Monday, January 30, 2006

A Nervous Service...

I did something yesterday afternoon that I’ve never done before - I did the sermon at a memorial service for our (Joe and my) best friend’s mother. I was so nervous that I hardly slept for four nights before the service. (The text was yesterday's post - just scroll down to read it.)

I am not nervous when filling the pulpit, or teaching a class, or speaking in a crowd - but this was different - this was our best friend’s mother. And it had to be “right.” This was not the funeral, but it was very serious with a family still hurting very deeply - what could I possibly say to comfort them? And besides that, I had no idea of how to conduct a service of this type. I’m used to someone else doing the planning, and all I do is just speak.

I am fond of quotes such as “If God calls you to it, He’ll lead you through it” and “The Power behind you is bigger that the task before you” and “The greatest ability that God uses is avail-ability.” But still, I was so nervous.

Our pastor’s sermon Sunday morning ended with the closing song “Where He Leads Me, I Will Follow” and a challenge of “are you really willing to follow where He leads?” And I think that’s a question we all need to answer. If we are really His, are we willing to “go with Him, with Him, all the way…” even if, and especially if we are nervous about it?

Where is God leading you today?

Father, open our hearts that we may hear Your call. Lord, we have this - “element” in which we’re comfortable and willing to serve. But what happens when You call us to minister outside our “element”; outside our comfort zone? Are we still willing to serve then?

We pray Lord that You will give us courage and bring to our memories Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he cried out to You to deliver him from his “thorn in the flesh” and Your answer was “My strength is made perfect in your weakness…”

Father, we know too well our own “weaknesses” - sometimes real, sometimes perceived, and sometimes simply an excuse. But whatever their basis, may we give them to You and step out in faith knowing indeed that “If You call us to it, You will truly lead us through it…”

In Jesus’ Name - Amen.

(PS - as someone pointed out to me as I sent this as my e-mailed devotion this morning - I did not relate how the service went! It went great! God is so good. And last night I slept like - well, you've seen the commercials!)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

For our best friend's Mother

I was asked to speak at a memorial for our best friend's mother. This is the message...


I want to share with you from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Therefore comfort one another with these words.

This is how we are to comfort one another - we are to remind one another of the hope that we have in Christ, Who was the first raised from the dead. Paul is saying that we don’t grieve as those who have no hope, but one thing he is not saying, is that it won’t hurt, because it will, and it does. Christ certainly expects us to shed tears and feel loneliness as we go though these valleys. But in the midst of our sorrow, there must be the testimony of the living hope we have in Christ

Jesus Himself said to Martha when Lazarus died, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” And then He said to her, “Do you believe this?"

And we have to answer that as well. Do we believe it or not?

But, do you remember what happens next? He weeps. Jesus cries at the tomb of Lazarus; He who knew that He was, Himself, “the resurrection and the life”, cried at His best friend’s tomb. I believe there are at least 2 reasons He cried. First He cried because it was necessary for His friend to die. He had to allow Lazarus to die, and that pained Him greatly.

And second, He cried because those He loved so dearly were hurting. Many times, when it’s just us, we deal with grief pretty well. But when someone we love is grieving, it causes us to cry with and for them. Yes, we have hope, but it is going to hurt.

These memorials and funerals are hard, but we are not meant to carry this alone. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul tells us that God offers comfort to all.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Isn’t that encouraging? That we will be able to give one another the same comfort that God has given us! And that is why we are here today.

In 1994, as chair of the PPR committee, I met Johnny to give him the keys to the parsonage. When I saw him pull in, in that Chevrolet pick-up truck with a guitar case and pc in the back, I knew the three of us were sure to become friends. Never would I have imagined, though, how deep that friendship would be, or that we would become best friends. Nor, would I have imagined how inextricably linked our lives would be with funerals.

I should have had an inkling, though - I did, after all meet him there at the parsonage after leaving a funeral here at Huckleberry Springs.

Johnny has done, I think, 6 funerals for my personal family; 3 aunts, an uncle, and both my parents. And now, I am extremely humbled to be able to do this for your family…

There are many reasons Johnny and I are friends, but not the least of which, were our Mothers. We are, what we are, because of our Mothers; because of their love, their direction (also known as discipline) and their support.

Tom Brokaw wrote of our mothers’ generation as “The Greatest Generation.” He writes mostly, of course, about how WWII affected them, and they in turn affected the world, but here at home, other things were going on…

Our Mothers were made of early 1900’s, East Tennessee stock - those “By the Grace of God, I’ll raise my kids, by myself if I have to, and do whatever it takes” kind of women. They were fiercely independent women who raised us to be honest, and true, and dependable, and to serve our God. And we are so thankful for them.

When I met Miz Goins, like most folks, I immediately fell in love with her. First of all, because her name was Beulah, and my Grandmother’s name was Beulah - and because she looked so much like my Mamaw, but beyond that, I just felt that love…

She and my Mother hit it off, right off the bat. Until Mother got so hard of hearing, they’d talk on the phone every time she came down to visit. And usually, she would make Johnny take her to see Mother and Daddy. She knew most all my aunts, but for some reason, she and Mother just became close - I guess it was because it was they had so much in common.

As I’ve been cleaning out at Mother and Daddy’s, I’ve found card after card that Miz. Goins sent them. And after Mother died, she continued to send them to Daddy. And what a comfort they were.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he says to him, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”

And I say to you today, hold fast to the faith that dwelt in your Mother and Grandmother. She was an example of a strong Christian woman.

She, like my Mother, didn’t need laws passed or legislation made to give her, her identity as a woman. She was a child of God, and she was the woman God made her to be. And we honor them by being the men and women, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and children of God, that God Himself made us to be.

We are gathered today to honor the memory of a dear woman who meant a lot, to a lot of us, but we’re also here to… minister, if you will, to your family. For as many of us have sat in your pews, in terms of sorrow and been ministered to and comforted by Johnny, or Jimmy, or other pastors, so we, as Paul said, are to comfort one another.

And this is what the Church should do. But because we too, loved your Mother and Grandmother, this is what we want to do as well.

Father, we have been so blessed by this wonderful woman, and the many wonderful women You have placed in our lives. May You grant us the grace to live lives that honor their memory, as we serve You.

In Jesus’ Name - Amen

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Am I My Brother's Keeper? Part Three

As I said last time, one of Paul’s main objectives with the churches’ offerings was to teach this “fellow-feeling” between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. This “camaraderie”, this “we’re all in this together”, this “we are our brothers’ keepers” attitude was far more important to achieve than any amount of money they could give.

This became clearer to me over the past few months than I’ve ever known before.

Daddy spent 3 weeks in the hospital, then nearly 3 weeks at home. The first week or so wasn’t too bad, and then it began to wear on me - physically and emotionally. We went through such a “roller coaster” of emotions from “he’s not going to live through the night” to “we’re going home in a day or two…” And then, to couple this with only getting 2-3 hours of sleep a night, well it was taking a toll!

One day, when I was particularly stressed, one of Daddy’s sisters-in-law called me. Now, this lady is just special! And she… just encouraged me so much that day. So, after I hung up from talking with her, I wrote this piece that I titled “Running on Empty”.

“God is ever gracious, ever loving, ever caring, ever teaching in every trial of our lives.

When my physical and emotional "tank" is on empty, He sends someone with a smile, a hug, a laugh, or a prayer that adds a little fuel to the tank and gives me a few more "miles" of strength.

Oh God, thank You that in this time of need someone came to me. Thank You, that in this time of need I saw so clearly how need-ful something like that is, and how helpful it can be.

Grant me, I pray, the "eyes" to see the opportunities to pour a little in another's "tank" when they, too, are "running on empty."

Thank You for this one You sent to me today.

And that’s what I see in this scripture today. We are all in this together. We are responsible for each other. We are our “brothers’ keepers”.

When I look at these three churches this morning; when I look at the list of prayer requests on the back of the bulletin; when I look around, I see - “situations” - I see - “needs” - I see where we need to be caring for one another.

And until you’ve been the one on the receiving end, you’ll never know how much an e-mail or phone call, even leaving a message, can mean; how much a meal can mean; how much loaf of bread and an afternoon of talking can truly mean! You just don’t know.

Now, there are two ways of looking at this. You can say, “Well, no one came to see me, so I’ll be doggoned if I’m going to see any of them!”
Or, you can say, “I know how much it would have strengthened me, I’m going to make sure to help strengthen someone else, and let them know they’re cared about…”

Paul’s greatest concern was not just the offering, not just the money. His concern was the bringing together of the Saints. He writes in Galatians 6:10 “Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters.”

And, so we ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and the answer is “Yes. Yes I am my brother’s keeper…”

Let us pray.
Father, open our eyes that we may see the needs of our brothers and sisters, so that they, and that others’, may “know that we are Christians by our love.”
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you’re here today and don’t know Christ as your Lord, you can’t be expected to understand serving others. Your first step is to submit yourself to the Lordship of Jesus.

But, if you are a Christian, this is your responsibility. Now, don’t tell me you don’t have time. Remember these words of Paul, 2 Corinthians 9: 7-8 “You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure For God loves a cheerful giver." (and here’s the key) "And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need, and plenty left over to share with others." It’s your call - what will you do? How much will you give?

Our closing hymn is “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.”

2 Cor. 9:15 “Thank God for His Son - a gift too wonderful for words!” A-men!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Am I My Brother's Keeper? Part Two

By studying Paul’s letters strictly “historically, chronologically, and geographically” I began to see how these “First century churches” were, first of all, so very much like our churches today, and second, I began to see how much we could learn from them.

In Acts, chapter 11, shortly after Paul’s conversion, we find him in Antioch along with Barnabas teaching the Word of God, when some prophets from Jerusalem arrive. One of them named Agabus began to prophesy that there would be a great famine all over the world. The “world” to them, of course, was the whole Roman Empire. So, the Christians in Antioch took up an offering, and the Bible says, they took it “in the proportion that any of the disciples had means” which meant they gave as much as they possibly could. And they sent it to the Church at Jerusalem, by way of Barnabas and Saul (or Paul.)

The Christians who were in Judea were already exposed to special trials. They were condemned by the Sanhedrin, opposed by the rulers, and persecuted by the people. And now, they were in the midst of a famine. Paul sought not only to relieve them by this contribution, but also began to promote, everywhere he went this “fellow-feeling” between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians, which would be evidenced by sending help to Jerusalem.

In today’s text in Paul’s second recorded letter to the Corinthians, he writes to them concerning the offering which they had promised a year earlier to make (which, by the way, they hadn’t done yet.)

This scripture, of course, speaks of a “monetary” offering. And we do need to study this in-depth concerning our views and beliefs on tithing, but today, I’d like to look at it a little differently.
One of Paul’s main objectives with the churches’ offerings was to teach this “fellow-feeling” between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. This “camaraderie”, this “we’re all in this together”, this “we are our brothers’ keepers” attitude was far more important to achieve than any amount of money they could give.

This became clearer to me over the past few months than I’ve ever known before.

Listen to these words of the Apostle Paul:

2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 12-15; (It’s interesting to note in verses 1-2, just “who” the “Churches in Macedonia” are. They are the church at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Now think - which of Paul’s letters do we go to when we need great comfort; Philippians and Thessalonians! The ones with the greatest needs, gave the greatest gifts!)

2Cointhians 8:1-5 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their lberality.

For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

2Corinthians 8:12-15 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality-- at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, "HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK."

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.

For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.

Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Next time - when these words “hit close to home…”

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Am I My Brother's Keeper? Part One

This is part one of my sermon for today.


Am I My Brother's Keeper?

O.T. Lesson: Genesis 4:9 - Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 12-15;
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
(Read later - but first, some background while you’re looking it up)

I recently became aware of just how much about Paul’s travels that I didn’t know, so I began reading and studying, first of all, the book of Acts. Along with Acts, I was reading “The Acts of the Apostles” by William Barclay. Now, I’m not a big fan of Barclay’s theology - in fact I strongly disagree with him on several points, but “historically, chronologically, and geographically” speaking, he is very good. And that’s what I wanted at this point - “just the facts, m’am!”

When my Daddy went into the hospital in November, this was the book I took with me. Then as I finished this, I had an intense desire to read all of Paul’s letters, and what I found utterly fascinated me. If you read Acts first, then start reading Paul’s letters, you’ll begin seeing how they all tie together. You’ll see references made to places and people, and get a real feel for Paul, the man, and the times and places and issues of the First Century Church.

Now, there are several ways of studying the Bible (and by the way, “reading” the Bible and “studying” the Bible are two entirely different things, but that’s another sermon…)

But there are several ways of studying the Bible - you’ve heard me say before that (in my opinion) there are 3 main ways to understand a Bible passage
What it is saying “historically”
What it is saying to me - here and now
And, what it is saying “Spiritually.”
Sometimes these overlap, and sometimes they are completely separate. (Maybe I should teach a Bible study on “Bible Study” sometime.)

As I was studying these letters strictly “historically, chronologically, and geographically” I began to see how these “First century churches” were, first of all, so very much like our churches today, and second, I began to see how much we could learn from them.

Next time - what I learned from Paul’s second recorded letter to the Corinthians…

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"Lord of all pots and pans and things..."

"Lord of all pots and pans and things…
Make me a saint by getting meals
and washing up the plates."

Thus begins the little booklet, "The Practice of the Presence of God" by (or about) the Seventeenth-century French monk, Brother Lawrence.

I am finding in this little booklet a gold-mine of inspiration! Expect to hear more of this from time to time…

He wrote, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen… I possess God in a great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

And so I pray…

To “Lord of all pots and pans and things…” Father, I add, “Lord of chalk and eraser dust (or is that ‘PowerPoint’ these days?); Lord of hammers and nails; Lord of computers and programs; Lord of journals and ledgers; Lord of cash registers and sales racks; Lord of all jobs and vocations…” make me a Saint by doing what I do daily.

May I truly find that “the time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer…” May I find Your presence within my daily walk as strong as it is when I am on my knees in my prayer closet. Ingrain Yourself so deeply within my life that prayer to prayer flows seamlessly throughout my day, and throughout my life.

It seems Father, that in Jesus’ life, He didn’t “pray between daily life events” but indeed, “lived His daily life between prayers.” So be it with me.

May I hear You at every turn; see You at every step; and feel You without failing.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Between Me and Heaven

Who’s between me and heaven, now?

It’s funny how your mind works;
the conflict between logic,
and fantasy.

As a Christian,
I understand that “God has no grandchildren”
and that each individual must stand
before the Throne of God
for himself.

I also know,
that “mortality” has no age,
and that a grandparent can outlive a child.

on the purely fanciful and imaginary side,
the mind creates “layers”
between heaven and earth;
between life and death;
between now and then;
between my grandparents,
my parents
and me.

And in “logical” order, each passed from the scene
one grandparent,
then two,
then three,
then all;
then, my Mother,
and now my Dad.

all the “layers” have been peeled away
and I stand peering at the sky and ask,
“who’s between me and heaven now?”

Logically I know,
that no one ever has been,
but emotionally,
I feel the door of heaven closer.

It’s a strange feeling to have no parent around,
no link to my past,
no tie to my roots.

It’s been a good while
since my parents were responsible for me
(I’ve been a caregiver a long time now)
but they were always there
“between me and heaven”
in the “chronological” scheme of things.

But, not anymore.

The line has moved
and I am standing at the turnstile
all by myself
with ticket firmly in hand, and I see -
there is no one between heaven and me,

Betty J. Newman ©January 2006

Sunday, January 01, 2006

What now, Lord?

What now, Lord? What would You have me do now? My role as “daughter” is over; complete; fulfilled.

As long as my children are living, I will be “Mother” but, they’re married or in college, so even my role there is different. And I ask, “What now, Lord?

How appropriate to be asking this on January 1st. It’s the beginning of a new year, and also of a new phase in my life, and I wonder, what You would have me do.

I wonder, would You have me be a little more “Martha?” I’ve always joked (but it is actually true) that I ascribe to the “Mary-method” of housekeeping - I’d rather sit at the feet of Jesus and study than keep house…but Martha did more than “keep house” didn’t she?

Martha was concerned that “things” get done - that people’s day to day needs be met. Perhaps I need to do more of that.

It’s easy for me to study and pray. I could spend hours doing that. It’s harder for me to “see” day to day needs - food, clothing, (gulp) housekeeping

Open my eyes, Lord in this New Year and in this new chapter in my life. I am “wife” forever and always, (and sometimes feel like I “take” much more than I “give” in that role) but I have a feeling that You have a new direction for me to go in my “ministry” life now.

I am a little “nervous” about it, yes, and a little afraid, but I am excited for I know that if You lead me to it You will lead me through it. And if it is Your will, it will be good!

So, let the year begin…

In Jesus’ name - Amen.