Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Grace That Leads to Joy - Part 3

                                                                       Wednesday, June 1, 2016
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Philippians 4:23(NLT)
So far this week we’ve seen that there can, indeed be joy in life, and even in the face of tragedy, and that it can even make you joyfully-grateful that God allows such things.  Further,

Grace makes you a joyful giver

As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia.  No other church did this.  Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once.  I don’t say this because I want a gift from you.  Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.  At the moment I have all I need—and more!  I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus.  They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.  And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.    Philippians 4:15-19(NLT)
Giving is a touchy subject!  It is particularly so for those who have not yet gotten the idea that it is a joy to give.  But giving is never a touchy subject when the right conditions exist:

People give when hearts are touched

I have a friend who manages to put a few dollars away each month for the purpose of finding God's needy spot.  He prays about this money, that God will direct him to the need.  This is a heart that is touched with compassion and enthusiasm for the gospel.  I can tell it gives him a lot of joy to be able to give.  One church member confided in me that giving just a dollar or two above her tithe to help a needy child gave her more joy than anything else she does.  When your heart is touched with compassion for the needs of people, you give joyfully.  But then,

People give sacrificially when the heart is transferred (to God)

There is a difference in the joy of a gift, and a sacrificial gift.  Paul's pride and joy, the Philippian group were examples of sacrificial giving.  Richard Melick wrote:  Their giving was exemplary because they gave out of 'rock-bottom poverty.[2] 
What is it like to give sacrificially? 
A man who had been laid-off from his job for four years gave his wife a dishwasher at Christmas.  What a gift!  But there's more...the old house they lived in had its original wiring, and could not have handled the required installation.  There was no spot big enough in the kitchen for such a machine.  And they had not been able to meet even the interest payment on their mortgage in six months.  No large box appeared; no new plumbing or wiring.  There was just a small handwritten note on the branch of somebody's castaway Christmas tree:
"For one year I will wash all of the dirty dishes in this household.  Every one!"
And he did![3] 
Now, that's sacrificial (by most men's standards)!  And sacrifice only comes under the influence of love. 
I have a coupon booklet that I will always treasure.  It is from my three kids.  It was given to me one Father's Day.  The kids had no money because of "U.I.S." (Under the Influence of Seminary).  So they gave me 21 different slips of paper as handwritten credit vouchers.  One voucher was good for a car wash.  Another was good for a "no-gripe lawnmower usage" (I think the girls blackmailed my son into that one.)  Still another was for a whole day of kids being good without Dad having to remind anybody.  I want to tell you, I've never cashed a single coupon; they are too precious to me.  Those kids loved me, and gave sacrificially.  When you transfer your heart to God you will give sacrificially, and love it!

For You Today

God gave the ultimate in sacrificial gifts nailed to crossbeams on the town garbage dump outside of Jerusalem.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Meghana Kulkarni from Pune, India (Happiness), via Wikimedia Commons
[2]Melick, Richard R., Jr., THE NEW AMERICAN COMMENTARY, 158
[3]Rogers, Judy, GUIDEPOSTS (Dec 1988)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Grace That Leads to Joy - Part 2

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Philippians 4:23(NLT)
Yesterday I told you about the 22 year old boy named Ricky who died in an accident, and how, in the face of terrible pain, there was joy – peace that passes understanding
I can imagine that was something like the joy Paul felt, sitting in a Roman jail.  He and Ricky had similarities; both were educated, energetic, and ambitious.  In their respective fields they were tops! 
But Paul had lived his life, accomplishing much for the cause of Christ, and now he was in prison, in danger of being executed as a common criminal – all because of his faithfulness!  And in the middle of all that, Paul would say joy
I want you to know, beloved; there is only one thing in this entire universe that can make a person joyful in the midst of that kind of circumstance:  It is the grace of Almighty God. 
Grace makes you joyfully grateful
 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.  Philippians 4:14(NLT)

For others' participation

            Paul was grateful for the gift brought by Epaphroditus.  None of the other churches had shared in the financial needs of his ministry, and Paul was joyfully grateful because the Philippian church had a proper sense of why they were giving. 
It was not just for Paul's sake; they knew they were ministering with their gifts.  With the gifts God gives each of us, as Maxie Dunham wrote ...we act on behalf of each other, knowing that we are acting for the sake of God."[2] 
In the daily arena of life God provides that which we cannot do for ourselves.  Margaret Trudeau, wife of Canada's Pierre Trudeau wrote in her autobiography of meeting Britain's Queen Elizabeth:
I was wearing a brand-new haute-couture suit and very high-heeled shoes.  I was extremely nervous.  As I sank into a deep curtsy, it became crystal clear to both of us that I was not going to make it up again.  Without altering her expression by as much as a flicker, the queen strengthened her grasp, tensed all the muscles of her right arm, and drew me up to my feet with a grip of iron, smiling steadily all the while.[3]

For God's purpose

Paul was working to see the gospel spread; that was his call from God.  The circumstances were not wonderful, but he could see the purpose of God being worked-out, even in his misery. 
And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.  Philippians 2:12(NLT)
Paul could see.  That means he was able to look past the circumstances, and see God's hand at work.  Often I am blind in this area.  I sometimes seem to live my life succumbing to the principle that it’s tough to remember you were sent to drain the swamp when you are surrounded by alligators.  What I SEE is the circumstance – great big green, saw-toothed, nasty gators.  What I really need to remember is that those circumstances are often what God has to work with, considering the material (me) He has to start with.
Even more important is that, those circumstances which He allows to pile up in my face are there by His design to accomplish His purpose.  I can trust better when my will is surrendered to His purpose. 
I can be joyfully-grateful that He loves me that much!

For You Today

Are you joyfully-grateful for some of the tough things you’re facing?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Meghana Kulkarni from Pune, India (Happiness), via Wikimedia Commons
[2]Dunham, Maxie D., THE COMMUNICATOR'S COMMENTARY VOL. 8, (Waco, Word Inc., 1982), 320
[3]Trudeau, Margaret, BEYOND REASON, (Paddington Press, As quoted in Reader's Digest)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Grace That Leads to Joy - Part 1

Monday, May 30, 2016
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Philippians 4:23(NLT)
This week we are going to investigate the joy Paul described to the Philippian church, the kind of joy that only the grace of God can bring.  All throughout this letter to the Philippian church Paul's theme has been joy
Indeed, rejoicing was his life. 
But sometimes tragedy will test even the strongest faith.
A number of years ago I stood with Ricky’s family, a 22 year-old boy, who had been killed in a freak accident, when another vehicle locked bumpers trying to pass him.  It flipped Ricky’s car off the road and he died instantly. 
Looking into the casket; it was hard to imagine joy. 
His mother and Dad shared with me their son's great plans for the future:  Master's degree, advancement, family, and his love for the Lord; it was an incredible tragedy how his life had been snuffed out. 
His parents told me how Ricky worked hard every day, never late; how he went to school nights, and how hard he studied.  It was hard to conjure-up joy amidst all the stock phrases people nervously utter at such times; words won't do! 
There was lots of hugging and remembering at the funeral home.  But I knew that would pass.  In the morning there would be a funeral service, and soon we would be at the cemetery, ready to lower a young man into a grave, when he hadn't even begun to live. 
Joy was AWOL
And so I asked the Lord to speak to my heart, so I could speak to this broken-hearted family.  Often I'm a poor listener, so the Lord waited until I walked out on the platform for the service.  It was the faces of the young people; most of whom I'd never seen before.  The faces were streaming with tears, disbelief and stunned silence.  The faces were grieving as those with no hope. 
The Lord then spoke to my heart and the one-sided conversation went thus:
            Russell, among those young people are those who have left me out.
A few have never even heard the gospel. 
Tell them I love them.
What a privilege!  I not only rediscovered joy – I was downright happy!  This gave meaning to Ricky's death.  His friends were sitting there, wishing for some kind of meaning – any kind of sense in the madness and chaos of losing their friend.  They were facing the reality that if it could happen to Ricky, so young, strong, bright and alive – well it could happen to anyone! 
And their attention was focused toward the pulpit, God's sacred desk.  It was the grace of God that spoke to my heart telling me to tell them; it was the grace of God that covered that building with joy that day in the face of tragedy.
Awesome responsibility...Incredible joy!

For You Today

Have you ever felt joy in the midst of a terrible loss?  In this same letter to the church, Paul called it the peace that passes understanding; you can’t possibly explain it, but you sure know it’s there!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Meghana Kulkarni from Pune, India (Happiness), via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 27, 2016

Awake in the Pigpen

Friday, May 27, 2016
Jesus told them this story:  “A man had two sons.  The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’  So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.  “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.  About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve.  He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs.  The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him.  But no one gave him anything.  “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!  I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.  Please take me on as a hired servant.”’    Luke 15:11b-19(NLT)
I was about 30 seconds out of seminary in 1983, sitting in the study of our first full time church.  I began to reflect on awakening in the pigpen of my life about 10 years prior, and the journey from pigpen to pastor.  I wrote down this little verse:
I can recall, O Lord, when first You called,
And how I dawdled, debated, and stalled.
          Come, child, You said;
 My way, I said;
So started this weary wanderer away from home.
Lord, I have strayed throughout the years,
And now I can see, through blur and sting of tears
Thy face, Thy loving smile;
Which beckoned all the while,
To welcome this weary wanderer home.
And now, Father, in spite of all I’ve done;
Could it be that there is still some
          Place of service, need for me,
          A life – love’s reality,
To warmly see this weary wanderer home?
I see my need so deep; yet deeper still
Is Your love….I draw from Your endless well.
          And life is giv’n; I need run no more;
          Except when, in serving Thee, 
          You show
This former weary wanderer a brand new home.[2]
Having been raised in a devout Christian home I wandered from the faith through my middle teens and twenties.  Awakening in the mess of a self-made pigpen of selfishness, greed, and the kind of unhappiness that not only makes you miserable, but draws everyone else around you into your downward spiral…well, to say the least, I knew there had to be a better way than mine to navigate the rough waters of life.
I’m a slow learner when it comes to admitting I’ve messed it up and need to change.  In short, I was, and sometimes still am, a prodigal son.
And aren’t we all?
And doesn’t the wandering always lead to the pigpen?

For You Today

Like a patient, loving father to the prodigal, Father God has a ring, sandals and royal robe waiting for you at the party.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Sebastien Dusart, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] “Wandering” ©Russell Brownworth, April 1983

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Thursday, May 26, 2016
Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them.  Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.  But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.  Matthew 18:2-6(NLT)
Picket Fences was a popular TV show.  One year its Christmas show had a young girl in a coma due to an auto accident.  The girl was pregnant, but her doctor, who is also the female lead in the show, said it was impossible because she was a virgin.  The doctor’s husband is the male lead, and the town’s sheriff. 
The possibility of a new virgin birth of course turned the whole show towards Jesus; was he really the Son of God? 
In discussing this whole scenario with his little son, the sheriff wanted to affirm that Santa Claus was real, so as to keep the little boy’s hope alive, but yet keep in perspective the reality that a virgin birth was a medical impossibility.  So he gave his son certain “facts” about the all this in a father-son sit-down.
At the end of their conversation, the little boy recapped for his sheriff Dad:  Let me see if I have this right – Santa Claus is coming, but God isn’t!  With that the boy left the room to his mother and father, and the sheriff and the doctor had their own conversation about whether God was coming again.
As the tag line of the show, the sheriff looked off in the distance and said:  You know, it’s a lot safer having God off in the distance than to have him right up close.
Well, isn’t that the rub?

For You Today

Before you know it, that question will invade your day – is it in the category of impossible for God to be right up close?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Posseidon, via Wikimedia Commons and Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ready to Serve

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.   Galatians 6:9(NLT)
My bride and I were privileged to attend the 1983 Billy Graham crusade as attendees of the Pastor’s School Dr. Graham offers.  It was an inspiring time for a young pastor and it created an enthusiasm for evangelism that I still sense today.
One of the highlights was listening to Cliff Barrows, who has been the song leader for the Billy Graham crusades since the beginning of his ministry.  In speaking of how they prepare for a crusade I wrote down what he said about the kind of “ready” that he and Mr. Graham will not compromise:
Unless we go with the enthusiasm as if it were the first crusade and the urgency as if it were the last, we might as well not go at all.[2]
I believe enthusiasm for the kingdom of God, and the sense that there is nothing else more urgent may be the two outstanding characteristics that you see in the apostle Paul.  No one, perhaps, in the entire canon of Scripture endured more hardship, opposition and obstacles than Paul.  Yet he persevered with an urgency to help build Christ’s kingdom, as well as undimmed enthusiasm, two traits which are the best example any worker in the kingdom could emulate.
I have observed people throughout my lifetime, particularly in light of these two characteristics.  Some applied them to selfish pursuits, looking to gain a foothold on grabbing the brass ring.  Some were altruistic, working diligently to serve others.  Most all of them were successful.
So the principle Cliff Barrows laid out about preparing and going about your mission in life is true.  Rephrased for today it would be go large, or go home.  But it all comes down to whose kingdom you have decided you will invest your life, yours or His.

For You Today

Got your enthusiasm plugged in?  There’s a kingdom to serve, and it’s urgent!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Escapedtowisconsin (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Cliff Barrows, Orlando, April 15, 1983

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hearing Others Speak

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.  Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.  Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.  And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.  At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.  They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages!     Acts 2:1-8(NLT)
Having been raised in the Northeast I spoke a different language than the new neighbors I encountered when we moved to rural Florida in 1977.  My ears were accustomed to youse guys, what-evah, and eating lunch for the noonday meal.  It took me forever to get accustomed to y’all, and being called darlin by someone other than my mother or my wife. 
When a dear church member gave us some vegetables from her garden she apologized for the small amount; the garden wasn’t makin’ good yet, but there was enough to make a mess.  My bride waited until we were on the way home and wondered aloud…why would Jean want us to make a mess with this squash?  Jean had been speaking Southern; we were hearing in Northern.
It was the exact opposite on the Day of Pentecost.  Peter spoke in his own language and a whole crowd of people (representing many language groups) heard perfectly – in their own language.  It was a miracle!
I recently watched a video describing how Waverly Labs has developed an earbud that allows for real time language translation.  You wear the earbud when someone is speaking another language, and you hear it translated.  It was invented by a guy who speaks English, but met and fell in love with a French-speaking girl.  
Love drives a lot, eh?
And that was the point of Pentecost.  The Gospel – the birth of Jesus, his sinless life, sacrificial death, victorious resurrection and glorious promise that He will return to usher-in His utter reign among God’s people, was a love story that needed to be told to everyone.  God was not about to let language get in the way.
My first thought about that language translation earbud was WOW!  On deeper reflection I began to imagine the implications for sharing the Gospel with others.  Missionaries going to new places where multiple dialects are spoken, international port city ministries where different language groups pass in and out daily; the list is endless.
Another thought I had was wistfully reminiscent; I wish they’d had this forty years ago when we moved to the South…I could’ve used a translator then!

For You Today

As a matter of course, guarding your heart is a good thing.  Part of that is checking up on your attitude.  That means asking yourself a question or two at the right time (NOW). 
Here’s a good one:  Do you ever let little differences between you and someone you don’t understand get in the way of the Gospel?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Spicer, William Ambrose, 1866- , via Wikimedia Commons