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October 16

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

My title for this devotion is My Steps vs God’s Plan.

Like every child, I was often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (I was just asked that the other day.  Hmmmmm.  I kid. 🙂 )  I started playing baseball when I was 8 years old. There was no such thing as T-ball or coach pitch back then. I fell in love with baseball and from someone who knew nothing at all about the sport, I developed into a decent pitcher and first baseman. I wanted to be a professional baseball player.  Later, sometime around my 7th-8th grade years I remember reading a series of books on an untameable horse on an island and told my dad I wanted to be a rancher. He laughed. I grew up near Pittsburgh, the land of steel mills not horses. 🙂  Then I got into basketball in 9th grade and didn’t know how to even dribble a basketball, let alone dribble and run at the same time. I spent endless hours on the side of the court leaning how. But practice and hard work got me to a decent place. So much so I wanted to play professional ball. That would have never happened. College was the end of that. My mom used to say when all the other boys were talking policeman, fireman, heavy equipment operator or some other “hero” job, I expressed an interest in being a pastor. Well, I guess we know how my “when-I-grow-up” scenario turned out!

I thought of that when I read two verses from Proverbs 16 today. “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (v.3) and “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (v.9).

I guess we know whose way won out! My steps were established by God…not me. All those dreams of grandeur as a child were good, but in the end, they were just pipe dreams. From before my birth, eternity was stamped on my heart by God’s indelible hand print. He told Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” (1:5)

God chose Jeremiah. God chose me. God chose you. God ordered Jeremiah’s steps. God ordered (and still is) my steps. God ordered (and still is) your steps. Jeremiah was His. I am His. You are His. How much better to say, “Have your way Lord” than to say, “I’m going my own way Lord.”

“Father, I’m fulfilling Your purpose for me. It wasn’t in sports or some other pursuit. I’m being and doing what You want. You plan is better.”

October 9

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Humility vs Privileged.

Today is my 67th birthday. I am grateful God has blessed me with 67 years-so undeserving, so unworthy. I’m reading through Ecclesiastes right now and even though I’ve never had all that Solomon had, I still feel like I’m reading my biography. For many years I thought I was “all that and more.” Not that I stated that. I didn’t. I pretended humility. I pretended having it all together. But underneath the surface I thought was something special. Eventually though, as Jesus said, what comes out is what is in the heart. My true colors came out and not only was it ugly, it made me want to vomit. How much better it would have been to see myself as “The Preacher” saw himself…eventually. He tried everything under the sun (which I truly haven’t), but finally realized all that mattered was His Creator.

Paul put it another way. In 2 Corinthians 4 he speaks of being jars of clay, of being earthen vessels. That is a stark contrast to the shiny plates, cups, saucers, and dishes we have today. Clay is made of the earth and there is nothing attractive about it. It is dull, drab, and doesn’t catch the eye at all. Unless, of course, the potter does something with it.

I can’t help but wonder the difference if I had seen myself as that all along. Instead of this shiny, glossy, “I’m-for-myself” kind of person, what a difference if I’d seen myself as a simple vessel only worth something because the Master Potter has made me and is using me that way. I saw this quote as I read this morning:

If God could not use poor instruments and feeble voices, He would make no music.” A.T.Robertson

“Father, today I know I’ve matured enough to see what I once was was not what You wanted. I still struggle from time to time with being my own man with the solutions. But I see more and more as I get older and more mature that I’m only a clay vessel. And that’s really all you want. Help me to exhibit humility in all I do and say. I’m not as good as I think I am; nor am I as bad as I once was. I know it sounds like a cliche’ but let me be clay in the Potter’s hands. May the next days and (possibly) years I have left-however many they may be-be useful and fruitful for You.”

If you have the time or inclination, here is an excellent post on this subject, only from a slightly different angle.

October 7

Monday, October 7th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Purity vs Promiscuity.

Not too long ago all the rage were purity rings. Dad would buy them for their daughters; have a ceremony; give them the rings; and get them to pledge purity until marriage. Even some celebrities who shall remain nameless and whose purity went the way of the dodo bird, took the vow and stated so publicly. It was a good idea-on the surface-but unless the heart of the individual was committed to it, the ceremony and the ring was just that-a ceremony and a ring.

There is no doubt we live in a sexually-charged age. Our culture is obsessed-yes I said obsessed- with sex. Even in light of the #MeToo scepter, the objectification of women has not stopped. If anything it has become even more insidious. Sin always finds the “level.” Like water which seeks its own level, so does sin, in this case, sexual sin. It was a problem in the biblical culture; it was a problem in the Corinthian church; and it remains a problem today.

Solomon knew the pull. In his own life, for sure. But he also knew the pull to his “son.” Let’s take it further- to any young man- and today we even have to include women. Proverbs 6 & 7 contain graphic descriptions of the wayward woman’s work but it also contains some vivid descriptions of the one who is caught. They are found in 7:22-23:

  • An ox goes to slaughter.
  • A stag caught fast until an arrow hits true.
  • A bird caught in a trap.

These follow the warning of looking out for the woman with seductive speech. Smooth, buttery talk worms its way into the heart of an individual until he/she gives into something they said was preposterous, something they said “I will never do.” The solution is found in Proverbs 6:20-23. Not easy but essential. Not easy but doable.

“Father, staying pure- in mind, heart and actions- is a challenge these days of ‘anything goes.’ Help me to be pure, to stay pure, to think pure, to live pure. And help me do that by tying your Word around my heart.”

October 4/Weekend

Friday, October 4th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Clear Conscience vs Guilty Conscience.

I’ve been reading slowly and digesting as slowly John MacArthur’s short book called Remaining Faithful in Ministry. It is subtitled “9 Essentials for Every Pastor”. There has been some very valuable information passed on (not just for pastors but for all Christ-followers). In what I read today I gleaned the following:

That is the value of keeping a pure heart (Paul’s response in 2 Cor. 1:13 to false accusations). It doesn’t matter what comes at you; if your conscience is clear, no accusation sticks. The conscience is a gift from God. It’s like a skylight or a window, not a lamp. In and of itself, it’s not a source of light, but when kept clear and illuminated by God, the conscience let’s in that light-even in a world of darkness. Conscience is an invaluable tool for revealing our true motives. A clear and biblically informed conscience will either accuse or excuse us, depending on whether we are guilty or innocent. (p.37)

That’s correct in what it says. But what if we do something so much our conscience no longer has the ability to discern right from wrong? What happens if we do something so often we are no longer able to see it as wrong?

That is a problem, but there is also a solution. It is found in a daily submission to God and His Word. It is grounded in the daily desire to be holy. Did not Jesus Himself not say, “For out of the heart comes…?” Submission on a daily basis is necessary for me to keep an active and clear conscience.

“Father, help me to find myself going to You and Your Word for my direction. May my daily strength and guidance be found in You. Please help me keep my conscience pure.”

 

October 3

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

My title for this devotion is Hydrated vs Unsatisfied.

I rode my bike two days this week. I would have ridden three if I had not had an eye doctor appointment yesterday (Wednesday). Both days the temps were in the 90s with high humidity. Just the way I like it! Typical Indiana weather…in August! Highly unusual for October but I love and took advantage of it. People ask me how I do it. Not only do I like that kind of weather (it is easier on the joints), but there is one key ingredient: hydration. As I got ready to ride one of those days, a lady who is a nurse commented on me riding in the heat. When I told her I liked it she said, “Hydration. Stay hydrated.” I reassured her I did. I have two insulated water bottles-one of Gatorade Zero and one of water-which have been partially frozen so I have cold drinks for my ride.

This came back to me today as I read from John 4-Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman at the well. In the exchange found in verses 7-14 Jesus asks for a drink.  Her inquisitive nature opens the door to one of Jesus’ greatest statements: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a well of water welling up to eternal life.” (verses 13-14)

Of course Jesus is not speaking of physical water. One will be thirsty again. But to drink of Him leads to satisfaction. That doesn’t mean that to come to Him ends all need for more. My hunger and thirst for Him never ends. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for he shall be satisfied.” (Mt.5:6) But it does mean the end of my searching and longing for satisfaction and meaning to life. It does mean peace has been found. Jesus knew the woman at the well was empty. He also knew her search was hopeless without Him.

So I see this going two ways:

  1. He is the one who is the answer to my (and everyone else’s) longing and searching.
  2. May I never stop hungering and thirsting after Him.

“Father, You have the answers to all the longing and searching people go through. You answered mine. But may I never cease hungering and thirsting for You. May I always long to stay hydrated.”

September 27/Weekend Extra

Friday, September 27th, 2019

I leave today for St Louis where I am performing a wedding for a young man who attended the church I pastor while in high school. He went to Maryville College where he met his soon-to-be-wife. His mother still attends the church. I will not be taking my computer so I wanted to post this before the weekend.  I actually wrote this while on our cruise and was waiting to post it this weekend.

My title for this devotion is People of Means vs People of Meaning.

While on the cruise we have met all kinds of people. Some I’d just as soon not remember; some I wish I could know more. We have seen rude people-push, dour, treating others like they are all that and more. I have seen impatient people. I have seen sour people. I have seen those who refuse to acknowledge even with a head shake. I have seen old folks in canes and walkers and carts. I have seen young couples in love. I have seen families-one we met on the train ride who were an absolute delight and continue to acknowledge us. I have seen a crude dude ask for a picture then give the finger to the photographer and then use salty language. I turned away in disgust. We have also seen a number of followers of Jesus take the time to pray for their meal. We met a couple from Houston yesterday on the train and are having supper with them tonight.

All kinds of people. Probably most like us-down home and ordinary. But I can’t help but wonder how many are hurting. Thinking of taking their life. Grasping at straws. Trying to save a marriage. Searching for meaning. Think they have the tiger by the tail.

Sad. The answer is right at their fingertips. Right on their lips. One Name. Jesus.

“Father, help me to never lost my heart for people. Even the disgusting or power hungry. The gay or the lesbian. The rich or the poor. The lost or the saved. Please give me a heart that always seeks yours and look for others.”

September 26

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Preaching Myself vs Preaching Christ.

If you have had a chance to read my other blog you can read between the lines and see I’ve been asking myself about my role, my purpose, as a pastor. Even though I am 66 and in less than two weeks will turn 67, I still love what I do and do not see retirement on the horizon any time soon. So I think its healthy to ask questions and do introspection upon occasion. Guilty as charged. You’ve caught me voicing my questions.

I’m reading Job right now, which can be a challenge on its own. 🙂  But I’m also reading Remaining Faithful in Ministry by John MacArthur. The following quote from his short little book caught my attention this morning. In the Introduction he wrote these words:

The gospel is a message about Jesus, and at all times He is to be the singular focus of the message we proclaim. False apostles and hirelings always seem to find a way to shift attention to the themselves. They make themselves the central character of every anecdote. They point themselves as the hero of every story they tell. Thus they make their preaching little more than a display of their own egos. Pulpits today are full of men who constantly preach themselves. (p.15)

Ouch! That is a rather sobering and scathing observation and rebuke. Sadly, it is true. I wish I could say I was innocent of that. I shudder when I think about how often I preached and it was more about my ego, my impressiveness, than it was Him and the fame of His Name. That’s enough to give even the most hardy person nightmares. I know I cringe when I reflect back over my years of ministry. Ugly.

But its not too late! With what remaining years I have left it needs to be all about Him. What about you?

“Father, my prayers this morning is for my life to be all about You. My preaching. My teaching. My talking. My laughing. All about You and the fame of Your Name.”

September 25

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Running From vs Running To.

Sometime in the early ’90s we got a dog.  Samson, as I named him, was a drop off. A friend of a friend showed him to the friend who then showed him to my girls and that was all she wrote. But it was soon apparent Samson was my dog. He was part Malamute/part Shepherd and he was squirmy.  He was too big for Janna; Tami dropped him on his head when he squirmed out of her arms; and Jo couldn’t control him. I could. I walked him. Fed him. Played with him.  He knew my car sound as I turned the corner into our cul-de-sac.

We had a side yard with a fence. Only once did Samson get out. We were shingling the roof when someone left the gate open. I saw him take off and foolishly got off the roof to chase after him. Instead of running to me, he ran away. He was only a couple of months old and I was fearful for him. But I should have let him come back to me. My frustration level got greater the longer I went after him. I finally turned around and went back home.  He soon returned.

How much like Samson the human race is. We have safety, security, and all we need at home. But something bites us and we want to check out “the other side.” So we get out of our safety net and roam. Pursue. Chase a rabbit trail of unfulfillment.  God pursues us bidding us to come to Him. To come home. Ultimately, the decision is ours as to whether to continue pursuing the empty life or run to the One who gives life.

Samson came home eventually. I gave him a few swats across the flank then hugged him. He never ran again. We can run from God to a life filled with danger and missteps or run to Him where He may discipline us but then hugs us with arms of love. Run from Him to a life filled with hurt or run to Him and a life filled with love. Which will it be?

“Father, Peter once said, ‘Where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ Help me to always remember that. Help me not to pursue the empty life but to pursue your life.”

September 24

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Being Ready vs Ready to Be.

I have to make a confession. To confess this may lead some to call me a heretic, or at best as one “falling away from the faith.” I guess I’m okay with that, especially since I don’t think it does.  My confession is this: when it comes to the coming of Christ, I am a dunce as to how it will happen…and I’m not really concerned with that.

Let me explain: I believe Jesus is coming again. Of that I am absolutely, 100% sure. No questions. No ifs, ands, or buts. What I am not sure about is what people make a big fuss about: how it will happen, the circumstances surrounding it, and whether there are “signs” we ought to be looking for. There is no doubt in my mind NO ONE knows when it will happen. Not even Jesus knows. But it seems to me even those who agree with me (not that I’m asking them to) or my idea, sure spend an inordinate amount of time looking for “signs” that will tell them or warn them.

What is wrong with simply choosing to live a life of “readiness”? What is wrong with saying, “I choose to live a life pleasing to the Father so that when Jesus does return I have nothing to hide”? In Matthew 24-a chapter in the middle of this stream of thought-Jesus gives the example of two women grinding at the mill and two men working in the field (and elsewhere a husband and wife lying in bed) and one is taken and the other left. Theologians want to argue over whether that is speaking of a rapture or not. Frankly, that doesn’t cross my mind as much as “when Jesus comes you better be ready because you don’t know when He will.” I personally believe it is much more important to be His and to represent Him than to fret over a sign or when the rapture will happen. 

There is my confession. Take it for what it’s worth.

“Father, help me to be ready for the coming of Christ. But as I wait, I need to be ready to be Yours, to live a life of no worries about when Jesus will come, but to simply be ready when He does come.”

September 23

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

My title for this devotion is Do as I say vs Not as I Do.

In all of the Gospels, particularly Matthew, you will be hard-pressed to find a more scathing rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees than in Matthew 23. It is known as the “7 Woe” passage for obvious reasons. But the groundwork for that chapter is laid in verses 1-7. For the sake of time and space you can find it here.  In verses 2-3 Jesus says, “So do and observe what they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach but do not practice.” He goes on to give examples of that fact.

To sum it up: their hypocrisy knows no bounds. Whether it be putting burdens on others but being unwilling to help carry them or seeking glory for their deeds, they are pieces of work. They are also rebuked harshly, hence the 7 woes. Jesus tells His disciples the proper attitude His followers should have: “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (verses 11-12)

Jesus’ rebuke lies in the fact that the religious leaders were those who said, “Do as I say, but what I say is not for me. I’m above that.” Their cold, hard-hearted approach to the teachings of the Scriptures is a misrepresentation of a servant of the Father.

How do I represent Jesus and the Scriptures? Do I approach it as “do as I say not as I do” or am I consistent with “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”? Do I practice what I preach? Or do I tell people one thing and do the opposite? Do I load expectations on people but not willing to lend a hand if needed?

“Father, help me to be true in all things. To be the one who says and does what is true, one who acts as he says. Help me not to allow my life not back up my teaching.”