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March 16

Monday, March 16th, 2020

I read Denny’s blog each time it is released. He writes insightful and always thought-provoking posts. Considering all that is happening in the world today, I found this to be especially insightful and worthy to be passed on. Please enjoy and wonder at the amazing ways God’s works.

Banished from the public means of grace, we found grace nevertheless.

By Denny Burk on March 15, 2020 in Christianity, Devotion

Our church was scattered by the coronavirus this morning. We did not gather together as usual at the intersection of Southern Parkway and Third Street. No, today we were spread out all over the city of Louisville and beyond. Our college students were literally scattered across North America as many of them were compelled to go back to their hometowns after colleges and universities closed last week. Our church’s missionaries remain scattered all over the world. None of us could be together this morning.

If you know what it means to be the ekklesia of God, your heart ached like mine did. For this is not how it is supposed to be. Gathering together for the Lord’s Day is fundamental to our identity, and we were unable to do that this morning (Hebrews 10:24-25). We had a “virtual” service like so many others, but it really isn’t the same. Nor should it be.

But something really extraordinary happened as we all sat down before our scattered screens for worship. Jim Hamilton read the call to worship from a book of devotion by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published in 1893.1 Below is the entry for March 15, and the words are nearly incredible:

MARCH 15

Therefore say, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.”

Ezekiel 11:16

Banished from the public means of grace, we are not removed from the grace behind the means of grace. The Lord who places his people where they feel like exiles will himself be with them. He will be to them all that they could have had at home in the place of their sacred assemblies. Take this promise as your own if you are called to wander!

God is to his people a place of refuge. They find sanctuary with him from every adversary. He is their place of worship too. He is with them as he was with Jacob when he slept in the open field and woke, saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Gen. 28:16). To them he will also be a sanctuary of peace, like the Most Holy Place, which was the noiseless abode of the Eternal. They will be kept from fear of evil.

God himself, in Christ Jesus, is the sanctuary of mercy. The ark of the covenant is the Lord Jesus, and Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, the tables of the law are in Christ our sanctuary. In God we find the shrine of holiness and of communion. What more do we need?

Oh, Lord, fulfill this promise and always be to us like a little sanctuary!

In a book published 127 years ago, this was the entry for March 15. What a smiling providence. What an evidence of the Lord’s care for his people in a time of turmoil and trouble. He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5), and he proved it again this morning.

—————

1 Spurgeon’s devotional The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith was published in 1893 in America, but Crossway published an updated edition just last year. The text above is from the 2019 edition.

February 27

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

My title for this is Friendship-Valued and Real.

We (Jo & I) spent time last night with some long-time friends, Ryan and Amanda. But before I tell you about that, let me back up a few paces.

The older I get the more “aware” I get. I guess that means I haven’t lost my faculties yet. 🙂 I become more aware of what was, what is, and what very well may be. All in all, I have become more aware of what’s important and what’s not. Don’t get me wrong. I still look at pickups and I still look at Trek bikes. I still look at hills and dream of climbing them. I still want to make improvements on the house. But they don’t hold the luster or the draw they used to.

As I get older though, I realize what’s important-what and who I want around me.  I don’t want negative people.  I don’t have the time or the energy to try to change their minds. I have little patience for whiners and complainers.  I have even less patience for naysayers, doomsday-sayers, and hide-under-a-rock folk. I have no patience for legalists, Pharisees, and judgmental hypocrites.

But I do have time and take pleasure in my friends. Jo tops the list. My girls and grandson stand next. I am supposed to have lunch tomorrow (Topp’t pizza…yum) with my best male friend, a college friend of close to 50 years. And then there was last night. A last minute call asking us to join them and we spent over 2 enjoyable hours with them. His excitement after buying 10 acres of land for their future was evident. It has been a dream. They moved to Owen County in January of 2008; had corresponded with our webmaster (one of our former leaders) and me beforehand; we went out for lunch (pizza, of course) after their first visit to OVCF; and the rest is history.  Sunday lunch was usually with them. We were inseparable until they betrayed us and moved about 45 minutes away. 🙂 I jest. Actually, it was a good family move for them, but the knife in my heart was real. Even now, we try to get together to eat and laugh. They like Texas Roadhouse too! They also like Mexican, which is right up Jo’s alley. I also know Ryan reads and comments so I’ll say out loud: Thanks Ryan and Amanda for a great evening and for an even greater joy: our friendship.

Long story short: friendships are valuable. As I get closer to “the other side,” I realize friendships last. I want to gather my friends around me, reminisce, laugh and tell them how much I love them and their friendship has meant to me. The truck, the toys, the house, the bike can’t hug or speak back. (Although I do have a t-shirt that hints the bike just might). Real friends can’t be replaced.

“Father, thank you for my friends. Thanks for those who have been longtime friends. I value them more than they know. And help me to be a friend. And thank you for Jesus-the friend of sinners. Like me. ‘Greater love has no man than this than a man lay down his life for a friend.’ That’s Jesus.” 

February 18

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Try vs Never Try.

Do you remember (or maybe I’m showing my age) a man named Evil Knievel? He was a motorcycle daredevil. He probably broke more bones than I have in my whole body! Some would call him nuts. Some called him crazy. Others might be more clinical and call him “certifiable.” 🙂 I’m not adverse to any of those because NO WAY under God’s green earth would I be caught dead doing what he did. Oh…wait a minute. I would be dead. Jumping buses on a motorcycle? Not a chance. Jumping to dunk a basketball was dangerous enough. Doing loop-de-loops then taking to the air? Nope again. Claim a sky-cycle will take me from one end of an Idaho gorge to the other end. Over my dead body. Exactly!

But there is one thing you can never accuse him of: not trying. I looked up this quote by Teddy Roosevelt:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.

I don’t know if Evil used that as his motivation or not, but it sure says a lot. As someone has said, “It is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all.”

As an aging pastor and as a pastor of a small church in a small town, it is easy to get cynical. To get locked into “the old ways” of doing things the way they’ve always been done. Ministry is so different in 2020 than it was in 1974. The Gospel has never changed; the methods of proclamation have. While I’m not into the attractional model (think seeker-sensitive) and performance-oriented worship services, I must realize that change happens all the time. No change=death. The way I see it if something is not anti-Scriptural and it fits the culture of my town/my setting, give it a try. If it fails, least I tried.

And God is still there.

“Father, help me not to close off You nor close off the opportunities presented to me. You just may be saying, ‘Try it Bill. Then stand back and watch Me work.’ Help me not to be old and crotchety about trying new things.”

February 17

Monday, February 17th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Essential vs Nit-Picking.

There is an old adage that I learned in college and has been reinforced in me lately: “In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; but in all things, love.”

I read recently of two struggling churches in a small town who decided a merger was needed. They talked but it never happened. Why? They could not agree over a phrase in the Model Prayer. One wanted “Forgive us our debts” while the other wanted “Forgive us our trespasses.” Seriously? The local paper reported one church returned to their debts and the other went back to their trespasses.

I once read awhile ago about two churches in a small town on opposite street corners. One had the name “The Original Church of God” and the other had the name “The Original Church of God #2.” Again. Seriously?

There are certain essentials we must all agree on. God: Almighty; Creator of all; Omnipotent; Omniscient; Omnipresent.  Jesus: God’s only Son; Born of a virgin; Fully God/Fully man from birth. Savior of the world who died on a cross and rose physically from the grave. The Holy Spirit: third member of the Trinity; Christ in me, the hope of glory; purpose is to draw attention to Jesus not Himself. We are all sinners and need salvation. We are saved by grace through faith.  Jesus is returning someday. That is a scaled-down version.  Those are essentials.

Opinions are those things which are not related to salvation. Clothing. Music. Tattoos. Many others. Those things the Bible does not speak for or against directly. People pick fights over the silliest and often the stupidest things. Things that don’t and won’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. “In opinions, liberty.”

But to split and leave a church or a friendship or to split over an opinion? To pout and whine and rally the troops over an opinion? “In all things, love.”

It is one thing to hold to the truths and major issues set forth in Scripture. It’s another thing to pick fights over every jot and tittle or personal preference. Maybe its time we look deeper inside our heart and see if we are one of those who majors in minors and minors in majors. Maybe it is time for us to revisit the words in Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“Father, help me not to be one who nit-picks. Help me to know what is true in Your Word-an essential. Help me to allow for different opinions. And in that, to always show love.”

December 25

Wednesday, December 25th, 2019

You SHOULD NOT be reading this today! You should be with your family and friends, not on the computer.  🙂  And I know what you are thinking: “If I should not be reading this you should not be writing this.”  True that. Except for the fact I still got up early to have my Quiet Time and to get my “mind juices” flowing before starting my day.

This morning the church I pastor will be offering a hot breakfast to the community. We typically have less than on Thanksgiving, but as Jo and I talked yesterday, it is a “crap shoot” to plan on how many to expect. We will still deliver breakfast to those who have requested it, plus to the civil servants and gas station workers who have to work this morning. At this point, we have about 30 deliveries to make to individuals and the number of workers is usually in the 30 range. So my drivers (I’m in charge of deliveries) will stay busy. We have generally served close to 20-30 on a typical Christmas morning. Who knows today?

Why do we do it?  For several reasons actually. One, several years ago I was asked by the Chamber of Commerce (of which I’m a board member) if the church does anything for Christmas. The local UMC does a lunch so we certainly weren’t going to reinvent the wheel. Don’t need two churches competing over that. So we offered a breakfast. Two, it had already been on my heart to do something so I took it as confirmation we were to take this step. Three, and this is my motivation: I don’t believe anyone should spend Christmas alone. For various reasons people do. I want to give them an opportunity to not be. Some are down and out on their life situations and are alone because of loss or because they have no family left locally. NO ONE should spend Christmas alone. And four, I believe it is what Jesus would do. His famous words “When I was hungry, sick, in prison…” motivate me to reach out. Those who help, those who give up some time on Christmas morning to help, are showing that same spirit.  I’m not opposed to but am not part of the social justice crowd. I prefer to do it one person at a time.

So very soon I will be heading off to the Lion’s Club where we offer the breakfast. It is right in the heart of the town and can be easily accessed by walking.  If you happen to be reading this, I would appreciate your prayers for safety for my drivers and for someone to not feel so alone this Christmas.

And I pray God’s blessing on your day of celebration of the birth of our Savior.

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.”