joy

The Question (A short story)

Since it has been quite some time since my last article, I feel as though I should explain my lack of content.  As my personal ministry has continued to increase, I have had to take time from other things, this being one of them.  I love writing and conveying those things which I have been give, and those things which I have been taught.  This article will be different than many of the others.  Several years ago I wrote several short stories and since my time to write has become limited I want to share with you one of those stories.  I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, feel free to share it.  Here is the story:

THE QUESTION
In this world one of the most difficult things to endure is heartache.  As children, and I speak from experience, we have our hearts broken by our parents and usually over something as insignificant as a toy.  Children want and desire things, items, or to go places and most times given the answer “no”.  Of course, looking back, it seems trivial.  From the child’s perspective, though, it is heart wrenching to want something so badly and then be denied.  As teenagers and young adults our hearts are usually broken due to failed relationships.  You know, boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy and girl break up, and so on.  Being on the wrong side of maturity, this scenario does seem to be very catastrophic.  Yet, with age, patience, and maturity these things help us become who we are.  Hindsight being 20/20, we are able to look back and see these things being far less tragic than originally perceived.
When we become adults, the heart aches we go through are quite different.  The loss of parents, children, and other family members usually generate the greatest aching within our hearts.  Seeing someone suffer through sickness, divorce, loss of finances, and drug or alcohol abuse also bring an aching heart to people.  All of these things, from the
time we are children until we leave this life, tear at our heart strings.  This, however, is not the kind of heartache my story contains.  In very rare instances, we can experience our hearts breaking, in a way that gives us joy and inspires us.  If you do not believe that can happen, please allow me the opportunity to change your mind.  By trade I am not a writer, but after telling this story several times to family and close friends I have been convinced to put pen to paper (actually, fingers to keyboard), and tell my story.  We all have stories.  Some are better, some are worse, some are long, some are short.  This one is mine.
My name is Jim Duvall.  I am 46 years old and work as an advertising and marketing agent for a sporting goods manufacturer.  In college I played baseball and played semiprofessional baseball after graduating for five glorious seasons.  I was good, just not good enough.  I took a job with one of the teams sponsors and the rest, you could say, is history.
My job allows me to travel and work with children, showcasing the latest and greatest  equipment.  I have always loved children, my wife and I have four of our own.  I have been married for twenty two years (I hope I got that right, if I didn’t, I’m sorry honey!)  We met in college and for our first official date she invited me to church.  She is a great Sunday School teacher and all the kids love her.  Thanks to her, I too, have learned much.  It was her devotion and dedication that led me to the altar of salvation, then to the marriage altar.
My wife’s name is Natalie.  She has taught Sunday School since she was a teenager and in her adult life she runs
a day care center at the church.  I suppose that Nat’s love for kids influenced me enough to want to work with them as well.  I eventually became a youth pastor, and I have enjoyed that far beyond anything I would have imagined.
Now that we have a little background I can get on with my story.  As I said earlier, my job allows me to travel and showcase our newest equipment.  For the most part I work directly with schools.  Colleges and high schools to be more specific.  Working with athletes and being able to impart the knowledge I gained through my own short lived baseball career is rewarding.  After the demonstrations are over I always stick around to answer any questions the kids may have and sometimes it proves to be a good way to witness to them about my personal life and my faith.  That is by far my favorite part.
Last spring, however, presented me with a rare treat. Our company had come up with some new face shields and batting helmets for Little League players, usually ages 10-12. It had been quite some time since I had done a demonstration for children of that age.  Once they hear that you played anything resembling professional baseball or have met a big name player (which had happened several times), they become awestruck.  From that point on, you have their undivided attention.
I was excited.  Not only would I be able to work with the smaller children, I would be working right in my own community!  I knew some of the children that would be there because they were part of our church’s youth group.  Seeing some familiar little faces was going to be a very special treat and that day was fast approaching.
On the day of our presentation I was greeted by many smiling faces.  As I had anticipated, some were familiar but
most were not.  I waved to the children, told them about myself, who I had played for, and the baseball stars I had met.  I continued by introducing the new equipment we had developed and explaining the differences between the old and the new.  Once the official speech was over, the kids got to try the helmets and our other youth equipment out.
While the kids were busying themselves with the new products I spoke with the coach’s, officials, and principal’s.  I assure you, talking sports with kids is much more satisfying than talking business with adults.  After the “grown up” business was taken care of I spoke with the children again and asked for their thoughts on the new equipment and finished up the official part of my job.
With everyone being dismissed and the presentation being over, as I usually do, I waited around and answered any questions they had.  I offered my usual “semi-professional” advice about batting, fielding, and which products “I” liked the best.  Finally, before leaving, I spoke about my other job of being a youth pastor.  Considering our church is in the same area as the school I invited all of them to our next Sunday morning service.  The following Sunday morning I was surprised and very pleased to see some new faces in our youth group.  One of the new faces in the back seemed quite familiar to me, but I was not immediately sure why.  Youth service being over, I searched for the familiar face of the boy who had been sitting in the back.   The boy, instead, had found me.  From behind I heard “Excuse me, Pastor Jim?”  In both of my jobs I have answered a lot of questions. Some of them you expect. Some of them are silly.  Some are embarrassing. Some make you think.  Some are funny. Apparently, some will make your heart break.

I turned to see the boy who was speaking to me.  I recognized him from the Little League demonstration I had done here in the community.  I’m glad he had accepted the invitation to attend our church.  New faces are always a welcome sight and it gave me joy to know that some children do listen to the parts that are not about sports.
As I faced him, I was met with a question.  No, I was met with THE question.  A question, which, in all its simplicity, filled me with an initially deep sadness.  A question which only a child could ask.  The question was this:  “Pastor Jim, when we get to heaven can you have your company make me a special wheelchair so me and my dad can play baseball together?”
I’m not sure if it was the question or the innocence and sincerity with which the question was asked that brought tears to my eyes.  I had not noticed his disability, but will never forget his question.  Here was a child who was not concerned with a disability, not concerned with being in a wheelchair, but only wanted to be in heaven to play baseball with his dad.  That broke my heart.
With tears streaming down my cheeks and a voice that quivered uncontrollably I made several attempts at talking and couldn’t.  I put my hand on his shoulder, knelt down, and prayed silently until I was able to gain a little composure.  It was with sheer and utter joy I explained that a wheelchair would not be allowed in heaven because Jesus would make our bodies glorified.  Bodies that would run and jump and not get tired.  After explaining the goodness of God and all that we have to look forward to, he was crying tears of joy and saying how he couldn’t wait to get there because his dad was already there waiting on him.
It hasn’t been long since the the story now referred to as “The Question Story” took place.  Each time I tell the story I get choked up.  The question has always reminded how innocent a child really is and how we should all be so lucky to find a part of that innocence within ourselves.

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Prayers (A Few Thoughts and Discernments)

1st Thessalonians:5:17: Pray without ceasing.

We are instructed to pray. There should be a point in time where our prayer life begins, and continues without end. Our prayers are our communication with God. Prayer should not become a one-way conversation. We are quick to speak and make our needs known, yet, slow to receive, slow to hear, and quick to dismiss that small, still voice.

Prayer is a wonderful tool (for lack of a better word in this instance). It is an entrance into the presence of God. There are times it is a solemn, introspective experience, when mourning, confessing, or pleading for His helping hand. Other times it is informal, such as giving thanks, giving praise.

Prayer is not just an individual experience. There are times we enter prayer as a group, in agreement. This is sometimes referred to as corporate prayer. Many have gathered together and recited the Lord’s prayer, prayed in agreement at the opening of a church service, or even at the close of a church service.

A question came to mind during prayer and it is a question I must share and ask: What if all your prayers were answered instantly? My immediate reaction was surprise, wonder, awe, and excitement. I know God is able to do all I can ask and more.

Ephesians:3:20: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us

I also know there are times we ask amiss. There are times when our faith waivers, times when we are weak, times when His will must be done, because our requests are contrary to His way. I know He hears the prayers of the righteous. The thought that really came to mind was: “What if all your prayers were answered instantly, all you need to do is ask”?

As this question became clearer, the big picture came into focus. This is where I began to see some shortcomings of my own prayer life. Should all my prayers that evening have been answered, me and my family would have been blessed abundantly, our debts would be gone, our health would have been assured, our church would be blessed and grow in number and would have reached the lost of our community, just to name a few. These are great things and I still pray these things will come to pass.

The problem was not in what I was asking. The problem is, my prayer life would have shown the deficiencies of my prayer life. My neighbors would not have prospered as I did, and we are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. My enemies, or those who are against me would not have received any type of blessing, there would have been no reconciliation between us. The other area churches would not have received as our church would have. Those that I work with would not have been any better off. There would still be nations at war, our state and national leaders would still be untouched, and our brothers and sisters in other nations would still be suffering persecution without relief or any sign of comfort.

As complete as our prayer life may seem at any time, there will always be more that we can do. Our reach must exceed the boundaries of our home, our state, and our nation. We must not be guilty any longer of praying in manner that resembles “bless me and my four and no more”. Through the gift of prayer and the blood of Christ we are able to go boldly before the throne of Almighty God and make our petitions known to Him. We have the ability to ask not only for ourselves, but many others in need, faces you may never see or meet. We must pray for our enemies and our neighbors.

Let me end with this thought: If your prayers were answered instantly, what would your deficiency be? What would everyone else see? Who would be left out? Who would still be in need? I hope to encourage you as I have been encouraged, during a simple prayer where I not only spoke but listened as well. May God bless and keep you, and as always, to Jesus be the glory!

Faith without works

Faith is essential. It is substance. It is belief. It is knowing. It is so much more. It is the end of a journey before you have taken the first step. To define it is complicated, yet, to know it, is easy.

Even the world declares you must have faith. You must believe in something. Believing in nothing is also faith, it is faith that you’re right and religion is wrong. Jesus said there are two paths, the straight and narrow that leads to salvation and the broad way that leads to destruction. Either way, you are walking one of those paths. Religion or nothing. If you believe the bible, and I do, you must also accept that Jesus is the only way to salvation, nullifying all other religions, making the way quite narrow, and the choices are either Christianity or destruction.

Do you have faith? Do you believe? In what do you believe?

Do you think “I believe and that is enough”? If you do, you are not alone, many people do. Have you considered that the devil believes also? If belief defines faith for you, what separates you from the devil? Not only does the devil believe, he has seen and knows beyond a doubt. Is that stepping on your faith? Does this bother you?

James:2:19: Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Faith, much like love, is action. It is not a state of mind, a state of heart, an intent, or emotion. Faith moves mountains. Faith changes things. Faith conquers. Faith gives life. Faith does the impossible. Faith, however, without works, is dead.

James:2:20: But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Faith, and I mean true faith, moves you. It moves you to take steps toward a kingdom you have yet to see. Faith takes you from your comfort and presents you victorious on the battlefield. It speaks to more than who you are. It is the very present action of what you believe, what you know.

This passage of scripture is so often taken out of context and used as a works driven way to salvation. Let me encourage you to see that isn’t true. Let me ask this question: If you truly believe in Jesus, yet have nothing to show for your belief, have you really accepted Him and the Holy Spirit into your life? Have you been baptized? Have you served in a local church? Have you witnessed to someone? Have you taken a step beyond just believing? That step, that is faith. It is action toward that which you have not yet inherited. It is that action which separates a person with true faith from the devil, from sin.

James:2:21: Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
James:2:22: Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
James:2:23: And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
James:2:24: Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
James:2:25: Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
James:2:26: For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

I write this to encourage everyone to keep taking steps. We must continue to be up and about His business. We need to be good stewards of our time in hopes that we are pleasing to Him. His love for me moved Him to the cross. My faith in Him allows me opportunities to please Him, to continue those things He set in order, and to glorify Him. Yes, faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not yet seen. With every word, with every deed I am taking steps that strengthen my faith and hopefully lighting the way for someone else. I do these things to honor God. Will you also take these steps with me? Will you take the encouragement and step out in faith? I do this that maybe someone else will see these things and glorify my King, Jesus, for He is worthy of all praise! You can do the same, will you?