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March 20

Friday, March 20th, 2020

One of the verses that consistently rattles my cage is a small one-small in number of words, but big in meaning.

John had been the “man of the hour.” People flocked to the wilderness to hear him speak. He spoke like a true prophet-mincing no words; leaving no one off the hook; and taking no prisoners. Shyster? Gotcha. Legalist? Gotcha. Viper? Gotcha. Herod and Herodias? Gotcha.  Roman soldier? Gotcha. Religious leader?  Double gotcha. He told it like it was…and then some. But John was never supposed to be the man. No, he was the forerunner.  He was the prophet Elijah come again (figuratively).  He was also the voice of one crying in the wilderness. (Luke 3:4)  His purpose was to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was to prepare people for the Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of world. (John 1:29).

So it shouldn’t be surprising his response when his disciples came to him and told him that Jesus was baptizing more than he was.  Translated: Jesus was more popular.  His response is the verse that rattles my cage:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Another translation says, “He must become greater, I must become less.”  The implications of that are stunning. John’s view was consistent with his purpose: Jesus glorified not me. More of Jesus, less of me.

“Father, that should be my prayer- today and everyday. May Jesus truly become greater in my life and in all I do.”

March 11

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

I’m pretty sure all of us have heard the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I once had a little book with that title. It’s subtitle was “It’s all small stuff.” I don’t know about the accuracy of that latter statement because there sure are some things that loom like mountains in our eyes.

At the same time, I am also being reassured by God’s Word that God sees the small stuff.  I have often been asked, “Pastor Bill, does God care about the little things? Is there anything too small for me to pray about? Does He really care about such-and-such?” There are a couple of thoughts that come to mind that I would say to these folks:

  1. There is nothing too small for God or to tell God. Take a look at Psalm 8:3-4. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?” David sees man as something insignificant (small) in the grand scheme of things compared to creation and, yet, God cares about us.
  2. The widow who gave her mite (Mark 12:41-44) was small and insignificant in the eyes of the religious leaders. And she gave a really, really small amount of money when compared to others.  But it depends on whose eyes saw. The religious leaders would have ignored her (and did if they even saw her); Jesus saw her. They would have looked down on her small gift; Jesus applauded it.

Two examples of seemingly small things that caught God’s eye. How can we possibly think that our concerns are too small for Him?

“Father, thank you for seeing all and seeing the significance of each person, each gift, each request.”

March 9

Monday, March 9th, 2020

Today is a day I’m not looking forward to in some ways. Not that I despair of life or of the day-not in the least. I consider each day a gift, a blessing, to be enjoyed. But I told Jo last night as we lay in bed, “I’m concerned about tomorrow.” Today I conduct a funeral of a man from our community who took his own life one week ago. From all counts he was a good coach, a man who cared about his players, and tried to bring out the best in them. A man counted on to help them out of their hitting doldrums, to help them become better players. But in all the accolades, even with his own children, not one said he helped them face life; that they were better people and navigated through life as a result of his influence.

Now, lest you misunderstand, that is not a put down. An observation. It makes me ask myself a series of tough questions:

  • What about me? How will I be perceived? I’m not a hitting coach. I’m a pastor. Will I be one who others will say, “He led me to Jesus” or will they say, “He was a nice guy”?
  • Did I take time for people? That was one of his strong suits. He took the time for his children and his players. The question that tags along is whether I was so busy that I gave my family and others my leftovers.
  • What did I leave behind? What did I leave them with?  Did I leave people with something superfluous or something of eternal value? If people can tell you about my cycling but not about my Jesus, then I failed miserably.

“Father, may I influence people in all ways, but especially in finding You. Help me to care about people but in my caring to point them to You.  If I do that, then my life will have counted and made a difference.”

March 4

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

All of us want and need someone to care about us. Without exception. Oh, I know there are people who say they don’t need anyone else.  I want to say to them “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” And I know there are those who pretend to be “hard” and try to push people away, but they aren’t kidding anyone. We all need and want someone to care. Our world is filled with people who go through life feeling hopeless, abandoned, empty, and lost.

Sadly, just as there are many who go through life feeling that way, there are those- many who call themselves followers of Jesus- who basically say, “I don’t care.”  They have cocooned themselves in a cloak that says, “My world” and have tried to shut themselves out from others.They give off the air of “I don’t care” and “Don’t bother me.”

That philosophy goes against the very teachings of Jesus in Matthew 25 when Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats and who would inherit the kingdom. Our response to those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison will go a long way in determining if we are a sheep or a  goat. Will we, as followers of Christ, reach out or hunker down?

I recently read that Stephen Foster, the writer of “O Susanna” and “Camptown Races”-songs that made the world sing- died at the age of 36 as a derelict in a 25-cents-a-night flophouse, looking twice his age. I can’t help but wonder what got him there? How does someone with so much going for him/her end up lost and hopeless, a slave to drink? Then I ask myself did no one care?  Did no one reach out?  (I can’t answer that honestly because I don’t know).  It might be easy to say, “Alcohol did it” and that may be true. But what drove him to the alcohol? Was it loneliness? Hopelessness?

“Father, give me a heart for the hopeless, the lost, the hurting, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the sick. Help me give hope where there is none.”

February 27

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

My title for this is Friendship-Valued and Real.

We (Jo & I) spent time last night with some long-time friends, Ryan and Amanda. But before I tell you about that, let me back up a few paces.

The older I get the more “aware” I get. I guess that means I haven’t lost my faculties yet. 🙂 I become more aware of what was, what is, and what very well may be. All in all, I have become more aware of what’s important and what’s not. Don’t get me wrong. I still look at pickups and I still look at Trek bikes. I still look at hills and dream of climbing them. I still want to make improvements on the house. But they don’t hold the luster or the draw they used to.

As I get older though, I realize what’s important-what and who I want around me.  I don’t want negative people.  I don’t have the time or the energy to try to change their minds. I have little patience for whiners and complainers.  I have even less patience for naysayers, doomsday-sayers, and hide-under-a-rock folk. I have no patience for legalists, Pharisees, and judgmental hypocrites.

But I do have time and take pleasure in my friends. Jo tops the list. My girls and grandson stand next. I am supposed to have lunch tomorrow (Topp’t pizza…yum) with my best male friend, a college friend of close to 50 years. And then there was last night. A last minute call asking us to join them and we spent over 2 enjoyable hours with them. His excitement after buying 10 acres of land for their future was evident. It has been a dream. They moved to Owen County in January of 2008; had corresponded with our webmaster (one of our former leaders) and me beforehand; we went out for lunch (pizza, of course) after their first visit to OVCF; and the rest is history.  Sunday lunch was usually with them. We were inseparable until they betrayed us and moved about 45 minutes away. 🙂 I jest. Actually, it was a good family move for them, but the knife in my heart was real. Even now, we try to get together to eat and laugh. They like Texas Roadhouse too! They also like Mexican, which is right up Jo’s alley. I also know Ryan reads and comments so I’ll say out loud: Thanks Ryan and Amanda for a great evening and for an even greater joy: our friendship.

Long story short: friendships are valuable. As I get closer to “the other side,” I realize friendships last. I want to gather my friends around me, reminisce, laugh and tell them how much I love them and their friendship has meant to me. The truck, the toys, the house, the bike can’t hug or speak back. (Although I do have a t-shirt that hints the bike just might). Real friends can’t be replaced.

“Father, thank you for my friends. Thanks for those who have been longtime friends. I value them more than they know. And help me to be a friend. And thank you for Jesus-the friend of sinners. Like me. ‘Greater love has no man than this than a man lay down his life for a friend.’ That’s Jesus.” 

February 24

Monday, February 24th, 2020

My title is the “S” words.

As I was having my Quiet Time this morning a weird thing happened in my brain. (No comment from the peanut gallery). I started on the letter “S.”  It was egged on by my morning reading of A Good Old Age by Derek Prime. He takes each letter of the alphabet and chooses a topic common to an aging person that begins with that letter. Today’s letter was “S” but I’m still not sure what synapse in my brain was hard-wired this morning. 🙂  Anyway, here are the “S” words I came up with to describe Jesus:

  • Savior- common, expected, grateful for this.
  • Sovereign- over all, in charge, in control.
  • Sincere- when He says He loves me, He means it. Faithful. Present. “I will never leave your or forsake you.”
  • Strong- another word for Omnipotent. A good biblical description used often. “The Lord strong and mighty.”
  • Sacrificial- describes His actions on the cross. “He is the sacrifice once for all.”
  • Sucker- the only negative. Satan’s word for Him at the cross. Satan’s final word because Jesus soon proved who the real sucker was.

The final word for this exercise? SERVANT. Of all the words this might be the one I can most identify with. Not that I exhibit it as often as I should, but Jesus’ whole life was as a servant. He exhibited it to His disciples in John 13. His life as a servant led Him to the cross where He gave Himself away for me. He now serves by interceding for us all at the right hand of the Father.

Being a servant to others is the one quality  I can emulate. I can’t be Savior. That’s reserved for One. I can’t be Sovereign. I make a mess of my own life without ruining others. My sincerity is spotty. My strength fails. My sacrificial life is weak. I am a sucker at times for sin. But I can serve!

“Father, help me to be a servant to all, even as Jesus was. May it know no bounds in its expression to You and to others.”

February 17

Monday, February 17th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Essential vs Nit-Picking.

There is an old adage that I learned in college and has been reinforced in me lately: “In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; but in all things, love.”

I read recently of two struggling churches in a small town who decided a merger was needed. They talked but it never happened. Why? They could not agree over a phrase in the Model Prayer. One wanted “Forgive us our debts” while the other wanted “Forgive us our trespasses.” Seriously? The local paper reported one church returned to their debts and the other went back to their trespasses.

I once read awhile ago about two churches in a small town on opposite street corners. One had the name “The Original Church of God” and the other had the name “The Original Church of God #2.” Again. Seriously?

There are certain essentials we must all agree on. God: Almighty; Creator of all; Omnipotent; Omniscient; Omnipresent.  Jesus: God’s only Son; Born of a virgin; Fully God/Fully man from birth. Savior of the world who died on a cross and rose physically from the grave. The Holy Spirit: third member of the Trinity; Christ in me, the hope of glory; purpose is to draw attention to Jesus not Himself. We are all sinners and need salvation. We are saved by grace through faith.  Jesus is returning someday. That is a scaled-down version.  Those are essentials.

Opinions are those things which are not related to salvation. Clothing. Music. Tattoos. Many others. Those things the Bible does not speak for or against directly. People pick fights over the silliest and often the stupidest things. Things that don’t and won’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. “In opinions, liberty.”

But to split and leave a church or a friendship or to split over an opinion? To pout and whine and rally the troops over an opinion? “In all things, love.”

It is one thing to hold to the truths and major issues set forth in Scripture. It’s another thing to pick fights over every jot and tittle or personal preference. Maybe its time we look deeper inside our heart and see if we are one of those who majors in minors and minors in majors. Maybe it is time for us to revisit the words in Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“Father, help me not to be one who nit-picks. Help me to know what is true in Your Word-an essential. Help me to allow for different opinions. And in that, to always show love.”

February 13

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Slave vs Free.

For some odd reason I woke up this morning thinking-of all things-about the commercials that play on TV around Christmas time. Weird I know. There is one about neglected pets and for $19/month you can…I can’t even remember the initials of the organization. The person doing the voiceover sounds like she has just come from 5 funerals (‘course that is what they want). I’m cynical though. “Save the animals but kill the babies.” Sorry. No can do, so no money to you. There there are those which choke me up. St. Jude and kids with cancer. Those wipe me out.

Here’s a thought: why are we not seeing commercials about girls, boys, children, women, men caught in sex trafficking? Why are we not seeing those, who like Rachel Hollander, are being sexually abused by “trusted” adults? Why not more commercials on those who are slaves (addicted) to alcohol, gambling (and hurt the online betting on sports?), opioids, and porn (a multi-million dollar industry)?

Slavery to any evil is ugly. I know of pets who have been rescued and then adopted who never get out of their “cage.” They forever cringe. They forever snarl. They are forever aggressive. They have separation anxiety. They forever act like they are still in the cage.

People in slavery is worse than any animal. Who can they trust? The military vet with PTSD? The abused child? The one caught in a web of deceit and lies that hold him/her down? I can go on and on. I’m listening to a podcast right now (Hole in My Heart-Episode 110) of a woman who was groomed at 18 and a slave until she broke out at 26. Heart-wrenching.  Convicting.

One of my favorite songs we sing is “No Longer Slaves.” It is also the favorite song of one our ladies. I know why. My heart reaches out to those who are still enslaved and chained to their past and even their present.

My ending will be different this morning. A short prayer then a video. “Father, You promised freedom. Set me free from my chains, from those things which enslave me. I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”

The video.

January 14

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

My title for this devotion is First vs Second.

I recently purchased a book and a T-shirt through an organization called I Am Second (IAS). I have followed IAS for years-have watched their “White Chair” videos and read their material-and have always come away inspired and moved. Their most familiar presentations are on video and feature the celebrity/individual/couple sitting on a white chair while sharing their story. It is usually a testimony of how God moved in their life. The topics are as diverse as the people but one thing is in common in all videos: they say I Am Second to Jesus.

I realize years ago Gail Sayers, a former football player, wrote about his friendship with a white football player named Brian Piccolo. Brian died of cancer and the book was about how Mr. Sayers put himself 3rd-behind God and Brian. IAS is not in argument with that. Their approach is based on God’s work in their life, how He intervened, and even radically changed them.

I. AM. SECOND.

I once read where Composer Leonard Bernstein was once asked, “What is the hardest instrument to play in the orchestra?” Almost without hesitation he answered, “Second fiddle. Without it there is no harmony.”

I thought about that-about how many times I wanted to be first. I’m currently reading several books on being a Small Church Pastor. I fought that for so long and look back and now realize how much I missed out on because I was always reaching for the next rung, trying out the next big thing, instead of finding contentment in being in a small church. Perhaps that is why I find great contentment where I am right now. I am a Small Church Pastor in a relatively small town (2500-3000) and absolutely love it! I have come to realize that being second is not a bad place to be. It’s not a “bad gig.” 🙂 Hear the words:

Don’t be selfish, don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Phil.2:3-5  (NLT)

“Father, You are first.  You are to be my priority. I am second to You. Only when that is right will my relationship with others be right. Be first.  Let me fall in step behind You.”

January 8

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Left Behind: Worthy vs Temporary.

Am I that far off in saying that we all want to leave something behind for which we will be remembered? I don’t think so. We all (or most of us anyway) want to leave behind a legacy, a point of reference where if our name is mentioned people says, “Oh yeah. I remember (such and such) about him/her.”

In the media world, for example, actor Tom Hanks was recently honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award. In his craft, that may be the highest honor to be bestowed. Known for his body of work, he will now be known for another (higher) honor.

The Sports world has its honors also. Hall of Fame. MVP. Super Bowl champs. Stanley Cup. College football #1.

Music. Stage. Lifetime Achievement. The list is seemingly endless. People want to be remembered-hopefully for good and not for bad. Think Al Capone. Bonnie and Clyde. Elliott Ness. Billy the Kid. And others.

In the OT is the book and story of Job. I’m pretty sure we all know that story. Everything is taken away from him but his life, but Job still said, “I know my Redeemer lives.” When everything he loved was wiped out, Job’s response was, “The Lord gives; the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21)  When encouraged by his wife to curse God and die he said, “Shall we receive good and not evil from God?” (2:10)  (He also called her a foolish woman but we won’t go there! 🙂 ) In Job 19:32-24 he wished “his words were recorded, engraved in rock forever.” Funny thing is? They are. In the pages of THE BOOK.

What is it I want to be known for? Kindness? Generosity? Giver of grace? All the above. All are well and good. But the greatest? He was a Lover of Jesus. Yeah. I like that.

“Father, may the legacy I leave behind not be one of fleeting memories and temporary awards. May it be that I loved you first and foremost, above all, and that you were the reason I lived.”