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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)
So if the kingdom of heaven is so valuable, why doesn’t everybody do everything they can to be a part of it? I think it’s because value is often in the eye of the beholder. What has value and what doesn’t is really up to personal interpretation. What some people think are valuable have no value at all to others. Several years ago I used to heat our house with wood. Every fall I would go out and cut wood with my friend Roger Raether and Bob Bosma. I never liked cutting wood because it was a lot of back breaking work but I liked the price. It was free except for the labor so we would take a Saturday here and there in the fall to cut wood and pile it up for the winter. In addition to cutting wood I used to get the wood scraps from a store called “The Wooden Bird.” They make beautiful hand carved bird decoys and animal decoys out of wood. Every decoy costs from 50 to 250 bucks and they are really nice decorative pieces to put on the mantle. Their shop used to be right here in St. Boni so every couple of weeks I would stop in and pick up their leftover wood scraps to burn in my wood burner. Right before Thanksgiving I stopped in to pick up a load of scraps. I walked in the front door and told them I was there to pick up the wood. The man wheeled out two bins like usual to the loading doors and helped me load them in the truck. Usually the wood was just chunks of pine but this time they looked like decoys. I asked him if he was sure that he was giving me the right wood because they were unpainted decoys. I noticed that they had a few cracks in them so I figured they were throwing them away because of the cracks. The man insisted that I had the right stuff and waved me goodbye. I took my load of wood and promised that I would bring his carts back as soon as I got the chance. He told me there was no hurry and I could even bring them back after Thanksgiving. I went home and unloaded the decoys in a big pile in the basement. The wood burner was low so I grabbed a handful of decoys and threw them in the furnace. That dry pine burned nice and hot so I threw in a few more to ward of the cold. Then I went back to work. After work I went home and reloaded the furnace with decoys and had just enough time to bring back the carts before they closed for the long weekend. When I pulled up in my truck two men ran out of the building and demanded that I bring back the decoys. I asked why and with urgency in his voice he told me that I had taken their entire inventory of Christmas decoys worth tens of thousands of dollars by mistake. He went on and on about calling the police and trying to find my vehicle and driving around for the past three hours in a complete panic because I had taken their entire Christmas inventory of decoys worth thousands of dollars by mistake. I pointed at the guy who gave them to me and he just gave me the deer in the headlights look and walked back into the building. Then the manager said do you still have them because they are incredibly valuable. Each decoy had taken them over a week to make and they needed to get them back. Rather stunned I told them that I had burned a few of them but would bring the rest back. Then I went home and carefully loaded a few hundred decoys back into the bins and brought them back to the Wooden Bird. Value is often in the eye of the beholder. The decoys had no value to me other than a little heat. But to the Wooden bird, the decoys were worth tens of thousands of dollars.
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!
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...
NOT MY JOB
The names in this story have been changed out of respect for their privacy. Julie W told her family's story in a magazine article.
[My daughter], Allison, came home for the weekend. She opened the door, didn't speak, and dropped her duffel bag. Smudges of mascara circled her eyes. I whispered a "God-please-no" prayer.
"Come tell me about your classes." I patted the sofa. She muttered,
"Gotta take a shower."
As she clomped upstairs, I analyzed the recent changes in her: complaints of not having any money, rarely answers the phone, weight loss, pinpoint pupils, and a "who gives a rip" [facade]. I searched her purse and found a leopard-colored pipe and the unmistakable sweet odor of pot. My heart fluttered wildly like a bird stuck inside my chest.
She plodded down the stairs, hair in a towel, wearing the same wrinkled clothes. Be still and talk in a sweet voice, I told myself. You must convince her to stop. "We need to talk, honey."
"Not now. I'm tired."
"I found your pipe."
She stared at me with death-row eyes. "Chill, it's not that big of a deal."
The tightness in the den suffocated me. I needed air. "Want to walk?" I asked brightly. "Like we used to?"
I knew I could talk some sense into her. "Honey, please. You've gotta stop." I grabbed her hand.
"Mom!" She jerked away.
"We have a strong family history. You don't want to..."
I never got to finish the sentence. Allison stormed out of the room and within minutes was headed back to college. I knew what I had to do--abandon everything in my life and start to worry/fix/control full-time.
I began spending most days by the phone. I evaluated Allison's reactions, gestures, and comments. Thoughts circled my mind like buzzards: What if she never stops? What if I never see her again? What if she overdoses? Or goes to jail?
I lured Allison into therapy by promising we'd go to an Italian restaurant before visits. Her first appointment day arrived. She played with her spaghetti, and I couldn't eat. "So, what do you plan to say to the counselor?" I asked.
"How should I know?"
When they called her name at the office, I hurried in to make sure the counselor understood. Allison refused to sign for me to have any information. I considered eavesdropping, but too many people were around. An hour later, she walked past me as I paid.
"What'd you talk about?"
Our therapy/lunch charade continued that way for a few weeks. Then Allison's sister informed me she was still using. She denied it, refused to see the counselor, dropped out of college, and stopped answering my calls.
I was convinced if I forgot about Allison, even for a second, or enjoyed anything, something bad might happen. Several months later, after another night of little sleep, I glanced in the mirror. I could have passed for the addict: dark circles under hopeless eyes.
I called my friend Linda. Her son, also an addict, had been sentenced to state prison. "You can't imagine all that's going on here," I said.
"Come over for coffee," she urged.
I wanted to stand guard at home but knew she'd listen and understand.
"Hey, girlfriend." Linda hugged me. I didn't touch my coffee as I blurted the saga. Linda didn't sweet-talk. "You need help."
"You haven't heard the whole story," I argued. "I'm fine--my daughter, she needs help."
"You're addicted to worry and control," Linda said. "I've been where you are." She stretched out on the sofa. "The only one you can control is yourself."
The possibility that she might be right terrified me. "It took me years to realize that I'm not in charge. God is," Linda admitted. "By worrying, you're telling God he can't handle things. Go to Al-Anon with me." I'd heard of Al-Anon but didn't see how it applied to me. But I agreed because I was in awe of Linda.
I didn't open my mouth during the meeting. Every word spoken sounded like my own thoughts:
"I worried myself sick about my alcoholic husband."
"My peace comes only when I let go and let God."
Then the speaker said, "To change, you'll have to leave behind some familiar lifelong habits." But how? This is who I am--what I do. "An alcoholic can't drink, and those of us in this room can't allow an ounce of worry. For us, it's every bit as dangerous and addictive. Worry robs our serenity."
I didn't think change was possible. Not for me. But I knew one thing for sure--I was destroying my life. That night at home I got real. "Help me, God. I can't do this without you." I began to ask God for help each morning. I whispered, "Not my job," as worry, fear, or control tried to needle back in.
Two years after that first Al-Anon meeting, Allison and I met for an impromptu lunch. She'd gone back to the same therapist. On her own.
"You can't imagine how easy it is to study when you're not high," she laughed.
"Nope, I guess not." I blinked back happy tears.
"When you didn't fix my problems, it scared me. A few times I had to dig change out of the seat of my car for gas money. Some days," she paused, "I didn't have food." My throat felt warm with pride. She'd done it on her own. "I'm making A's. And look," she handed me her checkbook. "I have money again."
Recovery defies logic. It means doing the opposite of what feels natural. When I took care of myself and my addictions, Allison did the same.
Citation: Condensed from our sister publication Today's Christian,© 2008 Christianity Today International Julie W., "Not My Job," Today's Christian (July/August 2008)
Everyone needs a hero. For the mother who told this story it was her friend, Linda. Then she turned to God as her ultimate hero. We all could do with someone to help us work through our troubles. We need a victorious warrior to fight our battles. No one knows that better than God himself.
From Mark Haines' Sermon "Our Mighty God"
R. David Reynolds
Dwight L. Moody also says it well, “Happiness is caused by things that happen around me, and circumstances will mar it; but joy flows right on through trouble; joy flows on through the dark; joy flows in the night as well as in the day; joy flows all through persecution and opposition. It is an unceasing fountain bubbling up in the heart; a secret spring the world can’t see and doesn’t know anything about. The Lord gives His people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to Him.” [SOURCE: Dwight Lyman Moody as quoted by Edythe Draper, Draper’s Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 6529.]
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?"
AN EASTER PARABLE: EDITH EASTER
Edith Burns was a wonderful Christian who lived in San Antonio, Texas. She was the patient of a doctor by the name of Will Phillips. Dr. Phillips was a gentle doctor who saw patients as people. His favorite patient was Edith Burns. One morning he went to his office with a heavy heart and it was because of Edith Burns.
When he walked into that waiting room, there sat Edith with her big black Bible in her lap earnestly talking to a young mother sitting beside her.
Edith Burns had a habit of introducing herself in this way: "Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would be saved. Dr. Phillips walked into that office and there he saw the head nurse, Beverly. Beverly had first met Edith when she was taking her blood pressure. Edith began by saying, "My name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" Beverly said, "Why yes I do." Edith said, "Well, what do you believe about Easter?" Beverly said, "Well, it's all about egg hunts, going to church, and dressing up." Edith kept pressing her about the real meaning of Easter, and finally led her to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Phillips said, "Beverly, don't call Edith into the office quite yet. I believe there is another delivery taking place in the waiting room."
After being called back in the doctor's office, Edith sat down and when she took a look at the doctor she said, "Dr. Will, why are you so sad? Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?" Dr. Phillips said gently, "Edith, I'm the doctor and you're the patient." With a heavy heart he said, "Your lab report came back and it says you have cancer, and Edith, you're not going to live very long." Edith said, "Why Will Phillips, shame on you. Why are you so sad? Do you think God makes mistakes? You have just told me I'm going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and my friends. You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!" Dr. Phillips thought to himself, "What a magnificent woman this Edith Burns is!"
Edith continued coming to Dr. Phillips. Christmas came and the office was closed through January 3rd. On the day the office opened, Edith did not show up. Later that afternoon, Edith called Dr. Phillips and said she would have to be moving her story to the hospital and said, "Will, I'm very near home, so would you make sure that they put women in here next to me in my room who need to know about Easter."
Well, they did just that and women began to come in and share that room with Edith. Many women were saved. Everybody on that floor from staff to patients were so excited about Edith, that they started calling her Edith Easter; that is everyone except Phyllis Cross, the head nurse. Phyllis made it plain that she wanted nothing to do with Edith because she was a "religious nut". She had been a nurse in an army hospital. She had seen it all and heard it all. She was the original G.I. Jane. She had been married three times, she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.
One morning the two nurses who were to attend to Edith were sick. Edith had the flu and Phyllis Cross had to go in and give her a shot. When she walked in, Edith had a big smile on her face and said, "Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I have been praying for you." Phyllis Cross said, "Well, you can quit praying for me, it won't work. I'm not interested." Edith said, "Well, I will pray and I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family." Phyllis Cross said, "Then you will never die because that will never happen," and curtly walked out of the room.
Every day Phyllis Cross would walk into the room and Edith would say, "God loves you Phyllis and I love you, and I'm praying for you." One day Phyllis Cross said she was literally drawn to Edith's room like a magnet would draw iron. She sat down on the bed and Edith said, "I'm so glad you have come, because God told me that today is your special day." Phyllis Cross said, "Edith, you have asked everybody here the question, 'Do you believe in Easter?' but you have never asked me." Edith said, "Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked..."
Edith Burns took her Bible and shared with Phyllis Cross the Easter Story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Edith said, "Phyllis, do you believe in Easter? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is alive and that He wants to live in your heart?" Phyllis Cross said, "Oh I want to believe that with all of my heart, and I do want Jesus in my life." Right there, Phyllis Cross prayed and invited Jesus Christ into her heart. For the first time Phyllis Cross did not walk out of a hospital room, s...
“For over fifteen years I have been asking people of all walks of life from Morocco to India and from Turkey to the Sudan about the implications of a son’s request for his inheritance while the father is still living. The answer has almost always been emphatically the same.”
…the conversation runs as follows:
“Has anyone ever made such a request in your village?”
“Could anyone ever make such a request?”
“If anyone did, what would happen?”
“His father would beat him, of course!”
“This request means – he wants his father to die!”
H. YOU HAVE PROBABLY HEARD THE OLD STORY ABOUT THE LATE, GREAT DR. A. J. GORDON, A FAMOUS PREACHER FROM ENGLAND WHO CAME TO A VERY DEAD, DULL, FORMAL, CHURCH IN DOWNTOWN BOSTON, MASS. I. HE WAS A FIERY PREACHER, WHO REFUSED TO WEAR A ROBE, WHICH WAS MANDATORY IN THAT CHURCH AND HE PREACHED “JESUS” TO THOSE PEOPLE WITH SUCH FERVOR, THEY SAT OUT THERE SHELL-SHOCKED, AND AFTER A MONTH, THEY WERE READY TO FIRE DR. GORDON. J. ONE SUNDAY HE PREACHED A SERMON CALLED “THE FUNERAL OF THE CHURCH” AND THIS IS WHAT HE SAID, “ECCLESIASTICAL CORPSES LIE ALL AROUND US. THE CASKETS IN WHICH THEY REPOSE ARE LINED WITH SATIN AND ARE DECORATED WITH SOLID SILVER HANDLES AND ABUNDANT FLOWERS. LIKE ALL CASKETS THEY ARE JUST LARGE ENOUGH FOR THEIR OCCUPANTS WITH NO ROOM FOR CONVERTS. THESE CHURCHES HAVE DIED FROM THE DISEASE OF FORMALISM AND HAVE BEEN EMBALMED IN COMPLACENCY. IF BY THE GRACE OF GOD THIS CHURCH HAS ANY LIFE LEFT IN HER, I WARN YOU THAT THOSE THAT BURIED THY SISTER CHURCHES WILL BE AT THY DOOR TO CARRY THEE OUT, BECAUSE I PREDICT THIS CHURCH, WILL BE DEAD SOON, BECAUSE I HEAR THE DEATH RATTLE” M. AFTER HE PREACHED THAT SERMON, SIX MEN CAME THROUGH THE BACK DOORS CARRYING A CASKET, AND HE HAD THEM PUT IT AT THE FRONT OF THE CHURCH AND OPEN IT AND THEN HE ASKED EVERYBODY IN THE CHURCH TO WALK BY AND SEE THEIR DEAD CHURCH. O. AS THEY WALKED BY, THEY LOOKED IN THE CASKET AND YOU GUESSED IT–THEY WERE LOOKING AT THEMSELVES, IN A MIRROR