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March 25

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Have you ever felt as though you were walking around with this big “L” on your forehead? You know…the hand put to the forehead with the thumb and index finger forming an “L.” I’m sure you know that is the sign for “Loser.”

Admittedly, I have had those times:

  • Moving to become the 3rd person on staff only to watch the 2nd man leave for another church and then after a month goes by being asked to exit. Total ministry length there: 13 months.
  • Moving from there to a church in a small town with 25 people in the church only to realize less than 4 months in that I made the wrong move as their legalism choked me and I burned out.  Length of ministry there: 16 long months.
  • Moving from there and have a seemingly good 3 years end up with a secret meeting and a “you have until August” (This was April) with no explanation given except I wasn’t conservative enough doctrinally. (I didn’t believe in baptism as being necessary to be saved).

I could give you other failures. Personally. Professionally. Spiritually. Tasks unfinished. Relationships ripped apart. Arrogance running rampant. I can’t place the blame on the leaders or individuals responsible for the above actions. I was complicit too. I had to learn some very valuable lessons that as I look back now God had been trying to teach me all along. I also can see this principle come into play: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Pr.24:19-20)  I had to trust that God “got this.” I had to trust that He would take this wreck and make him useful.

I can point to Peter-disciple, loud-mouth, leader, deny-er, failure-as proof. Those last two. WOW! But God wasn’t going to let him wear the “L” label. He was going to take Peter from an “L” to a “W.”

“Father, thank you for not seeing me as an “L.” Thank you for saving me. For rescuing me. For recycling me into being useful for You.”

March 24

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

When things are going well it is easy to say, “God is good.” But then…

  • …An unexpected event requires life-threatening surgery.
  • …A car accident happens that leaves us paralyzed.
  • …A bike wreck happens with no known cause that leaves our body broken and bruised.
  • …A serious long-term diagnosis leaves our memory jumbled, our body trembling and at the mercy of family or worse, a home.
  • …A loss of job happens when the plant closes down.
  • …A virus comes that paralyzes a nation, shutting down all we know and life screeches to a halt.

Is God still good? The answer is a nutshell: Yes. God’s goodness is not determined by circumstances. One of the phrases I dislike a lot-by unbelievers and by Christ-followers- is “I’m so lucky.”  No.  You aren’t lucky because in God’s economy, there is no such thing as luck.

In spite of how hard it is to see, God is still good.  In spite of cancer;  a car accident;  a bike wreck;  Alzheimer’s, MS or Parkinson’s;  a job loss; or a coronavirus, God is still good.

“Father, no matter what happens in my life, help me to always remember You are always good.”

March 19

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

As I read a blog yesterday, it referenced this one. This poem is by Paul David Tripp and was posted March 17, 2020 at his blog.  I thought it was very appropriate for what we are facing as a nation, as people, and as a church. There can be no better place to be than in the shelter of His wings.

SAFE

I am safe,
not because I have no
trouble,
or because I never experience danger.
I am safe,
not because people affirm
me,
or my plans always
work out.
I am safe,
not because I am immune from disease,
or free of the potential for poverty.
I am safe,
not because I am protected from disappointment,
or separated from this
fallen world.
I am safe,
not because I am
wise
or strong.
I am safe,
not because I deserve
comfort or have earned my
ease.
I am safe,
not because of
money,
or power,
or position,
or intellect,
or who I know,
or where I live.
I am safe because of the glorious
mystery of
grace.
I am safe because of the presence of
boundless love.
I am safe because of
divine mercy,
divine wisdom,
divine power,
and divine grace.
I am safe,
not because I never face
danger,
but because you are
with me in it.
You have not given me
a ticket out of danger.
You have not promised me
a life of ease.
You have chosen to place me in
a fallen world.
I am safe
because you have given me
the one thing
that is the
only thing
that will ever keep me safe.
You have given me
you.

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.

March 11

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

I’m pretty sure all of us have heard the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I once had a little book with that title. It’s subtitle was “It’s all small stuff.” I don’t know about the accuracy of that latter statement because there sure are some things that loom like mountains in our eyes.

At the same time, I am also being reassured by God’s Word that God sees the small stuff.  I have often been asked, “Pastor Bill, does God care about the little things? Is there anything too small for me to pray about? Does He really care about such-and-such?” There are a couple of thoughts that come to mind that I would say to these folks:

  1. There is nothing too small for God or to tell God. Take a look at Psalm 8:3-4. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?” David sees man as something insignificant (small) in the grand scheme of things compared to creation and, yet, God cares about us.
  2. The widow who gave her mite (Mark 12:41-44) was small and insignificant in the eyes of the religious leaders. And she gave a really, really small amount of money when compared to others.  But it depends on whose eyes saw. The religious leaders would have ignored her (and did if they even saw her); Jesus saw her. They would have looked down on her small gift; Jesus applauded it.

Two examples of seemingly small things that caught God’s eye. How can we possibly think that our concerns are too small for Him?

“Father, thank you for seeing all and seeing the significance of each person, each gift, each request.”

February 25

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

My title for this devotion is When No Change is Good.

I write, read, and listen a lot on the topic of change. In fact, I just recently (February 18) wrote about how no change = death. And I still agree with that. We are in a constant state of flux. They say if you wear clothes now that go out of style just hang onto them because in a few years they will be back. (My mind does not compute a new influx of  parachute pants, the workout outfits of the ’80s, bell-bottom jeans, etc.  And yes, that was a shiver you just felt). 🙂 Aging baseball players, especially pitchers, sometimes need to reinvent themselves by learning a new pitch or a new approach to pitching or simply pitching smarter. As I stated in that February 18 devotion, as an aging pastor I need to not be locked into “what once was.” “That’s the way I’ve always done it and I’m not going to change.”  Yeah…and they’ll be looking at my back as I fade into the sunset.  I’m not talking surface when I talk about change. I no longer wear a suit and tie to preach in. Jeans and a t-shirt or casual shirt is sufficient. When people see me in a suit and tie (which is very rare) and comment about how I clean up well, I tell them they better hope they don’t see me like this. That means I’m either marrying them or burying them. 🙂

In all seriousness, amidst all the change there is one constant. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 20:7- “Some trust in chariot and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Chariots and horses represent material things, things we can touch. Without question there are those who trust in material things. They put a lot of stock in their bank account; their house; their cars; their toys; their job. All temporary.

The psalmist, though, is telling us there really is only one place to put our trust- the Unchanging God.  The Rock. The Great I Am. The King of kings. The One who never changes. The One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He doesn’t shift. The rest of that verse is poignant also because verse 8 completes the thought: “They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” The chariot and horse will fall but not God!

“Father, change occurs. Temporary things are just that-temporary.  But You never change.  Never falter. Never fall. I place my trust in You-the Unchanging One.”

February 19

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

My title for today’s devotion is One vs Many.

It is a constant-and I mean constant-struggle to choose and to act and to serve one Master. C-O-N-S-T-A-N-T.  It seems like every time I turn around there is another god wanting my attention, wanting my worship. Jesus knew of this struggle and warned against it: “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt.6:24)

That verse and thought came back to me this morning as I read Zephaniah. You don’t get very far into chapter 1 before God lowers the boom on those who have chosen someone other than Him. “I will stretch out my hand…I will cut off from this place…those who bow down on the roofs to the host of heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom,  those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him.” (1:4-6)

Do you see the duplicity? “They bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom.” It certainly shows a willful disobedience on their part. Swear to the Lord yet swear by Milcom. That would be like a soldier or subject swearing fealty to his king or leader but then turning around and doing the same to a foreign ruler.

One or the other. One God or many gods. Allegiance to the One or allegiance to another. The answer? “Seek the Lord…Seek righteousness; seek humility.” (2:3)  Seek to serve one one Master and be one “who will be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord.” (2:3b)

“Father, the struggle is real. The choice is made difficult by my humanness. I must choose to serve only One and that would be You. Help me to seek You; to seek righteousness; and to seek humility.”

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.”

February 14/Weekend

Friday, February 14th, 2020

Aaaaah. What’s that sound I hear? Oh yeah.  Love. Love is in the air. But that is not the point of my devotion today.

In the past I have not been kind to the OT. The conviction was so strong that several weeks ago I apologized to the church before I preached a sermon the Bible.  Good thing. I would have really had to eat crow after my reading this morning-Nahum 1. WOW!!! May I ask you to stop right here and take a few minutes to read it? Then come back here please for a few of my thoughts/highlights.

Thanks. You’re back. 🙂

  1. The Lord is a jealous and avenging God…slow to anger and great in power. (2-3)  I like the balance this gives. Jealous and avenging but He doesn’t fly off the handle at first provocation.
  2. His way is in the whirlwind and storm. (3)  No matter how alone we feel He is with us. No matter the strength of the storm He’s got us covered.
  3. The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble. (7) Ditto. See #2.
  4. It is good to be a harbinger of the good news. (v.15)

I read one chapter today. My practice has been to read several. But I’ve also told people to read until you sense God’s Word pressing its truth on your heart. I did that this morning.

“Father, what powerful truth I read about YOU. Help me now not to just read this, but to believe and apply it. Thank you for being YOU.”

My apologies this is posted so late. I was almost done and I must have hit a key that deleted everything. It was time to leave the house after that.  And yes, that is smoke you are seeing from my ears.