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October 19/Weekend

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

My title for this is Listening First vs Speaking First.

It seem this past week has been the week to write and concentrate on speech, on what comes out of the mouth. I read Proverbs 18 & 19 together and chapter 18 goes with that flow.

There’s a saying when speaking about James 1:18 where it says we ought to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry.”  They say, “God has given us two ears and one mouth. There’s a reason for that.” After reading Proverbs 18, I see that even more. LISTEN:

“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.”  (6-7)

“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” (8)

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (13)

“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” (15)

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (21)

“Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity, than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.” (19:1)

You get the point. I certainly do. It is time to listen better and speak less.

“Father, help me to heed my own words. Help to listen better, even listen twice as much as I speak. And when I speak, let them be words of life.”

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.”

October 10-11/Weekend Extra

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

I was in Ohio the past couple of days and didn’t take my computer so I am using my journal entry from Thursday morning to be my entry for this weekend.

My title for this devotion is Holy Speech vs Vulgar Speech.

I’ve been hit two ways this morning. First, in my Scripture reading from Proverbs 10: 11 & 19- “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

Then as I sat waiting for Jo while she was taking care of some things, I was listening to my Spotify playlist and “Only a Holy God” by CityAlight came on.

I know I’m from the older generation (you know how it pains me to say that?  🙂 ), especially as a pastor, so what I’m thinking comes from that perspective. I have noticed some common characteristics of the younger generation of pastors. They seem to be a generation (and I am making a general statement here) that loves their beer (especially); loves their cigars or pipes; and loves to use salty language. Not all but many. There was some of that in my generation, to be sure, but it seems more acceptable and widespread today. I’m not judging someone who wants to down a beer or two or smoke a cigar or pipe (I have done neither), but I’m more concerned about the words that flow from the mouth, sometimes indiscriminately. I  keep thinking of James’ words in chapter 3: “Can blessing and cursing come from the same mouth? My brothers these things should not be.” I’m not young and Many younger pastors seem to be taking the freedom in Christ and His grace a little too lightly. In my mind and heart, vulgarity has no place in the pulpit or even in everyday language. And even though it is not considered vulgar or blasphemous, I cringe every  time I hear the word “sucks” or “screwed” in conversation, let alone from the pulpit. Call me old-fashioned, but I do believe godly speech is or ought to be one of the hallmarks of a man of God. I reiterate: I’m referring to a pastor or someone who feels God’s calling on his life.

And lest it be perceived I’m only shouting at those who cuss or swear, how about those of us who gossip? Or belittle? Or those who shade our words with sexual innuendo? Or criticize? Or (fill in the blank)? And so yes, I’m including myself. My speech in total reflects my heart and who controls it.

“Father, may my speech be that which builds up and encourages rather than tear down. May it glorify You in all ways and in all things. As the song says and Ecclesiastes 5:2 repeats: “Let my words be few.” All for You and for Your glory.”

Here is the CityAlight song that got to me.

October 9

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Humility vs Privileged.

Today is my 67th birthday. I am grateful God has blessed me with 67 years-so undeserving, so unworthy. I’m reading through Ecclesiastes right now and even though I’ve never had all that Solomon had, I still feel like I’m reading my biography. For many years I thought I was “all that and more.” Not that I stated that. I didn’t. I pretended humility. I pretended having it all together. But underneath the surface I thought was something special. Eventually though, as Jesus said, what comes out is what is in the heart. My true colors came out and not only was it ugly, it made me want to vomit. How much better it would have been to see myself as “The Preacher” saw himself…eventually. He tried everything under the sun (which I truly haven’t), but finally realized all that mattered was His Creator.

Paul put it another way. In 2 Corinthians 4 he speaks of being jars of clay, of being earthen vessels. That is a stark contrast to the shiny plates, cups, saucers, and dishes we have today. Clay is made of the earth and there is nothing attractive about it. It is dull, drab, and doesn’t catch the eye at all. Unless, of course, the potter does something with it.

I can’t help but wonder the difference if I had seen myself as that all along. Instead of this shiny, glossy, “I’m-for-myself” kind of person, what a difference if I’d seen myself as a simple vessel only worth something because the Master Potter has made me and is using me that way. I saw this quote as I read this morning:

If God could not use poor instruments and feeble voices, He would make no music.” A.T.Robertson

“Father, today I know I’ve matured enough to see what I once was was not what You wanted. I still struggle from time to time with being my own man with the solutions. But I see more and more as I get older and more mature that I’m only a clay vessel. And that’s really all you want. Help me to exhibit humility in all I do and say. I’m not as good as I think I am; nor am I as bad as I once was. I know it sounds like a cliche’ but let me be clay in the Potter’s hands. May the next days and (possibly) years I have left-however many they may be-be useful and fruitful for You.”

If you have the time or inclination, here is an excellent post on this subject, only from a slightly different angle.

October 7

Monday, October 7th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Purity vs Promiscuity.

Not too long ago all the rage were purity rings. Dad would buy them for their daughters; have a ceremony; give them the rings; and get them to pledge purity until marriage. Even some celebrities who shall remain nameless and whose purity went the way of the dodo bird, took the vow and stated so publicly. It was a good idea-on the surface-but unless the heart of the individual was committed to it, the ceremony and the ring was just that-a ceremony and a ring.

There is no doubt we live in a sexually-charged age. Our culture is obsessed-yes I said obsessed- with sex. Even in light of the #MeToo scepter, the objectification of women has not stopped. If anything it has become even more insidious. Sin always finds the “level.” Like water which seeks its own level, so does sin, in this case, sexual sin. It was a problem in the biblical culture; it was a problem in the Corinthian church; and it remains a problem today.

Solomon knew the pull. In his own life, for sure. But he also knew the pull to his “son.” Let’s take it further- to any young man- and today we even have to include women. Proverbs 6 & 7 contain graphic descriptions of the wayward woman’s work but it also contains some vivid descriptions of the one who is caught. They are found in 7:22-23:

  • An ox goes to slaughter.
  • A stag caught fast until an arrow hits true.
  • A bird caught in a trap.

These follow the warning of looking out for the woman with seductive speech. Smooth, buttery talk worms its way into the heart of an individual until he/she gives into something they said was preposterous, something they said “I will never do.” The solution is found in Proverbs 6:20-23. Not easy but essential. Not easy but doable.

“Father, staying pure- in mind, heart and actions- is a challenge these days of ‘anything goes.’ Help me to be pure, to stay pure, to think pure, to live pure. And help me do that by tying your Word around my heart.”

October 4/Weekend

Friday, October 4th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Clear Conscience vs Guilty Conscience.

I’ve been reading slowly and digesting as slowly John MacArthur’s short book called Remaining Faithful in Ministry. It is subtitled “9 Essentials for Every Pastor”. There has been some very valuable information passed on (not just for pastors but for all Christ-followers). In what I read today I gleaned the following:

That is the value of keeping a pure heart (Paul’s response in 2 Cor. 1:13 to false accusations). It doesn’t matter what comes at you; if your conscience is clear, no accusation sticks. The conscience is a gift from God. It’s like a skylight or a window, not a lamp. In and of itself, it’s not a source of light, but when kept clear and illuminated by God, the conscience let’s in that light-even in a world of darkness. Conscience is an invaluable tool for revealing our true motives. A clear and biblically informed conscience will either accuse or excuse us, depending on whether we are guilty or innocent. (p.37)

That’s correct in what it says. But what if we do something so much our conscience no longer has the ability to discern right from wrong? What happens if we do something so often we are no longer able to see it as wrong?

That is a problem, but there is also a solution. It is found in a daily submission to God and His Word. It is grounded in the daily desire to be holy. Did not Jesus Himself not say, “For out of the heart comes…?” Submission on a daily basis is necessary for me to keep an active and clear conscience.

“Father, help me to find myself going to You and Your Word for my direction. May my daily strength and guidance be found in You. Please help me keep my conscience pure.”

 

September 26

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Preaching Myself vs Preaching Christ.

If you have had a chance to read my other blog you can read between the lines and see I’ve been asking myself about my role, my purpose, as a pastor. Even though I am 66 and in less than two weeks will turn 67, I still love what I do and do not see retirement on the horizon any time soon. So I think its healthy to ask questions and do introspection upon occasion. Guilty as charged. You’ve caught me voicing my questions.

I’m reading Job right now, which can be a challenge on its own. 🙂  But I’m also reading Remaining Faithful in Ministry by John MacArthur. The following quote from his short little book caught my attention this morning. In the Introduction he wrote these words:

The gospel is a message about Jesus, and at all times He is to be the singular focus of the message we proclaim. False apostles and hirelings always seem to find a way to shift attention to the themselves. They make themselves the central character of every anecdote. They point themselves as the hero of every story they tell. Thus they make their preaching little more than a display of their own egos. Pulpits today are full of men who constantly preach themselves. (p.15)

Ouch! That is a rather sobering and scathing observation and rebuke. Sadly, it is true. I wish I could say I was innocent of that. I shudder when I think about how often I preached and it was more about my ego, my impressiveness, than it was Him and the fame of His Name. That’s enough to give even the most hardy person nightmares. I know I cringe when I reflect back over my years of ministry. Ugly.

But its not too late! With what remaining years I have left it needs to be all about Him. What about you?

“Father, my prayers this morning is for my life to be all about You. My preaching. My teaching. My talking. My laughing. All about You and the fame of Your Name.”

September 24

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Being Ready vs Ready to Be.

I have to make a confession. To confess this may lead some to call me a heretic, or at best as one “falling away from the faith.” I guess I’m okay with that, especially since I don’t think it does.  My confession is this: when it comes to the coming of Christ, I am a dunce as to how it will happen…and I’m not really concerned with that.

Let me explain: I believe Jesus is coming again. Of that I am absolutely, 100% sure. No questions. No ifs, ands, or buts. What I am not sure about is what people make a big fuss about: how it will happen, the circumstances surrounding it, and whether there are “signs” we ought to be looking for. There is no doubt in my mind NO ONE knows when it will happen. Not even Jesus knows. But it seems to me even those who agree with me (not that I’m asking them to) or my idea, sure spend an inordinate amount of time looking for “signs” that will tell them or warn them.

What is wrong with simply choosing to live a life of “readiness”? What is wrong with saying, “I choose to live a life pleasing to the Father so that when Jesus does return I have nothing to hide”? In Matthew 24-a chapter in the middle of this stream of thought-Jesus gives the example of two women grinding at the mill and two men working in the field (and elsewhere a husband and wife lying in bed) and one is taken and the other left. Theologians want to argue over whether that is speaking of a rapture or not. Frankly, that doesn’t cross my mind as much as “when Jesus comes you better be ready because you don’t know when He will.” I personally believe it is much more important to be His and to represent Him than to fret over a sign or when the rapture will happen. 

There is my confession. Take it for what it’s worth.

“Father, help me to be ready for the coming of Christ. But as I wait, I need to be ready to be Yours, to live a life of no worries about when Jesus will come, but to simply be ready when He does come.”

September 23

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

My title for this devotion is Do as I say vs Not as I Do.

In all of the Gospels, particularly Matthew, you will be hard-pressed to find a more scathing rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees than in Matthew 23. It is known as the “7 Woe” passage for obvious reasons. But the groundwork for that chapter is laid in verses 1-7. For the sake of time and space you can find it here.  In verses 2-3 Jesus says, “So do and observe what they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach but do not practice.” He goes on to give examples of that fact.

To sum it up: their hypocrisy knows no bounds. Whether it be putting burdens on others but being unwilling to help carry them or seeking glory for their deeds, they are pieces of work. They are also rebuked harshly, hence the 7 woes. Jesus tells His disciples the proper attitude His followers should have: “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (verses 11-12)

Jesus’ rebuke lies in the fact that the religious leaders were those who said, “Do as I say, but what I say is not for me. I’m above that.” Their cold, hard-hearted approach to the teachings of the Scriptures is a misrepresentation of a servant of the Father.

How do I represent Jesus and the Scriptures? Do I approach it as “do as I say not as I do” or am I consistent with “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”? Do I practice what I preach? Or do I tell people one thing and do the opposite? Do I load expectations on people but not willing to lend a hand if needed?

“Father, help me to be true in all things. To be the one who says and does what is true, one who acts as he says. Help me not to allow my life not back up my teaching.”

September 16

Monday, September 16th, 2019

My title for this devotion is a Crutch vs a Necessity.

We recently had a young lady who had knee surgery to repair a torn ACL along with a torn meniscus. Her initial injury-the ACL- came from sports.  Following that injury her knee swelled up like a balloon, leading the doctors to put her on crutches until the swelling went down. She was not to put any pressure on it. Eventually as she did some rehab she was able to ditch the crutches. Then one day she stumbled and fell which was where her torn meniscus was from. She finally had surgery and guess what came out of mothballs? You guessed it-the crutches. She is now walking but has her knee is a fancy brace designed to stop injury.

There are times a crutch is seen as necessary. There are also times we use the word “crutch” to describe someone who leans on something. Only it is not seen as a good thing.

There are some who see faith in Jesus as a crutch. How many times have you heard or read someone say, “Religion is a crutch.” They see it as a weakness, as something to lean on because one can’t handle life. Tell that to the follower of Christ who loses his/her job because of their faith and refusal to compromise. Tell that to the follower of Christ in Nigeria, or India, or another country where persecution for their faith is punishable by torture, prison, or even death. A crutch? I don’t think so. Not when doing so leads to who knows where.

Faith in Jesus is not a crutch; it is a necessity. It is my lifeblood. In Matthew 16 Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Elsewhere Peter stated, “Where else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter’s words and eventual stand which led to his death were life-changing words for him. Jesus was not a crutch; He was life. Is he that to me? To you?

“Father, help me to cling to You. Help me to know You, not as my crutch for weakness, but as my strength of necessity.”