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April 1

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Have you ever read a Scripture before-perhaps hundreds of times-and either not really paid attention or never really grasped its weight? I have. In fact, today’s Scripture is one of them. I actually read this passage a couple of days ago and it stopped me in my tracks as its meaning hit me. I revisited it this morning. Here is the Scripture: “You search the Scripture because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness of me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)  The old KJV gave it as an imperative: “Search the Scripture…”  It is true the word “search” can be seen as a command, but it is better seen as implying diligent scrutiny in investigating the Scripture.

As I’ve tried to read more on apologetics, once common strain seems to come out. Many (most) agnostics and atheists know the Scriptures better than many who say they are followers of Jesus. Of course, their knowledge is just that-knowledge. Head knowledge. They have done what Jesus describes here. They know the Scriptures “but refuse to come to Him that they may have life.” In the Pharisees’ efforts to be religious they knew the law of the Scripture, but they did not know the heart of the Scripture. All they had pointed to Jesus as Messiah, but they never saw it.  They knew the Scriptures alright, but not the One they pointed to.

That begs the question: how do I know the Scripture? As a club to be wielded or as a light pointing to the True Light-Jesus?

“Father, as I read and study the Scriptures, make Yourself clearer to me. Help me to continue learning truths from Your Word. Let me read the Scriptures as life that point me to You.”

March 25

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Have you ever felt as though you were walking around with this big “L” on your forehead? You know…the hand put to the forehead with the thumb and index finger forming an “L.” I’m sure you know that is the sign for “Loser.”

Admittedly, I have had those times:

  • Moving to become the 3rd person on staff only to watch the 2nd man leave for another church and then after a month goes by being asked to exit. Total ministry length there: 13 months.
  • Moving from there to a church in a small town with 25 people in the church only to realize less than 4 months in that I made the wrong move as their legalism choked me and I burned out.  Length of ministry there: 16 long months.
  • Moving from there and have a seemingly good 3 years end up with a secret meeting and a “you have until August” (This was April) with no explanation given except I wasn’t conservative enough doctrinally. (I didn’t believe in baptism as being necessary to be saved).

I could give you other failures. Personally. Professionally. Spiritually. Tasks unfinished. Relationships ripped apart. Arrogance running rampant. I can’t place the blame on the leaders or individuals responsible for the above actions. I was complicit too. I had to learn some very valuable lessons that as I look back now God had been trying to teach me all along. I also can see this principle come into play: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Pr.24:19-20)  I had to trust that God “got this.” I had to trust that He would take this wreck and make him useful.

I can point to Peter-disciple, loud-mouth, leader, deny-er, failure-as proof. Those last two. WOW! But God wasn’t going to let him wear the “L” label. He was going to take Peter from an “L” to a “W.”

“Father, thank you for not seeing me as an “L.” Thank you for saving me. For rescuing me. For recycling me into being useful for You.”

March 23

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

During yesterday’s sermon Tami, who had to watch it from home out of precaution (she was coughing), told her mom I said something during the sermon that she wanted to post on her FB page.  First some background; then what I said.

I was preaching from Colossians 1: 19-29 and had been speaking about ministry when I came to verse 24.  Paul talks about suffering.  Not boohoo suffering, but suffering knowing there are positives in it.  In verse 24 we read where Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.”  The statement is loaded! First, his willingness to suffer enabled there to be churches started in Asia.  We know the gospel spread through his ministry hardship.  Second, his suffering brought good to the church.

We are in unprecedented times. A few might remember 9/11. A few might remember ebola.  There are very few around any more who remember the Great Depression. We have always had crises and always will. The church needs to check its reaction to a crisis.  We live in a time unlike many have experienced before. Leastwise, the church in America. We can have one of two responses (and this is what Tami wanted in writing):

The church can either panic or praise.

The church can either wilt or worship.

The church can either live in fear or faith.

The church can either flounder or forge ahead.

(And a new one) The church can either wander or wonder.

It is a question the Church must ask-collectively and individually. And it is a question each one of us must ask ourselves. How will we choose to live?

“Father, you have not given us a spirit of fear, but of power,  love,  and self-control.  (2 Timothy 1:7).  Help me to live the triumphant life of faith and not be held captive by fear.”

March 17

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

I read a verse this morning that I have read countless times before, only this time it said, “Look closer.” (Okay, not really, but you know what I mean). 🙂  So I did. It’s the passage in John 1:36-51 where Jesus is “calling” some of John’s disciples and others to follow Him. Andrew, who found his brother, Peter. Philip who got his brother, Nathaniel. It is Nathaniel’s response to Jesus’ words to Him that said to look closer.

  • Philip: “Come, we have found the Messiah-Jesus of Nazareth-the one talked about in the Law and the Prophets.
  • Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was considered a “scum” city. An insignificant city of low-lifes.
  • Jesus: “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  (The old KJV says, “No guile” whatever that is.)

Wait! Stop the presses! Jesus found an honest person? Actually, the word is more accurately seen as one of sincerity and honesty. Whew! Not sinless. Open. Seeking.  This is in direct contrast to Jacob, one of the heroes of the Jews, who was known for his deceit and trickery.  Think birthright in exchange for stew.  Think disguise for blessing.

Could it be that Jesus was saying Nathaniel was breaking the cycle of trickery and deceit? Proverbs 17:20 says, “A man of crooked heart does not discover good, and one with a dishonest tongue falls into misery.”  Dishonesty, trickery and deceit only lead to misery. For all affected and afflicted.

“Father, may I be one who chooses to live without trickery and deceit. May it be said of me that I am one in whom there is no deceit.”

March 12

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

In golf they call it a “Mulligan.” If you don’t know golf, think free do-over. The shot was so bad you take a “mulligan.” You forego that shot and wherever it ended up, and take another-a free shot. It’s considered free because the other doesn’t count.  (I bet pros wish they could do that occasionally). When I played golf, I was so bad because I played so infrequently, that they should have named the course after me and called it Mulligans.

In all seriousness though, we all have moments in our past we wish we could do over. Regret. Shame. Sin. Pattern. Lost temper. Angry words. Second lingering glance.  I wish I could do over the time I saw my first Playboy at the age of 8. Seeds were embedded I knew not of. How many time have you heard or read of embezzlers who said, “I wish I’d never take that first dollar”?

The old adage is “Be sure your sins will find you out.” Proverbs 12:14 says, “From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him.”  (Emphasis mine)  It’s that last phrase which comes back to me. I’ve heard stories of builders who took shortcuts and used shoddy material only to watch their project implode and with it their reputation.

The rage several years ago was to write a letter to “Dear younger self.” I never did. I guess I saw it as an effort in futility because I couldn’t change a thing. However, I must admit: I’d like to sometimes call “Mulligan!” Even now.

“Father, what’s done is done. I can’t change that; neither can you. You can’t undo what has been done and since I don’t have a time machine neither can I. But the future can be different. Guide my steps so mulligans aren’t needed.”

March 3

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

If I were to ask a question I have on my mind this morning, I’m guessing I would have as many answers as there are people asked. Here’s the question:

What is the one thing every human being needs?

I can hear the obvious answers: Air. Food. Water.

I can hear another set of answers: Love. Compassion. Joy. Peace.

I can hear more answers: Grace. Understanding. Wisdom.

And the list goes on.  And you can see why I say there are as many different answers as there are people.  But the answer I’m looking for is still not there.  And, to be honest (and fair), I asked that question as broadly and as vaguely as I could. So…

My answer?

I-N-T-E-G-R-I-T-Y

Without it a man is nothing. Not worthless because no one is worthless. No one is a loser. But without integrity a man cannot be trusted.  He has no credibility.  He has no foundation. He is shifty. If I meet someone with no integrity, I feel like I ought to be looking over my shoulder for the knife in my back.

Proverbs is chock full of references to integrity. In chapter 2 it says God’s wisdom, knowledge and understanding are a shield to those who walk in integrity.  (Verses 6-7).  When those three qualities from God are evident in our lives, a person cannot help but ooze integrity. I read a quote recently that struck my funny bone. It is from Mark Twain:

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

Do you remember a few years ago when a high school football coach turned in his won-the-state-championship team because he found out one of his players was ineligible? They lost the trophy; the accolades; the distinction of having won the state title, but THEY. GAINED. INTEGRITY. He showed his players and everyone else some things are more important than others and should never be compromised.

“Father, help me not to care for fame and fortune over integrity. Some things cannot be bought or sold. Integrity is one of them. May I live a life of integrity.”

February 13

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Slave vs Free.

For some odd reason I woke up this morning thinking-of all things-about the commercials that play on TV around Christmas time. Weird I know. There is one about neglected pets and for $19/month you can…I can’t even remember the initials of the organization. The person doing the voiceover sounds like she has just come from 5 funerals (‘course that is what they want). I’m cynical though. “Save the animals but kill the babies.” Sorry. No can do, so no money to you. There there are those which choke me up. St. Jude and kids with cancer. Those wipe me out.

Here’s a thought: why are we not seeing commercials about girls, boys, children, women, men caught in sex trafficking? Why are we not seeing those, who like Rachel Hollander, are being sexually abused by “trusted” adults? Why not more commercials on those who are slaves (addicted) to alcohol, gambling (and hurt the online betting on sports?), opioids, and porn (a multi-million dollar industry)?

Slavery to any evil is ugly. I know of pets who have been rescued and then adopted who never get out of their “cage.” They forever cringe. They forever snarl. They are forever aggressive. They have separation anxiety. They forever act like they are still in the cage.

People in slavery is worse than any animal. Who can they trust? The military vet with PTSD? The abused child? The one caught in a web of deceit and lies that hold him/her down? I can go on and on. I’m listening to a podcast right now (Hole in My Heart-Episode 110) of a woman who was groomed at 18 and a slave until she broke out at 26. Heart-wrenching.  Convicting.

One of my favorite songs we sing is “No Longer Slaves.” It is also the favorite song of one our ladies. I know why. My heart reaches out to those who are still enslaved and chained to their past and even their present.

My ending will be different this morning. A short prayer then a video. “Father, You promised freedom. Set me free from my chains, from those things which enslave me. I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”

The video.

February 4

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Miraculous vs Mundane.

There has been and always will be a battle between seeing and believing the miraculous and being so jaded that even the miraculous is seen as mundane. Skepticism seems to rule so many peoples’ thinking.  Over the past 45+ years as a pastor I have had the blessing of seeing the miraculous. I’ve seen God work in ways that astound. I know some question the use of the word “miracle” and want to confine it to the NT days, but I’m going to use it to describe some recent events I have been privileged to witness:

  • A 13 y/o healthy young man finds himself suddenly fighting for his life. In just a matter of  days, he goes from healthy to life support. Prayers bombard heaven endlessly. “Miraculously” he goes from death’s door to home in a matter of weeks. He still has a haul but there is much to marvel at. Aslan was on the move!
  • A 20 month old boy born with a heart defect (left artery totally closed) has another surgery as a “last ditch” to get some blood flowing. Not only are the doctors able to open his artery 2mm (needs 10-12), but-and here is the absolutely incredible, “miraculous” element-he goes home less than a week after surgery! There is no other explanation except God’s hand. Aslan was on the move!
  • A man who does not acknowledge the God of the Bible has health issues. Heart. Feet. Heart supposedly has bacteria on his valves but surgery is risky because of infection in his foot. A cath late last week shows his valves are clear with no bacteria; his foot is healing; and he has heart surgery to replace two valves this week. The whole scenario is nothing short of incredible. And even though his idea of God is warped, prayers have been said on his behalf. I’d like to believe it is so he can hear about and respond to the true God of the Bible. Aslan was on the move!

Those are three recent examples. It is easy/common to write them off as “the doctors did this” or “modern medicine did that,” but I believe differently. I’d rather say it is-if I may borrow Paul’s words from Ephesians 2: “But God.” Man may have knowledge (ironically given to him by God) and may even acknowledge it is limited; man may say, “If it hadn’t been for the doctors;” but it goes much, much deeper. Man’s limited knowledge shows God’s limitless power.

“Father, skeptics can be cast aside. They will never accept nor understand Your unlimited-dare I say miraculous?-power. Limitless. Powerful. Able to astound. Help me to never take that power for granted, nor take your wonder working power for granted.”

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 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.”