A Close Shave
Short Stories

A Close Shave

Red licked his lips and eyed the aces in his hand. Peering over his cards, he watched the grimy gamblers around the table. Each of them returned his stare, keeping one eye on Red and one eye on the mound of money in the middle. Cigar haze danced with the dingy light of saloon chandeliers and played with Red’s imagination. The pot assumed a heavenly glow that whispered to him, tempted him. 

Go all in, it said. This is your ticket out of Widow’s Rest. No more watching over your shoulder. No more living under the rich man’s thumb.

The rich man watched him now, flipping his own cards with that same oppressive thumb. Jasper Tate owned the saloon and half the men at the table, including Red. But not for long.

Read the whole story at Frontier Tales.

Bishop
Short Stories

Bishop

Wynn hooked a mostly clean fingernail under the chrome tab of the tape measure. The internal spring tack-tack-tacked as yellow inches emerged. Six, eight, ten, twelve. He stopped, had an idea, but let it go. The metal strip zipped back into the case, rocking his hand with a thwack. He did it again, careful not to cut his already dry and cracked fingers. Tack-tack-tack. Zip. Thwack. He waited. Nothing.

The click of the punch clock on his wall told him he had just wasted another half-hour of his day. In his mind, the woman from last week’s self-development seminar accused him of “activity avoidance.” Boy, there was three hours of activity Wynn was never getting back. No avoiding that. As a rule, he did the hard things first, paid the bills before he bought the boat, mowed the yard before he hit the lake. But what he had to do now, well, how do you start a thing like that?

Read the whole story at The Eunoia Review.

The Red Brick
Memoirs , Short Stories

The Red Brick

“I see Claire signed your cast.”

“Yup. Hey, Dad. Help me find a red, four-by-four brick.”

“I’ll try. There are a lot of legos here.”

“Dad, it’s not that hard.”

“Okay. So, did you ask her to sign it?”

“No. She likes to sign casts.”

“She does?”

“Yeah. That’s what she said.”

“Oh, I see. Hey, I found a red brick.”

“Cool. Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome, son.”

Sermons

Moses Called

February 18, 2018 | “Moses Called” | Exodus 3:14-15 | The Church at Station Hill

In dramatic fashion, God begins to reveal His evacuation plan by calling Moses to be His mouthpiece to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. God wants Moses to be sure to communicate exactly Who it is sending him and Who it is that will rescue them: I AM. God has been their God. God will be their God. God IS there God now.

Watch the full series, Exodus: The Evacuation Experiment.

The Wind and the Waves
Devotions

The Wind and the Waves

Daily Reading:

[biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 4:11-16″]

 

Key Verse:

[readolog_blockquote ]14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:

As I write this, I am at the beach. The sky is clear, the breeze is light, and I might stay all afternoon.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. That’s when a wall cloud the size of Texas appeared out of nowhere and sent hundreds of beachgoers scrambling to shelter. First came the wind, then the sand, then the flying tents. Panic poured over us as we scrambled like ants in a thousand directions, not sure what to grab and what to let go. Eventually, we were able to dodge fugitive umbrellas and boogie boards and wrestle ourselves and our gear to safety.

Later, I opened God’s Word and read, “Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” Thanks, God, for the visual aid.

Perhaps very soon, the evangelical Christian church in America might have far more in common with the church of Ephesus than we ever have had before. No longer is the sky clear and the breeze light. A wall cloud of culture looms above us and forces us to make decisions. Why do we believe what we believe? How do we love a world that no longer loves us? And how do we make the Church effective in this culture?

Paul describes the church not as a collection of individuals worshiping and carrying out ministry programs, but tied together as one body. This body has arms and legs and muscles and bones. Every part of this body is created to function together. We’re not meant to wander in aimless confusion. We’re not meant to crouch silently, paralyzed from fear. Instead, we’re meant to act and go where our head, Jesus Christ, takes us.

And so God gives us all special gifts, spiritual gifts, to help us function as this body. He gives us leaders (apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers) to train or equip us for work in ministry. Ministry is our job, not just theirs. Everyone gets to play.

If together we use the gifts God has given each of us for the building up of one another, we then cease to be like children and become mature, a body of believers exercising discernment and knowledge and (above all else) love. We are unified in our mission and our efforts, because we are one body acting solely at Christ’s direction.

It is this body with Christ as its head that God intends to accomplish His work on Earth. We are not a collection of passive believers who lean on the “resident experts” to do God’s will. We are not a group of individuals who go to church to simply to have our needs fulfilled. Instead, we each have a part to play for the good of the whole.

Then when the storms come, and they will, we will find our strength and our purpose in the One who uniquely gifts us and pulls us together. He will direct our path, and we will go there together.

Reflection Questions

We often pray that God will help us as individuals: God help me with this, or God help me do that. How often do we pray for God to help our church?

Do you know your spiritual gifts? Do you know the spiritual gifts of those around you?

Should we explore our spiritual gifts when choosing a service role in our church or our community?

How are spiritual gifts different than Christian roles (i.e. things we are all called to do in the course of our walk with Christ)? How are they different from natural talent?

Oh How He Loves You and Me
Devotions

Oh How He Loves You and Me

Daily Reading:

Luke 7:11-17

Key Verse:
[readolog_blockquote ]Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. Luke 7:12[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:

Mom once told me how she’d stay up all night crying, worried how she was going to buy groceries the next day. She would sit in a rocker and hold me in her arms. I was her center, her reason to try again tomorrow. To this day, my mother is my best friend.

So when I read about a widow who was crying in the street as they ushered her only son’s body out of the city, this stopped being just another Jesus story for me. I thought about my mother and how she might feel. This could just as easily be her story – MY story.

I can’t imagine the grief of losing a child. Naomi lost her sons, and she expressed her grief passionately. “Call me Mara,” she said, “for the Lord has made me bitter.”

In 1 Kings 17, the widow of Zarapeth had already accepted the inevitability of death from starvation for both herself and her son. But by providing for Elijah, she miraculously maintained a supply of food, only for her son to perish anyway.

“She said to Elijah,’Man of God, what do we have in common? Have you come to remind me of my guilt and to kill my son?’ ” (1 Kings 17:18). But Elijah prayed, God listened, and the boy came back.

“Then Elijah took the boy, brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. Elijah said,’Look, your son is alive.’ ” (1 Kings 17:23).

And so now, in Luke, we have yet a third widow grieving over the loss of her son. But this time, God is there in the flesh. The text says Jesus “had compassion on her.” The original word is actually “splagnizod,” which is a turning over of the insides, a visceral, physical reaction to what He saw.

“Don’t cry,” He told her. What an incredibly touching moment this must have been, even if the widow didn’t fully understand why. Here was her Creator coming to her in a very real way during a very real time of grief. He was right there, in the midst of her pain to wipe away her tears. “Don’t cry.”

Why was Jesus so moved by this woman and her circumstance? Did it invoke images from the ancient days of Naomi or the widow from Zarapeth? Or maybe when He looked at this woman, He saw His own mother in the days to come.

The whole thing shows a beautiful side of our Savior, the Creator side. We’re His people. He loves us, deeply, splagnizod. And while that particular word may never be cross-stitched on a pillow (and for good reason), the ability of the one who was fully-God and fully-man to relate to our suffering in a very real way is permanently etched across our hearts.

This Jesus who approached a widow in her time of need is the same Jesus who no doubt wrapped His arms around my weeping mother in the middle of the night as she held her only son and waited on God’s faithful provision. “Don’t cry.”

I love this Jesus, and I know that He loves me.

Reflection Questions

  1. How has God loved you this week? It may be hard to see Him through the crowds. But perhaps He was right beside you.
  2. What loss are you grieving? A loved one, a relationship, a job, or maybe even a dream?
  3. How honest are you with God (and yourself) about your feelings? We’re not told the widow asked for Jesus’s help, or even that she believed. He was moved by her grief. Whatever our answer to question 2, how have you expressed that grief to God?

Have Mercy On Me, A Tax Collector
Devotions

Have Mercy On Me, A Tax Collector

Daily Reading:
Matthew 9:9-13  |  Mark 2:13-17  |  Luke  5:27-32

Key Verse:

[readolog_blockquote ]When the Pharisees saw this, they asked the disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:11[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:
Next month, I visit my accountant to file my 2012 tax return. He’s very good at his job, and he seems to somehow enjoy it, which I can’t help but find a little strange.

Each year, I sit across the desk from this guy and wonder how he does it. Not that my taxes are that difficult. But there’s no way around the fact that he’ll have the unenviable task of telling someone (hopefully not me) that Uncle Sam needs more from them this year than they anticipated.

If beautiful are the feet that bring good news, how ugly are the ones that deliver a big, fat tax bill? Consider, for a moment, what it might be like if those people had to pay him directly for their taxes. Better yet, what if he raised the amount so he could keep a little (or a lot) for himself?

To take it one step further, what if his very existence was their constant reminder of an occupying government that took their freedom and used him, a traitor to his own people, to make their lives as miserable as possible? That would make next month’s appointment much less enjoyable.

The Bible tells us about a guy just like that. His name was Matthew. And he was a disciple.

It’s not at all unlike God to use the most human of people to do the most heavenly of things. In our weakness, His strength is made perfect. So He uses people who are at the end of themselves to begin the things that only He can do.

The Pharisees in this story didn’t get that email. They were all about their own strength. And they had lots of rules to prove it. Spiritual acts like sacrifice were less about obeying God and more about showcasing their knowledge and capacity to keep the law. They were spiritual rock stars, not at all like that slacker guy Matthew and his sinner friends at the tax booth. Boo!

I guess that’s why, in Matthew 9:11, they thought it strange to find Jesus kicking back and breaking bread with half of the Roman IRS. Matthew was throwing a dinner party for Jesus. He’d even called a few buddies over and introduced them to his new friend.

So the Pharisees asked the disciples (not Jesus directly), “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

In all three Gospel accounts of this story, we see Jesus offer a fairly straightforward response when the Pharisees question his association with these people. “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do,” Jesus said.

Okay, fair enough. The Pharisees could sort of get this one. To say the tax collectors and sinners were spiritually sick was not out of bounds with their way of thinking. But in Matthew’s account, Jesus takes it a step further. “Go and learn what this means,” he begins. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

This is my new favorite part of the story. “Go and learn what this means” was what a rabbi of that time would say when he quoted a text. In other words, “Take what I say and go think about what God is telling you.” By saying this to the Pharisees, Jesus was speaking to them as an authority.

What text was he quoting? Hosea 6:6: “For I desire loyalty (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

So why does God value mercy for a sinner over the sacrifices of a saint? Perhaps it’s the same reason we might rejoice at the healing of someone who is terminally ill over the continued well-being of someone who is healthy. “Those who are sick don’t need a doctor, but the sick do.”

Enter Matthew, or Levi as he was known in Hebrew circles. Who better to tell us this part of the story than the one who experienced the miraculous mercy of Jesus first-hand?

Matthew most likely had no idea how his life would change when he left for work that morning. But what started out as just another ordinary day at the tax booth ended when Jesus uttered two words, the same two words that have been changing lives ever since. “Follow me.”

Jesus continued, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” The Bible says there’s no one who’s righteous, no not one. I’m guessing the Pharisees weren’t counting themselves among the tax collectors and sinners. But in reality, their question could’ve been rephrased to ask, “Why does your Teacher eat with us?”

Reflection Questions
Does mercy have a seat at our table? Or have we made our own rules about who can and can’t join us for dinner?

Are we prepared to accept others as Jesus accepts them, without condition? Or have we exchanged mercy for something more comfortable and less controversial?

Lastly, when He asked us to follow Him, did we consider the places He might go?

Where’ve You Been?
Memoirs

Where’ve You Been?

I’ve blogged about Ray and Hilda before. They’ve been married for more than 61 years. In that time, they’ve faced many challenges, met many struggles, and have overcome them all together. This week, though, fate threatened to do the one thing its never been been able to do before . . . keep them apart.

On Christmas night, Hilda was rushed to the emergency room. She had become unresponsive due to what would eventually be diagnosed as a combination of pneumonia, COPD, and congestive heart failure. At 79, her little body was simply worn out. Ray, the ever-devoted husband, never left her side through the entire ordeal. For 29 days he sat and slept in a vinyl hospital lounge chair right beside Hilda’s bed.

On one of those days, a routine check of his heart showed his pulse had bottomed out at 38. Though he felt fine, the number was great cause for concern, especially for an 81 year old man. Luckily, the ER was literally an elevator ride away. Within minutes, he was processed, evaluated, and admitted to a room three floors above and a world away from his wife.

After a day or so, his condition stabilized. Eventually, I wheeled him back down to check on her.

As soon as he walked in the room (he would not enter in a wheel chair) the usually-despondent Hilda lit up like the Christmas tree she never got to enjoy this year. Her first words . . .

“Where have you been?”

Instantly, my brain hit the play button on the Kathy Mattea song. Wow. Does life really imitate art?

“They’d never spent a night apart.
For sixty years she heard him snore.
Now they’re in the hospital
In separate beds on different floors.

. . .

“He held her hand and stroked her head
In a fragile voice she said,

‘ Where’ve you been?
I’ve looked for you forever and a day.
Where’ve you been?
No I’m just not myself when you’re away.'”

Excerpt from “Where’ve You Been
Kathy Mattea
Words and Music by Jon Vezner and Don Henry

 

As I write this, Hilda is getting settled into a rehabilitation facility while Ray adjusts to his new pacemaker and the discomforts that it brings. And while I haven’t talked with him this evening, I’m quite certain he’s already claimed his spot at the bedside of his bride.

Ray and Hilda only had one child, a saint of a woman who is frankly the only reason their both still with us today. And that woman had me. This week, she and I witnessed the purest, most precious gift God ever gave the world . . . true love.

Sleep well, Ray and Hilda. And get well. We love you very much.

[readolog_first_paragraph]Editor’s note:
We said goodbye to Hilda in January of the following year. She did actually get to come home before God called her home to stay. We all miss her, but not like Ray. Thanks to the pacemaker, his heart is still beating. But it is very broken. Sometimes I watch him stare out the glass door onto the porch, at the empty chair where she used to sit. Then he looks to the sky, and I know what he’s thinking.[/readolog_first_paragraph]

Walking Through the Door
Memoirs

Walking Through the Door

Just over 18 years ago . . .

. . . I heard one word that changed my life forever. The word was “yes,” and it came from the girl I loved when I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me. The days that followed were exciting and challenging.   They were filled with laughter, tears, lots of joy, and plenty of anxious moments.

Today, I was reminded of one such moment.   On the night of our wedding, my bride was determined to have her picture made in her gown on the steps of the Opryland Hotel’s Magnolia Lobby.   This would have been fine, except that our wedding took place at the First Baptist Church in Cullman, AL. That’s roughly 153 miles from church altar to hotel steps.   Since the complexities of getting into her dress prevented the option of simply changing clothes, we were stuck in our matrimonial attire for the duration of the two hour trip.

Furthermore, while we left the church in a spacious limo (thanks again, Mike and Melanie), the bulk of our journey took place in a two-door Nissan Sentra.   The train of Darlene’s dress alone contained for more fabric than the entire interior of this car.   Nevertheless, my two eyes peered through a sea of white satin as we made the perilous journey toward those fateful steps and on to the rest of our lives.

Now, I told you all of that to tell you this.   I dropped Darlene off at the entrance of the Magnolia lobby, along with all of our assorted bags, suitcases, and ancillary items.   Then I set out in search of a parking space, which I eventually found somewhere in the neighboring city of Hendersonville.   When I finally returned, I found Darlene in the lobby out of breath and frantically gathering our things around her.

Apparently, it was only after I left that she realized there was no good way to get through the revolving door in her dress.   And once she was in, how would she get back to all of our bags?   She saw no staff to ask for assistance. She was stuck. So she waited, and waited, and waited.   But since I was walking back from the next county, it took a while.

In the mean time, people began noticing my lovely bride in her sparkling cathedral gown. Even now, I can hear what they were thinking. “Oh look, Henry.   That poor girl has been abandoned on her wedding night, and in such a lovely dress.  What a shame!”

Eventually, a few well-intentioned bystanders learned of my wife’s plight. Suddenly and without warning, they grabbed our bags. They took Darlene by the arm.   They propped open doors. And in less time than it took us to say “I do,” they ushered my new wife across the threshold . . . without me.

She still talks about the fear and panic that set in immediately as all of those people, some she had just met, some who were total strangers, began swarming her and taking our things.   The flurry of good intentions left her disoriented and scared.

Almost 18 days ago . . .

. . . I heard a word that changed my life forever. The word was “cancer,” and it came from the girl I love as she suddenly wondered about the rest of her life.   So began the anxious moments. But this time, I found myself standing at the threshold.   It was my job to get Darlene, along with our children, along with everything in our lives, through that door despite the huge obstacle in our way.   There were so many things I was responsible for. And so I waited . . . and waited. I stood there not knowing what to do next.

That’s when it happened.   The people around me began picking up my stuff.   They began taking me by the arm and ushering me forward.   But wait! I don’t want to go through that door.   I’m not ready.   Put my stuff down. I can carry it.   I just need time to figure this thing out first.

Fear and panic set in as all these people began swarming me and carrying my things.   The flurry of good intentions left me disoriented and scared.   That lasted a couple of days.   That’s how long it took me to realize how to do what only I could do.   So I reached out and took my wife by the hand.   And with the help of our family and friends, we’re now walking across that threshold – together.

This is a special note of thanks to all those who have suddenly grabbed a bag or gathered a gown or opened a door.   There are so many of you.   And you are so good – so God.   Thank you for loving us during this time.   I can’t say that it’s easy to let you do these things.   But this is simply a journey we can’t take alone. We love you.