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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 16

Tuesday, July 16th, 2024

One last devotion…(I think). 🙂

The past week or so of devotions here at “Shadow” I have been writing and telling you about a book that had a profound impact on me-Out of the Blue by Greg Murtha. (Those dates are July 9, 10, 11, and 15). At the age of 46, Greg, a healthy runner and athlete, go-to leader, husband and father, was stricken with Agressive Stage III Colon Cancer. He endured 95 chemo treatments over 5 years, but on June 22, 2017 he “moved to the front of the line” to use his words. He completed his book on June 15th in room 8637 of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s CCU.

As I finished reading his book for the second time (the first I barely remember), I was overwhelmed with emotion. I shed some tears for a life well-lived, but also because it struck close to home. Not me. I just lost a friend to cancer and another has brain cancer. This book chronicling his thoughts and actions of the last 5 years of his life deeply and profoundly impacted me and caused me to stop and evaluate my own life.

I once read that Joni, the well-known Christ-follower who has been a quadriplegic for over 50 years, was once asked if she would change anything. She said, “No. I thank God for the accident and my wheelchair.” (edited by me). Several times Greg said virtually the same thing, i.e. he was thankful for the cancer that totally changed his life. It slowed him down. It woke him to the needs of others. It brought him to the point of listening to God. He would go for treatment, into a store, into a room and notice people most would miss-people who needed a hug, or who were hurting, had tears in their eyes, or simply needed a word of encouragement, or a prayer. And he was not ashamed to offer that.

He wrote the following:

“I’m learning that being present in the moment is what is important. Being the church wherever I am-that’s what matters. Listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit is paramount to living a life of adventure.” (p. 160)

I’ll close by simply saying that I want that. Healthy or not I want to be present in the moment. I want to be the church, a representative of Christ, where I am and to whomever I come across. Will you join me?

June 27

Thursday, June 27th, 2024

All people matter to God, therefore they should matter to us.

Lately I’ve been reading a book on dementia entitled  Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by John Dunlop, MD. Because it seems to be becoming a bigger issue these days, I thought I’d read up on it and learn more. It has been an eye-opening book (in a good way). Over and over Dr Dunlop has emphasized the importance of dignity for the dementia sufferer, as well as it’s kissing cousin, Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Dunlop is a committed Christ-follower so his perspective is different than many in the medical field. Instead of writing them off as a “nuisance” and a “bother” for others, especially their caregivers, he pushes the belief that showing them dignity is first and foremost. One very helpful section is found on pages 123-125 where he gives a number of practical way we can express dignity. He does it from the perspective of entering their “world.”

But this devotion is not a book review. While he has obviously focused his attention on the dementia patient, I couldn’t help but make the correlation to others in our sphere on influence. Each person we come in contact with should be deemed a person who matters. Whether it is the same sex, ethnicity, color, position in life, or social status, we need to, no, we must see them as people who hold special importance in God’s eye. As a Christ-follower that means they must hold importance in my eyes as well. We may not always agree, we may not always get along, we may butt heads from time to time, but that should not change how much each of us should matter.

In James 2 James warns the church about choosing sides and showing preference to one group over another. He says it is a shame and a black mark to do so (my loose translation). Jesus Himself told the parable of the Good Samaritan and showed how a man who was hated because of his ethnicity was actually more of a brother than the so-called “religious people.”

We have all seen people snubbed because of political affiliation. We have all seen people snubbed because of color. We have all seen people snubbed because of sexual orientation. We have all seen people snubbed because of status. We have all seen people snubbed because of a medical condition. It is ugly. Like I said, I may not agree with someone’s opinion or lifestyle, and can’t compromise the truth, but at the same time that gives me NO RIGHT to denigrate or write someone off as being persona non grata because we are different.

Dementia patients deserve loving treatment. We all do. Let’s begin to give dignity to others. Let’s begin to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

June 13

Thursday, June 13th, 2024

I read in the past, and again recently, the following story:

A fisherman who caught crabs would keep them in a bucket without a lid. Someone noticed this and asked him, “Don’t you have to keep a lid on that bucket?”

He said, “No, they never get out.”

“Why? Because they can’t get out?”

“No,” he said. “When one crab tries to go over the side, the others reach up and pull him back down.”

When I read that I thought, “How much like humans that is.” We can’t hardly stand to watch someone, especially a rival, get ahead of us. We turn green with envy and jealousy and begin to think, “Hey! I deserve that. Not him. Not her. I put forth a lot of effort to get that.”

Envy is one of those things that we shoot at someone else and end up wounding ourselves.

Listen to these verses:

“The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Mt. 23:11-12

“There are six things the Lord hates-no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes…” Pr. 6:16-17a

“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Pr. 11:2

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honor.” Js. 4:6,10

There are tons more where those came from! Simple truth: God wants us to put the needs of others above our own, to love one another, to and care for one another.  Envy, and its sister, jealousy are listed as works of the flesh in Galatians 5 and really have no place in the life of the Christ-follower. Let’s stop it before it takes root.

{Note: All Scripture is from the New Living Translation}

June 11

Tuesday, June 11th, 2024

Truth disclosure: I am writing this on Monday afternoon.  You will see why in just a moment.

I just spent an incredible couple of hours with some inspiring people. I met Gavin probably close to 10 years or so ago at the Y.  Just a few days prior to that he had just lost his sister when a box truck mowed her down while cycling.  Until then I did not know him or his sister.

Fast forward to the middle of 2023 and in walk Gavin, Jenna and their children to a church service. I knew they were going to another church and my philosophy/policy is never to be accused of being a “sheep stealer.” They were accompanied by their other children who immediately went to our children’s department and loved it! In their arms was a little girl they named Gigi. Oh, I forgot to tell you that they have three biological children (all boys), adopted two children they had fostered, were fostering another cute little girl and were also fostering Gigi. The one was given back to mom within the past month, but Gigi was a special child. In more ways than one. She is one of most smiling children I have ever seen with the brightest blue eyes you will lay eyes on (pun intended). Those bright blue eyes have a special trait which identifies her as a child with Williams Syndrome (I encourage you to look it up on your own).  Thanks to Jenna’s fighting for her, Gigi was given a fighting chance to live. And live she does! She is two years old now-a little small for her age but quickly developing a personality all her own and slowly learning to walk and talk. When Gavin and Jenna began attending the church I pastor (Owen Valley Christian Fellowship) we immediately began praying for her and for them.

This morning at 10:00, Gigi officially became Gloria Jane (_____). “Gloria” because she is a light to the world. “Jane” because that is her birth mother’s middle name. What a joy it was to be there and to witness the love they have for her, but also her sibling’s love for her. They asked if I would support them in prayer since Gavin’s mother, who is a medical doctor and the pastor of a local church, could not be there. I was honored to do so. And then I noticed she was able to make it and whether they had asked or not, I would have gladly stepped aside for her to pray. Afterwards, Jo and I were invited to a cookout at their house. It was fun meeting some of their friends and extended family.

Gavin and Jenna are perfect examples of Christ-followers who feel about children the way Jesus feels. There is no doubt that Jesus had a warm, tender heart toward children that knew no bounds. The way we treat children today has to truly break His heart. To see children thrown away as unwanted has to make Him cringe. And weep. To see them abused and mistreated surely makes His blood boil. Thank you Gavin and Jenna for showing Jesus by loving children and making them your own.  I’m glad I was able to be a witness to this act of love.

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.

April 30

Tuesday, April 30th, 2024

TROUBLE WILL VISIT ALL OF US!

What I just wrote is nothing new to anyone. To borrow a common phrase: “Stuff happens.” (I don’t talk the other way. 🙂 ) We ALL KNOW that sooner or later we are going to hit a rough patch.

Recently, while reading another book, I read about CURE Hospital, a series of hospitals established in places like Kenya and other hard hit areas.  Sort of like Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Ship, CURE was established for doctors to help “the least of these.” One such person was Michael Panther. Michael was an active boy who would soon be training for the Sudan army when his legs grew weaker, then quit working. The civil war in South Sudan displaced him, and to make a long story short, he ended up in a CURE hospital where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the spine. To make another long story short, Michael spends his days in a wheelchair. But he has not allowed that to stop him following God’s direction, help and work. Michael now makes wheelchairs available to people in other countries who need them through his non-profit, Living With Hope. (You can read his fascinating and inspiring story in his book Living With Hope by Michael Panther).

During his “expansion” period, when the dream was born in his heart, he met Joni Eareckson Tada, the “champion” for the disabled who was paralyzed as a teenager from a diving accident. He had the chance to not only meet Joni, but to work with her ministry, Joni and Friends. In his book, Michael wrote down some of Joni’s statements that day. Here are three:

“God permits what he hates, to accomplish that which He loves.”

“I realized that God does not take pleasure in my spinal cord injury, but He loves the way He is changing me in it and encouraging others through it.”

“God has not abandoned those with disabilities. No, He is working through them.”   (All quotes from pages 141-142)

All of us-no matter our lot in life-have a purpose. Healthy or whole. Mobile or in a chair. Unencumbered or disabled. We all matter and we all have a purpose. Find yours. Fulfill it.

April 29

Monday, April 29th, 2024

Peace…in spite of.

Have you ever wondered what makes some people be as “calm as a cucumber” while others are frazzled to the bone with the same situation?

How can some be relaxed while others can’t stop wringing their hands?

How come the first move of some is to run to the doctor for a med at the first sign of stress while for others the first response is to drop to their knees in prayer? (Please don’t take that as me saying I’m against meds that serve a purpose).

Much has been made of the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is dependent on circumstances; joy is in spite of the circumstances.

Peace is the same. There is a settledness, a peace that some people have in spite of their circumstances. There is a well-told story about a lawyer named Horatio Spafford. He, his wife, and four children had booked a passage to Europe for a much-needed vacation, but at the last minute something came up that required his immediate attention. He sent his family ahead with the intention of joining them as soon as possible. The ship collided with another and sunk and only his wife survived. She sent a wire to him: “Saved alone.” In his grief, he booked the next passage to meet up with his wife. When they came to the spot of the shipwreck, the captain pointed it out to him. Mr. Spafford penned these words: “When peace like a river attendeth my way/When sorrows like sea billows roll/Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say/’It is well. It is well with my soul.'”

What kind of peace could lead Mr. Spafford to pen those words when his heart is breaking? A peace that is not dependent on circumstances. That kind of peace comes from the ONE who is bigger than the circumstances. Jesus once said, “My peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” That’s the kind of peace I want. How about you?

April 23

Wednesday, April 24th, 2024

A fragile (and temporary) peace.

I read recently that on December 30, 1862 the Civil War raged. Union and Confederate troops camped 700 yards apart on opposing sides of Tennessee’s Stones River. As they warmed themselves around campfires, Union soldiers picked up their fiddles and harmonicas and began playing “Yankee Doodle.” In reply, the Confederate soldiers offered “Dixie.” Remarkably, both sides joined for a finale, playing “Home Sweet Home” in unison. Sworn enemies shared music in the dark night, glimmers of an unimaginable peace (Sort of like me playing my rock music and someone else playing country and both of us tolerating the other’s choice). 🙂 The melodic truce was short lived, however. The next morning, they set down their fiddles and picked up their rifles and when it was all said and done 24,645 soldiers died.

Reminds me of the WWII story of the German and British soldiers celebrating Christmas by laying down their weapons, sharing what they had, playing soccer together, exchanging laughs, and acting (and maybe wishing?) like the war was over. You can hear the story in this video.

Peace is fragile, as well as temporary. Try as we may, man will never be able to bring about true or permanent peace. All our treaties. All our papers. All our promises are, in reality, fragile and temporary. Treaties are made to be cast aside. Papers are torn up or burned in rebellion.  Promises are broken. We see it in school/childhood friends. We see it in marriages. We see it in communities. We see it in countries. And yes, we see it in churches.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but true, lasting peace is never found in man’s or men’s promises. And while it may last for a short period, it will never last for long. And certainly not forever. The only personal lasting peace is found in Christ, and the only true peace will be found in God’s new kingdom when Jesus returns and establishes it.

Until then…all efforts of peace are fragile and temporary. But we can still try. It begins with us! As the song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

April 9

Tuesday, April 9th, 2024

“I’ve sinned too much.” “I’ve sunk too low.” 

It is not unusual for me to hear those kinds of words. Add to it the thoughts of “God could never forgive me” or “There’s no way I deserve God’s forgiveness” and you almost have word for word what I often hear.

Well, they are correct and also incorrect in their assessment. Correct: “I’ve sinned too much” (once is too many).  “There is no way I deserve God’s forgiveness.”  Incorrect: “God could never forgive me.” The hard truth is that we have sinned (and as I said once is too much). AND we do not deserve God’s forgiveness.

The startling truth is that He reaches down to us no matter how far we have fallen. No matter how deep of a hole we have dug for ourselves.

I have just finished reading over the past two days a trifecta of chapters from the book of Psalms-chapters 104, 105 & 106. They read like a litany of bad history. 104 starts out well talking about the greatness of God and the goodness of God. It’s almost like preparation for what was to come. 105 opens with giving thanks to God for His care of them while in Egypt and how He brought them out of that strange land. Intertwined is how He cared for them in spite of their grumbling.  But 106! WOW! Talk about a past one would just as soon forget!! The psalmist (David?) gives a history lesson of the faithlessness of the Israelites- grumbling about water and food; worshiping a golden calf; sacrificing their children to a foreign god; the list goes on.

Through it all-in spite of His anger and yes, judgment that He must do-is a faithful God. A God who made and makes promises and sticks to them. A God of whom the psalmist writes, “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. Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting! Let all the people say, ‘Amen!'”

If He can do that for His wayward, faithless, stumbling people, what makes us think we can sink too far down and can’t be reached?