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January 24

Friday, January 24th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Pagan vs Me.

First, the words:

“I make a decree, that in all my royal people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he makes signs and wonders in heaven and earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of lions.”

My original plan was to write the words and ask you who said it but some of the lines gave it away.  🙂  It is from Daniel 6:26-27.

What struck me, and the note I wrote in my margin is “From the mouth of a pagan.” Then I turned the searchlight on myself and said, “Him not me?” My mind also turned to Jesus’ words. As He entered Jerusalem the donkey and the people were shouting Hosanna and laying down palm branches, the religious leaders told Him to tell the people to (basically) shut up. Jesus’ words? “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Lk.19:40)

Daniel praised God for his deliverance. The pagan king Darius did in his decree. The people of Jerusalem did. Even the stones will. What about me? Will I be one who lets others do what I should do or will I praise Him myself? Will you?

“Father, praise for your gladness and greatness should come from me not from someone else, especially a pagan. Certainly not creation (although it does). May sincere, heart-felt worship come from my lips and my heart today.”

January 23

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

Update: Alexander did have surgery. The doctor said they would do nothing if they found no way to do the surgery. We are praising the Lord for this! The surgeon said he was optimistic. Thank you for praying and please continue.

My title for this devotion is Lesson Learned vs Lesson Ignored.

Have you noticed how often we have events happen to us but we ignore the obvious lesson? We go on our merry way as though what happened has no significance to us.

Take, for example, my reading this morning. King Nebuchadnezzar has already seen how God blessed Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It started with their “education.” Then he had seen S, M, & A survive the fiery furnace. But still it was not enough. He even made a decree that anyone who speaks against the God of S, M, & A would be torn limb from limb and their house laid in ruins. (3:29) He even praised God to the people. (4:1-3)

Please tell me then what possessed him-after having a dream and Daniel interpreting it for him (unfavorably for the king)-to arrogantly get up one morning and proudly proclaim his state of mind (“Look at all I have”). He ignored all the lessons along the way and thought that he was all that and more. The dude got too big for his britches!

But what would posses him to do this- besides the fact the Scripture says, “The heart is desperately wicked”? For the same reason I do: I think I know better. Or I simply forget. OR I don’t want to learn! I become oblivious to the lessons. Proverbs 23:12 says, “Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to knowledge.” There are lessons to be learned in all things, but I have to be willing to see them. I have to be willing to see them, apply them, and take heed.

No lesson-good or bad-should ever be wasted. They should never go unheeded. They are in front of me not to ignore but to learn.

“Father, each day lessons come from You. Sometimes they are good; sometimes they are warnings. But good or bad they are never to be wasted. Help me to apply my heart and hear Your words.”

January 20

Monday, January 20th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Blessing vs Curse.

We use the word a lot. We use it in mundane expressions. We use it off-handedly. We use it in times of heatedness. We use it when referring to a certain food. We use it when referring to an individual.

The word? HATE.

Do I exaggerate in that first paragraph? No, I don’t think so.

  • “I hate it that that has happened to you.”
  • “I hate it when I can’t see what’s ahead.”
  • “I hate coconut…and cinnamon…and Parmesan cheese…to name a few.” 🙂
  • “I hate you.”

It is the latter which is most devastating. HATE is such a strong word. So strong I “hate” to even use it. And yes, that was on purpose. I prefer to use the phrase “I dislike it a lot” since the word hate is so strong. How devastating it is to tell someone “I hate you.” A mate to a mate. A child to a parent. A sibling to a sibling. From one person to another. There seems to be almost no finality to that word.

Not just for the user but also for the receiver. I wonder if that is what is behind the use of curses and  meaning of Pr.20:20- “If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.” Sure sounds like there is a finality to that doesn’t it? It strikes me hard to realize the devastation hatred can cause. To read that a person’s lamp goes out. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people so miserable because of hatred. They can’t hardly breathe a kind word about anybody. I read a good quote today that sort of sums it up: “Hatred corrodes the container that carries it.” Hatred solves nothing. N.O.T.H.I.N.G. It does nothing good. It ruins lives. It ruins homes. It ruins outlooks. It ruins relationships. the list is endless what it ruins.

IT NEEDS TO STOP…..N.O.W!!!

“Father, search my heart. If there is hate please cut it out. Reveal that blackness in my heart and perform surgery on me. Cleanse me and purify me.”

January 17/Weekend

Friday, January 17th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Storm vs Calm.

In September of this past year (2019) Jo and I were blessed with the trip/dream of a lifetime-a trip to Alaska. After having made the decision in early ’19 to look into a trip and then deciding to save one more year, some folks in the church I pastor took the initiative to contact others to “bless us.” In late March/early April they surprised us with the all-expense paid trip. We were blown away to say the least.

We have lots of memories of that trip-tangible ones like pictures and t-shirts. But one that hit me today was that we did not encounter any rough weather on or off land. It was absolutely gorgeous! Even the one day we were cruising Tracy Arm Fjord where it rains 100″/year, it was sunny and bright and calm. I’m glad. All my life I’ve had trouble with going in circles and riding rough, windy roads. I had not been able to ride and read in a vehicle EVER (hence my tough time studying on the bus during basketball trips in college). I finally learned a trick to be able to read on the interstate (while someone else is driving of course! 🙂 ), but rough sea weather? That could have spelled disaster on the trip.  Frankly, I did not want to find out if I had sea legs or not.

In real time, storms are a part of life. I get fried whenever I think of the smiling speaker who says I am to have my best life now. Heaven becomes a downgrade when you think about it. No thank you. Storms are a part of life. The way I see it I have either been through a storm and may be enjoying a reprieve; going through a storm right now; or will be going through one soon enough. Proverbs 17:3 says, “The crucible for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests the hearts.” In I Peter 1:6-7 Peter talks about our faith being tested to show the genuineness of it-more precious than gold. Storms are a part of life; a part of growth; a part of the life of the Christ-follower. Storms are never comfortable, but in God’s plan are always essential. A storm on a boat is dubious for me. A storm in life is expected and ALWAYS has a purpose. Among many, one huge purpose is God keeps His promise of being there. A.L.W.A.Y.S.

“Father, storms serve so much more of a purpose than calm. Although calm is nice, storms have a purpose and will benefit my growth. Help me to trust You that storm comes.”

January 16

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Forgotten vs Adopted.

I was reading today about adoption. What a beautiful thing! I know of several folks who have adopted-both here and in foreign countries.

  • My brother and his wife who adopted a baby girl from China (Lea) over 16 years ago.
  • A couple from the church who had just adopted a baby from China when I moved here in 2005 (Annalei- whom you may read about someday as an Olympic diver), and another in 2010 (Meilynn was about 7 or 8 and was a phenomenal gymnast now cheerleader with one of the prettiest smiles you will ever see).
  • Another couple adopted Lucy as a baby with severe clef palate damage. She is now in high school.
  • A former blogger, Jason, and his wife adopted a young man from Japan.
  • Zee (a blogger friend from Ukraine) and her husband, Sam, who have adopted Zhora (George) and Zhenya (Jenny), who sure look ornery but also a ton of fun in their picture. They are about 6 & 5.
  • Others who have adopted children in the states and those who want to. (The system is broken).

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I respect those people. Adopting someone not only means that couple taking a step forward, it also means giving a child a new life, a life they would have never known. Bought out of less than desirable circumstances and brought into a situation that says, “Family. You are wanted. You are loved.”

Can there be a much better picture of our welcome into God’s family? Our existence screamed, “Lost! No home! No love!” Ephesians 2 uses two words “But God” to show the line of demarcation from what once was to what it became and is now.  We are saved from and shown to. We are saved from a life of lostness and given a life to meaning, hope and purpose.

Then I read more this morning. It also says we are given a “spirit of adoption.” I was reading in Ezekiel and 36:26-27 says,

And I will give you a new heart, a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Can there be any better description of adoption? A new family. A new heart. A new spirit. All the rights and privileges of a natural member of the family.

“Thank you, Father, for adopting me into Your family. For rescuing me from no life to a life that is far more than I dreamed. Thank you for my new heart and my new life.”

January 15

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

My title is Me, Myself and I vs. Us.

Years ago I read something that came back to me twice recently. Once as early as this morning:

  • Education says, “Be resourceful; expand yourself!”
  • Psychology says, “Be confident; assert yourself!”
  • Religion says, “Be good; conform yourself!”
  • Epicureanism says, “Be sensuous; enjoy yourself!”
  • Materialism says, “Be satisfied; please yourself!”
  • Pride says, “Be superior; promote yourself!”
  • Humanism says, “Be capable; believe in yourself!”
  • Philanthropy says, “Be generous; release yourself!”

Do you notice the common denominator in all of those? “Yourself.”  As we would say, “It’s all about me.” I’ll call it the Me, Myself and I syndrome. There is in all of us-ALL of us-a desire for more. After all, I have three people to feed- Me, myself and I.

Consider then the impact of these two verses I read this morning:

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” Pr.15:16-17

Those verses tell me 2 things-well, more but two stand out: 1) Be content. Stop always reaching and wanting more. 2) Life is better than we sometimes think it is. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

Recently I have said to people, “You know it is nice to have money to live comfortably, even better than comfortably. But it is much better to have peace of mind, health, a love for a job, and less stress than all the money in the world. You can’t buy those things.”

I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination. Never have been. Probably never will be.  But I do have all I need. I have the love of my wife and family. I have peace of mind, health, and I absolutely love my job and the people I get to shepherd. There is no price for that. It is not me, myself and I; it is “us.”

“Father, thank you for keeping Your promise and promises. Thank you for meeting my needs. Thank you for peace of mind and health and all that comes with that, knowing it’s not all about me and my wants/desires. Let my life be about You and the people I love and serve.”

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 13

Monday, January 13th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Life vs Death.

It’s been “one of those weekends.” Now…when those kinds of words are used we tend to think, “Oh boy. Here it comes. He’s going to lay out his sob story about all that went bad, how his weekend was the weekend from h-e-double hockey sticks.”

Relax!  It’s not that at all! Since Friday’s devotion-January 10-I have continued reading Proverbs 10-11-12-13. All weekend long a common theme ran through my reading.

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” 10:11

“When words are many, transgressions in not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” 10:19

“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” 11:12

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” 12:25

“The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” 13:14

See what I mean? Notice a common theme? Words. All weekend long I read about my words. Bookended by 10:11 and 13:14. My words can build up or tear down. My words reveal who is in control within me. My words can either lift someone’s burden or make it heavier. There was no way I got off the hook this weekend. It culminated in today’s Scripture- 13:14.

To be honest though, the one that struck me the hardest was actually 12:25. Do I realize; do I remember; do I remind myself that my words can either add to or lift a burden? “Words fitly spoken are like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” 25:11

“Father, touche’. Your sword struck paydirt. My heart. My mouth. One day at a time-may my words be words of life to someone, not words of hurt, despair, discouragement, or even death.”

January 10

Friday, January 10th, 2020

My tile for this devotion is Stretch: Growth vs Ease.

I attended a JV basketball game last night of our local high school. I don’t really know any of the players except by name only, but since I was taking tickets I watched the girls game and then took tickets for 1/2 of the boy’s game.  Our JV boys have two young men who are Sophomores. One is 6’4″ and the other is 6’8″. Both play on the JV, both dress for the Varsity, but both are misfits. By that I don’t mean they they aren’t any good, uncoordinated, or all hands. On the contrary, they both, especially the 6’8″ guy, move with some pretty good fluidity.

But they are misfits. Why? Because everything came too easily. The shorter of the two worked fairly hard, Compared to the other team he was more on their plain. But the taller guy was not being challenged. No hands were in his face when he shot. His shot wasn’t really challenged. He hardly had to jump. My question was this: why is that boy not starting on the Varsity? The varsity team is not setting any fires this year. They have one Junior who started as a Freshman and if he stays healthy will get a scholarship somewhere. But there is not reason why the 6’8″ young man is not playing varsity. He could be getting so much better by being challenged.

Growth happens when we stretch, not stay with the status quo. Growth happens when we are challenged, not when things come easily. James 1:2-4 backs that up. Stretching is painful; hurtful; sometimes excruciating, but oh so necessary.

“Father, stretching hurts, but status quo does too. Just in a different way. As much as I like ease that is not the way of a Christ-follower. Stretch me. Grow me into your likeness.”

January 9

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Believing vs BELIEVING.

I am a conundrum. I am a puzzle. I am an enigma. I am a mystery.  I am a mixed bag. Maybe an example would help.

Peter. Not Peter Rabbit. Not Peter Pan. No. Peter the guy in the Bible who became the spokesman for the rest. There was a guy who was a conundrum!

  • Question: “Who do people say I am?” “Who do you say I am?”
  • Answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
  • Statement: “Blessed are you Simon…”
  • Jesus’ statement: “The Son of Man will be delivered to be crucified and raised on the third day.”
  • Peter’s response: “Not so.”  Actually, it says, “No. Lord!” (Can those two words actually go together?)
  • Jesus’ statement: “Get behind me, Satan.”

To go from “Blessed” to being called “Satan.” Ouch!  But that is not the only place. Jesus makes a statement later about Peter being sifted like wheat. Peter says, “I will follow you anywhere. I would die for you.” Not much later he is denying that he is a disciple of Jesus. To a servant girl. To one who recognizes his Galilean accent. Not very threatening people when you think about it. Not soldiers. Not a religious leader with power. Just common folk.

That’s me. I say, “God is in control and has a plan.” I tell people that! I did just yesterday. Then I turn right around and do my own thing, go my own way. Or worse: I question His plan. I say I believe, but do I really BELIEVE? That’s why I’m a conundrum. Saying one thing; saying and BELIEVING is another.

How about you? Are you a conundrum?

“Father, only you can solve this puzzle called “me.” Only You understand me.  Help me to do more than just say. Help me to truly BELIEVE.”