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September 28

Monday, September 28th, 2020

Thursday morning before we left the hotel to do some running and take lunch to Braden (our grandson), who is doing school from home right now, I sat down and wrote some thoughts. I’d like to share them with you in this devotion.

Not all of life is going to be hunky-dory. To tell anyone it will be is a bold-faced lie and is from the mouth of the father of lies, the enemy himself. But that is not what I want to focus on this morning. Instead, I want to focus on God’s faithfulness through those tough times that have, do, and will come.

I think it is important to remember and recount some of the oh-so-many times God was faithful. I know these will not mean anything to you but they will be a good exercise for me. 

  • In high school I got the Hong Kong flu between Christmas and New Year’s. I was in bed, felt lousy on Christmas Day, missed 2-3 weeks of basketball practice…but no school. Hmmmm.
  • I married my college sweetheart after some rough patches on her part (that would involve me) and here we are 47 1/2 years later.
  • I am the father of two beautiful ladies and the grandfather of one amazing grandson.
  • I was led to an associate ministry position in Akron, OH after graduation where I learned a lot (but not enough). I also cemented a friendship which began in college that has actually lasted longer than my marriage.
  • I’ve lost my job several times-some due to my arrogance; once because I had stopped being legalistic; and once because I could not see myself as a CEO and could not function as one.  I had a stopover where I found my heart again and now I will soon celebrate my 15th anniversary as pastor of OVCF.
  • God has been faithful through tough financial times and provided when I had very little.
  • He has seen me through the loss of family (mother and in-laws) and friends with extra strength and grace.

I could write more but that can be for another time. I’m grateful for God’s faithfulness. Now I’d like to challenge you to do the same thing. How about you? What could you write down?

“Father, thank you for your faithfulness. I am humbled by it all. Help me to never forget.”

September 21

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Sometimes I’m afraid many churches try to conjure up hype. I know as a pastor it is frustrating at times wondering what it’s going to take to “fire up” a church. There is talk of that being a revival. “We need a revival” we will say. But tragically, we then go about it under our own strength.

You’ve seen it, as have I. Special “revival” meetings. Bring in a band and have a concert. Meet under a tent. Schedule prayer meetings. Bring in a “big gun” to preach. They used to say an evangelist had 7 sermons and a fast car.  He would come in. Tell it like it is. Offend a few. Stir the people up. Get out of Dodge. A lot of what we want to call revival is man-made. Correction: most of it.

In the book Jesus Revolution, Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn talk about what was called the Jesus Movement. In one section they were describing Greg’s “church plant” in Riverside (encouraged by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel). They were meeting in the Riverside Municipal Auditorium which they affectionately called “Riverside Municipal Microwave Oven” because it had no A/C. But each week the church continued growing. Greg couldn’t explain it but it was explained by using a quote Warren Wiersbe credited to former YFC president Bob Cook: “If you can explain what’s going on, God didn’t do it.” Those are good words. Maybe taking my hands off the wheel is the best thing to do. Maybe trying to manufacture revival or church growth is not a human effort at all, but is, in fact, the work of God.

“Father, show me when I need to steer and when I need to let go. Help me not to think I know best, especially when it comes to Your work.”

Note: I review the book, Jesus Revolution, on my other blog.

September 14

Monday, September 14th, 2020

Taking credit. You see it in sports. Someone is full of him/herself and takes credit for the performance. You see it in business. “I did this” or “I did that.” That person tends to forget what I will call the “trenchers.”  They are the ones who work daily in the trenches-brainstorming, conceiving and executing ideas-the plan. You see it in movies, TV, or other “up front” activities. The actor get the accolades; the double or the bit actor or the one behind the scene is left behind. You see it in the pulpit. A pastor copies plagiarizes preaches a sermon almost word for word of someone else but doesn’t give credit where credit is due.

Giving credit.  Turning the tables.  Acknowledging those unseen players. The wife who hates the limelight and quietly supports her husband. (Can you say Jo?) The bit player whose idea spawned a movement. The teacher who week after week teaches in relative obscurity and is content to be in the background.

I could give example after example but I’m sure you get the point. Giving credit to others is not the product of over-inflated egos but of a humble heart.  Demeaning others in order to exalt oneself is not love; it is not Christ-like at all. I’m of the opinion (for what it’s worth) that God is not interested at all in our status, our position, our clout, or our standing in life. What I do believe is that He is interested in our willingness to be used by Him and to acknowledge His part in our lives. As someone has said, “May they forget the channel, seeing only Him.” (Kate Barclay Wilkinson)

“Father, may I simply be a promoter of You. Help me not to be one who takes credit, but one who gives credit where credit is due. May people forget me and see only You.”

September 8

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

I recently had a visitor to my office who struggled with what is common among many followers of Christ: Assurance. She has struggled with cancer and COPD  for several years now and she is tired. I admire her spunk and determination though. The doctors told her years ago she only had maybe 6 months left. That was over 4 yars ago. She has gotten to see her two great granddaughters grow up, as well as the birth of her great grandson. She once thanked me for the live stream we are doing. She watches each week and what was especially meaningful to me was she said, “I have found my faith again.” She clarified it the day we talked when she said, “I didn’t lose my faith. I struggled with accepting the cancer. I wanted to say ‘Why me?’ “

Her biggest question though was not about cancer. As we sat and talked her biggest struggle was knowing for sure she was saved, that she was going to heaven. I showed her I Thess. 4: 13-18 but my strongest passage was Romans 8: 31-39. “If God is for us who can be against us?” “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

She isn’t alone, you know? There are way too many people who live in un-assurance. Constantly wondering if they did one thing that would be the deciding factor and they would be lost forever. I don’t see that in the Bible. Unless someone was never truly saved or “deconstructs” their faith to put Jesus to an open shame, salvation is eternal. She walked out a different and much-relieved woman than when she came in.

Do you have that assurance or do you live in fear?

“Father, thank you for assurance. Thank you for all that comes from You in the way of assurance, peace, and confirmation of your love for me.”

September 2

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

Straight from Chuck Swindoll:

Shortly before her death, Corrie ten Boom attended our church in California. Following the service, I met briefly with her. She inquired about my young children and detected my deep love for each one. Very tenderly, while cupping her small, wrinkled hands in front of me, she passed on a statement of advice I’ll never forget. I can still recall that strong Dutch accent: “Pastor Svindahl, you must learn to hold everyting loosely…everyting. Even your dear family. Why? Because da Fater may vish to take vun of tem back to Himself, und ven He does, it vill hurt you He must pry your fingers loose.” And then, having tightened her hands together while saying all that, she slowly opened them and smiled so kindly as she added, “Vemember…hold everyting loosely…everyting!”   (From Good Morning, Lord… Can We Talk?)

I’m going to go on record as saying that sometimes-even though I know better-I hold things too tightly. It’s not as bad as it used to be but even at my age, I still want to hold on, to grip tightly.

Consider, for a moment, what we sometimes hold onto too tightly:

  • Our spouse. ‘Course I’m not speaking of hugging or being affectionate. You know that.  But sometimes we are too possessive (i.e. too controlling). In death it is hard to let go.
  • Our children. Many parents want to hold onto their children and not let go. Sadly, there will be times letting go is not pleasant (think Prodigal Son) but we raise them to free them.
  • Our way of life. Rough times tend to reveal the grip we have on the way of life we have come to expect or even take for granted.
  • Our stuff. Oh yeah, it is tough to let stuff go, either by necessity or desire.
  • Our health. We try everything to hold on to the fountain of youth. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves but vanity is an ugly master.

One thing we should grip tightly? Our faith in the ONE who loves us. And that’s another story for another time.

“Father, be my all. Help me to not sacrifice my relationship with You by holding too tightly to other things.”

August 31

Monday, August 31st, 2020

I love to hear a good story! I love to read and when I come across a good story I might laugh; I might cry; I might get choked up; I might see my faith grow; I might even wish I could meet that person.

For example, I read a story about a village on the hilly terrain of the Yunnan Province in China. Their main source of food was corn and rice but a severe drought in May of 2012 put all that in jeopardy. They tried everything, including all their superstitious practices. When that failed, they lashed out at the five Christians in the village for offending the spirits of their ancestors.

So those 5 believers gathered to pray. Soon the sky darkened and thunder was heard. A heavy downpour started and lasted the whole afternoon and night. The crops were saved and some of the villagers came to know Jesus.

Here’s another: In Acts 18 Paul and Timothy were opposed by those in Thessalonica (Macedonia) and went to the house of Titius Justus. His house was next to the synagogue. Sosthenes was the ruler of the synagogue and it was his responsibility to bring charges before Gallio about Paul and Timothy. In short: he lost. In verse 17 it says they seized him and beat him in plain sight of Gallio. Nothing was done.

But read ahead to I Cor. 1:1. Who is mentioned? Sosthenes. What is said? “Paul called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes. (Emphasis mine) Isn’t that an incredible three words? Isn’t that an incredible story? My imagination kicks in at this point. Did Paul take Sosthenes and care for his wounds, much like the jailer did for he and Silas in Acts 16? Did this kindness lead Sosthenes to question Paul about “the hope that lies within?” I’d sure like to believe so.

Don’t you just love a great story? Do you have one? What is it and could you tell it to someone?

“Father, I belong to you. There is no better story than that. May my story always include you.”

August 28

Friday, August 28th, 2020

I read another devotion book that got me thinking. It was on friendship. It began with a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Friendship is a sheltering tree

The writer (Chuck Swindoll) gave the example of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah was burnt out and discouraged and just wanted to give up. Elisha stood with him and fortified him. He became Elijah’s sheltering tree.

So I began thinking about my friends-men who have “been there” for me. Like:

  • Doug- my friend since college (that’s early 70s if you wonder). We have laughed so hard our sides have hurt; prayed with each other; consulted for wisdom with each other (I was short on that); told secrets to each other; cried together over the death of his father and son; worked on projects together; driven to each other’s house; attended conferences together; had multiple lunches together. We still get together 3/4 times per year for lunch (we meet 1/2 way). No dearer friend do I have than him.
  • Jim- we started out cycling together after we met in the 90s. His availability changed when his job demanded more time, but we still rode together as often as we could, often on weekends. But our friendship didn’t end with my move from Indiana to Ohio and now back. It continued and still does-over 25+ years later. We get together for lunch when we can. His 2+ year struggle with prostate cancer and even his winter in Colorado working (because it was a bucket list thing for him and he loves to ski) only deepened our friendship.
  • Those are my closest two friends. I’ve had others along the way who were sheltering trees, albeit temporarily. Some are gone-moved into heaven or on to another life. Some, sadly, are no longer in the picture.

But I am grateful for every friend I have had. I’ve even had a few online friends who have encouraged me with their words! And we have never met except via computer or phone. I once told someone: “I’m an extrovert so I know a lot of people-some I talk to; some I call friend. They are rare and few and far between. I take none for granted.”

How about you? Are you a friend? Do you have friends? Don’t take them for granted.

“Father, help me to be a friend as much as I want friends. Help me to be someone’s sheltering tree.”

August 21

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Have you ever been hurt so deeply you wanted to strike back? You know…give them the old one-two punch. Hit them with the left jab of “love,” then hit them (i.e. put them down) with the right cross of power. The full punch will always be more powerful than the left jab that either keeps a person at a distance or sets them up for the power punch.

More often than not that power punch is the result of the desire to get even, to defend my rights. An illustration: several years ago I was hurt deeply. I’ll not say how or when or where. It hurt my family as well. That happens when a member of a family is hurt by another. Tami was really hurt and said some things to me about this person’s actions. I told her she has to let it go. So she wrote a letter of apology asking for forgiveness. (I was so proud of her). Instead of a letter of grace acknowledging and offering forgiveness, she received a letter of defense-one justifying that person’s actions, taking more shots at me and adding fuel to the fire. She was hurt all over again; I was livid. We moved away and over the course of time God dealt with my own anger. How could I help her process if I myself couldn’t handle it? In time, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life, I was able to lay down my “rights” and forgive.  I wrote a letter explaining my feelings and asking forgiveness, but I never received a reply. But God’s grace allowed me to move on-stronger, more mature, and able to help others do the same. In fact, it was after that when I was working at a non-church related job that I was able to help someone else.

I was working the other morning on a sermon from Ephesians 4: 25-32. Paul tells us there are certain things we are to put away. One of them is clamor. Clamor is the cry of passion railing against another.  To get rid of that I/we must give up my right to be right.

“Father, You got this. You have in your hand all that happens to me at the hands of others and will deal with them. Help me to give up my rights to always be right.”

August 20

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Have you ever read or heard the story of someone and wondered “could I do that?”  For example, you read the story of someone wrongfully accused of a crime and spends years in prison, only many years later is found to be innocent. When that person is released he/she holds no grudge, no desire for vengeance, no animosity, and no anger. Then you read/hear that person has come to Christ while in prison and then you know the reason. But it doesn’t stop the “could I do that?” from going through your head.

Or how about this? You read the biography of someone who has an incredible life story. You are moved deeply by it and again wonder. For example, Joni, who has been a quad since a diving accident in her teens. It has now been over 50 years and along the way there has been two bouts with breast cancer as well. She holds no bitterness toward God.

Or how about George Mueller? He ran an orphanage for over 300 children. Often times his faith was tested. The story I read this morning was just such a story. He gathered his 300 children for breakfast…but there was no food for breakfast. So they prayed and thanked God for the food. What food? Oh, the bread a baker made when he could not sleep and delivered. And let’s not forget the milkman standing outside the door with milk from his broken down cart. He didn’t want it to spoil.

Talk about faith! Sometimes I’m just downright ashamed of my lack of it. Just the other night I laid awake a good part of the night wondering how I was going to pay for a dental procedure that is going to cost me close to $4k. Oh, me of little faith! I read the story of Mueller and I’m encouraged because His God is my God. The same one who owns the cattle on his hill owns them on mine. I still don’t know how that procedure will get paid for but it will. It’s not a want; its a need, a have-to. Maybe He’ll sell one of my cattle. 🙂

In I Cor. 10 (and I know I’m taking this out of context) it says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” Perhaps that story of George Mueller was written down and read by me this morning just for me. For this time.

“Father, no lesson is ever wasted. No challenge is ever lost. Help me not to lose sight of that truth. Help me to keep my eyes open to lessons from You.”

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.”