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December 9

Monday, December 9th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Lasting vs Passing.

It is not unusual to hear or say-and I have-that Thanksgiving should be and is to be more than one day out of the year. Thanksgiving should be 24/7/365. The inference (although it is more than just inferred or implied) is that the spirit of Thanksgiving is so dominant in us that it weaves its way into every day of the year.

What would that mean if I said, “Christmas ought to be every day of the year? Does that mean we ought to have candy and cookies and eggnog and gifts and the other trappings of Christmas all year ’round? (I can say you will have a hard time with me saying no when it involves chocolate. But I digress… 🙂 )

In all seriousness, what does that mean? Seemingly endless shopping? No. Lights and decorations all year ’round? No. A tree in the foyer or living room? No on all counts. To say Christmas all year ’round is to have the attitude we find in Philippians 2: “Have this mind (attitude) among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Paul had just been talking about doing nothing out of selfishness or conceit. But instead, we are to look out for the interest of others.

THAT’S the spirit of Christmas! Humility. Selflessness. Who couldn’t benefit from an attitude like that displayed? Giving our lives away for the sake of the Gospel.

“Father, may my life exhibit the Christmas spirit of humility and selflessness all year ’round. May Christmas not be just a once a year event but a lifestyle of giving myself away on a daily basis.”

December 6

Friday, December 6th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Generosity vs Stinginess.

I think one of the overarching themes of this time of the year is generosity. The idea of Jesus’ words through Paul (“It is more blessed to give than to receive”) are, perhaps, never more prevalent than at Christmas. I know for me I get great joy in giving and seeing the faces when that gift if accepted and opened.

In many minds the “seed” for that generosity is a somewhat mythical creature named Santa Claus. I don’t get on the bandwagon about SC. I have bigger fish to fry. That is not a battle I choose to fight because, frankly, I don’t care. I really don’t. Those fools who say things like, “SANTA had the same letters as SATAN; they are just mixed up a little” are fighting a losing battle. That is just dumb. The legend of SC comes from the supposed inspiration of a real person, St. Nicolas. His idea? Generosity. Seeing a family or someone in need and trying to help.

Granted, some have taken it too far. Christmas is often more about trees, gifts, lights, etc than about celebrating the birth of Christ. But rather than protest in rebellion to that, we ought to use that as a springboard to be the most generous people around. Generosity ought to be one of the “calling cards” of the Christ-follower, not stinginess.

After all, the greatest example of generosity is the story we want to promote: the generosity of a loving God to lost humanity with the greatest gift of all.

“Father, help me to be a generous person not one who is stingy and wrapped up in himself. Help me to follow Your example.”

December 5

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Kindness vs Own World.

I read a story today in Our Daily Bread of the kindness of a stranger.  A mother of two boarded a plane. The 3 y/o began kicking and crying and her 4 month old need to eat. A traveler seated next to her offered to hold the baby while she got the 3 y/o buckled in and then proceeded to color with the 3 y/o while mom fed the baby. On the connecting flight he offered his help again if needed. (For the full devotion please check out the link).

Some will say, “That’s creepy.” I would answer, “Why? Just because our culture is so wrapped up in the #MeToo issue?” While it’s true there are shady people, don’t you think it’s somewhat sad that we have gotten to this point that all acts of kindness are suspect?

We often hear and are encouraged to do Random Acts of Kindness. Why not do them? Philippians 2 tells us to “have this mind (attitude) which was also in Christ Jesus, that He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.”  The coming of Jesus was not just an act of love, and of a willingness to become a servant. It was also a great act of kindness, an act of the kindness of God.

Kindness involves getting out of our world and getting into the world of another.  Kindness means a baby in a manger. Kindness means caring. Kindness means coloring with a 3 y/o while you may have something else to do. Kindness is a meal. A note. A thoughtful gesture. Not just at Christmas time but all year. Do random acts for others.

“Father, you came out of your world to come to earth as a baby.  You came into my world. Help me to follow your example by sharing and being kind.”

November 21

Thursday, November 21st, 2019

My title for this devotion is Fool or Wise?

Over the past couple of months I have read two books that came from a unique perspective. Their authors were former atheists who came to know Christ as their Savior. They wrote for different reasons. Confronting Christianity by Rebecca MacLaughlin was written to answer 12 arguments that Christianity (God) is accused of. Why I Still Believe by Mary Jo Sharp was written to counteract actions in the church which threatened to turn MJ away from her life in Christ.

The denial of God’s existence is very real. There are those whose life mission is to disprove or argue His existence. The late Stephen Hawking. Dawkins. The late Christopher Hitchens. And others. But Psalm 14 puts a word on them that is ominous and no one wants to be called: F.O.O.L.

No one like to be called a fool and yet the ultimate foolishness is the denial of God.  But what concerns me is the one who believes in God and yet lives as if He doesn’t exist. What do I mean by that? Glad you asked. 🙂  It’s the one who lives:

  • As though God is a second thought not a first thought.
  • As though he is the master of his own fate
  • As though he is the ultimate ruler of his life and doesn’t need God’s authority.
  • As though he is smart enough to act and doesn’t need God’s wisdom
  • As though he has it within himself to overcome sin and temptation and doesn’t need God’s power in his life.
  • As though he gets things done by merit and does not need nor have to rely on God’s grace.

Could it be that every time I/you do or think the above thoughts we are saying, “God, I don’t need you. I’m going on this alone” even though we may not verbalize it?

I want to borrow from Paul David Tripp’s book Come Let Us Adore Him:

A fool has no ability whatsoever to rescue himself from his own foolishness. A fool is always a person in need of eternal rescue…He (Jesus) was born to rescue fools like you and me. (pp.122-123)

“Father, help me not to live in such a way so that it appears I don’t believe in You. Instead, help me to live a life of wisdom-a life of surrender to You and not to myself.”

November 14

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Saying vs Living.

The past few days I’ve been reading a book by Mary Jo Sharp called Why I Still Believe. It is subtitled “A former atheist’s reckoning with the bad reputation Christians give a good God.” Mary Jo’s basic premise is after her conversion to Christ from atheism, how could she reconcile the church’s poor representation of Jesus. Her husband became a worship pastor almost by default so she got hit first hand with hypocrisy. In fact, the day she came to church to make her commitment public, the pastor’s wife judged her on the dress she was wearing. No greeting but a disdained “looking down on her” look with the words that she needed to check her dress. There was too much cleavage. In another incident, an atheist friend of hers she invited to class asked some honest questions about creation/young earth/old earth and was rudely shot down by the teacher and the pastor. They had no idea who he even was.

Hypocrisy wears many coats and hats. And I suppose we all (definitely me) are hypocrites from time to time. I know for a fact my actions do not always match my words. To quote Mary Jo:

Hypocrisy requires a reference to a standard of moral conduct which a person verbally accepts, but then denies by their behavior. (p.149)

Here is my analysis of it:

Standard= the Bible, God’s Word

Claim= to believe the Bible

Hypocrisy= to say I believe but live opposite.

I confess. I am a hypocrite at times. I don’t want to be. But I am.  Sounds like Romans 7 doesn’t it? But I also know that cannot be a cop out or a “get out of jail free” card. Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the Pharisees, the religious hypocrites.

“Father, Your Word is true. It tells me all I need to know to live a life of godliness and holiness. But believing it and living it are two different things. Help me not to live a life contrary to Your Word, Your standard.”

{Note: Mary Jo’s book is an excellent and easy read. She has taken a very difficult subject (the existence of God) as well as the hypocrisy she has seen and molds them into a fine book. I’d highly recommend it. And, in case you are wondering, she exposes the hypocrisy of the atheist beliefs as well}.

November 13

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Friends vs “Friends.”

Have you ever met someone of whom it can be said, “He/she assumes a familiarity that is not there?” No? Well, your answer should be “Yes.”  If you know me then you have.  You see, I am an extreme extrovert. According to Jo and my girls I know no stranger. Jo once heard me talking to someone at WM about our oldest, who at the time, was teaching in Knoxville. He was also a teacher and moving to Knoxville so…you know…1 + 1 = 2. When we were alone Jo asked me who that was. I told her I had no clue. We were just talking. 🙂  Yep, extreme extrovert.

That has its drawbacks though. One big one is that earlier statement.  Because I am friendly, I just assume everyone ought to be. Jo has told me to stop being so friendly to little kids in the store at the checkout. She is probably right since the cultural climate is one of suspicion. But I’m that way with adults too. Especially those whom I have spent some time with. Especially especially (added for emphasis) if they are guys who are cyclists. Two of my closest friendships started because of the bike. One I never see since he moved south. The other is now retired and travels a lot with his now-retired wife. (They are in their 50s).  Since he lives about an hour away I see him occasionally. I have one friend from the church here who has moved about 30-45 minutes away whom I would like to see more often but you know how it is with guys who work and have families. Sheesh! 🙂 My best friend of over 40+ years was a college friend; played on the basketball team; helped me get my first full-time gig as a youth pastor with his father; and has since retired after he lost his heart with the death of his son.  I made my way to KY for that funeral and his father’s. That is what friends do. We are like David and Jonathan. We still see each other when we meet halfway for pizza. 

We are friends. Not “friends.” Friends. Real friends. In my mind “friends” are acquaintances. Faux people who are on the outside. Fair-weather “friends.”

I work hard to cultivate friendships because I need them. No I’m not co-dependent. No man is an island. As a pastor, they are rare. I am grateful for each friend God has placed in my path these 67 years. But none is as rich as my friendship with Jesus, the friend of sinners. For that friendship I will not assume anything.  It is too important. I need to go to the well and back to keep it energized and alive.  How about you?

“Father, I do thank you for each and every friend you have placed in my path and blessed me with. But none can take the place of YOU in my life. Help me to continue cultivating that friendship.”

November 12

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Truth or Love vs Truth and Love.

I just finished reading a new book by Steve Brown called Talk the Walk. As I came to the end he had the following quote from C.S.Lewis:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrong and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is hell. (Pages 140-141)

Followers of Jesus have always struggled with truth and love. Some want to love without reservation; some want truth without reservation. One is harsh; the other is mushy. We need both. That is a scary combination when you think about it. Talk about radically changing us and our world!

Most are good at one or the other. It takes a special person-one sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit-to pull them both off. All truth and no love is legalism; all love and no truth is mere sentimentalism; love and truth together will change lives. Starting with mine.

“Father, help me to see it doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be “and.” Help me to live out a life of truth and love-being radically changed within and then watching you transform my world.”

November 11

Monday, November 11th, 2019

My title is Submission vs. Obstinance.

One of the dirtiest words in the English language is the word “submission.” Male or female that word “strikes a nerve.” “You want me to submit to him? You have got to be kidding!” “What do you mean I have to submit to the loser that is called my boss?” On and on our rebellion goes. And as I said-male or female-it is hard to accept.

That is what struck me as I read Luke 2 this morning. Following Mary & Joseph taking Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord, it says they returned to Nazareth. It ends with these words: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (v.40). We would expect that. He was God’s Son after all.

Fast forward 12 years. (Some of the blank years in Jesus’ life). He and His parents go to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. They leave believing Jesus is playing with His friends. A frantic search of 3 days finds Him in the temple, confounding and amazing the religious leaders with His understanding and answers. But here is the part that struck me after telling Mary & Joseph he had to be there: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” (v.51)  I do wonder if there is a correlation between that verse and the following verse: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” 

Jesus, the Son of God, submissive? To earthly parents? Yes!! How baffling.  But then again, not so. When you think about it was not His whole life one of submission to His Father? Philippians 2 says He submitted by coming to earth as a baby. He surrendered to the greater agenda of His Father. He knew His Father’s plan was birth, death, resurrection -those three- and He willingly submitted.

Unlike me who struggles with submission. A more apropos word for me would be obstinance. Oh sure, I say “I submit” but do I really? Do I not have my own agenda that I am staunch about keeping? Katie bar the door if I should get out of whack.

“Father, submission to anyone, especially You, is not always easy. I’m more apt to get obstinate. To want things my own way. Help me to say “Your will be done” and mean it.”

November 6

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Giving Up vs Giving In.

I realize as I write that title some would say, “But Bill. Those are essentially saying the same thing.” On the surface I would agree, but on a deeper level I’d say, “Hang in there with me. I want to take it and stretch it.”

Giving up is what someone does when they seem to have no hope left. We might use the term “throw in the towel” to indicate surrender. Lots of people do that.  Life gets hard; fortunes turn; a medical diagnosis turned life upside down; and we find ourselves throwing our hands in the air. We give up.

On the other hand, we don’t give up…we give in. Like King Hezekiah in Isaiah 36-37. Sennacherib, king Assyria, invaded Judah.  He sent a messenger to the king painting a very dark picture of Judah’s future (as well as slamming on God). Hezekiah seeks Isaiah’s help, then he goes to God himself. Hezekiah could have given up but instead he chose to give in. He chose to give in to God’s plan. Isaiah reassured him but a letter from Assyria drove him to the temple and into God’s presence where he spread the letter out before God and poured out his heart to God. He didn’t give up; he gave in to the only One who could save him and his people. He put his trust in God…where it belonged.

God brought about his/Judah’s deliverance by routing the Assyrian army. God will do the same for me. For you. While it may not be a literal army attacking, he will take what seems like an army and bring it into submission to Him.

“Father, help me not to give up and give into despair. Help me not to give up hope. Instead, help me to give in to You, to take the seemingly impossible situation and trust You to work things out as you did for Hezekiah.”

November 4

Monday, November 4th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Horses vs God.

Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” The teaching/lesson from that verse is easy to see and has been vital for me to hang on to.

This morning I read the following from Isaiah 31: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord.” (v.1)  It goes on: “The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.” (v.3a)

Just when I was getting lost in the “wanderings” of Isaiah, he pulls up this gem. What an important truth! Both David and Isaiah are saying the same thing. But that begs a question-an obvious question:

In what and in Whom am I putting my trust? Is my trust in God or is it in something else? Is it in men or in “horses”?

“Father, my trust needs to/must me in You. But too often I find myself struggling to make that happen. Men and horses will fail, they will let me down. Help me to place my trust in You-squarely and firmly in You.”

I know the devotion is short today. but it is short on purpose. The understanding and application of this passage is yours to see and apply.