Perseverance

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October 8

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

Countdown to D-Day (my 67th birthday) is one day. And I celebrate with a colonoscopy one day before. Go figure. Guess I didn’t plan that one very well did I? 🙂

My title for this devotion is Presence vs Absence.

One of the most devastating times is when a person feels utterly alone. It is loneliness that often drives one to despair; which is often the precursor to hopelessness. Like a series of stacking bricks or a landslide of falling rocks, that hopelessness often leads to an utter lack of desire to live; which can lead a person to contemplate, or maybe even act, upon taking their life. I have never felt that alone, although there have been times I have wept uncontrollably and pounded my fist (on something soft) out of the sheer weight of my circumstances. I’m not sure there is something much more devastating than losing a job (being told to leave) when one has a wife, 2 young children around ages 8 & 4, and then again at the ages of 12 and 8.

Please understand: I am not seeking sympathy nor am I trying to justify anything. Frankly, it was my own pride and arrogance that got me into those messes. But even though I was going through those valleys, and can now see more clearly after going through them, I can say I know one thing: God’s presence was always…ALWAYS…with me. To be honest, I had nowhere else to go. My mess = my cleanup = real trouble. I NEEDED His presence to steer me straight.

My thoughts were piqued today as I continue reading John Piper’s short devotional book on Christmas (yes I am already reading in preparation for that season) called The Dawning of Indestructible Joy. He writes this:

‘Jesus came to prove that God tells the truth, that God keeps His promises. Christmas means God can be trusted’ (p.32)…’Say to the next generation again and again: God is truthful; God keeps His Word; God does not lie; God can be trusted! (p.33)

One of His promises I learned was the reality of His presence. He promised He will be with me to the end. He promised He will never leave or forsake me. He promised His presence. ALWAYS. To that I cling.

“Father, thank you for being truthful. Thank you for keeping your promises. I look back with 20/20 and see you were always there. I cling to that promise even today!”

October 1

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

My title for this devotion is Meaningful Words vs Blowhard, Empty Words.

I need to make a confession. I’ve been reading through Job in my morning Quiet Time and I’ve had trouble concentrating. I know the basic backdrop of Job.  He has it all. All but his life is taken away.  He has three “friends” who become very accusatory of him. He must have some hidden sin. He’s really not the righteous person he pretends to be. He is in rebellion against God. Blah. Blah. Blah. I’d say sarcastically “some friends they are” or “with friends like that who needs enemies” but I digress. You see…that’s not the whole story. They pretend in their blowhard, empty words to pretend to speak for God. They pretend to know God’s thoughts.

They don’t. If I was Job I’d say, “Take a hike!” In chapter 22, Eliphaz accuses Job of being wicked. In the margin of my Bible I highlighted verses 21-30 and noted it as Accusation of Job’s rebellion. Well, it appears Job has questions of his own. But they are not accusatory questions like I might raise. No. Just the opposite. He raises the fact that He cannot understand God because of the “bigness” of God. (23: 8-17).

Why is this important to me? Because I feel the same way at times. Wondering what I did to “deserve” the treatment I’m getting. I question my commitment. My walk. Am I holy? But it doesn’t come down to what I think or who I am. It comes down to what God thinks and who He is. Take a moment and read Job 23: 8-17 and see if doesn’t give you that perspective. It did me. “He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”

“Father, may my commitment to you only grow stronger through the daily struggles-be they big or small-I face. May I see the words of others- if they do not reflect You and Your Word- as blowhard, empty words which cannot affect or change Your view of me.”

September 30

Monday, September 30th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Keep the Wonder vs Lose the Wonder.

Have you ever seen something so often that either it loses its luster or you miss it completely? When you go to that mountaintop; when you wake up and see that beautiful sunrise; when you coo over a new born; when you go gaga over an engagement ring; when you smile at getting the new car; whatever it is, but then as time goes on the new “shine” is replaced by the mundane. The mountaintop view, the sunrise, etc lose their awe-filled pull.

I have. I was reminded of that this past weekend. I was honored to be asked to perform a wedding in St. Louis. The couple is clearly in love. Everything, surprisingly, went off without a hitch. Even the bride commented to Jo & me as we left as to how perfect everything was and how she wondered “when is something going to go wrong?” Their vows were sincerely felt and said. There was obvious love in their eyes.

The question that haunts me as a pastor though is “will it last?” Will there still be love in their eyes when struggles come? When children come and life gets in the way, will there still be love? I’m not foolish enough to think their marriage won’t change; of course it will. It will mature. It will toughen. It will deepen. Or it will die. Become old hat. Lose the wonder. Just as in the examples I gave at the start, they can keep the wonder or lose it.

More importantly: how about my relationship with Jesus? Am I keeping it one of wonder or has it lost its luster?

“Father, it is easy to let the wonder of You and my relationship with you become old hat. Help me to guard against that and keep my lofe for you fresh and exciting.”

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.”

September 11-12

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

I began writing this yesterday and finished it this morning. We got back after midnight from our vacation/cruise and I didn’t make my 3:30 “gettin’ up time.” I made 6:30 but then had to hitch a ride to the office since I parked my truck there while gone. We had our house painted and rather than take a chance on overspray I left it parked at the church lot. Jo was not about to get up that early so I hitched a ride. 🙂  So yesterday became a day of catch-up. Here are my thoughts on these two days.

My title for this devotion is Fear vs Being Ready

The significance of the date does not escape me. 9/11. I can remember what I was doing and where I was at the time I first heard of the attack on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the downed airplane in the field.  That is the day everything changed for the United States. And it could be said for the world. An act of cowardice changed a nation of security and assurance into one of fear (one of their goals). A nation willing to give itself in service to other needy countries suddenly had to focus on its own borders and within its own borders.

I use that in relation to my reading in Nehemiah. Nehemiah returned-with the blessing of the king-to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. Almost from the beginning he and his workers suffered opposition. I’m shortening the story but it came to the point where half the people worked while the other half stayed ready with swords, shields, bows, and coats of mail. (4:16) Sounds like fear…but its not. It’s called readiness. There is nothing wrong with being prepared and ready to do battle. The U.S. has had to take that approach. Not live in fear (although some do), but live in a state of wariness and readiness. (I know. I just traveled by air and ship). “Lest we forget” is a familiar slogan used to remind us of past events; it is a good one to use. We dare not let our guard down. Nehemiah realized the importance of working and watching. Of vigilance. We would do well to do the same.

“Father, help me to not live in fear, but to live in a state of readiness. I don’t have to fear my enemy. I have You. Nehemiah 4:15 says, ‘You had frustrated their plan.’ You can do that to my enemy also. Help me to work, but also to be ready for anything my enemy throws my way.”

August 14

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Healthy vs Sickly.

We all know people. “After what he/she did to me there is absolutely no way I will forgive.” “How come when I do something it always {Note: bad word to us} ends up bad, but every time {again…bad choice of words} they do something they come out smelling like a rose.”  Or some variation of those.

We all know people. What am I saying? That sometimes describes me!! Please tell me if I’m wrong. Does that not describe each of us from time to time? Can I honestly say I am free of envy and jealousy? No. If I’m honest. No. To say I don’t wish for more at times would be a bold-faced lie. Just the other day I was telling Jo that there are times I have to fight getting down on myself because of a financial choice I made back in 1974. I chose to opt out of SS. So to this day I have nothing. I was foolish not to save, to invest (didn’t know how and often didn’t have enough money). Fool is my name when it comes to that. So, unless God intercedes in a dramatic way, we will never have a retirement. Least not one of comfort. We will always struggle.

When I struggle with defies Proverbs 14:30: “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” I look at retired people who are generous (some have even given us money to help with the travel to Ohio for the mess with Jo’s sister), and know that cannot be us in our later years. Poof! Gone is the tranquil heart; hello envy.

But I also know I wasn’t made for that. I am not meant to envy or for jealousy or greed or longing for more. I am not meant to be a slave to fear.

“Father, set me free from envy and jealousy. Set me free from worrying about the future. Today has enough trouble of its own.  Help me to live in a healthy relationship with You which will keep away envy and keep my spirit from rotting away.”

August 13

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Growing Faith vs Stagnant Faith.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that faith is a “building” thing. What I mean by that is simple: When a person come to faith in Christ, his faith, at best, is in its infancy. The longer he/she is a follower of Christ the more his/her faith ought to grow. Each new day; each new challenge; each new set back, is designed to help us increase our faith.

One of my favorite stories in the life of Jesus is after He comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration and is confronted by a father whose son often has fits and even throws himself into a fire. The disciples could not cure him so the father asks Jesus to.  Mark 9 records the conversation. He says to Jesus, “If you can do anything.” Jesus then says, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” The man says, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” I’ve often described that as if the father was saying, “My faith is a 3.  Make it an 8 or a 9 or a 10.” In other words, increase my faith.

Our faith was never meant to be stagnant. Or worse, going in reverse. It is meant to be growing. Always increasing. Always forward. Will there be times of no growth? Slow growth? Sure. Will there be times of plateau? Yep.  But it never stops. Never stays there. Our faith keeps growing. Keeps progressing.

“Father, may every event, every circumstance, every challenge, every set back, simply be a new opportunity for my faith to grow. And let my faith not become stagnant or cold. May it be an ever-increasing faith.”

August 9/Weekend

Friday, August 9th, 2019

My title is Following Wholeheartedly vs Following Haphazardly.

Unexpected. That’s what I found.

First, Abijah, successor to Rehoboam. Abijah made a speech denouncing Jeroboam’s revolt of rebellion against God and against Rehoboam. Abijah knew God was with him and his army. He soundly defeated Jeroboam’s army because they relied on God (13:18)

Second, Abijah’s son, Asa. It begins with these words in 14:2: “And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.” That right there is a strong testament to Asa’s resolve. It goes on to say, “He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandments. He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars.” (14:3-5)  He purged Judah.

There are multiple references to his purging. Even his own mother was deposed as queen and her Asherah pole was tore down, crushed and burned.

When Azariah the seer came to see him and gave him words from God, Asa’s response was one of obedience. He and the people entered into a covenant with the Lord and sought Him will all their heart and soul.

He followed God wholeheartedly. He had involved God’s help in battle.

And then…he sought help from the king of Syria instead of God. The end result of the deal with the king was good, but not with God. His failure to seek God’s help was his downfall.

Unexpected. More way than one. But a warning for sure. What led Asa to seek outside help? Did he get prideful? Filled with fear because he forgot where his help came from? We aren’t told. But a warning to me. To you.

“Father, success is yours; failure mine. Credit is yours; pride is mine. Help me to trust you not outside help. Help me to stay true all the way to the end.”

July 31

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

I actually wrote the bulk of this Monday morning at Jo’s sister’s apartment that would see us for the final time that day. I was going to title this An Observation. But this morning I went back to it and reworked some of it, mostly by adding some thoughts. But when I reworked it this morning I decided on a different title:

Stretching vs. Atrophy.

Here is the reworked devotion:

This Monday as I read my devotion from “Faith” from an Our Daily Bread collection of devotions, knowing today would the last day we would ever see this apartment and all that has taken place over the last month or so, I had to make some observations. The author’s devotion was on Stretching. As I sit down to have my Quiet Time,  the apartment is quiet. The outside is quiet. My soul is quiet and at rest. Today we pack up and move what remains in Vicki’s apartment. It has been a “stretching” experience in so many ways.

For Jo it has stretched her far beyond her comfort zone. I have not seen her cry like she has in a long, long time. Maybe after my second bike accident when I was seriously injured and the ensuing trauma which followed. Jo has had to go to bank after bank-back and forth-many times. Talk to Job & Family Services (a government agency…’Nuff said0. Apply for Medicaid for her sister. Become POA.  Make future funeral arrangements. Nursing home. Hospital. Phone calls. Way, way, way out of her comfort zone.  She’s a saint putting up with all she has.

For me it was giving up the routine of my job. Not being there for what I consider my responsibility has been hard. It has been hard to leave for weeks (3 of the last 5 to clean out this hoarder’s apartment. Scrubbing on my hands and knees to clean up…stuff. I cannot say enough about how Ryan and Diana (youth pastor and secretary) have held down the fort. Nor can I praise the leadership of OVCF enough for letting me come and go as I have, telling me “you have got to take care of your family.”

Stretching is painful. I’ve had rotator cuff surgery and stretching was vital to recovery of motion. I’ve had meniscus and collarbone surgery. Stretching was vital to recovery.  One of the most important recovery mechanisms after a bike ride is stretching. In the life of the Christ-follower, stretching is vital to growth. It hurts to stretch muscles that want to curl up and atrophy. It hurts to stretch spiritual muscles that will do the same. But it is absolutely a necessity. Stretching helps us to focus not on what has been but on what will be. In our lives, stretching will help us focus not on what we have been, but on who we can become. It is easy to see ourselves with all our failures and shortcomings, but God looks beyond that to see who we are as His new creation through the power of His Spirit.

“Father, thank you for stretching me. Thank you for giving me (sometimes) unpleasant situations that challenge me to break out of sameness and safety and step out onto the water. As I take those steps-present and future-help me to keep my eyes on You, not the waves kicking up. And help me to remember this is all in your plan for me. Stretch me where I need stretched.”

July 30

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Defeat or Victory.

After a thrilling chapter in Psalms-chapter 139-which in my book may be one of the most exciting chapters in the whole book, he ends with some very familiar words: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” [Verses 29-30]

What powerful verses those are! They stand even stronger when considered in the context of the whole chapter and also what is coming. Previously the psalmist has talked about God knowing us frontwards, backwards, up one side and down the other (a little poetic license there). Then he writes about how God knew us before we were born and how important His thoughts are of us. We have no other response other than to say, “Search me, O God.”

But as I read chapter 140 the other night, my eyes went to a logical presentation. I’m not sure why my eyes see things that way. 🙂 There are some words which stuck out to me. 

  • “Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men.” [verse 1]
  • “Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked.” [verse 4]
  • “Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked.” [verse 8]

I’d say the psalmist took seriously the threat of those who were his enemies. He wasn’t asking for acceptance of his plan to walk alongside them. He wasn’t making any plans to give into them. No…he was asking for God’s strength and protection as he fought. He was praying for God to provide a “way through” the fire. “Deliver me. Guard me. Grant not.” I think inherent in these words is a resignation to God of his weakness and need for supernatural intervention.

If I can say it this way: maybe the psalmist is praying that God will snatch defeat out of the lion’s jaws and bring about victory for him.

“Father, thank you for your steadfast concern and stand with me. Whenever I feel overwhelmed and to the point of defeat, bring me into your rest and into your arms of safety and allow you to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. FOR IN YOU, I AM VICTORIOUS!”

We make our way home today with a moving truck and Jo driving mine. If you think about it, prayers for safety would be appreciated.