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July 24

Wednesday, July 24th, 2024

I’ve been reading a book entitled Second Forgetting. It is subtitled “Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease” by Dr. Benjamin Mast.  In a chapter called The Challenges of Giving Care Dr. Mast had a discussion of Groaning vs Grumbling. While he specifically geared it to the caregiver’s attitude, I saw it as applicable to all of us. I’d like to share his thoughts this morning.

He writes,

“There is a critical difference we need to note. Groaning is not grumbling. When we groan, we must learn to do it without grumbling, trusting in the faithfulness of God and His promises.”

“Groaning and grumbling can seem similar, but biblically they are quite different. Both are responses to suffering, but their sources and their direction are different. Groaning is a response to the weight of suffering, and it is directed toward God as an honest expression of pain, grief, and sorrow. Grumbling also reflects the weight of suffering but it springs from anger and resentment toward God…Grumbling expresses an element of hope in God…but grumbling reflects a lack of hope and faith and is accompanied by a sense of doom.” (Quote edited by me…pages 84-85)

As I read that I was reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining and arguing.”  (New Living Translation)  (Some translations say, “Do everything without grumbling or complaining.”). Honestly, I have found myself doing both from time to time. When I’m at the end of my rope or my own strength, I cry out to God for help (groaning). But I have also complained when life is not going as I want it to (grumbling).

It doesn’t take a caregiver to do one of the other. I can say that life is much more satisfying when I’m groaning for God’s presence and help (found in the Scripture like Psalm 42: 1-2:”As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.”) than when I’m complaining about what’s happening.

What about you? Groan or grumble?

July 23

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024

Taking grace for granted can be expressed in one word: ingratitude. Let me show you what I mean:

Most people know the story of Jonah. Told to go to Ninevah (a people he hated) to preach repentance, God was going to wipe out the population if they didn’t. But Jonah knew God to be a loving God and one of grace so he ran the other way. After his encounter with the big fish, he went to Ninevah (grudgingly) and hated every minute of it. God did exactly what Jonah feared: He forgave them when they repented in sackcloth and ashes. “Don’t save them! Wipe them out!” would be Jonah’s motto. In fact, if you read Jonah 4 you find him pouting because God was merciful.

Jonah forgot God’s grace toward him. He was ungrateful.

Let’s do another scenario: A man owed a king a huge amount of money (an unpayable amount). He begs to be forgiven and the king does just that. Then this same man finds another servant who owes him a small amount and slaps the dude in jail until her can pay it off. {Side note: how is that possible if he is in jail? But I digress} The king hears about it and rescinds his gracious act of forgiveness and slaps that dude in jail. (You can find the complete story in Matthew 18:21-35)

He forgot the king’s grace toward him. He was ungrateful.

Imagine the prodigal son being received by his father, gifted with a robe, a ring, sandals, and a feast only to leave there and demand homage from another.  We would probably be appalled at the callousness of that son.

Thankfully, the latter example never happened. The first two did. One in real life; the other in a parable taught by Jesus. But let’s turn it to ourselves. What if the story of our life is written? Would it be filled with stories of forgiveness followed up by forgiveness extended to others or would it have stories of God’s grace shown and then disregarded by our own ingratitude? 

What say you?

July 10

Wednesday, July 10th, 2024

I posted yesterday about rereading Greg Murtha’s book, Out of the Blue. You can read that post here. In fact, I would encourage you to read it if you haven’t already done so, or to reread it to give yourself a “refresher course.” 🙂  If you are like me these days, it is way too easy to forget.

Now that you have reread that post, I’d like to continue my thoughts. In his book You Gotta Keep Dancin’, the late Tim Hansel closed with the following quote:

“There is no box made by God nor us but that the sides can be flattened out and the top blown off to make a dance floor on which to celebrate life.” (Kenneth Caraway)

As I have been rereading Greg’s marvelous book, I was reminded of that quote, especially after the closing quote by Hunter S. Thompson.  Tim also quotes someone named Sister Corita: “To believe in God is to know that all the rules will be fair-and that there will be many surprises!”  If there is one thing (among many) I know about God is that He is unpredictable. Ya just never know what He has on His plate for you. There are some things about God that never change. I stand firmly on the truth of His character and His Word. But I also know God works in ways I don’t expect.  I don’t always understand His ways or His purposes, but I trust Him to do what is best. Sometimes I balk at it. Sometimes I mope. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I scream. Sometimes I rant and rave.

But above it all I know He is in charge and knows what is best.  I also know He is trying to mold me into the best version of Him I can become. He wants me to be more like Jesus. Sheldon Vanauken, the author of A Severe Mercy, wrote the following:

The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians-when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. (Murtha-p.xv-xvi)

I admit to being one of the smug, self-righteous, arrogant, narrow-minded (only if you agree with my camp will you make it to heaven) “Christians.” I have written before about how I rue that day and wish I could back to every church I preached at and every person I ever offended by my attitude and apologize. That is impossible, of course, but it still bugs me nonetheless.  I may be 71 but I still want God to do His work in and through me. I’m not ready to hang my hat by the door and leave it there.  I don’t know what the future holds…no one does. But as Doc Brown tells Marty and Jennifer at the end of Back to the Future III when talking about the future: “No one’s future has been written yet (I would disagree with that on biblical grounds), but make it a good one, both of you.”

That is indeed my prayer. I hope it will be yours also.  Let’s kick out those walls and dance.

July 2

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2024

I recently read the following quote in my reading:

“If God is small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshiped.”  (Quote by Evelyn Underhill found in Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by Dr. John Dunlop, MD.-p.160)

One of the biggest challenges (I think) of the Christian faith that many face, indeed many seekers, is understanding God. Take, for instance, the quote from Ms. Underhill. The very real truth is this: if we could understand God, then He is not God.

Psalm 115:3-9 says, “Our God is in the heavens, and he does as he wishes. Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and noses but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel, and feet but cannot walk, and throats but cannot make a sound. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them. O Israel, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield.” (NLT) The psalmist is comparing idols made with hands with the God he worshiped. There is no comparison! And that is his point. There’s no one like our God.

Lamentations 3:22-24 says, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'” (NLT)  Just take a look at the God who is above all:

  • His steadfast covenant love never ends.
  • He keeps His promises.
  • His compassion never ends.
  • His mercy is renewed every morning.
  • His faithfulness to His promises is greater than our sin.
  • Hope is a gift to us when we remember Whom we serve.

Do not try to figure God out. Like Isaiah 40:18 asks, “To whom can you compare God?” Verse 25 asks, “To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One. I’ll save you time and trouble trying to answer that: NO ONE.

June 26

Wednesday, June 26th, 2024

Remember Groundhog Day?

No, not the day Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) is supposed to be able to accurately predict the weather. The folklore goes like this: if he sees his shadow and returns to his hole we are supposed to have 6 more weeks of winter-like weather.  If he doesn’t see his shadow we are supposed to have an early spring. As I said it is folklore, and I personally put no stock in it, especially “since when can the weatherman can predict the weather” according to Doc Brown.

I’m speaking more of the movie where Bill Murray’s character (Phil) is stuck in the same day over and over. Have you ever felt like you have lived this day before?

In March of 2023 an EF-3 tornado tore through McCormick’s Creek State Park and destroyed the camping sites. The tornado never landed but the vortex created by the winds sucked everything up and out and threw trees and campers around like they were toys. As chaplain for the Owen County Sheriff’s Department I was a witness to the destruction. The tornado did land just outside of Spencer and destroyed homes, farm equipment, and everything in its path.  On June 25, 2023 another weather event went through Spencer that included huge hail and damaging winds.  I was visiting in a hospital outside Indy and never encountered it, until I got back home and saw the destruction to the trees, landscape, cars (wife and daughter’s and others) and the house (it put a hole through the roof and went into the attic) and fence.  Remember that date: June 25.

Yesterday was June 25, 2024. Guess what happened? Well…not quite the destructive weather event but it had the potential of being one.  Fortunately, all we experienced were high winds, rain that came down so hard it was scary, thunder and lightning, and a power outage that lasted about 5-6 hours. Earlier in the day, on our way back from St. Louis, Tami reminded me of the hail storm we had one year ago on June 25th. It came up on her memories on Facebook (whatever that means).  🙂

Memories are good…sometimes. Sometimes being reminded of things is not only good, but essential. This morning I was reading Psalm 106. The psalmist is in a reminiscent mood and he is reminding his readers of the history involving the people of Israel, starting with their escape from Egypt. Throughout the chapter he reminds his readers how God came through for them but how unfaithful they were. His purpose? “Save us, O Lord our God! Gather us back from among the nations, so we can thank your holy name and rejoice and praise you.” (Verse 47- NLT)

Remembering is good, especially when it comes to remembering the goodness of God. THAT we must never forget! Take some time today to remember God’s goodness.

One more thing: can we just skip June 25 next year? 🙂

June 20

Thursday, June 20th, 2024

Jeremiah fought for all he was worth! No, not a UFC no-holds-barred kind of fight. Unless you are talking about a spiritual battle.  

In Jeremiah 1:17-19 we find these words: “Get up and prepare for action…Do not be afraid of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall…They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (I wrote about that in my June 18th post).  But that was just the beginning. In 7:1-8:3, we find one of the biggest issues Jeremiah has to fight through: faulty religion. Strangely enough, what Jeremiah had to fight with is not a lot different than today.

Here is a short analysis:

  1. Faulty religion trusts in external observances and institutions. Too many today think going to church, maybe lifting their hands, or putting money in the coffer is all they need to do.  Trouble is: one can do all of that, and more, without one bit of heart.
  2. Faulty religion exhibits ungodly behavior. I remember joking as a teenager with my classmates who were of a certain religion. They could party Friday night, go to church on Saturday morning and take care of things, then “go parking” on Saturday night and feel as thought they were alright. After all, they had “done their duty.” There is something wrong with that picture.
  3. Faulty religion turns its back on God instructions. Jer. 7:13 says, “While you were doing these wicked things, says the Lord, I spoke to you about it repeatedly, but you would not listen. I called out to you, but your refused to answer.”  (NLT). How often do we do “our own thing”? God’s Word is seen as a killjoy to our lifestyle.

It’s easy to allow what could and should be a vibrant, alive, and life-changing faith to become old or even misdirected. Let’s challenge ourselves to not allow our faith to become an outward thing but to be a “heart thing.”

June 18

Tuesday, June 18th, 2024

It has been a wild ride the past few weeks. The church family I pastor is small compared to many other churches (just under 200), but we have seen our share of deaths, sickness, cancer, hardship, testings, and all things “human.” Just because we are followers of Jesus does not make us exempt from any of that, in spite of the heretical ramblings of the health/wealth crowd.

We have not been immune from it personally either. Years ago in a time of seeking direction during a tough season, I ran across Jeremiah 1:17-19. A little background makes this poignant. Jeremiah’s ministry occurred during a hard time, days when Judah sank into chaos morally and politically. The kings were worthless and ungodly. Jerusalem fell and Jeremiah suffered. Like Jeremiah, we don’t get to pick our times or circumstances. Our job is to follow. It was during a tough time when God told Jeremiah the following words and then also led me to the following verses: “Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall. You will stand against the whole land-the king, officials, priests, and people of Judah. They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (NLT)

Those words were like gold to me at the time I found them. They still are. Take a moment to read that Scripture again and then take note of what He tells Jeremiah and then ask how it applies to you. When I feel overwhelmed by life’s circumstances and battles, these words dig down deep into my soul. I hope they do the same for you today.

June 12

Wednesday, June 12th, 2024

My morning Encounter Time included reading Psalm 77.  As I read and highlighted a thought developed and as I pursued it, it became clearer. It is not profound but I share it with you this morning.  I’d like to ask you to open your Bible to Psalm 77 and read each section as I have delineated and then formulate your own thoughts.

The problem we face: Psalm 77:1-3

The questions that linger: Psalm 77:4-9

The scenario we replay: Psalm 77:10-12

The answer we remember: Psalm 77:13-15

Whether we are talking whatever B.C. (when this psalm was written) or 2024 A.D., times haven’t really changed. After listening to people say the Bible is outdated and not applicable to today’s world, I chuckle when I run across a passage like this and realize how contemporary it is. The problem, the questions, or the scenario hasn’t really changed. But most importantly, the ANSWER hasn’t changed. And that I can “take to the bank.”

 

 

June 3 (extra)

Monday, June 3rd, 2024

Happy Birthday Tami!

49 years ago God blessed Jo & me with a bundle of joy. When the doctor came to me to tell me that mom and baby were fine, I asked him what it was. He said, “A little girl.” I replied, “Oh.” I guess I took for granted I would have a son. 🙂  But that initial disappointment quickly dispelled when I saw you and held you. Your mom had too many tubes in her arms to hold you so I was privileged to feed you and hold you, i.e. feel like I was going to break you in half. A head full of dark hair (I think you took all of mine) and little fingers that wrapped tightly around mine sealed the deal (as if I would have changed anything). What a joy it has been to be your dad as I have watched you grow from the little baby to a sports-minded (even though it is the Braves) beautiful young lady who gave her heart to Jesus and continues to serve Him. I wouldn’t trade one second of your 49 years for any amount of money in the world.

You are not around today since you decided to take a relaxing (and much needed) vacation to TN to visit old friends and to be alone to recoup after a brutal school year full of health and professional challenges. Just know this: even though miles separate us today, love has no boundaries. I am proud of the lady you have become. The Christ-follower. The daughter. The friend to others. The teacher who truly cares about her students. The person kids love and look up to because you made them each feel important. You have a gift and I’m glad to see God is using it, because you are letting Him.

I love you. Thanks for letting me be your dad.

June 3

Monday, June 3rd, 2024

I’m sure you have noticed that we all go through different seasons in our lives. Life seems to be a series of ebbs and flows, of hills and valleys, and in my case, highs and lows, heartaches and sheer joy. As a pastor I have experienced, I think, just about every life situation. The past two weeks have been some of the wildest times of ups and downs I have ever experienced in my 50+ years of ministry. No details but simple words will tell you all you need to know: cancer, strokes, hospice then death, kids’ baseball games, kids going to church camp, a college student being baptized, disappointment over a setback on an addiction, grad parties, surgeries, a daughter’s birthday (which means I am getting older)…you get the picture.

People often ask me how I cope with all of this. My job is not a physical one like so many; mine is more mental and emotional. Two ways: on a surface level I go to the Y and ride a bike. I call those my stress relievers. On a deeper, more spiritual level I cling to verses like I read this morning: Psalm 59:16-17- “But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress. O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love.”  Sometimes I run to Him and hold on for dear life. I cling tenaciously. Sometimes I run to Him and simply let Him love me. I can sense His arms around me. I like a quote I just read:

Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture more natural to Him is not a pointed finger but open arms. (Dane Ortlund from Gentle and Lowly quoted in Shepherding the Shepherd by Lee Eclov-p.39)

I can’t do this on my own. Neither can you. I have a place (a refuge) where I can go. Do you?