God’s Plan

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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 11

Monday, November 11th, 2019

My title is Submission vs. Obstinance.

One of the dirtiest words in the English language is the word “submission.” Male or female that word “strikes a nerve.” “You want me to submit to him? You have got to be kidding!” “What do you mean I have to submit to the loser that is called my boss?” On and on our rebellion goes. And as I said-male or female-it is hard to accept.

That is what struck me as I read Luke 2 this morning. Following Mary & Joseph taking Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord, it says they returned to Nazareth. It ends with these words: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (v.40). We would expect that. He was God’s Son after all.

Fast forward 12 years. (Some of the blank years in Jesus’ life). He and His parents go to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. They leave believing Jesus is playing with His friends. A frantic search of 3 days finds Him in the temple, confounding and amazing the religious leaders with His understanding and answers. But here is the part that struck me after telling Mary & Joseph he had to be there: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” (v.51)  I do wonder if there is a correlation between that verse and the following verse: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” 

Jesus, the Son of God, submissive? To earthly parents? Yes!! How baffling.  But then again, not so. When you think about it was not His whole life one of submission to His Father? Philippians 2 says He submitted by coming to earth as a baby. He surrendered to the greater agenda of His Father. He knew His Father’s plan was birth, death, resurrection -those three- and He willingly submitted.

Unlike me who struggles with submission. A more apropos word for me would be obstinance. Oh sure, I say “I submit” but do I really? Do I not have my own agenda that I am staunch about keeping? Katie bar the door if I should get out of whack.

“Father, submission to anyone, especially You, is not always easy. I’m more apt to get obstinate. To want things my own way. Help me to say “Your will be done” and mean it.”

November 8

Friday, November 8th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Me vs You.

It’s always interesting watching and being around young children.  We have a pretty good number at the church and I absolutely love interacting with them. One minute they are running up to me and giving me a fist bump or a hug and the next minute hiding behind their mom or dad’s leg or just ignoring me.  Just this past Sunday a young girl-I’m guessing about 6 y/o-came running up to me as soon as she got inside to ask me a question. You need to know that she plays a game with me-she’s hot and cold. She has a beautiful head of hair and I asked her once if I could borrow some since I’m bald. Anyway, for her to come running up to me is unusual but she had to ask me a question: “Pastor Bill, who made God?” Aaaaah yeah.  🙂

Kids have their own world and to be honest want you to conform to their world. But we adults are not much different are we? I get irritated in slow traffic or when I’m cut off. Right now I’m dealing with some construction issues at home where I’ve been put off for 3 weeks. Is it him putting me off or is it me upset because the job isn’t getting done on my timeline? It seems to be an unending war between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of light. You bug me because you are not conforming to my kingdom wishes. AND YOU NEED TO CONFORM!

“Father, the battle always rages. My kingdom, my little fiefdom vs Yours. Help me to put mine to death and live in your kingdom as your subject.”

November 6

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Giving Up vs Giving In.

I realize as I write that title some would say, “But Bill. Those are essentially saying the same thing.” On the surface I would agree, but on a deeper level I’d say, “Hang in there with me. I want to take it and stretch it.”

Giving up is what someone does when they seem to have no hope left. We might use the term “throw in the towel” to indicate surrender. Lots of people do that.  Life gets hard; fortunes turn; a medical diagnosis turned life upside down; and we find ourselves throwing our hands in the air. We give up.

On the other hand, we don’t give up…we give in. Like King Hezekiah in Isaiah 36-37. Sennacherib, king Assyria, invaded Judah.  He sent a messenger to the king painting a very dark picture of Judah’s future (as well as slamming on God). Hezekiah seeks Isaiah’s help, then he goes to God himself. Hezekiah could have given up but instead he chose to give in. He chose to give in to God’s plan. Isaiah reassured him but a letter from Assyria drove him to the temple and into God’s presence where he spread the letter out before God and poured out his heart to God. He didn’t give up; he gave in to the only One who could save him and his people. He put his trust in God…where it belonged.

God brought about his/Judah’s deliverance by routing the Assyrian army. God will do the same for me. For you. While it may not be a literal army attacking, he will take what seems like an army and bring it into submission to Him.

“Father, help me not to give up and give into despair. Help me not to give up hope. Instead, help me to give in to You, to take the seemingly impossible situation and trust You to work things out as you did for Hezekiah.”

November 5

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

My title for this devotion is What Was vs What Is.

It is inescapable. In reality, it has been since before Halloween. What is that? Christmas is coming. Surely you’ve noticed the displays in the stores. Pretty soon we’ll see Uncle Sam in a sleigh pulled by 8 tiny rabbits. Sort of ridiculous if you ask me. (But no one has). Christmas decorations, trees, etc out before October is even over. It is definitely a reminder of our consumeristic society.

But it should also serve as a reminder of a greater truth: What was and what is.

The Christmas story is a story of what was vs what is. The story doesn’t start in a stable in Bethlehem. It actually starts in the Garden. Having known only the beauty of sweet fellowship with Adam and Eve, God came to the Garden wanting to meet with them as He always did. For the first time, Adam and Eve are hiding. The effects of sin-their sin- has already manifested itself. What was will never be again. What was sweet, pure and lovely will now forever be tainted with ugliness, mistrust, and a penchant for hiding from God. That bond what once was is forever broken. No longer do Adam and Eve long for and look forward to walking with God in the cool of the day. Now they hide. I hide. Sin has done its dirty work and has forever put a gap between me and God.

But that’s also why I celebrate Christmas. God has bridged that gap between us by His Son’s birth, death and resurrection. Praise God what was is not and does not last. Christmas is the celebration of God’s desire to have fellowship with me. With you. A tragedy is turned into a triumph. A forever broken relationship is mended by a Man- God’s Son. Born in a manger.

“Father, what was- perfect peace- will never be again. But what can be is a life with You. Thank you for Jesus- His birth, His death, and His resurrection.”

November 1

Friday, November 1st, 2019

My title is Good News vs Bad News.

Christmas (X from here on out) is a time of celebration. It is a time of revelry and joy. It is not a time when people talk about bad news.

I’m reading Paul David Tripp’s X devotion book Come Let Us Adore Him during my morning Quiet Time. I should say rereading it…for the 5th time. I first read it in October,November & December of 2017. Then I read it in December of 2018. I’m reading it now in preparation for X but also for my sermon preparation for that wonderful season of the year. Today’s devotion-#5-was about the Good news and Bad news of X. This chapter is chock full of stuff but two statements stood out to me.

“The incarnation of Jesus Christ pointedly preaches our inescapable need for radical, personal, and moral rescue and forgiveness.” (p.30)

“The reason the birth of Jesus is such gloriously wonderful news is that in His birth God offers you and me the solution to the fundamental brokenness of sin that is the core tragedy of every one of our lives. So confessing our brokenness is the only way we will ever fully understand and celebrate the birth of the Messiah.” (p.31)

Bad news= sin, brokenness, messed up, hopeless, need for rescue.

Good news= Jesus humbled Himself to get rid of the bad news which made up our lives so it could be replaced with good news.

“Father, not much more needs to be said at this point except thank you. Thank you for the Good News!”

October 16

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

My title for this devotion is My Steps vs God’s Plan.

Like every child, I was often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (I was just asked that the other day.  Hmmmmm.  I kid. 🙂 )  I started playing baseball when I was 8 years old. There was no such thing as T-ball or coach pitch back then. I fell in love with baseball and from someone who knew nothing at all about the sport, I developed into a decent pitcher and first baseman. I wanted to be a professional baseball player.  Later, sometime around my 7th-8th grade years I remember reading a series of books on an untameable horse on an island and told my dad I wanted to be a rancher. He laughed. I grew up near Pittsburgh, the land of steel mills not horses. 🙂  Then I got into basketball in 9th grade and didn’t know how to even dribble a basketball, let alone dribble and run at the same time. I spent endless hours on the side of the court leaning how. But practice and hard work got me to a decent place. So much so I wanted to play professional ball. That would have never happened. College was the end of that. My mom used to say when all the other boys were talking policeman, fireman, heavy equipment operator or some other “hero” job, I expressed an interest in being a pastor. Well, I guess we know how my “when-I-grow-up” scenario turned out!

I thought of that when I read two verses from Proverbs 16 today. “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (v.3) and “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (v.9).

I guess we know whose way won out! My steps were established by God…not me. All those dreams of grandeur as a child were good, but in the end, they were just pipe dreams. From before my birth, eternity was stamped on my heart by God’s indelible hand print. He told Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” (1:5)

God chose Jeremiah. God chose me. God chose you. God ordered Jeremiah’s steps. God ordered (and still is) my steps. God ordered (and still is) your steps. Jeremiah was His. I am His. You are His. How much better to say, “Have your way Lord” than to say, “I’m going my own way Lord.”

“Father, I’m fulfilling Your purpose for me. It wasn’t in sports or some other pursuit. I’m being and doing what You want. You plan is better.”

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 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.”