God’s Plan

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May 12

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

We all face tough days. We use different phrases to describe them:

From the frying pan into the fire.

Going from bad to worse.

Between a rock and a hard place.

My mother told me there would be days like this, but she never told me they would run in packs.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of an oncoming train.

There are still a few hymns I like but my favorite-hands down- is Great is Thy Faithfulness. Rich theology. Steeped in Scriptural truth. It tells the Gospel truth of an unchanging, powerful, sovereign God. When all else around me shakes, rattles and rolls, I have a faithful God. He stand as a rock. He never wavers or waffles. He never stumbles or slumbers. He never falters or fades away. He never ducks or disappears. He is steady, sovereign, steadfast, and solid.

And He surprises me with new insights each day. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  (Lam.3: 22-23) I did not say “new revelations” because I don’t believe that happens, but each day I am the recipient of His mercy. No matter the storm. No matter the negative stuff. No matter what hits the fan. No matter the height of the mountain. He is there. Unmovable. Giving me fresh strength. Fresh eyes. Fresh hope.

“Father, even in the midst of this current struggle; even in the midst of a storm; even in the midst of seasons of change-YOU. NEVER. CHANGE. You are faithful.”

April 24/Weekend

Friday, April 24th, 2020

Should I or shouldn’t I? Do I go or do I stay? Is God calling me to do this or to do that? Those are questions probably most of us have asked from time to time.

I remember once when I was in a pastorate that had sucked me dry. I had sought to get out and the time was finally here. I had already interviewed and preached at a church and had been asked to accept the call to pastor that church. I asked for a couple of weeks to pray. In the meantime, I had already had an interview lined up with another church just in case church #1 didn’t work out. So I went ahead and interviewed with church #2 and found them to be wonderful and engaging and seemingly eager to break out of their mold. I was unsure and said something to a friend. He said, “Bill, take church #1. They have already extended a call. Plus even if it ends up being the wrong choice, God won’t abandon you.” He was right. I did. And church #1 did end up being the right choice for several reasons.

We often work ourselves into a frenzy or get frazzled trying to figure out “God’s will” for a certain situation. Should I or shouldn’t I? What choice? You know the questions. In his devotion book Good Morning, Lord…Can We Talk? Chuck Swindoll gave four great suggestions we should consider before taking a step of faith:

  1. Be sure it’s the Lord who is speaking.  We ought to make sure it is not just our wish or someone else’s for us.
  2. Be sure the decision doesn’t contradict Scripture. To leave a good, honorable, stable job to manage a porn store, for example, is not the right choice.
  3. Be sure your motive is unselfish and pure. Motive. Motive. Motive.
  4. Be sure the “leap” won’t injure others or your testimony. See #2. I think it would be wise to seek counsel and most definitely the “go for it” from those close to you.

Those are some good suggestions. I wish I had had them when I was trying to make that decision back in 1984. I now know it most certainly was the right one, but I could have saved a lot of unnecessary questioning back then. Not that either one would have been wrong, but church #2 never again did contact me. (Later one of the couples involved in the interview apologized. I don’t think they were thrilled how it went down). 

“Father, thank you for freedom of choice. As I choose-big or little-may the choices I make be Your desire for me. Open my eyes to see Your leading.”

April 15

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Did you know on this date in 1912 Titanic sunk?  108 years ago. Okay…on to other things.

As I write this-April 15, 2020- our lives are being “determined” by the COVID-19 virus. I use the word determined in quotes because while some people see it that way, I don’t.  I still see God in control of this whole scene and firmly believe my steps-all steps- are determined by the Lord.

One of the safety steps we are told to take is social distancing. At home it is called self-quarantine. Do not expose yourself to anyone nor allow anyone to expose themselves to you. It, for many, has become a lonely existence, a lonely time. Sure, there is social media if you use it. There is texting and phones. But interpersonal interaction in minimal, at best. I was reminded of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy. He is in prison with his life soon to  be snuffed out when he writes this letter to Timothy. He asks Timothy to come to him soon (v.9). He’s alone, deserted (v.10). Bring Mark with you and join me and Luke (v.11). Oh yeah, bring my cloak with you also and my parchments (v.13). Is Paul feeling sorry for himself? No, I don’t think so. He is simply gathering his friends around him for one last hoorah. How do I know that? Several reasons:

  1. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” (4:6-8)
  2. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (4:18)

Paul may have been in isolation in a dingy prison cell. But the last thing on his mind was defeat. On the contrary, his lips were filled with praise (v.17). In spite of our circumstances, we are not alone. Not by a long shot. God knows and provides all we need. If you are feeling alone, isolated, or just plain fearful, reach out to Him and also reach out to people as Paul did. In this age of social distancing and isolation and self-quarantine, you are never alone and you don’t have to be isolated.

“Father, help me to find ways to reach out while respecting others’ need for space. If I’m lonely or feeling isolated, please bring someone into my life whom I can help.”

March 31

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

If there is one emotion which captures the mood of many, if not most, people these days, it is fear. It has no favorites. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Mansion-dweller. Homeless. Actor. Homemaker. CEO. Grunt worker. Christ-follower. Non-believer. F.E.A.R. It paralyzes. It haunts. It creeps.

I was reading a devotion recently on Psalms. I’m going to reprint it in its totality for you. I hope it blesses you and show why we have nothing to fear.

Etty Hillesum was a young Jewish woman living in Amsterdam in 1942. During that time, the Nazis were arresting Jews and herding them off to concentration camps. As she awaited the inevitable arrest, and with the fear of the unknown (my note: sound familiar?), she began to read the Bible-and met Jesus. She simply put her hand in God’s hand and found rare courage and confidence.

Etty wrote in her diary: ‘From all sides our destruction creeps up on us and soon the ring will be closed and no one at all will be able to come to our aid. but I don’t feel that I am in anybody’s clutches. I feel safe in God’s arms. And whether I am sitting at my beloved old desk in the Jewish district or in a labor camp under SS guards, I shall feel safe in God’s arms. Once you have begun to walk with God, you need only keep on walking with Him, and all of life becomes one long stroll.’

Etty was a living, courageous picture of the psalmist’s declaration: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you…What can mere mortals do to me?” (Ps.56:3-4). What a challenge for anyone plagued by fear!

As we sense the strength of God’s everlasting arms beneath us (Deut.33:27), we can stroll through life with confidence, holding the hand of our unseen Companion.    Devotion by Vernon Grounds

I wish every person on earth, whether a follower of Jesus or not, could grab a hold of that truth. It is especially viable for the follower of Jesus to have faith not fear. Praise not panic.  My prayer is that including this devotion might soothe your troubled soul (if you are anxious or troubled).  And by all means, pass this along!

Devotion from Together With God: Psalms @2016 Our Daily Bread Ministries

March 23

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

During yesterday’s sermon Tami, who had to watch it from home out of precaution (she was coughing), told her mom I said something during the sermon that she wanted to post on her FB page.  First some background; then what I said.

I was preaching from Colossians 1: 19-29 and had been speaking about ministry when I came to verse 24.  Paul talks about suffering.  Not boohoo suffering, but suffering knowing there are positives in it.  In verse 24 we read where Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.”  The statement is loaded! First, his willingness to suffer enabled there to be churches started in Asia.  We know the gospel spread through his ministry hardship.  Second, his suffering brought good to the church.

We are in unprecedented times. A few might remember 9/11. A few might remember ebola.  There are very few around any more who remember the Great Depression. We have always had crises and always will. The church needs to check its reaction to a crisis.  We live in a time unlike many have experienced before. Leastwise, the church in America. We can have one of two responses (and this is what Tami wanted in writing):

The church can either panic or praise.

The church can either wilt or worship.

The church can either live in fear or faith.

The church can either flounder or forge ahead.

(And a new one) The church can either wander or wonder.

It is a question the Church must ask-collectively and individually. And it is a question each one of us must ask ourselves. How will we choose to live?

“Father, you have not given us a spirit of fear, but of power,  love,  and self-control.  (2 Timothy 1:7).  Help me to live the triumphant life of faith and not be held captive by fear.”

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 28/Weekend

Friday, February 28th, 2020

After finishing the OT I decided some extended time in the NT was needed, specifically in the Gospels.  Late last year I read them leading up to Christmas, but other than sermon prep my NT reading was miniscule.  So I began to scour my library and ran across a book I had received several years ago but never used: One Perfect Life by Pastor John MacArthur.  He takes the story of Jesus and puts it in order while including other Scriptures to help set the context.

Reading #2 takes me back to the Fall of the human race into sin. Genesis 3:1-12 and others.  As I read his compilation of verses and some of his notes, three idea became evident.  (He also put them in bold type in the footnotes).

  • Satan’s lie was “you shall not die.”
  • Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened. That’s not saying they were blind. They suddenly became aware of their sin, guilt, and shame.
  • Shame manifested itself big time in hiding from God. His question “Where are you?” is painful to read.

Take note that sin entered the world, not sins.  So, adultery or murder or cheating or greed didn’t come in with Adam’s sin.  What came in was the spirit of rebellion against God. Mez McConnell-“The Creaking on the Stairs”-p.63

What a great thought!  The sin that came, that revealed itself was rebellion against God.  All else comes from that. And what the Scripture teaches us is that didn’t first sin at the age of 3 or 6 or 10 or whenever.  No.  It reaches us we have that sin nature in us at birth.  Wait, make that in your mother’s womb. (Ps.51:5; 58:3).  Sin is a deadly poison and the only cure is the blood of Jesus.  That is the antidote.

“Father, thank you for the antidote to sin.  I am a rebel against you.  Thank you for your forgiveness of my sin.”

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 10

Monday, February 10th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Prayer: Posture vs Attitude.

I had a different kind of weekend than I normally have, and definitely different than I had planned. An upsetting weekend. An interrupted weekend. A tearful weekend. An angry weekend. A heart-wrenching weekend. A praise-filled weekend. An encouraging weekend.

Sounds a little schizophrenic doesn’t it? At times I felt like it. See…it wasn’t all at once. Obviously. If it was you probably would be visiting me in a facility. No…it came in waves. To be more specific would be to give away confidences so I can’t do that. Just suffice it to say the weekend was one that tested my stability, my emotions, my foundation, and even my faith. But I learned this:

Tears are a language God understands.

Hopes. Fears. Disappointments. Joy. Laughter. Reality. Emotions. Highs. Lows. Good. Bad.

I learned again that like worship, prayer is 24/7. I wasn’t formally on my knees all weekend long but, I was on my knees. I didn’t have my head bowed all weekend long, but I did have my head bowed. As I read recently:

Prayerfulness is not an event; it is a way of being in relationship with God.

I preached yesterday on worship, emphasizing how worship is not categorized as a 1-2 hour block during the week, but a 24/7/365 commitment where God invades every part of my world. Prayer is to be the same way. I may have not been in prayer “formally” this weekend, but I can say I was in prayer this weekend. And there will be more.

“Father, thank you for being with me this past weekend. Through all events You were there. I sensed it. Help me to continue learning to practice Your presence in all things, even if that does not include a formal stop-and-pray action.”

January 22

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

My thoughts are focused this morning (I wrote this at 4:15) on Alexander, and by proxy, Jimmy, Christine, Eliza and Isabella. (Ryan and I went at 5:15 but had to leave at 8:30 because of a previous commitment Ryan had. I am typing this at 11:16 and they took Alexander at 10:40 and expect it to last 3-4 hours. I will let you know when I know something. Thanks so much for praying for him).  “Oh Father, I pray for Alexander during  this exploratory and possibly life-changing surgery. Be with the eyes and hands and minds of the doctors and nurses as they work. I pray for an alternative for his heart, but if it is not to be, I pray for grace for Jimmy and Christine. Either way I pray You will be glorified, that You will be given honor and this will be a testimony to you. And I pray for Alexander-that no matter the outcome You will use him for Your glory. Now and in the future.”

Tonight we meet with a young lady named Katherine and her family to pray over her and anoint her with oil. She is 13 and has had Lyme disease since she was 3. (She went 2 years with it misdiagnosed). She is out of remission right now and it is raining havoc in her teenage body. We meet tonight in accordance with James 5:14-15. It started with me visiting them; then I wanted to include Ryan (since she is part of the youth group); then I wanted to include the elders/leaders. I’m praying for healing. Medicine and the medical community says there is no cure for this. Maybe so. But I serve a God who is bigger than that, One who can do more than I or anyone can imagine. It may not be His will to completely heal her. But I don’t know that. I’m called on to pray in faith believing He will heal her.  I refuse to doubt God’s power and sovereignty. I do know Katherine, her mom and dad (Becca and Rob); her grandma (Joyce) all belong to God. She has a sister, Ally, who loves Jesus. She also has two young brothers, James and Robbie, who love Jesus as they know Him. We will pray tonight believing in God’s healing power.

One last thought:Pr.22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” May my life be an expression of God working in and through me with more concern for Whom I represent than what I can get out of it. May I labor for Him and not for wealth or earthly gain and appeal.