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December 4

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Christmas vs Easter.

Celebratory vs Solemn.

That’s often the way we look at Christmas and Easter. Christmas Eve vs Good Friday. The tree vs the Cross. Not until Easter morning-Resurrection Sunday-does the 40 days leading up to it become a celebration.

In my mind it is not a case of either/or.  It is a case of both/and. In God’s grand scheme Christmas is not more celebratory than Easter. Sure Christmas is a time of celebration-nowadays dating back to the day after Thanksgiving (and now creeping closer to Halloween). And Easter tends to be more of a one day of celebration.

But if you really think about it, without Christmas Easter makes no sense. And without Easter Christmas is only an introduction but has no conclusion. Taken separately Christmas speaks of a birth; Easter speaks of a death & resurrection. Seen together we see Someone born; we see Someone die; we see Someone born to die.

We often hear during this time of the year the slogan “Wise men still seek Him.” True. But not just Christmas. Wise men worship the child who was born and the man who would die.

“Father, I thank you for the story of Christmas. I thank you for the story of Easter. And I thank you they make more sense and have more meaning when seen together.”

November 14

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Saying vs Living.

The past few days I’ve been reading a book by Mary Jo Sharp called Why I Still Believe. It is subtitled “A former atheist’s reckoning with the bad reputation Christians give a good God.” Mary Jo’s basic premise is after her conversion to Christ from atheism, how could she reconcile the church’s poor representation of Jesus. Her husband became a worship pastor almost by default so she got hit first hand with hypocrisy. In fact, the day she came to church to make her commitment public, the pastor’s wife judged her on the dress she was wearing. No greeting but a disdained “looking down on her” look with the words that she needed to check her dress. There was too much cleavage. In another incident, an atheist friend of hers she invited to class asked some honest questions about creation/young earth/old earth and was rudely shot down by the teacher and the pastor. They had no idea who he even was.

Hypocrisy wears many coats and hats. And I suppose we all (definitely me) are hypocrites from time to time. I know for a fact my actions do not always match my words. To quote Mary Jo:

Hypocrisy requires a reference to a standard of moral conduct which a person verbally accepts, but then denies by their behavior. (p.149)

Here is my analysis of it:

Standard= the Bible, God’s Word

Claim= to believe the Bible

Hypocrisy= to say I believe but live opposite.

I confess. I am a hypocrite at times. I don’t want to be. But I am.  Sounds like Romans 7 doesn’t it? But I also know that cannot be a cop out or a “get out of jail free” card. Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the Pharisees, the religious hypocrites.

“Father, Your Word is true. It tells me all I need to know to live a life of godliness and holiness. But believing it and living it are two different things. Help me not to live a life contrary to Your Word, Your standard.”

{Note: Mary Jo’s book is an excellent and easy read. She has taken a very difficult subject (the existence of God) as well as the hypocrisy she has seen and molds them into a fine book. I’d highly recommend it. And, in case you are wondering, she exposes the hypocrisy of the atheist beliefs as well}.

November 7

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Answered vs Unanswerable.

Have you ever noticed there are some Scriptures which simply take your breath away in their breadth and scope of reach? I’m going to ask you to do something I’ve never done before-something I have already done. STOP reading this devotion and read Isaiah 40 first. Please. Oh yeah…be prepared to be awed.

READING ISAIAH 40

Thanks. Did you notice the rhetorical questions (questions asked but no answer expected)? Isaiah 40 is filled with them. List them. Verse 12.  Verse 13 (2 of them). Verse 14 (several). Verse 18. Verse 25.

But those alone are not enough. Look at the “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” questions. (Verses 21 & 23).

Anchoring all of this is a verse you may have skipped over (thanks to my “guidance.”) But now go back and read it. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.” (V.8)  There’s the anchor!! God’s Word has been, is now, and always will be. His Word never changes. Why? Because it is God’s Word and He never changes. Trying to explain an unexplainable God and trying to understand all that means is like trying to answer rhetorical questions. You can’t answer it because it is too lofty. (Brain explodes here). I can only say, “I believe.”

“Father, words truly fail me. Try as I may I’m lost. Take these inadequate but humble thoughts and accept them as they are intended: praise and adoration of and for a matchless God.”

October 28

Monday, October 28th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Traditions vs Life.

I recently preached through the letters to the churches in Revelation.  The church at Ephesus left its first love. The church at Laodicea was lukewarm.  Both can happen when traditions take the place of life.  What do I mean?

When traditions become routine and without meaning, life leaves.

When reciting a creed becomes more important than the heartfelt worship which is to take place, it has happened.

When reciting that same creed becomes more important than the Word it is supposed to be based on, it has happened.

When taking communion is just something we do, it has happened.

When singing songs of worship with no heart-no feeling- it has happened.

When attending worship is tied more to habit or routine, it has happened.

Example after example of this happening can be given, but the words of Mark 7 still ring true. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vein to they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Verses 6-7)  A little later on in that same chapter, Jesus tells the people that it is an inside job.

“Father, may my heart not find itself going the way of traditions over heartfelt worship.  Help me to not allow traditions to become more important than life found in Your Word. Convict me if I am just going through the motions.”

September 20

Friday, September 20th, 2019

My title for this devotion is To be WITH vs To do FOR.

This past Sunday I preached on the letter to the church at Ephesus. They were commended for their works, toil, patient endurance and orthodoxy (stood up against false teachers). But they were condemned for one biggie: “they lost their first love.” Their “do for” was greater than their “be with.”

In Matthew 22 (where I was reading today) Jesus is asked by a young lawyer what the greatest commandment was.  Jesus did not say, “Work your tail off.” He did not say, “Go out every night and win souls.” He did say, “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.” I think Jesus is saying in a silent way, “I’m first. All else is second.” He is placing value on knowing Him, on being with Him. We have skewed that into “doing for Him” rather than “being with Him.”

In 2009 we had our first Day of Service (DoS). It was necessary and pulled us out of our funk. After our move in 2010 to our building, it took us a year or two to implement the DoS again. Since then we have even added another one so that we have been doing 2/year. But I have felt misaligned lately about the DoS. Like DoS had become more of a drudge than joyful; more corporate than personal. After Spring’s incomplete day and the finishing projects which came a couple months later, we were looking at another week in November. I found myself unsettled even more. “What Lord? What are you saying?” The answer came as I studied for that sermon, preached it and reflected: “Stop. Stop ‘doing for Me’ and start ‘being with Me..” So the DoS will not happen this year. And it just hit me that maybe it will be replaced by an afternoon of quiet reflection and prayer at the church building.

“Father, it is much more important to be with you than to do for you. Help me to learn that today and in the ensuing days. May my relationship with You be THE most important one I have.”

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.