “Behold your God.” Find comfort in the arms of the Good Shepherd. His peace will quiet your heart and calm your fears. That’s not my promise; it’s the word of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Thanks to so many of you who have sent birthday greetings; I’ve been blessed beyond measure. You have wrapped me in your love and held me in your prayers. May the God of all comfort bless you with His comfort, so that you can comfort those He brings to you. Peace, jwb

The ‘What Ifs…’ War

Sunday Chronicles #62, Sunday Oct. 8, 2017

 

The ‘What ifs…’ War

The battle isn’t over yet, but it has turned the corner toward winning. This week started off with intense frustration when on Monday night I lost my phone here in the house! (Don’t laugh. It’ll happen to you someday!) When Nelson was living, one of us called the lost phone until we could hear it ring. But now there’s no one here but me and no way to call. I missed the phone about 10:30 p.m. Knew where I had it last; looked there…no luck. Tried everywhere I’d been…no phone. Got a flashlight and did it all again….still no phone. Finally went to bed about midnight…but only restless sleep. Aggravated with Self for being so careless/forgetful.

Tuesday morning, I e-mailed people to call my phone and let it ring until I found it. It was down in the bottom of my favorite chair caught in the black metal bars against black lining. I had looked there several times the night before…even with the flashlight…but couldn’t see it. Dug it out and started Tuesday. Home Health Care nurse came about 10 a.m….she usually visits in the afternoon. I was still in recovery mode, had some pain in neck, shoulders, center back and left arm. She decided I needed to go to Urgent Care or ER and be checked out. I tried to tell her a few hours rest would calm things down, but she was doing her job and called daughter Melinda.

We went to Urgent Care, but they sent me to ER. From about 2 p.m. until after 7 p.m. I was poked and prodded, X-rayed, hooked up to various machines, had blood taken and an EKG given, saw heath-care workers representing the United Nations,…and finally released with no diagnosis. Most of this time I was kept lying on my back on a hard gurney. But the battle in my mind raged: What if they keep me in the hospital? What if they find something really bad wrong? What if the dizzy spells I’ve been having indicate a brain tumor? Or a heart problem? You know the drift. What if I can’t continue to take care of myself and have to go to some care place? What if I don’t have enough income to pay what those places cost?

This “What if…” battle had been raging several days because I was having rather severe dizzy spells much too often. I prayed, but couldn’t get my focus back on God’s promises to take care of me. I dreaded being left alone Tuesday night, but I’m sure somebody, somewhere, (probably several somebodies!) prayed. I slept well and got up Wednesday feeling much better. The dizziness has dissipated to near zero! Jon came Thursday and we spent Friday doing errands all over town. My 20-yearold Lincoln Town Car had to be inspected to get new licenses. It has a few duck tape patches, and Jon didn’t think it would pass inspection, but prayer prevailed, and it is now good to go! We took more flowers to Nelson’s grave and lingered a bit. The cemetery is well-kept and beautiful. My only wish is that we had chosen one closer to Maranatha, so I could go more often. I don’t want Nelson to be forgotten. Maybe it doesn’t matter where he is…so much about Heaven, I don’t know.

Today, Chaplain Paddock’s subject was “Jesus Prayed” from Mk. 1:35-39. The morning after the healing service at Peter’s house, Jesus got up early and went to a secluded place to pray…seeking the will of His Father. Jesus modeled a close relationship with His Father. Peter found Jesus and tried to get him to return to the crowds, but Jesus didn’t go back for the praise and acclaim. He followed His Father’s will to go tell the good news in other cities.

One of our congregational songs today was “All Your Anxiety” written by Edward Henry Joy. It spoke to my heart and helped me with the battle against the fearful ’What ifs….’

All your anxiety, all your care, Bring to the Mercy Seat – leave it there.

Never a burden He cannot bear, Never a friend like Jesus.”

If you have a hymn book, read the verses. They contain great truths.

I have camped at the Mercy Seat this week. The vicissitudes of life simply overwhelmed me. If you sent an e-mail or called and didn’t get an answer, please don’t think I am ignoring you or your needs. I just couldn’t keep up. But rejoice that the Mercy Seat is available 24-hours, day or night. If the ‘What Ifs..’ attack you, remember 1 Tim.1:7 “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and love, and of a sound mind.” If God is fighting for us, who or what can harm us? Find that secluded place and stay close to Him. With appreciation for your prayers and encouragement, jwb