Perseverance

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March 16

Monday, March 16th, 2020

I read Denny’s blog each time it is released. He writes insightful and always thought-provoking posts. Considering all that is happening in the world today, I found this to be especially insightful and worthy to be passed on. Please enjoy and wonder at the amazing ways God’s works.

Banished from the public means of grace, we found grace nevertheless.

By Denny Burk on March 15, 2020 in Christianity, Devotion

Our church was scattered by the coronavirus this morning. We did not gather together as usual at the intersection of Southern Parkway and Third Street. No, today we were spread out all over the city of Louisville and beyond. Our college students were literally scattered across North America as many of them were compelled to go back to their hometowns after colleges and universities closed last week. Our church’s missionaries remain scattered all over the world. None of us could be together this morning.

If you know what it means to be the ekklesia of God, your heart ached like mine did. For this is not how it is supposed to be. Gathering together for the Lord’s Day is fundamental to our identity, and we were unable to do that this morning (Hebrews 10:24-25). We had a “virtual” service like so many others, but it really isn’t the same. Nor should it be.

But something really extraordinary happened as we all sat down before our scattered screens for worship. Jim Hamilton read the call to worship from a book of devotion by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published in 1893.1 Below is the entry for March 15, and the words are nearly incredible:

MARCH 15

Therefore say, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.”

Ezekiel 11:16

Banished from the public means of grace, we are not removed from the grace behind the means of grace. The Lord who places his people where they feel like exiles will himself be with them. He will be to them all that they could have had at home in the place of their sacred assemblies. Take this promise as your own if you are called to wander!

God is to his people a place of refuge. They find sanctuary with him from every adversary. He is their place of worship too. He is with them as he was with Jacob when he slept in the open field and woke, saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Gen. 28:16). To them he will also be a sanctuary of peace, like the Most Holy Place, which was the noiseless abode of the Eternal. They will be kept from fear of evil.

God himself, in Christ Jesus, is the sanctuary of mercy. The ark of the covenant is the Lord Jesus, and Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, the tables of the law are in Christ our sanctuary. In God we find the shrine of holiness and of communion. What more do we need?

Oh, Lord, fulfill this promise and always be to us like a little sanctuary!

In a book published 127 years ago, this was the entry for March 15. What a smiling providence. What an evidence of the Lord’s care for his people in a time of turmoil and trouble. He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5), and he proved it again this morning.

—————

1 Spurgeon’s devotional The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith was published in 1893 in America, but Crossway published an updated edition just last year. The text above is from the 2019 edition.

February 18

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Try vs Never Try.

Do you remember (or maybe I’m showing my age) a man named Evil Knievel? He was a motorcycle daredevil. He probably broke more bones than I have in my whole body! Some would call him nuts. Some called him crazy. Others might be more clinical and call him “certifiable.” 🙂 I’m not adverse to any of those because NO WAY under God’s green earth would I be caught dead doing what he did. Oh…wait a minute. I would be dead. Jumping buses on a motorcycle? Not a chance. Jumping to dunk a basketball was dangerous enough. Doing loop-de-loops then taking to the air? Nope again. Claim a sky-cycle will take me from one end of an Idaho gorge to the other end. Over my dead body. Exactly!

But there is one thing you can never accuse him of: not trying. I looked up this quote by Teddy Roosevelt:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.

I don’t know if Evil used that as his motivation or not, but it sure says a lot. As someone has said, “It is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all.”

As an aging pastor and as a pastor of a small church in a small town, it is easy to get cynical. To get locked into “the old ways” of doing things the way they’ve always been done. Ministry is so different in 2020 than it was in 1974. The Gospel has never changed; the methods of proclamation have. While I’m not into the attractional model (think seeker-sensitive) and performance-oriented worship services, I must realize that change happens all the time. No change=death. The way I see it if something is not anti-Scriptural and it fits the culture of my town/my setting, give it a try. If it fails, least I tried.

And God is still there.

“Father, help me not to close off You nor close off the opportunities presented to me. You just may be saying, ‘Try it Bill. Then stand back and watch Me work.’ Help me not to be old and crotchety about trying new things.”

February 12

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Future: Reward vs Destruction.

As a pastor of 45+ years, I think one of the questions I have been asked the most is “Why do the unrighteous prosper and I, who is trying to follow God, don’t?” (or some variation of that).  It certainly is a conundrum when godly people watch as those who use, abuse, take advantage of, disregard, persecute, or run over others appear to get ahead.

I read that residents of some communities in Michigan’s UP are living in danger. In years past, thriving towns-like Negaunee, Iron River, and Marquette-grew up around the great iron mines that fueled the economy. These mines are huge caves carved beneath the surface of the earth so the ore could be taken out. But many of the timbers which supported these caverns are rotting and if/when they give away giant holes will develop and everything above will collapse.

My point is simple. While people may look at those who “seem” to have it all-with disdain or maybe even envy-one truth remains, it will collapse. All they have is a house of cards, and that house of cards will fall. With rotting foundations, their house won’t make it. In the end, they will have nothing. For further reference check out Matthew 7:24-27.

It is easy to find yourself questioning-wondering even-why them and not me? But their end is destruction.  It is much better to have little but have Jesus than to have much and not have Jesus. Hold fast. Stay strong!  Put your eyes on His prize! Build a solid foundation, one that will not collapse like a house of cards in the wind.

“Father, the lesson is for me also. Help me not to look longingly at what others have but to build my house on You. Help me to keep my eyes focused on You.”

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 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 3

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

Sorry this is late in coming today. Computer issues (it wouldn’t turn on) were a big downer. Finally…

My title for this devotion is Ready or Not.

As a child playing hide-n-seek the saying was familiar.  Count to 100 as everyone scatters and then say, “Ready or not here I come.”

I think one of the things many, if not most, people don’t like are surprises. Oh, we don’t mind surprises on our birthday or at Christmas. We like the surprise of seeing a loved one we haven’t seen in awhile (like a service man surprising his/her child at school). Those kinds of surprises bring a chill up and down our spine and a smile to our face and heart.

It’s the other kind of surprise we aren’t fond of. The kind that take the wind out of our sails. The kind that take our breath away. The kind that test our faith. They hit us when we least expect it. These seem to rise up out of nowhere and slam us. I don’t know about you but those are the kind I don’t like!

But I read something today that speaks to that. Proverbs 3:25-26 says, “Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” We are often thrown curve balls. Some pitchers throw curve balls so wicked they buckle the knees of the batter. Life’s surprises may do that but God’s Word says we don’t have to be afraid of them. Not when our confidence is in God.

“Father, help me to not be afraid of life’s surprises. Instead, help me to trust You no matter what comes.”

December 20

Friday, December 20th, 2019

First an apology. In my December 19 post I misused a word which changes everything. I originally mistakenly said “the whole reincarnation miracle blows me away.” Jesus was not reincarnated. It should have read “the whole incarnation miracle.”  I have corrected that grave error (heresy-in-the-making) and it now says what it should. My sincere apologies to anyone confused by it.

Okay. On to today’s devotion…

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

Harsh reality: Sometimes living as a Christ-follower is no fun at all! In fact, sometimes it just downright stinks! There is a constant battle within us of giving up or giving in.

  • Giving in to despair or to God
  • Giving up to the enemy or surrender to God.

I was reminded of that when I read that Susan B. Anthony had a slogan: “Failure is Impossible!” She was known for her steadfast battle in gaining women the right to vote. She died in 1906. The 19th amendment didn’t pass until 1920.

I was also reminded of that when I read 2 Cor.6:8b-10. After defending his apostleship, Paul makes the following statement: “We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Paul refused to give up (throw his hand in the air in despair) or give in (to his enemies or his circumstances). Instead he chose to stand firm by giving up his life in surrender to God and giving in to His influence in his life.

“Father, help me to stand firm. If I must give in or give up may it be to You not to my enemies or my circumstances. Help me to stand firm.”

December 18

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Waiting Present vs Waiting Future.

I don’t know about you but it seems like most of my life is spent waiting. I live in a town that has three traffic lights (I want to call them “stop” lights because that seems to be the name for me) on the main drag. The main drag is a state highway and it is not unusual for me to catch one, two or all three of the lights in one setting. So I sit…waiting.  There is a light outside of town near the church building where I work that is at a “T” intersection of two state highways-46 & 43. 46 is the main one so when I come from the office, St Hwy 43 is a pressure sensitive light. It is also affected by the traffic coming either way on 46. I have been known to sit for 3 minutes waiting for the light to change. And please don’t get me started on the Super _____ that has only a couple of register lines open during the busiest time of the year!!

Waiting is not fun. But there are times waiting is absolutely essential. Waiting on God’s plan to unfold is sometimes unpleasant. Waiting on God’s timing to “play itself out” is frustrating. We wait and wait and wait. And nothing seemingly is happening.

In reality something is happening. It is happening in us. I am either waiting in the present or waiting in the future. What I mean by that is I either see Him with me in the present or I worry about seeing Him in the future. I cannot live in or predict the future. I don’t have a DeLorean. James says not to worry about the future. (James 4:13-15) Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow. Today had enough trouble of its own. (Mt.6:34)

Jim Elliott, the martyred missionary, is credited with saying, “Wherever you are, be all there.” That’s great advice! Live in the present. I can’t change tomorrow because I don’t even know what’s coming. Live today.

Now…that’s not saying I live for today and take no thought for tomorrow. I certainly don’t want to plant bad seeds today that will bear bad or rotten fruit tomorrow. But I don’t have to worry about tomorrow.

“Father, you have promised Your presence past, present and future. Help me to live for You today. Help me to live in the present in Your presence.”

I have been writing at my other blog on #ChristmasChallenge. I’d like to invite you to visit there for a Christmas meditation.  Here is the current post

November 19

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Will He or Will He Not.

I believe all of us have struggled at one time or another with believing God is faithful. A tough time comes; a downturn in our business; a health issue dogs our tracks; we lose something or someone of importance; a child wanders from his/her faith; a marriage blows up; the examples are numerous. It is during those times that we have a question to ask: Will He or Will he not?

Will God keep His promises, or will He not? Will He be faithful, or will He not? Will He sustain His love, or will He not? Will He renew my strength, or will He not? The questions about God are as numerous as the examples.

But one thing I know: God DOES keep His promise. What promise is that? “I will never leave your or forsake you.” How do I know that? Well..I’ve seen it fleshed out in my own life for one. Some of the horrendous things I’ve done surely made Him cringe at the least. I have to wonder how and why He stayed true. I know the answer to that.

HE PROMISED IT.

Look no further than the Christmas story. How could one not read that story and see God’s promise fulfilled? 3-4 centuries (maybe more) passed from His promise in the Garden to the night in Bethlehem and 33 years later on a cross. Those two events sealed the deal.

The Christmas story alone would have been enough. That story alone shows God keeps His promises. The cross? The nail in the coffin.

“Father, when I’m doubting; when I’m swinging on a pendulum of emotion; when I’m having a tough time connecting the dots between life’s reality and  feelings, remind me of the Christmas story. Proof positive of Your faithfulness to Your promises.”

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.”