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January 26

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

Have you ever looked back on something-the way you acted, the way you said something, the way you came across-and with shame admitted you handled it poorly? I suspect most of us, or all of us, could raise our hands and say, “Guilty!”

What particularly bugs me were the times I insisted I was right when- and this is the real rub- being right should never have been the goal NOR the attitude to have. Sometimes we get so carried away with being right we forget to be kind. Case in point: Back in the ’80s (yeah that far back) Jo and I and the family moved to a small town in Indiana to pastor what was nothing more than a storefront church. They had attended a church in town for years; then attended a church in another town for several years (a legalistic one); then came back to their hometown because (and I quote) “Jesus needed a church in town’s name.” I did not know that when I went and to be honest saw some yellow flags but I panicked. I had been fired from the previous church by the Sr. Pastor and there was a month left before I was no longer being paid. I had already begun studying and praying myself out of the legalism which engulfed my heart and teaching and I can honestly say that serving this church was the knock out punch. One incident stands out. After helping my brother, Rob, with several concerts while he was visiting, I was called on the carpet for helping at one of those concerts. It had been at the local Naz church and he sang for their Thanksgiving celebration.  They told me I was sanctioning and approving of the local Naz church and was NEVER do that again. I was have to admit I was dumbfounded and did say something initially, but after I settled down inwardly I looked at them and said, “I’ve been here a year. I’ve seen a lot of people on the street and in their homes. Do you know what the reputation of this church is in the community? ‘We are right, and you are wrong, and we will argue with anytime you want.’ Not only that, everyone is going to hell but us.” I was shocked to say the least when one of the men/”leaders” said, “Well, it is true. We are the only one’s right in this town and we will argue with anyone about that.” I went home that night and told Jo, “We gotta get out of here.”   4 months later…Bye. See ya.

As I said earlier: sometimes we get so carried away with being right that we forget to be kind. Jesus never asked us to have all the answers or need us to monitor everybody’s actions like we are the religious police. Even when we do we can still be kind. Proving we are always right-or in their case the only ones who are- is an effort in futility plus one of extreme arrogance.

There is nothing wrong with believing in your convictions but having to prove you are always right-and in many cases the only who is- gets tiring.

“Father, may my attitude be one of humility, not rightness. And when I am right, help me to be kind.”

January 14

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

One of the tragedies that many Christ-followers fall into is failing to see people, events, or circumstances through the eyes of Jesus. I can’t “swear” by this but I think that may be at the root of a lot of peoples’ anger at God. Instead of seeing whatever it is through His eyes, we see it through our lens. I know I have done that. Sometimes I have railed at God-anger spilling out of my lips; my body tense for battle; my fists clenched…before I ever know His motives or desire for me.

So, what to do? I read a great picture of that. Imagine standing face-to-face with Jesus, enjoying a conversation about life and all its challenges. He looks into your eyes, and you sense His perfect knowledge of your innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires. You look into His eyes and see His deep love and acceptance of You. Then, in this moment of intimacy, you see Him step closer toward you, so close it looks like He’s going to knock you down. But instead of a collision, He steps right into you. He turns around so He’s looking out of your eyes, He stretches His hands down into your hands, and you begin to feel His heartbeat…He has clothed Himself with you. (taken from Experiencing God’s Presence-Jan 13)

As I read that my mind went to several Scriptures. “If a man is in Christ, He is a new creation.” (2 Cor.5:17). “I have been crucified with Christ…nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.” (Gal.2:20) “And all who have been united with Christ…like putting on new clothes.”  Some translations say, “put on Christ.” (Gal.3:27)

“Father, may I live my life as seen through Your eyes. Please give me ‘Spirit eyes’ to see as You do.”

January 13

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

I actually had two thoughts bouncing around in my head this morning and thought I would use them both. But I was unsure how to tie them in together. As you will see, that was not necessary. Maybe I’ll do the other one tomorrow.

My first thought was after reading Matthew 23. I’d encourage you to stop right now and read that chapter. If this is an “on-the-go” devo reading, I’ll summarize it for you. It is what is called the “7 Woe” passage, where Jesus pronounces 7 woes against the Pharisees. He’s blunt. He minces no words. I have a sneaking suspicion He wasn’t smiling trying to soften the blow of His words. I also have this feeling He didn’t look at the sky and drop His eyes and look at His feet. No, I can picture Jesus with eyes boring right through the chests and into the depths of every Pharisee’s heart and soul as He spoke.

He had enough of their hypocrisy. Let’s clarify that: self-righteous hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is one thing; self-righteous hypocrisy is a whole ‘nother level. I think we are all hypocrites to some extent. I know I am. Why do I say that? Because not always does my walk back my talk! Yep, that’s me. Saying one thing but doing another. I recognize that and can honestly say I don’t do it maliciously or purposely. That is the sinful nature, the old man in me, who wants to still make an appearance.

Self-righteous hypocrisy is different. It is doing something then trying to cover it up with self-righteous talk. Religious talk. It is looking down on someone but not acknowledging my own sin. That is Matthew 23 in a nutshell. The Pharisees could not see their own sin because of the self-righteous log in their own eye. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. They were tombs and monuments that looked good on the outside but were fill with dead man’s bones. There is more, but you get the point. Time to stop being a self-righteous hypocrite and put the cards on the table.

“Father, help me to be real-to You, to myself, to others. You see me as I am. Help me to stop pretending.”

January 4

Monday, January 4th, 2021

I wrote this January 1 but am posting it as my first post for 2021.

At the beginning of a new year, I, and countless other followers of Jesus feel like a new start is in order. So people make vows, resolutions, or whatever you want to call them, to do better, be better, speak better…better…better…better. But as the old joke goes we find out on January 2 our resolutions, well…are broken. Did you know making resolutions dates back to the Babylonians who made vows to appease their gods? As if that would work.

Maybe we ought to consider it a lost cause and pursue another avenue. For Christmas someone in the church gave me a daily devotion called Experiencing God’s Presence. The writer hit on something that not only had I never thought of before, but made perfect sense. Like many others, my awareness and closeness to God fluctuates. Close. Far. Close. Far. Inch back. Far. Why is that? {Because there’s a big difference between His Presence and an experience of it.-Jan 1} It’s not enough to believe God’s Presence is every where (and it is); it is also important to experience it. We don’t just want to know His Presence is there, we want Experience it. I’m not talking some mystical, transcendent thing, or some rapturous “caught up into the 3rd heaven” experience (2 Cor.12); or some hyper ecstatic “tongue loosening.” No, I’m talking about encountering Jesus so I am deeply affected down the core of my being. More than hype. Just a deeply affected, inner core sense of God’s Presence. That is my hope and prayer for me in 2021. Will it be yours? I invite you to join me in that quest.

“Father, move in me. Let me encounter Your Presence in the very core of my being. May this year be the year of Your Presence in me and those I influence.”

December 24

Thursday, December 24th, 2020

Caution: soapbox available and now in use. 🙂

There has been a saying which has gained an audience. When I say an audience, I mean an AUDIENCE. Bigger than a cathedral. Bigger than a stadium.  It has garnered the attention of the retail  establishment. You see it on mugs, posters, signs, church signs, billboards…you name it. I know what it is trying to say; I know what it is trying to do. The saying?

Jesus is the reason for the season.

Sounds catchy. Sounds so…right. But I don’t think it is. Sometimes I have felt like a lone wolf (probably because I don’t get out much) in speaking against it. And I know whoever made it up never intended a whole cottage industry to build up around it (then again maybe it was just a marketing tool). The one who made it up was trying to get us to focus-away from Santa Claus and to the real meaning for Christmas.

But they got it wrong. And this is what I’ve been trying to say for years. Jesus never was the reason for the season. We were. Want proof? Take a moment and read Phil.2:6-8 and then Isaiah 53: 4-6. That oughta do it. Jesus was never the reason for the season.  You were. I was. As the old song by David Meece says, “We were the reason He gave His life/We were the reason He suffered and died.” But…wait…that’s the rest of the story!! (And in case you are wondering it is called Easter).

Jesus is not the reason for the season; He is the one who is and who gives meaning to the season.

“Thank you, Father, for Jesus being willing to come for me. I was the reason He came and He gave the ultimate gift…His life.”

December 21

Monday, December 21st, 2020

I want to continue with some thoughts that further my devotion of December 18. I had them then but word limit tends to keep a restraint on me. And that’s good! 🙂

There is no doubt that Christmas is a unique time. While we (especially pastors) say, “Take some time to reflect on the birth of Jesus, etc during this holiday season,” the busyness belies that. No one has a handle on slowing down during this season, except for maybe the hermit in a remote cabin who has no cell phone, Amazon, or endless Hallmark movies. 🙂  According to Chuck Swindoll there are four dangers we must be aware of.

  1. There is the doctrinal danger of substituting the temporal for the eternal. Let’s ask ourselves this: Why are we celebrating Christmas? Seriously. And please don’t flippantly give me the old “It’s Jesus’ birthday” answer. Seriously now, why?
  2. There is the personal danger of impressing but not imparting. What does it say to others when we are just as frazzled as our friends and neighbors? Are we trying to impress others or share some love, joy, and peace…the real kind?
  3. There is the economic danger of spending more than we have. I can hear Dave Ramsey now! I’m grateful for his material. And I’m grateful for my bank’s Christmas Club. I have only so much to spend. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
  4. There is the psychological danger of getting built up for a letdown. I hate to admit it but a lot of Christmas is hype. What will we do when the “high” is over?

We offhandedly say, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Let’s make it a reality, not a slick saying. “Father, help me to be a leader in celebrating Christmas. Not the hype but the beauty and passion of the Christmas story.” 

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 14

Monday, December 14th, 2020

It seems like a subject that should not be one discussed during the Christmas season. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing/handling (ESV) the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer/ gangrene (ESV).” (NKJV execept where noted)

Not much of that discernment goes on these days. Progressive or “woke” Christianity is a “gospel” of false doctrine with a big dose of self-reliance. One hears it in the modern TV guys- the “Your best life is now” being one of them, for example. We hear it in the self-help books (Hollis and Hatmaker are two). We hear it in the false gospel that spills out of Bethel, Hillsong and Jesus Culture. But the gospel of self-reliance is nothing new. That lie was told in the Garden and still continues today. We even have pagans and non-pagans telling us we are and can be gods and little gods.

Here’s something to think about: if I was so cock-sure of myself; if I had the ability to pull myself up by my own bootstraps; if I was so self-reliant that I needed no one else- why did Jesus come? Why did Jesus die?

Exactly! I can’t. It is an effort in futility. And THAT is exactly the reason why Jesus had to come. Because I couldn’t. Self-reliance is a lie. Self-help is a lie. Self-improvement (on a salvation scale) is impossible. Enter Jesus.

“Father, you saw my helplessness, even my self-deception. I am nothing without Jesus. I have nothing without Him. I am incapable of bettering myself to make myself acceptable. It is all about Jesus and what He has done.”

December 8

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

I had a tradition I observed for years but broke two years ago. Every Thanksgiving Day I watched It’s a Wonderful Life (IWL) and followed it with The Santa Clause (TSC) featuring Tim Allen. I broke it because our local theater showed IWL on the big screen. I would watch TSC but this year with no TV or DVD player I watched neither.

IWL is probably my favorite Christmas movie, although it really isn’t one. Not like TSC or White Christmas. But the setting is Christmas Eve so IWL falls into that category. George Bailey is a local yokel who had dreams of travel but his plans were always thwarted. One desperate night he had come to the end of his rope and he prays, “Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there, and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope.”  The situation which made him this lost and desperate was not his fault but he took it on as though it was. The story is told that Jimmy Stewart had real tears in his eyes because he felt the loneliness and the brokenness of people.

We live in a broken world.  We could say “sinful” instead of broken and that would be true. But broken adequately describes our world. Things are broken. Yes, they are sinful, but broken just pictures someone at their wit’s end. Broken and cracked but unable to be fixed (or so they think). Not by any man made means for sure. Not by self. Not by a self-help guru.  Our brokenness, our “cracked-ness,” can only be fixed by Jesus. What better time of the year than now to bring hope and life and love to a world looking for it (even though they may not know).

“Father, I’m asking you to mend me and then help me tell others that you are the mender of lives and souls.”

December 4

Friday, December 4th, 2020

There are a lot of emotions which people experience during the Christmas season.  There are the devastating ones like loss, loneliness, and lifelessness. They lead to a feeling of why bother? Why not just give up? There are also those emotions which carry a sense of settledness. Joy. Peace. Knowing you are loved.

One that is all too common is one called discouragement. How do I know that? I’m fighting it tooth and nail right now. This has been an unusual year to be sure. The virus lead to decreased attendance until we had to lockdown. Then when we could open again our attendance began to creep back up slowly. And I was okay with that. Then recently the spike has hit and we are back to people staying home. I know this is best, especially for those directly impacted by the threat to their health or those they love. But that still doesn’t ease the angst of one who loves people and feeds off seeing them.  So after an up, then a down, then an up, and now a down,  I have found myself fighting off being discouraged. For the most part I’ve been doing well. My hardest time? This past Sunday when it hit me again.

This all came back to me and I saw it again when I read Paul David Tripp’s Day 30 devotion from 40 Days of Faith. While his devotion focused on how God has each of my days written down even before I was born, it caused me to stop and think about my own heart. I had to remind myself that what happens (has, is and will) does not surprise Him in the slightest. He’s not wearing the suit of the guy with question marks all over Him.

On the contrary, He authored this all with a combination of wisdom and grace. That means He knows my disappointment and discouragement and comes alongside me with an arm around my shoulder and eyes full of understanding saying, “I’m here Bill. Don’t get discouraged. You are going to be surprised when this all shakes out. But you gotta trust Me.”

So I do the only thing I can do. I cry on His shoulder and lean into His chest and resign myself to His warm and steady heart beat.