Surrender

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April 9

Friday, April 9th, 2021

We often hear people say something similar to this: “You need to see that God has something much better for you.”  Even though that is true, sometimes it smacks of insensitivity. It also seems almost meaningless because the person may not be ready to hear that or want to hear it.

I know what a person is saying when they do. We often get so myopic that we fail to see the bigger picture. We see the hear and now. Like a card player who keeps his cards close to this chest, that is all we see. Up close and personal.

When the truth is that God may have a bigger picture for us. If He gave us what we wanted all the time, we would miss that. I was reading Psalm 119 this morning (and yesterday and the day before) :). In Psalm 119:26 it says, “I told you my plans, and you answered. Now teach me Your decrees. “ It’s like he realizes God has so much more to teach him.

Here’s the reality: I would never have known what God had waiting for me if I had only aimed at my target. God has so much more than my eyes can see. His plans for my life are so much bigger than mine. He wants to give me so much more than my keep-things-close-to-my-chest-vision can see.

It’s good to pray for answers but leave a card or two available for God to show His hand.

“Father, You are good. Kind. Loving. And would NEVER give me bad things or do bad things. Help me to pray but then leave the door open for You to work.”

April 1

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Today is typically known as “April Fool’s Day.” We play pranks on people. Oh, I can remember trying to catch people off-guard with crazy, wild-eyed stories. Or coming up to someone who is afraid of spiders or snakes and playing on that fear. Most of it was innocent (but juvenile) fun.

When you think of someone in the Bible whom you might call a fool, who comes to mind? Solomon talks about fools a lot in Proverbs. We could add in Ecclesiastes as giving us a picture of a fool, one pursuing the here and now and finding it empty.  Paul says at one point that he is a “fool for Christ’s sake.” A totally different meaning.

One person? My vote goes to Judas. His is a baffling case. Follower of Jesus for 3 years. Endued with power to heal the sick, cast our demons, etc like all the others. (Luke 9) He saw Jesus do miracles-feed the 5000, calm the storm, raise the dead, and more-over the 3 years he was with Jesus. He hung out with the boys. Late night campfires. Early morning brisk walks.  Rousing discussions about the religious leaders.

We also know he loved money. He loved power. Deadly combination. When Mary anointed Jesus he protested. But as John says only because he liked to dip his hand into the till and help himself.

He sold Jesus for 30 pieces of sliver. Not much, even in those days. We gain some insight into Judas when we realize he never called Jesus “Lord.” At the last meal when Jesus predicted His betrayal, Judas calls Him “Rabbi.” In the Garden he calls Him “Teacher.”  Never Lord. That should tell us something. He followed but never surrendered.

Fool. Ooops, what does that say about me? Follow but fail to surrender. Hmmm. Fool seems to fit me as well.

“Father, help me not to be like Judas. Help me to cast aside the ‘fool’ label and commit to following You as my ‘Lord.’ ”

March 30

Tuesday, March 30th, 2021

Coming to Christ means to change. Romans 12:1 tells us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed. The root of that word is metamorphosis. Changed like a caterpillar to a butterfly.

I was reminded of this as I read my Bible this morning during my Encounter Time. In Romans 13:8 Paul tells us to owe no man anything except to love. In verse 10 he says, “Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”

Then he moves on to the imminence of Jesus’ return.  “Time was running out,” he says.  Man, I gotta think what would Paul have to say if he knew it would be over 2000 years and still counting?

But now to the Scripture which captured my attention this morning. After telling them/us to wake up (v.11) he says, “So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shiny armor of right living.” What follows is a litany of “night” actions typical of dark deeds. They also belie our new state. But then comes the coup de grace. In verse 14 Paul writers, “Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”

Do you see it? “So remove your dark deeds” and “Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is change. Take off and put on. And it always goes in that order. We don’t put clean clothes over sweaty, dirty ones. Neither should we expect to manifest kingdom living and a Christ-like spirit when the old man has never been removed.

Now, that’s not saying we have to be perfect. But it is saying we need to have a “removal service” and get clean clothes to wear. If not, no matter how clean the clothes, the stench of the old will overpower and become dominant.

“Father, take off the old; put on the new. May that be the action I take to live for you today.”

March 15

Monday, March 15th, 2021

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get hard? Three Dog Night had a song in the late 60s (1969) titled Easy to be Hard with the lyrics “Easy to be hard/Easy to be cold.” (From the musical Hair). 

It is easy to get hard toward people. Maybe you’ve worked with them and thought you had a pretty good relationship when suddenly they give you the cold shoulder. It is easy to think, “Well, if that’s the way they want to be.” Several years ago I had developed what I thought was a good friendship. We talked a lot.  Our families spent time together. We ate out together. He and I went to a Saturday morning Bible study together. Then Boom! He withdrew and wanted nothing to do with me. To this day I still don’t know what happened, although before I moved the relationship was restored.

It is more tragic when that happens with God. We are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit. but I know there are times I test those limits. I disappoint Him with my words and actions. The relationship which was so dear and so vital is now cool, even cold. My heart grows hard to the things of the Spirit. I have trouble hearing His quiet whisper, or even His loud shouts for that matter! It is easy to be hard, easy to be cold as the song said.

Don’t let that happen. Stay sensitive to the Spirit. If sin is there, confess it and get rid of it. If something else has crept in to take His place, renounce it! Ask Him to restore your heart to the love you once knew.

“Father,  You don’t move. It is me who gets cold and hard. Forgive me when that happens.  Help me to once again be sensitive to the voice of Your Spirit.”

Here is a song to get you to think some more about what I have written.

February 26

Friday, February 26th, 2021

As a young boy growing up, then as a young man, I was taught-not so much by words but by actions-that real men didn’t cry. I only remember seeing my dad cry once.  It was after I was married and we had our first child. My dad had a heart attack-a bad one-and Jo, Tami and I drove over 4 hours from where we lived in Ohio to see him in the hospital. The attack was a bad one. He was to be in the ICU for 2 weeks; a step down for 2 weeks; then a regular bed for 2 weeks. Keep in mind this was 1975. Things are much different today than they were back in the Dark Ages. My dad was 47. He was miraculously healed because we visited him in a normal room and he was discharged within 2 weeks, not the 6 they said.  We visited him one afternoon, spent the night at their house, then visited again the next morning before heading back to Ohio. When we left to go home, I saw my dad cry for the first time. Some might say it was the chemical change brought on by the heart attack.  Maybe so. But I saw my dad cry for the very first time!

A sign of weakness or so I’d been taught. As I was to learn, crying was not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. A sign of confidence. A sign of humility. A sign of sorrow.

Of all people who wept, none were more manly, yet more confident and in control than Jesus. Several instances stand out:

  • In Matthew 23 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings.” (NLT) He wept as He entered Jerusalem.
  • At the tomb of Lazarus we find the most familiar verse to those who hate memorizing anything, particularly Scripture: “Jesus wept.”
  • In Ezekiel 6:9 we find God grieving over His children.  “They will recognize how hurt I am by their unfaithful hearts.” The NIV says, “How I am grieved.” That is one strong emotional verse about God’s feelings!!

I have wept more than once. Many times. When I have experienced a loss. When I have said goodbye to a friend because of a move. When I’ve hurt my wife or girls. And most assuredly when I’ve been made aware of my sin and been driven to my knees in repentance and forgiveness.

“Father, tears are a language You understand. May genuine tears of love, repentance, remorse, and forgiveness flow freely from my eyes and heart as I yield to You.”

February 25

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

As I sat down to begin my Quiet Time (QT), I did what I always do first. I pray. But something happened this time as I prayed. A song came to mind. A song from way back in my childhood memories. It would have been called a hymn back then but I wouldn’t call it that. I see it as a spiritual song. “Psalms, hymns  and spiritual songs” as Ephesians 4:19 puts it. A psalm is…well…a psalm. A hymn is an anthem of praise (like Great is Thy Faithfulness or How Great Thou Art). A spiritual song is a song with a spiritual meaning.  You may consider that nit-picky but I had my say. 🙂 Okay…now that I’ve taken that rabbit trail reign me back in. 🙂

As I sat and prayed these words flooded my mind: “Open my eyes that I may see/Glimpses of truth Thou has for me/Place in my hands the wonderful key/That shall unclasp and set me free/Silently now I wait for Thee/Ready my God Thy will to see/Open my eyes illumine me/Spirit divine.”

Not always do I approach my QT with an awareness of readiness to hear. More than I care to admit, my time is one of hurriedness and harriedness, (Yeah, I know my spell check is telling me those are not words…but what does it know?).  One of obligation. But today was different. It was like God was saying, “Slow down Bill. Don’t be in a hurry this morning.  Push aside your sermon agenda for a few minutes and be with Me. Stop hurrying and being harried and stop and listen.”

Then I read from Acts 1. The apostles found themselves in the same boat. Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem. “Do not leave” is what He told them.  After Jesus ascended they returned to the upper room they had been in and waited. Can you imagine what they would have missed if they had gotten impatient? If one of them had said, “This is nonsense. I’m heading into town for some carry-out.” What a monumental “Epic Fail” that would have been!

How often do I miss out because I don’t wait? Won’t wait? “Silently now I wait for Thee/Ready my God Thy will to see.”

Perhaps it is time to slow down and listen.

“‘Speak, Father, for Your servant listens’ is what Eli told Samuel to say. Those are words I want to repeat right here, right now: ‘Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.’ “

February 16

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

One of the major topics of conversation during the pandemic among pastors, leaders, magazine articles, podcasters, and other talking heads has been the well-being of pastors. It has been all over the spectrum-from depression; to excitement; to innovation; to pressure/stress; to a feeling of inadequacy; to innovation; to dreaming of what was/is/could be; to what could have been; to a bunch of other ideas. But it seemed one topic kept coming up over and over.

Burnout.

The burnout of the leader. The endless demands placed upon the pastor/leader by others and by himself. There was no overt sin involved which could cause it. No, it was simply a pastor or a leader giving too much of himself to the ministry, i.e. shepherding of his people and not taking care of himself. Not necessarily physically, although for some that definitely played a part.

I’m talking spiritual. Burnout comes when an individual gives so much of himself away that he doesn’t take care to feed himself. We neglect us for them. That spells disaster.

We can only take people where we ourselves have gone. We can only teach what we ourselves know or are learning. We can only give someone a drink if we have water to give. We can only offer a meal if we have food to offer.

Take care of yourself first. Cultivate God’s Presence in your life first. Then, and only then, will we have something to offer to someone else.

“Father, I need to refresh myself with You first. Help me to have a renewed fire because of You coming alive in me. Then, and only then, will I have something to give to someone else.”

January 29

Friday, January 29th, 2021

When I was way younger (just yesterday I think) I once heard someone make a statement which has stuck with me:

We have been saved to serve, not saved to sit.

We might not say it that way these days, but we still say basically the same thing:

We are not designed to be consumers, but instruments.

You will probably find multiple variations I’m sure, but in essence they say the same thing. You see, God’s plan is to make His invisible presence and His invisible grace visible.  He wants us to flesh out, to incarnate if I may use that word, His good news in Jesus to others. Let’s ask a quick question: How else will people see if not for us? God’s call to every one of His followers is to be a light on a hill (Mt.5:14-16; Luke 8: 16-17). In fact, He tells us a light is to never be hidden.

Let’s take it a step further: when God blesses us or gives us a gift, it was never intended we keep that to ourselves. We were never meant to hoard what He has given- whether it be a lesson learned in a trial or a test, a gift, a talent, or something as “earthy” as money. It has always been His intention that we use it to serve Him. How can we keep the greatest story on earth to ourselves?

“Father, You have chosen me for Your use. I am to be Your vessel, Your instrument. Help me not to balk but to give in and submit to Your will.”

January 20

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

I have a confession to make and it pains me to do so. I always wanted to be one of those rare birds. You know, the one who could say, “I’m me. I am unique.” In a sense I can say that. I am those and more. I’ve always believed-and still do-that God made me as I am and there is no one else like me. But then again, I am not quite that unique that I don’t share some qualities with others. Here’s one:

I.     H.A.T.E.     W.A.I.T.I.N.G.

Well, maybe hate is a strong word. How about “despise passionately”? 🙂  Anyway, you get my drift. There are times I do well with waiting, especially when it is someone else waiting on a decision!! 🙂  But me? Not so. You would think I would have learned by now. But there are times I have a hard head…or is that a hard heart? I’ve seen God come through on so many levels in the past-big, small and medium- that I ought to relax and trust. But like so many others on this planet- followers of Christ or not- I want…

INSTANT FULFILLMENT. Now! Not tomorrow. Not even later. Now! But instant fulfillment, whether we are talking national or personal, or anything in between, may satisfy our desires but does little for the relationship between me and God or me and another person. Sometimes it is in the waiting that the greatest blessings come. Trusting God’s promises and trusting in His promises bring a rich reward. I get to watch and see God move. In the process I can also see my relationship with Him deepen. And what can be better than that?

“Father, help me to wait patiently and trust your heart for me.”

January 15

Friday, January 15th, 2021

Have you ever been disappointed with God? I suspect all of us would speak to the affirmative of that statement. I must confess there have been times I have been. One of those times is now. After 10 months or pursuing me, Covid finally caught up with me. In spite of the mask, the hand sanitizing, the extra vitamins designed to ward off a virus or infection, I got it. A body that once weighed 223 and was pretty solid is now 30 pounds less in 3 weeks, lost a lot of muscle and is weak. (I hope this is not TMI): I have trouble keeping things down (or at least not feeling nauseated) and keeping things in. I’ve tried the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Apple sauce, and Toast) but that hasn’t worked. And besides, it is boring and sort of disgusting.  I’m not fond of bananas, white rice or white toast.  I’ve had people praying for me. I have prayed fervently for healing. All the tests so far have come back negative, or on the good side. After a night of solid sleep where the alarm woke me, I slept fitfully last night. This is not meant to be a “woe is me” devotion though. It is designed to ask a question:

Why am I disappointed with God?

I already know the answer: because He hasn’t answered my (and others) prayers for healing. My desire is to be completely healed from this mess. But then I think, “Who am I to expect that? Maybe God has a bigger plan in His big picture?”

One thing I do know is that I need to delight in God and then He will fulfill the desires of my heart, not the other way around, i.e. God will fulfill my dreams then I will delight in Him.  So I must keep in mind that disappointment is not unusual or even unexpected, but I must delight in Him no matter what. If He chooses to heal me, I will praise Him. If He has another plan, I will praise Him.

“So Father,  I will praise You even through my disappointment.”