Faith/Feelings

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October 31

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

My title for this devotion is If vs I Can.

Like many people I have favorite passages of Scripture. Psalm 37:1-7.    Jeremiah 1: 18-19.  Isaiah 40: 28-31.  Romans 8.  To name a few. And I’m sure you have yours. During the life of Jesus, one of my favorites is found in Mark 9: 14-29.  I encourage you to stop right now and read that passage but just in case you are pressed for time, I’ll capsulize it for you. It’s the story of Jesus and his encounter with the man whose son is possessed. It immediately falls after The Transfiguration. Both stories are also found in Matthew 17. The part of the story that stops me each time is where the man says to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (verse 22) Notice the desperation in this man’s plea to Jesus.  But Jesus looks at him and says, “What do you mean if? All things are possible to those who believe.” (verse 23)  The father then says, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”

I have probably already written about this issue over the past year but it bears repeating. I liken it to the father saying, “Jesus. I have faith that measures a ‘3’. Please make it a ’10’.” The father-in my mind-was basically saying his faith was incomplete and is asking Jesus to make it fuller and richer.

Who of us has not been there? Who of us doesn’t continues to struggle with our faith? I confess. We want to believe; we want our faith to be fuller and richer; we want to knock it out of the park with our faith; but we can’t. We falter. We doubt. But God says, “Bring what you have and trust me. I will help your faith grow.”

“Father, increase my faith. Make it stronger, richer, firmer and more expansive.”

Now let me ask you: where is your faith at these days?

October 29

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Leading vs Following.

I am a leader. Least they tell me that. Maybe reluctant leader is a better description. It has taken me many years to come to that point. For so long I wanted to be seen as one, but I’m convinced leadership is not about a title or a position, but influence. For years, I thought I was “entitled” to be called a leader because of my title and position (Pastor).  I had to realize leadership is earned by wise choices and decisions and experience.

I also need to follow. That may take more humility than being a leader does. Therein lies my conundrum. I truly want to be a follower of Jesus. But there are times I am, or appear to be, totally lost. How do I know He is leading me in a certain direction?

“Though none go with me still I will follow.”

“Where He leads me I will follow.”

“I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.”

Lyrics from song sung in church when I was a kid. But how do I know? I’ve not heard Him speak audibly to me. Don’t even think that happens today. But I also can’t say I’ve gotten clear direction from His Word either. And people? Well, you know how fickle and fallible people are.

Following is not so easy in several respects. From the humility standpoint. From the knowing standpoint. I guess the advice I got from a friend years ago when I was unsure which direction to go in is good: “Bill, choose one.  If it’s not wrong or sinful-even if if is not the best-God will not abandon you. He will walk through it with you.” That really is good advice. Advice I cling to when making a decision or following (blindly) seems to be the only alternative.

“Father, following is not easy, especially when the way is not so clear. but help me to trust You in all things. Lead me. Help me-give me wisdom-to know how and where to follow.”

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.”

October 24

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Meeting Jesus vs Rejecting Jesus.

I’ve always been intrigued by and enjoyed reading the story of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark 5. I read it again this morning.  And once again I was captivated by its lessons.

  • This man was so strong, so “possessed,” that nothing could keep him chained. Call him the Hulk; call him the Mummy; call him the Werewolf; call him uncontrollable.

Then he meets Jesus…

  • The demons that controlled him found themselves face to face with the greatest force they had ever met and then found themselves laying flat on the ground at the feet of Jesus crying out not to be tormented.

Then he saw Jesus’ power…

  • They were cast out of the man and into a herd of pigs. I’ve always found that interesting. What were Jews doing with a herd of pigs?

Then he received Jesus’ healing…

  • The people heard about the pigs and came to see what all the commotion was about. The man was clothed and in his right mind. Can you imagine the looks on their faces when they saw this man no longer a madman but sitting at the feet of Jesus and in his right mind?  But…but…but…

Then he received Jesus’ words…

  • Jesus was leaving and he wanted to go with Him. Who wouldn’t? Especially after what Jesus had done for him. But it was not to be. Jesus told him to stay at home and tell the people how much He had done for him and how He had mercy on him. He does exactly that. (v.20)

This changed man did what all changed people-including me-are to do. Tell how and WHO changed my life.  The most powerful testimony is the changed life. “I once was blind but now I see.”

“Father, I have been changed by You. Your love. Your mercy. Your grace.  My response should be the same as this man-go and tell. Help me to do just that-to tell of all you have done and of Your mercy which has been shown to me.” 

October 1

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

My title for this devotion is Meaningful Words vs Blowhard, Empty Words.

I need to make a confession. I’ve been reading through Job in my morning Quiet Time and I’ve had trouble concentrating. I know the basic backdrop of Job.  He has it all. All but his life is taken away.  He has three “friends” who become very accusatory of him. He must have some hidden sin. He’s really not the righteous person he pretends to be. He is in rebellion against God. Blah. Blah. Blah. I’d say sarcastically “some friends they are” or “with friends like that who needs enemies” but I digress. You see…that’s not the whole story. They pretend in their blowhard, empty words to pretend to speak for God. They pretend to know God’s thoughts.

They don’t. If I was Job I’d say, “Take a hike!” In chapter 22, Eliphaz accuses Job of being wicked. In the margin of my Bible I highlighted verses 21-30 and noted it as Accusation of Job’s rebellion. Well, it appears Job has questions of his own. But they are not accusatory questions like I might raise. No. Just the opposite. He raises the fact that He cannot understand God because of the “bigness” of God. (23: 8-17).

Why is this important to me? Because I feel the same way at times. Wondering what I did to “deserve” the treatment I’m getting. I question my commitment. My walk. Am I holy? But it doesn’t come down to what I think or who I am. It comes down to what God thinks and who He is. Take a moment and read Job 23: 8-17 and see if doesn’t give you that perspective. It did me. “He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”

“Father, may my commitment to you only grow stronger through the daily struggles-be they big or small-I face. May I see the words of others- if they do not reflect You and Your Word- as blowhard, empty words which cannot affect or change Your view of me.”

September 18

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Answered vs Unanswered.

It has often been said (at least by me) that God has 3 answers to prayer: Yes. No. Wait awhile. It shakes out (as I see it) this way:

  • No. God does not grant my request. What I asked for was not in His desire for me. A little hard to take.
  • Yes. God agrees with me! 🙂 The request I made was His desire for me. Very easy to accept.
  • Wait awhile. Self-explanatory in its meaning. God’s desire for me is not now. The answer will eventually come but not yet. This might be hardest because who likes to wait?

But wait we must. The “No” is hard to take because we know what we want and God is basically saying, “Not today. I know what’s best and what you’ve requested is not in my desire for you. I have something better.” And sometimes the No morphs into “wait awhile.” If I’m patient. But that “if” is a big word.

The real stickler is common thought today among religious people, i.e. prayers are not answered with a Yes because I/a person does not have enough faith. I think that line of thought is pure garbage! I will sometimes say that something is from the pit of hell and smells like smoke. That’s exactly what I think of that thought. As I recall “great faith” was not an essential. Oh sure, there were times Jesus commended a person’s faith. Jairus. The centurion. Even the woman with the issue of blood. But He also said that if we have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed we can tell this mountain to move and it would. Even a small sliver of faith is enough. It isn’t necessarily the size of our faith but that we have faith that is important.

Even a “no” is an answer; just as “yes” and “wait awhile” are. Big or small. Great or a sliver. It is never “your faith isn’t big enough.”

“Father, a mustard seed is all you said was needed. I bring what faith I have to You and pray for an answer- Your answer.”

August 30/Weekend

Friday, August 30th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Remembering vs Forgetting.

I’ve been reading the book of Ezra the past 3 days in my Quiet Time. While the beginning of it is rather dry with a list and number of exiles, there are several turning points:

  • Ezra 3:11- “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
  • The response of King Artexerxes to the letter about the rebuilding of Jerusalem and his negative response. The rebuilding stopped.
  • But King Darius changed that and made the decree that the rebuilding happen.
  • In chapter 7 Ezra is sent to teach the people the Word of God. Artexerxes changed his mind. (I don’t know the timeline but was he the same king ruling when Queen Esther approached him? And when was this?)
  • Today’s reading was a stab. After Ezra’s leading brought about reform and repentance, word came to him about the intermarriage of priests to the foreigners. The people confessed their sin and abandoned the intermarriage. Even a list is given of those who did!

Returning to Jerusalem was a great gift from God. Even Psalm 126 shows that. But with that return came some heart-wrenching decisions. Yes, there was joy. Yes, there was laughter, singing and recognition of God’s work. But there was also the need for remembering what was to be. Not a dead book at all…Ezra…but a book filled with joy and caution and warning.

“Father, help me not to forget that along with joy also comes a word from you about faithfulness. I need to remember who you are but also that you want faithfulness.”

August 27

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

My title for today’s devotion is Today vs Tomorrow.

My mind is all over the place this morning. No, I’m not ADHD and have trouble concentrating as a result. Two visits yesterday to the hospital-one for a man who had surgery then to return to follow-up; the other during that second time to visit a friend who has suffered a stroke. Three actually, each one worse than the other.  To add to that Jo and I are leaving today for Ohio so she can visit her sister before our trip and to follow-up with Medicaid and make funeral preparations to divest some of her sister’s money. I have this devotion to enter and a sermon to work on before we leave. A visit to the eye doctor yesterday told me I may finally have cataract surgery (which is not a bad thing). We also have the trip to Alaska to get ready for by Monday. Most of this is future, i.e. tomorrow.

Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” A man laying in a hospital bed with a stroke that (at this point) has affected his right side and speech had been talking about going to a neighboring town to eat rib-eyes (even though I hardly ever eat red meat) the past few times we have talked. It was always tomorrow. “We’re going to have to go there Bill. You, Jo, and us.” Tomorrow. Someday soon. In this case, tomorrow may never come.

The trip might be put on hold depending on his health. Jo mentioned it. I hope not, but who knows about tomorrow?

Of course, God does. But I’m not privy to that information. James 4:13-15 put it this way: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year’…yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ “

Tomorrow is not a sure thing. No guarantee. But I know I can trust my all-knowing God for the unknown future.

“Father, please take my scattered mind and settle it. Focus my heart on today and not worry about tomorrow. You know about tomorrow; I don’t. So I place it in Your unfailing hand.”

August 21

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

My title for this devotion is The Battle is His vs The Battle is Mine.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed. Things come up; things pile on; we get to feeling ourselves being weighed down; we are soon unable to move. Whether it be real or imagined, it just gets too much. At that point, we have two choices. Carry the burden and fight the battle ourselves or say, “God, I can’t do this. It is yours.”

We will say the latter is the right choice. And it is. BUT saying and doing are two different things. It is easier to say, “Here Lord” than to actually do “Here Lord.”

A good example of this is found in 2 Chronicles 32. Hezekiah was king and he had been THE man. He brought renewal and reform to Judah. He restored God to His rightful place of prominence. Hezekiah brought sweeping reform-both materially (tearing down altars, etc) and spiritually (renewing the Passover, feasts, worship of God, etc). But in chapter 32, it is all put to the test. Would Hezekiah’s plans be thwarted? Would his commitment be seen as a “say” or a “do”?

Sennacharib king of Assyria invaded Judah and came against the cities to make them his. Jerusalem was one of them. Hezekiah and his people made all kinds of preparations and had to listen to Sennacharib blaspheme God. Big time. But in 32:7-8 Hezekiah tells the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him…With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.”

Were those just words or did he truly believe that? He believed them. He and Isaiah (the prophet) prayed and cried to heaven and God sent an angel to fight the battle and Sennacharib went home in disgrace. It was so bad even his own sons killed him.

God’s words are true. Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” Hezekiah says, “Yes indeed! I can attest to that!” 

Question: Can I?

“Father, this battle is yours. My sword is feeble and over-matched by my enemy’s. But help me to let you fight my battles. Help me to trust you as Hezekiah and Isaiah did.”

August 20

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Touched by Grace vs Touched by Ugliness.

How do I, how do you, respond to hurt? Whether that hurt is real or perceived, intentional or not, how do I/you respond? Do we allow our lives to be touched by grace or ugliness?

I was reading this morning from Our Daily Bread. The author refers to Leif Enger’s novel Peace Like a River in which Jeremiah Land is a single father of 3 working as a janitor at a local school. He is also a man of deep, sometimes miraculous, faith. Throughout the book, his faith is often tested.

Jeremiah’s school is run by Charles Holden, a mean-spirit superintendent with a skin condition.  Despite Jeremiah’s excellent work ethic-mopping up a sewage spill without complaint, picking up broken bottles the super smashed-Holden wants him gone. One day, in front of all the students, he accuses Jeremiah of drunkenness and fires him. It’s a humiliating scene.

How does Jeremiah respond? If he lived today, he’s sue the pants off him.  He would claim some type of abuse or phobia or discrimination. Instead, Jeremiah looks at Holden for a moment, then reaches up and touches his face. Holden steps back defensively, then feels his chin and cheek in wonder. His scarred skin has been healed.

If I had been Jeremiah how would I have reacted? Would I have acted as though my life has been touched by grace or touched by ugliness? Would I have done as Jeremiah did or would I have done what was expected by the multitude?

“Father, may my life today be touched by grace not ugliness. As you have exhibited grace to me, may I do the same to others.”

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Your prayers would be appreciated this morning or today, for that matter. One of our young mothers is having knee reconstruction surgery for a torn ACL and whatever else they find when they get in there. I will be with her and the family this morning after I leave here (the office). Thanks…no matter what time you read this. I’m sure Shelby, her husband, Nikk, and the family would appreciate your prayers.