Friday, May 16, 2008

The "Garbage" God Provides

I do not consider myself stingy, but I am quite frugal. I like to find a deal, even if it means making someone else’s trash my treasure. When I was farming I would often go to farm sales and buy equipment that no one else wanted because it needed a new bearing or fresh paint. I figured I could spend a little sweat equity on it and have it work just as good as new.

We were able to do the same thing with our car last summer. We found a damaged vehicle that had been recovered from the insurance company. It was less than five years old and had less than 60,000 miles, but it had a damaged radiator, mounting bracket and bumper. Well, we bought it along with $200 worth of parts from a salvage yard, and after a days worth of labor, we now have a nearly new car.

After saying all that, I could not help but admire all the folks who picked up stuff from the curb during garbage pick up days. Some of the folks may not have had the means to get furniture any other way, but I am guessing that most were simply enterprising entrepreneurs.

I must admit I did the same. I was actually hoping to simply find a small piece of left over sheet rock for a small home improvement project. It only needed to be 2 by 3 feet. I got the idea when we saw some pieces by the curb that were too small for our use, so we began to drive around town looking through our window at other people's garbage hoping to see a piece of sheet rock. Well we did not find it, but we did find a fine grill instead. We talked with the nice gentleman who had just set it out, and he said that it still worked but he had received a new on as a gift and we could have his old one if we liked. Of course we liked. I had been smelling the aroma of meat cooking from grills all over town this spring and was excited about the prospect of adding to that odor.

It is really neat to see how God provides. As I look around our house I am reminded of the recliner we were given by our old neighbors after they got a new one, the free bookshelf we picked up, the sewing machine my wife was given by some elderly friends who had just sold their home, the dresser her grandfather made her, the file cabinet I got for free from a friend and so many other blessings too numerous to mention.

The apostle Paul understood what it meant to be content with what he had. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Philippians 4:11. Once we learn to be content with the things we have, it is amazing how much God blesses us with. Philippians 4:19 says, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Notice it says needs not wants. I do not need a blue 1965 Chevy Impala Super Sport hardtop with a 327 and Keystone Classic rally rims (my dream car), so I do not have that as my expectation. Instead, God has allowed me to have a Ford Taurus, a very reliable and practical car. “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” I Timothy 6:8.

To conclude our little story, I was working in my office on garbage pick up day, and could see our own pile of junk by the curb, when not ten minutes before the garbage truck came, a woman stopped to pick up our tattered old recliner. I am thankful that God was able to use some of our junk to provide for someone else.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

No Way to Hide it From Mom

Carpentry has been a hobby of mine for many years. It became such a hobby that I actually made a living with it for a couple of years. Now any good wood butcher knows that if you cut enough boards, you will make mistakes from time to time. If I could just invent an effective board stretcher, I’m sure I’d have a million dollar idea. Unfortunately, for the story I have today, I board stretcher would not even have helped.

I was a teenager and had not yet begun to master my carpentry skills. I did however know how to cut a board with a circular saw. I was trying to make some improvements in the kitchen and determined that a board had to be cut. Now the smart thing would have been to take to board outside in order to minimize dust in the house, but teenage boys are usually not all that concerned about dust. By the end of the day, I had determined that the dust was the least of my problems.

Now when working in the limited confines of your mother’s kitchen, there is not a lot of room for a saw horse; besides, why use a saw horse when the kitchen table is right there? For those of you who see the writing on the wall, you may have already let out a gasp of “oh no!” Now most saw horses are made of wood, and most saw horses have several cuts across the top of them where the saw naturally passes as they are used to support the board that is being cut. That is fine for a saw horse, but not for a kitchen table. Fortunately I did not pass clear across the table, but only cut about an inch into the side before I noticed what had happened.
Please realize that it was a very small cut. As I said, only about an inch long and about half that deep, but trust me, there is no way to hide something like that from your mother. It would have been foolish to just pretend that it did not happen. My careless negligence had caused a blemish in her beautiful table.

I admitted to Mom what I had done. Although she was upset, she eventually forgave me. Her forgiveness was so sincere that when I recently asked her about it, she had forgotten that it even happened.

Do we realize that trying to hide our sins from God is like trying to hide the cut in the kitchen table? We may say that it is a small sin, just as I argue that it was only a small cut, yet even a sin that is small in our eyes mars the holiness that God expects. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10.

Do we grasp how serious that is? Now when I cut the table, I disappointed my Mom. I marred a nice piece of furniture at a time when we did not have much to spare, but in the big scope of things, it was not as serious as one little sin against God. “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” James 1:15

The first half of Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. In other words, the consequence of sin is ultimately death that leads to eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. If the verse ended there, our situation would be quite hopeless. It would be as hopeless as my being able to make the cut in Mom’s table disappear, but the whole verse says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, because Jesus paid the price for our sins if we put our complete trust in Him and Him alone, we are accepting His free gift and we will be given eternal life instead of an eternity in the lake of fire.

Just as I had to ask Mom to forgive me for cutting her table, so we must ask Christ to forgive us for our sins. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:2 states, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Lesson From Menards

As a pastor, I expect my congregation to practice what I preach, but that expectation must first be applied to myself. As a child, I often heard my father say, “do as I say, not as I do!” I did not dare argue with him, but realized his advice could be classified as hypocrisy. Upon reflecting on God’s word, we quickly find out how hard it is to consistently apply it and how much we need God’s help in living the way we aught to.

For example, a few years ago, I had been to a Bible conference. I found myself whole heartedly agreeing with the preachers challenge to care about the folks around us and to care enough to witness to them. I left that conference with a renewed vigor to reach out with love to those around me.

On the way home, I passed through a town with a Menards store. I just had to stop. As a do-it-yourselfer, and a tool nut, Menards is one of my favorite stores. Now understand that I lived about an hour and half from Menards at that time, so this was a special treat. I was excited about walking down the isles dreaming about my next big project while listening to “save big money” over the intercom.

My excitement was tempered as I pulled into the parking lot and could hardly find a parking space. I began to think, “why did all these people have to come here today; don’t they live close enough that they could have come another day instead.” Foolish of me, I know, but our sinful minds often become cynical. My bitter attitude did not improve as I entered the store. The building was as packed as the parking lot. Every isle I attempted to go down was blocked, often by people with shopping carts who did not seem to have any desire to make room for others to meet them. I found myself muttering under my breath, “why all these people.” I couldn’t wait to get out of the store and away from all those people.

Just as my contemptuous thoughts were getting the best of me, I rounded an isle and a calm pleasant lady took the time to smile. I realized that I had not been smiling. In fact, I probably looked quite mean and angry. Then I remembered the message I had heard just hours before about caring for those around us. I came under conviction and prayed to my Heavenly Father asking Him to forgive me for such sinfulness and hypocrisy. I then began to smile. As I smiled, I noticed how many people made extra room in the isles and smiled back. I was able to see them as people and not as inconveniences .

Please understand, I am not normally as hard to get along with as I was that day at Menards, but this illustration just goes to show us how easy it is to fall into sin, even after being reminded how we are to act. It also should remind us of the truth of Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” It reminds me that I am not, nor can I ever be righteous enough to get to Heaven. That is why I must depend on Christ’s righteousness not my own. “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Romans 3:26. The next verses makes it clear that I cannot boast in my goodness to get to Heaven. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:27-28. This shows me that I can never be good enough to live up to God’s standard, but Christ who was totally sinless, was good enough and He paid the price for me.

Now should the fact that Christ paid the debt that I could not pay give me an excuse to be bitter and sinful? God forbid. NO! It should NOT give me and excuse! The apostle Paul deals with this very issue a few chapters farther on in Romans where he says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Romans 6:1-2.

God’s grace never gives us an excuse to sin. If a man uses the grace of God to justify disobedience to God, then he does not even know God. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21. You see our obedience is not our means of salvation, but the evidence that Christ has saved us. Because I know I could never be good enough to reach God’s ultimate standard, I try to do right because He saved me, not in order to be saved. Now not everyone is saved, not even those who are doing a lot of good things, only those who have put their complete trust in Christ.

Here is what it amounts to. If I could depend on my goodness to get to heaven, then if I made it, I could brag about how good I was. But when I recognize that I will never be good enough, then I realize that Christ did it all, and He is the ONLY ONE who is good enough. Therefore, Christ is exalted rather than I.

“ Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6

Pastor Jerry D. Miller First Baptist Church, Bancroft, IA 885-2702

Spring Planting Can Strain the Best Marriages

As a child growing up on the farm, I could not help but notice that Mom and Dad seemed to argue more around both spring planting and fall harvest time. My father lamented that in his conversations with other farmers, he found that this was not an isolated problem. I doubt that much has changed in the few decades since my childhood. The added stresses try even the best patience.

Let is take some time to look at some natural causes that may trigger tensions within the marriage relationship of the farmer. Now let me confess, I have never been a husband and a farmer at the same time, yet I have been both. I did not get married until after I had left the farm for the ministry, but after having a wife and noticing her desires, I can better understand what may be happening in many farm families.

First, most wives really desire to spend “quality time” with their husbands. Now for most men, “quality time” with their wife is any time they are within a mile of each other. In other words, if your pickup is parked at the end of the field while you’re planting, and you can see your wife drop off that extra bag of seed for you, and she can see your tractor, you feel like you spent some quality time together. Now for the wife, “quality time” actually involves talking, and not about farming. The only problem is that the radio and/or cell phone don’t count. No, for her a mile is not close enough. Not only does she want to be in the same room, but within a few feet of you.

This may sound humorous until you figure out how this actually plays out in the farmer’s relationship. I got a glimpse of this scenario after my father passed away. I was still single at the time, was farming the family farm and living in the same house with my widowed mother. I came in from the field at about one o’clock in the morning. I was very tired, but too wound up from all the days activities to go straight to bed. So I sat at the kitchen table in the middle of the night reading the newspaper for a few minutes so I could relax enough to go to bed. Evidently, my mother was not sleeping either, because when she heard me in the kitchen she came out and began to talk. Please understand, I love my mother dearly, and I like to talk to her, but not in the middle of the night after a hard days work when I am very tired. Having said that, I must speak in defense of my mother. She was recently widowed, had been cooped up in the house all day, and was feeling quite lonely.

You see, this helps us understand what is happening to many farm couples. The wife is desiring to spend quality time with the husband she has hardly seen for the past two weeks because he has been putting in those 18 hour days. She only gets to see him for these measly 6 hours out of the day, and all he wants to do is take a shower and sleep. And then he has the nerve to read the paper or watch TV instead of spending time talking to his beloved.

From the husbands perspective, he has been working hard all day. He only has a limited amount of time to sleep or relax until he has to do it again, and his wife expects him to give up his much needed sleep just to talk to her. Add to the tension the fact that he has been in a noisy tractor all day, and just wants some peace and quiet.

I think we can quickly see how easily this could turn into a recipe for disaster. So what is the solution? Ephesians 4:2 says, “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” What it really amounts to is loving our spouse enough to be humble and patient with them through the planting and harvest season. That means that he husband must understand that his wife needs that quality time, and the wife must understand that her husband needs his space and some time to rest.

Some practical suggestions. Husbands, when it rains, take some time out of the day just to talk to your wife. Let her know that this is her special time because you know that once the fields dry up, she will not see you very much again. Furthermore, try to eat at least one meal a day with her, even if it is on the tailgate of the pickup at the end of the field.

Wives, give him some space after those stressful days. After I quit farming I volunteered as a county sheriff’s chaplain. Police officers actually have one of the highest divorce rates of any profession. One of the reasons is due to the job stress. Once an officer puts on the badge and the gun, he is on high alert all day long. When he gets home and takes off the uniform, he is finally able to relax. Most men need about a half an hour just to wind down. The problem is, just like the farmer who has been gone all day, their wives as well are desiring the quality time. I have advised officers to share this problem with their wives and ask them to just give them at least 20 minutes after they get home before she starts to talk to him about her day. This will be hard for many wives, but the benefits of having a more calm and attentive ear after this time to unwind, can be quite rewarding. Farm wives should apply this as well.

The busy farming season is not easy for couples, but the rewards of considering each other will not only make the planting and harvest season go smoother, but will provide opportunities for your marriage to grow and prosper as well.

Pastor Jerry D. Miller is pastor of 1st Baptist Church of Bancroft, IA.
He can be reached at 885-2702