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January 18

Monday, January 18th, 2021

L.A.B.E.L.S.

Don’t you just love ’em? Please notice the sarcasm included in that question. Truth be known most of us despise labels. And I am not talking about those identifying what we are buying.

Oh, not that all labels are bad. Calling your son “sport” or “Mr. Baseball Man” is okay. Calling your daughter “the light of your eyes” or “Honey” or “Loved one” is good. But sadly, we seldom hear labels like that.

We more often hear labels like “Ugly” or “Fatso” or “Dork” or “No Good” or “Lazy bum” or some other put down. And man, can it go on and on! As a result, we grow up or see kids (and adults) grow up with ugly labels running through their head and unless someone steps into the gap and tells us we are not stupid or a loser, we will grow up believing the lies. This makes us very vulnerable to other words that tear us down AND ARE LIES!  I used to be called “Highpockets” by my grandfather, whom I loved dearly. He used that term affectionately because I was tall, skinny and had long legs. There is a big difference between that and “stupid” or “No good.” The former was said in jest; the latter is pain.

There is one identity that never goes sour…one label. That label  is “child of God.” “My son or My daughter.” “My beloved.” God would never and will never give us an identity contrary to Him or His Word. We never have to wonder if God thinks we are incorrigible or a loser or a real problem child. Granted, we are all different (that is part of the fun), but God has designed us to be so. He has made us all unique and put His stamp of identity on us:  “Property of God.” Don’t allow names people give you to supersede what He thinks of you: Beloved. Cherished. Uniquely made. Incredibly loved.  MINE.

“Father, Psalm 139 says, ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ You make no mistakes. And you don’t give us negative labels. Help me to remember that today no matter what comes my way.”

January 12

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

There are a lot of people who mistakenly think the laws of God are more like a noose around the neck as opposed to thinking they are for our good. “God is a cosmic killjoy,” they say. “All He wants to do is to take the fun out of life.” “Why can’t I live my life the way I want to? After all, it is my life.”

Well, I suppose that is true. It is my/your life. And yes, I can live it any way I want. But that decision to do so also comes with consequences. Supposed we look at God’s laws in another light. Let’s suppose we are on a train. As long as we stick to the tracks we go along smoothly and on course. But if we jump the track and try to steer that train through grass or sand or whatever it is we run into, what will happen? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. You go nowhere. The train ends up stopped dead in its tracks. It is not doing and being what it was designed to be and WHERE it was designed to do it. We can complain all we want about the train being held to those tracks. We can say they are hindering its freedom.  But logic and reality say, “Nope.” Those tracks are actually serving their purpose.

The analogy may break down somewhere but the point is still true. The tracks are for the train’s safe operation. Why not see God’s laws in the same light? Throw off His laws and life goes haywire. There are consequences. Why not see true freedom in His laws? Why not see true love in them? Why not see God’s hand of care and concern in the restraint His law puts on us? That’s where true freedom is found-living for Him by His Word and not for ourselves by our rules.

“Father, help me to see Your laws as part of Your gracious love toward me instead of restrictions I see designed to box me in.”

January 11

Monday, January 11th, 2021

One of the hardest things for me through this whole Covid-related battle I’ve had has been the ability (or is that inability?) to concentrate. It’s a real thing called Covid brain. Seriously. I figured since I would be in jail, I mean quarantine for 10-14 days, I would get a lot of reading done.  Nope. A puzzle or two. Nope. Some planning. Nope. Nowhere close. It seemed like I couldn’t keep my attention on much of anything. I was tired of sleeping (how does that happen?) which is another side affect of Covid, but couldn’t concentrate. On anything. So endless TV watching became my distraction (plus I was in the same room as Jo).

It’s easy to get distracted. I’m not on social media (I don’t consider my minisculey-read blog social media) so that is not something I get distracted by. No FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Go ahead and ask me if I miss them.  Answer: not one iota. But you talk about a huge distraction! You see them everywhere. I was at the Y awhile ago and this couple came in. He went immediately to work and she went to the “stretching” area. She didn’t. She sat on the floor and for the first 15-20 minutes or so was scrolling through her phone. Seriously? Why even come? I believe Bob Goff was right when he wrote:

“It’s easy to get distracted by everything else; what takes a little more work is to only get distracted by Jesus.” (“Live in Love-Walk in Grace”-p.8)

One of the classic stories of distraction is when Jesus told Peter to get out of the boat and come to Him. Remember: this was after Peter asked Him. Peter was fine until he got distracted. Then he began to sink. The full story is in Matthew 14:22-33. Imagine the story Peter would have been able to tell if he hadn’t gotten distracted!!

“Father, if I’m to be distracted, let it be by You. May thoughts of You consume me. Please help me to keep my eyes on You.”

January 6

Wednesday, January 6th, 2021

Have you ever noticed how often we “categorize” our worship? We talk about worship on Sunday in a certain place or time. But then act as though the other parts of our day or week are extra.

I even do that on Sunday morning during our corporate worship. I have caught myself (and not done a very good job of stopping or changing it) saying, “Please join us now and stand and sing and join us in worship.” See what I did? Say, for example, we had just had our prayer time when I say that. What have I stated? Answer: that the prayer time was not part of our corporate or individual worship, but now we are singing so we are worshiping.

No. No. No. That prayer time. That communion time (in our case). And ultimately the preaching time was all part of our worship. It is part of our psyche to make a distinction and say that singing is worship but prayer and communion and listening to the Word is not.

And it carries over into our daily lives as well. Worship does not just happen on a Sunday morning. It doesn’t just happen when I’m having my QT. Categorizing worship was never supposed to happen! Worship was, is, and always will be a 24/7/365 opportunity to praise the Father’s goodness and love. David praised God on the mountain and in the valley; on the run or on the throne; feeling good or feeling bad. Take a moment please and read Psalm 148.

“Father, worship is not be to categorized. But it is most definitely to come from my heart-all day, every day, any time, and any where. May my heart be one filled with praise.”

January 5

Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

Let me ask you a question-one I’ve asked myself seemingly a million times:

Is your service to God out of love or out of obligation?

Be careful how you answer that. The way we answer that is very telling concerning our way of looking at God. Please let me explain. When you and I come into God’s Presence, there are various ways to respond. Some will be terrified. I do have to wonder about the reaction of those who, while here on earth denied His existence; denied His Power; denied His Creative ability, etc. only to find out at their death all they held to was ashes. Some will be frozen in wonder and awe at the majesty before them. Some will-like the apostles- not recognize Him until after He left. I’m not just thinking of standing before Him at the throne but also while here on earth.

As a former legalist, my whole life was wrapped around performance. Not so much being enraptured by His Presence, but being convinced that I had to perform. My service to Him was out of obligation more than it was out of love. Oh, I told myself it was love, but it wasn’t really. Love has no fear and for the legalist fear is a major player. I can’t escape the duplicity of my thinking: “Jesus loves me this I know if my performance tells me so.” Many religious groups (not just cults) base their modus operandi on performance. Act a certain way. Dress a certain way. Go to church so many times. If not, shame on you!

So, let me ask you again: Is your service to God out of love or obligation? If you sit under a legalist, get out now while you still have your soul.

“Father, it is easy to see my prayer this morning. May my service to you be out of love for you and not the feeling of obligation or judgment.”

December 17

Thursday, December 17th, 2020

This is Day #3-the third and final day-of my thoughts on ideas found in the Introduction of Paul David Tripp’s little book 40 Days of Grace. I’d like to suggest you read Day 1 (December 15) and Day 2 (December 16) in order to prepare yourself for today’s thoughts.

There is a big different between “will” and “might” or “possibly.” In this final devotion, Tripp lists several ideas of what Grace will do.  Here they are:

  • Grace will remind you again and again that you have no ability whatsoever  to earn God’s favor, but it will dispel your fear of not measuring up. I could linger on this one a long time. How many go through life living in this fear?
  • Grace will repeatedly put you in your place will never harm you by putting you down.  I have to ask this question: Am I really a worm Mr. Watts? ( Think the hymn “Alas and did my Savior bleed?)
  • Grace will call you to examine yourself with honesty and humility, but will free you from being paralyzed by fearful introspection. It is good to examine; harmful to bludgeon.
  • Grace will keep reminding you of what you are not so you will receive God’s welcome to what you can now be. That is the result of a new life in Christ.
  • Grace will blow up your little kingdom of one while it introduces you to a much better, more glorious King. My kingdom of one is such a small package.

Grace is more than just a story, it’s more than just a theology, and it’s more than just a powerful force-no, grace is a person, and His name is Jesus. Jesus is the grace of God.

Celebrate Jesus. Celebrate grace. I’m typing this in my office and I just looked up from the computer to take a drink of my nutrition shake and saw a plaque I have above me on the shelf of my desk: Grace changes everything.  How can I argue with that?

“Thank you, Father, for your grace. Thank you for the impact it has made on my life and continues to make. Help me to celebrate Jesus.”

The comments in blue are quotes of Tripp’s from his book.

December 16

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

I want to continue today with my thoughts on grace taken from 40 Days of Grace by Paul David Tripp. I’d first encourage you to read (or reread) yesterday’s devotion again. (I just did).

“Grace is a wonderful story and the best gift ever.

  • Grace is a jewel of God’s character and the only reliable place to rest your hope.
  • Grace is a tool that God uses to transform you.
  • Grace is a theology that you could study forever and the sweetest invitation you will ever receive.”

Whenever someone asks me how I’m doing I will often answer, “Better than I deserve.”  When you take the time to analyze it, that is the essence of grace. It is often said, “Mercy is not getting what we do deserve; grace is getting what we don’t deserve.”  That is a very good and apt definition of both and it shows the distinction between the two. And both are true to the core. What strikes me, and this goes back to the third bullet point above is this: Grace is a jewel, but as long as I live I will never get to the bottom of it. I will never “mine” it completely. That mine will never play out, never exhaust itself, never run dry. I can unquestionably say that grace is unfathomable.

“Father, may I never stop probing, never stop mining, your magnificent grace. May I never ever feel I have reached the bottom of the well of your grace.”

{Just a note: putting Tripp’s thoughts into bullet points (in blue)  is my doing. I do it for clarity and succinctness. His initial thoughts are in a paragraph. So if there is any lack of understanding or misrepresentation (which I hope there isn’t) it is purely mine.}

December 15

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020

I began reading today another devotional book by Paul David Tripp. It is called 40 Days of Grace. I love-love-love-(did I say love?) talking and reading about grace. More than that, I love learning about and living in grace. The next two days I’m going to divide his introduction into devotional thoughts. There is way too much for one day. So strap yourself in, hang on and take a ride with me.

“Grace is a thunderous, expansive, powerful, and life-altering word…

  • It is the one thing that has the power to change you and everything about you.
  • It is what all human beings need, no matter who they are or where they are.
  • Men and women need grace, the young and the old need grace, the rich and poor need grace, the popular and forgotten need grace, and the weak and powerful need grace.
  • You could dig into grace every day of your life and not reach the bottom of its power and glory.

Grace explodes into your life in a moment, but will occupy you for all of eternity.”

Grace is the best of stories. I know it is the best of mine. I was such a sad, pitiful representative of God’s amazing grace. Bound by legalism, I was not a heart set free. Anything but. But one day grace broke through while I was on a personal retreat. I spent almost two days crying as God’s grace washed over me, I’ve never been the same and I never want to go back.

“Father, your grace as described by John Newton is truly amazing. Thank you for rescuing me from legalism and setting my heart free.”

The blue highlighted portion is from his book. There will be more tomorrow.

December 3

Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

When you think about it, Christmas is contrary to modern ideology. It goes against the grain of our normal way of thinking. Let me explain.

Up until a few years ago (I’m not able to pinpoint when exactly), our culture glorified and glamorized the strong. The man’s man was the rugged, western Marlboro Man…until, of course, we found out smoking was linked to lung cancer. We glorify the athletes, the strong men (and now women) of sport who personify to us healthy, vibrant, strong lives. You know…the superhero who can leap tall buildings in a single bound; fend off bullets; run with super speed; grow big or small depending on the need; escape any situation; and “live forever.” We see physical strength as the end all. Others see superior mental capabilities as worthy of praise. Logic is king. God? There is none.  And I could go on.

Enter Christmas. This whole story was not one of strength, but one of weakness. While Herod, the Romans, and the religious leaders were showing their strength (which actually was a weakness), God was showing His weakness and humility (which actually was strength). Who else would have thought a humble virgin from a backwater town would be the one suitable for and chosen to bear and bring the King into the world? Not me. Probably not you either. But God did. As was His MO, He chose the weak to shame the wise.

“Father, humility befits the season. Humility befits life all year ’round actually. Help me to be an example of humility and grace, following in Your footsteps.”

December 2

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

Christmas season is upon us. If we haven’t already, we will soon hear strains of love, joy, and peace. There is no question our world is in need of all three of those and more. The one which strikes me the most right now is the latter: peace.

As I write this in 2020, we have been through what can rightly be called The Year from Hell. It started with the China virus (Covid-19). It escalated into a summer of unrest and riots fueled by lawlessness and resulted in destruction of livelihoods and landmarks. Defunding the police. Crooked politicians who say, “Do what I say but not as I do.” A tumultuous election season. A resurgence and spike of covid.  A group known as “the squad” whose whole plan is to take down the democratic system we have. Socialism/Marxism fostered by groups like Antifa and BLM and some of the politicians plague us.

I want to echo the songwriter of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day when he says, “Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” Peace will never be found in our modern post-Christian culture which says human intervention will bring about peace. No. Peace is found in trusting the One who controls all things, even when we don’t understand what is going on, let alone what is going to happen next. Peace will not be found in “if I do this or that.” Peace will be found when we run to the One who is in charge and knows all things.

“Father, You are the One in charge. You are the true source of peace. Let me run to and cling to You.”