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November 16

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

I began reading an old book yesterday. It was first published in 1983; the second edition in 2009; and a third edition-a commemorative one-in 2019. The book is entitled Run With the Horses by the late Eugene Peterson. He found his title from Jeremiah 12:5. Peterson’s own Message Paraphrase puts it this way: “So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with me, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when trouble break loose like the Jordan in flood?” The NLT translates it: “If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses? If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?

The subtitle for the book is “The Quest for Life at Its Best.” Trust me when I say it is not another Joel Osteen knock-off. You won’t read more “your-best-life-now” drivel.  On the contrary. Here is what you will get a sample of:

Vitezlav Gardovsky, the Czech philosopher and martyr who died in 1978, took Jeremiah as his “image of man” in his campaign against a secret society that carefully planned every detail of material existence but eliminated mystery and miracle, and squeezed all freedom from life.  The terrible threat against life is ‘that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in such a premature death, a death after which we go on living for many years.’ (pp.18-19)

Sort of like living with a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient. They may go on living for many years after their diagnosis, and yet not really living.

Jeremiah was ready to abandon his unique calling because of opposition and self-pity, but that moment God nailed him with the words of Jeremiah 12:5. It is like he is saying, “Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit already? Are you going to quit at the first opposition?” We would say, “Are you going to run home to mommy, Jeremiah, are you going to run with the horses?”

I know what I want to do. I want to “run with the horses.” Wild. Free. With purpose. Engaging and enjoying life. What about you? Are you going to quit, give up, throw in the towel, be put out to pasture (ahem), or…run with with horses?

I seldom do this but a song from years ago came to mind. If you have a chance check out Dark Horse by John Fischer. Sorry I can’t find any lyric video but the lyrics are plain. Hint: its from the 1970s. And yes, I was listening to CCM way back in those dark ages. 🙂

November 16

Monday, November 13th, 2023

We all have a story. We all have a past. We all have a present. We all will have a future (although as Doc Brown says in Back to the Future: “Our future hasn’t been written yet.” Doc Brown is right, and he is also wrong.  We don’t know what the future holds. God does. He has written our future. What that all means is a discussion for another day).

I repeat: we all have a story. I’ve been reading each morning from a book entitled Limping with God by Chad Bird. It is a book solely committed to tell the life of Jacob. Jacob’s name means “supplanter, deceiver” and it seems his whole life was one big story on that idea. Many incidences in his life stand out, which would require far more space than I am able to give right now, but two stand out head and shoulders above the others. One was in Genesis 28 where Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven (yeah…don’t go there.  🙂 ). The other is in Genesis 32 as he goes to meet Esau and wrestles with God and comes away with a limp.

There is much to learn from diving into that story, but one I read this morning stuck. Mr. Bird writes, “Jacob limped into the future bearing the burdens of his past-burdens that were lightened by the memory of the God who christened him with a new name.” (p. 174).  BTW: that new name was Jacob to Israel.

We all carry scars of our past. Jacob’s (Israel’s) was a limp where his fellow wrestler (God) touched him on his hip because Jacob said he would not let him go unless he blessed him. Thus, the limp.

I have discussed this before: anyone who think becoming a follower of Jesus releases us from a tough time in life is whacked. No where, NO WHERE, does God promise us an easy road. Quite the contrary, what He does promise is that our present and future might be a life of pain from our skirmishes and scars, but one in which we are never left alone.

October 25

Wednesday, October 25th, 2023

Holocaust survivor  and writer of The Hiding Place Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Look without and be distressed. Look within and be depressed. Look at Jesus and be at rest.”

Boy, ain’t that the truth? After the events of my life in the last couple days (see two previous posts here and here), I can say a hearty AMEN to that. It’s like one of those cartoons where you see the character standing still while everything and everyone around is moving at light speed. My grandson used to run like Dash from The Incredibles and look behind him to see if there were any “speed trails.”

Corrie knew whereof she spoke. In a concentration camp she watch her father and sister-and many others-die at the hands of the Nazis. But her sister, Betsy, had a huge faith that rubbed off on Corrie. Betsy taught/showed her not to look around or within because that would only bring despair. She taught her to look to Jesus.

Life appears hard at times. To look around one will find it easy to get distressed (unless you are a Ranger or Diamondback fan. Little baseball there). Seriously, can we really have a lot of hope at the moment? Then we are told to look within. Are you kidding me? I’m a sinner. I’m messed up. If I look within I’m in deep trouble. There is a big “D” called depression just waiting for me if I do that.

But looking to Jesus? That’s the ticket. Stay fixed on Him. Keep moving forward in the power of His strength. Don’t despair (outward). Don’t sink (inward). Find hope. (Upward). “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”  (Ps.95:6-7 ESV).  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV)

September 13

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

I read this morning that as thousands of Ukrainian women and children arrived at Berlin’s railway station fleeing war, they were met with a surprise-German families holding homemade signs offering refuge in their homes. “Can host two people!” one sign read. “Big room [available],” read another. Asked why she offered such hospitality to fleeing strangers, one woman said her mother had needed refuge while fleeing the Nazis and she wanted to help others in such need. (Source: Our Daily Bread-9/13-Sheldon Voysey author)

The word refuge stood out to me as I read that story. I think of a refuge as a place to hunker down during a storm. There have been times I have been out riding my bike when a storm has hit unexpectedly (and I was trying hard to beat it). Out of necessity I have ridden in a misty rain or a steady rain (Getting from Point A to Point B), all the while looking for a place to get out of the rain. But a storm? I look for the first porch, first barn, first roof, first covered inset of a building to (hopefully) wait out the storm.

Multiple times in the book of Psalms we read the word refuge. Here are a few:

Psalm 2:12- “Kiss the Son…Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

Psalm 5:11- “Let all who take refuge in you rejoice…”

Psalm 7:1- “O Lord my God, in you I take refuge…”

Psalm 11:1- “In the Lord I take refuge…”

Psalm 16:1- “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge…”

Psalm 46:1- “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  (It is reported H.G. Wells once said, “God is an ever absent help in time of trouble.”)

As you can see the verses speaking of God as a refuge are many, and those are just a small handful of verses from Psalms.

Storms come. They know no discrimination. They know no boundaries. We will all experience storms. Some catastrophic; some light. Some inexplicable; some easy to read. What makes a difference is to WHOM we run. In WHOM will we seek refuge? David, the author of most of the Psalms, found his refuge in God.

What about you? Where will you find your refuge?

September 7

Thursday, September 7th, 2023

I was thinking this morning about the seeming coldness of so many people. Even those who are so-called “social justice warriors” are, when you come right down to it, often in it for themselves. They have a social agenda they want to accomplish-whether it be racial, environmental, lifestyle, or even religious. Instead of truly caring for people, many “front” their agenda with fake concern, fake activism. Whether it be for money, fame, a name, or an agenda, they truly don’t care for others.

How different from what the Bible says is true caring. Just a couple of Scriptures show that. Before I do though, let me add this: there is a big-no make that gigantic-difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy says, “I’m sorry” but does nothing. It reminds me of that annoying boy in Polar Express who says, “I’m sorry. I really am” but you get the feeling of “not really.” Empathy, on the other hand, truly feels sorrow but then does two things: 1) puts oneself in their place; and 2) does something about it.

Now for the Scripture…and trust me when I say no commentary will be needed. In I Corinthians 12, after speaking about how each member of the body-hand, foot, ear, eye, nose-need each other, Paul concludes with these words: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (verse 26 in ESV).

The other Scripture is found in James 2. James discusses favoritism (rich vs poor) in the church assembly by giving favored seats; partiality in morality (overlooking one sin for another sin); and then he hits my point: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Verses 15-17 in ESV)

No racial, environmental, or social agenda. Just a faith agenda: one where feet are put to our faith. Empathy, not just sympathy, is the calling card of a life of faith.

August 31

Thursday, August 31st, 2023

I could say or write on word and it would stir different thoughts. Depending on your circumstances past and present, your mind will form a picture.

The word? IDOLATRY.

For some that will lead you to think of a statue, something made with hands. Some will be astute enough to think of people or places.

If someone were to ask me what my definition of an idol is I would give them a very short statement as an answer: something that captures your heart.

That opens the page to a number of examples. The aforementioned image of wood or stone, which was very common in biblical times and in some religions, even today, comes to mind. Another broader example might be my job, my hobby, my spouse, my children, my possessions, etc.

Here’s the deal though: God is very plain and to the point when He says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” The main concern when He spoke those words was immediately followed up with “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness…You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” (Ex.20:3-5)  God would not be replaced by something stupid, something that could not respond. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote about that in Romans 1:22-23-“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

But truthfully, idolatry doesn’t have to refer to an image. Anything that captures our hearts, demands our attention, takes our affections away from love for the Father is an idol. Not that those things are wrong in and of themselves, but when they take over or take precedence, then they have approached idol territory. If we find ourselves with something or someone besides Jesus Christ taking first place in our heart, we can be pretty sure idolatry has occurred.

And that is a dangerous state to find yourself in.

August 22

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023

It has been said that we are known by the company we keep. A wise man once wrote: “Do not make friends with a person given to anger, or go with a hot-tempered person, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.”  In case you don’t recognize it, that wise man is Solomon and the saying from Proverbs 22:24-25 (NASB2020). It’s from the Bible. You know…that outdated and irrelevant book. (Okay, so that comment was a bit snarky 🙂 )

The truth of that statement has been proven down through the years. All I need to do is give a word or initial or two and you can see how true it is. Nazis. KKK. Black Panther. Nation of Islam. SDS. El-Qaeda. CCS. PP. History is replete with subversive groups, groups with their own agenda, groups who have made their mark (not always good either). There wouldn’t be groups like this if there weren’t “like” thinkers. “Birds of a feather flock together” is what we will say.

The church should be made up of like-minded individuals. Not cookie cutters, but people with a common goal. People who desire to mold together as a unit to fight our real enemy, not each other, but the one who can kill the soul.

I read I Timothy 1 this morning. I was struck again by the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy in verses 12-17. My short version is “I was that but now I’m this.” “I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and violent aggressor, but I’ve received mercy. I’m no longer the chief of sinners but an example of a changed life.” Paul was part of a saved family. His goals changed. The company he kept changed.

He was now known by the company he keeps, not kept. What was, is exactly that, was. He’d rather be known by his new company. Please remember we are known by the company we keep. The question remains: who will do the influencing?

August 21

Monday, August 21st, 2023

Get a bunch of people together and ask them to discuss their favorite characteristic/attribute of God and you will hear all different answers. Love. Patience. Forgiveness. Grace. Mercy. Omnipotence. Omniscience. Omnipresence. Faithfulness. I seriously doubt you will hear, “I want to talk about the wrath of God.”

On July 8, 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached one of, if not the most famous sermon of all time. It was called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Reports say people literally felt like they were being dangled over the pit of hell and were screaming out of fear.

Truth is God’s wrath is real. God’s judgment is real. Frankly though, it is hard to accept that because we don’t want to see God as one who judges and will do so impartially. We don’t want to see Him as a God of wrath.  It gets even harder to accept when we are told by our culture-and even by some religious teachers- that we all go to the same place in the end (Universalism which says we will all go to heaven), or that there are many gods so choose the one you want.  The answer to both of those is No and No. They are lies from the pit of hell and they smell like smoke.

The wrath of God can be avoided or experienced. You can avoid it by hearing the Word, repenting and confessing your sin and accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord. One can experience God’s wrath by rejecting God’s Word and all it says about sin and turning your back on Jesus.

The follower of Jesus avoids God’s wrath; the one who rejects Jesus will experience it. Which one are you?

And by the way: the reality of that should burden us, should want us to go our family and friends with passion in our heart and say, “I have to tell you about Jesus. I want you to be able to avoid what is to come.”

August 16

Wednesday, August 16th, 2023

Huckster (Unofficial definition): “a user; a fake; a pretender; one who uses the gullibility of another to take advantage of them.” (my unofficial definition)

It’s not at all unusual to read of someone taking advantage of another. It seems like we read of or hear of some scam or some Ponzi scheme or some trickery about every day. We are being warned about people, for example, offering ERC (Employee Retention Credit) during COVID. What I wish I could tell them is “Stop calling me! We don’t want or need your fake help!” but that would probably embolden them even more. I am personally sick and tired of phone calls (fortunately silenced by my settings on my phone for numbers not in my contacts) or emails (can you say “junk mail”?) trying to get me or the church to take advantage of their garbage. (I’d like to use a number of words here but I don’t talk like that).

I read-more than I ‘d like to-of supposed “Christians/church members” taking advantage of others, especially seniors, for some “can’t miss” investment scheme. First hint: can’t miss. Second hint: otherworldly returns.  Suggestion: avoid the Ponzi scheme like a plague.

Then there are those hucksters (so-called religious teachers) who prey on people because they want the money and promise healing, wealth, or good health. Here let me spell it out for you: H.U.C.K.S.T.E.R. If someone like the Apostle Paul  learned to live with the thorn-in-the-flesh, should we not also realize that on one can promise health and wealth? Check out Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12: “…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me…Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this…But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 cor. 12:7-10) (ESV)

No one- NO ONE- can promise you health and wealth. The one who does? Huh, a new definition of a huckster. Don’t fall for it. You will come out poorer in the end.

August 14

Monday, August 14th, 2023

I had a dream once of playing professional baseball. Like most kids growing up near Pittsburgh, it was either baseball or football. I latched onto baseball. I loved it when my dad would take us to a Sunday doubleheader at Forbes Field where I could watch the Pirates play whomever.  I was at a game and that was all that counted. That dream died when I realized I wasn’t good enough but I still loved the game of baseball. (I had that same dream about basketball. Other than a cranky back and old knees, you can see where that got me!). I took up cycling in the 70s and became more serious in the 80s. I can no longer play baseball or basketball, but I can still cycle! 🙂 I get my kicks now watching my grandson play baseball and football.

Several years ago my brother gave me a book called Sermon on the Mound by Michael O’Connor. I recently decided to get the book off the shelf and read it in its entirety. Mr. O’Connor had/has a love affair with baseball. Early on in his book, Mr. O’Connor was writing about his love for baseball and its importance in his life. He wrote something which struck me:

“Organized religion, ironically, had a hand in my spiritual undoing. I think God is as comfortable with religion as the Rockettes are in Levi’s. That’s because, although He is interested in our buildings, our financial stewardship, our liturgy-all those things that hold an appropriate place within the fellowship and kingdom of God-He’s not hung up on them. God is primarily concerned with relationship. He love us, not our stuff. He longs for us to return to Him that same love.” (p.20-21)

There are discussions about religion vs relationship going on all the time. For or against. While religion is a term used in church vernacular, it carries a weight around with it that is hard to bear. It speaks of rules and regulations, of heavy-handedness, of misery.

Relationship, on the other hand, carries with it a freshness, a closeness, an openness determined not by “have to” but by “want to.” Because of that thinking, I would most definitely agree with Mr. O’Connor. I would much rather have a relationship with Jesus than a religion.

What say you? Even deeper, what would you say you have?