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September 15

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

Signs. They are everywhere. It’s a political year. UGH! Speed limit. Directional. Enter. Exit. Signs for a restaurant. Signs on a door telling us to wear a mask (2020).  Reminds me of that old pop song: “Signs, signs, everywhere are signs/Clogging up the scenery, breaking my mind/Do this, do that, can’t you read the signs?” 

We have people, especially with the chaos and uproar of this day, talking about and asking, “Are these the signs of the times?” Back in 1967 when the Israelis won the 6-Day War and their land from the Arabs, they taught it was a sure sign that Jesus was coming really soon. I think it’s safe to say “soon” is relative. Same for today. Nobody knows.

Growing up near Pittsburgh I was surrounded by a large Catholic and Orthodox population. The sign of the cross was and still is big to the “practice” of that religion.

It strikes me then with all this talk of the signs of the time that Paul wrote in I Cor.1:21-25 the following words: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (Emphasis mine) Did you notice “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified”? Jesus Himself said the only sign given would the sign of Jonah (death, burial and resurrection).

Maybe it’s time we stop looking to the world events trying to interpret “signs” and simply draw people’s attention to the one sign most important: the cross of Christ. Even the OT people were not saved by looking around or looking inwardly. They were saved by looking at the snake fashioned by Moses and lifted up for the people to look at. A foretaste of Jesus’ own words: “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to Me.” (Jn.12:32)

“Father, may I lift up Jesus. May I preach the cross not man’s opinions. May I draw people’s attention to the cross, not the ‘signs of the times.’ May Jesus be exalted in all things.”

September 4

Friday, September 4th, 2020

“Oh, it was nothing, really.” Have you ever heard someone use those words? They usually follow one person paying another person a compliment.  Trying to deflect praise, or trying (or not) to act humble, they might say those words. I think it is somewhat ironic that someone will use those words: “Oh, it was nothing, really” then go on and give an example of something else they had done.

But what if what they had done really was nothing? As in, NOTHING. Let me explain. In a passage familiar to most people, Paul uses these words: “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  (Emphasis mine)

Those verses are pretty plain. Whether you want to say the prophecy idea mentioned here is either fore-telling or forth-telling (my preferred), the meaning is clear. If you do either without love you are NOTHING. The other part of that verse is just as convicting. If I have mountain-moving faith, but no love, I am NOTHING. That’s right. If I have this super-strong faith that does the impossible, that can move mountains, but don’t have love, I am zip. Nada. That’s not saying I don’t matter, but it is saying my gift is worthless. Any gift given is for the benefit of others. But if I use that gift either for self-promotion or show or to impress, then it is being misused.

“Father, no matter my gift, let me use that gift for others- taking no credit, no accolades-but deflecting praise to You. And help me do it with love.”

September 1

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

As a young boy I remember what were called Air Raid drills.  Our country had already lived through WWII and the Korean War. Vietnam was not yet happening. But conflict with Russian was a possibility. A drill involved us going into a hallway where there were no windows, sitting on the floor, putting our head between our knees, and our hands over our heads. Fortunately, they were only drills. However, I still wonder how all that would have helped.

All across our country towns and cities have sirens that go off with a high-pitched whine if a severe storm-like a tornado-is coming.  The first time it happened here I walked through the house looking for a room we could go to if need be. A couple in the church just built a new house. The backside of it is built into the hillside and he is in the process of making one of the areas in that back part into a storm shelter.

Rock solid buildings have saved lives as people have found shelter during storms. No one would think for a minute that being in a thatched-roof hut during a tornado or on a sailboat during a hurricane would be a safe place to be. Today’s world is anything but safe. The storms we are having to “ride out” are not for the faint of heart.

That’s why Psalm 18:2 is so powerful. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Look at all the descriptions relevant to our situation today!!

Where do you go take refuge? What is your storm shield? Better yet, WHO is your storm shield?

“Father, may I run to You when storms hit. When I’m unsure of where to go or what to do, be my refuge.”

August 27

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill has always been an interesting one to me. You can find it in Acts 17: 16-34. Paul is in Athens, the religious center of Greece. In fact, as you walk with Paul and listen to him, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Athens was the home of virtually every god known to man. In 17:16 it says, “Paul’s…spirit was provoked as he saw the city was full of idols.” In verse 22 it says he begins his sermon with “I perceive in every way you are very religious.” I’d say those are dead giveaways! 🙂

As Paul reasoned with the people, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were curious (they loved engaging with others for the purpose of learning and discourse), but some were hostile. Why? Because he preached Jesus and His resurrection.  He didn’t “preach” health and wealth. He didn’t “preach” a glory cloud will fall. He didn’t “preach” God wants to bring a miracle to your life. No. He preached Jesus and His resurrection.

They wanted to hear more, but it was more of a defense of what he believed. The Areopagus was a court named for the hill on which it once met. His defense is interesting.

  • He alludes to their multiple gods.  They were “very religious.”
  • He zeroes in on the altar To An Unknown God. They were “spiritual;” they believed in the supernatural. Sort of like many in our day. They believe in something; they just aren’t sure what or who.
  • He teaches with purpose.  Take note of it: The God who made the world (the one they classified as unknown); He doesn’t live in temples; He gives life, breath, and all things; He has made us all equal (one blood); He has put in all of us a need for Him and a desire to seek.
  • He presents the appeal. Now is the time. God has overlooked our rebellion but no more.

Such a far cry  from the mere pablum of our day. No hype. No promise of wealth. No “God wants His kingdom here now.” No “think better of yourself because you are worth it.” Just Jesus and our need for Him. Just Jesus and our need to repent. Just Jesus- and it was all cemented not by our agreement-but by His resurrection. And like today the response was mixed. Yes, as expected there was hostility. But that day Paul’s honesty in preaching brought some into the kingdom and raised the curiosity of others.   

“Father, my mandate is to preach Jesus and Him crucified and resurrected. Help me not to waver from that mandate.”

August 19

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

After yesterday’s post, I felt I needed to say something more. In all this talk about social justice, it is easy to forget what really is the task of the church-which is, in fact, tied to social justice.

We spent time last week with our grandson. Man, I love that dude and would gladly give my life for him. I’ve lived 67 very good years; he only 13 (soon to be 14). His mom and dad have split up and no reconciliation is in sight. At all. I/we have watched him grow from birth to be one of the lights in our world.  Our time with him is all too short, and I realize someday he probably won’t want to spend time with us. There are times I want to be closer but that is not to be. And I’m okay with that because I am in God’s will right now.

Children were loved but not really valued in Jesus’ day. He changed all that. When others were pushing them away, Jesus was saying, “Bring the children to Me.” He welcomed the lame, the blind, the deaf, the outcast, the demon-possessed, the diseased, and the poor with no qualms whatsoever. Who the person was or what his “deal” was, Jesus never shrunk away. He reached out. In that way, Jesus left us an example on how to treat others. In that way, He showed us what social justice was: doing for the “least of these.”

But notice what was missing? Protesting. Loud rhetoric. Inciting hate. Getting His message out for His cause. He wasn’t a warrior, least not as we think of one. He was an example of how it is to be done. All kinds of people fell under the loving eyes and touch of Jesus.

I find it interesting when reading about Paul’s life that I was directed to read Galatians. In Gal.2 Paul writes about seeing James, Peter and John where he and Barnabas were offered the right hand of fellowship.  They were sent out to minister to the Gentiles with one word of advice: “They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I was also eager to do.” (2:10) Hmmmm, social justice in action. The mission of the church to get the Good News of Jesus out. Our work with people is simply an outgrowth of that mission. It is not to be the only thing we do.  Social justice must never take the place of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not just helping someone; it also to be used as a springboard to present Jesus.

“Father, help me not to forget others, especially those in need. And help me not to forget why I do what I do.”

August 14

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Yesterday on my other blog, Cycleguy’s Spin, I posted this thought. It was so important to me (and I wrote it yesterday morning) that I thought I would post it here.  Jo picked up Braden, our grandson, yesterday and we are taking him home tomorrow, so I thought I would post this just in case I failed to find the time to post a new devotion. 

There are a few things I simply can’t stand, the thought of eating them just curls my stomach. (Pun intended). When I say them some of you will say, “Seriously?” I can’t stomach to taste cinnamon, coconut and parmesan cheese (the kind that smells like dirty socks that people like to sprinkle on spaghetti and pizza. **gag**. Talk about ruining pizza!!). It is a joke around here for some to tell me they made chocolate muffins, but added coconut or cinnamon. They ruin chocolate. 

But as much as I can’t stand those ingredients (and probably a few more), there is one thing I hate. I despise with a passion. And that is legalism. Legalism by my definition is ordering the Christian life by a list of rules and regulations, of do’s and don’ts. For way too many years I was in that camp. Tithing (you have to).  Church attendance (no Christian skips). Bible reading (every day buddy). Baptism (by immersion only for the remission of sins). Communion (every week). Prayer (I let some slack on this one because I was sketchy myself). Alcohol consumption (tee-total it without exception). Tobacco use (seriously you would put cancer in your body?). You name it; I probably had a rule for it. Now, in all honesty, I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was trying to legislate the Christian life. Salvation was based on what I do; not based on what Christ has done.

Paul faced that. We see it was an issue in the early church (Acts 15). Paul squared off against it in Galatians 2. The issue was so encroaching and so powerful  it even took down Peter. But Paul was not about to back down from that challenge either! (You can see what he does in Galatians 2: 11-14).  The Judaizers were the culprits, men who said you had to abide by the Mosaic law, especially circumcision. But Paul is very clear in Galatians 2:16: “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…by the works of the Law no one will be justified.”

Case closed. There would be no wavering for Paul. He didn’t care if you were Peter or not. Or Bill. I’m so glad I learned about grace and faith and freedom and God brought me out of that ugly jungle.

“Father, thank you for grace. Thank you for the rescue from legalism. Thank you for the introduction to and embrace of freedom. May I always be a messenger of grace.”

August 11

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

One of the more humorous-but more challenging to the faith-sections of Scripture is found in Acts 12. Herod had killed James, John’s brother. When he saw that it pleased the Jews he arrested Peter and threw him in jail also. My guess is his plan was to do the same to Peter as he did to James. He knew enough of the Jewish Law and culture to keep Peter in prison until after the Passover.

And here is where it gets interesting…and humorous…and convicting. The night before Peter was to be brought out, an angel appeared to him and told him, “Get up. Get dressed. Put your shoes on. Follow me.” Peter, thinking it was a dream, did as he was told and wasn’t aware of what was happening until he was out and free. That’s the first great truth: God’s miraculous deliverance.

The humorous part is next. Peter goes to the house (Mary, the mother of Mark’s house) where the believers were praying for his release. He knocked on the door and Rhoda, the servant girl, recognized his voice. First humorous act: she leaves him standing outside! When she tells them Peter is outside, their response is “You are out of your mind.” (v.15). Okay, so check it out. First, she leaves him standing outside. Second, they think she’s nuts.

And third? Well, that is humorous part #3. It is also the convicting part. She was insistent, and I can see them roll their eyes, drop their shoulders and say, “Okay. Let’s check it out.” They even added, “Maybe it’s his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter is still knocking. When they open the door they are amazed.

This is the convicting part. What had they been praying for? The release of Peter. What did Rhoda tell them? Peter was at the door. What was their reaction? Disbelief. Even when they saw they were amazed. I’m thinking they were amazed-not because of the overwhelming realization of what God had done- but because Peter was there to start with.

How much like that I am. I pray for something and when it is answered I am surprised. I shouldn’t be. God has promised to answer my prayer when it is asked in faith. I should stop being surprised and amazed that He would answer, but instead, amazed at His faithfulness.

“Father, help me please to send up prayers in faith, believing you will answer.”

August 5

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

Have you ever noticed how some Bible verses with rich meaning become nothing more than cliches to be rattled off and soon become pictures, displays, knick knacks, etc? Several come to mind.

A number of years ago I loved Isaiah 40:31- “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up on wings like eagles…” Suddenly I began to notice all types of eagles around me in stores. Then that verse started appearing on all sorts of items in the bookstore.

Another is Romans 8:28- “All things work together for good…” It seems like everywhere one turns that phrase seems to stare at you.

Of course, there are many others. “I know the plans I have for you…” “If my people…” “I can do all things through Christ…” My contention is this: those verses (and more) must be more than cliches or quick catchall phrases on t-shirts, or posters or cute little items. It hit me when Is.40:31 had to become a reality to me when I lost my position. It hit me when I had to ask myself if I truly believed Romans 8:28. That’s when cliches and time-worn phrases become concrete; they become a balm to a weary heart and salve to a wounded one. They become a lifeline when sinking is an option. They become a life preserver when I feel as if I’m going down for the last time.

“Father, the truth of Scripture is more than mere cheap words.  It is life! May your Words be more than feel-good sayings to me. May they be the very rock upon which I stand.”

July 30

Thursday, July 30th, 2020

One of the passages I like in Acts is found in 4:1-22. Following the healing of the lame man (chapter 3) word spread.  It’s one of those something-good-happened-and-I-can’t-keep-quiet-about-it things. Peter and John were arrested by the religious leaders and verse 4 says those who came to faith numbered 5000 men! I believe if I was a religious leader I’d be worried too. To capsulize this story, here are some thoughts I see:

  1. When something good happens, especially when your life is radically changed, you can’t keep quiet about it.
  2. Sometimes the impromptu is best. I’m not saying Peter speaking on Pentecost and at Solomon’s Porch weren’t, but this incident is specific. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…”  This was not rehearsed; it was “on the fly.” Sometimes our most effective moments are moments of inspiration.
  3. Peter made two good points: The one was made by quoting an OT passage in Psalm 118:22- Jesus was the chief cornerstone. Rejected by men; exalted by God.
  4. The second was immediately following in verse 12: the exclusivity of Christianity was stated: salvation by faith in Christ.  Only one of two paths are available-the broad road or the narrow road. The narrow one is Jesus alone leading to salvation.
  5. Being with Jesus makes all the difference.  It sets the Christ-follower apart. The religious leaders were astounded and perceived they (Peter and John) had been with Jesus. Oh, to have that said about me!
  6. A firm belief in the truth of Jesus gives boldness. Peter and John stood against the religious leaders when they were told to stop preaching about Jesus. Their words: “We cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (v.20) May I be that bold!

“Father, what a tremendous example Peter and John are in this passage. There is so much here. Help me to be bold and follow their example.”

July 29

Wednesday, July 29th, 2020

Sandwiched between two powerful, ground-breaking sermons is a story almost as equally stunning. Tragically, for us we we read it, the story becomes almost a by-word. The two sermons are the first two recorded ones of Peter- Acts 2 (the first on the Day of Pentecost) and Acts 3 (his sermon at Solomon’s Porch). Two sermons that specifically teach that Jesus is Messiah, the One who died for the sins of the people. Ironically, Solomon’s Porch is where Jesus taught the parable of the Good Shepherd. You can make the connection.

Anyway, sandwiched between those two sermons is the story of the lame man at the Gate Beautiful. There is no hidden meaning. He asks for healing; Peter gives it. Oops, I was wrong there, wasn’t I? He didn’t ask for healing; he asked for alms. Peter knew what he really needed and it wasn’t money.  He even says that: “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.”

I’m going to push aside the snarky comment about so-called faith healers today and focus on something else. Something relevant to us. It is common for people to think they need or want something when what they need is something totally different. In Jeremiah 2:13 God says, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Get rid of one thing; add another. Abandon God; add emptiness. The lame man wanted money; Peter knew what he really needed.

People today remind me of the lame man. In search of something, they can’t see what will really satisfy them. They can’t see what they really need. Don’t be fooled by their fake smiles and pretend happiness. What they really need is a WHO. Just like the lame man.

“Father, I know I need You. Those I come in contact with also need you.  Help me not to be fooled by their fake smiles and pretend contentment, but remember to point them to Jesus- the ONE they really need.”