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July 22-23

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

We were in Ohio watching our grandson play his last baseball game on Tuesday night. After having breakfast at IHOP with him (he loves french toast with extra powder but no syrup) yesterday morning, we made our way home. I wrote this on the morning of the 22nd in the hotel room so I wanted to share it with you and post it as a two-day devotion.  Here were my thoughts on the morning of the 22nd:

It has been an up and down season for the team as they weren’t allowed to practice and then had 3 practices before their first game. Last night I saw exemplified a trait in all the boys that I believe is worth mentioning. Braden especially has this trait.

There is a saying attributed to Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  A similar phrase: “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” has a connection to opera and was believed to be first used in 1976 by a reporter named Ralph Carpenter. Both phrases mean virtually the same: A person/team should never assume the outcome of a situation until it reaches the end, because circumstances can change.  It is used in athletics to say, “Never quit. The game isn’t over until the final out or the gun sounds or however a sporting event ends.”

I saw that last night. It was the bottom of the 6th inning and the game looked hopelessly out of reach. But B’s team scored 4 runs to make it 11-7. Unfortunately, the other team scored 4 runs in their top half of the 7th. But with 2 outs our team struck again. A hit. Braden got another hit. Next thing we knew 3 or 4 more runs scored. Even the final out of the inning was a ground ball that the player ran all-out to first in an attempt to beat it out, but he was thrown out. Heart-breaking? Yes. But go down fighting? No shame in that.

I see a parallel in our walk with Christ. We are in a battle and our enemy may have us down for the count. All hope seems lost. But Jesus doesn’t want us to quit. It’s not over until the trumpet blares. Don’t quit. To borrow Yogi’s phrase: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

“Father, help me not to give up, to throw in the towel. You are my hope and strength.”

May 14

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

I live in Indiana. That means our winters are usually made up of freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing, and more freezing and thawing. Combine that with several other factors-the use of salt or some weird combination of ice melt; lack of money; heavy trucks; school buses (not so much the past 2-3 months); and (in our case) miles and miles of graveled back roads-and you have a problem called potholes. I’ve been driving around a lot lately and I’ve (unfortunately) ran over some potholes that have threatened to swallow my truck or at least put in the “I-need-an-alignment” stage. This is especially true on the gravel roads I’ve traveled. They jokingly say the Indiana state flower is an orange cone.

But what really gets me is how a newly paved road or highway doesn’t take long before it begins to show signs of stress fractures, and cracks, and little holes, and even break-offs. Say what? They just finished it and it is already squirrely.

There have been times in my Christian walk when all was good. I was firing on all cylinders. My heart was in the right place; my Bible reading was alive; my worship was vibrant; my “spiritual eyes” were wide open; my trust factor high, and I wished for it to never end. And I foolishly thought or hoped it wouldn’t. I wanted to stay there. I can’t and won’t because the walk of a Christ-follower is one of ups and downs; highs and lows; ins and outs; climbs and descents; and mountaintop and valley experiences. Like the newly paved asphalt which over time shows signs of stress, so does my faith. And yours.

No. I can’t stay there. While roads develop those annoying potholes, stress cracks and break-offs, those times of cracks and stress and break-offs are designed to help me grow. It’s unrealistic to expect to stay where God and I are in sweet communion. I can’t avoid the potholes but with God I can navigate through them to much better roads.

“Father, it is easy to forget You are in the lows, the stresses, the potholes and the break-offs as much as You are when the road is smooth. Help me to trust You to navigate me through the mess called my life.”

May 12

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

We all face tough days. We use different phrases to describe them:

From the frying pan into the fire.

Going from bad to worse.

Between a rock and a hard place.

My mother told me there would be days like this, but she never told me they would run in packs.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of an oncoming train.

There are still a few hymns I like but my favorite-hands down- is Great is Thy Faithfulness. Rich theology. Steeped in Scriptural truth. It tells the Gospel truth of an unchanging, powerful, sovereign God. When all else around me shakes, rattles and rolls, I have a faithful God. He stand as a rock. He never wavers or waffles. He never stumbles or slumbers. He never falters or fades away. He never ducks or disappears. He is steady, sovereign, steadfast, and solid.

And He surprises me with new insights each day. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  (Lam.3: 22-23) I did not say “new revelations” because I don’t believe that happens, but each day I am the recipient of His mercy. No matter the storm. No matter the negative stuff. No matter what hits the fan. No matter the height of the mountain. He is there. Unmovable. Giving me fresh strength. Fresh eyes. Fresh hope.

“Father, even in the midst of this current struggle; even in the midst of a storm; even in the midst of seasons of change-YOU. NEVER. CHANGE. You are faithful.”

April 27

Monday, April 27th, 2020

In the movie The Free State of Jones starring Matthew McConaughey, Newt Knight deserts the Confederate Army when he tires of war, sees his nephew get shot and killed, and hears about the Twenty Negro Law. With a ragtag group of people, he frees Jones County from the hold of the Confederates. But he would never had gotten there if he hadn’t first been saved by two slaves.

In this time in our country, there are many who are in despair for various reasons. I’m not downplaying the more serious kind. People are wounded and desperate, facing an enemy that can’t be seen and, in all honesty, makes its presence known in most cases without warning. It sort of reminds me of what Paul said in Ephesians 6 about spiritual warfare: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of the air.” The battle is very much a flesh and blood one, but it creeps up on the unexpectant. Many are like the psalmist in 102:1-2: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; and answer me speedily in the day when I call!”

We wonder where God is in all of this. Does He really care? Is.43:2 answers that question unequivocably: “When I pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” Sometimes I feel like a broken record-we have nothing to fear. No matter what happens our God goes through it with us. We are not alone.

“Father, help me to remember there is no water too deep; no storm too strong; no mountain too high; no path too treacherous that you aren’t with me.”

April 20

Monday, April 20th, 2020

Throughout this whole “virus thing,” I’ve seen various actions and reactions. I’ve seen abject fear. I’ve seen wise caution (One church family has had to hunker down and be super careful because of a family member with an illness that could get much worse if she got the virus). I’ve seen cautious and careful movement toward others (maintaining distance and limiting physical touch). I’ve also seen recklessness and total disregard for suggestions.

The one I have been pleased to see in many is 9-1-1. Known as the universal call numbers for help or an emergency, they also should remind us of something else: Psalm 91:1. When this whole thing started I wanted to let the people know I was thinking of them.  So about 2-3 weeks in I started writing notes. It turned into quite the project…over 100! I’m not sure I will ever do that again! 🙂 But each note was signed with two Scriptures underneath my name: Is. 40:28-31 and Psalm 91:1-2.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

Psalm 91:1 is a good verse to cry out. In fact, the first six verses are enough to calm the troubled soul and bring peace to the distraught mind. The false teachers do a great disservice to this chapter when they jump to verses 11-13 and focus on this current situation and try to apply those verses and say no harm will happen to someone who claims the blood of Jesus over their illness or over the virus. (Totally out of context btw).

But I digress. Whether good or bad; positive or negative; health or sickness; faith or fear, the promise we have is God’s presence. I’ll call 9-1-1 any day. I’ll stand on it. There is no greater place to be.

“Father, I can’t live in fear. Not as Your child I can’t. But I can live in cautious faith-trusting You to be my shelter and refuge during this storm.”

April 15

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Did you know on this date in 1912 Titanic sunk?  108 years ago. Okay…on to other things.

As I write this-April 15, 2020- our lives are being “determined” by the COVID-19 virus. I use the word determined in quotes because while some people see it that way, I don’t.  I still see God in control of this whole scene and firmly believe my steps-all steps- are determined by the Lord.

One of the safety steps we are told to take is social distancing. At home it is called self-quarantine. Do not expose yourself to anyone nor allow anyone to expose themselves to you. It, for many, has become a lonely existence, a lonely time. Sure, there is social media if you use it. There is texting and phones. But interpersonal interaction in minimal, at best. I was reminded of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy. He is in prison with his life soon to  be snuffed out when he writes this letter to Timothy. He asks Timothy to come to him soon (v.9). He’s alone, deserted (v.10). Bring Mark with you and join me and Luke (v.11). Oh yeah, bring my cloak with you also and my parchments (v.13). Is Paul feeling sorry for himself? No, I don’t think so. He is simply gathering his friends around him for one last hoorah. How do I know that? Several reasons:

  1. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” (4:6-8)
  2. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (4:18)

Paul may have been in isolation in a dingy prison cell. But the last thing on his mind was defeat. On the contrary, his lips were filled with praise (v.17). In spite of our circumstances, we are not alone. Not by a long shot. God knows and provides all we need. If you are feeling alone, isolated, or just plain fearful, reach out to Him and also reach out to people as Paul did. In this age of social distancing and isolation and self-quarantine, you are never alone and you don’t have to be isolated.

“Father, help me to find ways to reach out while respecting others’ need for space. If I’m lonely or feeling isolated, please bring someone into my life whom I can help.”

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 16

Monday, March 16th, 2020

I read Denny’s blog each time it is released. He writes insightful and always thought-provoking posts. Considering all that is happening in the world today, I found this to be especially insightful and worthy to be passed on. Please enjoy and wonder at the amazing ways God’s works.

Banished from the public means of grace, we found grace nevertheless.

By Denny Burk on March 15, 2020 in Christianity, Devotion

Our church was scattered by the coronavirus this morning. We did not gather together as usual at the intersection of Southern Parkway and Third Street. No, today we were spread out all over the city of Louisville and beyond. Our college students were literally scattered across North America as many of them were compelled to go back to their hometowns after colleges and universities closed last week. Our church’s missionaries remain scattered all over the world. None of us could be together this morning.

If you know what it means to be the ekklesia of God, your heart ached like mine did. For this is not how it is supposed to be. Gathering together for the Lord’s Day is fundamental to our identity, and we were unable to do that this morning (Hebrews 10:24-25). We had a “virtual” service like so many others, but it really isn’t the same. Nor should it be.

But something really extraordinary happened as we all sat down before our scattered screens for worship. Jim Hamilton read the call to worship from a book of devotion by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published in 1893.1 Below is the entry for March 15, and the words are nearly incredible:

MARCH 15

Therefore say, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.”

Ezekiel 11:16

Banished from the public means of grace, we are not removed from the grace behind the means of grace. The Lord who places his people where they feel like exiles will himself be with them. He will be to them all that they could have had at home in the place of their sacred assemblies. Take this promise as your own if you are called to wander!

God is to his people a place of refuge. They find sanctuary with him from every adversary. He is their place of worship too. He is with them as he was with Jacob when he slept in the open field and woke, saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Gen. 28:16). To them he will also be a sanctuary of peace, like the Most Holy Place, which was the noiseless abode of the Eternal. They will be kept from fear of evil.

God himself, in Christ Jesus, is the sanctuary of mercy. The ark of the covenant is the Lord Jesus, and Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, the tables of the law are in Christ our sanctuary. In God we find the shrine of holiness and of communion. What more do we need?

Oh, Lord, fulfill this promise and always be to us like a little sanctuary!

In a book published 127 years ago, this was the entry for March 15. What a smiling providence. What an evidence of the Lord’s care for his people in a time of turmoil and trouble. He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5), and he proved it again this morning.

—————

1 Spurgeon’s devotional The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith was published in 1893 in America, but Crossway published an updated edition just last year. The text above is from the 2019 edition.

March 10

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

Sorry for the later entry than normal but an early morning text took me aside for 1/2 hour. If you think you are out of whack you ought to be in my world right now!  🙂  Now to the devotion.

As I write this I think I heard a dog bark and a cat screech.  I know…bad attempt to say it’s raining like cats and dogs right now. 🙂  Actually, I love to listen to falling rain. There is something soothing about it.  To me, even a storm of thunder and lightning can be relaxing.

UNLESS!!

Unless it is out of control. Driving in a storm is no fun. I’ve been caught having to take cover when riding my bike. I’ve had to ride a whole day in a steady rain, sometimes downpour and it is no fun at all. But fortunately, I’ve never been a pilot flying through a nasty storm. I have read of pilots who got disoriented and lost their bearings in a storm and relied on their instincts instead of the instruments in front of them. The result is often disastrous.  Trusting one dial on their instrument panel that tells them how their plane is according to the horizon is vital.

But in life it is also easy to get disoriented in a storm. We trust our “instincts” (ourselves)  instead of the One who can lead us through that storm. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”  There is a way through the storm!! Not trusting our instincts but trusting the Captain is the best.

“Father, when my storm hits, help me not to rely on my instincts but on You. I’m a lousy pilot. Help me to follow Your lead, Your instruments (Your Word).”

February 10

Monday, February 10th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Prayer: Posture vs Attitude.

I had a different kind of weekend than I normally have, and definitely different than I had planned. An upsetting weekend. An interrupted weekend. A tearful weekend. An angry weekend. A heart-wrenching weekend. A praise-filled weekend. An encouraging weekend.

Sounds a little schizophrenic doesn’t it? At times I felt like it. See…it wasn’t all at once. Obviously. If it was you probably would be visiting me in a facility. No…it came in waves. To be more specific would be to give away confidences so I can’t do that. Just suffice it to say the weekend was one that tested my stability, my emotions, my foundation, and even my faith. But I learned this:

Tears are a language God understands.

Hopes. Fears. Disappointments. Joy. Laughter. Reality. Emotions. Highs. Lows. Good. Bad.

I learned again that like worship, prayer is 24/7. I wasn’t formally on my knees all weekend long but, I was on my knees. I didn’t have my head bowed all weekend long, but I did have my head bowed. As I read recently:

Prayerfulness is not an event; it is a way of being in relationship with God.

I preached yesterday on worship, emphasizing how worship is not categorized as a 1-2 hour block during the week, but a 24/7/365 commitment where God invades every part of my world. Prayer is to be the same way. I may have not been in prayer “formally” this weekend, but I can say I was in prayer this weekend. And there will be more.

“Father, thank you for being with me this past weekend. Through all events You were there. I sensed it. Help me to continue learning to practice Your presence in all things, even if that does not include a formal stop-and-pray action.”