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September 22

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

One of the things I read a lot about, especially during this pandemic, is worry. Worry about the virus. Worry about family and friends. Worry about a job. Worry about the future. Worry about money. Worry about how things will be on the other side of it. A pastor’s life is compounded by the sheer responsibility he feels for the people he pastors/shepherds. So multiply a family of four (for example) times 25 or 50 or more. Now you catch a glimpse of the magnitude.

So its easy to worry about things. Both big and small. Jesus speaks to that in Matthew 6: 26-27: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you be being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” His picturesque advice for His listeners in just as appropriate for His followers today. He is saying, “Bill (or whatever your name is) don’t worry. I got this and you will be taken care of.” Why should I be anxious? Why should I hoard for fear of the future? Why should I be concerned about where the next dime is going to come from? Jesus has promised He will take care of me. In spite of how easy it is to feel alone, forgotten, left hanging on a string, He has made a promise and will keep it.

Trust Him. He made another promise He keeps: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

“Father, those words are for me. May I not forget Your promise given in Matthew 6 and elsewhere.”

September 21

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Sometimes I’m afraid many churches try to conjure up hype. I know as a pastor it is frustrating at times wondering what it’s going to take to “fire up” a church. There is talk of that being a revival. “We need a revival” we will say. But tragically, we then go about it under our own strength.

You’ve seen it, as have I. Special “revival” meetings. Bring in a band and have a concert. Meet under a tent. Schedule prayer meetings. Bring in a “big gun” to preach. They used to say an evangelist had 7 sermons and a fast car.  He would come in. Tell it like it is. Offend a few. Stir the people up. Get out of Dodge. A lot of what we want to call revival is man-made. Correction: most of it.

In the book Jesus Revolution, Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn talk about what was called the Jesus Movement. In one section they were describing Greg’s “church plant” in Riverside (encouraged by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel). They were meeting in the Riverside Municipal Auditorium which they affectionately called “Riverside Municipal Microwave Oven” because it had no A/C. But each week the church continued growing. Greg couldn’t explain it but it was explained by using a quote Warren Wiersbe credited to former YFC president Bob Cook: “If you can explain what’s going on, God didn’t do it.” Those are good words. Maybe taking my hands off the wheel is the best thing to do. Maybe trying to manufacture revival or church growth is not a human effort at all, but is, in fact, the work of God.

“Father, show me when I need to steer and when I need to let go. Help me not to think I know best, especially when it comes to Your work.”

Note: I review the book, Jesus Revolution, on my other blog.

September 15

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

Signs. They are everywhere. It’s a political year. UGH! Speed limit. Directional. Enter. Exit. Signs for a restaurant. Signs on a door telling us to wear a mask (2020).  Reminds me of that old pop song: “Signs, signs, everywhere are signs/Clogging up the scenery, breaking my mind/Do this, do that, can’t you read the signs?” 

We have people, especially with the chaos and uproar of this day, talking about and asking, “Are these the signs of the times?” Back in 1967 when the Israelis won the 6-Day War and their land from the Arabs, they taught it was a sure sign that Jesus was coming really soon. I think it’s safe to say “soon” is relative. Same for today. Nobody knows.

Growing up near Pittsburgh I was surrounded by a large Catholic and Orthodox population. The sign of the cross was and still is big to the “practice” of that religion.

It strikes me then with all this talk of the signs of the time that Paul wrote in I Cor.1:21-25 the following words: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (Emphasis mine) Did you notice “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified”? Jesus Himself said the only sign given would the sign of Jonah (death, burial and resurrection).

Maybe it’s time we stop looking to the world events trying to interpret “signs” and simply draw people’s attention to the one sign most important: the cross of Christ. Even the OT people were not saved by looking around or looking inwardly. They were saved by looking at the snake fashioned by Moses and lifted up for the people to look at. A foretaste of Jesus’ own words: “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to Me.” (Jn.12:32)

“Father, may I lift up Jesus. May I preach the cross not man’s opinions. May I draw people’s attention to the cross, not the ‘signs of the times.’ May Jesus be exalted in all things.”

September 10

Thursday, September 10th, 2020

As a pastor one of the hardest things to do is to watch a person/family leave the church. Usually. Getting close to people is something I was told to never do. Unfortunately, that is not my personality. It’s just not me. So when people leave because they are moving away, it is hard, but understandable. Just about two years ago I had some very close friends move to another town that made it impossible for them to make the weekly trek here. I still miss them.

If someone leaves because they can no longer agree because of doctrine, it is time to leave. We had someone leave in the past several years-a family I had come to love and the church had loved well-because they wanted to follow Bethel and their wacky teachings.  People need to leave if the teachings of the church no longer “fit” them.

Then there are those I will call “blessed subtractions.” They are the kind that bless the church by leaving. They tend to be gossips, busybodies, cantankerous, opinionated, loud, obnoxious, “me first,” I-am-right people. Their beef is a personal thing, almost a vendetta against another. Now, if it is a doctrinal issue-like the Virgin Birth, or the nature of God, or who Jesus is-then that is a legitimate reason.  But because someone or someone(s) won’t agree with you…bye.

To all who are in a church that teaches false doctrine I say this: Get out! That is not without Scriptural precedent. In Matthew 15: 13-14 Jesus is talking about false teachers.  His advice? “Ignore them.” Get out of there! There are churches which dot the landscape that teach false doctrine…get out! Heresy is nothing to play around with. If a person is unhappy in a church over its teaching…get out! Heresy and cult often go hand in hand. Aberrant doctrine. Domineering leadership. Get out!! Avoid like the plague. That’s a scriptural reason to leave. Leaving because people won’t see things your way is not.

“Father, please give me discernment to know truth from error.”

September 8

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

I recently had a visitor to my office who struggled with what is common among many followers of Christ: Assurance. She has struggled with cancer and COPD  for several years now and she is tired. I admire her spunk and determination though. The doctors told her years ago she only had maybe 6 months left. That was over 4 yars ago. She has gotten to see her two great granddaughters grow up, as well as the birth of her great grandson. She once thanked me for the live stream we are doing. She watches each week and what was especially meaningful to me was she said, “I have found my faith again.” She clarified it the day we talked when she said, “I didn’t lose my faith. I struggled with accepting the cancer. I wanted to say ‘Why me?’ “

Her biggest question though was not about cancer. As we sat and talked her biggest struggle was knowing for sure she was saved, that she was going to heaven. I showed her I Thess. 4: 13-18 but my strongest passage was Romans 8: 31-39. “If God is for us who can be against us?” “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

She isn’t alone, you know? There are way too many people who live in un-assurance. Constantly wondering if they did one thing that would be the deciding factor and they would be lost forever. I don’t see that in the Bible. Unless someone was never truly saved or “deconstructs” their faith to put Jesus to an open shame, salvation is eternal. She walked out a different and much-relieved woman than when she came in.

Do you have that assurance or do you live in fear?

“Father, thank you for assurance. Thank you for all that comes from You in the way of assurance, peace, and confirmation of your love for me.”

August 27

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill has always been an interesting one to me. You can find it in Acts 17: 16-34. Paul is in Athens, the religious center of Greece. In fact, as you walk with Paul and listen to him, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Athens was the home of virtually every god known to man. In 17:16 it says, “Paul’s…spirit was provoked as he saw the city was full of idols.” In verse 22 it says he begins his sermon with “I perceive in every way you are very religious.” I’d say those are dead giveaways! 🙂

As Paul reasoned with the people, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were curious (they loved engaging with others for the purpose of learning and discourse), but some were hostile. Why? Because he preached Jesus and His resurrection.  He didn’t “preach” health and wealth. He didn’t “preach” a glory cloud will fall. He didn’t “preach” God wants to bring a miracle to your life. No. He preached Jesus and His resurrection.

They wanted to hear more, but it was more of a defense of what he believed. The Areopagus was a court named for the hill on which it once met. His defense is interesting.

  • He alludes to their multiple gods.  They were “very religious.”
  • He zeroes in on the altar To An Unknown God. They were “spiritual;” they believed in the supernatural. Sort of like many in our day. They believe in something; they just aren’t sure what or who.
  • He teaches with purpose.  Take note of it: The God who made the world (the one they classified as unknown); He doesn’t live in temples; He gives life, breath, and all things; He has made us all equal (one blood); He has put in all of us a need for Him and a desire to seek.
  • He presents the appeal. Now is the time. God has overlooked our rebellion but no more.

Such a far cry  from the mere pablum of our day. No hype. No promise of wealth. No “God wants His kingdom here now.” No “think better of yourself because you are worth it.” Just Jesus and our need for Him. Just Jesus and our need to repent. Just Jesus- and it was all cemented not by our agreement-but by His resurrection. And like today the response was mixed. Yes, as expected there was hostility. But that day Paul’s honesty in preaching brought some into the kingdom and raised the curiosity of others.   

“Father, my mandate is to preach Jesus and Him crucified and resurrected. Help me not to waver from that mandate.”

August 26

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

Each morning as I sit at the table to have my Quiet Time, I start out with these words: “Father, speak to me through Your Word this morning. Show me something I need for today.” I base that on Psalm 119:18- “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” The words to the old hymn ring out in my mind as well: “Open my eyes that I may see/Glimpses of truth Thou has for me.”  (How did that King James word get in there?) 🙂

Sometimes when I come to His Word, He surprises me with something momentous. A truth I once knew that needed “shored up.” A conviction I need to heed, especially of sin. A verse that speaks anew to my heart. An encouragement for a tough time. An answer for a vexing question. A reassurance for a time of questions. A light for a time of lostness or doubt.

In old days (the 1800s) people used to consider catastrophic events, like when their life was spared, as their “conversion experience.” You know…”I was walking through the woods when a tree fell and barely missed me. That was God calling me to salvation.” Well…I sorta doubt that was a point of conversion, although whom am I to say it didn’t ruffle some feathers and wake someone up? What I do know is sometimes my experience with God in His Word is quiet and even, while at other times His truth explodes on me.  And what I DO know is this: however God chooses to speak through His Word, I need to listen, to perk up, and say with Isaiah, “Here I am Lord.”  Let me offer a challenge here. Next time you come to the Word to read it, ask God to open your eyes to let you see what He has for you. Then read expectantly.

“Speak Lord as I read Your Word. Open my eyes to see as the song says, ‘Glimpses of truth You have for me.’ ”

August 14

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Yesterday on my other blog, Cycleguy’s Spin, I posted this thought. It was so important to me (and I wrote it yesterday morning) that I thought I would post it here.  Jo picked up Braden, our grandson, yesterday and we are taking him home tomorrow, so I thought I would post this just in case I failed to find the time to post a new devotion. 

There are a few things I simply can’t stand, the thought of eating them just curls my stomach. (Pun intended). When I say them some of you will say, “Seriously?” I can’t stomach to taste cinnamon, coconut and parmesan cheese (the kind that smells like dirty socks that people like to sprinkle on spaghetti and pizza. **gag**. Talk about ruining pizza!!). It is a joke around here for some to tell me they made chocolate muffins, but added coconut or cinnamon. They ruin chocolate. 

But as much as I can’t stand those ingredients (and probably a few more), there is one thing I hate. I despise with a passion. And that is legalism. Legalism by my definition is ordering the Christian life by a list of rules and regulations, of do’s and don’ts. For way too many years I was in that camp. Tithing (you have to).  Church attendance (no Christian skips). Bible reading (every day buddy). Baptism (by immersion only for the remission of sins). Communion (every week). Prayer (I let some slack on this one because I was sketchy myself). Alcohol consumption (tee-total it without exception). Tobacco use (seriously you would put cancer in your body?). You name it; I probably had a rule for it. Now, in all honesty, I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was trying to legislate the Christian life. Salvation was based on what I do; not based on what Christ has done.

Paul faced that. We see it was an issue in the early church (Acts 15). Paul squared off against it in Galatians 2. The issue was so encroaching and so powerful  it even took down Peter. But Paul was not about to back down from that challenge either! (You can see what he does in Galatians 2: 11-14).  The Judaizers were the culprits, men who said you had to abide by the Mosaic law, especially circumcision. But Paul is very clear in Galatians 2:16: “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…by the works of the Law no one will be justified.”

Case closed. There would be no wavering for Paul. He didn’t care if you were Peter or not. Or Bill. I’m so glad I learned about grace and faith and freedom and God brought me out of that ugly jungle.

“Father, thank you for grace. Thank you for the rescue from legalism. Thank you for the introduction to and embrace of freedom. May I always be a messenger of grace.”

August 10

Monday, August 10th, 2020

I read an interesting passage of Scripture today from Acts 11:19-30. I’ve read it oh-so-many-times before but I had a different reaction today. I suspect its because of the past 5 months of world events. Covid. George Floyd’s death. Protests. Riots. Lies of the media. The church having to adjust. It is the latter that hit me.

Acts 11:19-20 says, “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they came to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.”

Noticed what spurred them on? Persecution. Did you notice who they took the message to? The Jews-their own people. UNTIL some came from Cyprus and Cyrene and took the gospel to the Greeks at Antioch. Bingo!

There has been a lot of chatter and a lot of blogging about the church’s response to Covid and being told to shut down. My point here is not to argue that. My point is how, because of Covid, and because of “persecution,” the church had to go beyond its walls. No longer was I preaching to the church attender, to those who came on Sunday. I was preaching to unknown faces, unknown people, from who-knows-where. The church has expanded beyond the walls. And it looks as though it will continue. And that is all for the better. The message of the gospel was never intended to stay within its walls on a Sunday. The church must not waste this opportunity.

And FYI.  Want to see how Acts 11 culminated? Read verse 26.

“Father, thank you for the opportunity to take the message beyond the walls. I pray it will continue to expand until those who need to hear the message, hear it.”

August 5

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

Have you ever noticed how some Bible verses with rich meaning become nothing more than cliches to be rattled off and soon become pictures, displays, knick knacks, etc? Several come to mind.

A number of years ago I loved Isaiah 40:31- “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up on wings like eagles…” Suddenly I began to notice all types of eagles around me in stores. Then that verse started appearing on all sorts of items in the bookstore.

Another is Romans 8:28- “All things work together for good…” It seems like everywhere one turns that phrase seems to stare at you.

Of course, there are many others. “I know the plans I have for you…” “If my people…” “I can do all things through Christ…” My contention is this: those verses (and more) must be more than cliches or quick catchall phrases on t-shirts, or posters or cute little items. It hit me when Is.40:31 had to become a reality to me when I lost my position. It hit me when I had to ask myself if I truly believed Romans 8:28. That’s when cliches and time-worn phrases become concrete; they become a balm to a weary heart and salve to a wounded one. They become a lifeline when sinking is an option. They become a life preserver when I feel as if I’m going down for the last time.

“Father, the truth of Scripture is more than mere cheap words.  It is life! May your Words be more than feel-good sayings to me. May they be the very rock upon which I stand.”