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July 3

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

I think one of the hardest things as a pastor is trying to help people and them either not accepting it or continuing to struggle. One of the most difficult things to overcome is anger, especially that which is caused by betrayal or insensitivity. Or worst of all, by gossip.

That last one is an ugly poison, a cancer that afflicts many organizations, but is especially devastating to a church. I remember reading about an old Quaker pastor who had one insidious lady in his church who loved to gossip. But one time her gossip ruined people. She came into the pastor’s office to apologize and ask what she can do to make it right. He gave her a bag of feathers and said to go outside and release them. She did. When she was done, and thought all was well, she asked him what she was to do next. He told her to go around and pick up all the feathers. “That’s impossible. They’re scattered all over!” And he said, “So are your words and you’ll never be able to take them all back.”

  • There are mean people out there in this world. Don’t tolerate them.
  • There are self-righteous, opinionated people in this world. Dismiss them.
  • There are gossipy people in this world. Rebuke them.
  • There are evil people in this world. Avoid them.

Know what is ever sadder? Many of those people are so-called “Christians.” (Yeah, you saw the change from Christ-follower to “Christians”).  Gossip N.E.V.E.R. heals or helps. It always hurts and destroys. Even gossips sometimes tell the truth, even if it hurts. Or is that especially if that hurts. I had one who justified her gossip with “I told the truth” to which I said, “Why say anything at all?”

James 3 says our tongue is a flame that quickly gets out of control. Oh, what tragedy is wrought when a fire gets out of control. Oh, what tragedy and damage is wrought when a tongue gets out of control.

“Father, words can be used for good or for evil. May my words bring healing to others and glory to You in all things.”

 

June 23

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

Memory foam. Touted as the mattress material that “remembers” its shape. It always goes back to its original state. It bounces back.

The big C church has always been that way. Kick it; punch it; slap it; tackle it; it always come back. Not that if ever left. It has had to hunker down a time or two.  It has had to go underground for awhile. It has taken blows that looked like it was down for the count. It took on the look of the culture and about camouflaged itself out of sight, but it was always there. Like a phoenix it would rise out of the dust and ashes to become a champion.

How do I know that? Because Jesus said it would. He once said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” I read the following quote that got me thinking:

Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave. G.K.Chesterton

The big C church is under attack today. Speak out and we are accused of being homophobic, bigoted, opinionated, etc. Stay silent and we are accused of bigotry, prejudice, pride, and a lack of compassion. Many want to hide. But the church will never die. It may cloud over; it may become a funky gray color; it may appear misty; but it will stand. Why? Because we will remember Jesus’ word that the gates of hell will never prevail.  Never win. But the church will win. We have His Word on it.

“Father, thank you for the words of Jesus. No matter how bad things get; no matter how rough they get; no matter how disturbing and accusatory they become, the church will prevail.”

June 15

Monday, June 15th, 2020

Goethe once said:

We must always change, renew, and rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.

He’s right when speaking of changing and moving with the tide, so to speak. But we must always remember there is one thing which never changes: TRUTH. Truth is not always popular, but it is always right.

We live in an age where truth is relative. We have no absolutes. That is post-modernism’s jig. It is seen in a recent documentary which played on ESPN on the life of disgraced cyclist-Lance Armstrong. At the very beginning the interviewer-who is also the shows writer/producer-asks Lance about the truth. He answers: “I will tell you the truth, my truth. (Emphasis mine).  Arrogance personified.  My truth as seen through my eyes. No moorings; no truth.

How typical of our day and age. Truth is what you or I make it to be.  Take the foundation away and all that is left is well…whatever I think is right. So right and wrong shift. It is “truth according to me.” Imagine if you would the writers of the Gospels, the life of Jesus. It would not be The Gospel of Matthew but the Gospel According to Matthew. Pick and choose what is true about Jesus. Can you see how the lack of truth is playing out in our world as well? Lie about the virus to fuel our agenda (political or financial or whatever else there is). Lie about events to cover the up the truth. When truth is compromised, chaos ensues. It happens in the church. Compromise the truth and the slope starts tilting even more. Compromise has an ugly end. No good comes out of it. I’m not talking about stubbornness/opinion in standing your ground. I’m talking about giving up truth. Opinions can be  compromised; truth cannot.

“Father, help me to fold fast to truth and never give in. Your truth never changes no matter what.”

June 12

Friday, June 12th, 2020

One of the sayings which was used ad infinitum, ad nauseum during the COV”ID-19 crisis was “we are in this together.” While that is true to some extent (it is affecting all of our lives), it is also not true to some extent. It is hard to be in something together where the other person-or I myself- is belligerent and hard to get along with. I’ve seen it happen in sports, government, marriage, and yes, in churches.

When I pitched in Little League baseball, I once pitched a no-hitter. I would be foolish to think I did that all myself. I had 8 other players all pulling together to win 8-0. When I averaged 20 points/15 rebounds per game as a Junior in college, I’m a fool if I think for a moment it wasn’t a team game and I didn’t need the other four guys who were on the court the same time as me.

If you read Our Daily Bread today you will read the story of a pastor and a father (injured in a house fire) take turns running and carrying the father’s daughter to a hospital 6 miles away. When one tired of carrying her, the other took his turn. Together they made the journey together. Together they made sure the daughter and father were both treated.

Churches rely on people working together. When a leader or an individual or a pastor goes rogue, all kinds of trouble can break loose. Unless…it is checked by those who work together. One of the hallmarks of a church should be unity. Unity is not all thinking alike, but it is thinking with the common goal in mind. Jesus once said that all people would know we are His disciples if we love one another.

“Father, help me to be one who works together with others. Help me to be a catalyst for unity not division.”

June 8

Monday, June 8th, 2020

I wrote this for my Communion Thought/Mediation for this past Sunday (yesterday).  As I laid my head on the pillow last night I was thinking ahead to this morning’s Quiet Time.  This came rumbling back into my mind and when I woke up this morning it was still there. I decided I would share it with you today.

Events of the past week/week and a half have probably both sickened us and angered us. The death of someone should sicken and sadden us. The wanton destruction of lives and property is despicable and should anger us.  What I am about to say is not a political statement as you will see at the end:

Black lives matter.

White lives matter.

Chinese lives matter.

Russian lives matter.

American lives matter.

African lives matter.

Homosexual lives matter.

Straight lives matter.

Unborn babies’ lives matter.

Birth defected babies’ lives matter.

Young lives matter.

Old lives matter.

Rich lives matter.

Poor lives matter.

American lives matter.

Muslim lives matter.

The list is endless. Nowhere in the Scripture does it say anyone’s life doesn’t matter. Nor does it say anyone’s life is worth more than another.

How do I know that?  Romans 3:23 tells me “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  We are all infected with the same disease. It is called SIN. 

As a result…WE ALL NEED A SAVIOR.

And again, how do I know that? Because John 3:16 hasn’t changed. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV)  There is a saying which says, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”  It does not matter who we are. It does not matter what color, race, nationality, status in life we are. We all have to come to the cross on the same level-sinners in need of a Savior.  No one group of people is singled out as being more important or more deserving of God’s love than any other.  (End of devotion)

We all must recognize our sad, sorry state of the inability to meet God’s standards and realize we are all the same. No life matters more than any other. 

June 1

Monday, June 1st, 2020

I’m in Ohio for the first part of this week so I will say right up front that I wrote this Saturday night. Sunday has not happened yet (obviously) 🙂   So as I write this I have no idea what tomorrow (Sunday) will bring. I am cautiously optimistic since that tends to be my nature.  But here is what I wrote Saturday night:

Costi Hinn is Bennie’s nephew. Several years ago he broke away from the health/wealth/prosperity (un)gospel Bennie preaches (and still does) to follow Jesus. In a recent blog he wrote, Costi wrote the following (referring to navigating the COVID-19 crisis and getting back to assembling together):

If there is one word to describe how we must navigate re-assimilation it’s this: grace.

I can see that. Even among the three of us (Ryan, Diana, and me) we have different ideas. I’m more eager to get back together and if I had my druthers go full bore. I agree with the man in my congregation who said, “Bill, I am so tired of hearing certain words: masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer (and others I can’t remember).” Even though Jim is in a highly volatile business (grocery store), I can’t argue.  Ryan is tired of the whole mess and has seen his plans for the summer go up in smoke and new ones will have to be developed. Diana is the cautious one of the three. Always has been. But we agree to disagree and move on. We worked on putting a plan in place we all agreed on and we will continue doing that.

  • I am the spur ahead, but sometimes careful, optimist.
  • Ryan is the contemplative direction (he likes spreadsheets) and thinking- things -through -logically guy.  🙂
  • Diana is the cautious realist. (She is female after all).

Blend all three together and you have our doable, well-researched, cautious reopening plan. We need all kinds of people and grace is needed.  I haven’t always liked the slow moving, but it is necessary to tone me down from time to time. If I was a betting man (which I’m not), I probably irritated the two of them somewhere along the way.  I despise the idea of wearing a mask and social distancing.  Our people spoke through the survey we sent out and so in deference to them I will do what needs to be done.  Oh yeah, and the governor of Indiana, whom I respect for the way he has tried to handle this mess.  🙂

Anyway, here’s what Costi says:

  1. Optimistic people are a blessing to my life.
  2. Cautious people are a blessing to my life.
  3. Different gifts and approaches make us all more effective.
  4. People matter more than my opinion.

So…what will it be? Grace or bull-headedness?

“Father, help me to choose grace, to choose love over my own desires and wisdom.”

May 28

Thursday, May 28th, 2020

They used to call it “the worship wars.”  Boy, do I remember those days! The modern worship movement was beginning to hit churches. “I Can Sing of Your Love Forever” by Delirious? was a huge song. Passion was getting its legs and gaining traction (Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, Christie Nockels, and others).  Churches were transitioning-some slowly; some gladly; some kicking and screaming; some not at all- from a steady diet of hymns to worship choruses and songs. I’m seriously wondering if Ralph Carmichael knew what sort of Pandora’s box he was opening when “He’s Everything to Me” hit the church scene. Did he see the future wave? Hymns (good and bad) tried to share the stage with choruses and songs (good and bad).  Precise 4 stanza and chorus hymns (with little deviation) to overly repetitious (in many cases) worship songs. Both-for the most part- are annoying to me. Piano and organ gave way to guitars, drums and keyboards. Some theologically-rich hymns and some awful so-called hymns (“I’ll Fly Away” and “When the Roll is Called up Yonder” seriously?) to some theologically-rich worship songs and some awful, repetitious, shallow, “it’s-all-about-how-I-feel” choruses and songs.

All of it-in my book-was a bit of nonsense. Both sides needed to grow up. There is room for both. What there is not room for is misplaced worship. One of the things people are saying about the result of this virus is that it has taken away all we hold dear- sports, entertainment, education, etc- and brought us down to seeing what is really important. The Bible says God is a jealous God and will not share the stage with anyone or anything. Same as the worship wars, there never was an option of WHO to worship. It was and is always Him.  How is up in the air, as long as it is biblical.  But who? Never. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” God demands our praise. That is a non-negotiable. Someone has said it well: “There are many ways to worship God, but only one God to worship.”  Agree 100%!

“Father, no matter how; no matter when; no matter where; may my heart be filled with worship. Who? You. Why? Because You and You alone are worthy of it and I love You.”

May 15/Weekend

Friday, May 15th, 2020

This is a very personal devotion so read on with that understanding. It was spurred on by a devotion by Chuck Swindoll from his book Good Morning, Lord…Can We Talk? The May 15 devotion was about Paul’s ministry credentials found in 2 Cor.11:23-28. As Chuck points out, it isn’t much of a resume. Least not an impressive one. But here is what got me in a big way and got me thinking:

Too often, ministry positions are couched in ways to attract young, talented, blue-chip candidates and invite them to an opportunity for ease, popularity, and public affirmation. The apostles knew none of that. The same for servants of Christ today who truly preach the gospel of Christ and surrender their lives to Him.

That brought to mind what the late Darrin Patrick said. In an interview he talked about being part of a group of young pastors who became celebrities with book deals, speaking gigs, fame and money, but little spiritual maturity. He later said his early success led to an obsession with keeping up his image rather than his soul.

All that Darrin said is true. Not that I ever had to deal with that. I was never a celebrity (except in my own mind)…and now that see it I am grateful. God knew I was not ready for that nor would I have been able to handle it. But I confess to wanting it. Now I can also say I’m glad I never had that chance.

Arrogance is an ugly thing. I came out of college into my first ministry thinking I had all the answers and the world was my oyster. Oh, how wrong I was on all counts! I aspired to be known and never thought of Paul’s words. I never despaired enough to take (allegedly) Darrin’s way out, but I confess to not grasping what appeared to be God lack of blessing on my life, especially as I watched others climb.

But hindsight-and a whole lot of maturity-has enabled me to look and see and KNOW God’s hand was always there. I’m glad I never got “big.” I’m glad I am where I am-a pastor of a small church (less than 200) in a small town in the middle of Indiana (although I’ve never begun to root for IU).

“Thank you Father that You were always there, always in control, always directing me where You wanted me to go. I’m glad I’m here. I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of money or accolades.”

May 5

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

Every morning my alarm goes off at 3:30 (except Friday which is my day off). I get up; shower; shave on certain days; get dressed; get my glass of ice water; then sit down at the kitchen table where it is deathly quiet (a good thing) and have my Quiet Time. Around 5 I make my way to the office where I put things away I have brought from home, then sit down at the computer and enter this devotion. After that I start working on a sermon.

I do that…like clockwork…almost every day. I rely on sameness to keep me centered. Focused on the task. May I call it tradition?

Yesterday’s devotion focused on how tradition can be bad. But there are times tradition/routine can be good. Each day I have a routine-I’ll call it tradition-of doing the same thing. In my case, almost at the same time. There is a certain comfort level that comes from sameness. I like change; I do change fairly well. But there are some things which should NEVER change. My early morning routine should never change-although it sometimes does due to ministry. I’ve tried it; it doesn’t work. Meeting with others, preaching, laughing, hugging, has all changed over the past 7-8 weeks. I know when I get back to meeting in person it will be hard. But change I must.

When it comes to the truths of the Scripture, there can be no change. No new “enlightenment.” Jesus said to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees (Mt. 15; Mk.8). Some traditions are good and are never meant to be changed. Stand on the tried and true words and Word of God.

“Father, some things never change. Your Word is certainly one of those things. May I be faithful to You through all time, day in and day out.”

 

May 4

Monday, May 4th, 2020

In some cases tradition gets a bad rap. And in others, it is admittedly deserved. There are also time traditions are good.  The Bible gives an example of both. My intention is to use the next two day’s worth of devotions to show them both.

In Matthew 15 and Mark 7 Jesus confronts the Pharisees and their traditions. Their traditions were many, but this confrontation came down to hand-washing a certain way, eating a certain way, even cleaning the utensils a certain way. Their way of treating their mother and father was an issue. So much so that Jesus confronted them about their tradition…and He didn’t do it nicely.  He was NOT complimentary. How devastating it must have been for them to be called out and to hear these words: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mt.15:8-9)

They were so smug in their righteousness because they were “faithful” in their traditions. I see this today. I am not a part of a church that knows the creeds-Apostles’ and Nicene. In fact, I’m guessing 98% would say, “What are those?” But there are those churches where the creeds are everything. Know them. Recite them. And that is the extent of their learning. Life goes on. Unchanged. The creed simply becomes words on a page or that flow from lips while the heart is disengaged.

The church I am the pastor of observes two “sacraments”- baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper. But trust me when I say they can become nothing more than traditions done by rote, especially communion. I have this feeling that Jesus’ words “They honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” could be heard every Sunday morning. Wish it weren’t so, but it is. I know. It has been me.

“Father, please don’t let me to allow traditions to take the place of a heartfelt relationship with You.”