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THE BEGINNING OF LEE
Lee, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a self-professed atheist was sitting at his desk on Christmas Eve. A slow news day he found himself reminiscing about the Delgado family that he had featured while writing a series of articles about Chicago’s neediest people a few days earlier. The Delgado’s were comprised of a grandmother named Perfecta and her two granddaughters, Jenny age 13 and her sister Lydia 11 years old.
He remembered how unprepared he was when he walked into their two room apartment on the west side of Chicago for the interview; bare halls and bare walls, no furniture, no rugs, nothing but a kitchen table and a handful of rice in the cupboards. He learned during the interview that Jenny and Lydia only had one short-sleeved dress apiece, plus a thin gray sweater that they shared. On cold days when the girls walked the half-mile to school, one of the girls would start with the sweater and then give it to the other at the halfway mark. It was all they had. Perfecta wanted more for her granddaughters and would gladly have worked, but her severe arthritis and age made work too difficult and painful.
Since it was a slow news day Lee decided to check out a car and drive to Chicago’s west side to check up on the Delgado’s. When Jenny opened the door he couldn’t believe what he saw! His article on the Delgado’s had touched the hearts of many subscribers who responded with furniture and appliances, rugs, dozens of coats, scarves and gloves. The girls wouldn’t have to share a sweater any longer. There was cartons and cartons and boxes of food everywhere. They had so much food that the cupboards and closets couldn’t contain it. Someone had even donated a Christmas tree, and under it were mounds of presents and thousands of dollars in cash!
Lee was astonished! But what astonished him the most was what he found Perfecta and her granddaughters doing. They were preparing to give most of it away. "Why would you give so much of this away?" Lee asked. Perfecta responded, "Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do." Lee was dumbfounded.
After regaining his composure he asked Perfecta another question. He wanted to know what she and the girls thought about the generosity that was shown to them. Again, Lee was not prepared for the answer. She said, "This is wonderful, this is very good." "We did nothing to deserve this; it’s all a gift from God. But," she added, "It is not his greatest gift, Lee. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. Jesus."
Lee was speechless as he drove back to the office. In the quiet of his car he noted a couple of observations. He had plenty and along with it plenty of anxiety, while the Delgado’s despite their poverty had peace. Lee had everything and yet wanted more, but the Delgado’s had nothing and yet knew generosity. Lee had everything and yet his life was as bare as the Delgado’s apartment prior to the article running. And yet the Delgado’s who had nothing were filled with hope, contentment and had a spiritual certainty. Even though Lee had so much more than the Delgado’s, he longed for what they had in their poverty.
(From a sermon by Bryan Fink "Christmas is for all the Lees/Leighs of the World" 12/25/2008)
Mike Breaux, when he was the Sr. Pastor at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY, made this point in a dramatic fashion. On the day he was to preach on the very text we’re studying, from James 2, Mike dressed up as a destitute bag lady and entered the Church service just as it began. He was dressed in such a fashion that no one was able to recognize him. He had put on several layers of old, sweaty clothing including a dress, and then put on a straw hat that he pulled down over his face. He stumbled into the service carrying numerous bags, his odor was not pleasant and he sat down in the middle of the auditorium. Now, Southland is a great church but on that day no-one spoke to him as the bag lady. In fact, several cast disgusting glances his way, and some actually got up and moved several seats away from him. When it came time for the sermon there was an awkward silence because nobody knew where Mike was. But all of sudden the bag lady got up and walked toward the platform. When he got to the pulpit he slowly began to take off his garments revealing who he was. The congregation sat in uncomfortable silence. And then Mike said, "Would you please listen as I read James 2:1-4?"
The desire to "get even" seems to be a part of the human psyche.
It is like the story of a mother who heard her seven-year-old son screaming. She runs into the next room to see what is wrong, and discovers her two-year-old daughter is pulling the hair of her brother. The mother gets the hand of the baby unclenched and says, "You will have to overlook this. Your sister doesn't know what it feels like to have her hair pulled."
The mother goes back into the kitchen when she hears the daughter screaming. She runs back into the room and says, "What happened?"
The boy answered, "She knows what it feels like now."
1 Corinthians 13:1-13:8
CYMBALA'S EASTER STORY
Jim Cymbala preaches at a church in the slums of New York. He tells the following story: It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people.
As I was sitting there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, “Could I talk to you?”
We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it, “What a way to end a Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine.”
He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I’d never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I’d talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn’t inhale facing him. I asked him, “What’s your name?”
“How long have you been on the street?”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-two.” He looked fifty--hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed.
“Where did you sleep last night, David?”
I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking; I’ll give him some money. I won’t even get a volunteer. They are all busy talking with others. Usually we don’t give money to people. We take them to get something to eat.
I took the money out. David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”
I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels.
But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening. I pleaded with God, “God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. I’m so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!”
Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of His person became a beautiful aroma. Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I...
Dr. Larry Petton
I WILL GIVE YOU TWO APPLES
An atheist and a little boy in his neighborhood were talking one day about God, church and faith. Finally, the old neighbor said to the little boy, "Son, I don’t see how there could be a God in this world with all of the problems we have. I will give you an apple if you can prove to me that God exists!"
The little boy grinned and said, "Sir, I believe in God and I will give you TWO APPLES if you can prove that He doesn't exist!"
Dr. Larry Petton
COVERED UNDER HIS WINGS
It was a hot day in the dry old West. As the railroad came roaring down the tracks, sparks were flying everywhere because of the hot temperatures. When the sparks flew, often they would begin a fire that would destroy ranches, homes and livestock.
One particular day, there was a fire that spread from a railroad train in West Texas and did major damage. As the old farmer who owned the property walked through the ashes of his home and ranch, he saw an old hen lying on the ground, burnt to death. Her wings were spread open. In his anger, he kicked the old hen. To his surprise...several baby chicks ran out from under her burnt wings. When the fire came, the hen draped herself over her little ones and took the fire to save their lives.
We have a Savior who did exactly that for us. When the fire of God’s holy wrath should have consumed us...Christ spread out His arms on the Cross and covered us in His blood!
Oh, hallelujah...what a Savior!
THE MARK OF JESUS
When I was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Levelland, there was a man in our church, the owner of a local business and a highly intentional Christian. The apostle Paul once said of himself that he bore "on [his] body the marks of Jesus" (Gal. 6:17). Well, this man bore the marks of Jesus on his life. His wife was the most annoying woman I have ever known. She was chronically ill, and her sickness had embittered her spirit. She demanded almost all of this man's time and energy, and she was never grateful for a single thing he did for her. She complained about life, and she complained about him. For his part -- I don't know how he did it -- but he remained gentle and serene, and he had the utmost patience with this woman. He never spoke ill of her. He never sighed under the burden of her criticism. He was truly a man of God. He had an intimacy with God that was not showy but nevertheless evident. If life had not rewarded him with outward happiness, he was deeply and inwardly joyful. God was his "portion," as the Bible says (e.g., Lam. 3:24; Ps. 16:5; 73:26), and he was satisfied.
How could he do this? How could he be so patient and kind and committed to the welfare of his wife despite her ingratitude? I'll tell you: he was in covenant with his wife, but he was also in covenant with God. And here's what I learned from him. This man partnered with God in his own process of sanctification. Now, let me tell you what I mean. This man's highest interest was not in being happy in some conventional way. No. Instead, the longing of his heart was to be the kind of person God wanted him to be. And God has to work on a person to make them like he wants them to be. And what this man did is: he yielded to God's program of overhaul in his life. God not infrequently uses suffering and adversity. How does the old hymn say it? "When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."
That's what this man wanted. He wanted his dross consumed; he wanted his unloving tendencies to be burned in the fire of affliction if need be, and his gold refined, his character refashioned to be like that of his Lord, who "loved the church and gave himself up for her."
A LITTLE GIRL’S PRAYER
One night I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all we could do she died, leaving us with a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive, as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator) and no special feeding facilities.
Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. One student midwife went for the box we had for such babies and the cotton wool the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly in distress to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. "And it is our last hot water bottle!" she exclaimed.
As in the West it is no good crying over spilled milk, so in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over burst water bottles. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways.
"All right," I said, "Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm."
The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chills. I also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died.
During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. "Please, God," she prayed, "send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby’ll be dead, so please send it this afternoon."
While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, "And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?"
As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, "Amen"? I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything. The Bible says so. But there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever, received a parcel from home; anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!
Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel. I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone, so I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.
From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys; eyes sparkled as I pulled them out. Then there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children looked a little bored. Then came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas --- that would make a nice batch of buns for the week...
"I'M NOT A CHRISTIAN, SO..."
You need to know what is going on in the head of a non-saved or pre-saved person.
* "I'm not a Christian, so ... I really don't understand this religious stuff. I did try and read bits of the Bible when I was at school, but found it hard to understand. I never went to church or Sunday School or anything.
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...It really bugs me to see Christians claiming that they know it all.
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...I doubt they have much fun anyway, because they are living by a load of rules.
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...Well, some do. Mandy in the Accounts Department goes to church, but she can't keep her hands off men. Ever."
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...Of course, I do try to live by my own rules too. Well, most of the time. I still feel bad about what happened with Sam though."
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...There is one church in town that give out leaflets in the street. They are so badly produced though -- just lots of text and Bible verses. I never read them properly. There's an invitation to their church services at the end -- but I would never dare to go to a church by myself, even if I wanted to. I'd feel like a fish out of water."
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...Church services sometimes come on the TV too. I always switch channels, they seem so old-fashioned and preachy. One time though, I came across a Christian program that was looking at the Christian messages hidden in recent Hollywood film releases. Now, that WAS interesting, and it made sense to me. (I try to get to the movies every two or three weeks.) Another time, there was a story about Christians starting an AIDS hospice in our country. Those people really impressed me."
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...Not that I actually know any Christians at all. Otherwise I could perhaps find out more, and ask some real questions. If they'd try and give straight answers, and not just preach at me."
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...Well, if their beliefs work for them, that's great. Of course, I do read my horoscope when I remember to. I always try to avoid things that it warns against. And Charlie gave me some healing crystals -- I keep them by my bed, and they really seem to make me feel calmer sometimes. Buddhism sounds fun, actually. There are evening classes at the local college. Carlos and Miriam have been going. They say it is really good -- there is no pressure to join anything, the classes are friendly and interactive, and already they feel that their lives are changing for the better."
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...Not that I need God, or religion or stuff. Though it would be nice to know where I am going. To feel more grounded. Have a purpose. And I wish I could cope with stress better than I do. Or even find someone I could talk to about the things that worry me. My job is not safe anymore. I can't face all that job-loss stuff again -- it's happened twice before. Specially with my loans to repay. And I'm just hoping that dad's medical tests won't show anything bad. Specially now he has left mum and is living alone."
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...And even deal with that thing which happened when I was a child -- what that man did to me in the toilets. I never told anyone, not even my mother. It still makes me feel guilty. I manage to blank it out most of the time. I'm sure it contributed to my last relationship breakup. Life is a bit lonely just now."
* "I'm not a Christian, so ...Of course, I always try to escape from the week's stress on Friday night. Me and a few mates. It seems to help, somehow. But there's always Monday again."
I recently read a peculiar story about a family in Lander, Wyoming that had gone to their local refuse dump to dispose of some unwanted family items that were either busted or greatly abused. As they were emptying there junk into a large dumpster, the man of the home saw something that caught his eye. It was apparently an ornate, antique four-poster bed that had been left there by some other family.
The man called to his wife to have her to look at it as well. After a few moments of discussion they both agreed that it most likely could be stored to its original condition. So, even though it was a bit worn and tattered, they began to inquire about that possibility with the management staff of the refuse center. They found that they there was no problem with taking the grand piece of junk home if they would just pay a small fee of a few dollars.
They proceeded to load the headboard, footboard and the wooden rails into the back of their pickup and pull-along trailer. As they were loading the post, which were separate pieces, they began to question the weight of each one. The husband felt they were quite a bit heavier than he had imagined they would be. But they finally got all the pieces loaded and drove home.
When they got home, the husband backed the truck and trailer into his driveway with the assistance of his wife and eldest son. They then proceeded to unload the bed one piece at a time. To their amazement, as their son picked up one end of the first bed-post, the finial at the top worked loose and slipped out of its socket. Thankfully they were standing in the front yard and a nearby hedge broke the fall, catching the post. But suddenly they heard the weirdest noise.
As they turned to look toward the area of the noise, something caught the glimpse of the father’s eye. A few silver coin tumbled to the ground near the base of the bush. After picking up the loose coins he looked in the opened end of the bed-post and to his surprise there were more silver coins inside. With the help of his son, he picked up the opposing end and hundreds of silver, brass and gold coins came rolling out onto the lawn. Many of the gold ones dated back into the 1800’s and almost all of the coins were near mint condition. After close inspection of the other three posts, they, too, were completely hollow and contained equal amounts of coinage.
Amazing stuff one can find at a garbage dump! The finest of treasures in the least likely places! To hear stories like that are always a great thrill to hear! Who knows, next time any one of us goes to the refuse dump, hard to tell what we might find. As my dad always said, one man's trash is another man's treasure!