Choices

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January 22

Friday, January 22nd, 2021

Have you ever wanted something-something better than what you have-but had something less standing in your way? Please let me explain.

Let’s suppose you were raised in a false religion or a cult. Or maybe your family tradition was a stale, musty, traditional church. And dead. But then you were exposed to gospel teaching and for the first time in your life you could feel your spirit coming alive. But-and this is a big but-you hold back because you are concerned about leaving that cult or that false religion or that dead tradition. Why? Betrayal of family? Betrayal of a belief system? Loss of friends and family? Fear of being alone? All the above could be correct or even more. I heard it explained as being like a man with his hands in the stream. He has caught a small fish in one, but a bigger fish is swimming by. To catch the bigger fish he has to let go of the smaller one. (Golem he’s not).

I think that is a pretty accurate description of the scenario I gave above: Give up to get. Jesus had a man approach Him and ask Him about eternal life. When Jesus told him he had to give up all he had to follow, the Bible says he went away sad because he was very wealthy. He had to give up to get. He wasn’t willing to do that and therefore lost everything, at least that which matters in the end.

What is God calling you to maybe give up? Are you will to give up the lesser to gain the greater?  I have been asking myself that same question.

“Father, you know the choice I need to make. Help me to do it.”

January 21

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

Bob Goff in his 365 Day Journey book Live In Grace*Walk in Love wrote these words while writing about life and love as we grow up:

“It was about what we did more than who we were. It was only natural to assume God worked the same way. Do good things and succeed and you receive love and approval from God. Mess up and love is withdrawn…If only we could remind ourselves more often that God never cares about the grades on our report cards. He wants us to make it all about His love, not our performance, and He’s a whole lot more concerned about our character than our accomplishments. He doesn’t find joy in our success; He delights in our attempts.” (#19-P.24)

A little later in that same Journey he wrote a powerful sentence:

He wants us to be captivated with purpose, regardless of whether it looks like worldly success.” (p.24)

Speaking for myself, I’ve often missed this. Caring more about the end result and how I will look, often took away the joy to be found simply knowing I was fulfilling His desire for me. Performance. Accomplishment. Success = All bogus. Finding joy. Contentment. Peace = Purpose.

What about you? “Father, I’m so glad You don’t look at me to see my success but to see me fulfilling Your purpose in me and for me. In that I will find my joy, contentment and peace.”

January 19

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021

I read a really good story the other day. Let me share it. In the Wizard of Oz, a movie I have to admit I am not fond of, Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow arrive back in Oz with the broom from the Wicked Witch of the Wast that the Wizard desires. But he stalls sending her back to Kansas, giving the Tim Man his heart, the Scarecrow his brain, and the Lion his courage. He tells them to come back the next day.

While they plead with the Wizard, Dorothy’s dog, Toto, pulls the curtain and we find a tiny, weasily, little man from Nebraska. The story goes that the author, L. Frank Baum, had serious problems with God, so he wanted to send the message that only we have the power to solve our own problems.

I’m not sure what brought him to that place in life; I can’t even begin to speculate. But I do know he is not alone in his feelings. That’s too bad. This past Sunday I preached from Psalm 139 for the latter part of my sermon.  I am struck by the beauty and power and passion found in that passage. Tearing it down it shows us 3 characteristics of God, what I will call the 3 O’s.

  • God’s Omniscience- Verses 1-6
  • God’s Omnipresence- Verses 7-12
  • God’s Omnipotence- Verses 13-18

In my mind there is not a more concise and complete picture of God in all of Scripture. We can talk about His majesty, His glory, His love, His grace, etc, but right here in one chapter is God complete- Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent. Okay…your challenge is to unpack that by reading the verses and let them soak into your soul. Talk about mind-boggling!! Go ahead. Try it. And let me know maybe next year when you do. 🙂

“Father, I am humbled to see how totally awesome (and yes, I used that word because it describes You) You really are.  So much higher and deeper than I can ever go. Let me just bask in the glow of You and who You are.”

January 15

Friday, January 15th, 2021

Have you ever been disappointed with God? I suspect all of us would speak to the affirmative of that statement. I must confess there have been times I have been. One of those times is now. After 10 months or pursuing me, Covid finally caught up with me. In spite of the mask, the hand sanitizing, the extra vitamins designed to ward off a virus or infection, I got it. A body that once weighed 223 and was pretty solid is now 30 pounds less in 3 weeks, lost a lot of muscle and is weak. (I hope this is not TMI): I have trouble keeping things down (or at least not feeling nauseated) and keeping things in. I’ve tried the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Apple sauce, and Toast) but that hasn’t worked. And besides, it is boring and sort of disgusting.  I’m not fond of bananas, white rice or white toast.  I’ve had people praying for me. I have prayed fervently for healing. All the tests so far have come back negative, or on the good side. After a night of solid sleep where the alarm woke me, I slept fitfully last night. This is not meant to be a “woe is me” devotion though. It is designed to ask a question:

Why am I disappointed with God?

I already know the answer: because He hasn’t answered my (and others) prayers for healing. My desire is to be completely healed from this mess. But then I think, “Who am I to expect that? Maybe God has a bigger plan in His big picture?”

One thing I do know is that I need to delight in God and then He will fulfill the desires of my heart, not the other way around, i.e. God will fulfill my dreams then I will delight in Him.  So I must keep in mind that disappointment is not unusual or even unexpected, but I must delight in Him no matter what. If He chooses to heal me, I will praise Him. If He has another plan, I will praise Him.

“So Father,  I will praise You even through my disappointment.”

January 13

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

I actually had two thoughts bouncing around in my head this morning and thought I would use them both. But I was unsure how to tie them in together. As you will see, that was not necessary. Maybe I’ll do the other one tomorrow.

My first thought was after reading Matthew 23. I’d encourage you to stop right now and read that chapter. If this is an “on-the-go” devo reading, I’ll summarize it for you. It is what is called the “7 Woe” passage, where Jesus pronounces 7 woes against the Pharisees. He’s blunt. He minces no words. I have a sneaking suspicion He wasn’t smiling trying to soften the blow of His words. I also have this feeling He didn’t look at the sky and drop His eyes and look at His feet. No, I can picture Jesus with eyes boring right through the chests and into the depths of every Pharisee’s heart and soul as He spoke.

He had enough of their hypocrisy. Let’s clarify that: self-righteous hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is one thing; self-righteous hypocrisy is a whole ‘nother level. I think we are all hypocrites to some extent. I know I am. Why do I say that? Because not always does my walk back my talk! Yep, that’s me. Saying one thing but doing another. I recognize that and can honestly say I don’t do it maliciously or purposely. That is the sinful nature, the old man in me, who wants to still make an appearance.

Self-righteous hypocrisy is different. It is doing something then trying to cover it up with self-righteous talk. Religious talk. It is looking down on someone but not acknowledging my own sin. That is Matthew 23 in a nutshell. The Pharisees could not see their own sin because of the self-righteous log in their own eye. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. They were tombs and monuments that looked good on the outside but were fill with dead man’s bones. There is more, but you get the point. Time to stop being a self-righteous hypocrite and put the cards on the table.

“Father, help me to be real-to You, to myself, to others. You see me as I am. Help me to stop pretending.”

January 12

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

There are a lot of people who mistakenly think the laws of God are more like a noose around the neck as opposed to thinking they are for our good. “God is a cosmic killjoy,” they say. “All He wants to do is to take the fun out of life.” “Why can’t I live my life the way I want to? After all, it is my life.”

Well, I suppose that is true. It is my/your life. And yes, I can live it any way I want. But that decision to do so also comes with consequences. Supposed we look at God’s laws in another light. Let’s suppose we are on a train. As long as we stick to the tracks we go along smoothly and on course. But if we jump the track and try to steer that train through grass or sand or whatever it is we run into, what will happen? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. You go nowhere. The train ends up stopped dead in its tracks. It is not doing and being what it was designed to be and WHERE it was designed to do it. We can complain all we want about the train being held to those tracks. We can say they are hindering its freedom.  But logic and reality say, “Nope.” Those tracks are actually serving their purpose.

The analogy may break down somewhere but the point is still true. The tracks are for the train’s safe operation. Why not see God’s laws in the same light? Throw off His laws and life goes haywire. There are consequences. Why not see true freedom in His laws? Why not see true love in them? Why not see God’s hand of care and concern in the restraint His law puts on us? That’s where true freedom is found-living for Him by His Word and not for ourselves by our rules.

“Father, help me to see Your laws as part of Your gracious love toward me instead of restrictions I see designed to box me in.”

January 8

Friday, January 8th, 2021

It is my humble opinion that one of the hardest things to do is to accept blame-responsibility for something. As a younger pastor I can recall a number of times saying, “If this hadn’t happened” or “If this hadn’t been done” then none of what took place would have. I’m not as bad as I used to be, perhaps maturity has entered the picture (I hope) OR understanding God’s love and grace and plan more has made a change in me (my greater hope).

There is an old saying: “Remember, whenever you point a finger at someone there’s always 3 pointing back at you.” (I guess the thumb is a non-entity, an extra, but don’t cut it off!) Finger-pointing is nothing new. Do you remember the Garden story when God confronted Adam and Eve? What did they do? One thing they didn’t do was accept the blame. Nope, not them.

  • A: “The woman. It was her fault.”
  • E: “The serpent. It was his fault.”

That’s taking one for the team, isn’t it? Nope. And as you well know, nothing has changed. Like my feeble attempt to explain away, i.e refuse to accept responsibility for a failure or wrong action, we still do that. I suspect on a daily basis. Oh sure, we mature so we (hopefully) accept responsibility a little more readily, but I know within me there is still this little man pointing his finger at someone else. I wonder when that happens if that is a little bit of what Jesus was referring to in Mt.13:14-15. I realize that passage deals more with hearing the message but the same closed heart for the “seed” can be the same closed heart for hearing and accepting the truth. And responsibility.

Here’s a thought: For every time we accept responsibility and stop trying to pass the blame, perhaps grace has become more real to us. Grace helps us see ourselves as we truly are-definitely not as good as we think we are-but willing to accept responsibility for the mess.

“Father, help me to stop pointing fingers at someone or some thing and to start seeing ‘me’ as the culprit. Then help me to allow Your transforming grace to do its work.”

January 6

Wednesday, January 6th, 2021

Have you ever noticed how often we “categorize” our worship? We talk about worship on Sunday in a certain place or time. But then act as though the other parts of our day or week are extra.

I even do that on Sunday morning during our corporate worship. I have caught myself (and not done a very good job of stopping or changing it) saying, “Please join us now and stand and sing and join us in worship.” See what I did? Say, for example, we had just had our prayer time when I say that. What have I stated? Answer: that the prayer time was not part of our corporate or individual worship, but now we are singing so we are worshiping.

No. No. No. That prayer time. That communion time (in our case). And ultimately the preaching time was all part of our worship. It is part of our psyche to make a distinction and say that singing is worship but prayer and communion and listening to the Word is not.

And it carries over into our daily lives as well. Worship does not just happen on a Sunday morning. It doesn’t just happen when I’m having my QT. Categorizing worship was never supposed to happen! Worship was, is, and always will be a 24/7/365 opportunity to praise the Father’s goodness and love. David praised God on the mountain and in the valley; on the run or on the throne; feeling good or feeling bad. Take a moment please and read Psalm 148.

“Father, worship is not be to categorized. But it is most definitely to come from my heart-all day, every day, any time, and any where. May my heart be one filled with praise.”

January 5

Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

Let me ask you a question-one I’ve asked myself seemingly a million times:

Is your service to God out of love or out of obligation?

Be careful how you answer that. The way we answer that is very telling concerning our way of looking at God. Please let me explain. When you and I come into God’s Presence, there are various ways to respond. Some will be terrified. I do have to wonder about the reaction of those who, while here on earth denied His existence; denied His Power; denied His Creative ability, etc. only to find out at their death all they held to was ashes. Some will be frozen in wonder and awe at the majesty before them. Some will-like the apostles- not recognize Him until after He left. I’m not just thinking of standing before Him at the throne but also while here on earth.

As a former legalist, my whole life was wrapped around performance. Not so much being enraptured by His Presence, but being convinced that I had to perform. My service to Him was out of obligation more than it was out of love. Oh, I told myself it was love, but it wasn’t really. Love has no fear and for the legalist fear is a major player. I can’t escape the duplicity of my thinking: “Jesus loves me this I know if my performance tells me so.” Many religious groups (not just cults) base their modus operandi on performance. Act a certain way. Dress a certain way. Go to church so many times. If not, shame on you!

So, let me ask you again: Is your service to God out of love or obligation? If you sit under a legalist, get out now while you still have your soul.

“Father, it is easy to see my prayer this morning. May my service to you be out of love for you and not the feeling of obligation or judgment.”

January 4

Monday, January 4th, 2021

I wrote this January 1 but am posting it as my first post for 2021.

At the beginning of a new year, I, and countless other followers of Jesus feel like a new start is in order. So people make vows, resolutions, or whatever you want to call them, to do better, be better, speak better…better…better…better. But as the old joke goes we find out on January 2 our resolutions, well…are broken. Did you know making resolutions dates back to the Babylonians who made vows to appease their gods? As if that would work.

Maybe we ought to consider it a lost cause and pursue another avenue. For Christmas someone in the church gave me a daily devotion called Experiencing God’s Presence. The writer hit on something that not only had I never thought of before, but made perfect sense. Like many others, my awareness and closeness to God fluctuates. Close. Far. Close. Far. Inch back. Far. Why is that? {Because there’s a big difference between His Presence and an experience of it.-Jan 1} It’s not enough to believe God’s Presence is every where (and it is); it is also important to experience it. We don’t just want to know His Presence is there, we want Experience it. I’m not talking some mystical, transcendent thing, or some rapturous “caught up into the 3rd heaven” experience (2 Cor.12); or some hyper ecstatic “tongue loosening.” No, I’m talking about encountering Jesus so I am deeply affected down the core of my being. More than hype. Just a deeply affected, inner core sense of God’s Presence. That is my hope and prayer for me in 2021. Will it be yours? I invite you to join me in that quest.

“Father, move in me. Let me encounter Your Presence in the very core of my being. May this year be the year of Your Presence in me and those I influence.”