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Weekend Extra

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Supposed to have another big snow event later today. Bummer. But life goes on. I have no control over the weather; only my response to it. In this weekend extra I’d like to write about something familiar.

I’ve been reading Lies Men Believe by Robert Wolgemuth. Lie #3 is “I Can earn God’s favor” spurred my thoughts this morning. If you know your Bible at all, you know there was one group of people Jesus had very little tolerance for. It wasn’t whom many of us would turn away from; it was the religious leaders. Pharisees in particular. Ironic then that Nicodemus (Nic) came to Him to talk. But Jesus minces no words either. “You must be born again.” How’s that for a fine “How do you do?” No beating around the bush. No soft sorry. No mercy. What was required of him was and is required of us all. In spite of status. In spite of “religiosity.” In spite of so-called piety. He slammed home at the Pharisees’ arrogance. Now…I can give Nic the benefit of the doubt that he was different from the others. He sought out Jesus. There was something in him that saw Jesus as someone different. I think it shows by his actions at the cross. But he was also a secret disciple (until that moment). Gotta wonder how he pulled that off-hiding his loyalty for 3 years.

Anyway, Jesus’ words were for him and for us. No man comes sinless and good enough. God is holy; I am not. God is sinless; I am not. Nic needed a rebirth; so do I. My sin nature is no different than his. God is holy; he cannot stand sin; therefore, I’m not good enough to earn his favor. Nic wasn’t. I wasn’t. Neither is anyone else. Theologian? Nope. Pastor? Nope. Lifelong student of the Bible? Nope. Those who believe in complete sanctification? Nope. Nobody. I’ve come to a very staunch conclusion over the years. It is this: my standing before the Father is not determined by how I’m doing, but by what Jesus, the Son, has done.

That settles it. I cannot earn God’s favor. I can only receive His unconditional love. Nic found that out. John 3:16. That verse still stands as a beacon of and to that truth.

“Father, salvation is mine, not by merit, but by your Son’s blood and your unmerited favor. Help me to not forget that and try to impress you or anyone with my religiosity. I simply come to you as a sinner in need of grace.”

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January 18/Weekend

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Randall Arthur in his book 46 Stones inspired this entry. His “stone” was about diversion-of how God will use a diversion to grow our faith. Here are my thoughts:

Many (maybe most) like sameness, i.e. don’t like change. Routine is good. In my book: too much routine = rut. That was the point of his chapter. Diversion is good. Diversion is when growth- sometimes great growth- takes place. I concur.

I was in a rut, a deep one. Backtrack: there have been several times over the years when God has used diversion to wake me up and get my attention. In 1994 it was a 4 day personal fasting retreat when I read Wisdom Hunter for the second time and finally cast off the shackles of legalism. In July/August of ’99 God used Tami’s desire for worship, Maryland Community Church and Fish in the Sand to bring about a spiritual revolution which helped sustain me through the betrayal and loss of a job that was to come. Fast forward to 2016.November 8 to be exact when a hit ‘n driver decided to play bumper cars with me on my bicycle. I lost. But not much changed. Until February 17, 2017 when I hit the pavement. This time the wake up call was dramatic! The diversion was stark. I think it is safe to say that the wisdom, insight and knowledge of God’s grace I received during that time may be greater than ever before and what I have learned since then has been icing on the cake. Although I do not believe God caused that wreck or the car to blatantly hit me, I do believe He could have stopped both. However, He will not act contrary to His nature and He will allow events to take place for his purpose and my ultimate lesson. Some diversions can bring life lessons. I am glad God used a horrific accident to get my attention. I was in a bad rut and it took “drastic” to move me.

“Father, ugly events are never beautiful at the moment. But neither is stagnation and ruts. I was in one and you used a major diversion to wake me from my stupor. Thank you for getting my attention and diverting me from the path I was on to a sweet fellowship with you. I will be forever grateful for your attention to me; the grace you showed and have shown; and the constant presence in my life. And help me not to be lulled back into a state of slumber.”

 

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January 17

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The 17th chapter of Proverbs (which I read this morning) is an interesting chapter. Lots of references to speech.

Verse 1: “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”

Verse 4: “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.”

Verse 9: “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separated close friends.”

Verses 27-28: “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

There are several others as well. I chose the ones which really caught my pen. 🙂 It is verse 9 though that I highlighted in my reading this morning. I’m not alone in this, I know, but how many times have I spread something, that if I had kept quiet, would have died…but didn’t? I don’t think the writer is speaking of justifying someone’s sin; I do believe he was speaking to not passing it along.

I guess the question I need to ask is “Why would I want to?” What kind of sadistic pleasure do I get when/if I pass along what someone else has done? An even more important question is “What good does it do?” I mean, seriously, what good does it do to pass along someone’s dirty laundry?

Answer: N.O.N.E. Nothing good comes out of it. Note to self: Keep. your. mouth. shut!!

“Father, speech is a betrayer. A seemingly upright person can be and is betrayed by his/her speech. Lives are ruined; reputations destroyed; futures derailed all because of wayward speech. Help me to weigh my words; keep my mouth shut. if I have nothing good to say. Help me to be an encourager not a destroyer.”

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January 16

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Yesterday my online friend and fellow blogger, Lisa, wrote about a book she read about introverts. It was a book in praise of introverts, how to understand them, and their unique contributions to life, to the church. etc.

I’m married to an introvert. Being an extreme extrovert it would be easy for me to lose sight or push aside the uniqueness of my wife. But I have told her for many, many years that her contributions to our ministry can in no way be diminished. She has always been behind me and beside me.    Never in front because she would freak! 🙂 That is why what G. Campbell Morgan wrote struck me with such conviction:

You have no right to say that, because a person is not doing your work and is not seen in the public places of the field, that, therefore, he is not doing the work which God would have him (her) do…It is not always the men and women who are out front or in the pulpit who are God’s greatest workers in the church.

I can’t argue with that. If the “success” of the church, if the “running” of the church, relied solely on me, it would be a sad state of affairs for sure!! The church, any organization for that matter, but especially the church, needs people like that. I think Ronald Reagan is credited with saying, “It is amazing how far an organization can go and what it can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.” No argument there.

“Father, there are no big or little people in your economy. No big or little people in the church. As one little boy said, ‘No one act big. No one act small. Everyone act medium.’ Help me to always be aware of your people who are behind the scenes, taking care of the incidentals. Power Point. Sound. Lights. Teaching kids. Nursery. Greeters. All those who are seemingly forgotten. Help me not forget.”

{Quote from In the Shadow of Grace by G. Campbell Morgan}

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January 15

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In my reading through Proverbs today I read this verse: “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” (15:16)

It is easy to get envious. In his book 46 Stones, Randall Arthur talks about a bedroom lifestyle. Not a life of sex but a one-dimensional life-a life characterized by pleasure, ease, freedom, unaccountability, and selfishness-characteristics associated with the bedroom. (p.40)

It is not uncommon for me to talk to people-at the Y, in my office, in a conversation-who want a life of pure selfishness. I see (mostly) guys who seem to spend as much time staring at themselves in the mirrors from different angles to admire as they do lifting weights. But there is also a comparison game going on. We are, or seem to be, never satisfied. The grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But I’ve noticed that “greener life” is just an illusion. I’ve noticed in myself that enough is not enough. I gotta have more. Like the adrenaline junkie, I pursue m-o-r-e. I pursue the next high. If I forget who I am and to WHOM I belong, my life could be one of pure selfishness. Envious of others. Desiring more so I can be “comfortable.” It is then I need to remember Pr.15:16. The grass is not greener. In fact, forbidden grass becomes a field of weeds trapping me/anyone who dares reach and imbibe.

“Father, help me to be content. Help me not to seek the mirage of ease and the bedroom lifestyle which will only disappear. Help me to find my pleasure and contentment in You.”

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January 14

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“Rejected by men, Accepted by God.” Those were the words G. Campbell Morgan’s dad wrote to him after his initial rejection by the Methodist committee to license him to preach. In spite of their rejection, he went on to become one of the greatest preachers known. It was after this disappointment and a painful experience at his first pastorate that Morgan wrote (after moving to a new church 15 miles down the road): “I found people, the fragrance of whose love will be with me to the end of my days.”

I can relate. When I graduated from Bible college, I was going to climb the ladder to success. I was going to be “big” someday, well-known in the “brotherhood” (what they called the collection of churches). Two things: 1) it never happened, and 2) I’m glad. I had issues-mainly arrogance issues as well as others-that took a long while to sort through. But another reason (and this falls under #2): it would have been much harder to break free of the legalism because of “colleague (peer) pressure.”  It was hard enough as it was to make the break without the added pressure of being “known.”

Time now allows me the opportunity to look back over 45+ years of ministry and see God’s hand in everything. The learning curve in Akron and Kirk. The strife in Kirk brought on largely by my own immaturity. The short ministries in Massillon and Fortville- the former showing me the value of God’s Word; the latter the ugliness of legalism. The riff in Danville cause by my own non-conformist attitude doctrinally, my decision to begin stepping away from my “brotherhood” thinking. 13 fairly good years in Terre Haute when I finally broke free from legalism for good and learned to care and learned I wanted to be a shepherd not a CEO. 5 years in Ohio where I saw I wasn’t washed up, but God could still use me. Then here in Spencer. I’m in my 13th years now and I wouldn’t trade my time here for any amount of money or to be anywhere else. I love these people and believe they love me. If this is to be where I end my life as a pastor, I will close my eyes one final time with a smile on my face. I’m a long way from “being known.” I wouldn’t want it any other way!!

“Father, there have been times I have been ‘rejected by men, accepted by God.’ As I look back, I can see your hand in every move. I can even see your hand of both learning and discipline over the years. I pray that my final years will be productive for you. Help me in my pursuit of You to help lead others in that same pursuit. And thank you for your acceptance not rejection. Failings and all. Accepted. I like the sound of the word.”

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Weekend Extra

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It’s snowing to “beat the band” this morning. Our first significant snowfall this year, maybe in two. Meeting together in worship tomorrow is still up in the air, although I believe we will. I was looking forward to preaching this weekend on “My One Thing.” I still may but that largely depends on the snow and the roads. Lots of rural roads in Owen County. So I had a little extra time on my hands and decided to do this weekend extra.

Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” Coming into God’s presence is not something to be taken lightly or flippantly. The holiness of God “demands” that I approach Him with reverence and awe. My hands, my heart, my speech and my very soul are to honor Him.

Another thought. One of the questions I’m often asked is this: is it wrong to have doubts? Or to put it another way: “Is doubt sinful?” I’ve told people it is not wrong to doubt as long as those doubts are honest and lead to seeking answers. Doubts because of culture/home life/friends say so is not honest.

G.C.Morgan once wrote: “Doubts are by no means sinful. The limitations of our finite minds must create problems for us at times. You get a perfect illustration of this in the prophecy of Habakkuk…He declared them to God, which proved his faith and gave God the opportunity to answer Him.”  (p.30)

I tell people if you have doubts take those doubts to God. Don’t pretend. Don’t act as though you don’t have them. He wants to hear from you. Honest doubts/honest questions get honest answers.

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January 11/Weekend

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Several years ago I read a book by Stephen J. Lawson entitled Famine in the Land. It was a call to stop the type of preaching so prevalent, and restore expository preaching to its place in the pulpit. It was a good wake-up call for me to recommit myself to expository preaching. It seems almost “prophetic” that the words of Amos 8:11 and words of G.C.Morgan (written over 100 years ago) have come true. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land-not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”

“This famine of the lack of the Word of God…Not that God ceases to speak, but that man loses his power to hear. Not that God withholds His Word from men, but that men hear it, and never hear it…The church without the Word is a lamp without a light…Therefore the abiding need of the church is a knowledge of the Word of God, and an obedience to the Word of God.” (excerpt from pages 28-29)

This weekend I, and thousands of others, will stand in the pulpit and “preach.” Will I present God’s Word? Will I preach the Truth of God’s Word with man-made additions? Will I gloss over the Truth to tickle ears? Will I present the Truth as a meal to be enjoyed or cram it down their throat? Will I fudge on God’s Word to make it more palatable?

That is my challenge to me. My challenge to you is to go hungry and “demand” to be fed. Plead with God to be fed meat not candy. Insist on a full-course meal.

“Father, make me hungry for your Word. Make the deliverer of your Word respect it, love it, and present it with honesty and clarity.”

Your verse for the weekend: “Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  Ps.20:7

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January 10

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I’ve had several thoughts running through my head this morning due to my reading. Thoughts from G.C.Morgan on a famine in the land (I’ll come back to that). Thoughts on leadership abuse from authoritarian leadership from 46 Stones by Arthur. Thoughts on slogging through reading Leviticus. But two verses really “spoke to my heart” this morning.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps.19:14) It is funny how this verse stood out to me among the powerhouse chapter in Psalms.

And among many verses in Proverbs 10 about integrity and speech was this: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”  (v,19)

Several weeks ago I spoke out of school. While talking to someone about why they were attending elsewhere and didn’t say anything to me (we are friends), she told me what someone said to her husband. He took offense. I jumped on his bandwagon and proceeded to say something about the person who said something. it wasn’t too long after I left her that conviction hit. Long story short I texted her and asked to speak to her that afternoon if she was going to be around. I apologized for saying what I did and then defended the other person by suggesting she and her husband give that person “the benefit of the doubt” that that person noticed her husband’s discomfort and tried to help. Often the other person has no filter, but maybe the heart was in the right place this time.

My words in the first incident were ill-timed and not acceptable; the second much more healing and acceptable. I should have restrained my lips better. The only right thing I did was to apologize and try to smooth things over. But how much better it would have been if I had been more prudent and either kept my mouth shut or defended that person the first time.

“Father, guard my speech. Let it be the speech of the wise. May today be one of restraint, wisdom and being acceptable in your sight.”

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January 9

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One of my desires for 2019 (which has been seen by previous posts on this blog) has been to “lobby” for a richer understanding of God’s Word. I am tired of legalism. I am tired of extrabiblical practices like gold dust falling from heaven; feathers falling from the sky; uncontrollable actions (called Kundalini spirit); a fire tunnel; and even the occultic act of grave-sucking (google it). I am tired of rules and regulations imposed on followers of Christ. At the same time I want to advocate for coming to the Word without a preconceived agenda. I think one of the greatest dangers-one I was often guilty of-is one Mr. Morgan speaks about:

There is no more perilous method than that of coming to the Bible in order to prove something you have already made up your mind to. (p.27)

Authoritarianism has no place in the leadership of the church. No matter your church ecclesiology, a pastor is called a shepherd. Shepherds don’t beat sheep; they feed sheep. A pastor who claims to know it all knows nothing. A pastor/church/denomination/organization who claims to have the corner on the truth is really only a dull, round edge. He is deluded, puffed-up, arrogant, presumptuous and totally lacking what Proverbs 9:8 is speaking about: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”  One verse earlier he says, “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”  Windbags and blowhards, people who think they know-it-all, and people who think it is “Us 4, no more, shut the door” need their ego and puffed-up spirit popped.

“Father, I speak for myself. Please help me not to pretend or to act like a know-it-all. All those wasted years make me shudder. I wish I could go back to all those people and churches I abused with my pompous attitude, but know I can’t. Thanks for your forgiveness and grace.  Help me to be a pastor who continues to learn and continues to grow and continues to love and continues to show grace.”