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Archive for July, 2021

For the second time in his life, twenty-four year old Johnny Lee Clary considered suicide. The first time he’d been just fourteen, when his parents split up and his mother’s boyfriend started beating him. Now Clary had reached another personal crisis.

For ten years he’d belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, members providing the family he’d lost.  Clary worked hard to move up through the ranks, thinking achievement would produce fulfillment. But his rise in the Klan came at a cost. His wife divorced him, taking their young son with her.

Six months after attaining the position of grand wizard, Clary realized he felt just as empty and unsatisfied as before.

Now he sat on the edge of his bed, contemplating suicide again, when a sunbeam lit up a dusty Bible on a shelf, and he remembered the hours spent at a Baptist church when he was a boy. Those days were the happiest of his life.

He took down the Bible and it fell open to Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal Son.  Clary saw himself as the young man returning to his father.  He explained later, “I realized that no matter what I’d done, the Lord had never left me or forsaken me.”

And so thoughts of suicide turned into a whispered prayer.  Clary asked Jesus for forgiveness and rededicated his life to him.

That was 1989.  He left the KKK and spent two years immersed in scripture and in the teaching of respected Christian leaders.  In 1991 Clary felt God wanted him to do two things:  preach about Jesus and call Wade Watts.

Wade Watts, a Black pastor and civil rights leader, had not been far from Clary’s thoughts since meeting him in 1979, when they’d participated in a radio debate on racism.

When Watts offered Clary his hand, Johnny took it without thinking but then quickly withdrew, remembering a Klan teaching:  “Physical touch of a non-white is pollution.”

The black pastor took no offense. Laughing, he said, “Don’t worry.  My black won’t come off!”

During the debate, Clary hurled every hate-filled insult he could think of. But Watts won with his strong logic and good-natured humor.

As Clary left the radio station, Watts stopped him, holding his adopted, biracial daughter in his arms. “You say you hate all black people.  How can you hate this little baby?”

Clary didn’t answer as he stomped toward the parking lot. Watts called out, “God bless you, Johnny!  I’m gonna love you and pray for you whether you like it or not!”

Fueled by Watt’s intolerable good nature and the embarrassment of losing the debate, Clary began harassing the black pastor.  He and other Klansmen hurled garbage into Watt’s yard and plagued him with death threats.  Watts failed to respond.

Another night the Klansmen dressed in their white robes and hoods, lit torches in the pastor’s yard, and dared him to come out and face them.  Watts did, speaking calmly from his porch.  “Boys, Halloween is still four months away, so I don’t have any treats for you.  But come back in October!”  Then he went back in the house, leaving Johnny and company stunned into silence.

When they lit a cross in his yard, Watts asked if the Klansmen would like some hot dogs and marshmallows for their barbeque.

Finally Clary and other KKK members set fire to Watt’s church.  Clary called the pastor a short while later.  “You better be afraid,” he snarled in a disguised voice.  “We are coming to get you, and–”

Watts interrupted the threat.  “Hello, Johnny.  A man like you takes the time to call me, I am so honored.  Let me do something for you.”  And he prayed for God to forgive Johnny for setting fire to a house of the Lord.

Harassment of the black preacher continued for some time but Watts always responded with love, composure, and often humor.

One evening in 1991 after Johnny had turned back to Jesus, he called Reverend Watts.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” he began, “but my name is Johnny Lee Clary.”

“Remember you!” responded Watts.  “Son, I’ve been praying for you for years.”

The black pastor invited Clary to preach at his rebuilt church.   At the end of the sermon a teenage girl came down the aisle, crying, and embraced him.

Then he heard someone else crying—Wade Watts. “Johnny, remember that baby I showed you when we debated on the radio? And I asked how you could hate such a child?  This is that little girl!”

And so began a deep friendship between a former Klansman and a black preacher.

Watts often said, “If you want to make beautiful music, you got to use the black and white keys together.”

He and Clary enjoyed making beautiful music for seven years, often preaching and holding rallies jointly until Watts passed away in 1998. Clary continued preaching about Jesus and teaching against racism until his death in 2014.

Martin Luther King. Jr. wrote:

Through forgiveness, humor, and prayer for his enemy, that’s exactly what Wade Watts accomplished.  

Sources:

https://alobar.livejournal.com/3348812.html

https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/not-a-chance-encounter-but-a-divine-appointment-with-truth/

https://www.godyears.net/2017/08/the-redemption-of-ku-klux-klan-leader.html

https://thislandpress/2013/08/29

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.photstockeditor.com; http://www.pxhere.com;www.wikimedia.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.flickr.com.

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A few weeks before the big trip

Years ago when our oldest son Eric had just turned three and our daughter Heather was four months old, we planned a long car trip from Columbus, Ohio to our home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

I had flown north with the children ahead of time to visit family in the Chicago suburbs. Meanwhile, a week or so later, my husband Steve drove to Columbus, and the kids and I flew in from the Windy City to meet at his parents. Steve intended to drive home straight through again, so I tried to explain to Eric what was to come.

“It’s going to take us a long time to get home—much longer than our trip on the jet.  We’ll ride in the car all morning, and then we’ll stop for lunch.  After we eat we’ll get back in the car and ride all afternoon.  Then we’ll stop again for dinner.  After we eat, we’ll get back in the car and keep riding until after the sky is dark.  You’ll probably fall asleep.  And a long time after it’s dark we’ll finally be home.”

You can guess where this is going.  We’d been on the road perhaps twenty minutes and were just entering the southern outskirts of Columbus when Eric chirped, “Are we there yet?” 

Obviously no amount of explanation could prepare him for such a long journey.

And we smile at a toddler’s lack of understanding and impatience. Yet I have to admit, I’m just a toddler in God’s family. On the occasions when the time between Point A and Point B has been protracted beyond understanding, my patience has often worn thin.

What’s a child of God to do?

First, our Heavenly Father would have us remember:

  • He may be silent for a time but he is never still; he’s always working on our behalf.
  • Even as we’re waiting on God we’re waiting with God, whose mere presence can bring peace, joy, and strength[1]–when we avail ourselves.  
  • There’s always purpose in wait-time, including the opportunity for our prayer lives to be intensified.  We also tend to cling more firmly to God’s promises during a season of waiting, and find our character refined.
  • Even delays are part of his goodness as God accomplishes his plan—a plan that may very well include others, not just ourselves.
  • “If God waits longer than you would wish, it is only to make the blessing doubly precious”—Andrew Murray.

Such affirmations provide expectation and hope for me; I pray they provide the same for you.

Second, our Heavenly Father would have us purposefully occupied as we wait.

  • Delight in him.  Contemplate his character traits and his glorious activity in the past. Grow in awareness of his presence.[2]
  • “Harvest the holy in the hollow desert times.”[3] We can use a season of waiting for growing our character, developing such traits as perseverance and spiritual strength, the ability to live above our circumstances, and more.
  • Trust God’s timing. He is never too late, and he never makes mistakes.  What happens while we’re waiting may be more important than what we’re waiting for.    
  • We can live in a receptive mode, enjoying the good he’s providing today while waiting for his perfect plan to unfold for tomorrow.[4]

With my mind and spirit renewed in these ways, I’ll be able to sit back with more contentment, less impatience, and enjoy the ride through life—even as I wait for God’s plan to unfold.  How much more pleasant than repeating, “Are we there yet?”

No doubt he’ll be delighted too, as I demonstrate my faith.

What keeps you purposefully occupied as you wait for God’s timing? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Notes:     


[1] Isaiah 26:3, Psalm 16:11, Philippians 4:13

[2] To grow in awareness of God’s presence we contemplate his Word, the Bible.  We turn our thoughts to him, conversing with him, offering praise, gratitude, and worship—all day long.

[3] Jean Wise blogs at www.healthyspirituality.com , but this particular quote comes from one of her thought-provoking books, Christmas Crossroads, p. 41.

[4] Lamentations 3:25

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.heartlight.org.

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One of my favorite passages of scripture wraps up chapter eleven of Romans.  The last four verses remind me (with authoritative yet beautiful language) that my wise and powerful God is in control of all things. 

Paul concludes with this statement of praise:

The following affirmations provide an opportunity to offer God our Father, Savior, and Holy Spirit the praise he deserves. You may wish to pause briefly after each one for a moment of meditation.

With our incredible triune God, we find:

Every need addressed

Every blessing bestowed

Every promise fulfilled

Every prayer answered

Every sin forgiven

Every shame erased

Every step ordered

Every decision guided

Every circumstance controlled

Every distress redeemed

Every worry calmed

Every fear assuaged

Every pain comforted

Every delight enhanced

Every God-given task empowered

Every necessary truth revealed

Every enemy vanquished

Every injustice made right

Every purpose realized

Every spiritual hunger satisfied

Every moment inhabited by his presence

Every weakness overcome by his strength

Every trouble defeated by His power

Every judgment executed by His wisdom

No doubt the list could continue.

To meditate on God’s glorious realities one after the other increases the wonder for me.  Do you feel it too?

We’re wise to review now and then all that God lavishly provides.

No doubt we’ll find our spirits lifted and our faith increased.

And then let’s not keep the delicious wonder to ourselves but tell others about his marvelous deeds. 

With whom will you share today about the glorious realities of God?


Scripture references:

Section #1—Philippians 4:19; Psalm 84:11-12; Psalm 145:13b; John 15:7 (Every prayer is answered with yes, no, or not yet.)

Section #2—1 John 1:9; Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 37:23; Psalm 23:3b

Section #3—Psalm 103:19; Psalm 25:22; Philippians 4:6-7; John 14:27

Section #4—2 Peter 1:3; John 16:13; Psalm 147:3; John 10:10

Section #5—Matthew 5:6; Romans 8:31; Colossians 3:25; Job 42:1;

Section #6—Isaiah 41:10; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Ephesians 3:20-21; Deuteronomy 32:4

Photo credits: http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.bibleverseimages.com; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net.

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Well-known preacher, C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), delivered at least twelve sermons on the same three verses of scripture, but attested that a minister could never preach too often on the passage. 

“In its depths are pearls for which we hope to dive,” he said [1].

Another anonymous enthusiast for these verses called them “the greatest invitation that was ever issued.”

What scripture were they referring to?  Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 11:28-30.

Will you go diving with me for the pearls of this passage?  What new treasure might God present to us, even in such familiar verses as these? 

Each key word and phrase offers insight into the glorious ways Jesus wants to bless us:

Come 

To come to Christ is simply to put our trust in him. As our Savior who died for us, he is more than worthy of our trust. As the all-powerful King of kings over everything in the universe, he is more than qualified to warrant our trust.

All who are weary and burdened 

A 2017 Gallup Poll revealed eight out of ten Americans feel stress sometimes or frequently every day [2].  But Ann Voskamp, in her book, One Thousand Gifts, suggests that “to choose stress is an act of disbelief”[3]. I see her point.

On the other hand, choosing to trust in Christ—with praise and gratitude for all he is and all he does—results in peace and joy.

Rest 

Our souls find rest when we affirm the truths we know about our Lord, including his constant presence to strengthen, help, and guide.  “The very act of confidence is repose,” wrote theologian, Alexander Maclaren.

Take my yoke upon you 

Like the young ox who is teamed with a trained animal in the wooden harness holding them together, Jesus invites us to companion with him and follow his ways, his example.

Learn from me 

He’s anxious for us to enjoy the abundant life he offers, so Christ suggests we learn how he handled life—in close companionship with his Father.  And for his part, our Father delights in manifesting his life-enhancing attributes in our lives.[4]

I am humble and gentle 

You’ve probably noticed our Savior is not an unreasonable and stern taskmaster, wielding his omnipotent power to bully us into submission.  Time and again in the Bible record of his life we see evidence of Jesus’ being kind and understanding, gracious and tenderhearted.  He is the same toward us because:

My burden is easy and light 

Easy = well-fitting.  Just as the farmers of old would shape the wooden yokes to uniquely fit their oxen, the ways of Christ fit us perfectly.  After all, he designed us; he knows what’s best for us.  And his yoke is lined with love.[5]

Perhaps now you see why someone would call these verses the greatest invitation ever issued. Jesus offers:

  • Salvation from the consequences of our sin
  • Relief from our burden of cares
  • Rest in his all-sufficiency
  • Instruction in the ways of abundant living, side by side with the gracious King of the universe

No wonder Spurgeon called such blessings pearls—lustrous pearls that can transform our reality, when we simply come to Jesus.

Which pearl(s) particularly caught your attention today?  Share with us in the comment section below!


[1] www.preceptaustin.org

[2] https://news.gallup.com/poll/224336/eight-americans-afflicted-stress.aspx

[3] p. 148.

[4] Jeremiah 9:24

[5] Matthew Henry

Photo credits: http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.wikimedia.org.

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In the cool of morning two weeks ago, I sat on our deck before the sun had cleared the distant trees–much less those close by.   Below, the creek bed of lush foliage loomed dark and still, but above me birds chattered happily while one lone cardinal out-sang them all.  Thankfully the cicadas hadn’t started their ruckus yet.

a bit later in the morning

From several blocks away, commuter traffic already rumbled, and high in the sky the occasional jet roared northward.  Yet the serenity of my immediate surroundings superseded the extraneous noise.

And I sensed God saying to me:

Breathe in the stillness, in spite of traffic din and aircraft drone. 

I’m referring to the serenity you feel in your spirit because of what you see around you:  quiet trees unmoved by breeze, the tranquil creek bed, and the peaceful yard to the east where golden light silently presses against deep shadow—portraits of stillness in spite of the noise.

Be mindful that, as the sun faithfully turns darkness into day, my face shines faithfully upon you with the golden light of peace (1).  I push back the shadows of worry and fear while the noise in the world clamors around you—political factions arguing against one another, loud voices contending for self-serving agendas, terrorists, criminals, and thugs wreaking havoc, and more (Philippians 4:6-7).

 

Learn from the birds and woodland creatures who find refuge in the thick foliage of bush and tree. You too can find refuge—in me.  In fact, peace grows in direct proportion to time spent with me (2).

Picture yourself surrounded by my protective, calming presence and affirm:

  • I will never stop caring for you or supplying your every need (3)
  • I will never leave you to struggle alone (4)
  • I will never fail you, no matter how the future unfolds (5)

Focus the eyes of your spirit on such promises. Feel their truths calm your heart (6).

Even as the noise of this world grows louder because the end of time draws near, breathe in such peace-generating realities often.  Let them usher you into my Presence, surround you with comfort, and encourage your soul (7).

I long for you to live within the tranquility and protection of my Presence.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    

Thank you, Father, for even wanting to be my shelter. Thank you for your loving care expressed in countless ways over the decades.

I know you are trustworthy. I praise you for your unfailing love that will see me through whatever the future holds. In addition, you will provide quiet refuge within my spirit where I can rest in you.

Help me keep focused on you, to live in the shelter of your love no matter the noise of the world.

(1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 32:10;

Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 119:114)

Notes:

  1. Numbers 6:24-26
  2. Isaiah 26:3
  3. Philippians 4:19
  4. Isaiah 41:10
  5. Hebrews 13:5c
  6. Psalm 119:50b
  7. Psalm 119:165

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg (2), http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; www. heartlight.org.

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