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August 5

Monday, August 5th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Man Worship vs. God Worship.

I’m not sure if today’s devotion will be a soapbox or not. I hope not. But after reading a passage of Scripture this morning, I have to speak up.

Today’s “modern” worship has its moments. It has its good moments; its so-so moments; and its really bad moments. I’m not speaking about the externals-the lights, fog, instruments, style of music, etc. No, those are all externals- unnecessary possibly, but still external. I’m speaking about the content. The songs we sing.

Some of them are really good, i.e. really honest-to-goodness worship songs. Songs which lift up the name of Jesus; songs that draw attention to Him and give game to His Name.

Some are so-so. There is a mix of praise with a dab or dash or dollop of “feel good” vibe.

There there are those which are really, really bad. Awful may be a more descriptive word. The lyrics are totally self-centered; all-about-me oriented; I feel good because you made me feel good type of songs. If I may be so blunt and use a word I can count on one hand as using before: they are God-awful songs. Much (not all) of what we have coming out of the music factories like Bethel, Hillsong, and Jesus Culture are in this vein. Besides that, they have some really bad theology.

What got me to this point this morning? Psalm 147.  Here you go: “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises (about yourselves?) to God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.” (v.1). “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (v.5) But here’s the kicker: “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of man,  but the Lord takes pleasure (wait for it) in those who fear Him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” (vv,10-11)

His pleasure is not in those who sing love songs where we aren’t sure who we are singing to or about. It is not in those who “play” at worship. It is not in those who repeat and repeat and repeat a stanza or two or three. And don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating going back to hymns. Some of them were awful as well. I am advocating songs which lift up the Name of Jesus; when there is no doubt who are singing about and to Whom we are singing.

“Father, may my lips sing your praise.  May my heart lift up Your Name- find its joy, meaning and purpose in Your Name.  And may I sing and speak and lift up the fame of Your Name.”

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I guess this does sound like a soapbox. I just think we need to be more conscientious about what we call “worship and praise” music. Songs of feeling good or songs which focus on me and my needs-while not totally illegitimate songs to sing-do not qualify as worship. I’ve said my piece. Now I will move on.  🙂

June 25

Friday, June 28th, 2019

I’ve been gone all week and without wifi or any internet so this is coming to you a bit late.  I took time each day to have my Quiet Time and record my thoughts. So here you go:

My title for this devotion is Inward Change vs Outward Change.

If you read Our Daily Bread you would have read the story of Savanarola and his followers starting a fire in February 1497. Seems they gathered all the things they thought destroyed the faith of people, things that made them vain, made their faith skin deep. Art, cosmetics, instruments, clothing. They set fire to those things in the square of Florence, Italy.

My take? That may have been well-meaning but missed the point.

We have things today which draw the attention of people away from deepening their faith. Music. Social media. Constant distractions. But gathering all that stuff together and burning them seems to be a bit overkill. When I was in college it was the “in” thing to get rid of so-called secular music. It had all kinds of bad vibes. Especially bad was backward-masking. I thought some of it was bad enough frontwards. Why in the world worry about it being played backwards?

My take? It may be a well-meaning gesture but it misses the point. For example, my college roommate gave in to the pressure of his peers and used his record albums (remember those?) as flying saucers. Then he missed the music and went out and bought them again over time.

As my title indicates there is a difference between inward and outward change. During Communion this past Sunday, I actually talked about this. So much of Christianity is outward-Communion every Sunday (in our case). Giving with the wrong attitude. Going to church. Etc. All outward. Jesus is much more interested in an inward change. One that not only makes a difference but is much more long-lasting. Least more long-lasting than a fire.

“Father, may I exhibit an inward change not just an outward change. May the change involve my heart and thoughts not just the way I act outwardly.”

 

April 5/Weekend

Friday, April 5th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Celebrity vs. Ordinary.

For a long time I have had a long-standing pet peeve. And yet, I have probably been as guilty of it as have others. What is it? For lack of a better way to say it: I have watched with horror how “celebrity Christians” have been used by the church.

May I give an example or two?

  • Back in the late ’70s/early 80s, pop singer B.J. Thomas (Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head) had a well-publicized encounter with Jesus. Time has erased a lot of the details, but he was saved; rescued from a drug habit; recorded some well-received Christian albums; wrote a book or two; was lauded as “one of ours.” As time went on, people didn’t like it when he sang some of his old pop/country songs in concert and then someone wrote about a profanity-laced “dress down” he gave some reporter.
  • There were other musicians, many you haven’t heard of. Bob Dylan. Dion. Donna Summer. Dan Peek (America). Leon Patillo (Santana). King’s X. Stryper. Many others.
  • Athletes know for their drug-addled, trouble-making, womanizing lifestyles were/are looked up to for their conversion. Many today are praised for their testimony and yet see nothing wrong with spouting off profanities.
  • Actors/actresses talk about their faith but continue living a lifestyle that can cause us to question their commitment.

I’m not opposed to anyone coming to Christ, no matter their position. This stuff of chewing them up and spitting them out does bother me, especially when they make a mistake or don’t conform to “our idea of Christianity.” It  still happens today. We embrace a celebrity culture. Today we have “rock star” pastors-pastors who are “hip,” tattooed (no judgment since that is their choice), relevant (whatever that means), flamboyant, etc. but are really only about an inch deep in holiness. I’m not jealous. Really. I have my own shortcomings.

But we have got to understand that not everything that looks good is good. Instead of grabbing the latest celebrity conversion and holding him/her up as a standard and role model, why not put them in a Bible study and ground them in the Word so they can fight off the bright lights that will blind them BEFORE they go public with their conversion?

And one more thing: who said they were or are any more valuable in God’s kingdom; any more useful in God’s work that the “everyday Joe’s” who plug away and want to make a difference? As a pastor, I must guard against using people for my own end. Hundreds and thousands of good, Godly pastors have toiled in relative obscurity and never get the “celebrity status” thumbs-up from society or the church on a wide scale. I’m not complaining. Trust me. I like it that way. Because I get all the “atta boys” I need/want from my family, my friends, the church I pastor but, most of all, from my Father in heaven. All He wants is for me to give my life as an act of worship to Him.

“Father, having You accept me as I am is worth it all. Having you say in the end “Well done, good and faithful servant” will be worth it all. Celebrity? No thanks. Ordinary? You bet. Just use me for you.”

March 30/April 1

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

I was away for a few days and will be sort of out of commission until late Tuesday. But I did some relaxing and thinking and reading and wrote this in response to something I read in the Scripture.

My title for this devotion is Preconceived ideas vs Reality.

A very intriguing story (to me) is found in Joshua 22, a story which involves a preconceived idea by the people of Israel against some of their own people-the people of Reuben, people of Gad and the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh. The latter group had built an altar and the other tribes were up in arms. Their concern was legitimate. Had these three tribes already gone against the mandate of having no other gods and built an altar? They sent Phinehas and representatives from the tribes to inquire. Phinehas laid it all out on the table, seeking an answer.

Good thing too. Their answer was honest and straight-forward and had absolutely nothing to do with being unfaithful to God. It had everything to with remembering. Not them but their fellow Israelites settled on the other side of the Jordan. It was to serve as a reminder to the other tribes not to forget them!

My point is the other tribes were ready to go to war against them over a preconceived idea. Do you realize how disastrous that would have been to the nations on their new land? Both those who settled and built the altar of witness and those who would have acted rashly.

I remember an old MacGyver TV episode where he was trying to teach someone that principle. He used a story from his youth and summed it up by saying he was so sure this boy had stolen his knife that he fought him over it. Then he went home and found it on his dresser.

It is so easy to do the same thing…and not on a TV show. How many church “fights” or divisions have happened because of preconceived irritations? Hair-brained accusations dreamed up because of gossip? We need more Phinehas’ who went to them, stated the concern, listened to their response, and totally defused the situation.

“Father, help me to be a Phinehas. Help me not to have preconceived ideas that cloud my vision; cause me to accuse, especially with unfounded ones; or cause me to cause division. Help me gather facts before I accuse.”

March 29/Weekend

Friday, March 29th, 2019

My title is Church as a business vs Church as a ministry.

Back in the 90s it was all the rage to run the church like a business. Leadership gurus (which shall remain nameless) passed down business leadership principles to pastors and it soon caught on that the church would run more efficiently (Translated: be successful) if they adopted those leadership principles. Now…I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and do an across-the-board scathing rebuke of that practice because there were some principles to learn. But the pastor is not the CEO and was never intended to be. The leadership is not the Board. The people are not the employees. I tried that approach and it didn’t work.

The promise was “this is the way it works.” So it was not unusual for this whole changeover process to be lumped under the term “Church, Inc.” I failed miserably. God has given me the heart of a shepherd (pastor) not one of a CEO. Putting agenda over people’s feelings was never my forte’. Nor my gift.

Spurgeon once wrote:

There are no measures which can set forth the immeasurable greatness of Jehovah…If we cannot measure we can marvel.” (p.9)

What is “Church, Inc.?” “It is shorthand for ministry devoid of mystery, for the pastor who assumes that the exercise of their calling is a matter of skill more than the gravity of their soul…If ministry is encountering the heat and light of an uncontrollable sun, Church, Inc. is the tanning salon in the local strip mall.” (p.10)

Here is how I see it:

  • The church is not a business; it is a ministry.
  • The pastor is not a CEO; he is a shepherd.
  • The “board of elders” is not a power board; it is a board of servant-hearted men.
  • The people are not constituents or employees; they are souls. (Sheep to borrow Jesus’ term)

“Father, help me to keep in mind who and what I am. My role is as a pastor (shepherd)-in love with and taking care of his sheep. That must be Task #1 (besides loving you).”

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The above quotes are from a book I read well over 6 months or so ago. When I finished it I said I wanted to go through it slower at a later date. This is that later date. I feel drawn to it at this time. I have finished 46 Stones by Randall Arthur so I will be supplementing my Quiet Time reading with Immeasurable by Skye Jethani. I will give credit where credit is due.

March 7

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

My title for this devotion is God’s Protection vs God’s Abandonment.

(This goes along with my thoughts from March 6). Down through the years and maybe even more so now, it has not been uncommon to hear a lot of doom and gloom about the church.

  • “The church is following the world right to hell.”
  • “Soon the church will be no more.”
  • “The church has lost and will continue to lose its influence in the world.”
  • “If the church keeps going the way it is, it will soon disappear from the face of the earth.”

Those are just some of the doom and gloom “prophecies” made about the church. It’s also easy to get sucked into that abyss. To hear some talk today the church will be erased from existence in a short time. While I seriously question the motives of anyone saying that (can you say, “Show me your money”?), I can also say with profound conviction it is not true. The church will never-N.E.V.E.R.- cease to exist. Why? Because of a promise made by its founder in an exchange with His students. “And the gates of hell will never prevail against it.” Those were His words.

Down through the years God has protected His people. Irregardless of the promise to the people of Israel (which He has and will keep), the church will always be around. There will always be a remnant. He protected it in its early days. He protected it through one of its greatest persecutors, who was eventually converted on the road to Damascus and became one of its staunchest defenders. He kept a remnant through the corruption of the papacy; through the devastating cults and false religions; through wars; through intense persecution which came through Communism and other social diseases; through martyrdom; through liberalism; through compromising the truth; through apathy; and today through efforts to wipe it and its influence off the map.

Plain and simple: Despite all the doom and gloom “prophecies,” the church never has been and never will be destroyed. God will always protect a remnant. Its in the Book: “the gates of hell will not prevail.” I’m not saying it won’t get tougher. There is no doubt efforts are being made to tear down the church and wipe out its influence, but God never goes back on a promise. I repeat: there will always be a remnant. Always has been; always will be.

“Father, I thank you for the church. And I thank you it will always be. Thank you for calling me to you and including me in your family-the church.”

February 28

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

My title for this devotion is American Christianity: Savior? or Dreamer?

I am not a political person. I’m also not an “America is all-great & all-perfect” person either. While I am extremely grateful to live in America and grateful for the freedoms I enjoy, you will not find me with a “religious patriotism” banner. I don’t believe we were ever a so-called “Christian nation.” Many of our early fathers were Deists and Humanists in their life approach. Some will go so far as to say  they were no respecter of persons (hence slavery). Those are not my concern, at least today. My concern in the American church.

People talk as though the American church is “all that and more.” They act/teach/preach/YouTube, etc as though the American church is the savior of the world. Seriously? Have they looked at how flawed and divided it is? Have they seen how powerless against evil it has become? Oh sure, there are churches standing firm and there are spots of orthodoxy. But have they seen how weak the church has become in stemming the tide of evil?

Case in point: the United Methodists. This week they had a special session to decide the direction they would go in the LGBTQ+ debate. It’s easy to me. The Bible is clear as to its stand. They, thankfully, voted down the initiative of inclusion into ministry and marriage. Know who saved their butts? Not the American version of UMC. No. It was the African segment. They are far more conservative, and homosexuality is still seen as a sin. I’m not a UM by any stretch (and this is a perfect example of why I am not a member of any denomination), but I’m grateful for those African bishops, pastors, leaders and others who held to the Scripture, along with their American counterparts. They were not swayed by politics or public opinion. I have some blogging friends who are UM. My heart goes out to them because the end result will not be a pretty sight. There will be a split and the new schism will be an all-inclusive, watered-down wing calling themselves something like UMP (United Methodist Progressives). Yes, I made that up. Division is never funny but when biblical truth is in question, sometimes it is necessary.

But thank you to the African UM who stood their ground! Sort of gives new meaning to American Christianity: Savior? or Dreamer?

“Father, only You are the Savior. No church body. No brand of Christianity. No patriotic alignment. No cultural submission. Help us to stop touting the American Christianity brand and start pushing You. Help us to MYNGA (Make Your Name Great Again).”

*This devotion was inspired by Stone #40 in Randall Arthur’s book, 46 Stones.

February 11

Monday, February 11th, 2019

My title today is Replace or Repair.

When I was in my 20s and early 30s I used to do minor repairs on my car. Change the oil. Change the plugs. Replace the belt. Switch out a battery. Change the filters. Then several things happened that changed all that. One, I got too old to want to waste my time. Two, I got tired of being a contortionist. Three, engines changed. Now in my 60s, I won’t even attempt any repairs. I had a flat tire yesterday afternoon and I called a local man to see if he wold come and get my truck to repair it.

Things have changed over the years concerning car/truck maintenance. Everything is so hi-tech it takes a trained ASE certified mechanic to change a light bulb. Or maybe even change wiper blades. 🙂 No longer do we repair things; we replace them.

There are tons of examples from everyday life where that is true: marriage, work, church. It’s the latter which is on my mind. In my 45+ years of pastoral ministry, I’ve seen my share of church hoppers and shoppers-both as a victim and a recipient. People get angry, miffed, hurt, feel ignored…whatever…and the easiest thing to do is to leave. Now…if it’s a doctrinal error or heresy from the pulpit, then it has merit. But even then replacing (running) should not be the first option. I think the proper approach is to go to the pastor (or whomever) and ask for clarification. If you hit a stone wall, the leaders are next. If that doesn’t work, leave quietly. (Operative word: quietly). The tragedy is people often leave over “little” thing, things are not game-changers in the grand scheme of things. “We don’t like the music. There’s not enough 18th century hymns.” “I wasn’t greeted by every person, tribe and nation.” “The preacher went on for 30 minutes.”

I realize some people have legitimate reasons for leaving but we live in an age of church hoppers and shoppers. Instead of replacing where we worship, why not try to repair it first? There is no perfect church. Never has been; never will be. Let’s be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Let’s work to repair not replace.

“Father, if I’m part of the problem forgive me. Help me to be part of the solution, to work to repair instead of replace. Work in my heart first.”

This devotion was inspired in part by “Replacing Everything that Breaks” from 46 Stones by Randall Arthur.