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May 18

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

In my journey though the NT, I cracked open Ephesians this morning. I know Ephesians is filled with good stuff since I have read through it countless times. But the prayer Paul prays in chapter 1 has always “hit” me- even more this morning. I think it might be because the elders of the church here made a commitment to pray for the people of OVCF.  So each morning (except for weekends) I pray for a certain group of people for a month. We are on our second way through the directory as I write.

Anyway, Paul prays for the Ephesians (verses 15-23). Broken down here is what he prays for:

  1. He thanks God continually for them.
  2. He prays for them to be given spiritual wisdom and insight so they might grow.
  3. He prays for their hearts to be flooded with light (enlightened) so they can understand the hope they have been given.
  4. He prays they will understand the greatness of God’s power. Jesus was raised from the dead and is seated at God’s right hand.
  5. (My summation): He prays they will understand God’s authority in all creation, especially His church.

Paul’s concern is more than “God bless them today” or “God be with them.” To run the race and finish well we have to go deeper.  And Paul challenges me to pray that way for others.

Why not join me in praying “deeper” for people.

“Father, may I see Paul’s guidance in prayer. May I pray more ‘meaty’ prayers for the people I pray for. May their faith-and mine- grow as they are prayed for.”

May 17

Monday, May 17th, 2021

I have been slowly reading Paul David Tripp’s book called Leadership. When I say slowly, I mean slowly. It is not one to bust through. I have read a chapter and had to stop. Sometimes for weeks. The latest has probably been a month.  Recently I read the following:

There is no doubt about it: servanthood is the thematic biblical description of every follower of Jesus Christ. How much more, then, is it true of those who are called to be leaders? (p.140)

But then a bit later he wrote this gem:

“Hypercritical theological arrogance is not the fruit of a servant’s heart. Looking for people to troll on Twitter is not what occupies the heart of a servant. Pride of accomplishment contradicts servant humility. Disrespect of the vital gifts of women to the health of the body of Christ fails to mirror the servant heart of Jesus. Treating your church or ministry as if it belong to you denies your servant calling. Resistance in the face of the loving advice, concern, watchfulness, and rebuke of fellow leaders is resistance against your servant position. Exercising your leadership position in a way that is more political than pastoral does not flow from a servant’s heart. Treating staff members as if they are there for you rather than together with you serving the Lord happens when you forget your servant calling. Any dismissive, disrespectful, impatient, angry, bullying behavior is a failure to joyfully embrace the lifestyle of a servant. Ministry leadership conversations that are regularly marked by complaint are the fruit of entitlement, not servanthood. To get mad at little ministry inconveniences when we have been called to follow our Savior in His suffering, demonstrates how easy it is to drift away from what our Master has called us to be and do. ” (pp.141-142)

I know that is a lot to take in.  Now you can see why I wrote about why I’m slowly reading this book. I know many of my readers are not pastors or “people in professional ministry.”  If you have been mistreated, bullied, or taken for granted, I am sorry.  I know I have done just that in the past.  I wish I could do a traveling “forgiveness show” and go back to all the churches and tell them I’m sorry for not being a servant. But I can’t. But I CAN change now.

Perhaps you can as well. Professional or not. We are all servants, not here for ourselves, but for others.

“Father, help me to be a servant. As I struggle with that, help me to change.”

April 16

Friday, April 16th, 2021

One of the phrases we heard a lot of during the pandemic -ad infinitum, ad nauseum- was “we’re in this together.” I know. I know. It was supposed to be true. And yes, I know what it was supposed to mean.

But if I want to be cynical (Who me?) I would say this: if we were supposed to be in this together, why was 2020 a year of unrest and riots and upheaval and hate speech and vitriol? We may have been going through the scourge of the pandemic together, but we weren’t really together.

But I digress. The point I really want to get to is found in I Cor.12: 22-26. Take a moment, please, to read it. Several points stand out to me:

  1. Those who think they are the most important very often are not.
  2. We need to take special note of those who seem less important. I’ll call them the “behind the scenes” people.
  3. A real “in this together” body laughs and cries together. They experience life together.

This pandemic has done several things to the church. One has been to separate people. The church is a body, uniquely put together and made up of different people. We were designed to need each other and no amount of zoom meetings, or even cards or phone calls, can take the place of personal, in-person contact. I’m not delusional enough to think all will come back-at least not right away.  Maybe never. But when we do and when we do see each other I pray we will “honor” each other; know our place, and laugh and cry with each other.

I don’t think that’s asking too much. Do you?

“Father, may Your body- the church-truly be an example of being in this together.”

March 26

Friday, March 26th, 2021

If there is one word which has reached epic proportions today in weight it is “tolerance.” Although most often not in a good way. I have said over and over: “Those who want and preach tolerance become the most intolerant of all when you disagree with them.”

Today, intolerance has become the worst sin in the world’s eyes and tolerance the highest good (if and only if you agree with them). To be principled or to have informed moral convictions is to be declared intolerant, out of touch, and above all, mean-spirited. Those who are “tolerant,” those who will tolerate anything and everything, take the high moral ground. And please! Don’t disagree with them! You become an intolerant bigot.

In the OT there is a great story and a great illustration to this whole mess. It is in Numbers 25.  Thanks to Balaam’s word to Balak, the people of Israel began to intermingle and intermarry with the Midianite women. This resulted in the acceptance of and worship of foreign gods, particularly Baal. One incident stands out.  God is extremely angry and Moses is confronting the people and many of them are in repenting of their sin. Zimri comes into the midst of the people repenting and takes a foreign women into the tabernacle and lays with her.

The scene is shocking to say the least. But when Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron sees what is happening, he goes into the tabernacle, and filled with the Holy Spirit and holy outrage, kills them both with a spear through their belly. J.B. Phillips once said, “It’s not for nothing that the Spirit God has given to us is called the Holy Spirit.

If that happened today, there would be outrage. It wouldn’t be holy and it wouldn’t be for God’s cause. People would be outraged that Phinehas stood up for a righteous and holy God. He would have been cancelled or black-balled or bullied (or all three) because he dared to take a stand for what he believed to be right. I’d say it is time for the church- pastors, leaders, and individuals- to stand up for the truth and righteousness. To be called “intolerant” just very well might a badge of honor worth wearing.

“Father, like Phinehas help me to take a stand for the righteous and holy God You are. Help me not be concerned about  the consequences but to be willing to stand for You.”

March 19

Friday, March 19th, 2021

I read a funny illustration the other day. This Huey Cobra helicopter, practicing auto rotations during a military night-training exercise, landed on its tail rotor, separating the tail boom from the rest of the aircraft. Fortunately, the aircraft wound up on it skids, sliding down the runway doing 360s in a shower of sparks. As the Cobra passed the tower, the following exchange occurred:

  • Tower: “Sir, do you need assistance?”
  • Cobra: “I don’t know, tower. I ain’t done crashin’ yet!”

I chuckled.

We would say that training flight was a failure. But was it really? The pilot would probably not make the same mistake again. The testers would know what went wrong and would do all they could to fix it, especially if it was mechanical.

We often have this crazy idea that people-leaders especially-need to be near perfection. We know that can’t be because no one fits that bill. Mistakes and failures are part and parcel of life.

But imagine if you will an application for a job. Skills: offending people. Philosophy of life: the way up is the way down. Life goal: give my life away. Would you hire that person? Probably not. We want confident go-getters as our leaders.

And, of course, I don’t need to tell you that you turned down Jesus to be your leader for the job.

Jesus doesn’t equate leadership with lordship. Always being right. Getting to the head of the class. Doing the better job. Knowing exactly what step to take next. Jesus equates leadership with servanthood.

Some leaders need to fall off their pedestal: self-made or others-made. Jesus had trouble with the Pharisees not the outcasts.  Maybe it’s time for us to look down for leaders instead of craning our necks to look up.

“Father, help me to see people as you see them. Help me to be a leader who chooses to be a servant not a ‘lord.’  And oh yeah…help me to learn from my mistakes.”

March 8

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month. During the pandemic there were a certain group of folks who refused to come to the corporate worship of the church (or anywhere else for that matter) where masks were not required. I respect their decision even though it is not mine. After almost 9 months of distance and finally dialogue, we decided to offer a masked service the fist Sunday of the month. The only caveat was those who attended must wear a mask. Our first service brought 16 people (counting me and Jo) and each subsequent month has been about the same. We missed one month because of being virtual for 3 weeks due to Covid. So on a day like yesterday, I take part in three church services.

This third one is abbreviated since we have no singing. Announcements. Prayer time. Communion. Sermon. Since we offer communion at each service (every week) and I was the one who gave the communion thought/meditation, I had to guard against going through the motions.

That’s easy to do, you know? Going through the motions.  It is so easy for that to become rote. Just “doing church” by habit rather than by allowing the Spirit to move within me. But it isn’t just communion! No, it’s just about everything: Singing. Giving. Listening. Even greeting one another can be perfunctory. No heart. No soul. No closeness.

“Doing church” is a problem we all face. Programs and policies take precedence and begin to take on a life of their own. I’m thinking of Jesus in the Temple with the sellers who took advantage of the pilgrims who ventured to Jerusalem for the Passover and to offer a sacrifice at the Temple. Jesus was livid. A total disregard for the people was something that got “under His skin.”

We can get the same way. Being in worship is no longer about meeting God but “getting it right” and “fulfilling my duty.” Shame on us when we can enjoy the sweetest of all relationships: experiencing a oneness with the Father.

“Father, forgive me when I place meeting with You in the ‘gotta do’ department. Help me to not allow worship become a ‘do church’ thing. Please help it to come alive where I sense Your Presence in my worship.”

March 4

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Several years ago-around 2006/2007-I read a book which changed my perspective on people. More specifically, on how I saw people and reached out to them.

In retrospect, I have always “prided” myself in accepting people as they were. You know, like the old song says, “Just as I am without one plea…” My thinking was if God could accept me as I am/was then surely I could do the same. And I thought I did. But I was stopped in my tracks and forced to reevaluate my ways and actions.

The book was NO Perfect People Allowed by John Burke, a pastor of a church in Austin, TX. And while I now realize some of it was the attractional church message, some of it was on the money. People can’t be expected to change before accepting the Gospel message.

Jesus never did that. He didn’t tell the woman at the well to get her act together, leave her current live in, before He would talk with her and give her hope. He didn’t tell the woman caught in adultery to “Repent sinner!” before He came to her defense and then sent her away a free and forgiven woman. He went to Zacchaeus’ house to eat without demanding a life change. That came after his encounter with Jesus. The same goes for all He came in contact with (except maybe the arrogant, self-righteous Pharisees).

No, when Jesus exhibited “Come as you are” it was genuine and sincere. Can I do any less? Do I expect people to change first or do I accept and let God change them? The latter is preferable.

“Father, You accepted me as I was and am. Can I do any less? Please teach me and help me to do as You have done for me and countless others.”

February 10

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

As I think ahead to Sunday, I can’t help but reflect on what I read and what I’m going to preach about. Sunday’s sermon is about worship. It is about religion revisited but its focus will be on worship. I’ll be talking about the purpose of worship-is it for me/us or is it for Him? Is it for my/our pleasure or is it to honor and adore Him?

You see, the American church finds itself in a dilemma. We have become so much of a touchy-feely church (what  makes me feel good and happy) that we have lost sight of why we worship. No? Why then do we ask ourselves or tell ourselves, “Well, I didn’t get anything out of that today.” Granted, there are churches which are dead and empty and talk a lot and say nothing. Vacate them. But on the other hand, if all we do when we get together is wonder what we are getting out of it, then we are worshiping for the wrong reason. In fact, maybe I ought to say we are worshiping the wrong person.

Keep this in mind: God inhabits the praise of His people. When we-either collectively or individually-worship Him with heartfelt praise, He is honored and finds a welcome home in our hearts. The celebration of Who He is should be uppermost in our minds and hearts. Let’s stop asking, “What did I get out of this?” but instead start asking, “What does God think? Did I give Him praise? Did I give Him proper honor and adoration?” That is guaranteed to change our perspective toward worship.

“Father, You are to be my focus of worship, not me. It does not and should not matter what I got out of it. It should be what did I give You.”

February 5

Friday, February 5th, 2021

When I was in college I had a professor who had a required reading list-men who were respected authors. I suspect men like C.S.Lewis and others of his ilk were on that list. It has been far too long for me to remember others. One I know for sure was Francis Schaeffer. He wrote some books that even today I probably could not understand. Anyway, we were to read and write a report. I was way out of my league when it came to understanding what I read and then writing a report on that book. But I thought I had found a solution. Francis Schaeffer had written a small book called The Mark of the Christian. Perfect! Problem solved. Small. Short in length (probably about 20-30 pages). And, get this! Easy to understand!! 🙂 I was set…until…the prof said it was okay to read and write the report but since it was so short I would also have to include another book. Bummer!

All that say this: the reason I remember that short book and have trouble remembering his other titles (except for How Now Shall We Live?) is the subject matter. The mark of the Christian is L-O-V-E.  When you think about it, it is a trademark. Jesus said, “By this will all men know you are My disciples if you love one another.” The entire chapter of I Cor. 13 is dedicated to the life-changing power of love. (Cue in Huey Lewis song right here). John writes that we “love Him because He first loved us.” Jesus told His disciples to “love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13 NLT)

The way I see it if someone pricked me with a pin, love would flow out.  If someone beat me with a club, love would spill out. And if someone filet me, love would gush out. (Those are merely examples. I wouldn’t really want someone to prick me, beat me or filet me). Love would burst out. There would be no way to contain it and no way I could hide the love that lives within and fills me.

Question: Is that the kind of love in me? In you?

“Father, I am to love You first and foremost and my neighbor as myself. Am I a home for love? If I was opened up, would love spill out?”

January 29

Friday, January 29th, 2021

When I was way younger (just yesterday I think) I once heard someone make a statement which has stuck with me:

We have been saved to serve, not saved to sit.

We might not say it that way these days, but we still say basically the same thing:

We are not designed to be consumers, but instruments.

You will probably find multiple variations I’m sure, but in essence they say the same thing. You see, God’s plan is to make His invisible presence and His invisible grace visible.  He wants us to flesh out, to incarnate if I may use that word, His good news in Jesus to others. Let’s ask a quick question: How else will people see if not for us? God’s call to every one of His followers is to be a light on a hill (Mt.5:14-16; Luke 8: 16-17). In fact, He tells us a light is to never be hidden.

Let’s take it a step further: when God blesses us or gives us a gift, it was never intended we keep that to ourselves. We were never meant to hoard what He has given- whether it be a lesson learned in a trial or a test, a gift, a talent, or something as “earthy” as money. It has always been His intention that we use it to serve Him. How can we keep the greatest story on earth to ourselves?

“Father, You have chosen me for Your use. I am to be Your vessel, Your instrument. Help me not to balk but to give in and submit to Your will.”